Monday, April 26, 2010

A trip to Nikolaev, cheburek, and poetry

A sunset in Ak Mechet
Rusting ship in Nikolaev
So, what exactly is this???

Lenura showing off "our" cheburek
Monday morning, sitting in my freezing office at the library. They turn all the heat off in the large buildings in the city around the first of April, so even though it is fairly warm outside, it never gets warm inside until much later in the season. I am probably feeling it a lot more today because I have a bad cold. And even outside isn’t all that warm, with a cold wind blowing. I’m waiting around to go with Nadjie and the computer guy here, Kemal, to spend some of our grant money on equipment for the library—a laptop computer, camera, and copier/scanner. Trying to do this with our level of communication should be interesting. Already there has been some back and forth about how the purchases will be made. I am responsible for the money, so I definitely want to be involved. Plus I am the only one that has access to the money. We’ll see how it all works out…
Last week the director of the library announced that he is resigning. He has been here since almost the beginning of the library—twenty years—so it is a very big deal and has resulted in much speculation about who the new director will be. Right now the assistant director, whom I like a lot, is the acting director. The library is a government organization, so the director is appointed by the Ministry of Education in Crimea. The director apparently wants to move on to other things. He seems to have a lot of fingers in the pie, especially in the publishing/newspaper world. I recently helped him apply for a grant for a website for his newspaper. I would like to get to know him better at some point, and perhaps continue to help with grants.
Last weekend I went with Adrianne, the other PCV in Simferopol, to Nikolaev, a city north west of here, about a seven hour train ride. We had to go there for a “warden” meeting. Wardens are volunteers that are appointed in the different regions of the country to act as a link between the Peace Corps safety officer and volunteers. We are supposed to keep track of the contact information for the volunteers in our region, identify a place they can consolidate in case of an emergency, help them with safety concerns, etc. There are a lot of volunteers in Crimea—about 30—so it will be a bit of a job keeping track of everyone. But fun, I think. Will get to know them all better.
We took a daytime train on Thursday as the only overnight train got in at 3am(!), spent Friday in the meeting, and then Saturday I strolled around the city with an older PCV I know there. It is a nice city, quieter and more spacious than Simferopol. It is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by two large rivers that merge and flow down to the Black Sea which is not too far away, and is the shipbuilding center of Ukraine. Not that any shipbuilding is going on these days, but historically it has been very active, even has a shipbuilding museum (which we didn’t make it to, being distracted by a very good and cheap secondhand clothing store). I got on the midnight train back to Simferopol—someone was already asleep in my compartment and at some point in the middle of the night, another passenger came in and got up into the upper bunk. It is an experience, sharing your very small bedroom with strangers.
Got back out to my house early Sunday morning. Spent the day doing the never ending hand laundry, going down to the bazaar and supermarket to stock up on food, hanging out with the neighbors in the evening. Lenura was making “cheburek,” which seems to be a common Sunday evening meal for them. Cheburek are a traditional Crimean Tatar food—a deep fried meat pie. I’ve been wanting to learn how to make them, so I started helping Lenura, and she let me put them together (with much supervision). She had already made the dough and rolled it out into a super thin round crust, about 8 inches diameter. We mixed a combination of chopped up beef, onions, herbs, and some water; spread a bit on half of the crust; folded over and crimped shut and trimmed the edge (this was my job); and then fried in deep oil in an ancient skillet that was Neshet’s mother’s in Uzbekistan. They were quite lovely and so tasty. Gone are my vegetarian days, at least while I am living in Crimean Tatar land.
This week my friend Pat is coming from America, arriving on Thursday. We will tour around Crimea some, and then off to Turkey on Tuesday for twelve days. I am really looking forward to her coming. One of the things we are going to do here in Crimea is to go camping with the neighbors. They have actually never gone camping before and have zero equipment, but it was Neshet’s suggestion, and Serdar is very excited about the whole idea. I am going to borrow a tent from a PCV and I think Neshet is going to try and borrow one too. Lenura kept asking about where we are going to sleep, and where we are even going to go is a question. Though the idea is go to the mountains somewhere, and then drive down to the coast the next day. It’s so great that they have this idea of showing Pat Crimea.
It’s evening, and I am back home now. Serdar came over for a bit to use the internet, as they have run out of their monthly amount. He wanted to show me some poems by famous Ukrainian women poets, particularly Lena Kostenko, who is a dissident poet born in the ‘30’s. We couldn’t find an English translation of her poems, so I ended up reading one through google translate with Serdar’s help. Even with the bad translation, I found her poem very beautiful and moving. And, of course, what I most loved was Serdar’s desire to share it with me. The richness of my life here is a gift I never expected when I decided to join the Peace Corps. I am smiling to myself as I write these words, because just a few hours earlier I was having feelings of such disappointment in my inability (or laziness as I was lamenting) to learn the language enough to truly communicate. And not that that isn’t true—I definitely have not learned the language well enough—but it is also true that communicating is not always about language. It is also about caring and respecting and sharing our passions, and the words come through our eyes, our smiles, our hands.
Goodnight dear friends.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some pics from folk architechture museum in Kiev

A Weekend in Kiev

The over 50 PCV's gather in Kiev
Street scene in Kiev
One of the Babbi Yar monuments
Two of the PCV doctors with the new country director in the middle

I went to Kiev last weekend, the capital of Ukraine and its largest city. I had been there for a one-day trip during training and was also there for a seminar last summer, but this is the first time that I have actually stayed in the city and toured around. It is a 15-hour overnight train ride from here, so I am not inclined to go often, though some PCV’s down here travel there frequently. Actually, I really never am too interested in leaving Crimea. It feels like where I belong.
But duty (a PCV meeting) and fun (getting together with the over 50 volunteers) called. Arrived Saturday morning early and after a shocking 28 grv Cappuccino (in my city they are 12 grv at the most), I wondered over to the PCV office. There were about 20 of us older volunteers gathered there. We range in age from early 50’s to 70 (my friend Fran celebrated her 70th birthday in March with a trip back to the States to see her kids and grandkids). After a brief business meeting, we took off on an all afternoon tour of the city with “Dr. V,” the head doctor at the PC office. He is in his 60’s, grew up in Kiev and has a wealth of interesting information about the architecture, neighborhoods, monuments, etc. I will try to post some pics, if my slowed down internet will let me.
One of the highlights of the tour for me was our trip out to Babyn Yar, which was the site of over 100,000 Holocaust executions, including a 2-day time period in September of 1941 in which 33,000 Jews were rounded up and marched to the ravine and executed within 48 hours. It is a large park now with several memorial monuments, including one commemorating the children that were killed. One of the younger doctors who works for the PC met us there and guided us around. He grew up in that area, and it was heartening to see how important it obviously was to him that we understood exactly what had happened there and what a horrific tragedy it was.
The next day several of us got on a marshruka and went to an outdoor museum of folk architecture located on the outskirts of Kiev. Situated on an enormous tract of land (really, you had to be in pretty good shape to anywhere near walk the whole thing), the museum consists of seven different reconstructed villages, representing what life was like in olden Ukraine. Thatched roofs, enormous wooden churches, huge wooden wind mills, beautiful crafts. It was very interesting and a nice way to spend the day, despite getting caught in an afternoon downpour. I asked about Crimea, being particularly interested to see if the Crimean Tatars were represented since they WERE Crimea in the era this museum was depicting, but they said that because Crimea was part of Russia (Russia took over Crimea in 1783 and was considered Russian land until Kruschev “gave” the peninsula to Ukraine in 1957), it was only minimally represented (a representation I never found).
It was a good trip to Kiev—I got to spend some time with old friends from training, made some new friends, and became more familiar with the city and with navigating the metro (subway ) system. I know I will be spending more time there in the upcoming future with PC business and traveling to Belarus, so now I am not quite so intimidated by it. Sure has a different feel than Crimea, or even the rest of Ukraine, however. Much more of a western European city.
I met a woman yesterday who I hope will become a new friend. She is a friend of the librarian I have gotten to know a bit that is a good English speaker. Irina is her name (like every other Ukrainian woman I have met), and she is a fluent English speaker, having spent two years in the U.S. in an exchange program. I have been realizing lately that I know no older English speakers here, as there pretty much are none in the Crimean Tatar community. I have been missing the companionship of someone closer to my age (who isn’t American), that I can really have conversations with. Of course, I love my Crimean Tatar neighbors, but obviously our conversations can only go so far. So it was a great treat to spend two plus hours with Irina, chatting away, drinking tea and eating cake. I think we both greatly enjoyed it and made a lot of promises to each other that we would continue to spend time together. So, an unexpected gift—the possibility of a new friend.
Well, the sun is out, it’s about 6:00, and I want to get out for a long walk before the sun sets. I bought some dominoes at the bazaar today, so am going to go over to the neighbors later and see if they want to play. Much love to all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Easter time in Ak Mechet

Friday morning, I am at home, getting ready to take the train to Kiev later this afternoon. I’ve realized I really don’t like travelling—I know, pretty funny coming from me—but every time I am faced with going somewhere, I just want to curl up in the security of my little house. I guess we all feel that way…and not much would get done in the world if we acted upon it.
So off on new adventures this afternoon. First time I have taken the train alone, but I don’t think that will be a problem. In Kiev I will be spending the weekend with the over 50-year-old volunteers—a short meeting and then touring around the city. Should be very enjoyable, especially as the group includes my friends Jud and Fran. Debbie was also suppose to come, but at the last minute had to stay home to nurse a bad knee. She was very disappointed, as was I to not get to see her. Monday I have the Peace Corps meeting and then will be heading back on the overnight train. It will be a good trip, I think.
Last week my friend Grace was here along with her best PCV friend and her friend visiting from America. So I had three house guests, and the first night I actually had four, because nearby PCV Sam had come into the center for dinner with everyone and didn’t make the last bus home to his village. Good thing I have so many beds!
Wednesday was the monthly “cleaning day” at the library, the last day of the month where they clean all the buildings in town, or at least the government ones, I think. The library closes early, or in the case of the Children’s Library, for the whole day, so I had the day off—hooray!! Went with the girls to Bachiseray to see the cave city of Chufat Kale and the Khan’s Palace. I think by the time I leave here, I will have visited those two places more than anywhere in America. But so far, I have yet to tire of the beauty of Chufut Kale and it is such a treat to be there in nontourist season and in spring with the trees in bloom. Discovered another part of the caves I hadn’t seen before, and even a back way in which would avoid paying the entrance fee, if one desired. Which I don’t—I think it is important for them to be charging a fee to tourists. It is probably the reason the area seems in relatively good condition with not too much trash around. I have posted a few more pictures.
This past weekend was Easter, known as Paska in Ukraine and Russia. A very big holiday here, big enough that Monday is an official national holiday and most people (including me) have the day off. I remember last year celebrating with my host family—going early Sunday morning to the church carrying a basket of food to be blessed by the priest, coming back to a large meal including cognac. Though we didn’t do it, many people also spend that day picnicking out in the woods, a favorite pastime.
Well, being as how I live in a Muslim community, I did not do anything to celebrate Easter. Did go for a nice hike with PCV friend Adrianne up into the forest and hills—where we saw many people picnicking and beautiful views of the greening fields. That evening I went over to Neshet and Lenura’s to visit, and a friend of theirs was there, an older woman. Turns out she lives down the road and is Christian and comes over once a year on Easter, bringing the traditional Paska cake and some homemade vodka, of which, of course, I had a little. Very little—just enough to toast the holiday—that homemade stuff is truly deadly. After she left, Lenura told me that many Christians live not too far away, that a group moved in after the Tatars settled Ak Mechet. I have sometimes walked by a little cemetery that Serdar told me was Christian and often wondered why it is in Ak Mechet. And in one of his frequent insightful commentaries on life, Neshet said something about how it is important that different people come together, that the barriers of religion do not keep us separate. How right he is.
On my day off Monday I went into Franco Library and visited with Natalya a bit, and then took a long walk through the city along the river to the botanical garden park. Walked back to the center, took the bus to the bazaar near Ak Mechet and then walked on home. A lovely quiet day of walking through my beautiful home.
Off to Kiev. Will report more next week. Love to all.
ps. Having trouble with my internet connection so no pictures this time.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring wildflowers

Spring is, indeed, really beginning to happen here in Crimea. Not only has my landlord dug up every square inch (millimeter here) of the back yard to plant his garden, he has also dug up new gardens in the front of my house and planted a row of bushes near my window which should be nice to block the western sun. The barrel where I put my trash seems to have disappeared, I discovered this morning. Maybe I will need to start burning my trash myself, which is how they dispense with their garbage, although I think Neshet and Lenura actually have some kind of garbage pickup.
Last Wednesday was Nadjie’s 57th birthday. I wasn’t working that day—Wednesday is the day I am at the Children’s Library—but I went over during the lunch hour and brought her a little present (an English phrasebook). She was in the office alone, so we sat and had coffee and talked. It’s been almost twenty years now since she left Uzbekistan. I asked her if she had regrets. She said no, because in Uzbekistan they were guests, but here they are home. When I got up to leave, I told her she was a good friend to me. And with tears in her eyes, she told me she had many friends in Uzbekistan, but here I was her only friend. I don’t think I really understood it correctly—at least I hope not, as I don’t want to think of Nadjie without friends—but the sentiment that I do think is true, is that she was saying how much she values my friendship. I gave her a big hug and left, trying not to cry. What a gift…
On the weekend, we had beautiful spring weather. Saturday I washed some clothes and hung them out on the line. In the afternoon, I went over to visit my friend, Zarema, who works at the library and lives in Ak Mechet. She is the woman who helped me a lot when I first got here—escorting me home on the bus, taking me to the Crimean Tatar theater and art museum. She is also the friend whose father died in November. I have always really liked her, but we seem to not have connected very much since those times. She did bring me some of her home canned food at New Year’s and I had a plan to come to her house on New Year’s Day, but got sick and had to cancel. But somehow this past week we made a plan, and I ended up at her house on Saturday afternoon and had a great time. Her “sister” (what Crimean Tatars call their cousins) came over because she wanted to meet me and “talk English.” I really hit it off with her, though she barely speaks English. But I felt like she was able to understand my Russian with some English thrown in. She is going to start coming to my Thursday English club at the Crimean Tatar university (Kipu). And then we all started talking (Zarema’s sister-in-law and mother—or maybe grandmother, not sure—all of whom live with Zarema were also there) about trying to have some kind of English club on the weekends at Ak Mechet. Where to meet always seems to be a concern. People seem reticent to meet in their homes, even though many of them have plenty of room. I brought up the idea of meeting in the mosque, using the example of how people have meetings in churches in America. They were reluctant, but then decided they would check it out. I, of course, forgot the fact that mosques have no chairs, as people kneel on the floor, so maybe not such a great idea after all. Serdar says there are meetings there, and they put out benches, so perhaps it is a possibility. We’ll see what develops. But I walked home from Zarema’s house feeling so good about reconnecting with her and resolving to keep that connection going.
That evening went over to Neshet and Lenura’s and ended up playing cards with Serdar and Neshet until practically midnight. I continue to be the “fool” when we play Duroc, I just can’t get the hang of the game. They were really laughing at me and giving me a hard time. Must be like Russian humor, which I also don’t usually get. But I didn’t mind, it was just so nice being with them.
Sunday dawned a beautiful day, and I was determined to get out for a walk, even though I had told one of my neighbor’s relatives that I would help her with a visa application to go to America. But she was okay with meeting later in the afternoon, so Elizabeth came out and we went over to see if Safie wanted to go with us. I knew Serdar was meeting with a teacher, so I thought perhaps Safie would go. We went for walks just the two of us a couple of times last summer, but lately I have felt like she isn’t around much. I have been noticing more and more how girls get sort of short changed here, but that is another topic, and this blog is already getting too long. So next time…
Anyhow, Safie did want to come and their little dog Nootsa tagged along, I think because she is so attached to Safie. She’s a sweet dog, and it was fun to have her with us, though she made me nervous on the roads near the buses. But then she just went crazy in the woods like any other dog. It was a joy to see. There were many beautiful, and unrecognizable to me, wildflowers blooming in the forests. We tramped through the forest up to a bluff I am not as familiar with. No one was up there, and despite the hazy day, the views were beautiful. We perched up there for a while and had some snacks, and then wondered around looking for flowers. Headed back down through the forest, took a short cut through the village at the base of the bluff and got some ice cream (three packaged cones for a total of 80 cents) and then headed on home.
The person I was helping with the visa application was already at my neighbor’s house, so I went on over there. It should have been an easy process, applying for a visa online, but thanks to the U.S. website which timed out after 20 minutes, it turned into a total pain in the butt and took us three hours to complete the application. I worry some about what she is doing, going to meet an American man she met on the internet, but she seems to have her head together about it and won’t, hopefully, be taken advantage of. Even though she has a lot of family here, she is desperate to go to America, though I’m not sure why. However, when I realized via the application that she only makes the equivalent of $100 a month being a software programmer, it became a little more clear.
Hmmm….this seems to be a very long winded blog post, so I will quit for now. I hope you enjoy the photos of Safie, flowers, and Nootsa. Tomorrow I have a day off because it is “cleaning day” at the library and Serdar and Safie are on spring break, so we might go hiking somewhere fun. Hooray!!
Much love to all.