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.


  1. Dear Barb
    How much I wish I was there with you and Serdar and the poetry. I even was imagining I'd like to go camping, but I went on a police ride-along on Saturday (details on my own blog) and couldn't even handle the weight of the bullet-proof vest I had to wear. So frustrating, after all my upper-body exercising, but I want lots of pix and text of your time with the Seytaptievs.
    The picture of what exactly is this looks like a water ski launching pad. Don't know if that's possible.
    Have fun with Pat

  2. I agree it looks like a ski launch - high enough to be a winter one but I suppose it could be done on water.

    Great notes of the recent days - I imagine you are out camping right this minute!!

    Have fun - I love you. B