Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beaches and conferences

It’s late evening, an d cool air is beginning to waft through the window. Thank the goddess! It has been hotter than Hades here lately. Sometimes over the course of the past year I found myself wondering why I chose not to go to Africa in the Peace Corps as I had originally thought I might. But the heat today brought it all back—the main reason I decided not to go was that I couldn’t stand the thought of living in intense heat for so long. I must say, it really doesn’t make me very happy and I can get pretty irritable. Even my Russian suffers, because I don’t have the energy to try to communicate.
Well, enough of that. At least my house stays relatively cool, and the nights are lovely once the sun goes down. And I have been to the sea twice in the last few days! Friday I traveled with several of the library staff to the site of an international library convention that happens every year in a seaside resort town. The Gasprinsky library hosted a roundtable of librarians from the Turkic speaking world—there were people from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other Central Asian countries. The theme of the seminar was Ismail Gasprinsky and my co-workers asked me to do a presentation on what is available by and about him in English. I was a little nervous about it all, but it turned out fine with the help of my translator from Moscow, an older man who does freelance technical translating for a living. All of the staff, including the director, told me that I had done a great job, so that made me feel very good. Afterwards, I went with Nadjie down to the sea and went swimming! The water was pretty cold so Nadjie didn’t get in, but I, being the Minnesota gal that I am, loved it. It was especially nice before the very hot bus ride back to the city.
Saturday I spent putzing around my house, something I haven’t had the chance to do for what seems like a long time. I did not even go down to the bazaar—too hot—but just made do with what I had in the house. I cleaned a little, did a little English Club preparation, read a lot, visited briefly with the neighbors. It was a treat.
It is a week or so later now. I’m having a hard time getting my blogs written lately, plus now I have started to wrote a blog for the library and need to keep on top of that too. Anyhow, back to what I was doing when I left off writing.
The next day, a Sunday, was my Fulbright friend Elizabeth’s 26th (I think) birthday. She wanted to go on an excursion to celebrate, so her and I and a Lithuanian student and a Ukrainian student all went to a place on the coast called Cape Fiolent. It was a haul to get there—a 2 hour ride on the train, two buses, and then a walk down to the beach on a 800-steps stairway built by a nearby monastery. But it was very worth it—a beautiful coastal region of cliffs and rock formations that reminded me more than anything I have seen here of northern California. However, unlike northern California, there is not a big surf and the water is not so cold, so we spent the day swimming and playing in the water. Despite the difficulty getting there, the beach was quite crowded. I’m not sure where you can go in Crimea that doesn’t have a crowded beach. This has been the resort for all of Ukraine and Russia for over a century, and finding any “pristine” areas is probably not possible. Maybe if one had a car and could explore…or a kayak! My fondest dream—circumnavigating the Black Sea in a sea kayak. For the first time, I did actually see some people with a sea kayak—a Russian folding one—with camping gear piled high (very high—good thing the waves were minimal). Tried talking to the guy about where he got the kayak, but all I found out was that his father bought it in Russia a long time ago. It did not look very seaworthy, but at least it was a kayak—first one I have seen here.
The next week I spend preparing for our seminar at the library which happened last Thursday and Friday. Hmm...can’t seem to remember much what I did on the weekend. Visited with the neighbors, went on a long and hot walk to distant bluffs with beautiful views, did my usual laundry and some cleaning in anticipation of my next visitors. The highlight of the past week was our seminar Thursday and Friday at the library. This is the seminar we received the Peace Corps for—a training for 25 librarians from across Crimea on Crimean Tatar language and literature. Thanks to the grant, we had a lot of materials to give them that are published by the Gasprinsky Library, plus we gave them each a copy of the Crimean Tatar/Russian/Ukrainian di ctionary for their library. We had a nice hotel for them to stay in and provided food. They seemed to really enjoy the seminar and get a lot out of it. It was, of course, a bit hard for me to tell, as I couldn’t understand much of what was being presented, but there were many smiles all around. I gave a short presentation on my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer and tried to encourage them to apply for volunteers for their libraries. And they gave me a present as a thank you for the seminar, which they apparently had all chipped in for. I was so surprised and grateful.
But who should really get the kudos for making this all happen is Nadjie. I must say I was having a lot of doubts that this was all going to get pulled off. Unlike our American advance planning, as of a couple of weeks ago, little had been done to organize the seminar. I am not sure the speakers and participants had even been invited. And as of two days before the conference, we did not have an adequate place for them to stay. But somehow, Nadjie pulled it all together, and it turned into a well attended, well organized conference. I was really astounded, I admit. I said something to her about what a great job she did, and she told me that she has organized a lot of large conferences, and I can believe it. Certainly, there were things I would do differently and a little advance planning definitely could help in some areas, but it was an interesting lesson for me in how things can—and sometimes do—work in this country.
Heading off with Serdar in a couple of hours to get the train to Kiev, so I think I will get this posted and also try to post some pics. Love to all from very rainy Crimea (like every day in the last week!)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Deportion Day, visiting a mosque, Ak Mechet spring

Sunset in Ak Mechet on my evening walk
The fields turn green as the wheat comes up
Deportation Day display at the library
Billboard advertising Deportation Day
Dressed to go inside the mosque in Evpatoria

Kazan Tatars, whitewater, shashleek

A warm, breezy Sunday afternoon, and the first day I can remember in a long time of not basically doing anything except my usual weekend activities of laundry and going to the bazaar. And hopefully getting some reading done and a little work for the library and for the English clubs.
Yesterday—Saturday—was such an interesting day, and I so wish I had my camera with me. The day started with meeting Nadjie at the library to go to a Kazan Tatar holiday celebration. The Kazan Tatars, different than the Crimean Tatars though very similar in many aspects, including of course that they are Muslim, are the Tatars that live mostly in Russian, also called the Volga Tatars. There is a group living in Crimea, and on Saturday they gathered to celebrate a sort of welcome spring holiday, a holiday that the Crimean Tatars apparently c elebrate on May 5th, though I am not sure I heard much about it this year. Anyhow, it was a picnic on the river with traditional food, dancing, and music. My friend Arzy was there with her mother, selling books about Crimea and the Crimean Tatars. Apparently now they have a stall at the central bazaar selling books, probably as a way to get some extra income, which everyone is desperate to do these days. Anyhow, we had a great long chat and made a plan to go hiking to Chatag Dag, the beautiful mountain I see on my daily walks. I have been longing to go there—her 15-year-old “cousin-brother” will probably join us as he knows the trails, and hopefully Serdar will come too.
Nadjie’s “friend” showed up—the man that when he shows up at the library she always gets this sweet grin on her face resulting in much teasing from the office mates. I’m not sure what their story is, but he seems pretty attentative to her. He lives down in Yalta, I think has a restaurant there, and keeps inviting both of us down, so hopefully we will really do that. A lot of vague invitations happen, but sometimes the follow through doesn’t materialize. So, we’ll see—it would be a lot of fun I think, plus maybe a special treat for Nadjie.
I was going to the large central library after the Tatar event, so I decided to walk along the river to get there-Nadjie took the bus back to the center and home. First I stopped by the big park with the botanical gardens. The gardens are most known for their large rose garden, and it was in full bloom. Just magnificent with towering bushes filled with blooms, along with the traditional rose buses. I do wish I could have taken some photographs—I will have to go back. There was also some kind of free classical concert going on, students it looked like, but they were quite good. Their beautiful music echoed across the garden.
The river, I noticed, was very high and fast, unusually so, with continuous rapids. As the river narrowed, the rapids got quite big and it turned into a spectacular white water river. All those little falls and twists and turns that it normally gently follows had been turned into class 3 and 4 rapids. It was quite exciting, and I walked along, plotting my course through the white water in my imaginary canoe. Ah, I was in seventh heaven. Got to a place where I noticed people on the banks with various forms of life jackets on. Then paddles appeared and eventually folks carrying an assortment of rafts. Turned out there was some kind of course set up because further on down the river, lines had been strung across with numbers, and markers showing where to go. Saturday was also the annual city birthday celebration, and clearly this was one of the events. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is they open the dam gates on the reservoir above the city to create that kind of flow. Well, it was great fun, and a little hair raising, to watch the rafts go through. At this point the river was quite ferocious—I don’t think I would have taken a canoe through it, even a covered one. Well, maybe, but it would have been a ride, that’s for sure. The rafters seemed to be lacking in the skills department, and some didn’t even have life jackets on, and one guy was just on the kind of air mattress you buy for an extra bed. There were some dumps, obviously, and I was relieved to see that there were actually rescue people at the end. That air mattress guy I especially thought was going to need it, but he eventually made it through and pulled himself out and headed up to the top for a second try.
So now you see why I so regretted not having a camera—I keep having images of that whitewater in my head, and can hardly believe that is what my gentle little river turned into.
Stopped off at the central library to help my English speaking friend there with a brochure translation, wandered around the center a bit more, and then came on home. Later in the evening I went over to my neighbors. They were going to cook up some “shashleek”—barbecuing basically—so I ended up mostly hanging out with Neshet outside around the shashleek pit. Serdar got home late from visiting a friend, and we didn’t eat dinner until about 10:30, and then sat around the table outside, cracking sunflowers seeds (the Ukrainian and Russian pastime/addiction) and talking, even after the kids went to bed. I finally looked at my watch and realized how late it was—12:30—and that I better head home. A wonderful evening, and especially wonderful because they just seem to happen. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to go over there last night, and almost didn’t, but then at the last minute decided to, and that is what the evening turned into. You just never know….
Whoops, it is starting to rain, better go get the laundry in. I will post some miscellaneous pics. Love to all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Libray visitors, Deportation Day, Graduation

The two weeks following my return from Turkey have been filled with visiting Fulbright scholars, the annual memorial day of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars, and Serdar’s graduation. Plus being busy at the Gasprinsky Library—preparing for an upcoming presentation at the annual International Librarian Conference in Sukak in June on English language materials by and about Ismail Gasprinsky; purchasing the equipment for the library funded through the Peace Corps Spa grant we received; working on our upcoming seminar for Crimean librarians on Crimean Tatar language and literature.
Fulbright visits:
The first of the Fulbright scholars, Susan Benz, a U.S. librarian who had previously spent eight months in Ukraine surveying the Ukrainian libraries, came to Simferopol to do a lecture at our library on American library trends for the librarians of Simferopol. I am always in a fog as to whether or not these things are going to get pulled off, but we arrived at the library early that morning, and everything was in place: registration was happening, tea and cookies were being served, the reading room was filling up with the invited guests, the translator showed up on time. Susan’s lecture, accompanied by a powerpoint which she had translated into Russian, was well received. At a Crimea-wide conference later in the day, many librarians were talking about it and wanted to know how they could have a Peace Corps volunteer at their library (since my presence was what resulted in Susan doing the lecture at Gasprinsky). The only downside I saw in all of it was the matter of location. When I first presented the idea to Nadjie, she had said we would have the lecture at the Franco library, as it has a much bigger hall for lectures. Later, it somehow got changed to Gasprinsky, and I was unclear why. Eventually I came to understand it was a matter of politics—that Gasprinsky wanted their name on the publicity as hosting the event. Which I definitely get, as there were often those considerations at the bookstore when we were trying to decide where to hold larger events. However, the downside was that none of the Gasprinsky librarians ended up being able to attend the event, as there wasn’t room. I noticed that fact but didn’t realize how upset at least some of the people were about it, until one of my office mates angrily told me about. She wasn’t mad at me, I don’t think, just the situation. Nadjie tried to placate her by talking about the advantages of the publicity, but she wasn’t buying it. Can’t say I blame her.
The other Fulbright scholar who showed up was Linda Norris, who is in Ukraine doing museum consulting. She was coming down here for a museum workshop and offered to do a oral history workshop for the Peace Corps Volunteers wanting to pursue the oral history project idea. About eleven of us gathered for the workshop, and I think it really helped to get us going on this project. Linda wanted to see some of Crimea, so we spent a few days touring around—the Khan’s Palace in Bahcheseray along with a visit to a master Crimean Tatar jewelry maker where Linda bought a really gorgeous bracelet; Evpatoria, a seaside town filled with interesting places to explore about an hour from Simferopol; Sudak and Novy Svit on the southern mountainous coast. I am becoming quite the Crimean tour guide, though there are still many places I want to explore.
Deportation Day:
May 18th is the anniversary of the day in 1944 when the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse by Stalin, a tragic event in which an estimated 46% of the population died. Every year since their return, Crimean Tatars have gathered in the central square of Simferopol to commemorate the event and continue to press their demands for a return of the land and homes that were taken from them. This year, 35,000 people were there. They came from all over, including surrounding countries with diasporas—Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazikstan. And (as I found out later or I might have joined them) large groups of people from the surrounding communities (like mine—Ak Mechet) marched together to the center carrying banners. I went to the gathering site in the morning before people starting showing up and ran into Neshet, who comes to the memorial every year. His mother was 16-years-old at the time of the deportation, and her mother (Neshet’s grandmother) died on the train and her little 4-year-old brother (Neshet’s uncle) was separated from her and never found. To this day, no one knows if he lived or died. Neshet’s story is just one of the many tragic stories of deportation, the one I happen to know, but it helps me understand the passion that fueled people’s desire to return to their homeland and that brings them to Simferopol every year to commemorate an event that so profoundly affected their lives. The program began with the traditional call to prayer (that one hears from the minarets daily) and then a prayer by the head Iman of Crimea, followed by the Crimean Tatar national anthem and the Ukrainian national anthem. There were speeches by many different individuals, including Mustafa Jemilev, the legendary leader of the Crimean Tatars, and other government officials. I, of course, understood very little, especially since many of the speeches were in Crimean Tatar language, but I was just so glad to be there, standing next to Nadjie, occasionally seeing someone I knew or recognized, being in a sea of Crimean Tatar people.
Serdar’s graduation:
The other major event of my past two weeks was Serdar’s graduation activities, which I was so happy to be part of. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this event for kids like him. Unlike in America, they spend their entire school life in one school, attending all their classes with the same twenty or so children, from first grade to when they graduate at the end of eleventh grade. (Next year Ukraine is going to twelve-year schooling). They have the same teacher—called their “school mom”—that follows them from fifth grade on. They have teachers in other subjects, but this one teacher is a constant for them. So getting to a place where they leave all of this, is truly a transformative time for them. The first event is the Last Bell, an Ukrainian wide tradition on the last day of school when all the children, teachers, parents gather outside for a ceremony—dance performances, awards, etc, with the graduating class parading around and doing things like letting off balloons and white doves (there is a whole mini industry here of people who keep homing doves and then rent them out for events like this. When they take off, they just return to their home coop.). I went with Lenura and tried to take some photos and a little video of when Serdar was dancing with a classmate.
That was on a Thursday morning. That evening I went over to their house for a special celebratory meal and gave Serdar my graduation gift, which was mostly American dollars. He was quite surprised—gifting the way we do in America is unheard of here—but I think he got it when I said that I consider him part of my family. Saturday night was the actual graduation which I attended with the whole family plus Serdar’s grandmother (Lenura’s mother—Neshet’s parents are no longer living). It was quite the event, and very different from graduation in America. No caps and gowns, many performances, dancing and singing. My favorite moment was at the end when the headmaster of the school was giving out the diplomas and saying something to and about each student (there were about 60 students, 3 graduating classes). I didn’t understand what he said about Serdar, but it made everyone laugh and the students all cheered. Found out later he told Serdar that once he was in the university, nobody would be telling him to get his hair cut. This was in response to his refusal to cut his hair, despite being threatened that he wouldn’t be able to participant in the performance. They relented on that, but there was a lot of pressure on him from school and his parents, but he held firm. I was secretly proud of him.
There was an all night long party at a restaurant afterwards for the students, parents, and teachers, (mostly just the mothers go--only Lenura went), and then in the morning they all went somewhere to watch the sunrise. It made me feel so good to see him so happy and smiling, and once again, I know how deeply grateful I am to be part of their lives.
So now I think I am mostly caught up with my life here. Much love to all of you.

Photos from the Lycian Way, Turkey

Photos from Ephesus and our Greek/Turk village

Some photos from Cappadocia, Turkey

My Turkey travels

Traveling in Turkey. How can I even begin to write a blog post about all my adventures there. I saw and did so much, it seems. Here are some of the highlights:
My friend Pat and I flew from Simferopol to Istanbul, only about an hour and a half flight. Stayed at a hostel in the heart of old Istanbul and spent the rest of that day and the next seeing the sights—all within walking distance: The magnificent mosques of Ayasofya and Sultanahmet, the Sultan’s palace, the underwater cistern, the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul is a huge city—12 million people—divided by the Bosphorous strait into the Asian side and the European side. It is a truly historic city where the civilizations of these two continents met and mingled for centuries. The part I was in was clogged with tourists from all over the world, especially western Europe and America. I loved just walking around, taking in the people, the numerous shops with men in front trying to entice you in to see their carpets, the wonderful smells from the carts selling roasted corn and chestnuts, the beautiful flowers blooming everywhere.
Not wanting to just see Istanbul, Pat and I had planned in advance with the help of my friend Elizabeth who lived in Istanbul for three years, a sort of tour around Turkey, traveling mostly via the budget airlines located within Turkey which are great deals--$30-50 one-way. So after Istanbul, we flew to Cappadocia, located in the middle of the country. Cappadocia is an area encompassing several villages where cave dwellings and churches have been excavated by ancient peoples out of the peculiar rock formations. Even today, people continue to build houses into the caves and rock, and, indeed, our hotel was one of the famous “cave hotels” with many of the rooms located in small caves. Sounds rustic, but it was the nicest place we stayed the whole trip and was filled with English speaking tourists from America and all over Europe. We spent a couple of days hiking and exploring the area--going to the outdoor “museum” of ancient cave churches; an underground city of five levels where people hid from invaders; a pottery factory; a hike on a trail through a canyon where people had carved pigeon houses to collect their droppings to fertilize their vineyards, a practice only abandoned recently in favor of chemical fertilizers. One evening we want to a “whirling dervish ceremony.” The whirling dervishes are a Sufi sect founded by Rumi, the famous Sufi poet. Put on for the tourists, of course, it still was a solemn and moving ceremony where the performers (monks) go into a trance and whirl around and around for close to an hour, circling with the energy of the universe.
I could have stayed much longer in Cappadocia, hiking the many canyons, but after two days, we were off to see the wondrous ruins of Ephesus. Another short flight got us to the cit y of Izmir, where we were picked up by a very charming young Turkish man (who later we found out worked at a carpet shop and spent the next couple of days trying to get us to buy a carpet) and taken to our pension in a small Greek/Turk village up in the mountains. We were told that it would be a nice quiet place to stay, but it turned out to be overrun with tour buses during the day. But at night it did live up to its reputation, and it was great fun to wander the steep narrow side streets and eat at our favorite cafĂ© where I found my only Russian speaker on the trip—a woman from Georgia who was the cook. She made a delicious stew with thistle root and lamb, called “sevket-I bostan.” Spent a day exploring the amazing 2000-year-old Greek and Roman ruins of the city of Ephesus, the largest excavated ruins in the world, and then spent the remaining day hiking up into the hills above the village through vineyards and olive groves until we came to the tall pine trees at the top with views out to the Mediterranean.
That night we took an overnight bus—a common way to travel in Turkey, the buses are very luxurious—to our next destination, the 500 km Lycian Way trail through the mountains along the coast of the Mediterranean in southern Turkey. The overnight bus was not exactly that, because in the middle of it we had a 3-hour layover in a bus station, where Pat and I constructed a deck of cards and played gin rummy to pass the time. We arrived at our destination at 5am, waited for an hour or so and then took a small bus on a winding cliff road with 1500 meter drop offs to the sea (I closed my eyes at some point) to our final destination, a very small village on the cliffs high above the sea. We had originally thought we would hike the trail and stay in villages along the way and had brought backpacks for that purpose. But as the time drew closer, the thought of carrying the weight of the backpacks was less and less appealing, and on the advice of an outdoor travel service, we ended up staying three nights at a beautiful little place (where breakfast and dinner were included in the very cheap price) and did day hikes from there. A good choice, I think, as our hikes brought us through the beautiful mountain meadows with sheer rock faces towering above us, and down to just wondrous Mediterranean beaches. I remember so well swimming in the Mediterranean when I was 19 while hitchhiking around Europe—the crystal clear turquoise water, the gentle waves, the lovely white sand. And my memories rang true—at least where we ended up. The first day we spent mostly at the beach, an hour hike down from the road, and encountered just a few other folks, particularly 3 older people from Sweden who were great fun to talk to. And I wore a bikini! I had picked one up at the Peace Corps office that a 62-year-old volunteer I knew had left there. But when I tried it on at home, I thought, no way, I will never wear this. But packing for the trip it seemed much easier to throw in than my tank suit, so there I was on the beach, in a bikini. And like all the other women around here, not caring what my body looked like. That was the best part, that and the fact it was kind of like swimming in the nude which I do love to do.
So after a few idyllic days hiking and swimming on the coast, we took a plane back to Istanbul for one more day of touring before heading back to our homes in Crimea and America. We spent our remaining day taking a boat up the Bosphorus to the farthest end where it opens up to the Black Sea. The ruins of an ancient fort are perched on a hill high above the sea, and the views are spectacular. There are also many ruins along the way, ancient mansions lining the waterway, small villages, freighters and pleasure boats plying the waters. It was a good way to spend our last day. The next morning Pat left early for the airport to catch her flight back to America, and I wondered around Istanbul shopping a bit and stumbling across a rally about Palestine. Finally I made my way out to the airport and back to Simferopol. Serdar called the minute I landed and said he and his father wanted to come pick me up at the airport, that they had missed me, and wanted me to come right away to their house. And I had missed them too. What a wonderful welcome home.
One of the things I learned about myself on this trip is that what I still love most is travel that allows me to be, if not in wilderness, at least in the countryside. I am less interested in the sights of the cities, as fascinating as I do find them. When I think of coming back to Turkey, I think of going again to the Lycian Way, or to the mountains in the east that I have heard much about. I do hope to return to Turkey as it is not too far away (though no one seemed to know where Crimea was—I kept saying “It’s just across the Black Sea!”), and it is a wonderful place to travel—much better than Ukraine, I am sorry to say. There are many modern conveniences, the people are very friendly, in at least the tourist locations some people speak English, it is easy to get around and not too expensive. And so beautiful and rich in ancient history.
I came back to much going on here at home, so on to writing some more blogs and getting caught up.