Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kiev with Serdar

A group of dogs taking a nap on Independence Square in the center of Kiev.

Time just gets away from me here. It is Sunday afternoon and tomorrow my old pals from America, Joan and Sylvia, arrive in Simferopol. We are going to spend a few days traveling around Crimea, and then we are off to Belarus to explore the homeland of Sylvia’s parents, who were Holocaust survivors and were born in Belarus (which was then part of Poland).

I’ve been back from Kiev for a week but haven’t found the time to post about that trip or what I have been doing since. But I do want to get something down before I take off on yet another adventure. Actually, in ways every day seems like an adventure. I feel like there is always something new I am discovering about myself or the people I am around. The other day I was sitting around talking with Nadjie during a break. Normally there are other people nearby, but that day it was just the two of us. I have always wanted to know more about her family, her life in Uzbekistan, her parents’ lives in Crimea before Deportation. So I started asking questions, and she told me a tragic story so that so parallels my friend Sylvia’s story of her parents in Belarus. Both of Nadjie’s parents had been married and had families before the Deportation, and for both of them, their spouses and all of their children died during the Deportation or shortly afterwards (her mother’s husband actually died in the war). They met and married in Uzbekistan and Nadjie was born as a twin, but her twin sister died of whooping cough when she was one-years-old. Nadjie somehow survived, but it stunted her growth, resulting in the smallish person she is today.

I knew that it is estimated that 46% of the Crimean Tatar population died as a result of the Deportation, and some of those stories I have begun to hear, like Neshet’s grandmother dying on the train and his uncle being separated from his sister and never found. And now I know Nadjie’s story too, and it makes me wonder how many other people I know were so deeply affected by the Deportation. And how unknown this genocide is, even in Ukraine, I suspect. Many times I say to myself how this is a story waiting to be told, and often I wonder if I possibly could tell it. The other night I was over at Neshet and Lenura’s, and it was getting late and I was thinking I would go on home, telling them I wanted to finish reading a book. And Neshet looked at me, and said, you should be writing, not reading. That you are learning so much information and you need to write it. He spoke to something inside me that I have felt for a long time. That somehow, someday, I need to tell this story.

But in the meantime, I will continue to write the tale of my life here. So, the trip to Kiev with Serdar. It was a great time. I loved the chance to spend that much time with him, exploring Kiev together—walking all over the center, going to a performance of Swan Lake at the opera house (which he turned out loving), going to different museums and memorials—the Great Patriotic War Museum (what they call World War II), the Water Museum in an old water tower, the memorial to the Holodomor (Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainian peasants in 1931-32, resulting in 7 million deaths), the many monuments to Ukrainian and Russian writers and heroes. And I learned too, what it is like to parent a 16-year-old boy, anxious as he wandered alone around the center, trying to wait patiently for him to get up in the morning, accepting his mood swings, hearing him talk with his friends on the phone for hours at night. It was a fun experience for me, and I think him too. We stayed with a Fulbright friend right in the heart of the city in her spacious apartment, so that was quite wonderful and made it easy for him to be on his own sometimes in the center, something he wanted to do of course. And having him help translate at the Belarus Embassy where I applied for a visa, and also at the dentist (that was a challenge!), was a big help.

Kiev is so different than what I know of the rest of Ukraine. For one thing, there is so much evident wealth. I wasn’t quite so aware of it in the past, but being with Serdar and having him point out all the very expensive automobiles (like really expensive, the kind of cars I never see at home), made me wonder exactly where all that money comes from. The usual answer, and unfortunately probably mostly accurate, is corruption. It is just so hard to see, knowing how much Ukrainian people are struggling in many parts of their country.

Kiev is a lovely city, built on the hills surrounding the Dneipro River, a vast river way that runs north to south through the heart of Ukraine and supplies water to over 50% of the population, including Crimea via a canal. With the help of Linda, the Fulbright friend whose apartment we were staying at, I feel I got to explore a lot of the city, and now have a much better knowledge of its highlights. Which will come in handy as Joan and Sylvia and I plan to spend a day there on our way to Belarus, and then Sylvia and I will spend a day on the way back.

We took the overnight train back on a Friday night and got in Saturday morning. Sunday was July 4th, so as “warden” of the Crimean PCV’s, I and another PCV organized a gathering at the beach, as it turned out, to welcome the new PCV’s to Crimea. Only two of the four new ones were able to come, but it was great to get to know them a bit, especially for me as they are both older women. So now I am not the only older volunteer in Crimea—hooray! The weather for a change (we have had a lot of rain here, very unusual for a Crimean summer) was perfect, and the swimming was great. How lucky we are to be so close to the sea.

Spend the rest of the week getting caught up with work at the library—the aftermath of our seminar and writing some blog posts for the blog I am now doing the library (, helping a woman I know translate an article she had written on metaphysics (4 hours of that gave me quite the headache), and spending a wonderful evening walking with my new found English speaking friend, Irina. She is a very fluent speaker and we share many similar beliefs, and we can talk for hours, it seems. I so look forward to spending more time with her in the future. She is off to America later this month for a 3-week conference she was invited to on healthy lifestyles, and I am off to Belarus, so the next time we meet, we will have much to discuss.

Well, I want to get cooking, preparing some food for my friends’ arrival tomorrow. My next blog post will probably be post Belarus—it is going to be an interesting couple of weeks! Love to all from hot and muggy, but beautiful, Crimea.