Saturday, October 30, 2010

Libraries in Crimea

Time seems to be flying by so fast these days. Hard to keep track of what I have been doing. At least some of that feeling comes from the fact that once or twice a week for the month of October, I have been going with Nadjie and two other staff people from the library to small towns around Crimea to conduct a seminar on Crimean Tatar language and literature—the second phase of the grant we got from the Peace Corps. We will have visited nine libraries by the time we are done. And then I have to go to Kiev for a couple of days and close out the grant, so we can get our application in for a new grant by December 9th. Will also do a couple of medical things while I’m there—a teeth cleaning (they are now convinced that I really do need more frequent than once a year cleanings), plus our required flu shot.
The traveling to the libraries has been very interesting for a number of reasons. The libraries themselves vary greatly—most are fairly small, tiny really by American library standards, and lacking some basic facilities. At least two libraries had outside toilets, and at one we had to walk several blocks to a different building for a toilet; plus only the library today had heat, though I am assuming in the others it just wasn’t turned on yet. The collections seem fairly meager and not very up-to-date, reflecting their almost total lack of funding for new acquisitions. Today at our seminar, Nadjie said something about me getting a book donated for the library that cost $20, and there was much exclamation that I was able to do that (it was an English language book that I requested from the author). A purchase of a $20 book is pretty out of the question these days. All the libraries seem to have money for is maintenance and staffing.
But every single library was brightly decorated with interesting displays and filled with welcoming participants for our seminars, librarians from the even smaller libraries in the surrounding villages. And no matter what time we got there—even if the reading hall was filled with waiting participants—we would sit down in the director’s office for tea and cookies. And afterwards, we usually had tea again with open faced sandwiches, the standard fare around here. Several of the libraries had special Crimean Tatar displays and at least two of the libraries had Crimean Tatar music, dance, and children reciting poetry in Crimean Tatar.
The towns seemed pretty bleak to me, but I think they are typical Crimean towns of 5000 are more inhabitants. Two of the towns we visited have Peace Corps volunteers assigned to them, and I realize how lucky I am to be located in a city where there are many more opportunities to do things. I am especially lucky since I get the peacefulness and community feeling of a small town because of where I live here and access to the advantages of a large city (well, not large my Minneapolis standards of course—Simferopol population is about 350,000).
Last weekend I went to a truly large city about five hours north of here (“in Ukraine,” as we say down here in Crimea, despite the fact that Crimea is theoretically part of Ukraine) where a married Peace Corps couple live—Larry and Ellie. They are both English teachers—she at a local school, he at a fancy technical institute. Larry was conducting a training for a project he does called Living Library, in which culturally diverse people act as “books,” and participants “read” them to learn more about their culture. Seemed like a good idea to explore as a possibility for Crimea, but I realized it was really more of an English practicing exercise. But it was a good experience anyhow, and I enjoyed spending time with Larry and Ellie whom are leaving soon, plus all the other volunteers who came. And Cheryl, one of my new older PCV friends here in Crimea, and I traveled together, so that made it even more fun. On the way there we ended up playing cards with a Ukrainian woman in our compartment. There was a lot of laughing as we tried to teach Cheryl the ubiquitous Russian card game called duroc (Russian for “fool”).
I have also been pretty busy at the Children’s Library, trying to get a Halloween event organized requested by the library director with the idea of inviting children, teachers, and the director from the local school. Clearly a PR event, which I wouldn’t mind, but I keep making plans that are constantly changed, etc. A long story, but not untypical of my life at the Children’s Library. I really don’t have a counterpart there, and so I never know exactly what is going on, and no one works with me on projects. Ah well… I do have a lot of fun with the kids, at least.
Let’s see… what else? Oh yes, I just started a new adult English Club. I wanted to have it at the Gasprinsky Library, but, believe it or not, the Ministry of Culture (the government body the library is under) prevented it—during hours it would take up the reading hall and library patrons might complain; after hours we would have to pay more “rent.” Seems crazy to me, of course—we are only talking about one hour a week—but I have long since learned not to think too much about the whys of how things are done here. So instead we are holding it at the Krymchak offices where there is a big meeting room. Had our first meeting last week—it was a lot of fun, maybe I haven’t laughed that much since I have been here! Will see how it goes tonight and I’ll write more next time. I want to finish up this blog so I can get a little Russian studying in before heading to the English Club.
Much love to all.

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