Sunday, October 10, 2010

Traveling with the library

Posing with the wax figures in the Evpatoria Museum.
The whirling dervish monastery and our guide.
The staff in front of the big mosque in Evpatoria.
A stop at the windy sea on the way home.
With the director of the Alyushta Library and Gasprinsky Library staff member.
I see my last blog post was about backpacking on Demerji. Seems like a long time ago, because in the last ten days or so, you definitely would not want to be camping. We have had continuous cold, rainy, windy weather here—more like late November than early October. And, of course, the heat in the city hasn’t been turned on, so all my work places are quite cold. However, I can’t complain much because, unlike many of my coworkers who live in city apartments, I have heat in my home. I turned on my furnace and haven’t turned it off yet, so at least I come home to a nice warm place after a chilling walk home.
But, weather notwithstanding, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling these last couple of weeks. September 30th is “National Librarian Day” in Ukraine, which means the library closes and we go off on an “excursion” somewhere--last year we went to the Red Cave. This year it was decided to go to the nearby town of Evpatoria. I had already been there several times so was a little disappointed in the choice, but it turned out to be an adventure nevertheless. Just hanging out with the library staff, who I now know so much better than our travels together last year, is an adventure in itself. They are a fun loving bunch sometimes. On the way home, some cognac was cracked out, we stopped to watch the sea stirred up by a recent storm, and though it was lost on me, there was a great deal of hilarity concerning some visit to buy dairy products in a local town. I guess they overwhelmed the poor shopkeeper—not surprising.
And in Evpatoria we went to the ethnographic museum which I haven’t been to. The highlight was a hall of wax figures—Bush, Bin Laden, characters from Harry Potter, and many more. There was a lot of posing and picture taking with the figures. One figure was a girl with long hair asleep on a chair. I could swear she was alive.
The other place we visited in Evpatoria was an ancient crumbling mosque that was—and I think still is—home of a Sufi sect of Whirling Dervishes, the Islamic mystical order founded by the poet Rumi. An old woman dressed in a head scarf and colorful skirt showed us around and then ushered us into the mosque where she first had us meditate for a few minutes and then gave a long talk on the Whirling Dervishes. I so wished I could have understood her—they asked her to speak in Russian instead of Crimean Tatar so I could understand at least some, but still it was pretty unintelligible to me. She was quite energetic and clearly was going to go on for a long time, but eventually Gulnara, the library director, told her we had to leave. On the way out I told her I was an American and she gave me a big smile and told me to come back. Maybe someday I will—all the way home I had a fantasy of apprenticing myself to her to learn the Sufi way. A fantasy that I know won’t happen, given she’s an hour or more bus ride away, but I might try to go back on my own and see if I can talk with her a bit.
I am also starting to travel with Nadjie around Crimea to do the regional seminars that we had written into the Peace Corps grant I got for the library. We went to two communities last week—Chernemorski on the far west coast of the Black Sea, and Alyushta, on the southern coast. Nadjie along with two other women from the library conducts a 2-hour seminar on Crimean Tatar language and literature at the local community library for a group of librarians from the surrounding small villages. My role is to give a short presentation on what I do as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the library, and to encourage them to consider having a volunteer at their library. Both places were very welcoming, showing us around their library and town (both beautiful and interesting in their own right), and feting us with sandwiches, candy, cookies, tea, and even, in the case of Alyushta, cognac toasts (in my honor). Though it makes for a very long day as we leave early in the morning, I have really enjoyed the experience of seeing different libraries and meeting some of their staff. The directors of both libraries were quite wonderful and enthusiastic and urged me to return. Which I certainly want to do. Also at the Alyushta Library there was a young woman translator whom I found just delightful. We make a quasi plan for me to return so she can show me Alyushta and the surrounding land (Alyushta is located below Demerdji Mountain on the sea coast and is very beautiful).

As always, I have my ups and downs around my language, my work here, my relationships. And though I have felt for quite some time that I am part of my neighbors’ families, my life at work has seemed more distant, detached. But now, that too is beginning to change. I feel more at ease with everyone at the library, am less concerned with being able to understand and to speak correctly and thus I converse more freely. I feel bit by bit I am building connections and friendships. It makes me look forward to the upcoming year and the possibilities that might bring. Stay tuned! With love, from Barb in Crimea.

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