Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Serdar's 17th birthday
The weather here in Crimea is beginning to act more like typical November, or at least that was the case when I was in Kyiv last weekend—very dreary, cold, rainy. I went to Kyiv to close out my grant that I had received for the library, a necessary procedure before we can apply for a new grant. I had a pretty bad cold so didn’t feel like traveling, but there really was no choice. I spent all day Friday at the Peace Corps office, working on the grant, talking with people, getting a flu shot. That evening I stayed at the apartment of an acquaintance who was out of town, so I had the place to myself and spent the evening resting. The next day I went to the dentist in the morning and then spent the rest of the day wandering around the center, in and out of stores, looking for possible birthday and New Year presents.
Serdar’s birthday was coming up on Monday, and I knew exactly what I wanted to get him. When we were in Kyiv together in June, he spotted a book at a vendor on Independence Square who was selling Ukrainian nationalist books and paraphernalia. The book was the memoirs of Nestor Makhno, a famous anarchist in Ukraine in the early part of the century. He and his friends had become very impassioned about the anarchist movement, and he wanted to buy the book for his best friend. However, it was more money than he had, so he dropped the idea. But when I went to the museum of the poet Voloshin last month, I saw a picture of Makhno (they apparently were pals which further intrigues me about Voloshin) and remembered Serdar’s interest and was determined to buy the book for him if I got to Kyiv before his birthday. So when I arrived at Independence Square I immediately went looking for that vendor and there he was, and there was the book. We haggled over the price a bit, but he didn’t budge, which I wasn’t too surprised about. It is a pretty scarce book, as I found out when I checked the bookstores in Simferopol (who had never heard of Makhno) and at the weekend book fair where the vendors just laughed at me for thinking they might have that book. The vendor in Independence Square was a nice old guy, and I really didn’t mind paying the money (about the equivalent of $20), and it was fun chatting with him, though I didn’t understand much of what he was saying. I found out later from Serdar that he only speaks (or probably more truthfully only will speak) Ukrainian, so no wonder I was having such a hard time understanding him.
Near the end of the afternoon I met the acquaintance in whose apartment I had stayed the previous evening and had a cup of coffee at the nicest coffee shop I have been in in Ukraine. I took the overnight train back to Simferopol and slept fairly well, given that there was only one other person (a woman, thank goodness) in my compartment. I was still pretty exhausted by the time I got home, probably because of my cold and the fact that it wasn’t a very successful trip outside of the birthday shopping. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to close my grant after all due to some difficulties with the budget, so I have to make yet another trip to Kyiv to do that at some point. Hopefully, if I am able to go to the language refresher in January, I can tack it on to that trip.
I rested up for a bit and eventually went for a walk and stopped by the store in my neighborhood for some staples. Ran into Safiye on the way home and had a nice chat, but walking up to my door, I tripped over something and went flying. Bent my little finger all the way back—I quickly straightened it—and also cut my lip and bruised my knees. Most of it was minor except for the finger. I immediately went over to get some ice and TLC from Lenura, which she was more than happy to give me. I could move my finger so I knew it wasn’t broken, but it sure did swell up and is very black and blue now. Quite impressive looking, I must say. I really need to be more careful!
So yesterday was Serdar’s 17th birthday, and I went over to their house when I got home from work to share the evening with all of them. Serdar still hadn’t returned from his day at the university. He eventually showed up, beaming with happiness at having a great day there with his friends—“having a blast” he said, once he asked me what “blast” meant. He gave us all hugs and kisses and a really big hug for his sister for the present she bought him. We sat down to a wonderful meal and Neshet gave a long toast which I couldn’t totally follow, but to which Serdar frequently said “saghol,” which is thank you in Crimean Tatar. Later I also gave a toast to him and talked about his wonderful spirit and that I hoped it never changed. He told me that of all the toasts on his birthday that was the best. Which made me love him even more, of course. He was surprised when he opened his present to realize I had remembered and found that book, and told me that is the first book that he personally has ever owned. I said maybe he would need to put off reading it until he has a break from university, but he said, “oh no, I’m going to start tonight!” I had also made a card from the picture my friend Cheryl took of Serdar and I with Chatyr Dag in the background, and everyone really loved the photo.
It was a wonderful evening; the second birthday of Serdar’s that I have spent with him and his family. I often ponder where this life is leading me, as I feel a deepening love for the Seiptaptiev’s and the sense that they are becoming my family. And it is not only them, but also Maiye and Siyare next door and Nadjie and other women at the library that I feel a stronger and stronger connection to. Recently, the Peace Corps office sent out an announcement about my group’s “Close of Service” conference which will happen in February, four months before practically everyone leaves. A couple of us are “extending” for another year, but the people I have gotten to know from my group--Fran, Jud, Debbie--will all be leaving. But for me, I can’t imagine leaving next June when my service is officially over. And right now, the truth of it is, I can’t imagine ever leaving. The thought of walking away from these people I have grown to love seems unbearable. So who knows what my future will bring? Maybe someday I will feel a readiness to leave, or maybe I will continue to build a life here and America will become a place I visit. I try not to dwell on those thoughts too much, because everything is, of course, ever changing. I just continue to feel so deeply grateful and blessed that my life at this moment has led me here.
My love to all of you from my home in Crimea.