Muzafer and Nadjie talk to old classmates in Russia via skype
From left--Zera, me, PCV Rosa, Tamara, Nadjie
Tamara and Zera (on right) proudly display their manti dough.
I take a hesitant spin around the ice rink in Simferopol.
The various holiday gatherings are over, and I am back at work, trying to stay awake after a somewhat sleepless weekend. I do have some new ideas on grant pursuing that I want to tackle, but my brain is just too fuzzy and tired right now to do much of anything. So, instead I will write a blog post. For those of you out there reading this know that it comes from a hazy place in my mind. No telling what I might write.
Anyhow, the reason I am so tired is the past weekend I went with Nadjie to visit her childhood friend who lives in a village about two hours from here. The traveling arrangements around such things are frequently a mystery to me, and this was no exception. The reason for the gathering was sort of a “class reunion.” Nadjie’s friend Zera had tracked down one of their old classmates who now lives in Donesk, a large Ukrainian city about a ten hour train ride from Zera’s village. Also coming was Muzafer who lives in Bakcherseray near Simferopol. He has a car and offered to drive and pick Nadjie and me up in the city. That was great, except that for some reason, he wanted to go at 7 in the morning, which meant for me getting up about 5:30 am. And then there was his car—a very beat up old Lada, the Soviet built cars which are ubiquitous here. No seat belts, no heat, one of the windows wedged shut with a piece of wood. When we got to the village, Zera’s brother looked at the car and said, “You drove that all the way from Bakcherseray?” But it did chug right along, and of course, I have learned somewhat to suspend all my safety fears while traveling here. You just have to trust you will make it where you are going, or not…. But, really, it doesn’t seem there are as many car accidents as there are in America, despite the condition of many of the cars and the roads. Probably because most people travel by bus.
So about the reunion—because the schools here and in the former Soviet Union are not divided between elementary, middle, and high schools, and also because people don’t move around so much, students are with the same small group of about 20 students for their entire eleven years of schooling. The bonds they form with each other are immense and can last their lifetimes. In Nadjie and Zera’s case, the village where they lived in Uzbekistan had two schools—one for the Uzbek speaking children, and one for all the Russian speaking children, who consisted of Crimean Tatars, Russians, Koreans, and other ethnic groups. So, their classmates ended up being a diverse group and many of them are Russian. After the Tatars returned to Crimea, they lost track of each other, but Zera decided to see who she could find via the internet and last summer they all met in Russia. Nadjie and Muzafir were unable to attend (Nadjie couldn’t afford it and probably neither could Muzafir), so Zera had a little Crimea gathering and invited Tamara down from Donesk. And she also invited me because we had met the previous summer, and she wanted me come visit her in Sovetski (her village). Zera teaches English at the local Crimean Tatar school and is one of only two older Crimean Tatars that I have met who speak English. Two Peace Corps Volunteers—Rosa and my older PCV buddy Cheryl --who live in Sovetski also joined us later in the day.
It was very enjoyable being there in Zera’s home. Just having the opportunity to be with Nadjie outside of work was a treat in itself, but also I enjoyed so much getting to know Zera a bit more—helping her make manti, talking about her life in Uzbekistan. And one of the things that came out of the weekend is that Zera and I might go to Uzbekistan sometime in the future. I told her how I wanted to go there and see what it is like, as most of the people I know are from there. She loves to travel and said we should go together, though not this year as her daughter is getting married. I have no idea what it would be like to travel with her, but going to Uzbekistan with someone who is from there and speaks English would be my ideal. So, we’ll see. Maybe by the time we actually might go, I will know her much better.
I walked some around the village with Cheryl and saw where she lived—she has a room in an apartment with a woman and her 16-year-old daughter. Not an untypical living arrangement for a PCV, and she seems fine with it, though Cheryl is one of those individuals who seem to be able to adapt to almost anything. A great gift, I think, and especially important in being a PCV! Nadjie and I stayed the night, and I stayed at Rosa’s, who has her own apartment. Rosa has been in Sovetski over a year now and knows Zera quite well and is a very good Russian speaker. Once again, I was struck by the difference in language learning between young and older (Cheryl and I) volunteers.
We rattled back home in the old Lada on Sunday, and I got back out to my house around 1. Took a long walk up into the forest to see if the distant mountains had snow on them—which they do—and then went over to Maia’s for a bit. Her mother died last week, and I wanted to see her again and see how she was doing. As always, I didn’t know quite what the proper tradition is in these circumstances, but for once, I got it right, as all afternoon a string of sympathizers came by the house. Spent last evening over at the Seytaptiev’s, helping Lenura make cheburek and later playing cards with Neshet and Serdar. Oh, and I almost forgot, on Friday (which was a holiday—the Orthodox Christmas), I went into the city center with Lenura and Safie to go ice skating and afterwards for coffee and cake.
So it was a great weekend in many ways, being with the people I love so much. But when I was walking up in the forest, it struck me how my life here is more than becoming close to my neighbors and Nadjie and other women from the library. It is also becoming part of a community of people that have a rich and tragic history and to which I am feeling more and more bound. It is very hard to imagine coming back to America and living in a world that doesn’t encompass the Crimean Tatars.
With love from Crimea.