Monday, March 28, 2011

House problems, birthdays, spring is coming

We celebrate Nadjie's 57th birthday at the library. That's Ekmet, the library manager, next to Nadjie.
Fatma, the library secretary, with my friends Gulyara and Medinye from the Archive Department.

Maviye (who lives near me in Ak Mechet) and Elmas, the new young woman at the library who speaks pretty good English--she says "English is her passion." "
Susanna, who works in the reading room, peaks out from the group.
A week later, also Monday morning, also at the library. Not a lot to report in my blog this time, it seems, and I’m trying not to let it degenerate into a rant about my funky mood. Though my house problems are beginning to get me down and possibly causing the kind of sleepless night that I had last night. My landlords made another attempt to fix my heater, and it worked seemingly well for a few days. But then on Friday I was sitting and eating some lunch when a loud whoof came from the heater, as it took too long to ignite once the gas came on and resulted in a kind of explosion, something that happened before when Neshet and I were looking at it and resulted in scaring the hell out of me and singeing Neshet’s hair. I think the problem is that the pilot is too low, but somehow I can’t communicate the problem well enough, or they just don’t know how to fix it. But whatever it is, I know it is dangerous to have a heater do that, as it could really explode and start a fire. So I turned it off and went back to relying on the space heater Neshet had brought me. And since the weekend proved to be fairly warm, that worked well for most of the house.
But then yesterday, I saw sparking at the electric breakers, and I knew there was a problem. Ruslan (my neighbor’s 19-year-old son who is the only one in the family with any mechanical ability) came and looked at it and said new breakers were needed. So, until that happens, no more heater and no more hot water heater, either. And the lights are iffy—if I turn too many of them on, they shut off. And then there is the worry of an electrical fire, but hopefully if I keep all of the heaters off, it will be okay until they fix it. When that will be, that is the question… I’m not sure if Ruslan even told them there is a problem. I will go over tonight and see what answers I can get. But in the meantime, I’m cold and feeling kind of sick and cranky, but trying not to let it get me down too much. Helps when I am reading books about places like Warsaw during the war where people survived (or didn’t) for months with little or no heat. Puts it all in perspective.
Actually, it was for the most part a pretty good week and weekend. Thursday was Nadjie’s birthday (57, I think), so she did the usual bringing of treats to the library and inviting the whole staff to our office for cake and coffee. Then there was a presentation in the reading room about Ismail Gasprinsky that I wrote about in my library blog, and later in the afternoon I helped friends of Nadjie’s work on their visa application to the U.S. embassy, which though a frustrating exercise, did give me a lot of information about what is needed on the application.
Friday I didn’t go to my tutor’s because I was too far behind in the homework and it was a nice warm day, so I took a walk up into the hills to check out the snow levels on Chatyr Dag in the distance. It still has snow, but it’s beginning to disappear, so spring is really coming. Spent the rest of the weekend doing some work at home on my computer for the Peace Corps, studying some Russian, going to the bazaar for my weekly shopping, doing more laundry than usual—sheets and towels (my least favorite hand laundry items), and helping Serdar write his visa application. Saturday I decided I wanted to cook dinner over at the Seitaptiev’s, so I got the ingredients for chicken enchiladas and Mexican rice. Armed with my dictionary, Lenura and I embarked on a joint Mexican dinner cooking project. I t was fun and came out quite tasty. Tortillas are something you can’t find here so Lenura made them, and they came out pretty good. I am always so impressed by her culinary skills, even when she has no idea what it is she is cooking. Next time we are going to try lasagna, and she will make the noodles, something I would never attempt at home. But she is so comfortable manipulating dough for all kinds of dishes.
Writing this has put me in a little bit better mood. I am starting to look forward to this week despite my cold house, and especially to going with the Seitaptiev’s on the weekend to Lenura’s parents village to celebrate her mother’s 60th birthday, and then on Sunday going hiking with my Ukrainian friends in Alushta down on the sea. And if it is cold at my house, I’ll just bundle up and keep reminding myself that spring is coming.
With love from Crimea.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Training seminar & first spring hike

Cheryl and Vicki at the seminar in their "power suits."
The "broken rock"--a hole in the bluffs into the roof of a large cave.
The first spring wildflowers!

Cheryl "on the trail"--though what trail, we're not sure...
Monday morning at the library and, as usual, I am trying to get motivated to finish a grant and do some other work. But first I will write a brief blog about the past weekend. Grace had organized a “career development” seminar for young women at the Windows on America department at a local university—a place where many of us have English Clubs, etc. The purpose of the seminar was to give advice and information on practical topics such as resume writing, but also to talk about the women’s movement in America and nontraditional careers, etc. As older women with more job experience, she invited Cheryl and Vicki and I to help out.
The seminar turned out to be a great success. About 23 young women came, all of them good English speakers. I talked some about my nontraditional “career track” (they were especially fascinated by the auto mechanic part); Vicki did a great presentation on resume writing and interviewing; and we all talked about the women’s movement in America. It was very enjoyable to take part in such a seminar, especially one where I had to do so little of the organizing.
Afterwards, the four of us went out to the local Indian restaurant for a little celebrating. Vicki had to return to her village, but Grace and Cheryl stayed with me at Ak Mechet. Later in the evening we were sitting around looking at the slide show of my PCV group when Serdar showed up, very excited with his new “international” passport in hand, the document he needs to apply for a US visa. The next step is filling out the application and going to Kiev for the visa interview. They say yes or no at the interview and many Ukrainians are denied visas to the US because of the fear that they will remain in the US illegally. But I think Serdar has a good chance of getting a visa because of his age and the fact that he will be accompanying me. I’m not allowed to go to the actual interview with him, but will, of course, go to Kiev to be moral support. He can’t take much time off from school, so we will take an overnight train, spend the day, and then take the overnight train back. Traveling in Ukraine….
Later, Grace and I got into a discussion with him about the “women’s movement” which he had a hard time understanding and accepting, but once Grace got him to see that the music lyrics of the anti-establishment American bands that he loves so much are saying pretty much the same thing, we got him to come around to seeing the women’s movement as really a human rights movement. But he still balked on the terminology—not untypical, of course. It was great to see Grace in action—she is so articulate and passionate, and I so remember being that way at her age, though I was never as articulate as she is. But the passion, ah that is something I remember so well. And not that I no longer feel it; it is just tempered now by so much life experience, I think.
The next day Grace had to leave early to catch a train, and Cheryl and I took off on what turned out to be a 5-hour hike, following the cliffs near Ak Mechet further south than I have ever gone before. Oh, it made me so happy—exploring the land on a beautiful sunny day, not knowing exactly where we were going, but not really lost either. We first went to a place I had been before—a huge hole in the cliffs into the roof of a cave. Later, as we were making our way towards the next rock outcroppings, we ran into an older Tatar man who spoke some English. He told us that is an ancient site—3000 years old—and that it has a Tatar name that means something like broken stone. Later, I asked my neighbors what the Tatar name was, but no one was familiar with it.
So now it is Monday morning and back to work, just like in America, I guess. It remains cold here despite the spring wildflowers we saw on our hike. A problem at my house because my heater has quit working. Thanks to Neshet and his bringing me a space heater, two of my rooms are nice and warm. But the kitchen/bathroom is freezing cold. My landlords keep having one of their neighbors look at it, but so far no success. The idea of calling a service person is not in their lexicon of how to deal with house problems.
That’s it for now. Going post this blog, have a little tea break and then, truly, get some work done. Love to all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My project at the library makes the front page

From the Field is a bimonthly newsletter published by the Peace Corps office in Ukraine highlighting volunteer projects across Ukraine. In the last issue, thanks to my PCV friend in Crimea, Cheryl Pratt, our library project was the featured story. I put a link to the pdf under Links of Interest. I think Cheryl did a great job capsulizing the essential details of the project and the need for it. Thanks so much, Cheryl!
A funny (kind of) thing about the photo. I sent Cheryl many photos to choose from and she sent them on to the Peace Corps office and that is the one they picked, with me in the center and Nadjie on my left and another librarian on my right, looking at an old book. Which would have been fine, except that that particular librarian is not the head of that department, and I knew the department head would be upset when she saw the picture. And sure enough, I was right.
There is an undercurrent of competition here in Ukraine that I think comes from Soviet times, when it was a matter of life and death (at least during Stalinist times) to look out only for yourself, to promote only yourself, to be suspicious and paranoid of everyone else outside your very immediate circle. And I think those feelings have gotten passed down through the generations--I know it is something we PCV's come up against constantly--that lack of cooperation, teamwork, and all those other America values so encouraged in the American workplace. Because of the language barrier, much of what goes on at the library is lost on me, but unfortunately that tendency is something I have picked up on more than once.
But maybe not so much with the younger staff. As always, one can hope that as the country moves further away from its Soviet history, some of the more damaging aspects of that time will began to fade. I know it is the hope of the young people to create a more open society than the one in which their parents lived.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A visit to Kyiv and new friends

My Kazakhstan friends, Aigul and Rustambek.
Sunday morning, back home in Ak Mechet now, arriving on the train yesterday morning after a 15-hour overnight trip, the typical journey between Simferopol and Kyiv—unless you fail to buy your ticket in time, in which case you can get stuck on an 18-hour train in 3rd class, with a bunk along the side—the story of my journey to Kiev. But it wasn’t as awful as I feared it would be, and I arrived in Kyiv in not too bad a shape on Wednesday morning. Spent the next three days getting a medical examination, going to the dentist twice (due to an infected gum), and going on a long car ride to get a mammogram with the U.S. trained radiologist the PC likes to use. In between all those appointments, I spend time hanging out a bit in the Peace Corps office talking to various volunteers coming and going, and also spent some time walking around the beautiful old city center. The weather was cold but sunny and clear, so it felt good to be just walking, taking in the sights of the people, the monuments, and the buildings. I know my way around Kyiv pretty well now, even including the subway system (called the Metro). One afternoon I took the Metro to a stop in the very oldest part of the city—Podil—and met a salesman from a company in Kyiv that sells book scanners. I had contacted him earlier asking to see the scanners, trying to get more information about what the library might need, and he agreed to take me to a university in Kyiv that has one installed. Turned out to be the most famous university in Kyiv—the Kyiv Molykai Academy—which I recognized once we emerged onto the street. It was useful to see the scanner in action, to see that it would be capable of scanning newspapers, my major concern as newspapers are some of the most important documents the library needs to digitize and preserve, and to realize that the more expensive scanner would not be needed. So, only $15,000 (!) instead of $25,000…. Well, a goal to work on. Surely somewhere there is somebody or bodies who care enough about the Crimean Tatar people to help preserve their culture.
But the real highlight of my visit to Kyiv was getting to know the woman and her son whom I stayed with. Aigul and her 11-year-old son, Rustambek, are Kazakhs from the Republic of Kazakhstan. She works at the Kazakhstan Embassy in the financial department, and apparently has quite a good job as she has a large and lovely apartment and drives a car—expensive luxuries in Ukraine. She wants to improve her English, so a friend on the PC staff suggested she host PCV’s when they come to the city. My friend Grace and two of her PCV friends stayed a night with Aigul, and Grace gave me her contact information. I was a little hesitant at first—sometimes it feels so tiring to stay with a stranger and try to communicate across the language barrier. But it also seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. I have always been interested in the countries of Central Asia—the “stans” as they are called—and think about trying to visit there someday, or maybe even do some kind of volunteering, such as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Response assignments, which are only for 6 months to a year.
So I made arrangements to get to Aigul’s apartment at the end of my day on Wednesday, and I am so glad I did. What a delightful person she is and her son is such a sweetie. We had a great time that first night, talking away in English with me providing the translation of some Russian words (which I was mostly able to do—hooray!), eating a wonderful meal she had prepared of chicken and potatoes and the Kazakhstan national food of horse (yes, horse!) sausage, and looking at pictures of her family in Kazakhstan and her travels in China and other places, and finally sharing a glass of sweet wine before calling it a night. The following evening she was gone to a training and wasn’t able to get home until late, but even then we shared food and talk and laughter and got to bed quite late and slept in the next morning. Rustambek is also a pretty good English speaker, and I had fun hanging out with him too. By the end of my stay, I was telling them that they had to visit me in Crimea, and Aigul was saying I had to go to Kazakhstan and spend a week with her mother in the village. And despite I being the guest, she presented me with a present to take with me (back to America she said)—a bottle of Kazakhstan cognac.
So, despite my not wanting to go to Kyiv and dreading the travel and time away, once again I proved myself wrong, and reiterated something I know--that just by staying open to whatever possibilities might come my way all kinds of wonderful things can happen. Not such a hard thing to do, after all.
Well, maybe I should get off to the bazaar while it is still a lovely day out. Spring is coming; I can feel it all around me. Much love from Crimea.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Traveling, conferences, the Carpathians

With Vera, assistant director of the Children's Library, showing our winning poster at the HIV training
PCV Vickie (on right) and her counterpart, Leana
PCV's Robin and Jim in Ivano Franciske
Framed by junk!
Real winter finally--a snowy walk in the foothills of the Carpathians
The view from the balcony at the COS conference.
Carpathian Mountains village.
My PCV buddy Fran.
Where the COS conference was held.
On the way to the opera house in L'viv.
I see it has been several weeks since I did a blog post. I really wonder where my time goes sometimes. Maybe trying to talk Russian with my neighbors….
However, these last couple of weeks I know exactly where my time has gone—on the road, traveling here and there for various Peace Corps activities. I was gone for a little over two weeks, the longest I have been gone from my site since traveling to Turkey last year. And I really didn’t like it—I missed the Seiptaptiev’s a lot—even managed to talk on the phone (in Russian!) with Lenura and Neshet several times. I also had a bad cold the first week and lost my voice for a couple of days, something that has rarely happened to me. But all worked out, and here I am back in Simferopol, at the library, feeling pretty good.
The first week of my traveling was to an HIV/AIDS prevention training sponsored by the Peace Corps for PCV’s and their Ukrainian counterparts—in my case, Vera, the new assistant director at the Children’s Library. I thought she should have the opportunity to go to the training because she was very interested in it, but, to tell the truth, I was concerned about traveling with her. I barely knew her, and she speaks no English and very fast Russian and seems to have a hard time understanding how to communicate with someone like me. But it turned out fine, as we traveled on the overnight train with another PCV and her counterpart—who also doesn’t speak English—and the two counterparts got along great and ended up rooming together at the conference. The training was for 25 PCV’s and 25 counterparts, and much of the time we were divided into two groups, though at times the groups overlapped with translation provided. Ukraine has the largest growing HIV infection rate in Europe, so there is a lot of emphasis on education and prevention training. It was interesting to watch the Ukrainians slowly change their attitudes towards people with HIV, especially after two HIV positive women talked about their lives. I think their courage to be there and tell their story opened some peoples’ eyes to who suffers from the AIDS epidemic--that it can happen to anyone.
For me the most powerful moments of the training were listening to these women’s stories and also watching two US produced movies on AIDS, both of which I have seen before but nevertheless, continue to move me with their documentation of the AIDS epidemic. Vera and I produced the “winning” poster of prevention projects we planned (or rather she planned) for when we get back to Simferopol. However, like so many things here, the real result is yet to be determined. On the last day of the training she seemed to lose her enthusiasm and said she would have to “check with the director of the library” about project ideas, and now, a week later and I am back at site, I have been told that they have “dropped” the idea of doing a project. I hope it doesn’t mean that they really don’t want to pursue HIV prevention work because besides the fact that the training would be a waste of my time and the Peace Corps money, it is such needed work. Perhaps I will find another organization to work with on this.
Following the HIV training, I took an overnight train to Ivano-Franciske, a city in western Ukraine, and met up with two PCV’s there—a husband and wife team in their 50’s from Alaska who have done a huge amount of work with their site, securing almost $100,000 in grants for various projects. They, as always apparently, were busy with work, but Jim still found the time to take me on a snowy hike along a beautiful river in the foothills of the Carpathians, and Robin to show me around their museum and library (and feed me some great food!).
On Tuesday morning, Jim and I (Robin came down with a cold and didn’t go) headed off to our “COS” conference. (I’ve never been part of an organization with so many anachronisms—COS stands for close of service.) Even though I am not “COSing”—nor are Jim and Robin—we are still required to go to the conference. It was held, as always, in a beautiful village in the Carpathian Mountains at a nice resort, sort of a gift to the PCV’s at the end of our service. It is a ski area and there had been some fresh snow, so a few people took off to the slopes. I checked with a few places to see if they rented cross country skis, but though people knew what I was talking about, no one had skis for rent. It is a pretty funky old place—no fancy lifts, etc, mostly tow ropes—but it is affordable and maybe a possibility for a trip with the Seiptatiev’s next winter.
Our group of 50 is divided into Youth Development workers, all of whom are young people in their 20’s, and Community Development workers, who are a mix of older and younger people. A lot of the conference was socializing, especially for the younger folks. Though I was glad to see everyone and spend some time together, I really don’t feel that connected to many of the other volunteers, certainly not the way I do with my Crimean friends and neighbors. PCV’s never became the primary support and social network for me that it has for many volunteers, though I do feel close to some of the volunteers here in Crimea, especially now that there is another older woman here that loves the outdoors as I do, and I do have a few friends in my COS group. Sadly, one of them had to leave early to go back to her site and then to America to get a health problem checked out. Hopefully, it is nothing serious, but PC treats everything as if it is, probably because of liability issues.
The conference ended on a Friday morning, I took the train back to L’viv and spent a snowy afternoon wandering the old city center and then that evening to a ballet performance of Don Quixote in the beautiful old opera house. I stayed at a hostel that was filled with PCV’s and then took the 24-hour train back to my site, also traveling with two other Crimean PCV’s. So by the time I finally reached my wonderful little home in Ak Mechet, I was ready to be done with Americans for awhile, as grateful as I was for the company on much of my travels.
Next week I have to return again to Kyiv for the medical tests I need to do to get my medical clearance to stay another year. But after that, I hope to just stay put for awhile. Especially with spring coming and the wonderful opportunities it will provide to explore my beautiful Crimea.
Love to all.