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.

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