Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The house that Neshet built and a trip to the village

Photos of Sasha's house that Neshet designed and built

At Lenura's mother's 60th Birthday
Lenura's grandmother is on my right
Lilye's brother-in-law makes a toast. Her husband, Abulmeet, on her left.
Tuesday at the library. It is a crazy week, couple of weeks actually. Tomorrow I am going to the Children’s Library to conduct my morning English Club and also help a student with a special presentation she is doing. Then later in the afternoon I am meeting Serdar at the train station, and we are off to Kyv on the overnight train for his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy the next morning. We will spend the rest of the day wandering around Kyiv, and then take the overnight train back to Simferopol so he can get to his classes that morning. I will go my tutor’s and the library for a bit and then home to get ready for my next trip to Kyiv, a day and half later. Nadjie and I are going to do a presentation at a big library fair. A great opportunity for her and the library, but it involves yet another overnight train, day in Kyiv, and overnight train back. At least for most of these trips, we will be going second class, which is a bit more comfortable. Except for the bathrooms, but I won’t go into that…
Last week Neshet invited me to come see the house he has been building the last three years for his “client,” Sasha, who I think is basically who he works for now. Sasha is a wealthy businessman and has several stores which Neshet has helped design and build. I had heard much about the house over the last two years, so I was glad to get a chance to see it. I know that Neshet had designed the entire house, including much of the furniture, based on what Sasha wanted which was sort of a French provincial theme, I think. The house is very large—four floors—with large spacious open areas, which reflect Neshet’s minamilist tastes to some degree.
Neshet and Lenura picked me up at the library after an English club meeting. Then we went and picked up Serdar at the university and headed out to Sasha’s house. Spent a nice evening there, touring the house—I especially liked the tile work in the bathrooms—meeting Sasha’s wife and two children, and having some gourmet food—fresh strawberries and blueberries, salmon, shrimp, etc. and wine. They had recently been to America, so it was kind of fun to see their pictures and talk to them about it, all in Russian, of course. But I thought I did pretty well. If people talk directly to me and slow enough for me to understand, I sometimes feel like I am actually having a real conversation. I have found it depends some on the Russian speaker. There are people I just can’t seem to understand at all, like my neighbor Server, who I have been around a lot. But his wife, Maia, and I can carry on a conversation quite well.
But what was really nice about the whole visit was to see how much Sasha respected and liked Neshet and valued his opinion. And to see the pride Neshet took in his work, and rightly so. We sometimes talk about him building and designing a small house for me if I decided to stay on in Ak Mechet. Though I have a feeling such a project could be fraught with many pitfalls, I would love to try and do something like that with him.
On Friday, we all took off in Neshet’s car—which is actually a work van with only two front seats, so riding in it is always a little hair raising—for the village 2 ½ hours north of Simferopol where Lenura’s parents, Lilye and Abulmeet, live. I had been there once before in the summer and have seen them several times at Lenura’s house and like them a great deal. They speak no English but even so, I can always feel the warmth from them towards me. Their lives have not been easy—they live a pretty minimal existence with no indoor plumbing in two small structures in a very isolated village in the steppes, and have also endured personal tragedies, two of their three children having died at young ages. One of them was quite young, I think, but the other was Lenura’s brother who died when he was 18 or 19—accidentally electrocuted. Abulmeet drank heavily for many years after that, but now he is a teetotaler.
The occasion for our visit was Lilye’s 60th birthday. Her mother, who is 87 and I have never met, was also there along with Lilye’s sister and husband, whom I had met before because they live in the same village. We had a wonderful meal—maybe the most dishes I have had at a meal in Ukraine. The variety was endless—pelmini (small meat dumplings) soup, a sort of liver patty, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, meatballs with rice, samsa (meat pastries), omelette rolls with garlic and cheese, a different cheese pastry with garlic, various salads and breads and other vegetables—I am sure I am forgetting something. And for dessert, two fabulous cakes—one “store bought” which is not the same as store bought in America, and a scrumptious cake that Lenura made—which we took turns holding on the ride there as there was a lot of swerving around potholes (especially when Serdar took a turn at practice driving).
There was much toasting and talking and laughter. As usual, there was much I didn’t understand, but I still loved being there and being “part of the family.” We stayed the night but then left fairly early the next morning, much to Lenura’s disappointment. But as always, what Neshet says is what we do, and he needed to go to work for some reason. That aspect of their family life I have a very hard time with. He is totally the decision maker, with little or no input from Lenura, as far as I can tell. I think not untypical here, and particularly in the Muslim families, but hard for this feminist to swallow. I talk to Serdar about it some and am hoping that at least he is getting a little different way of looking at things. Safie doesn’t have the English skills yet for us to talk about such things, but I am hoping in the future. I have decided I am going to try harder to get her to speak English. She is starting to come to my English Club at the Children’s Library, and we are both making more of an effort to speak English together, instead of Russian.
That’s it for now. Next time I write this, hopefully Serdar will have his visa and our plans for a trip to America will have moved on to another level. Love to all from Crimea.

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