Doug Teschner, the director of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, visited our library.
These are photos of the 500 year old Islamic school in Bakcheseray.
In between trying, on the one hand, to get Serdar a visa to America, and on the other hand, trying to get over the disappointment of not spending that kind of time with him, a lot of other things have been happening here in my Crimean life. Two days after I got back from Kyiv with Serdar, I left again on an overnight train to Kyiv, this time with Nadjie, my counterpart at the library, to take part in a Peace Corps presentation at a library fair. This was a first time ever event, put on by Bibliomist, which is a Ukrainian organization funded by the library initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The fair organizers invited the Peace Corps to give a workshop on Peace Corps Volunteers working with libraries in Ukraine, and Murat, the head of that PC program, invited me and 3 other volunteers and our counterparts to give a presentation. I really didn’t want to go all the way to Kyiv for basically what would be a 10 minute power point, but I knew Nadjie would be excited for the chance to go to Kyiv—where she has only been because of Peace Corps related events—and that it would be a great opportunity for her to network with other librarians.
So off we went on the overnight train, this time 2nd class at least since Bibliomist was paying Nadjie’s way. We arrived early on the morning of the fair, squashed ourselves into the rush hour subway (a first experience for Nadjie), merged out into the centre of Kyiv and walked to the beautiful modern building were the event was to be held. It was quite a big deal. There were over 400 attendees and the opening ceremony included remarks by someone high up in the government (was supposed to be the prime minister but a lower down was substituted), the American Ambassador, and other dignitary types. It reminded me a bit of the book fairs I attended back in my bookstore days with lots of booths showcasing their organization’s programs and selling their wares. Our presentation was later in the afternoon, and all went well, though the attendance was sparser than expected because of a competing larger event.
After the fair was over, Nadjie and I and my PCV friend Cheryl and her counterpart who were also there, walked to a nearby restaurant. It was the one place I knew in Kyiv that served some vegetarian options (for Cheryl’s benefit), but they seemed to have changed ownership since the last time I was there and the veggie burger went by the wayside, along with any decent food. But it was still fun to be at a restaurant, also an experience that Nadjie I think rarely has.
We got back the next morning around 11:30. I went home and tried to recover from all the train travel of the last few days because in three days, a large group of older PCV’s was going to descend on Simferopol for their meeting in Crimea, for which I had done most of the planning. It really was three of us organizing it, but since the other two don’t live in Simferopol where the meeting was to be held, I took care of most of the logistics. I got an email later than day informing me there would be the added twist of hosting the Country Director (head of the Peace Corps in Ukraine) that Friday morning also.
So I knew there would be a lot of work and a lot that could go wrong, given that the group now numbered about 30, but it turned out to be a very successful event and weekend. The weather certainly didn’t cooperate. Volunteers in the rest of Ukraine think it is summer all the time down here despite what we Crimean Volunteers say, but this time they saw for themselves the reality of spring Crimean weather. On Friday cold rain greeted them, and Saturday wasn’t much better, though the rain mostly held off until it was substituted by hail up on Chufat Kale. And at least some places—like my library and the Khan Palace we visited on Saturday—had no heat. But the hotel was warm and I think everyone was just happy being in the beauty of Crimea and for many of them, revisiting with friends from training.
I have been to the Khan Palace and Chufat Kale many times, but this time I and a couple of friends took a little detour to visit the 500-year-old medresse (Islamic school) that is being restored with the help of the Turkish government. I really didn’t know anything about it until Nadjie told me that it should definitely be on our tour of Bakcheseray. There wasn’t time for the whole group to go there, and most chose to go to the 8th century Byzantine monastery on the way up to Chufat Kale. But having been to the monastery many times, this time I wanted to see the medresse. There were no other people there, and despite the “fresh” look of some of the buildings, I still felt the ancientness of the place as I gazed up into the cliffs of Bakcheseray, trying for a few moments to imagine what it must have been like living in Crimea 400 years ago when the peninsula was filled with Crimean Tatars and their schools and mosques.
It is a week or so later now and I want to finish this post, go for a walk, and then venture down to visit Zera, the owner of the corner store who keeps asking when I am going to come for a visit. So more later about my ongoing adventures.
With love from Crimea.