Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer begins

Lenura's 40th Birthday. That's her mom, Lilye, whom I adore.

Having some food and drink with the library folks in a hotel room after the library seminar.

The beach in Sudak where I got to take my first summer swim.

Oh, I am so feeling the need for a break from the constant struggle to live in this world in which I understand the language so little. Soon, I know… Anyhow, wanted to get caught up a bit on my blog, though haven’t been doing a whole lot lately, it seems. Last week was Lenura’s 40th birthday, which in America can sometimes be at least a fun occasion, but here “jubilee birthdays,” as they are called, just seem to mean a hell of a lot of work, especially if you are a woman. Because that is what you do to celebrate birthdays here, Lenura prepared a huge feast for 30 of her co-workers. Her mother, Lilye, came the day before to help and I came over that night to also lend a helping hand. Early the next morning, Lenura hauled all the food to the hospital where she works while Lilye made 140 manti to be delivered later. Needless to say, by the time we had a small celebratory birthday dinner that evening (leftovers from the big feast), Lenura was exhausted and not feeling too joyous, especially combined with the fact of turning 40—she started crying when Neshet was making a toast to her, and it didn’t seem to be tears of happiness. Many neighbors and friends dropped by in the next few days to wish her happy birthday, and the next time I was part of a birthday dinner—a couple of nights later with their friends from the neighborhood—she seemed to be in better spirits and enjoying herself. Maybe it was the vodka toasting….
Last week went with some of the library staff to the annual international library conference in Sudak. Check out my library blog for a description of our event. I actually didn’t do much this year, tried to meet the few Americans who were there-- which I did--but they were on their way to an excursion somewhere, so we didn’t get a chance to talk much. The real highlight for me was that, like last year, it was an opportunity for my first swim this summer in the Black Sea. The water is still cold this time of the year, so there were few swimmers, but being from Minnesota, I loved it. Was feeling kind of shy so chose to bring my tank suit instead of the bikini I wore all last summer, but that will not happen again—felt like I had on way too many clothes to be swimming!
This past Wednesday was my last day at the Children’s Library. I had considered continuing to do one English Club in the fall for older kids, as many of the kids had asked me to “keep teaching” them, but when I brought up the idea with the director, she told me that they will be partnering with a language institute here who will be having a new Peace Corps Volunteer in December. So that was a relief, because I didn’t actually want to keep coming to the Children’s Library, even for the one or two hours of an English Club. I have never felt very welcome there, nor have I connected with any of the staff. I did connect with a few at the beginning, but they all left within the first few months I was there. I feel a bit of a failure in my work at the Children’s Library, but I also know what could be accomplished was limited by the small amount of time I was there—one day a week and sometimes not even that—and the amount of time involved in preparing and conducting two English clubs. So that phase of my Peace Corps life here is over. No one much acknowledged that it was my last day, and it felt strange to walk out of the building with just the usual goodbyes. But I didn’t really expect anything else, and it seemed okay. Most of the kids I had gotten to know were gone for the summer, but two sisters came that I know pretty well, so that was nice. I do think I will see at least the older one (she’s a first year university student now) some in the future.
Well, off to the bus station to meet Grace, who is coming into Simferopol for her last visit before leaving Ukraine. I sure will miss her.
Love to all from Crimea.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Happenings at the library, my home, and a walk to Snake Cave

Still trying to get caught up on my blog posts. Today is Monday, June 6th, and I am at the library in a quiet office for once, since one of my office mates is gone to the annual international library conference in Sudak, a conference I will be attending on Wednesday, hopefully to meet the American representatives there.
My work at the library the last few weeks has been framed by two events—one is the two-day Peace Corps sponsored seminar that we held at the library on May 24th and 25th. I wrote about the seminar and posted quite a few pictures on my Library blog—see the link on the side bar to go to that blog. Overall, I think (hope) that it was a success, though I sorely missed Nadjie’s presence. She was the one with the energy and enthusiasm for the idea of promoting volunteerism in Crimean libraries. I think the rest of the library staff that participated—mostly my office mates and the new young woman who sort of speaks English—wanted to have a successful seminar but were not as interested in the idea. Of the three “experts” (speakers) that we invited from other parts of Ukraine, only one seemed passionate about what she was doing and the information she was trying to convey, and maybe that, too, would have been different with Nadjie’s presence. I do hope the participants got some good information from the conference, and, more importantly, the inspiration to start volunteer groups in their libraries. The evaluations we received were favorable, but for me, without the language capabilities to be able to truly converse with the participants, it was hard to know what affect the seminar had.
The second phase of our project is to work with the libraries in five or six regions to have a “Volunteer Day” in their communities to promote volunteerism. I am hoping that by September or October when we would be doing this part of the project, Nadjie will be well enough to fully participate. I think without her presence it won’t happen.
The second major event at the library is that we received a grant I wrote to purchase a $15,000 book and newspaper scanner to digitize and preserve the rare documents at the library, something the library has been wanting for years. A couple of weeks ago I woke up one night, unable to sleep, and finally got up and turned on my computer with the intention of doing what, I don’t remember. But there was an email announcing the grant award. I really couldn’t believe it. I had sent the grant off a couple of months ago and had somewhat forgotten about it, especially since there was no follow up from the grantor beyond acknowledgement that they had received it. But there was the email before my 4 a.m. eyes, listing the Gasprinsky Crimean Tatar Library as one of eight recipients worldwide to receive a grant from the EMC Corporation Cultural Heritage Trust. They are small grants—we received the maximum amount of $15,000—but it is an important first step for the library in their endeavor to preserve Crimean Tatar history. And I think what I found most gratifying was that someone, somewhere out in the world, read about the Crimean Tatar people and thought, “yes, it is important their culture be preserved.” It is such a recognition and acknowledgement of who the Crimean Tatar people are, which is probably the underlying purpose behind all my work here.
And besides the happenings at the library, in my home life major changes are afoot. Starting in July I will no longer be receiving money from the Gasprinsky and Children’s libraries towards my rent—the Children’s Library because my two year commitment there will have ended and Gasprinsky because they no longer have the money due to budget cutbacks. The Peace Corps has upped the amount they give me, plus I continue to put in some of my own money, but it still is not enough to cover the rent my landlords want. Typically, people in Ak Mechet with small houses like mine rent to groups of students, so the accumulated rent is quite a bit more than I can pay. My neighbors have been renting to me for the last two years because I think basically they like having me there, but what with gas, electric, and water prices all going up, they just simply need to receive more money. I think there is also the possibility that Abdul—their oldest son—and his wife Anifer will move into my place after their child is born this summer.
So I needed to find a new home. I know I want to remain in Ak Mechet, so I decided to ask the people I know here if they are aware of any places for rent. And of course, I immediately asked Lenura and Neshet and, as I knew they would, they extended an invitation to me to live with them. We had talked about that possibility last year when I thought I might lose my home, and now a year later, I think the idea of it is even stronger in our thoughts. At first I hesitated—mostly I am concerned about what living together might do to our friendship—but my love for them and the thought of sharing a family life—something that I haven’t really done in my adult life—was overpowering, so gradually I said yes, I want to live with you. And Neshet has kicked into high gear, trying to finish Serdar’s room so he can start working on mine. I do feel kind of bad that my moving in is causing him to work even harder than he already does, but Lenura assures me that the work needs to be done anyhow. Though maybe not quite this fast… But as of now, I will move in with them after I come back from my visit to the states in August. And I am so looking forward to it, despite my worries about loss of privacy, adjustment to different routines, etc. I feel so much a part of their family now—I really want to live that feeling and see what it is like.
And finally here are some pictures from a long (very long—maybe 10 miles or more) hike that Cheryl and I did, starting from my home in Ak Mechet. We were trying to find something called Snake Cave that we had been told about by an old Crimean Tatar man we met on our last hike. After a couple of wrong trails, we did find where the cave was supposed to be (it was marked by a sign), but we didn’t actually find the cave, as it appeared to involve some scrambling down steep cliffs. But we didn’t really care, as it was so gorgeous up on the bluffs with the beautiful views of Chatyr Dag and the rolling land in multiple shades of green. How blessed I am to live in this beautiful land.
Much love from Crimea.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Training in Chernigov and Day in Yalta

We got back late on Monday night from Sevastopol (missing a plov dinner that Lenura had made for us, I am sorry to say), and I had only one day to get as much done as I could at the library, and then off on the overnight train on Wednesday to Kyiv, and then Chernigov. Chernigov is the city I lived in when I first came to Ukraine during my ten weeks of training. It is a lovely northern city with tall chestnut trees lining its main boulevard. Surprisingly, it was much warmer in Chernigov than down in southern Crimea. The chestnut trees were in full bloom, and the center plaza was filled with beds of blooming tulips.
I had come to participate in the “Adopt a Cluster” program in which experienced volunteers become a mentor to a new group of training volunteers. I also made two presentations for the community development volunteers on my work at the library and on Crimean Tatar culture. They all seemed very stressed out—I so remember that constant feeling during training—but I think they particularly appreciated the information about the Crimean Tatars, as most people know so little about them. While in Chernigov, I stayed with my original host family from when I was in training, and it was the highlight of my visit. It was such a treat to spend time with them, to see how Artum—now 6—and Max—now 16—had changed. And the very best part of it was that now I could talk with them! They thought my Russian was pretty good—wow, what a great encouragement that was. I think at least some of their enthusiasm about my language skills was in response to the shyness of their current volunteer to speak with them, but nevertheless, it sure made me feel good. Of course, the next day when I spent three hours in language class with the new volunteers, I saw all the ways in which my language hasn’t greatly progressed—that grammar gets me every time. I seem unable to learn it. But all in all, it was a very encouraging experience.
I also enjoyed getting to know the new volunteers a bit—it will be interesting to see where they end up, how their lives develop at their sites. Some of them seem to be adjusting better than others, but I have found that doesn’t necessarily indicate how well they will adjust to their permanent site. There are fewer older volunteers in this new group, which is a disappointment, but PC Washington is no longer recruiting older volunteers, so not surprising.
I got back to Simferopol on Sunday morning and spent the day resting up, visiting with the neighbors, and getting prepared for the upcoming week, our last week of preparations before the SPA seminar the following week. Turns out I needed to be pretty rested, because trying to do that much planning without Nadjie—even though she participated as much as she could from her bed at home and I frequently went to her house to consult—was a huge challenge. I had to take over much of the preparations that she normally did, and it pushed my lousy Russian to the max. Different people at the library did take over various tasks, but they still kept coming to me for information, questions, etc. In ways it was good for me—I definitely participated much more fully in the preparations—but I sorely missed Nadjie. And, of course, it was so frustrating for her to be stuck at home, unable to contribute much to a project she so believes in.
By Friday I was pretty exhausted, but my PCV friend Adrianne’s mother was here for a visit, and I wanted to spend some time with them. Turns out another PCV, Nitai’s, who lives in northern Crimean, grandparents were also here. They had rented a car and driver to escort them around, and since there was room for all of us, we went on a day excursion together to Yalta to see the botanical gardens and the Livadia Palace. I had been to both places before (Livadia several times), but it was a treat to just hang out with them all. The funniest thing that happened was at the botanical gardens there was a “labyrinth” advertised—it cost extra to go into it, but Judy (Adrianne’s mother) and I both jumped at the chance to “walk the labyrinth,” a spiritual practice we were both familiar with. Well, it turns out the word “labyrinth” in Russian translates to “maze” in English, and that is definitely what it was, complete with screeching sounds that went off when you went under certain arches. Definitely not a spiritual experience. The rest of the group joined us after a bit, and we all proceeded to get very lost and continually set off the screechers. Judy and I were laughing so hard, we could barely get out of the maze. So much for walking the labyrinth in Ukraine.
The rest of the day was very pleasant—what a major treat to be driven around in a car (!!)—so by the time I got home in the evening, I was pretty relaxed. The next morning I took off with Adrianne and her mother on a two-hour bus ride to a PCV’s village in eastern Crimea where a big gathering was planned as a sendoff to the four volunteers that are leaving their sites in Crimea. Judy couldn’t believe that we would travel two hours for a party, but we, of course, thought nothing about it, as that is typical here if there is any kind of PCV gathering. It was a lot of fun and some really great food, and though I got back pretty late, I had the next day to rest up for the SPA seminar week. More on that in my next post.
Love to all from Crimea.

Language lessons in Chernigov. That's Tamila on the left, my original language instructor.

Mike practicing presenting flowers and wishing happy birthday.

My adopted cluster in Chernigov.

The Yalta group pose for photo in front of Aya Dag--Bear Mountain in Crimean Tatar.

Judy in the maze.

A scene from the gardens.

The bamboo forest.

Adrianne and Nitai's grandmother enjoy a beer in a cafe in Yalta.