Friday, July 1, 2011

June happenings

It’s a Friday afternoon, about two weeks since my last blog. Seems like much has been happening lately and it is going to get even more busy these two weeks leading up to my departure for America.
My PC V friend Grace came for a last visit two weekends ago before she took off on a month long trip to Russia and Georgia and then back home to the U.S. She has become quite close with the Seytaptievs over the two years she has been visiting me, so it was a weekend that we spent mostly with them, though the weekend camping trip we had hoped to take didn’t materialize because Lenura had to work some of the time. But on one of the days, Grace and I took off with Serdar and Safie to Balaklava down on the coast. We wanted to go to the beach, and I had just finished reading a novel set during the Crimean War in Balaklava, and I wanted to see the historic town and harbor. Grace had been there but not to the beach, and Serdar and Safie had never been there, so it was an adventure for all of us. A two-hour bus ride to Sevastopol and then a 20-minute taxi ride (because we didn’t know where we were going—we took the city buses on the way back) got us to the town of Balaklava. It is situated around a small harbor that is enclosed by high cliffs with only a narrow opening out to the sea. In more recent times, Balaklava is most famous for the being the location of a secret Soviet submarine factory in an underwater cave set into the cliffs. It is no longer used and is now a museum which at some point I want to visit, but the opening where the submarines came out is very visible.
The beaches in Balaklava are located outside the harbor and you have to take a ferry to get there. The ferry hadn’t started up yet for the season, so we hired a boat to take us out to one of the beaches. It was very beautiful, much like the beaches of northern California, and there weren’t too many people there. Though we soon found out why, and also why the ferry hadn’t started running yet—the water was ice cold—kind of like swimming in the Arctic. Well, really, you couldn’t actually swim—it took your breath away to just get in the water. But it was a beautiful sunny warm day, and it was fun to hang out on the beach together. But even that didn’t last long as the ominous looking clouds we saw in the distance started rolling in. Eventually everyone on the beach gathered under a large tent pavilion as the wind started blowing and the rain came down in torrents. Some people had gone to stand under overhangs from the cliffs, but eventually they had to move into the tent too, as water and gravel came pouring off the top of the cliffs. It was all pretty wild, as we huddled under the tent, trying to stay dry and warm. But the Russians, in their typical fashion, seemed undaunted by the weather, taking it all in stride. Next to us sat a group of picnickers who continued to eat and make vodka toasts and next to them were a group of elderly ladies who were belting out songs. I loved it….
Eventually the rain and wind stopped and we went out to the beach, but the weather had turned cold, so we caught a boat back to the town. Had some dinner in a restaurant on the harbor and then caught the buses back to Simferopol. A really wonderful last trip for Grace with the kids. The next day we made a big dinner over at the Seytaptievs’, played cards and talked late into the night, and then it was time for Grace to say her sad farewells, with me thinking to myself, “I can never do this, I can never leave them like this…” Not sure what that means for my future.
Grace caught the train to Kyiv the next day, and a couple of days later, I also took the overnight train to Kyiv for a two-day meeting about the community development projects (the program I work under) in Ukraine. It was fairly interesting and good to spend time with some of the staff people I like so much, but I was glad to get back to Simferopol and Ak Mechet. Last weekend was a four-day weekend, as Tuesday was Constitution Day (when the Ukrainian constitution was signed) and the government also made Monday an official holiday. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate much as every day we had rain for at least part of the day and pretty chilly temperatures. Cheryl and I had wanted to go hiking but had to give up on the idea. I did go with the Seytaptiev’s to Lenura’s parents’ village, which I love doing as I so much like them, and it reminds me a great deal of being at my grandparents’ farm in the South when I was a kid. They have three cows, many chickens and geese, huge garden, orchard, etc. They live quite simply—no indoor plumbing or running water, outside kitchen in the summer, etc. The village is very small and is located in what is called the steppes—the grasslands of northern Crimea and much of Central Asia—and is about a two-hour car ride from Simferopol. Only one bus a day leaves the village, and most people do not have cars. Lilye teaches mathematics at the local school and Abulmet tends the cows, etc. I know they came from living in a large city in Uzbekistan where they both had professional jobs—yet another piece of the story of the returning Crimean Tatars. I tried to understand from Neshet exactly how they ended up there but didn’t totally understand what he was telling me, though I know from what I could understand and also what I have read, that many Crimean Tatars ended up in remote villages when they returned to Crimea because it is the only place where they were allowed to settle.
The weather continues to not be very good, so not sure what this weekend has in store. Neshet had earlier mentioned the idea of all of us going to the sea before I take off for America, but I think the weather is going to prevent that, plus he is immersed in a fence project at the house. Cheryl and I might try to go hiking tomorrow, no matter the weather forecast. Cabin fever is setting in…
Soon I will be off to America. Can’t imagine what it will be like to be there, nor can I imagine being gone from here for so long. And my biggest concern—how will I keep from having a major setback in the language learning?
That’s all for now. Much love from Crimea…

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