Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An idle Wednesday and a rock concert

It’s Wednesday and I am at home today, sitting at my desk, contemplating what to do. For the past two years, I have worked at the Children’s Library on Wednesdays, conducting English Clubs. With my extension, my commitment to the Children’s Library ended. I offered to continue with the afternoon English Club, but they are hoping to get their own volunteer or partner with an organization—a linguistics institute in Simferopol—who will be receiving a volunteer in December. I am glad I am no longer at the Children’s Library, as there was no one there to work with and they were generally not very supportive of even the English Clubs. I liked getting to know many of the kids, particularly the little bit older ones who could speak English better, but I always felt inadequate in my knowledge of how to teach English, especially to the younger ones who had little language skills.
So I am somewhat at loose ends, feeling a need and desire to do something productive on this day, but not sure what that would be. I am hoping to start an English Club in Ak Mechet on Wednesday evenings if we can get permission to use the mosque, as it is the only community building in Ak Mechet. Last week I also visited my friend Ira who is the director of a home for unwed mothers in a nearby village. It is a new concept in Ukraine—giving homeless young women with babies and children—many uneducated and with no families—a place to live for 18 months where they can learn skills to take care of their children and become self sufficient. There are only 15 such facilities in Ukraine and only one in Crimea. Ira, who is a fluent English speaker and has long worked in social services including being head of a nonprofit organization dealing with addiction, was excited to take over the position of Director of the new facility. However, as she told me, she has mostly ended up dealing with the never ending administration hassles, including being in a village in which they are not wanted and in a building owned by the town council who is demanding its return. She said about 80% of her job is resolving problems and only 20% actually working with the young women, which she loves and most wanted to do.
I had hoped to volunteer at the center, but as always, my lack of language fluency and no translator limits what I can do. There is a possibility we might do some kind of HIV prevention training in the future, as I have a number of materials in Russian from the Peace Corps training I went to last year. Ira is leaving on vacation soon and said we could talk about it when she returns. Ira is an interesting person—she is by far the most western leaning older person I have met here. When she was in her twenties, she lived in the US for two years on a student program and has since been invited back to social work conferences. She is married to a French citizen and spends her vacations there, and eventually plans to live in France six months of the year. Their common language is English, so her level of fluency is high. Her daughter is also married to a French citizen, and they live in Shanghai because of his work. They have a young daughter who speaks Russian, French, English, and Chinese! Ah, to have grown up in a multi-language world.
And speaking of language, perhaps I will now get back to my Russian studying for a bit and then take a walk later in the afternoon. I had hoped to convince Lenura to go on some kind of excursion with me as this is her last week of vacation, but because Neshet ended up staying home from work today—he’s supervising some kind of work on the road—she felt like she had to stay home. It’s hard to get past the feeling that I am once again “wasting” a beautiful fall day by being inside.
A few hours later after returning from a three plus hour walk. Boy, am I sore…not a good sign, as Cheryl and I are planning an overnight backpack trip in the mountains this weekend. But it sure was great being out on this beautiful day.
And for my final words on this blog post, I must tell about an amazing concert I went to Saturday night with Serdar. He had told me about a well known woman Russian rock singer who was coming to Simferopol with her band and had me listen to her on ytube. And it turns out she is a lesbian, which even Lenura told me and said that “she lives with another woman”—also a rock star. Well, that of course made me want to go, a desire even further increased by learning we have the same birth date, which I took as a sign that I should go to this concert. So I offered to buy tickets for Serdar and off we went Saturday night to the big performance theater in the city center. We got there early and stood around outside waiting to go in and what I took to be lesbian couples kept showing up. Yes, there is, somewhere, a lesbian community here in Simferopol. It was so great to see and it made me sooo homesick for that part of my life in America.
The concert was amazing—she is a powerful singer with that kind of deep Russian passion I find hard to describe but know that there is something different about it. I, of course, couldn’t understand the words, but Serdar told me she uses a lot of Russian poetry in her music. And at one point she recited a long Russian poem with such emotion and power that it totally brought the house down. Women were constantly bringing flowers to her on stage. This is a typical practice here at performances, but she generated a larger than usual outpouring. She clearly has a very devoted following. One woman even gave her a hand knitted top, and she promptly turned her back to the audience, took off the shirt she was wearing, and put on the gift and wore it the rest of the concert. Now that is something I don’t think you would see at many rock concerts. She was just incredible—I can’t think of any woman singer like her in America. I have a couple of videos Serdar took with my camera, and you can also check her out on ytube. Her name is Svetlana Surganova. Gave me a whole other view of Russia…and Simferopol.
That’s it for now. Much love from beautiful Crimea.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My new digs and a family outing

Just realized it’s been over a month that I have been back in Crimea. I’m sitting at my new desk which arrived last week, along with bookshelves and a night table. I spent last Saturday putting all my stuff away and now feel really settled into my new room. It is on the second floor and is a large room with a high ceiling, very light and airy. There is a large double window, and I love looking out over the rooftops of Ak Mechet, including my former home across the street.

I feel lucky to be living here—it certainly is an upgrade from my former place—but living with people is taking some getting used to. Not just people, but a family in which I have some kind of role, though exactly what that role is, I’m not so sure. Mostly I think I am seen as the live-in grandma who needs some taking care of. So I get all my meals cooked for me, my clothes washed, my room cleaned, my health attended to by various medications (though sometimes that can be very dubious as I looked up one drug Lenura was trying to foster on me for intestinal problems and it was an antibiotic no longer prescribed in the West because of a rare side effect that is fatal!). It’s a treat to be so taken care of, and I realize it gives me a lot more time in my life for other things. I do some cooking, some clothes washing, dish washing, etc. but it is minimal compared to when I lived alone. But of course there are tradeoffs too. I so miss my independence—eating when I want to, being quiet and alone when I want to (though shutting and locking the door to my room provides that to some degree), and just not having anyone paying attention to my daily life. I laugh at myself, because one of the reasons I no longer wanted to live alone was exactly that—I wanted there to be someone/s in my life that cared about my comings and goings. So it is an experiment in progress. I’m not sure how I will feel by the end of this year and I have to make a decision of whether to stay in Crimea or not. I know in the long term that if I do decide to stay for a period of time, that I would want my own place again.

I am feeling somewhat restless right now. I have more time on my hands—I no longer work at the Children’s Library one day a week, so I am only working three days a week. And I seem to have fewer friends to make plans with as PCV friends leave the country and others are busier in their lives. The weather has been beautiful this fall, and I so want to be out hiking, but am hesitant to go alone except around where I live. It’s not that I think it isn’t safe; it’s more than I just like the companionship of hiking with someone. Serdar, of course, has been a favorite hiking companion, but now that university classes have started again, he really doesn’t have the time to take a whole day off on the weekend. Occasionally, though, the family decides to go somewhere—well, actually, Neshet decides, as is always the case. A few weeks back we went to find Snake Cave where I had hiked to with Cheryl in the spring. We had some difficulty finding it, as walking and driving are two different routes, but eventually we did come out on the bluffs and the location of the cave. We couldn’t actually see the entrance to the cave, so decided that you must have to enter it from below the bluffs. I read a description of it recently—it is over 300 meters long and has a narrow, winding passageway, thus the name snake cave, I suppose. Anyhow, I hope that is so, because I would like to find the opening of the cave and explore it a bit and would rather not have the company of a lot of snakes!

While up on the bluffs, Neshet spotted a large lake in the distance—turned out to be the Partisan Reservoir. There are a lot of reservoirs in Crimea to provide drinking water. Usually, the access to a reservoir is restricted and there is no swimming. But Neshet decided he wanted to go to the reservoir anyhow and check it out, so we all piled in the van and took off on some very back roads—I had hiked one of those roads and thought it might be pretty impassable for a car, but by going very slowly and occasionally stopping to inspect the road, we managed to get through. We eventually got to the small village where the reservoir is located and, indeed, as expected, the road to the reservoir was gated off and a guard was posted. So no going that way. But Neshet, undaunted as always, drove around looking for another entrance and eventually pulled off on a side road, parked the van, and we all got out and started hiking down what looked like a cow path. How he knew where to go is beyond me, but I think Neshet has some kind of sixth sense about Crimean land—he always seems to find what he is looking for. And sure enough, we came out onto one of the arms of the reservoir and hiked along it for awhile. It is a beautiful lake nestled in the hills, and though access is restricted, apparently people do picnic there, and we did see one fisherman. We had brought picnic things with us but left them in the car because we had forgotten the sashlik equipment (sashliking is the Ukrainian version of barbequing which consists of cooking marinated meat on either skewers or a flat wire holder). We didn’t stay long, but it was nice to be there for even a bit and just be out in the lovely day. Maybe tomorrow (a Sunday) I can somehow get the family to again go on an excursion somewhere. Or maybe I will go alone and find the entrance to Snake Cave….
Love from Crimea.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Some of the my life after returning from America and reflections on life in a small village

Yesterday Nadjie returned to work. I went to her home in the morning and walked with her to the library (about two blocks). She is still walking with crutches and goes slow but can walk fairly well. I went to the local store and bought some cakes so we could have a celebration of her return to the library—a gathering of all the staff as they welcomed her back to work. I watched her all day as she worked away, seemingly unconcerned about her disabled state, and then walked home with her at the end of the day. On the bus back out to Ak Mechet, all I could think was “molya dets”—Russian for “good job” or “way to go.” I know four months ago when she fell and broke her hip, no one at the library expected her to return to work. Indeed, at a staff meeting the library director pretty much said that: “Don’t expect Nadjie to return; it takes months to recover from such an injury and she only has three months in which to do it. If she can’t come back to work in three months, she will lose her job.” Also she is at pensioner age (retirement age), and people expected she would just stay home. But they didn’t reckon with Nadjie’s fierce will, her determination to continue to have a useful and fulfilling life. So three months sick leave and one month vacation later, she hobbled her way back to work, everyone be damned. For myself, I feel so grateful that she has been able to return to the library, that I will have the opportunity to continue to work with her, that this difficult circumstance has had the silver lining of allowing us to become closer, that our ability to communicate with one another continues to grow. I look forward to seeing where this year will take us.

A few words (as promised in my last blog post) about what I have been up to since returning from America, besides trying to be part of a family.
I arrived back in Simferopol on the morning of August 18th after flights from Chicago to Amsterdam to Kyiv, and then the overnight train back to Crimea. Serdar met me at the train station, and we were both so happy to see each other again. We took a taxi together back out to Ak Mechet, and I spent the rest of the day unpacking, getting acquainted with my new room, and, much to Serdar and Safie’s delight, distributing some presents. That led to a further activity in the afternoon, when Serdar and I went back into the center to buy a wireless router for the house. With my moving in, cousin Sara giving Serdar her used Mac laptop and Neshet her used IPad, the house had all of a sudden become loaded with portable computers. So now we have internet access all over the house—when it is working, which is most of the time. It’s faster than what I had, and best of all, unlimited. (I have even taken to watching the Daily Show once in a while, something I didn’t even do in the States since I didn’t have cable).

The weekend after I returned was filled with hanging out with the family, spending time with Nadjie, and visiting with the neighbors. On Sunday I went with the family to the beach for the day. It was a glorious sunny warm day, but the sea continues to be so cold that it is difficult to be in the water for very long. Of the four times I went to the beach this summer, only one time was the water temperature tolerable, which is so unlike last summer when the water became very warm. The cold sea this year is due to a cooler summer, and especially the cool winds blowing out of the north.

On Tuesday of that week I went to see Nadjie again and then took off with Serdar for a few days visit to his grandparents’ (Lenura’s parents) village, Beravoska. At least I was supposed to go with Serdar. He got so involved in activities with a friend that he missed the bus and ended up coming on a later bus. But after the initial frustration of waiting for him, I really didn’t mind going there alone. It’s about a two-hour bus ride. Lilie met me out on the road, and we walked to their little house in the village. Ablumet was bringing their three cows back from a pasture further down the road, and Lilie got out the milking bucket and cans. Fun to watch her milk the cows, but I didn’t give it a try—I remember how difficult it is for the poor cow with an inexperienced milker! Then the three of us had some dinner and sat around and talked until Serdar showed up a couple of hours later. They were so welcoming to me, but I think they found it difficult to talk with just me and no Serdar there to help translate. For me, despite the communication difficulty, it gave me more of an opportunity to converse with them. Once Serdar showed up, they, of course, mostly wanted to talk with him. Besides the fact that he is their only grandson and they hadn’t seen him all summer, it is just so much easier to talk with another native speaker. As we all know. But they are both such sweethearts and tried to make me feel at home as much as possible.

Serdar and I spent two full days there—one of those days biking around the village, the other just relaxing and hanging out—and then headed back to Simferopol on an early Friday morning bus. While I was there, I went on a tour of their local school. Lilie and her sister are both teachers there, and her brother-in-law is the principal (or headmaster as they say here), and they all wanted me to see the school. Preparations were underway for the beginning of classes in a few days—fresh paint and displays, books organized, etc. We went from room to room—the physics classroom, the library, the small Crimean Tatar museum, the language department. Almost all the teachers are Crimean Tatar and at least half the children are Crimean Tatar. And though clearly everyone was trying so hard to make the school a cheery, inviting kind of place, I found it so depressing—hardly any computers or other technical equipment, old, very worn textbooks, none of the learning aides we are so accustomed to in even poorer schools in America. And even for Ukraine, I guess it is pretty marginal, as everyone kept asking what I thought of it for a “village school,” the implication being that the schools in the cities are much better, an impression that Serdar confirmed as he compared it to the school he attended in Simferopol.

I wondered how Lilie and Aublumet ended up in this small village that is populated, according to Ablumet, with 65% Crimean Tatars. They lived in a large city in Uzbekistan and had successful careers, she as a chemical engineer in a factory, he as a drummer in a famous band. Apparently they did quite well, enough so that they were able to send Lenura to camp every summer, a privilege reserved for the children of wealthier parents. Why didn’t they end up living in a city like Simferopol when they came to Crimea? I asked them how they came to live in the village, and they said that Lenura’s sister and husband were already living in the village, so they came there too, as families often do. Lenura married Neshet in Uzbekistan and ended up living in Simferopol. From Neshet I got another side of the story. If I understand correctly what he said (and I never really know—sometimes later I realize I was pretty far off in my understanding), when the Crimean Tatars started flooding back to Crimea, they weren’t allowed to settle just anywhere—they were denied work and building permits, weren’t allowed to buy homes. Apparently, the local governments were pretty much able to keep them out of their area if they so desired, and as a result, many of the Crimean Tatars ended up in remote villages where few people were living and no one else much wanted to live, a village like Beravoska. Located far out in the steppes, it has thirteen dusty, marginally paved streets, a few small stores, a long low building that houses the mosque on one side, the orthodox Christian church on the other, and a “house of culture”—the ubiquitous building found in any town of any size in the former Soviet Union. Sort of a community center, the Houses of Culture tend to be the home for various organizations. In Beravoska, we found a small library there, but not much else. The school in Beravoska, as do all Ukrainian schools, houses all eleven grades in one building.

And so that is where Lilie and Ablumet will live out their lives, I suppose. They don’t seem unhappy, but it’s hard for me to know what is in their heads and hearts, whether or not they long for a former—or different—life. They have had great tragedy in their life—a child that died within a year of birth and an only son who died in an accident when he was 18 years old. Lenura wanted to know if we were going to visit her brother’s grave while we were there—something she always does when she comes to her parent’s village. So Serdar and I rode out on bikes to a lonely graveyard surrounded by the unending wheat fields. The Christian and Muslim graves were all there together, and after a little search we found the grave with his photo on the headstone—what a handsome young man he was, with a face so similar to Lenura’s. I have come to love Lilie and Ablumet and it is heartbreaking to imagine the pain of such a loss. And maybe being close to the final resting place of their son is one of the reasons they will never leave their little village.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reflections on my new life in Crimea

It’s Tuesday, September 6th, my second day back at the library after what feels like a long time away—my last day of work was July 14th, I think. Almost two months have passed since then and so much has happened—moving out of my little house; traveling 40 hours to get to America and then the hecticness of trying to see my friends and family spread across the country; returning to Ukraine/Crimea/AkMechet and my new living place; trying to be helpful to Nadjie; returning to the library and a new office/office mates. And attempting to find time in all of that to assess what these changes mean in my life, where they are taking me, and where I want to be going.

Unless Nadjie ends up not coming back to the library—which I so hope isn’t a possibility but know that it is—by far the biggest upheaval in my life is the change in my living arrangement. Due to a rent increase, I had to move out of the small house I have been living in for the last two years—not the greatest place, to be honest, but the space was mine and I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. And for nine years before joining the Peace Corps, I also lived alone. And so it is quite an adjustment to all of a sudden to be living with other people—and not just one other person as I have done most of my life—but a whole family, something I haven’t done since I was part of a family—and that’s been a long time ago. I did, of course, live with a host family during training for ten weeks, but this feels much different. Only time will tell how it will really work out, but right now there are many things I love about living with the Seytaptiev’s. Physically, it is a much more comfortable place—I have a wonderful, spacious room with lovely northern light from a large pair of windows, and of course, their house is an immense improvement over my shabby, falling apart, limited heat and water home. I so appreciate the effort they put into getting my room ready while I was gone to America, as it seemed to be a major remodeling job. They provided me with a decent bed (a vast improvement over my former beds—no backache so far), but I needed to purchase the rest of the furniture, including a wardrobe, as there are typically no closets in Ukrainian homes. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much all of that would cost—wardrobe, book shelves, desk, night stand—and of course, I also should have realized that this is Neshet’s house and he has a definite sense of design and what would be the appropriate furniture. But in the end it all worked out as a gift from my cousin took my mind off the money worries, and Neshet and I between us found some furniture that we both liked, which was something I despaired of happening on our first foray out into the world of Simferopol furniture stores. I am feeling a bit guilty about the fact that I will have one of the nicest bedrooms in the house because I can afford to buy furniture for it—Serdar still doesn’t even have a desk—but I think I will just relax with the idea and enjoy having a really comfortable place to live.

Of course, the most wonderful thing about living with the Seytaptiev’s is not my improved material circumstances, but the opportunity to develop more of a relationship with each of them, an increasing possibility as the constant Russian speaking continues to improve my language ability. I like talking with Safie about her school day, trying to get her to speak English; consulting with Lenura over recipes; sitting around the dinner table after supper, listening to Neshet’s take on Crimean Tatar life. But more than anything, I like how much closer Serdar and I have gotten, even in these few short weeks. I am someone he can bounce his ideas off, turn to for advice, share his new political music discoveries (not all of which I appreciate, of course, but some I have found quite interesting). And for me, he provides an important English speaking presence that can help me understand the ins and outs of household living and with whom I feel I can somewhat share the difficulties of my life here. And we just have a lot of fun joking around. I love knowing that I will get to see him every day.

There are hard things, too, about living with the Seytaptievs—all the family dynamics swirling around me, the reality of a patriarchal household, the loss of independence that has been an anchor of my life for many years. It is hard to imagine living in this arrangement into the future; but on the other hand, now that I am with all of the Seytaptiev’s on a daily basis, it is hard to imagine a life that does not include them, especially when I think of Serdar. I know by the winter I will have to make some decisions about my future here—am I going to stay in the Peace Corps another year (which theoretically is possible as the maximum service allowed is four years)? or am I going to return to America to live, and if so, where? and how (financially)? if I choose to stay on in Crimea, can I get a residency permit? meaningful volunteer work? and where would I live?

It will be an interesting year, I think, as I try to adjust to the new realities of my living situation and work situation, as I wrestle with these questions and also try to just be here, to experience whatever is happening in the moment, and to trust that whatever I am suppose to be doing will be revealed to me along the way.

With love from Crimea.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reflections on America

I’m back in Crimea now, in my new home with the Seytaptiev’s. Though my thoughts at the moment seem consumed by adjusting to this new reality in my life and wondering what to make of it, I want to try first to put down a few words about what it was like to be in America after being gone for over two years.

On this first trip back, I wanted to make as big an effort as possible to see friends and family. And though I didn’t quite succeed in seeing everyone I wanted to, I came pretty close. But it was an exhausting endeavor at times, though mostly just in Minneapolis. In California and Chicago I have only been a visitor, but, of course, Minneapolis was my home for so many years and still is my home in many ways. Leaving there at the end of my visit felt a lot like the first time I left for the Peace Corps—saying goodbye to dear friends that I didn’t know when I would see again.

So what was it like to be in America?—a constant question everywhere I went. My initial reaction was it was just comfortable, familiar—it was home. I could understand the language (!), I knew how to get around, how to get directions when I needed them, how to ask for help; I could understand what it meant when some person did what in a culture I am less familiar with might be considered strange behavior. And it is just so much easier to live in America. It is much cleaner, for one thing—people are well trained to put their trash in garbage cans and the garbage is picked up on a regular basis (I realize there are exceptions to this, but unlike here, they are exceptions, not the rule). People are friendlier—at least to this white, older middle class woman—clerks in the store smile and greet you when you come in; the woman at the bank goes out of her way to help you; strangers constantly offer to take a picture of the “two of you” as I walk around with my camera and a friend. People on the street just appear more cheerful, more hopeful, more ready to smile and laugh—and all of this in spite of the disheartening political situation and the lack of jobs that many people face.

And of course, it is America, one of the richest countries in the world, and that evidence is everywhere—gleaming modern high rise buildings in the cities, well built and maintained highways in the countryside, airports filled with shops and restaurants, advertisements for the newest techno gadget broadcasting from billboards and the omnipresent television and internet. But I began to see ways in which it isn’t so easy to live there. The first time I went to my local grocery store—not even a supermarket but my neighborhood food coop—I was suddenly overwhelmed by all the choices presented to me when all I wanted was some simple bread and cheese. People all over the world are hungry for the possibilities those choices contain, but it occurred to me how much stress that introduces into one’s life—the constant decision making in even inconsequential situations. We Americans just become used to it, of course, and don’t always like it when the choices are absent, but it seemed to me that they take up a huge amount of psychic space and I found myself longing for the simpler life here in Crimea—where there are still many choices, of course, but not AS many, and for me, of course, they are limited by my language abilities.

As time went on in America, I found more disturbing aspects of life there, ways of living that are the “American life:” the busyness of peoples’ schedules which makes it difficult to find time just to be together; the annoyance of the constant leaving of messages on the answering machine and cell phone; the frenzy of the freeways and the airports. `It seems we pay a price for the ease of our life in America, though now that I have returned to Crimea, I wonder if it is a price I am once again willing to pay. But more on that in a future blog.

What I really learned from my month long trip to America, is that the old adage “home is where the heart is” is so very true. As I basked in the love of my friends and family in America, I also yearned for my friends and “family” in Crimea. I tried to stay as connected as I could, but as always, I found the attempt to communicate in Russian on the telephone so daunting that eventually I mostly just talked with Serdar and briefly with Nadjie as I tried to stay on top of what was happening with her health. I came to realize that ultimately it didn’t really matter where I lived, as long as I can live near the people I love. But, of course, those people have expanded to include people who live thousands of miles and worlds apart. And so that is the dilemma I now struggle with— where exactly is my home?

With the Seytaptiev's before America

I wrote this blog post over a month ago, and of course, much has happened since then, but I will go ahead and post it anyways as it is a record of my life leading up to leaving for America.

July 22, 2011—Well, here I am in America, writing this blog post on my friend Kate’s netbook. Hard to remember what I was doing last week at this time in Crimea—that world seems so far away. But I do have vivid memories of last Saturday when the family and I spent the day together. Safie so wanted to “go to the sea,” so she asked her dad if we could all go on Saturday. I was glad to hear him agree, because of course I always want to go to the sea, but more because it means he would allow himself a day off from the relentless summer house projects which lately has included a very elaborate fence design—more on that in future blogs. I was very disappointed to learn that Lenura had to work and wouldn’t be able to come with us, but Saturday morning when we finally took off with me in the front seat and Serdar and Safie in the back, I was so happy when we swung by the hospital where Lenura works and picked her up to go with us. Somehow she had figured out to leave work early, because she too wanted a last day of all of us together.

As usual, I didn’t know exactly where Neshet had in mind to go, but I was pleased when he turned east when we got to the Black Sea coast. I had never been on that stretch of the coast before—one of the few areas of the Crimea I haven’t explored. It is a much less developed area with fewer seaside villages and the mountain slopes covered in vineyards and steep pastures. We drove around Demerji Mountain with a different view of its strange rock formations on the summit. The road curled on the cliffs high above the sea, dipping down to pass through seaside villages crowded with tourists. I kept hearing the family discussing our destination, which turned out to be a village called Rebachne. It started to pour down rain as we pulled into a parking space above the beach. We waited in the steamy car until the rain quit and then headed down to the beach and spread out our blanket. There weren’t many people, the water was beautiful and clear, and refreshingly cool on this hot and humid day. I thought we had finally found an uncrowded beach, but later on I realized it was the weather that had kept the beach so empty, as it quickly filled up when the sun came out. But I didn’t care as I dove and swam and played with Serdar and Safie and Lenura in the waves. Neshet, meanwhile, took a swim far out into the sea, came back, and immediately laid down on the blanket and fell asleep. It was great to see him relax so.

After spending the whole afternoon there, including a foray out on a paddle boat with Serdar and Safie, we packed up just before another rain squall came in and headed back to Simferopol. As we got to the edge of the city, I was surprised to hear Neshet saying something about stopping at a Crimean Tatar restaurant for dinner. Eating out at a restaurant is a very unusual thing for them—I think I have only once before been with them at a restaurant and that was when Pat and I took them out for dinner. So this was a special occasion indeed—a send off celebration for me. And the restaurant was, as Serdar told me, the fanciest of the Crimean Tatar restaurants. Named Ayshe, it was very lovely with a large outside seating area that wound through tall trees and was interspersed with beautiful fountains. A wedding celebration was going on, but mostly inside one of the dining rooms, so we had a quiet spot under a canopy and a good place to observe the wedding party, much to Safie’s delight. We arrived home late, filled with the warmth of the sun on the beach, tired from swimming in the beautiful Black Sea, and our stomachs full of yummy Crimea Tatar food.

What a great last day it was for me before my adventure to America. And driving along the coast, feeling the love of this family that has become my family, I started thinking about how perhaps my lack of being able to fully understand the language has allowed me access to a deeper love—that I can find an openness to love in a way that is harder when one is so road blocked by all the annoyances that language creates. Sometimes I think it is really a good thing that I so often don’t understand what is being said around me. Because is it really important? Seems to me what is important is getting beneath that surface of who we are, of relating to someone from a deeper level, from the heart. And I think it is that place that has allowed me to love the Seytaptiev’s, despite the barrier of language.