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.

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