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.

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