Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hiking with Safie and her school pals

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am home alone, sitting at the table, about to launch into making chicken chili for tonight’s dinner. I have so come to love having these Wednesdays to myself. I keep considering volunteer things I could/should be doing, but the truth is I have found it such a treat to have the house to myself. And I know how very much Lenura appreciates my cooking the Wednesday night dinner. She says it’s like a holiday every week for her. And I am sure it is, as probably this is the only time that someone else has taken over the cooking duties. Safie does once in awhile, but only under supervision and with limited output. So I think at least for now until something very compelling comes up, I am going to continue these Wednesdays of not going into the library and see where having this kind of time in my life takes me.

Last weekend was a hike with the kids. Safie, who is in the eighth grade (or “form” as it is called here), invited me to go on a hike to one of the mountains with her and four other classmates and a teacher/guide. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and early Saturday morning Safie and I trekked down to her school where we were to meet the rest of the group. Well, the group expanded quite a bit. Unbeknownst to Safie, eight fifth graders were also going. And still only one teacher—Igor. Igor something, actually, as people here go by their patronymic names, but I didn’t catch what his was and he just told me to call him Igor. The weather did not look too promising, but off we went anyways as Igor herded all the kids first onto a city bus, and then on to the trolley bus that took us to our stop down along the coast. Our intended destination was Mt. Paragilmen. Here is a wonderful description of it from the internet (overlook the clumsy translation—it’s pretty good for here, actually):

It is a landscape botanical reserve. This mountain - the highest the Main Range (855 m) outcast - is well seen from the trolleybus road against the back-cloth of Babugan-mountain pasture, in village Maly Mayak region. Like a stray traveller, who cannot find the way to the native home, this stone giant flew up lonely between the coast and range precipices. On the side, facing the sea, it looks like a huge trapezium(table). On the patch of the higher plateau, a grove of old, with a half-meter thick trunks, trees of pear is well preserved. On a sultry summer day its lowered silvery leaves look like a blooming crown. The most interesting sight of Paragilmen is two huge yew-trees, nestling in a deep crevice on the top. The thickness of one of the trunks is about 70 sm, and powerful branches threw themselves flat on either side for 7-8 m. This giant yew-tree is just as old as his thousand-year old fellow-tree on Ay-Petry. In 1979 on the mountain Paragilmen and surround it beech forest, the reserve of medicinal plants, 10 kinds of which are entered in Red Books, was formed.

But, alas, like my last venture up into the mountains, fog slowly began to obscure the top as we made our way up the roads and trails (and through an old metal works factory of some sort) towards the summit. Igor wisely decided not to go all the way up, so we spend the day hiking the forests below with great views of the mountain and also out to the sea. And the forests themselves were beautiful, as the trees are starting to turn their muted fall colors. Igor stopped frequently to point out various plants to the kids and talk about the geology and history of the area. He has been a wilderness guide for a number of years and was very knowledgeable about the area and seemed to know his way around. But I noticed that even he, who had been there several times before, asked the few people we encountered for various directions. There are just so many old roads and paths, that it seems even experienced hikers have to ponder a bit what path to take. I talked with him about it, and he said something about the importance of a compass, and I think he is right. It was following a compass that got us heading in the right direction up Demerdji, even though it didn’t “feel” right. It was a good lesson watching him—made me realize that perhaps it is kind of hopeless to think one can have a distinct path, but instead it is important to establish where you want to go (and having a visible summit certainly is helpful) and then just keep heading in that direction.

He was also good of keeping track of all those kids, constantly counting them. He did head off down a steep path at some point that made me wonder about his guiding abilities after all, but the kids just followed him like the pied piper and popped out onto a road below with everyone (including me—thank the goddess I now have my hiking sticks from home) intact. We stopped quite a while in a camp area and made a fire and everyone got out the food they had brought and the kids spent a lot of time exploring the area. The weather turned kind of nasty after that as the fog became rain and it continued to rain the rest of the day. Of course, no one had any kind of rain gear. Some kids at least had jackets with hoods, but many did not. I insisted Safie bring an umbrella and that was the saving grace for her group. I wished I had also brought an umbrella so they would have had an additional one (I, in my usual American fashion, had my full rain gear on). So they all were increasingly wet and probably cold, but I never heard anyone complaining and mostly they just seemed to be having one hell of a time. It was almost dark by the time we got the trolley bus back home, but the younger kids especially were still caring on, to the point that Igor had to tell them to shut up once in awhile.

It was a good day. Fun to be around all the kids, interacting with them a bit and giving them an opportunity to practice their (very) limited English. And fun to get to know Igor a little. He works for an organization that teaches kids about the environment and wilderness and “tourism.” We sat together on the last bus home, and I tried to ask him if there was any kind of organizations for adults, and he did tell me about some kind of adult travel club. Not sure what it all meant, but maybe I will be able to hook up with a hiking group around here. I know they must exist, but in the past, my lack of Russian as prevented me from exploring the idea much. But now maybe it is a little more possible. We’ll see…

This coming Sunday I’m going hiking (weather permitting) with my Ukrainian friends that live down on the coast that I haven’t seen since last year. We are going to go up to the highest mountain. That will be an adventure I have a feeling… I have already seen some snow up there. It will be a tale to tell, I am sure. And I also have some work related tales too, but that will have to wait until the next post.
With love from Crimea.
Safie (in the red coat) with her pals

Sunday, October 16, 2011

PCV meeting and ancient Crimea

Crimean PCV's hanging out in the park. However, that long blonde hair one is an Ukrainian girlfriend of one of the PCV's. Photo Joohee Lee.And here we all are.
The Scythian Neapolis in Simferopol.
Photo Joohee Lee.
Our guide showing us the ritual water pool. Photo Joohee Lee.
It is a cold and blustery Sunday afternoon. I am sitting at my desk with my laptop in front of me, looking out at the roofs of Ak Mechet and the gray skies above. Not feeling like doing much besides sitting at my desk and writing and studying. Was going to make a plan to have dinner with Adrianne, but the thought of getting on the bus and heading into the city center is not very appealing. I find that I like being “home with the family.” The other day cousin Sara asked me to tell her the good things about living with the Seytaptiev’s. I had to think a minute, but then I realized how much more I like coming home to a house full of people than coming home to an empty home. Sure, there is much I find troublesome here and have to get used to—how Lenura yells at the kids, for instance—but I am finding more and more that the warmth and love I feel here overrides those things I find hard. I also am coming to understand each of them more as individuals, and one of the things I have learned about Lenura is that her yelling doesn’t mean much, that it is just how she communicates with her children, as do many people here. I also know how much she loves them, and they her.
So, what I’ve been doing these past couple of weeks… Last weekend was a meeting of Crimean Peace Corps Volunteers here in Simferopol. About twenty of the thirty Volunteers in Crimea came, including many of the new Volunteers. The usual idea of this meeting is to talk about our various projects and how we can collaborate. Some of that does happen, but what it is really all about is just spending some together and getting to know one another a bit. For me, it was a chance to get to know Joohee, who is the new Volunteer in Sovetsky, the town where my PCV friend Cheryl is located. I had met her earlier because she was in my “adopt-a-cluster” group when I helped with the PCV training last year. I did not get to talk with her much then, so I was looking forward to spending some time together.
We had planned a picnic after the meeting at an archeological site in Simferopol that I had wanted to see ever since I’ve lived here but have only recently visited. It was a warm and sunny fall day, so great for a picnic. No one much wanted to trek as far as the archeological site, so we all plopped down in the park near Adrianne’s school where the meeting was held and got out the lunch makings. Anyone passing by would instantly know that we are a group of Americans, because Ukrainians just don’t sit on the ground anywhere, especially in city parks. We all kind of make fun of that practice, but thinking about it, of course it comes from a sensible place—the fact that until very recently, clothes washing was done by hand and people did not have many clothes. Thus, taking care of the clothes one has is very important, and that sort of precludes sitting on the ground.
I still wanted to go to the archaeological site because I hadn’t paid the fee to go inside when I was last there and wanted to learn more about it. So a few of us—Joohee, Cheryl, and a young PCV—took off to explore it. A short bus ride, a walk though “old city,” and a walk along the river brought us to a steep bluff that rises high above the city. We opted for the shorter, straight up route, which wasn’t all that difficult. Up on top on the bluff is wide open grassland with 360 degrees views of the city. People walk their dogs there, graze their goats, have romantic interludes (or so it seemed) on overhanging cliff ledges, and on the highest point, is located the archaeological site. Called the Scythian Neapolis, it is the location of the palaces of the king of the Scythian peoples who lived in Crimea 2300 years ago. There is little left—only a few stone foundations—but as our young archaeological student guide explained, there is much they have learned about these ancient peoples by sifting through the site and reconstructing their lives through the fragments of civilization they have found. I was fascinated by his descriptions of these people as he pointed out a water pool that seemed to be only used once, possibly in some ritual at the crowning of a new king as they can date it to that time, and other pools used to collect rain water, a tomb that they believe to be that of the last king, shards of pottery and coins that showed that Scythians had contact with people as far away as the Celts. For me, it added another layer to my understanding of this piece of land called Crimea. Mostly when I think of Crimea, I think of it as the land of the Crimea Tatars, but I know its inhabitants go back centuries before the Tatars, as part of the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan, overran the peninsula and established it as their homeland. Many ancient peoples have lived here and the remains of those peoples echo over the land. One more reason that I find Crimea an endlessly fascinating place.
With love from Crimea.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coping with life's little difficulties Ukrainian style

Monday morning at the library, trying hard not to be frustrated with the fact that we don’t have internet and no one seems to be able to fix it. Well, maybe it is being worked on, but no information is forthcoming. One thing I have noticed over and over is that situations that make us Americans kind of crazy—like the internet not working—seem to just be accepted here with the attitude of “oh well, it’s a drag, but what can you do…” (my words). I feel myself getting worked up about the situation, but no one else around me seems to be. Similar to when the bank demanded some kind of documentation before they would give the library the money we had received for the scanner. I was outraged, but no one else seemed to be which I found very interesting. I wondered if some of my perplexity is my lack of understanding of what is going on, but other Volunteers I have talked with also recognize this phenomenon. There is just an acceptance of adverse conditions here that I think Americans would find unfathomable. And though it initially feels like some kind of passivity and indifference, I think ultimately it’s not. Because they act on the problem—we did indeed get the documentation we needed to prove to the bank that the money belonged to the library and the internet problem is being worked on—but there is a kind of underlying acceptance that this is just the way things are and there is nothing you can do about it. Perhaps it comes from Soviet times when it became a survival technique to not question what was happening but just to quietly accept it. And though I think people no longer quietly accept it, they certainly don’t get worked up the way we do in America. And ultimately I find that kind of peaceful. Here I am, a couple of hours later with my work plans abandoned for the day because of the lack of internet, and I too, am feeling “well, okay, that’s the way things are today. I’ll just find something else to do. I don’t really have to do what I planned to do right this very moment. It can wait.” And it feels…well, kind of peaceful.

Next day, internet working—not only working but improved(!) as now there seems to be wireless in the library and because I use the library’s laptop for my computer, I can be on the internet via the wireless. Nearing the end of my day here so thought I would get back to this post and finish it to put on my blog tomorrow with some pictures. Hopefully. Actually I had thought I would have pictures from a little back packing trip I went on last week, but I was so wrong. Ended up with exactly one picture as the weather turned so bad, that we spent most of the time holed up in our campsite, feeding a fire with wet wood, and trying to stay warm in the cold wind and fog on the top of Demerdji mountain.

It has been beautiful fall weather here—just last Wednesday I went on a three-hour hike wearing t-shirt and shorts. So I convinced PCV pal Cheryl to do a little backpacking trip up in the mountains—just one night as that was all she had time for. We decided to go up to Demerdji because we had been there before, and it is very beautiful with many places to explore. We got off the bus at the pass (after yelling at the bus driver, who had apparently forgotten us, to stop) and started heading up through the forests on what seemed to be a marked route on the map. But like many places in the mountains of Crimea, there were several other trails through the forest, and it was a constant decision making as to which way to go. I had been to Demerdji twice before, and both times made it up to the plateau without too many wrong turns. But this time, we decided to try and follow the route signs on the trees that corresponded to our map. However, at some point we turned left instead of right, even though we were still following the route signs. Well, we got majorly lost and turned around, and it took us a couple of hours to eventually get back on track. It appears that though the map shows only ONE Route no. 128, apparently there are in actuality several branches of it.

But we did get up above the tree line and out onto the plateau with the beautiful views of the sea below us and the strange rock formations of Demerdji above us. We had planned to hike around the opposite end up the plateau from where we had been before, but as we started out on the trail, we saw the dense fog rolling in and knew it would not be safe up on the plateau in the fog, as many of the trails have vertical drop-offs. I had read in one of my guide books that every year several people die in the mountains of Crimea because though they are not all that high, they are characterized by plateaus with sheer cliffs and sudden fogs. There was also a cold wind blowing, so though it was only early afternoon, we decided to huddle down in a campsite in the forest with the hope that the next day would provide us some clear hiking weather. But that was not to be, as all day and night the wind blew and we were surrounded by a dense wet fog, and we woke up the next morning to the same conditions. We were both so cold when we set up camp, but surprising to us, given the weather conditions, we were able to get a fire going and keep it going all day and spent our time huddled around it for warmth. And, though, of course I would have liked it to be nice sunny warm weather (as was forecasted!), I still was just so happy to be out in the mountains, to be camping once again.

After sleeping pretty late, we made some breakfast in the vestibule of the tent, packed up our wet gear, and headed back down the mountain. And it wasn’t too far down the trail before the weather started to clear, and it wasn’t such a bad day, after all. I have often seen that phenomenon on walks near home to where I can see Chatyr Dag. There it is, encased in the clouds, and I am in the sunshine down below. We met several hikers on the way up—including a group of middle aged women who asked me my age and kept saying “moladets” (way to go!) to me—and warned them of the weather up above, something our Russian seemed capable of.

So got back home midafternoon with time to dry out the tent and gear and eat some lunch with the family. And determination to try getting up to Demerdji again—though maybe not this fall.
Much love to all from Crimea.