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.

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