Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November holidays

It feels so slow at the library these days. Without Nadjie to bounce ideas off of, I feel a little groundless and unfocused. Also, she always made an effort to keep me informed of what was going on in the inner workings of the library, and now that is pretty much left up to conjecture on my part and what I can determine from Elmas, the quasi English speaking young woman in my office. However, next week our long awaited rare book scanner that we purchased with a grant I wrote last spring will finally show up. Though I am itching to be part of the decision making around where it will be located, how it will be used, who will be trained on it, I have been pretty much hands off—out of necessity because of language, but also because I think the library needs to make these determinations. I am curious to see how it will all come out.

This is a time of holidays in my life—or “prazdniks” as we call them here—starting with my birthday on November 14th, followed by Serdar’s on the 22nd, Siyare (the neighbor daughter) on December 2nd and then Safie’s on December 6th. Throw in Thanksgiving and New Year’s (Christmas as we know it doesn’t exist here), and it is one long celebration from the beginning of November to the end of December. Or so it seems. I get a little stressed about what to do for presents, especially since I have given up on getting packages from America—any present from America would be a sure success--but mostly it is a fun time of lots of good food with the family. So, a few words and pictures from all these prazdniks:

Because the weather was not so great this year, I didn’t make it out on any hike for my birthday. Instead, I went to work, wondering if they would remember my birthday without Nadjie there, and sure enough, they did, and presented me with flowers. I had bought a small cake in case they had and shared it with my office mates and whoever else happened by. Maybe next year I will get it together to bring (or make!) a cake for the whole library staff, which many people do. I just find it hard to be the subject of so much attention. But home is a different story. I loved the warmth they surrounded me with—literally with the gift of a New Zealand wool wrap knitted in Ukraine to help with my cold room, the delicious dinner complete with one of Lenura’s legendary cakes, and just that feeling of being so loved. That alone is the best gift I could possible hope for on any birthday.
Lenura making my birthday cake.A toast over plov for my birthday.
My family on my 64th birthday.
And then the following week was Serdar’s 18th birthday—a very big birthday here when a child officially becomes an adult—can legally drink, vote, drive a car, apply for an international passport, be drafted—many of the same landmarks as in America on an 18th birthday, but for some reason, here it has taken on a greater significance. Lenura had cooked a wonderful dinner for Serdar with his favorite foods, but with at least her blessing (I am sure Neshet would have preferred he stayed home, but he didn’t say no), as soon as I got home, he took off to the center to celebrate his birthday with his pals. It seemed a little odd to be having a birthday dinner without the intended celebrant, but Neshet and Lenura didn’t seem too outwardly disturbed by it, and in fact, the three of us (Safie took off to the computer as soon as dinner was done) had a nice time sitting around the dinner table, drinking a bottle of wine and talking for several hours. So at least we celebrated, even if Serdar was nowhere around.

Two days later was Thanksgiving. The last two years I just worked on the holiday (since it obviously is not a holiday here), and then got together with other Peace Corps Volunteers on the weekend for a traditional Thanksgiving. This year I decided to switch my days off so I would have Thursday off and cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my family. I invited the other two Peace Corps Volunteers in Simferopol, but only Adrianne was in town. She worked that day and ended up coming after she got home from her school and helped me finish up the cooking. I had never in my life cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, but the family was very excited about the idea, and Neshet searched around where to buy a whole turkey, so I thought I would give it a try. I kept telling Neshet a small turkey, but he came home with a 15 pounder—the smallest he could find. But I read up on the instructions and got it in the oven on time, and it didn’t come out too bad, though next year I can think of some improvements. We also had stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries, candied carrots (no sweet potatoes here) and creamed spinach and pumpkin pie contributed by Adrianne. So, my first ever Thanksgiving dinner—in Ukraine! Adrianne was a big help—I guess next year I will have to pull it off without as her, as her Peace Corps service is ending in a few weeks and she is heading back to the States. Sigh…

Coming up: Siyare and Safie’s birthdays. More on that next time.
With love from Crimea.

The turkey comes out of the oven.
Looks like a Thanksgiving plate in America!
The family minus Serdar and with Adrianne on our first Thanksgiving together.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Please support my work at the Crimean Tatar Library

Dear friends,

As you know, for the past two years I have been working as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the Crimean Tatar Library in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine. Many of you have followed my activities on this blog and the blog I write for my library (crimeantatarlibrary.blogspot.com). Now I am asking you to become a partner in this work by making a donation to support the work of the library.

The Gasprinsky Crimean Tatar Library was founded twenty years ago when the Crimean Tatar people began to return to their homeland of Crimea from which they were forcibly deported fifty years earlier. Living in exile in distant Soviet republics, the Crimean Tatars were forbidden to teach their language or practice the traditions of their culture. As a result, by the time people were allowed to come back to Crimea and reestablish their community, much of the culture was lost and the language had become endangered. The Gasprinsky Library was founded to preserve, protect, and revitalize the Crimean Tatar culture and language; to be, as my counterpart so eloquently puts it, “the keeper of the memory of the Crimean Tatar people.”

Over the last twenty years, the library has become the central repository of documents by and about the Crimean Tatar people. It now has a collection of over 40,000 documents, including more than 8000 in the Crimean Tatar language. The library has an archival department to which well-known Crimean Tatar political leaders, intellectuals, artists, writers and poets have donated their personal papers. However, as an institution of the Ukrainian government, the library suffers from a severe lack of funds to do anything beyond pay salaries and maintain the building. Many of the documents of the library are in urgent need of preservation, particularly in a digital form that would give them a much wider audience. With this project, we hope to raise $3000 which would allow the library to purchase a small flatbed paper scanner for the numerous archival paper documents—letters, writings, notes, etc—and also to purchase digital scans of some of the library’s microfilms. The Library is particularly interested in purchasing scans of the microfilms of the newspaper Terdzhman, published from 1883 to 1918 by the Muslim educator and reformer Ismail Gasprinsky, whom the library is named after. Perhaps no other document is so vital to understanding the culture and history of the Crimean Tatar people than Ismail Gasprinsky’s newspaper, but currently access to it is limited to a very few people.

The Crimean Tatars are a unique Muslim people with a tragic history. The Gasprinsky Library, the de facto cultural center of the Crimean Tatar people, has struggled hard to preserve the language and culture of their people. By making a donation to this project, you can aid in that struggle and also support the work I have been doing these past two years. Through the Partnership Program of the Peace Corps, you are able to make a tax-exempt donation by clicking on the link to the right under Links, which will take you directly to my project.

Thank you so much for all the many ways so many of you have supported my work and life these past two years. And I hope you are able to continue your support by making a small donation to this project. Thank you again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Library work and Kurban Bayram

Trying to stay warm in my room, studying some Russian.
Nadjie's daughter Lenura grinding mutton for samsa--stuffed cabbage or grape leaves.
Nadjie with three of her four grandchildren.
Nadjie with her son and his family.
I have been mostly writing about my weekend hiking adventures, so I want to get caught up on the other things that have been happening in my life around work and travel.

During the first part of October, Nadjie and I went to five other libraries around Crimea, talking about developing volunteerism in their libraries. This was the second phase of the SPA seminar we did in May in which we invited librarians from all over Crimea for a two-day seminar in Simferopol on volunteerism. The second phase was supposed to be helping libraries organize “Volunteer Days,” but because of Nadjie spending the summer recuperating from her broken hip we were unable to do that. I was grateful that we were at least able to do these “mini seminars,” and it was good to watch Nadjie talk so enthusiastically about the idea of volunteerism. It made me even more aware how much better the two-day seminar would have been with her presence. There are pictures from the seminars on the blog I write for the library—crimeantatarlibrary.blogspot.com.

Most of the libraries we traveled to had no heat and it was a cold week, so we spent much of our time huddled in coats and trying to stay warm. But the attendees at the seminars seemed very interested in the idea and were especially interested in the power point I had put together about volunteerism in American libraries. Though I was glad to be there for the seminars, it was a somewhat frustrating experience for me. Because my Russian isn’t good enough for me to do a presentation or participate fully, I spent my time just sitting and answering the occasional question. On a one-on-one basis I can communicate my ideas, but with a large group it just isn’t possible. And once again, I had that feeling of being locked behind a wall of inadequate language. There were so many things I could have said about libraries and volunteerism in America, if I could have said it…

But still, all was not lost. I got to visit some more Crimea libraries, including a very small library in a Crimean Tatar community, and a small, but quite lovely library in a town of about 2000. That particularly library seemed very engaged in their community in a way that many libraries here don’t appear to be. There were various photos on the wall of different library gatherings, and a calendar of upcoming events. I was especially taken by three prints on the wall of what looked like water color paintings. There was a sign saying that they were copies of paintings that a patron of the library had made after reading a book from the library. They were beautifully done and I had assumed they were from a professional artist, but when I questioned the library director, she said, “No, she is just a woman that lives in our community.” Amazing…

The week following our seminars I went to Kyiv for two days to submit the closing documents for this grant, get the required flu shot from the Peace Corps doctors, have my sore foot x-rayed (turned out to be bursitis as my physical therapist buddy advised me), get my teeth cleaned, drop off some documents for the soon-to-arrive scanner, meet with a company that does microfilm scanning, and hang out with my museum consultant pal Linda. Phew! All in two days. But it was a nice visit—went to the Ukrainian Art Museum where, thanks to Linda, we had an English speaking guide, made it to the inside of 1000-year-old St. Sophia Cathedral (previous trips I had only been to the grounds), and had a nice dinner at a Georgian restaurant. And as an unexpected bonus, on the way there I shared my kupe on the overnight train with not one, but three (!) English speaking Ukrainians, including a sea captain who entertained us with stories of when he was stranded for a year in Gambia when the Soviet Union broke up and ended up working for the Gambia mafia smuggling oil!

But during my adventure filled trip to Kyiv, back in Simferopol Nadjie fell in her home and broke her arm. How so very awful. She had been doing pretty well with her hip, though still using crutches to walk to work because of her fear of falling on the uneven pavement, and then this happens. Which, of course, means that she can’t come to work until it heals because of needing two arms for the crutches. But on the bright side of things (if there is one), the break is not too bad, is mending well, and she continues to be able to live at her home, and also even do some work (though slowly), writing grants one-handed.

And last Sunday, which was the big Muslim holiday of Kurban Bayram, we went together to her son’s village and celebrated with her family. Kurban Bayram occurs approximately 70 days after the end of Ramadan and is marked by the slaughter of a sheep or goat (depending on the Muslim country), half of which is given away to neighbors and people in need. Many families where I live no longer do the slaughter, but some still do, including Neshet’s sister’s family who live nearby and Nadjie’s son. So I ended up eating a lot of sheep that day—first at Nadjie’s son’s village and then later at home. And then the next day I was given meat at the library and brought that home and, to mix cultures up a bit, cooked it into a traditional Irish stew I found a recipe for on the internet. I guess my vegetarian days are a distant past living here…

A friend of Nadjie’s came to her son’s house on Kurban Bayram and read Muslim prayers in Crimean Tatar and also from the Koran, which is in the Arabic language. I sat with the rest of them, not understanding anything of course, but being soothed by the quiet chanting of the words. I just go along living my life here, and sometimes it all of a sudden hits me, how very very different my life has become from what it was in America. Sitting in that little house in a village in Crimea, listening to the prayers celebrating a Muslim holiday I had never even heard about two years ago, was one of those times.

Love to all from Crimea.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A hike to the pristine wilderness of Crimea

Anastasia collecting water at a spring with her 14-year-old brother Oleg.
The fog begins to lift.
The distant peaks of Babugan.
Fog rolls back in.

With my hiking companions--Oleg, Anastasia, and Alex. My PCV pal Cheryl was also on the hike.
Cheryl makes her way down the "trail."
Vineyards provided our snacks at the end of the hike.
Demerdji Mountain in the distance.

It’s a chilly Saturday afternoon in November. Winter seems to have come early this year, as we’ve been having cold temperatures consistently now for a couple of weeks. Finally the heat was turned on at the library so I no longer have to wear multiple layers. My lovely room at home is still cold, though, and will be all winter as it is over an open porch with no insulation. But I can always go downstairs to warm up, and I just bundle up to work on my computer…or sleep.
Before the experience recedes too far in my memory, I wanted to write a few words about a hiking trip I did two weekends ago. I had contacted the woman I met when I went to the library in Alushta, a town on the coast. She grew up there and is very familiar with the surrounding mountains, plus her fiancĂ© is an ex wilderness guide. Anastasia and I had been hiking once before, but Alex ((the fiancĂ©) didn’t make it on that hike, so I only heard about him, especially as it was his directions we were following on the hike. We always had to go where “Alex said,” even though sometimes it didn’t seem to make much sense, and one time I refused because it was more of a rock scramble than I wanted to do.
So I was a little bit hesitant about the upcoming hike we planned together, because I knew Alex would be accompanying us. I kept saying, “no intense climbing, rock scrambling, etc.” And sure enough, they were true to my request, as the hike was on relatively easy trails…going up. But on the way down, Alex decided to veer off into a trail less area, and we, of course, had no choice but to follow him. So down we went, bush whacking our way along a steep creek bed filled with fallen wet leaves which obscured the footing underneath, climbing over fallen trees blocking our way. I was so grateful that I had brought my hiking poles back from the US and had them with me. I’m sure they prevented many a fall as we slogged our way down. What is it about these Ukrainian men? Alex was a nice guy, but it reminded me so much of how we (me and the family) travel with Neshet, when we just basically go where he wants to go without much consultation with the rest of us. The first part of the hike took longer than expected, and at some point we had a choice of a shorter route, which seemed to me would have been the wiser decision, but there was no discussion, we just went where Alex went, and it turned into a very long hike—eight hours or so. It was pretty dark by the time we got back to Alushta.
But, in the end, despite all my grumbling of once again finding myself in the very unfeminist position of following some guy on a mission of his own choosing, I was so glad I had the opportunity to do that hike. Grateful because it took me to a place that I would guess few foreigners ever get to experience. We went to a large mountain plateau called Babugan, at the end of which is the highest peak in Crimea. Once a hunting reserve for Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, it has been declared a nature reserve and closed to the public for many years. Which doesn’t mean the occasional hiker doesn’t go there, especially the locals like Alex and my friend Anastasia, but it does mean that it is the most pristine wilderness in all of Crimea. And that was so evident—few trails, no garbage or other remains of humans, no big crosses marking the peaks (as is common here). Unfortunately, fog engulfed us as we got to the top of the plateau and hiked along the edge to a peak at the far end called Kush-Kaya. The views on a clear day must be spectacular. But as if a gift from the heavens, for a few minutes the fog lifted as we sat there having some lunch, and we could see all around us the rolling landscape of the plateau and the distant peaks. What a beautiful, desolate place it was. Once again I found myself filled with a deep joy and gratitude that at least for now, this land of Crimea is what I call home.
Despite our tiredness, the day ended well, as we spent the last hour or so walking through the large commercial vineyards surrounding Alushta, snacking on the leftover, very delicious grapes. As we all parted at the bus station—Alex and Anastasia to their home in Alushta, Cheryl and I to the bus back to Simferopol—we made plans for a spring hike to the other end of the Babugan plateau where Roman Kosh, the highest peak in Crimea, is located. And hopefully it will be a sunny day with the views we knew were there behind the fog.
Much love from Crimea.