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—

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.


  1. This is a great update, Barb. the being locked behind the wall of language resonated, very moving. the biggest challenge of all. but your adventure continues, and what a life changing experience. keep warm!

  2. barb, one little MINOR suggestion - can you make more paragraphs, 2-3 sentences at most (!), maybe with a space between them, for easier reading?! JUST A THOUGHT.