Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A bit of winter blues

It’s Monday at the library, my last week of work for a while. Friday I take off with Serdar on our much anticipated week-long trip to Krakow and Prague. We will be taking the overnight train to Kyiv, spending the day there, and then catching an early morning flight to Poland. We will return to Kyiv the following Sunday, and Serdar will take the overnight train back to Simferopol, but I will stay in Kyiv for a few days to have my medical exam for extension clearance. I won’t be back to Simferopol until Thursday and then the following Monday have to leave again for a week to go to Moldova to get my Ukrainian visa (!)

I spent some of the weekend finishing the draft proposal for a Peace Corps grant that was due today. Most of my library time last week was devoted to writing the grant, which made me happy. I like having meaningful work to do; what I don’t like is feeling at loose ends and even more than that, feeling frustrated at the slowness of which things get done around there, which seems to be my major focus of angst lately. Of course, I understand that is a fact of how things seem to operate in Ukraine and probably everywhere in the post-Soviet world, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with frustration and ultimately, a feeling of hopelessness that anything will ever really change. But as is true of much of my life here, it becomes an occasion for “practice,” in the Buddhist sense. The practice of patience, of trust that it will eventually happen (and all my experience has shown that to be true), and the necessity of trying to stay open to whatever comes up, to step out of the framework of my culture and realize that perhaps there are other ways of doing things. That is, after all, one of my main reasons for joining the Peace Corps—to experience in a much deeper way life in another part of the world.

I don’t really have much to report in the way of activities these past couple of weeks. The hike I referred to in my last blog post never materialized, due to bad weather, nor did it happen the following weekend like we had hoped, also due to bad weather. Though today is sunny and kind of warm, for the most part the weather has been Crimea winter—cold wind, some snow, grey skies. Not conducive to outdoor activities. I do continue to go for walks from home up in the bluffs, and recently was up there right after a snowstorm and it was so lovely with the soft snow clinging to the trees all around me. But extended hikes haven’t been a possibility. We can only wait for spring and the return of the light and warmth.

My lack of trekking around has meant that I have spent more time at home, more time with the family. I especially like Sundays when often everyone is around, doing their own thing but gathering for meals. It’s a nice feeling, being part of a circle of people living together.

I will have much to write about in my next blog post, I imagine. Until then, love to all of you from your pal in Crimea.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year's 2012 and work at the library

Thursday afternoon at the library, just finished up a blog post on New Year’s food for my friend’s blog about Ukrainian food—the Pickle Project. Here's the link:

Nadjie and I have a grant proposal due in a couple of weeks, but she is immersed (as is everyone here) in producing some kind of end-of-the-year report for the Ministry of Culture, the government entity that the library functions under. Today we did go visit an organization for the visually impaired that we are hoping to partner with for our grant (the idea being to make the library accessible for visually impaired people). The organization does impressive work—they have a large factory that employs 700 blind and partially blind people, producing mostly small electrical parts, like extensions cords, plugs, etc. (which I have since found out from Neshet that this is a Soviet tradition.) Because of the holiday season, the people weren’t at work, so it was hard to get a true sense of the working conditions. But the large hall was spacious and full of light from the big windows, and even had air conditioning—a rarity in Ukraine. Disabled people here are referred to as “invalids,” and are immensely discriminated against. Almost no buildings are accessible for wheelchairs—including the large new library where I have my English Club, hospitals (!), and the airport. Perhaps a workshop such as the one at this organization would not be considered that wonderful back in the States, but here it provides a much needed opportunity for visually impaired people to have a productive life.

I enjoyed meeting the people and seeing the grounds, but as usual, my Russian only allowed me limited knowledge of what was being discussed. I left with no information on exactly how, or even if, we are going to partner with the organization for this grant, a grant that basically I have to write. Nadjie will do the initial writing in Russian, but then I need to take what comes through in the translation program and turn it into something that will be acceptable to the very demanding Peace Corps requirements. A time consuming process, thus my impatience with our lack of work on it.

And once again, I felt that deep longing to be working somewhere that I can understand what is going on, that I can contribute more to the daily process, to the formation of ideas and the creative process that goes with it. Burnt out on this whole experience of trying to work in such a fog--that is what I am afraid I am feeling--and I wonder what it means for the thoughts I have to remain here for a while. Maybe I just need a break for a bit, and that should happen soon with my trip to Krakow and Prague with Serdar that is coming up in a few weeks.

So I’ll not dwell on it here in this blog post, but go on to happier topics—like the various New Year’s celebrations of the weekend. I think the most fun for me was spending New Year’s Eve day cooking with Lenura (what we cooked is what that Pickle Project blog post is about). And then there was, of course, eating all that fabulous food. And opening our presents. Present giving is not like the States—usually it is just one small present for each person, sometimes just a souvenir of sorts or candy. This year I gave Serdar a little leather notebook, Safie an embroidered pouch for her telephone from the Crimean Tatar museum, and for Lenura and Neshet, a wood trivet from the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in Chicago that I had purchased when I was there last summer. They gave me a pair of pajamas—hooray, I really needed some new pajamas! Which I guess must have been obvious…

Neshet took off to visit some friend who was here from Moscow and his sister who lives next door came over for a visit. We watched the New Year festivities on TV and then at 5 minutes to midnight, the president of Ukraine gave his annual welcome- to-the-new-year message (a Soviet tradition), which, since they all basically hate him, was pretty much ignored. At midnight the fireworks began—everywhere you looked in the sky big fireworks were going off—in the neighborhood and in the distance in the city center. It was quite the show.

We all went to bed late and slept in. New Year’s Day is typically a time when relatives and neighbors visit. Lenura’s cousin and family came to the house, as did several neighbors, and I went over and visited my old landlords. The following day we drove to Lenura’s parent’s village for a brief New Year’s gathering. It was great to see Lilye and Ablumet, as always. I really do like them so much, and slowly I feel I am able to talk with them a bit more as my Russian understanding improves. I just wish they didn’t live so far away. Maybe I’ll try to go back on my own to visit them, something they are always telling me to do.

It’s Saturday afternoon now (January 7th), which is actually Christmas in Ukraine--I just now remembered that. My family being Muslim, of course it is not an occasion for them, but it is a government holiday and thus we once again have a three-day weekend. The weather has been unusually warm here, so Cheryl and I are talking about taking off for a hike somewhere tomorrow.

Neshet and Serdar are working away on the staircase. The house is a definitely a work-in-progress, and I never know what the motivation is, but once in a while Neshet just starts working on finishing something. The underlying structure of the steps, for instance, have been built for as long as I have been here, and apparently he has had the materials to finish them for quite some time. The whole house is pretty much like that, a fact that continually frustrates Lenura. However, I can relate, because I remember how my house in Minneapolis was also in one of those states of continual construction. I think some projects never got finished!
That’s it for now. Maybe I will have some adventures to report from my hike tomorrow. Much love from

Lenura's presents her stuffed fish.
The New Year's Eve table.
In front of the New Year's tree with my present.
Neshet's sister, Anara, with the kids.
Lenura and her father, Ablumet.