Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fun at English Club and the Hiking Begins!

Last weekend was a treat—filled with fun activities and even a little alone time at home.  Friday afternoon I spent at the Windows on America Center, enjoying talking with Alie, the director, and helping her with some English translations; and then later the third meeting of my little English club on American literature, this time discussing a story called “The Witch’s Husband” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, a Puerto Rican American writer. As always, I found fascinating the insights from this intelligent group of young people. 

The next day at the Center was an all-day seminar on public speaking and debate put on by a group of Crimean Peace Corps Volunteers. These sessions are held periodically on various topics and occasionally I have helped with them, but I wasn’t planning on attending this one. However, I was convinced by the pleading of some of the young people in my group to “Please, come!” Hard to resist when you feel so wanted.

So the next morning I decided to drop in for a while and ended up staying most of the day. I would have remained until the end of the seminar but it was “Men’s Day” in Ukraine—an annual holiday celebrating men (do they really need this?) to offset International Women’s Day, which is a much bigger deal here-- and Lenura and I had decided to make lasagna together, as it is a favorite meal of Neshet’s. I told her I would do the shopping and get home early to help cook.

I had a great time at the seminar—it was so fun to be around these lively, articulate young people, all wanting to speak with me because I am a native English speaker. It gave me a chance to ask about their ideas for the future of Ukraine, democracy, living abroad, the beauties of Crimea, etc.
With two of the young people in my reading group

And then Sunday, despite the crappy weather, I went HIKING!!!! And the biggest treat of all, I finally got to go hiking with the woman my age whom I had met three years ago and had so admired for her vast experience of Crimea and ability to tramp all over the place. Polina, her 30-something daughter who speaks English, told me that her mother had been taking her hiking since she started school, and that they had spent most of the weekends of her childhood out in the nature of Crimea. 


It was just the three of us, and we met early in the morning at one of the bus stations, taking a bus to the nearby city of Bakhchisaray and then a local bus out to the edge of town. From there we just started walking, winding our way along the tops of beautiful bluffs, looking at fossilized creatures from the ancient seas that form the Crimean mountains, the rock formations and caves, the first very few spring wildflowers, and a rare and endangered  juniper-like tree, which up until that time I hadn’t known much about. We stopped for lunch in a wind-protected place on one of the bluffs, and Nada and Polina pulled out potatoes and meat patties and some kind of homemade liquor they added to the hot tea they had also brought. I, of course, had my usual meager offering of sliced cheese and bread. Really, when am I going to become a better Ukrainian hiker?

Despite it being cold and foggy with limited views—they both kept lamenting that they weren’t able to show me the beautiful views because of the weather—I had such a wonderful time and was so very grateful to be there, to be with them. I hope it is the first of many more hiking adventures.
To add to the enjoyment of the day, when we were sitting at the bus station in Bakhchisaray at the end of our hike, five of Nada’s hiking pals showed up, also at the end of their hike in a nearby area—all “old” women like us, and one token man. How I loved sitting there, looking at their lined faces animated with their joking around about their adventures. Truly, Crimea is a hiker’s paradise, and not just for the young. How lucky I am to be here.
With love from Crimea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Some new activities

So today I thought, “why not just try and enjoy myself these last few months here?” To  quit worrying about what I did and did not accomplish, what I can still accomplish.  To just let it all unfold whatever way it is meant to be. In my typical fashion, I can get myself pretty worked up about my life. As Pema says, “Lighten up!” And that is what I am going to try and do.

I do continue to be in a much better mood since I returned from my trip, more positive, less inclined to negative musings. I decided to start doing some English clubs outside the library and see what develops. Elmaz, the young woman at the library who spoke some English and whom I have so enjoyed working with the last couple of years, left the library in December for a different job at a children’s library—better pay and more conveniently located for her. It is on the route to my tutor’s, so I stopped by there soon after she began the job to see how she was doing. We got to talking and decided to try and do a children’s English club together. This is a different children’s library than the other one I worked at, and I found the director to be very friendly and open to new ideas, a rarity here in Ukraine. The first meeting of our club was last week and wasn’t very well attended, but we are hoping it will grow. Two of the students that came to my old clubs showed up, and it was great to see them.  The library also invited me to participate in a seminar they are presenting on tolerance in libraries. They wanted me to give an American perspective. I said, “Sure, I would be glad to,” feeling so encouraged that someone is talking about the concept of tolerance. 

In addition to my time at the children’s library, I am now spending  Friday afternoons at the Windows on America (WOA) center in the Crimean Tatar University (not its official name and other students besides Crimean Tatars go there, but it was originally founded to teach Crimean Tatar language teachers and so many people still refer to it as the Crimean Tatar University). WOA is a project of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. In every oblast (an oblast is like a state in the US), the embassy donated computers and books to create a center where people could come to learn about the U.S. and also learn English. Usually the center is located in the main library of the oblast, but for some reason it ended up at KIPU—the Crimean Tatar University. I had conducted an English club there in the past, but now it seems to be a much more active place. The current director is someone I had gotten to know a little, so I talked with her about doing an English club to discuss American literature with the idea of introducing the participants to some American writers they may not be familiar with, especially women and people of color.  

We have had two meetings so far, and it has been great fun. What a lively group of intelligent young people, some of whom are very good English speakers and all of whom are excited to read and discuss whatever I present to them.  Plus I love spending time with Alie, the director. She is also a good English speaker and sort of a kindred spirit. She loves to hike and with her husband she gets out almost every weekend when the weather is good. Cheryl and Lilya and I ended up hiking with them once this fall. http://bwieseradventures.blogspot.com/2012/12/autumn-hikes-october.html So I look forward to those possibilities as the weather warms up. Alie also reconnected me with the young woman and her mother that I had met hiking a couple of years ago.  http://bwieseradventures.blogspot.com/2009/10/tv-and-cave-city.html  She works upstairs from Alie and wants to do some hiking together too—maybe even this weekend if the weather cooperates. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Winter travel ends with Paris

And finally Paris.  Because my friend Casey and I failed to meet up in Istanbul as planned, we decided to rendezvous in Paris at the end of her three months in Syria, where she needed to report into MSF (Doctors without Borders).  Having never been to Paris, I was more than happy to meet her there.
In this part of the world, going to Paris is on par with going to America. My family and my friends at work were most excited—and envious-- about that part of my trip. I tried to oblige their interests with lots of photographs and souvenir shopping (doesn’t everyone in the world need a miniature Eifel Tower?).
And Paris is as beautiful as everyone says it is. I basically spent almost the whole three days just walking around and taking in the sights. We did make it to a couple of museums—the Louvre was free as it was the first Sunday of the month, and then the garden behind the Rodin museum, filled with his work.  I would love to go back someday and see how even more beautiful it must be in the spring and summer. 

Following my time in Paris, I flew back to Kyiv, took the overnight train to Simferopol, and arrived home tired but happy to be back, for which I am so grateful. On to my next six months of living here and seeing what life brings.
On a bridge across the Seine filled with locks. A tradition I have seen in Ukraine also

In front of the Louvre.

Waiting out the sleet.

And the sky clears in time for a pic of Casey.

With Venus de Milo in the Louvre.

We found a copy of Sara's book!

Budapest, Hungary

And on with our winter travels. From Zdiar we took a train across Slovakia to be able to see some of the countryside. Unfortunately, it was one of the older trains and there seemed to be little or no heat. After six hours we were a bit frozen, especially poor Cheryl who was nursing a cold.

We ended up in the capitol of Bratislava in the southwest corner of the country, and then caught a train to Budapest—luckily a shorter and much warmer ride. Spent the next three days wandering around the beautiful city of Budapest.  Divided between the flat “pest” side and the hilly “buda” side (they were once two different cities) by the Danube River, Budapest is a wonderful city to explore on foot. Every street corner seemed to bring new architectural wonders and the bridges spanning the river gave us some great views of both sides. The weather continued on with its lousy winter weather cycle, but it cleared somewhat on the last day. 

A couple of the highlights of the city for me: The Baths: Budapest is situated over deep underground hot springs, and they have provided the city with hot mineral baths throughout its history. A day at the baths is a fine thing—we chose the old bathhouse in the central park of the city frequented by the locals. Fifteen dollars got us a day long pass to hang out in one of the three outdoor pools or many indoor pools, sauna, etc. Extra money gives you massages, pedicures, various therapies, any spa activity you can think of. But we were content with the pools and spent all of our time in the outdoor pools, going from the slightly cooler one with the very fun whirlpools and the hotter pool where one just floated in the water ad soaked up all that warmth. And indeed it was the local hang out—we saw men standing chest deep in the water engrossed in a chess game set up on the pool’s edge and many families.  And it also seems to be a good place to meet people. I got to talking with one woman around my age from Ireland who had come to Budapest to have dental work done, apparently being of much higher quality than in Ireland.  We had quite the discussion about periodontal disease, implants versus dentures, new state of the art dentures (she thought mine looked great), etc., etc. 
When we finally dragged ourselves out of the baths, I was feeling pretty good in both body and spirit.

House of Terror: This museum, housed in the building that was first the Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi occupation and then the headquarters of the secret police during the communist years, is the most powerful museum I think I have ever been to. Though it wasn’t created for tourists, and few of the signs are in English, there is enough English in the exhibits to understand what they are about and you almost really don’t need it, as you are carried along by the multimedia presentations in every room. Many of the videos of survivors telling their stories were subtitled in English, plus there were English handouts in each room. Perhaps most haunting was the slow descent by elevator to the basement level where the cells and executions were located, watching as you go down to a video of a former guard describing how executions were administered. The final room of the exhibit is a “victimizer” hall, with small photos from that era of many of the administrators of punishment, many of whom are still alive.
I wish I had come to the museum with more energy to stay longer, but I was glad I had made an effort to experience what I did, as this is part of the history of the people in this part of the world.

Holocaust memorial along the banks of the Danube River where Jews were shot and thrown into the river.

House of Terror museum, former home of Gestapo and communist secret police.

The Baths--one of the outside pools.

Inside of an old synagogue.

Looking across the Danube to church high on Buda side.

Looking across Danube to the Pest side.

House of Parliamet on Pest side.