Thursday, April 25, 2013

Joys of my last few months in Crimea

I see that it has been over a month since I last wrote a blog post. This “winding down” time is turning out to be very busy. Surprisingly-though it seems life often goes this way—this has become a time of new people, new experiences.  Much of it has come from my decision to start an English club at the Window on America center which I wrote about in an earlier blog. The club has been a great success—I was happy to see how eager the young (and a few older) people were to read and discuss American literature and true life stories (from the National Story Project). The stories are easier for them as they don’t use “literary” language, but they continue to slog their way through James Thurber, John Updike, Kate Chopin, Alice Walker. 

And because I had been having so much fun doing the club, I decided to show some of the recent 3-part PBS special on the history of the women’s movement. And that led to showing other documentaries—the Wounded Knee occupation in the 1970’s and the Freedom Riders in the early 1960’s—and having discussions around these social movements in America, something close to my heart. It has been such an interesting experience—and enlightening in terms of learning about attitudes and ideas from this part of the world—to be able to discuss so many different topics with these Ukrainians. And for sure, it gives them a different view of America than what they get from most American movies and television.

So I spend as much time as possible at the Window on America center, getting to know the young people there and the director, Alie, whom I greatly enjoy. We are kindred spirits in many ways, and both of us are dreading the time when I no longer will be coming to the WOA.

Some of my English club participants. That is Alie, director of WOA, to my right.

The English club I had started with my friend Elmaz at the children’s library where she works ended up being very poorly attended, so finally I canceled it. The director of the library wanted me to continue but when no kids show up they drag kids out of their internet center who really don’t want to be there. So I decided I wanted to do something else on my Wednesday afternoons (like cook dinner for the family)! I did manage to get them a box of English children’s books from the Books for Peace organization in the US, so they were very happy about that.

My work at my library is very slow, as I no longer have any projects to work on. But I am doing a lot of translation work for them—providing English translations of various project proposals Nadjie has written so they will have them on file for future use—plus writing for the library blog and my own blog. I recently wrote a blog post on “Ismail Gasprinskiy—a feminist” ( which was interesting to research and write. I am also working on putting together some kind of presentation about my four years here for the “party” I will have on my last day sometime in the latter part of June.

I have also continued my hiking adventures with Polina and Nada (the mother/daughter team), lately more with Polina, though not for any particular reason. I think Nada has her own hiking pals she goes with. On one hike, Lilya from the library also came—I am trying to get them connected so Lilya will have someone to go hiking with when I leave. That hike involved a lot of crashing through the forests as we mostly followed Polina’s GPS versus any established trails. I had thought that perhaps Lilya would be a bit discouraged—she really doesn’t have that kind of experience nor the footwear (that girl needs some hiking shoes!)—but she ended up talking about what a great time she had and when can we go next? 

Polina is also a photographer, thus the beautiful photos in this blog.
The last hike I did was just with Polina (Lilya has been sick lately). Though the weather was quite cold at the beginning, it turned into a beautiful day with stunning views of Chatyr Dag and the surrounding mountains. We were on the lower mountains across the valley from Chatyr Dag and hiked to three different caves that Polina knew about. You would really have to know the location—the entrances were always hidden behind a clump of trees—but the caves were large and deep with magnificent rock formations. We went into all of them--the last one the deepest where I followed Polina and her head lamp, crawling, slipping and sliding down to the lowest cavern. Surrounding me in the darkness was the deep silence of the cave, the slow dripping of water, the bizarre stalactite and stalagmite formations outlined in the brightness of Polina’s headlamp.

Unlike the others, Polina had not been to our final cave of the day (number four).  We could see the opening across the canyon, so set off using her GPS in search of it. But once we got there, we could no longer see the entrance and couldn’t find it. After searching around for a while, Polina got on her cellphone with whom, I thought, was one of her hiking pals, but as it turned out, it was her mother and she knew exactly how to direct us to the entrance of the cave. I told Alie about it and she said, “Yeah, Polina’s mother is the GPS of Crimea.”

I continue on with making future plans—Kyiv for a few days in May and then Romania for a week with my friend Carla—and also cousin Sara is coming for visit at the end of May. And contemplating the future. I think I will have the opportunity to return to Ukraine sometime next year and work for 12 months under the Peace Corps Response program (for ex PCV’s), working with “high level functioning” NGO’s, consulting on organizational development. I think it would be an interesting challenge, but first and foremost, they have to have an English speaker on staff! Most likely I will end up in Kyiv, but possibly Simferopol. 

In the meantime, I think at the end of June when I have to leave the country (my visa expires), I am going to go to Georgia and perhaps northeast Turkey with my PCV pal Cheryl, mostly with idea of hiking in the Caucuses. Then return to America and hopefully have time to have nice long visits with my friends and family.
So that’s my life right now. All of which could change at any time, of course. But re-reading my blog post of January 8th when I talked about the difficulties of this fourth year, I feel so glad that I was able to make my way out of that slump and to embrace my life here in these last few months.  Things that I talked about in that post haven’t really changed substantially—my difficulties with my home life and the library and with the language still exist to some degree—but with the end of my time here, at least in this program, I have been able to more successfully let go of that over which I have no control and find new ways of being in this land I love so much. And for that, I am grateful.

With love from Crimea.
That is the cave entrance in the distance.

The meadows were filled with spring wildflowers

Some of the formations in the caves.

Chatyr Dag from the entrance of the last cave.


  1. Your hiking pals sound delightful. The knowledge they have!

  2. great post - the photos are so lovely - the caves sound cool and mysterious - but be careful!!

  3. Wonderful flower & cave pics. Also wonderful you are feeling more upbeat. And best of all, the prospect of seeing you in the more or less near future. Love, Robin