Crimea, and Seminars (Long Entry!)
Hello everyone! 52 days to go. And a whole lot of government paperwork to be done in the meantime . . .
Lyudmila is originally from Nemirov, and on one of our trips I met her mother and step-father for the first time! Of course, her mother insisted on my eating salad and deruny (potato pancakes), which was fine with me. Her attempts to give me something to drink were more problematic: I consider myself a fairly flexible eater (and I’ve gotten better in the Peace Corps), but there are just some lines I don’t cross. For instance, I’ve never once eaten salo, the fried pork fat they love to eat here (though I’ve eaten things cooked with it, which can be good). I have yet to try holodetz, the jellified meat fat dish served here. And, apparently, some liquids here give me pause as well. First she tried tomato juice, which I’ve never been a fan of, which Lyudmila knew and explained for me. Then she offered me milk, and I accepted. She brought me a full glass, with a spoon in it, and explained that it had to be stirred. Because there were chunks in it. Lyudmila said, haltingly, “It is milk that has . . .” “. . . Curdled?,” I asked. I think it was “kefir,” – the “yoghurt” that Nina made by leaving milk next to my electric space heater. I tried it, but couldn’t handle it. So finally, she gave me hot water with lemon. Good enough. They were very sweet; and when I noticed their accordions on the shelf, they played for me – Lyudmila’s energetic mother dancing around, singing and even using her good-natured husband’s face to beat a tambourine-type-thing against.
At the end of the second week of school, my fellow Volunteers Clara and Brittany and I took a trip to Crimea! It was the first trip for each of us, and we had all been told that we had to see it before leaving. I thought that a trip in September would mean fewer crowds, and less oppressive weather – and I was right, but unfortunately, that week the weather in Ukraine turned chilly and rainy all over. We were better off in Crimea than we would have been up north, but still – no sunbathing.
We decided to fly from Kyiv because of a special deal, and to save time – Crimea is a long train ride away (over 20 hours). I realized after it was too late that I had forgotten my real passport, but thankfully they let me through with my PC identification card. Packing for the trip was slightly confusing, because the website clearly stated that liquids were not allowed in checked baggage. We were skeptical, but went along with it – only to discover at the check-in counter that we had been misled. We hastily repacked, and went on our way.
Even though it was September, Crimea was still pretty busy, and we were turned away from several hotels over the course of five days. We finally found a hotel in Simferopol (where we landed), and decided to call ahead before traveling to Yalta. I made the phone calls because I was trying to use the very little Russian I’ve picked up. (In the East, and in Odessa and Crimea, Russian is the dominant language, while in the West, it’s Ukrainian. Clara claims that I pick up a crazy Russian accent when I switch over, that I don’t use with Ukrainian.) We discovered (with the help of someone who spoke English back to me) that Yalta was holding a conference, and so was all booked. (We were later told that this might have been a racecar thing.) So, we went to Bakcheserai instead!
Bakcheserai was definitely my favorite part of the trip; it’s a very pretty town, with many attractions related to its Tatar history. The Tatars are a Muslim minority group in Crimea, originally from Asia or thereabouts. I don’t know much of the history, but it was really interesting to see how different this region of Ukraine was, due to their influence. I heard the Muslim call to prayer for the first time in my life, which was really cool – though we only heard it once, each day we were there.
We arrived, and began to search for a hotel. Lonely Planet told us about a nice bed and breakfast, so we started searching, and ended up following a man up a steep hillside, after which he indicated that we should keep walking straight. After a long, long walk, with all our bags (and under a very threatening-looking sky), we came to a different hotel, which was full. They helpfully called us a taxi, though, and we stopped in a café to regroup, while it started to rain. This café was maybe my favorite part of Bakcheserai: it had couch-like, cushioned seats with low tables, and great Tatar food. The people who worked there were very nice to us, and a man from Uzbekistan walked up to us and immediately began rattling off everything he knew about America, including city names – including Alexandria! He later had some less charming things to say involving conspiracies and UFOs, and we humored him for a bit before returning, with looks of determination, to our plates. He was helpful, though, in that he called up his friend who ran a bed and breakfast down the road! He even got the friend to pick us up in his car, because of the rain, so that was nice. In the meantime, we discovered amazing Tatar desserts, which mostly involve honey, and which include a version of baklava. Tatar food isn’t that different from Ukrainian food – maybe slightly more Mediterranean – but it was still exotic to us, and we loved the desserts.
We met Clara’s training cluster-mate, Christina, who knows all about Tatar culture, as well as Russian politics, and enthusiastically filled us in on some specifics. The room we were given at the bed and breakfast was very nice, and our host greeted us in the morning with Turkish coffee and peanuts covered in powdered sugar. That morning, we hiked up to a monastery in the hills, which was very pretty, and then hiked even further to a series of formerly inhabited (not sure when) caves. It was sort of reminiscent of the Flintstones – the caves often had little openings for doorways and windows carved into them. We took a lot of pictures, posing in the windows . . .
In addition to Crimean desserts, we got to try Crimean wine, which was very nice. We ate both nights at a restaurant named for Pushkin, where a very nice cat spent the evening first on Brittany’s lap, then mine. So: desserts and wine, pretty art, and a nice cat. It’s clear why Bakcheserai was my favorite stop on the trip.
Our next stop was Sevastopol, where we spent a few hours visiting with a Volunteer couple in our group, Phil and Carol. They pointed us toward “the Panorama,” which Christina was excited to see, and Greek ruins, called Hersonis. The Panorama is a 3D work of art commemorating the siege on Sevastopol at the end of the Crimean War. It’s a circular room that you can walk all around, with a painted scene continuing off the wall (if that makes sense) into cannons, reconstructed trenches, etc. You can see the French and the British approaching in the distance. They even made the room smell like gunpowder (apparently there is a recording of gunshots and explosions that they play when lots of children come). I’m not very knowledgeable about history, and the whole thing made me think of Eddie Izzard’s imitation of the Germans retreating from Russia (“Oh – it’s a bit cold, a bit cold!”).
We took a very late bus to Yalta, where we stayed in a nice apartment. Unfortunately, the palace that hosted the Yalta Conference (of FDR, Churchill and Stalin fame) was closed, so we satisfied ourselves with a ferry trip to the Swallow’s Nest: a very, very small castle on a cliff, built at the beginning of the 20th century, for someone’s mistress. It was on the cover of the last Lonely Planet for Ukraine, and is very photogenic, but, as Lonely Planet warned, much shorter than you would expect. (Like meeting a celebrity in person, they crack.) It’s about the size of a suburban house. But I was still happy to see it, finally, and we all took lots of pictures, when not ducking out of the photos of Ukrainians. Asian tourists might be famous for how many pictures they take, but I swear, no one can out-do Ukrainians at the random, “glamour shot” photo. Every two feet, at least, there was a Ukrainian girl draping herself against a wall and gazing dramatically at her friend’s camera (no smiles and peace signs for Ukrainian photos). It was pretty intense.
Lyudmila was very enthusiastic while explaining the lesson plans with me, and the first day was great. The second day, I wanted to show part of “A Closer Walk,” but, unfortunately, the CD I burned on my computer didn’t work with our new TV and DVD player, so I ran home to get my computer. A student claimed to be able to read the Russian subtitles from the back row of chairs, but he must have been lying: soon after starting the movie, I realized that most of the thirty-some people in attendance had no idea what was going on. I was panicking, but they came up with the solution of having someone in the first row read the subtitles out loud. Everyone was satisfied with this, and I was thrilled – an English teacher from School #1 and Lyudmila took turns reading, and it went very well. My former tutor told me afterwards about how she got our 80-year-old literature teacher to come see the movie: at first she wasn’t interested, after hearing what the subject matter was, but she came anyway, and later thanked my tutor for convincing her. It was wonderful to have such enthusiastic and appreciative participants, even though they didn’t all come every day. The whole point of the project was to encourage teachers and students to continue teaching about HIV after I leave, and to feel confident with the subject matter. So I was very, very happy with the reactions we got – I think we were successful!
I’ve finally started teaching regularly again, although I won’t be for much longer! It’s too bad that I won’t get to know my new students better. My new 5th graders – Lyudmila’s new class, now that her 11th graders are gone – are very, very cute. They’re very intent on translation: I can barely get out a sentence before a child shouts out what he or she thinks the Ukrainian is. There are a few enthusiastic new students in my other grades as well – including a girl who gave her name as “Meri,” in the 7th grade.
Olha: [random Ukrainian word]
VR: I don’t know what that is.
Lyudmila: (laughs at VR)
L: She said “rhododendron.”
As I said, it’s gotten cold and rainy, and for most of September, Nina didn’t have the heat on. (It’s ok, I have a space heater.) Usually, I take cold/lukewarm “showers” (with water pressure that couldn’t drown a daddy-longlegs: I know – I’ve tried), but because of the weather, I finally considered an alternative. I had been wary of bucket baths because I was worried about running out of water mid-bath (my hair has gotten really long) and having to heat up more with wet, soapy hair. I did the bucket bath thing in Mozambique, and, sure enough, it took as much water as I could carry to get my hair clean. But what I realized – as a recent bucket-bath convert – is that, when in my own house with a bathtub inside (and not down a path, like in Mozambique), I don’t have to only use as much water as I can carry! So, now I’m a believer. It is so nice to wash my hair with warm water that I don’t even mind how much time it takes to boil it.