Crimean coffee

Ayshe saw a road. She saw a solitary woman, facing down a looming figure of authority. A little cluster of friends and family seeking to help, or maybe seeking shelter. A flow of money running out.

Lena and I listened to her read the coffee grounds in her cup, an old Crimean Tatar tradition she learned from her mother. I think we were both hoping she would see the future, shining and clear; or at least clearer than the fog of confusion and disappointment and uncertainty that is life in Crimea these days.

Lena had been telling us about her life as an activist in Moscow, monitoring political arrests and organising opposition meetings. How she gave it all up because she could see no point in it any more; she would never achieve anything against the monolithic oppression of Russian government. Instead she learned how to be a potter and bought a house in a village in Crimea where she hoped to retire from politics, from opposition – from Russia.

And instead, in a twist of fate no teller of fortunes in coffee grounds could possibly invent, Russia followed her to Crimea.

Perhaps that solitary female figure is Lena, not facing down the looming authorities but being faced down; defeated. “There’s no legitimate way to fight now,” Lena said. “Not unless you’re ready to take up arms and fight to the death. The only thing to do is to wait.”

“I’m afraid of sitting and waiting,” Ayshe said. “We’ve already done that. Now it’s too late.”

If she waits, her son will become a Russian citizen and end up serving in the Russian army. If she waits, there will be no food to put on the table, because there will be no tourist season this year, and no goods from Turkey to sell to tourists because no one one knows how to import them; what customs duties to pay; what taxes; if the ports are open or not…

In the coffee cup Ayshe saw the money running out, and she saw the road she is taking to Turkey to try and arrange jobs for herself and her son. The solitary woman is herself, arguing with the hostile authorities the way she’s been doing for decades, ever since the Crimean Tatar National Movement in Uzbekistan, since the move back to Crimea, the squatting of land and building a house and setting up a school and building a business and a family.

When I look at the coffee grounds, I don’t see these things. I find a different figure, wearing a Crimean Tatar kalpak, or sheepskin hat. Sitting and waiting.

This figure looks peaceful, he could be asleep. Over his head there’s what could be a leaf, or could be a grasping hand. It could be providing shelter, or it could be reaching down to obliterate.

But I don’t know know how to read coffee grounds. Unlike Ayshe, who is so convincing that she could probably make a living out of it. If all else fails, there will always be some kind of future.



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A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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