Monday, September 26, 2011

From Bashkortostan with ҡымыҙ


The most important thing to know about this AMAZING weekend is: Bashkortostan is not a country. It is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, just like Adygeya, Chuvashia, Chechnya(well not really), Yakutia, Tatarstan and so on... it has nothing to do with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and so on...

I decided to take the weekend to visit Catherine (Katya), another Fulbright ETA. Ufa is only 5 hours by car from Chelyabinsk, but the car ride didn't work out, so I took the train instead. Technically, we cross into a different continent (back into Europe), but it's still in the same time zone.
The fun started on the train. I spoke Russian well enough to not immediately be spotted as a foreigner (!!) but admitting that I was always makes for good conversation. I ended up having one of the funniest "neighbors" I've ever had on a Russian train... a Tatar guy about my age named Timur. He didn't allow any of us to sleep much that night, and every time I tried to, I could sense that he was still making silly faces at me, and I'd open my eyes... surely enough...

As soon as I got there, Catherine picked me up, and we walked to her Saturday class. It was just an introduction class where she met two of her 17 groups of students (poor thing! Bednyashka!) We had a blast doing it... drawing a terrible map of the United States and explaining about how I am from Massachusetts and she is from California, and we both went to school in Ohio...and subsequently, explaining the words "like", "hella", and "wicked."

After that, we took a walking tour of the city (of course, I was wearing heels... eek.) around beautiful roads with both European-looking architecture and very picturesque Russian provincial/Bashkir residences.

We ended up at this place. The park and monument of Salavat Yulaev, the Bashkir national hero. "You haven't heard of Salavat Yulaev? WHAAAAT?!" The park had a beautiful of the river and the hills, and on the otherside there were cafes and souvenir shops that looked like yurts. Funny though, how in a completely tourist/family setting, they decide as background music that they should play a techno song that repeats the words "WHAT THE F***". Ohhh Russia.

After a long and painful high-heeled walk to search for a good Bashkir cafe, we rested at the apartment, and then out to a club with some recent acquaintances-turned-close-friends. We went to meet Vadim, a seriously completely-recent acquaintance of Catherine's, at an upscale club for his friend's birthday. By upscale club, they weren't kidding. High heels were a REQUIREMENT for women. It was pretty surreal... we felt like New Russians . The family of Vadim was a Tatar family (New Tatars? Or just a special occasion?) with yet another display of hospitality. I had only known them for those four hours, and may never know them again, but they provided us with a dinner, several drinks, hookah, and entrance to the dance floor without letting us spend a ruble.

All of us.
Ruslan, probably the funniest character of the night.

The night ended at 4am. One of the conversations we had was the difference between American and Russian (or Tatar) mentality, in which in America, productivity and punctuality and success come first, while here... not so much... I responded, that I actually preferred it this way, that quality of life and relationships with others should be primary... to which they answer... добро пожаловать!

The next day, we slept pretty late (understandably), and then took another journey to the other side of the river, where people reside in their dachas (weekend cabins). To get there, you take a bus (on which I made the decision that Bashkir men are probably the most attractive in most of Russia) to a park, follow down some dirt paths (accompanied by Catherine's friend Kadriya, a local), take a ski-lift-type-thing down to the river bank, take a boat across the river, and then follow some more paths. By fate, we chose one path that led us down a row of dachas were one woman was garden and curious about Catherine's photography (she wants to make 5-minute films once a month about life in Bashkortostan). We introduced ourselves, and she let us into her cabin for tea. Her name was Albina, and she had the most beautiful garden with delicious vegetables! Unfortunately, we could not stay long, because Cathernine needed to hurry back to teach her Zumba class... also a blast.

Albina's garden

Finally, that evening after the Zumba Fitness class, we all went to our long-awaited Bashkir feast at a traditional restaurant (well, not really, it was kind of a generic 'Eastern' restaurant, but whatever). We were joined by a friend named Bulat, a Bashkir who speaks the language and plays the kurai, a traditional flute-like instrument (but not very well, he says) and his friend, a girl from Finland, and two other friends. Between the seven of us, we only had to pay 500 rubles each for this feast about $15, which in some other cities (ahem... MOSCOW) is unheard of.

Now... ҡымыҙ.... кумыс... kumys... what is that? It iiiiis

Fermented horse milk! It's delicious! and very good for you!

More pictures from Izyum, the Bashkir(ish) restaurant

 Irik, Bulat, me, Catherine, Petra
 Horse meat! Eat with your hands!
 Denis, Irik, Bulat, me, Catherine, Petra... almost all of us
Salavat Yulaev, looking especially majestic at night.

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