25.04.09, Terekli Mekteb, Dagestan
Internet is a little tough from here … its kinda done by GPRS … someone connects a mobile phone to a computer and internet access happens that way. I have had trouble uploading photos … bear with me. I should have proper internet access tomorrow night and will upload pics from the last 2 pic-less posts.
There was no motorcyling to be done today, so I sat back and let my group of hosts, predominantly Shamil and Begali, run the day. I didnt really know what was in store but thought I would just go with the flow.
The day started with a visit to the village of Nariman, just 5km or so from Terekli Mekteb. One of the gang looking after me had arranged a school visit. Russian schools work 6 days a week, but only 4-5 hours a day. So despite it being a Saturday, the school was in. For me faces are a great thing to photograph. There is a lot to read in an interesting face and I decided to take a lot of pictures of faces. For a lot more detail, see the photos section. I will upload a bunch of Nogai faces, but only will have a couple here on the blog.
Of particular interest at the school was a class doing national studies …national meaning Nogai. All the Nogai kids in Nariman learn 3 languages – Nogai, Russian and English. It was encouraging as to be honest I had hardly encountered any english speakers since entering the former soviet union. The hotel receptionist in Kerch was about the only one I can remember. It’s a complete contrast to Moscow where just about everyone seems to speak English. Thats what you get for going to less visited areas. Its been testing (and probably quite good) for my Russian but it does get tiring as I never get the chance to switch the brain off and communicate in English … except on this blog.
In the national studies class, some boys were doing woodwork, another kid was playing the national instrument, a 2 stringed guitar thingy called a dombra, and a class of girls turned their english lesson into a chat about motorcycling around the world. Not sure if I won any converts about to boost adventure motorcycle sales, but I got some great video of the kid playing the dombra and some fotos of the classes.
Next, a bunch of the senior guys in town rustled up assorted cars, food and drink and took me out to a place sacred to the Nogai. About 35 km from Terekli Mekteb, in the middle of absolutely nowhere is a small clump of rare trees. Thats pretty rare out on the steppe / dune country around the Nogai land in itself, but these trees have special properties, or at least they do for the Nogai. The air under the trees smells different to the surrounding air – its a cleaner, fresher feel. And apparently its always cool under these trees, even when its 50 degrees outside, as it in in Summer. But theres more. Apparently the air under the trees cures illnesses too. One of the guys told me he brought his son there when he had bronchitis, sat him under the tree for a few hours while they played cards, and he was cured.
I dont know about all that stuff, but it was an honour to be taken to a place that is central to their identity. A fire was started and food prepared. It was a genuine Nogai barbeque, out there in the dunes of Dagestan. As we prepared to eat, 2 young Nogai cowboys came riding in, having just caught and bridled a wild mustang. No-one knew them (they were from a nearby farm) but they were invited to join the feast, while a few of the older hands helped tame the wild horse.
A lamb was produced (from where I dont know) and butchered on the spot to help satiated the barbeques appetite. I was apparently still the guest of honour and had to politely turn down the traditional honour of cutting the sheep’s throat. I had eaten enough anyway and wandered off to photograph the emptiness of the dunes that lay between the Nogai country and Chechnya. Chechnya was only 3-4 km away but there was nothing that cound be seen for at least 15 km around, apart from one small farm 6-7 km away. It was a lovely desolate spot in the wilderness.