Mar 28, 2011

Однократная виза (Introduction to Maikop and the Republic of Adyghea)

Let me take this opportunity to answer a question that, perhaps, I should have answered earlier in this travel-blog.  Where am I?

Many of you, like me, thought I was in Russia.  Alas, I can't be, because last week I took a bus to a friend's house in a city in nearby Krasnodar Krai (translation: Krasnodar Oblast), and my companion said "there are no Adyghe people in Krasnodar Krai, because it's Russia."  Meaning, she goes to school with me in Maikop, but she lives in Russia.  And it was great to be back in Russia, let me tell you, although I didn't stay long, and before nightfall I was back in Russia.

I live and teach in Maikop, capital of the Republic of Adyghea.  "Republic," in the Russian sense, means "Krai," which is the same thing as an Okrug (Oblast).  But not exactly.  Russia contains 21 "Ethnic" Republics, which are political divisions dedicated to one or two local non-Russian nationalities.  You may remember the Republic of Buryatia, to the East of Irkutsk, where I unexpectedly landed on my first day in Russia, unaware that I was not in Russia.  Buryatia is home to the Buryats, Tibetan Buddhists of Mongol descent.  Adyghea is home to the Adyghe, non-Tibetan non-Buddhists of Caucasian descent, but even more Caucasian than you or me.  The Adyghe are Sunni Muslims (many only nominally), related by blood and language to many surrounding Caucasian peoples, and totally unrelated by blood and language to many more surrounding Caucasian peoples.  The region is rather diverse, though in this non-Russian republic, ethnic Russians are actually the majority.  But they couldn't call it the Republic of Russia, because that would just be silly.

And so, all official signs are in two languages, Russian and Adyghe, and the two times I've heard the republic's president speak, it's been in Adyghe.  I won't try to describe the language, because бзылъфыгъэм джанэр егыкІы.  This is a picture of the Adyghe National Museum, during the celebration of the Adyghe new year, which was the 21st of March this year.

The Adyghe mark the event the same way every ethnic group marks every event - they dress up in ornate native dress and run around in brisk circles. 

I'm not an anthropologist, but I'm going to go ahead and add that to the list of universal human qualities.  Humans assign unique names to each individual.  Humans keep domesticated animals, if not for economic reasons, then as pets.  Humans love to dress up all fancy and run in circles.

Adyghe kids are just like Russian kids, which is to say, just like all kids. They dress in the latest Western fashions, sometimes with an Adyghe twist.

Like us, they listen to


and, for those inclined towards the esoteric,

The Adyghe are famous for their hospitality. I was told at the museum that if you drop in on an Adyghe family, you can stay for three days before they ask why you're there. And what's more, after they ask, you don't have to answer for another five. If they don't think it's a good reason, they have to wait an entire week to tell you. All told, you can live with an Adyghe family for over a month before they tell you to get the hell out. Once they do, though, you'd better listen - there isn't a single variant of national costume without a dagger of some kind.

Anyway, Maikop is the Republic's capital, biggest city, and cultural center.  I made up that last one, but I can't imagine where else the cultural center would be.  Compared with Irkutsk, Maikop is a much smaller, quieter, arguably friendlier place.  If in Irkutsk, they had a tank in the center of every neighborhood, Maikop has but one humble gigantic fighter jet.

If Irkutsk's Lenin is projecting his arm outward in some dramatic appeal to the people, Maikop's Lenin is just quietly adjusting his coat.

I live in Dormitory 3, a student housing complex far from the center of town, but close to the fighter jet.  My room is on the top floor, just up and to the right from the part in Vladimir Putin's hair.

I have two neighbors - Artur, the Chechen martial artist mentioned in my first entry, and a brooding, silent, black-haired Russian girl who refuses to look at or speak with me, except for the one time I accidentally opened the bathroom door into her face, and she said "OH GOD" (but in Russian!).  For the record, though, she was cold to me long before that.  She is a dark and foreboding presence in my life, and I'd rather get kicked in the chest by Artur than suffer one of her glares.  I don't have a picture, because I thought her grim visage might break my camera, and she probably doesn't appear on film anyway.

Let's see, what else.  Tourists in Maikop can visit John Lennon's boyhood home, which I'll admit, I did not realize was in Russia at all:

But that isn't the only notable cultural site.  Like in Russian cities, Maikop also has a huge beautiful church in the city center, except there's something funny about it.  Earlier today, I stumbled into an hour-long conversation/sermon about Islam from a young mufti who works there, which was incidentally the first non-profane Russian language I'd heard in three days.  Among other things, he explained why music is incompatable with Islam.  I could tell he knew I was listening to Kraftwerk literally ten minutes before I got there, he had that look in his eyes.  You know the look.  But he pretended he wasn't certain, and for my part, I pretended I regretted it, and we got along fine.

This entry maybe lacks the depth I was hoping for, but mostly I wanted to get some pictures online before my camera gets stolen again.  I also haven't taken many artsy/attractive photographs, but it's getting warm, and soon I'll be headed for the surrounding mountains, which will be very very scenic and wonderful.  I wrote a paper and presented it to a giant conference of Russian students and teachers today, which I'll discuss in a future entry.  Point is, now that that is passed, I'll have more free time, and can maybe blog a little more.  Here are two more pictures of Maikop, more to come of course.

And finally, at the risk of embarassing the Russian military, a risk I really have no business taking, I wanted to post this picture too.   If nothing else, it will help them improve operations in the future.  They were recruiting at the dance concert I talked about earlier, and talked to me at great length, even though I'm probably not eligible for service.


Iosif Markovich said...


Iosif Markovich said...

Hey thanks, I really appreciate it. I wish more readers were like you.

Kam said...

Um, awkward.

Well, I guess the reason I hadn't commented on this post, other than not reading it until now, is that, as you implied yourself, it reads like an encyclopedia entry that lacks academic rigor, or a Wikipedia entry that lacks headings, or perhaps an Urban Dictionary entry that lacks gratuitous sexual references and profanity. Work on that.

I did enjoy the pictures and throwbacks to prior entries, though you should make a concerted effort to take more artsy pictures. I like the documentary, photojournalistic images, since they help give me a visual basis for understanding that world over there, but you CAN take artsy photos so... Why not?