Conquering Fortresses, Breaking Language Barriers, and Rocking Cafeteria Dance Parties
Crimea has been drawing vastly different groups of people to its beautiful shores for millennia. A small peninsula jutting off the southern tip of Ukraine, Crimea sits at the top of the Black Sea. Visitors to this beautiful area can still visit ruins left by Ancient Greek travelers and the vestiges of the Silk Road. This place has been home to countless peoples over countless centuries, and over the past couple days Crimea has become our home as well.
Our first excursion was taken with our wonderful host, who is also a professor at a local university. He accompanied us to a Genovese Fortress perched atop the local town that dates to the late fourteenth century, which is a testament to the multitude of peoples that have been moving around Crimea since ancient times. While the Genovese were first drawn here for strategic reasons, there is something about Crimea that enthralls and captivates. Even on a cloudy day the Black Sea is strikingly beautiful. I have never seen so many shades of blue in one body of water. The landscape stark and dramatic, and invites exploration. It’s the kind of place you have to see to believe.
At the beginning of the trip, hardly any of us spoke any Russian. I was lucky enough to have taken Russian classes before at CC, but I am impressed by (and vaguely jealous of) how quickly everyone has learned how to communicate. Russian is by no means an easy language, but we’ve gone from zero to functioning in three short days. It is this newly found linguistic prowess that has allowed us to explore our new surroundings. After only one hour of Russian instruction, the class headed to the nearest grocery store to buy provisions. The scene was chaotic of course, and both the proprietor and us students had to be extremely creative in making ourselves understood, but it is this fearless attitude that has informed every day of this trip. Armed with nothing but vocabulary for numbers and introductions we took on the local bazaar. The next day, hardly more proficient, we went out on the town with new Crimean friends. Last night, our 8 year old friend gave us a performance of traditional Crimean Tatar dances. After the recital, using nothing but our broken Russian and high spirits, we helped turn an ordinary dining hall into an impromptu discotheque. Complete with flashing lights and trance music. Our fellow guests seemed to find our dancing extremely entertaining.
My favorite part of the trip, however, came last night. After finding out I spoke (admittedly broken) Russian, I was invited to join our hosts and their guests in the chaikhana. A chaikhana is a low table surrounded by pillows where people eat, drink tea, and generally socialize. Sitting there, trying follow the conversation, I was struck mainly by how generally wonderful everything has been so far. I tried to convey this in a toast, and even though my grammar was painfully bad everyone still smiled. None of us are quite sure exactly what we’re doing, but we’re not letting that stop us from having a great time while we’re doing it.