Oh, My Mother Tongue!

Oh, beloved native language
Oh, enchanting mother tongue!
You enabled my search for knowledge
Of the world, since I was young
As a child, when I was sleepless
Mother sung me lullabies
And my grandma told me stories
Through the night, to shut my eyes
Oh, my tongue! You have been always
My support in grief and joy
Understood and cherished fondly
Since I was a little boy
In my tongue, I learned with patience
To express my faith and say:
“Oh, Creator! Bless my parents
Take, Allah, my sins away!”

— “Oh, My Mother Tongue,” Gabdullah Tuqay

That’s a bit of what is basically the “unofficial hymn of Tatarstan.” We went to the Museum of Tuqay today on our penultimate excursion (wow!). It was about an 1.5 hour drive outside of Kazan, deep into Tatarstan. Seriously. In Kazan, most (official) signs are in Russian first, Tatar second. Out here, it was Tatar first, Russian second (if at all). In fact, (we learned) Tuqay was very proud to write his poems in Tatar.

The museum was pretty cool – not exactly a photogenic place (mostly just informational), but our tour guide was awesome. She was unbelievably energetic and enthusiastic about Tuqay, and she also, despite talking really fast, was very understandable (not the write word for that situation, but you get it). It felt really good to get the main idea out of what she was saying, because I would’ve been absolutely clueless even a few weeks ago!

We also watched what might be the single greatest film of all time while at the museum. It was a Soviet-era production of Tuqay’s greatest poem, “Şüräle.” That name is spelled “Shurale” in English. Shurale is essentially the Tatar boogeyman. In the movie, however, Shurale is also a ballet master. The entire movie (a silent film) basically revolved around the failed attempt of Shurale (represented as a hairy man-beast with one horn and “claws as long as boughs”) to capture/kill/rape a local Tatar girl by virtue of his “little tickling game.” These quotes, by the way, are straight from the subtitles of the movie, which were also hilarious. Often times they were in terrible English or awkwardly incomplete. For example, “He showed them his”…with no punctuation to mark the end, and no completion. Awkward. But basically this furry man-monster, in addition to stalking said girl, also does not move like a normal being, but rather danced everywhere, sometimes to the tune of music that completely contrasted the mood of the story. There were also random shots of horses and birds. It was very strange but also just so funny. I inquired about the availability of the film and was disappointed to hear that it was not for sale.

After the museum we went back to Kazan, where I watched FC Rubin Kazan lose 2-0 to first-place Zenit St. Petersburg on TV at a cafe. It was a pretty big bummer. And now I’m home, trying to stay cool. It’s gotta be high 90s here right now, and I know its supposed to hit as high as 41 degrees Celsius here tomorrow (that’s more than 100 F).

Friday was also an interesting day. After finishing up school and lunch, about 2/3 of our group headed to a beach to take advantage of sunny skies and maybe get some water on us. However, due to the heat, the Kazanka and Volga Rivers have essentially been closed down for swimming because of this weird green algae that’s grown/invaded/appeared. So we settled for group (dressed) showers again, as well as ultimate frisbee, beach volleyball, and multiple attempts (all failed) at capturing our human pyramid in a photograph. After the beach, we walked a few minutes to a really nice mall-type-thing where we went bowling. It was a nice few hours of bonding and just hanging out with new friends who I’ll be sad to leave in a few weeks.

After returning to Kazan, a friend and I boarded a bus. Normal. Not normal was that the bus literally stopped working in the middle of a turn about 10 minutes after departing. After a few attempts at restarting, everybody on the bus pretty much peaced-out, and we followed suit. (Rule #1 of living abroad in a country where you don’t really speak the language: follow what the crowd does) We walked to the next bus stop and waited a few minutes before boarding a new bus.

I got to my bus stop at around 10:10 and began the about 10 minute walk back to the apartment. My route was basically pitch-black and there were some pretty shady characters (prostitutes, hobos, rambunctious youths) along the way, but nothing was as big an enemy as the cement block I stubbed my toe against along the way. Wearing sandals, this was not very fun. I basically kicked it. My toe began to throb and continued to throb about 5 minutes later as I walked into the apartment building.

I walked into the threshold of the apartment and reached down to take off my shoes (can’t wear shoes in a Russian house…seriously. Don’t try it.) when I noticed that the entire top quarter of my left sandal was covered in blood. That would explain the throbbing.

My host mom also saw the blood. She told me to go sit on a stool in the kitchen and she walked away. About a minute later she returned carrying, in her left hand, a bottle of vodka, and in her right, scissors and bandage. In the blink of an eye (literally – I had no time to discuss, protest, or even comprehend), she poured some vodka on some bandage and put it on my toe. I bit my tongue so hard that it, too, began to bleed. The stinging was unbelievable. However, it also cleaned the gash really well. My host mom finished up by putting some strange smelling ointment on my toe and then wrapping it up.

I woke up this morning and my toe feels pretty good, especially considering there’s still a pretty nasty gash. I earned a hug from my host mom for calling her the best doctor in Russia. (Igor – I didn’t call her the best Russian doctor!) All in all, a pretty exciting day.

And that’s it for me for now. Less than 2 weeks until I return!




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2 responses to “Oh, My Mother Tongue!

  1. This is a record of the 1994 Russian ballet “La Esmeralda” by Bolshoi and Cesare Pugni for the music, with an introduction by someone I don’t know the name. If someone knows more about this ballet (name of the dancers, choreographer etc) please tell me Extracts from the romantic ballet La Esmeralda. Choreography by Jules Perrot, music by Cesare Pugni, by the Ballet and Symphonic Orchestra Moussorgsky from St-Petersburg (1994). Elvira Khabibullina – Esmeralda Angella Kondrashova – Fleur-de-Lys Andrei Kuligin – Gringoire Aleksei Konstantinov – Claude Frollo Andrei Bregvadze – Quasimodo Kirill Myasnicov – Phoebus de Chateaupers Igor Soloviev – Clopin Trouillefou Nicole – The little goat Director : Evgenia Popova, artistic director : Larisa Lukonina. I don’t own this ballet.

  2. igor

    you host Mom did good! And you did great for letting her do home remedy miracles on you without any protests. Boy, how you’ve grown! Keep those conversational skills sharp. Love your blogs – it’s a throwback to old innocent times for me. Be strong

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