Fort-Shevchenko

Yet another stop on our grand Shevchenko tour. This one featuring lots of melons and an excellent dual language Kazakh-Ukrainian Shevchenko Museum.

Hillside view over Fort-Shevchenko, with the Caspian as the backdrop.

Our last adventure based out of Aktau was a day trip to Fort-Shevchenko, a small town about two hours from Aktau. After a bit of bumbling around the bus/car station, we stumbled into one of the people Maki had met at Beket Ata, who worked as a driver between Aktau and Fort-Shevchenko. And thus, for a couple thousand total (around $26), we were on our way. The interest in this little town stems from the fact that it was the primary location of Ukrainian national poet/writer Taras Shevchenko’s exile in Tsarist Russia, then called Fort-Alexandrovsky (renamed Shevchenko in the Soviet period). It’s located more or less on the end of a peninsula in Mangistau:

Courtesy of Google Maps, the point A marks Fort-Shevchenko. Also visible: the dying Aral Sea. And also the Caspian.

We asked to be dropped off at the museum, where we found ourselves in the middle of a tiny town. Instead of going straight to the museum, we first stopped for lunch at a local cafe. From there, we headed up the hill, attempting to see the monument, which appeared to be closed. We had to settle for the view from the hill just outside its gates, as can be seen in the first picture. Here’s the monument:

We then headed back to the center, where we knocked on the door at the Ethnographic Museum, confused that it wasn’t the Shevchenko Museum we had read about. Still, we paid our 100 tenge (70 cents) entrance fee, and took in a very modern, well-done museum.

The main part of the ethnographic museum was shaped like a yurt, a fairly common architectural decision.

Perhaps the first museum I had been in Kazakhstan that featured no images of a grinning Nazarbayev. It was like we had landed on another planet, really (note: pretty much all museums in Kazakhstan are more or less exactly the same). From there, the museum staff took us on to the Shevchenko Museum, which, it turned out, was operated essentially as an extension of the ethnographic one.

The Shevchenko Museum, at the back of Fort-Shevchenko’s municipal park.

As we went through the museum slowly, the museum lady appeared slightly annoyed that we had interrupted her otherwise low-key day. The museum itself was quite impressive, actually, given how few actual (original) artifacts and paintings it had. It made nice use of high quality copies, with most captioning in Ukrainian and Kazakh, although a few in Russian and Kazakh. The very end of the museum detailed the founding of the museum, which had been in the early Soviet period, and told of us of (ethnic Kazakh) Shevchenko-logists, one in particular who had been active in putting the museum into its current form. Perhaps the coolest part, however, was outside the main museum: a glass-enclosed zemlianka, an underground dwelling, where Shevchenko had spent summers. Inside was original furniture and the like. Given the glass enclosure, we were pretty sure it was original.

We couldn’t take pictures inside the museums, so here’s the picture taken from the window after the employee had left us.

And outside, the requisite statue:

My turn:

Having paid our respects to Taras, we made our way through the park, stopping in to look at their local war memorial.

Also in the park were a collection of interactive World War II era weaponry, which we obviously had to inspect.

So many dials!

And from there, we headed back to the cafe from earlier, and stopped in through the bazaar for a peek around. Having lost his tapochki (house shoes) en route, Maki was interested in seeing if there were any available. The old ladies there twittered amongst themselves as they struggled to come up with their biggest pairs (Maki wears something like a 49), but all the pairs were too small. It was pretty adorable, actually. We made a final stop at a local patriotic structure of sorts:

“My Kazakhstan.” Complete with pictures of Khans and biys. And horses. Always horses.

We headed to the car park, where we negotiated a ride back for the same price we had paid earlier, only this time we were the only ones in the car. Our driver told us all sorts of things about his work, about stereotypes of Shymkent (the gem: “In Kazakhstan, we think of people from Shymkent kak evrei [like Jews].” And when we asked for further clarification: “They’re very greedy and think only about money.” Oh, Kazakhstan! Some day, political correctness will come to you. Maybe!). And of course, about melons. In fact, he was so distressed that we hadn’t tried the melons that he absolutely insisted in stopping by a road side stand to treat us to watermelon. There, we ran into our driver from earlier — the one Maki had met in Beket Ata. Here we all are, eating our watermelons!

SO MANY MELONS!

At this point, I remembered how Nozima, the six-year old I lived with in Tajikistan in 2011, constantly asked for “ulibki” (“smiles”) when watermelon was being carved up. We had to eat a lot.

I thought this would be a nice one to end on. Melon so plentiful that they go for about 60 cents a piece! This is the sort of thing I miss from my Central Asian summers, which I will likely not have next summer (Russia and maybe Ukraine being the tentative plan).

And from there, we headed back to the city, where we were dropped off on the Caspian coast as the sun was setting.

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