Da, da, da, eto Kavkaz!photo of volunteers

Teodora Stankova, Sofia, Bulgaria

When we first arrived to the Karachay-Cherkess Republic in northern Caucasus, I was a bit worried – on the way there we had been searched by an anti-terrorist squad, legally “robbed” by the police for having a plastic bottle of Bulgarian rakia (homemade brandy) with us, and questioned by armed police on the bus… After all, anything can happen on the long way from Sochi, on the Black sea coast, to Teberda, a small town in the mountainous area of the Karachay people.

Wet and tired we arrived to the place of the workcamp a day early – but this was not a problem for our hosts, Valya and Jura Sarkisian. Jura, originally from Abkhazia on the Russian-Georgian border, was the director of the nature reserve Teberdinsky Zapovednik where we were going to work for the next two weeks. After spending a night at Valya and Jura’s place, we went to the place where we were going to live during the camp – a hut located some 4 km away from town and from the headquarters of the reserve. There we met our cook (it is quite unusual to have a cook on a workcamp so we were really happy!) Nadya, a woman from somewhere in Sibiria married to a Karachay man. Nadya was an amazing person – she was a widow with five children and a sport-shooting champion, who rarely had the chance to see her family in Siberia because it was too expensive to travel there. She was telling us stories of how people in Moscow moved away from her and her children when they heard them speak in Karachay language (which is a part of the Turkic language family and therefore very similar to Turkish).

photo of volunteers

Working together to clean up a hiking trail

After we helped Nadya clean up the place and prepare it for our stay, the other volunteers arrived. They had travelled together on the train from Moscow to the capital Cherkessk, then taking the bus to Teberda, while we had used all kinds of transport (bus, ferry, train) to get there via Turkey. There was Irka from Ecological Center Zapovedniks, the hosting SCI organization. Irka was coordinator of the workcamp and Katya was the co-coordinator. We also had Eddy from Latvia, Martin and Julia from Germany, Falko from Germany who was a long-term volunteer with a Russian organisation, Martina and Jiri from the Czech Republic, Andreas from Switzerland, and Sabina from Slovenia. And of course, there was Lyubo, my boyfriend.

We quickly got to know each other and everyone got along quite well. Of course, we had our tough moments because not everyone had the same motivation for the work but I think we managed to solve them in the peaceful way of SCI. Maybe the Russian bath that Jura had organised for us during our free day also helped us relax and overcome our problems.

photo of the mountains

The famous mountains of northern Caucasus make a beautiful landscape

During the workcamp we organised several actions to clean up tourist trails in the mountains – a perfect way to combine hiking and work! One of the actions was broadly advertised in local media so many local volunteers joined us and we were even shown on television! During these hikes we got to know Igor – one of the leaders in the nature reserve, who was amazingly friendly and warm-hearted. We also painted the fence of a local kindergarten and refurbished the garden of the visitors’ centre at the nature reserve. I had the honour of repainting the statue of a wisent (European bison) at the entrance of the reserve! The wisent was probably the animal that the locals most took price in having in the reserve.

The Teberda region is famous for its mountains and it is therefore a favourite place for skiers and snowboarders to go in winter. But it was also a great place to visit in September – you could see all autumn colours and the white glaciers in the back. The anthem of the workcamp was a local hit song praising the nature and people of Caucasus. The song, which was called This is Caucasus (Eto Kavkaz in Russian), was so catchy that soon everyone was singing along every time they played it on the radio – Yes, yes, yes, this is Caucasus, yes, yes, yes, a sunny region, yes, yes, yes, mountainous landscape, yes, yes, yes, this is where paradise is! I still listen to this song sometimes and recall the good times we had in Karachay-Cherkessia.

I am extremely grateful for this experience and for meeting such wonderful people as Vanya, Jura, Nadya, Igor and the other volunteers in the workcamp. We still keep in contact with them and we are definitely going to visit Teberda again!