|2005-04-12 - Conversations in a Siberian...
Conversations in a Siberian sauna
13 Apr, 05 - 00:26
GPS-pos: N68°47´ | E161°22´ | Alt: 23 M
Tuesday the 12th of April. It´s been a bit of a chilly day with a northerly wind, around 5°F during the day and not a cloud to be seen in the sky. Seems like we won´t be able to leave for the final leg towards Ambarchik until Friday since the new digital video camera didn´t arrive today as planned. We´re now hoping that it will arrive on Thursday instead.
Johan Ivarsson at the pen.
´´Everyone knows that the best hockey player in the world comes from Sweden!´´ Mikael argued.
´´Really, and who would that be?´´ our host Vitalij Ivanovich responded skeptically before Mikael continued: ´´Peter Forsberg of course, who else?´´
´´He´s not the best by far, Jaromir Jagr is a lot better!´´ Vitalij assured us all and then invited us to follow him into the sauna again.
´´But he´s an old man now´´ Mikael continued, uneager to let the subject slip away that easy.
This was just one of many debates that we had this evening when we were invited to the local Siberian style banja (sauna) by the headmaster of the local college - Vitalij Ivanovich. They had two types of saunas to offer, the Russian style which is an extremely hot and dry banja and a ´´Scandinavian´´ style, the heavy moisture variety. We started in the Siberian one which I walked right into it, just like back home, without too much of a thought about the consequences. But I soon regretted it, though. To walk into a 212°F warm sauna without having a shower first is a big mistake, and forgetting to put something on your feet is an even bigger mistake. But the worst thing you can do is to forget to bring something to sit on, unless you want to experience the feeling the cows in the old wild west experienced!
The so called Scandinaviska sauna wasn´t that much easier to handle. It was dominated by high moistures, if compared to the Russian variety, but I wouldn´t call it a skandinavian sauna since this one was just as hot, and the moisture made it even worse. But as the Viking I represent I took a seat at the top together with Vitalij, who didn´t seem bothered at all by the warmth, to steam a bit. It didn´t take long, though, not even a minute, before I had to abandon the top and move down. I was also the first one to rush out to have a cold shower.
The thing with a Siberian sauna is that you don´t spend all your time inside the sauna itself, called pariltsa. Mostly you relax in the locker-room, discussing all sorts of things while having a beer and eating some smoked fish. Tonight we talked about a lot of things, our families, friends, hunting and fishing, all sort of sports and of course history, a subject that in this regions always ends up in the tragic history of the prisoner camps, Stalin´s dreadful gulags.
´´The worst and the most dangerous of all the criminal prisoners was held here in Chersky´´, Vitalij told us and continued while cutting up some smoked fish, ´´but there is hardly any survivors left today, only the people that worked for the camps, prisoner guards and others who held it all together. They won´t talk about it, though, maybe they are afraid to or maybe they just can´t, but they won´t say a word about it.´´
He puts down the knife and offers us some fish.
´´You know, there was even some people who´s job was to hunt down the few prisoners that managed to escape. When they found them they cut their hands of by their wrists and took it back to the officers at the camp,´´, he says and makes a gesture with his right hand over the left, using it just like a knife, while continuing, ´´because all prisoners had a number tattooed right next to their thumb so they could be identified.´´
Vitalij don´t remember much from this time himself, he lived in another village then and he was to young, but he remembers wondering about why there was so many officers and soldiers around. When he finally found out about the camps he couldn´t understand the meaning of them, what they really where. He tells us:
´´We were like zombies, our government fooled us to believe that it was for the good and that it was necessary. We were blind!´´ He puts his both hands over his eyes to show just how blind they were and then takes another zip from his beer bottle before he continues.
´´I believe that this camps was only necessary for one person, Stalin. So he could keep a hard grip of this region and it´s local people.´´
There´s no doubt that many a people that live here have a history that consists of a lot of hardship and tragedies, and many have suffered a lot. But I think maybe this could be one of the reasons that people here are so nice, friendly and extremely helpful.
Anyhow, we´ve had another eventful and wonderful evening among friends along the Kolyma. I don´t think I realize just how much I´m going to miss this when I get back home!