|2004-10-17 - En iblick från Olga och Vadim
Zyryanka, October the 17th. Snowing, temperature is -10°C. Snowing, of course, is no good when it comes to the ice settling the way we want. It will only give us a dangerous double ice with water in between. And this unfortunate fact makes it so much harder to read the thickness of the ice.
´´That´s not far away!´´ acclaimed Olga, when I told her that we lived quite far away from our capital Stockholm, ´´only 500 km:s!´´
It is easy to forget that one is in Siberia. Distances are enormous
here. Olga has close to 8000 km:s to her capital, Moscow. Getting there is neither easy or cheap. The cost is around 7000 rubles (approximately 300 dollars, more than an average monthly wage for most people in Zyryanka) on a transport plane just to the provincial capital of Yakutsk. Whose schedule is irregular. It doesn´t exist at all during the coldest part of the winter, but during this time one instead has the possibility to hitch a ride with a lorry travelling on the Kolyma River to Magadan, than off to Yakutsk. It takes no more than 4-6 days
depending on whether the driver takes any brakes or sleeps at all. ´´A ticket during the Soviet time only cost a few rubles and there was plane several times every week´´, Vadim said, ´´but that was a long time ago.´´ It was invigorating meeting Olga and Vadim. Genuinely good people. Olga is one a few women who runs a company in Zyryanka. She runs a baking factory which also distills and sell the local vodka. She´s outgoing, outspoken, very friendly and very interested. She´s married to Vadim, who´s primarily a helicopter pilot, he drives the bush helicopter, the MI 8, but he´s also running a business selling potatoes. He´s calm, easygoing, doesn´t say a lot, loves to fish and hunt and spend time out in nature, he´s the best Russian photographer we´ve come across so far and, oddly enough it being the Siberian outback, he doesn´t smoke!
They´ve got two grown up children, who´s doing like everybody else who wants a higher education, they´re studying far away from Zyryanka.
´´Than again, it was impossible during the Soviet days to run a private enterprise´´, Olga added, ´´and that was a time of long queues, the eternal planning of what food one could buy, well, those days are long gone and at that time, I had to go to Moscow to buy a nice pair of high heeled boots..´´
Olga and Vadim belongs to this group of local people who have high education, they´re intelligent and also have a big interest when it comes to other cultures and, surprisingly, our lives. Something which I am not used to during my travels all over the world. In general people like talking about themselves and their own lives. There´s no doubt, that the general level of education during the Soviet time, was high.
Olga bombarded us with questions at the same time as she and Vadim served us another deliciously from the Russian and yakut kitchen. Today we ate straganina for the first time. It is frozen fish, raw of course, preferably a local fish called schirr caught in a lake, the male species and not from the river. One cuts it up in thin slices, dips it in salt and pepper and eat it. Delicious!
´´You should know´´, explains Olga enthusiastically, ´´there´s no time here for a women to go to a beauty spa and make oneself more beautiful. Especially not for me who have a business to run and at the same time I like all other women here, have to get back in time and see to that food is on the table when my husband comes back from work, at the same time I try to be a good mother, a good wife and take care of the home. What is the situation for your women in Sweden? Are they as sexually liberated that we´ve heard about? And do they spend a lot of time looking more beautiful?´´
Our answers makes them laugh, get surprised and feel astonished. They tell us what they associate with Sweden. Volvo, ABBA (They´ve put on an ABBA CD and the song The winner takes it all plays in the background), Olof Palme, Saab, Ericsson, Björn Borg and, to my own delight, the greatest cross-country skier ever, Gunde Svan! (We´re the same age and we´re brought up in the same area in Sweden and know each other quite well.) Cross country skiing is big in Zyryanka. But only in March, since the worst cold is gone by then, only -30°C and than there´s lot of snow. Olga´s won several local championships.
´´Our major problem at the moment in Zyryanka, except transports´´, Olga tells us, ´´is that to many people leave Zyryanka. Last week I had to tell 22 of my employees that I had no work for them. There´s only 35 left.´´
More than 15 000 people lived in Zyryanka during the Soviet days. There´s only around 5000 of them left and more are leaving all the time.
Zyryanka is a settlement created wholly by the Soviet regime. It used to be one of Stalin´s terrible Gulags, but once the regime in Moscow realized the high quality of the coal in the area, they bulldozed away all remains, grave crosses included, and built a Soviet society dominated by a lot of specialists in all ways of life. Than came perestroika. Today the specialist dentist is gone, there´s no proper advanced healthcare or hospitals with needed equipment and there´s a lack of everything regarding needed specialists. Still, Zyryanka is somewhat of a positive surprise to us. As it has been with all settlements we´ve passed along the Kolyma. Olga and Vadim for example has a standard of living, when it comes to material goods, easy equaling what we have at back home. They´ve got the latest computer with the latest version of Windows XP, bought in Moscow, a modem with an Internet connection which works on and off, and the newest stereo equipment and TV. Life has been good to them and it is easy to understand why. They´re enthusiastic, positive and full of energy. Their apartment is fully modern and neat on the inside, as most homes we´ve visited, but as usual with all settlements along the Kolyma, the outsides are depressingly mistreated, ugly and depressing. The extreme cold is of course one of the reasons for this, and the eternal permafrost, but the main reason is due to the settlements history of a place one moves to solely for a period of work, make money and than leave, which was the prevalent idea during pre-perestroika. Since people knew they were leaving, they neglected the nature surrounding them, letting garbage build up everywhere and didn´t care what the outside of their home looked like.
´´Let us drink more vodka!´´, hollered Olga and served us another shot, and she continues:´´ I love life!´´
They continue to impress, the Siberians!