|2004-10-21 - Visit to a yakut family
Our apartment in Zyryanka, 21st of October, temperature is freezing cold at -25°C, overcast, no wind.
´´At least we´re proud to be yakut today´´, explains Anatolij at his kitchen table, ´´which we didn´t dare to be during the Soviet era. During this time, we had to be soviets whether we liked it or not.´´ Anatolij and his family are yakuts. The biggest and most dominating of all the native people in the area. There´s also evens, chuckchis and yugahirs in the vicinity. The yakuts are also those of the native Russian people of the north, who best integrated with the soviet society. They left their traditional dwellings early, fur clad cots called balagan, and quickly realized the value of playing according to the rules set by the modern society for their own survival. Therefore, they´re highly educated, westerly intelligent and materialistically well off. On the outside, they´re westernized. It is their beautiful looks which sets them apart from the Caucasian Russians. They´ve got the same high cheeks, skewed eyes, healthy skin and weather bitten faces like all other native people of the north. Far back in time, before the soviet moved into to conquer Siberia, the yakuts where a powerful nomadic hunting people. It seems like their traditional pride is on its way back. They live in their own state, Yakutia, which is as big as Central Europe, their capital is called Yakutsk, which is located many thousand kilometers west of Zyryanka. And Verzhny Kolymsk, where Anatolij and his family live, is located 9 km:s west of Zyryanka. A tiny settlement where the Cossacks passed as early as 1650 during their attempt to conquer Siberia.
´´Therefore´´, added Natasha suddenly, Anatolij´s wife who´s a teacher in native language, ´´today we can teach our children yakut. A language which almost disappeared during the Soviet time. Only our elders kept it alive.´´
Natasha seems very intelligent, but takes her backward traditional role as a woman seriously, and doesn´t therefore say a lot. Anatolij´s father is also sitting at the table. His face is extremely weather bitten, sculptured by age and experience. To honor our visit he has donned himself in a coat full of medals. He´s passed his 70th year, doesn´t say one single word, but look as wise as the Mountain owl.
´´Dad´s got plenty of more medals´´. Anatolij explained, ´´but he just didn´t have the energy to put hem all on.´´
Anatolij´s father was, and still is, a great hunter. It is for this
reason he has all these medals. He left lots of fur´s and skin´s to the local Soviet government, which in return awarded him all these medals.
He´s still got plenty of traps to check every day, primarily to trap
bison rats, who´s fur is still in demand. A fur similar to a beaver.
´´Nowadays, he´s catching 1500 rats a year´´, Anatolij clarifies, at the same time as his dad is playing with his grandchildren, ´´I wish I could afford to hunt more than I do, but I´ve realized it is safer to have cows. No matter how hard the times treat, at least you have something to eat.´´
Anatolij and his family are the only milk producers in the area. They´ve got around 20 well fed cows, which are holed up in an old fashioned stable, resembling a gigantic underground cellar, which is covered by cow dung and where the body temperature of the cows regulates the indoor temperature. It works well, we notice during our visit. Even though the outdoor temperature is below -25°C, the heat inside made us uncomfortably hot.
´´Don´t sit around and wait. Help yourselves!´´ Natasha acclaims with typical Siberian generosity.
Thank God, they don´t serve any vodka, but, to honor our visit, a rich smorgasbord with both yakut and Russian delicacies. For example kurtschjak, a kind of sweet cream whipped hard, and a local variety of torta frita, which my wife Titti and myself survived on during a year in Patagonia. A kind of a sponge ball, but here in Siberia with sauerkraut inside. And, plenty of fried moose meat!
´´So, you´re Swedish?´´, Anatolij asks, ´´Your society was the ultimate dream for my father and his generation. For many of us, still today. It seems like the perfect socialist society.´´
Repeatedly during this expedition, local people surprise me when it comes to their knowledge about tiny and powerless Sweden. It makes me proud, of course, at the same time I realize how well educated people became during the Soviet era. And still do.
´´How about joining me for some hunting next week?´´ inquired Anatolij, when we as always got into the subject of hunting and fishing, ´´We´ll go with my buran (Russian snowmobile). But I wonder, will you be able to do it in those clothes?´´
Like everybody else we´ve come across during our time in Zyryanka and its vicinity, Anatolij is interested in our expedition and have great doubts whether we will make it or not. They just can´t grasp the fact that we´re going to ski during the coldest part of the year and cannot understand why we don´t do like all other tourists they´ve heard about visiting Yakutia, just hire a helicopter and go where one likes. And they all try to find a solution when they realize we will ski.
´´To avoid the unreadable and irrational ice on the Kolyma, I reckon you should follow the tracks of hunters travelling with snowmobile´´, Anatolij says, ´´make your way to Arlach first of all. That is a hunters village and I am sure there´s tracks to follow all the way to Srnedekolymsk (located 350 km:s north of here and our first goal to reach) If there´s no tracks, I am sure the hunters in Arlach will help you. They´re yakut.´´
´´Patriot!´´ , shouts Sergey, our best friend in Zyryanka, slightly
Sergey is one of the nicest people I´ve come across. He´s interested, has worthily manners, he´s funny, intelligent, incredibly helpful and very much a Caucasian Russian from top to toe. For this reason, he believes in a Greater Russia, as it was during the Soviet era, when all different tribes and races in Russia, where moved together under one umbrella and were all Russians. An opinion which on and off during the conversation causes uneasiness. There´s no doubt that the current relation between Caucasian Russians and the native people of the area is tense.
´´As long as you dress in layers´´, the old grandmother (babuschka) explains regarding how we should dress to survive the extreme cold, ´´and have good boots, you should be fine.´´
The grandmothers complains about the cold in the room. On top of that, she´s got a heart problem. Still, she´s smiling all the time. She´s certainly the Russian babushka of my illusion what they would look like.
And she is eager to show us her handicraft.
´´I am almost blind today and can´t help out back home here´´, she explains with sadness, ´´and I need something to get the time passing by, so I knit.´´
Another babushka demonstrates her handwork making traditional fur boots and fur hats. It is only for her family. They´re beautiful and have patterns which resembles what one can see when visiting the Nordic natives, the Sámi. (By the way, there´s plenty of Sámi in the Carelian part of Russia as well) It is no easy work to make these boots. It takes time to work the skin perfect and than put it together with perfectionism, if they´re going to be useful during the extreme cold.
There´s a lot of people in Anatolij´s house. They all seem to live in the same house.
´´It is far from easy, being a dairy farmer today´´, says Anatolij, ´´we don´t get any help from the government, no subsidizes, people in Zyryanka think our products are expensive and the bad weather during the past summer, hardly gave us any hay. This is presently our major problem and we cannot afford to buy fodder.´´
´´Can you see any advantages today being a dairy farmer compared to the days of the Soviets?´´
´´Well, if you work hard, you can earn money´´, he says thoughtfully,
´´which will give you more opportunities to run your life as you like.
But it is not easy to change that way of living we had before. No
matter how little work you had, or did, you had the state security who would help.´´
There´s also no doubt that Anatolij and his family will survive. They have a high standard of living, the tractor looks new and they all look healthy and energetic. And they´re very friendly, joyful and we enjoy their company tremendously. This is people one would like to socialize with much more. At the same time we say goodbye for this time, one of the babushkas asks us:
´´Do you want a glass of fresh milk before you leave?´´