|2004-10-31 - Violetta and her son Krilli
It is Sunday the 31st of October, temperature is -31°C and it´s sunny in Zyryanka. But the last three days have been freezing cold and every time we´ve ventured outside, our eyebrows, eyelashes, cheeks and jaws have been colored white by frost.
The cold is beginning to pinch the skin painfully.
´´It isn´t easy being a teenage mother´´, explains Violetta, ´´sometimes I pull my hair in frustration!´´
Violetta is one of very few journalists in Zyryanka. She interviewed us when we arrived to Zyryanka and at that time, without hesitation, invited us for dinner at her home, when she realized our big interest regarding the thoughts and life´s of local women. Her son, 14 years old Kirrill, smiles shyly when he translates his mothers words into English.
I´ve got difficulties believing that such a well behaved and calm boy such as Kirrill could cause major frustrations. In some ways he´s a copy of my own stepson Kalle at the same age. Calm, tall, kind, thin with abnormally big feet, intelligent, somewhat lazy and a wizard on computers. But then again, at that age, he caused his mother plenty of dissatisfaction!
´´But I have difficulties answering your question about being a woman in Zyryanka´´, she continued, ´´I haven´t much to compare with. What´s your own opinions about the women in Zyryanka? Other visitor´s have said that the women of Zyryanka are very modern, have a good knowledge how to use cosmetics and that our fur coats are spectacular. But, then again, having said that, if I could, I would leave Zyryanka right away.´´
The history of Violetta is the same as with most others in Zyryanka. In one way or the other, most of them have ended up here against their own wish. Either because their parents or grandparents once upon a terrible time ended up in one of dictator Stalin´s inhuman gulag camps, or, as in the case of Violetta´s father, who got sent here, whether he like it or not, by the Soviet Regime as a specialist in his specific trade, once he´d finished his university studies. Having written that, do note, that others have also moved here by their free will during the Soviet time, since the wages out here in the uninhabited and cold East were far higher than in the west. They could, by working here some years, secure a relatively comfortable retired life. But than again, all that fell apart with the arrival of perestroika. People´s savings just disappeared. And the lack of money, or due to aging parents or beloved relatives, are the two major reason´s that people who wish to leave Zyryanka are still here.
´´I left Zyryanka like most other young people who want to continue their studies when I was younger, but returned here again when I had finished with my studies in Chabarovsk´´ she explained and continued: ´´But there was no work to be found in Zyryanka, since this was during the time of perestroika and everything fell apart. So, even though I had a university degree I had to work as a night watchman for some years.
Fortunately, one day the local newspaper needed new reporters and they remembered that I wrote poems during my schooldays here, and therefore I got the job.´´
More than 15 000 people lived in Zyryanka just before perestroika hit the area and was full of all kinds of qualified people. Most of them are gone today and there´s only a few thousand inhabitants left today. The need today for qualified people is infinite.
´´Would you also like to leave Zyryanka?´´ I asked Sergei, Violetta´s new partner for life. A Humphrey Bogart look alike. Including a voice tuned by years of heavy smoking.
´´Yes´´ , he answered as hesitantly as pretty much all the other men folk we´ve asked the same question and who have lived a major part of their lives in Zyryanka, ´´and the reason for this is that life has changed dramatically since perestroika. During the Soviet times Zyryanka was a great place to live, everything worked without any problems and we all had a common goal, but all this has been ruined today. Well, you can see for yourself. It hurts me seeing this decaying society around me.´´
´´Do you see anything positive coming out of the fall of the Soviet
Empire?´´ I asked both of them.
´´Nothing!´´ Sergei declares.
´´Quite a lot´´ ,answers Violetta and continues: ´´If a person has ideas and wants to do something with ones life and is ready to put in a lot of work, than there´s plenty of opportunities. Something which was impossible during the Soviet days.´´
The couple argues about this topic for awhile. No easy issue. After having asked quite a lot of people the same question, since the start of our travel along the Kolyma, I can only add that there´s no doubt that the majority of people asked, see far more negative aspects of life since the fall of the Soviet Empire, than positive ones. But, this is interesting though, there´s also no doubt that it is overwhelmingly women which do at least see the positive aspects which have arisen.
Something I personally can easily understand, and the reason for this, is that I am myself brought up, and is still living, by my own choice though, in the isolated Scandinavian countryside. An area where hunting and fishing is as important to men folk as in Zyryanka. This back of beyond country, same world wide, is totally dominated by male interests.
It is also scientifically proofed that women of today are leaving the backcountry settlements with big haste. Away from the slow changing traditional roles between men and women and due to the fact that men folks interest override women´s wishes for a decent modern life. And, pretty much all men we´ve asked along the Kolyma, why they´ve chosen to stay, they all answer that it is foremost due to freedom, hunting and fishing. A fact I can also well understand!
´´We all help out home here´´ ,exclaims Sergei and sends Kirrill to wash the dishes at the same time as Violetta silently looks down, and happily Sergei continues ´´by the way, have you seen my guns?´´
Traditional roles or not, one thing is for sure, in one aspect, the
Siberians are unique. Their great generosity and extraordinary helpful manner. (Well, the patagonians in South America was the same) The dinner table is full of local delicacies. Fresh caviar, straganina, a variety of fresh salads, moose meat, vodka and frozen raw liver from a local fish which is wonderfully tasty! On top of that, as usual we get plenty of advice regarding our upcoming trip and when we inquire where we can buy fresh cream and milk in Zyryanka the following takes place: 1½ liter of fresh milk arrives within an hour, brought to us by a neighbor of Violetta and Sergei and when it comes to the cream we´ve been looking for the past month, Sergei phones a friend in who phones a friend in Verzhny Kolymsk, located 9 km:s away from Zyryanka, who calls Anatolij, the yakut farmer and rat hunter, who promises to send the cream with a friend who is going to Zyryanka next day!
´´I´ll bring the cream to your apartment before 2 o´clock´´ ,says Sergei and adds with a smile when we once again get hit with the freezing cold outdoor air, ´´And remember, there´s no roads in Siberia, only directions!´´