It is now exactly one week ago that I visited the three chums on the Yugorsky tundra, and I would like to reflect a bit upon that short stay. On the one hand because it was again so impressive to meet a reindeer herding site, and on the other hand because it also left me with many thoughts.
First of all, how is it possible to visit such a location in only 2,5 – 3 hours? Of course you can – I understood that it is more or less the traditions to stay just this short because of the long helicopter flights. It is obvious that I preferred to stay longer, maybe a couple of weeks. Knowing that it would be so shortly I tried to make the most of my time. I operated three video cameras, a voice recorder and a photo camera at once and tried to grab as much tundra life as possible. Besides me the director of a health organization, some other guests and a local television crew – ten people all together – also tried to use their time as sufficient as possible. When we overruled the local setting with our enthusiasm and needs it almost felt as if we were a bunch of vampires or predators lurking on their way of life. I am still impressed by the capability of these nomads to stay peaceful under these circumstances; at least I didn’t notice any stress or negative response. Maybe they are more used to such short visits than I am.
I found the sufficiency that I witnessed in almost every corner and action striking. This sufficiency gave me a feeling of balance and pureness. Of course all unnecessary stuff is just ballast when you live nomadically, but that doesn’t mean there was no space for beauty. Besides the beauty of sufficiency, for example the carpets and cloths hanging on the walls decorated the chum into a cozy space. Also the women were a pleasure for the eye, although I cannot imagine wearing such skirts myself (the men’s cloths – however – I could!).
That brings me to another aspect of tundra life that keeps bringing me thoughts: the gender roles. The tasks and activities of women and men are clearly separated and I find that fascinating. It would take me much more time and effort to understand completely why this interests me so deeply and I believe this blog entry is neither the space nor the moment to go too deep into that. But acknowledging this fascination was sure one of the striking experiences I had during this short visit.
Last but certainly not least I am still impressed by a short conversation I had with probably the oldest reindeer herder of this brigade. With the help of Vsevolod I asked him if there is anything people from Belgium or the Netherlands can do to support them. The man needed a moment to think about this before he could answer my question, after which he assured that they have everything they need here around them. While he gestured to the tundra surrounding us, he proclaimed that they are fine, as long as they are able to continue living in healthy tundra.
Together with Alexei I went to visit some friends, because I was asked to bring them a letter. Tomorrow this family will travel towards the reindeer camp of their relatives in a Trekol, for approximately 100 km over tundra. This Trekol just had a major repair and needed a test ride. Of course I wanted to join!
Today I went to Nelmin Nos with a fast and small ferry. Nelmin Nos is a very interesting village. A bit more than 1000 people live here, most of them are Nenets. Alexei Vylka, at whose house I can stay for one night, picked me up from the shore and a few moments later I was drinking tea again. I am very happy that I can be a guest of this friendly family, and therefore can get to know the village.
After seeing these beautiful patterns from the helicopter previous Thursday, I felt the urge to mix some tundra colors myself. The tundra is so inspirational for an artist! So I bought a watercolor paint set and some paper in the small bookshop… maybe the fun can begin this afternoon.
The Nenets memorial site is probably the most important statue in Naryan Mar. At least it is the most beautiful! It reminds us of the support by Nenets herders during the Second World War.
Everywhere I have been in West Russia this war was still very much discussed and remembered. For example I have been asked about the losses in my family for more than eight times already. Also in Naryan Mar you can’t miss the books, exhibitions, statues and museums dedicated to this topic. This is understandable if you know how many people have died for the sake of Europe – more than 26,5 million! Thinking back at my history lessons in school, I don’t remember much gratitude for the Russian role in the defeat of Germany: maybe the Cold War praised all the victory towards Canada and America?
Nenets herders for example transported materials and people over the rough tundra with their reindeer and sledges. This is an advantage the Russians learned the hard way during their war with Finland, Stephan Dudeck told me yesterday, when the Finnish army strategically used transport by Saami herders. People here are proud of this involvement, and many wedding pictures are made in front of the statue. This Nenets statue however does more than remembering the role and the losses of reindeer herders. It includes the Nenets as a people in the victory of Russia – a victory that today still unites the different ethnics.