It was Siberia. A call to a distant and mystic land. And I picked up the landline telephone. Last summer I was asked to join a group of young adventurers to go from middle europe by all means of transportation. Aiming a a tiny village called Man Yckwe. To be enchanted by indigenous Siberians and to fall in love with a remote paradise!
The journey started at a distant airport stopping in Moscow. From there we went on rails. The transibirckiji magistral or transsiberian railways is the only connection on land to Siberia, which serves its purpose all year long. You have to consider, that Siberia has basically 7 months winter with partly harsh temperatures and a lot of ice and snow. there is one month each spring and Fall and about 3 months of the lovliest summer. But this all effects transportations. While in the summer large areas are wet swamp and the ground is not stable enough for roads you have to take helicopters to reach destinations offside the rail-tracks. On the other hand in winter you can take your pimped SUV on site, because the swamp is frozen. There are some kind of temporary winter roads, that appear every year and vanish with the heat.
The Russian railways is a fantastic way to travel, if you really want to enjoy it. It is always on schedule, because it is veeeeeeery slow. trains stop every two hours to buy freshly baked pancakes and regional vegetables from old babushki on the platforms. It gives you plenty of time to chat with your fellow sputnikis and to have a glas or two of cristal clear woditschka! If you want to feel the heartbeat of a people you should examine it on rails.
Hence it was summer we were privileged to take a helicopter to Saranpaul, a little village and still the capital of a federal region. From there we jumped in pairs onto speedboats to reach our settlement Man Yckwe, consisting of a forest, 4 wooden houses, 5 wild horses and probably a bear, but we didn’t meet up. We found ourselves in the middle of Russia, the middle of Siberia, briefly in the middle of nowhere.
The whole idea of the trip was to have a youth-camp with indigenous cultures such as the Xanty and Manty, who live in the vast territory since centuries. Their cultures go way back and were always relying on reindeer-breeding, hunting and gathering. In some remote areas they are still doing that, but for most it is a life in cities. The decay of their original professions and the opression during the soviet union left a big identy gap among them. This causes problems. Especially for the indigenous men it’s tough. While the women, do what the always have done, caring about their kids and holding the families together, men really don’t know what to do. The social and professional fututre seems dull and add a little alcohol the whole picture is darkening.
Their self-esteem is falling and the suicide rate is incredibly high, there might be no family without a personal loss. Due to that many Xanty- and Manty-Women are more attracted to Russian men, who seem to be more stable. Which could eventually cause the exctinction of their culture.
All in all, things need improvement and the measures taken might not be the obvious ones but are very interesting. In this camp youngster from the age 10 up to 20 were trained in cultural matters but also in fighting skills and shamanic practices. Everything in the camp lead to a two-day roleplay, where two clans fought for honour and the princess. This fairy tale was taken very seriously and eventually ought to improve the cultural identification with the tribe and was to improve the confidence of every single Indian. The girls were also playing, naturally the wifes of the warriors. They all created their own costumes, which were marvellous and really lived their role passionately. There were also other workshops and I was leading a filmproject.
For me as outstander it was an incredible experience and I thought the whole roleplay-thing is wacky but a grand idea. I felt the fire and made some nice shots of the warriors. They build a little fortress in the woods, that had to be conquered. People in the East are very great in building things. It’s amazing to watch a bunch of men go in the forest, to return with chopped trees and then starting to build a house with a precision, that blows minds. I have deep admiration for these true superpowers, of which I am only theoretically capable of.
I speak a little russian so I had to translate back and forth between the German an local participants, which was exciting. But eventually what is more important than words is the translation of their souls. It has been often talked about the depths of the Russian soul and it is true, completely. If you make a friend, it is for real and enhanced with the indigenous mysteries of Siberia the whole melange is just touching. Sure body and mind are not always in’sync when two different cultures meet. But it is the experience to let yourself go and to feel the other.
Seeing old women wearing the ancient costumes and speaking a language, which might be lost in the future, when it is not preserved, together with the indigenous offspring was a very refreshing picture. It is all a circle. Where we got to is where we come from. I guess it is good to go far away to understand, who we really are.
After ten days in the camp we had to part and it was on a gazprom-heliicopter and with some grief. I would like to come back. A new found friend of mine is going to build his own house in this very settlement in the near future and wouldn’t it be great to visit him there in winter, with 2 metres of snow in front of the arch and with me wearing big boots on black frozen feet?
On the way back, we made a little stop in the biggest city in the region called Xanty-Mansiisk, named of the indigenous cultures. This was a really tiny village, but with the growth of the oil-industry it became a major centre with merely new buildings and a shiny white church. I was even invited on the local television, which was a fun thing to do. Breakfast-TV in far away siberia.
Especially after we hit Moscow for the last time it is amazing to see all the differences of the largest country in the world. Russia has Cities with millions of inhabitants, and millions of acres with only a few inhabitants. And it is all connected, one thing is only comprehensible with the other.
These pictures and stories are of course only little excerpts of three intensive weeks. But where to start and where to stop. Holding it brief may preserve the respect for the original stories, which I would like to tell you some time soon at a bushfire eye to eye and with a glass or two of holy woditschka…