Frozen Frontier

Post Expedition Celebration

17th of March 2013
-27 degrees Celsius
Yakutsk, republic of Sakha

I just love vodka! At least right now!

Let me tell you why!

I have just come back from a great party at Muuskhaia, one of the best restaurants in Yakutsk. An entertaining fiesta arranged by my friend, Expedition team mate and who is also the owner of this establishment, Egor Petrovich Makarov. And, suddenly I realized this:

There is a need for vodka or other types of alcohol in areas straddling the Arctic Circle. There’s no doubt about it.

This is an argument I have heard since I was a kid, being brought up in a northern country. I have lived for 45 years in such little populated and extreme areas. Alcohol was a negative issue in my family and I have seen all the bad effects of it since my childhood all over the world. Especially in the northern countries. For this reason, I have really been against this opinion, based on some notion, that it is when you get drunk that you show who you really are and people can start trusting you. Suddenly I understand there´s definitely some truth to it and I have never ever drunk as much vodka as I have on this journey and I have to say, I have enjoyed it every time. It has been very moderate drinking, but the bottle often comes out, if there´s any about. One of the major reason is that northerners just ain´t the most outgoing people on earth and initially, when I arrived here this time, I was in a slight state of shock, because coming from the Middle East, touching is just out of the question here and emotions are kept at bay with extra ordinary discipline. Until alcohol makes a difference. I moved from the north of Scandinavia to south 7 years ago and I have spent the last 3 years involved with the alcohol free Middle East, so I have kind of forgotten how the North works. And there´s no doubt that alcohol is part of life in these areas.

Yesterday it did make a positive difference! Egor, as always is very generous, had also invited over a bunch of Evenys, Evenks and 4 Norwegian Sami on a visit to a conference I visited the day before. Initially, the show and great food occupied our time, but there was no talking, until the alcohol worked. Suddenly we were all talking, dancing, listening to joking, mouth harp playing, drumming and this evening turns out when of the best one can imagine!

One of the dreams I have had for years has been making a documentary about the indigenous people of Scandinavia, the Samí. And suddenly I was talking to Svein Mathiesen, Johan Mathis Juan Turi and Anders Oskal. I think it was one of the most important meetings of any Scandinavians for years! And it gave lots of perspective on the journey I just have finished.

“We get treated like celebrities here!” Anders Oskal, Norwegian reindeer herder and Samí from Kautokeino in Norway told me and added immediately: “We don´t want any personal attention, but of course it feels good when one is used to getting very little attention in one´s own country.”

Anders is a young, intelligent and wise Samí who is director of the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry. He has travelled widely and visited reindeer communities all over the northern world and it was such a relief getting an answer to all these questions I have had throughout the trip with Slava, Vika, Tolya and Yura Grigorovich. (By the way, there was, of course a few people there with links to Arkah and Ludmilla…our angel in the village!). I could see how much alike the Samí and the Eveny are in their behavior. No aggression, shy and respectful and I told Anders about how they, the Eveny, not me, always stopped once they had opened the fly to the tent, no matter how cold it was outside, and kind of waited before they moved in. They never looked anybody in the eyes. And after awhile they entered and moved on the outside of the rest of us, to his place in the tent. Anders told me the same applies in a traditional Samí cot/yurta.

We talked about sensitive issues. For example, we got into the subject of the boarding schools. I told Anders we visited one in Arkah, where 16 kids were separated from their parents for a major part of the year. The one´s who worked there were all Evenys and had the same experience. It had been like that since Stalin’s days. Slava, Tolya, Vika and Yura Grigorovich had all spent their adolescence there. Slava just shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about it. The one in Arkah seemed to be as good as they come, but I knew that one of the major things brought up by the Eveny´s and other indigenous Siberian groups after the arrival of perestroika was the hell encountered at these schools.

But nowadays the school in Arkah was run by Evenys who themselves knew what it meant. The kids we interviewed only had positive things to say about boarding school and basically said they missed their parents the first years, but then got used to it. Being shipped to boarding school was nothing new to the Samí. One of my best Sami friends, Peter Andersson from Idre Sameby, same age as me, spent all his adolescence in a boarding school for Samí in Jokkmokk. That has changed today and Sami kids goes to the same school as everybody else, but I know, like the Eveny in Arkah, that they at least can study their own language and heritage today. So things are going for the better, which I realized when talking to Anders.

My aim after meeting Anders is to do a documentary, just like the one I am doing now, to get people in the big cities especially, to understand the great need for the rest of humankind in putting a lot of effort into preserving the worlds indigenous people and their genuine ways to live and for example herd reindeer, the kindest and most gentle and best adapted of all animals of the taiga which we humans deal with. By knowing them, we get to know ourselves much better.

Great meeting! Thanks Egor for setting this up as well!

And thanks to the effects of the vodka!