Archive | August, 2011

A departure summary, of sorts

18 Aug

As I am finally sitting down to write this post, the sun is setting on my final day here in this massive country; A country I once knew only by the name Russia. Now I cannot say what it is that I really know about Russia other than the individual faces along the way. And how well do I really know them? Learning more always has that perpetually disorienting result of realizing how little is actually known. For some time now, I have been suffering from a case of the cliché. I think that maybe writers block is less often caused by having no words as it is by having far too many, and simply not knowing where to begin. The latter has been my plague, thoroughly mixed with the fear that putting this end to words would add to its inevitability. The result of all this mixing and confusion congealed to a hard wall sealing off any outlet to my streaming thoughts.

A little moment in Bashkortostan

Today, my undeniable recognition has come. Tomorrow I leave. Writing out this conclusion will not change anything, and there are no more hours left to procrastinate. So what have I been up to? That is the simplest question with which to start, and the most complex to finish.

 

A view of the last morning on my spot of beach

Christine left Kazan for Norway. That story and all the extra worries that were contemporary to it have been told. I stayed in Kazan, walking its streets and sleeping on its beach.

 

One morning, I was wandering restless from the night before. I felt the need to walk, but my weight-aching shoulders got the best of me and I decided it was time to hitchhike back to my spot of beach and take a nap. There were no cars in sight, but I held out my hand hopefully and continued to walk. A few minutes later I met Nurbek when he stopped to offer a ride. He is a dancer who specializes in traditional Tatar ballet. By the time he dropped me off, we had agreed to meet again and take some photos. A summer sunrise this far north happens somewhere not long after 3:45am, but happens a bit more slowly. To take advantage of the light, we ventured to the Kremlin at 4:30am.

 

Nurbek

 

Nurbek outside the Kremlin wall

It was a good time, but I was haunted with the already ignored knowledge that it was also time to move on. I had stayed in Kazan with a purpose, and that purpose had long departed. The advantage to living from backpack that is always worn is that one can leave without much forethought. Or possibly in more correct terms, when the subconscious reaches the point of impulse. Nurbek again gave me ride, but this time to the bus station. There I met a man behind the station with an extra seat on his unscheduled bus and ended up filling the space to Ufa.

 

The Mountain, Shuhkan - Шухан

The hard way up

 

I stayed with my friend from last year’s visit, Jhenya. We collected a crew of his friends and ventured off to what might be one of the only mountain-like hills in Bashkortostan to climb.

 

Ancient Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was minute compared to the Wasatch range always towering over my roof in Utah, but we took a ‘wrong’ turn towards a ‘wrong’ way up and the climb became an adventure just the same. I even got a bit of free rock-climbing in and found some fossils along the way.

 

 

The Victorious Summit

 

A Post climb summer treat

From there, I hopped over to Moscow and met Christine. Here we have been keeping busy, though as per usual not in the ways we would have originally predicted. We enrolled in Russian language classes to help solidify the bits we had been picking up along the way, and made plans to visit Pikalevo. Due to some frustrating combinations of train schedules, bus schedules, and money limiting the practical choices within these, we figured that getting there and back in time to catch our flight would only give us 24 hours there and cost far too much to be justified by the minimal time. Instead, we combed the streets of Moscow in search of additions to our soundtrack. We found many gracious musicians willing to be recorded and used in our film in exchange for the clips we filmed of them.

 

Classy Musicians

This particular trio was brilliant. Their drummer is 84 years old, by the way, and all of them held their own as both classy and classic performers. I would like to thank them for “one more happy song,” as they put it.

 

Some strange workers housing in downtown Moscow. Not sure how this works, exactly.

As this is the final piece of piece of writing that I will be posting from atop the native soil and among the very people inspiring this work, I felt a heavy pressure to pour out collecting words of inspiration that would somehow tie together the messy loose ends of this broad adventure. In this, I am afraid to admit that I find myself wholly inadequate for the moment.

 

However, the nature of a journey is not limited to confines of distance from the familiar. This particular journey, for instance, began long before I ever set foot in Moscow or even booked the flight from New York City. In just the same way, I think this journey will continue long after my return. Perhaps it will continue until some time after much sifting and sorting and reflecting has slowed and a conclusion emerges.

 

As for now, all I can do is objectively speculate of the future that tomorrow I will be back in the United States. Walking on American ground. Breathing American air.

A week apart and a week to go

12 Aug

Children capturing jellyfish in a fjord just outside of Stavanger, Norway on what was said to probably be the hottest day they will have all year.

 

Summer always seems to slip past much faster than you can ever plan for.  There is always the relaxing beginning, gradually building up while simultaneously slowing down as the summer progresses on to the dog days.  The hot days filled with nothing.  No plans, no hope for the summer to ever end.  The days where you just wander to kill the time.  They always come close to the end, only to be shaken out of you by a whirlwind of final camping trips and last-minute road trips.  Making up for the things you didn’t do earlier like you said you had wanted to.  The big cramming of everything into the last few weeks of summer.  And then, before you know it, summer has once again slipped past you.  Both inching on and flying past with that magic that only time can seem to master.

 

 

A sailboat slipping into dock past the streets in Old Stavanger.

 

Somehow we only have one week left.  Six days to be exact.  Somehow my three-month mark was yesterday and time once again slipped me by, leaving me on the down slide to going back to the States.

The last week was where the dog days ended and the final push to the end began.  Hoping on a plane to Norway for a week and Tree going to Ufa, we reconvened in Moscow to take a full speed, four hours a day, Russian course starting the morning we flew in.  Since then we have spent our days learning Russian grammar and spending more hours than we had ever wanted commuting from one side of Moscow to the other, relearning the metro routes.

 

 

 

The time I spent in Stavanger was filled with hiking through Baltic mountains, riding bikes from one island to another, and cooking elaborate meals based on whatever the fish market was selling that day.  All leading to a beautiful, yet short trip, with a few days of running off docks into fresh fjord water to heal my shingles.  (Which, for all of you whom I scared, I am all better, so no need to worry about me anymore.)  Spending a few days with an old roommate and her husband, it was that end of summer cram of squeezing in each hike and adventure that was missed.  It was glorious and refreshing, preparing me for the real final cram.  The last week and a half of the project.

Chelsea, trail blazing up a mountain in our vain attempt to the top. Which we didn't realize ended in the sheer cliffs that we couldn't climb to finish our adventure.

View of a fjord from nearly the top of Preikestolen.

Shelling shrimp for dinner.

 

Stavanger is not a small town.  It does not have one industry.  And is not in Russia.  However, due to the stress of leaving and the major part it played in this last months decision, I’m going to post photos anyways.  And Tree will post about his week of roaming around Bashkortostan and the various adventures he had there and all along the way back up to Moscow.  We will soon take off for St. Petersburg region for one last final adventure before buckling down and starting the post-production of our project and our last semester of college.  Six days to complete all those plans we had made at the beginning of the summer, lost in those dog days.

Christine, by a favorite piece of graffiti in the industrial district of Stavanger.

Kamskiye Polyany [Камские Поляны]: the full story

6 Aug

Sometimes it takes a little while to get our thoughts together on some of these towns we have visited.  This can be because of the events that happened, what we saw, or even just the whirlwind state that we experienced everything.  I feel that if any of these towns we have been to that were whirlwind trips, Kamskiye Polyany was one for sure.  I think we did more in the three days we spent there than the whole trip combined.  So, sometimes I exaggerate, but between bee keepers, an amusement park, a zoo, abandoned casinos, a night club, banyas, and an abandoned nuclear reactor, with 10 minute swim trips sprinkled in between each event, it adds up to be a lot really fast.  A lot to experience, a lot to need a breather after, and a lot to sort through and decide which are the best details to blog about.  So, nearly two weeks later: Kamskiye Polyany.

Visiting beehives at dusk just outside of Kamskiye Polyany.

As previously mentioned, we rolled into Kamskiye Polyany by bus one hot afternoon to find a city without an industry.  When asking for a cafe to grab a bit to eat and find someone to interview, a man from the region insisted on showing us where center was and we could find a cafe, resulting in a grim tour of the town.  We walked for a while, asking everybody where we could find a place to eat, only getting laughs and leads to cafes that used to be open, but since have been shut down.  The whole feeling of the area was heavy, heightened by the heat, our heavy bags, and the sound of fighting in nearby apartments.  Eventually we gave up our search and found an indoor market where we bought a few items to make sandwiches and sat at a booth in the nearly empty, open air market.  It seemed as if it would be the most difficult of all towns after that first hour there.  While packing up our lunch and setting off to find a vendor to talk to us, a friendly, open woman by the name of Zofia approached us, willing to interview.  Talking to us for a while she introduced us to others who worked with her, extended family that eventually became the people we stayed with for two nights and the bee keeper that we filmed.  The lovely Tatar family that let us into their homes and showed us Tatar culture, food, and even taught us a few words in Tatar.

 

A man we had met, playing the garmonica for us to record for some possible soundtrack music outside of his home. The garmonica is a classic Tatar instrument which he plays traditional songs at weddings in addition to his construction work.

Side note: Tatar is an entirely different culture within Russia.  Turkic by descent, and numbering about 5 1/2 million in Russia.  They have their own culture, a language, religion, and identify themselves separately.  The majority live in Tatarstan, the region in which Kazan, and Kamskiye Polyany, lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On top of the nuclear reactor, midday.

Kamskiye Polyany is a very interesting story.  Originally built up from a small settlement to be a sister city of Chernobyl, Russia built this town for 140,000 in the 80s.  It looks as if it were built to be a prize city, with the nice buildings and the big parks.  Made to be a nice, beautiful city around a nuclear reactor.  And then the meltdown at Chernobyl happened.  Eventually halting the building of the reactor, leaving roughly 35,000 without jobs and a skeleton of a nuclear reactor.  Many left, some traded apartments with their grandparents who were just living off pensions and got jobs where their grandparents lived.  However, roughly 15,000 stayed whether by their own choices or lack of options.  Trying to come up with a new economy, casinos were built a few years ago, only to be shut down by the government.  Now, still no economy exists, although there is talk of a tourist site to be built on the Kama River.

Our first night, we were set to sleep in an abandoned casino.  We scoped out the casinos, only to find that they were much heavily guarded than we had been told, making access not an option.  We stumbled across a new handful of friends around one of the casinos turned night club, thanks to the young business man, Slavik.  He has the only night club in the area, often bringing people in from the entire region for some of the events he holds.  Besides his club, he showed us to the local amusement park, complete with a small zoo.  That night we joined him at his club and he allowed us to sleep there, not quite as intense as running around old slot machines all night and crashing in an old hotel room, but close enough to count.

 

The following days were spent conducting interviews, meeting people Zofia and her family set us up with, and swimming to combat the heat, and exploring the empty nuclear reactor.

 

Slavik and some of his friends at the local river beach on a hot afternoon.

 

Tree running into a secret swimming spot after a car tour of views of the city and the Kama river in the summer's heat.

Yanina learning how to cut grass by Nicholi out in the field to feed his rabbits.

 

Christine in the middle of a skeleton of a nuclear reactor, taken by Tree while climbing the cement framing.

Being in a town with more buildings than people is an interesting phenomenon.  The monitoring of large buildings is nonexistent, as the owners of the buildings are no longer around (if there are even owners).  Allowing us to wander for hours without being bothered or even seen by anyone.  Walking through streets, we were told of buildings that only had four apartments occupied.  It’s a strange feeling.  We spent most of our time, however, “outside of town”, in the homes that are across the main road from center.  These were all full.  Large gardens bursting with summer harvest and friendly people willing to let you into their lives and tell you everything they know.  Starting off as a rather depressing experience, by the end of our time there we had seen such a positive side that it was almost as if we had been to two completely different towns.  Despite some of the hardest times we have seen yet, the people still managed to be positive and have hope for the future.  Something we had been looking to capture.  Naturally you can’t ignore all the bad and only show the good, but if you only want to see only bad, you might as well watch the evening news.  And that’s why we wanted to focus on not just economy and crisis, but lives and people.  Because, on the surface things can seem really bad, but once you get into it, you realize that things are still good.  Or maybe I’m just a humanist.

Some publicity and other news

2 Aug


Oh, hello front page.

Landing a spot on The Daily Universe’s front page (BYU’s paper), we got ourselves a little bit of publicity to get the week started.  If you are around BYU, go pick one up just about anywhere around campus.  Or, you can pretend to pick one up and get a free PDF of the paper, or just look and read it on-line.

Home page of The Daily Universe, http://newsnet.byu.edu/

 

 

In other news, decisions have been made and revamped for us.

I feel like the last three months have been a whirlwind of emotions, travel, and adventure.  These last 36 hours have been no exception.  Sitting in a cafe in Kazan, we were at a stopping point with no where to go, or, as Tree had put it, everywhere to go.  The decided plan was for me to go to Ukraine, Tree to go to his Ufa.  Train tickets could not be booked on-line for some reason and things were not settling right with my travels.  I went to the bathroom, feeling extremely ill, when I realized that extreme pain I was feeling in my ribs all night and morning had turned into a terrible rash and swelling.  Immediately I rethought my plans, found a cheap flight for Norway and bought the ticket.  Two hours later I was on a train to Moscow, remembering all the signs of breast cancer taught in health class, and realizing I had all of them.  After a sleepless night, I got into Moscow, did more research, and still had all the signs and a plane ticket to Norway in a matter of hours.  After lining up doctors in Norway, I got on a bus to the airport, and a phone call saying that the credit card would not work and so my ticket was cancelled.  Not exactly sure what to do about clearing my visa now, I found the nearest foreign doctors office and got into an appointment.

There are some diseases that have a prime time frame.  If not caught within so many hours, they can be a million times worse than before.  Diseases that had I gone to Ukraine straight away, could have gotten extremely bad.  Had I waited another day until in Norway, could have still been worse.  Shingles is one of them.  Which I believe is what the doctor diagnosed me with.  When I told her I honestly thought I had cancer her response was “Oh, yeah.  I never thought about that, but they do look exactly alike.  I could see where that came from.”   A handful of shots later (all at once too, a skill I believe only Russian women hold) and some prescriptions, and I am ready to go. My only explanation is my young age of chicken pox (2 months old) and recent exposure to someone with them.  Those two are a perfect combination for shingles.  This is, assuming that shingles is what the doctor was trying to have translated to me.

So I am now ready to go.  I even got my credit card company to clear a plane ticket for tomorrow.  So, as long as everything goes as planned, that’s the update!  No cancer, a plane ticket, and a short break to take care of some business in order to finish up the last two weeks with a bang.