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.

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