Siberia (2002)

Meet the Nenets

In september 2002 Dorcas Aid asked me to join a trip to visit the Nenet indigenous people of Western Siberia, to deliver provisions and support. Just after summer there are only a few weeks when their territory is accessible. Foreigners are normally not allowed, but Dorcas would arrange all necessary permits. Since there are no roads, they would also arrange a boat to travel deep into “Nenet country” for two weeks.

Even though Siberia is officially part of Russia, I feel this trip, the area and its people deserve a separate mention…

The Ukrainian crew on the boat were honest, hardworking people.

Captain Anwar Tatar is dark, quiet, friendly and seems intelligent. But something in his eyes tells me you should not pick a fight with him…

Gregory, the engineer, spends most of his time in the dark, dirty engine room. He is a short guy, balding and therefore always wearing his weird leather cap. He has got golden teeth, a thin mustache and basically looks like a creep. If I met him in a dark alley, I would RUN! In reality, however, he turns out to be a really good guy, friendly, good humored and hardworking. Nicolai was our cook. Not that he had any experience, but he was the only one without other obligations. He was a tall, thin guy, with a grey complexion and a very closed face, also with golden teeth. He turned out to be my hero, because as a vegetarian, I wasn’t looking forward to living on raw fish and fish eggs for two weeks. Even tough he had no idea why somebody would want to be a vegetarian, he would fry me three or four very greasy eggs, every day, for breakfast, lunch AND dinner! He also helped me to prepare food from my “emergency stock”, which I brought with me from Holland (see picture). He begged us not to tell his wife he could cook…

His former employers must not have been so nice to him, because when we once applauded his food, he just shrugged and say “As long as you don’t hit me, I am happy…”

We first visited the semi-permanent villages where some Nenets now live. This is a very sad environment, especially for former nomads. Most people in the villages abuse alcohol, many are depressed and the suicide rate is very high

The sleds used to transport the Nenet belongings, are parked outside the rough wooden buildings. Later we got to the Nenet summer camps, where people still live in their traditional tents and wear traditional clothes.

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