Sunday, March 29, 2015

Second Week Working 2/2: Shared Cups of Tea, an Icy Lake and a Night in a Mongolian Yurt

Let me then tell you of the place our group of people - four people in total - lived in during the second week of working. We lived temporarily in a house that was owned by a Russian guy, both a carpenter and a painting artist, who had built his own artist atleljee upstairs. So, far he had been only living in the house and village for only eleven months. We showed our group around the ateljee in which he had many great paintings made by himself and also a couple of paintings from his teacher and artist friends.

One evening when I was alone in the house, this man was kind enough to invite me to share a cup of tea with him in the ateljee. You could see the artist definitely took a liking to Japan and Japanese culture - he had done many paintings inspired by the Japanese culture and also the way he handled the tea with great care, all the way down to using the detailed oriental tea cups, spoke to me the language of him appreciating this ancient culture.

The man switched the speakers on and put on some nice meditative music and offered me some real high quality tea as he himself said. He served the tea from a special beautifully carpented tea container.

I felt really priviledged and appreciated by the fact that the man took the time to share this sacred moment of drinking tea and listening to music with me - we later changed the music from the ambient meditative soundscapes to Pink Floyd! We made some small-talk during the hours of tead/drinking but not that much was verbally shared as I didn't talk Russian and he could only speak a fwe words of English.

Nevertheless we had a great time and the man showed me pictures of some carpentry he had done in the past. I was amazed by the level of presicion and detail his work showed. His level of skill wasn't a product of accident - the man told me one project he had for a wall church, covering many square metres in area, had taken him ten years from start to finish!

After a few more working days it was time for our group to leave the village and visit last place our volunteers had been working in. And so we headed forward a healthy number of kilometres to find a Mongolian yurt equipped with a banja (sauna) nearby. The yurt and the sauna were on the shore of a lake - a lake we got a chance to hike on as it was winter time, icy ice!

During all that it took to walk the I was mesmerized by the amazing vistas and mountains surrounding the massive lake. The sky was magically blurred in the eerie colours of white and grey and for me it sometimes really looked like the sky you see in the movie Silent Hill. After the walk we came finally came to the yurt itself and I was intrigued to see that the electric lights inside the yurt were powered with solar panel.

You see, there is a lot of sun shining in Siberia and the sun in Siberia is no joke: there's much so snow from which the sun gets reflected  that if you're not careful you could easily get sunburns! This happened to one of the carpenters when he was working a whole day outside in the sun light!

Back to the yurt itself. It was reasonably big yurt, there was enough place for maybe 15-20 people to able to sleep in the yurt easily. In the middle of there yurt the was a fire place so it was a warm place to stay as long as you kept the wood burning. We relaxed for a bit and made some food.

In the evening the banja was warmed up and what a nice sauna it was! There were some ready made holes in the near of the banja and two people in our group even went to dip themselves in the cold water before coming to enjoy the hot steam of the sauna. The next day it was already a time to go back to the village we came from but only this time it wasn't only about walking the eight miles. One local man driving a motor sledge decided to help us and he drove us and and our backpacks back and forth the lake until we were all we were supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Second Week Working 1/2: Sleepless Nights, Roof Tiles and Sun Rises

On the second week I was about to get moved to different village to work on different project: no more furniture crafting and bed-making for me, it was time for me cutting some wood to be used in rooftiles in the summer. Before leaving for the other village, I and some people from my group I was about to leave, decided to get up early in the morning for a nice morning hiking!

The alarm clock was then set to 06.30 in the morning local time and we got up to do so hiking up the local mountain. We hiked our way in the snowy paths and get high enough to witness a breath-taking vista: the sun rising over Siberian taiga. There was trees and forests as far as your eyes could see. Seeing all the trees from above, it was hard to imagine that somewhere beneath all that green was hidden a whole network of villages I had just lived and adventured in.

After the sun-gazing and one and half hour of hiking it was time for me pack my things and head for the next village with a bus. It seemed the local bus drove only two times a day so I had better be sure to not to miss it! So, I got to the village and I was introduced to a new group of people that I already knew from the few days we had travelled together in the train.

I was shown a way around the city and to the work shop owned by a local man and his family. There were all the basic working tools one could wait to see in a workshop and even a nice set of speakers. While working, we lost ourselves in the flow of wood crafting and electric music, a powerful combination!

It wasn't only electric music though: on the MP3-player attached to the music player there was also the soundtrack of the movie Into the Wild for example (a movie by the way I recommend interested in travelling watching). That soundtrack got me really into mood of thinking about different kind of adventures. Little did I know at that time what an adventure would be waiting for me just in the following evening and the night!

After the first day of working, I and two other people from my group, decided to go for a visit to meet one local couple. The couple owned an own coy which the other two of my group had already been milking before. And so they thought it would also be a nice experience for me to try milking the cow with my bare hands and they invited me to tag along, fair enough! Unfortunately, when we arrived to the house the couple lived in, we heard from them that the cow had become pregnant. That meant no milk for us this time.

Beautiful electric music that I now associate with crafting wood in Siberia.

Evening wasn't all wasted though. The young couple had invited some old friends to join them for the night and they asked us to stay with them. About ten people came to their house in the end. There for example three brothers all born in different year but who had all got married the same year! The year 2012 was indeed a special year for some.

One of the brothers spoke English and he explained me about his professional carpentry life. He told me that in this village if you're  a carpenter it is quite common to with a one month work, one month holiday  -pace when working on projects outside the village. The man told me he did it like this and spent half of the year in Moscow and one half in the village with his wife.

The evening went on and at some point one I have seen life -looking older man came to the house with his friend. The man introduced himself and then unpacked some bags he had with him. In those bags had been some instruments instruments. I recognised a mouth harp, tibetan singing bowls and a hang drum. The man sat cross-legged on the floor, arranged the bowls nicely in front of him and put a mouth harp (also known as Jew's harp) in his mouth.

His friend brought him a hang drum, he put the instrument on his lap and so he was ready to start the playing. The high frequencies of the tibetan bowls mixed up with the mouth harp sounds and we all guests sat in circle with this man and enjoyed the music. After playing alone for a whilethe man asked one guitar playing guest to accompany him. Soon the guitar was joined with other people chanting and singing and drumming on whatever people could find their hands on. The solo perfomance had suddenly turned into an local improvised-on-the-spot-band and it was surely a band not lacking energy or good feeling!

The English band Shpongle uses the hang drum -instrument in one of their songs.

Around 11-12 pm the evening started to settle down and most of the people left. It was almost midnight and I thought it would be good time for also me to leave. Wishing the other ones from my group goodbye, I dressed up and dived through the aparment's door into the cold of the Siberian winter night.

As soon as I stepped out of the house I marked it was pitch black. And as I started to roam the streets, I soon realized I have not the faintest idea where our home base was. It had all looked so simple and clear in day light! Not the time for staying still and being frozen, I started walking around a bit and recognized some familiar buildings and thought that sure I could find my way back home. Only that I couldn't - which I permanently realized after two hours of wandering in the night!

I thought it was already too late to head back to the couple I had spent the evening with. Though I'm sure they would have welcomed me warmly and given me a place to stay over the night I didn't want to disturb them if it wasn't absolutely necessary. And for some odd reason (the time being 2am), my supervisor of my group and other group members didn't answer my phone calls and text messages. Why not go for the adventure of spending the whole night outside, I remember thinking. It would make for a good story at least. Indeed, why not?

And so I ended up staying all the night outside, eight hours in total. In that time I walked a lot, propably more than twenty kilometres - I hadn't dressed quite warmly enough to able to just stay in one place for a long time and not feeling frozen. Even as I walked, I could feel the coldness of the night biting from my thin college trousers! The hours of the night were really long and the night felt like it would never end. My mind got stuck in quite negative thought circles for most of the time.

I would the night wasn't necessarily a nice experience, but nevertheless it was definitively a great learning experience and a good one to go through. I learned to push and challenge myself harder and found I had strength in myself that I hadn't used for some time. The night gave me some perspective to my own challenges and doubts I was facing at home in Finland. Yes, I faced quite a few demons and fears in that night.

What a great relief then it was at times to be able to lay down for a while to rest my feet for a while. There were terasses of shops I laid down a few times and I even found a small working equipment storage in which it was bit more warmer than outside. I ended up laying in that storage place for almost an hour before I was scared away by the noise of some night time workers nearby.

Finally, after the endless hours, it was really relieving to see the first sun rays of the morning covering the sky. With the help of the light, I was finally able to navigate myself back to my home place. The night was immediatly followed by a half days of work and after the work, after being awake for the last 27 hours, I finally got the change to go to sleep.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

First Week Working: Furniture Crafting, Jazz and Saxophones!

The first week is now behind it has gone nicely. In the beginning, our group of around twenty people was divided into four groups that went to work on in four different places in four different parts of the project.

The mission of the group I was in, was to furniture for the upcoming culture cafe. What has happened during the weekOur group has worked for six days, from 7-10 hours each day. Our work day starts usually at about nine in the morning and we worked quite non-stop apart one hour-two long lunch break in the afternoon. After working the whole day, some of us have also been doing some music playing with the local band for a few nights of the week!

The local band here in this village we live in consists of a two youngsters playing bass and drums, a mother playing the piano and an older guy playing the saxophone. I have been impressed by the fact that all the people in the band were really good players. In Siberia you have nothing else to do, joked one man from our group as we wondered how they could play so well!

One night we got an unique chance to visit the workshop of the saxophone player of the band. It was a workshop where he crafted mouthpieces for saxohphones - mouthpieces he would use himself of sell over to other musicians through the internet. As we came to the workshop I was struck by a beautiful ambient lightning and amazingly beuatiful jazz music!

Two things happened for me: as the guy started to show us around the one-room workshop, speaking Russian, I suddenly got this feeling that the I was in the middle of the game Metro 2033, it felt quite surreal. Another things that happened, was that I felt like a really heard and found and fell in love with the jazz music. It is funny: I have played jazz with piano for many years and I have also listened to it before, but never I have found this kind of beauty in the music.

And so I fell in love with jazz music in the middle of Siberia.

So all the week the local band had been training for their concert on Sunday evening. They were going to play their own songs for the whole village to hear. It was a fantastic night and dozens of people were in the audience, from children to elderly people.

Talk about a community, it felt like the whole village had come together for a moment of celebration! We were right there then cheering for the band and listening to the concert. And that is not all - we even got to play with the band as honoured guests at the end of their concert, which was really nice!

What else was thereOne evening we got a chance to go to the the local banja (sauna). Alghough the banja was a bit broken and it was not that warm inside it, the experience was still nice and I even challenged myself to roll in Siberian snow!

After the week of staying in this village it already feels for me like I have been here for ages. "Have I not lived here for some months alreydy?" I found myself wondering. But no, just one week it was. I quickly found it was to get used to the rhythm of everyday life in the village: wake up, eat breakfast, work, eat lunch, work, have free time, sleep, start over the next day.

It was really nice to also meet some local people outside the band. All in all, every person I have encountered here has been kind towards me. When meeting new people, I almost immediatly got the feeling of being accepted and celebrated and that feel really good.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Travelling the Trans-Siberian Railway

"What does a Trans-Syberian journey consist of?" you might ask. For every person travelling, the answer is different. But what is it like for me or the group I travelled with? For the matter, I can speak only of the half of the journey. I only did three-four days of traveling with my group as our end destination was Abakan, not Vladivostok. Still, having a few thousand kilometres of travelling the Russian railway under my belt, I think I can give you one answer.

On our journey while sitting on the train, there were lots of chess and card games, discussions, lots of playing guitar and singing and having fun. Mix all that with some good nights sleeps, naps in the day time and a bit partying and drinking beer and you get the idea. And theres one thing I forgot to mention: the stoppings at train stations. 

When the days consisted of only sitting on a bench or laing down on the bed, of almost thirty people being cramped into a small smelly place, you began to really appreciate the possibility of going outside the train. When the train stopped at stations, there was usually a ten minute pause and we would have a walk and breath some fresh air. Also the trains stations were good places to buy some food and snack for the journey (meals were not included on the price of the ticket, but there was a restaurant wagon at the train).

During the train journey some us also read quite a lot and many people (not all) had books with us. Some had also diaries and you can believe there was a lot of time to concentrate on your own projects whatever they might be - writing diary, scribbling ideas to a notebook, texting your friends or just enjoying yourself.

For me , the journey quickly became like one kind of meditation: all day long we were just sitting around and seemingly not moving, just staying at one place, and still you knew you were all the time moving and going forward wand nearing your end destionation, which was the train station at Abakan

All in all, the journey, having been really nice and wonderful, felt really anything that super super special in the end. Like with many dreams and fantasies, we imagine these dreams and fantasies in our minds with more romance than what they are really like in real life.

For example, when on the train, I had to constantly remind myself that this really was the Trans-Syberian train I was travelling, a life-long dream for many, and that I was to appreciate it really much to have this chance to ride it. And one thing is for sure though, I will never regret riding it as I'm sure none of us in our group will.