The best travel writing I have ever done was during the Siberian Expedition. Johan Ivarsson, my amazing partner, and myself, we wrote every other report. Most of the time tucked into a relatively warm sleeping bag in a horrendous cold, in an ice frozen tent, on a small IPAQ, software from ExWeb and one dispatch in English, one in Swedish. We carried all technical gear on the body during the day, and slept with it during the night. Amazing really. But it worked. We didn´t get any technical equipment ruined by extreme cold on the trip. One of these inspired reportsI wrote, noted the 28th of March 2005, was this one:
The art of getting close to people
25 Mar, 05 – 20:28
GPS-pos: N68°43´ | E158°42´ | Alt: 9 M
Friday the 25th today and it´s a grey and slightly depressing day. 14°F with a light south-easterly. There´s hardly any people on the snow-covered mud streets of Kolymskaya, except overloaded snowmobiles heading north for the tundra, yurtas and the reindeer.
´´I´ve done plenty of documentary filming all over the world and I know how difficult it is getting close to people and getting them to open up´´ ,a well-known documentary filmmaker told me the other day in an email and added; ´´but I´ve checked the 3 minute film slots you´ve done on the Internet this Expedition, read all your dispatches and it seems like you get to know everybody, wherever you are. How do you accomplish this? Please, advice me how!
This question, how in earth we can get along with everybody as well as we do, is one of the most common ones we get. The answer is simple, but still very hard to bring about. It is partly a question of behaviour, partly the way to travel and than the ability to understand the odd ways of the human ape. Let me use our visit here in Kolymskaya as an example.
There´s a small stream of people knocking on our door every day. Today, for example, a young Evenk woman with a newly born baby came to visit, because she had heard that we were very interested in her culture, the Evenk, another northern reindeer people, and she wanted to know things about Sweden. Two youngster´s knocked on the other a bit later, ready to take us to visit an old Even lady, who wanted to tell us about the spiritual aspect of the Even people. They´re also animists. When they left, a group of school kids came to ask for our autographs, since they´ve heard that we were both Olympic Champions in cross-country skiing. They probably mistook us for Gunde Svan and Sixten Jernberg, the two great Swedish Olympic Champions of the past. (Both originate, and still live, from the taiga of the Swedish region where Johan and I come from, of course?Sixten was Champion several times in the 60´s and Gunde in the 80´s. And since a friend in Sweden, very lovingly pointed out that I´ve become almost bald on this trip, as far as he could see on the photo attached to last Sunday´s report, I guess they though I was Sixten?) A fur-clad Chuckchi reindeer herder knocked on the door a few minutes later an wondered if we wanted to borrow his TV to pass the evenings easier, just in case nobody could be with us and keep us company. Which is the least of our problems. Every evening, the local chief Rima, her sister Ludmilla or the chief of the Museum, Vera, or one them, pass by to ask us if we need anything, they give us food, since they´re so fantastically nice and generous people.
What I in actual fact mean is that you have to be a person who enjoy socializing with other people. This is no place for negative minded people! On top of that you have to get other people´s respect. Our way to travel is of great help in that aspect. Wherever we come, we get the best treatment and respect possible, since sport in general, had a very high social standing during the Soviet era. So, if we would have travelled by a mechanical way, we wouldn´t have received to same level of respect as we do now. Nevertheless, most important of all, is the ability to understand the behaviour of other human beings. And to be dead honest. All humans, no matter what cultural or social background they have, or which age or job, they like talking about themselves, their life´s and dreams they have. But to get them to do this, you have to be genuinely interested, not just pretend to be, in them. And have some kind of background or specific knowledge, which makes them able to associate to their own daily life. Easy for us along the Kolyma, since we can always talk about any form of hunting and fishing, the great nature, the ghastly weather and since we have the same rural background, this even makes things easier. Even if our Russian is dreary. We get along with people immediately. And, as important is the fact that you have to tell them, over and over again, how you appreciate their generosity, their kindness and how you appreciate their culture, country and surroundings. Never complain about anything! If you do, you shouldn´t be there in the first place! Therefore you have to mean what you say. Otherwise people will see through immediately. This ability to praise, is unfortunately a weak human attribute globally. Because, fact is, if you honestly mean your flattery, doors will open everywhere.
This is advice which can be applicable everywhere, globally, and of course at home. It is really simple. If I trot down to Bert The Mechanic in my home village of Särna and praise his ability to fix my car, and his humanity as a person and also listens genuinely interested to all his stories about tourists from the cities who´s driven off the winter roads, since they don´t know how to drive in the bush, of course, he will fix my car in the most perfect of ways!
© Copyright 2013 Explorer Mikael Strandberg | Photos and texts Copyright Explorer Mikael Strandberg