Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Lost in translation

It is the first of February today, -22°F, a strong southerly have hit us, but we understand that this heat wave is just visiting us briefly and that the extreme cold will soon return. But winds will stay. We´re still in Srednekolymsk. We don´t want to leave until we´ve shown our appreciation to everybody who has helped us during our visit, so we´ve spent the day walking around town, thanking people. At least that was our intention?.

I should have known the minute I heard it knocking on the door early this morning. That a terrible day of misunderstandings was on its way in. It was our neighbor from the flat below us. The same alcoholic neighbor, who together with his alcoholic wife, has kept us awake a third of all nights we´ve lived in the apartment with constant quarrels, fights and with the TV continually turned up on maximum volume. Since we´re happy just to be indoors, we´ve ignored it.

´´It´s my birthday today!´´ , he hollered drunkenly at the same time as he burst into the apartment swinging a frozen white salmon, the schirr and yelled; ´´I´m 59!´´

At the same time as I stuck my hand out to greet him, he thrust the frozen fish in my gut. Now, I am the first to admit that a frozen schirr is one of the best gifts, since it makes the best straganina, but I am utterly against the use of it as a weapon. Fortunately, Johan in his short underwear, quickly grabbed the fish, to avoid further aggression. The neighbor immediately brought out both his passports, the one during the Soviet Era and the new Russian one. As proof of his age. With bodily movements he also showed us that he was still sexually active. Than he started a 20 minute drunken political monologue where we understood that he considered us as spies, that he thought that it was shameful the way Sweden assisted the Nazis during the Second World War and how brave he was himself during this nasty war. Even though it ended a year before he was

Johan and me together with one of our neighbors......we were trying to film him...but batteries ran dead in seconds.....
Johan and me together with one of our neighbors……we were trying to film him…but batteries ran dead in seconds…..

born. After a while I got fed up with his abuse, since I have a cold and therefore have no patience at all, and shouted euphorically in Russian:

´´Really fantastic to hear!´´

These words made him explode with anger and abuse! Johan, who actively listened until the end, thinks that my remarks came at the wrong time, when the drunken neighbor ranted on about all the Russians that got killed during the war. Terrible mistake again due to the language barrier! No wonder we greeted Julia with joy, our excellent Ukrainian translator, when she arrived at our apartment a couple of hours later to help us with other translations that needed to be done. At least until she uttered the following truth:

´´You are sinners and will burn in hell!´´

I just want to say that she meant no harm. But since she´s a Baptist and since they consider everybody a sinner until they´ve acknowledged the right way to Salvation, she just wanted to make us aware that we, together with 99.99 % of the world population, are going to burn in hell. And during the upcoming hour she lectured us in a way so that my cold changed to a flue and Johans normally pale face turned to the color of rage. After that, utterly exhausted, we all three headed down to the White House, as the local government building is called in Srednekolymsk, to thank the mayor for the great assistance he has given us during our visit. Or at least we tried. Unfortunately we got on to the subject of how we tried to document the extreme cold through our camera lenses. And since I have a habit of trying to pass the odd funny joke, but truthful, in all serious conversations, I explained how we had noticed that when you have a dump outdoors in this extreme cold, the crap almost freezes before it hits the ground. And that we therefore had noticed that many outdoor toilets in Srednekolymsk had mounds of shit the size of an Eiffel Tower. Either it was a bad joke or it, once again, got lost in the translation, because it didn´t go down well with the Mayor.

´´Well, I know we´re still not fully modernized yet´´ , he hissed with anger and continued: ´´I had no idea that you two, who I trusted, would disgrace Srednekolymsk with filming crap like this!´´

Johan and me together with the mayor, Grigorjev and our great friend Anatolij Tarasov....Tarasov did understand me jokes, Grigorjev not....
Johan and me together with the mayor, Grigorjev and our great friend Anatolij Tarasov….Tarasov did understand me jokes, Grigorjev not….

I spent half an hour, through Julia, asking him to forgive me and to try to get him to understand that it was a misunderstanding.

´´It´s a joke´´ , I said, ´´nothing else. Just a joke about the problems involved in trying to describe the extreme cold through a camera lens.´´

Something got lost in the translation again.

´´I thought you had come here to promote this region to attract tourist´´ he continued very angered: ´´Not to show any proof that we´re still in the Ice Age! Your film will scare away tourists, not attract them!´´

It took an hour to calm things down. We left the Mayor, me feeling utterly misunderstood and sad. We wanted to go back to the flat and hide, but instead we ended up at the local newspaper. The chief-editor wanted to make an interview before we left. But when we sat down to be interviewed, he was still stunned by the news that had traveled there before us, namely that we didn´t use fur clothes whilst skiing and that we lived in a tent with no heating!

´´You´ve gotta be out of your mind!´´ he exclaimed and spent an hour trying to get us to understand our mistakes in choosing modern polar equipment and therefore completely forgot the interview.

Another day of giant misunderstandings bites the dust.

A broken down car in Siberia during winter is life threatening....our guide Julia had to go through a lot!
A broken down car in Siberia during winter is life threatening….our guide Julia had to go through a lot!

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