ORHELIA message from the field in Yamal, April 2011

Florian (I)  is currently with colleague Roza Laptander doing fieldwork in Yamal for a project called ORHELIA.  The acronym ORHELIA stand for “Oral Histories of Elders in the Arctic” and is a project that looks at how remote northerners have experienced the historical and cultural changes of the 20th century in their own biographies.
I was planning to give you some more regular updates from the field, but the conditions turned out to be so hard this time that there wasn’t even time to THINK about anything close to blogs or the like.

It is hard to imagine that you are somewhere in an Arctic snow desert where the closest mobile connection is 150 km away, the closest satellite phone that could call a helicopter around `100 km away, let alone any internet. And you live completely without electricity, which makes it impossible to record field interviews, shoot videos or the like. You save the last battery power for some photographs, which is what I did.

Tyude Okotetto and his daughter, with Florian and colleague Roza Laptander.

It’s at about 72.5 degrees northern latitude and 72 degrees eastern longitude, and other than Finnmark has a much harsher climate. We had  -20 most of the time, but around April 18 a sudden warming up, reaching above the freezing point, making the snow wet. During this warming time, we were blessed with a classical snowstorm that made it impossible to find the next family. Searching around by snowmobile under such conditions is a pretty silly undertaking, given that petrol is REALLY limited. Not only is it expensive (same price as in Finland), but also is the next place to get it officially is around 250 km south. Try to sit on a wooden sledge at a speed of 50 and jump for 2 metres over a hump. Your spine bones will have contracted all into one. To prevent this from happening, you better spread the shock to a broader base by lying in the sledge. But then you are in danger of hitting your head on to the sledge – which is what happened to me too many times.

Florian and Yakov Vanuito

As soon as it clears up next morning we hit the tundra (of course not the road, because there is none), and have another 120 km to Se Yakha, the village from where the helicopter flies to the district capital.
PS: From Se Yakha: Two injections, blood pressure reducing pills and some hours quiet lying down in the village hospital helped a bit to be prepared for the helicopter flight.