Before leaving home, we had acknowledged the fact that we will certainly encounter ‘technical problems’ in Russia. During our 7th week in Siberia and the 4th week on Samoylov, I was still waiting for difficulties to arise because everything had been very smooth so far. There was just one little detail – a tiny confusion within the gigantic organisation of this expedition – that I considered very worrisome: The official closure of the Samoylov station was actually an entire week before we were supposed to fly back home. After having travelled quite some time in Russia, this should not freak me out. But we ended up staying the entire week in TIKSI! Tiksi is a military town at the Laptev sea. Rumours about Tiksi are not glorious: many of 5000 remaining inhabitants (Tiksanians) suffer from alcoholism and violence is supposed to be serious. We are not allowed to walk around alone or during night and there is neither internet nor mobile phone connection.
Océane, Yoann, Annelen and I carried our luggage over the dirty street. In shock we discovered that the entrance of the building and the staircase is covered with traces of blood. I only felt safe when I closed the door of the apartment behind me and locked the door. Breathe, dear reader, what follows now is my first ‘technical problem’: Yoann and I moved the coach to gain more space. Unfortunately, I touched the valve of a heater and a dark liquid brushed out into the living room. Yoann rushed to help me, and by mistake opened a second valve which doubled the amount of bad-smelling and dirty water that spread in the room. We finally closed the valves and started a cleaning mission. I couldn’t stop laughing about my self-created catastrophe.
The somewhat depressive surrounding of Tiksi forced the entire group of twelve researcher from Samoylov to get creative. We started to gather for cooking in our kitchen. The first evening, Stepan (a local scientific from Tiksi) and Wolfram cooked a traditional meal. We extended the meal till the early morning with toast accompanied by beer and vodka. The following day our friends and us went ‘food hunting’ in the many little shops of the town which all have something, but it’s difficult to know which shop is supposed to sell what. We prepared delicious Pizzas for everyone, some went to the cinema to watch King Stevens horror movie ‘It’, discovered mammoths in the museum, watched polar lights over Tiksi…. Over all those days we kept laughing over the same jokes, we were in a cheerful mood. Finally, the initial ‘technical problem’ turned into ‘It is not a problem’.
Having lived in Tiksi for a week, this place gained my empathy. I realized that the people around me allowed to perceive Tiksi from another point of view. I felt home for a week, I actually felt safe. Now I am in the airplane back home and I am sure I will miss the time that I’ve spent in the Siberian Arctic.
I toast to everyone we’ve met on our journey and thank them for the time we shared. I toast to the magical landscape of the tundra and the dancing northern lights. And I toast to the most amazing team: Annelen, Océane and Yoann!