Russian Altai Report August/September 2012

I write you all from the frontier town of Kosh-Agach and the town is bustling with the anticipation of the first day of school (September 1st for all schools in Russia). There are kids running through the streets, extactic about their new school clothes and supplies and parents with furrowed brows, double checking that everything is in place before summer ends. Along with the end of summer comes the beginning of winter (as autumn and spring are short lived here) with the first snow fall often arriving in the beginning of October.

We’ve settled nicely in our little hotel room, sharing quarters with the family that owns Hotel Centralnaya. By now we are famiiar with their two baby boys and countless family members that are in and out, drinking tea and cooking meals in the kitchen. There are lots of laughs even with our language barrier and they find it funny that we seem to make friends with new guests every night, discussing everything from Kyrgz farmers, Russian border guards, and the slightly sensitve subject of the harvesting of Red Deer antlers for traditional medicine. Many people are curious about us and ask with honest curiosity about our work and what it means to us. All of these answers become more clear every day as we visit local activists, organization leaders and teachers.

So far, our most notable interview has been with Maya Erlenbaeva, cultural expert of Altaian culture (she’s Altaian, herself!), and former deputy-director of Quiet Zone Ukok Nature Park. She is a lovely woman, mentioned in Darla’s last visit to the Altai, who lives here in Kosh-Agach and has a deep understanding of the importance of conservation and preserving the culture and traditions of the native Altaian people. Her son, Tengis, mentioned in the last blog entry, is truly beautiful.

Maya and Tengis in his warm wool vest:
Tengis
Natalya and I interviewing Maya:
interviewmaya

We are all very happy with our first official interview, and we fimed the whole thing! One of our many goals here in the Altai is to gather enough footage and interviews to make a short film about the Altai. We know that Altaian culture has a lot to teach the rest of us humans living on earth and their reverential relationship with the snow leopard must be shared.

Maya explained that Altaians believe (they are traditionally a Shamanistic culture) that the snow leopard is the guardian of their ancestors. Up in the high mountains, these ancestors live as spirits and the snow leopard is the intermediary between the living world and the spiritual world. A person who kills a snow leopard will be punished by the spirits, so it is forbidden to kill this totemic animal.
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Maya’s words were inspiring, informative and necessary for the world to hear. We are thankful for her ardent participation and look forward to sharing more with you all when the film is completed!

We also finished tidying up and adding our own touch to the Snow Leopard Museum and visitor center that just opened 10 days ago! Here is the display we created:

display

And I will leave you with a gorgeous shot of the Altai Mountains:
sky

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