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Belly of the Beast

On a broad and shallow lake situated in the middle of a vast oil field north of the city of Surgut in northwestern Siberia, a Khanty (han-tee) fisherman poles his battered metal boat — an old Russian motorboat sans the motor — across placid, slate blue water. Save for a faint line along the horizon, it is difficult to differentiate between water and the mist laden sky above. The fisherman, a man in his late twenties named Vacia, is boating home to a small cabin on the lake’s far shore. A Khanty fisherman poles his boat across a shallow lake in the oil fields north of Surgut, Siberia. An anomaly in this part of Asiatic Russia, Vacia is trying to live the life that his father and his father’s father lived. Surprisingly unpolluted, Vacia’s lake still produces gunnysacks of fish. And the surrounding marshes still proffer a multitude of berries in early autumn. For Vacia, the bounty of this small parcel of land translates into a meager living. Not only does he harvest enough food

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Report From Siberia: Making A Living

Across a frozen lake 10 kilometers east of the small Siberian village of Kazym, Sasha and his son, Ephiam, drag a sled loaded with a tangle of fishing net and rope. Two of Sasha’s friends soon follow with long poles freshly cut from the nearby forest. They also trek to a spot a couple of hundred meters from shore. No matter that the lake has iced over solid, these men are going fishing. A Khanty man and his son haul a sled piled high with nets across a frozen lake. The process of setting a fishing net and then pulling it in is easy enough when the lake isn’t frozen, but doing so under 30 centimeters of ice is a different matter. With axes in hand the men chop a series of small holes, some three dozen in all, in the shape of a rectangle several dozen meters across. At opposite ends of the rectangle larger access holes, each of them one by two meters in size, are also cut. Into one of these larger

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Report From Siberia: Life in a Khanty Reindeer Camp

Sitting cross-legged on a hand-hewn, wooden sled I am wondering how I can coax a little more speed out of the two reindeer trudging before me. Up ahead, Alexei is growing smaller and to the rear Misha is rapidly catching up. They were smart in positioning me—a novice reindeer driver—in the middle. A pair of reindeer trudge across the Siberian taiga (remote terrain). I could deliver solid raps to the rumps of my team with the long pole I am carrying, just as Alexei and Misha do. But I can’t seem to bring myself to inflict such pain on these noble animals. Finally, after some experimentation, I learn that half-hearted jabs with the pole work well when combined with an occasional loud “Schweett” sound. Feeling self-congratulatory as we pull to a stop, I notice that my deer are quick to lie down while the two other teams stand placidly beside their sleds. I accuse Misha of giving me animals of questionable strength. “No,” he explains matter-of-factly. “Americans are just heavier than Khanties.” Misha Moldanov endures

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