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SIBERIA

Bolshoe Goloustnoe

Faina Mangaskina walks through her courtyard.

The last part of the trip was nine days spent in Bolshoe Goloustnoe. The village is on the southwestern shore of Lake Baikal, and is inside the Pribaikalsky National Park. There are approximately 600 year-round residents, many of whom are elderly and retired.

“Bol’shoe Goloustnoe” means “big barren mouth;” it is at the delta of the Goloustnoe (barren mouth) river, which flows into Baikal.

Bolshoe Goloustnoe was first settled by a Buryat called Soryel. The saying, "Here one gets meat without a knife, wood without an axe," is attributed to him. Soryel arrived in 1673, along with his three sons; the first Russian settlers followed some fifty years later, early in the 18th century.

In 1949, as part of Stalin’s collectivization plans, some of the village’s outlying settlements were moved closer to the center, and in 1954, the villagers were resettled “into one big heap” because the construction of the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Power Station threatened some areas with flooding. While the power station’s construction disrupted the villagers’ lives, it did not bring them electricity; that came to Bolshoe Goloustnoe only in 2001.

By the end of the 1950s, the lespromkhoz or timber collective was established. Wood was sent down the Goloustnoe to Baikal, and this became the village’s major industry and source of income.

Accomodations

In Bolshoe Goloustnoe, the group was divided among five host families (three Buryat, two Russian).

Mikhail Mangaskin, whom we all called “Uncle Misha,” and his wife, Faina, served as one of the host families as well as our guides to local history and Buryat culture. Their courtyard served as the daily assembly point for all the groups.

Village Life

"Uncle Misha" with his foal. (2006)

The first objective in Bolshoe Goloustnoe was to learn about village life, which was easy to do, thanks to the host families.

The village had no electricity until 2001, and telephone service was being set up literally while the HWS group was there (2006). The village has no running water or indoor plumbing, which means using outhouses and bathing in the banya.

Village life also means taking care of livestock; most families have sheep, and all but one of the host families had cattle. The cattle roam around the hillsides on their own during the day, but of course they come home in the evening to be milked.

Many families also keep horses, which are pastured fairly far out of town. Most of the group drove out to see the horses; Misha and Faya’s foal was the star of that show.

Cultural Experiences

Dora Alekseevna teaches the group how to prepare
wool. (2006)

The second objective was to learn about Buryat culture. The Buryat are the northernmost of the Mongol peoples, and traditionally have been nomadic and pastoral. Today, about 360,000 Buryat live in the Russian Federation, mostly in the area around Lake Baikal. Even in the Republic of Buryatia, the Buryat make up only 24% of the population; overall, they are one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation. The Buryat today are a religiously diverse group. They were originally shamanists, and elements of shamanistic practice are still seen. Today, however, most Buryat are Buddhists (hence the Datsan in Ulan-Ude), though some families have converted to other religions (the Mangaskins, for example, are Protestants). Every activity we did and every lesson we learned was saturated with the Buryat awareness of and respect for natural resources.

We also heard legends about the Sacred Mountain. Misha and Faya, along with Faya’s mother, Dora Alekseevna, who is also the village historian, actively pass on information about the village and the land by writing brochures and helping visiting groups.

Dora Alekseevna taught us how to prepare raw wool, by fluffing locks to align the fibers; then spin it, and crochet it into socks.

Interaction with Village Children

Laura Cummins '10 helps a child use a microscope
to see Epischura baicalensis, a small zooplankton
found nowhere else in the world. (2009)

The third objective was to contribute to cultural exchange by spending time with the village children. Although the school year had just ended, the village school (K-9) has a summer program for children in K through 4. This meant that we were able to have some formal, structured interactions with the children where they got to ask us about life in the U.S.

The group spent a lot of time just playing, here in “the stadium,” a large field and gathering place just behind the school. We learned Russian games, and our students taught the children some American games.

Everyone spent a lot of time playing the international game, futból! This activity was particularly gratifying because so many of our William Smith students were avid and skilled soccer players; even in the short time we were there, this interaction had a positive impact on the village girls. One father was so grateful that he brought candy to two of our students to thank them for playing soccer with his little girl.

Trail Building

The fourth objective was to contribute to environmental service and economic transformation through a trail-building project on Sacred Mountain. There are environmental and economic reasons for the trail-building project. The growing environmental movement in the Russian Federation is trying to “undo” some of the legacy of Soviet environmental damage and keep the current government from making it worse. Around Lake Baikal, we saw a strong desire to preserve the land, the lake, and the region’s biodiversity. The Goloustnoe delta, for example, is an important nesting ground for a number of endangered species (the Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea; the European Pochard, Aythya ferina; and the Baikal teal, Anas formosa Georgi).

The economic pressures in Bolshoe Goloustnoe today were caused in part, ironically, by environmental preservation: when Pribaikalsky National Park was established in 1986, it spelled the end of the village’s timber industry. Now, ecotourism is a possible remedy to the village’s economic downturn.

In Bolshoe Goloustnoe, ecotourism is not just an outsiders’ idea; the villagers we worked with actively supported the trailbuilding project, and Faya and Misha’s younger son is studying ecotourism at university in Ulan-Ude.

The trail-building project was part of a much larger initiative by Great Baikal Trail, an NGO founded in 2002. The organization is largely volunteer driven, but has a skeleton staff in offices in Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Severobaikalsk. The organization is largely grant-funded; their initial grant came from the Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation.

GBT plans to build a 2,000 km (1,242 mile) trail around Lake Baikal, modeled on the Appalachian Trail. Since 2003, GBT’s first year of trail building, the group has had 1,487 volunteers (roughly 2:1 Russian/foreign) and has completed 475 km (295 miles) of trail.

Trail building on Sacred Mountain. (2006)

Our tasks were clearing brush, cutting branches, leveling ground, and building steps (stone and wood).

In three full days of work, our group completed a trail from the base of Sacred Mountain to its summit that included 22 wooden steps, 14 stone steps, and an awe-inspiring switchback that Hobart student Gil Carr '06 built pretty much by himself.