“The choom is made of reindeer skins and covered with tarpaulin, so it is really warm inside even when it is very cold outside. You should take your tame deer always with you into the choom, otherwise they go completely crazy because of the mosquitoes”, - this is how Tatiana Lar, the translator in our Nenets project and a world famous singer of national Nenets songs and epics, starts her story. “You see, there are so many mosquitoes in summer that there is not enough space on the deer for all of them to sit, so those who come later have to sit on the mosquitoes who came first, so that the first layer of mosquitoes is sucking the blood of the deer, and the second layer of mosquitoes is sucking their comrades from the first layer… No wonder then that the poor animals are going crazy”. (To tell the truth I myself, while interviewing Tatiana, am starting to go a little bit crazy at imagining the picture of a poor deer and several layers of mosquitoes struggling for space on his back!..). “…And this is one of the main reasons why reindeer herders have to stick together at the time of grazing in summer”, Tatiana goes on. “Because when there are big herds of deer, the animals protect one another from the mosquitoes.”
Well, and in winter the temperature may drop to as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius” she continues in a matter-of-fact way. “In that case you may have chilblains even to such an extent that your cheeks become black. The only protection is to rub your cheeks and nose non-stop”. I ask her, whether a good synthetic coat may protect a person from this intolerable frost. She bursts into laughter heartily instead of responding. “Synthetic clothes are useless! Not even taken into consideration, however good they may be! All our clothes are made of two layers of reindeer skin with fur. The fur should be on the outward side and the fur should be on the inward side too. When you put on such clothes you become as clumsy as a bear cub. But this life in the chooms is very healthy. People who have lived all their lives in chooms will not change the choom for a city apartment. Why, if you change your choom for a city apartment, what will you do with your tame deer then? Take them into the flat? Impossible! My mother who has lived her entire life in a choom is over 90 now, but she looks young. But for the cancer that so many people are dying of now, because of those former nuclear tests in our region, we would have been a very healthy people indeed!”
Tatiana has been working in the project for 10 years now. Together with an exegetical advisor from Korea they form a really strong, hard-working team. In the course of these years two Gospels (Luke and Mark) have been published and a children’s book with audio-recording has recently been reprinted following the readers’ requests. The Nenets people are eager to hear the Good News in the language of their heart and their culture, of which Tatiana with her national epic singing is a unique and faithful bearer and promoter.
“I have turned into a completely different person”, she says. “When I started translating the Gospel texts, it was incredibly difficult. Although I could speak my language well, I had no idea of how to write this or that word or expression. I did not know the grammar or spelling rules of my own language. And I came to realise that my process of thinking was in Russian and not at all in Nenets, as I probably should have expected of myself. Well, it is hardly surprising that we are thinking in Russian! The process of school education was in the Russian language, we are reading books in the Russian language and we are watching TV in the Russian language too. But time passed, I continued to work and then another interesting thing happened. I discovered with amazement that during these years in the project I have learned to think in my own language! I started feeling my own people deep in my heart. One more thing happened to me recently. Do you remember those Nenets songs that I sang yesterday? Those are my songs, and they are prayers. I started composing prayers in my native tongue. I learned to pray to God in Nenets”.
The missionaries to the Far North region reported, “On our trip we distributed more than 80 copies of the Gospel of Mark in the Nenets language with an enclosed CD that you had sent us. We developed very good relations with the director and the board of teachers of the local elementary school. They are incorporating all that is written in the Nenets language into their educational program, for there are very, very few publications in Nenets”. Now IBT is working on translating the Gospel of Matthew into Nenets.