Four years ago, I was on a press trip that involved driving through northern Norway. The journey took me through the remote town of Karasjok, the Norwegian capital of the Sami, the indigenous people of the European Arctic.
That evening, I was having dinner at the hotel, and Anna-Louisa gave a talk about Sami culture. She also “yoiked” – the Sami word for the songs they sing about the people they love – and it was a beautiful, haunting sound that resonated with ancient tradition. Anna-Louisa had a very charismatic presence, and she seemed to have an unusually strong sense of self-awareness. She knew what mattered to her, and what she wanted to do with her life, which was dictated by the seasons and the needs of her reindeer. For Anna-Louisa, being a reindeer herder is more than just a job; it’s who she is as a person. It’s a connection to herself, her heritage, and her family.
The next morning we continued our journey to Alta, but I knew I had to go back and interview her.
Two years later, I was traveling the entire length of Russia's European border, and I took a diversion during the Norwegian leg to spend some time with Anna-Louisa. At the time, I was reflecting on the nature of work.
So much of what we do is quite meaningless. You think, "If my job disappeared, would anybody really care?". Work is something we have to do, but does it connect with our soul, and does it matter to the world?
But for Anna-Louisa, her work is very tangible. The reindeer would not survive, nor would people eat meat or get reindeer fur, if she did not do her job. And, there’s the difficulty of working in the wilderness – how from one season to the next, things can change. Maybe the snow melts, and then freezes over, and the reindeer can’t get to the moss underneath.
All of that made me realize just how disconnected I am from nature in my daily life. If it’s winter at home in England, I can turn the heating on. If there’s a cyclone somewhere in the world, I can still go to the supermarket and get my fruit and veg.
I love storytelling, and I love finding ways of sharing these ideas. But it's quite different from the tangible reality of the work Anna-Louisa does. Spending time with her made me reflect on the way I spend my time.
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Ash is a travel writer, filmmaker and storyteller who explores the world with curiosity, excitement, and a sense of adventure. He has just finished a 5,282mi (8,500km) overland from the top of Norway to Crimea.
Ash Bhardwaj tries his hand at dog sledding in the remote forests along the Russia/Norway border.