Experience Exchange: How Russian People with Limited Abilities Surprised their Norwegian Colleagues
Experience exchange: How Russian People with Limited Abilities Surprised Their Norwegian Colleagues
This story unfolded in Monchegorsk city, the Russian centre of non-ferrous metallurgy in the Murmansk region. One of the features of a city-excursion service is that it allows visitors to explore some monuments of Russian defenders in the Second World War, and to feel the guns the soldiers used during the war. Our story focuses on the Scandinavian tourists with limited abilities from Norway and their experience in Russia.
The volunteers from the Russian Society of People with Limited Abilities organised a very warm welcome to their Norwegian friends. At first, they contemplated on the tourist location that would interest the travellers. The choice was not that easy, considering that the museums may not offer a very special and memorable experience. Nevertheless, the decision was made in favour of the Museum of Rocks which allowed the visitors to hold rocks usually hundreds of metres below the surface – hardly accessible to any person, regardless of their physical abilities. As a result, the guests had a chance to feel the temperature, weight, and appreciate the differences between apatite, eudialyte, and copper-nickel ore.
It was an interesting experience to watch the guests debate with the tour guide through interpreters. They wanted to know the meaning of some Russian artefacts, such as the “Bat” flashlight or why the first ancestors of these territories preferred to live in barracks over canvas tents. Norwegians had a chance to touch the first bricks laid in the city. However, the most interesting part of the excursion was the clothing of the Sami people and the embroidery of the Northern people. High interest in these objects was pretty much predictable, since the Sami people lived on both territories of Russia and Norway.
It was also interesting that the people with limited abilities from the two countries had more things in common than expected. The government system adapted for people with low vision or blind people was quite similar in both countries along with the adaptation methods of this group of people. As a result, despite evident challenges in language and physical barriers, Russians and Norwegians understood each other. An exchange of experience between the two different nationalities was achieved as people had the same outlook and focused their attention on the details.
To be honest, covering this story was not an easy task, because in 99.9% of the cases, the guests admit that the reason they visit a different country is to experience change. Therefore, we made efforts to interview the tourists about what amazed them most during their trip to Russia.
It was pleasant to discover that they highly appreciated the efforts of volunteers who organised this tour. Thanks to the Nornickel Company, who supported the volunteers by providing them with resources and making the event possible.
According to the Chairman of Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted in Tromso – Asger Larsen, he was surprised to see Russian volunteers organising a tour on such a high level, given that most of them conducted it in their spare time. He also mentioned that such motivation and willingness to devote their time is something what can be also taught to Norwegian volunteers.
Originally, the volunteers’ centre called the Tandem club was founded based on initiatives of the city inhabitants, as they saw a need of teaching the blind and partially sighted people to ride bicycles. They conducted it the following way; a regular was seating in front whereas a person with limited abilities sat behind and enjoyed the riding and wind blowing experience to the fullest.
The special, two-sit bicycles were purchased with the support of the Nornickel Company, who made this idea feasible by providing a grant.
Apparently, the bicycles turned out to be the beginning of everything. The next activity organised for them was the special tour to the Northern Rivers. A climbing wall in the Tandem club was the third big step aimed to add vibrancy to the lives of the minorities.
Anna Dalkhaug, a staff member of the regional centre for the Blind and Partially Sighted at University Hospital in Tromso, mentioned that kayak tours, cycling, and walking tours were all part of their usual program. However, the experience in Russia revealed one fundamental difference – Norwegians treat these activities as professional duties whereas Russians treat them as a voluntary experience.
A Vikings’ motherland without “Viking festival”
What’s so special about Norway? Mainly, the country has a high standard of living along and a disability allowance, which can only be admired. However, Norwegian paternalism was surprising to Russians although it generally has some commonalities with them. Right on the first day of travel, the Norwegians were invited to the gerontological department of the Social Service Center. If you have caught yourself thinking that this is not the best choice, do not judge too quickly. Ramil Khalitov, a psychologist in the Social Service Center, is a great example of a person with limited abilities; he has low vision and is fully accepted by the society since his graduation from the university.
Owing to the ‘Employment of people with limited abilities’ program, Ramil was hired for this position, even though he said that such a position is rather an exception than a practice. According to Ramil, people with limited abilities are usually unemployed because they receive governmental allowances, whereas the employed ones not. That’s why you will mostly see people with limited abilities without jobs. Ramil knows this by his own experience. Sometime earlier, he was also a traveller just like these Norwegian guests.
Saturday was a day of recreation for the northern visitors of Russia and they were invited to the “Imandra Viking Festival.” This city event has become a regular festival after the celebration of 80th birthday of the Monchegorsk city.
Considering such a wonderful coincidence of this thematic event happening during the visit of Norwegian guests, it would have been a shame to miss it. The festival featured a big range of workshops, starting from archery, finishing, pottery, and blacksmith craft.
However, the biggest surprise for Russians awaited them towards the end when one of the Norwegians confessed that the Vikings’ theme is not very popular in Northern Norway. Of course, everybody knows the history quite well, but they do not have any festivals or events of such kind. Therefore, experiencing this event in Russia and having a chance to bring a souvenir was a remarkable experience for Asger Larsen.