Russian trip inspirational for Bombay

Sometimes, just stepping out of your own backyard can give you a whole new perspective on life.
At least that’s what Tiffany Bombay discovered when she did it. Of course, she has a big backyard—and took a big step, as well.
Bombay, 20, has spent her entire life at Rainy River First Nation, rarely venturing beyond the friendly confines of her home turf. But last month, she not only left the only home she has ever known, she left the country and, for the first time in her life, saw another part of the world.
Bombay was one of two First Nations people to be selected to represent Canada at the bi-annual Taiga Rescue Network conference in Vladivostok, Russia.
The Taiga Rescue Network is an international environmental organization dedicated to preserving the shrinking reserves of the world’s boreal forests. The last such meeting was in Winnipeg two years ago while next one is scheduled for 2006 in Beijing, China.
But for first-time flyer Bombay, just getting there was half the fun—sort of.
“It was my first time on a plane, so the two-hour flight from Winnipeg to Toronto was a little warm-up,” she recalled from her office at Manitou Rapids last Friday.
“I was kind of feeling motion sickness, but I took some Gravol and it was O.K.”
The next hop was the nine-hour flight from Toronto to Moscow, which she found profoundly boring but otherwise uneventful.
The next leg was a different matter, however. What was supposed to be an eight-hour flight aboard Aeroflot from Moscow to Vladivostok turned out to be a 12-hour marathon when the aircraft was forced to divert because of fog at the destination.
When she arrived in the far-eastern Russian city on Sept. 19, another surprise awaited her.
“There were supposed to be 80 people there, but less than half of them showed up,” she remarked. “This turned out to be the smallest meeting they ever had.”
Nonetheless, the conference proceeded as planned. Bombay said she there primarily as an observer while her travelling companion, Warren Ashotenace from Grassy Narrows First Nation, delivered a presentation on a native blockade there last fall.
Then, it was off to a series of workshops over the next four days.
The delegates stayed the first night in a hotel in Vladivostok, then spent the next three nights in a resort where the conference took place. Bombay recalled the weather was surprisingly warm.
“It was almost like summer,” she remarked. “I liked it.”
The conference concerned itself mostly with the problem of illegal logging of the boreal forest and measures to curtail it.
“Canada and Russia are the last places that have large boreal forests and they’re trying to protect those,” Bombay stressed. “From what I heard, it’s a pretty big problem.”
Part of the problem for Canada and Russia comes from each country’s neighbour. Bombay said the United States is the biggest consumer of Canadian wood while the expanding economy in China is placing an increasing demand on Russian exports.
“They’re [the Chinese] really hungry for timber,” she noted.
After the conference, the delegates made the four-hour flight from Vladivostok to Kamchatka for a field trip. Here, Bombay discovered a much different environment.
For one thing, it was much colder, which made camping somewhat of a challenge. However, the harsh conditions were somewhat mitigated by a trip to a dormant volcano and a dip in the local hot springs.
For Bombay, the highlight of the trip was an opportunity to stay in the winter house of the local indigenous people, who call themselves the Koneak.
She said they are similar in appearance and stature to the North American Inuit, but there are some decided differences. For one thing, their language is completely distinct from any spoken in the New World and not remotely similar to Russian.
Their customs also are different.
“When we [Ojibway] dance, it’s mostly with the legs,” she noted. “They dance more with the hips and shoulders.”
Of course, there is always a downside. One of them was the food.
“It was O.K., but I didn’t really like it,” Bombay recalled. “They eat lots of fish and I don’t eat much fish any more, so I lived mostly on potatoes and stuff.”
The other problem was the ever-present officialdom. Although life in Russia has become much less restrictive since the break up of the Soviet Union, it seems much of the ponderous bureaucracy of the former regime has survived intact.
“We had to register our visas every three days and we had to pay for it each time,” Bombay lamented.
Nevertheless, the impression she came away with was overwhelmingly positive. For one thing, she made lots of new friends from all over the world. For another, the experience has given her life a direction it lacked before she embarked on this adventure.
Originally, Bombay had planned to become a natural resources technician after she completes her few remaining high school credits. Now, she has set her sights considerably higher.
“I know what kind of work I’m going into now,” she claimed. “I’ve been talking to Lakehead University [in Thunder Bay] about getting my degree.”
She also came away with a different impression of the world at large.
“I liked Russia,” she enthused. “I had a different view before I left. Now I’m staying in touch with new friends and I’ve been invited to the next conference to make my own presentation.”
Of course, there’s still the matter of those long flights, but at least she’s a seasoned traveller now.