- Created on Monday, 01 July 2013 11:42
From Semey to Kurchatov: Through a child's eyes
That it would have been a day closer to the "little boys", we would have to figure it out this morning, when in front of the inn Semipalatinsk, where we spent our first night Kazakh, a dozen little dogs have greeted our departure.
Short stage, that of today: two hundred kilometers of asphalt roads not too irregular, which ends early compared to our usual standards. At 5 p.m. in fact, we are already at the destination. We left at half past eight and we made two stops: one to visit the city-experiment "ghost" Chagan, and the other for having lunch and recharge the batteries of motorcycles.
Chagan was the nerve center of the most secret nuclear tests and, even today, only partially disclosed, in the Soviet Union. Since 1997, this territory is Kazakh for all purposes, despite the Kazaksthan, as we will tell, still depends heavily from Russia, both economically and military. Furthermore, in our first day here, thanks to the excellent preparation of the guide Mustapha, we are learning that this country is a huge mix of cultural influences, religious, political - in addition to numerous ethnic matrices - and it is the ninth largest in the world, with only seventeen million people.
No more populated, instead, is Chagan: turns out to be a pile of rubble and empty buildings, roads in ruins and a sinister sense of need of escaping. The nuclear tests - whose impact on the population has produced thousands of cases of cancer, malformation and anything else that could generate such an activity if not treated with great awareness - took place in the sixties. Officially, it seems, were classified as studies for the progress and the energy production. But one of it, in particular, although conducted under the ground, emanated such a power of megatons and dispersed several waste radioactive, capable of reaching the Japan. In addition, more importantly, it created out of nothing a man-made lake - of "Chagan" indeed - deep an hundred meters and wide four hundred meters. Chagan ghost, can be visited at the risk of those who want it. All official sources and those related to international security, have confirmed since almost twenty years the non presence of radioactive substances.
So we haven't run any risk, if not that to see with our own eyes the desolation of abandonment, in a place where, over the past years, was concentrated the best of the study of the physics of the eastern part of the world. Quite another thing, however, is the opportunity to visit the lake. It is far 160 Km from Chagan - because obviously the actual experiment was not being done in the same place in which they were conceived and designed, for obvious reasons of security - and is approachable only under permit and accompanied by an expert (and someone says that they are agents of National Security - the former KGB - who control those who wants to go there and why). These "experts" reside in Kurchatov, twenty km after Chagan, inside the buildings that house a museum on nuclear power and one of the most important centers of study and development of this energy, or scourge, that the Nation and this continent know. Officially, at least. Just to let you know: we would have had access to only to museum, after getting required permits from Meneghina Express, as a cultural visit, months before. But today we delayed our arrival, because of new roads and the stop for charging the batteries. Well, despite the mediation of our guide, we did not have access to the museum and even to the outer area of the structure, controlled by agents in camouflage. Centers impressive and perfectly maintained, those tied to nuclear power...
There are two huge buildings that rise opposite each other. The only modern test in a poor town, half in ruins, in which we go to find the place where we stay the night, "booked" in advance by Mustapha. Not only is "the" place, but it is also the only one. And it's not a hotel, but a barracks, a palace-style communist, home to hundreds of families and on each floor there is an indefinite number of rooms rented as hotel rooms were. We are almost sure: here "tourists" have never seen. In this country of thirteen thousand souls, (owes its name to a nuclear physicist whose studies were revolutionary; formerly called "simply" Semiplantinsk 16, and it was a secret city), just get us noticed by everyone, on everyone's lips. We are famous even before you introduce us and our biggest fans, almost pathological level, children are! Let's say at a pathological level, because their passion for us, our cars, our bikes and everything that we do or say or look at it, strikes us from the first minute in which we rest our feet on the square in front of the tenement-houses, until last "hello" we pay to them. In the middle: our luggage transport, the plug-in of the bikes, the walk through the town, dinner in a food court, the return on foot. The children - ten, twenty, thirty - have always been with us.
Practically, from five in the afternoon until ten at night, they are waiting for us also outside the restaurant. And, really, not because they wanted something from us. Of course they responded with smiles, kisses, hugs, handshakes and kindness, to the heart of Nicola and Valerio who gave them drinks, candies and chocolates, or adhesive of Meneghina Express that children have proudly stuck to bicycles. All this, after having asked the autograph on each sticky, and having made a thousand questions. The childhood that we have seen here has nothing to do with the begging for ingratiating himself the stranger or for getting money in return. Not at all. Of course, we saw the poverty and desolation around, but these kids seemed to us the triumph of beauty, hope for the future. All together: thirty or more, that probably lives in the building where we are going to sleep or adjacent, they came forward for introducing themselves. Bicycles under the bottom, perky and clean faces, eyes bright and will to live. They reminded to each of us a childhood of racing in the fields, haunts in the streets close to home and only one rule: get back on time.
A little breathing down your neck - if not the proper concern of mom and dad - and skinned knees, dirty pants, teams of boys who do not cure the females, and crowds of girls who vie for sweethearts. Natural, simple, clean. Child. No money, no phones in your pocket, but conspevoli of space and time in which they move. So there are those that have appeared here have wanted to show off the knowledge of a few words in English and asked in detail to Mustapha, from where it got there, where we went, how many miles, how much gas, what and who was driving again and more.
A curiosity away from Alzheimer's gossip childish, but pure desire for information. And surprise, the fact of a child who says to another, "I'm Italian" and the item went from ear to ear. "His name is Giorgio." "The youngest is Flavio." "The one with the long hair takes pictures. Mircooo. " "Enrico has the camera ... What? The camera?! Wow! And how it works. " "Nicholas ... Nicolas ... Nicolay and Valerio ... Drive the bike. What are electric! Electronic?! How are they? Can we see them? ". And so on, for hours - hours, damn! - To ask us to take pictures of them and with them, questions, smiles, approaches, two kicks the ball, hna scoured with bikes. Intelligent, alert, polite. There have appeared so. A little breathing down your neck - if not the proper concern of mom and dad - and skinned knees, dirty pants, teams of boys who do not take care the young girls, and crowds of girls who vie the fiances. Natural, simple, clean. Child. Without money and mobile phone in their pocket but aware of the space and the time in which they move. So are those that have appeared and here have wanted to show off the knowledge of a few words in English and have asked in detail to Mustapha, where we come from, where we are going, how many miles, how much petrol, what and who was driving again and even more. A curiosity away from gossip childish, but pure desire for information. And surprise, the fact of a child who says to another, "they are Italian" and the voice passes from ear to ear. "His name is Giorgio." "The youngest is Flavio." "The one with the long hair takes pictures. Mircooo. " "Enrico has the camera ... What? The camera?! Wow! And how it works. " "Nicola ... Nicola... Nicolay and Valerio ... they drive the motorbike. They are electric! Electronic?! How are they? Can we see them? ". And so on, for hours - hours, holy mackerel! - And ask to us to take pictures, questions, smiles, approaches, two kicks the ball, a tyre screech with bikes. Intelligents, alerts, polites. So they have appeared to us.
Rediscover the genuineness and you realize, inevitably, especially if you have kids or if you've worked with and for children, that progress is condemning, in countries where the technology is not a service but a trim, the right to a childhood conceived as a freedom and spontaneous growth. Even in Italy, the dictatorship of the social network, the (mis) education to the suspect, the cult of the individual and the ego, proposed to the kids from parents distracted, well-being as a value and not as a condition, they are generating hordes of mini men and women, lobotomized in front of a computer, frightened by their peers, media eager for an identity multimedia even before they have had time to discover themselves how human and children. We do not wish to make it heavy, but the difference - stereotyped, since we are generalizing, for goodness sake! - it has seemed to us clear and the reflection that we have done has led us to consider the need for a return to a certain type of education and values. If we want children being happy.
Text and photos by Flavio Allegretti...
Path traveled today