After taking 20 hours to travel 560km on a road that rattled and shook us so much that sleeping was impossible, we arrived in Vilyuisk at 6:00am in the morning. We were scheduled to meet the authorities at 10:00 am but they pushed it back a little so we could grab a couple of hours sleep first.
At midday, after a meeting with the Vilyuisk dignitaries, we were taken directly to Sosnovka – the tiny village where the leproseum was built using the funds that Marsden raised following her return to London. We had been waiting a long time to see Sosnovka and the remains of the hospital (which is still functioning, albeit it no longer has leper patients) and we were met with a lovely surprised. Over 100 people were waiting for our arrival! They were all dressed up in traditional clothing and costumes – just for us!
People dressed in traditional ethnic Yakutian clothing, women wore their traditional jewellery and head pieces decorated with links of silver that dangled from their temples and down to their waists. A sharman woman waved about a horse hair brush, musicians played traditional instruments, and others sang. An elderly woman greeted us in English – she had been practicing ever since she heard we were coming! There were men dressed as Russian Cossacks, victorian red cross nurses and one woman had even dressed as Miss Marsden herself. A little boy, dressed in winter fur recited a traditional Yakutia poem. They lined the road leading to the centre of the village to greet
In the centre of the village square they formed a huge circle in the centre of town dancing and singing.
A sharman woman then conducted a traditional Yakutian welcoming ceremony. She chanted loudly into a microphone whilst waving a horse tail brush in the air, and a strange ceremony which involved burning some horsehair and pancakes, scattering some more pancakes on the ground and and sprinkling some horse milk over them. At the end of the ceremony two girls presented with huge traditional vessels call churons, filled with kumis – fermented mare's milk, from which we had to drink. Three were local television camera's to record the reception.
We felt very special – and then we were presented with more gift – a churon each, which had been inscribed with our names and a personal message, and a mat that had been woven from horse hair. Then every one wanted their photographs with us. This took a long time, but it was lovely.