It's Saturday's morning. In the old sauna cauldron yellow paint is being “cooked” according to the traditional Finnish recipe with water and wheat flour. Tommi, a resident of the community village on the island of Livonsaari, throws a pinch of red pigment into the cauldron and stirs the contents again. “I think I screwed up the color,” he laughs. A few more minutes and the paint will be ready. The rest of the people, at the same time, are busy with the last preparations for painting the house, someone cleans the walls with a brush, someone pastes a paper tape over the white window frames, someone installs scaffolding. About a dozen local residents came to help Tommi and his wife, Selja, quickly cope with their home getting a new look.
For such collective gratuitous mutual assistance there is a separate word in Finnish, 'talkoot'. In a nutshell, talkoot is when people work together to do something that one would not be able to do alone. This tradition takes its roots from the Slavic and Baltic villages in the past, together the peasants harvested crops, prepared firewood for the winter, built houses, etc. In the modern urban environment, the word 'talkoot' is either almost forgotten or has lost its original meaning, but in community villages like Livonsaari this tradition lives on to this day.
Before coming to Finland, I had never heard this word even once, even though in Russian villages, now almost withered, the same tradition with almost the same name also used to be quite strong. Experiencing talkoot, full of the spirit of true volunteering in its most natural and simple way, turned out to become for me perhaps the most powerful impression during my whole ESC-project. Over the past year I have participated in a dozen different talkoot in Livonsaari, and it has always been very joyful and uplifting. Imagine a large and heavy fallen tree which you have to carry to your barn to dry, it's impossible to do it alone but with a rope and some help from others, you can slowly carry it. That's when you really feel the power of common assistance, and that's what I feel every time during talkoot.
But let's return to the house of Tommi and Selja. The yellow paint is ready and already poured into plastic yogurt buckets, everyone takes a brush and the leisurely work begins. So the weather favors – this April day turned out to be warm and bright. By the way, while everyone is painting the house outside, inside Selja is making coffee for lunch, and Heidi is starting to cook soup in a pot no smaller than that old sauna cauldron with paint, after all, there will be more than ten people to feed. A hot nourishing soup, drinks and other treats are an integral part of the talkoot tradition. Today, spring birch sap ('mahla' in Finnish) is also on the table, since now is the best time to collect it.
Amicably and easily the work goes on. We're always ahead of the sun, so that the wall which is being painted stays in the shade. Someone is painting up high from the scaffolding, someone stays on the ground, as anyone is comfortable. Someone begins to remove the paper tape from the window frames, someone's armed himself with a small artistic brush and finishes painting in the most difficult places. "Fresco painter!", someone jokes.
A few hours of work before lunch and a few hours after - and now the house looks brand new! Tired but satisfied, the assistants admire the result of their labors in the soft light of sunset, and grateful, but no less tired and satisfied (how many days would they paint the house alone?) the owners invite everyone to spend the rest of the evening in the sauna. Later, in the dark everyone walks or cycles back to their homes. And that's how the day ends.