COLD FRONT: Fred Weir has visited the region he writes about today several times, but one of the more memorable trips was a few years ago to Yakutsk - a city of some 250,000 people that sits on a wealth of diamonds and gold.

Fred says Yakutsk is a big, ponderous Soviet city of huge gray, concrete buildings built on stilts - concrete piles driven into the permafrost. The principle is that if heat leaked from the buildings, it would cause the permafrost to thaw. The ground would crumble, and the buildings fall. A few years ago, Russia spent about $25 million to build a new enclave outside the city, where mostly high-level officials now live, Fred says. Builders and material were shipped in from the Canadian north to construct very light, wood buildings with fiberglass insulation and forced-air heating, as they have done in Canada. The structures sit on thin steel pipes driven into the ground.

Fred says the main conversation, or contention, in the region revolves around which buildings will last longer.

ON THE MOVE: Rena Singer was initially worried about finding Nigerians living abroad who were considering moving back to Nigeria. "I didn't have any contacts in the Nigerian diaspora and worried that it would take too much time to track them down through their relatives."

But when she arrived, she found them everywhere. Each of the hotels in different cities she stayed in had at least one Nigerian guest, home for a visit or for good. "I began to think about how Nigerians compared with the Chinese, Lebanese, and Jews ... people who can be found all over the world. I wondered if there were any unifying themes."

Nigerians she asked about this said they thought all four groups are known for their work ethic and all come from troubled lands. A Nigerian she met in Johannesburg told her: "We Nigerians are the Chinese of Africa. Any country with an airport, you'll find Nigerians."

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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