Don’t Worry, I’m Alive

Just what the doctor ordered: a new blog post.

I apologize, blog addicts. But wait no longer.

So I was at camp for a week – how do I sum up a week in this post?

Well, first, a little background. I was at a camp in the Mari El Republic (one of Russia’s 23 – I think – autonomous republics), about 70 kilometers north of Kazan. It was smack dab in the middle of the woods, but also surrounded by the kind of typical Russian landscapes (that is, flat) that might grace a Levitan painting. The camp is for kids aged 7-17 (but there were few kids above 14), and their days are filled with typical “camp” activities as well as English lessons. For the most part the kids’ English was not good enough to converse in, but there were a few exceptions. As a matter of fact, pretty much all the kids there 15+ spoke fantastic (ok, if not fantastic, conversational at the least) English. Each day had a theme (e.g. Olympics, Art-Design, Intellectual Day, etc.), which dictated the afternoon schedule. Each day there was some sort of outdoor activity associated with the theme (using the same examples, “Olympic” competitions, “master-classes,” and a game called “University”). There was also a “concert” of some sort, which meant that each group/team had to put on some sort of performance for the rest of camp.

We Americans were all integrated into teams (no team had more than 3 Americans, mine had 2 including myself). The teams had kids from all age groups and two “team leaders,” who were college-aged people. One of my team leaders spoke awesome English (as well as German) and the other one understood a bit of English but couldn’t speak much.

Another aspect of camp was eating! 5 “meals” a day – breakfast, lunch, second lunch, dinner, second dinner. I only went to breakfast twice (the Americans were allowed to sleep in because the Russians had English lessons directly following breakfast), and it wasn’t so good. Kasha gets old, fast. Lunch was the biggest meal of the day – usually a pretty good soup, cucumbers or tomatoes, and some sort of main dish. The meat and fish were pretty suspect, but the veggies and soup weren’t bad at all. Second lunch was some sort of “snack” type food – fruit, milk curd cakes (gross), and these really good “blini” type things which were devoured by all. Dinner was another “main dish,” usually involving potato or cabbage, and usually not very good. The biggest plus of dinner was the fantastic tea. Second dinner was essentially dessert. It was hit or miss – the wafers and muffins were good, but the cookies and juice, for the most part, were less than stellar. Not a terrible eating experience, but I definitely had longings for my host mom’s (or real mom’s, for that matter) culinary prowess.

Following second dinner would be one of two things – discoteka or “candle.” Discoteka is pretty self-explanatory, but let me elaborate anyways.

The whole camp would go to the back of the building/hotel/sanatorium where the camp was. This space was quite literally a parking lot. This awesome (not in skill, but in personality) DJ would set up his gear close to the building and pump random American music but mostly Russian techno and slow stuff. Russians dance, for lack of a better word, different. Maybe this only applies to this camp, but the Russians would form one large circle and dance…in a circle. Not like, in the circle. But in a circle. Being Americans, we quickly spoiled the perfect circle the first discoteka. After a large group of us broke into the middle, the circle quickly dispersed into smaller circles, which was more acceptable to our American eyes. Probably my favorite part of the dancing was that pretty much anything we did that Russians hadn’t seen or hadn’t done before was regarded as awesome. If any of us hopped into the middle of a circle and “showed off” some moves (usually not particularly good ones), we got hardy rounds of applause. I won’t name names, but let’s just say that the fist pump and the sprinkler got their fair share of use.

Probably the strangest part of the discotekas came the first time we had it. The DJ switched to a song that none of us really recognized at first. The Russians got into lines. All of a sudden, the mysterious Bollywood tunes were recognized as “Jai Ho,” a song from Slumdog Millionaire. And equally instantaneously, literally every single Russian, camper and counselor alike, broke into the exact dance from the movie. It was, frankly, terrifying. It was also hilarious.

Another interesting part of the discotekas was the fact that each of the American guys, myself included, had small posses of pretween/tweenaged/10-14 year-old admirers. I’d guess that each of us had to slow dance with a girl 5 or so years younger than us at some point.

Candle was an entirely different story. The main team leader of my group, Sasha, got really intense about candle. Well I guess I should explain what candle is first. Basically Sasha would throw out some sort of theme or discussion topic, and each person (sitting in a circle) would have to respond and then pass the candle to the next person when they were done. (Side note: Collegiate guys, think Group D sesh but from the outside looks like Shelter Island sesh). The first night we had to talk about “discoveries.” Although I was given the option to do mine in English, I chose to say it in Russian and I actually expressed what I wanted to say without having to ask for any help. It felt really good and very satisfying that I could actually express myself in Russian, and that Russians understood exactly what I wanted to say. I did the next candle in Russian as well, but I did the last one in English (we had to talk about the person sitting on our left) because I just didn’t have the vocab to say what I wanted to say.

The candles were harped on a lot by the Americans (myself included) for being very frustrating. I definitely understood a little bit of what the kids were saying, but maybe only, max, 5%. It is very difficult to stay focused and attentive when you just don’t understand what people are saying, but I tried my best and I’m happy I didn’t skip any of the candle sessions.

I’m not sure what else I can say about camp right now – I have other stories but I don’t want to go on too long. All I can say is that it was an enjoyable experience and I’m happy we went.

Phew. Well, now I’m back in Kazan. Pretty normal here. I think I caught a little cold the last day or so of camp, and its caused quite the uproar with my host mom and host brother. Russians have some rather interesting superstitions, remedies, and opinions when it comes to illness.

1) Colds are caused by the cold, duh. So last night when I got back I had a little case of the sniffles. My host mom noticed and immediately closed all the windows. I sneezed; she asked if I was cold. I said that I wasn’t cold, but she insisted that I drink more tea (that might’ve just been her wanting me to drink tea, but she did emphasize the word “hot”). I got a cold Sprite with host brother and he reprimanded me for drinking something cold. In the bus (even though its about 85 degrees outside and hotter than that inside the bus), he closed the window by us so that the “cold” wind wouldn’t come in. My host mom, in fact, just made me drink hot mineral water. I’m tempted to judge the common Russian assumption that colds are caused by the cold, but there’s a reason they have this belief. Their remedies (mostly associated with heat) must work…sometimes. Probably not for the reasons they think, but they have to work if they stand by them still. Right?

Actually now that I think about it that’s pretty much the main superstition/remedy/opinion that I can talk about. Let me assure you (read: Let me assure you, Mom), that I’m really fine, just a minor head cold, I’ll be fine in a few days.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to do my homework and go to sleep!




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2 responses to “Don’t Worry, I’m Alive

  1. so this one time… when andrew hooked up with a 12 year old russian girl… oh. btw. we had this candle thing at HMI… but it was called circle.

  2. Gisela

    Glad you’re back–I was missing your blog! Sounds like a very interesting experience you had this week. I think you had the experience Matt was supposed to have at his camp, at least it seems very similar to the pics I had seen of the camp he was supposed to attend. He’s back in Houston at work, bore to tears I think. Alex and I are still in Hamburg, will leave Thursday. Keep the blogs coming…..

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