On Wednesday I was asked to act as a judge in another English language talent competition, at short notice because the date had been changed. It was in a morning when I had no other lessons and it looked like I would have time to prepare my afternoon lessons, so I agreed without hesitation.
The competition was in a school in the Kirovskiy rayon, this is perhaps the poorest of Volgograd’s nine districts, and lies to the south of the Sovetskiy rayon. The school turned out to be near the southern end, almost in Krasnoarmeiskiy – the “Red Army” district at the southern end of Volgograd’s sprawling length. In any event this was the furthest south I have been since arriving in Russia.
It was being organised by Lana in the Sovetskiy office and I met her at Severnortsya (the bus stop outside my old house). To my surprise rather than taking a marshrutka we got on a 95 bus – I thought these only went to Tulaka but it turns out they travel all the way, almost to Krasnoarmeiskiy. They don’t quite pass the Sovetskiy office but they could put me within walking distance.
She was able to fill me in on some of the geography of this part of the city, telling me about the Tulaka sub-district which we passed through, and showing me her university, which is on Universitete Ulitsa and is presumably why it is called that. I also saw the big retail park with an “Arshan” shop on the boundary between Sovetskiy and Kirovskiy.
Kirovskiy is a very green part of the city with lots of trees and open spaces. Lana pointed out the “Avant Garde” cinema which was a famous local landmark. She also informed me they have an embankment on the river, similar to the central district, which is a nice place for a walk.
We arrived at our stop where we were supposed to be meeting Jane (Yevgeniya) the other teacher who would be hosting the competition. It was a hot day and we had to try and find a shop that sold water for Lana. It seemed like we were at a junction in the middle of nowhere, and there seemed to be a lot of little old ladies around with a tendency to walk across the road regardless of the prevailing traffic. There was a cafe nearby with a giant teapot but we found a little product shop across the road.
Eventually Jane turned up and we headed for the school. We went into a school building with beautiful gardens, but a woman there told us it was not the right place. We carried on further up the road (more of a track, really) and came to another school, it still had some nice lawns and trees but there were pipes going all the way through. The yard was full of dogs – about 7 or 8 of them. It looked like a break time as there were also lots of children. Some of the dogs were getting aggressive with each other, but they were generally leaving the children alone and vice versa.
One of the teachers greeted us and chivvied us in. We went up a couple of flights of stairs and into an auditorium with an audience of young children (7-10 years) waiting expectantly for us. I had not really been given any indication of what I was meant to do – with other offices my role had been purely as a judge (and my input into the decisions was marginal). I was told that I would be co-hosting with Jane and would have lines to read out. We hurriedly huddled in a corner and I was given a script and we started divvying out the lines and planning how we would organise the “filler” activities between performances. It wasn’t ideal, but I had seen similar versions of the competition so knew what to expect.
So we started, Jane introduced me and I introduced her and Lana. The first group of children came up and did their thing – mostly reading very simple poems (eg I have a garden, my garden is green, the most beautiful garden you’ve ever seen). The final pair did a little dramatic performance which was something to do with aliens and Christmas, but I liked their spirit.
We then had a drawing competition, all the children were given a paper plate and a pen and asked to draw something to do with England. The results were mixed and not all strictly followed the brief, but there were some good drawings, we had all the children hold up a plate and tell us what they had drawn.
The next round of children were definitely better – some were a bit older. One stood out a mile – a boy reciting a Shakespeare sonnet, word perfectly. Then there was a girl who sang (to a backing track) “Let it Go” from Frozen. Our two winners were very obvious. In the event it was Lana who decided on the winners, the two Christmas Alien girls also got certificates, but I would have picked the same three performers.
Before I handed out the certificates we had a little dance contest – we asked the children to dance in various different ways (eg “you’re in a hurry; you didn’t sleep last night; you have a broken leg”) – that was fun! The whole event was quite enjoyable and a lot of the children were clearly excited or awed to meet a foreigner – I was asked to pose in a few photographs.
When we left the schoolyard looked empty – the dogs were still there but all sprawled out on the ground in their own little spaces, basking in the midday sun. I headed back on the 95 to Voroshilovskiy, with plenty of time left. All in all it was an entertaining, diverting and educational morning.