I have just returned from my second year at Skazka summer camp, and had a really good time! We had a great bunch of kids, a great camp leader, lots of interesting activities and games, and just enough edible food to keep me alive.
This year we had 25 kids, a couple fewer than last year, but we also had fewer leaders. However there must be something in the DNA of kids that come to summer camp, because there were so many similarities with last year’s kids that it was uncanny. There were about a dozen of our kids who basically had an exact counterpart in last year’s camp – different names, but the same age, gender, hair colour, hair style and interests (art, dancing, performing, sport, causing trouble).
We had the small girls who loved dancing. We had the noisy little boys running around causing trouble. We had the shy tweenage girls who just wanted to be alone and draw. We had the precocious older teenagers who wanted to be in charge of everything, and the moody ones who just wanted to sit and look at their phones. We had a couple of boys who only wanted to play football. It was like I had just gone back in time to summer 2017.
There was also the same problems with our group being a little seperate from the rest of the camp – having our own programme, not joining all the daily activities and performances, and (probably not unconnected) a lot of issues with the camp administration being hard on us for tidyness, behaviour and getting kids to bed on time. Wesley in the previous shift (we were the third Reward camp of four at Skazka this year) had told me there was a lot of conflict between his leader, Ruslana and the camp administration, but my leader Lyena, who I’ve worked with before and know quite well, thought this was more of a personality clash, and ultimately she managed to build quite a good relationship with the head of the camp, so that the only real problems we had were when the Managing Director came to visit – he had very tough standards and made a lot of noise on his visits, but the head reassured us he was like that with all the teams, not just ours.
For example, I had a room to myself which I usually left unlocked, he would look in on his visits and complain that it was so untidy (I had my teaching materials, computer cables etc on the spare bed, and I only made a perfunctory effort at making my own bed). The solution suggested by the camp administrator after the MD was gone was just keep my door locked so he couldn’t see my room!
Unlike last year where we had 3 Russian teachers and myself, the programme had been prepared on the basis that there would only be two teachers – the camp leader and the foreign teacher. During the previous shift it became apparent this was very difficult to work, and they found a third teacher to come in in a support role (it was actually my leader Elena from last year).
At quite short notice they found us a third teacher too – Kate, who I knew mainly as a manager at Voroshilovskiy office and more recently Sovetskiy office. She has been doing some teaching with very small children and was press-ganged into coming to camp having never been outside of Volgograd before, and was quite nervous about it.
Lyena too had never been to camp before so I was the experienced veteran, and was able to use a lot of my knowledge of what happened last year, problems to be avoided and measures we could take to help things go a bit more smoothly. I was also quite familiar with some of the material we would be using from the city camps I had done earlier in the summer, so the lessons and the clubs needed next to no preparation – I’m getting pretty good at just looking at the materials and instinctively knowing how to use them.
I made a special effort to learn all the kids names quickly, stressed to them the importance of being in bed and in line for the canteen on time, and practiced making lines in pairs so I could count them quickly. I’ve become very good at not only counting (much faster than Lyena) but spotting which kids are missing. Over the course of the camp with kids disappearing for days with their parents or treatment with the doctor, the numbers kept changing so you have to keep track of that too. I also made a point of wearing my orange cap (from last year’s camp) every time we went out of the corpus (dormitary building), so I was recognisable and easy to find quickly. At the disco I always sat in the same spot so the kids knew where to find me. Little things like that just save time in the long run.
In the event, Kate only lasted a few days before becoming ill and leaving the camp on Day 5, it turned out for good. Lyena and I managed on our own for a couple of days until a new teacher neither of us knew, Nata arrived. She was a new teacher at Reward and quite quiet, she found it hard to get the kids’ attention a lot of the time but they grew quite attached to her. However she only stayed just over a week, for the final week Lyena and I were on our own again. I took the intermediate kids into my intermediate plus group, Lyena kept the smaller kids, but more often than not Lyena had administrative duties – meetings, taking kids to doctors and parents etc, and I was left on my own in charge of 22 kids (three left before the final week). But it was fine, they mostly did what they were told, they calmed down when I told them to calm down, they all understood my mix of English, Russian and mime, I got on well with them all.
Wake up at 8.00, agenda at 8.30 in the hall (the large room in the corpus), including rewards and special symbols (tokens) for the stars of the previous day. Then there was always a Song of the Day based on the day’s theme, we’d listen, fill in the words, then sing. Then it was breakfast at the canteen – line up, walk to the canteen, walk back.
At 10.00 we would have lessons. My intermediate plus group were in the hall, Lyena had the little kids in one of the rooms, with my laptop which was the only one that worked without an electric cord. Nata took her intermediate group to the administration building where there were tables and electrical sockets. The lessons were programmed to be 1 hour 20 minutes, the agenda had them finishing at 11.30. I always used the full hour and a half, but Lyena and Nata always seemed to be finished after an hour or so. After lessons on most days there was some kind of team activity, or camp sports – if it was over 27 degrees, the kids could go swimming for 15 minutes, though only a handful of them did on any one day.
And then at 13.30 it was lunch at the canteen – line up, walk to the canteen, walk back. After lunch was rest time – the best time of the day. Children had to wash their feet then be on their beds by 14:00 and stay there, quiet, for 2 hours. They could sleep or read or draw, but they had to stay on their beds and be quiet, no phones allowed. At 16:00 we got them up again, and got ready for Tea-Time – line up, walk to the canteen, walk back.
On hot days there was usually an afternoon swimming session at around 5pm, if not that is when the clubs would start. In the hall there was Art Club and Move Your Body where kids would make something specific or learn a specific dance each day – though sometimes we “borrowed” the time to make props and learn dances for performances. I had the Wonderbox club in a wooden pavilion outside which immediately became known as the Wonder Box, or Wonder Karopke. I only had 7 or 8 students and halfway through a couple of them went to join Move Your Body. It was mainly puzzles and riddles – often too difficult for the younger kids to understand, some active games most of which were so unpopular that I stopped suggesting them, and a video that absolutely no-one ever wanted to watch, but I forced them to because “it’s in the programme.” The kids were mainly there for the games – they wanted to play hide and seek (or a Russian version called “Tukhi Tukhi”) but I got them interested enough to do some of the better games in the programmes and some which I remembered from last year that worked really well – Touch the Tree was popular (I just tell them to touch something and they have to find it and touch it). Statues was popular, Wink Murderer, Flinch and Sleeping Tigers. Some of our games were so popular that kids from other teams came to join in – one time they kept playing even after my kids went inside.
After clubs there was usually time for some practice for the evening performance, then at 19:30 we were at the canteen again for dinner – line up, walk to the canteen, walk back. If there was a camp performance we would walk straight to the stage, but usually it was an evening performance in our hall. Unlike last year we never used the auditorium – in the first week it was always raining when we planned to go there so we just got into the habit of staying in the hall.
After evening performance it was Supper Time (or Second Dinner) – usually a milky drink and something sweet, fruit or a biscuit (no jelly candy this year, I’ve just realised!). Line up, walk to the canteen, walk back – unless we were going to the disco, then walk to the disco. Nata and I were usually the ones who took the kids that wanted to go to the disco – generally it was just 4 of the girls, with another 4 or 5 sometimes tagging along if they felt in the mood. Just like last year they generally played the same songs every night – certainly there was not a single disco where I did not hear them play “Medusa.” My favourite song from last year, “Pomegator” didn’t get any air-time at the disco this year, but they played it at the end of camp performances.
At 10:00 the disco has finished and we are back at the corpus for Candle Talk. For some inexplicable reason (Lyena thought it was fire regulation, I thought it was just forgetfulness) we had not been issued with any candles, so our “candle” was Lyena’s phone light. It was the same routine as last year, although there were a couple of nights where candle talk was cancelled (Sacrilege!!) so the children could get to bed early.
Five times a day we would visit the canteen (occasionally four times and we would take second dinner home with us after dinner). The kids would all go into the hand-washing room and wash their hands (me too if mine weren’t clean already) then sit at the tables. We had four tables with 6 spaces so one of the kids – usually one from the small boys table – would come and join the teachers at the leader’s table.
During the day there was usually something at one of the meals I could eat (though we weren’t supposed to eat anything at teatime or suppertime, there was often leftover food the children didn’t want). On days where there was nothing, I had the back-up of dried noodles in my room, just add hot water from the kettle in the teachers room. They were surprisingly tasty and filling! After last year’s experience I had brought a sufficient supply of cola, crisps and chocolates to last the whole camp – in fact I took some chocolate back home with me. Unlike last year I was making ice cubes from the first day, so I could relax at the end of a hot day with an ice-cold cola drink (beginning with P). I did get through more than I expected so it was a welcome relief when Eduard came to collect our materials before the final weekend, and brought along 2 extra bottles just to get me through!
The canteen served chicken soup 2 or 3 times a week, sometimes with potatoes in it, or beans, I usually just skimmed off the liquid. I could manage the chicken cutlets, but they got in the habit this year of serving beetroot with everything, the nice tomato sauce they gave us last year (in miniscule helpings) seemed to be a thing of the past. The best meal I had was a nice baked chicken leg with pasta, but they often served the tasty chicken-in-batter which I was told Elena referred to as “Stephen-chicken” in the last camp, because it was the only thing I liked last year. Last year, though, they served it with pasta and tomato sauce, this year it kept appearing with potatoes and beetroot, and just once with buckwheat.
Last year the predominant wildlife was flies and mosquitoes, we could not go outside without getting bitten and swarmed. This year they were not a problem – perhaps because camp was later in the year this time round. I got a few bites in the first week – mainly from sitting under the lights in the disco, I think, but after I started wearing a long-sleeved shirt to the disco, I didn’t have any more problems.
There were lots of wasps and hornets – especially on my balcony, I think there is a nest in the brickwork. I woke up one morning with a wasp crawling and scratching on my toe and my leg immediately cramped – it was a feat of endurance to gently guide it away before pulling back my leg and screaming! Our youngest little girl brought Lyena a gift in her fist, she opened her palm and there was a live wasp, she didn’t flinch at all. But 15 minutes later another wasp stung her on the back, so what goes around comes around. I think the only other person who got stung that I know of was Lyena.
Next on our safari was a frog, it hopped across our path as I was taking the four hardcore dancers to the disco one night. The most interesting animal experience I had was with a bat. I’ve never seen one up close before, but one inexplicably flew into our corridor (the girls keep leaving the balcony door open at night and everything flies in). I heard everyone screaming and came out to find an empty corridor but dozens of heads peeking out from doors – including the camp administrator who was visiting at that moment and had sought shelter in one of the kids rooms. Lyena was standing in the bathroom doorway calling for me, suggesting I catch it with a towel. I shouted at the kids to close the doors so the bat would be contained in the corridor. The bat was just flying up and down the corridor so it was quite easy to catch, just using the towel like a net – in fact it kind of grabbed the towel and just perched like it was waiting for me to take it outside. It was so light I thought I had missed it! I went out on the balcony, set the towel down and unfolded it, and there he was, just lying there, panting. I wanted to go get a camera but the bat decided it was time to leave and pulled itself off the ground and flapped off into the night. The camp administrator came out and thanked me profusely, from that point on we noticed they had a much friendlier attitude towards us! I thought it was strange that both the head and the bat just happened to appear at the same time. But it worked out well for us.
We had an unusual little visitor to the Wonder Box, an insect with a long abdomen but only one set of wings, and short legs under its body. It would land in the same spot at around the same time each day. The kids thought it was a wasp or a mosquito but it looked very different, and I spotted one of them sitting on the tree behind the Wonder Box eating a housefly. The oldest kid thought it was an ovidian (harvestman) but they are arachnids with 8 legs, this was definitely some kind of fly.
Unfortunately one of them landed next to one of the kids who panicked and walloped it with her shoe squishing it dead (upsetting one of the other kids). When another robber fly appeared later in the same spot I felt a little bit sad for it, presuming it was looking for its mate. The other kid decided to stand over it and protect it from harm. I later found it (I presume it was the same one) in the corpus building on the floor in one piece but struggling to move. I lifted it up on some paper and put it on the tree where I had first seen it. It perched itself securely but didn’t look too healthy, and later it had disappeared. I never saw any of them again.
I spent much of that night on a slow internet connection looking at websites about insects and lots of different pictures and eventually I recognised it as a robber fly – harmless to humans, if left alone, but it will eat flies, mosquitoes and wasps.
On the final day a dragonfly landed on a reed near where I was standing, and didn’t fly away when I got my camera out. Just like with the robber fly, my camera had difficulty getting the thin body into focus, but I got a decent still from a video I took of it. They usually are so jittery, but this one stopped for a long long time, posing for me to admire its beautiful wings and body structure!