Day 1 – Welcome Day
Kate and I travelled into Volzhskiy and met up with Lyena and we were assigned a position under the statue of Lenin on the big square. Nine other teams were collecting children across the boulevard. I held up the orange Team 3 sign but our childrens’ parents were looking for our school. I found a sheet of school symbols (for cutting out and giving to children as tokens) and fastened it to the sign, and that seemed to do the trick. I was already the only one wearing a school shirt (from last year’s camp) so I was pretty much a walking advertisement and beacon.
My job was holding the sign, Kate and Lyena were doing all the paperwork with the parents, and the gradually increasing number of kids (including brothers and sisters who wouldn’t come to camp) were just running around and playing. A couple of the kids came up to introduce themselves to me – my first chance to start remembering names.
Eventually we had our 25 children, but the buses were taking a long time to arrive. At long last we got the signal to get onto one of the buses – suitcases and all, and somehow, Tetris-style, we squeezed all the kids and ourselves in (as well as a bag of important papers that had been entrusted to me). Fortunately most of my stuff had gone to the camp a few days earlier in my big purple suitcase and was waiting for me there, so I only had a small bag with my computer and some other essentials.
We had the whole bus to our team, so we went round trying to get some introductions and names, but it was too noisy and we only really got halfway round. I was sat next to a small, nervous young boy whose English was not good enough for any kind of proper conversation.
We reached the camp and got everyone off and in a line and headed through the gates, just like last year. Another young boy was struggling with an enormous suitcase so I swapped my bag for his, and made a new friend. We went to the same corpus (dormitary) building as I was in last year but this time we were on the other side of the doors, and the corridor was on the other side of the hall. Again I had a room to myself, but this time I had a working electrical socket. Again there was a working fridge and kettle in the teachers room. On my balcony (I had the only room with a balcony) was a huge pile of junk left over from the second camp. My room was full of materials – art, sport, technical equipment – that we would be using and Lyena wanted it in the big teacher’s room, so I started moving it, while also collecting my suitcase from Lyena’s room.
Lyena had to go to meetings with the administrators so she left me and Kate to do the orientation speech. Straight away I was “in charge” because Kate had no idea how any of this worked, but I had seen it done before. I read the main points of our Code of Behaviour and stressed the importance of being tidy, being on time and doing what the leaders asked them. Kate helped by translating for the younger children who had no idea what I was saying. I showed them how to make a line and that they needed to be able to do this quickly several times a day so we could count them before going to the canteen.
Midway through another child arrived (dropped off directly at the camp by her parents) and rather than go through the speech again myself I asked the kids to tell her what they remembered, which was a lot, but not all the most important stuff.
Lyena came back and started allocating bedrooms, then someone came with bedclothes and Lyena started making sets and giving them to children individually – not quite as efficient as Elena’s production line last year but we weren’t really in a hurry.
We had 7 boys and I had learned their names in the first hour, but the 18 girls were more difficult to remember. We seemed to have 2 of everything – two Katyas, two Dashas, two Sonias, two Lyeras, two Arseniys, two girl Sashas (and a boy Sasha), and two Nastyas – this one we solved by calling one of them Stacy (from Anastasia). There seemed to be a lot of dark-haired girls with pony tails. It took me a couple more days to work it all out.
Once they had their rooms sorted out, the kids were split into two teams and given the task of coming up with a team name, a team poster, and doing some team-building tasks together. The teams called themselves the Pumpkins and the Scotland Seals – the Pumpkins won the team-building tasks by 3 games to 2.
Then it was off to lunch – the first test of our line discipline. They definitely needed more practice. After lunch there was rest time, and after rest time and tea time, we had some get-to-know-you games in the yard outside. Then it was dinnertime, and then they had their first taste of the disco. Some of them were not very impressed.
Day 2 – Wonders of the Natural World
Song of the day – Miley Cyrus – Do What We Want
After breakfast we had our first lessons. I took the better intermediate students to the hall, Lyena taught the lower intermediate students in the administration building, and Kate had the little kids in one of the rooms. They seemed generally engaged and the material wasn’t too difficult.
After lessons the whole team had to decide what they would do for the opening ceremony concert the next day. It was one of the younger girls who came up with the idea of zombies, and they found a zombie dance on their phones to a tune called “African Zombie.”
Before lunch we were told we could take the students swimming. One of the leaders was supposed to be in the water with the kids. None of the leaders really wanted to go in but it seems I didn’t want to go the least because I was the one that ended up going in. About half the students came along with me, including the youngest one who needed arm-bands and wanted to stay at the shallower end of the pool. There were some beach balls and inflatables to throw around, it was fun, but we were only allowed in for 15 minutes then we had to come out again.
After lunch and rest time we were supposed to have clubs but the kids needed more time to prepare for the next day’s performance. I suggested we have Art Club, but the theme is making zombie art and make-up, and we have Move Your Body Club for everyone to practice the zombie dance, and my Wonderbox club can start another day (tomorrow would be the camp opening ceremony). Lyena agreed.
We tried playing the instructional video on the school laptop but the internet signal was poor and it was very jumpy. I eventually managed to download it later in the day so we could play it through properly and everyone could watch and practice the moves – the whole group would be taking part. Meanwhile Art Club were making a beautiful zombie poster.
In the evening both teams did their performances – involving dancing seals and talking pumpkins, and we played some games with balloons and “Hot Potato.”
Day 3 – Wonders of the Animal World
Song – Elton John, Crocodile Rock
It turned out that I wasn’t supposed to go in the pool with the kids because I have not been medically certified by all the various necessary certifying agencies required by the camp administrators. The only leader in our camp who had been certified was Lyena, so it fell on her to take the kids swimming, now and forevermore. In the event she eventually realised that other teams’ leaders didn’t go in the water with their kids and she started claiming to be too unwell to swim. After Nata arrived she started sending her to take the kids to the pool instead because of some unwanted attention from one of the pool attendants! After Nata left she had to start going again on the basis that I beat her in the decisive game of rock-paper-scissors.
Today was the opening ceremony of the camp, so after tea-time we had to go and stand with all the other teams and watch the Russian flag being raised to the national anthem. One representative from each team was involved in hoisting the flag, so our oldest boy went. Then each team started shouting out their team chant. We panicked a little because we didn’t have one but the same boy – who was the leader of the team Pumpkins suggested we use the Pumpkin motto which was “We were found in the garden!” We managed to let everyone know just in time for us to shout it in unison when it was our turn. And that was how it became our team chant.
After that we had some time to prepare for the concert, with many of the kids getting made-up to look like zombies. We arrived at the stage area and had to watch 7 other acts before it was our turn. All the other teams had some kind of dance-performance, some really good quality. The youngest teams had dance leaders standing in front of the stage demonstrating the movements for them to copy. I recognised some of the leaders of the other teams from previous years. Of course the leaders were doing their own “act” to link all the performers, something about a king and a queen and a musician and some bandits.
Then it was our turn, they did their zombie dance – they were all in make-up and looked great, and the choreography was fabulous. In hindsight I think it was our best performance of the four we did for the camp. But we still came fourth out of four in the older age group.
After supper, only 4 girls wanted to go to the disco and I was charged with taking them. It turns out it wasn’t a normal disco, there were some ceremonies and speeches before the dancing began and again, the teams were asked to do their team chants one by one. I was proud as a peacock when my girls all stood up as one and shouted together “We were found in the garden!”
Day 4 – Wonders of the Undersea World
Song – Little Mermaid OST, Under the Sea
I had to take both intermediate groups together in the administration centre because Lyena was unavailable for some reason, I gave them the intermediate plus material and a few of them seemed to struggle with it.
We had team activities – there were jigsaw puzzles, a game where you had to make up a name for a dog and write it on a balloon, some tongue twisters, and animal impressions.
Finally, my Wonderbox club started, and I had plenty of material to draw from from the unused lessons. I had 3 girls (none of the younger ones), 3 young boys and three older boys. Two of the younger boys would later switch to Art and Move Your Body club so we ended up with 7 regulars. All the clubs took place in the same place, the Wonder Box, though there was one day when a thunderstorm threatened to deluge us that we hastened indoors to finish the club in one of the rooms.
The Evening Performance saw two remarkable stories about the origins of mermaids. The Seals’ interpretation had a chanting shaman beating a drum (empty water bottle) in a hypnotic performance by a very talented older girl. Also notable were the octopus noises one of the boys was making in the background – this became a kind of signature for the boy concerned! The Pumpkins dressed two girls up as mermaids with fish-tails fastened to their waists and had a story involving an undersea castle and a blue-faced drowned man. The performance wasn’t so intense but the story had a little more, ahem, depth.
I was hosting the show as Sebastian the Crab (with Lyena as Ariel). I had paper plates sellotaped to my hand for my claws, a pretty cheap and cheesy effect but it really helped bring the character alive. Sadly I couldn’t prevent my Jamaican accent continually veering into French but I doubt any of my young Russian audience could tell the difference.
Day 5 – Wonders of the Cities
Song – Frank Sinatra – New York, New York
With Kate gone I kept the full intermediate group and we switched to the hall for lessons. Later on we had some team activities with jigsaw puzzles, anagrams and a quiz. The teams had some time to prepare for their evening performance in which they had to present their dream city. The Seals responded by drawing a giant cactus, with a face, of course.
After clubs we went to play outside for a while with Sasha’s football. One of the older boys had been itching to play football since we arrived and as soon as he had a football at his feet it became clear the others were going to have to work hard to get it off him! Just like last year I was the anointed football supervisor, any time the boys wanted to go out on the street I was the one who had to accompany them. It was not such an onerous task as last year with fewer insects to deal with but I was still a bit jealous of Lyena sitting inside on the comfortable couches.
The Evening Performance revealed the Seals’ motives, the cactus was the President of some kind of mutant population that escaped from Chernobyl and set up their own city. The Pumpkins went a lot more traditional with a very well drawn diagram of a city with all the normal city stuff in it – hospital, bakery, that kind of thing. Their presentation was quite short but it was what they were asked to do, while the Seals had gone way off=topic! There were some games too, a geography quiz and some more tongue twisters.
Day 6 – Wonders of the Sights
Song – One Republic, Good Life
I found a way to keep the younger girls entertained, to pretend to be a zombie and walk slowly after them. For the rest of the camp, whenever we went outside I had one of them pulling my sleeve, putting their arms out in front of their bodies and pleading “Zombie?”
Our new teacher Nata had arrived so I was back to lessons with just the intermediate plus group (about 10 students). A couple should really have been lower intermediate, but wanted to study with their friends.
Our main task today was for the whole group, we would be joining the rest of the camp for another themed performance evening, this time Television, and Lyena had drawn the Kultura channel. The kids came up with the idea of a museum where they would display just about anything, and one of the kids would go and interview some of the exhibiting artists. We had a couple of paintings (one was actually a pretty good rendition of two scary black monsters on a red background), and a couple of kids made up as statues, including a Cupid. They did the show entirely in Russian so I didn’t really know what they were saying but I’m sure it was funny. They did ask me about the first line which was along the lines of “Good evening to our viewers, if anyone is actually watching.”
Fourth out of four.
Day 7 – Wonders of the World of Literature
Song – Frank Sinatra, Fairy Tale
After much pestering by the older boys, Lyena agreed I could take them to the big football pitch. It’s not a great pitch, it’s more weeds than grass and there’s big holes in it, but it has goals and a fence round it to keep the ball in. All seven boys would always come along if there was football to be played. Of the girls only the oldest-of-the-younger-ones joined in a couple of times.
The Evening Performance task was to reimagine a work of literature. The Seals took Snow White and turned one of the dwarfs into a murdering cannibal – cleverly giving the role to the youngest, cutest, sweetest girl. I loved the dwarf hats two of the tween girls had made, coloured paper cones with wool pom-poms on top. The girl playing Snow White also did quite an impressive breakdance before the dwarves wrapped her up in Scotch tape.
The Pumpkins took Harry Potter and recreated the Quidditch scene. Sasha was painted gold to represent the Snitch and one of the other boys had Harry Potter glasses painted onto his face, along with the ubiquitous lightning scar. They pretty much just wanted an excuse to run around chasing each other with broomsticks (which I had appropriated for them from the girls’ bathroom).
We had some games around the performances, all the kids joined together in a line and the front of the line had to get the “tail” from the back of the line without anyone letting go – this turned out to be very easy. Next I had them get their whole team across two chairs – for the bigger kids it was easy, they just stepped over (though one or two failed and got eliminated). The team element was working together to help the smaller kids get over, which they generally did quite well.