On 10 July, I arrived at a camp on Lake Baikal. (It was actually just across the lake from where I was earlier with my host family.) The camp was called “Леоновский Бриз” and was a camp for children who study at Леонова Школа, where Masha goes to school. I was to teach English for 10 days to a group of almost 50 kids with the help of a Russian named Pavel Sergeyvich (Pasha), who spoke nearly fluent English. When I was introduced to the camp as an American, I was met with a lot of “Really?” “It is true?” and “Cool!” Apparently, all it takes is being American to instantly befriend Russian children.
Fortunately, this camp was much less work than the camp in Bratsk. Mostly, I got to hike the hills around Baikal, lie on the beach, and hang out with some awesome Russian kids. The kids ranged in age from six to sixteen, which made for a very interesting mix. It was a bit tricky sometimes to switch back and forth between teaching very low-level English and considerably higher-level English, but between Pasha and I we managed just fine. The camp was split into three groups by age.
The youngest kids were “The Invincible Scorpions.” Ina Ivanovna, Pasha, and I were in charge of them.
“Forest Pals,” the second-oldest group.
“Dinosaurs,” the oldest group.
They made me a dinosaur! (Most of the kids thought my name was Ellen at the beginning of the camp. Close enough.)
We all arrived at the camp in the late afternoon after driving five hours from Irkutsk. The first day was mostly taken up by getting settled and playing on the beach. I think it’s amazing how little it takes to keep children amused and occupied for hours. All you have to do is take them to the beach; you don’t even have to worry about them drowning, because all they’ll do is sit and dig holes in the sand.
The beach near the camp, complete with fake palm trees.
Later, we all went for a hike into the hills surrounding the camp. It was pretty cold at the top, but the view was still beautiful, even with the thick fog.
At night, there was a “disco” which just consisted of our DJ (yes, the camp had its very own DJ) playing music while the children just stood around, cold and unsure. The kids enjoyed the later discos more, especially when the DJ played the Macarena.
The second day started out very cold, so we didn’t go to the beach. We had English lessons with all of the children, though. I met little Ilya, the youngest camper and the son of the camp doctor. We talked for a little bit, but then he told me he had important work to do in his laboratory. Later, I asked him how the lab work was going. “Oh, it’s very simple.” But then he explained that he was really more of a musician, and demonstrated by banging out some sort of rhythm on the walls and playing the “balalaika” on his ribs. By 17:00 it had warmed up a lot, and we went for a different hike. The highlight of the hike was little Ilya finding “dinosaur” (cow) bones, and going on about how they should be in a musem. Ilya and a few of the other kids also gave me rocks as presents.
Ilya, contestant for the world’s cutest kid, and his dinosaur bones.
At night, there was a talent show, and the staff (including me) also prepared a dance to perform. Some of the kids are incredibly good dancers. The most memorable moment, however, was when four of the youngest girls sang and danced to the song “О боже какой мужчина!” the chorus of which goes like this: О боже какой мужчина! Я хочу от тебя сына. И я хочу от тебя дочку, и дочка, и дочка! (Oh god, what a man! I want to have a son with you! And I want to have a daughter with you, and a daughter, and a daughter!) I think it’s safe to say that they didn’t really understand what they were singing, but all of the adults and older kids, of course, found it hilarious. After the talent show, we had a campfire. All of the kids were really disappointed that there were no sosiski (the closest thing Russia has to hot dogs).
On the third day, I went to a seal show with the younger kids which featured two Baikal seals. It was really cool. The seals danced, sang, jumped, painted a picture, and even did some math. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Later, we went to the beach again. I played Durak (“Fool,” a Russian card game) with Pasha and Danil, one of the younger kids. Danil always likes to count to ten for me in English, but he forgets the number eight every time. After dinner, the kids performed other dances that they had choreographed earlier in the day. At night there was a campfire, this time with sosiski.
The next day, the main events were lapta and a game called “Diversion.” Pasha explained lapta to me as Russian baseball, but much simpler. I watched the game and, as far as I could tell, the only similarty between lapta and baseball is that they both require hitting a ball with a bat. I watched the whole game but still didn’t understand the rules. Diversion is a game that the kids love. There are ten “диверсанты” (“diversanti,” people who create a diversion) and the rest of the camp is security. The диверсанты have to try to create a diversion in order to steal several objects from the camp, and security has to try to protect the camp by catching the диверсанты. The game is played late at night, when it’s dark.
On the fifth day, I went with a group of fourteen kids to a large cave near Baikal called мечта (day dream). It was, of course, very beautiful there, and the cave was very cool (in both meanings of the word cool).
Where we were dropped off, just a short walk from the cave.
These people have the right idea!
Near the entrance of the cave.
Most of the group near the cave entrance.
Of course, every day was usually filled with teaching English, going to the beach (as long as it was warm enough), going for a hike, and playing various sports. In addition to lapta, the kids also love to play a sport called pioneer ball. In pioneer ball, you play with a volleyball and a volleyball net, but instead of hitting the ball, you just throw and catch it. Pasha described it as “light volleyball.” I played with the kids a few times; I found it pretty boring, but at least the kids found it incredibly entertaining. Ilya continued to find dinosaur bones and give me “presents” (more rocks). A few more kids started giving me rocks, and a few girls coloured pictures for me. One of the other counsellors commented that I could fill an aquarium with all of the rocks I got, but I definitely wasn’t planning on bringing them home.
There were many more memorable moments in the camp. One day after dinner, we all went on a hike to “Snake Rock,” where we cooked omul, a very delicious fish endemic to Baikal, over a campfire. During this hike, I was given too many rock presents to take back to the camp and a crown of flowers that one of the other counsellors made.
Ilya, being adorable as usual.
Ilya and his mother, Olga Nikolaevna, the camp’s doctor.
The camp director, Anna Vladimirovna, and one of the loveliest campers, Polina.
Ina Ivanova and the crown of flowers she made for me.
Anna Vladimirovna and her daughter, Alisa.
Dasha, another contestant for the world’s cutest kid, giving me rocks.
More rock presents.
Katya, another very lovely camper, building a rock pyramid.
All of my rock presents, Katya’s pyramid, and Ilya building his own pyramid. (He was building a pyramid because I wouldn’t let him destroy Katya’s and he wanted to destroy a pyramid.)
On our way back from the bank to eat our omul.
The sun goes down at about 11 here.
Omul, sushki, and that face.
Gathered around the campfire to get omul.
Тhere was a “Pioneer Day,” where all of the counsellors were Soviet Pioneers for the day, and the kids competed in sports competitions to see who would also get to become Pioneers. Next, there was English Day, which, of course, was the hardest day for me. All of our usual daily activities were translated into English and the kids were encouraged to speak only in English. Of course, that was not at all possible, and many of the kids didn’t put any effort into speaking in English. But some of the kids did go out of their way to talk to me in English and asked me to translate a million random words. It was great.
The last full day of the camp included a fair. The other counsellors dressed up as gypsies and ran different activities.
Cup mixing game.
Some kind of strength game.
Cards. They were playing a strange version of 21.
Roulette! Sort of.
“Selling” bubbles, hair ties, and other small toys.
Stuffed animal auction.
After the fair was the closing concert.
A dance with Victoria Sergeyvna and Marina Nikolaevna.
A really funny dance by some of the older boys.
A funny skit by some of the counsellors.
By this time, I had been asked by every staff member (and many of the kids) at least once to stay longer, so I decided to stay an extra three days. I wish I could have stayed longer. I was offered a job teaching English at the school full time, but I think that will have to wait.
An extra three days wasn’t long enough. Then again, staying another week until the end of the camp wouldn’t have been long enough. Nevertheless, it was an incredible experience, and I met some amazing people and some fantastic kids. I’m going to miss them, and I’m going to miss Baikal. They will have to live on in my memory, pictures, and videos until I come back again.