Wednesday, March 10, 2010


We've been back in the States for a few days, and life has finally slowed down enough for me to assemble some thoughts on what I've taken away from my experience in Vytegra. I was unable to make time to blog during the trip, but it seems fitting to reflect on my memories now, considering how persistent this word "memory" was during the trip. At every site we visited, the people implored us to remember them and loaded us down with tokens and gifts "на память"—for memory. My favorite such keepsake was given me by a student from the 6th grade Russian grammar class I attended at School #2. Her name was Sasha. She chased me down as we were leaving and gave me a heart-shaped trinket with the words "To Bryn from Sasha" written on the back, insisting that I remember her. Don't worry, Sasha, I remember.

Another face from School #2 that I'll remember is Katya, my Katya (standing, on the right), who was my guide around the school. That day I was lucky enough to sit in on two Russian grammar classes, 11th and 6th grade. The 11th grade class was about complex sentences, and the 6th grade class was about different types of pronouns. I was able to understand the lessons well enough to want to take notes on them (and I learned a lot!), and Katya patiently helped me when I fell behind, corrected my spelling, and explained technical terms in simple Russian so that I could understand. Thanks, Katya!

Another unforgettable experience was dinner and dancing with the faculty at School #2. I was reluctant to dance at first, especially after eating so much food, but everyone was so carefree and energetic. The mood was infectious, and we learned some cool Russian dance moves from Darya Sergeyevna (I might have misremembered her patronymic), who was the teacher of my 6th grade grammar class (3rd from left) and the economics teacher (leftmost) whose name I never learned.

I'm already running out of time again, and I've barely scratched the surface of all the interesting people we met and the incredible experiences we had. But before wrapping up, I have to mention Marina (on the left), whom we met at School #1 and again at the DDT. She had such a warm personality. I wish we had gotten to talk more. I think we would have become friends.

So those are just a few of the lasting impressions of this trip. Every day I find myself suddenly remembering different things I had forgotten before. I wonder what memories the people in Vytegra will have of us.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Videos from Rus

In many cases, the snow removers had to use bulky equipment, like this bulldozer. Difficult to use a machine that isn't meant for the job specifically.

Outside the historic Art Museum in St. Pete. Video was taken from the walkway leading to the frozen Neva river.

Video taken at a famous pedestrian walkway late at night in St. Pete. The walkway was the best cleared area during the whole trip to Rus.

Provincial Russia was a winter wonderland. Here, our group is visiting the birthplace of influential poet N. Klyuev.

Couldn't help but take a video of this tractor. It kept moving back and forth outside a historic building we visited. Only a towel covered the engine.

We couldn't take the bus over this small log-bridge, so we moved into an old VW truck. If any of us were scared, the driver told us to close our eyes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

last day

Day 8

This was our last day in Vytegra and it’s easy to see that we are all exhausted after such a busy, exciting, and draining week, and today was no exception. We still had another school to visit today, but this one was the technical/vocational school for the kids who didn’t really make it into high school. The school was really neat to see, and I know that despite how tired we all were, we still found it interesting because the students were a little older and the atmosphere was slightly different.

The students there seemed much more involved with us and less shy than the other students we’ve met who were about the same age (the younger kids everywhere were never shy about anything); they asked a lot more questions than the others and it really seemed like they asked better/more intelligent questions. And I think that’s a little surprising because these are the kids who didn’t quite make it, yet they still seemed so ambitious; many of the ones I chatted with were still planning on going to a university. And even though they didn’t show the same respect to their teachers that all the other schools have, they still paid a lot of attention and respect to us. Plus they gave us this amazingly beautiful pastry/cake and one boy serenaded us, so this school was pretty cool as far as I’m concerned.

In the afternoon we went to the children’s house place (not an actual child’s house but a place for the youth in town), which was a really cool stop. We were so burnt out, but we still managed to do crafts and watch dances. We all thought the dances were really good, and they were kind of a mix between traditional Russian and modern. The really neat thing was though, at the end of the dances we were again presented with the same welcoming bread and salt as the first couple of days. Traditions run strong.

I really enjoyed learning how to make things with yarn and sticks, even though it was a huge struggle and mine isn’t exactly pretty. And the same goes for making the large lucky breasted Russian dolls. It’s hard to compete with these kids because they are so talented with theses arts and crafts! There were entire 3D pirate ships and large palm trees made out of the yarn, and then there was the incredibly beautiful (and expensive) hand made Vytegra lace. It’s so hard to believe that the students do these things, and they start so young! No matter how much I painted, drew, colored, stitched, or sang when I was younger, it never got any better; clearly I wouldn’t have made it in Russia. And I think the really shocking thing is that this isn’t the only thing they do. In addition to school and clubs and crafts, they do also play sports. I was really surprised to talk to so many basketball players and fans, and I was also really sad when some girls invited me to come watch them play on Sunday, but we won’t be here anymore then. These students are just so warm and friendly, and they have accomplished so much at such a young age with such a tough curriculum and so many great hobbies. They are truly very impressive and very helpful. Every time we run into one of the students on the street they just start walking with us and talking and helping us find the places and things we want; it’s such a great experience!

The students we’ve met really make me think about my own life and what I do and what I have accomplished or what my skills/talents/passions are, and I just feel like even with everything I’ve done and everything I’ve seen and visited, in so many ways I pale in comparison to the Russian youth. And despite all the things they do, they are so interested in us and our lives because we are so different to them, but I really feel like we are much more similar than I first imagined. And sometimes I feel like if they came to America they might be slightly disappointed, because they wouldn’t be treated in the same way as we were treated by the Russians here, and they would see the differences in the cultures, superstitions and beliefs. Of course they would like to see the cities, monuments, people, cars, and hear our accents, but when it comes down to the culture and our history, I really feel like it might be a disappointment for them, because of the incredibly rich and cultured society they come from. But then again Ethan is in the US, and that would be MORE than enough for anyone of these students to be happy anywhere!

The soviet submarine we saw today was really neat and the nice dinner we had tonight was really enjoyable. A BIG thank you to Alina and Tamara Pavlovna for everything you’ve done and everything you’ve worked so hard to put together for us!!!!! This has been such an amazing learning experience and I know that none of us will ever forget anything that happened here. This trip was so great and I know it will only get better in the years to come, so thank you for everything! And anyone who’s going next year, I want my pottery!!!

My favorite discussion: the one we had last night at the cafe about the zero or max thing in Russia

“creepiness, zero or max . . .” Awesome.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Connor_Last Day in Vytegra :_(

Quick blog post before our farewell dinner. We visited not one, but two vocational schools AND a Soviet-era submarine today. The schools were a good change because we got to meet students who are closer to us in age - about 18-19 years old. After 11th grade, students can attend a vocational school to either prepare for a career or university. At the school, I recognized two of the rock musicians from the concert our first night in town. Similarly, my fellow ASB'ers have noticed students from our school visits walking around town. Getting to know the young people in this way shows how thoroughly we've been immersed in Vytegra life.

Parting Words from Vytegra

A couple last words about the trip....

Although it will be great to get back to the real world of Ann Arbor, we will certainly miss Tamara Pavlavna (who practically runs Vytegra), the loads of food that is pushed on you, the бабушки, strange things that happen for no reason, Ethan's 12-year-old groupies, slipping on the pure ice they call sidewalks, the strong culture present throughout the town, and of course the posse of children that follow you around the town when they get a chance.

This has been a great trip and an eye-opening experience. If I came to Russia by myself, I know I would certainly not have the privilege of meeting the people of Vytegra and taking part in some of the culture that tourists do not see. This trip has been about taking the road less traveled by, and I certainly am happy that I had the chance to take part in this great trip to the small town of Vytegra.

The Great Town of Vytegra

Well, another night in Vytegra, and a great one at that. We began the morning with our third and final school. I must say that even though these students were considered the "troubled youth" of Vytegra, they seemed to really have a blast there. This is the first time that we didn't hear the administrators praise not only their students, but also their teachers. We were able to hear what the school does for the children and then show us a little bit about what school is really like for them and that was refreshing. Don't get me wrong, with how little the town has, it is very impressive what kind of education these kids get in Vytegra.

It was a very laid back environment and it reminded me very much of some of my classes in high school. I feel like the kids at this school were not afraid to make a mistake or ask a "stupid question" in front of their teachers where as some of the other classes that we have visited in the other two schools were a little like that.

After answering questions from the kids like, "Do you have drug problems at the university," "What do you do in your free time," "How do you like American politics," "What are your classes like," "What do you want to be in life," and so on, we were able to talk to them a little bit and of course...take millions of pictures. It is funny how all the kids want to do is get a look at you or take a pictuer of just you or most often take pictures with you without saying a word to you. It doesn't bother us at all, but it definitely is a different experience to be the one that everyone want to see. Sometimes it is like we are in a zoo or we're some really big celebrity. I don't know how people constantly in the spot light do it.

Then we moved on to the next hot spot in Vytegra, ДДТ, which was a great place. It was like a community center for kids in town to learn how to make traditional crafts like beautiful lace, dolls, cross stitching, weaving, and so on. They also had dance and exercise classes. While we were there, we were taught how to make a traditional doll, which was funny, because the bigger the bosoms you made, the better luck it was, and the bigger wishes you could make. Not being so talented, I made one bigger than the other, which was funny, because the woman who was so patiently helping us out came by and quickly pointed out that they were not the same size, saying, "Oh, you have a little wish and a big wish." We also we able to see one of the girls in the town make lace. Wow was that talent and great patience. The teacher told us that it takes about 1 year to learn how to make lace and, depending on the pattern you want to make and what you want to make, it takes about 25-30 hours to complete. I could not believe that when I heard it. And looking over the girl's shoulder making that lace, I just don't know if I would be dedicated enough to sit there uncomfortably for 30 hours carefully braiding the lace together.

After the crafts, it was time for dinner. As it was our farewell dinner, we all dressed up nice and went to our normal spot, Bistro. It was another great three course meal with appetizers of cabbage salad, marinated cucumbers, a plate of salami, cheese, and ham, and bread with butter and salmon laid on top. Then dinner and dessert came. It was chicken and potatoes, ice cream, special berry tort, and, of course, tea. Dinner was accompanied with many toasts and laughs.

Finally, as a night caper, we decided to go to the local club for one last night on the town. With nothing else to do but pack, we figured, "Why not?" We had been invited by some of the students at the school today. Come to find out, as we awkwardly walk in to the club, tonight was for younger kids. Needless to say, we were kicked out of the club because we were too old! A great way to end the trip.

Thursday with the babushki

Our babushka in the village of Zamosh'e who prepared quite a feast for us, including blini, the best fresh pickles, and tea from a samovar.

I've had long day…so keep that in mind. I'm attempting to digitally archive yet another interview that is mostly static but also a Russian woman singing her interview - a very common approach to interviewing, apparently. The hotel toilet is running, and Bryn is attempting to sleep with me typing, the toilet running, and archival electronic equipment whirring. She is brave. She has also had a long day. I missed most of the vyecherinka that happened tonight at the Bistro, including the $50 check. Word to the wise - while in the motherland.

Just had a mostly one-way gmail chat with Leanna, who is busy amidst the protests at UCLA. It's a crazy world out there - protests over public education and a world away…a crazy babushka and her friends who share their village, their lives, and food and culture with us Americans, wondering if we still view them, the Russians, as enemies.

Our definitive answer was no. No one would be enemies if they experienced the amazingly gracious hospitality that we were so lucky to receive.

RUSLAN's next project...

historic preservation?

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Where do I start? No intensive work in Russian schools, but some equally intensive eating, exploring, and merrymaking. We moved from Vytegra - town, to Makachevo - village. My first impression? Beautiful. Who else would have an opportunity to experience this side of Russian life? So far I've been a tourist in Petersburg, a volunteering professional in Vytegra, and now a cultural guest in a remote Russian village. Like in Vytegra, the students here are learning English. It turns out they have no choice in foreign language learning - English is the only one offered. Makachevo is the birthplace of influential poet Klyuev, and the children at the local school recited his poetry for us. Perhaps I've never listened to foreign poetry, but it struck me that I could still pick up the metre and rhyme in a foreign language.

School 2

Day 6

Today was another very long and tiring day, but we had a lot of fun! After a delicious breakfast, we visited school #2, where we stayed all day. We went to their first couple of classes, answered questions, gave presentations, met with all the incredibly excited students, teachers, and staff, and took a countless amount of pictures. I would be willing to say that if you added up most of the pictures I had taken in my life it would be close to the number of pictures we were in today. My first thought after the first class stood in a line to take pictures with me was that I felt like Santa Clause, or another other famous person, I guess. Everyone else had the same story; all the students wanted so many pictures with us and they were so excited to be so close to us! It really does feel like being a foreign diplomat or a movie star; we attract so much attention from everyone at every age! The nice ladies who work in the cafeteria at the school and who made our delicious lunch today even wanted a few pictures with us. I knew that the city was looking forward to our arrival, but don’t think I could have ever comprehended the level of their excitement and mystification. We are the first group of foreigners (with the exception of Professor Makin of course) to come to this city and visit, so in a small way I can try to understand their emotions, but I can’t help but think about it inversely; if a group of students from another nation came to America, we would of course be very welcoming, but it would not be anything like this! The schools have done so very much for us, and the students and staff have treated us so well, they deserve so many thanks and such praise!

School #2 was built in 1913, and it was originally the home of very wealthy merchant, so it was very large and very beautiful. I really enjoyed it. One thing that really struck me (other than all the constant attention paid to us) was that almost every time I entered a room, the teacher or principal apologized for something about the school (the age, the lack of decorations, the deterioration, the old desks, the chalkboards, etc.). I realize that the school is not in the best shape, but I really thought that the school was beautiful in its own way, and it has more history and culture in its walls than any school I have known in my lifetime. It is really clear that they are trying their absolute hardest to impress us and show us/give us their best; in some ways they seem to almost show off their best talents and their work for us, and we very much appreciate it! We know that they have gone to great lengths to do for us the things that they are doing. It is so amazing to see.

We discussed today many of the differences between the two schools and between these schools and the schools in America, but I think the thing that stuck out the most to me today was the pride that these people have in their school, in their accomplishments, and in their work, and I hope that they never lose that sense of pride, because they deserve it. Today they did presentations about their city, region, history, and culture for us, preformed a little play about the history of the scarf, involved us in traditional games, performed traditional dances for us, taught us to do these dances, and held a singing/poetry session which displayed the talent in both Russian and English of a large age range of students. They were so happy to share their culture with us, and it was easy for me to see how proud they are of who they are and where they come from. I think it is interesting that they are so fascinated by us and our nation while we are even more fascinated by them and theirs; they are sharing more of their culture with us than we can with them, but I really think that is a major part of this project and of the work we are doing here. Bryn put the idea into words really well when we were talking tonight. She said that part of our work here seems to be just giving them someone to tell their stories to and giving them someone who will listen to their history and see their culture. I think that this is perfectly said. We are here to experience them and give them someone to share with; we will be able to always remember their stories and their culture, and we will take it home with us and share it with others. They really do have so much to be proud of, and they have such a rich and deep culture that I only want to learn more and more about.

The presentation about the Russian scarves today was very enjoyable, because they put on a fashion show for us and then they asked us to play some games with them which involved scarves. I don’t think Pat/Joseph and I expected the game we had volunteered for, but we had a lot of fun! J Learning the dances was also a great time, even though we were all timid at first (all the kids in the school were in the hall where the school girls were dressed up and doing their dance, so we would have to dance around in front of all of them), but it all worked out in the end and we had a good time, whether or not we made fools of ourselves. These sorts of things are truly fascinating, because it is hard for an American to fathom the depths of their culture here. We are learning bits and pieces of their traditions and their history as we go, but I know it is only the tip of the iceberg.

To recap the rest of the day: we took a little break after school and some people slept, but Danielle and I went shopping/exploring around town. We ran into three of the students from the school who were so excited to see us and talk to us, and they ended up being our tour guides and helping us find places in town. After the break, we went back to the school for a very nice dinner with the teachers and the principal. The dinner they put together for us was so incredible! We really felt like royalty, because the table was set so eloquently and with so much food and wine, that no matter how much we all ate, we couldn’t possibly put a dent in it. After we ate and talked for a while we ended up dancing, which was both a lot of fun and really funny. But by the end of the night, we were exhausted! So it’s definitely time for bed in order to get some rest for tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vytegra Moments

Welcome to Vytegra!

Just wanted to share some funny moments, quotes, etc:

The Group: We designate Patrick Murphy and Joseph (Pat) collectively as "the Pats."

Emily: We should have pooled our money to buy one of those sleds instead of mobile phones.

Bryn: The dogs around here walk with purpose, like they're on a mission. These are the busiest dogs in the world.

Ethan: I could make a living here signing autographs.

A traditional welcome by the Vytegra local history museum on Monday:

Attempting to set up equipment to digitize oral histories of local veterans:

Step 5: School No.1 and the Disco Fever

This is the day that we visit our first school. It was constructed in 1933. The halls had a funky smell, but nevertheless, it was a nice, solid building. It is a small school but there is a multitude of them spread over the Vytegra area; all the grades of the area are in one building. A bunch of schoolboys saw our approach and went inside before us. We entered the principal’s office to stow our coats and were met on our reemergence by the school’s cultural club in a song. They performed a similar tradition as the woman at the museum. I wished that I got a picture of this, as it was well-performed, but alas. We were then introduced to our chaperone’s for the day (of them I remember Marina, Masha, Vlada and Ludmila).

We then went to the second grade English class. These kids have been learning English for a semester. They’re in the same boat as I am, as I had only learned Russian for one semester. They performed a kid’s play for us in English about a bunch of animals that find a house one after another and keep introducing themselves to one another. For their age and how long they had to learn English, their performance was quite good. Over the course of the week, Pat-Joseph and I kept referring to this play and its contents as a meme, often quoting “Who lives in the house?” and “I am a (insert animal name)”.

After we watched the play, Joseph, Jill, Emily and I went to observe one of the cadet classes. The cadets are basically pre-military (similar, I think to our JROTC), and place a high importance on physical education. The class we were observing, however, was drawing. The subject was to draw a guard tower, after viewing the various guard towers of the Kremlin hill Fortress in Moscow. The drawings were quite good. The cadets then took guesses of which one of us four were cadets their first guess was Joseph, then me, but they were surprised to learn that it was Jill and Emily who are cadets in Air Force ROTC.

Alina and I (and others, I remember) then went to observe the English class; different class than that did the play. Before class started I noticed some of the school kids taking pictures of me with a digital camera, and I clapped them with a shot from my own camera. The theme of the class was family members, and the children brought in photos of their family to present to the class. The presentations were simple, as to their age, but they pulled it off. Another of our group, Jill I think, showed the class pictures of her family. While she was talking we had just managed to get our internet thumb drive to work (which we had been wrestling with since yesterday), and I was scrambling through Facebook to gather my own family photos. I managed to scrape together pictures of my nuclear family, and showed them off to the class.

After a brief lunch, we saw another presentation of Olonia (the school's ethnography research group) as they did traditional dances from the Vytegra area. One song that I got a picture of one meant for when a woman becomes engaged, and has to leave her friends. The songs were intermixed with recitations of poems by Klyuev, the famous poet of the Vytegra region (d.1937). After the presentation, we were taken into the Olonia’s ethnographic museum, which was inside the space of a class room. The club went to travel around the region and collect these artifacts. The leader of the group, a teacher, also dressed traditionally, explained portions of the traditional dress (she's in the right margin of this photo) and gave us an explanation of the layout of the peasant house. The basic layout of a peasant house is that there were two important corners. The first is the red corner, where religious icons are displayed on shelves and the most important guest was seated. Diagonally opposite of the red corner is the stove, which is constructed in a fashion that had a clear flat space that is moderately heated by the fires of the stove. The Olonia group also gave us bread that was knotted to resemble larks, and we got a cook book of traditional Vytegran dishes (in Russian, unfortunately).

We next visited the home-economics room, where we were instructed in making ribbon flowers. I think that our hosts were amused by our bumblings with needle and thread. After this amusing endeavor, we visited the school Museum of Military Glory (…cool thing, for a k-12 School). It is also evident that the town, and even the school students, values their military history, they displayed a section about their class of ’41, which left as a group for the front line with their teacher. None of them returned. I didn’t get a picture of this display, but there is a monument to them and to the losses in the Chechen war in the front of the school.

We visited the school's geological club, which is called Globus. They showed a brief presentation of what they do, which I sadly do not have pictures of this period, as while the classroom was full of students, only a smaller portion were members of the club. Bryn and Jill gave their presentations. We also answered several questions from the student body, including questions on the culture of the middle-name, and what we though of our president. We were told to expect this last one, but it was still hard to answer. Danielle explained it well, though.

Later we had a small sort of tea-session with the teachers and our chaperones. Two were not at this session, which is why I am still having trouble with their names. During the tea session, Masha demonstrated her singing, which was nice. I learned that she intends to become a customs officer. Remembering my experience earlier (see Step 1), I joked that Customs Officers in Russia were all scary. General laughs all around. Masha's response was that she'll be the exception.

We left the school and headed home. We had only a few hours break, as we were invited to a gathering of the towns alternative youth organization. This gathering consisted of a mini concert of student music groups, and then a discotheque. I tried to play the usual wall hanger, but eventually Masha managed to drag me (almost quite literally) to the dancing group.. One thing led to another, and I ended up leading a Congo line. Ethan and Jill would later keep reminding about how I was “tearing up the dance floor”. At 10pm there was an announcement and almost immediately the dance hall emptied. I learned that there is a strict curfew in Vytegra and everybody under 18 has to be at home before eleven or face a steep fine. Unfortunately, this age bracket includes almost all of the students from the school. Thus, without a socialization crowd, we went back to the hotel, accompanied by our ever-present chaperones. I stuck with Pat-Joseph, and two chaperones that I did not name above (I am really sorry for forgetting, if you are reading this). We left them outside the hotel and retired to our rooms.

Listening to Alina's translation of the Olonia leader's explanation.

Us checking out the Olonia club's artifact collection. Pat-Joseph, Emily & Chelsey.

Working in the Home-Economics room, under the watch of the older students.

Chelsey taking a picture of the concert hall to grasp in vastness.

Dance-party circles. our mass is on the left.

Pat-Joseph avoiding dancing.

Jill and a dance partner at the end of the night.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

School 1

Day 5
Today has been an incredibly long and exciting day. We have done, seen, and experienced so much today that it is hard to think about everything or really reflect on just a couple things. We had breakfast at 8:30, then another interview with the local news paper at 9:00, and then it was off to school. We visited our first school today, which had 615 students and grades K-12 all in one school. After school, we had dinner, and then the local youth (many of the kids which we met at the school) set up a program/dance for us at the cultural center in town. So, our day was very busy and tiring, but incredibly interesting.

The traditions and the culture of this town continue to astound me. When we entered the school this morning, which was in excited chaos due to our arrival, we were greeted with the warmest faces and the nicest “hellos”. Also, we were welcomed with the same traditional ceremony as yesterday with the bread and the salt. The cultural group at the school, which consisted of about twenty girls of various ages, was dressed in traditional dress and they sang a traditional welcoming song for us before presenting us with the bread.

The story behind the tradition: salt is supposed to be very expensive and there were times when it was very difficult to afford salt, so people went without, but when they had guests over, they would bake them special bread and put salt out on the table for them, despite the hard times.

The excitement in the school from the second graders all the way up to the principal was amazing to see. I have never felt like such a celebrity; they were in awe of us; we were so foreign to them, and they had so many questions for us.

The entire school seemed to stop and revolve around us for the entire day. They prepared plays, songs, dances, shows, crafts, exhibits, tour guides, special lunches, tea, movies, slide shows, and gifts for us! We received so many gifts from all the students, teachers, and school groups, and we were of course invited to tea and snacks and given more and more food. I felt very welcomed, and many of the girls took a strong liking to me for some reason (of course no one was even remotely as popular as Ethan, who they all fell in love with instantly!). The students were so outgoing and brave; they seemed so comfortable with talking to us, spending time with us, and sharing their lives with us. Meeting this school was truly amazing.

The dance after the school with all the youth of the town was also very interesting. Three of the girls who were always around me at school really wanted to sit with me, so the four of us all shared two chairs, and needless to say, it was very uncomfortable, but they were so happy! It seemed like the entire town was there to welcome us and show off their talents for us. There were films and slideshows of the town and the students, and there was a big concert with many of the local bands followed by a dance/rave. Very interesting.

Today was the first day when I got to really use my Russian a lot, and even though it was really tough at some times, it was really exciting and beneficial, and I know they were very happy to see me try to speak with them in their language. Other than the deeply rooted cultural ties which we have experienced, I think the most interesting/amazing thing that I noticed today was again the hospitality. The entire school welcomed us so warmly, and the students/staff liked us so much and became so attached to us. It was so hard for my three new friends to leave me at the end of the night, because they just wanted to hang out longer and talk more. I couldn’t believe the level of excitement that there was for us. I don’t think they really get too much contact from the outside world or travel very much, so it was like we were bring a part of the world to them; we shared our stories and our lives with them, so they could see a snapshot of what American life is like. We showed them pictures of our travels around the US, our home towns, the University of Michigan, our families, our friends and our lives; we described Ann Arbor and life on campus, and told them what it is like to be a student in America. By doing this I think we helped to broaden their horizons and learn more about the world which they don’t get to see (at least not yet), and I love that we could do that for them.

But I think the really amazing part is that they are doing the same for us. We would not have the same cultural experiences if we were merely tourists for a week in St. Petersburg; the students (and others in the town) shared their culture with us as they dance/sing for us, show us their traditional costumes, teach us their crafts, offer us their traditional foods and explain their traditional beliefs to us; they are opening up their world to us and showing us what life in Russia is really about and how it really is. We are amazed by each other, and we both have the opportunity to grow and learn because of each other.

Also, I think they have a fear that we will forget them, and the gifts are just as much a way for us to remember them as they are a way to welcome us, even though we could never forget our experiences here. When Katya was giving me gift this afternoon she said, “just so you think of us and don’t forget about us when you’re home”. I appreciated the gift, but I did not need it in order to not forget her and the rest of the school; these are important memories that will stay with me forever, and I hope that they know that.

Last thing: dinner tonight was very good! Crepes filled with the local farmers’ cheese with sour cream and homemade jam. Delicious.

1:00 am, time for bed.

Step 4: Handshakes and Work

Today, we got up early to meet the local administration. The government building was not even a stone's throw away from the hotel, on Lenin Prospekt. It’s still named such because they don’t have the disposable funds to change the street name. The Mayor of Vytegra, Treasurer, et al. essentially welcomed our delegation to the town. Accompanying us to this meeting was a reporter for the local newspaper, which is covering our visit. The newspaper is called “The Red Banner”, which is also holdover from the Soviet Period. We also took pictures with the local dignitaries, one of which was used for our introductory article. The pictures below are not the ones.

After the meeting our next stop on our trip was the museum that we’d be doing our first bit of volunteer work during the course of our stay. On the way, we passed a church, which I learned was the original location of the local museum during the Soviet era, but has moved now that the property returned to the church. We were greeted at the museum, which is now partially housed in the ground floor of an apartment complex, by an old woman who was dressed in local traditional dress and carrying a round loaf of bread and a dish of salt. This was part of a tradition of welcome and hospitality. The guest tears off a bit of bread, dips it in salt and eats it. Our host commented on how we Americans take such small pieces.

We then toured the museum, which included geographical, zoological, and anthropological histories of the Vytegra area.

The Vytegra town was originally consolidated by the will of Peter the Great, who wished to use the area’s rivers for ship building. Other than monarchical will, the Vytegra area was built up by mercantilism. Also displayed in the museum was a collection of artifacts through the ages. The town of Oshta, near Vytegra, is proud that it was a front line area in World War II, the only one out of its entire region. There was a display under the twentieth century section for the female students who searched for landmines following the German retreat, many of whom were killed in their work.

We left the museum before we started our work and drifted towards another café. However, we decided to stop by the partially restored church. I didn’t get any pictures of the interior, save for a large icon, which apparently was rare, as it depicted in the center Christ at his Crucifixion, with the thieves and murderers (that’s how it was explained) around him. This large icon was painted blue and used as a sign by the Soviets, but is now restored.

We then climbed the bell tower for the church, which is still under the jurisdiction of the museum. It was so cold in the tower that there was an enormous amount of frost on the railings. Once we reached the top, I saw a fantastic view of the town.

After exiting the cathedral, I managed to get a picture of a militsiya jeep, which had been in front of the church since we'd got to the cathedral. I still a bit paranoid about police forces (I'm Irish, what can I say...). We ate lunch in a cafe, which was fantastic.

We returned to the Museum. Joanna and I were to start digitizing audio sources that the museum had. However, the digital recorders that we had brought with us from Michigan came without audio wires, even though Alina had apparently requested them specifically. So, while Alina and Joanna trekked out to go find some audio cables, I mulled about a bit, checking up on the other teams, and your all-basic-thumb-twiddling. Once we got audio cables (I regret not going out to get them, I was bored out of my skull) Joanna and I got to work. Over the time that we had left, we managed to record a tape of a Russian music performance, and recorded memoir of a commander from the First World War who’d met Lenin. This last source was odd; as it had been updated from whatever it was originally recorded onto a 70’s era audio cassette. The problem with this that it was recorded at a different speed than the conventional audio player, and the audio was played back at high speed (think “Chipmunk”).

We eventually packed up and went back to the hotel. I don’t remember anything fantastic about the evening. By the way apparently the phones we bought to use out here are bollocks. We are using a different phone plan than the area we’re in (Saint Petersburg, instead of North West region). Basically, it cost many more rubles to make a call than in Saint Peters. Another note about today: we tried to get an internet card so we could work on our presentations and make our blogs, but for some reason the money that Alina posted to the card hasn't shown up. Ah, Woe.

Bonus time! More pictures from the top of the tower.

Really old bell.

Emily a-laughing while taking a picture. I can't remember who she was taking a picture of, though....

Chelsey, Danielle, Pat-Joseph, and Bryn.

Pat-Joseph making the victory hand pose and joking with me about the cold.