Wednesday, March 3, 2010

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.

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