Monday, March 11, 2013
One of my favorite memories in Russia was visiting school No. 2 on our second day of service and spending time with the school children. I will never forget the time all the girls gathered around me to look at my pictures of SeaWorld, Disney World, and my travels to Africa and India. I wanted to show them these types of pictures as opposed to only pictures of my friends and I, for I knew that they would be familiar with some of things I was showing them and in that, we would be able to connect on a higher level despite our language barrier (most of them knew all of the Disney characters and one of them told me that there was a "Dolphinarium" SeaWorld equivalent in one of the bigger cities that she had visited!). We also bonded over music we enjoyed (personal favorite: Barbie Girl by Aqua). This experience has shown me that there are no boundaries when it comes to connecting with someone if you truly show you care about them, even if there is no common language in between. I am happy that by just showing that I cared about the schoolchildren's country by coming all the way here to share my experiences, to hear theirs in return, and to do continue research my specified topic of defining what the small business economy in provincial Russia is, that I am making a significant impact here.
Another one of my favorite memories was seeing Lake Onega for the first time. Seeing the lake frozen over and covered with snow from one of the watch towers was remarkable, and it made me envision how beautiful it must be during the summertime. I have gained a new found appreciation for this lake. Before, I would only use it as a geographical marker for understanding where Vytegra was situated in Russia, but now, I see it as a resource that has not only fueled a lot of Vytegra's local economy (by providing work for builders of the canal in the 18th century to today for fisherman who sell their produce in local markets), but also something that means a lot to the people of Vytegra. During our school visits to school No. 2 and the Andoma village school, we heard from many students that they love to go to Onega in the summer to swim, to relax, and to enjoy the scenery. They boasted about it so much that they wanted us to come back next summer to enjoy the lake with them. It almost made me wish that I lived next to something such as this lake that meant a lot to me--I live in a very industrialized area where most of the town's natural beauty has been taken away.
On the same day, I really valued our time touring the emergency response unit and hearing about the training process for becoming a professional rescuer. I found it fascinating that the federal government gave this facility so much money to buy high tech, almost state of the art emergency vehicles and boats, even though the populace this unit serves is only around 11,000 (and declining). It made me wonder why so much money would be allocated to this type of facility in such a remote area (I thought it would make more sense to have a unit of such scale in a bigger city such as Petrozavodsk, but then again, perhaps I am simply overestimating the costs). Nonetheless, I found this facility to be very impressive, and it showed me a lot about the Russian's regard for efficiency, safety, and having the best technology possible to serve their purpose of helping people in emergency situations. I also was quite impressed with the emergency response museum...they had flat screen TVs, large projectors, and sound animations for mini models of the town! For better or for worse, having studied economics for so long, I have started thinking primarily in economic terms, and seeing how advanced this museum in what to me seems like the middle of nowhere was made me think about how the city can advance at quite a fast rate given the federal government's help. However, I know all too well that this growth is disjointed---federal government money is unreliable and very concentrated, and often does not end up helping the entire populace of a provincial town such as Vytegra as a whole. My personal feelings about this is that I think the town could have benefited more from the federal government's money if it had gone to the severely underfunded schools as opposed to building a grandiose emergency facility that only has so much scope in a town so small. This made me think back to this theme about Russia moving towards being "impressive" as opposed to rational---instead of allocating funds to the most optimal areas of need, such as schools and medical facilities, they would rather concentrate investment in other places to seem impressive.