Sunday, June 5, 2011

They tried to make me go to, Russian camp

And even though I said "nyet, nyet, nyet," it looks like I'm stuck here at Camp Euroclub for the next month.

How can I describe this place? It reminds me of what I believe a fancy rehab to be like - beautiful wooded scenary, a little lake, a corral with horses, a football pitch - but all surrounded by thick stone walls and uniform buildings (called corpuses) that give off that institutionalized, "we're not just keeping people out, we're keeping people in" feel. In fact, I've taken to referring to the camp as simply "The Compound", or when I'm feeling less charitable, "Alcatraz."

There's even a doctor who walks around the property all day decked out in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck, performing random checks on children. Every water cooler is unplugged because apparently cold water is dangerous to children, and the hottest tea or coffee you can get here is lukewarm at best because hot water is also considered dangerous. Mealtimes are strict - if you miss breakfast from 8:40-9:40, lunch from 1-2, or dinner from 6:15-7:15, well, you're going hungry. As I did my first full day here, on Thursday, when I missed out on lunch and dinner because nobody would tell me where to go or when they were being served.

BUT...ignoring the fact that I just wrote two paragraphs complaining about the place, I need to back up and start at the beginning. Because today I remembered with a twinge of shame something that my students had written on the back of a framed photo they gave me on Tuesday night: "To Katie, the most positive person". And the thing is, these past few days I have NOT been positive. At all. I've been wallowing in self-pity, indulging in a sobfest over the phone with Iain, and counting down the days until I can escape. How is that positive? How is that ME, the real Katie, who always tries to have a smile on her face? Being miserable isn't going to help things, so over the past couple days I've decided not only do I need to suck it up, but I need to make the best of everything and stop being so damn negative. Be the positive Katie my students in Mytishi knew!

I read this great article once about living in a foreign country. "Stop asking 'why?'," it advised, "and start asking 'How?'" So I'm not going to ask why anymore - why did I get shafted and sent to camp when other teachers are happily in Moscow, why do Russians call meat and mayonnaise "salad", why is the food so awful, why is Lady Victoria ignoring me...and start asking "how?" How can I make the most of this experience? How can I fit in, make new friends? How can I make this feel like home?

I'm not going to complain right now about the packing up of my things (how have I accumulated so much in nine months?), the sad goodbyes in Mytishi, the long commute from Moscow (it should have taken an hour but lasted four and a half! The joys of traveling during chas pik/rush hour), or that disastrous first night and day at the camp. If you really want to know, well, you can always ask me. But seriously - I'm done being negative, and no one wants to hear that anyways! (Although I have to say, Lady Victoria, the manager at the camp, lives up to her haughty reputation - she even has a man I can only refer to as her footman follow her around all day doing her bidding!)

Onto the positive things: there is another Language Link teacher here! Like a drowning man clings to a floating piece of debris, Evan and I have latched onto each other as the only foreigners here. The fact that he's also a cool guy definitely makes it better! He's from Seattle, is a history major like me, was teaching at a school in Moscow for the past nine months, and taught ESL for half a year in China before that. We've bunked in together after I convinced Lady Victoria there was no way I could share a closet with no lock on the door or room to unpack with two other women who both snore like freight trains.

We're also slowly being accepted by the counselors here, who at first viewed us with some suspicion I think. I went swimming yesterday and one of the counselors shyly approached me in the changeroom and we started speaking in English together. She's from Saratov, about my age, and is really nice. "What's your name?" I asked. "Lady Astra!' She replied in a bubbly voice. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...what is up with this bizarre insistence on being called Lord and Lady?! Can I not know her real name? Its a strange thing building a friendship with someone who you know only as Lady Astra. But a friendship is a friendship so...

Another positive thing was yesterday, which was actually a really fun day. Lunch was decent (as in, there were identifiable vitamins in the food selection) and even though dinner wasn't great Evan and I stole- er, kept for later - some bread and then went for a walk around the compound. It really is lovely here, with tall pine trees and clear stretches of blue sky. As we were walking back to our corpus, we heard some music blasting - "Scotty Doesn't Know" from Eurotrip! - and ran into Lady Astra who was just taking her group to the nightly disco. "Come with us!" she invited us, so we traipsed along inside with them.

Once inside the disco, with its pulsing lights that still couldn't disguise the fact that its normally a gym, "Can't Touch This" came on and the crowd of Russians went wild. did I! I danced like a maniac with Lady Astra and all the campers, and eventually Evan joined us even though he said he usually needed more alcohol in him! There's something so freeing about dancing with total abandon - in that moment, jumping up and down to MC Hammer in a hot, sweaty gym, I honestly don't think I could have been happier. It was awesome!

After the disco (or, rather, when the girls realized the boys they were all crushing on weren't going to stop playing football to come dance with them), Evan and I watched "Eastern Promises" which is a really great (but very violent!) movie about the Russian mafia in England. Very cool film though, and lots of interesting details on the history of Russian mafia tattoos. I ate the bread I had smuggled away, drank some lukewarm water, and...all was right with the world. Seriously. Things may not be the greatest here, but it could certainly be worse and I'm determined to make the best of it!

Today I escaped from Alcatraz, albeit briefly, and went for a run where I was chased by killer bees BUT I did find a small cafe and signs of outside life. Then I came back to The Compound and read outside in the sun for awhile. Today is Parents' Day at the camp, so all the kids are eagerly dragging their parents around to show them everything, and a group of them brought their parents over to introduce me. It was really cute! There are these three triplets - Katya, Masha, and Nastya - about nine years old who are adorable and so enthusiastic about learning English.

Well, it's 6:11 here which means dinner is in four minutes and you know, I gotta make sure I don't miss out on kotleti, cold noodles and tepid tea. If I can pick up on a rogue wireless connection later I will keep posting updates here, but if not, at least you know I'm alive - and staying positive - out here in the Russian wilderness!


  1. Atta girl! Thinking of you, as always. Lots of love.

  2. You are a brave Devushka...very very brave.

  3. The kids seem to love it - gotta be a reason. You'll find it.

  4. Yes, it is getting better! I think I just chafe at not really having a lot of control over my own schedule, what I can eat, etc. But the situation is definitely improving and the kids do thrive here!