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Month: November 2019

What Can Матрешки (Matryoshka Dolls) Tell Us About “Grey” vs. “Gray”? A Poem…

matreshka color

matreshka medium color

matreshka black and white poem on color

Interpret this poem how you will! But I hope it sparks some thought on the role of technology in our world today and its consequences – not just for the humanities, obviously, but also photography and the arts. It has caused immense change, and we must acknowledge that.

Check out more of my writing in this poetry-based photo essay I did on matryoshka dolls, and read more about the story behind the photographs here. Until next time!

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Международный День, Балалайка, Юрты и Еще: My Experiences at Concordia Language Villages’ Lesnoe Ozero, Week 2

Hey everyone! I’m back again with Лесное Озеро content.

A refresher: I attended Concordia Language Villages’ two-week full Russian immersion program at their Russian language village, Lesnoe Ozero (Лесное Озеро), this past summer. Each day, between завтрак, урок, hanging out in Алматы (my cabin), frequently going to the magazine with my дрызья to buy mango-aloe juice, and more, I took some time to record my experiences in a journal. Through these journal entries, all typed verbatim, I hope you can gain a deeper sense of what villagers do at Лесное Озеро and picture the everyday environment. As someone with no Russian ancestry or experience in a completely Russian environment, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect going in. But my time there was absolutely wonderful, and I’m so excited to share it with you.

These entries are from the second week of camp (finally! they took a while to transcribe). The first week’s can be found here. And lastly, the first part of this title translates to “International Day, Balalaika, Yurts, and More.” Enjoy!

Понедельник, 5 августа

Today, I finally managed to wake up early. The nice thing about the расписание at Лесное Озеро is that we are quite literally forced to sleep by 10:30/11, and then “Доброе утро” is at 8 am. So it’s a solid amount of sleep that we get. 

For my second час културис, I got balalaika and cooking (again)! We’re learning to play one of the Russian folk songs that we sing here at camp – hopefully, I can record us singing it on my tape recorder (edit: currently processing! check back in a bit). Here’s a quote from Gogol that a вожатый put on the screen while we were doing folk songs, and one that I found particularly fitting and profound: “Russian folk songs are a living history of the Russian people, rich, vivid and truthful, revealing their entire life.” Food for thought.

So excited for cooking again, too – Kamila asked me to be on the International Day Team for when we simulate a MasterChef competition!

For the Вечерняя программа (evening program), the вожатый held a simulation for us campers on the Chernobyl nuclear accident. One of the first parts of the accident was that people didn’t quite know what was going on, but sensed that something was wrong. So throughout the day, even when it wasn’t the actual Вечерняя программа (evening program), the вожатым held a simulation for us campers, on the Chernobyl nuclear accident. One of the first parts of the accident was that people didn’t quite know what was going on in the days following it, but inherently sensed that something was wrong. So throughout the day, even when it wasn’t the time of the actual Вечерняя программа, we heard random loud noises that sounded like explosions, and saw вожатым running among us in hazmat suits. It was all quite confusing. 

Then, during what was supposed to be Тнхнй час (quiet time, or quiet hour), the вожатым ushered us all into the Мариинский театр (Mariinsky Theatre, a meeting place, and also where we sing camp songs before lunch. Named after the famous Санкт-Петербург Theater). They turned the lights off, drew the curtains, and put on a video of a ballet performance to Tchaikovsky’s famous Swan Lake. We were all pretty confused, and many were complaining about losing тнхнй час. I had wanted to use it to journal, and my friends to sleep! But this was actually all also a part of the Chernobyl simulation. According to one of the вожатый (I don’t remember who I had asked), during Chernobyl, the Russian government played classical music on the radio to distract people and calm them down. And when the Soviet Union was falling, the government broadcasted Swan Lake pretty much all the time, instead of the regular news broadcasts – and all in order to distract and calm down the people. Even though Swan Lake wasn’t actually played during Chernobyl, Dasha, the вожатый who was in charge of the simulation, told me that she wanted to recreate that feeling. It definitely worked!

During the simulation itself, all us campers were split into different groups – liquidators (put out fires, did cleanup at the reactor), government officials, Soviet scientists, Western press, Soviet press, and a couple more, I believe. I was a liquidator. One of our goals was to make sure we got out the story about suffering from radiation sickness, and about how we were told to clean up radioactive materials for much longer than was safe, to the foreign reporters and to our government officials, for stipends for our injured family/friends/etc. It was difficult, as we couldn’t tell the Soviet press or government about the struggles too much, for fear of our families (and us!) being killed. The simulation overall was very informative, and most of my friends and I really got into it.

After the simulation was over, our медсестра, Саша (who takes care of my many allergies, and is super nice!), got up to speak. She was actually a child growing up in Russia (about 10 yrs old) when the accident happened. She remembers her parents getting a call from a relative in the U.S. calling to say that there was horrible radiation in Russian and that they needed to get out ASAP – which they were all very surprised at because they lived 2 hours away from Pripyat reactor where the accident occurred. She then remembered that when news of the accident actually got out and was confirmed, her family tried to move to other, far away parts of Siberia, even go to Georgia, but they couldn’t due to housing shortages and people’s unwillingness to trade houses (government = landlord in Russia, said no to new houses, system is inherently Soviet, only way to get out was to trade and no one wanted to). She did, however, go to Moscow in government buses, and she remembered all her belongings, and herself, too, being doused with water to get rid of the radiation.

Most of all, however, she remembered and described the effects the radiation had with regards to livestock, babies, and cancer. She said that livestock and babies were born with 3-4 arms, had severe deformities, disabilities, etc. She noted that most of her friends’ parents died young, of cancer, and many of her friends contracted thyroid cancer – one from exposure to her father, who volunteered to help clean up the plant and spent his resulting, awarded vacation with his daughter, who was at the time around 10 years old. He would read to her on his lap, thus transferring the radiation, and then – 30 years later, a huge tumor on her neck (because radioactive iodine concentrates in the thyroid). 

Overall, I really enjoyed hearing Саша’s story. I thought it was incredibly touching & poignant. Very striking and scary, though. She said, “The worst was not the accident. It’s that we were lied to. A betrayal.” (by the government, who originally kept the severity of the accident, and that it even happened, from the people and world). I understand why governments like Russia’s, like the U.S. (Snowden), keep such things from their people. They have a reputation, an image to keep up. But it’s still quite horrible. Саша said that a friend of hers said, “The Soviet government would never let their own people die. That could never happen.” And yet, it did. Time and time again, incidents like this happen. And with many countries, not just Russia. As Саша said, in this case, “We have to think about what’s more important – to save face, or to save lives.”

Lastly, I thought it was quite nice how most of what I saw in HBO’s Chernobyl series (absolutely amazing. I discussed it with many campers and вожатый. Almost everyone had at least heard of the series, and many had even seen it). I’m glad I had some background going into the simulation from that series, and some outside reading I had done after watching. 

Вторник, 6 aвгуста

So I spent pretty much the entirety of yesterday during my quiet time / early hours journaling about Chernobyl and didn’t get to anything else! But so far, overall, camp has been pretty good. It’s now Wednesday when I’m writing this, so there is only today left with the normal schedule. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the end-of-camp banquet, and Friday is International Day, or I day. That’s where all camps meet at the German camp, Waldsee, and have a huge celebration, with lots of ethnic food stalls, things to buy, etc. Also, I think I’ve talked about what час культуры is before (cultural hour for various things). Mine have been matryoshka (last week), and balalaika (this week) and cooking (this week). Аnd Тарас, who is the вожатый for the balalaika class, said my friend Анастасия and I would be able to play with him and a couple others on I-Day, in the midst of all the festivities!

Before we settle into night routine and getting into bedtime, we have what’s called земство, where each member of our cabin will say a rose (something good that happened today), a bud (something good that happened today), a bud (something to look forward to), and a thorn (something bad that happened). We also usually include a hippo (something funny that happened). My bud was being excited about balalaika and cooking at I Day! I’m so looking forward to that. I’ve been writing down all the recipes from cooking class (which Kamila and Natalia gave us) in an old brown leather notebook – it’ll be my own Russian recipe book! I hope I can add каша to it (the camp’s recipe) too (edit: sadly, I never got the recipe). It’s a porridge/oatmeal type of breakfast food that they serve at least every other day here at camp. All of us campers, and especially me and some of my friends, get pretty excited about it. It can be made with rice, grain, etc., and it’s pretty filling. It tastes wonderful with lots of многа сахар, изюма, джема и сливочного масла. Oh, и фрукты! Клубника or черники are really good in каша. A friend of mine commented about how almost every culture essentially has some equivalent of каша – oatmeal, and in India we have something called दलिया (daliya), which is a type of porridge made with milk, etc. etc. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but it’s a very good insight.

tassel пампончик
Random note in a margin. This filter gives me a distinctly Russian feel. Correction: *медсестра*

While I’m talking about food, one thing definitely worth commenting on is how often we eat клеб and масла. Еvery single meal, untoasted! Аnd we are usually so hungry that we eat several slices, and quite rapidly, too! At lunch, when we eat with our families, there’s this boy at my table who almost always goes up to get another half loaf of bread. There was even one day, I think, where the kitchen was delayed in bringing out the main part of lunch, so we were all really hungry, and that boy and some others on our table when up to get bread at least five more times! 

There was also a huge thunderstorm on Tuesday night, so the Вечерняя программа got cut short and we hung out in our cabins.  I had to take a shower, and the shower curtain is covered in Orange mold at the bottom, which is growing up the curtain, which kind of sucks. But hey, that’s camp life for you.

My cabin (Алматы), named after a city in Kazakhstan (Казакхстан), is one of the smaller ones – I think the smallest, actually. So all of us girls here are pretty close – I think some of my best friends at camp are in my cabin. So yesterday, when it was raining, Лева (Taylor) got out her ukulele from home and played “Riptide” by Vance Joy, and then Настя played “Home” by Phillip Phillips. We all turned the lights off except for one soft, warm and orange one, which was left in the middle to simulate the campfire whose warmth and vibe we all missed. We all sang along to the songs! I have a nighttime shower time, and my friends and Фера and Нина sang so loud that I heard them in the shower and could even sing along! It’s been really nice being in Алматы. My cabin mates are some of the most interesting, nicest people I’ve met, and it’s nice that we’re so close.

hand signal
Аnother note in the margins. ш sounds ‘sh’ in Cyrillic. Shshshsh!
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