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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!

The demographics of the campers at Лесное Озеро are pretty interesting. It’s pretty evenly split between boys and girls. Racially/ethnically, most people here are white/European. There are quite a few people of Russian ancestry. There are also some people who were born in Russia and were then adopted and grew up in the United States. They were then sent to camp to reconnect with their culture and keep their language. Some of the more senior вожатый bring their kids. One of those families is from Kazakhstan! So they bring a really interesting perspective to my camp life and conversations here. I am one of 5-7 kids who are Asian or from African-American descent. A few kids are a senior вожатые little kids. It’s pretty fun, and it adds diversity and fresh perspectives to the camp. Overall, Лесное Озеро is really big on inclusivity – people seemed really open. If anything, they were just curious about what got me interested in Russian in the first place! 

Среда, 7 августа 

Yesterday night, for Вечерняя программа, in the 5 different parts of Saint Petersburg (the meeting place), there were stations where we would learn about the cultures/fun things for different countries (Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Tatarstan, Moldova, Belarus). I learned that Belarus seems to be quite a gorgeous place, at least from one videographer’s time lapse compilation (isn’t the clock transition cool!) of cities and landscapes. We also watched a traditional Moldovan folk dance and then learned how to do it ourselves (albeit not well, lol. Although I do have one friend who was a literal CIRCUS dancer – how cool is that – who, of course, nailed it). I believe Kazakhstan’s and Tajikistan’s session was held in the camp’s yurt, where chai with молоко, грецкий орех (walnut), and клев (oh, and lots of spices) was served with traditional music playing in the background. The evening was set up so that we had a mini-map that connected the 6 stations, and a вожатый would punch holes in it once we visited a place, and then we would get tickets to the next – kind of like we were traveling. My friends and I all enjoyed it in general. It was nice to learn about all the different countries, and it quite honestly makes me want to visit them and travel to Russia even more!

Other than that, yesterday (Wednesday, because I’m a day behind in journaling, lol – I’m actually writing this on Thursday) was a mainly normal day. It was our last cooking class for the second round of час культуры, which I was sad about. I wrote down the last week’s recipes in a nice notebook, and it would be nice to do the same for this round of час культуры. In I think 15 mins (it’s Thursday), I have a meeting for IronChef (not MasterChef, haha), the cooking competition at I-Day. Hopefully that goes well. 

Четверг, 8 Августа

I have to say this: it’s been really nice to be around people with such deep-rooted connections to Russia (adopted, or from there), or people who are deeply interested in the culture, like me. Back in New Jersey, at my school and in my neighborhood, etc., I’ve yet to find more than maybe 1-2 people who have an interest in Russian languages & culture at all. It’s been really good for me, I think, to be surrounded by elements of the culture, whether it’s eating Русски салат at lunch and dinner or even singing a poem about the sun rising – perfectly – in order to enter breakfast. And then there’s how we are immersed in the Russian language from Доброе утро to Спокойной ночи (spokinoki, of course! @ мои Владивосток друзья) and everything in between. It’s a completely new experience, and quite a refreshing one at that.

Notes from online yurt researching adventures on Lia’s phone!

I have food allergies, and I was talking to Нина and Лия, two вожатые in my cabin, about dealing with race and allergies in Russia and other surrounding countries, and when studying abroad. It was a really candid conversation, which I appreciated.

Assimilating in Russia will not be easy, I was told. In the big cities (e.g. Moscow, Moldova, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, etc.), one can manage decently well and enjoy experiencing the Russian culture. In the rural parts, challenges are to be expected.  People from Москва or Санкт-Петербург may be used to foreigners, but not everyone. Be prepared to get some stares, or to perhaps be called a name. And be super super careful about allergies, as there is little exposure to them and many do not understand the seriousness. Both Лия and Нина noted that every single person they knew who had studied abroad, whether they were dark or light skinned, had wonderful, eye-opening, and enriching experiences.

The main takeaway is that this is a doable, but slightly risky trip that would require a very high proficiency in Russian and a lot of planning. But in a big city with plenty of dining options, or with an understanding host family, it’s feasible. 

I especially wonder – it would be such an experience to go study in Russia as a vegetarian, highly-allergic person who is not a native speaker. My experiences wouldn’t be 100% normal, but they would definitely be unique and my own. It’s something I would definitely like to attempt in the future. Нина said there are people like me who have survived and had a good time.

And as for my experiences with food and allergies at Лесное Озеро, you needn’t worry. Although eggs and nuts are used in so many Russian dishes (especially the eggs – очень яица!), the kitchen staff is very careful and makes separate dishes, with clean pans, labelled utensils/scoops for, for instance, just the vegan dish (separate note: once we had веганский шоколадный торт that was so good). They make alternate dishes that closely mimic the real thing, therefore preserving the part of camp life that revolves around eating traditional Russian food. They are also really open to communicating and working with parents to reassure them / explain how they will work with the child’s allergies, which I know my parents appreciated. 

Overall, though, I just want to express how thankful I am to the kitchen staff at Лесное Озеро. They quite honestly took such good care of my allergies at camp – making similar alternatives, always making sure that just in general I had enough to eat (so motherly, in a sense!). I mean, my counselor Зебо would go with me to the kitchen to make sure I got the right meal – she was so, so sweet. Лия, Маша и Саша (медсестра), I so appreciate your kindness and caution, and your efforts to work around my crazy allergies. Anyone with allergies looking to come to Лесное Озеро, don’t worry. They’ll take good care of you!

Пятница, 9 Августа

Today was International Day! I’m writing this as I take a break from packing. What a day. Let me take you through it all…

“Доброе утро” and the usual banging outside the door was at 8:00 AM, as usual. I, for some reason, just naturally wake up at 7-7:30 (with Abigail, a friend of mine, sometimes). Maybe it’s because I’m actually on a regular, early sleep schedule for a change!

Breakfast was eggs and sausage (or for me, tofu scramble and vegan sausage lol). Not каша, unfortunately! Afterwards, we packed bagged lunches to eat at the French camp (Lac du Bois, our first stop before the German camp, Waldsee, where I-Day was held!) with the French campers and the Spanish campers as well. There, songs in Spanish, French, and Russian were played while we ate, and campers from the corresponding camps would get up and show everyone their camp’s steps to the dance they had made for the song. And then we’d all dance! It was really funny to hear “left!” and “right!” and “1, 2, 3, 4” in all 3 languages when the various camps would get up and lead the dances. In Russian, it was “Лево,” “Право,” and “Раз! Два! Три! Четыре!” We’d all get super excited and laugh when we heard that. It kind of became an inside joke with Лесное Озеро kids, as we would always say those when we’d dance, or in дискотека nights in Мариинский Театр (a part of the Санкт-Петербург building at camp, named after the actual theater in St. Petersburg, Russia! It’s also where we would sing songs before lunchtime at camp, or where we’d watch films and skits (пародия) put on by the вожатый). 

We then took a bus to Waldsee, and I sat with my good friend Настя (Nastya). Once we got there, we sat in a circle around one of the German cafes (fun fact: there was a rumor going around that Waldsee is funded in part by the German government. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but if it is, that’s pretty cool) with the Spanish, Italian, and French camps, where we did a song exchange. That was actually quite enjoyable. Each camp would sing 1-2 of their favorite, most common camp songs. 

The singing/musical focus at camp has been one of my favorite experiences at Лесное Озеро. Антон, the senior вожатый who leads the songs/campfire sing-alongs, once said something along the lines of this, when many of us campers were refusing to sing! I found it so profound. “Songs – traditional Russian folk songs – help you improve your pronunciation, learn more vocabulary, and connect more with Russian culture, as folk songs often discuss real troubles or stories that early Russians contemplated.” I think that, first of all, really goes to show just how interwoven the Russian language-learning process is at Concordia Language Villages and Лесное Озеро. I had originally thought the songwriting part was just to expose us to the culture and history of the Russian people, but it connects to the language, too. I love how it’s so well thought out. I’m still singing the songs. Калинка, Чорнитази! I can’t wait to learn them all on the balalaika. 

After the song exchange, all of us campers from the Russian camp walked over to the Russian pavilion, which was our designated meeting place in Waldsee. While singing camp songs and only mildly inappropriate video game changes, of course (one became quite the meme and popular chant of the boys from Мурманск). And I-Day officially began! There was an opening program first, and then the stalls opened and events began. 

I was part of two International Day events. One was to play the balalaika with a group of campers and Тарас (our instructor) in the middle of the general place where everyone was gathering – on a big, raised circular platform. Each camp had a time slot and would get up and play some of their songs as background music while everyone visited the I-Day stalls from all the different camps, selling their ethnic food and candy. We played Калинка, Цыгане, and one other that I can never remember how to spell. Some of my friends and others from Лесное Озеро came up and sang with us too! It was really cool to see all the villages’ different instruments. One had this really interesting, huge drum!

After playing the balalaika, I had a bit of time before Iron Chef (the cooking competition) began. I visited the International Fruit Stand, which featured фрукты (fruit, pronounced fruti!) like dragonfruit (питахайя), mango (манго), honeydew (медвяная роса), and bunches of grapes (ягоды винограда) – all of which I purchased in a small, rectangular, paper box (with no cap). That was an oddly specific description, lol. But anyway, in order to get the fruit, we were able to spend tickets given to us, in addition to American dollars. Depending on how much fruit one buys, there were two options to pay – some combination of dollars, tickets, and singing a camp song or your choice, or more tickets and dollars but no song. I chose the song option and sang “Чорнитази” for some honeydew, blueberries, mango, and dragonfruit. And Юля, the вожатый, was standing right behind me, cheering me on. It really was quite enjoyable. 

At 2:15 pm, I went back to the Russian pavilion to get ready for IronChef with my team: Камила, Хенфира, аnd one other. Наталия was leading another team, also from Лесное Озеро. The competition itself was held in the Grill Pavilion (Grillplatz), an outdoor space in Waldsee. There were, I believe, 9 tables, with competitors from the Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Swedish camps present. The competition was organized like Iron Chef – a box of ingredients under the table, with 2 “secret” ones that had to be used in both the appetizer and main dish (45 mins to cook both, 15 mins to plan). Secret ingredients were revealed after the planning period ended. We had some things just available to us – a grill as a heat source, the ingredients (fruits and veggies, mostly), and a variety of bread/tortilla/crackers and spices (paprika, chili, and no sugar, but pomegranate molasses! How interesting!). There was nothing I was allergic to available as an ingredient – not sure if that was done on purpose – if so, thank you. The secret ingredient, at least one of which had to be used in both the appetizer and main dish, were quinoa and dragonfruit. I was so excited to cook with the tofu – we do it all the time at home as a substitute for meats. Given the large amount of fruit we were given – berries (strawberries, blueberries, banana), the dragonfruit – we decided to make a jam out of the mashed-up fruit and mix in some of the pomegranate molasses (the only sugar available). It didn’t taste horrible and actually looked pretty appealing and creative when we put it on rye crackers and decorated the place. We cut up the remaining fruit (mango, some banana) and put it in the middle of the crackers, sprinkled with chili powder (something I do at home! Creds to you, Dad, for that one). That was our appetizer. For the main course, we made these Georgian cheese bread / quesadilla-type dish called хачапури (khachapuri). We made it closed, though it can also be made open-faced. We had actually made the dish in my cooking class that week, so that’s where we got the idea! In addition to the bread, we made a scramble with tofu, quinoa, and veggies over the grill, and garnished the finished plate with paprika and some herbs on the outsides.

Next, we presented both dishes to the judges. We called the first one “Фруктовый рай,” or “fruit paradise,” and the second “Международны й день,” for the Georgian closed bread and tofu scramble (tofu is of Asian origin), and also just in honor of the day! And we sang them one of our mealtime camp songs (Вилка ложка, вилка вилка ложка…) and wished them, “Приятного аппетита, судьи!” (have a nice meal, judges!). They appreciated our idea to make the jam and crackers, I think, and they liked the хачапури. Once the other teams presented to the judges, we started cleaning up. We got to know the Arabic team pretty well. And that was the end of Iron Chef – for a while. 🙂

I-Day was almost over at that point – because I was in those 2 events, I barely had time to go buy some German candy from the stall, and instead had to devise an elaborate scheme to steal my friend Роса’s, complete with masks and involving the little stick-and-stone village, Лесное Земля, that we built during урок аs a decoy. Unfortunate. But it was time for the closing program. I’m actually finishing this entry a whole week after I-Day, because the day in general was so busy. So I don’t remember this part exactly, but here you go. I believe we started off with a huge song & dance exchange, as all camps were in a huge circle, after some words from the Concordia College deans and managers of I-Day. Лесное Озеро, of course, sang our camp song – not a folk song, but a camp specific one. It’s a bit more recent, so the name’s not in my songbook, unfortunately. Each camp would dance to a traditional song – there were traditional folk and modern dance teams that campers had the option to be a part of. Our campers even dressed up in traditional Russian folk dress (red, white, lacy) when they went up to dance, as did I believe a couple other camps. My friend Светлана (read: Сметана. lol, love you girl. Her real name is Abigail, for the credit), who also journaled a lot at camp, got some descriptions of each dance down and was so kind as to let me copy them down. Here they are (& in picture format!):

international day dances concordia language villages
Concordia Language Villages’ International Day dance descriptions.
international day dances concordia language villages
Concordia Language Villages’ International Day dance descriptions. (cont.)
international day dances concordia language villages
Concordia Language Villages’ International Day dance descriptions. (cont.)

During the closing program, the deans of each village were introduced by a couple campers in the camp’s language, and they in turn introduced their 10+ year villagers, which I thought was quite sweet. Again, meaning was conveyed through hand signals – so this was a standard across camps! We then boarded the buses back to Лесное Озеро, ready for dinner, packing, and more, content with I-Day’s chaotic, diverse fun. Oh – I almost forgot! Iron Chef! Лесное Озеро – and our team! – won first place for the first time ever! I was so beyond ecstatic, as was our whole camp. We were awarded a golden pan with “IronChef Champions” written on it – and bragging rights, of course.

I don’t know if I ever journaled about this, but on Thursday, before I-Day, there was an end of camp banquet and дисотека. There were 3 courses of really awesome food, and it was nice to just sit with friends (some friends from Владивосток, my honorary cabin – miss you all <3). Our deans, Лара (overall), и Сара (heads the 2 week program), and Наталоя (4 week program), handed out awards and certificates to us villagers. Many вожатый and even campers made toasts to various groups of villagers, classes, friends, etc. It was really sweet and definitely a good way of starting the close to camp. 

Back to I-Day: We had pizza and lemonade for dinner that night (an “American” dinner), did земстра (where we say our rose, bud, and thorn) for the last time, and started packing. I took a shower (lol that’s what I remember at this point, of course). And then, with approximately 30% of my packing done, I was sent to bed. 

Суббота, 10 Августа

It was quite unfortunate, actually – Тургенев, my family, had to wake up early on this last half day of camp and do Доброе утро (i.e. bang on everyone’s doors until they wake up). And do the meal presentation, set the tables, clean up, etc. It was nice though, because we did have кaша. Я очень люблю каша. After breakfast, I finally got a chance to finish my packing. And then, I finally saw my parents! Actually, just my dad, brother, and grandpa, who had come to pick me up. We sang a couple camp songs for them – my friend Настя and I played the balalaika! And, after a few words from Лара and Маша, were ready to get our money and contrabands (means electronics – “contraband” is a soviet censorship reference. that just goes to show how ingrained the culture is at Лесное Озеро, once again!) back. I’m pretty sure my phone nearly exploded with the two weeks’ worth of notifications!

Saying goodbye to everyone was rough. I miss my camp friends – but that’s one reason I’m grateful for social media. And my урок teachers as well, and balalaika and cooking, and pretty much everything. I thought about it quite a bit on the drive down to the airport. I’ll miss the songs, the people – especially the people. It was so nice to be surrounded by people at least a bit interested in Russian culture, like me, or with some sort of connection. I don’t have much of that in NJ. Driving through endless trees in the middle of nowhere – straight countryside – for hours on end is an environment very conducive to reflection. Thoreau would of course disapprove of the driving bit, but he did note that “we need the tonic of wildness… [and] can never have enough of nature” in his Walden. I’ll miss being surrounded by pure, untouched nature, a kind that I have never experienced before. It’s an indescribable feeling, being deep in the woods, away from technology and mankind’s complex creations, where, as Thoreau again notes, “all good things are wild and free.” 

So that’s the end of my Лесное Озеро journey, at least for now. Maybe I’ll be back again, who knows. And this notebook will come alive, descried and in the spotlight once more.

До свидания,

Рая Тургенева

One Comment

  1. Zoe Zoe

    Great journey, Rhea!!