One of these first days I met a really nice, friendly boy: 15-year-old Kiril from the oldest group. His father was Ukrainian and his mother Russian. I found it worth noting that his mum had not paid for him to take part in the English lessons, because she did not like English or cultural associations with it. He calmly said he didn’t agree with her and he was very friendly to me, as well as speaking impressive English.
Every night there was a disco for all the kids. The music was really intense! It was nothing like a British-kids’ camp music would be. It ranged from deep house and electro to screamo heavy metal. In fact, there was a particular song that they played every night that the kids loved to actually mosh and head bang to. Keep in mind these children were aged 7 to 16, and they pretty much all joined in with equal gusto. I remember finding it really amusing when Ramstein came on, and the youngest kids were absolutely revelling in it – it seemed so Russian! Sometimes, they also played slow songs, in which all the children would leave the dance floor except for couples. I sat on the benches at the side during the disco to chat to the quieter kids or to sit with a sleepy child under each arm, usually the ones that were missing their parents. However I did occasionally get asked to dance by the older boys and I felt weirdly awkward as if I was a teenager again! While we were swaying together a bunch of children ran up to us and danced in a ring around us, which apparently meant we had to kiss, so I let him kiss me on the cheek. It was so strange as I have only just left this adolescent period in life. I was aware I was older, but at the same time almost felt like I was one of them.
Every night, after the disco and just before bed, each group gathered in their common rooms and sat in a circle in the pitch dark – completely dark except for a candle, which they passed around. When you held the candle, you told the group what you were thankful for that day, while everyone else listened. It was so beautiful. The first time I joined in I had been assigned with group one (the oldest lot) that day. Although I didn’t understand much, it was heart warming to see everyone smiling at the candle holder. I was very flattered that several of them mentioned me – the quiet, ever-grinning foreigner seemed to be making a good impression! When the candle came to me I stuttered out some Russian saying how happy I was to be there and how lovely everyone was, which I think they enjoyed. Afterwards a bunch of them came up to me and said they all wished I could be their vazhate.
That same day I had spent the still hours (naptime for the kids, between 2pm and 4pm) with Anna and Lief -he was the camp DJ – as was usual in the first week or two. We talked about gays and gay marriage. Anna said she wasn’t for or against, but that her parents were very against and found it unnatural. Lief said straight out (in his calm, shy way) that he was totally against it. Anna proceeded to tell me that in Russian schools no one would ever “come out” because the bullying would be very extreme. The country is very traditional and as these two told me it is just a wide-held opinion that it’s unnatural. I kind of get it, but it makes me sad because children that – as they’re growing up realise they’re gay – have to live their life in denial or shame and fear. However I expect that opinions on this will change with time.