After this, things carried on as normal at the camp. The weather got very hot, which was nice despite being constantly sweaty. The end came very quickly and before I knew it, it was the last weekend. In my last English lesson, one of the English teachers asked all the kids to tell me what they liked about me, which was really heart-warming. In turn I got to tell them everything I loved about them. The kids told me I was beautiful and clever and kind. One of them commented that I “never refused to talk and always answered their questions”. This of course made me really happy and I felt like I had done a good job. I told them how intelligent and interesting and wonderful they all were, and that I hoped they would always have lots of friends and work hard to achieve everything they wanted in life.
At our last couple of discos, Anna and I were on the Baltika – Russian beer. It made the nightly disco rather more amusing for us. I have an awesome memory of us joining in this crazy Jewish dance that the older kids liked doing, and it was so fun. It made us all very dizzy.
On the very last night almost all the kids were in tears, they didn’t want to leave. We had a huge kapusta (literally means cabbage, but it’s a word they use for a hug with more than two people!). I was really sad to say bye to them all, it’s amazing how attached Anna and I got to them in such a short time. I suppose it was probably the intensity that caused it. I still miss them when I think about them today, with all their wonderful individual personalities.
The night before my flight I stayed at a really nice vazhate‘s flat in the city. It was Galina, the girl who studied journalism whom I’d met the first night. After dinner, we went to a bar with another friend, Nastya and her fiancé, Yegor. (People get married pretty young in Russia, according to Anna.) It was adorably awkward as we were squashed round a table with our drinks, in the shopping centre bar. None of us were sure what to say, given the language issue, but we were all grinning at each other, happy to be in each other’s presence.
Nastya got her phone out and used it as a translator for some things. In fact, while the others were talking among themselves, she and I had a terribly in-depth conversation about Putin and world peace over that phone. Unfortunately I can’t quite remember exactly what we said… but I remember us ending on a note of confident hope for Russia. Nastya has lots of faith in the new generation.
The following morning I left at 6am to drive up to Moscow. I was lucky to be driven by Misha again, although it wasn’t quite as chatty…I think we were both tired from the early wake-up. When I got to the airport I gave him a hug and then went to security. I was excited to go back to the food that I’m used to, I couldn’t wait to see my family and friends, and I was very happy nothing bad had happened. However, as I was leaving I was sure of my intent to return, and was already beginning to plan it. My first trip to Russia left me with several impressions. Firstly, when I was at the camp I had many of the vazhate ask me what “we” (westerners) thought of Russians. “Do they find us weird?” “Are we very different?” And my overwhelming answer after this trip is: no, not at all! They are just the same as us. Being in a very social situation across a wide span of ages, I could see the same love, the same striving to make sure everyone’s happy, the same hierarchies, that you would find in the same situation in the UK. Actually, I’d say for the first two points they were stronger; I perceived a notably potent amount of love and care for the children. The only ways in which they were different, was in “superficial” ways because of their strikingly different history to ours. Things that will develop over time and probably change. But the fundamental things were just the same. I’d like it if more western people reaslied this. It’s cold and damaging to think of them as “other”. Russians are awesome 🙂