Sunday, September 12, 2010

Camp Seagull

I spent 10 days this summer in the woods at
“Lager Chaika,” or Camp Seagull. It was an overnight camp for kids from ages 8-16, on the shores of a lake in a National Recreation Area. They still call it Pioneersky Lager after the Pioneers, the Soviet youth organization (similar to the Boy and Girl Scouts) who used to run the camps. Before I went, I was a little nervous because all I knew was the day that I was supposed to show up, the name of the camp, and the name of the camp director.
Luckily, somebody had told them I was coming, and I got to stay there for free while helping out however I could. At first, they weren't sure quite what to do with me, and I would have one main daily task such as to lead one 10 minute game or to make sure the 11-12 year old girls didn't make too much noise during the afternoon nap. But by the end I was filling in for counselors when they were sick or needed to run errands. People there, both staff and campers, were really friendly and I had a great time.
The cabin where I stayed. There was a little room to the left of the main door that I had to myself. My neighbors were the 13-14 year old boys. I played thumb wars and uno with them, and answered all their questions about what kinds of cars they drive in America and whether I'd seen any movie stars, so we got along well.

Inside the boys' cabin. There were about 20
beds in each cabin, and 11 cabins, although none were completely full. There were about 150 kids total at the camp, divided into five “otradi,” or groups, by age. Each otrad had about 15 boys and 15 girls, and one boy counselor and one girl counselor.

The main path between the cabins.


 Neat “portable” teeter totter that the kids could play on.

Every morning after breakfast the kids had an hour to clean up their cabin and pick up trash around the camp.

Kibutsu Emblem
The first day one of the activities was to make an emblem on the main square to represent your otrad.  The emblems were made out of pinecones, moss, rocks, and sand.  This is the emblem for my neighbors, the 13-14 year olds.  Their otrad was named "Kibutsu," which I think is supposed to be Chinese.  Each otrad also had a "devis," or chant, that extolled the virtues of the otrad and that they chanted while marching around the camp or at the morning meeting.  For example, there was an otrad called "MTS" after a Russian cell phone service provider.  Their devis was:
We are mobile children
from the MTS team.
MTS is a higher class.
There's no one better than us in the world.
(Of course, the devis is in meter and rhymes in Russian.)


Campers gathered outside the dining hall, waiting to eat one of their five meals of the day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and second dinner. We ate a lot of kasha (porridge.) Even for lunch. And a lot of kutleti, or meatballs.

The 4th otrad eating lunch.

On the shore of our lake, with the “Two Brothers”
mountains/hills in the background. Everyday the kids got to go swimming in the lake, except for when it was too cold. But they went swimming in a very regimented fashion. Each otrad had a certain time they could go swimming. They would come at that time and line up one the beach for inspection by the sports director/lifeguard. He would blow his whistle, and all the kids would run into the water. They had about 10 minutes for swimming, and they would all have to get out again, dry off in the sun, and then march back to their cabin as a group to change.

One of our first days at camp, everyone climbed to the top of a nearby hill, one of the “Three Sisters,” to get a better view of the Two Brothers and the surrounding forest. There was a legend associated with these names that the camp director told the kids before the hike, but I didn't understand it well enough to repeat it back to you. Everything at the camp was in Russian, which was great for improving my language skills but not great for my knowing what was going on most of the time.

At the top of most mountains, or at the end of just about every hike here in Kazakhstan, there is a wishing tree. You tie a piece of cloth on the tree and make a wish. Unfortunately, the kids didn't have any pieces of cloth with them, so they took the plastic labels off their water bottles and tied those on instead.


A few days later we climbed to the top of one of the Two Brothers. The ascent approached rock climbing at certain points. Thankfully, we took a less treacherous route back down.

View from one of the brothers to the other, with the valley floor below.

Counselor Roma made friends with this little lizard, called a Yaisheritsa. He was trying to release it into the forest, but it liked him too much to say goodbye. If you can see, the end of its tail is a different color. That's because it can lose the end of it's tail to escape a predator.

My last day at camp we went into the woods to pick berries. The only berries ripe were these tiny little strawberries called “zemliniki.” They were delicious, but tiny. I decided they were too miniscule to merit the effort of collecting them, so I just ate everything I picked immediately. Yum!

1 comment:

  1. i feel sooo emotional looking at these, i used o be an russian orphan and we used to go there every summer. i remember every little bit of that place. you have no idea how tankful i am for these :D especially as its hard to find anything relating to your past.
    i looked at the dining room and just remember how we used to stump on milk bottles after breakfast :) and also the morning routine of exercise and lining up ......thank you so much. what you did was amazing you should be proud :)