We met at my friend Mary Couri’s school in her village of Bayanaul. All the volunteers from the Pavlodar region, plus one ex-Pavlodarite traveled down together. We met our children and organized into our teams. The first meeting was a bit awkward, since we didn’t know the kids and they didn’t know us. They were very quiet and I was afraid it would be a very unenthusiastic camp.
Our groups were divided up by countries. I was the leader of team Japan. The other countries were Spain, India, Egypt and…Canada. Yes, Canada. Most of the kids on that team didn’t know it, but they had one of the least interesting countries in the world to represent, don’cha know. The Americans with us were Andrew (Spain), Scott (Egypt), Mary (Canada), Jeffrey/JOCAP (India), Adam (Director), and Nick (Cameraman). After a little while we piled on some more buses and headed about 30 minutes south to Lake Zhasubai and the small village that surrounds it.
Each day of camp was dedicated to a different country. We had five 30 minute lessons to teach each day, and my subject was culture. The teams would rotate through the different themes, which included history, biography, art and language. Here’s a quick rundown of my lessons by day, so you can see how exciting they were.
Day one was India day. I taught about a type of Indian theater called Kathakali. Mind you, I don’t know anything about it, and did my research on Wikipedia two days before in Pavlodar. Day 2 was Egypt and this was my most exciting lesson. I created a dead body and had the kids dig in it looking for body parts. Day 3 was Japan and I taught about Haiku’s and Japanese poetry. Day 4 was Spain and I taught bullfighting and we simulated a bullfight. Day 5 was Canada and the only thing I can think of were beavers and Mounties.
Okay, so back to that first night. We did some games to get to know each other, created flags and a small skit to tell a bit about our countries. My kids became slightly more enthusiastic but sadly, we knew very little about Japan. We came up with the capital, samurai, that it’s two islands (not true, but I was told not to correct) and a couple other things. It didn’t seem especially wondrous or anything, at least until that night.
Sunday night (first night at camp) we did something called “The Big Game!” Andrew, Scott and I painted our faces to look monstrous and put on capes. We carried stockings stuffed with flour. When the game started we came running out of a building swinging the socks. The kids had to find different stations around camp and answer questions or do a task. If they were caught between stations by one of us monsters, we hit them with the socks and they were frozen until a “medic” came and freed them by making them do another task. All I remember of the game was running through this camp howling and hitting kids with socks. It signaled the beginning of the fun and was a great start. All my fears were put to rest.
Rather than go day by day at this point, I’m going to give a few highlights. Swimming at the beach was nice, but the water was a bit cold and most days were windy which made it pretty unpleasant to get out of the water. At one point on the beach four of us Americans were standing around and put on an impromptu Three (4) Stooges act that had the kids in hysterics. We got a round of applause at the end.
Sumo wrestling on Japan day was also a lot of fun for me. We stuffed pillows in the kids’ shirts and went to the beach. We drew a ring and they had to shove each other out (kind of like sumo! Duh). Not everybody wanted to, but there were some kids that were into and pretty fierce. When nobody would step up, I volunteered and beat up two girls at once! I also managed to toss another American on his back five times, which was nice because we’d been having a friendly rivalry all week.
I learnt a game called Potato that is played with a volleyball. You stand in a circle and if you let the ball hit the ground after it touches you, you sit in the middle. People then can hit you with the ball or you can try to catch it to get out. It was a lot of fun until our cheap volleyball burst, but by that time the American football was flying around and kids were getting into that too.
My mummy I built was also a highlight from lessons. I like to believe I had the funnest lessons. There was always a game or something to go along with the information, and I didn’t have a boring subject like history. The mummy was a poster board drawing of a man with a long and narrow opening in his stomach. I taped my shirt to the back of it and closed off the holes. I then stuffed it with shredded wrapping paper for blood and guts. There was a paper heart, liver, lungs and stomach inside, and a rolled up bed sheet for the intestines that the kids had to pull out while I timed them. Everybody went crazy and our cameraman got some pretty good pictures.
Every night we had a review game that got really creative.
First night was simple Jeopardy. Egypt night the kids were tied together at the ankle as a team and had to shuffle in a circle to different stations to answer questions. They all seemed to enjoy it, and it was really simple. I used the same sort of idea, and called my game Chasing the Dragon. Each team had to stay in a line under a blanket and answer questions. Each one right they got to take a step and the team that was the furthest in the end won the game. Another volunteer came up with a version of Double Dare, for those of you remember. The final game was a kind of scavenger hunt with kids searching for maple leaves around the camp.
Overall, the volunteers came up with some really creative activities and games for the kids. I know the kids loved it, as did we Americans. We often wanted to participate. Other activities were tie-dye, bracelets, henna, calligraphy and baseball.
Before I go on, I have to mention team points. Teams could earn points for different things in camp, the biggest being the review game at the end of each day. Now, team Japan, for all their efforts, were not the smartest bunch. From day one we were in dead last. Then, we pulled off a surprise second place win in a review game and hope was restored. The next day we proved we were the most athletic team in camp. That day was the big dodgeball tournament.
Dodgeball actually took place over two days. None of the kids knew what the game was but once the balls started flying they caught on pretty quick. It got pretty wild pretty quick and tempers soared. There were lots of people calling others out and claims of cheating, but it all went smoothly. We started with a round robin. Japan beat every taker hands down, until we got to Canada. The Canadian game was epic, but the medic (who can bring people back in) got taken out and Canada was able to clean up in the end. In the final Japan faced Canada again. Japan played a solid game and pulled out a pretty heavy victory.
That win put them in the game against the volunteers. Five volunteers went up against team Japan, myself and our ringer, Nick. The Americans managed to win the first game, due to Japan’s tiredness and their experience. Luckily, this was two out of three (mostly because the Americans wanted to keep playing). In the end, heart won out over experience and Japan took the next two games and a bonus 200 team points.
After the week was done Japan had earned enough points to take 3rd place. We were ecstatic (me most of all) and celebrated our victory (relative) with cheers of Bonzai! So many other things happened during that magical week, I can’t possibly relate them all. Know that I have not had a better time while in Kazakhstan.
Five of us had to leave a few hours early to catch a bus back to Pavlodar. As we left, there were lots of pictures and when we finally got on our bus, the tears started to flow from some kids. Then one girl got on the bus and did a walking hug tour and soon it was a stream of kids coming on to give us all hugs. It was pretty touching and we could see how much we’d touched these kids’ lives. I think all of us were a bit down as we pulled away.
Now, another story about life in Kazakhstan. We arrived at the bus station in Bayanaul an hour ahead of time, expecting that to be plenty of time to get tickets. The problem was, however, that bus stations don’t talk to each other all the time. So the Bayanaul bus station had no idea how many tickets were left and weren’t selling any. We were some of the first to arrive at the station, but as we waited at least twenty more people came. The bus ended up late and by the time it arrived people flew to its doors and there was no way to get on.
Three buses went through the station this way with no chance to buy tickets or get on. After the second bus we asked a taxi driver how much to take four of us (out of 6) to Pavlodar and he said 9000 tenge (around 80 dollars). We just laughed and walked away. After the third bus we asked again and he said 13000 tenge. Now he was laughing. We had been sitting there for over two hours at this point and some people really had to get back to the city.
Some of our guys talked to the taxi driver and he called a friend who said he’d do it for 8000 tenge but it would take him an hour and a half to get to the station. That being the only option, we agreed. Two of us were going to stay in Bayanaul the night and catch a bus the next day. We waited, wondering if this other taxi would ever show up. While waiting we tossed a baseball, met a girl who spoke English quite well and played some guitar. Another guy started waving down cars trying to get a ride into the city.
Finally a different van pulled up and we started the haggle. He didn’t want to go to Pavlodar, but he was going to another city called Icky-Bastus. He guaranteed us a bus from Icky, and if he couldn’t get one, he’d drive us from Icky to Pavlodar, and all this for 1000 tenge apiece. It was a good deal so we got on. The drive to Icky took almost two hours. From there, with help from the driver and some money in the right hands he got us on a bus to Pavlodar for another wad of cash. Thanking him, we got on and after another two hour ride made it to the city. All together it was about 8 hours to make a 3 hour trip. That’s travel in Kazakhstan.
So now I’m back at site, waiting for school to start. I realized that after such an amazing week with such great kids, sitting at home is that much more boring. I’m eager for school to start and have plans for lessons. I’ll be teaching 3rd and 4th graders as well now, which I am looking forward to very much. Hopefully the school year will fly by and before I know it, there’ll be more camps to attend. Ah, also, the Kaz-18’s are all getting ready to leave and it’s pretty crazy listening to them talk about their plans and all of that. It’s exciting for them, and I’m excited to meet this fresh crop of volunteers that arrived about a week ago that Nora is dealing with. I’ll keep you all posted.