Saturday, August 9, 2008

Camps out the Whazoo

So whether you read this blog first or the above, you probably know that I’ve been to America and back. This entry here is about what happened before, with a few things that happened after. It’s a little hazy at this point, but I’ll give you the important details.
Baseball camp. Officially it was called a Linguistics camp, but there wasn’t all that much linguistical about it. For five days about a dozen kids would show up in the morning at my school. They came for the baseball, but constrained by the name of our camp, we were forced to do some language work. I did my best to teach some English, and used American games to practice the language they learned. Games included: Crazy Eight’s, Duck, Duck Goose, Head’s Up 7 Up (they really couldn’t get this one), and Steal the Bacon.
That was the early morning. It was all just a stall until baseball time. Baseball is an incredibly hard game to explain. Especially when you don’t speak the language fluently. What’s the infield fly rule? What does tagging up mean? What’s a pickle? These were the problems we encountered in explaining this, my counterpart and I. He didn’t understand the game either, so I would have to explain what I could in English to him, and then have him translate.
We decided the best thing to do the first day would be focus on how to throw and catch, then later hitting. The kids decided the best thing to do would be immediately start swinging away. They didn’t get what they wanted. Most Kazakhstani’s throw like girls (except for one girl that threw like a man) and many were scared of the ball, which makes baseball a very hard game to play. We went through flyers up and other games until I felt they could get the ball at least fifteen feet through the air to their partner.
As time went by over the week, they started to get the basics down. Now, my counterpart on the second day didn’t show up, so I was left on my own. It was a struggle to teach the sport and help everybody who needed help. So the next day when he again didn’t show up, I called Nora, the site mate (ex) to assist. She was amazing. She took the role of batting coach while I was the pitcher/manager. She helped out for two days and got the kids figuring out how to hit, for the most part.
By the last day, my Slava had returned and the kids understood enough to play. I felt pretty successful teaching them, and they were bummed to find out they wouldn’t get another chance to play for over a month, but I have hopes that I can get some sort of game together come fall. Before it snows. So I’ll have about two months.
Okay, other camp. Frisbee camp, which was way better. Nora organized this with a small amount of help from me. We brought in four other Peace Corps volunteers: Aaron, Mary, Justin and Nathan. All of them better than me at Frisbee. There were about 30 kids, all of them wondering what the hell a flying plate is (Frisbee’s a pretty new concept in Kazakhstan).
After an opening ceremony we headed to the park and got the kids practicing. Some of them caught on very quickly, learning the backhand then the forehand without too much of a problem. It was a little more complicated to get all the other rules down, but they managed to figure these out as well. That’s important, because technically in Ultimate, there is no referee (though we supervised the games and acted as referees). The kids learned to call their own fouls, and how to Ro-Sham-Bo to end an argument.
One of the highlights was the tie-dye shirts we made. Thanks to a generous donation from my parents who sent us a kit, we had enough supplies to make at least 50 shirts. I don’t remember if I already told this story, but in getting these fifty shirts, Nora and I made no less than 3 trips into the city. We would go to a bazaar and look for a likely vendor and ask for their smallest white shirts. Usually there were only four or five shirts, if any at all. On one occasion I went to a vendor and he took off running around the bazaar looking for shirts for me. After he came back and I bought about 20 from him, I continued my search. I’d stop somewhere and ask, and they’d already know who I was. I quickly learned that the man had completely cleaned out the bazaar and it was fruitless to keep looking at this bazaar.
Anywho, we eventually got 51 shirts (the exact number we thought we needed). Then only about 30 kids showed up and now I’m left over with 15 extra shirts. The kids spent an afternoon dying them and had a great time. Then they had to wait a couple days to unravel them and wash them out. We made a mess of the sinks in Nora’s school rinsing them out, but the result was terrific. On the last day of camp all the kids wore their shirts and we were thrilled.
That’s the long and short of that camp. It was amazing, we got our picture in the newspaper, and the kids are already asking if there will be another one next year. I tell them of course there will be, because I had as much fun as them. It was Nora’s last big mark on the village before she left to be a new volunteer trainer in Almaty.
Now, for the present day. I went to a presentation today of all teachers in the region who held summer camps. Each teacher presented their camp in hopes they would be chosen as the best and would be sent on to the oblast wide competition. Yeah! I was surprised as you all are (I hope this surprises you). Asking Slava about it, he explained that just about everything they do is turned into a competition. His theory is that it’s just a left over from Soviet times. Perhaps it’s used as a motivator, but I was disappointed with that thought. I was hoping teachers would be motivated by their own selfless hearts to do this. I’m learning more and more that things like that don’t happen. So much seems to be a competition between schools.
Anyway, I went because I thought I was presenting our Linguistics camp. I sat through two and a half hours of boring, god awful presentations. They stand at the front and read the information off their slides that are so full of text you barely notice the tiny photographs they put on them. I’m going to give a public presentation course or something so that people will learn the proper way to do it. That’s not the point of this story though. Here’s the point.
Nora’s counterpart got up and put in a CD with a presentation about the Ultimate Frisbee camp. Too my surprise, the judge then demanded that somebody who worked at the camp do the presentation. The people all turned to me. I turned around to make sure Nora hadn’t snuck in behind me. No, she hadn’t. With much encouragement I got up in front of the room and commenced a spur of the moment presentation.
It was not eloquent. It was in Russian. All by myself. If I’d had a few beers or shots of vodka I probably would have spoken much better. As it was, I got through it, quickly. The judge took my picture, I’m not entirely sure why. I was glad I had shaved that morning though.
My linguistic camp presentation involved Slava do all the talking until it got to explaining baseball. This was my explanation. “Two teams, nine players each. One team hits the ball, the other team catches it. You run around bases.” They all seemed satisfied with it, but I doubt we won. When it was all over I treated myself to an ice cream for a job well done and headed home.
Since I’ve been back my days typically involve sleeping until 10 o’clock, waking up and playing the Sims 2 and reading my books until 1. I eat lunch, read some more, study some Russian, read Russian history and play more computer games or watch TV shows and movies on my computer or television. It’s lazy. It’s boring, but it’ll hold me over until school starts. Don’t expect another update until it does. I have another camp I’m traveling to at the end of August, but other than that, not much is going on.
Now scroll up if you want to read the goodness of coming home.

4 comments:

Nora said...

Jeff,

I laughed out loud about you presenting the Ultimate camp... I'm sure it went well because yesterday my vice principal called and asked me to send her all my materials so they can submit the camp on an oblast level! So get ready to present in Pav... I'm sorry I couldn't be there to help out, I really miss Zhelezinka. But I'll be back in October and I expect to see that you've completely renovated the town.

Take care matey,
Nora

m0m0 said...

Linguistics camp, that is a good code name for baseball from now on. When I ask you to go to linguistics camp you'll know that I really want to play base (or whiffle) ball.

Ro-sham-bo, by my understanding, is when you kick each other in the groin and the last one standing wins. I am hoping you taught them something else.

I bet you can save those shirts for next year, assuming you have a place for storage, so 15 extra isn't so bad.

Also, what is Steal the Bacon? It sounds like a great game that no one ever introduced me to.

Wendy said...

Okay Alex, I have to step in here. Roshambo (or Rochambeau)is phonetic French for rock, paper, scissors. I hope that's what he taught them! ;)

Alex said...

Ah, educational on multiple levels! Thanks Wendy!