Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why It Matters

It goes without saying that the one thing that makes Kitezh different from any other place I've been to is the children that live here. They come from incredibly difficult and tragic backgrounds, but looking at them you almost can't tell. I cannot stress enough how special they all are and how much they've overcome! I have enjoyed everything about my stay in Kitezh, but the kids are, without a doubt, what made it a meaningful experience. So instead of writing a long blogpost about all of their personal stories or sharing a list of our inside jokes, I thought I might just show you a few photos, both mine and Alen's. Maybe even through the internet they can touch your heart like they did mine.

Masha and I enjoying the fair

Nikita, big Danya, and Kolya looking tough while moving some hay

Little Danya reading in the light of the window at the Bolshoi Dom

Alina affectionately holding the kitten Eminem

Big Danya practicing his fighting moves in front of the stolovaya

Vanya looking angelic while cooking with little Danya

Boris and Nikita waving as they ride away

Friday, July 27, 2012

Take a tour of Kitezh!

So I thought that now I'm about to leave my Russian home, it might be a good time to show you around the place! 

Just in case you're curious, here's what typical meals in Kitezh are like! Breakfast is almost always some form of kasha (like oatmeal) and a sweet dish, lunch is always a soup along with multiple types of salads, and dinner is usually a meat dish and some sides like rice, gretchka (buckwheat), or lentil beans. These photos are from Alen of New York, our local nutritionist, who obsessively takes photos of every one of his meals. 
Click for a larger picture!

Now that you know more about what I've been eating, I bet you want to know about where I've been staying! The houses in Kitezh were all built in a fairy-tale style to invoke the kids' notions of fantasy and imagination; the idea is to help them believe that anything is possible and that good can always triumph over evil. The result: a very unique looking community! Here are just a few of the buildings at Kitezh.

(Above)  Not a sight many city-dwellers would be used to seeing, but easily a place a child could call home. (Right) Here is Mariana's house--with it's bridge and rose garden, it's a favorite for volunteers. (Below) Talk about your rustic charm! This is the original house built in Kitezh. The Kitezh founder at one point lived there without electricity or any running water. How far we've come!

So what else is fun and unique about life in Kitezh? The farm animals! Unfortunately I haven't gotten a chance to do much farm work while I've been here, but I have fed the chickens and collected their eggs quite a few times. Just look how cute the goats are! 

So for my last bit of this brief tour, I just wanted to share some photos of how lovely Kitezh is in general. I apologize for not having more photos, but it's impossible to capture it all. Plus, who wants to take photos inside houses or in the kitchen when there are adorable children and kittens to photograph! :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Little Американка in the Big City

Did you miss me? Sorry to have left so unexpectedly, but Moscow was a-calling! The other foreign volunteers and I got the chance to spend 4 days in Moscow as a mini-vacation from work at Kitezh. Three of us stayed in a swanky hostel in the city and spent our time being good tourists--sightseeing, eating, shopping, eating, getting lost, and sometimes even eating. It was a great (and exhausting) trip, and I'm so glad I got to go! 

A few things that make Moscow different from a city in the US: 
  • There are accordion-players on street corners
  • Mustaches on women are totally acceptable
  • People can smoke indoors and drink outdoors
  • You may accidentally walk into a prostitution ring when looking for a late-night meal
  • McDonalds constitutes a well-balanced meal (and sells beer!)
Well now that you know more about Moscow, I bet you'd love to see some extra touristy photos! (Believe me, more will be added to Facebook later...)

First stop: Red Square (Красная площадь)! Here you have the famous St. Basil's Cathedral as well as the Kazan Cathedral and other import an Russian buildings, such as the State Historical Museum, outer boundaries of the Kremlin, and Lenin's Mausoleum (pictured above).

Day two: shopping! We went to a souvenir market, and there were hand-painted matryoshka dolls like this everywhere. Obviously I had to bring one home with me.
Cutesy tourist fun! 

Right: Posing with the statue of famous Russian comedian Yuri Nikulin located in front of the Moscow Circus, just a block from our hostel!

Below: We spent our last day in Moscow at Gorky Park. They have all kinds of activities there, like renting a pedal boat and riding around the lake (left) or just taking time to relax in the sun (right).

 Hmm... does that structure look a little familiar to anyone? Chapel Hill folks maybe?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Spotlight on: Our Volunteers

(Psst, sorry for the lack of blogposts lately. The internet has been rather unpredictable... ah, but I guess that is all part of the Kitezh experience.)

Now that you are all caught up on the game and how it ended, I wanted to shed some light on an element that was essential to making it all happen: the volunteers. Our volunteers came from Moscow, Smolensk, Belarus, Kaluga, and even Canada, Britain, and America. We did a variety of work, ranging from playing as monsters with the kids (trolls, bears, traders, drug-addicts even) to cooking, cleaning, and gardening, aka my end of the spectrum. More than that though, we had to make sure the morale of the kids stayed high, that they remained interested in the game, felt safe, and were happy being in Kitezh with us. We weren't the masterminds of the game (that title definitely goes to Vanya, he really was the game master), but we played an indispensable role in this role-playing game.  So, because they are so awesome and because I've been waiting for a post where I can share these pictures, I have decided to give you five reasons why volunteers are great.

1. They are inventive.
     This stud here is Illya from Kaluga, and he was a fellow resident of (the greatest city) Rifton. During his time here, he decided to create a new religion worshiping a mystic dragon from the game, Alduin. After he spread pamphlets and origami dragons, the kids were so hooked on this movement that when it looked like it was about to rain before the great fair, the children gathered together prayed to Alduin to aid them. And it didn't rain a drop!

2. They are zen.
     During our free time, Ira from Moscow and I like to gallop into wooden glens and punch dance out our rage. (Hot Rod quote, for those who don't know.) But really, with forests and paths like these all around, it's rare to not find volunteers walking around and exploring during breaks from work.

3. They are attractive.
     Come on, look at these good looking volunteers. Here we are cooling down outside after dancing to some Euro dub-step at one of the world famous Kitezh discos. Viva le Discotech!

4. They are talented.
      Here's a photo of me, Nastya from Moscow, and the portrait she drew of me! Kitezh attracts volunteers with all sorts of amazing talents, including artists, musicians, actors, and even linguists, hehe.

5. They are foreign.
     Ah, the fab four foreign volunteers, or as Roma calls us ABBA 2.0, with our student tour guide Yulia.  This picture was taken during our day trip to the nearby city of Kaluga, which was a great day to relax and take some time off from the game. Why is being a foreigner an advantage? Why not! We come from far away places (Canada, UK, USA), and we dedicate our time to learning Russian language and culture. We must be nuts... and I like it.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Way of the Hero

The last child has left, the last tent has been taken down. Our games are finally over. It's sad to see everyone go, but I must say that the end of the game may have been the best part. On the second to last day, all the kids from all the different cities and guilds worked as a group to build a huge fort. The fort was amazing, it's hard to believe how fast they put it together! Then on the last day of the game, all the kids defended their fort (the force of good) against the army of evil, made up of all the guild masters and volunteers dressed as monsters. The battle carried on for hours, then at last it ended with intervention from the Emperor of Skyrim. Finally, when everything was over, we all released lanterns into the air, hugged, and celebrated what we all shared the past two weeks. These photos hardly do it justice, but I'll share them anyway!

The fort outside (above) and inside (right). It is decorated with all the flags and shields of the different guilds as well as the cities. 
The enemy approaches... pretty intimidating, I'd say!

After the final battle, the Emperor's henchman was vanquished. Just look at how perfect the fog was, we couldn't have planned it any better!  (Photo credit to Alen)

Two kids releasing their lantern into the air. It was a really special moment for us all, me especially because it reminded me of the fantastic scene from Tangled
(Photo credit to Alen)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A grand celebration!

The past few days a hazy mist has fallen over the lands of Skyrim, blanketing our world in its soft drizzle. The weather almost seems mythical, as if the gods are displeased with us and wish to tuck us away. Displeased, you may ask, but why? Why, my dear friends... Because of the great merry-making we have had this week! The gods must be jealous, for on Tuesday we enjoyed a most glorious fair indeed. All day the different guilds prepared something to contribute to our grand fair, and believe me it was a great success. There was music, dancing, food, games, and even a troll wedding! You could definitely say we had it all. Please enjoy the photos!

(Something I found funny: The russian word for fair is ярмарка 'yarmarka,' which when spoken quickly sounds almost exactly like the small Jewish hat, yarmulke 'yamaka.' Using that trick I learned the new word in no time at all.)

 Holding hands and dancing, the different cities set aside their differences for the evening.

A piggy-back race, even some trolls are competing! 

Lovely maidens enjoying the show.
Roma lighting an effigy on fire with everyone gathered around.

Left, above: Our face-painting and art station.
Left, below: The vampire queen and I showing off our costumes.
Right: At this station kids made shirts using stencils for the different guilds.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Breaking News

The trumpets are blaring, the horns are sounding, the gong is going off. Another day of the games complete! Hope you enjoy the latest headlines--all are true!

Merchants have rights too,
and  they must be recognized!
This just in:
     Craftsmen guild pickets stolovaya in protest of Merchants. Tired of the unfair exchange rates on goods, the craftsmen have begun picketing with promises of boycotts to come.

     Goblin sightings increased, swords advised. Several goblin attacks have taken place near the arena. The three cities are taking extra precautions against this new threat.

     Thieves guild raid fortress, escape with secret scroll. A small group of thieves recently stole a piece of an ancient scroll. Authorities are baffled as to how the thieves infiltrated the premises. The guard on duty at the time refuses to comment.

     Full moon means more werewolf attacks to come. With the arrival of the full moon, all citizens are advised to stay indoors after dark due to fear of werewolf attacks. Even with the warnings, experts estimate the victim count will be in the hundreds.

If her looks don't kill,
her screams will!
     Shrieking demoness conjured by the forbidden poetry of Bards. After a member of the Bards guild found a secret poem yesterday, a mysterious demoness has appeared and is wrecking havoc over the world of Skyrim. Her cries can be heard all over the territory.

     Group assembles to hunt the Vampire guild during nightly feed. A large group of vampire-hunters have gathered in front of the entrance to the forest in order to track down and kill vampires. The leader, who calls himself Van Helsing, hopes the excursion will be a success.

     First dragon takes flight! Soon vanquished. A wild dragon interrupted the gladiator demonstration on Thursday night, resulting in an epic battle. It seems for now that our warriors have prevailed.

And... the most important news of all: 
     American girl receives ice cream as a welcome reward for continued efforts. Natalie Feingold, a girl far from home, got to enjoy some delicious chocolate ice cream just before writing this post. As friend and colleague Sasha put in, "To make a Kitezhian happy, you only need to give them sweets." The same seems to be true of Americans.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Independence... in Russia?

Happy Fourth of July everyone! This year I've decided to celebrate my Independence Day in the least patriotic way possible... by spending in Russia.

Not only does no one here know that it's a holiday, but they are too busy in Skyrim to even acknowledge that America exists. No worries though, today during a break from picking berries I finally got the chance to watch a show I've been dying to see, Doctor Who. Only downside is it's a British show, and I watched it with our Londoner volunteer Jemma. Sorry Americans, looks like I'm not quite independent yet. We did do one thing that helped me celebrate in style. Kitezh has the not so environmentally-friendly habit of burning a lot of their trash, and Jemma and I received the honor of being asked to burn some old cardboard boxes. But we decided to put a patriotic flare on the fire and sing some pro-American tunes while it burned. If you can't have fireworks, a giant fire should do, right?

There she burns, the great fire of American patriotism.

Sorry for my lack of red, white, and blue. I packed a very limited wardrobe, okay??
Me and my Brit, Jemma, throwing up our peace signs to show that America and England have rightfully forgiven each other.

Also, as an interesting example of the influence of American pop culture, the kids here have named two of the new kittens Eminem and Dr. Dre. I must say I like their taste (even though technically they're not allowed to listen to rap music here.) Try and guess which kitten is which...
Even big celebs like Eminem and Dr. Dre fight sometimes. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Let the games begin!

Hurrah! Hooray! Ура! The time has finally come--the Game has begun!

For those of you that may not know, "the game" is a role-playing experience for children around Russia that is hosted by Kitezh. This year the driving plot of the game is based on the video game Skyrim, which basically means that for two weeks kids aged 10 to 16 will have free range over Kitezh to complete quests, fight each other, and go on battles. And we couldn't be more excited! The arrival of our new guests went something like this: my kitchen crew-mates and I were serving dinner in the outdoor dining hall, when suddenly we heard the thunderous sound of 110 pairs of small feet hitting the pavement. Our cries of "Where's the rest of the sausages? Find the sausages!" and "Get the macaroni ready!" were drowned out by their deafening cries. The fun started that very moment.

Yesterday was the first full day of the games, so to save on blog space I will just give you the highlights. Everyone here is organized into one of three cities: Solitude, Vaytran, and my city (the best city) Rifton. The cities are essentially large camp grounds in the Kitezhian forest complete with fire pit and outdoor sinks. Within each city are about 30 kids, 10 volunteers  (aka game masters), and 2 adult leaders. Also within the world of Skyrim are 10 different guilds, ranging from traders, to vampires, to crafts people, you name it! Tomorrow the kids will get to choose which guild(s) they belong to, and then they will be able to go on quests against other guilds in order to earn money to purchase weapons or potions. As you can tell, this is no simple game. 

In a typical evening in the city, you will see:
  • Two fortune tellers from the Magician's guild trying to tell your future
  • A traveling singer from the Bard guild strumming his guitar
  • Kids playing games with dice while drinking tea from mugs
  • A cauldron bubbling over the fire pit
  • The market-place where kids can purchase snacks like biscuits or condensed milk
  • Resources like wood and tools so the kids can enhance their city (one city has already built a fort and set up guards, on the first day!)
  • Loads of costumes, weapons (harmless, don't worry), instruments, everything!

During the day in the world of Skyrim you'll find:
  • Bears walking around in the forest that you can kill for their skins
  • Traders you may have to steal from in order to complete a quest
  • Monsters that you must kill--before they kill you!
  • Hidden resources that can be traded in order to raise your defense points
  • Players practicing their sword skills in preparation for the next battle
  • Gladiator-style fights in the arena (the result of a treaty-signing gone wrong)
  • A water fight! Just once through, in honor of the first full day of the Game
As you can tell, things are getting really busy here in no time at all. Where do I fit in all of this? Well mostly my job will either be working in the kitchen to help feed these hoards of people, or I may get to play a role as part of a quest. Also in the world of Skyrim, each character gets to adopt a new name to welcome his new identity. The name I have chosen is Persephone (or it's Russian counterpart Persephonia), mostly because I like the mythological ties. What challenges will she face? Stay tuned for updates! For now I must run, the werewolves are out hunting, the vampires are feeding, and my city awaits!
(Photo credit to Jemma and Katya)

Three characters you may encounter: (top) A sorceress, (left) an amulet-maker, (right) a warrior.

Swords may be drawn, watch out!

The warriors guild are very proud indeed.

The kids themselves are battling for the pride of their cities. 

The way to defeat your enemy is to get him flat on his back.