Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Russian journey (part 3)

The garden at the hospital for children.

Day Four

Slept well – got up late and missed breakfast (must be getting used to the trams/trains)! Luckily I had some cereal bars to eat before we left for the hospital at 9.20am. We made bears today to add to the forest of owls. The proportions are a little wacky (the owls are bigger than the bears!), but apart from that it looks good! A had written his name on the example bear he had made to show and instead of writing their own names some of the children copied his onto their bears as well! That was funny and very sweet.  Felt better today at the hospital as I knew what to expect. It was hectic though as we had a lot of children take part.

I must mention that there is a very nice doctor here who is really great with the kids – she joins in with the activity we have planned and makes a real effort to communicate to us through the translators. Though she did tell me off for putting a bag in the wrong place! lol. I do like her though, she really seems to enjoy being with the kids.

There were some different kids there today. ‘Chatted’ to Svetla (Natalie Portman look-alike!) and another girl who was very sweet and talked to me none stop in Russian – she slowed down for me but I still didn’t know what she was saying. Though I did pick up ‘Ya lubloo (I love) A...’ quite a bit (the male volunteer!) – she was very taken with him!   Spent time with Lyuba - who is one of my favourites at the hosp. She speaks a little English and is very smiley. She made up a song though the only words I could understand were ‘emma’ and ‘banana’! I’m sure whatever she was singing was probably quite rude as all the other children were laughing!

Working on our craft project.

There is also a very small, animated little boy who is very smart and chats away to us. Shosha sat with me for a while today – she is hard to describe. She loves being hugged and holding hands. She is very affectionate. I’m able to chat with her a little in Russian. I ask her how she is and each day she replies with fine thank you! Out of all of them if I could I’d take her home with me. She has to have injections though I’m not sure what for. Some days she is more sleepy than others.

We went outside again as it was another beautiful, sunny day. Played terrible football for hours with a little boy who wasn’t too impressed with my ball skills and shouted at me a lot in Russian! Probably a good job I couldn’t understand him!

There seemed to be a lot of tears today as well. One new boy who was very upset and just sat and cried for most of the time. Another girl got almost hysterical as the van from the orphanage turned up and she thought they had come to take her back (she’s supposed to be going home soon). That’s hard to see – how distressed they are. How sad. Made me feel quite helpless…when there is really nothing I can do long-term to make their lives better.

Playing ball in the hospital garden.

Back for lunch which was…cheese and crab meat salad, mushroom soup, meatballs and rice and fruit. We met two more volunteers today R who came with us to the hospital and M – they have been in St Petersburg for the weekend and got back at 5am this morning! R has volunteered in South America and South Africa – she has some interesting stories to tell.

In the afternoon we were given the opportunity to take part in a trip Nadia had organised to the nearby Space Museum (dedicated to Valentina Tereshkova).

Entrance to the museum.

Tereshkova was the first woman in space and she was born in Yaroslavl. Most of the volunteers went and Nadia came along to translate for us. It was a  really nice, fun visit. I especially liked the reconstruction of the house Tereshkova had been born and brought up in.

Later in the afternoon myself and J went out for coffee which was nice. I can’t believe how warm it is here! I’m walking about in a t-shirt. Back to the hotel for dinner…lots of people had gone out to eat so there were only six of us. Really nice dinner of coleslaw, kebabs and salad - it was nicer than it sounds!

Spent evening preparing craft for tomorrow with A and J – snakes and butterflies to add to the other animals.

Can’t believe I’m already halfway through my time here!

Go to bed early but can’t sleep – practice my Russian instead.   

Day five

Feel tired today. Off to the hospital to make butterflies and snakes to add to the growing forest! We get driven there every morning in the CCS mini-bus (they now have two having purchased one the week I was there). Everyone is always kind of quiet...reflective on the way there. Just waking up and getting ready for our placements.

Loved going into the hosp today and seeing the kids. The children enjoyed the craft – I found out that a few of the children I thought were boys are actually girls! Because they have shaved heads or very short hair and all wear similar clothing it’s hard to tell! Not being familiar with Russian names doesn’t help either. Anyway, now I know!

I took my camera today and most of the children loved having their pics taken. The great thing with the digital camera is that I could show them their pictures straight away. Took lots of photos of our project as well. The nice doctor asked me to take pictures of them doing their exercises in the hall.

Took the children outside to play. Did lots of skipping today (actual skipping and not just holding the rope, was exhausted afterwards!)...with R another volunteer while the children counted in Russian and commented on how rubbish we were! Played ball for a while. Have my ‘set’ of children now who want to play and chat with me which is nice, although one little boy just wants me to play football with him for hours. He screams if any other child comes near while we are playing together. A lot of the children seemed sleepy today – or heavily medicated. Did lots of playing catch sitting down. They were all in need of lots of hugs.

It feels good to be here now. I’m going to miss the children when I go as I’m getting used to them and they to me. I know how to interact - who will need help with the crafts and who enjoys working independently. Which children like to be left alone and which to chat and play with. Which ones enjoy playing with me outside and which just like to sit in the sun and watch. All of them need lots of hugs.

Back for lunch – chicken and potato or fish and rice. In the afternoon we (all the volunteers) had a talk on Russian fairytales organised by the CCS staff in one of the downstairs offices. It was really nice, we were told some traditional stories and a bit about the morals behind them. I had studied fairytales as part of my English degree, and it brought back things I thought I’d forgotten! Lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Went to town later on and paid a visit to the internet café (60 roubles for 1 hour). We (me, B and J) then went out for dinner to a restaurant recommended to us by the other volunteers. The food was very nice, though it really is almost impossible to be a vegetarian here! I had chicken kiev, chips and salad. There was also live music - Two women with guitars, bells and a harmonica playing traditional Russian music. Quite an experience! :D

Got back quite late and went to the office to help prepare the craft for tomorrow. Found that R had prepared all the rabbits, so myself and J did some flowers as well.

Went to bed and slept really well – nice and warm!

Day six

 Decorating the hospital walls.

Didn’t want to get up today. Not feeling too well and as a couple of the volunteers have been sick I felt a bit worried. Skipped breakfast and made a decision on whether to go to the hospital or not. Really didn’t want to be ill there! Decided to go as I thought it might take my mind off it.

After all that I had a really good morning at the hospital. Love that the children call me by my name now. Made the flowers and rabbits we had prepared, went well and I stuck them up on the wall. Usually A does it but he had swapped placements with B today so wasn’t with us. We all missed him (volunteers and children), as he’s the best Russian speaker and great with the kids. I had to stick them high up as some of the children had been ripping the low down pictures off the wall when they got cross. So we now have flying rabbits and flowers! Went outside and played ‘pioneer ball’ – which is a variation of volley ball. I couldn’t follow the rules, but apparently we won! I had some competitive players on my team!

Felt better on way back to hotel, but after lunch I felt worse and went to bed for the afternoon. I was hoping to go on another placement to the children’s after-school club but slept for three hours instead!

 A street near the home-base.

Woke up about an hour before dinner feeling much better. Can’t remember what we had for supper but I ate some. Do remember that we had ice-cream for pudding! Yum.

We went to the office straight after dinner and designed the squirrels and snails for the hospital craft tomorrow. Sat in the craft room with the other volunteers for a while.

Back to our rooms, sat writing random thoughts in my journal.
- The grass here is brown, not green. Covered in dust - so much pollution.
- The kids at the hospital have nothing really except what we bring. How sad it is when we have to pack it all up and take it away when we leave. Some of them take stuff (scraps from the craft, a toy car, some jigsaw pieces) which is always punished, but they just want something to call their own.
- We’re doing something that no one else does. If we didn’t go into the hospital these children wouldn’t do crafts or go outside. They wouldn’t have hugs. It’s been very hard for CCS to get into these places and so we have to tread very carefully and stick to the rules. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s better than not going at all.

I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day. Being here has made me appreciate what I have. How luck plays a huge part of your life. How fortunate or unfortunate we are to be born into the countries we are.
I wonder what will happen to these kids. What they will grow up to be. 

Day seven

Woke up very early. Wanted to make the most of my last full day here. Went out with J and B to get a coffee – first morning I’ve got up and gone out with them!

I took some pictures from my bedroom window; this is Yaroslavl at 6.30am!

Very cold walking through the streets at this time!

Back to the hotel and then off to the Children’s Hospital. We arrive to be told that it’s wash day! Hurray! Actually we could tell as there were sheets on the washing line for the first time that week! The downside is they won’t let us take the children out to play so we have to stay in the ‘school’ room with them the whole time. They’re about as happy as us with this arrangement.

The kids are queuing up to take their turn in the bath – the queues are long and I’m sure that the water isn’t emptied between each child. I feel sorry for the ones at the back. I also don’t get to see all the children to say goodbye. Lyuba isn’t around, but I see Shosha and Svetlana.

Here they are all clean(ish) from the bath. They had clean clothes on, but I noticed some of the children had been put back into their dirty clothes. Perhaps there aren’t enough clean ones to go round.

We make squirrels and snails to finish off our wall picture. It looks really good.

Some of the boys are really into the craft today and make several snails each! I played lots of card games and also did lots of colouring with various children. I spent a while with a little boy. I wrote my name (in Russian) on a piece of paper and he was watching – as I was decorating it he spelt out my name. I asked him his name and got him to write it on the reverse side and then we decorated it together. I noticed that he took it after we had finished and ran off somewhere with it. It was nice – one of those moments where I felt like I made a small but personal connection with one of the children.

Me with some of the girls.

It felt sad to leave. Sad because I won’t see these children again.


Friday lunchtime is spent in the CCS offices having pizza and a feedback session. This is followed by a session deciding on what activities to do the following week at each placement. All the volunteers and CCS staff members attend. There were 6 of us leaving this weekend which brings them down to 6 volunteers – that makes it a lot harder to visit all the places. Most days they are doing two visits a day. Wish I could stay and help! We have all filled in our evaluation forms and Nadia speaks to us all individually about the programme and our placements and experiences. As there are 6 of us this takes quite a while! I thank Nadia and tell her I’ve had a wonderful time. There is not one thing I would change about my time here. Nadia then reads out some interesting things that have been going on in local and world news, and discusses weekend plans (sometimes volunteers go off travelling) . Everyone is staying in Yaroslavl this weekend. 

Off to the craft room to come up with ideas for next week. Say goodbye to Nadia – I won’t see her tomorrow. Come up with lots of Easter and spring based ideas. Make a spring flower sample out of lolly-sticks!

 One of the many 'shops' where you ask for your goods through a window. 
We mostly bought bottled water! Notice the car parked nearby. So many cars we saw were very dirty, probably due to the dusty roads.. I was surprised anyone could see out.

Pop over to the supermarket (opposite hotel) to buy some snacks for P and A’s party tonight. They are having a going away/silly glasses party for the volunteers that are leaving. We all have to design and make our own pair of silly glasses or there's no entry! Luckily we have lots of spare pipe cleaners to work with!

Skip dinner at the hotel as P and A are ordering pizza (yes, more of it...!). Walk up to their room wearing my glasses, and Russian man standing by lift gives me a very strange look.  Have a very nice night with the other volunteers, plus 2 of the interpreters come. Pass on the vodka, but make a great discovery - choco-pies! Play some silly games and generally chat to the others. Exchange email address. Say goodbye to everyone at about 10.30 ish as I have to be ready to leave by 5.30am! I’ve booked a late return flight, but some of the others have much earlier flights which is why we have to leave the hotel at such an awful time!

One of the interpreters says some lovely things to me about how much I’ve accomplished in such a short time. Was very sweet of her. Feels very sad to leave people that I’ve only known for a week - feels like much longer!

Back to my room – didn’t have much left to pack but finish that off. In to bed for my last night in Yaroslavl and of course I can’t sleep! Finally drift off about midnight.

Last day - Home Again

The now familiar early morning view from my window.

Was up and ready to leave by 5.30am! Meet one of the interpreters downstairs. All pile into the van. Leave Yaroslavl as I arrived – in the dark! So tired I fall asleep after about 30 mins. When I wake up it’s 7ish and the world is much lighter. Stop for breakfast after about another hour. I have pancakes with honey. Lovely.

Back into the bus and I fall asleep again as do the other volunteers. Wake up on and off. The traffic going into Moscow is terrible. We have to drop J and B off at SVO and then me and V off at DME. The airports are about an hour away from each other.

We arrive at SVO with not much time to spare. J and B rush off. Me and V fall asleep again on the way to DME. Finally arrive about 1ish. Have to wait 4 hours until my flight. V’s flight isn’t until much later. Say a quick goodbye to our interpreter and then spend 20 mins trying to find the BA check in. Fail and decide on going to the toilets and having a sit down before trying again. Chat to V until it’s time for my check in. Finally locate BA and return to V to collect my rucksack and say goodbye.

Flight isn’t the best – but I survive. Spend 45 mins at Heathrow waiting for my baggage. Finally get it and get out! P and kids waiting for me. Good to see them.

Home again.

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