|Students Helping Children Across Borders, Inc.||
Holy Cross Crusaders Invade Suzdal!
The crusaders invaded Suzdal for the weekend. It was awesome to have some friendly faces and english speakers to hang out with. They really loved Suzdal and this morning I took them to the school and showed them around. I took them out to the schoolyard and told them all about the project and what the next phases of construction are. It was great to have them here!!!
It Is About Time I Started Helping Around The House
Today was a hectic morning. Unfortunatey, Bank of America is not the most compatible with the local town bank. After four days of banking issues, 14 calls to Bank of America's international service number, and a half hour discussion with the head of Cberbank Moscow, I finally found a solution and was able to purchase the right type of check to pay for the next phase of the consturction project. Now having ordered the sports equipment and cover materials for the court, on Saturday more construction will commence to put the finishing touches on the new look for the school yard. After four days of headache, my host parents and I wanted to celebrate. As they went back to work for the afternoon, I set off to the markets. It took four stores before I found the necessary ingredients that my mother emailed to me this morning, mainly mozzarella cheese! I got to work at 4 pm today and by 7:30 pm the Italian feast was ready. On the job I learned how to debone a chicken and fillet breasts, mince garlic, and behead live shrimp. The result was a kitchen where a tomato fight might as well have taken place and some pretty darn good food: chicken parmesan, pasta in a tomato basil sauce with shrimp, and cheesy garlic bread. My Russian parents loved the italian food! Aferwards, I realized the dreadful flip side to cooking... cleaning!
After a full week of planning, organizing, and negotiating... construction has begun!!!! Right now they are ripping up all of the scattered chunks of asphault and foliage. The next step will be the big boy pictured below. It will steam roll everything level and then lay the new asphault base. This afternoon I will continue working out the nuances of the new cover that will be layed on top.
Shopping for Equipment
Today, the school principle and I had a meeting with a sports equipment manufactuer from Moscow. We have decided to purchase a foam matting cover for the basketball court. This cover will turn the court into a multi-purpose/ multi-sport court. This matting is very important to the project for multiple reasons. First, the new sports court will not only be used by the students of the school's new sports programs, but also by the kindergarten located behind the school. The cover will make the surface much more forgiving than the asphault beneath. This way even smal children can roll around and play on the court with out ripping up there hands and knees as they do on the current terrain they play on in the school yard. Secondly, the matting is made by a Russian company, which has designed it to hold very well in the winter. It is made from a material that hardens and becomes very tough and durable in the winter and during snowfall. Thirdly, this matting surface will have lines designated by color marking out a basketball court, volleyball court, and indoor soccer arena. It will turn a basketball court into a multi-purpose recreation area. There will be an area of open asphault for playground games like hopscotch and jump roping. Basketball hoops, a fold in volleyball net, and indoor soccer nets will make this an unbelievable resource to jumpstart the schools new sports programs. The principle and I were able to negotiate good prices and it looks like the money that SHCAB raised is going to do even more than we had hoped!
Every night this week I have walked down by the schoolyard after dinner and I have been surprised to find many young people kicking about soccerballs on the torn up asphault. The point is that the renovations to the school yard are going to serve the school's athletic programs, the kindergarden, and the entire community of Suzdal!
The Schoolyard, pre Construction
Here I can take you on a virtual tour of the schoolyard and introduce you to some of my new and awesome Russian little friends!!! I brought them some of the new balls and they could not stop telling me about how excited they are for the new schoolyard! These students are first graders. We will break ground on Wednesday. The first stage will be pulling up the current weeded reminents of asphault and laying down a new asphault basketball court. Then we will install brand new equipment, which the school director and I are going to go shopping for in a nearby city. Then the final phase of construction will be purchasing and installing a very import cover system. Basically this is a piece of equipment that will protect the court and installed equipment in the winter, promoting long jevity for the new facility and programs! This system is the top priority of the school principle, because he explained to me that without it, we could be back at square one after the winter. After this process, I am going to take out the lawn mower and me and some students are going to carve out a soccerfield like space and install some nets. I am very excited that the children are eager to participate in all the efforts of this project. All construction will be complete by the time I head home on June 17th. Throughout the next two weeks I am going to continue running some recreational programs and teaching the kids all sorts of playground games. In addition, I will be visiting English classes at the school and helping whenever I can!
I Should Have Brought An Electric Pump!!!
Today was a fantastic day for me, the kids at the school, and the progress of the project. I arrived at the school at 8 am, where I met with the teacher in charge of the sports and recreation programs. Before I presented the 62 pound bag of brand new equipment that I lugged across the world, he showed me the equipment closet. The photo above details the contents. Three beat to hell soccer balls. When I cracked open the bag and showed him just some of SHCAb's gifts for the school he grabbed my arm, gave it a squeeze, and said, "Lets get to work!" O we got to work alright.
The task ahead was that we needed to manually, with 99 cent pumps, inflate 50 soccer balls, basketballs, and kick balls!
Let The Games Begin!
We had a blast playing with the new equipment! After sampling the jump ropes, showing off some soccer juggling talent, and schooling me in some dribbling, everyone turned their attention to the orange set of bases. After ten failed attempts to explain kickball, I decided to show them. The demonstartion turned into my first ever kickball master class. In the end we named the new game after the school!
Today my Rimma and Sasha took me to a very interesting festival on the outskirts of town. It is a festival for handmade crafts. It took place on the grounds of a very oldsettlement from the seventeenth century, hence the cabins and wooden cathedrals. It was basically a huge market where all the vendors sold their hand made clothes, chachkies, baskets, ... etc. Of course their was live music and children dancing. Many of the children were dressed in clothes from the time period of this settlement. it was very interesting and a lot of fun. I met many people from town and many of the kids from the school. Best part of all was that Russian Ryan Seacrest was back!!!!! Except this time he was more of a Seacrest/ Donny Osmond hybrid. Check it out.
The best part is that when he takes the stage, the women ages 8 to 80 absolutely loose it. When he finished singing the crowd errupted. I was waiting for a hand stitched pair of underwear to go flying onto the stage. Woman want him and Men want to be him!
Watch the video. He doesn't even have to sing. If he stands on stage... they will come!
Anyways, I am off to bed early tonight. Tomorrow is a huge day for the project! I am making my presentation to the children at the school and big negotiations with the director of schools awaits. I am very excited for tomorrow!
Doing Buisiness Russian Style
The project is off, but not without many hiccups. I am learning how to do buisiness Russian style, meaning when negotiating with the contrustion company I must look really pissed off at all times and puff out my chest. I can say the nice part about conducting buisiness here is that there is no bull crap. When I meet with the mayor, director of schools, or the construction company I do not need to waste time with small talk about their children or the weather. We get right down to buisiness and even though we are talking about something as innocent as building a much needed playground for some innocent children, they always lock the door and check to see if anyone is by the window or door before we begin talking. Thank god SCHAB's funds are paying for the project via a secure travel credit card because sometimes I feel like they expect me to put a suitcase filled with cash on the table and sit back in my chair and light a cigar. Despite having to navigate the dramatic nuances of negotiating this project, things appear to be moving in a good direction. I can say that after being here for less than a week, Suzdal really needs this project more than I had originally understood. I know that these sports programs will be huge for the children in town and the school principle is very excited about the alcohol education materials.
Just being here and administering this project has allowed me to participate in a tremendous cultural exchange. The school principal and I have spent hours comparing and contrasting the nuances of our education systems. In the buisness negotiations I have learned a lot about how an economy works in such a small town. Best of all, I have gotten to meet dozens of awesome kids with tons of questions about America and sports. Fortunately, I have been able to dismantle many stereotypes. I am learning that the largest road block that stands in the way of international diplomacy between peoples is a lack of exposure and interaction. With every kid I meet and every conversation I get to participate in about the Russian perspective on important issues, I am engaging in a powerful cultural exchange that reveals the global truth that people really aren't that different. We have many of the same problems and wants and it is through things like learning how to do buisiness the Russian way that we can break past the constrains of mere fear of differences and discover that all people prefer to make a friend rather than an enemy.
Crashing Weddings Russian Style
Unfortunately my camera battery died, so I only captured one photo. This was probably a good thing considering the fact that I was already drawing heavy suspicion. At a black-tie event, I was in Levis and a t-shirt. I peaced after the bride's father raised an eyebrow at me and gestured towards the security guard!
This circumstance is actually very telling in that it openned my eyes to the soci-economic dynamics of Suzdal. About 90% of Suzdal's economy is completely relient on tourism. My host parents explained to me that life in the winter months is very hard. Suzdal is a vacation destination for its history, monasteries, and gorgeous open landscape views; however, it has no mountains. Therefore tourism is non existant in the winter and day to day life can be quite bleak. At this time of year all the local buisinesses open and flocks of Chinese, Japanese, Arab, and French tourists arrive to Suzdal. My host father is a retired police officer in town and now works in security at Suzdal's largest resort. The resort looks like Disney World. Gorgeous restored buildings, a gorgeous old onion domed church in the center, and a full spa and fitness center make this prime real estate for wealthy travelers. In the photo below you can see how beautiful the grounds of the resort are. The fascinating part is that large walls surround the resort and the only entrance is gated and heavily monitored by a team of security guards. It is baffling that the very kids who have no recreational space at their school and live literally adjacent to the walls of the resort, are not allowed to enter and use the state of the art facilities that sit empty for seven months out of the year. The resort is owned by a large hotel corporation based in Moscow. It is unfortunate to see such resources completely out of touch with the local deserving community.
My host father was able to get me on the premise and advised me how to sneak up to catch a glimpse of a Russian wedding. I snuck around the grounds and positioned myself towards the back of the ceremony. Everyone was dressed like they were going to a grand ball at the Kremlin. A tower of champagne flutes and a chocolate fountain with strawberries the size of volleyballs caught my eye. I did not have nearly the guts to help myself. Maybe if my language skills were excellent I may have been able to talk my way through it, but to try and avoid getting taken outback and having my Russian dressing all over some guys knuckle sandwhich, I tried to stay out of sight and remain a mute. The ceremony was very decadent and the function hall where the reception was, resembled an eighteenth century palace. It turns out the bride and groom were not from anywhere close to Suzdal. The groom appeared to be some rich mafioso's son from Moscow. It was fascinating to see such decadence smack dab in the middle of a community that lives so very modestly.
Celebrating My First "день защиты детей"
Today is the National Russian "Holiday for the Defense of our Children." It is a day celebrating children all over the country to honor those who have sacrificed themselves in wars and hardhsips for the future of their country. On a platform in the city square, children from the school performed for eachother songs and dances in celebration. It was as close as you can get to Russia's Got Talent. Some kids were very prepared and very talented, others... not so much. I got a huge kick out of the stage mothers who were literally mimicking every move of choreography from the stands. Once their daughter finished, with a sigh of relief they ran to a clearing to de-stress with a cigarette. It was refreshing to learn that desperate stage mother's vicariously living through their children are not unique to the United States. Below are some great photos and videos of the festivities. I had a blast! I got to meet a lot of the students from the school and saw a preview of the ear to e
You do not want to miss Svetlana and the Supremes! Watch Svetlana take control of the stage in true Diana Ross fashion at 32 seconds. After the performance the crowd errupted and her mother took a bow. Yes stage mothers! I think Svetlana is the sleeper on RUssian Idol next year. I want to drive her to MOscow to the auditions myself!
This video is of a performance by a group of tweens. It was introduced as an "American Dance". I think they are going for a sort of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders meet river dancers meet Kosacks hybrid kind of thing!