The Greatest Happiness (s)He’d Ever Found Was Making Russian Children Laugh

(Can anybody name that song?)

Yes, there was definitely a lot of Russian laughing today. Only a Thanksgiving like this could inspire a blog post after so many months.

First of all, we were “invited” to go to the Captain, the Elder, school for Thanksgiving. The school is actually called Young Captain, but our school is called Captain too but it is the younger kids. So, that can be confusing. So, the two schools are like partner schools: the kindergarten where we teach and the 1-12 for everyone else. So, the head English teacher invited us to have Thanksgiving lunch with them which turned into us teaching for a few hours and then eating there. We stayed up until 2am on Wednesday night working on things and planning lessons for these kids that we’d never met and knew nothing about. When we found out about this event a couple of days ago, we were told that Lyla and I would be teaching the first graders and that we would switch classes halfway through so we only had to plan half as much material. I was assigned the history of Thanksgiving and told to plan a half hour lesson. I cut out pilgrim couple and a Native American couple (I am at this moment counting how many people will make fun of me for being politically correct.) and a turkey. I also drew a world map with dots on England and America, a picture of a Thanksgiving feast, and a picture of the Mayflower. I also made a big turkey minus a beak so we could play “Pin the Beak on the Turkey” if I needed more material.

I grudgingly woke up early the next morning and finished getting things ready. Thankfully, I didn’t have to teach Pre-Language so I got the morning off. At 11:30, we went to the school to meet the bus to take us to the school. Our driver was late so we ended up getting to Young Captain about half an hour late. It was about a 30 minute drive on the motorcade heading away from Moscow. We always take that road into Moscow so it was neat to see what is up the road from us. When we got to the school, we were greeted by the head English teacher. She showed us some of the decorations they had put up in anticipation of our coming and told us that she hoped we could have a relaxing and fun Thanksgiving. She also said that she had purposely not told the kids anything about Thanksgiving because she wanted them all to learn it straight from us. We followed her to the second floor where she dropped us each in a classroom and left. It was like something out of a movie. I stumbled into a class of about 15 seven and eight year olds who just stared at me. Sitting in the corner was one of the English teachers who was there as a translator and helper.

So, I just kind of dove in. To take up more time, I asked them all to introduce themselves which they did. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a single word they said. The kids didn’t speak or understand much English so I wasn’t sure how to tell them the Thanksgiving story. The teacher ended up translating for me every couple of sentences because they were giving me such blank stares. It took me all of about 5 minutes to tell the story as slowly as I could so I pulled out my big turkey a little bit sooner than anticipated. Tiffany had my role of tape so I rummaged through by bag until I found a mostly dried out stick of glue. I had to restick the beak after each kid. Fortunately, they LOVED the game. They roared with laughter whenever someone put the beak somewhere other than the face. I ended up giving them each about three turns and I figured it would HAVE to be time to switch soon by the time I finished that. I also let them each pick an English sticker each time they went and they loved looking at all the cheap little stickers I brought.

I decided to stop the game before it got old and they got bored. So, I quizzed them on the Thanksgiving story. They didn’t do so hot. It was really funny. I gave them a sticker each time they tried though so the class was quite chaotic because kids were jumping out of their chairs hoping I would call on them. I got about another ten minutes out of that. By now, I was starting to get a little worried. I was completely out of ideas and supplies and kept looking around, hoping someone would come and say it was time to switch (side note: clocks in every room is a trend that has yet to reach Russia. A classroom with a clock is a rarity.). I think I had a permanent deer-in-the-headlights look on my face at this point.

The kids were a little crazy from all the stickers and excitement and I had no idea what to do with all these children who didn’t speak English. I started drawing pictures on the chalkboard of any Thanksgiving food I could think of and then quizzing them on all of those. I’d been in the classroom for about an hour and was freaking out a little bit and yet fighting back laughter at the same time. I finally remembered the pack of paper I had in my bag that I was saving for my afternoon lesson. I pulled that out and handed each kid a piece and did hand turkeys with them. They didn’t have markers or crayons or anything like that though it took them all of about 2 minutes to trace their hand and draw a beak and feet with their pens. So, I had them flip it over and draw a picture of their family eating Thanksgiving dinner. And it took them about 2 minutes to draw a few stick figures. So then I attempted to ask them each what they were thankful for. Either they were all REALLY thankful for their families, or that was the only English word they could think of at the time. So, I started singing “Gobble, Gobble, Said the Turkey” over and over again while they looked at me like I was drunk. I think the English teacher was feeling bad for me because she kept leaving the room to try to find someone who knew what was going on. FINALLY, the head English teacher came back and herded the class into the hall so they could go downstairs for lunch.

She asked me to autograph a picture of a turkey for her and then asked if she could keep my turkey to hang up in the school. Ha, if you want my 2am turkey, it is all yours. Once it was all over, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was all just so funny. Never in my life did I think that would be how I spent a Thanksgiving.

Next, we went downstairs for our Thanksgiving feast. Turkey isn’t a very common meat in Russia. The school’s director came in and gave a short speech to the kids in the cafeteria and then the English teacher said “Here comes the turkey!” The kids all started chanting “CORITSA!” (‘chicken’ in Russian) and the school chefs (yes, chefs, tall hats and all. That’s what you get at ritzy private schools here) brought out the turkey and presented it to us. It was a really small turkey set on a platter covered in foil and adorned with lettuce leaves and apple and orange slices. The entire cafeteria crowded around us and the kids were shouting and screaming and laughing. They were all watching us very closely to see how we felt about this turkey. It was so surreal. I was just laughing and smiling. It was really fantastic.

We ended up having turkey, rice, borsch, mayonnaise and salmon salad, and currant berry juice for lunch. Not a Thanksgiving meal I would have expected. The chefs and the English teachers were thrilled that we liked the turkey. It was the most entertaining Thanksgiving I have ever had.

We got a tour of the school after lunch and the English teacher was surprised to hear that this was not how all schools in America looked. No, we don’t have our own private horse stables at our public schools in America.

The day was less eventful from there. We got back to our school just in time for our own classes. I’ve decided that a lot of my classes here are like playing “Telephone”. I will say something, one of the kids will repeat me, and someone else will repeat them, and so on. Sometimes I just let them all repeat each other for a while to see what the end product will be.

We had cauliflower egg cake for dinner. We usually have really good food at school but none of us were terribly impressed with that. When we got home, I decided to make some cookies. Unfortunately, we were out of about all of our baking supplies, most notably flour and white sugar. I found a “3 ingredient cookie” recipe online so I tried it out. You are all dying to know what the three ingredients are: 1 egg, a cup of peanut butter, and a cup of sugar (I substituted it with brown sugar). They were interesting and surprisingly satisfying. They kind of settled in my stomach like a rock, though.

So, there is it. This is quite the lengthy monologue but I was so incredibly entertained today that I felt the need to share it with you all. I hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving and miss me terribly. But not too much. I love you all and am thankful for my wonderful family.

Spaciba, spaciba, spaciba!

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2 Responses to The Greatest Happiness (s)He’d Ever Found Was Making Russian Children Laugh

  1. Pingback: Follow the Rules…And Drink Your Vodka Straight | Jesslyn Ann Karenina

  2. Pingback: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year | Jesslyn Ann Karenina

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