SOVIET HOSPITALITY Part 5
Next instalment, hopefully without mistakes.
In the morning we went to the Pedogogical Institute and I gave the students a lecture on the history of the English language, a little about Wales and the Celts and my house and animals. They decided Daisy May’s kid should be called Bashkiria. Flyuga and the English teacher want me to visit them. I hope it will be only the latter. Both Flyuga and one serious enthusiastic student accompanied me along the long snowy road to the bus route. We then headed for the main post office to get pretty stamps but made a detour to look in on a folk art exhibition – very interesting pottery and textile pictures. The same student collared me again but when we left I wrote in English in their visitors’ book so she was left to read it for the other people and we escaped. By the time we reached the post office I was nearly dropping. There I sat down sticking stamps on envelopes (a tricky mathematical task for an innumerate like me) while Rabfail wrapped up books and posted them to Trawsfynydd to lighten my load on the way back to Wales. We the most thankfully got a taxi home to a lovely supper of fish cooked in Smetana. Rabfail is making progress on his ‘garmon’.
Gulya’s birthday. She wasn’t up when I got up at 10 am as she’d gone to her sewing lesson at school. However, she returned as we were breakfasting and, having first checked with Rabfail that it was permitted, I gave her the make-up set. Apparently she had been most reluctant for it to be given to someone else so that went down well. She’s not so shy now and smiles at me and even talks.
In mid breakfast about 11 o’clock I asked Rabfail when we had to leave. He said, ‘Сейчас (now),’ and went on eating his breakfast and added casually that we were at the school at 10. I think cейчас has the same idea as manana but without the sense of urgency. The school, fortunately, is almost next door. When we did arrive we got a rapturous welcome and were herded up to the third floor (2nd) at greater speed than my knees are used to. There we met the director (headmistress) who talked to me at top speed in Russian, only breaking off at intervals to admonish her teachers for talking at the same time, to each other but very audibly. They took no notice whatsoever. I nodded hopefully at what seemed appropriate points and understood about 50%. The main gist of it seemed to be the need for teachers to be motivated spiritually as well as financially and that one should live to work rather than work to live.
A tour of the school followed and I asked permission to take photos in classrooms. They were very flattered but promptly put the children on their best behaviour, sitting bolt upright in their desks. So I started snapping them without asking and hope the results will be more natural. The elder children were rather reluctant to show off their linguistic skills but I was hardly surprised at this as their English teacher never stopped talking and would prompt them as to what to ask and not give them a chance to speak let alone think first. The little ones (11 and 12) were much braver and had their hands up before she could get into her stride. They positively competed to ask questions, in Russian mostly. One older girl was very shy but did respond when I dragged English out of her to rescue her from an embarrassing situation her teacher was putting her in. It turned out she was their star pupil. She said that when she was little her mother and she only spoke English and that it was her fault they no longer did so. I suspect that she is the lady I spoke to at the Pedogogical Institute and she said thy still did. I also suspected that her mother could be responsible for her shyness as she probably pushed her ro speak English with any available English speaker. It seems the daughter is the more truthful.
Then we went to the new school where the voting was on Sunday. This is part of the same complex and with the same director, but receives children from 7 to 10. The boisterous lady had to go and take a class so we were conducted by a much quieter lady who, I think, must be a much better teacher. She knows when to be quiet. Apparently she was Gulya’s first teacher and that confirms my theory as Gulya did very well under her and slowed down when her teacher changed. The little ones were quite enchanting and adventurous. They volunteered to ask questions and loved being photographed. Their school uniforms are much prettier than ours. One group was in the process of presenting their teacher with flowers and a book for the 8th of March (women’s day celebrated in Eastern Europe long before here.). I wanted to take a photo but they all promptly sat down and arranged themselves. Finally I managed to persuade them that I wanted them to stand up in a group and repeat the presentation and I took my chance quickly and took what should be a nice natural shot. Yet another group were practising dancing for the праздник (festival) . They were quite uninhibited and I got some lovely shots, not only of the dancing but also of the kids falling flat on the floor the minute their teacher turned her back. Real little exhibitionists!.
After the school we set off on ‘business.’ At the police station all went like silk and we set off with my travel documents to buy tickets to Krasnodar etc. En route we came across a poster for the Baskiria National Dance Ensemble (the Ministry of Culture did not know where or when they could be seen but promised to find out) and a poetry reading of Tsvetayeva and Blok. Both were while we should be in Krasnodar but I drooled so much over the possibility of the ensemble and the poetry that we changed the dates and went and bought tickets. The lady who sold them told us her late husband had founded the ensemble. In response to my interest in the lovely coloured poster on the wall she went and got two and gave them to me.
When we got to the travel ticket office we found we couldn’t do a circular trip to Krasnodar and the Tatar republic on our chosen dates and there were no return places. We had put it off so late because of the theatre that there was little room for manoeuvre. So we decided to return to Ufa and zoom off from there. The whole process took so long that I wrote many postcards while poor Rabfail stood in various queues. Then in a different place the same process took even longer to get tickets to Moscow in time to catch my train home. Rabfail deserves a medal.