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LJ Idol IX - 22. Sweep the Leg (~1000 words)

In Russia, primary, secondary and high-school children most often study in the same building, so this distinction is somewhat less important than the grade you are in. It is also true, however, that many parents who wish to move their offspring to a "better" school often wait until they have at least finished primary schooling in grade four. Later on, many kids also leave their school after ninth grade preferring to get into a technical school and graduate with a profession over having to sit in the more general classes offered in high school that spans grades ten and eleven*.

My parents did likewise, and starting from fifth grade, I attended a "better" school that offered more hours of English than was then the norm, and also a second language, German, starting from eighth grade, which was not the norm at all.

Yet it is not the classes that I am going to talk about today. Every school has its own traditional extra curricular activities, and ours was no exception. One of those was the so-called Tourist Meeting organized every year during the first weeks of September in the forest about 40 minutes by train from Moscow. The event lasted two days for the elder children, and just one for fifth and sixth graders, primary school children not being allowed to attend.

On day one, teachers and a horde of older children would arrive at the agreed-upon spot, put up tents, set camp fires burning, socialize, drink contraband alcohol (hush!) and set up tasks for the main event, the Tourist Challenge, to be held the next day.

Typically, such tasks included elements of orientation, lighting a fire with pre-prepared materials and getting a kettle of water to boil, carrying an "injured" teammate a set distance to "get medical aid", and working through various obstacles, the most common of which were a swamp you had to navigate over using log stumps and long sticks, a shallow spring to cross over a narrow board, and sometimes a rope bridge, walking between two trees over one rope while holding with your hands onto another hanging over your head. The older the team, the more challenging were the obstacles.

In the five years I was old enough to do so, I have never joined my schoolmates on the first day, partly because none of my close friends were interested in going, and partly because camping for longer than a day and a night and in better company was something my parents regularly organized for themselves, my brother and I during the summers. Despite that, I rather enjoyed the Tourist Challenge activities of the second day even though attendance at them was mandatory for the rest of the school.

Of all the times we went into these woods, I will never forget the first such occasion. Seeing as I had just turned ten then and changed schools, my mother insisted on coming with me as one of the extra adult supervisors, and she also brought my brother with us, even though he was technically too young, being one year my junior, as well as from a different school (you can imagine my silent indignation over both his presence and the extra parental supervision none of my classmates had to endure!)

So my class, my mother, brother and I arrived at the camp several ours before the Challenge was set to begin, and had enough time to snoop around, learning of what was to come, peeking into the tents, helping to gather wood for camp fires, tasting tourist food and generally having the time of our lives.

It was not very hard for us to find and test the future obstacle course, especially the swamp (which was not even a real thing to our disappointment, but a space of ground dug up and generously watered and stomped upon by our older schoolmates), and the spring. It was also easy to try our balance crossing it over the already laid plank. Nor was it difficult for one of my classmates to promptly fall into the spring from said plank (luckily, she'd brought a spare pair of pants), or for me to proudly strut back and forth two or three times over it and feel superior about my better balance.

Thus properly prepared, we eagerly took part in the contest. I forget who won it, as well as many other details. Notably, nobody fell into the "swamp" as we'd feared after seeing the slippery and wobbly log stumps. When reaching the spring properly that time though, we were told by the organizers that while everyone on the team had to work through every obstacle of the course, helping your teammates was not only allowed by encouraged. To this end, one of the boys was going to cross first carrying a length of rope, so that he and one of those remaining on the other "shore" could hold it tight as a handrail to help the girls, who usually have worse balance, across the spring.

You can probably guess what happened next.

Having already crossed the spring several times and seeing that my brother was one of the rope-holders, I volunteered to be the first of the girls to do it for the Challenge. Only, the boys got distracted, the rope hung loose and holding it I lost my balance and was swept off my feet and into the spring. Oh, the indignity and the amusement of suddenly sitting waist-deep in water! Worse still, I had to crawl back out of the spring and cross the "bridge" again, properly. Even though the boys were chastised and held the rope properly then, I did not trust them that time and walked over the plank perfectly fine on my own.

Unlike my classmate though, I had not brought any spare clothes and despite my attempts to dry myself standing with my back to the campfire, I had to ride home quite wet that day.

*I was given to understand the schooling system is different abroad, and it could be slightly different here now than it was 16 years ago when I graduated from high school, but what I am used to is the following: grades 1--4, primary school; grades 5--9, secondary school; grades 10--11, high school. No sophomores and seniors in high school. Only one prom after you graduate in 11th grade (at least no pompous affairs, but the end of each grade, especially 4th and 9th, is celebrated). You are not required by law to finish high school. After 9th grade, you may start working or get into technical school which you leave with a profession, generally 3 years later (unlike the 2 you have left to study if you go on to high school which you leave with no profession). After both technical school and high school, you may enter colleges or universities to get higher education.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 25th, 2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.
Sep. 27th, 2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
Wet clothes are the worst -- and of course they didn't hold the rope tight enough. *Sigh*

It certainly sounds like a fun adventure, though. :)
Sep. 28th, 2014 04:24 pm (UTC)
It did not even occur to me to check the rope before using it as handrail, lol.

But it was still fun.

Thank you.
Sep. 27th, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
This was great! I love reading your reminiscences and your Russia entries are superb.
Sep. 28th, 2014 04:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Sep. 28th, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
Leave it to a little brother to screw things up! It was interesting to learn about your schooling and this annual activity, which reminded me of the sorts of things we did at summer camp.
Sep. 28th, 2014 05:32 pm (UTC)
I hope that taught him something as well :)

Thank you!
Sep. 28th, 2014 04:59 am (UTC)
*hugs* What a miserable ride home! And so annoying, that you crossed so well earlier and then fell into the spring in front of everyone.
Sep. 28th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
I was more surprised than annoyed really :)

Thank you!
Sep. 29th, 2014 01:39 am (UTC)
You're welcome.
Sep. 28th, 2014 06:58 am (UTC)
you can imagine my silent indignation over both his presence and the extra parental supervision none of my classmates had to endure!
Yes, I can!

I would hate to spend a day soggy and miserable. :(
Sep. 29th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
It was not comfortable, but certainly very memorable.

Thank you.
Sep. 28th, 2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
I've never liked camping much, but this was a fun read. Why do they call it a Tourist meeting?
Sep. 29th, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
My brother and I did a lot of camping with our parents and their friends all during secondary and high school, but I am not really interested in it anymore. It's tiresome, and you can't wash properly, and there's the need to carry heavy packs. 'Lazy' vacations to different towns are my thing now.

It's a nod toward larger tourist competitions, where people do "real" activities, like a day of orientation in the woods or having to go from point A to point B the fastest they can while carrying packs.
Sep. 29th, 2014 03:15 am (UTC)
Your Tourist meeting sounds very similar to a yearly outing we went on in high school. It was supposed to build survival and trust skills for us.

How miserable to fall into the spring and have to spend the day wet.
Sep. 29th, 2014 07:54 pm (UTC)
It was really just a couple of hours plus the ride back home, but yes, it was not comfortable.

Haha, I am glad to hear our event was not unique. Did you also have an obstacle course during yours?
Sep. 29th, 2014 11:34 am (UTC)
Camping memories are real Fun to re-live even if you didn't enjoy it at that time...:) This was an interesting read..and got to know few things about the education system there..so thanks..:)
Sep. 29th, 2014 08:12 pm (UTC)
You're welcome :).

What extra things do you get to do in your schools?
Sep. 30th, 2014 06:13 am (UTC)
We had craft,sewing, drawing,music,martial arts, even scouts and guides for that matter..so reading about camping reminded me of days of my guide tours/camps.
Sep. 29th, 2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
Spending the day soggy and wet would not make me happy. Nicely done.
Sep. 29th, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)

Sep. 29th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
This policy of the "boys helping the girls" was incredibly sexist of that school administration. Plus, they totally have it wrong. Boys are stronger. Girls have better balance. But, I suppose it was easier to get away with that 16 years ago. It's interesting how the grades were divided, and to learn that Russia has two less levels of education than in the US.
Sep. 29th, 2014 09:07 pm (UTC)
Haha, yes, you're right, it was sexist, but it also seemed absolutely natural back then, that the boys should help the girls. Even though obviously boys that age did not get it.

We did have less levels of education, and it was also true of higher education until several years ago when the Bachelors and Masters degrees were enforced here as well. Before that, you got the complete package from the same college. It took 5 or 5.5 years and made you a specialist (I am one of those). And boy is it a headache to prove that it's equivalent to Masters. Many other states insist it is nothing but Bachelors.

Technically, there was also an equivalent of Bachelors degree if you dropped out after the first 2 years, and that was "Unfinished higher education", but doing so was stigmatized.

Edited at 2014-09-29 09:08 pm (UTC)
Sep. 29th, 2014 08:57 pm (UTC)
that sounds kind of fun. and yeah, of course the boys weren't holding the rope right. >.< boys. i would've wanted to push at least one of them in the spring so i wasn't the only one who had to spend the rest of the day with a wet butt.
Sep. 29th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
They were quite comically shocked when I fell in though, lol.

Thank you.
Sep. 30th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
Hubris! Always the price to pay :)
Oct. 3rd, 2014 03:09 am (UTC)
That sounds really fun!!!
Oct. 3rd, 2014 08:19 am (UTC)
It was :-)
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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