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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Space Center History. Our Young Astronaut Trip to Siberia. 1989. Part 2


TY-134 Aeroflot jet.
We departed Moscow the next day on a TY-134 Aeroflot jet.  The seats were flimsy by American standards.  I noticed the carpet was coming up between the aisle and seats.  One of the boys was assigned to a broken seat.  I had him moved.  I got settled and looked around the cabin to get my bearings.  I noticed something strange above the escape exit over one of the windows.  A small compartment labeled "Escape Rope".   We laughed that one of the emergency procedures on the plane consisted of an escape rope!   I told the boys that in the event of a crash landing, we would take our chances and jump out instead of waiting our turn on the escape rope.

Our Chariot to the Young Pioneer Camp

Instead of landing at Novosibirsk's airport, our Aeroflot flight landed at a Soviet Air force Base / MIG fighter jet production factory.  MIG jets were parked up and down the runway.  Others where being serviced in large hangars.  I was forbidden to take pictures until we were out of sight of the bus and well on our way to the camp.  A blue city bus was waiting for us as we departed the plane.  It took us the 70 miles to the camp, which sat on the shores of the Ob Reservoir.   Russia isn't known for its smooth roads.  Included the age of the bus and its non existing shock absorbers and you can imagine how comfortable the ride was from Novosibirsk to the camp.  I spent as much time in the air as I did on my seat during the two hour trip.  We actually got use to the ride after a few weeks.

We were met at the camp by hundreds of children, teens and their adult leaders.  Our American delegation was the object of conversation and stares where ever we went.   It was the first time any of them had met Americans.  In the past, Americans were not allowed to travel to that region of Russia.  The United States and Russia weren't enemies, but we weren't friends either.  The communists distrusted America and Americans in general.  Which was why we had our very own KGB agent assigned to us during our stay.  He took all the black and white pictures I'm posting with this article.  I asked him for copies; he was kind and obliged. 

The Young Pioneer Club was a division of the Communist Party.  It was a children's organization, like our Boy and Girl Scouts.  Its mission was to prepare Soviet children to become good Soviet citizens and future communist party members.   The Young Pioneer Club sponsored hundreds of summer camps all over the country.  Our camp was one of them.  It was funded by the MIG factory in Novosibirsk.   

The first thing we did after getting off the bus was attend a flag lower ceremony in the camp's central square.  The anthem was played as the flag was lowered.  I took several pictures and several pictures were taken of us.

The Boys and I watching the lowering of the Soviet flag.
I'm taking pictures and pictures are being taken of us by our KGB handler
Kyle, Rocky and Rangi.  The dark haired woman talking to Kyle was the camp's English teacher
The three boys at the flag lowering

They called it a space camp.  It wasn't.  It was a normal Young Pioneer Camp.  The international delegations made it special.  There was however one hour a day of space lectures.  They were boring.  The boys hated them and so did I.  They were in Russian, we couldn't understand a thing and the interrupter had trouble with the technical terms.  Regardless, we went anyway.  That was the reason we were there. The rest of the day was spent in regular camp activities with the Soviet children.  That is where the real learning took place.

The Dormitories

A camp bedroom with the odd green, glossy walls.

We stayed in one of the dormitories on the second floor.  All the walls were painted a peculiar green and trimmed with white.  The buildings were old.  The plumbing was old.  The boys restroom toilets were flush with the floor, meaning you had to squat to use the bathroom.  It was strange at first and took some getting use to, but we managed.  Every floor had a commons room were the campers gathered for games, cards and just hanging out.


We took our meals in the camp's cafeteria.  We had a table reserved for us and the Dutch delegation.
The picture above shows us 'enjoying' a meal.  The leader of the Dutch delegation is on the right.  Mila (the other American leader from Salt Lake) is on the right with her two boys.  You can see me at the end of the table on the left.  Kyle sat at the end of the table.  Rangi and Rock sat opposite me.  The sign on the wall read CWA (Russian for USA) and Netherlands.  I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get the boys to eat as much as they could.  I knew that food wasn't always plentiful in the USSR and so I thought we should show our appreciation and eat what they served to show them that we enjoyed their hospitality.   The food at the camp was bland at best.  The boys had a difficult time adjusting to it.  Rocky hated potatoes and Kyle hated tomatoes - both of which were staples in the camp diet.   The boys ate most everything, but no matter how I threatened, I couldn't get them to eat buckwheat.

 Buckwheat (similar to oatmeal) 
I'm known to eat everything, except liver and plain boiled buckwheat.

The food supply we had brought with us didn't last very long.  We packed Twinkies, jerky, corn nuts, licorice, fruit rollups, etc.   We used our home supply of goodies to supplement our camp meals.  Our private stores didn't last very long.

We enjoyed sharing our food with our floormates.  One day we invited a few of the Russian boys into our room for a treat.  Their eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when they saw me open one of our suitcases full of goodies.

"What shall we give them?" I asked the boys.
"How about an Atomic Fireball," Rangi suggested.  He wanted to see their reaction, knowing they had never tasted anything like that in Russia.
"That's evil," I said.  "Let's do it."

We gave them each a Fireball.  They thanked us in Russian, gently unwrapped the candy and popped it into their mouths.  Five seconds later their faces began to contort.  Ten seconds later they took them out of their mouths and rushed out of the room for water.  I went to find someone who spoke some English and had him explain to the boys that the Fireballs were really candy and we weren't playing a trick on them.  They laughed and brought their friends in for the same treat :)

The Russians were surprised we didn't drink tea.  All Russians, including children, drink tea.  Tea was the beverage of choice at every camp meal.   We made do with water or milk.

Russian was officially atheist.  Christians were persecuted by the communists.  Russian children were taught that God was a fairy tell and that religion was the opium of the masses.  The Russians in the camp were surprised when I told them that the boys and I were all Christians.  Our faith opened the door to many interesting discussions on the subject of religion and the role religion played in American.  We also talked to them about the communist party's attitude toward religion in their country. The teachers in the camp were fascinated that Rangi, Rocky and Kyle were all planning on becoming LDS missionaries.

I was invited to many camp staff parties and always had to explain that my refusal to drink alcohol was not because of my health,  but because of my religion.  They considered my believe peculiar until a Soviet Cosmonaut came to the camp and attended one of the staff parties.  He was a friend of Jack Anderson, the founder of Young Astronauts who happened to be LDS.  He explained LDS practices and stated how he admired Mormons for their attitudes toward health.  After that, I no longer had to explain why I didn't smoke or drink.

One day I was pulled aside by a Soviet teacher.  "I understand that the boys are Mormons too?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"May I ask how many wives they will be permitted when they become older?"  she asked.
You can see that a I spent a great deal of time correcting their viewpoints regarding Mormon life. 

The boys built model rockets and gliders while at the camp.  The Russians didn't have rocket model kits.  They made their rockets from scratch.  The nose cones were made of wood and fashioned in the wood shop.

The bonfire on the island and our rowing excursion on the Ob Reservoir
Life jackets - forget it. I kept the row boat right next to shore.

Many afternoons were spent playing soccer or other favorite Russian games.  We went to the beach often and swam in the Ob Reservoir.   We even got to go camping overnight on a small island.  

The Russian school teachers arranged many question and answer sessions with me.  They were curious about our schools, our curriculum and educational practices.  The old Soviet school system was very restrictive.  Teachers were told what to teach, when to teach it and how long to teach it. Their instructions were so detailed, you could leave Moscow on a Monday after having done page 212 in your math book, fly to the other side of the country, go to school on Tuesday and find the class you were visiting on pay 213 in the same math book!  They were envious of the academic freedom we had as American teachers back then.  Strangely, our current educational system is eerily similar to the old Soviet system with the heavy emphasis on managed curriculum and standardized testing.    

The Soviet children were likewise interested n the lifestyle of American children.  The boys were asked many questions about their life in the United States, their clothing, hair styles, what they like to do in their spare time, their interest, etc.  Our boys even exchanged clothes with two Bulgarian boys so they could feel what our clothes and shoes felt like.

 Our American Utah Boys with their two Bulgarian Friends made at the Camp.
Svet is standing next to Rocky and Stan is between Rangi and Kyle.  Stan is still wearing Rangi's clothes.

To Be Continued......

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