She had been doing it for several years: It was neither a matter of choosing where to go nor a decision about whether to go at all. 21 days at the seaside — на юге — in a summer camp by the Black Sea. About 14 hours on a train in one direction. The train that smelled of engine grease, metal, piss, meatballs and fried chicken, tea, and the bodies. The smell of the 293 millions citizens of the former Soviet Union.
Summer camp meant discipline, waking up early, eating poorly, washing clothes with one’s hands in cold water. It also meant the humiliating medical exams once one arrived and the threat of quarantine if fleas or scabies were detected. As if sleeping in a barrack with six or more other people, washing one’s face and feet in cold water every evening, having white bread and butter with cacao that tasted like dust for 21 breakfasts, and eating some questionable sausages and starch, were not health hazards.
Being at the camp also meant taking part in some talent competition. Well, there were talents of course, but not enough to pit them against each other.
More than anything, it meant waiting. Standing in a line to get anything. It would start when they lined up children on the train platform thirty minutes before the departure with their sports bags with essential summer clothing and foodstuffs, that she would certainly bring back home after these 21 days. Waiting for the conductor to give out the bed linen and collect the tickets in the whole carriage before they can open some plastic bags and share treats. Waiting for the transfer bus in the sun. Waiting at the reception when the barracks were allocated. If anyone was sick, the child had to wait to see a doctor, even though they were supposed to be on duty at all times and even if one had a high fever. Waiting for one’s friend outside the shower or toilet that had no lock.
It also meant, waiting until the sleep actually happened after the signal for отбой and the chittering chatting would not stop without ever making any sense. It would mean patiently waiting for a spirit to come at the spiritual séance. Waiting for the boy, a boy, to approach at the disco for the slow dance.
Some waiting was punctuated by embarrassment, some by discomfort. But maybe this is what augmented the feeling of togetherness between the children of the former pioneers.
Maybe it was the pioneer camp without pioneers, without the ideology and clear purpose, that allowed to process this shared time as the experience of growing up and reinventing one’s self.