USSR 1991

USSR 1991

USSR 1991

 

The combination of “Indian summer” 22°C temperatures, clear blue skies and a wonderful itinerary has made today most memorable – a real richness of experiences to treasure, remember, and of course, use in my teaching.

I woke up this morning quite early (6am), and as breakfast wasn’t scheduled until 8:30am, I decided not just to sit around but to go out exploring.  So I had a shower and got dressed by 6:30am, and set out on the Metro (underground railway), first to photograph a huge wall mural showing the new Russian flag that I had seen through the bus window yesterday on the Garden Ring, and then into central Moscow to see Red Square in the early morning light under less crowded conditions than yesterday.

The atmosphere was magic – clear and still, and bathed in golden early morning sunlight.  I was even able to hear the 8 o’clock bell chimes resonating out from the kremlin’s Spassky Tower, which is Moscow’s equivalent of London’s Big Ben.

On my way back to the Metro I passed by Lubyanka Square where the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky (founder of the KGB) was demolished last month from its mount in front of the KGB Headquarters building.  The plinth is now a heavily chipped stone base with a little Russian flag sitting on top.  And I did make it back in time for a punctual start to breakfast.

Today’s schedule comprised the special things I had negotiated before leaving.  We began with a visit to Specialised School No.21 (Спецшкола 21) , a school that specialises in teaching English language.  The Principal, Tatyana Potyaeva (Татьяна Потяева), who spoke very good English, is also a Geography teacher, so I’m sure you can imagine how well we got on with each other, and how much she appreciated the gift of a copy of my “World of Contrasts” book.

We were shown to many classes, both primary and secondary, as they start teaching from Grade 2.  The standard of the students’ English was very good, and they really enjoyed having a question-and-answer session with the members of our group.  The school is also a “trial school” for the use of computers, and they have received a donation of two rooms full of IBM computers for this purpose.  Finally, we were shown the school’s museum (bizarrely on the theme of “India”), followed by a stage presentation put on by the students who developed their routine entirely in their own time with no teacher input.

I was fascinated that in one class, when students were given the chance to ask us questions, a girl jumped to her feet and asked us if we were Christians, adding without hesitating that she was, and then encouraging us to go to church.  That was something that could have never happened in the Soviet Union until VERY recently.

After lunch, we had our second special visit, this time to a high rise housing estate.  All our travels were organised by the government-run Intourist, which is the Soviet Union’s only travel company, so I was quite impressed when I was informed that our visit to a family’s flat was the first time that such a visit had ever been arranged.  Consequently, the section head of Intourist joined our group for the visit in order to see how successful (or otherwise) it was.

We went to a housing estate in western Moscow called “Atom”, which is on Mnevniki Street.  Although the design of the estate was the same as every other estate built about three to four years ago, “Atom” was the first “youth self-help” housing estate in M oscow, and only the third in the USSR.  The young people who wanted housing banded together , obtained permission, got leave from their work unit, and then built it themselves  between 1987 and 1988.  Today, “Atom” contains seven high rise housing blocks accommodating 15,000 people with its own school, clinic, television relay station and playgrounds.

Much of our time at “Atom” was spent in the flat of a young couple, Olga and Alexander Goldschlag, a Jewish couple with a nine year old son and a six year old daughter (who is in hospital with pneumonia at the moment).  He is a construction engineer and she is a computer programmer, each earning about 300 roubles per month (compared with the average wage of 200 roubles per month).  Perhaps sadly, they told us that they are really keen to leave the USSR, maybe to go to the USA, maybe to Israel, maybe to Australia.  And this is the couple that the government’s Intourist decided we should meet!  The Goldschlags impressed me as being quite enterprising, and they have established their own business to provide civil engineering consultancy services.

Their two-bedroom flat (four rooms altogether) was well furnished and comfortable, but obviously very small by Western standards.  They (and especially the wife) were just as keen to learn about us and our lives as we were with them, and the visit proved to be a very positive experience for everyone involved.

After dinner, Monica Attard, the ABC’s Moscow correspondent, came to the Cosmos Hotel with her friend, Sascha, to speak with us.  She provided a wonderful insight into recent events in the USSR, including her experience of riding on a tank during the uprising, as well as a very perceptive view of life and politics in the Soviet Union today.  I recorded her talk on a mini-cassette, and it really is worth listening to it. 

So, summing up, it has been an exhausting day to say the least, but immensely rewarding, informative and satisfying.

Day 4

Moscow, Russia, USSR

Tuesday

1 October 1991