An Irish Journey

By Leah Caldwell, Brookes Moscow

Leah Caldwell

I went on a beautiful and winding road trip in Ireland, which I would recommend to anyone with a few days or even better a few weeks. Ireland is a warm and friendly country and it would be easy to get lost and end up somewhere with friendly people and great craic (the local word for ‘what’s happening’).

So it all started with a visit to a friend in N. Ireland. I decided to rent a car and head south. I took the M4 west from Dublin to the coast. This was an amazing drive through the centre of Ireland, with sheep and cows grazing in the fields and the occasional medieval castle keep in the centre of the country.  I took this route all the way to my first stop about 4 -5 hours later, when I landed in ‘The Burren’ on ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’.

‘The Burren’

The Burren was barren and beautiful. Green moss which covers the ancient limestone deposits that formed on the island millions of years ago is everywhere. The road leads to steep drop offs with violent waves crashing into the rocks and shore below. This area is often visited by surfers and has some of the biggest waves in the Atlantic, so say the locals.

The Cliffs at Mohair

Next, a short ride south to the Cliffs of Mohair, which were truly magnificent. I went for a walk along the ancient path leading along the high cliffs. Some of it is closed off now and rebuilt 5 meters or so back for safety reasons but you can still walk on much of the trail.

Doolin

I decided to stop near here at a town called Doolin, which is famous for it’s views and it’s traditional Irish music festivals. There was everything such Irish towns are famous for – a few B and B’s, a hotel and 4-6 pubs all with live music in the evening. Often there are 35 sessions of live music a week in Doolin during the summer months. I was there in the winter, which is off-season but was in luck, with 6 sessions playing on the Sunday night. People were friendly and often went from one pub to the next depending on which session they were most interested in. The food was great – lots of fresh seafood and other traditional Irish fare.

I left early the next morning for Killarney, which has a national forest, and my plan was to do some hiking. I travelled about one hour until I arrived in Kilrush where I took the fairy across the Shannon to Tarbert. The journey only took 20 min and cost about 18 euros but saved quite a bit of time and the view was worth every penny. The road from Tarbert to Killarney took about one hour. I decided to head straight up Torc mountain waterfall via the Muckross house. This old estate is now a part of the national park and has beautiful gardens and an abbey. If hiking is not your thing, there is plenty to do at the Muckross house and in the town of Killarney too. I enjoyed the long walk after the car ride, and it was only 2 and a half hours from Doolin to Killarney but in Irish terms that is considered crossing the earth.

Blarney Castle

I rode from Killarney to Blarney in about one hour and fifteen minutes where I stopped for the night ready to attain the ultimate goal and dream of almost everyone as far as 325 million Americans are concerned. Even the great Ronald Reagan has visited Blarney castle to get the gift of the gab! So early in the morning I crossed the beautiful gardens and climbed the long winding stone staircase to the top where I hung upside down and kissed the stone. This stone’s origins are from Scotland. It was a gift to Dermott McCarthy who helped the Scots at the battle of Bannockburn during their fight for independence in 1314.

Getting the ‘Gift of the Gab!’

Next, a quick stop in Midlton at the Jameson distillery to see how Irish Whiskey is made and distilled. This was truly informative, and the whiskey flight at the end wasn’t bad either! I left Midlton and drove up the M9 back to Dublin in about 3 hours where I stopped for the night and spent the next day trying to decide if I liked Jameson or Guinness more at the amazing Guinness storehouse. This was a fantastic tour about the history of Dublin as well as Guinness and I highly recommend it. Great view from the top too. I also went to St. Patrick’s cathedral, which dates back to 1191 and is Ireland’s tallest and dedicated to its patron saint.

Jameson Distillery in Midlton

This was a great short journey and took just three days. It could easily be extended and either places be visited or more time spent in each of these amazing places. I will return to Ireland again and again and would not be surprised if I’m not the only one who realizes how much it truly has to offer. Not all who wander are lost! Happy travels!

Toric Mountain Waterfall

Leah Caldwell, is a class teacher at Brookes School, Moscow

The Power of Music for Children

The Power of Music for Children:

Mr. Mark Broom, Head of Lower School at Brookes Moscow, speaking with John Harrison in a recent radio interview about the Young Musician of the Year, Gryphon Award 2019.

https://sputniknews.com/radio_brave_new_world/201903291073656202-power-music-children/

Notes from the Underground by Paul Ackers – Assistant PYP Coordinator at Brookes Moscow

‘Everybody you meet knows something you don’t’

Throughout my teenage years, I felt a great deal of pressure to say the right thing, to fit in. As a naturally enthusiastic person, the cool posturing of my peers came much less easily to me and I wince looking back at my attempts to be hip; I was perhaps too feverish in trying to recruit for the Young Ornithology Club (even flashing my YOC membership badge) and learned the hard way that teenage girls really aren’t interested in discussing their favourite Ninja Turtle. Even in adulthood, conversation doesn’t always come easy and I am constantly finding new ways to embarrass myself as I try to avoid another uncomfortable silence – until Moscow. In the few months I have been in Russia, my small talk has been given the makeover it so badly needed from the most unlikely source imaginable: public transport!

The Moscow Metro enjoys a fine reputation and it’s not difficult to understand why given its sheer size, beauty and singularity. Everybody seems to love (or hate!) at least one little thing about it, as I found to my great delight over lunch with colleagues recently. As we all sat quietly in the canteen, perhaps racking our brains as to why cold salads are so regularly served in subzero temperatures, I decided to ask (in preparation for writing this article) if anybody would mind sharing their favourite Metro station. Rather than my usual table-clearing act, I set the conversation alight! I had a great time listening as each person shared why they love a particular station – as if discussing classic albums! Although I once again had to take a backseat as the cool kids reeled off the ‘hit’ stations I hadn’t yet heard of, their enthusiasm was infectious and I wanted to know more.

What is it about the Metro that makes it such a good topic for discussion? Maybe it’s the fact that it is amazing in so many different ways; The idea of an underground in Moscow goes back as far as 1875 but it wasn’t until 1935 that the first 13 stations were opened. Shortly after, during World War II, hundreds of thousands of people took shelter under ground during the airstrikes and there were even shops and hairdressers open for business there at this time! The Metro has expanded considerably since then and it now boasts more than 200 stations, 44 of which are listed as cultural heritage sites. Given that the Metro is rightly renowned for its aesthetic beauty, it is also remarkable just how efficient and reliable it is, with waiting times that compare very favourably with other major cities. There are also tons of rumours, quirks and myths about the Metro that lend themselves to a good yarn – I’ve heard and read tales of secret water supplies, ghosts, an underground in the underground and even how a coffee cup stain left accidentally by Stalin led to the construction of the circular brown line!

Whilst a tour of subway stations may not be everyone’s idea of a wild time, I could not help but feel excited as I packed lunch and set out on a greatest hits tour of these ‘subterranean palaces’ dotted throughout the city. I was recommended a route beginning at Prospekt Mira and this seemed like a nice fit given that it was already something of a personal favourite and conveniently close to where I live. The first couple of stations after Prospekt Mira (Novoslobodskaya, Belorusskyaya) are absolutely stunning and fully deserve to be in the conversation for best station. After such an electrifying start, I was slightly underwhelmed (or maybe overtired) on arriving at award-winning Mayakovskaya; I wrote down the word ‘rhubarb’ in my notes, which may refer to its lovely pinkish hue, or perhaps the fact that I was already getting hungry just 20 minutes into my trip. Ploschad Revolyutsii and Kievskyaya were both far too busy to appreciate, jammed with shoppers and sightseers wielding selfie sticks like light sabers, but I had great fun riding up and down the 8th longest escalators in the world at my final stop: Park Podeby. A superb introduction to the Metro and a real feast for the senses, I’d recommend this to anyone – just not on a Sunday.

(I was hoping this article might also provide a platform for some wordplay humour regarding the Metro but I don’t think that’s any way to conduct yourself and I don’t want to lose my train of thought – time to get back on track before I step out of line!)

For my money, the best thing about the Moscow Metro is that at its finest, it elevates the mundane to something truly extraordinary – it’s not strictly necessary that everyday undertakings such as travelling, eating or even conversation be filled with creativity, imagination and flair, but aren’t our lives that much richer when they are? I was absolutely amazed when I actually took the time to explore just a few of these stations and they offer a truly unique way to learn more about the history of the city. Being a teacher, this was also a neat reminder that getting out and seeing things is often the most enjoyable way to learn and experience new things.

Never Crossing the Finnish Line…

As educators in schools, it is quite possible to never experience the diversity of another educational establishment; least of all one in a different country. Busy schedules, pressing matters, cost and time are all contributors to why we sometimes find it hard to take a step back from our own little world and step into someone else’s.

I have been fortunate in my career to experience a wide range of different schools, learning environments and cultures. Not so long ago I took a trip to Qatar, where my eyes were well and truly opened to the radical stance some International schools take in the erudition of the children in their care.

My most interesting trip thus far took place only two weeks ago, when I visited Finland to take a look over some of their schools – and to also ask the question, ‘how is it that Finland remains so high in the academic league tables, and have done for so long?’

Helsinki really did not meet all my expectations, upon first impressions. Winter did not help – it was twice as cold as Moscow, very dark, dreary and uninviting. However, upon introduction to staff and Principals from some of the schools, I felt far more welcome and at ease.

There is clearly considerable investment into education and schools in Finland; not only that, but in every school, all areas and every facility/resource was being utilised by the staff and students. It made me immediately think of our recent investment into 4 table tennis tables, which remain in a cupboard all week and only come out for the activity on a Tuesday evening! There was also a certain buzz, excitement, desire and general ‘wanting’ to be at school.

I wanted to find out the secret of Finland’s education system, as it consistently comes out near the top of global academic standings. I asked two of the Principals that I met how this is achieved. Jukka Niiranen explained to me that there is no one reason for this, however, he felt it was a combination of: long playtimes (outside/inside),  investment into teachers who are highly qualified and well-paid (many with Masters), a commitment from the Government to education and the Finnish curriculum itself. I understand these points as a headmaster myself; however, I don’t profess to know the Finnish curriculum at all. It doesn’t, upon seeing it in action, seem very different to the International Baccalaureate; which also produces very high academic results across the globe.

One thing, more than anything else that stood out for me, was that the children enjoyed their learning and looked as though they wanted to succeed. On top of that, they also had great fun during their extensive outdoor breaks – taking risks! Our colleague, Olga, had great fun trying out their ice slide!

With a considerable amount of investment from the Finnish Government into resources, facilities and educational standards, it is no wonder that Finland receive such positive results. There is an unquestionable amount of money poured into early childhood education and the quality of resources available is extremely high. This was certainly evident from the EduShow we visited on the last day, and to one of the private Nursery units.

Given enough time, to not just take a screenshot of Finnish education, but to really dig into the curriculum, teaching, learning and general ‘way’ in which they approach education, I would hope to come up with more substantive answers than the ones I left with. That said, I did leave in no doubt, of three things:

  1. Finland believes in education – and thus, they invest in it.
  2. Even though there are 191 term days a year, much of this is ‘at play’ and through that, they seem to learn more effectively than children from most other countries across the world!
  3. Education in Finland doesn’t stop at any one point – their philosophy is that you never ‘finnish’ one’s learning!

As a CIS Accreditation Officer, and ISI Inspector, I shall certainly now look for an opportunity to get back to Finland and continue my investigation into why they are so cool at educating their children. My huge thanks to the principals of the schools who allowed us around their schools.

Charley King

Head of Brookes Moscow & Saint Petersburg

‘Bored’ – Games: a lasting place, in every school…

Having invested into the latest iPhone, downloaded the newest software and considered this the smart thing to do, I was astonished when I woke to some shocking statistics; presented to me as a weekly report. 

5 hours and 4 minutes per day, spent on what has commonly become known as ones ‘black mirror.’ This was certainly a reflection I didn’t wish to see. What was worse, was that this weeks usage was down 14% on my previous weeks phone time. Having recovered from the shock, I investigated the breakdown of my statistics a little further. 

Clearly, time was spent on work email. However, the near hour a day on social media did get me concerned. Surely there hasn’t been that much of interest I could be reading….thoughts turn to the unfinished John Grisham book by my bedside! 

Most alarming out of all was the shared screen time I had spent with my son on the game ‘Real Racing’! A highly addictive game, with great graphics, fast game play, challenges for one’s self and challenges against your nearest rival. We have these phases, my son and I, but during the entire time we spent racing, we were so focused on our own device, in our own little world and in achieving our own personal best, that we completely forgot to speak to one another! 

Posed with the question, shall we play a board game, or Real Racing, there is no shadow of doubt that the answer from most teenage boys would be Real Racing…..well, to this day, my son continues to astound me as he will happily spend all day, everyday, playing Monopoly; the game I grew up with. This is even to the point whereby his Grand Papa George bought him his own set for Christmas, which was manufactured in the same year as the one I was presented with, on my 13th birthday. 

Monopoly – the game that touches every aspect of learning in the history of all board games! Finance, negotiation, risk, teamwork, maths, reading, development, entrepreneurship, life skills and much much more. Every school, in my opinion, should invest in one of these sets at the very least. Moreover, they can now be purchased with a truly international feel (although I really struggle with the Russian language set we purchased at home) There are actually over 1140 different types of Monopoly now – a style to suit everyones taste!

Again, upon reflection, I value so very much my parents approach to balancing the amount of time on a screen that I had, against undertaking a variety of other activities. (Mind you, in my day, there was very limited capacity to do anything on a ZX81!) Some of my best family memories and greatest laughter have come from around the table, playing games such as Monopoly, Totopoly, Tipit, cards or better still, charades. There has been nothing boring about these and and it has only gone to highlight how very important it is for valuable family time. Let’s face it, before parents know it, our children will have upped and gone….and then the only way we may get to see them regularly is through our devices….

There is an opportunity ahead of us to all take stock at some point in our life and to evaluate how much time we really do spend on our ‘machines’. A good balance can easily and affordably be found, whether a good book, a board game or some other interesting practical activity – away from the glare of our black mirrors. 

Now I have to practice what I preach, both at home and in setting a fine example at school….and I guess the only saving grace of my little black box, is that it will now, reliably keep me informed of how much time I spend on it!

Charley King

Head of Brookes Moscow

A Vegetarian’s Guide To Survival In Russia

Preeti Dangi

How often do you come across people who can’t help but raise eyebrows when you tell them that you are a vegetarian? This has happened to me on many occasions. In my experience, being vegetarian is still a fairly new concept in Russia and you may find people, especially the older generation, who would simply dismiss this as a short-lived enthusiasm, adding that one will grow weak and will get sick if you remain on such diet for a long time. 10 years ago, when I came to this wonderful country to meet my husband’s family for the first time on New Year’s Eve, I received a warm welcome with a lavish spread, prepared by my mother-in-law, consisting of different Russian delicacies. When I told her I am a vegetarian, she happily removed all the traces of chicken floating in the shchi(cabbage soup) from my bowl, saying that I could now enjoy the soup. I welcomed the New Year, gobbling up all the vinnegrate(Russian beetroot salad) and bread that was on the table. Of course, my husband and mother-in-law were amused and to this day we have a good laugh about it.

Mint Chutney

I come from India, a country where majority of people are vegetarian, and we have many different varieties of fruits and vegetables available all the year round. We are also known to use lots of spices in our cuisine to enhance the flavour of the food. The spices not only improve the taste, but also have medicinal properties. Contrary to popular belief, we do not add curry powder or random spices to all the vegetables while cooking. Each spice serves a purpose in the dish. For instance, while cooking green beans, cumin is added as it balances the flavour of otherwise bland vegetables. Sauté pumpkin with red onions, add fennel and fenugreek seeds and you will make any staunch hater of pumpkin fall in love with it.

Cottage Cheese in Spicy Tangy Sauce

Thankfully, nowadays we have supermarkets flooded with different vegetables from other countries. While most people tend to think that buying all these exotic vegetables in any of the up-market places is an expensive affair, I would recommend exploring the weekend farmers’ markets. I have made friends with ‘babushkas’ who grow and sell vegetables from their kitchen garden. I have even shared the recipes with random sellers who are curious about different ways of preparing the veggies. I also get curious glances while buying vegetables like sweet potatoes, daikon radish, tamarind and ginger and I happily share with them what I know.  Summer and autumn wake up the ‘ant’ in me and I enjoy my time buying fresh seasonal vegetables in bulk, washing, peeling and freezing them for use during winter. Hard work but it’s worth it.

Some of the big supermarket chains have spices sections as well that offer a wide range of good quality spices. If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can always get them from your nearest Indian spices shops or order them online.

Crispy Samolina Fritters

Adding dry fruits to the food also enhances nutritional value and luckily there are many places in Moscow where you can buy them, my favourite place being ‘Tvoi Dom’at Vegas Myakininowhere they offer good quality at a reasonable price.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and be adventurous with flavours. I have done this a lot myself and have absolutely no regrets!  Who says only non-vegetarians can enjoy pelmeniand vegetarians have to be satisfied with its poor cousin ‘vareniki’? Try using different vegetables along with cheese and spices as fillings for your own vegetable pelmeniand enjoy these with your own homemade dip made from fresh tomatoes, onions and garlic. I make a good amount of different chutneys from fresh tomatoes, mint and put them in the freezer as I personally don’t prefer adding preservatives. Coconut chutney is made in a matter of minutes and can be enjoyed as a dip or with lentil soup and rice. Cabbage is a staple in Russia and it can be stir fried with coconut shred mustard seeds and a hint of garlic. Enjoy with a fresh toast!

Daal Fry With Rice

Impress your friends with your own version of dranikithat does not require any eggs. Use semolina instead of flour and add in kefir. Add finely chopped onions, sauerkraut(yes, you read it right!), grated ginger, cumin seeds and shallow fry. My mouth is watering as I write this.

During autumn, when you have aubergine and green bell pepper in plenty, try preparing them using different fillings. A filling consisting of four spices, namely, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and crushed fennel seeds can turn a plain aubergine into a finger-licking side dish.

Wondering what to do with all those beans and lentils resting on the supermarket shelves? How about a ‘plov’ or soup with these? Red kidney beans and chickpea go well with plain rice. Don’t fancy plov? Try topping plain boiled rice with the onions, caramelized on low heat. You may also enjoy fritters with different vegetable like potatoes, onions, spinach, sorrel, dipped in gram flour (нутовая мука) batter, that can be easily found in many supermarkets. You may also use circassian cheese (адыгейский сыр) cubes along with vegetables. That makes a perfect snack for a cold autumn or winter evening.

Spicy Tangy Chick Pea Curry

All the aforementioned recipes not only taste good, but can be prepared on a daily basis. Furthermore, it only takes 45-60 minutes to prepare most of these meals. Some require preparation in advance and are best left for the weekends. For example, beans and chickpeas take longer to cook and have to be soaked overnight.

The tips and recipes mentioned in this article are by no means exhaustive and I would be happy to share ideas with anyone would like to explore this amazing world of vegetables. I would love to hear from other fellow vegetarians about their experiences. You may visit my Instagram page-russianlanguage9 for more information and ideas.

Preeti is a Senior Learning Assistant at Brookes School Moscow, and runs an international cookery club at the school.

Brookes School Officially Opens

Simon Green

Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Charley King, the founding Headmaster of Brookes School, Moscow, can be left in no doubt that he, together with his formidable team, has the ability to make the near impossible happen. He said in his welcome speech that the Brookes project had had its share of vicissitudes, but somehow in his 384 days at the helm, he has overseen an effective start-up project from inception to completion against all the odds, culminating in the Grand Opening on September 19th, 2018 in the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Michael of Kent. The Gods seemed to be in agreement as they relented and allowed the sun to shine in a clear blue sky as if to emphasize the bright future ahead for everyone connected with the school, especially the pupils.

We were afforded a warm welcome by staff at the entrance to the school and were duly ushered into the dining area where tea and coffee were on offer together with an array of sandwiches and fresh fruit. The atmosphere exuded happiness and optimism as we waited for the signal to go upstairs to the auditorium and wait for the big moment. Mark Broom was the Master of Ceremonies for this esteemed occasion, and following Charley King’s welcome speech, two girls kicked off proceedings with a contemporary dance that was both original, agile and slightly balletic in style. They departed to generous applause and then came the moment everyone was waiting for: HRH Prince Michael of Kent took to the stage while we all stood in acknowledgement of his presence there. HRH is related to Tsar Nicholas II and he proceeded to explain that he had been coming to Russia regularly for the last 25 years, so had a close affinity with its people and rich culture.

His Royal Highness cast some wonderful pearls of wisdom during his speech, which started in Russian then switched to English, in his highly polished tones and deep, resonating voice that captured everyone’s attention from the very start. He firstly advised the children present: “you’re benefitting from the very best,” and he followed this up with: “collaboration is the best way to learn about other cultures and beliefs.” By now he had his audience spellbound and eager to hear his next offerings which just got better and better. “Brookes must recognise talent in whatever shape that comes,” he suggested, then came up with an immortal line: “This is the next generation school,” he enthused, “that dares to be different, and sets a blueprint for others to follow.” After several more platitudes, congratulating the Brookes team on their extraordinary achievement in bringing this whole project to completion, he wrapped up his speech with the words we had all come to hear: “It’s now my great pleasure to declare Brookes Moscow officially open!” HRH Prince Michael of Kent retired to his seat amidst a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.

Brooks-87s
Brooks-94s
Brooks-91s
Brooks-129s

We were then treated to a gifted singer and ballerina performing together ‘A Million Dreams.’ The former had had just one week to learn her song and was from year 8 and yet already possessed an adult voice with depth and power. She was ably supported by the latter, who was a ballerina whose display amply demonstrated a combination of poise, balance and elegance as she proceeded to own the stage. Apparently, she’s to join Brookes next year and will clearly be an artistic asset with a promising future should she decide to take that route in her adult life. Following that act, we then met Master Isaac Brown, a senior student from Brookes Canada who told us he was bored and uninspired in his previous school until Brookes got hold of him, and presented him with some teachers who could motivate him away from mediocrity towards the upper echelons of educational life. This mention of teachers who could inspire, found me recalling a quote from one famous person about another. As Alexander the Great said about his teacher, no less a mortal than the legendary philosopher, Aristotle, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”- and so say all of us!

Next up to the stage were two people from the Pioneer Group who made a massive contribution to the practical and educational side of the project. Olga said what a fantastic team they had in place at Brookes and that everyone worked collectively to ensure the project came to fruition. David Rose told us that the school was set in 18,000 square meters in 2.5 acres of land, then told us about the IB programme and how the students are expected to unlock their potential through the constant development of their three pillars- namely: Character, Connection and Creativity. These foundations, if utilized to their maximum will enable students to leave Brookes, ready to set the world on fire with their ideas. This was followed by a group of boys and girls of all ages singing a wonderful rendition with expressiveness, happiness and impeccable unison to boot; they also left the stage to generous applause.

Not only has Charley King been handling all things internal at Brookes school, but he’s also been visiting a number of establishments to test the water with his ideas. He told me enthusiastically that he had been well received at competitor, Anglo American school who, due to their lengthy waiting list, would be pleased to send to Brookes any students who they felt would fit into the Brookes family. As if that wasn’t enough, Charley has also convinced Moscow State University to automatically accept students who have passed the IB exams which is a wonderful incentive to be successful. In synopsis, Charley wrapped up his welcome speech encouraging students to take advantage of the most exciting opportunity of their lives and have pride while at Brookes school, but above all, abide by the school maxim- “Be Brookes!”

For a prospectus for students and parents please write to:

Racing, alone, on the frozen Baikal…

Thomas Witten (Brookes Moscow)

The morning after the midnight thunderstorm we had a few nights ago a friend who recently moved to Moscow asked with sincere panic-stricken eyes: “Is this it!? Is winter starting? Shall I go out to buy a thick winter coat?” I responded with a restrained giggle and somehow managed to suppress an urge to burst out laughing. I went on to explain that we’ve got a while to go still but recommended to soak up as much of the outside terrace atmosphere as possible before the sun goes into hibernation. “There’s still the mythical Indian Summer to look forward to after a bout of cold weather before winter really starts in November” I added (I still don’t know what ‘Indian Summer’ is all about).

This conversation got me thinking though. The intrigue with Russia’s long cold dark winters is usually on the top of the list when someone finds out I live in Russia – especially people from my neck of the woods where it very rarely snows. We South Africans regard single digit temperatures with absolute dread. The notion of a hyphen before the digit lies far outside our frame of reference. But long and grey and bitingly cold as Russian winters may be, I am always amazed at how people from this part of the world embrace the winter. What I find intriguing though is the contradiction with a nation which simultaneously seems to both fear and love the cold. Young children can’t drink cold water, but ice-cream stands pop up in every park in the white winter months; opening windows and catching a draft means you’ll die and yet hundreds are out in pushchairs while pulling gleeful children behind on doughnut sleds. Shortly after the first snow has settled skiing enthusiasts don slick and shiny ski suits and take to the forest.

Me – I’m a runner, and I like ‘Ultras’. I find running in the snow exhilarating and come winter I’m out in Moscow’s forests enjoying the thrill of light snowflakes half suspended in the air or running into an icy blizzard. I had the privilege of participating in one of Russia’s toughest, if not craziest, events, running ‘on the world’s only marathon ice course laid between two opposite shores of the planet’s deepest lake!’: The Baikal Ice Marathon. Exactly as it says on the box: We started on the shore of one end of Lake Baikal and ran 42.2km in -25 degrees Celsius into icy winds on the frozen lake and ended on the opposite bank several hours later. It was tough. Unpleasant. I’d rather run a 100km ‘Ultra’ in warm weather every other day than run Baikal again. But what an amazing experience! Unless you’re an elite athlete firing on all fours at the front with the lead pack marathons are actually wonderful social events with people chatting all around you on the run and spectators cheering you on your way. Baikal was very different. I didn’t anticipate that running it would be so isolating. The 160 odd runners were spread out over many kilometres and did not have any contact with each other. I was completely wrapped up, buffered from the outside world, while constantly trying to manage my body heat. The overwhelming feeling, though, was that I was running alone. A man on snowmobile or a hovercraft passing by checking up to see if everyone was OK, my only source of company. The occasional soviet tank passing by was surprisingly reassuring. “If that heavy thing can drive on the ice then I’m probably not in any danger of slipping under the ice!” I thought.The hardest part, however, was the lack of perception of distance. Not long into the race everything around you as far as the eye could see was white with no way of telling how near or far anything was, with small red flags guiding your path dotted out every few hundred metres. I remember thinking at the time that this must be what it would feel like if the white after-death experience realm could be believed. Hopefully warmer. 25km in, something finally revealed itself in the distance – a few mountain tops which just wouldn’t get closer – lack of depth perception yet again. And then with 7 or so K’s to go the other side of the bank started becoming visible. Again, so close and yet so very far; it stood there taunting. And then it was over. A shot of vodka has never tasted so good.

I wouldn’t recommend Baikal to the faint of heart but thought I should perhaps suggest that my friend start shopping for a fancy ski kit instead and while the weather is good, build up a level of fitness to enjoy what Moscow has to offer in the winter. But then again you only live once.

Fellow ‘Ultra’ runners.

Thomas Witten is a reception teacher (early years – ages 4 – 5) at Brookes School, Moscow

Indonesian Turtle Conservation

Text and photos by Camille Le Prou

As an educator living and working in Moscow, summer is often a time to relax and unwind, step back and reflect on another busy year or perhaps even pour energy into other projects. With help from Mahi-Mahi Surf Resort on Simeulue (an island off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia) this summer, I was fortunate enough to combine all facets of the aforementioned and dedicate some time to the conservation of the endangered green sea turtle.

Mahi-Mahi is a friendly, New Zealand run surf resort focussed on giving back to the people of Simeulue and broadly speaking, Indonesia. In conjunction with the sustainable raw coconut oil company, Aluan, Mahi-Mahi combines surf charters with a volunteering program aimed at supporting local turtle rangers on the uninhabited Benkaru Island, one of many that make up the famous Banyak Islands.

The importance of Benkaru is that it is where many green sea turtles return to lay their eggs, however the turtle faces many challenges to fight its way into life, and if female, eventually returning to its birth beach to lay eggs of her own. Many predators line the beach at night eagerly awaiting their turn to feast on the freshly laid eggs including shifty shore birds, slick monitor lizards, and suspicious saltwater crocodiles. But, sadly, the biggest threat of all is humans. Although illegal, humans still hunt the island for turtle eggs to sell and eat, or even the turtles themselves, so much so it is threatening the future existence of the aquatic amniote.

                        Beach Clean Up

The importance of volunteers’ time on the island is to support the turtle rangers in their quest to ward off potential poachers, and what a place to be. We stayed on the island for four days, a world away from electronics and life, and visited the beach several times of the night and day to either see turtles laying their eggs, or in the early morning to watch babies fight up through the sand and take their first breathe of air before descending to the beach alone. During the day we cleaned the beaches, removing as much plastic, fishing equipment and foil as we could find (the biggest culprits being plastic lighters, straws and netting); shocking to put into perspective that this island produces almost no rubbish and that it is still being polluted from the mainland and surrounding islands. Word is slowly spreading that the international community is watching and supporting the island, as the future wellbeing of the turtle depends on it.

When our surf boat returned to the golden shores to collect us, and we had to leave our paradise, it was difficult, but we found solace in the fact that the turtle rangers do an amazing job with the support of incredibly sustainable and green minded companies like Mahi-Mahi Surf Resort and Aluan. Upon returning to Simeulue, after 7 hours on the Indian Ocean, we held a class with local school children running activities with a focus on the green sea turtle and their predators. The role of education now becomes imperative because in the teaching and learning as to the severity of the endangered situation the turtle faces, humans can understand that repopulating the creature is not impossible, but will take a change in mind set and ultimately respect for our planet and all of its inhabitants.

https://mahimahisurfresort.com/community-environment

https://www.aluan.co/

Camille Le Prou is Head of Visual Arts, Brookes Moscow.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

This is, without doubt, one of the oldest jokes in 19thCentury American History, and originated from the picket lines, during labour strikes. It is incredible to think, that such a simple concept should provide such humour for over 150 years. The endless variations to the answer have kept stand-up comedy on the stage and children bewildered, across the globe as to its purpose. So, what is the answer, why on earth write about it and where does it fit into our pacey, futuristic world?

Read on for the rest of this article, written by Charley King, at: www.russiaknowledge.com

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