A DeKalb Middle School educator is one of four teachers from across the United States who will be visiting Russia this summer to teach American folklore to students there. Her presentations will be about the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree and Crafts Festival.
Anita Puckett will be making the trip as part of the Russian/American Educators Exchange Program.
American Friends of Russian Folklore invited middle and high school teachers to apply for the program in which participants travel to rural Russia to collect Russian folklore by filming holiday celebrations, recording local singers, interviewing villagers about traditional lore, and photographing local handicrafts.
In an interview with WJLE Thursday, Puckett said she is looking forward to the trip and is excited to have been selected. "Some of the people of the Tennessee Council of Social Studies Teachers sent the information and encouraged me to check into it. I talked with my husband about it and then applied. In order to be chosen, you (applicants) have to share with them the demographics of your location based on the U.S. Census and how I could bring an influence from another country to a small area. They don't notify you until 60 days prior to the trip. I recently received my congratulations letter letting me know I was selected," she said.
Puckett will take a flight to New York and then fly from there to Moscow. Upon her arrival in Russia, Puckett will travel to the Smolensk province, Sevsk district where she will be residing from May 21 through June 3 during the Pentecost/Trinity Week Expedition. An expedition leader will accompany Puckett and the other teachers during their Russian visit.
Participants schedule their visits during one of three folklore expeditions. All three expeditions, Easter, Pentecost/Trinity Week, and Dormition Day traditions and first day of school traditions are timed to coincide with important holidays of the Russian traditional calendar.
During her stay, Puckett will experience Russian village life first hand, living in a village house and eating the local food. She will also visit Russian rural schools, where she will make five- 45 minute presentations through translators on American folklore and meet with Russian teachers to discuss matters of mutual professional interest. Puckett has chosen the Smithville Fiddler's Jamboree and Crafts Festival as the subject of her presentations and she plans to share with the Russian students photographs along with audio recordings and DVD video highlights from the annual festival. "There is so much to talk about I knew I would have a great lesson plan because there is so many areas of folklore with the mandolin, banjo, fiddle, harmonica and more that these students may have never encountered and then there's the clogging, square dancing and crafts. There will be time for questions and answers to give them an opportunity to ask about our culture".
While she is making this journey from DeKalb County alone, Puckett is seeking support from the community as she collects mementos to take with her to share with the Russian people. "I'm trying to get as many people involved in this as I can because I want it to be a "community" event and not just a "me" event. I went to Suzanne Williams of the Chamber of Commerce and collected everything I could from her. I've contacted Jack Barton of the Fiddlers Jamboree about trying to locate any memorabilia. I have contacted the local girl scouts and they will be making scarves for me to present to the Russian teachers and other people who will be my hosts. Even some of my students have volunteered to make some scarves. I hope to bring back some pictures of the Russian ladies wearing their scarves that I can give to those girl scouts and students. I have also asked local crafter David Sharp to make ten Santa Clause ornaments. He's making me a good deal and I'm going to present those to the teachers that allow me to teach in their classroom because that's an authentic craft that they can keep and utilize every year as they teach," she said.
While in Russia, Puckett will have to adhere to the customs and culture, which is somewhat different from this country, particularly in the treatment of women. " I will have to wear a head dressing when I go to any orthodox churches and cemeteries. Clothing worn by women must be very modest and has to be longer than the knee. Over there women do have to cater to the men. The men must lead in all conversations. They sit at the table while the women must sit elsewhere."
"Here in the United States, most men cater to women. They try to help them. That is just the polite thing to do with the values and morals we have been brought up with. But over there the women pretty much have to fend for themselves. For my physical, I had to basically prove that I could walk a mile in under thirty minutes. I'll have to carry all of my luggage up and down any stairs. I'll also have to use pit toilets with no seats while I'm there," Puckett said.
"Although I don't smoke, women smokers must smoke in private. Public smoking is considered inappropriate for women. Alcohol especially vodka is deeply engrained in Russian life. I don't drink alcohol and we will not be forced to drink but must be prepared to be invited to drink repeatedly throughout the day. Those who wish to avoid alcohol are advised to consult with staff to find multiple ways to politely decline instead of using the same way to refuse to drink every time."
"The cuisine is very different there but they have lots of fruits and vegetables including potatoes, beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, apples, berries, and mushrooms, along with eggs and dairy products from neighborhood hens and cows. Meals are supplemented by breads, grains, meats, pastas, and poultry, so I'll have a large array of foods," said Puckett.
"On the website where this is hosted, I read a story of a lady who had been to Russia and found no running water at the place where she stayed. Fourteen days with no running water. Every three or four days she was able to go to the BANYA which is a local shower there. But the men were allowed to shower first. Many times by the time the women got to shower there was no more warm water. That would be a culture shock."
After she returns, Puckett will share with others curriculum materials from her trip, incorporating some elements of the Russian folklore she collects. "While I'm there, my responsibility is to interview Russian musicians and record some of their music. I will also be taking pictures and collecting art pieces and interviewing the artists as well. I have to create a Russian folklore unit or lesson so that when I bring this back to the United States, those who are funding my trip will utilize this for anyone who wants to have a good quality Russian folklore lesson to teach in their classroom. I will already have had it formulated for them including pictures, videos, etc.," she said.
Most of the trip is being funded by the sponsors but Puckett said she must bear part of the expense. "If anyone would like to make some donations, I would be so appreciative of this because everything is coming out of my pocket. I must fly myself to New York and pay for my visa. But from there, they (sponsors of the trip) are covering everything," she concluded.