There were pioneer camps all over the country in the summer. The price was nominal and for many children it was free. It was free for the families who had more than two children, for single parents and for families whose income was below a certain level.
Any child could go to a pioneer camp if he wanted. Although the same teachers were looking after us there, there was still much more freedom than during the school year. No lessons to attend, no homework to do. Freedom! Pioneer camps were usually situated near a forest or a river in a picturesque place. Many children enjoyed being there away from their parents' watchful eye and from school. Every teacher had to work in a pioneer camp for a month, for the remaining two summer months they had holidays too.
Some children who were quiet and not very communicative did not like being in a camp, they missed home. Most of us loved it! I have been to a camp once or twice only.
Pioneer camp activities were far from politics. There were lots of sport activities and clubs to join. We went to the river to swim and sunbathe, played sport games, organised different kinds of competitions, went on excursions and to the cinema, and fell in love with each other secretly.
Every morning we had a parade when we were wearing pioneer uniform with a red tie, we reported what we did the previous day and made the plans for today. Some children were praised and rewarded, some were threatened to be sent back home if they misbehave again.
We especially liked camp bonfires which we had after dark. We were allowed to stay up late those nights. We were sitting around the fire shoulder to shoulder telling horror stories, singing songs and just talking. There was a great feeling of togetherness. The beautiful starlit sky and the red flames of the fire stimulated the imagination to dream of adventure and romance. Potatoes baked in hot ashes tasted absolutely delicious. These were romantic nights which we treasured. I think it was the bonfire that made pioneer camps so attractive.
There was a big all-union pioneer camp in the Soviet Union in the Crimea called 'Artek', where the best pioneers from all the corners of the Soviet Union went and also children from many countries of the world. It was every boy's or girl's dream to be able to go to Artek one day. Only one or two places per year were allocated for all the schools in our town so it felt like winning a lottery when my mother got two places for our school and put forward my name together with another girl's.
I think being a head-mistress and very busy most of the time my mother sometimes felt guilty that she could not do enough for her own children or not to spend more time with us. She did more for the other people's children than for her own and that is why I think she pushed me forward and suggested that it was me who should go.
However nobody objected as I was a good hardworking girl, I had good marks in all the subjects and always participated in all pioneer activities. That was an unforgettable trip that lasted 45 days. It was a very special time and I even saw Yuri Gagarin there. I have devoted a separate chapter to my trip to Artek.