This week I went on a camping trip. It was exhausting, but fun. The group was myself, Nikolai (my counterpart), my school director, one other teacher and 30 or so students. We built a bonfire that must have reached 15 feet into the air. We pitched tents the old fashioned way, erecting them with sticks and twine. We cooked shahlik, rice and soup over the open flame (after it settled down a bit, of course.). Songs were sung, dancing ensued, games were played and everyone had a merry old time. At one point I wandered into the woods with a few of my male students, axes in tow. The lot of us enjoyed an impromptu axe-throwing competition. Would you believe I actually won? Assuming there was a winner, I mean. In this case, winning simply meant getting the axe to stick into the tree trunk more than the next guy. From about 15 feet away I’d slowly pull my arms back over my head, hands grasping the handle of the axe, and then, hips first and elbows following closely behind, lunge forward releasing the weapon in the direction of the tree. My veins swelled with testosterone. Continuing in this manner, after returning to camp some of the boys were encouraging others to leap across the fire. I should mention that the fire was now raging again. It was not 15 feet high, but about four, sometimes surging as high as five. The group talked it over for a few minutes until finally my school director shouted from her seat on a nearby stump that I should go first. So, backing up slowly, far enough back to get a decent running start, I prepared for my leap. I shed all loose clothing that might have ignited during the jump. The camp began to clap slowly, speeding up as I began to run. And then I did it, off my left foot and high in the air, I soared over the raging flame and into the hearts of my Ukrainian students and colleagues.
“You’re a professional,” one student said to me.
It wasn’t the first time I’d leaped over something for show. About three years ago I was in Amsterdam visiting my friend Andrew. One night, on our way home from the bar, we passed a small playground. On the floor of this playground was an interesting bungee-type material that would catapult you into the air. We immediately gave it a go. A minute later, a group of children came around the corner. They watched us flail around for a moment before two of them dragged a Christmas tree over.
“Jump over it!” a girl shouted. She didn’t have to ask me twice.
The rest of my night in the Ukrainian woods was mellow, except for a dance competition between some of the girls, which I was asked to judge. Let’s just say that got slightly awkward. After, we stayed up and talked through the early morning before walking the 10 kilometers back to school. From there, I went immediately home and fell into bed.