Looking Up

9 Jun

She pulled the small, square paper out of the bucket, slowly unfolding the brightly colored sheet to read the next question aloud.

“Okay,” my student said.  Continuing the pattern we’d followed all evening during our TOEFL conversation club, she started her sentence hesitantly. “What would you do if you never had to sleep at night?”

She smiled and shifted in her chair. My student “A” loves these sorts of hypothetical, what she calls “goofy” questions. You can almost see her synapses firing, her thoughts pulling together and forming a clever, imaginative response. If it were up to her, every class period would be spent discovering what life would be like if we were 3cm tall, or what she would do if she had 10 eyes, or deciding where to go if she could live anywhere in the world.

“What is the question asking you?” I said, encouraging her to re-word the question to ensure she had the full understanding.

She started to respond when my other student, “N,” jumped in. “I know,” said N. “Every night, if you could not sleep, what would you do with time?”

We all nodded, a collective “oooooh” settling throughout the classroom.  My two students smiled, ready to consider this newest ridiculousness as they had the other questions throughout the evening.

Up to this point, their favorite question had been “What would you do if all the houses in your city were made of chocolate?” These young professionals, in their early 20s, could not help but giggle as children when imagining a sweet, edible city at their fingertips.

“We could eat all day long!” A had said. “I never bring a gift when visiting family again – we just pull off the window to share!”

“Everyone would have – how do you say – really bad… acne,” N had added. They loved it.

I personally had been rather interested in their responses to “What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and there were no longer any laws?” After pulling through the difficult verbs and getting to the heart of the question, my students answered quickly and surprisingly.

“Oh I know,” A laughed. “I would drive a car,” she said.

“Me too!” N added. “And then I would go to another country, where I wouldn’t have to get a visa. It would be easy!”

Their responses, sincere and honest, came out so thoughtfully and happily it made me nearly wish for this lawlessness, to live in their dystopian future where women drive cars easily and young adults can travel where they please.

When it came to our last question, though, “What would you do if you didn’t have to sleep at night?”, they were slower to respond.

“Maybe,” said A, “I would spend a lot of time on Facebook. I would study my Spanish and learn another language, like France.”

N agreed, nodding slowly. She paused, and then said. “I would watch movies. I’d have to. I don’t like this question. Why would I not sleep?”

I wasn’t sure if I had offended them or if they just didn’t want to imagine this world.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Why does this question bother you?”

N thought. “At night, I sleep. If I were a man, I would go to the park or visit my friend. But I spend this time sleeping.”

“Yes,” A added, tugging at her long, curly black hair. “I would be sad to be awake all night, staying at home. I like to sleep so I can wake up to the sun.”

“Well,” I said, “what if you could go anywhere? If you never needed sleep and could visit anywhere in the evening, what would you do?”

“Maybe,” A said, “we could go the cinema, if we had a theater. Or even to a pub!” she laughed. N agreed, then thought some more.

“I would sit outside. I sit outside and stare at the stars. I did when I was child!”

“I did that too!” A added. “I remember when I was child, I would stare up. I would stare up and try to count each and every star. I would count and count and get so mad. I remember getting so mad and crying because I try so hard, but there were too many. I count and count but I never count them all.”

“Why were you mad?” said N. “Isn’t that big? There are so many stars. I’m happy because I can never count them all.”

We all smiled in response and a heavy pause fell over the room.

“It is good we are friends,” A said to N, several moments later. “Now we can just look at them together.”

Just a Little Rain

26 Feb

Finally!

After what feels like weeks of dark heavy skies, this evening all broke open into a soul washing downpour of spring.

On the trek to the bath house, it was cool and dark and damp and perfect. And the scent! Nothing announces spring better than that deep, full smell of rain in the air.

It couldn’t have picked a more perfect day, either. With all the great things that have been moving and shaking, and with our clubs picking up momentum, a smooth re-beginning is exactly what we need to push us through til summer.  And what could announce that better than rain showers and buds on the trees?  So glad they have made their return to our city.

And, so as not to miss a day: yesterday I received the closest to a compliment I have ever received – and probably the closest she’ll ever get – from my counterpart. After a long hour of conversation lessons with my group of teachers, she looked me in the face and said, “You worked hard today.”  With a nod, she took off.  I’ll take it! Glad for that, my friends.

Collecting I traverse the garden the world, but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side, now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences where the old stones thrown there,
pick’d from the fields, have accumulated.    – Walt Whitman

 

The Days are Getting Longer

24 Feb

Thank goodness for the solstice and increasing sunlight!  Our days here are filled with more sunlight and more work and I love them both.  I’ve been on a real kick lately repeating our country director’s mantra regarding Peace Corps: it’s all about the work. I mean, a lot. I think people are going to get sick of me.  I can’t help it – it helps me get through some of these days in which I feel like I am forever playing catch up.  Because, despite what I find to complain about – no heat, no water, missing my family, my list goes on – I wouldn’t change any of it for the great projects I’ve been fortunate to work with lately. I think I’m at my mid-service high and I’m hoping the momentum continues. There’s a lot going on here, team!

And isn’t that weird to say? Mid-service? We’ve been here nearly a whole year. Though we don’t know our exact close of service date (and won’t until July) we will potentially be going home in May 2015.  There’s finally enough going on that I don’t go stir crazy and I don’t know that I’ll ever fit it all in.

While I don’t always use my time in the most appropriate fashion, I do feel just real exhausted lately.  We discovered some intense black mold growing in our kitchen; who’s to say if it’s the culprit or not, but I’m blaming the extra fatigue on that culprit! Combine that fun fungus and long days and a heck of a stiff bed, and I’m pooped before I even start my day.

So, let me blame my lagging behind-ness in my Year of Gladness on all that, but I’m hoping this energy refocuses into some stellar movements. I’m fortunate to be so busy and I do hope it stays that way.

To catch up, let’s go back and recount this missing week and a half:

13th: Thursday! We had our first community village meeting with TONS of community members show up to talk about the school project. A great day with lots of energy.

14th: so glad to spend, truly, one of the best Valentine’s Days with my partner. We made our famous Cajun pasta, drank a little wine, the power went out to make the candles even more perfect, and had a lovely evening chatting in the glow of our gas stove.

15th: first weekend back at site in a long time! I was able to enjoy the sunshine and do tons of laundry and clean our bath house – the joys of warmer weather.

16th: spent the day in a village with friends and food. Saw the weirdest turkey in the world, met some very kind people, and explored a new part of our region.

17th: back to work! We had a solid meeting regarding our school project between the volunteers and our counterpart. I finally feel that I have a good handle on where to move from here and we enjoyed some delicious pumpkin pilaf.

18th: held my first teacher conversation club. It’s been in the works for ages, and it was truly a success! We had 20 great teachers and I look forward to continuing the discussions.

19th: hooray for TOEFL Wednesday. It has quickly become one of my favorite activities. We had a great discussion on some English phrases and I am forever being impressed by their wit, knowledge, and energy.

20th: one of the highlights of my service so far. I was able to lead our next community village meeting. In front of a room full of village elders, respected staff and community parents and members, we discussed the project and how the community can contribute and what we need in a school. It really is the toughest job you’ll ever love.

21st: made my way to the south to lead a teacher training seminar with my fellow teacher trainer. We met up with my dear friend and her host mother and had tacos with REAL AMERICAN TORTILLAS sent from the states. Perfection.

22nd: had our second teacher training seminar. Thirty-two teachers! It was a great group of people from all over the region and much more than we expected. That evening, I had a dinner with one of the coolest families I have had the pleasure to meet. A lovely evening of good food, good conversation, and a picture of a man standing on a giant potato. Love it.

23rd: despite a 7 hour ride to get home, it was a good day and I had a lovely lunch with my partner. He’s the best.

AND, that’s today. Let’s hope this busyness continues  – I love it.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.  – Walt Whitman

Club: Day One

12 Feb

This evening, we had our first TOEFL club meeting – a project that’s been in the works for a few months. Despite the slow start, it was utterly fabulous.

We had a great turn-out and I’m anxious for it to continue. Good conversation, new friends, and a united passion for learning – what could be better?

 

The future is no more uncertain than the present.   – Walt Whitman

5th Grade

11 Feb

With my counterpart this morning, we made some teacher observations and held discussion at a village school.

On these visits, I am often surprised at how vastly different the schools feel from the U.S. schools I am used to; the buildings, the classroom organization, the teaching schedule, the teachers themselves, the students’ behaviors –  so many of these paradigms I believe to be so concretely associated with education and students and kids arrange themselves in a very different manner here.

While working with a fifth grade class today, I was surprised at their level of intensity. The English lesson was very traditional: a lot of memorization and heavy repetition and recitation. The students, while antsy, modeled their best behavior for us guests.

I was beginning to view them as an almost new variety of student – some vastly different beings able to push away anxious energies in order to call out “Teacher, Teacher!” with waving hands to translate the grammar topic for the day.

And then someone farted.

A small boy in back let out the loudest toot that ever tooted. The whole class burst into boisterous, uncontrollable fits and giggles.  The teacher, having none of it, tried to regain their focus, but it was too late. For the remaining ten minutes of class, all students shot glances at their peer, waving fingers in front of noses and rolling eyes at the poor little fellow who just couldn’t help it. It turns out, despite organization and structure, kids are kids no matter where you are.

And farts, of course, are always funny.

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.  – Walt Whitman

Earthquake

10 Feb

I experienced one!  First (and, really, hopefully last) earthquake for this gal.  I’d like to recap a wild and hazardous tale, but frankly it was over in five seconds and at first I just thought it was real windy.

However, earthquake it was none-the-less!  We finally arrived home again at site after our stint in the capitol and after washing dishes (at last! water!) I plopped down on the bed to catch up on some emails.  A few seconds later, the bed wiggled a bit. I thought Matt had bumped it, but when I looked up he seemed to be staggering a bit and the floor shook slightly again. Our house made a stretching, creaking sound and then, just like that, it was done.

I thankfully haven’t heard any reports of injuries or problems as a result and I’m insanely glad for it. Hopefully, everything stays positive and it we can look back twenty years from now and say, “Hey, remember that time we survived the earthquake in Azerbaijan?” How bitchin’ does that sound?

Fierce-throated beauty!
 
Roll through my chant, with all thy lawless music! thy swinging lamps at night;
Thy piercing, madly-whistled laughter! thy echoes, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all!  – Walt Whitman

Basketball

9 Feb

I don’t certainly dislike college basketball, but I’d never admit to any stirring of passions.  Keep it on if you will, change the channel, I’m cool either way.

I will, however, say my favorite thing of today was watching my partner geek out over getting to watch the Wisconsin vs. Michigan State game, live-streamed on an actual real live t.v.  He get’s way more into it and giggles like you wouldn’t believe. And, with a two-point shot for the win in the last two seconds, I was even kind of liking it, too.

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The day what belongs to the day–At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.     – Walt Whitman

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