Tag Archives: women

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.”


Something Even Better

11 Jun

My favorite moment, today:

After piano practice today (still chugging along, team – more on that later!) we were given a ride back to language classes in one of the staff vehicles. While the other two trainees chatted-up the driver (whose life, by the way, is worthy of several dozen novels; he is crazy awesome and intense), I found a brief moment to just tune out and lean my face against the cool, glass window. We took a side road back to school along the Caspian – and when I say side road, I mean we climbed over a dune and drove right on the beach.

A storm was just beginning, the wind bringing in both dark clouds and the terrifying dead fish/oil/garbage/sea-salt smell. He drove fast, swerving around pot-holes and the occasional tire or car part or pile of bottles.

Under the clouds, we passed beauty as well as change: young men in cars with loud music, parked by the breaking waves; whirling tide pools with sides of sea foam; several tea houses in various states of disrepair; men fishing, their tall poles confidently cast into a sea that will inevitably bring them little; an abandoned restaurant turned horse stable, a dead horse lying among the rest; the ever-enticing and ever-terrifying theme park in the distance.

I caught the tail-end of  the conversation up front. “During Soviet times,” our driver said, “there was a little railroad here on the beach for the children. I liked that very much.”

We caught up to the remains of an old beach road that went from the main town to the suburb where our schools are located.  “This used to be the best,” our driver said. “I could come down here and drive fast. I mean, really fast.” He smiled.

We eventually veered off the beach road and onto the winding gravel streets. Talk turned to cars and driving and we passed a mosque and many men coming out of service.

After we dropped the other trainees off at their school , I was left with the driver and, not wanting to always be the silent back-seat passenger, picked up where the conversation left off.

“What would you say is your favorite car ever?” I asked him.

“That is easy,” he said. “A Jeep Wrangler. You know this?”

“I know this well,” I said. And I do – I have coveted this car on and off for years.

“They have rich history in war,” he said. I agreed. “They were used in World War II  – then the Willys Jeep, I think?”

“You know this!” he shouted, obviously impressed and my ego skyrocketed. The man has no clue the infinite wisdom of all things cars I have known since childhood.

“They are now Chrysler – such a great car!” He went on, adding their change from AMC to Chrysler and how the tops come off and their four-wheel drive capabilities and so forth, ending with “and someday – it will be mine!” He laughed.

As we pulled up to the school, his eyes caught mine in the rearview mirror. I turned away, trying not to embarrass either of us.

“What about you? What is your favorite car?” he asked as I grabbed my bag to leave.

“Well,” I said, “My family owns a Ford – a 1954 Skyliner. Do you know this?”

“Of course I do!” he said. “Very sleek – nice sky light. What is inside?”

“A 351 Cleveland,” I said. “It is old, but it is perfect.”

“Yes, this is a good car,” he said. He turned his smile down and continued: “But this – this is for men! This is a strong car!”

I brought my eyes back up, again meeting his in the mirror. “Yes, it is. You are right, and I am not a man – but I am something much better!”

He laughed, shaking his head and wishing me a good afternoon, and I laughed too, wishing him an even better one.


COURAGE yet! my brother or my sister!
Keep on! Liberty is to be subserv’d, whatever occurs;
That is nothing, that is quell’d by one or two failures, or any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.
 – Walt Whitman
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