Saturday, January 27, 2007

A banquet, birthday and marriage proposal

Yesterday I trekked out in the wind and snow to the university to help my 60+ friend/colleague Kulyash celebrate her birthday with her “kolektiv”. I opened the door to her office, only to be met by two long tables pushed together, groaning with all sorts of food and drink (a little celebration she called it on the phone). Seated around the table were her colleagues, all female of various ages. Men rarely go into teaching English in this part of the world so my presence was an added surprise to the party. We spent a pleasant few hours making toasts to Kulyash, the ladies had red Martini, I drinking vodka. When the Martini and vodka finished, the cognac bottle magically appeared from a desk drawer and the party continued. Usually there’d be dancing and more toasts until all hours but a) we were in a small office and b) that wouldn’t be right here at the prestigious branch of the Moscow State University, on the 7th floor of the Eurasian University. Instead we talked of all sorts of subjects, in English and Russian to the soft strains of Strauss waltzes coming from a computer. As the Martini and vodka started its effects, the conversation got less formal and became a natural blab fest of things like prices of food, the bazaars of the city, Astana compared to Alamaty, remembrances of Americans past who came and worked here, and so on. I like these times, when I’m no longer the innostranets, the foreigner with whom we must speak politely. When you start talking about the price of potatoes and compare prices between supermarkets, you know you’re one of them, so to speak.
The day prior, I gave a workshop on integrated language skills at the Eurasian University’s Pedagogical Institute. I’ve done workshops here before and am always warmly greeted by the female dominated inhabitants of this harem like institute. It dawned on me yesterday that they probably aren’t so interested in what knowledge I have to impart but rather how to get into the inner chamber of this single American man’s heart. They could probably give a rat’s ass about how to stimulate student’s interest toward a text and increase their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills all together. Two women in particular are in the lead for my heart. One of them, Nazgul, a plump, short professor of English literature is the more aggressive one. When we first met she rather attacked me with questions of my marital status. Yesterday during our workshop, she slipped me her card and softly said, eyeing me lusciously, “If you have any thought of changing your marital status, give me a call.” Oh Nazgul my dear, if she only knew Oleg, the only man on staff there had better luck than she (too bad he ain’t my type).

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