Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tea, teach, teacher

You know what I love about this part of the world? I love the fact that you can throw your old tea leaves down the toilet with no problems. Everyone does it. Somehow I’d never do this in the US for fear that all those tea leaves would block up my pipes, but not here with these mega strong Soviet pipes. I’ve become quite the tea-aholic here drinking copious amounts all day. I’m the same at home but here it’s so much a apart of the culture it’s what one can do all day long. Someone comes over, you drink tea, you go somewhere, you’re offered tea. I always offer my private students tea during our lessons. Only Esenzhol ever takes some, the others say no. I chide them, "Oh you Kazakhs! You can’t drink tea and study English at the same time!" It’s true. One of my students told me that drinking tea was a social thing and when studying English they need to be concentrating 100%. Tea I guess is a distraction for them. Well, I like my students to feel comfortable, relaxed so they can speak freely and not obsess over pronunciation and grammar.
Tuesday has become my busy day here in Astana. I spend the morning doing teacher training at the Eurasian University and in the afternoon I hold conversational classes at school #5. What a day yesterday was. Nazgul, the teacher who is after me to be her husband got into it with me during my workshop. We were talking about reading strategies and genres of literature and she just goes off on a tangent about Americans not liking to read novels. "You only like to read short stories and watch TV. Americans don’t read novels, they can’t read that much at one time." Excuse me bitch, thems fightin’words! I was not in the mood to have my compatriots belittled by some plump lady who has never been to the US and doesn’t know many Americans, so I snapped back at her. I rattled off books, facts about book clubs, Oprah Winfrey’s Book of the Month which gets everyone reading. This went back and forth a few times before it dawned on me that no matter what I said, she was right in her mind, so I just dropped it and moved on. At the end of the class, she asked me if I could bring her some books from Almaty that she wanted to order. I flat out said NO, replying "Why should I do you a favor if you want to argue with me during my workshop and disrupt it." Go to GD Almaty and get them yourself! That may not have been the most diplomatic thing to do, but I wasn’t in the mood for her BS so I was honest (as people are used to here, so why not).
School #5 was a different story. Fabulous debating went on during my 11th grade session. We were having such an interesting debate about friends and lovers that we went on two full hours, instead of the planned one hour. I have this book called "Impact Issues" which has various hot topics for conversations: issues about relationships, family, lifestyles, society and life and death. I let one student pick a title (without knowing what it is about) we listen to the talk and then go at it, speaking wise. Yesterday, Damira picked "Friends and Lovers" about boys and girls being friends. Can they only be friends without it turning into love? Well were they a lively bunch and so many opinions, such deep thinkers for their age. They were on fire. I don’t think get much practice in school talking about such things so for them it was great stimulation. I can’t wait until someone picks "Why Don’t You Accept Us?" the one about the gay couple. That’ll be an interesting conversation indeed!
Zhanna, one of the teachers at school #5, invited me over last Sunday for Beshparmak. A lovely afternoon in a Kazakh home. Drinking cognac with her doctor husband, eating horsemeat with noodles, speaking English with her and her three daughters and two nephews. Her husband, my age it turns out, was quite the talker and yakked my ear off. He doesn’t speak much English and went they found out my Russian speaking skills (she didn’t know I spoke fluent Russian before), we yakked away in Russian. So much for the English practice. Seems every time I eat Beshparmak I got so hot, literally sweating. Maybe it’s the combination horsemeat, cognac and the fact that the apartment was 100 degrees that caused me to turn red and have sweat dripping off my forehead. I asked if we could open a window and they did reluctantly fearing we’d all catch colds or worse. Please I beg, I need fresh air, I’m dying!! They did so for a few minutes then their inherent paranoia for drafts was too much and Zhanna shut the window again. Of course she then offered me copious amounts of tea which got me sweating more. Finally I just had to leave it was too much heat, I needed a nice walk in the fresh air. Still, heat issues aside, it was very nice to be invited into a colleagues home and meet her family and be able to enjoy a meal together. In my toast I said that the one word in Russian I don’t like is innostranets (foreigner) because for me it separates me from locals. No matter how well I know the language and culture I’m always reminded that I’m different because of this word. I continued to say that here at their house, around their table I don’t feel like an innostranets but like a regular person, a friend who has been invited over for a meal. And with that I raised my glass of Armenian cognac to their hospitality and warm house (no pun intended).

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