Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13, 2012

Headed to the first Forum teachers’ association’s meeting at the Children’s Library and was met by a woman sitting in a little booth who gesticulated to me about a piece of paper that apparently I needed before going upstairs. I apologized profusely and just mentioned the name of Forum. She allowed me to proceed to the third floor. I later learned that everyone entering the library needs to check his or her bag with this woman and is given a ticket to reclaim it upon exiting. I was also informed that I needed to purchase a membership card for 20 som to be allowed in next time. So, I take it that this library is just no open to the public at large. I wonder if they have the requirement at the National Library.

Natalia, both Gulnaras, Elena and Elvira were present along with a handful of teachers and two Peace Corps volunteer who were scheduled to do a presentation on warm ups and games for the classroom. One of them, Willoughby, is a senior citizen who reminded me of Sonja, the one who served with me in Nepal. The meeting was being held in a cavernous room with more than twenty chairs set out in two rows thus emphasizing the poor attendance since we only had five teachers aside from the organizers of the meeting.

Natalia went first to remind everyone that Forum is getting funding from the U.S. embassy and to distribute the now mandatory Forum magazines. She was followed by Gulnara, from Lingua, who spoke at length about the CATEC conference her institution is hosting this year. Elena then introduced Elvira who had a PowerPoint presentation about her semester in Kansas as a Junior Faculty Exchange program professor. There was a lot of dead time between one presenter and another and no break at all.

I went to the back of the room and asked Gulnara if a coffee break wasn’t scheduled in the agenda, and by the way where was the agenda? Well, of course, there was not one, and Elena seemed grieved that I was expecting one as she had some notes scribbled on a piece of paper and was following that. I bluntly told them that a professional organization needed to have something more concrete and organized and also a timekeeper to make sure everyone was on track. I don’t believe my comments were welcomed. I took a couple of photos for the record and that snapped Gulnara into doing the same.

Michael Santiago, the other Peace Corps volunteer, and Willoughby, proceeded to present some warm ups and games, but even then their pace was so slow and she kept referring to her notes endlessly that I felt I could have fallen asleep right then and there. I asked Michael afterward if he was of Puerto Rican descent, he looked very WASP, and he confirmed he was but most people did not believe him. He chuckled when he remembered he had applied to many colleges checking out the box for “Hispanic/Latino” and had been asked to provide documentation to that effect. He was not familiar with Esmeralda Santiago and her fabulous book, “When I was Puerto Rican”, but promised to google it and learn about it.

I missed the closing remarks, made in Russian, and asked Asel if the audience had been reminded about the next meeting and she said yes.

Although the members of the board had agreed we were going to meet for at least one hour after the session, both Elena and Elvira claimed prior commitments and left immediately thereafter. I was introduced to another woman who was supposed to be in charge of the newsletter for the organization, but which has not been published since 2010 when another ELF, Colleen, did it for them. I asked for a sample of the document and we headed to the basement of the library where Forum has a dedicated room for all their materials: TV sets, recorders, DVD player, books and the like.

A four-page beige color document was presented to me full of text with no color photos, no announcement of upcoming events or summary of previous one. In one word: dull. Gulnara was pleased I found the newsletter so lacking in interest as she now feels confident I’ll be able to perform magic tricks and make into something everyone will be dying to get their hands into. I have never published a newsletter in my life, but at least have received thousands of them and have pretty good idea as to what a catchy one looks like.
Gulnara took me out to lunch to a Uyghur’s restaurant near the Kyrgyz National University, and I had to scarf down my lagman noodles and take a taxi to make it in time to the conversation club at Lingua where I had about 12 students to talk about dating. Apparently they are free to set dates and meet at different places, which was kind of refreshing. Afterward, I printed some pages to laminate on Monday and then headed home exhausted.

After a few hours, I was able to skype with my sister and brother-in-law and had pretty clear connection. My Internet access is definitely superior to what I had in Dushanbe as only on a couple of occasions was the video image distorted or the sound lagging. I got to watch the movie “The Artist” and found it indeed worthy of the Oscar it got this year. Great acting, superb script and nimble dance number at the end.

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