Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 4, 2012

Melting snow was dripping from the roof when I woke up this morning signaling the warmer temperatures ahead. I got to spend the morning puttering around getting things ready for the first training session at the Arabaev University and didn’t leave the house until one, but not before calling Ainura, the Russian teacher the Peace Corps office had recommended, and setting up an appointment for tomorrow morning to discuss engaging her services.

I got into the #129 mini-van only to notice it wasn’t moving at all and that many commuters were choosing to walk instead. I had no idea what was going on, but I only had about thirty minutes to get to the university and chose to walk as well to try and make it on time. When I got to Manas Avenue, the source of the problem became obvious as a line of policemen were keeping the street free of traffic possibly just so the president or some other dignitary could travel free of any obstacles. I don’t know whether drivers are advised ahead of time of such road closures, apparently not, or why the policemen don’t detour traffic in other directions.

I made it to the front entrance of the university with five minutes to spare and called Jyrgal to let her know I’d be waiting for her to come and show me the way. She took me to the university’s resource center where a round table took up the majority of the space and some books, donated by the Oxford University Press, lined up one of the walls. I was pleasantly surprised to find they had a roll-up screen to show the presentation, but Jyrgal’s laptop only had Microsoft Office 2003 and my PPT couldn’t be opened by such an old program. An IT person was called in, and I suggested saving the presentation to that format, which he did and brought it back to me.

One of the teachers complained about being asked to find her partner by playing “Famous Pairs” as she indicated they didn’t know any of those characters although they were represented in literature, films, TV shows and cartoons. I replied it was perhaps high time they learned about them and taught it to their students so they too would be familiar when they encounter these characters while reading, watching TV or movies.

We had a spirited discussion about classroom management and they all agreed that asking for students’ input or their feedback on their teaching were not things they’d ever consider doing as they went contrary to the long ingrained practice of the teacher being in control and dictating everything. I had then take the survey to decide what the next seven sessions should cover.

The traffic was still snarled when I left the university, and I proceeded on foot to meet with Willoughby at another coffee house called “Coffeeman”, right next to Beta Stores. The minute I walked in it was clear I couldn’t stay as many people were smoking and there was no fresh air. I started coughing almost as a reflex. The young waiter was apologetic, but I promised to go back in the spring when they’d have an outdoor sitting area available.

We walked back to the Kievskaya Avenue and I told Willoughby I had seen another sign for a coffee house nearby and we walked into La Dolce Vita to find an elegant space all white leather and hardwood accents, but the smell of cigarette smoke pervade the air as well. They too had an outdoor space out front, so spring might be a good time to revisit it.

Across the street, another sign indicated coffee was being served and Willoughby begged me to try it as she was getting tired of walking. The place had no real coffee and the server didn’t understand anything about it. I had to console myself with drinking a cup of instant coffee with milk, and she had a glass of dry white wine. She showed me a wire contraption the Peace Corps had given her to wear over the soles of her shoes that would prevent her from slipping on the icy surfaces. I told her I wanted one and she promised to inquire about it.

We discussed the agenda that Forum has set out for her and how happy she was to have found a beautiful apartment with a piano in it as she plays routinely. We agreed to meet tomorrow to go over the newsletter as Forum would like to have it available this Saturday for distribution during our bi-weekly meeting.

I walked home in the twilight, stopped at two supermarkets looking for apple cider vinegar and found none.  Watched the film, “It’s a Free World”, by the British filmmaker Ken Loch, about the exploitation of illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. It painted a picture as bleak as that of the United States with the same callow disregard for the lives and well-being of those unfortunate enough to have to flee their country of origin in search of a better life elsewhere.

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