Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 25, 2013

I was a bit nervous this morning knowing that I was going to be addressing over 200 teachers for the first time in my life. Holly had asked me to change my topic from teaching unplugged to mentoring young teachers and I had asked her to look over my presentation to make sure it would hit the target audience, but she said she trusted me.

My pantsuit was wrinkled free in the morning, and after having my now usual bowl of muesli and yogurt I prepared to depart for the university as I had heard we needed to be there at nine. I had requested a copy of the schedule on a couple of occasions but had not received one. I found Valerie still in her pajamas in the dining area and she told Holly had left ahead of us and her roommate would walk us there before ten.

Elsa walked with us while relaying that she’d lived in the Central Asia region for more than six years and currently teaches an IELTS preparation class for a private language institute. The walk was longer than I expected and my wearing high heels didn’t help matters at all. We finally  came up to another decrepit building with the paint chipping off its walls and we went in.

The auditorium had not been properly set up and Bill had just discovered that the was too much light coming in through the huge windows thus making what was projected on the screen invisible. I suggested projecting into the violet-colored wall on the side, but even then the text and pictures were not visible. After much wrangling of hands, we were informed that no PowerPoint presentations would be possible.

A sense of panic overtook since I hadn’t bothered to memorize most of the information about mentoring having been reassured a laptop and projector would be available to every presenter. The speeches started then including the obligatory one from a representative of the Ministry of Education who appeared eager to eat the microphone while yelling at it. He then disappeared for good immediately after his speech.

The plenary speaking had been divided into two parts, so after listening to an overly long presentation on the Access program, the other presenter spoke about something having to do with presenting a positive attitude but I didn’t get what her point was. She was representing the British Council and apparently had to put in a plug for the Headway textbooks.

The teachers present were apparently unable to understand spoken English and had been told several times to turn off their cell phones, which kept ringing nonetheless, and to refrain from talking while someone else was presenting. The president of the English teachers, association had also addressed them about maintaining decorum throughout, but to no avail.

When Holly introduced me and I started to speak, I told them I wasn’t about to try and speak over their conversation. When I started back up , the chatter could be heard once again and Valerie stood up and told them off while James and Max went around telling the mostly female participants to put away their cell phones. The atmosphere had turned decidedly unfriendly and unprofessional. I continued to speak extemporaneously until Bill came up  with the idea of placing his laptop with my PowerPoint right in front of my eyes so I could read it.

 It was still a bit unnerving since I had already said some of the things at the beginning of the presentation, but I made it the appointed time and offered to share the entire presentation with anyone interested in the subject. I can’t recall if anyone applauded, but I was just relieved to have the affair behind me.

We didn’t have a program yet as they coordinators hadn’t printed enough of them and no housekeeping announcements had been made at the start of the session. We were led to where refreshment had been served and we then walked around the four or five posters students of English at the Miras University had created about activities on their campus to learn English.

We then took another long walk to the building where the afternoon presentations would take place. Max and I chose a Scottish guy who was going to talk about critical thinking but all he did was read his slides line-by-line even though we couldn’t even understand him because of his accent.

I did my presentation on using humor in the classroom, but knew from the get go that it would go over the head of most of the attendees as some of them even refused to leave their seats and find a partner by matching the proverb cards I’d given them. I had the usual technical glitches as the presentations consists mostly of cartoons and signs and the images were so small as to be illegible.

I had to read each slide, which was a pain in the neck, and except for Elsa and a couple of young teachers who kept bobbing their heads, no one else enjoyed it. We went back to the auditorium for an awful closing ceremony including some really bad acting, singing and dancing and the issuing of certificates and gifts to all the presenters. The teachers were handed their certificates after that.

Holly informed us we were being taken out to dinner at eight, so Max, James, Valerie and I decided to go for a cup of coffee. Elsa was heading in that direction to meet a friend and escorted us on the bus ride to a fancy coffeehouse in another part of the city.

I had suspected that Elsa, her roommate Christie and Holly might missionaries in disguise, just as Corrie was in Tajikistan, as the wall of my little sleeping balcony was covered with butcher paper where scriptures were written. The bookcase was also filled with Christian-related literature. Now she told me that her permanent home would be the one she’d get when the Lord called her to be reunited with all her departed friends and relatives.

Max and I had asked her what she had found alluring about living in Central Asia and she coyly indicated she just loved the place and had no desire to go back to the States. She indicated she had learned Turkish and Uzbek and was now in the process of learning Russian so she could communicate with people who spoke that language. It sounded to me like code words for being able to talk to non-Christians about the word of God.

We walked back to the Uzbek restaurant as Valerie remembered how to get there and were treated to some delicious food and lemon tea. The association president and two other teachers were also there and we got into a spirited conversation with one of them until she indicated she was a Christian not a  Muslim and would never support gay rights at all. In fact, she’d campaign among her friend and relatives not to support them as well.

Max became incensed as he revealed that his older brother was gay and could never dream of meeting a man, falling with love with him and just marrying him to take him to the United States. Holly, who apparently had been eavesdropping on the conversation, stepped in and said we were attacking the woman for her Christian beliefs. Max got up from the table and went outside to cool down.

Bill went after him concerned about his reaction, but Max just needed to smoke a cigarette to regain his composure. I asked about the agenda for the next day, as the schedule seemed to be kept under wraps at all time, and was told Max and I were traveling together to a nearby village for a half-day session and everyone would come back to the apartments to pack up and get ready to go to Taraz for the last day of the conference.

Bill walked Valerie and I to Holly’s flat and I promptly went to bed exhausted.

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