Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 27, 2013

Willoughby knocked on my door by 7:30 so we could go together to have breakfast. More salads were on display on the table, but no coffee or cream. There were some cold cuts and bread so I made another sandwich while David joked around the table.

The first presentation I attended had to do with teacher training and critical thinking, but I can’t remember a whole lot about it. The presenter ran through her slides extremely fast and was done in less than the forty minutes allotted. Since there was another presentation going on right behind her, I sidled up to it and caught the tail end of a workshop on teaching proverbs.

I asked the presenter if I could have her email it to me and she referred me to her FB link to the “Shaping the Way we Teach English” website where her group in Kazakhstan had uploaded other materials as well. I got lost in the maze of corridors looking for the next presenter only to find out she had been moved to the same room I had just left.

Here we did an exercise writing a poem about our origins which reminded me of the ones my students had done when I taught secondary school. Ann McAllen returned with a workshop on global issues ELF teachers should engage their students in and was mesmerized by all the different possibilities and websites she mentioned. I added the “Upcycle” website to her list of ideas for recycling, reusing and remaking.

It was time for Willoughby to present and she had been given a tiny room with no laptop or PowerPoint. Willoughby, who had never put together a presentation had done so this time, but was told she not requested any equipment on her original application and there would be none available now.

In spite of that, and using notes in the old-fashioned way, she conducted a thrilling workshop on how to write rubrics that matched the objectives of the lesson. I helped my group write a rubric for speaking activities and got it done within the time allotted. She received effusive comments from the participants and requests for additional information as well.

Lunch was just slightly better with the same salad as the day before, but lamb and potatoes for the main course. I sat with a group of Tajik teachers and learned they taught at the same university as the teacher with whom I had conducted the Access summer camp last year in Khorog. They all knew Mabluda and best of all, knew all about the vocabulary I’d given her and the fly swatters to play games.

They couldn’t believe they were sitting in front of the same trainer Mabluda had spoken about so often. They also mentioned that they still play the games I had taught her but couldn’t say if she continued to work for the Access program.

Willoughby and I attended two sessions on critical thinking and reading from university professors who taught in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Both presentations were quite engaging and each teacher allowed me to copy it to my flashdrive for possible use in the future.

During the coffee break, Jennifer called for a short meeting of all the EFLs to say how glad she'd been to have had a chance to work with all of us and that none of us would be returning to our respective posts. Toni decided to gush about Jennifer's skills as a RELO while I only asked about her policy regarding letters of recommendation. She was firm in saying she'd not issue general letters, but would reply to individual requests for specific jobs.

After the coffee break, we listened to another plenary speaker on the subject of the state of the profession and its professional development. Jennifer said a few words of closing and then handed out certificates of appreciation to all the English language coordinators at the respective embassies in Central Asia.

Tahmina, from Tajikistan, hadn’t been able to come to the conference and I was glad to have been spared her presence during this event. The staff at Lingua was called in and given a certificate for their efforts in coordinating the entire event and even Anna was called to the stage. My name never came up.

The weather was a bit more agreeable, so a walk on the lake shore was in order. I convince Willoughby to take off her shoes and sandals as I knew that walking on the sand is the best exercise for the legs. We ran into quite a few other attendees doing the same and talked to them along the way. I had brought my tablet and took some photos as well.

On the way back, we saw Holly and three other female EFLs practicing the Kazak dance for the cultural night event happening after dinner. I had turned down the opportunity to participate as had already seen it in Shymkent and found it extremely boring.

Willoughby decided to go back to the restaurant in the lobby while I went to the dining room hoping the hotel would offer something special for our last night there. There was a somewhat spicy salad on the table and I sat next to Umed, from Tajikistan. Asel came by later on and sat next to me.

A DJ was playing music and soon a woman and another man started singing songs that everyone seemed to know for most of the audience could sing along with it. The main dish came and it was another disappointment: two lumps of beef with no color or flavor and chunks of potatoes. I passed the beef on to Umed and ate the potatoes along with Asel’s salad.

The cultural night was due to start at 8:30 and Willoughby was nowhere to be seen. I went up to her room and convinced her to come and join us as Asel had asked me to bring my flashdrive with Latin music so I could dance a bit for the crowd.

Tables were cleared and a center stage was set for each country, starting with Tajikistan, to sing or dance as they pleased. I loved listening to Tajik music again and seeing the graceful dancer from the Khorog region in her traditional garb. The male dancers from Uzbekistan left me breathless for their speed and agility. The Turkwomen sang a song in a manner I’d never seen and would find difficult to explain.

Kazakhstan followed with a dance by a woman with a tea pot apparently trying to woo a male. The floor was then yielded to the American contingent and Jennifer took the mike. I asked her quickly if she could allow two minutes for me to play a merengue song and she nodded her assent.

ELFs and Peace Corps volunteers played a variety of instruments and country songs I had never heard before Holly and the other ELFs took to the floor to do the Kazakh dance. The audience erupted in applause as they usually do when Americans make fools of themselves.

Holly then instructed the DJ to play the “Cotton-eye Joe” song we had listened to while learning line dancing in Almaty last January. She asked everyone who had been at the mid-year conference to stand up and join her, but I pretended not to hear for I hate line dancing.

Jennifer looked at me and said I needed to join the group despite my protest that I didn’t remember any of the steps. She replied she didn’t either and it was something to be done to demonstrate group spirit or some other kind of drivel to the same effect. I felt I had no choice but to jump and slide as best I could while the crow laughed uproariously.

Holly had yet another performance in which she and two other girls played the role of cheerleaders and had Bill lift them sequentially into each other’s backs to then jump forward. All of this was done to the most god-awful music at ear-splitting levels that you can possibly fathom. When Holly was done, Jennifer put the microphone down and whispered to me that the Americans were out of time even though no signal had been sent to that effect.

I knew deep within me that the slight had not been unplanned. She certainly doesn’t see me as an American, never has, and was not about to let me play music she certainly doesn’t think reflect what the United States is. As soon as the Kyrgyz representatives finished their performance, I went to my room red in face with embarrassment and a deep sense of hate.

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