Thursday, September 23, 2004

Some poetry from English class 9b ...

Here are some exercises my ninth graders did in class. They weren't supposed to be poetry. We were practicing first conditional, and they were supposed to write straight sentences. I wrote the first part (the if up to the ellipsis) and asked each student to finish the statement with good grammer and then pass it on for the next person to finish the sentence in their own way. Their poor understanding, grammar, and possibly some psychological problems made for really morbidly funny reading afterwards. I fixed some spelling but otherwise left the grammar and capitalization alone. Each new line represents new handwriting - on the sheets they all ran into one another.

If you don't need any help
I'm going to school. And will be standing.
I'm going to the cinema.
I will be going to walking.
then you don't cry.
I help my friend
I'm do homework

If you scream and shout...
because I afraid dark.
I won't didn't like being only. Because I felt very bad
to hurt my ears.
You throat will be ill.

If you don't finish your dinner...
you dont go for a walk you dont watch tv and I kill you
you crazy
you don't go to the cinema
you finish your dinner now!

If you are cruel to animals...
I want to kill they
then eat them.
On supper
I don't have animals
and I go to the zoo, then I kill animal.
I will trust all people and animal.

If you forget someone's name...
you will be ask him,
I writes him name in diary
And never forget his name now.
I must said him Mr or her Mrs

If you trust everyone...
I won't believe you.
I will be to you unfriendly. I should say sorry.
I hurt myself
You will be crazy. You don't people.

If you don't know what you want...
I want to know it
I don't know
I will be ask friends
You will be nothings want.
I go to the cinema.
I spent my free time with my friends.

If you teach a man to fish...
I will be
have a thing that catching fish
give him good advice.
You have dinner you must to run away
you can drown

If you are kind to your parents...
I will be helping.
and I will be kinding
I will be do work about the house
do them present
I will be go with my girlfriend.
I can go for long time
I can will be very kinding

If you rock n' roll all night long...
I will be deaf
My father kill me.
My parents yell will not buy clothes
I want to sleep all (every) day
My mother kill me

If you excercise every day...
you can go to swimming pool.
you can to play football
you can go away
you can go to the cinema
you will be good sportsman
you can go to the swimming pool.

If you never read books...
you will be foolish
you willn't be rich
you willn't be work
you will be very good girl or boy
you will be like animal
you will be go swimming pool

Sunday, September 19, 2004

An Old Story About The Word "Now" In Kazakh. A Chess Player of the First Rank. An Insight into the Nature of Frustration. ...

As far as I know there are no words in Kazakh for "want", "fun", or "now". There's a word that's translated as "now" - "kazir" - but it doesn't mean the same thing. Here's where I learned this. Once in Koktobe Eki, I was trying to figure out when dinner would be. If it was going to be in a couple hours, I would go over to Susan's to eat. If it was going to be right away, I would eat at home. I asked the group of family women sitting on chairs in the yard when we would eat. Right now - "kazir" - they said. This surprised me, because the kitchen was dark, there was no food on the table, and they were all just sitting around talking. "Kazir?" I asked. "Yes, we're cooking it right now," they said. Again, the kitchen was dark and they were sitting around talking. I tried a different tactic. "How much time before we eat?" I asked. "We're eating right now!" they repeated. Wasn't the American listening? I tried to explain my motives. "If we are eating now, I will eat here. If we're eating later, I will eat at Susans." After I said this, I realized that for "now" I only had "kazir" that was shaping up to mean something other than what I wanted it to, and that my sentence wasn't going to help any. And indeed, they responded - maybe now a little exasperated at my inability to understand - "well, we're eating now." Finally, I asked, "after how many hours will we eat? One, two?" "Ah," they answered, "maybe in an hour and a half." I ate at Susan's.

I say this to celebrate the fact that next week I'll finally start meeting with language tutors again. One Kazakh, one Russian.

I was working in my classroom when the school's shop teacher came in. He was a middle-aged Kazakh man, and he was wearing a Kazakh hat, which is rare up here in Imperial Russia. He introduced himself in Kazakh, and we chatted as best I could. He wanted to learn English from me, but didn't know any at all. I was trying to back out - very beginning English is best taught by a non-native speaker or someone with more experience teaching beginners that I have - until he asked, "do you like chess"? "Well, yes." "I am a player of the FIRST RANK," he proudly announced. I told him I was a lousy player but that I wanted to learn, and so we agreed to meet the next day when he would teach me chess and I would teach him English.

I don't know exactly what's meant by the "first rank", but I will say this - he clobbered me. He never thought about a move on his own time until the endgame - as soon as I moved, as fast as he could move his arm, his move was made. His lines were open, mine were cramped, he made me waste time shuffling pawns around while he developed his back row, and I think he promoted a pawn just for fun. It was magnificent. If I can get something out of this guy before I go, I'll be proud of myself. It's time to start learning chess vocabulary in Kazakh.

In Soviet, I never got annoyed at the lack of running water. Here, when there's no running water, I get angry, even though it's no worse than in Soviet. Better, because I can wash in a heated room. But someone's denying me water that I should have. We haven't had more than a trickle all week, so I just didn't get hot showers. This morning, I finally realized that it was only the possibility of hot water and not the absence of hot water that was making me angry and managed to resign myself and cheerfully heat a bucket on the stove. I took it into the bathroom to wash, and lo, the running water had returned. It's like the universe is writing lesson plans.

Everyone, ignore the sunshiny jacket reviews on Life of Pi. They make it sound like a fluffy, happy, uplifting survival tale, and it's not. It's a chillingly nihilistic book that will mess up your brain.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Prettied up the website ...

I just want to make an entry to celebrate the fact that I css-ed and php-ed my website to make it more usable for you and for me. What fun! Please let me know if you have any problems with it. In retrospect, this was nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow, but I was having such fun that I stayed up late. Tomorrow morning will be snarky.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The start of the school year ...

There are two bathrooms in my school. They're labelled in Kazakh. One is labelled "Bathroom". This is the women's bathroom. The other is labelled "Women's bathroom". This is the one I'm supposed to use. Suffice to say, this was explained to me too late.

School has begun, more or less. In Kazakhstan, the beginning of a school year isn't an intantaneous event, but a process that lasts a couple of weeks. I'm not supposed to start teaching until next week - Peace Corps asks that schools let volunteers observe classes for a week before starting their actual work. There's a lot to learn. But I did teach a class when the teacher just didn't show up for a class I was going to observe and I felt bad for the students. This is normal. At one point, the director of the school called a half-hour all-teacher meeting in the middle of the school day. She had some paperwork for them to do, I think. So the children wrestled in the hallways. Once as I was walking from one class to the other, students briefly stopped kicking each other to ask if I would teach their class, since they didn't know where their teacher was. I managed to get them into the classroom and seated, and was just wondering what I was going to do next when the teacher showed up.

To make up for this temporal ambiguity in the effective start of school, they have a big party for the symbolic start of school, the first bell. On September first there is almost no school, but the children all come with their families and listen to speeches by dignitaries give them flowers, and listen to younger students sing Karaoke. I was a dignitary! I gave a short speech in Kazakh. I stood up and said "Good morning" first in English, then in Kazakh. When I spoke the Kazakh - a foreigner speaking Kazakh!- the audience gasped. The Karaoke? This one little seven-year-old wore a silvery shirt and white pants and did a big MTV-style arena-pop performance. He was a good singer, and a convincing dancer. But through his white pants the world could see that he was wearing underwear with cartoon animals on it. At the end, they run around the audience ringing a little hand bell and the school year begins! Then everyone goes home.

I'm very optimistic about teaching math. I'm being paired with a good, down-to-earth teacher, who's also the vice-principal. It's very fortunate that I speak Russian, since I was able to request that, at least for now, they get parallel math instruction in Kazakh while I try to get their English up to the level where they can get new material in English. It turns out that there's a lyceum in town that has been teaching the English of math for years, and they'll be able to help. Math classes here are one day of lecture followed by two days of students doing problem on the board while their classmates pretend to follow along and the teacher berates them. ("You don't know the answer?" one teacher asked the poor student, holding the chalk and staring sadly at the board, everyone's eyes on his back. "Then you don't know math," she said.) There's room for some different pedagological methods, and I'm free to conduct my English math lessons however I want to.

Fall has already come to Northern Kazakhstan. The leaves are turning, and the nights are cold. The clouds burn off in the late afternoon. Soon it will be necessary to buy a big furry hat. I can't wait. For the hat.