Tuesday, 11 May 2010

ankara cats' epidemic, 3,025 words and a wife called rapunzel

started teaching a new student last night.
he is a production engineer working in a sundried tomatoes manifacturing company; he is about 35 and looks very much like a starved and shaved version of jeremy irons.
mind you, jeremy irons is rather skinny for starters... so this guy looks kind of terminally ill.

we had a two hour one to one conversation lesson and after about three minutes i realised he was a bit of a basket case.

for the whole two hours he made a point of looking at the wall opposite to where i was sitting - meaning... i was basically speaking to the back of his head. a rare experience, so to speak!

i tried to break the ice with the usual smile and the standard opening "so... it is the first time we meet... can you tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, what you like to do in your spare time...if there is anything you prefer to talk about..."

the answer to that went on for what felt like too long and i kept on smiling and responding with very quiet... "i see"..."right"..."i understand"..."alright"..."ok"..."of course" - while kind of feeling he was:
1. either pulling my leg
2. promising material for some raymond carver-type of short story.

he spoke with a slight stutter and a very narrow accent that made him sound kind of ukranian.
his hands clenched together under the table and his head turned he explained:

"i was born and brought up in izmir. i am a food engineer, my job is very stressful and about quality control. you might think it is interesting but it is not. i like english language. in english i know 3,025 words and i know many idioms. i want you to teach me idioms. i can memorise idioms...-easy for me. i live with my wife. she is a food engineer too. but most importantly i live with my kitty cat, Ada. ada is deaf. she is deaf because she is from ankara. all cats from ankara are deaf. it is a genetic disorder. i suffer from a disorder too. a chemical disorder. that's why i calculate all the time. i need numbers. i make calculations all the time... i cannot live without it... i calculate about the lift, about the birds flying, about the cars passing, about my steps, about my breathing, about the cigarettes i smoke, about my english. i am taking many medications for this. plus...i have obsessive compulsive disorder too.
that's me"

after such a promising start - the first remark i made seem to disappoint him.
"you know, david beckham suffers from o.c.d. too - i read it in elle magazine"

after that - i kind of got some points back in taking an interest in ada...
"i was wondering if really all (all) cats from ankara are, as you were saying - 100% deaf and in 100% of all cases"
to which he responded enthusiastically - staring at his shoes instead of the wall.

when i asked "how did you meet your wife?"
he shot back - "it happened like in the rapunzel fairytale. she was the blonde lady locked in the tower by her father. the prince went to save her by climbing the tower holding onto her hair".
to which - honestly... - this time not even elle magazine could save me.

we still had 15 minutes to go and i made the mistake to say - "any question? any problem so far?" -
he looked at me for the first time in two hours and with a bit of an evil (but very determined) smile he showed me the cover of his blue copybook.
"i cannot go on. i have closed my notepad already. the class MUST finish"...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

k story and u story (and some dessert too please)

tonight i came home after class thinking that, sure, on one hand i may be a rather improvised teacher - but, on the other, i do care for my students very much.

to the point that quite often - while listening to them or reading their essays... i cannot help but truly wishing them a happy, full life ahead.

tonight i taught two of my best students - U. and K.; they are two young army officers. teaching them has made me realise the strict and high standards the army has here. their manners, their poise and their english too are flawless. they are outspoken, they know contemporary history backwards, they are up to date with any current affairs event, they want to be posted abroad with nato. they receive training in how to dismantle handgranades and are sent off for days to march up and down in the snow or in some remote village in the east - yet at the same time they are articulate, well read and proper.

they are also disarmingly honest about their private life and hopes for the future.

these are some parts of the two essays they wrote tonight.

(k. - 24)

"we just got back from isparta. we stayed their with forty friends from our unit for few weeks. i am so happy to be back in izmir. all we did in isparta was walking in the mountains. the good thing was that we did a lot of camping, we learnt ho to set a fire and we slept under the trees. the tents we used were stretched from one tree to the other, like a nylon sheet but it was not cold because the sleeping bags kept us warm. every morning, on the nylon cover we would find frost. we ate mainly potatoes and sausages or ready made meals the army gives us. we got sick often, all of us. but it was ok. sometimes however i hope to go back to when i was 14. my family decided for me to attend the academy in another city, far away. i was only 14 and i could not say no. i was so scared when i started high school. all of my friends went to civilian high schools. i wanted to be a doctor, that was my dream even when i was a child. when i left my family i cried so much, but then i got used to it, i had to. i am a soldier now and that will not change. if i could choose a career now... i would say doctor, of course. but also primary school teacher. i love teaching children when they are six or seven, because their mind is shaping and it is sometimes amazing to listen to the things they can say. my primary school class had 75 pupils. i was lucky because my mother taught me how to read and write before. otherwise i would have never learnt anything with so many classmates. our class was very noisy. one day our teacher told me i was good at reading and one boy in the class stood up and came to my desk to spit on my face. i was shocked and complaint to the teacher. the teacher did not say anything and looked at me as if he wanted to say ...i do not have any time for your problems"

(u. - 26)

"i am happy to be back. i missed izmir and we only walked and walked and walked for two months. i am getting married in july, but i am not thinking about it. i think i am not very aware. we have been together for six years and this is what she wants and what our parents want. i would prefer to get married in two years, but of course i cannot say it. but for sure i want to wait another five years before having children. i want to pass the selection to enter nato corps and go abroad. it does not matter where - but i want to learn about other cultures and also about other military cultures. i know one of the topic for the essay is the future. of course you know i do not like our government. but apart from our prime minister, the only thing i would change about the country is our borders. i would add a part of bulgaria, a part of greece and the southern border of turkey should be different. england decided on that and they did not choose right. in the south we have many mountains and there is a big problem with terrorists hiding there. all the mountains should be under turkey, so there would not be a problem with the kurds...

p.s. i am sorry if i ask. but we were so happy when you made tiramisu for us for christmas. it was delicious. we wonder if you can maybe make it again before the end of our course. thank you".

Monday, 3 May 2010

must be russian (and in 6 years time)

this week - my sunday class received the following topic for discussion.

"try to imagine your life in 5, 10 and 20 years' time".

in the second half of the class i gave them an assignment on "your ideal partner's qualities".

i always enjoy listening to them - they are a lovely group. enthusiastic, genuine, chirpy and...young, ...very young.

this time their answers came as a peculiar avalanche of hints and telling signs of the way new generations here feel, dream and think.

85% of what they said sounded totally out of tune with any of the life-as-we-know-it in the "west" - and came out as a bizarre concoction of sexism, naivety, integrity, disarming honesty, hope, great expectations and clueless feelings.

by age 33 they all imagined themselves as married and with children. for some peculiar statistical fixation - they coud not bear the idea of getting married after 26 and having children after 35 - which they firmly described as "abnormal" and "dangerous";
they all stated they wanted to make money - "to enjoy life", but also "because only then people respect you";

in 5 to 10 years time they all hope to see the end of the current (radical) government;

they would all go abroad - "even to a boring place like germany or belgium... it does not matter - as long as the salary is good";

in 20 years time - a third of them said smiling they are probably going to be dead;

all of the students explained they do not expect turkey to change - "not in 5, 10, 20, or even 50 years' time" they concluded "because here people do not think".

as to the ideal partner / ideal relationship:
all of them agreed in saying that "only famous people"

1. live together before marriage:

2. have gay relationships;

and that "only famous women with money" date younger men - something they (common / "normaaaaal people") consider awkward and funny.

"i want my future husband to be better than me. he has to know more. he has to be stronger. because only if he is better than me i can admire him" one girl explained;

all of them were very happy to say they would surely marry a foreigner, especially if:

"he is italian" the girls said.
"she is russian" the boys responded.

yet... best not to date a partner from a different race.
"please... no indian, no black, no chinese. and no english man" somebody stated.

apart from looking like jude law and johnny depp or jessica alba and adriana lima - they concluded the ideal partner should be:
trusting, understanding, in touch with his/her emotions and sure of what he or she wants.

"he should love me more than i love him" was an interesting take and

"he should not be too hairy" had the whole class in stitches.

i was a bit gutted nobody spoke about sense of humour; happiness or a tad of much needed wackiness.

then a student sitting at the back of the class mentioned he would really need somebody who understand his passions in life.
his line of thinking sounded very promising and i encouraged him to explain better his opinion.
he went all red and shy and mumbled -
"i love videogames sooo much... but i have no chance of finding my ideal woman.
because all girls who love videogames... are fat... with glasses... bad clothes... errr...and...yes... and a looot of acne too..."