Moment of the Day: We were playing two truths and a lie in english club and my host sister got up and said:
I love chocolates.
I love to read books.
I love when one human every day talks about pooping.
First of all, I want to give a shout out to some amazing and thoughtful women who have sent me the sweetest packages one could ask for. So thank you Mom, Lucia, Melinda, Beth, and Wendy, because not only do I know have coffee to last me till 2012, but my students have enjoyed my trash magazines, I have stuffed my face with and introduced my host family to peanut butter, I have more chocolate than I can eat, I’ve brought Uno and Sudoku to Sergeyevka, I’ve wasted hours of my life with Bucky Balls, and thanks to my grandma, I’m pushing gender boundaries with my flamboyantly feminine fur hat. I could go on and on, but really, thanks so much.
Tuesday was international Women’s Day, which I found out happens to be a huge holiday in former soviet countries. The irony of Women’s Day was not lost on me, especially because I’m going through a mini crisis of conscience about being in Kazakhstan and wondering if I’m implicitly supporting a government which at least implicitly supports what I consider to be crimes against women. But a blog is not an appropriate or intelligent forum for these thoughts, especially while I’m still dependent on the hospitality of said government for my livelihood. Therefore, I’ll find other ways to address these issues that are more substantial and less public. But like any holiday here, the silver lining is that there’s probably going to be a ridiculous party.
Monday the 7th of March was a monster day. Luckily I decided to start it with a huge mug of coffee, thinking that I’d have my regular three classes in the morning and then get a long piano session in during the afternoon. However, I didn’t anticipate the importance of the day before Women’s Day, which meant that I ended up teaching six classes (four unprepared and three classes I’d never taught before) for female teachers who were either getting ready for our party, had scheduling conflicts, or just mumbled something about not being able to teach. The fourth-graders were awesome and the new class of ninth-graders not so much, but given some time and a discussion about what is appropriate for school, I think they could be cool.
By the end of the day my eyes and mouth felt tired and greasy from smiling and talking, and I was ready to slog home and forget about piano. Just as I was leaving, I was intercepted at the door by one of the younger male teachers, and semi-herded in a gang of school faculty to a cafe/bar. There were three guys (including me), and about seventeen women, ranging in age from early twenties to late sixties. We sat down at a huge table placed in front of a large picture window giving us access to the view of our first above freezing day since November.
The feast itself was like every other I’ve been to in Kazakhstan; there were heaps of salads, meats, pastas, fruit, and breads, and in front of every other seat there was a bottle of vodka or semi-sweet white wine. My counterpart reprimanded me when I sat down by the Kazakh teacher who was probably the oldest present, and forced me to squish in between all of the younger teachers who immediately became embarrassed and clammed up. But my new seat was at one head of the table, which gave me a line of sight to the opposite head of the table where I could take cues on what to do and when to do it from my friend that forced this upon me.
Before long we were eating and toasting, and everyone began to relax into the warm afternoon. I rarely drink here, so wanting to avoid getting plastered, I filled my stomach with food and took small shots during the toasts, which allowed me to maintain a pleasant buzz without getting sloppy or confused. I had a little powwow with my Russian tutor (6+ foot solid Russian woman who is the life of the party and a primary school teacher), and then I gave a gave my version of a long Kazakh toast, wishing “my dear ladies” health, love, peace, happiness, luck, and something that might have been about having well-behaved children.
After my toast I sat back and let the conversations wash over me as I watched my coworkers having a good time. At one point my counterpart and tutor both started berating the young women surrounding me for taking weakass shots of their wine. They didn’t stop until the three terrified girls had all filled up their 100g shot glasses and drained every drop. Then the older Kazakh teacher got up and started dancing by herself in front of the TV to strange Russian hiphop, and pestering the bar owner to turn up the volume. There was a minute where about twelve of the teachers were just kind of dreamily swirling with her on the “dance floor,” but then inevitability a slow song came on. The two other guys dutifully got up and started dancing with two of the middle-aged teachers, leaving the young ones looking at me expectantly. Immediately my tutor started yelling at me to dance, but this time I was ready for it. I quickly stood up and told my tutor that if I was going to dance, it was only going to be with her, and for the first time during the party she turned bright red and got real quiet. But I insisted, and lightly led her around the dance floor for a song, after which we were treated to an enthusiastic round of applause.
The whole party was reminded me of a funnier version of college, but maybe college itself was funny, and I just took myself too seriously, who knows. I even made a new bro with the other guy that I didn’t know very well, who insisted on walking me out the door and telling me that he had connections, so if I ever needed anything… After a lot of grinning and motioning, I got the picture, told him I was taken, but thank you, and walked home through the new slush. Something about the smell of spring got in my blood though, and after I dipped my fingers in the ground and smelled fresh mud, I stood no chance. So after my full morning and afternoon, I went running, played piano, did push ups, and basically just took the day to the max. I’ve never slept better.
Women’s Day itself was anticlimactic. When I got up early in the morning, I was surprised to only find my host-sister and mother sitting at the table, which actually turned out to be pretty nice. But besides having an intensely large lunch, the only evidence I saw of Women’s Day was when I presented my cards and presents. The next day we all went back to teaching and living, and women in Kazakhstan, and all over the world, went back to working their asses off and making a solid case for genetic replication, and doing without the Y-chromosome. I’m not being tongue in cheek, I’m far from thinking that women are perfect, just that they’re a lot better. However, reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed has got me wondering whether we (humans) are good enough, or think enough about being the best we can be.
We teach, we love, we marry, we fight, we support, we vote, we eat, we hate, we heal, we study, but how much of that is done in the context of reality, or even our own experiences? Teaching isn’t just a job, you are in a relationship with all of the students you interact with, and what you say and do isn’t done in a vacuum. I’m not smart or good enough to seamlessly operate everyday and think about my role, my perceptions, my emotions, and my prejudices and how they affect how I see the world and what I do in it. But it’s important, in any profession, to keep that shit in mind, because if we keep shuffling around with our head down, what’s the point of being here? It amazes me that so many screwed up and tortured people are teachers, police, lawyers, and politicians. Seriously, it terrifies me when I see students internalizing a teachers bad day or insecurities and prejudices.
Something about the way that society removes us from ourselves and our contexts seems to lend to a rejection of the reality we live in favor of a constructed reality based on technology and what is told to us through technology. And I’m just as passive about this as everyone else, but perhaps I have just enough time to read and think right now to bob up to the surface once in a while before sinking back down into ease and “normality.” Because let’s be honest, will I give up technology’s hold on me to live in the present place and moment? No, because technology exploits my deepest emotion (love), and “allows” me to hold on to what’s not physically here in front of me.
Furthermore, I don’t think the answer is to remove oneself from the time one lives in. Things will always change, and there will always be pros and cons to the resources available and unavailable in the present moment. Hermits don’t change the world, passive acceptance doesn’t create art, giving up and living just within your small sphere doesn’t mean that the world around you is gone. I could give up everything and become a smoke jumper, which is honestly what I was considering for a while (a smoke jumper is pretty much the most badass firefighting job in the world). But doing so, even while living raw and real, wouldn’t change the fact that my tax dollars fund wars, wars against terrorism, real and imagined, and wars against drugs and crime, that function to put and keep black men in prison, blood flowing from North Minneapolis to Acapulco, keep rural America employed through prisons, guns manufacturers and sellers wealthy, and politicians in power through promises and fears. Not to mention the myriad of other things that I passively support just by living a “normal” life.
So what should I do? I have no goddamn clue, but I know what I can’t do, and for starters I want to think and create. Art and thought have always been the starting point, and maybe they’re ends in themselves, the point is that we only live once, and what’s the point of living if we aren’t raw, real, and engaging the world? I believe with all my heart in my mom’s hippie bumper sticker that said “No one is free when others are oppressed.” If I really think about it, no matter how great my life is, there’s a bitter aftertaste when I see what else is going on in the world. So I don’t know, there are no easy answers, but now I’m just trying to live life consciously, raw, and trying to be a good man.