I love the smell of dirt. Mmmmm, dirt and cow poo. It’s so freaking nice outside, the sun is hot when it’s out, and the weather stays pleasant without it. This past week it’s felt like I’ve been living in a different country. When I was walking home from my piano lesson a couple of days ago I was accosted by three of my sixth graders on bikes, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear your named screamed from blocks away and then to be accompanied on your walk home. They are pretty cool, objectively, so by association, being walked home by them must have made me a little cooler.
The best thing about kids is that they don’t hold grudges. They told me that they got reamed by my counterpart earlier that day because I gave her an honest appraisal of the last lesson that she skipped out on, then they laughed and asked me when I wanted to go with them to buy a bike. I’m not sure what I said that led to them getting chewed out, because although they’re rowdy, they’re hands-down my favorite class, but I still felt bad. I also know that I wouldn’t be as quick to forgive someone who at least on a surface level seems responsible for me getting in trouble. Anyways, the point of this story is that one of them said something that I would come to find is symptomatic of a delusion prevalent here in Sergeyevka.
It was a sunny 60 degrees outside, I was walking in a t-shirt and jeans, and Roman asked me if I was cold and why I didn’t have a jacket on. Yesterday it was at least 70 degrees, hot enough to sweat while sitting outside in a t-shirt, and a woman at the music school told me that the wind (slight warm breeze) was dangerously cold. At first I thought that everyone was joking, kind of like a “ha HA, lets freak out the American, make him think that we all speak Chinese!” But now I actually think that there’s something in the water. Nobody asked me if I was cold when I’d stumble into school nearly frostbitten with windchills that dipped below -50. Nobody asked me if I was cold when it was in the upper 20’s and raining for a week, the kind of cold that refrigerates your organs and bones. However, since the temperature has risen above fifty degrees, I’m constantly being told that if I don’t where a jacket, I’m going to get sick and die. When it hit the upper 60’s, I arrived at school sweating in my t-shirt. Sweating. I was nonetheless told that it was too cold outside and that I was going to catch a cold and die. I’m baffled by this mindset and I think it seems suspiciously related to the idea that if I become a vegetarian I will become weak, and get sick and die.
Aside from the change in weather, life in general has drifted back to normal, and when I’m not careful I catch myself drifting back into the same patterns and habits that make time seem to melt away without me being conscious of it. Therefor, again I’m struck by the little moments of my day that steal the spotlight of my otherwise pleasantly dull existence. Two days ago I came to class two minutes late to the sight of my co-teacher screaming at the sixth grade, and I assumed at five students in particular who were standing up looking ashamed. They all looked ashamed except Vanya, who was standing behind Denis (who’s pretty hulking for the 6th grade). My counterpart couldn’t see Vanya, and when he caught my eye he motioned at her, then at the class, and then started miming different ways of being killed. I lost it. Usually I can keep I straight face through weird teaching moments, including the instruction of both the word “ass” and “cock” in reference to donkeys and roosters, but something about the way we was rolling his eyes to the back of his head, sticking his tongue out, and making strange noises to the complete obliviousness of my counterpart tickled me and I started howling.
People, our relationships to each other and to the world around us is so endlessly fascinating that I feel guilty anytime I think that I’m bored. I heard that our older communist Lithuanian history teacher wanted to drink some real coffee the other day, so I found her between classes and asked her when she’d like me to make it happen. We have a strange friendship that is mostly based on her offering me advice that I find ridiculous, listening to her stories which I only partly understand, and listening to her reminisce about the Soviet Union. However, when I asked her about coffee, her grin was about as big as I’d ever seen it, and she motioned for me to sit down. She smiled and said “Mr. Collin, I love coffee, but when we drink it isn’t important to me. You see last year I was invited to a wedding by my friend’s daughter. I hate wedding’s, because I’m too old and tired to go. But I was so happy to get the invitation, and I sent her a big gift and card. I love getting invitations.”
It really took me aback to realize that such a little thing could mean so much. Unfortunately I often find myself becoming jaded here because so many people seem to demand impersonal and one-sided bits of my time. I work every day to stay smiling until I want to consciously let someone know that I’m unhappy, but this is often difficult while fending off people who go so far as to aggressively motion you from the other side of the street in order to ask you the same five questions you’ve been asked a million times: “Who are you? What are you doing here? Where do you teach? Where do you live? Who pays you?” However, smiling is important, because I can now be very friendly while telling someone to beat it, and being friendly allows me to leave the door open for real human connections like drinking tea, playing soccer, and having legitimate conversations.
Soccer I need to be a little more judicious about however, because yesterday when I decided to maul some 9th Graders, I forgot that team sports use all those little muscles that running and doing pushups neglects. I’ll just say that when I had to teach the 9th grade today, most of my energy was spent pretending that my back wasn’t on the verge of spasming. The class however is going great, even though I still treat it like a 45 minute tempo run (go all-out for 45 min and hope for the best). But I’m definitely building a rapport with the kids, and sometimes they even speak English. The thing is though that whenever I get excited about my student’s English speaking, there’s a little voice in my head that questions the merit of the class itself. Here I am halfway around the world teaching students the globally dominant language and even if they speak it well enough to get into college, there are thousands of better prepared students coming out of the cities who they have to compete with. And furthermore, if they actually get one of the coveted work/travel visas, it’s all but certain that they’ll spend three months in a hotel or fast-food restaurant.
I don’t mean to sound down, but what I’ve really been avoiding talking about is a tragedy that struck the nearby village, which actually functions more like a neighborhood of Sergeyevka. From what I could gather, a drunk guy who graduated last year from high school came home a couple of nights ago, knifed to death an old man and his first grade daughter, and put a third grader in the hospital. Evidently it was over 500 tenge, which is a little over three dollars.
I can’t stop thinking about it, and I can’t get the image of the little girl and her brother out of my head. It’s so horrific and fucking unfair that such a young person has to leave this world with that as her last experience, or has to live with that experience for the rest of his life. I feel sick, and the thing I don’t understand is that no one around me seems to feel as sick as I do. Maybe it’s because people here hold things in more, and definitely wouldn’t share feelings like that with their resident American, but damn. That’s all for now, I can’t write anymore.