Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wardrobe Experiences

I read C. S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" books many times during my childhood and teen years. I watched the original BBC movies over and over and listened as my Dad read the books to me and my brothers. The other day it occurred to me that I feel like I'm having a "wardrobe" experience. If you're not familiar with the stories, the basic premise is that four siblings and other children go to the magical world of Narnia and have all kinds of adventures. They get to Narnia in different ways, but in the first book they travel to Narnia through a mysterious wardrobe in an old manor house. This particular wardrobe has no back panel; it leads into a forest in Narnia. In Narnia, the children witness the end of a perpetual winter; the sacrifice of the lion, Aslan; become kings and queens of the land; and grow to adulthood. Narnia years later, they stumble upon the wardrobe again, long after they have forgotten where they came from. When they go back through the wardrobe door, only 10 minutes have passed since they left Our World, and they are children again.

I've now been in Tajikistan for 4 months, but so much has happened in that time. I feel like I will have a similar experience as the Narnia children had when I return to the US this summer. I think it's helpful to look back at the end of the year, and I want to share some of my reflections about things I couldn't have imagined 4 months ago.

I've become more direct and to-the-point, at least in some situations. In the past couple of weeks, I've been dealing with students faced with failing my class. One guy, a 3rd year student, indicated that he would be in big trouble with his father. "You should have thought of that 5 semesters ago," I said. To another student, I pointed out: "My Tajik is better than your English," and "it's not my problem." Now, I'm not saying that these are great models of teacher-student interaction, but they are examples of how I've become firmer as a teacher.

Considering the amount of time I've been here, I've learned quite a bit of Tajik. I can have a very basic conversation with sellers at the market and now can understand if people are asking where I'm from or if I'm married! This evening at our English Faculty New Year's party, I was asked to give a toast/speech and to try to say it first in Tajik. [I think] I was able to express that I'm happy to be working with the teachers there and wish them health and happiness in the New Year. After that, my "Tajik was finished," to use the phrase of my co-worker, who sometimes says "My English is finished." I finished my New Year's wishes in English. Back to the Tajik, I can sit in staff meetings where the Dean talks on and on in Tajik and sometimes understand the basic idea.

There are also certain aspects of culture that you come to expect, to your own surprise. A while back I was talking to a married woman about her desire to improve her English by traveling. I asked her in surprise: "Would your husband allow you to go?" I now take it as a given that if a female student gets married, her husband may or may not allow her to continue to study. Now, even in the US, of course, family and spouses are always a consideration when making study decisions, but the fact that I asked about a person's husband allowing something surprised even me.

I've also flagged down busses on the main road (yes, you can do that here!), used the same spoon and cup as someone else, and starting stirring the tea by pouring a cup and dumping it back twice before pouring one to drink. Instant coffee doesn't even taste so bad anymore!

Those are some of the more light-hearted examples of how I'm changing and adapting, but there are deeper things too. I've come to appreciate so many things more, from the government and educational systems in the US to the amount of personal choice many people in the States have. Where at the beginning, I more frequently judged the way people do things, while I don't always agree, I'm at least understanding where people come from more. I understand some of the seemingly arbitrary laws and why teachers are very strict with their students.

I'd love to hear your reflections on this past year--send me an email or comment if you have something you'd like to share. This picture is a pretty typical street scene, and a picture of me hiking in the mountains Christmas Day. The views of the mountains with the snow have been incredible lately.

Soli Nav Mubarak! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa's Helpers

This week "Santa's helpers" the ELFs (English Language Fellows) of Tajikistan have been busy. A Fellow ELF organized a training for English teachers who work in a special program called English Access Microscholarship. Access provides just that, access to English language instruction for disadvantaged youth around the world who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in quality English-language classes. The program serves youth ages 14-16 in 55 countries and is not only English language classes but students also learn about American culture and democracy. Anyway, we did a two-day training, and many of the Access teachers from 9 partner programs in the country were able to attend! In the photo, me and my Fellow ELF, Sharon, are doing a session on holiday songs for the teachers. We donned my Santa and Elf hats and gave a couple of the teachers jingle bells to ring as we sang.

The training was really well received by the teachers and included ideas for teaching US geography, American holidays, group learning, and more. One of the participants wrote in their comments: "You really are Santa's friends--and [friends of] the Tajik people too." They were a great group of teachers to work with, but we were very tired by the end of the 2 days!

On Christmas Eve, I went to someone's house for a Thai-themed party. The food was delicious, and the host had this great nativity scene that was made in Tajikistan! That's me and Sharon in front of her Christmas tree in our Santa and Elf hats. Tonight (Christmas Day) I went to another couple's house for a lovely dinner, complete with Butterball turkey from the US!

Merry Christmas!

The opinions on this blog are not the opinions of the ELF program or the US Dept of State.