January 15, 2009
The Complexities of the English Language
Happy New Year Ya’ll. Although I do realize it ‘twill possibly be awhile before I make the journey into the Metropolis of Ashgabat and enter this little ditty on the invention they call the world wide web, I thought I’d write for posterities sake. Think of it as a time capsule. So, now that we are in the grand year of 2009, what is my New Years resolution, you ask? My desires are simple:
1). Firstly, I am a realist, so I don’t plan on spreading the joy of linguistic knowledge to all reaches of this country, but I would like-by the end of my 2 years here-for ONE of my students (at the moment I have somewhere around 2000) to know enough grammar to be able to tell me a decent original joke in English. That would be thoroughly gratifying- Lord knows a little humor can go along way around here. On my end, I will reciprocate with a good Turkmen joke. Thus far in my quest, I have learned the phrase “you are killing me!” in Turkmen, which I find quite helpful around here when my kids are being unruly little demons (to put it gently).
2). My secondary resolution is to master walking in a long dress without completely making a fool of myself, or causing injuries to myself or to those around me. I am being utterly serious when I say this. This week alone I have tripped thirteen times, caught myself on a row of heaters (which almost resulted in death by fire) and used the last of my orange thread to mend the tears in my fashionable pumpkin-colored-maternity-style Koynek, most of which were resulted from various klutzy activities. I have never really considered myself an extremely graceful and overly coordinated person, but I have never experienced this grandiose level of personal mayhem in my life until I arrived to this country and dawned this charming national garment. At the moment, my life is a cross between a Mr. Bean and I Love Lucy episode- going about my personal business while simultaneously constantly avoiding and/or causing near disaster. To put it mildly, I miss pants.
Well, in other news, life in general has been very busy here. I am working a BIT more than I would like right now, but right now my personal goal is to power through this semester, so that I can crash from complete exhaustion when spring break rolls around. Personally, I think this is a good, well thought-out plan (ha). On the upside, I am becoming a pro at lesson planning, and can now whip out five different lesson plans in about an hour. The degree of diversity in English levels around here constantly stuns me. I go from teaching I am good for an hour, to working on phrasal idioms, to talking about the difference of countable and uncountable nouns, to teaching cat and dog, all in the course of a day. I am discovering things about the English language that I never thought possible. Take today, for example. Because the pronouns she and he don’t exist in Turkmen, I spent 15 minutes explaining to a student that it is possible to assign three separate pronouns to a cat. Most people generally just call a cat “it”. But some people, especially strange Americans, are very close to their cats, so it is also possible to say “she” or “he” if they to prefer to personify their cats. So somebody can say, “where is the cat?” And any normal person would reply, “It is sleeping.” BUT, take somebody who really loves their cat, and they know that their particular cat is a girl, and suddenly it is also possible to reply, “she is sleeping.” WHOA. A whole different pronoun, because now…wait for it… the sex of the cat had been positively identified!!! Whoodathunkit!! So, if anyone was curious, this is how I spend my days. If anyone so desires, now for only 3 payments of$19.99 plus tax and shipping, you can have all the episodes of “Megan’s Life in Turkmenistan” on DVD, with all politically incorrect footage unedited! (And believe you me, there’s a lot of that going on) Checks made payable to the address listed on this web page. Included is a bonus feature of dancing at Turkmen weddings that is particularly entertaining.
On a more somber note, I was tutoring a student the other day on the complexities of countable and non-countable nouns (which for any of you grammar stumped folks out there means when you can use the determiners much, or a lot of). We were discussing and arguing phrases when you use certain determiners based on the degree of ‘countability’. For instance, we say “I didn’t have much luck at the casino yesterday”, because you can measure the amount of luck that you experienced from the money you won or lost. But other things don’t have a measurable quality, and so we say “a lot of”. In this particular instance we were talking about grief, with the sentence “she has experienced a lot of grief in her life.” When I asked my student why she thought we used this determiner, she said,
“Well, I think the uncountable determiner is correct.”
“And why is that?” I asked.
“ Because you can’t measure grief,” she said. So, take that one home with you Jack Handy. That is one seriously deep thought.
Until next time,
Feb 2, 2009
My first student joke
It was only just a few weeks or so ago that I was lamenting the lack of cross-lingual jokes. But hear ye, hear ye…I think I may have just got my first good one. The other day I was doing some scheduling with one of the teachers I am training, and through a bit of miming and pictionary, she drew out for me what she diplomatically titled “Hell’s Calendar”. It appears below:
Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday Monday
work work work work work work work
Ok, so it might not win a slot on who’s line is it anyway, but it sure brightened my day, in the grand spectrum of things. In any case, it was a pretty witty joke coming from a very conservative Muslim woman. Needless to say she got an A for the day.
Also, from the non-related work area of my life, I am just now reading For Who the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway. As someone who holds a bachelors in English literature, I will admit I still have not read a large amount of famous American authors and books (aak, revoke my degree!). I have started and not finished at least 2 dozen classic novels all in the quest to make myself more of a literary elitist/snob. I will also admit I was once a declared hater of good ol’ Ernest (I mean, who’s mother willingly names their child Ernest, anyway?). I think it was due in part to the copious amounts of Hemingway in my High school AP English class curriculum, and also because in various college classes I have had to re-read The Sun Also Rises far too many times for my liking. But now I have turned the leaf, and am thus a fan of ‘The Hemingway’. This particular tale, for those of you who haven’t read it, is about a professor from Missoula, MT who’s hanging out in Spain, fightin’ a war, tryin’ to blow up a bridge, drinking lots of wine, and falling for a chick named Maria. And I asked myself how, out of all the cities in the world, did Hemingway pick Missoula? He can’t be all that bad of a guy, right? (Who knows, maybe I like it just because my last 2 zip codes were Missoula and Spain.) But in any case, I highly suggest to any of those who have not read it, to do so; it’s a pretty swell book. My favorite phrase from the book thus far? “I obscenity in the milk of thy mother.” Take that one to the bank, people. I’m going to use that one some day on an un-liked employer. He’s a jolly good writer, that Hemingway-even if he did steal Gertrude Stein’s thunder.
Well, I hope everybody is swell in the Motherland, or in countries elsewhere. Keep the news a coming and thanks for all the great packages so far from everybody-they make my days brighter! You are all awesome!
January 5, 2009
So, we’ve had our first snow here in the jolly land of Tejen. A whole half-inch that lasted about 5 hours. Winter!! I made my little host siblings come outside and play with me, and showed them how to make a gar adam-snow man. (Although the result was only about 5 inches tall, due the limited supply of snow) But of course with the snow went the power. Pretty much the entire city of about thirty thousand went sans electricity for about a day and a half. My host parents, being the smart cookies they are, took advantage of the cold and hung all of our meat outside. I found our my neighborhood boys have guitars, because without TV they were forced to find different methods of entertainment, and the lack of light goaded them out into the street, thus I heard the same three Enrique Inglesias songs played over and over for about 5 hours straight. Although for a country with such a frequent rate of power outages, people are still remarkably unprepared for it. We have a total of 1 candle in our house, which is ancient and highly unpredictable, and no flashlights. Flashlights? What are those? My small keychain flashlight was the showstopper of the night, and was worth every last cent I paid for it at Sportsmans. For all the future volunteers that come to Turkmenistan and stumble across this little blog-forget hiking boots in your packing list, you won’t need ‘em-use the space and bring a friggin’ flashlight!!
I have also suffered my first mishap in this fair country. Due to the rain and snow, every last inch of dirt here has turned into a giant pile of mud/sludge. While walking to school this last Monday I attempted to avoid a rather persistent beastly dog by vaulting a small hill, and with all the slippery gook in every direction, did a spectacular Charlie Chaplin on my back. Besides being thoroughly covered in mud (my host dad almost peed his pants laughing at me when I came home looking like the abominable mud woman) I also somehow managed to injure myself and am now walking like an old bag lady with a bum hip. So this week I will be making an unexpected visit to the capital to say ‘hey’ to our medic and/or replace my entire spine. How is it that in your home country you can fall 5 thousand times or escape the jaws of death on a weekly basis and nothing ever comes of it, but when you’re in another country and a fly looks at you wrong, you end up with a broken elbow, or whooping cough, or some other equally exotic ailment? I wish somebody would explain that one to me when I’m in another country. As of now, it is Turkmenistan: 1, Lowly Volunteer: 0