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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dirt and Glory

Uses and Abuses
Oct 5th, 2009

So, a while ago I wrote that I was going to start keeping a running tally of all the funny stuff that my students came up with. And though the last few months have been pretty devoid of interesting topics, the other day I stumbled upon an activity that yielded GOLD. Looking for something to teach modal verbs (can, could, must, should), I found a game in an old lesson-planning book, and after making a few alterations on the rules and explanations, I decided to try it out on my intermediate club to see what they could handle. Basically, the students had to come up with two separate lists; one of items, and one of people. After we had a manageable list, they had to mix and match the two lists and make up questions and answers using the phrases “What can a so-and-so do with a so-and-so?” or “Why does a so-and-so need a so-and-so?” Once they got the hang of it, my kids went wild. With the help of my dictionary, they slapped together some phrases that literally made me want to pee my koynek. Here’s a ‘lil sample of what a few of them came up with:

Q: “Why does a crocodile need a safety pin?”
A: “To catch fish with when he has no teeth.”

Q: “ What can a baby do with a beer?”
A: “ He can take a bath with it.”

Q: “What can Harry Potter do in a Chamber?”
A: “He can find Valdemort.”

Q: “What can a writer do with a chick?”
A: “He can write a book about the history of chickens.”

Q: “Why does a teacher need a cactus?”
A: “To punish bad students.”

And my very favorite, thought up by some of my rock stars…

Q: “What can an old woman do with a walking stick?”
A: “She can dismantle small children with it.”

After some thought, I have decided to call this game ‘Uses and Abuses’ and I think I am going to try it out it on some of my beginner classes to see what they can come up with. Anything to make my life a little more interesting…

The Dirty Thief
Oct 1, 2009

I have never thought of myself as a horribly dishonest person, and as an everyday rule I try to stay on the moral straight away. And, despite a few bumps along the way, I think I have done a generally good job. I know the basics: never do unto others what you would not want done unto yourself. Honesty is the best policy. Don’t ever covet anything of your neighbors: wife, husband, favorite gardening tools, or whatever. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and thus also results in a lot of doctor’s bills. Never kill anything with a social security number or passport. You know, all the general things we learn growing up. And although my family is not a particularly religious bunch, my parents did their best to instill upon us children the basic rights from wrongs, the moral guide-posts with which to live our lives by, so to speak. But this week, I failed that upbringing, and broke one of those cardinal rules: I stole.

To preface my actions, let me first just say that I was basically raised in a big Terrarium. My back yard growing up was- literally-a forest, and I am used to having such things like trees and grass and flowers and crawly bugs around me all the time. And although I have served my time in the Concrete Jungle and enjoyed it just fine, I still prefer to have natury-like things nearby. Which is why I have found one of the hardest things about this country is the lack of growing things. (* See my blog about the near tree-hugging incident) My host family here is not a particularly green thumbed bunch-they know HOW to garden, as pretty much everyone is this country does, and we have our small plot in the back yard where every once in a while we extract tomatoes, radishes, dill, grapes, sometimes figs, or other such small items. But mostly, we get our veggies at the store, and mostly our garden is a lot of weeds. During the school year I found I had no extra time to help with our garden what with all the classes I took on, and so my contribution to the effort was basically nil. And most host father was only interested when the power was out or there was nothing of interest on the TV. Some families here get really into their gardens, and added to this they grow these crazy Rose gardens and have latticed grape vines coming out of their ears-we’re talking garden of Eden style. Not so at my house. Our back yard is basically dirty sand. So in order to make myself feel a little more at home, over the last few months I have gotten lots of plant cuttings and invested, borrowed, or scrounged a variety of small pots and have installed them in my room. Among my collection I have a few vines, a spider plant, and a couple little Aloe Vera plants. These little patches of green do a lot to brighten my day sometimes, as small as they are. But flourish in the sand-mud they do not, and every week I wonder how much longer my struggling little plants will hold out.
So the other day, as I was returning from my weekly expedition to the post office to mail out a few letters, I noticed a large pile of dirt next to the road the telegraph office. But it didn’t look like normal Turkmen dirt, which is basically compacted mud. No, this dirt looked decidedly different. I opted to take a closer look, and upon inspection I made an amazing discovery. Now if you’ve ever taken a biology class, you know that what makes soil so healthy is decomposing plant life: i.e. dead trees, undergrowth, ect. And among other things, dead plants produce this great thing called Nitrogen that-wonder beyond wonders-makes stuff GROW. Well, here in the desert there is no decomposing plant life. It’s basically grainy sand, with just enough nutrients in it to support scrub grass and weedy-type plants. Thus people here just stick a tree in the sand, and hope it grows. And miracle beyond miracles, sometimes it does. But this dirt, believe it or not SMELLED like real dirt, felt like real dirt, and even had real plant parts in it! Jackpot! And it was just SITTING there, glorious and untouched. So you’re probably thinking big deal, pile of dirt, whoopee. Just grab a bucket, right? Well, let me footnote this discovery by saying that in this country every little thing here is highly coveted. Saving a dollar goes along way here, especially when you can buy a kilo of apples for 20 cents. There’s not a lot of wealth to be found, and so people guard even the smallest little scrap piles with their lives. An old metal door and some broken wood piled in the backyard? That’s a frame for the future hen house. A bunch of dusty old jars? They will cover the tomato plants when the frost comes in. That old proverb one mans junk is another mans treasure doesn’t really apply here. There is no junk. People use EVERYTHING. This also applies to grade A dirt. And this grade A dirt was sitting suspiciously near a large dug up flower-bed. So, wary of unseen eyes on me, I continued past the pile non-chalauntly, inwardly scheming of ways to get my hands on some.

As fate would have it, several days later I arrived at school to find my classes with my morning counterpart canceled, the class locked and empty (not a huge surprise) and thus two hours to kill before my next class. So, I did what any normal person would do during a long lunch hour: I decided to go steal some dirt. I arrived at the scene with two large plastic bags in my purse. After carefully checking the premises, I waited until the sidewalk was mostly empty of passerbys, then worked my way around to the backside of the dirt pile. A minute or so after I had sneakily begun to fill my little bags with the precious soil, people began to filter out of the café next door. Panicked, I began to imagine what I would have to tell my director when he asked why he had to bail his American teacher out of prison. “Well, sir. She was apprehended stealing some dirt.” The police clerk would have to say. (Don’t laugh-people are arrested here for stupider things. Just a few months ago my host father was detained for an entire day while he was jogging-all because they said he was running ‘suspiciously’) So, I grabbed what booty I could and dashed down the sidewalk as well as I was able to in my Koynek, visions of sirens ringing in my ears, my heart pounding in my ears. Lucky for me, nobody gave chase, whether for lack of interest, or for the fact they were just to perplexed by the sight of a grown woman sprinting down the street with a giant bag of dirt to do anything. So this evening, as my host siblings and I filled my new and improved flowerpots and displayed them on the windowsills, I had to ask myself, was I wrong to steal the dirt? Yes, probably. Stealing is generally not the best thing, especially when you are clinging to your citizenship by the flimsy edge of a temporary visa. But, do I regret stealing the dirt? No, not really. After all, it IS only dirt.

Until next time
The Thief

1 comment:

Jimmy and Sally said...

Cliff hanger! I thought you were going to say you got caught.... phew.
By the way, I think your students know more English than most adults we met in Korea! haha