"East Europe 2005-06" story # 17

Rymarov, Czech Republic           December 19, 2005

"I speak Czech better than Ivan Lendl!"
     I'd been waiting to use this quote until I could communicate in Czech with no more uneasy fear of the words. But, my local basketball buddies told me while at a bar that Ivan Lendl (former Czech tennis player great during the 1980's) "skoro nemluví cesky" (almost doesn't speak Czech). He was on television this Wednesday and apparently sounded quite funny.
     This Wednesday in question was two weeks ago. It was merely an "everyday" day, but the kind of full and wonderful everyday day that makes you yell stupid quotes about Ivan Lendl.
     At 7:55 a.m., I taught seventeen-year-olds.
     The two loud and funny boys normally in class were absent. Long-legged, sunny-smiling Mirka and Marta the dyed-red-haired poet then confidently led their class-mates in conversing. We spoke about our dreams. I believe Mirka, who fears spiders, said she has nightmares about them.
     In the ensuing class with eighteen-year-olds almost each student spoke evenly, which is good. Class began with the students delivering "news reports" on imaginary world events. Introverted Renáta, whose naturally red hair must make her the envy of the school, pretended to be George W. Bush. I'd made a joke about her on the previous Wednesday, and she got me back. Bush-declaring-war-on-Iran/Renáta said, "I really want to bomb the Czech Republic ... because I had an American teacher there."
     Fleeing from Renáta's bombs, I moved from the public school across the slushy street to the private school. The private school students generally aren't studious enough to get accepted at public schools, but their parents have money for the alternative. I came to the hormonally-wild class of fifteen-year-olds who'd created a penguin story with me before. I kept their attention by having each pupil come to the board and write some sentences in English while I drew pictures of what we do during an average day. Cute-apple-faced Zuzana, my penguin-killing nemesis, had someone write, "I smoke cigarettes."
     The next class was more difficult. "Anglictinu ne mi baví," said nineteen-year-old Lucka, refusing to answer my questions about drinking. (I don't like English.)
     So, I made her stand up in front of class. This girl often travels. So, I created an imaginary situation in which she and a class-mate met a handsome boy in London. But, Lucka couldn't talk to him, so her character on the board got scribbled out. And the good student got the boy. Good-humored Lucka only shrugged. But, she answered questions afterwards.
     The group of fourteen-year-olds waiting in the public school were Lucka's opposites. These kids love English, and their conversation with me is actually a voluntary after-school activity. Athletic Ivosh, with spiky short bangs pointing to electric blue eyes, is the most talkative though he doesn't speak the best. The animal he most wants to be is an Amazonian snake so he can squeeze things and swing his tail like a lasso.
     Another boy wants to be a spider, and one girl wants to be an elephant. Clever Jitka, who has thin-black-rimmed glasses and a smart gentle face and a full field of soft brown hair and a big comfy light-blue sweater, who diagonally balanced her unbent body on the chair's edges, said she wants to be a horse: "Because horses are the most beautiful animal." Jitka says I have the best life, and we have a lot in common.
     But the animal I most want to be, and my favorite animal, is a big-eyed giant squid. When I draw this animal for my students, and they come to realize what it is, they often clap. Everybody loves a squid.
     My final Wednesday class began at 3:05 p.m. in the private school. This is the lethargic class of lazy eighteen-year-old girls who I used to try to excite somehow.
     We took turns drawing our favorite animals on the board and telling about them. The students wore happy smiles during most of the hour. A stout white-blond girl drew what she called an "ice bear." Even blond Liba, the outspoken queen of the lethargics - who'd always refused to draw before - happily told about her "veverka" (squirrel).
     And, you know, it wasn't a half-bad veverka.

To be continued ...

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