"Siberia 2007" story # 32

Tomsk, Russia           October 1, 2007

(alternatively titled: "Absolute chaos")

Having a good place to work is important.
     So ... I was already working in a university in September, when I walked into a high school, trying to add a less-serious teaching job to my schedule. "Nam nuzno nastrannats," they said. (We need a foreigner.) It seemed like a strange thing to say. ... I had a new job!
     8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, I began my first class. I had not anticipated that their English would be so bad, or that there would be so many of them.
     Teaching young people is one of those beautiful, chaotic things - like dancing, snorkeling, going to a concert, etc. - that is impossible to remember and describe afterwards. Funny and totally unexpected stimuli shoot rapidly at you, from every direction. Especially when you have thirty Russian fifteen-year-olds. And you have to react to them, while (hopefully) gracefully staying on your feet.
     Man, it felt good to be back in a high school! The students made jokes. They asked me questions about my life - in Russian. I told them to write in English, but most couldn't write, "I have a brother." They laughed. I didn't understand all their jokes, but, happy to see laughter, I laughed too.
     Many of the questions were asked by Pasha. He sat in the front row of the big, clean classroom. He was thin with a tricky, not-to-be-believed voice. He had furry eye-brows, and specks for eyes, like a newborn bear whose eyes hadn't yet opened. He was loud. He was the leader; the quieter boys emulated him. His voice cackled at his own jokes.
     Next to him sat broad-shouldered, triceratops-headed Vanya. He had villainous, hypnotic, stinging dark eyes. He folded his hands together and leaned up on one elbow on the desk. He confidently knew he could pound any of his classmate's heads into the ground. He asked, always in Russian, if I really enjoyed traveling.
     I mentioned my love for Colombia. Furry Pasha mentioned, "narkotiky." Furry Pasha and everyone asked if I knew Shakira. Of course, I said, she's my wife. And Arnold Schwartzeneger? they asked. Why, he's my best friend.
     A few rows behind the aforementioned boys sat the beauty, Katya. She had a "neznoe" (tender, gentle) face, lips like the edge of a waterfall, bird-gentle eyes, and a golden ponytail. Studying didn't seem to be her thing, but she seemed to desire to do well in my English class.
     When asked what they liked to do, many students said, "smoking." I began to see that most of their jokes were naughty ...
     My other group, seventeen-year-olds, didn't speak English much better. I scrapped my proposed plan to have them write about subjects such as, "What do you think the life is like in the U.S.A.?" Again, the class should've been split into halves for language lessons, but again I taught the whole big class.
     Boy, did they want to talk! And they were funny. Vasya, with his kind, dopey voice, practically tripped over himself, "Oh! ... Oh! ..." waiting for me to call on him. His kindness and voice made him all the more funnier, especially when he acted out words by saying, "Doo, doo, doo," and shaking his body in mechanical ways.
     A girl named Lena knew more English than the rest of the class combined, without knowing that much, really. She was smart and ambitious, in a way that actually made her black hair and bespectacled eyes very attractive. I was happy she was eager to talk.
     By the second end of our back-to-back lessons, even Dopey Vasya was phrasing his questions in English sometimes. I loaned my dictionary to a dark-skinned boy who at first appeared to not even know the English language existed, and he began speaking.
     My first day in the high school was over.

8:30 a.m. on Monday, I was back for more.
     Beautiful Katya wore cool sun-glasses, a heavy pink-striped scarf was wrapped around her neck, and her golden hair stretched out across her shoulders like grass covering a comfortable field, and she stood by the classroom door when I opened it.
     Inside, I wanted the fifteen-year-olds to draw animals on the board and then talk about them. I called on Galya, a girl with a mischievous button-nose, whom I once mistakenly called, "Golya," which means, "naked," causing Furry Pasha to cackle. Galya said she couldn't draw. But, she came to the board when I threatened to sit by her all lesson if she didn't.
     The animals didn't keep the class's attention. We spoke about what each animal eats, and the class learned the phrase, "smoked meat." I guess this is some code-word for oral s*x, which one boy with a cast on one arm tried to portray through a drawing which he completed then quickly erased.
     I called on a pale boy in the front row, the only person in the class seated at a desk by himself. No matter what I said, he wouldn't go to the board to draw. His classmates - the same ones who themselves didn't want to go to the board - scolded him. He, Pale Dima, said matter-of-factly, "Ne poidu." (I won't go.)
     Our half-time break came. I hadn't understood that I was supposed to stay in the classroom during this break. When I came back ten minutes later, Pale Dima was in tears, and a pile of sunflower-seed shells lay at the front of the room.
     This class's "head teacher", a tiny, young, blond girl with her cleavage showing, was fortunately with me. She knew more about discipline than I. She must; otherwise, she would've been killed by now.
     She ordered the students to pick up the shells. A good-looking, clean-looking, short-ginger-haired boy named Zenia agreed to sweep them up, though he said they hadn't been his mess.
     Our second lesson began. The back-right half of the class was far away and blind to my influence. They listened to headphones, wrote other homework. I asked Roza, a gypsy girl, a simple question in English. She looked confused.
     Furry Pasha cackled, "Ona ne ponimaet. Ona daze ne ponimaet Russkie!" (She doesn't understand. She doesn't even understand Russian!)
     I found it ironic that any member of this class could make fun of another person's language skills.
     The lesson ended; the fifteen-year-olds' head teacher returned. For fun, I told her that Mischievous Galya was the class's worst-behaved. "Pochemu!?" yelled the button-nosed girl. (Why!?)
     Ha! These gullible students probably STILL believe I know Schwartzeneger. Beautiful Katya and I laughed at Mischievous Galya.

To be continued ...

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