Saturday, May 21, 2005

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Absurdity in the classroom? Okay, so I have learned by now to try and never be really surprised by much of anything that happens to me here. I have dodged enough inanimate objects, had enough animals crawl under my classroom, and seen enough bizarre decisions at the school to sort of expect things to be weird. Of course, I once again found myself a bit shocked the other day. I walked to my 8a class (satan's personal little present to me) the other day when I found the entire class standing outside of their room with the door locked. Where this first period, I guess I wouldn't have been too surprised, because all it would likely have meant is that the teacher was running late with the key. This, however, was third period. As I approached, the students explained to me that the key to lock on the door had been lost. They proceeded to start sawing on the lock with a hacksaw. After about five minutes, their class teacher approached me looking rather disheveled and asked if I would mind just letting the kids go play basketball. My initial reaction was a forceful no, but then I realized that I really wasn't going to be teaching anything new, that these students were going to drive me nuts, and a free period in the middle of the day is always nice, so I relented. I went into my tiny classroom next door (we can't fit that class in my room so we use theirs) and started doing some end of the year paperwork. It was then that I heard a loud banging coming from the hallway where the students had been. Always curious, I went out to see what was going on. What I found was the students who had stayed to saw on the lock standing in front of the door with the hacksaw broken into about five pieces. The loud banging was the sound of them attempting to break the lock off of the door with a rock. A teacher or two approached to see what was going on, but none of them seemed to affected when given the answer. They seem to think that canceling class because somebody lost the key to the lock and then leaving the students to their own devises as they attempt to open the door seemed normal to them, and I guess it should me as well at this point. These are the moments... It's a cheesy song, but there is one that says that "These are the moments that I thank God that I'm alive. These are the moments I'll remember all my life" or something like that. For me, I keep thinking, "These are the moments that I know why I live life the way I do. And these are the moments that make everything else worth it." Four of my eleventh grade students will taking a special English exam with me in a couple of weeks. Each students selects a few subjects to be tested in, so these are really my best students. In preparation for the exam, I held a review session like most teachers do. The session was scheduled for 30 minutes, but after an hour and a half, I had call a halt to it, because I had to go home to cook. I think the students would have stayed there all night if I had let them, and part of me really wanted to let them. It was one of those times that I guess I have dreamed about when thinking of Peace Corps. I just sat around for most of the hour and a half bs'ing with them. We talked about everything and nothing at once. We kidded each other and finally showed the kind of relationship that volunteers want to have with those they work. At the end of the day, I finally realized how much maybe I meant to them. I have know for a while how much I care about my students and how much I have enjoyed working with them. It was sitting and listening to them that I realized how much they appreciated me. They insisted on me coming to a couple of events they are having this summer, and they were thrilled when I said yes to everyone of them. They asked how they could keep in touch with me when I leave in six months. They wanted my address in America and my e-mail address. At the end, they asked when I would come back to Kyrgyzstan and visit them again. In their minds, maybe I am leaving, but I will always be a part of their lives. I am so used to leaving and saying goodbye to folks never to see them again, that they thought of continuing a relationship with the people here after I left never totally crossed my mind. I guess all of the stuff listed above seems normal, but for me it was always something that I saw happening to other volunteers. I guess that is partially because I have only ever seen other volunteers leave. I suppose now is my time, but it means more to me than those students will ever know that I am having my time. It doesn't take too much to sustain me at points. Its just something little like the realization that your students really appreciate you, and the idea that they are going to miss you when you leave that makes all the difference in the world. Words really can't do justice to the conversation itself. For me, it will be one of the most important moments in my Peace Corps service. It will stand as the moment when I realized that I had gone from a Peace Corps volunteer to our Peace Corps volunteer. In the end, I guess that is all I have ever wanted while I have been here: to be close enough with members of my community to where I am considered theirs.

Friday, May 13, 2005

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Yet another dose of Kyrgyz logic... I am not an easy teacher. That is probably an understatement. In a school system in which other teachers may give one or two 2's (a 2 is equivalent to an F in our system) to a class in an entire year, I am notorious for failing as many as 25% of the students in a given class every quarter (that number has dropped some in a lot of classes). I don't just give-out grades. Beyond that, my way of really sorting-out my strong students from my weak students, is my tests. I figure that tests are the one place where I can see what students can do on their own (and God rest their souls if they attempt to receive help from other students). To put in bluntly, my tests are not easy. On this last set of tests for my 8th grade the curve was set at (on a scale between 2-5 with 2 failing and 5 about an A) (16 possible points) 1-3 as a 2, 3-6 is a 3, 6.5-9.5 as a 4, and 10-16 as 5. I curve, and I curve huge. In a normal quarter, a student who averages around a 1.3 gets a 3 for the quarter. Regardless how much I curve, the students still struggle to pass my tests. They are not meant to be easy, but instead to raise the bar for students, because I know many of them are capable of more than they have shown me. In all of this, imagine my surprise when I learned that I had to give a year end test to all students who had gotten a 2 or a 3 for the year from me (this is only for my 8th grade students). 11th grade students can opt for an English final (4 brave souls did, and their reward will be a relatively easy exam, because they are my best students in that grade). Instead, for all grades 5-8, the students who do not do well in the class are forced to once again prove their ineptitude. I know this sounds defeatist, and had I a couple of months between now and the test, I might be able to teach enough to the test where they may actually do well enough on it to appease the school, but the exam is in 2 weeks, and I am only around to teach the first of those two weeks. Given that they exam is supposed to cover an entire year's worth of material and that these are the students who have either failed or been caught cheating on every test (with maybe a couple of exceptions), I am not exactly certain how they are expected to pass this one. I made this point, through laughter, to my counterpart, and she just laughed with me and said that she understood but that rules are rules. Fair enough, but it just seems to defy any sense of logic that students who have never managed to pass one of my tests will suddenly and magically be capable of doing just that. Oh well, maybe miracles are possible, but somehow I doubt it in this case. Presents... One of the odd joys of living in a country like Kyrgyzstan is that every season is like opening presents at Christmas. I know, I know, seasons change in every country, but with the arrival of Spring and soon Summer, I reminded of things that I had forgot existed. Half of the year is spent without a lot of things that I really love, so with the return of the proper seasons, comes a return of those things as well. Starting in about September or October, all things green in Kyrgyzstan disappear. It is like a mass exodus, so as I was walking down the street the other day, I was reminded that green does in fact exist here. Actually, not only does it exist, it exists in abundance. Right now, virtually everything in my area is green. The trees have leaves, the fields are not dead, and there is grass all over the place. It is beautiful. The same can be said for the bazar. Where once all that was for sale were things of the depressing colors of brown or off-white now there are reds, oranges, and greens. Sure, tomatoes are still about a dollar and half for a kilogram (they get down to close to 10 or 15 cents a kilo later in the summer), but still my eyes are not bored to sleep while walking through the bazar. It is awesome. My taste buds are running crazy from the return of flavors long since forgotten, and my eyes just dance as they see something other than a shade of brown. What a wonderful time of year!!! Things I think I think I think... I turn 26 on Tuesday (yeah for me). I was talking to Allyson about it last night, and I realized that with this change, it will be 8 years since I graduated high school. A long time on its own, but with that came the realization that since I graduated high school my longest residence has been my home in Kyrgyzstan. By the time I leave here, my residence in my village will double and of my previous residences in length. That's just trippy to me. My brother is getting married. I have long considered our life developments relatively attached. Not in the sense that we do anything vaguely similar, but just in the fact that once one of us makes a major change in life that indicates a new stage in life, it means both of us are around that time. I am not ready for marriage, but David's marriage in a year means that maybe I am also no longer a kid. We are getting older, and at some point I will actually have to start acting like an adult. Oh, on this note, no worries folks, I am still the same irreverent and almost childish at point person that many of you have grown to know and love. Hell, I maybe even a bit more crazy than when I got here (scary thought huh?) The greatest thrill that has happened to this village since I arrived here was when I passed-out a copy of a newspaper article from home that was written about our village. The article included pictures taken by my mother of the school and several locals. The locals went crazy. People were talking of getting drunk in celebration of their little village having made it in a newspaper around the world. There were calls for one of the teachers whose son appeared in the paper to buy candy for the other teachers in celebration. How cool is it that something seemingly that small will be held in high esteem for a number of people in this village for years to come. Okay that's it from here. Brian