Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Guesting Teacher

This entry might be relevant for all you teachers out there…or…maybe really for anyone with a steady job. It’s about a change every now and then, and, hey, a little change never hurt anybody.

Anyway, what am I getting at here? Good question. I wanna reflect on something Dad told me years ago when I started working for AC&T, an oil company in Hagerstown. He told me it’s pretty easy to go to work on your first day. What counts, though, is getting up and going the next day, and the next, and so on, even when you don’t want to.

Seeing as Peace Corps is my first job out of college (We’ll leave out any complications and just say that Peace Corps is a job, okay?), this is really my first consistent, year-round commitment. It is my job. I must get up every school day and teach eighth, ninth, and tenth formers with my counterpart, and as I go about each day, my dad’s words reverberate in my head.

Let’s go back to January. The New Year’s holiday was over, and it was my first opportunity to stand in the front of the class in Qumlaq and teach the students. I remember that day so well. I had my snazzy new black coat on, and I gave an enthusiastic, entertaining lesson. It was fun.

Eventually January turned into February. February into March. So on and so forth. I mean, I love the kids, but, every day? Every day I gotta put together a decent lesson and make the kids learn. I gotta sit in the teachers’ room and be sociable. I gotta have patience when the students don’t understand or when they act out. Not only do I have to do this every day, but I gotta do it at the same, tiny school in Oğuz rayon, Azerbaijan.

That’s not a bad thing. Everyone’s got their responsibilities, their places in the world.

But we can flip to the other side and say that change ain’t bad either, right? I mean, c’mon. We’re Americans. We run on change. And by change I don’t necessarily mean dropping everything and seeking something radically different. It can simply mean a different look, flashing your eyes in another direction.

Charlie and I had a teachers’ meeting a couple weeks ago. It was a small group of teachers, mostly from villages, and it was a productive meeting. While there, I met a lovely young woman named Humay. She teaches in a village called Kərimli, just up the road from Qumlaq.

This lady was very nice and motivated, so I offered to visit her school. She enthusiastically said yes, and I got up the following Tuesday and headed to the village.

It’s a bigger community than Qumlaq, with a bigger school. Upon arriving, some students showed me to the teachers’ room, and I sat quietly and waited for Humay to get there. When she arrived, we headed to a sixth form class (ages eleven and twelve), full of bright-eyed students, and we had a great lesson. The kids were pumped to have a newcomer at school, and they tried their best. After class, they swarmed me and asked all kinds of questions. Like me, they were getting a new perspective.

It’s also good to see folks like this in our line of work. As we go about the daily grind, we can fall into labeling ourselves and our counterparts as “unmotivated”. That’s a matter of personal opinion. But it revives the soul to be with folks who are genuinely motivated and want to do well. Humay doesn’t have to try. She can simply come to school, throw some lessons from the text at the kids, and head home. Humay does her best, though, and that says a lot about her. It kept me in check. It kept me on the ball when it’s easy to get off.

What am I talking about? Am I just talking about a nifty visit to another school? Well, yeah, I’m talking about that, but I also wanna encourage anyone to take a different look at things. If you’re a university student, visit a class at another school. If you’re a churchgoer, go to a different one on a Sunday. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Visit someone you barely know. Use new dental floss. Shop at a different grocery store. Whatever you want. Even if you step out, disapprove, and step back in, you weren’t really hurt in the process, right? Give it a shot. It might jar something loose in you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pat's Son

3 October 2009

Hmmm…I guess with yesterday being my Dad’s birthday, this entry has more relevance.

First off, I’m sorry to have taken such a long hiatus from my web log. If I had a good excuse, I’d give it, but I don’t, so I’ll just keep typing and hope you forgive me.

I think I might’ve touched on the importance of family around here. Not that it isn’t important where I’m from, but something happened the other day that made me smile. Let me break it down to you.

It’s become my custom to hitchhike back and forth from Qumlaq to town. That’s proven to be the easiest mode of transportation. Typically if I’m walking down the road, waving at each car that goes by, somebody picks me up pretty quickly. Sometimes I gotta pay them; sometimes I don’t. It just depends on the driver. You may question the safety of hitchhiking, but I can assure you it’s less dangerous than crossing the river on the way to town that, since the rains of last spring, became considerably more “raging”. Besides falling one time and getting my pants wet, I resorted a few times to crossing that damn river by means of a gas pipe. It scared the heck out of me, so much that I decided to figure something else out. Hitchhiking was the answer.

So, anyway, one day I caught a ride on the last leg to Qumlaq with a good friend of mine. We happily greeted each other, and I was curious to see unfamiliar faces in the car. Not that I know everybody in town, but I suspected a full car heading into the village during the end of Ramadan probably meant relatives were visiting from out of town. The man in the front seat next to my friend looked quite “grandpa-ish”, and he was wondering who I was. My friend tried to tell him I was John from the States, but that didn’t register. After trying to explain who I was, my friend finally asked me, “What’s your dad’s name?” I said, “Pat,” and he told the man, “Alright, this is John. He’s Pat’s son.” Eventually, grandpa got the picture…I think…maybe.

Anywho, that’s pretty nifty, eh? Being known by who your dad is. And that’s how it works around here. In a tightly knit community like this, where so much is passed down from parents to children, it’s no surprise people are known that way. You don’t easily escape your family, and with good reason. Most everyone in Qumlaq wakes up in the morning and works the same land their parents worked. There isn’t much moving around, if any. What many have is what’s been given to them, and when that’s the case, who your dad is matters.

And, of course, if you’re off doing your thing, whether you’re American or Azerbaijani, there’s probably something that reminds you of Mom and Dad, something that sticks with you. Yeah, my friend has called me “Pat’s son” since that day, and it works. It suits me fine.