Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Frustration comes from…

Pinsk is driving me crazy and I am really feeling it. At the moment we are trying to find a place to rent for our classroom. Many places which we had assumed to be great choices turned out to be either dead ends or black holes for head games from the administrators. One good lead today but the location is all the way on the other side of town. Why is it that from all of the schools and all of the potential rooms, everyone from among our original picks has their heads in the clouds but the place all the way across town? Actually, this part of it would not be all that frustrating except that I found out from Tanya just before my last stop (another dead end) that they keep a list of places right there in the mayor's office and we could have simply gone over there yesterday or Monday, copied from the list and then simply called and asked!

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I did. You didn’t want to go there?" My brain started spinning like one of those circus fair wheels that pins people to the screen by centrifugal force. I can't even fathom where this thought could possibly come from.

"You are telling me that I directly refused to go to the place that had the list of available rentals? You are saying that I purposely blew something that simple off?"

"You said you didn't want to go to the GorIspolkom." A small bell sounded.

"Ok, I remember saying that but when I said it, it was because I didn't think that there was any reason to go there. IF SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME THAT THERE WAS A LIST OF PLACES TO RENT AND PEOPLE TO HELP YOU GET LOCATED, I THINK I WOULD HAVE SAID YES." I don't even remember any more of this conversation. Probably I got accused of yelling at her or something or maybe I just started banging my own head against the brick wall and this is why I can't remember anything more.

But it is not like this frustration is coming out of the blue. The day before I ran into a nightmare straight out of a Freudian textbook when I had been back over at Polessie State hoping to rent a classroom from those high, upstanding, acutely educated superheroes. The thought there was that I had some friends and perhaps they could at least steer me in the right direction and of course, I started with everyone's favorite department head, Tomara Sergievna. Just my being in her office to ask a question set this finely tuned administrator straight into apoplexy.

"What the hell are you coming to me for?" She asked, visibly shaking. I was scared to even come near her.

"You are the foreign language department head. I just guessed you would know what I needed to do to rent a classroom here. You have desks, you have chalk and I live just down the street. I thought you could send me in the right direction."

"I have no time. Ask the director of the school" I had told the secretary in that office that Tamara Sergeivna hated me. At first the secretary had laughed and told me that everybody knew about Tamara Sergeivna and that this was just how she was. I had in fact found this to be true actually; almost universally people I have met had broken into smiles when I told them that my main problem had been this particular department head.

"Adam," they say, "you know English better than any human being within 1000 kilometers, why won't they let you teach classes?" And what can I say to this?
"My administrator told me she could not handle her own workload enough to spend an hour setting up a classroom situation for me to even give an initial lecture. I have to wait a month, just like with Poland."

"Who is the administrator?" And I tell them and straight away my plight is high comedy.

And you know, this wonderful lady by the way was actually, and I am not joking about this, was actually in the room five years ago on my first day free from Poland, when I was in Leonid Fioderovitch's office trying to get a teaching job at the economic university. If I haven't told that story enough, that great man decided to tell me yes one day and no the next, even adding laughter into the mix. Thank you Poland? I think so. Two years later I ran into this same woman at the post office. She was shocked to be seeing me.

"You stayed?" She asked. She seemed at that moment to be in actual pain that I was still living here. Had I been serious all that time before?

"I told you I wanted to be here. Why was this so hard for you people to believe? I said I wanted to be here."

But now she is the department head. I actually thought I was I luck when I walked in her door several weeks ago to find that she was the one who would be the one to give me a recommendation.

"I am so happy its you. You at least know I am serious." My frist thoughts were that I was already sold in my heart that I would give this woman all the support she needed from that day forward. Really, I thought this was a gift. Aha! A friend; a sympathetic friend who knows me to be real and who will allow me to make my start already after all I have been through just trying to get back here.

And remember: THEY ASKED ME!

But like I said she flipped out when she saw me waiting to ask something of her and had run away. The reason I was still waiting was that I had made several small card with the addresses of my web addresses on it. I was handing them out, letting people who might otherwise have not known that I haven't just been sitting around and counting my potatoes since I have been here. I say to her "Oh, and here…" extending my arm with the scrap of paper towards her. However, this is an incomplete pass because she has already run from the room." Serious trauma here. But as the secretary still does not understand whatever in hell is the problem, and for damned sure I don't, because she sees that I am trying to hand over my piece of paper, I am informed that I should wait for a moment because her class, which she has not particularly participated in, will be finished in just a moment. So I wait.

I walk over to the book shelf to see what they have. A couple of text books from this language or that. And then there is this old, Soviet era English grammar and I pull a copy of the wall. It is in the usual form, taking individual aspects of English and establishing an explanation followed by examples and practice. But as I am reading I note that the forms do not necessarily flow from one place to another; there is no patters or connection between one fact and another. For instance, you don't find yourself getting the full brunt of verbs or articles, but rather one of this followed by one of that, each seemingly placed because of the level of difficulty, rather than because it leads the student to a general understand of using the language. It was just chunks of information portrayed in an orderly fashion. It seemed to be more a technical manual than anything that would actually build a functioning language.

Tomara Sergievna came back in the room, calmer now that her "teaching stint" was over. But when she saw me looking at a book, she got this Zaremba-like wild smile on her face and literally pulled the book from my hands and put it back on the shelf. This is against the rules, she grinned, I am not allowed to touch the books.

I am not allowed to touch the books? Excuse me, but did I just have a teacher tell me that I was not allowed to touch a book?

I smiled and handed her the scrap of paper which she almost had enough disdain to throw away, but didn't. I know that she doesn't know how to speak English. She has explained his to me many times and her reasons for believing that it is an almost unnecessary language because she herself speaks FRENCH! And has been to France many times and has managed to fulfill many of her life's fantasies and expectations because of this distinct and wonderful romantic language. I told her I studied it in school.

Oh, and by the way THIS was why she was in Leonid Fioderovich's office five years ago. That director decided that I needed an interpreter but unfortunately, they didn't have a single person who could teach English anywhere even near the building and so they called in Tamara Sergeivna to interpret for me using French. In his mind there obviously must not have been all that much difference between the two. Luckily, I had taken that language in school.

I… think… they will want some money. I am guessing… that they are playing me for some cash… I mean really, I cannot understand them. I understand hiding behind the bureaucracy. I understand the power plays and the spoiled child attitude, but to me, I am really starting to think that I have seen this before. And, I have, haven't I? Yes, I have seen this before.


And just one more small item. On Monday I saw on the First National Channel a story about a forty year old teacher from right here in Pinsk who was busted in a police sting operation trying to sell two bricks of heroin to an undercover officer. The street value of the heroin was estimated at $12,000 and both the teacher and his wife had arranged the deal to sell their drugs.

Hey, now is that a teacher or is that a teacher? Talk about doing it for the kids!

Anyway, these are the basic facts as reported. I would have liked to give you a reference and more detail for this but unfortunately, Belarus Television (BT) decided not to include this story in their normal web archives.

And of course, it is not like I haven't seen this before either, haven't I?

More soon…