Steve (left) and Roustam,
roommates in the past and the future. Roustam will be staying with
Steve's family in Springfield, Mass. while becoming acclimated to
being in America.
--Thursday, 9 September 99-- $1 = 14,600 manat
Steve, a Peace Corps volunteer from Springfield, Mass. who was Roustam's
roommate and a regular visitor to the office, told us that he would be
leaving tomorrow for the U.S. where his bride-to-be, an Uzbeki he had
met on assignment, already is. He has resigned from the Peace Corps, thinned
by repeated cases of Giardia (an intestinal parasite), tired by struggling
against his Communist principal and has had enough. We will miss him.
A Rich Man with a Servant Problem
Friday, the day after I arrived, Gulia, my interpreter/translator showed
up for work. That was a good sign. On Monday, in addition to Gulia, Julia
showed up and took her old desk. They told me that she (Julia) was my
secretary. I was about to enquire into this when I was interrupted by
the arrival of big Volodya who they told me was my driver. Not the regular
Volodya who was the driver for me and Ed but BIG Volodya who looks like
a made-for-TV wrestler and who comes in every morning to shake one of
my hands with both of his. His hands are so big that when he does this
I feel as if my fist was in a large fleshy bag. He is a very nice man.
So now I had a staff of three. This was a surprise. I inquired and discovered
that my secretary and the driver used to work for the privatization program
which had been closed down because the government had decided that privatization
and the World Bank had destroyed Russia and that the same mistake wouldn't
happen here. The driver serves both offices and could be useful to multiple
people but I had no work for a secretary. I talked to Ed and we decided
that perhaps Julia would work out as an analyst researching capital projects.
She said she was interested so we will see how things work out.
I went to the Russian Market and looked for baby oil and cheddar cheese.
I did finally find some fruit flavored teas but that and some soap was
all I could locate. I enquired of the staff and they told me that I could
get baby oil at the Univermag. Which I did.
Tonight I spoke to an English class at ARCA. When I had tried to find
a Russian class there I was asked if I would speak to an English class.
I agreed but suggested that the teacher didn't quite know what she was
in for. That didn't deter her -- at a minimum it would be a native speaker
of American speaking it (and I would relieve her for an hour of teaching,
whatever I said).
I thought about what the students wanted and realized that they were all
people interested in advancing themselves in the world of management and
would thus be exposed to a lot of formal, correct, and pretty dull English.
I considered a crash lesson in American curse words: four letters, five
letters, six letters, and more -- I could go all the way in the name of
Education. For emphasis I would have them group-chant the standard phrases
containing these word as loudly as possible.
But, on second thought, this seemed like a pretty dull idea as well. You
hear these words all the time. Translation is not even necessary. But
what could I do that would make a difference, that they wouldn't likely
hear from some other American trapped into talking to them for an hour?
What wasn't commonplace, ordinary?
Like the sun dawning on Marblehead (,Mass), the answer was clear: We should
discuss American poetry.
I chose "The Raven" ("Once upon midnight dreary, while
I pondered weak and weary,") and "The Bells" ("Hear
the sledges with the bells, Silver bells!") by Poe (I found the full
texts on the Internet) and the opening stanza of "The Love Song of
J. Alfred Prufrock" ("Let us go then you and I,") by T.
S. Eliot which I typed from memory. I distributed typed copies so the
students could read along with me. They would need all the help they could
My presentation was vintage me. To explain the origins of English, I told
them how the Romans conquered the Greeks militarily but how the Greeks
conquered the Romans culturally, so educated Romans spoke Greek. How French
arose from the efforts of Vercingetorix and his crew to speak this Greek-filled
Latin and how the Norman (=Norse Men) gave up raping, pillaging and burning
to speak smooth French and how they imposed this French on the descendents
of the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes when they conquered England in
1066. (It is important for students to get important dates firmly established
in their minds.) I topped it off by noting that Norman French merged with
Anglo-Saxon to produce Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dr. Seuss Simple isn't
it? Well, THEY seemed impressed. Perhaps it was the spirited readings
Later, relaxing from the stress of my presentation, I sat in the outdoor
cafe across the street from my apartment. It has a concrete base limned
with red Chase lights, square red plastic tables with umbrellas stems
passing through the middle and red plastic chairs. The umbrellas are so
low that the waitresses have to lower their heads to see you when they
take an order. When you arrive, the waitress lights the candle on the
table and when you leave, she snuffs them out. Not exactly romantic.
Small groups sit here and there engaged in quiet conversation. A pulsed,
low background roar comes from Turkmenbashy Street. If not white noise,
still it doesn't swamp the conversation. Loudspeakers play some Russian
rock band that blends in with the other sounds. A pleasant way to be out-of-doors
on a warm night after a spirited poetry reading.