My students today told me that I've been in Tajikistan for 10 days now. When they told me that I said "I HAVE?" It sounds like such a long time but it feels like I've been here for only like 3 days. I landed in Dushanbe in the middle of the night and was carted off to an apartment to stay for 4 days. That was a very busy 4 days with meetings at the embassy, a few parties in there, too, and some running around trying to get myself ready to leave for Garm. I was all hyped up about Garm because of the reactions I was getting from people. I've been in Garm for 5 days but it's strange that it doesn't feel like that long and, I'll say it's definitely a scary looking place on the surface, but I don't feel unsafe. If I didn't have support from the embassy or from an organization then I certainly wouldn't be here on my own.
The students I'm working with make it worth it for me to come to Garm. One group that I worked with today are so enthusiastic and eager to learn anything and everything. There aren't any motivational problems there at all. The students in this program are very special. They go to regular public school in their village in the morning and then voluntarily come to Garm 3 afternoons a week and spend 3 hours each time just to learn English. They aren't required to come. They applied for this scholarship program, were chosen to participate, and they come to class. Today all the boys were in class but only 1 of the 4 girls came to class. The girls come villages the farthest away and also have to help their mothers with housework, cooking, and caring for younger siblings. That is why they will miss more school than the boys. The one girl who came to class today lives in Garm so it's more convenient for her.
I'm really impressed with these students who started with ZERO English and in just 8 months are able to talk with me and aren't shy. Their writing and reading skills aren't bad either. I just can't believe their level after 8 months with a Tajik teacher. They were motivated from the beginning and whoever chose these students to be in this program did a good job of recruiting them. When I ask them to do an activity where I ask who wants to go first I had to change the way I asked because EVERYONE raises their hand to answer questions. I have to ask questions to particular students and I also put their names in hat and choose names instead of asking who wants to go first for speeches and such. It's GREAT!!!!!!
We went around in class a few days ago and gave everyone English names. One wanted to be called Mulder, like Fox Mulder. I don't know where he heard that but he liked it. Another student wants to be called John Rambo, but we just call him John. It's funny how they start to look like their English names after awhile. I told them that needed a Tajik name so they call me Shadoza, which means queen. They have such a good sense of humor. Two of the students are the best of friends and they have dressed alike every day since I've been with them except today. They wear the same striped shirt, pants, socks with dollar signs, and pointy shoes. Today they were dressed differently and I teased them that they forgot to dress alike today.
We talked a lot about families today and I found out whose fathers were killed in the civil war. One student is an only child and his father was a police man in Garm and he was killed in the war. I can tell he doesn't have a father because of his behavior. He is the sweetest kid, about 14 years old, but things he does shows he doesn't have a father at home. The other day he threw a book across the room to his classmate. I gave it back to him and made him stand up and walk the book over to his classmate. He did it with no complaints. He's a good kid (and smart, too) but just needs a little polishing.
I have a second group of students who started at the same time as the first group and they are radically different. The second group that I have are very quiet and not quite so eager to participate. They are much better at reading and writing than they are at speaking. They are good kids and motivated, but not quite so eager. I think they are still trying to figure me out. There are 4 girls in the class and a few of them are quite good at English and not shy about speaking in front of the class, but their writing needs some work.
The teachers here have really done a good job with these students who started from zero. The teachers have only learned English from books and have had little to no contact with native speakers. One teacher who is my shadow, Mr. Sharbot (Peter), is always talking WAY off in the distant past. He'll tell me 10 years ago he did this and in 1985 he did that. Everything he talks about is 10 years ago or more! Yesterday I found a grammar book that he uses as a reference. I opened it up and it smelled like a musty old library book and the pages were yellowed. It was a grammar book copyright 1965 and published in Moscow. He told me that is his reference book. I was like "I'm gonna hook you up with Betty Azar, 2004 and you can shelf that musty old book." He is a very very good teacher, though, and has a the best Enlish level of any of them that I work with and the students like him because he's old and wise. He's my chaperone when I leave class and my shadow when I'm in class. He is so sweet and there isn't a mean bone in his body. In fact, that's what I've found about most of the Tajiks that I've met so far. I don't feel like there are alterior motives when they want to talk to me. They seem genuinely interested and that's something that I haven't felt in other places I've been to. There is one man that I think has alterior motives. I get creepy vibes from him but luckily I only work with him once a week and other people are around. Anyway back to my shadow. Some days I go the center he's in charge of and he's there at like 10 a.m. just sitting around even though he doesn't have to teach until 1 p.m. It's so cute! I think he's bored, especially during Ramadan when he can't eat or really exercise too much, so he just hangs out at the center. I also found out today that he doesn't have a wife and he has 5 children who are in their 20's. I don't know what happened to his wife; I'm guessing she died but I didn't want to ask. I suppose he's in his early 50's but I'm terrible at guessing ages, especially in developing countries like this. He could look 50 and really be like 35! But seriously though he's definitely an older man.
Now that I've been here for almost a week I'm feeling more comfortable. I have lunch and dinner brought to me every day so I don't have to worry about food. I've met with the director and gave a workshop to teachers already, and taught some classes. I have ideas on how I can improve the place and it's going to be great. Now I just need to get to work! :-)