Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Perfect Special Juice and the Invisible Hope

There is a good chance these students are writing poetry...
Post-mantou, greasy, chubby cheeks (at my school)

Being a language teacher, and a person who is generally titillated (yes, I know my life is almost too exciting) by language and culture, teaching and living in Afghanistan is more than interesting. In a place where learning and using English is the new trend, mistakes are bound to occur. In addition to encountering the occasional mistakes, each day I also experience comedic misunderstandings which can be attributed to both language and culture.

Waiting for Mantou

Today, one of my students was due to bring me and a few other professors lunch. She had promised that she would cook mantou, a traditional Afghan dish of beef-filled dumplings over sour cream, covered in tomato sauce, beans, and cilantro. Her arrival time would be 11:30 so that we would have plenty of time to enjoy its bounty before our afternoon classes started at 1:00.

Around 12:00, three other professors and myself gathered in the department head's office, waiting for the mantou. We stared at each other uncomfortably for a minute or two and then I (accidentally) broke the ice by making a mistake in Dari. I turned to the most senior professor in the room and, trying to impress him with my language skills, offered him water.

I said, "Shuma tambol astayn?" "Are you stupid?" Everyone else in the room looked over at me with wide eyes. I quickly realized that I had confused the words for stupid "tambol," and thirsty, "tushna." But it was too late. The other professors were already hysterically laughing at me and joking with the eldest.

They didn't stop giggling and snorting until the mantou arrived promptly at 12:55, almost an hour and a half late. The lateness of the mantou was no problem though, the professors stayed and enjoyed the feast leaving around 1:15, or so, for their classes. Here, food is more important than arriving on time...always.

Bumper Stickers, Signs, and an Address

Most of the cars in Kabul are high-mileage, old, used Toyotas. There are many reasons why bumper stickers grace the windows of most of these cars, one being that the owners would like to distinguish their car from all of the others. Another reason is that the car came to them via some other country that couldn't sell it, with the bumper sticker(s) already affixed to them.

Here are some of the bumper stickers that I saw tonight:

"Don I cry girl I will be back" (I have made no mistakes, this is what it said)
"Surf Danger" (written around an LA Raiders' logo)
"Into the nature"
"Mikkie in Car" (with a Micky Mouse character next to the words)
"My fifth grader is an Honors Student at Woodrow Wilson Elementary"
"My Toyota is Fabulous"

Signage is almost as absurd. You would think that with many near-fluent English speakers in Kabul that business owners would get someone to proof-read before posting their billboard. I asked a friend why people print signs that don't make sense and he kind of chuckled and said, "Nobody cares what it says. The owner just wants to give an impression that they know English as to show that they are [upper] class."

Here are some upper-class signs:
Beauty Puler
Hajib's Mechaniacal Place

And my favorite (with no mistakes, but it is awesome nonetheless):
Perfect Restaurant
Inside of Perfect Restaurant there were signs for Super Ice Cream and Perfect Special Juice.

And another piece of authentic language from my cabinet...this is the address printed on our kilo of flour (quiet your paleo minds friends, YES I have flour in my cabinet!):
[name of a square] opposite to city computer center
Near [name of a mosque]
Kabul, Afghanistan

The Invisible Boy

After reading Shel Silverstein's poem "Invisible Boy" to the class, I had the students write their own poems about something invisible. We had a discussion about metaphors and allusions and I encouraged the students to write a poem as if they were drawing a picture. They were to use words like a paintbrush. Here is a poem that a student gave to me today. To me, this is the picture of many young Afghans today; to the rest of the world they ARE invisible...

To my teacher Jaala

I'm an invisible boy
In an invisible ship
Sailing along the invisible sea
To find the invisible God

I'm an invisible student
With an invisible teacher
Who taught me this invisible poem
Now I thank her with an invisible gift

I'm an invisible person
In an invisible part of the world
Living with many invisible limitations
Having no invisible freedom
Ever the right of invisible living
I wish to the invisible God
To show me the invisible right way

I'm an invisible poor boy
Born in an invisible country
Suffering a lot of invisible sorrows
Stranded against life's invisible narrowness
I started working at invisible places
When I was an invisible eight year old
But I didn't lose my invisible hope
I believe in my invisible liberty
I believe in my invisible future

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At 10:47 AM , Blogger Steph said...

The word play makes me laugh, and this poem makes me cry. amazing...

At 11:20 PM , Blogger Heather said...

LOVE this entry... the poem made me get all teary!
Love you girl, Heather

At 10:54 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Yeah, the poem made me cry too! This student comes to my office almost everyday to ask me questions about teaching. He is so dedicated to his own students, he really believes that they are the future of his country.

At 2:49 PM , Blogger Michael Lindsay said...

Another great post Jaala.

This poem is completely heartbreaking and stunning in it's beauty.

Keep up the good work.


At 7:32 PM , Blogger Lu said...

Dear Jaala,
You inspire your students. He is amazing. The poem made me teary also. Your students are very special. I love you, Mom

At 1:34 PM , Blogger mb said...

What a great post and what a great adventure you are on. I miss you, but I'm so happy to learn through you.

Much love.

At 12:32 AM , Blogger یونس انتظار said...

Dear Jaala,

I really enjoyed reading this piece. It seems that your advices and lessons are heartily learnt by these Afghan youth.

Please keep it up and I am linking you to my blog as well.

P.S: I love you my bro.Please keep working we must change the current enviroment to our own style and impossible is impossible.


At 6:22 PM , Blogger Randy said...

Dear teacher:

I just wanna tell u that i haven't meet such a amazing person like u


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