Monday, December 14, 2009

Comfort and Joy

Walking on Ice: I put the yak traks on my new Lands End boots for the first time and walked to the Library for our English Club meeting. It was a cold day with snow. Luba warned me about the ice. I navigated without any problems. The boots were soft and warm. No slipping and sliding. What a comfort to get over the fear of falling.

It's also nice to know that if you layer up and wear a hat, which is a must for all Ukrainians, you will be warm inspite of the cold. You are not allowed to go out the door without a hat that covers your ears, Luba has made sure of that. Same with gloves, scarves, warm socks. A must. You might be carrying around an extra 30 pounds or more, or so it feels, but at least you won't freeze to death. I am acclimating to winter weather, with style!

Democracy in action
: Made it to the English Club in high spirits, and it turned out to be a special meeting. We had a small, mixed, and lively group. Anton joined us for the first time. He proved to be a taskmaster, while I showed myself to be a rather relaxed, or lax, depending on
your point of view, teacher.

When we couldn't get something in English, we used Russian. Alosha played Russian songs on his guitar and sang in Russian. So did Olga and Luda. Beautiful voices. Ira danced for us, a strenuous dance to hip hop music.

We discussed the meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and the meaning of gift giving, the tradition of the Magi traveling from the orient to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. Until independence, the adults noted, the religious meaning of Christmas was not emphasized.

We talked about Christmas songs and lyrics, and read a few. Joy to the World and Away in a Manger. We talked about the meaning of the songs. We made decorations for our poster Christmas tree, and listened to more music, in Russian. The tree looked pretty. A good time was had by all. I thought.

Then Anton asked to speak. Sure thing, speak up, Anton. "We need a new rule for our Club," he said solemnly. "We must speak only in English. ONLY ENGLISH. NO RUSSIAN. That is what this Club is for. It should be for learning, not just fun."

Silence for a minute. I thought I might have to carry the ball after that. But then other members spoke up, a few, pointedly, in Russian. Julia rattled on with some vehemence, which of course I did not understand but everyone else did. Maria spoke, pa Anglisky, in favor of speaking in English AND Russian when necessary, because we are such a mixed group of different ages and proficiency levels. She liked it the way it was, and thought it should be fun, too, by the way. Olga agreed we should try to speak mostly in English, but if we have to resort to Russian sometimes, so be it. Moreover, she added, we can help Fran by speaking Russian," to which I nodded.

Anton persisted. "That is not the purpose of this Club. To help Fran speak Russian, or to let others off the hook. This is an ENGLISH club."

So it went. Some members were uncomfortable with the disagreements. The youngest kept silent, watching the debate with some amazement. It occured to me that they might not be used to such debates, and certainly NOT to disagreeing in public with the teacher, with any authority. One member expressed his disagreement with Anton in doodles and sketches, which he left behind for me.

But, frankly, I saw the whole debate as a true exercise in democracy, and I said so. It's not easy, I said. We all have different opinions, and we can express them without fear. We talked a bit about having "opinions," about debating them. I was happy for it. "I'm proud of you for having this debate," I added.

We had now gone some 30 minutes over our time slot at the library. Everyone sat in rapt attention. No one moved, as if waiting for the conductor to raise her baton.

I summarized: Anton wants a rule that we speak only in English. Others disagree. Why not think about it and come back next week with IDEAS FOR THE ENGLISH CLUB? Everyone felt good about this suggestion. Some tension lifted. What kind of rules should we have? Should we have an English-only rule? Something else? Other rules? No rules? Luda agreed to make notes, add a few ideas, and lead the discussion. Some leaders are emerging, also a great thing.

We are having our Christmas party next week since I'll be taking off after that. I am giving small gifts to each of the members, 2010 calendars that are handsome but cost just a few hryvnias each. We will have cookies and juice with our discussion. Maybe we will elect a president and a secretary, something that's been on my mind since the subject was first raised at an early meeting. We'll see how it goes. I'm willing to let things flow. So far, they flow in a positive direction and good things happen, spontaneously. Democracy in Action. I'm looking forward to next week's meeting. Joy to the World!

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