In the Peace Corps, my official job was Teacher Trainer: I taught English at a teacher’s college. A few of my classes were taught in concert with a local teacher.
Over my two years I team-taught with five different teachers. One of those was Assem, one of the more outspoken, free-thinking teachers, and I enjoyed her immensely. Still, there were cultural differences between us. None showed so clearly as the one that came up when I took it upon myself to get our class talking about sex, an “uncomfortable topic” in any culture. It’s a scene that hit the cutting room floor a few years back.
One morning, I brought in the song, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, from my Meatloaf CD for the speaking practice class I taught with Assem.
Here’s a link to the video from the Daily Motion if you’ve got eight and a half minutes. (preceded by a short ad)
This modern-day ballad from the early 1990s pop music scene offered, I thought, an important message for a class of female teen-agers: the story of two lovers doing what young lovers do “by the dashboard light.”
In the background, a radio station plays a metaphorical ballgame. The batter hits the ball, “rounds second and passes to third. Will he make a homerun?”
But before he gets to “home plate,” the girl’s voice (Ellen Foley) sings out, “Stop right there,” and asks for the commitment, “Will you love me forever?”
I’d typed out the words to the 8½-minute song and made seven copies, enough for every two students and Assem. I was prepared. This song would start an important conversation with this group of young, college-age, Kazakh women. At least that was my plan.
In class, I played the song once all the way through and then gave a short explanation of the baseball metaphor for the few students not in our Sunday afternoon baseball “league.”
Then I played the song again.
The song is sung as a flashback from the guy’s point of view. He’d made his commitment to “love her ‘till the end of time,” gotten his home run, and now — presumably years later — he was “praying for the end of time.”
The students understood the baseball metaphor, but the song drew blank faces. This was a town with few cars: hence, few dashboards.
So, I played it a third time.
It’s the story of the danger in making lifetime decisions in the heat of the moment. Remembering how my top fourth year student from the previous year had pretty much dropped out of class after meeting her policeman, as had my best student that year too, when she’d returned from her practicum. Fall in love; drop out of class. That seemed to be the pattern. They didn’t drop out of school. They just stopped caring about it. They were in love.
I was so looking forward to an earnest, honest discussion with these young women. But there would be no discussion.
Assem thought hearing the song three times was enough. It was time to move on. In my naivete to treat my Kazakh class like an American class, I’d overstepped. Again.
The students pulled out their blue copybooks and proceeded to take down that days’ recitation.
Difficult conversations. Uncomfortable topics. Is this a cultural difference, a universal issue, or something more idiosyncratic? How common are difficult conversations in your life?