Exciting News! The publisher for my memoir, Ant Press, wants these deleted scenes collected into an eBook. I think I’m most excited that I get to continue to tweak these stories. I do love that process.
So, in eager anticipation, I’ll finish posting those scenes from Part I. Then, I’ll move into the later parts of the book. Here’s one from late September, 2004.
“A birthday celebration, American style,” Dina told us when she said she and three of her colleagues wanted to take us out to dinner for Woody’s birthday, September 20. But by the evening’s end, we understood the real reason.
Two of Dina’s colleagues — Janet (coincidentally) and Altin (a Kazakh word meaning “gold”) — were English teachers with Dina. The fourth, whose name I never got, was a German teacher who spoke no English. None had ever met a Peace Corps volunteer, so we were quite the phenomenon. They were a pleasant group of women, eager to get through the ordering and down to the business they had in mind. But first I got a lesson in beating around the bush.
As we began to look over the menu, Dina’s Janet asked, “Would you like the chicken?”
“The chicken is quite good here. Do you think you’d like it?” Altin added quickly.
“I think I’ll have the chicken; would you like it?” Janet again.
I wasn’t interested in chicken, hoping to get something a bit more unusual. “Oo vas yist paychin shashlik?” (Do you have liver shashlik?) I asked the waitress. I’d enjoyed it out to lunch with Woody a few times and liked it.
“No, I am sorry,” the young, blonde waitress, answered in only slightly-accented English.
“You speak English?” I hadn’t expected to find an English-speaking waitress.
“Yes, I am student at college.” She was California-cheerleader pretty, with long straight dark blonde hair.
“I teach at the college. What is your group?” I asked.
“English 39, Russian,” she answered. “I have seen you there. I will have class with you.”
Her name was Elizabeth, a member of the class I’d hold with third-year students. There I was at a restaurant with a Dina, a Janet, and an Elizabeth. Where was I again?
“Oo vas yist baraneena shashlik?” Woody asked for mutton shashlik.
“Sorry, we have only chicken shashlik tonight.” Elizabeth’s announcement was a surprise.
Our Peace Corps trainers had warned us about the Kazakh tendency to talk around a topic they found uncomfortable, “indirect communication” they called it, sounding sociological. Here was a great example. It didn’t matter. Six orders of chicken shashlik it was.
I liked the restaurant, even with its limited menu. Called 777, it looked newly built with plumes of lush, green plastic foliage. Even the requisite indoor squat toilet was clean. As with Robinzone, the restaurant we went to for my birthday party, 777 was in the neighborhood near the square. Uptown, I had dubbed it.
“How did the restuarant get its odd name?” I inquired of any who might know. But no one knew.
As our dinners arrived, Altin asked, “Would you help us with our English?”
“We need to have more practice,” Janet explained.
“I will go every week,” Altin promised.
Red flags went up. The Peace Corps had emphasized during training that we were not to fill individual requests for tutoring. If we did, they claimed, we’d be bombarded with requests. They suggested, instead, we might offer to tutor a class if the person organized it.
“If you have five people and a room, I’ll be there.” I told them and I meant it. And so my first English club for teachers was born.
For all Dina’s softness and fragility, she showed enormous determination and impressive gusto in getting me a room at the university .
The paper work began with my writing a letter of request to the university’s administrator for such things, then Dina translating it into Russian — her university was a Russian speaking institution. This was followed a few weeks later with a formal presentation of our request to an official-looking man who sat behind a very large desk in an even larger office while Dina answered his few questions and accepted a key to a room on the fourth floor.
After all this formality, Dina gave me an extra key to her classroom on the first floor.
“Why didn’t we just do this from the start?” I asked.
“It is more convenient,” was all she said.
Though I had no idea what I might present or do in such a group, my evenings were empty and I welcomed a diversion. I’d run many groups during the days Woody and I ran our workshops for stutterers and I was eager to see how this one would evolve. More importantly, I was eager to see if someone in this group would be someone to have fun — socialize — with. I wanted a girlfriend.