Friday, January 21, 2011

Schooling It Up

When I leave for school in the morning, it's still dark. I am buttoned into a heavy coat with scarf and hat and gloves and furry boots; bound up like a papoose and slung about with laptop and shoulder bags. The paths are slippery with old ice and the air is hazed with smoke. High-heeled fur-collared Russian mothers walk their unsmiling children to school; young Kyrgyz men stroll, privately and grimly, hawking spit in the gutters, to whatever profession keeps them outfitted in leather jackets and cigarettes. Stray dogs shake off the bone-chilling night and ready themselves for survival. There's one road I must cross, and it's bumper-to-bumper marshrutkas, so I wait for the light which signals my pedestrian's right and cross boldly (because without boldness, a pedestrian in Bishkek is doomed to life on the kerb).

The gates of the school are under 24-hour guard; I press the button and hope to be recognised - the guards are slowly getting to know this new teacher, with her bright red bag and purple hat, but they are suspicious in their bones and like to make sure, so they follow me up the stairs until reassured that I do, in fact, belong here. This impression is undoubtedly strengthened by my inability to reply to their Russian interrogatives.

It's a relief to get to the teacher's lounge and divest myself of all these accoutrements. It's so warm! And there's filter coffee waiting. This is how Americans drink coffee - and with a powdery substance they call 'creamer'. It's only half-bad. There's a teapot too, as a concession to the British and their colonial counterparts, but no one here's really got the hang of tea. Someone makes a really strong pot early in the morning and refills it with boiling water throughout the day; you pour yourself an inch of this potent brew and top it up with hot water. Needless to say, there's no milk, but in the morning a hot cup o' something is so needful that I throw scruples to the wind.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, lunch is served in the teacher's kitchen. This is part of the parents' service to the school. Huge pots of plov (a traditional rice dish cooked with spices, carrot and lamb) or curry or soup appear on the stove by midday, accompanied by spicy Korean salads. There are also rice cookers, filled and steaming perpetually. On Tuesdays, homemade pizza and muffins are sold in the assembly room, so Thursday is the only day I need to remember lunch; and even if I forget, there are some street food stalls a short walk from here.

I laid claim to a desk, and no one seems to mind, so I'm building a three-walled castle around my laptop out of books, with papers for mortar.

The curriculum is an odd mix of ICGSE, which is a UK/international certificate, and American college preparatory subjects. Both of these approaches are unfamiliar, so I'm starting small: a three week unit on poetry, a six week study of The Great Gatsby, an Ethics course. The big picture will, I hope, present itself in due time. I've also volunteered to help with Sport on Fridays. My own Russian lessons begin next week.

So, that's my working day. If the opportunity to take pictures presents itself, I shall take some!


  1. Russian lessons! How exciting!

    I'm enjoying these traveller's tales immensely, E.

  2. Reading blogs backwards is a bad habit of mine so I apologise, Erin, for my silly post about your footwear when you have clearly spoken about it here. You describe everything so well and I'm enjoying trying to picture you in school and at home. We haven't forgotten you. Margaret