Archive for February, 2008

More wisdom from C.S. Lewis

“When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters; that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it…The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write.  That, of course, makes it easier for the child.  If it rejected him because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly.  If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life.  Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) ‘No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank’?  That advantage – call it ‘unfair’ if you like – is the only reason why he can be of any use to me.  To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself.”  Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 4

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Distilled wisdom from students’ grandparents

The other day I subbed for a Kazakh teacher who went to Turkmenistan to recruit students for our university.  I was MORE than happy to take the two 70 minute classes in order to follow the speaking-listening textbook, but also to find out the level of the students’ writing.  As a seasoned writing teacher, I asked them to write for me in 30 minutes anything they remember about what their grandparents had told them about the past.  I purposely kept it open and vague so that I would find out what was MOST important to them in relating what their grandparents had told them about Kazakhstan’s past.  Some wrote on more recent events such as the rebellion of Dec. 16, 1986 but others went back as far as Genghis Khan.  Most wrote about the cruelties during WWII and the forced Soviet collectivization and only a few said they didn’t have any memories due to having no grandparents or coming from a different country.  In any case, these were some of the surprise quotes I cherish from these Kazakh students:

 “P.S. I was so surprised with such an exercise from your side.  But it is so important that you do, moreover, I think it is really great, useful and deep.  Thank you. Honestly, it touched me…”

“I do believe that today’s people should thank their grandparents for everything they did to make us live happily as we do now.”

“My granny tells this story with tears in her eyes.  She says that the main thing that she learned during her life is that you should help people in need and they will not turn their backs on you when you need it.”

“It is very nice of you to be interested in our country…Sorry for not writing widely of that story, I am just not good at re-telling stories…”

“‘It was very, very hard time.  But people survived because they hoped’ once said my grandmother.”

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Long Wait Monday; Expedient Wednesday

Two contrastings days.  As if the ultrasound technician had been waiting for me this morning after I walked the 15 minutes to the clinic to get my first treatment for my swollen foot.  The first 5 minutes were a bit painful as she put the ointment on and used her wand to bear down on my edema ankle.  The next 5 minutes were more predictable but I was wondering how long this would go on. Fortunately only about 10 minutes. 

Monday’s long two hour wait for the actual x-ray to find out that nothing was broken was almost too painful to reflect back to.  Monday catches up on all the weekend accidents, Wednesday is more relaxed from overwrought patients.  Fortunately, I had someone next to me in the waiting room who could speak English and had broken her foot in a skiing accident.  That helped pass the time to talk besides reading homework papers.  Apparently, people from this part of the Central Asian world are used to sprains and breaks because of the skiing industry but also because of the icy sidewalks.  When I lived in Kyiv, people had to be more wary of overhanging HUGE killer icicles that threatened their very lives.  Anyway, happy to say the two week ultrasound treatment is all paid for by insurance and I might as well take advantage of this even though it cuts into my work of teaching and other related duties. 

Something totally unrelated to the above topic is a quote I picked up from C.S. Lewis from his classic book Mere Christianity:  “…fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.  Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of a ‘hole.’  This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance.  Now repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years…”

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Coast is clear – X-ray!!!

No damage to my foot but the technician said I have edema so must have ultrasound treatment for TWO weeks, that will supposedly speed up the healing.  The most painful part of yesterday’s visit to the clinic was the WAIT for over two hours just to get this good report.  First come, first served and I could see why there was a line up in the waiting room because the technician who pushed the buttons behind the glass was so precise in placing my foot just right on the film casing. The older woman before me had fudged hers up so they had to painstakingly set her up again.  So much else I could write about my three hour ordeal but suffice it to say, one should NEVER get hurt or sick in Kazakhstan.  Brilliant deduction but it is worth noting that if you do either of those two you had better have lots of time to get fixed up again. 

Time is what I don’t have today, my teaching schedule on Tuesdays are the worst.  I have two listening speaking classes to teach, meetings on either side of those 70 minute classes, then I teach another one hour class at World Exchange and then a 3 hour class with my TOEFL students.  Tomorrow morning I will start my ultrasound treatment which is a 15 minute walk away, to be done daily for two weeks.  Mama Mia!!!  I must be careful of the black ice while walking to and from this other clinic or I might sprain the other foot.  Such is life in Kazakhtan!!!

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“Mind the [Generation] Gap!”

I cancelled one big event from my schedule tonight so that gives me extra time and I WILL go and get an x-ray of my foot done today.  I discovered last night that I have entered into the generation gap along with the cultural barrier and language gap of not knowing Russian in this Kazakh culture.  The Kazakh students in preparation of tonight’s program were into Timberlake and Aerosmith songs, I was ready to show America with singing “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “This Land is Your Land.”  How painful to admit that you are not quite “with it” when it comes to the energy and zest of youth along with their desires to follow American pop culture.  However, I take solace in this poem that I took from the classic “Streams in the Desert.”

“They tell me I must bruise

The rose’s leaf,

Ere I can keep and use

Its fragrance brief. 

They tell me I must break

The skylark’s heart,

Ere her cage song will make

The silence start. 

They tell me love must bleed,

And friendship weep,

Ere in my deepest need

I touch that deep. 

Must it be always so

With precious things?

Must they be bruised and go

With beaten wings? 

Ah yes! By crushing days,

By caging nights, by scar

Of thorn and stony ways,

These blessings are!”

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Ultrasound and “furrow cut by pain”

ultrasound technicianThe dark brown mould’s upturned,

By the sharp-pointed plow;

And I’ve a lesson learned.

My life is but a field,

Stretched out beneath God’s sky,

Some harvest rich to yield.

Where grows the golden grain?

Where faith? Where sympathy?

 In a furrow cut by pain.

by Maltbie D. Babcock

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“If Band-AGE is Absent…”

Almost a month ago, on January 22, I wanted to get my exercise with an aerobic class joining a friend of mine who has taught this class for years.  I didn’t know the location at the complex and was running late so I finally showed up huffing and puffing.  I had already gotten my exercise just with my 15 minute walk to the bus and then walking another 5 minutes from the bus to the place where I was to get physically fit.  After replacing my boots with my brand new Saucony shoes, I was ready to run in place with the best of them.  However, I noticed I was on the wrong foot so I quickly tried to make amends.  I attempted to switch feet to be in time with the music and look the same in the mirrors with the other aerobic participants.  WHAM! 

Next thing I knew I was on the floor, not running in place anymore.  So much for warm up, so much for my new year’s resolution of taking off pounds sensible by exercising on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  To walk on the sidewalks of Almaty in the winter is out of the question with caked down snow that turns into slippery ice. 

I immediately knew I had sprained my ankle and so the logical thing was to fill a bag full of snow and watch the rest of the aerobics class jump around until the last beats were played out on the cd player.  I hobbled home and elevated and iced my left foot but had a rigorous schedule of interviewing IREX candidates for the next four days.  The hardest part of this sprain was every morning when getting my winter boot on because of the swelling.  Those boots stayed on the whole day, but I had it elevated for the most part.   

Finally, on Valentines Day, I allowed Ken to take me to the doctor at our university and the doctor pinched and poked at my foot, it was not painful on the external.  However, she was starting to make it feel painful with her firm pokes.  No, there is something internal that is wrong, especially when I walk too much.  Yesterday, I went to get my foot ultrasound and I knew I was in trouble when the technician didn’t know how to spell my name on the computerized document that would identify my foot.  She would type in “ai” instead of “y” and then she would type “aiai” instead of “y.”  A distinct communication gap. It crossed my mind, “And this woman is supposed to figure out what is wrong with my foot, she doesn’t even know how to spell?”  As she finally put the ultrasound wand against my foot, she matter-of-factly stated that she saw a “lake of blood.” I think she meant “pool” instead since I didn’t think it looked THAT big on the ultrasound. 

She spoke in Russian to another technician and his grasp of English was more precise, hers was good but haphazard.  I knew this when she was writing up my prescription of ointment and Ace bandage to buy.  She said, “if the bandage is absent, then go to the other Apteka [pharmacy].”  I knew what she meant, if the particular bandage didn’t exist, then try another place but it was that kind of communication that was going on throughout our ½ hour consultation with her.  She wanted me to get an x-ray at a NEW location on Monday and then to go and consult with her that afternoon.  Monday and Tuesday happen to be my busiest days.  I think I’ll re-think that scheduling snafu and go when *I* can make it, like Wednesday.  I have waited a month to find out that I have something internal going on. The pain that exists is dull but sporadically consistent so it DOES need to be checked out and will take some time to heal. 

I have gone to Ps. 51:8 more than once to figure out what else needs to heal as David so ably penned:  “Make me to hear joy and gladness. That the bones which You have broken may rejoice.”

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