Experiencing Azerbaijan

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Location: Kansas, United States

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Death, Taxes and Class Schedules

The Spring Term has begun, and Friday I had an interesting conversation with my university counterpart and translator. For the second day of Spring Term, no students came. I was a little exasperated when I asked him,"Rafael Mallim, do you think the students will come on Monday?" He gave a long, thoughtful pause then said, "God knows." I was laughing, but he went on. "It is not for us to say or for them to say what will happen on Monday. It is up to heaven. Do you understand? It is circumstances that will cause them to come or not to come. It is for us to be here. It does not matter whether or not the students come. It does not matter if we teach. What matters is that we are here." I don’t have to tell you all that this is not the American way. Ohhhhhh, what can I say. This place is so strange sometimes. Students do not select their courses. If they are Freshman English Pedagogy students, they will take a fixed set of classes, no options and no electives. The university schedules five time slots a day, and my students told me last semester that they do not like to come for the 3rd hour which begins at 12:10. When I asked about my spring schedule, the timekeeper suggested Monday through Thursday, 3rd hour. I declined. The timekeeper also suggested I wear lipstick because I am too pale! The two women in the office first translated, and then agreed with him. Yes, you should. He knows. It will be better. Honestly! Can you imagine going into the Registrar’s office at Kansas University and the registrar gives you your schedule, and then says, By the way, that hair style does not suit your face. You should have it cut and maybe get some highlights.

These episodes are what make me curious about this culture and, I have to admit, make me love the culture too. This timekeeper, or registrar to give him what would be his American title, is Tofiq Mallim (Tofiq Teacher), and he is the man with the power and he decides ‘who, when and where.’ For the first few weeks of school, I tried to organize a lunch or a visit a tea house with my students. What I didn’t know was that the students’ classes are scheduled on a daily basis. I would ask, Are you free on Thursday at 1:00? and I got the same answer every time: We don’t know. You must ask again on Thursday. I had a difficult time with this concept and it was not stubbornness that kept me asking but sheer simple mindedness. I would ask again, Are you free on Tuesday at 2:00?...or Wednesday at 10:00? Finally, one student said, Don’t you understand, we don’t know our schedule! Another student chimed in, Yes, teacher. Only God and Tofiq Mallim know our schedule. Then the realist student said, And sometimes only Tofiq Mallim knows. They did not mean to be funny but I appreciated the comic relief.


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