Wednesday, May 28, 2008

If he can't do it - Ghengis can.

It’s seeming like warm weather will never come to the north coast. Temps have been hovering in that no man’s land of 50 some degrees. Not warm enough for shirt sleeves too hot for a real coat. It’s hard to believe that school is out in about a week. Speaking of schools - I gave a presentation yesterday for an education minister from Kirgizstan. It’s a wacky world indeed. The way this thing rolled out is a little bit convoluted but here’s the story.

I was doing a bit of volunteer work for a local chapter of America SCORES. This crew combines poetry and soccer in an afterschool program for 3rd thru 5th graders. I know the concept sounds like a rejected improve suggestion from the show Whose Line is it Anyways? “Okay you’re a soccer playing poet with an octopus stuck to your face, and ready go…” but it is a good program and the combo actually works well. My charge was to help this group of poet athletes to come up with a group piece that they could perform at an opening ceremony for an international soccer tournament to be held in beautiful Cleveland Ohio this July.

This tournament is being somehow sponsored or helped along by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs who sent representatives to see the kids working on this piece. Now I didn’t know a Cleveland Council on World Affairs even existed but obviously they do. I got to talking to their education director who was part of their contingent and she told me that they were sending some teachers on a cultural exchange to Istanbul and I told her that Sara and I had just got back from teaching there ourselves. Well we talked a bit more, she asking me where I’ve been around the globe and we both told each other we should keep in touch the way one does when they run into an old co-worker at Starbucks.

Well about a week ago I get this e-mail from Josefin – the Swedish, or was it Norwegian intern over at the CCWA asking if I’d be willing to speak to some teachers from Kirgizstan. Okay, this past December I was in Kazakhstan speaking at a teacher’s conference that was attended by some teachers from south of the border – Kirgizstan. Of course these were all English speaking schools and teachers. Even so, I am obviously an expert on communicating with educators from the former eastern bloc. So I say sure I wouldn’t mind.

Turns the folks I am going to “chat “with are not your average classroom teachers – but the highest of level ministers of education and to boot – Josefin informs me the next day that everything is set up and the two dignitaries (official guests of the US state department) will be looking forward to my ONE AND HALF HOUR presentation. When did an informal conversation turn into a full blown lecture?

You know – I highly recommend putting yourself into impossible situations – the exhilaration one gets when that phantom rush of adrenalin careens around your stomach cavity like a ball bearing in a stainless steel bowl has to be damn near the equivalent of a dose of electro shock therapy. One of those so good when it stops kind of moments not unlike the aftermath of an overzealous Thai massage administered in a Ho Chi Minh City alleyway.

So I meet with Dr. Gulzhigit Soronkulov (first name pronounced GLLLZZZGKKKKKT) and Ms. Samarkul Umralieva and their Russian interpreter – oh yeah, did I say they spoke no English? I give them my keynote that I would do at literacy conference – PowerPoint presentation the whole nine yards while the interpreter repeats my every word. (I do tell him he can paraphrase if he likes but he informs me that he must do his best to interpret what I’m saying exactly.) Well, they laughed in the right places, nodded in agreement and asked a bunch of questions.

Dr. Soronkulov, with his big round moon face, it turns out, is a published poet himself – and while he agreed with me that poets are treated with a lot more respect in the former eastern bloc than they are here in the good ole u-s of a, he was quick to let me know they are still traditionally indigent. He also told me he thought that bringing artists into the classroom was a really good idea and that he found my lecture invaluable. I sincerely hope that this last comment was not a misinterpretation by the translator of “worthless.”

In the end everything turned out great and I arranged for this duo to visit the middle school I was working in the following day and that went without a hitch too. Pretty crazy stuff for some boy from Cleveburgh.


cmcmahon said...

Only you, Salinger, would find yourself in this situation. But that's what makes it so great. You are a freakin' poet clown!!

kathy said...

O wow - an hour-n-a-half presentation to foreign dignitaries - if anyone could pull it off, it's you. I'm sure it went invaluably.

Amy said...

I don't know how you do it...I get an adrenaline rush when I run for--and catch--my bus to work. Your life is so much more interesting...

My favorite words of your post: "traditionally indigent."