Journal entry excerpts from The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley. I am really enjoying this book!
MONDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2000
I am in love with my students. They are bright, fun, curious, receptive.
Today they practice speaking, repeating each sentence after me in
perfect imitation, and I realize with chagrin that these Kosovo Albanian
students are being taught to speak English not only with an American
accent, but with a southern accent! It seems that, even after
twenty-one years in California, my southern drawl is still with me - and
now, with my students! (pg. 51)
Haha! I can totally see this happening if I were teaching ESL! Samer
would consider it great, I think. He actually wishes sometimes that I
had a heavier southern accent if you can imagine!
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2000
...And here is the key distinction, I've found, between Kosovar students
and American students: American students study in order to secure
lucrative jobs and a sense of individual achievement. Kosovo Albanians
study so they can provide for their families - their parents, siblings,
and grandparents, as well as any future family they will have. Education
is a family goal, not an individual goal. (pg. 115)
A few entries later the author talks about how shocked her students are
when told that American teens often study far from their families and
get jobs hundreds of miles away. Families are very important to
Albanians and they cannot imagine this. When "Teacher" reminds them
that many of their relatives are in Western Europe working, they counter
that they do this to send money back home, but their main goal is to
return to be near their parents and siblings.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2001
At the bottom of Dragodan at an intersection close to the railway
tracks, there's a sign that proudly proclaims: "This Corner Cleaned Up
by UNMIK." The signpost itself is invisible because of the mountains of
rubbish piled around it. The trash of kitchens, offices, and shops
surrounds the sign and spills over into the street.
There's a basic cultural misunderstanding on this corner. UNMIK,
wishing to set an example for the community, cleaned up the site and
erected the sign to show what could be done. The community took the sign
to mean that UNMIK would clean up whatever garbage they dumped there.
Thus, the messiest corner in the city. (pg. 171)
This just struck me funny. Cultural misunderstandings often are (and
sometimes not, of course!) Oh, the people just pile trash outside.
Apparently there are mounds of it to wade through to go anywhere.
THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2001
As Leonard and I walk from the Monaco Café to the school today, I ask
him: "Leonard, how is it that people here can always tell I am an
American? Even before I open my mouth, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, people
on the street can see that I am from the U.S." I've been puzzled about
this for a long while.
"That is easy, Teacher," he says. "You are not afraid."
I don't understand.
"Teacher" - he eyes me carefully, not wanting to insult me - "you think
that because you like everyone, everyone will like you. You show
everyone a friendly face, a face that trusts. You don't think anyone
would hurt you. Everyone knows that is how Americans are."
"Here in Kosova," he continues, "we have learned to be afraid. Americans have not learned this lesson." (pg. 182)
I remember when Samer and I were early in our friendship and I made a
short video on my camera. Initially he told me if I came to Syria, I
would blend right in with the locals because not all Syrians have dark
hair and eyes and olive skin. (Since that area has had so many
conquerors that have left their marks, the people can vary in skin, eye
and hair color.) So he told me until I open my mouth and reveal my
English-speaking talk, they would probably think I was local.
But then he saw a video where I was introducing myself to a few of his
college friends and he changed his mind completely. He said there was
something about me - my body language (although the video was mostly a
head-and-shoulders shot), my facial expression, my voice, something - that said "you are not Syrian!" He said later that my eyes sparkled. And Syrian eyes did not so much.
His friend "Jake" also thought I could pass for Syrian. He'd always seen
the still-shot of me that I had on Skype or Facebook or somewhere! But
when he came with Samer to pick me up from the airport, he was amazed
that I did not look Syrian at all and was very American-looking
(whatever that means!)
What are your thoughts or impressions of any of this? This book is
great, by the way. Makes me want to learn more about that area of the
world and the people and conflicts. I have been sorely ignorant.