"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Four Journal Entries

Journal entry excerpts from The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley. I am really enjoying this book!


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! 


...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.


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.


As Leonard and I walk from the Monaco CafĂ© 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. 


Unknown said...

These are all so interesting. I especially like the bit on how Americans express ourselves differently, being more open. It also sort of makes me curious how I would be seen. I always feel scared of other people and so assume my face would be less friendly and trusting, but probably still more so than in other countries like this. Hmm.

Also, the southern accent ESL is adorable. I think that would be a great way to learn it. It also reminds me of one of the students at my mom's school. She's a little girl from...somewhere I do not remember, actually. But she learned to speak English from someone with a British accent, and when she came over here and started attending school, she claimed she couldn't understand a word anybody said with our funny accents! :D I never would have thought it would make such a difference...although I also think my friend from Maine talks funny and have no idea what she's saying when she slips into her east coast accent.

Thanks for sharing!

Susanne said...

Thanks for your feedback! I always love what you have to say. :) Oh, yes, I knew someone from Maine several years ago and I know what you mean about those accents! Haha! Thanks for reminding me. Now I have a big grin on my face. :D

How cute about the girl at your mom's school who couldn't understand our funny accents! :D

I thought the bit about how Americans were perceived was interesting! Now this took place 10 years ago so maybe we are different now. Based on how much fearmongering is on the news now and our reactions to "terrorists" hiding around every bush, I'd say we are a lot MORE fearful and less trusting than Leonard made it out to be in this book.

Thanks again!

Wafa said...

sounds like an amazing book.

I could relate to working so they can help my family. I studied to get a good job not for the sake of the job itself- i am still not that fond of teaching- but to be able to help my family. And thankfully I manage, even my mom keep saying it. Here, responsibilities goes from one to another, parents take care of children and when children grow up they do the same for their families. And to be honest, i consider anyone who has a job and doesn't help his family especially the parents a selfish one, i mean among our society. Plus I do the same with some of my students when their mothers complain about them want to leave school by encouraging them to push hard, study and go on to get a job and help themselves first-cuz I do believe that career is kind of insurance- and to help their parents and move them from poor to at least middle class. I think parents deserve that. But sadly most kids these days are either selfish or lack ambition!!

Susanne said...

Wafa', yay, I love to hear from you! Thanks for chiming in on that topic. It's funny because today while I was running errands around town (got new books!), I was listening to a CD of my preacher. He was talking about our society and how dependent we'd become on the government taking care of us. He said children are supposed to take care of their parents when they are old and parents naturally take care of their children when young. I think that IS ideal and how God meant it to be. But selfishness and maybe too much individualism has perhaps permeated things and now people live only (mostly) for themselves and hoard things and dont' help. Of course I'm generalizing because there are MANY generous people, but I do think this mentality has contributed to society's ills. :-/

Thank you so much for chiming in on this topic. It's always a joy to hear from you and I hope you are well! :)

Suroor said...

Cute and interesting! This was so much fun. Thanks for sharing them :)

Susanne said...

Thanks for reading! :)

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I definitely think Americans stand out. In a group setting I can usually tell who's American and who's European, just by body language. Americans tend to use "bigger" body language, and are not afraid to take up space in a room, they have a more confident air about them.

As for the accent, just a funny piece of information, I pick up accents very easily, but I do it unconsciously, so I can't fake accent. With my first bf I had an Irish accent (cause he lived in Ireland and was half Irish / half English), then I dad an Australian guy and developed an Aussie touch, then with my ex I spend so much time in the US (and although he was Pakistani, he had an American accent) people started complaining about my "horrible" American accent.

Susanne said...

Horrible accent? Really? That's funny. I do think some American accents are rather horrible. I heard one today in fact. Some gal from the North. Ugh.

I pick up accents easily too, but i've not dated a variety of guys like you have so my accent has stayed basically southern. :)