Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 5)

I have tutored almost every day this last week! The shifts have been short, but rewarding. A few times, I wound up with four students at once, instead of the maximum three. The students are of varying ages and grade levels, each with their own lesson plan, so four of them at a time requires serious juggling. In the flurry of helping with reading assignments, writing assignments, and quizzes, I regretfully did not get as much one-on-one time to chat (I mean, “practice conversational skills”) with the kids as I like.

Somehow, I still managed to hear about one young student’s weekend plans to go catch crabs at the beach with his family! He described how the last time he and his family went crab hunting, they didn’t go very far out into the water. This weekend, they plan to go much deeper into the water. He stressed how important it is to not kick up the sand in the water when you’re looking for crabs, otherwise you can’t see them. He said to catch the crabs, they wear the kind of gloves that are worn for feeding eagles. He might have been thinking of falcons, since falconry is huge here, but then again, this kid is one smart cookie and I know nothing about crab hunting.

A different boy, probably around 8 years old and very soft spoken, was working on rhyming patterns. For example, in the word “dust,” the rhyming pattern is “ust.” Words that rhyme with “dust” will also have “ust”: trust, just, must, bust, rust. In this instance, I even let students make nonsense rhyming words like pust, gust, wust, zust, just as long as they “get” it. This little guy had to find a rhyme for “duck.” We identified the rhyming pattern as “uck.” I’m sure you see where this is going. I knew there was a small chance it would end explicitly, but figured with TWENTY SIX LETTERS IN THE ENGLISH ALPHABET, SURELY THE KID WOULD NOT PICK THE LETTER F TO MAKE A WORD THAT RHYMES WITH DUCK.

With his big, brown eyes looking right into mine, he innocently, and oh-so-articulately said,

“Fuck.”

I mentally cursed whoever made that stupid workbook before telling him that yes, that rhymes, but let’s think of a different one!

Another boy I worked with has a passion for sharks. When he is instructed to write sentences incorporating new vocabulary words, he writes sentences about sharks. When he is supposed to be reading, he draws sharks. I think it’s great that he is so interested in marine life and art. Good for you, kid! However, his parents would probably not be thrilled to discover the pretty pennies they are paying toward his after school English lessons are funding Shark Sketching 101. He and I made a deal: if he would stay on task with his assignments, the last 5 minutes could be spent on drawing sharks. When the hour was over, he gave me his masterpiece!

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A different hour, one bubbly student mentioned how much he loves to sing. Sadly, he thinks his choir teacher hates him. He says that when he sings, she yells at him, and when he’s not singing, she yells at him. He doesn’t like to sing at school any more.

One of my favorite local students, a young boy wearing the traditional white thobe with the white scarf (“ghutra“) on his head, struggled to read one of his assignments. A confident, witty kid with a great sense of humor, he’s actually a decent reader. This particular day, however, he was not interested in his assignments, so he wasn’t really trying. He made some comment about not wanting or needing to read, so I asked him what he planned to do when he’s 25 years old and needs to read something.

His reply: “I will pay you!”

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There’s never a dull moment with these kids!

Now, it’s Friday, and with J in India, I’ve had the whole day to myself. At the moment, the sunset (“maghrib“) call to prayer (“adhan“) is resonating from the nearby mosque.

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Men gathered at the mosque down the street – Sunset, Nov. 4

It’s good to have a day to recharge. I’ll be back to the books tomorrow!

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My First Massage Ever: Bulgarian Hotel Basement Style

The day before Halloween, I caught J’s flight to Sofia, Bulgaria!

Hotel view

Hotel view

Stepping out of the airport and into Sofia’s cool autumn air was immediately invigorating. The stuffiness of the hot, dusty desert was nowhere to be found.

I should have been satisfied with the crisp, feel-good air. But no. After we checked into the hotel, I decided I wanted a massage.

I had never received a real massage before. The top two reasons for this are 1.) I don’t like being ripped off (paying to be touched feels very rip-off-esque to me), and 2.) I don’t like strangers touching me. Strangers touching me makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll talk all day with someone I’ve just met, but that someone had better stay out of my bubble.

Since J gets a discount at the hotel spa, I figured it was time to try this massage thing I hear so many people rave about. We called down to the spa and scheduled our 45 min massages. I’d be the Guinea pig and go first, then come back up to the room and get ready for dinner while J got his.

With only 15 minutes to get ready, I had no idea what to wear. I decided on black work-out capris (the ones that have seen more time on the couch than on a treadmill) and a t-shirt. I waited anxiously in the glass elevator as it descended from the sunlit top floors of the hotel to the underground darkness of Floor -2.

The elevator doors opened across from a contemporary looking, dimly lit sitting area with a counter. Nobody was at the counter, so I waited around a minute before being greeted by the only spa employee I would see that day. The dark haired, middle aged lady was dressed in what appeared to be white spandex leggings and an equally tight, white V-neck shirt. I’m not sure what kind of attire I was expecting the massage therapist to be wearing – maybe scrubs? maybe a polo shirt and slacks? maybe something a little more professional?

She handed me a big, blue bathrobe and a pair of disposable hotel slippers, pointed to a dark room and told me to go change. Through the dark room, I found a changing room/bathroom, where I changed in a hurry and wondered if it is only in America that we worry about the privacy aspect of things like etched glass doors with no locks – or maybe it’s just me?

Holding the beltless bathrobe around me, I shuffled back to the spa counter and The Woman in White led me to the massage room. It was a very small, very warm room, dimly lit, but not dim enough that I couldn’t see the Bulgarian lotto scratch-off ticket next to the massage table. Is that normal!? Are these things normal?! I tried to imagine a scenario in which a massage therapist brought a scratch-off ticket into the massage room. Did she really not have enough time to scratch it off on the way to work? Not even at the front desk? Was it somebody’s lucky day in the massage room!?

Then, The Woman in White wanted my bathrobe. I kind of thought she might turn around to allow me some privacy, but obviously this was my mistake, because she wanted the robe and she wanted it now! I hesitated, and she laughed, asking me where I’m from. I thought about saying, “I JUST CAME FROM A MUSLIM COUNTRY WHERE I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOW ANYTHING BETWEEN MY KNEES AND SHOULDERS SO CUT ME SOME SLACK IF I’M A LITTLE SLOW TO GET BUCK NAKED IN FRONT OF YOU!” but I just said, “USA.” The Lady in White laughed and said, “You look like Italian lady!” It seems there really is no place outside of the US where I will ever look American…

Before handing over the bathrobe, I tried explaining “breast implants.” Yes, I have breast implants. No, I don’t like to lie on them. Why not? Because ew gross, and I am afraid they are going to shoot out my sides, and ew gross again. Anyway, “breast implants” does not translate very well, so there was a moment of comical hand gestures and awkward laughing and I finally just gave her that stupid blue bathrobe and got on the table. She gave me a few towels to stack up and create an “airbag moat,” and the massage – the one I waited 27 years to receive – began.

The sweet scent of citrus oil was overshadowed by what sounded like a classic adult film soundtrack  playing in the background while The Lady in White smacked her gum from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. For all I knew, there was a giant bowl of Rice Krispies flying around the room, snap-crackle-and-poppin’ as loud as The Lady in White pushed hard, much like a car with a stereo playing louder the faster it goes. Porno jams and Rice Krispies eventually teamed up with a squeaky booger, so that 45 minutes later, The Lady in White informed me I never really relaxed and maybe I should just get a head massage next time.

When I got back to the hotel room, I laughingly told J about my experience, and wished him luck in his 45 minutes of Bulgarian bliss! When he returned from the spa, I asked him what he thought. He reported, “I’m glad it was cheap… she looked like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys… I just, I dunno… I dunno if I like massages any more…”

Although I won’t likely do it again, I’m glad to have finally tried a massage, even if it was in a Bulgarian hotel basement.

What is the craziest massage experience you’ve had?