Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Nearly Break Fast Time

Indulge me, will you? One more anti-religious rant, and then I’ll lay off for a while, OK?

Ramadan ends tomorrow, or maybe Friday, I don’t think we know yet. Not that it impinged on me much. My Algerian students have had classes starting at nine instead of ten for the duration, and since they cannot have lunch and I usually skip it anyway, we do four hours straight through and I’m on the 13.17 back home twice a week. It has more lasting effect on them, of course. The fasting is exhausting, especially towards the end of the month. My Monday class was possibly the worst lesson I have ever taught, the five students somnolent and uninvolved. Nothing I did could raise a bat-squeak of interest, and getting rid of them at midday was like removing stones from my shoes.

You never bloody learn, do you, I chuntered to myself as I reviewed the mornings proceedings, or lack of. I had tried to make it interesting, and that often doesn’t go down well. If I had photocopied a stack of grammar exercises, they would have sat there and ploughed through them in silence and called on me whenever necessary, and I might just have been useful now and then. However, I had found a reading passage about possible advances in medicine in the near future, and the sort of moral dilemmas these might give rise to, completely forgetting that this lot don’t do dilemmas, they just know.

The lead-in consisted of a series of possible medical break-throughs such as:

A vaccination against AIDS.
An average life expectancy of over 100 years.
The cloning of human beings.

against which the students had to write a number, 1, 2, or 3, meaning:

1. I think this happens already.
2. I think this will happen in the future.
3. I don’t think this will ever happen.

Then the reactions were discussed.

‘No vaccination against AIDS, ever,’ Sa'ad said with finality.

‘Why not?’ I asked, patiently. As if I didn't know. It’s my job, you see, to make people talk. It’s also part of my job to get them to think a bit too, if I can. Today, I had some students rank a series of factors that contributed to their quality of life from most to least important. Most put ‘health’ first.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because it’s the most important.’ Cédric said. Right... but this is a university, mate, and lowly as it may be in the league tables, we do expect you to go a bit beyond that sort of tautology. You’ll get used to us. Anyway, back to Sa'ad and his certainty about the AIDS vaccination.

‘Because AIDS is not an illness,’ he said. ‘It’s a curse on bad people who do bad things.’

Allah will not allow the discovery of a vaccine, obviously, as it would interfere with his tormenting of the libidinous. Sa'ad had at least unfolded his arms and stopped staring pointedly out of the window, in order to formulate a well-phrased reason for his opinion, but I wanted to wring his neck nevertheless.

‘God is OK with syphilis and gonorrhea, then?’ I asked, less politely than I might have.

He shrugged, meaning, no point your debating it, infidel.

The godly seem so attached to pain and suffering, do they not? Anaesthetics were opposed by the devout when they were new, on the grounds that administering them was interfering with God’s will: likewise vaccines and antibiotics. When lightning rods were a novelty, they too were held by some to be impious, since they deprived The Lord of one of his favourite means of zapping the unrighteous. Odd that those who defended The Lord’s will in this way didn’t stop to reflect that an omnipotent God could by definition zap whomsoever He would, yea, with most grievous zappings, and wouldn’t let some bit of man-made gimcrackery interfere with His target practice. If he decided to, he could inflict all the boils and chancres and vile suppurations he chose. Why the hell does he fart-arse about with viruses, then, knowing modern man can alleviate, if not always cure, the afflictions they cause? We never got onto that.

The Algerians also dismissed the possibility that the average human life expectancy would ever reach 150 years, on the not unpredictable grounds that God might not permit this either. Like an irritating six-year old, I asked why again. Had not life expectancy in the west doubled in the last 500 years or so? Why shouldn’t it go on increasing? Nobody seemed impressed.

‘God does what he wants,’ said Amer, employing the usual jade's trick of the devout. A long silence ensued. I looked at my mobile, saw it was twenty to one, and decided to put the lesson out of its misery. OK, everybody fuck off.

I hope after a weekend of resting and feeding up, they will return next Monday in a more positive frame of mind, but remind me not to get onto subjects such as... well, I dunno. If God decides everything, what's left to talk about?


Holly said...

This reminds me of a certain girl at my high school who asked "Why should we have to learn Spanish or other languages when God spoke English?"

Vilges Suola said...

Well, it all goes to show how wrong you can be. One Muslim student told a colleague that there are authenticated instances of non-Arabic speakers spontaneously breaking into recitation from the Quran, or suddenly being granted the ability to read Arabic, thus proving that Arabic is God's own language. He was about to start a Master's in Linguistics, God help us.

Rob said...

You know, I've never really been impressed by Ramadan fasting. All you have to do is skip lunch - it's not really fasting, is it? If you're allowed to drink water and smoke all day long too, then it's even easier. And then you get to eat as much as you like at the end of each day. Have I missed something?

Deiniol said...

I really really do not know how you have the patience to deal with this kind of thing. I would have smacked Nouri one: let alone your potential MA in Linguistics.

(word verification most apropos: dementsi)

Vilges Suola said...

Rob, this is a typical kuffar LIE, death to those who spread untruth! No, you may not drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset, or listen to music, or engage in sexual congress or solitary pleasures, which anyway are haram at any time. I think it's the attack on the metabolism from alternating starvation and dehydration with overindulgence and lack of sleep that causes the concentration problems.

Deiniol, I just exercise great restraint. 'Nouri' leaves us on the 15th of next month, and will not be missed.

Bo said...

What a bunch of twats!

Rob said...

No drinking - I see - that is more difficult, yes. Also, on reflection, I suppose 30 days of skipping lunch would get a bit tiresome.

Vilges Suola said...

Bo, indeed they were on Monday. With 'Nouri' it's a permanent condition. With the others it's just the lack of food and water.

Rob, Allah has opened your heart and mind!

Q. Pheevr said...

"I think this happens already"?

Really? Not "I think this is happening already" or "I think this has happened already"? Maybe you can't fully inure them to the wicked ways of Western society, but they should at least see a bit of English T&A (by which I mean, of course, tense and aspect).

Vilges Suola said...

There were ten statements in the coursebook, and you could argue whether present simple or continuous, present perfect simple or continuous, or 'will' future were possible for each 'reaction', but since this was a lead-in discussion to a reading skills lesson, and the required response was just to write 1, 2 or 3 next to each statement, I didn't want to waste what might amount to the better part of an hour analysing the grammatical possibilities when vocabulary and fluency followed by detailed reading were the aims. As well as knowing what tense and aspect are, I also know when it's relevant to dwell on them or not.

Q. Pheevr said...

"As well as knowing what tense and aspect are, I also know when it's relevant to dwell on them or not."

I certainly didn't intend to imply that you don't, and I'm sorry if what I said came across that way; the coursebook's choice of the simple present just struck me as oddly unidiomatic.

Vilges Suola said...

@Q, I'm sorry, I was being too touchy: I've obviously developed my own case of the Ramadan rattiness. One of the statements is 'cosmetic surgery to make your hands look younger'. To that one 'I think 'this happens already' does fit. I suppose the responses could have been simplified to 'now' / 'future' / 'never'.

Fionnchú said...

Agreed that "this happens already" is a bit off to the ear but grammatically fine. Agreed that the conjunction of AIDS as an example and Ramadan's odd start-stop fast-binge must play hell on your ascetic indulgers. Agreed that this inspired another great entry.

Vilges Suola said...

Really, it isn't off to my ear. 'Cosmetic surgery for the hands' 'This happens already' sounds fine to me, in the context of ticking off a list of such items.

Today is Eid, so there will be no Muslims in today. I hope they come back on Monday in a more biddable frame of mind. Glad you enjoyed the post.


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