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?