I left work last Monday feeling quite cheerful because I was pretty sure I wouldn't need to teach Sa'ad again. He’s a petulant little know-all of thirty-five going on sixteen. He speaks pretty good English but has the infuriating custom of cracking jokes in Arabic to the other members of the group, who then respond in Arabic, with the result that I often feel rather like a TV set in the corner of a bar, there to be watched or ignored depending on whatever competing stimuli might present themselves. Attending English lessons and speaking in Arabic for their duration is pretty silly, I tell them. It’s like paying for a big meal in a restaurant and sneaking out without eating it. I’ve been trotting out this analogy for years. All analogies break down at some point, I suppose, and maybe I haven’t examined this one sufficiently for cracks. Sa’ad at least has not found it particularly telling.
What was I on about? Yes, Sa’ad’s departure. It has been postponed, and he will be with us until the end of the month. I had been told that today he would be away for a medical, and rejoiced at the news, but somebody got the date wrong, and there he was. Sigh. Why do I let these individuals get to me, I wondered. Old-time school-masterly thoughts come to mind: ‘any sign of trouble, find the ring-leader and jolly well crush ‘im’, but it’s too late, and Sa’ad’s low-key sneeriness is rubbing off onto some other members of the group, though fortunately not all.
The first task today was a lead-in to a reading text which required the students to look at a bunch of statements and separate them into facts and opinions. For some of those present, this was a novel idea. After all, if you have Sa’ad’s mindset, ‘my opinion’ equals ‘fact’ and that’s all there is to it. After allowing time for cerebration, I asked Mahdi to chair a discussion.
‘OK,’ he said, ‘for sentence number one I get opinion. You?’
‘Opinion’ they said.
I was about to screech ‘WHY?’, but Mahdi was moving on.
‘For two, I get fucked. Do you get fucked?’
‘Do you get fucked with the next one?’
I couldn’t help it, I should have corrected his pronunciation, but I just fell about, and on realizing what I was laughing at, so did everyone else. After that brief jollity, it was back to the usual level of discussion and participation where it’s like pulling teeth or using benzocaine cream as a sex lubricant. OK, analogies break down, but you get the idea.
I’m going to Greece for a week the day after tomorrow, for a desperately needed change of scenery. Sa'ad and crew are someone else's problem next Monday.
Τα λέμε αργότερα.