Monday, December 29, 2008

Update on Mohamed

I just checked up on the latest about Mohamed. I stopped at his store on my way home from work & spoke to his son, who broke his hand trying to jump over the counter to catch the ... individual. (It's hard to come up with a printable term for someone who would do such a thing.) The docs haven't been able to remove the bullet from Mohamed yet because it's lodged so close to the spine. As of now, Mohamed can't move his legs. It's going to take an MRI to find out if it's just *near* the spinal cord or *in* it. That will determine a lot. But right now they are trying to keep him still to see if the fluid buildup will drop so they can safely move him just to do the MRI.

Ihab (the son) is still totally shell-shocked. He said he'd be closing early tonight; I hope the flow of well-wishers slows enough so he can actually do it. Derek's going to go over there tomorrow to keep him company and help him out, since Ihab's trying to run the place alone, which isn't safe at the best of times, and certainly not a great idea when one is worried, nervous and unable to use one's right hand.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A very bad thing and a very good person

Hello, all --

This is to ask for your prayers, good wishes, bright thoughts and/or any healing energy you could send for a really nice person who is in the hospital right now.

Last night we heard a lot of police & ambulance sirens very close to the house. Derek went out to see what it was. When he got back, he told me that there had been an armed robbery at the convenience store just a couple of blocks away from us. The owner (73 years old, and one of the nicest people you could want to know) had been shot in the arm, and the bullet pierced his chest. Those of you who are in Columbus may already have heard the story on the news.

At least one of us (Derek and/or me) pops into the Clintonville Market more or less weekly. Mohamed (the owner) is always cheerful and friendly. When I go in, Mohamed & I always chat for a few minutes, and he never fails to ask about Derek. When Derek goes there, I can pretty well assume that he won’t be back for at least half an hour, because if the shop isn’t busy, the two of them will talk.

Derek happened to pop in the day Mohamed got his U.S. citizenship. Mohamed was so happy to have become a U.S. citizen; he showed Derek his citizenship certificate with such pride.

One day when I mentioned to Mohamed that the shop had run out of a certain type of incense I really liked, it was back on the shelf within a week, and it’s been there ever since.

Once when I was there, a large, tattooed, leather-clad biker-type was in line ahead of me. I had a moment of nervousness for the small and gentle Mohamed -- and found out I was totally wrong when the customer got to the counter and a grin lit up his face.

“Hey, Mohamed! How ya doin’, man?”

There’s always a collection box on the counter to help a pet rescue organization.

And some bastard shot him last evening.

I stopped there today to drop off a card for him. The store was closed, but I left our card along with a number of other notes and a bouquet of flowers people had left.

The largest note on the door -- probably from his son -- said that Mohamed’s condition was now listed as fair. It was previously critical, so I am taking comfort in that.

This kind of thing shouldn’t happen to anyone. Not anyone -- but somehow, especially not someone who brings cheer just with his smile and his hello. Someone who was so proud of obtaining his U.S. citizenship (and was shot, apparently, by someone who was born here). Someone who works so hard every day, even at the age of 73. Someone who inspires a neighborhood to drop off flowers, cards and notes at his shop.

I am finding it very hard not to wish that when the ... individual ... is caught, he would be turned over to the customers for the administration of justice. I imagine, though, that they’ll do it in the traditional fashion.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring.

Top three for this term

I’ve finally finished going through my ESL100 papers from this term. Unfortunately, since I was sick, it took a little longer than I intended.

The following are the top three sentences from the final compositions and final exams this term. There may be a few more as I do a little more marking on their papers before I return them to the students (*sigh* -- by mail, since I couldn’t possibly have gotten them all completely marked before the end of the term, even without having been sick. Oh, well. C’est la vie.)

#1 -- “The beaches in Hawaii are better than in San Francisco for their qualities and free pollution.”
(The pollution is FREE in Hawaii?? Wow!!)

#2 -- “The water is very cold and has deadly cuts in it.”
(I hate it when I injure myself on sharp shards of water.)

#3 -- “To be late for marriage is a good decision.”
(The topic of the composition had to do with marrying young vs. marrying later in life. However, I can think of a number of instances in which arriving too late for the ceremony might have been a good idea.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Huh???

Just got a call from our registration office with the "HUH???" of the day. (Or possibly just the first "HUH???" of the day.)

A student came in saying that he had paid for a class last April, but was now getting collections letters saying that he hadn't paid. Our system showed that indeed he owed the money, and S. asked him to bring a bank statement proving that he'd paid.

He responded that he had paid in that office by cash (that office doesn't take cash), and that he would bring his bank statement to prove it.

HUH???

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the past 20 hours ...

... I received the following work-related calls:
  • 11:30 a.m. yesterday -- Instructor T's car was rear-ended (probably totaled). He'll be OK, but wouldn't be able to be in class.
  • 12:00 p.m. yesterday -- Instructor B had a sudden death in her immediate family.
  • 6:45 a.m. today -- Co-worker K's car was towed from its proper parking spot (again).
  • 7:15 a.m. today -- Co-worker T's car broke down on the road, and she was stuck (and freezing) waiting for her husband.
  • After I got in the office (7:45 a.m.), my phone rang. It was instructor M. I answered the phone with, "Hi. If this isn't good news, I don't want to hear it!"
Fortunately, he was just stuck in traffic and was letting me know he'd be a little late. That one's easy.
I thought they said crises came in THREES!?!?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November

Oh, May has pleasant breezes
That brush dust from the floors.
But I look to November;
Whose winds beat at the doors.

April mints her timid leaves
And small, green buds unfold,
But my trees freely spend their wealth
In a frantic rush of gold.

And June's a dainty, flirting lass
With her roses and sweet song.
But you can't seduce November;
She just laughs and moves along.

tlnw 11-06-05

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some (very) minor statistics from the 2008 campaign

I don't know about anyone else, but we got loads of campaign flyers and brochures in the mail this election season. On Oct. 14 (a little less than 3 weeks from Election Day), I decided to keep them and tally them after the election, just to see if anything interesting showed itself.

Here is what we got in that short period of time:

PRO/ANTI     TOPIC or CANDIDATE   (# received)
PRO                   Full Democratic ticket     (2)
PRO                   State school board candidate  (1)
ANTI                 State issue 6   (4 -- all different)
PRO                   Republican State Senate candidate  (1)
PRO                   Local issues 27 and 28  (1)

ANTI                 Democratic presidential candidate  (1)
PRO                  Democratic presidential candidate  (2)
ANTI                 Republican presidential candidate   (13 -- all different!)

ANTI                 Republican U.S. Congress candidate  (7 -- all different)
ANTI                 Democratic U.S. Congress candidate  (26 -- 3 pairs and the rest all different)

ANTI                 Democratic State Rep. candidate  (5 -- all different)
PRO                   Democratic State Rep. candidate  (22 -- 5 + 4 + 5 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2)
ANTI                 Republican State Rep. candidate  (8 -- 4 + 3 + 1)
PRO                   Republican State Rep. candidate   (5 -- 2 + 1 + 1 + 1)

The PRO ones for either Democrats or Republicans tended to be warm and fuzzy with pictures of smiling families, complete with children and dogs. 

A lot of the ANTI ones were incredibly nasty -- the kind of thing that one might get in trouble for in the second grade. 

I'm not sure what this says, except what everyone already knows. The campaign was full of destructive appeals to emotion. Very, very sad. 

On the bright side, instead of recycling those mailers one at a time, I now have the pleasure of hearing the thump as they all hit the recycling container at once. Absolutely the best place for them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A little irony

As I was grading compositions for my ESL class Friday evening, I discovered three cases of plagiarism, in which the students had copied and pasted information from articles found on the Internet.

The irony here is that the composition topic was effects of the Internet on education, which included the fact that a lot of students are using the Internet to cheat.

AAAUUGGHH!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mistakes from our Spanish students - Part 2

Continuing ...

"Juan vive con su hermano paso." (...step brother) [From Gilberto S.]

"Yo bebo Coca-Cola, refrescos y el gustar." (...and the like.)

"Zedilla carne López." (Zedilla meets López -- another homophone.)

Description of a dance step that uses "el dedo y el curar" (the toe and the heel -- yet another homophone)

"El sol fue culo las nubes." (..behind...) [From Jala P.]

"El profesor es querer decir." (The professor is mean.)

"Compro un poder de frijoles." (...can of beans.) [From Ana S.]

Mistakes from our Spanish students - Part 1

Years ago, when I regularly taught Spanish, I started collecting the most amusing mistakes made by my students and by those of my co-workers. Just as a lot of advanced-ESL errors in papers come from overreliance on the spellchecker, a lot of mistakes at the beginning Spanish level come from misuse of the dictionary -- mostly from using the wrong Spanish translation for an English homonym. (For example, in Spanish, the hole in the ground from which one take coal is a "mina"; the pronoun expressing that something belongs to me is "mío". In English the word for both is "mine".)

Here is my collection of the best (?) mistakes, previously kept on 3x5 cards, awaiting their day in the sun.

"Me gusta el estacionamiento porque es cerrar." [I like the parking because it is close.)

Local baseball team: "Columbus Tijeras de Podar" (Columbus Clippers) [From Daniel C.]

Regarding the need to wear warm clothes in winter: "porque puede dejar caer a bajos adolescentes a tiempos" (because it can drop to the low teens at times) [From Daniel C.]

"Deseo tener una familia grande con tres cabritos." (I want to have a large family with three kids.) [From Tim F.]

"El Salvador mentiras between Nicaragua and Honduras. (...lies...)

En Cuba la fiesta comunista gobierna el país."

"Mis tíos están construyendo una casa este caída." (...this fall)

"Los productos importantes de Argentina ... incluyen ... planchar." (...iron)

"La Ciudad de México es la mayúscula de México." (...capital...)

"Khadafi restos a grande." (Khadafi remains at large.) [From Jala P.]

"Fui a un raro." (I went to a bazaar [bizarre] -- in this case it's a homophone rather than a homonym.) [From Lisa W.]

More to come ...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Heard on NPR

As I was listening to NPR the other day, I heard a verb form I'd never heard before. A woman was talking about something she wasn’t sure how to do, but she did it anyway. How did she manage? “I completely wung it.”

Sure, it sounds silly, but what are the alternatives? Winged it? Wang it? Is "to wing it" possibly a verb that doesn’t have a past-tense form?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Basil

Recently one of my instructors asked me if I wanted any black swallowtail butterflies still in their chrysalisieses — their chrysalieses — still in their shells. 

Lina (the instructor) and her daughters had found oodles of them in their garden. She had offered them to the science teacher at her daughter's school, thinking it would be a great science project — to watch them break free, dry their wings and then get set free by loving children. 

Nope. Not a chance.

The response from the teacher? "We don't allow living things in our classroom." 

Honest and truly. No joke. 

While that attitude is pathetic on a number of levels, this post isn't about something sad. This post is about Basil. 

I put Lina in touch with our refugee/immigrant afterschool program, and they were thrilled for the opportunity for the kids. When Lina brought in the fetal butterflies for the afterschool program, she brought a special one for me. Instead of attaching itself to a plant stem, this one had attached itself to a plant identification stake in her herb garden. The stake was labeled "Basil". Therefore, we named my fetal butterfly Basil. 



Basil hung out (literally) on his stake next to the window in my office. I waited.
And waited.
And waited.

I was beginning to be very afraid that there wasn't any Basil in there. 

Then one morning I got to work and the chrysalis was empty except for some brown liquid. 

BUT WHERE WAS BASIL???


Finally I saw him, hanging perfectly still on a power cord. As I was staring at him, he spread his wings as if to say, "Look at me. I am soooooo beautiful!" 

Flo and I caught him, took him outside, told him we loved him and set him free to flutter off into the shrubs. It was a wonderful, magical moment.

I stand corrected

I sent the write-up about the bidders' conference to the head of our grants office, who was there as well. She was good enough to let me know that according to recent changes in federal guidelines, in states east of the Mississippi, the ferret must be a male. 

It's great to work with real professionals! 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stress


Sharon (in our registration office) found this yesterday while she was cleaning her desk. In case it's not immediately obvious (it probably wouldn't be immediately obvious even if I'd taken the picture with something better than my cellphone camera), it used to be a blue stress ball -- y'know, one of those small, softish objects that one is supposed to squeeze to relieve stress. 

Well, I guess this little fella proves that around here, sometimes even the stress balls have meltdowns!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The trials of seeking funding

One of the challenges of being in the nonprofit/education field is the continual need to look for funding from any possible source — private foundations, government agencies, companies ... whatever. For us, a large source of funding has been service contracts with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services. Every time a new RFP (Request for Proposals) is made available, they have a bidders' conference in which they go through all the details of the requirements. And since this is federal funding (in the case of the county DJFS, at least), there are a LOT of them. 

Today was one such bidders' conference (four — count 'em, four! – hours), and it was my eighth or ninth in regard to county funding since I've been in this job. Therefore, I'd heard a lot of the information before, but there was just enough new detail that one couldn't just zone out. 

Unfortunately, mid-afternoon is not my best time for an extended attention span, even though I did have my coffee at hand. So this is what I wrote during one part of the presentation:

A week is defined as a period of seven consecutive days  [NOTE: The preceding is actually a really-truly quote — word for word — from the presentation.]  for those who have resided in two-parent households for under six months in the case of individuals over the age of 18 whose surnames begin with A-M or for those who have resided in single-parent or group homes for more than a year, unless their surnames begin with N-Y and they have freckles. These individuals are eligible for core activities during one of the weeks (as defined above) if and only if there is a full moon within the past 15 days of the application date during an month with an "r" in it.

If, however, the sun is in Aquarius, and if the applicant has two minor children and/or an underage ferret in the household, he/she may participate in core or non-core activities for up to six months. By the end of this period, the applicant needs to provide Franklin County with confirmation of a completed dental exam and a scheduled colorectal exam, which must take place by the end of the federal fiscal year in the case of applicants from the Northern Hemisphere, or by the end of Groundhog Day for all others.


 ... And you know what is even more special? I get to go back for the rest of the bidders' conference TOMORROW!  

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The dangers of the computer spellchecker

Every term, I repeatedly beg my ESL students to turn off the spellchecker on their computers, as it tends to lead to some awful errors. Sure, some of them are pretty funny as well, but that's not the point.

The first problem comes when a student mistypes a word and the spellchecker pops in with a couple of possibilities. The student often will just pick one -- without looking to see what it really means, presumably thinking that the first one must be right. The second is that if the spellchecker doesn't find any errors, the student believes there aren't any and doesn't proofread the paper, forgetting (even when his teacher has talked about it ad nauseam) that the spellchecker won't help if one is using the wrong word spelled correctly.

These two situations lead to errors such as the following (all from real student papers):

"In the winter you should wear worm clothes." (Sounds kind of slimy and uncomfortable)

"She did it with her bear hands." (A serious need for a manicure if I ever heard one!)

"Columbus mare needs ... to reduce crime rate." (Yes, she was referring to His Honor the mayor.)

"The U.S. is the single supper power in the world today."

"The U.S. has become a save heaven for so many people from different part of the world."

I am going to need to come up with some exercises for students to proofread just for spelling. I think I'll start with the above sentences and work from there. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Raccoon and ... shhhhh!

A little while back I mentioned that the raccoon-and-pepper-spray story would have to wait for another day. Well, I won't be telling it here. I have been successfully persuaded (by a bribe in the form of a truly yummy lunch!!) to leave that tail -- er, tale -- out of this forum.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Words that are their own opposites

The announcer for the football game just mentioned that one of the players is favoring his injured shoulder. My husband commented that one would imagine he would favor the one that didn't hurt, as it would be more useful during the game.

That got us onto the subject of words that are their own opposites, such as "favor", which can mean to not use because of injury (i.e., a body part), or to prefer. Those aren't exactly opposites, but pretty close in the circumstance of, say, an injured football player.

The only other two we could come with right away were "inflammable" and "cleave". There may be others, but even just those three provide good examples of why English is such a challenging language.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Warm August night

Late August in Ohio.
It's not too hot, not too humid. It's windows-open weather. (OK, with a fan going, but still, the windows are open, so the cats and I are happy.)

It's been a lovely day, made lovelier by the fact that I had a vacation day today and therefore didn't go to work -- or anyplace else!!

The initial plan (sigh) was that Mom and I were going to go see Uncle John in Pennsylvania (Mom's younger brother), who is not well. Unfortunately, Mom ended up not feeling well enough to make the trip. There was a lot of disappointment from all sides, but that does seem to be the hand we're dealt on occasion.

So yesterday, today & tomorrow are vacation days without a *major* plan to go with them. (With the system we have at work, once you've put in leave paperwork, it's pretty much a done deal. I probably *could* have pulled the paperwork back before it was fully processed, but I had a pile of things I needed/wanted to do around the house, so I went ahead with it -- and I'm SO glad I did!)

Yesterday I ran a number of errands. Today I decided I was going to spend the day at home. Home, home, home. I haven't had a full day at home for over a month. So I was staying home. So there.

All this is leading up to the fact that the next few posts will be the result of the accomplishment of one of the projects that I've been wanting/waiting to do for a terribly long time -- I cleaned out my main file cabinet and the drawers full of papers and articles and notes waiting to be organized, sorted, filed and/or recycled. (Quite a bit is ready for recycling this evening. That is part of tomorrow's projects ... or maybe Saturday's.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Butterscotch!



Our little Butterscotch is now five years old, give or take. 

When we rescued her last year, she was starving and her teeth were in awful shape. The vet guessed her age at about three. We assigned her a birthdate of Aug. 21, since that was the day she became part of our household. 

Today, a week after Butterscotch had to undergo some nasty dental work (from which she is recovering beautifully!), the vet revised the estimate of her age. Instead of celebrating her fourth birthday, we will have five candles in ... well, whatever we might put candles in for her. Maybe we'll just show her a picture of five candles and give her some kitty treats.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Autumn quarter is coming!

WHEE! Just got the word that I'm going to be teaching ESL100 again Autumn quarter. It's been pretty regular for the last couple of years -- I get the Saturday class Spring quarter and Autumn quarter. Since I work full-time in my coordinator position, I can't teach very often, and my schedule means that the Saturday class is my only option. But it's a fun class -- and quite a challenge to plan and carry out, since the class meets on Saturdays for 5 hours.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Don't WHAT?

Seen at a nursing home:

Oxygen in use.

No smoking.

No open flame.

And then below that, a Spanish translation –

Oxígeno en uso. (OK.)

No fumar. (OK.)

No abra llama. (Ummmmm … not OK.)

Even though the reason we were there was very grave, this last bit caused some smiles. Why?

Well, because “No abra llama” does NOT say “No open flame”. It says one of two things, and I must say prefer the second one:

1 – Do not open the flame.

2 – Do not open the llama.

The entire family complied with the sign while we were there. We didn’t open a single llama.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ahhh ... our back yard

Ahhhh ... our back yard. The home of ...
 ... our little veggie garden (which will be bigger next year!)
 ... the mulberry trees (which produced many yummy mulberries this year)
 ... our little quiet place (pictured here)



 ... our very own woodchuck. (?!?!?!)
 
Yes, we appear to have ourselves a woodchuck. However, since he generally chucks weeds (that is, assuming "chuck" is another word for "eat") and not wood, we have named him Weedchuck. 



For some reason, I have always remembered a line from the old "Rhoda" sitcom, when the title character found herself dating a forest ranger: "I wanted a wild life. He gives me wildlife." 
 
Well, we never wanted a wild life. But we do seem to have wildlife. And frankly, I like that WAY better than a wild life. I love the life we have. 

As far as wildlife goes, the raccoon-and-pepper-spray story will have to keep for another day. 


Momcat needs a break


Since the stray momcat and kittens haven't been to the vet, we need to keep them separated from our cats to avoid the transmission of anything ... well, transmissible. This means they are in the bathroom in the basement. The kittens don't have a real problem with this -- although it does appear they are ready to go explore the world -- but clearly, Momcat is more than ready for a break from the 24/7 childcare duty. I think this picture says it all:  

"I've been doing nothing but looking after these kittens for-EVER! I want a margarita, a massage and a pedicure!"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Guinnie being elegant

Before I post any more pix of the momcat and the 3 kittens we still have, I'd better post one of Guinnie before she reads this at some point and gets jealous. (What? You don't think your cat can get into your computer and on the 'net? ... Think again ... )



Sunday, August 3, 2008

Free to Good Home

A couple of weeks ago, we discovered that a stray cat had decided that our garage was a splendid place for a nursery. We came home one evening to discover her and her brood of five (count 'em, FIVE!) kittens (approx. 4 weeks old) in the garage. 

How did they get there? No idea. Walked through the walls, maybe. Some cats can do that, you know. 

It was stiflingly hot there, so we took them to the bathroom in our basement (safe from outdoor threats and quarantined from our four indoor cats). 

We've found homes for two of the kittens, so we're looking for homes for the momcat and the three remaining kittens (two males, one female). Individually or together. 

Just to give you an idea of their adorableness ....





As you can see by this short video, we have a climber on our paws ... er, hands ... er, knees ...

video

A playhouse for our cats


Yesterday I went out to the thrift store that just opened two blocks from our house. What makes this store particularly interesting is that the building was formerly a brothel. (Everybody in the area had known it for years, but it was only recently shut down.) 

As soon as I walked in, I saw a cat playhouse (see picture). It was only $2.00, and light enough to walk home with, so I got it. The cats love it! 

It was only after I got home that I realized ... I bought a cat house at a former cathouse!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Business transactions with a toddler

Yesterday one of our refugee students stopped in to fill out some paperwork to renew her eligibility for our English classes. She happened to bring her two small daughters with her. (I would guess that one was close to three years old and the other was close to two.)
When their Mom went to the outer office to fill out the forms, she left the little ones in my office with me. 

Now, I’m not generally known for my ability to connect well with (human) children who don’t come up much above my knees. (Animal children are a whole different story.)  After all, when I used to have to look after friends’ children from time to time, I would read the kids to sleep with the original (10th-century) version of El Canto del mio Cid, in old Spanish. I figured it was the sound of the poetry that would get them to sleep, rather than any possibility of their understanding of the words. At any rate, it usually worked, so I’d do it again, if it ever happened to be necessary. (And if it’s not necessary, that’s quite all right!)

So … I had these two little girls wandering around my office. I never caught the name of the older one, but the mother had called the younger one Barbara. The older one pointed at one of the photos of our cats and the various pictures and figurines in my office. This is what ensued.

Child: Kitty?
Me: Yes, that’s a kitty.
Child: Mine?
Me: No, it’s mine.

[Child points at another picture. NOTE — As the child moves around my office, the littler one — Barbara — tags after her.]

Child: Kitty?
Me: Yes, that’s a kitty.
Child: Mine?
Me: No, it’s mine.

[Child points at a figurine.]

Child: Kitty?
Me: Yes, that’s a kitty.
Child: Mine?
Me: No, it’s mine.

<>
[Child points at another picture.]

Child: Dragon?
Me: Yes, that’s a dragon. Very good!
Child: Mine?
Me: No, it’s mine.

[And back to the kitties some more …]

Then the little girl noticed the calico cat a cousin sent me -- the cat hangs down over a shelf. He sits on my hutch and looks down over my desk.

Child: Kitty?
Me: Yes, that’s a kitty.
Child: Mine?
Me: No, it’s mine.

[And here you could almost see her thinking.]

Child: Kitty mine, Barbara yours?

It was the first time in my life a small child had offered me her toddler sister in exchange for a stuffed cat (and that was clearly what she was doing!). I (barely) managed not to laugh (at the moment — I nearly laughed myself sick later!) and said: “No, Kitty mine, Barbara yours.”
Fortunately, before the girl came up with any more potential business transactions, her mother finished her paperwork and they left my office.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seen on the road

I saw this sign by the side of the road recently: 

For sale:
Yorkies
Shih-Tzus
Corgies
Live Bait

Somehow, those just don't quite seem to go together. 

Of course, right below it there was another sign advertising "Bulk water for sale." Bulk water??


Friday, June 27, 2008

Goodbye, Evelyn

I met Evelyn when I started with the College nearly 11 years ago as an ESL instructor. She was dedicated to her ESL students -- an imaginative and enthusiastic instructor. Students adored her. Her co-workers adored her. She was there with support, ideas, or just time to listen. We shared stories of our students -- funny stories, heartbreaking ones, frustrating tales and tales with happy endings.

Since starting the noncredit program, I hadn't had quite as much chance to see her until she taught for me this past fall at one of our community sites. It was grand to get to see her again and chat with her on a semi-regular basis. Life was an adventure, and she loved it. She was a joyous spirit who touched so many lives in so many wonderful ways.

And now she has left us.

In a tragic accident at their home, she and her husband passed away last week. We are shocked and sad -- and for all of us who knew her, there is now a little missing place in our hearts where her kindness and laughter always were.

Goodbye, Evelyn. We will miss you terribly.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My love for Spanish

I fell in love with the Spanish language when I was in the fifth grade, and I started taking classes when I was 11. I was at a used-book sale at Barnett Elementary School and saw a Spanish textbook. I opened it and started looking through it and was transfixed by a picture of the Court of the Lions at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. What went through my 10-year-old brain was, “I must go there and see that and meet those people. To do that, I need to learn this language.” I bought the book, but of course made no progress with it at all.

(And when I did finally get to Spain nearly 20 years later, I went to the Alhambra. It was a beautiful day in May. The smell of roses and oranges hung in the air. The sound of water was everywhere from fountains and channels cut into the handrails of the stone staircases. Kittens followed me around looking for just one more bite of the ham sandwich I’d shared with them. Then, without really knowing where I was, I turned a corner and there it was, with sunlight pouring down on it – the Court of the Lions. Just like in the picture so long ago. I stood there and burst into tears.)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Demographics update

I've been coordinator of the Basic English program here for nearly eight and a half years. In that time, we've made huge strides in the program -- and there's so very much more to be done.

We started with one class of 12 Somali students. Last year we had over 1200 students -- and in the past two years, we've had students from 104 countries.

It's absolutely wonderful to see the world come through our doors this way!

An interesting classroom discussion topic

My mother-in-law came up with a terrific ESL classroom discussion topic: "If you were to get the entire world together for a meal, what could you serve that everyone could eat?" (Note: This refers to cultural and religious restrictions, not allergies or food preferences.)

It's a fascinating exercise. When you come down to it, you pretty much get bread, fruit, some kinds of tea and water. But the discussion is the fun part (although moderating that discussion can be a little challenging, as respect for all the cultures involved must be maintained at all times.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Muslim prayer in the workplace

In response to a question I received today ...

Prayer is one of the required elements of Islam. (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761579171_2/islam.html).

There is a short window of time during which the evening prayer may be done. This time changes slightly each day, according to the length of the day, and according to the location. (See http://www.islamicity.com/PrayerTimes/ for a daily time calculator for any location worldwide.) Currently, the sunset prayer in Columbus should be performed at 8:10 p.m.

The length of time of the "window" during which a Muslim may pray appears to vary somewhat according to sect, although I haven't been able to clarify this completely. I have been told by one Muslim that there is a 45-minute window; another told me there is a 10-minute window. The prayer itself should take about 10 minutes.

The most reasonable accommodation, in my view, would be to provide a room where the Muslims could pray out of sight of others. This could be a meeting room or some other room not in use at the time. The employees would also need to have the opportunity to perform ritual washing (wudu) before prayer if that is needed. (http://www.geocities.com/rameezabid/wudu.htm) If washing is needed, that would require a few extra minutes.

However, this is only my opinion, based on experience and research. For legal requirements and any recent findings regarding accommodations for prayer in the workplace, I recommend that you contact your company's attorney.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It takes a village

Last September I first met “Manuel.” He stood in our registration office with a handful of official-looking papers and a terribly sorrowful look on his face. He was having a very hard time communicating his needs to the office staff. It wasn’t just that he needed English; there was something more, and he didn’t know how to express it. Since I speak Spanish and some French, I’m occasionally called on to ensure the correct information gets transmitted to our Spanish-speaking students.

(And as for the other language speakers we see every day? We are tremendously fortunate to have staff members who can cover us in French, Somali, Arabic, Kiswahili, Spanish, Russian, Fulani and Wolof.)

At any rate, Manuel came back to my office with me, head down, apologizing and excusing himself the whole way.

He was apologizing for not explaining things clearly to the office staff, for taking my time, for not getting the door for me, for not knowing the right places to go, for being a bother. In short, it seemed the poor man was apologizing for being alive.

I explained to him that it’s our job and our pleasure to help people; that’s why we’re here. But his misery was pretty deep-seated, so I focused on the fistful of forms and letters he had with him. It was mostly government paperwork (which is occasionally a cause of misery for me, too).

The job he’d held for over 20 years in Southern California had been outsourced to China, and Manuel had been laid off, according to the letter from the California unemployment office. Manuel was to enter a training program so he could get the certification he needed for another position in the same field (or one closely related). It was clear that the job had been a source of great satisfaction to him; now, through no fault of his, it was gone.

That kind of training involved a one-year certificate program at our community college. Several pages of forms were dedicated to the requirements of such a plan of study, how to submit the forms correctly and - of course - the forms themselves.

I don’t know how such programs work in California; all I knew was that to enter the college here in Ohio, he’d need a better knowledge of English than my initial conversation with him suggested he possessed.

And what had brought him to Ohio? Family matters - which were the other source of his misery. Unfortunately, I could provide no help there, other than to refer him to a Spanish-speaking counseling service.

Just as well. We were going to have our hands full just getting him what he needed to take care of his educational needs. And that needed to be accomplished quickly because the information he showed me specified that he wouldn’t receive any unemployment benefits unless he entered a qualified, approved training program.

The first step was to get an assessment of his level of English. My first guess had ben pretty close to the mark. At best, it would be at least a year and a half before he could move beyond ESL and into the actual certificate program.

So the situation was this:
1) He couldn’t enter the training program because his level of English was too low.
2) The training vouchers don’t [normally] pay for noncredit courses, which is where he would have to begin (as his English was too low even for the credit ESL courses).
3) Without entering the training program, he wouldn’t receive any unemployment benefits, which meant he’d have no money on which to eat or to live indoors.

At this point, I have to preemptively respond ("prespond"?) to those people who would say, “Why didn’t he learn English a long time ago?”

The answer is so very simple: He didn’t need to! There was nothing in his life in California that required a knowledge of English. Even the letter from the California unemployment office was in English on one side of the page and in Spanish on the other.

But that’s another topic for another time. Right now we had to make the unworkable work, for Manuel and also for future cases like his because we knew that it would happen again.

I can’t claim all the credit for the way the pieces were finally put together; it was truly a group effort.

After some calls from a lovely woman in our Registration Office and another one in our Admissions Department, the unemployment office agreed to continue his benefits while he took noncredit English if we could arrange an intensive program of 15 hours a week over the next six months. I did that part.

Then, in order to increase Manuel’s familiarity with the English vocabulary of the field, Admissions contacted the head of the certificate program and got permission for him to sit in on the classes even before he would be able to take them.

When I ran into him a few months later, I was stunned - and very pleased - at the change in Manuel. He no longer looked down at the ground; he didn’t constantly apologize for being a bother (which he wasn’t in the first place, of course); he shook my hand with confidence and he spoke to me in English.

It truly does take a village.

I'm King (or Queen) of the World!

Several years ago one of my staff members, “Khadija,” came to me to ask a favor. One of the local Somali elders very much wanted to take our Basic English classes, but, even though the cost was as low as we could keep it, it was still out of his reach.

She brought him in to the office and we went to the conference room to talk. He was a tall, gaunt, white-haired man who carried himself with great dignity and looked very somber.

Khadija translated as he told me how much he wanted to learn English for himself, for his family and as an example to the community, but he simply couldn’t afford the cost. Without English, he couldn’t get a job.

To be honest, I’d decided from the moment Khadija mentioned it to me that I’d do my best to say yes. She had never asked for anything like that before; this clearly was important to her.

But how to sell it to my boss? As soon as the gentleman mentioned “an example to the community,” I had the answer. He’d end up serving as a goodwill ambassador for our program by encouraging other paying students to come.

So I said yes. That needed no translation. Immediately his face broke into a smile as he clapped his hands and searched for some English words to tell me how much this meant to him.

“Thank you,” he said. “You are...you are...you are king of the world.”

Khadija gently corrected him. “Queen,” she said. “She’s a queen.”

“King,” he persisted. “King more than queen.”

Khadija leaned over (why, I don’t know) and in Somali explained the difference. “Queen,” he repeated nodding. “Queen. You are queen of the world."

All Somalis ... ?

I’ve had the opportunity lately to give workshops on Somali culture to a local hospital. The rapidly-growing Somali population here (estimated at 45,000 and growing) has caused a heavy load on the local health-care system -- in part because many of them are poor, but mostly because there is a serious language barrier, and, to a lesser extent, a cultural barrier.

Interpreters can tell each party what the other one is saying, but to have the words make sense requires a different kind of interpretation. And that’s where we come in.

We tailor the presentation details to the specific group to which we’re presenting, but overall I’ve found it’s very important to ensure the audience hears the answers to these two questions:

(1) What are Somalis like?
In the big ways, they are like everyone else. People are people. They love, they laugh, they cry. Some are wonderful, kind and gentle. Others are mean. People are people everywhere.

(2) But aren’t there some things that are true of all Somalis?
Good question.
Let’s take the most common cultural stereotypes:

- All Somalis are Muslim.
No. It’s estimated that 98-99% are, however. And within the label of “Muslim” is a wide range of beliefs and behaviors, from extremely conservative to very liberal. As I said above, people are people. No cookie cutters were used to make the Somalis any more than any other people on Earth.

- All Somali women cover their heads.
No. Many do; some, particularly some of the younger ones here in the U.S., choose not to. It is largely a matter of religious feeling - and it is a choice. As it says in the Qur’an. “There is no compulsion in religion.”

- Somalis don’t smoke.
Actually tobacco use is a major problem, particularly among men.

- Somalis never drink alcohol.
Nope, not so. It is definitely not common but there are a few Somalis of my acquaintance who will occasionally indulge, and I find it hard to imagine I’ve met all of them, so there are likely a couple others out there somewhere.

- Somalis don’t eat pork.
Pork is one of the items forbidden in the Qur’an. I have no statistics, but in eight years of working with Somalis, I have met Somalis who smoked, some who drank, some who used other drugs, but I have yet to meet a Somali who would admit to having ever tasted pork.
Then, all Somalis avoid pork?
Pork is forbidden for Muslims and Jews, and there are some Somali Christians. I have no idea what their dietary habits are; I’ve never looked into that.

So...eating, drinking, behavior, personality, dressing -- these will vary. Is there one single thing that can be said to be true of all Somalis living in the world today?
Sure. All Somalis breathe.

Fly me to Tacoma

Whenever I fly, I take along something (or a few somethings) from my large and ever-growing collection of reading I want to do. Choosing what to take, though, was more difficult than usual as I prepared for this week’s trip.

A couple of standard rules I always follow: don’t carry anything that will weigh down the carry-on bag (no hardbacks); and avoid titles that might incite annoying people to strike up conversation. I have no objection at all to pleasant conversation with nice people; however, the books I specifically avoid reading on planes are those metaphysical or political ones that might make me a target for someone’s attempt to convert me.

Usually novels are fine. Until recently, academic and historical titles have been pretty safe, too. Maybe I’m worrying overmuch, but I picked up “The Invention of Somalia”, “Gender in Islam” and “Muslim Friends”...and put each one back down again on the shelf. It didn’t seem worth the risk.

Paranoid? Maybe. But one of my Somali co-workers - a gentle, peaceful person if there ever was one - is pulled aside for a “random” search every single time she flies. If it’s a coincidence, it’s a very interesting one. Someday I’ll do a survey of my friends and co-workers to see how many of them have been through the random searches. It will be interesting. But not today. I have a plane to catch.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Americans and Baby Photos

I never realized how important baby photos were to Americans until a couple of years ago when one of our instructors - a wonderful man from Somalia - had an addition to his family. At our next staff meeting, “Ibrahim” was very surprised at the number of American colleagues who demanded to see a picture of the baby. It simply had never occurred to him to carry a picture of his infant. This was the first time I’d encountered such a thing - after all, American new parents usually have plenty of baby pictures they are more than willing to share - but I’ve since learned there are many people around the world to whom it has never occurred to show off photos of their babies.
Ibrahim never did show me a photo of his baby; however, he did make a special effort to bring in the little one herself for me to see and hold, which was infinitely more satisfying.

Personality types in the classroom

How do you deal with different personality types in the classroom?
We’ve all seen it - some days your more extroverted students seem to run all over the quieter ones. What do you do to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate, to speak, to ask, to answer?
Here’s just one idea provided by an instructor I know. I’d be interested in knowing your ideas and opinions.
This instructor uses a rubber ball as a “talking stone.” When a student has the ball, it’s his turn to speak and no one else may. If you see that a quiet student seems interested in answering a question or participating in the discussion, he instructor throws the ball to that student to give him exclusive right to speak. Of course, when the instructor is holding the ball, then the instructor is the only one speaking.

The Assumption of Computer Use

“Everyone uses computers these days.”

“Everyone has access to the Internet.”

Not true! Not true!

Among our students - who represent a pretty diverse cross-section of ages, backgrounds and abilities - the use of computers and the Internet is definitely increasing, but it’s not universal yet. Part of this is related to level of literacy - literacy, mind you, not knowledge of English.
Another factor is the financial one. Not all people can afford a computer at home - and they may not have available transportation to go to a local library.
This is particularly concerning when one thinks about the number of resources that are available only online. Many organizations are moving away from printed information in order to save money and to disseminate information more widely. However, this well-intentioned attempt may, ironically, leave out those who don’t have computer access.
This includes online-only job applications. How many great potential employees miss out on great opportunities because they can’t see the job posting or fill out the application?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"I am a Ghost"

I wrote this poem last fall after a co-worker's daughter lost her uncle and her best friend in Somalia within a span of only a few weeks. Her uncle had a heart attack; her best friend was murdered. 


I am a ghost.

I breathe. Blood goes through my veins.
I see. I hear. I speak — but still …
I am a ghost.

The land I walk now is not the land of my people —
my father’s father’s father’s home.
My clan and my family are scattered
to places I do not know.
So many of them are dead. More die every day.
Yet I am here —
a ghost.

Why do I still live?
Why me and not …
… Halimo, whose laughter made us all smile?
… Khadijo, who died in childbirth in a refugee camp?
… Abdulkadir, who was shot for defending his home?

I cook the food I loved back home, but the taste is not the same,
and I no longer recall just why.
I speak my language, but strange new words invade my speech
and come from my mouth unexpected.

I have met many people in this new place.
They help me. They hope I will feel “at home”.
This is a good place and they are kind people.
But it is not home.
I see the news each day.
I get the calls at night by cellphone.
Home keeps dying day by day.

Home is still the place I belonged, so long ago.
I want to belong somewhere.
I ache to belong again.

But I float like a fog, a plant with no roots —
A ghost
on the bridge
between old dreams and new hopes.

     -- Miss Tara
    Nov. 18, 2007


Sunday, March 9, 2008

A few notes on Somali names

Most Somali names come from one of two sources: The Qur'an (such as Mohamed, Khadija, and Fadumo) or Somali tradition (such as Beydan, Burale). I have seen a few nontraditional names, and my guess is there will be more of these in the children and the grandchildren of the Somali Diaspora.

Somali women traditionally do not change their names when they get married.

Somalis do not have family surnames in the European sense of the word -- that is, a single family name that follows the male line(s) of the family down through generations. Instead, there is a system of naming that is more of a chain.

There are usually three names, and with each generation, the last of the three drops off and a new "first name" is given.

The best way to explain is through an example.

Let's take the name Abdi Ali Hassan.
Abdi is the individual's personal name -- his "first name", to use U.S. terminology.
Ali is his father's "first name" and Hassan is his grandfather's "first name".

If Abdi marries Fadumo Issak Hersi, her name will be unchanged. (Note: the children they have together will be considered to belong to Abdi's clan and tribe.)

In time, Abdi and Fadumo have children -- let's say a boy and a girl.

Traditionally, the first male child is named Mohamed, and this is still often the case. We'll call the girl Hawo.
So Mohamed and Hawo are the "first names".
Then the father's first name -- Abdi.
Then the grandfather's first name -- Ali.

So the children are Mohamed Abdi Ali and Hawo Abdi Ali.

And when little Mohamed grows up and has children? His daughter would be, for example, Khadijo Mohamed Abdi.

And so on.

This explains why a Somali woman's children don't have the same last name as she does. Family relationships (or lack thereof) shouldn't be assumed just because people have the same last name.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What is all that clicking?

I was asked the other day what it means when a Somali makes clicking sounds at a person. The people asking the question were intake personnel at a clinic, and they were pretty sure that it expressed some degree of annoyance, but they weren't sure if it was just an expression of irritation or if they were being insulted in some way. Usually it was Somali women who made the noise at them.

I said I couldn't recall having heard it a lot myself, but the women who were asking me the question said, "Oh, we get clicked at a lot around here."

The way they described it was not exactly a clicking, but it was harsher and sharper than just "tsk-tsk-tsk".

So I asked around, and came up with a range of meaning, from "Oh, sh*t, why me??" (I'm quoting here) to "No no no no no no no. That is *not* going to happen."

And even though I didn't think I had heard it much, I caught myself doing it later that day when my computer misbehaved.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Somali names - Males

Continuing from previous post ...

MALES

Abdalla
Abdi
Abdul
Abdullahi, Abdulahi
Abdulle
Abdikadir, Abdulkadir, Abdiqadir
Abdikarani
Abdinur
Abdirahim
Abdirahman, Abdurahman, Abdulrahman
Abdirisak, Abdirisaq
Adaan, Adam, Adan
Aden
Ahmed
Ali
Barre
Bashir
Burale
Dahir
Diriye, Dirie
Edow
Egal
Elmi
Farah
Gani
Garad
Gas
Gelle
Guled
Hagi, Haji
Hashi
Hassan
Hersi, Hirsi
Hussein
Ibrahim
Ismail
Issaq
Isse, Issa
Jama
Jamad
Jeele
Jumal, Jumale
Kowsar
Mahad
Mire
Mohamed, Maxamed, Mahamed, Mohammad, Mohamoud
Muhiyadin
Muse, Musse, Mussa
Nur, Noor
Olad, Colad
Omar
Osman
Qali
Raghe, Rage
Roble
Salad
Samatar
Sheikh
Shire
Siad, Siyad
Suldan
Sulub
Warsame
Warsan
Yusuf

Somali names - Females

Last week, I was asked to create a list of common names for Somali males and females. This is a start. This list includes names I have actually seen. I'll add more names as I encounter them.

FEMALES

Adar
Amino, Amina
Anab
Anisa
Asho, Asha
Asli
Astur
Beydan
Bosteyo, Bosteio
Dama
Deqo, Deqa
Dounia
Fadumo, Faduma, Fatumo, Fatuma
Fahima
Farhiyo, Farhiya
Fartun
Fawzia
Foos
Idil
Ilham
Habibo, Habiba
Halimo, Halima
Haweyo, Haweya
Hawo, Hawa, Haawo, Haawa
Hibo, Hiba
Jijo
Khadro, Khadra, Kadro, Kadra, Qadra
Khadijo, Khadija
Jamila
Lul
Manafatma
Maimun, Maimuno
Marian, Maryan
Muna
Nafiso, Nafisa
Najma
Nasro
Nasteh, Nasteho
Nimo
Rahmo, Rahma
Rowda
Ruqia
Safiyo, Safiya
Sahro, Sahra
Seynab
Shamso
Shukri
Suad
Suhur
Suleikho, Suleikha
Ubah, Ubax
Ugaaso
Zahra
Zeynab

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New term

I learned a new term yesterday. One of the Basic English students came into my office and told me she needed an "excuse-me" for her class. (She used the term several times as she was trying to explain her situation, so I know I didn't hear her wrong.)

I love it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

He came back again

Yesterday he (the student I hid from the other day) popped in ... again. Wanted to know if the test scores were back yet. (They're not, which means I'll get to see him at least one more time before the end of this week.)

In fact, I was so good (and feeling a tad guilty about the other day) yesterday that when he said (as usual), "May I come in?" I had an easier than usual time NOT groaning and saying "If you must". I've never done that yet, but I occasionally am afraid it's only a matter of time.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I have seen the future -- and it ROCKS!

The other day one of our publishing reps called. We purchase materials for our program from several publishers, but Pearson-Longman (or just Pearson ... or maybe Longman -- they keep using all three names in various materials, so how do I know which is right? Maybe it's the corporate version of being Jonathan, Jon and Johnny) --
-- at any rate, this publisher -- let's just call it Longman, for simplicity's sake -- is the one we use most, and the rep is terrific. She's a delightful woman, and really-truly-honest-to-goodness knows her product line, the audience and the subject to be covered. That's all too rare these days, in textbooks or almost any other subject, and I really enjoy a product presentation from someone who has done her homework. This lady is that kind of person.

So she came today with an educational consultant (another very charming person) to show me some new materials. I figured the meeting would take half an hour -- maybe 45 minutes.

Nope -- two solid hours. Normally I would have been checking the clock and, if necessary, inventing a meeting that I had to attend. But no, I was in the middle of a demonstration that made me both excited and apprehensive.
Excited, because I thought the product was OUTSTANDING and I really want us to have it for our program.
Apprehensive, because I've seen similar (but inferior) products from other vendors, and the cost of those was way beyond outrageous.

But NO!! It's affordable!! And doable!! I AM SO TOTALLY GEEKED ABOUT THIS!!
Hmmmm ... I have a PhD and what did I just say? That I'm "totally geeked". Now, really, Miss Tara ... is that very dignified? Harrumph.
Dignified or not, it's certainly the truth. I am totally geeked -- and also thrilled, excited, inspired, and breathlessly anticipatory about the new Longman Interactive (TM) software.

The package is amazingly well put together -- and it's affordable. I can hardly wait to start showing it to my instructors next week!!

Check it out: longman.com/interactive

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I just can't help it!

I almost feel guilty.
Nearly.
But not quite.

One of the Basic English students came in today and I must admit that I more or less hid and let my project specialist deal with him.
Again.
But his question was the same one he's asked me just about once a week for the past three months.

Today I found out that my project specialist and I aren't the only ones who've had to patiently give him the same answer to the same question on a weekly basis. It's also been happening in our registration office. Same student, same question, same answers.

The problem is that he doesn't like the answer.

You see, he wants to enter the College -- go into credit coursework -- but his test scores don't permit it. We're not the ones stopping him. The final tests we give in the highest level in our program (Basic English 5) are scored by the same people who score the (identical) tests given in Admissions.

Unfortunately, he just hasn't yet achieved the level of skill he needs to move forward. He says he's trying, and I think he is making an effort.

Part of the problem is that he's a little over 70 years old; it's harder to gain basic literacy skills at this age. On that level, he's done incredibly well to move as far as he has in the time since he began.

Unfortunately, the other part of the problem is his belief that he's more skilled than he is, and it's very hard to get him to understand otherwise.

I am normally a pretty patient woman, but there comes a point when I just want to say, "You're not listening to me!"

Sigh.

Apparently I need to work on lessons in patience.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Those pesky phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs  are one of the more annoying parts of learning English. They're annoying in large part because they make no logical sense at all and can be mastered only through memorization. 

A phrasal verb consists of a verb plus one or more prepositions or similar particles, with the combination often having only a tangential relationship with the original verb. 

For example, if you look up the verb get in the dictionary, the number of phrasal verbs that have very little to do with the main meaning  of the verb ("to obtain") is beastly:   
   I get up at 6:00.
   She needs to get over him.
   Get out!
   Get in the car. 
   
Then look up take or break. It's amazing that anyone ever masters the intricacies of the language.

Several years when I was teaching only part-time, I returned to class too soon after a minor surgery.  (After all, if one doesn't have sick leave, recovery time is an unaffordable luxury.)

As we were reviewing homework, the room suddenly faded to black, my ears started buzzing and the floor began tilting. I grabbed onto a table for stability, thinking, "I will not faint in front of my class. I won't I won't I won't."

Through all the fuzziness, I heard one student's voice clearly:  "Miss Tara, are you going to pass away?"

Even fear that I was going to hit the floor couldn't stop me from correcting her:  "You mean 'pass out' -- and I don't think so now."




Friday, February 1, 2008

Basic English vocabulary

The other day two new students -- refugees from Burundi -- came into my office. "Adele" wanted to be sure she and her sister were headed for the right class. The conversation went something like this:

Adele:  "Me go room 204?"

Me:  "Yes, you will go to room 204."

Adele: [indicating her sister] "Me, her, go room 204?"

Me:  "Yes, you will both go to room 204."

Adele:  "You go me-her room 204?"

Me:  "Would you like me to go with you to show you the room?"

[Enthusiastic nodding.]

As we were leaving my office, Adele dropped her water bottle and said, very clearly, "S**t! [pause] 'Scuse me."

Apparently the list of "basic" vocabulary words includes a few items a lot of people wouldn't necessarily expect. 

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No easy answers

Nearly 10% of people in our county (Franklin) speak a language other than English at home. We have an estimated 45,000 Somali refugees along with refugees from many other countries. Add to that the number of immigrants who are of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and it's a huge challenge for public services. 

But let's look just at refugee services right now. When a refugee comes, he (or she) gets at least eight months of cash benefits, along with whatever the resettlement agency has provided. Cash benefits are usually barely enough to pay rent on an apartment in a terrible neighborhood -- and then what about food, clothes, transportation, medicine ... and English lessons? 

If the refugee is part of a family, there are three years of cash benefits. But for a single person -- eight months. 

Eight months to adjust to a new world and begin building a new life. 
Eight months to try to put the mental, physical and emotional trauma of the past behind one and move toward the future. 
Eight months to learn the language and culture (and sometimes the literacy) skills needed to get a job that barely covers more than rent and some food. 

I don't pretend to know the answer. I just see people who have been brought here by the government and then lost in a system they can't comprehend. It doesn't seem like a good way to help fix broken people. 

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Somali name

When I was first taking Spanish, we were all given Spanish names, presumably to help us feel more in tune with the language.  (Teachers had a terrible time figuring what to do with my name, because because the time they got to me in the class, Teresa -- which is the closest in sound to Tara -- was already taken by an actual Teresa or Theresa. So I ended up with Donita, Luisa and probably a couple of others I've forgotten over the years.) 

Well, now I'm trying to learn Somali, but I didn't even think about a Somali name for myself (after all, I'm not in junior high anymore) until I learned the name of the daughter of a co-worker. The daughter's name is Beydan. It's an old (pre-Islamic) Somali name meaning 'lioness'. (The male counterpart is Burale.)

When I told my mother about it, she said that if she'd known about that name when I was born, it would have been my name -- and that would have been perfectly OK with me. 

It fits me in so many ways. I very much identify with cats of many kinds, and I will gladly fight to protect my loved ones. 
     So, whenever I go through my Somali lessons -- and probably at a number of other times -- I will think of myself as Beydan, and I will picture the ancient and beautiful Somali lioness of that name.

Goose fur

Almost 10 years ago, as I was grading papers from my ESL 097 class, I found myself writing something out of the ordinary on a student's paper. In fact, it was so out of the ordinary that I have remembered it much more clearly than I remember most of the corrections and comments I've scribbled on students' papers over the past several years. 

The assignment was to write a review and commentary on a newspaper article. (I handed out the articles, so I had some measure of control over the content.) The article that "Nguyen" had received was about the hunting of geese. 

His commentary included something to the effect of the following:  "If it is for meat, it is OK. But I do not believe people should hunt geese just for their fur and feathers."

The oddness didn't really hit me until my red pen was almost done writing this sentence: "Geese don't have fur." 

We teach so very much in ESL classes, but at that time I didn't expect to have to include any aspect (however minimal) of bird biology. 

Now -- nearly 10 years later -- I know better. Lots and lots better.  ESL teachers teach much more than grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure. We teach the world about the world. And just how does one prepare to do that??

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's try that again

There are some days when one gets to work and realizes it would have been much wiser to have stayed home. This past week was five of those days in a row. 

Friday morning was the kicker, though -- and only a few people can truly understand why this has thrown me for a loop. (I'm normally a fairly stable person, all things considered.) 

Our Basic English (Basic ESL) program has five levels of courses. Over the past seven years, I've been truly happy with only one textbook -- the one we chose for Basic English 3. It wasn't perfect, but it was so much better than anything else any of us had found. The students loved it. The teachers loved it. It was affordable. 

It had useful vocabulary, clear and simple grammar explanations and no confusing frou-frou (lots of little unrelated pictures and tiny readings in very small print). The design was clean and well spaced. The only drawback was that the readings in the back were too high a level for the students. We supplemented the book with a reader. Problem solved. 

And I knew in my heart of hearts that the day would come when our campus bookstore would inform me that the publisher would no longer print the book. 

That day was this past Friday. The news came in the first e-mail I read in the morning, before I'd even had my coffee. The book is gone. There will be no new edition. 

So it is with great sadness that I say goodbye to Write and Read, Level DA, by John Dawkins, and begin the search for a replacement text. 


One of those days ... all week long

What I do

For the past eight years, I have been the coordinator of noncredit ESL (English as a Second Language) programming at a large midwestern community college. I've always said that someday I'd write a book. Well, now it's a blog -- but at least I'm starting the writing process, bit by bit. I hope this blog will give any reader who happens by at least some small glimpse into the lives of those of us who teach ESL and work with refugees and immigrants. If it doesn't, well -- if nothing else, I've enjoyed the writing process.

NOTE: Any names used here (except my own) have been changed. 

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A new beginning

And so it begins ...