The barbecue that actually happened
April 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
The only word to describe attendance at my speaking classes is ‘unpredictable.’ Hazirlik (preparatory) students are allowed an incredible 100+ absence hours for the year—I believe technically they can miss 20% of all their classes with no repercussions. For American university students used to large lectures, this may seem normal. But hazirlik is not a girl, not yet a woman, caught somewhere between high school and university. The classes are small (about 25-30 students on the roster) and demand constant participation. The curriculum also moves quickly. Missing 20% of classes is pretty detrimental to language progress. But since that’s what the official university system allows, the students take full advantage <we can talk about YOK (Turkey’s Higher Ed Commission) dysfunction another time.>
Since Speaking classes aren’t viewed on par with my Turkish colleagues’ in terms of gravity or seriousness (Speaking is only tested twice a year, and Speaking classes were never offered before Alex and I arrived), my students tend to skip my lessons more than others. I would like to generalize that high attendance corresponds to higher ability level (for instance, 20 B4 students come while 8 C8 students come), but the fact that almost every C4 student comes despite not understanding most of what I say and appearing openly hostile to my presence confounds that theory. Sometimes a random student who hasn’t shown his face the entire year will appear to say hello, then fade back into the shadows. He’s done his duty for the year. Basically, every time I walk through a classroom door it’s a surprise.
About a month ago I walked into C5 to find six students just hanging out, waiting to see if I would come to class and, when I saw how few students there were, if I would cancel class. Actually, I love it when those six students from C5 come—Ayse is sharp as a whip, Erdinc less so but he loves to talk, Latif is a good-natured aw-shucks type, and the rest get caught up in their enthusiasm. I sat down on a desk and just chatted with them for about 15 minutes. I told them about a recent date I had had where I learned to play backgammon (tavla, in Turkish, a constant presence at cafes and bars across the country). But, I admitted, I hadn’t learned to play okey (a Rummikub-like game also popular in cafes and bars, played in groups of 4). The enthusiastic Erdinc asked me if I liked mangal (barbecue). Of course, I said. Always the ringleader, he began planning a teacher-student mangal at his house, where we would eat, chat, and play okey. We all checked our cell phone calendars and decided on a date. I promised to bring some American food, then steered their attention to the day’s lesson.
Honestly, I never expected them to follow through. It’s not that I doubted their enthusiasm or good intentions; it’s that the plans seemed like so many made with promise: yeah, we should definitely get together sometime! So I was pleasantly surprised when Erdinc came by my office Monday to remind me of the mangal on Tuesday. I made a mental note to cook Alex’s knock-em-dead Snickerdoodle recipe (you simply can’t not like them) that night and also invited Reyhan, my colleague who teaches C5’s main course lessons.
After lessons on Tuesday, Reyhan and I walked from the university down the main strip of cafes, bars and stray dogs in Tekirdag’s Degirmenalti neighborhood to meet Erdinc at Masal Cafe. We waited and waited but he didn’t show. Then, we caught sight of Omer Faruk running back from the local big-box store Migros with bread and he led us around the corner to the mangal site.
Degirmenalti is, like many Turkish neighborhoods, a combination of old drafty houses and new developments (though less of the faceless block variety) that leads right down to the Sea of Marmara. Erdinc lives with a couple of Namik Kemal students in the ground floor apartment of an old drafty house. A exterior spiral staircase leads to the top floor apartment and a group of women kept running up and down with various covered pots. When we arrived at the house, Reyhan and I were given plastic seats of honor in the front yard where we waited for an hour while our student tried their damn hardest to start a fire from some tiny twigs, paper, and charcoal. One of them joked about throwing their New English File books on it and I was so hungry at that point I almost agreed.
But finally the fire was started and grillers full of seasons chicken wings were somehow cooked all the way through (not a single victim of food poisoning!), a balcony table was set for the two teachers, and we were served all-we-could-eat wings, chopped salad, and a huge hunk of bread.
Our students hung out inside in the kitchen and living room, chowing down and having their own Turkish conversations. Omer Faruk works as a waiter at the university hotel and he did his best to serve us but he often forgot a glass of water or napkins. When the cooking was done Erdinc came out and resumed his enthusiastic chatting routine, also playing for us assorted English-language songs on his cell phone (favorite: one called ‘Turkish Delight”.) Omer Faruk, whose English, well, is mostly Turkish, hovered over his shoulder, and a couple other students came to talk. The food was delicious, but apparently nothing topped the Snickerdoodles. The general reaction included a wide-eyed, lips-licking declaration of ‘nefis, hocam!” (delicious, my teacher!) from every student, even the ones who barely speak to me. Finally we were invited inside to drink tea and watch an old Turkish television show about a group of men who are obviously past high school age but who inexplicably are still immature high school students. Hmmm. The students gradually trickled out until it was just Reyhan, me, Erdinc, and Omer Faruk. Reyhan and I were a bit tired from teaching all day so when Erdinc suggested busting out the okey set, we politely declined with “baska bir zaman” (another time).
I really can’t imagine any other class arranging such an afternoon. There’s unity and we have fun, but this went above and beyond in terms of organization and dedication to fire-starting. Thanks for the love, C5!