Two weeks into the trip. I passed the training and team-building events and activities in Istanbul, and then a couple of days of adjustment in Tashkent. The first week of actually teaching English to a group of sixteen seventh- and eighth-graders in a private school for three hours every morning, plus three more hours of games and interaction in the afternoon went very well.
I am strictly forbidden to speak Russian within earshot of the campers but they, of course, tease me for this all the time. In my spare time, I am preparing my lesson plans for the next day and connecting with local churches, ministries, and other service groups. “Coincidentally,” my teachers from Russia’s Far East happened to be participating in an international educational conference just outside Tashkent these days and I was blessed by an opportunity to contribute to it.
The outside thermometer, of course, shows numbers that are hard to believe but the school is mostly (!) airconditioned, as are the hotel rooms. Cab drivers will only turn on the A/C if you specifically ask for it (and pay extra!). But the distances here are usually so short that you wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy it anyway. Cafes and restaurants are fine, but the salad I bought from the store’s deli section turned out to be… “aged,” which I only realized after eating nearly half of it. I only hope that my dear grandmother was right in saying, “In the Russian belly a chisel will rot” (v russkom bryukhe doloto sgniyot).
I have to also be extra cautious in developing my local connections here because of a very different set of both official and unspoken “rules of engagement” between educational and service organizations in this country. Of course, I want to use my full teaching potential and tools for the proclamation of the evidence, but I also need always to be aware of the position in which this would put my local partners.
The guideline, “We are given all the freedom we want to worship, to preach, and to teach… within the walls of the church,” sounded to me a bit strange at first. That was until I learned what the only possible realistic alternative to it would be, given the social, cultural, religious, and political setting in the country.