There is a bus stop across the street from my building but I never use it. The next stop, a five minute walk away, is a long stop, and it is faster to walk there and hop on whatever bus has been stalled the longest. This is the best way to board a bus to avoid awkwardly sitting in silence in front of students for a longer duration than is comfortable. Outside of school they do whatever they can to avoid speaking in English. There are a few that will make an honest effort and for that I am glad. It only takes one good encounter to wash away the previous few bad ones.
It rained the night before and the road is covered in mud. The state of a person’s shoes is a topic of much debate in Ukraine and has brought me much unwanted attention. It is normal to see someone walk across a muddy path and then to pull out a shoe cleaning kit, administer the necessary first aid, and then walk through another muddy path only to repeat the process again. I wear shoes so that they can carry the burden of nature in place of my bare feet; shoes are suppose to get dirty.
Today I steeled myself against the natural urge to arrive early. It was hard and involved a lot of pacing back and forth in my apartment, dressed and ready to go with my keys making frequent visits in and out of my pocket. I looked at the clock often and the door gave me a come-hither gleam that I coldly ignored. Finally, within thirty minutes of my scheduled meeting time, I left for school.
I entered the building and took my place at my desk. There is still stuff on my half of the desk, but it’s small stuff today and I am easily visible for the first time this semester. A student comes in and shakes my hand. I sometimes like this student but he is persistent and does not know about personal space. Today he asks me if I can talk to the Peace Corps bosses to see if he can be sent to America to do work for them. He is in 9th grade. I tell him that Peace Corps does not work that way and he disappointedly shuffles away without saying goodbye.
I only have to wait five minutes today before the bell rings and the staff room is flooded with teachers. My favorite teacher from last semester says a quick hello.
‘Hello.’ She said, and then leaned in over the desk so that she could speak to me without being overheard by other teachers. ‘So there was a mistake and you were suppose to be here yesterday for 2nd period and today for 1st period.’
‘Oh.’ I am deflated. I had planned for hours my long speech about not teaching the adults English and of re-approaching my Peace Corps directive to work more closely with Ukrainian teachers. Her sharing this news with me means that I will not have the opportunity to talk to my counterpart.
‘Yes. The schedule, it changes even in the middle of the day. So I will go talk to Headmistress about your schedule and I will text you in the evening when to be here tomorrow.’
‘Huh. So, what do I do now?’
‘You may be free. Go home.’
She walked away and I stood up and did the same. I am grateful that I did not arrive early only to be dismissed again, but I am unhappy that I made the trek through the mud and jerky public transportation only to make the same trip home within twenty minutes of arriving at my school.
The school year has been in session now for two days and I have yet to step foot inside of a classroom or talk to a student. I have yet to even plan a lesson with a Ukrainian teacher.
Tomorrow, tomorrow will be the day when I finally have the big talk. I feel it.