Something I actually enjoy: well, not sure I enjoy it. I do it voluntarily. In fact, I am a volunteer. And I march proud. Head high. (And my company gets credit for every hour of it I log. More than a little humiliating. But then I don’t remember to log my hours very often.) But there’s something energizing in it. I biked ten miles to my last session, furthest I’ve biked since I was ten. And I come home full of beans (exhausted, but full of beans).

I’m tutoring a refugee in English. Two hours, every Friday evening. It’s through IRCO, they coordinate volunteer English tutors with refugees they can no longer help (refugee funding currently expires after eight months in-country). I’d hoped to be set up with a Meskhetian Turk from Uzbekistan, but I’ll take a Protestant Christian from Ukraine. And his wife. And eight kids. (Eighth one just popped out Friday before last.)

I’m relearning again how difficult it is to assess someone’s language level. (And just how much in a language there is to learn.) Each of our four meetings so far has resulted in my reassessing his level: downwards. It reminds me of how many compliments I used to get on my Russian from people who knew me only slightly, long before I had any skill to speak of. Being self-confident and doing what you can with the words you know is the key to seeming like you know a language, and ultimately to mastering it.

I’m not sure what he’s a refugee from, and I haven’t asked. Mekhetian Turks are stateless, generally not citizens of anyplace, least of all where they are born and live, and have been that way since the 19th century; other refugees are members of more recently and more actively persecuted ethnic or religious groups, or are persecuted for other reasons. I have a funny feeling he might be fleeing religious persecution, having been missionaried up sometime in the early nineties. That’s just a guess. I know of one Romanian who successfully atained refugee status for religious reasons – she was being persecuted for her Anglican beliefs. [source]

I do know he does attend church regularly and insists each time we meet on informing me that Jesus loves me and cares for me. (There are some phrases he does very well.) He has a Bible in his car, and his radio is tuned to an AM christian channel, which he does his best to decipher. (He does better when I’m riding along and explaining/interpreting; he’ll get a word or two and make an elaborate, interesting, and totally incorrect story about what they’re talking about.)

He’s a little overwhelmed in his two-bedroom two-floor house by his children. (His wife is more overwhelmed, naturally [on her feet again and herding children a couple days after finishing off the last one], but she’s not my student.) There was a particularly grim look on his face the week before last. I asked if he was tired, he said not with you, my friend. I asked how he was liking Portland, he said he didn’t really know it at all: work, home, children, sleep, and work again. Then: he asked whether I knew any good strip clubs in town, you know, where the ladies take their clothes off. I told him the ones I knew of looked a little dirty, but I would see what I could come up with. I didn’t mean to make him feel bad, but he backpedaled, and said yes, he really would like only the clean city. For me – only clean.

I know a place that has Balkan folk dancing Tuesday nights, I said. Not a substitute for what he was after, I think. Last week he described his old bike to me. At home, I have bike. In Ukraine. Bike his name – Ukraine. I make [rack], my hands. On bike – potatoes – forty kilohram! (I don’t think I will ever get used to the h/g substitution in Ukranian accents.)

One Reply to “Voluntary”

  1. Odd tutor experience: I asked my student to write out the following letters as I said them: “M Y N A M E I S [student’s name]” and then asked her to read what it said. She spelled out the first three words but was stumped by the last one. I asked her how she spelled her name and she spelled it. I pointed to the word. “Oh,” she said, “my name.”

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