- Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Uzbekistan
Leaves draw into themselves and fall from still trees. Students list their ambitions. They walk in groups and pairs to and from the faculty building at a pace that suggests there is no destination, no point of origination. I have ideas. We are going somewhere.
The apartment has no heat. No lights. No hot water. No telephone. The elevator to the sixth floor is broken. I trudge up the steps in the dark, hoping not to trip on anything. Ice and snow under broken windows. Inside, I light a candle and watch breath in front of my face as I eat cold Korean salad with bread in blackness. Alone. Don't want to complain, because this is something I elected to do. The students were quiet again today, contrary and reticent, resisting my suggestions for discussion topics. We were cold. Is this self pity? I don't like it. It makes me feel petty. Pity is a polluted emotion in all forms and should be avoided. I stumble to the other room and sleep on mats on the floor, considering things like seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D and the sun's rays. My coastal Florida birth city, which I haven't seen in almost 15 years, has never seemed so far away. And it has never loomed so close in my mind. Bougainvillea, crotons, orchids, and palms. Lushness in green dreams of tiptoeing on sand, when we would leap barefoot from stifling car to beckoning waves. Waking to achy chill and the dull schedule of the day propped against the door whispering, "Just go back to sleep."
We emerge from oppressive gray days of perpetual cloud cover into rain that seems to want to punch life into the brown earth. From these pummelings issue bright blossoms on trees, unkempt grass around residential streets, and the sinus-clogging pollen of rebirth. Growth! Not wanting to over-dramatize, I still can't help feeling some days like a submarine that has broken surface, dripping and gleaming in the sun. I walk outside, breathing again. My students, too, speak on love and family and future with energy I have not seen. We bond and make weekend plans to hang out at city spots. The zoo, stuffed with more four-legged animals than I've seen the whole year in this country. Russian-dubbed Hollywood action movies shown from DVD on big screens before their American release dates. A Sufi mausoleum outside the city limits. I am told to bring a cloth to tie on one of the holy trees there. We murmur wishes.
Grades in, tests given, assignments corrected, I send the students to their respective summers, armed with my e-mail address. "Write me if you have questions from your pupils." Most of them tutor on the side, a massive underground English-teaching market; supply meeting demand. They can say, "I received instruction from a native speaker." I hope it gets them a bit more than the going rate. The lazy heat makes me happy. I wake early to bright sun and want to be up and out. Midday is for walking slowly, baked and dusty. Evening in Tashkent is spent out-of-doors, sitting at cafes and following a million sidewalks to nowhere. Learn a handful of new Russian words. Read about crumbling architecture in central Asia. Occasionally, stopping midstep at an intersection: How quickly time passes. How far we have come. How little things change.