First week of class
New Dutch class! Gone is the pint-sized Armenian in tall shiny leather boots, the crazy-eyed Romanian advising me to try killing pigs for a living, and the teacher yelling at us for making mistakes. (I am sad to say the crazy-eyed Romanian did not pass the course, though the good news is that now you can move here during the summer and take the class with him yourself next Fall! Go for it!)
Nope, new class, new school, new town.
My old class was a twenty minute bike ride away and in the evenings, but now since I don’t get home from work until ten o’clock, I had to find something else. That something is a morning class in Lier, a larger town just up the rail-line, then continue up a little further to Antwerp for work.
By the end, the old class was 14 (or 16) people and 9 (or 11) nationalities (depending on if you count the Russian and Latvian guys who dropped out at the very end). So far the new class is 12 people and 11 or 12 nationalities, since one guy from Chechnya sometimes says Russia while the other never has in his life and never will. I hope I never jokingly say anything pro-Moscow in front of him or he will crush me like a bug. The dude if frickin huge. His massive wool coat somehow spans the Chechnyan Steppes of his shoulders, left dozens of naked sheep, and on me would hang down to the knees like a pea coat. I picture him at dinner with a large plate piled with sausages, taking whole boiled potatoes out of a bucket on the floor next to him, and drinking vodka from what can only be described as a goblet. He has the mannerisms of a criminal underworld player and the face of the cute little boy down the block who you could tell your mom kind of thought of as another son.
Poland, Armenia, Cuba, and Russia still have delegates to my Dutch learning experience, but Congo, India, Romania, Latvia, and Puerto Rico have lost their seats to Albania, Thailand, Iraq, Syria, Macedonia, and China.
So the more urban environment of the larger town has a heavier Middle Eastern quotient than the more rural town of before; this is also reflected by the people on the street. During the mid-class break conversation is mostly in Arabic, though Russian is a close second, and I think that is Farsi in the hallway.
The classes are held in a somewhat decrepit old schoolhouse, raw plaster patches, buckled tiles, and hanging wires, but it is warm and dry. Small vents and decorative lines on the building opposite make little faces that smile at me across a brick courtyard sectioned off by yellow caution tape, a little bicycle rack in one corner, and a few cars parked with the obstinate inefficiency that always results when there are no marked spaces. Battered lines of past soccer fields show up here and there, and stains mark areas that hold continuous puddles for most of the year.
Half of the building is devoted to adult education classes, just Dutch during the day, while the other half is general education for children who have emigrated here, and are learning Dutch in addition to normal schooling. The men’s bathroom is downstairs, out of the building, and across foyer named after somebody where stacks of lumber and building material await workmen, and through a fractured cafeteria space where a handful of mid-teens were having class Friday morning, one fellow banging on the table and shouting “Meneer! Meneer! Finito!” That is: “Sir! Sir!”(Dutch) “Finished!” (Italian). The kid was middle eastern. The teacher ignored him with the resolute ease of someone used to this dynamic.
My classroom is long and tired. Mismatched shelves stand self-consciously in the back, empty except for an inexplicable dusty gnome. Behind them is a tinny ladder, and in the corner is a chaos of stacked chairs.
On the desk I generally sit at are written “Fuck a duck and try to fly” and “You’re all mother fucking huslers.” (sic) This reminds me of the other school, where I took my first class, where one of the dictionaries stacked in the corner proclaimed “SEX” in blue ink capital letters. Actually, these notes remind me of basically every classroom I have ever been in.