blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

English lesson for a family of five

I rode on busses and trudged through the snow to the opposite end of the city today, to visit a Syrian family of new immigrants (refugees, earlier this year) that I am gradually getting to know. This is the third week in succession that I have gone to their newly rented house in Ottawa to teach the young mother a little English; I'm sharing this task with my friend Vija who visited her on the previous three weeks. The lady seems very young; I found out today that she is only 23 years old, although she already has three children. They are charming: three little girls with curly hair, winning smiles and an intelligent, lively look in their eyes. They are remarkably well behaved, considering the disruptive start they've had to their lives. I met the oldest one for the first time today whose English is already more fluent than her parents'. Being four years old, she goes to a Canadian (pre-)school. Her sisters are still too young. Their father usually attends an English class at the hour when Vija and I come along, but I have met him at the house on my last two visits and he joins in on the periphery of my lessons. He too is a very a courteous person.

This week I planned to teach the mother some verbs in the present continuous and had the opportunity to demonstrate that tense the minute I walked through the door, shaking the wet flakes from my outdoor clothing. It was her husband who had opened the door; she herself was on her knees in the living room, facing Mecca, literally deep in prayer. "I'm sorry I arrived too early," I said to her. "You are praying!" But she didn't seem to mind, and rose from her prayer mat to brush the snow off my bags for me. She and her husband were not only devoting themselves to Allah on this day; they were also fasting ("Not eat!" --- she drew a seal across her mouth and shook her head --- which I tried to correct to "we are not eat-ING. We are fasting," but I'm not sure they understood.) Anyhow, this fast did not prevent my being served a hospitable bowl of sugary rice pudding flavoured with rose water before I left. The baby had some too, from a different bowl. Last week her mother had served me vine leaves (ورق عنب, waraq eanab) stuffed with flavoured rice.

When I first came in, the baby was asleep in a rocking chair, so I took another opportunity to use the present continuous: "Look, she is sleeping." Her older sisters were by no means asleep and came over to see what I was going to do today and what I had in my bag. I had brought a colouring book for the middle daughter with animal pictures and a few repetitive words, so we looked at that in some detail before coming back to the verbs. Not much later, the baby woke up. "Look, she is waking up. She is sitting up. She is smiling!" The baby may not know many words in either language yet, but she seems to accept me and came to me for a cuddle at one point.

I had prepared a sheet of reference notes with only two Arabic words (that I'd found on Google Translate) among my English verb lists: عادة (eada, meaning usually / normally) for the infinitive verbs and الآن (alan, meaning now) for the present continuous verb pattern. I demonstrated "sit ... sit down ... stand ... stand up... walk ... jump ... listen" etc. with actions and gestures and then said told them that NOW "I am standing up ... sitting down ... walking ... speaking English" until they got the message. Then we repeated the words with refernce to a different worksheet, with pictures, saying "He is ... [danc]ing  ... [runn]ing ... read[ing]" and so on. I'm pretty certain that the father had already been through this sort of childish exercise at his official English class before, so he (listening) could follow my gist easily and help his wife with this exercise, discussing it with her in a jumble of Arabic. Clearly, the oldest little girl was understanding my examples too, because she ran to fetch me an picture book with captions, to show me a picture of someone "...playING with a toy." "Look!" she said, and was delighted when I praised her for this. This child --- who has even learned some French at school --- can already combine verbs and nouns in English without prompting and at one point during the conversation lesson her mother managed to do this herself, suddenly coming out with "I am sitting on a chair!" which thoroughly pleased me, because I had been trying to teach her adverbial phrases of place with the relevant prepositions last week.

These English classes are going to be a slow uphill struggle for my family of students, but highly rewarding for me. I'm so glad to have become involved with them.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Timisoara to Sindelfingen

(I still need to add photos to this post.)
Written on Wednesday, 30th November

It feels like ages since we were still in Timisoara, but it was only two days ago. Monday. Chris and Berndt met for breakfast at the hotel before walking to the meeting together. I gather it was a gruelling, but productive one. Chris had to answer some searching technical questions which left Berndt to answer the commercial ones. Meanwhile I walked around the city again, making the most of the brighter weather that day, to take photos that would compliment the ones I took under cloudy skies. I bought a few hand painted souvenirs and postcards (lining up in the post office for stamps for them) and stepped inside the cathedral again, where a colourfully robed priest was sitting in a corner with a young woman, hearing her confession. There were no private confessionals there. Lesser priests and nuns were robed in black. I walked by the river again and had lunch, some ravioli, at a place called Riviere, by the bridge over the Bega. Large Romanian and European flags were hanging from an imposing white building called the Primaria Timisoara (city hall, I guess) and more Romanian flags were being put up around the Christmas Market huts that will soon open for business in the Piata Victoriei outside our hotel. In the sky towering cumulus clouds were building.

Hurrying in from a sudden hailstorm, the men joined me in the hotel lobby where I was waiting with our luggage. The subsequent journey was quite stressful. The taxi we ordered to Timisoara airport picked up someone else instead, outside the hotel, so we had to wait for another one. At the airport were long, slow queues for the bag drop and security checks (I got chatting to some friendly girls from Cheng Du --- in Chinese). Finally we made it to the departure lounge, but hardly any seats were left, because three flight loads of people were waiting to board, some to London, Stanstead, on a Ryan Air flight, others to Madrid on Wizz Air and our lot. The Lufthansa Cityline flight to München was late leaving, so we only just caught our connecting flight, fortunately also delayed, entailing interminable bus rides round München airport, a hasty trot down the long corridors and nothing to eat or drink. But at least these pilots were not on strike and I'm glad to say our luggage also made it to Stuttgart. We landed half an hour late, with not just one but two of the ladies WCs labelled defekt, therefore unusable, and didn't have our supper till nearly 10pm (at the Fässle in Sindelfingen, me in a state of near-collapse from low blood-sugar), after checking into the Torgauer Hof on Hirsauen Straße, when our taxi driver eventually found it. We have a sort of suite here, with kitchen; it's a nice, a quiet little hotel with easy Wifi access, breakfasts inklusiv and complimentary bottles of carbonated mineral water in our room every evening.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

I believe this is now the fourth time we have stayed in Sindelfingen; we feel at home here and I am unwinding gently. I have walked through old haunts and new haunts, discovering the park beyond the Klostersee (with its present crust of ice) on Tuesday, and the Mineraltherme (thermal spa with two outdoor and three indoor pools) across the railway at Böblingen today, Thursday. It was a dreamlike experience, swimming slowly into the outdoor pool under the blue sky. The air was so cold and the water so warm, just about blood-warm (36 degrees), that it created a blanket of radiation fog through which distant heads of the other swimmers appeared and disappeared, like a scene from some experimental, surrealist film. In the middle of the pool geysers likewise appeared and disappeared, generating bubbles, and round the edges bathers could sit or stand under waterfalls that massaged shoulders and spine or against warm jets. At the far edge of the pool they had a cool shower of sprinkled water too. The water in every pool was salty, containing a cocktail of healthy minerals, so that swimming under the surface didn't sting one's eyes at all. Indoors were two Entspannungsbecken, relaxation pools, where I could either float on my back and contemplate the hanging decorations or lie back in dimmed blue lighting, with a huge wall of red poppy pictures behind me. In the central indoor pool I joined in with some water exercises, one of the staff calling out instructions for swishing arms and legs around. He had a large class of fairly elderly participants there. When I got tired of being told what to do, I swung my legs over the edge and climbed out. I thought I'd check out the sauna area downstairs but finding it full of naked men (and some naked women) I thought better of that and beat a retreat back to the outdoor pool, far more entspannend. I lay in the water in my swimsuit and gazed at the sky and the trees.

Lazing around in the water had made me surprisingly hungry; I took advantage of the on-site restaurant which served me a delicious lunch with mineral water. Something I hadn't ordered from the menu was a little glass of warm vegetable soup blended with herbs, as a starter, an idea I think I'll copy at home. My main course was herbed rice and fish in a tasty sauce (von der Fischpfanne).

The weather has been crisp and fine. Yesterday (Wednesday) I took a series of local trains to Tübingen and back, where I walked under the row of giant beech trees on the Neckarinsel between the Neckar and its canal. I have been to Tübingen before and knew where the poet Friedrich Hölderlin had lived: in the yellow tower by the river; I went inside and looked around the museum there, then stroked the white cat who came out of the little garden to sit on his doorstep. I peered out of his windows and imagined the swans he saw dipping their heads in the water, as in his famous poem, Hälfte des Lebens. I saw a swan in Tübingen, myself, on the Anlagensee near the station. Up the hill in the old town were crowds of people because this was the day the Schoko-, or Choco-Markt was taking place, chocolate stalls filling the market square and neighbouring streets. I bought a cheese crepe for my lunch and sat on a bench overlooking the old roofs.

The trains trundled me back to Sindelfingen through the half-timbered towns and past dormant vineyards on the hillsides, sloping up to the Black Forest.