Saturday, 25 June 2011

An Incident in Moscow

One of the worst things that can happen to anyone when traveling is having your wallet stolen. One of the worst places for this to happen must be Russia.

My wallet was stolen on a crowded subway train. Luckily a young woman who spoke some English saw my consternation at my discovery and came to the rescue. She negotiated with the Subway Police at the next station but we needed to go to their headquarters. This was the start of a long and convoluted sequence of events. We traipsed out of the subway, down a dingy alley, through a turnstile and finally to this rather rundown building that looked abandoned. As the door opened it revealed that it was really a10cm thick steel door tastefully disguised with wood panelling on either side. As we entered the holding cells were to the left and there was one of the police wandering around with an AK47 casually slung over his shoulder.
We (me, my husband & the Russian girl) were then summoned upstairs to the inspector’s office.  Up the rickety stairs, then into the office where a thick smoke haze wafted over us, the television was on, showing a variety show, a girlie calendar decked the wall. The inspector greeted us then went to the wall safe, turned the tumble lock and put away his instant coffee and mug (obviously so precious they don’t trust each other, let alone foreigners, even in the police station).
We explained what had happened. The police were all very friendly and jovial, and were sure they would find the wallet with credit cards but no money. They didn’t feel the need to write the police report on the weight of this rather shaky prediction. They then asked us to return at 5.00pm to check on the results. All this took at least 3 hours and we still hadn’t cancelled the credit cards.
Negotiating the police was the easy bit.

We had checked out of our hotel as we were leaving Moscow for St. Petersburg that night, our bags were still there and we decided to go back to the hotel to use the phone as we thought it would be the easiest option. We had to use the Business Centre and as there is no reverse charges or free call in Russia and we had a rather long call which resulted with us ending up with a $200 dollar phone bill, we were pleased the line was so bad that the call centre had to call back or it could have been more.
We returned to the police station exhausted as all this had taken most of our day. Of course they hadn’t found the wallet and it was only then did they sit down and begin to write the report.

A Quote

"The things that destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice."
                                                                                                       Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

My first painting for the year 2011

This is the year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese horoscope.  Each year is attributed to an animal and it runs in a 12 year cycle. Last year was the tiger, next year will be the dragon.
Those born in a Rabbit year are considered to be articulate, talented and ambitious. They are often admired and financially lucky, as well as being even- tempered and wise. Read more about the year of the Rabbit and other animals in the Chinese horoscope at

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Jelynn - A Short Story

Barely able to catch my breath after walking up eights flights of stairs, though by the time I reached the fourth it was more like crawling. Sweat pouring off my forehead, red faced and puffing like a steam engine, I’ve lost any sense of dignity or superiority as I staggered into the classroom to face my first class in China.
I’m not very good with names.  I find it hard to remember the names of students in small classes, so faced with 80 Chinese students, with unfamiliar names to learn in just eight weeks, I am filled me with dread.

The boys breeze into the room, and without embarrassment, practice their English, “ Hello, Miss. What your name?”
The bell rings.
‘Hello everyone, I’m your teacher for this semester. My name is Elizabeth, but call me Liz it is easier, I say as I carefully write my name on the board.
“I need to call the roll, please forgive me if I mispronounce your names, correct me and I will try to get it right next time. Also it will help me to know who you all are.” I say breezily.
I look at the roll, “Hell, I’ll never learn all these names, I’m stuffed,” I think.
Just saying, “You” and pointing is not a good look.
 I start calling the roll.  Thank god most of the students have given themselves English names. The ritual calling of the roll is not only compulsory it also helps me fixate some of the names to faces.
There is Webber the tallest and largest in the class, like a gentle bear, always early and sitting in the front row. Next to him is Billow, never without a smile, wanting to please. Then there is Michael cheerful and eager. Rick and Christine like Siamese twins, arrive, leave, or absent, together. Then there is Rock. Never on time, produces no work and seems to be on another planet.

 Somehow the girls all merge together, they all come quietly into the room, smile and sit demurely.  Faces and names don’t seem to connect.  Except one, Jelynn, she is tall, almost statuesque. She dresses elegantly but not expensively. She has a refined beauty, only after closer scrutiny do I notice she is wearing make up. The other students always note her entrance, especially the boys who, like me, are drawn to her quiet beauty.

She doesn’t always arrive on time, often absent, which I note negatively. This doesn’t give me a good impression; negative thoughts are already emerging about this student. Her work is average and she makes very little contribution to the class.  She seems distracted during many activities but is happy to participate in a steady and measured way and the other students want to be part of her group. No one wants Rock in their group, as he is not noted for his enthusiasm or participation.
 ‘Miss he can be in our group’ Jelynn offers happily, murmurs of disapproval and frowns on the faces of the rest of the group show they are not happy about this, but she responds with a smile and ‘It will be OK’ and they accept  this without further rancour.

One day before class Jelynn approaches me earnestly, “What does she want now?”  I sigh, “She has been away for a week and has produced no work. What pathetic excuse is she going to come up with?”
“Miss Beth, I’m sorry I was absent last week, but my grandfather was very sick. I had to go to my grandparents’ home in the country to look after him.” she explains.

There is something about the intense way she looks at me, pleading and doleful, willing me to believe her and understand. A crack slowly begins to appear in my natural sceptism.
“I’m really sorry to hear that. But you know, Jelynn, you have missed a lot of work and you haven’t handed your assignments in yet.” I tell her quite sternly.  

“ Oh yes, I will get it done.”  Jelynn promises.

Weeks go by, Jelynn’s promises of work still haven’t materialised. I am becoming impatient and more irritated with her attitude to her work. She arrives in class chatting quietly and laughing with her friends, she seems in good spirits, confident of her good looks, yet there is an air of vulnerability about her, a sadness in her eyes, which appears when she thinks no one is looking.

“Jelynn you have been away a lot and we are half way through the course, and still you haven’t given me the first major assignment.  Remember you are meant to interview one of your fellow students and write their biography. You need to hand it in by next week, or you will fail,” I tell her emphatically.

“ I will give to you on Monday, Miss Liz”, Jelynn confidently states.

Monday comes, Jelynn is early, and she hands in her work.  Jelynn, who barely writes a paragraph in class now has presented the longest piece of work I have received from any student.
I now have to read and correct each students work. I leave Jelynn’s until last. I’ve glanced at it and expect it to be a hard read because her skills are not very good, also it is so long it will require a great deal more time. Having finished correcting all the other students work, I take a deep breath and I start to read Jelynn’s piece.

There was a girl had a beautiful mother. She loved her dearly. A little girl her life  perfect. Then  she grow older she begin to see her parent argue and fighting all  time. Her father go out with other women and her mother left at home night every night lonely sad. They shouting and anger around make her very frighten. She hide in corner with hands over  head and eye closed, wanting them  stop scream at each other.

She start to hate her parents now; they  make her life so unhappy. She run away many times when she little. She beaten and sent away to aunt, but don’t really want her, for many months.

At night, she quietly weep under blankets. She did not obey her parents, didn’t do her school work. She is wild. She want to punish parents for the unhappiness they cause her. She would dressed in short tight skirts, high heeled shoe, her make up be of bright blue eye shadow, ruby red lipstick on her face, smoke and drink and staying out all night like her new friends.  She want  belong, be liked, her new friends didn’t really care about her. They only like her for the money she could bring for their night games . She stole this money from  parents. She was make to stay home, but this didn’t stop her go out the window at night, so she could be with her friends.

When she was fifteen she came to her sense. Her parents had divorce.  Her mother became very sick, the doctor say cancer. She beg her mother to forgive her for all the terrible things she do. She sit on her bed and cry and cry her heart. She understand now how much she love her mother and how much she want her mother be with her. Every free moment she spend with her mother.

As I’m reading the story the poor grammar is overlooked; the poignancy of the story takes over.

Next class I look for Jelynn. I want to tell her what I think of her story. I anxiously await her arrival. Roll taken, Jelynn still hasn’t arrived. Then half way through class I see her try to slip into class unobtrusively, bent over trying to hide behind the other students, trying not to interrupt the class or gain my attention.

As the students are leaving, I call, “Jelynn, before you leave I want to see you”
She looks startled at first, comes up to the desk, a slight frown appears, “Yes. Miss Liz”
“I’ve been reading the biography you have handed in.”
“Yes” she responds.
‘You wrote a lot.” is all I can say, then add “I haven’t finished correcting it yet. I will give it back to you at the end of the week”.

I go back to her story and continue.

When her mother taken to hospital she  go there every afternoon after school and stay  until morning. Her mother grow weaker and weaker and she see that death come soon. Emptiness she feel the day her mother die. She like a robot, she don’t think or feel everything done like robot. Now she alone.

Her father didn’t want her. She then sent to her grandparents, her mother’s parents  live in the country. They very kind to her. She loves them dearly. Her mother had some of money, which be used for her education.

She now is work hard at college to get  good education so she can make her mother proud of her and show thanks to her grandparents for their love and work.

Friday comes and at the end of the class I hand back all students’ work, but leave Jelynn’s until last. 

The bell rings just as I call her name. I’m holding her work, flicking through the pages.
She stands looking worried as I say, ‘Jelynn, you have written your own story, haven’t you?’

I find it hard to know what to say next, but blurt out, ‘If you need any help in any way I would be happy to try and do something’
In a moment of empathy the thought of, ‘I could be committing myself to anything’, flashes through my brain.
‘Thank you, thank you. You are so kind,’ as she takes her work and holds it close to her chest.

We then walk down the stairs together talking about where we are going to have lunch, what we will be doing at the weekend.

Monday comes and the weekly routine starts again. It’s Wednesday I’m rushing downstairs to lunch and I bump into Jelynn on her way up.
She spits out with sheer hatred, “ I’ll never forgive him for what he has done!” 
I’m almost speechless, ‘My God whose done what?” I think.
“What is the matter? I asked, ‘who are you talking about? What’s happened?’

‘My father, I never forgive him.’
‘What’s he done?’
‘He won’t let me stay at his house anymore’
‘Why not?’
‘He’s got another wife and he doesn’t want me there. He says I just have to find somewhere else. He won’t let me go to his house again.
Well you can stay there until you find somewhere else, can’t you?’
‘No, he said I to go now.’
‘He took my mother’s money too, the money for my education and he used it for himself. I’m going to show him. I’m going to do well. I’m going to get a good job. I will never, never go to him again.’
‘Are you sure? He is your father.’
‘Yes. I never forgive him! ‘ Tears start trickling down her cheek. My arm goes around her shoulders.
‘Everything will work out.’ I’m sure your father doesn’t mean he never wants to see you again’

The last week arrives; the main feature of this period is assessment.

Jelynn is present for the written exam; the oral presentation is the next day. Students have to pass all sections of the assessment to pass the course.
Jelynn comes up to me again at the end of class. ‘Miss Liz, I won’t be here tomorrow.”
“Why not Jelynn, you have to complete the oral assessment to pass,” I say anxiously.
“My grandfather is in hospital, and he is dying, there is no one else to help him or look after him. I have to go back to the country”
I’m dismayed, “ Jelynn, I will see what I can do, from the oral work you’ve done in class, I’m sure that can be taken into consideration. Don’t worry.” ”Please Miss Liz, write your address for me, “ she pleads.
“Of course”, I dutifully write my name address in her exercise book. ‘Now please keep in touch.”  I implore.

 ‘Yes, yes I will. I love you, I will never forget you.’ she says, as she turns and leaves the room.
I stand there watching her leave as gracefully and as dignified as when she first walked into class.