“Work isn’t a wolf.”

This is my latest Russian proverb. The corollary: “It won’t run away.” It became a sort of mantra for our department yesterday, when, for whatever reason, no one wanted to go teach. So instead we spent the first 5 minutes of our classes eating pretzels and talking about the misfortunes of the professor’s life. 

Speaking of sayings, you may remember these ubiquitous words of wisdom: “There are two problems in Russia: the fools and the roads.” We learned a corollary for this one, too: “One of these can be fixed with a steamroller–but what to do about the roads?”

 Anna is having me read fables by Tolstoy and retell them at every lesson. They are sometimes cute, sometimes morbid, and almost always end with dead animals or crying children–or both. 

Here is an example:

It was Sergej’s name day (like a birthday), and he got lots of presents: toy wolves, toy horses, pictures, and more. But the very best gift was a little net that his uncle gave him to catch birds. Sergej was elated and ran home to tell his mother. His mother replied, “What’s a terrible toy. What do you need to catch birds for? Why must you torment them?” 

“I’m going to put them in a cage. They’ll sing, and I’ll feed them.” With that, Sergej set off to catch a bird. He waited and waited, but the birds were scared and wouldn’t come near him. Finally he put down the net and went inside to have lunch. When he came back, he saw that a bird had gotten trapped in the net!

His heart pounding, he grabbed the net and ran back home. “Mama! Look, I got a bird, a little nightingale!”

His mother replied, “That’s a finch. Don’t bother him. Let him go.” 

“No, I’ll feed and water him every day.” And he set the bird in a cage, where he faithfully fed it and cleaned its cage for two days. But on the third day he forgot to give it water. When his mother noticed this, she said, “You see? You forgot about your bird. You’d better let it go free.”

“No, I won’t forget. I’ll give it water and clean the cage right now.” And so he did. But when he went to go get water, he forgot to shut the cage. His mother saw this and called, “Sergej, shut the cage, or your bird will fly away!” But the words were hardly out of her mouth before the little finch found the door, joyfully spread its wings, and took off towards the window. But it ran into the glass and fell onto the windowsill. 

Sergej ran back, picked up the bird, and put it back in its cage. It was still alive, but it was lying on its breast, its wings limp, breathing very heavily. Sergej looked and looked at it and finally started to cry. “Mama! What do I do now?” 

“You can’t do anything now.” 

All day, Sergej didn’t leave his bird’s side. The bird continued to lie on its breast and pant. When Sergej went to bed, the bird was still alive. For a long time, Sergej couldn’t go to sleep–every time he shut his eyes, he imagined the bird lying there and panting. In the morning, he went to the cage and saw that the bird was lying on its back, its whole body stiff and its feet in the air. 

After that, Sergej never caught a bird again.

Even as an adult, I experienced minor psychological trauma upon reading this story. 

In other news, here’s my life in a nutshell:

It’s been an inauspicious first week back. Yesterday I had to teach two last-minute lessons (through no fault of my own–I was not told the topics until the night before). One, a lesson with the  2nd years on travel, went well, but the 3rd years’ lesson on art didn’t go great because they simply don’t care about art. Unfortunately, neither do I, but the Powers That Be put it in the curriculum, so now I have to pretend I care for the next month. 

Today, I taught two groups of students from the PR department. My colleague to expect an intermediate level, so I prepared a lesson that was a tiny bit complex, but perfectly doable if you walk them through it. And it went great with the second class. The first class, despite two years of university-level English classes and God knows how many years in school, were elementary level at best. Some of them couldn’t even introduce themselves. Needless to say, my lesson on bias in the media and the US gun control/rights debate didn’t go over great. TL;DR Today I made someone cry.

Perhaps Tolstoy and I have more in common than you’d think.