Nightmare on ESOL Street


Imagine a war between Somalia and Iraq. How bad would that be? Imagine if Sri Lanka joined in! It’s … inconceivable. Except it’s not, I conceived of it the other day, in class.

I imagined it just after each of my two students had finished speaking, reasonably eloquently for a low-level class, on the subject of how tragically, totally and infamously had their respective countries collapsed into barbarism, and about how they could, in almost all certainty, never go home again.

We sat in silent reflection for a moment or so. I had to try to lift the gloom that had descended. I had to try and cheer us all up. I thought, what’s a way in which things, in the absence of hope, could possibly be worse. A simple answer came to me. So I suggested it. They looked at me blankly. They hadn’t understood. I repeated it slowly. They looked confused. We did ‘between’ and ‘invaded’. And ‘war’. They smiled. We laughed! What an idea! Gayness returned to the classroom. What a relief!

One of my students is an interesting character; he comes from Basra and speaks Aramaic, which they! told me was a dead language, but means that speaking to him is a bit like speaking to Jesus, or something. He used to play football for the Iraqi reserve team, and hasn’t been to the cinema since 1974. As his surname is Baki, and he introduces himself to people with his surname, and he has a slight problem with his ‘ps’ and ‘bs’, he spent the first few months of his life here calling himself ‘Paki’.

The other student (or ‘customer’, as they infuriatingly refer to them in my, fuck it, school) used to be Somali, but is now French, and I when I came back from my break the other day she actually appeared to be reading a book, and the book was in French, so, you know, she must be very clever.

We moved on to talk of other matters, and to tackle together a simple worksheet I had assembled on the difference between ‘jack up’ and ‘jack off’. But throughout the rest of the lesson my outlandish notion, that two of the world’s most beleaguered nations might for no reason at all turn on one another in warfare, came to be mentioned more than once, so much in fact that by the end of the lesson I was beginning to regret ever having made – purely in jest – such a suggestion. I began to feel a little … apprehensive. Had I, with my glib remark, somehow unleashed forces that it would ultimately prove difficult to contain?

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