21 June 2012

A Few Words for the Class of 2012

In the fall of 1999, the vice mayor of Tapa asked me, a Peace Corps volunteer at the time, if I would substitute for one of Tapa Gümnaasium's English teachers who had decided to extend her working summer vacation at a YMCA camp in Colorado. I was excited!

In the fall of 2007, the deputy head of Tapa Gümnaasium told me, now a teacher on the school's payroll, that I would be teaching English to fifth graders. I was terrified!

Today, those fifth graders, whom I also taught as sixth graders (pictured above at the beginning of class and below after 50 minutes), graduated from the ninth grade at Tapa Gümnaasium. I didn't make it to the school oven that they call an auditorium this year, but I sent a message to the graduates, which, as is the tradition for all letters received from well-wishers who could not be present, was read during the ceremony. I was told through Facebook that it received the intended laughs and unexpected applause. I wrote it in poor Estonian, knowing that Sirje Sell, who has been in charge of organizing Tapa's graduation ceremonies for more than a decade, would correct my many mistakes. (She is also one of the school's Estonian teachers.) No student names were changed, however, because there were definitely no innocent students to protect.

Arvake kus ma olen. Lilled on igal pool. Toatemperatuur on kolmkümmend neli kraadi. Ees, kolm õpetajad naeratavad. Paremale üks veel nutab. Üks direktor kulmu kortsutab. Ja taga, sajad rahvast magavad.
Guess where I am. Flowers are everywhere. The room temperature is 34 degrees. In the front, 3 teachers smile. To the right, 1 more cries. A director frowns. And in the back, hundreds of people sleep.

Õige, õige! Ma olen Tapa Gümnaasiumi lõpuaktuses!
Correct! I am at the Tapa Gümnaasium graduation!

Barack Obamast kodulinnast, Eestimaalt vorsti pealinnasse, ma saadan Palju onne! iga õpilanele 9. klassist.
From Barack Obama’s home town, to the sausage capital of Estonia, I send Congratulations to each and every student of the 9th grade class.

Ehkki ma olin õpetaja Tapal viis aastat tagasi, ikka ma mäletan palju õppetundid mis ma andsin teile. Ma mäletan, et alati Andres istus nurgas ruumist, ja Karl Robert eelistas istuda aknas pigem toolis. Ma mäletan, et Angelika, Cärolin, ja Sigre oli alati vait kui hiir aga Elli ja Silvester möirgasid nagu lõvid. Silvester hammustas ka! Priit ja Arthur uskusid, et Tehke harjutused tunnis tahendas Mängige kaardid. Ma olin uhke, et Kristo oli mootorratas kuningas ja Kuldar oli Lada ekspert. Kristian teadsis rohkem inglise keel kohta kui mina. Karina ka oskab küll saada inglise keel õpetajaks aga ma saan aru, et tema tahab saada tants superstaareks.
Although I was a teacher in Tapa 5 years ago, I still remember many of our classes together. I remember that Andres always sat in the corner of the room, and Karl Robert prefered to sit in the window rather than in a chair. I remember Angelika, Cärolin, and Sigre were always as quiet as a mouse but Elli and Silvester roared like lions. Silvester bit, too! Pritt and Arthur believed that "Compete the exercises" in class meant "Play cards." I was proud that Kristo was the motorcycle king and Kuldar was a Lada expert. Kristian knew more about English than I. Karina, too, could become an English teacher but I understand that she wants to be a dance superstar.

Ma olen vana Ameerika mees nüüd aga kindlasti ma ikka mäletan Marek ja Margus ja Maria ja Jane. Kas see on kõik minu kallis ja õpetatud õpilastest? Ei ole, mitte päris. Muidugi ma mäletan Batman and Robin – Venno ja Ülo. Ma usun, et teie rääkisite minuga inglise keeles rohkem tunni pärast kui tunnis.
I am an old American man now but I definitely still remember Marek and Margus and Maria and Jane. Is that all of my dear and learned students? No, not quite. Of course I remember Batman and Robin – Venno and Ülo. I believe that you spoke in English with me after class more than during class.

Ma tänan kõigile nii rikas mälestused jaoks. Ma soovin teile kõike paremat tulevikus. Lõpuks, ma jagan teiga sõnad üks suur saksa keelt õpetajalt kes ma tunnen: Hip Hip Hoorah! Hip Hip Hoorah! Hip Hip Hoorah!
I thank everyone for such rich memories. I wish you all the best for the future. Lastly, I share with you the words of a great German teacher that I know: Hip Hip Hoorah!

Minu poolt Atlandist,
From my side of the Atlantic,

Kevin Hogan

25 March 2012

Tapalased Chicagos

Sa Oled Ilus. In August 2000, after a stop at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I returned to Ameerika from serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tapa, Estonia. I lived with my parents in Springfield until Thanksgiving and then with friends and their families in suburban Geneva and Homewood until March 2001, when I started a full-time job in Chicago and moved to the city's Bucktown neighborhood, still home today to the Thai Lagoon.

Sometime in the first half of 2001, I believe, either as a frustrated jobseeker or overwhelmed new employee, I walked down State Street that Great Street and recognized Sa Oled Ilus on the makeshift wall hiding the notorious, square-block hole in the ground that had been Gallery 37. Sa Oled Ilus is Estonian for You Are Beautiful! A bit further down, under the Swedish Du Är Vacker, there was Sina Olet Kaunis, which seemed close to Estonian, so it had to be Finnish. On one hand, I felt that I was the only person in Chicago who understood Sa Oled Ilus/Sina Olet Kaunis. On the other hand, I wondered where these Estonian- and Finnish-speaking Chicagoans hung out and drank õlut.

Visitor Üks. Perhaps the signs were a sign, for, in August 2001, as I was growing accustom to my co-workers speaking English, Oleg, one of my friends and co-workers from MTÜ Arenduskoda in Tapa, visited me for two weeks - the first resident of Tapa to visit me in Ameerika. I remember we ate supper one evening with my parents at the original Three Happiness in Chinatown. (This is the restaurant Joyce Fong, Chicago's premiere concierge and a fellow 1983 Rosary College graduate, consistently recommended.) I think my dad was a bit befuddled by a young Estonian sitting across from him speaking English and an old waiter standing next to him speaking English with a thicker accent than Oleg. The next day or two, the four of us met up with my sister and her husband to watch Venetian Night's parade of boats along the lakefront in Grant Park. (BTW, the last Venetian Night was in 2009.) My sister had met, dare I say danced with, Oleg when she visited me in Tapa.

Visitors Kaks ja Kolm. Estonians, like many Europeans, generally take three- and four-week-long holidays every August. But even though Oleg was here on vacation, I still had to be an efficient, dedicated, hard-working, butt-licking, American worker into just his sixth month of employment with a very corporate nonprofit organization, getting into the office early and leaving late. If it weren't for the fact that sleeping is Estonians' favourite pasttime, I would have felt really, really bad leaving Oleg alone so often.     

In August 2002, Oleg came back to Chicago (Chihuly was at the Garfield Park Conservatory), and, wisely, this time he brought his own travel companion, Monika, who is today his wife and the mother of his two daughters (not necessarily in that order). This time, I was a little more secure in my position at work and had a little more time to take off. Over one long weekend, the three of us drove west on Illinois Route 64 (North Avenue out of Chicago), stopped in Dixon at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Junior Presidential Museum, Lee County Information Center, and Slice of Early 20th Century Rural Americana, and then had a picnic lunch on a bluff in the Mississippi Palisades State Park. Before dusk, we drove south to the Quad Cities where Oleg entered - his own choice - his first Wal-Mart. On the way back to Chicago, we stopped at a roadside Dairy Queen.

Since Oleg had met up again with my sister in 2001, I took him (and Monika) to meet up with my friends Ed and Doreen, whom he had met when they, too, visited me in Tapa. (I don't remember Oleg dancing with them though.)

Visitor Neli. Man, I got some work to do....