Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Russians

On Saturday we went to the circus. It was amazing! I had so many mixed emotions during the entire performance. By the time it ended I was completely tense. It smelled delicious when we walked in—like kettle corn and cotton candy. It was starting as we crawled across people to get to our seats, and I suddenly felt like I was in Vegas. The scantily clad women with large feather headdresses in bright colors were dancing up the aisles, music was blasting, lights were flashing and confetti was falling from the ceiling. It was probably just an ordinary circus show, but I haven't really been to many circuses. They had some of the usual acts—horses, lions and tigers, trapeze fliers, clowns between the main acts, contortionists, etc. The shows were pretty spectacular. But the whole time my body was so tense because I was pretty sure I was going to witness someone's death right then and there. The acrobats were amazing, but they had no form of netting or anything, and they were swinging and tossing each other through the air. It was pretty unreal. And then the one that almost made me throw up were two guys who ran around in a contraption that looked like those things hamsters run around in, except that there were two, and they had to coordinate with each other. They had one net at one end of their contraption with a little mattress that I'm sure would have done almost nothing if they'd fallen. They were walking around in the middle of them, then they went to the outside. Then one of the men jumped rope on the outside of one of them. It was the worst because we were so close to them I could see their expressions. I could tell how much they were straining and feel that with any false move, they were gonners. At one point one of them even put a black bag over his head and walked along the outside. That was where I almost threw up.

The act that got me thinking the most was the lion and tiger act. So, I have to preface my description of it with a short description of what is going on right now in our teaching. As I've stated before, we live in a very wealthy area, just outside of Moscow. We all came into this teaching gig with the idea that we would be serving in Russia, helping kids learn English who might not otherwise have that opportunity. Our training consisted of a day or two listening to classes about what teaching would be like, but by no means are we professionals. In fact, two of the girls in my group just turned 18, and haven't even started college. But they do a really good job. All of them try their best and put a lot into their lessons. But last week our coordinator visited our classes, and all she had to say were comments like, “Why don't they all know the words to the songs?” “They should be speaking more English,” “One of the teachers talks too fast,” “The school is upset because you broke seven chairs, two tables, a sink and a curtain...” and so on... And then later that night I got home to an email about one more thing, and then on Sunday I got a phone call about a few more things...

So, back to the lions and tigers. As I was watching them and feeling incredibly sorry for the poor, skinny, very likely sedated animals, I watched the lion tamer crack his whip whenever they made a wrong move. And that's when I realized what was missing. In the US whenever I've been to Marine World or other such shows with live animals, they've always had a large bag of fish or steaks, or some kind of animal treat. In a nutshell, I could see in the circus act what was making it so hard this past week for my teachers. Russians are just not big on positive reinforcement.

But, all in all, I just have to say that the circus was so good, I could hardly believe it when I looked at my watch at then end and saw it was 10pm, making for a three hour show! So, next time you're in Moscow, I'd recommend a trip to the circus. But you might want to bring along a barf bag, just in case.

1 comment:

Susie said...

Amazing pictures. Your comment on positive reinforcement is a good one. I forget about it sometimes when I am teaching or I say something positive to manipulate other kids to do that thing I want them to. Things go sooooo much better using positive than negative.