“Fascinating” would not even describe the enthusiasm of Liis Variku, the 18-year-old from Estonia.. As her teacher for English Literature and Comprehension, I was intrigued from day one.. Now, after 12 months, Liis was in Finland, and once again she had done me proud.. As I heard her presentation for The European World CLASS Culture Expo 2010, even this late in December, my blood felt warm and I was glued to the television screen.. The Israeli salad that my wife served me as I watched was great on my senses.. cucumber, onion, capsicum, black beans, chick peas, tomato – and a tingling dressing..
The first time I saw her at NorthView High, she had told me of her goal to be an English teacher in her native Estonia.. She also had another project at hand.. The Exhibition of People in Dec, ’10 in Finland, which partially funded her stay in the US was a showcase of people living in 2010 in a certain part of the world.. She was to document the life of 5 people that she would befriend in the US.. The final act was to be accumulated from willing participants, complete with visuals and verbal or written permission from the interviewees..
FIVE interviews..? And in-depth personal at that? An average American would make less than 9 (8.6 to be exact) number of close friends in his/her lifetime.. And Liis had an year to make 5.. I had wondered if that was possible, for I did not even know the name of the great-grandfather who lived next door to mine, let alone if he was dying..
Today, carefully and deliberately, she was presenting her work..
“#1 is Kushi Ganzorig comes from Mongolia, where the horse to human ratio is 14:1. She had come to the States on a two-year Au Pair program.. One that enabled her to work as a nanny/cook for an American family in exchange for a monthly allowance, shelter and the assistance required to attend an evening community program for learning English. I soon found out that Kushi was a victim of abuse at her employer’s household.. The husband/father of the house, had repeatedly stole her underwear from the washing machine and also sexually assaulted her without the knowledge of the Lady of the house.. He blackmailed her for 6 months, before she confided in me.. Today, she dreams of being a teacher and helping kids better communicate with the world and she sees English as a means to do it.. In so many ways, her resilience and her will power reminds of a great leader and an inspiring woman in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi. (pronounced Awn Sahn Sue Chee)”
When I first heard about her from Liis, I was embarrassed to realize that Kushi did not tell me anything personally, even though she had been my student much before Liis came around.. And I had to know the reason, why would she be forthcoming to a man again and trust someone with a p*nis anymore.. I mentioned it to a lawyer friend, and asked Kushi if I should arrange for her to go home.. And her decision did not surprise me, because she declared that so much was at stake..
“#2 is Marina Camacho, a strong-willed petite Latino girl.. If the word IRONY had a look and feel, her life would have to be put on a pedestal and be surrounded by glass windows and put on display.. She has recently lost her family in unfathomable tragedy.. When Chile and the world along with it, cheered and celebrated the lives of 33 miners stuck underground for more than two months, she had a personal reason to stay glued to the news, one of the miners was her own brother-in-law.. The day she heard his voice when he was pulled out in a makeshift life capsule from inside the earth some 2250 feet below, the feeling was ecstatic.. Life was great.. Her family was now preparing for an endless season of happiness, when tragedy struck less than 72 hours after he got home.. A giant sink hole swallowed the house the entire family of aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered to celebrate the safe return of her sister’s husband..”
Marina had later found out that rescuers dug the bodies of her parents and relatives to find that they had laid out a meal for 14 family members and were probably having their lunch at the time of their deaths..
“#3 Isabella Tudor is a great girl: As a part-time waitress at the nearby Italian restaurant, I had befriended her and encouraged her to reveal her story.. The girl is from Moldova and we soon found out that we both had crazy plans for our futures..
Bella tries to be keep it business as usual, because she cannot let the pain come in the way of her dreams.. In April, when news of her father’s illness reached her, she gathered up her savings, 2000 dollars in total, bought a flight ticket to Moldova to be with him during his last days.. The volcanic ash clouds over the commercial airspace in Northern Europe indefinitely stalled air traffic for days.. The ash clouds were as a result of volcanic eruptions beneath an ice cap in Iceland, and the travel disruption was said to be the highest since the Second World War.. After hopping over multiple airports for 26 days, all along with little communication with the outside world, Bella made it in time only to touch the ice cold grave stone of her father..”
Bella would joke with Liis, that next time she would prefer to be in a flight diversion situation because someone illegibly scribbled the word ‘bomb’ on the mirror in the bathroom.. That issue is national security, so it would be an emergency and the passengers would at least be treated with great care and respect for the fear of setting off a bomb!
“#4 is Kyle Gopichund from India: As part of the project, I have 5 people to introduce to you.. And the 4th one has to be Mr. Gopichund, my English teacher in the US and my mentor! Some people just refuse to live a nondescript life..! And Kyle is one of them, he wrote and published Essays to repudiate the popular theory that the Media was imposing on the general public.. That the holy land of Ayodhya was a point of contention and how Indians were divided on who should get the land, Muslims or Hindus.. He presented some interesting research that the young of India did not care as much about religious and communal divisions than their own cell phones and the current movie schedules of their favorite Bollywood movies in the nearest multiplexes.. Of course, the Supreme Court of India eventually ruled their landmark decision of dividing the land between both Muslims and Hindus, which Kyle thought was a great secular ruling that uplifts the principles of Indian Democracy!”
And then as if she was addressing me directly, she said, “Sir, if you are listening, this one is for you! The Finns are warm and friendly people, and they have bidets in their toilets.. And it sure does feel good! Ha ha.. I am looking forward to the year 2011 with your inspirations and your tutelage, I hope to land a teaching position in Estonia soon..”
At that moment, I did not have to listen to who her number 5 would be.. For me, it was Liis Variku..
#5 Liis Variku from Estonia: Liis was barely here for an year, but she left me with a lot of memories.. I remember having conversations and debates over coffee at our midtown condo balcony, looking down at the highway traffic right below us.. My wife would occasionally join in, but would mostly be recording us and making fun of our worldly views.. Liis would pose difficult questions, what the psychology of fear meant, and if the quotient of fear was greater in public places when surrounded by 1000s of strangers or while sitting at home in the company of family and friends losing away the few remaining hours of life to an incurable cancer.. The stampede at the Khmer Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – where thousands of people in panic ran across a bridge to save themselves from the rising waters of the river killing around 400 people crushing them under their feet as they ran..
When asked to write a current affairs essay, she had written about the The Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and how many thousands of people lost their livelihoods for generations to come.. She wrote about how the world treats America and its richness and how poor people and their misery was shoved off in the back burner both by the Media and BP(The British Petroleum Company) who were playing with people’s sloppy memories.. All in the name of quick turnaround for any claims and financial help requests that they were processing daily – 20 BILLION dollars to be given away and efficiently – That was the agenda, right??!!
All through, the young girl had taught me one great lesson of all.. That there were a lot of people along with her in the United States of America, because it was the land of opportunities where they did not have to give up their dreams so easily.. I was often dumbfounded at the profound nature of her perspectives, but I realized that I shared this sentiment with her and all of them!
She finally concluded her presentation to a standing ovation, with this,
“The world in 2010 has seen floods in India, China, Caracas, Pakistan.. a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti.. And some lives have changed forever.. We have also seen the eye-catching spectacle of The 2010 Winter Olympics Whistler, Canada and the breathtaking feats of India for the 2010 Commonwealth games in New Delhi, India.. Here is to hoping that THE YEAR 2011 will be a little better year for the World than ever before.. !!”
Is Life a better fictional author than any of us..? Is the idea of a great fiction generally overrated?! Does LIFE always seem to have a better plot for a story??
Are there any stories that you have heard or read this year, that have made a deep and permanent change in you?! What news did you hear in 2010, that you thought was the most impactful, and may be fit the thought of Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
A foot note: The (hyper)links lead to REAL stories of 2010.. And this story is as narrated by Kyle Gopichund, a High School English teacher.