So, in choosing which books to bring for the library, I have optimistically included several classics of the 4th-7th grade reading level: lots of Roald Dahl, Lois Lowry, E.L. Konigsberg, and Louis Sachar. I intended to distribute them among English teachers so that they can sharpen their language skills. However, this word-for-word transcript of a conversation from a winter teaching conference should show you why this intention is, to put it mildly, flawed. Keep in mind that teachers who work with Peace Corps volunteers are inherently more motivated than the rest. To set the scene, it’s a session on feedback, with me, my friends Ian and Lola, and 3 Kyrgyz teachers (one of whom, no joke, is named DILDOCON) in a small group. The question on the board: “Were the goal of the session achieved?”
Ian: I think it were.
Lola: So the goal was to give direct feedback and encourage it on a regular basis by creating a comfortable forum between each counterpart-volunteer pair.
Me: (to Kyrgyz teachers) What do you think? Was the goal achieved?
Teacher 1: Much time.
Teacher 2: Higher education, yes?
Me: Yes. What?
Teacher 3: Challenges.
Teachers 1 and 2: (Nodding).
Me: What… were… the… goals… of… the… session?
Lola: I think we’re done here.
So whatever. Eventually some driven, self-studying teacher like my counterpart will read The Witches and renew her love for the English language. Until then, I have tons of awesome shit to reread.
The Witches is not my favorite Roald Dahl book. However, I like that it gives a little cultural background to Dahl’s ever-present macabre tone–his parents were Norwegian, and aside from the fact that Scandinavian folklore is incredibly chilling and violent, “the Norwegians know all about witches, for Norway, with its black forests and icy mountains, is where the first witches came from.” The story involves a boy being turned into a mouse by a hotel convention of child-killing witches and then him plotting revenge with his cigar-smoking grandma (the quintessential Roald Dahl sentence of “‘What an idea!’ she cried. ‘It’s fantastic! It’s tremendous! You’re a genius, my darling!’” appears unsatisfyingly late in the book, a little more than 2/3 through). Eventually they destroy the witches of England and plot to destroy the witches of the world.
I think my post-America emotions were making me extremely sappy during this reread, but still, the part of the book I liked best was at the very end. “My darling,” the grandma says, “are you sure you don’t mind being a mouse for the rest of your life?”
”‘I don’t mind at all,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like as long as somebody loves you.’”