Listening to the Teachers
The conference sessions were held in classrooms of the Reformed high school in the village of Peterfalva, Ukraine. We stayed in the hospitality center affiliated with the Reformed church there. Soon after we were settled in our rooms, we met three Dutch gentlemen who were noisily enjoying afternoon refreshments. We came with words, they had come with a truckload of supplies.
The next morning, the sound of a gun-shot shocked me awake. Showing great common sense, I jumped out of bed, swung open the window and leaned out to see what was happening. Good for me, there was no gun. Men on bicycles were herding the village cattle out to pasture, cracking their long whips over the cows to keep them moving.
We joined the teachers for breakfast served in the school dining hall across the street. Watching them laughing and chatting, it crossed my mind that perhaps being together and swapping teacher stories may have been a greater attraction than listening to our lectures. I never found out whether my visit made any difference for them. It did change me.
It was gratifying to walk into a full classroom, but challenging to lecture in tandem with a translator, reading faces to guess whether they understood. By the end, I could only imagine that the teachers in front of me were tired too, ready to get up and stretch. To my surprise, after I had thanked them for coming, they just smiled and stayed in their seats. Puzzled, I asked the translator whether something was wrong. He explained that they just wanted to talk. I was glad because I was tired of talking and had questions for them.
I asked about their daily challenges. A hand quickly shot up and a teacher explained that getting enough food was an enormous problem. Many had given up that late April weekend to attend the conference. Planting their gardens was not a hobby; it was a necessity. Most relied on their own gardens to supply food for the following year.
They went on to explain that part of the food problem was caused by pollution. Here’s what happened. After the socialist takeover, farms were seized and incorporated into collectives managed by distant bureaucrats. Moscow experts understood ideology but knew little or nothing about farming. According to one directive, tractor drivers were to be paid according the amount of fuel left after a workday. No longer allowed to function as able, competent farmers, these tractor drivers soon figured out how to beat the system. Each morning, they drained gallons of fuel into the ground leaving them free for a day of leisure and large swathes of land dead and barren. More lessons were coming.