Radiohead's Hail to the Thief opens with a burst of static. Nigel Godrich says, "We're rolling." Thom Yorke remarks, "That's a nice way to start." A drum machine fires up, spits out four stuffy beats. Then Jonny Greenwood sweeps in with a wave of sinister arpeggios and the album begins in full. They are the tentative sounds of a band that has dissected itself to shreds and is nursing its wounds, sitting down to work with tempered expectations and tea. I imagine they drink tea.
It is upon similarly ginger footing that I make my return to TEFL, Teaching English as a Football League. To borrow a David Foster Wallaceism, Korea was a supposedly fun thing I should never have done again. But here I am, doing it again. How do you prepare yourself? By running wind sprints through train station corridors? By binge drinking Listerine? By slapping a strip of duct tape over your mouth and attempting to get your driver's license renewed at the DMV? There is no cross-training for TEFL, no preparation for the absurdity. It is a decathlon of narrowly missed trains, substance misuse, shady bureaucrats, gross miscommunication ... Coming off my five month sabbatical with Dora the Explorer bubble bath in the upstairs tub of my sub-suburban compound, I feel I am up to the task this time around, though no one is ever up to tasks such as these.
This time, it is Poland. I flirted with Peru, made eyes at Estonia, strung along Kyrgyzstan for four months before I caved in to the cat calls of Katolicka Polska. I will be teaching at an English academy called Global Village, in a middling town by the name of Kielce, infamous as the site of the Kielce pogrom, the 1946 slaughter of 37 Jews by a frothing mob of deranged Polish policemen, servicemen, and steelworkers. It is also sister cities with Flint, Michigan. We shall hope Kielce is not the ugly stepsister.
Kielce hovers an hour north of Krakow - where my British leching partners yet remain, lurking in the alleyways between cathedrals, umbrellas at the ready - and two hours south of Warszawa, a city whose name, like Omaha's, evokes a grey sludge in my mind. I find myself in a geographically familiar position, residing in an overlooked mountain town nestled between two metropolises, but I don't expect that Kielce will be as much of an eye- or lung-sore as Daegu. The train station is a flying saucer, enabling quick and easy transport to places like the Kuiper Belt and Flint, Michigan.
It is a five month gig. I will be teaching high schoolers. The contract calls for nineteen teaching hours per week, somewhat less than the forty-or-so I'd gotten used to. I can't imagine how Polish teenagers could possibly surpass the pampered seven-year-old sons of Korean bankers, but I am not placing any bets. According to my director, the thus-far charming Urszula, "we had to thank the teacher you'll be replacing after only 2 months as it appeared he had a drinking problem." How much do you have to drink to get fired in Poland? How many 9.2% Polish porters for breakfast? How much buffalo piss vodka at lunch? How is it possible to get fired without dying?
I am polishing up on my Polish. This language has seven cases. Six of them are beyond me. I suspect everything will be beyond me for a while. But I'm feeling good about Poland. In the event of a Huckabee, Romney, Clinton, Edwards, McCain, Giuliani, Paul, or Thompson victory come November, I will have no qualms about my candlelit loft above the barn, in my cabbage-shaped, cabbage-scented Cathotopia across the sea.