I just had my second balalaika lesson. It went alright in general, but near the end of the lesson, disaster (?) struck. Bear in mind that this whole conversation is in Russian; my teacher, Natasha, doesn't speak any English.
N: So, are you in Vladivostok to study Russian?
L: No, no, I'm an English teacher.
N: Oh, I see.
Her eyes start to twinkle. She glances over at her son, a boy of about seven who she brings to the lessons for reasons I don't entirely understand.
N: Say, I have an idea. How about instead of you paying me money for the lessons, I can teach you balalaika, and you can teach Slava English?
I swear, in that moment, my life flashed before my eyes.
I don't consider myself a pushover (note: I readily admit there might be a bit of delusion in my self-perception), but I often find that in Russian, my hands (and tongue) are tied. I could think of a million reasons why this type of in-kind payment is a bad idea: I have virtually no pedagogical training and the training I do have has nothing to do with little kids; if Natasha isn't satisfied with my teaching - or if I decide I don't want to teach the kid but do want to keep learning the balalaika - the situation could get awkward very quickly; planning lessons is very time-consuming; I'm not sure how this kind of work jives with my grant agreement; etc. Unfortunately, I was struck more or less dumb - not exactly because I can't say these things in Russian, but just because it seems the combination of (awkward situation) + (foreign language) leaves me unable to function normally. Someday maybe I'll tell you about Djanik, the guy I met in the grocery store who ended up professing his undying love for me via text-message. But that's another story; the sum of today's story is that I'm teaching Slava his first English lesson next Wednesday and all I can do is laugh at myself and pray that it all turns out ok.
Something good did come out of the lesson, though: Natasha and I picked out a song for me to study, and the first one she suggested was the TETRIS THEME SONG. If any of you know how much I love Tetris, you will realize how exciting this is for me.