Until recently I had been teaching a small group of students in a makeshift classroom on a troubled high school campus. The idea behind the class is that I would teach the parents of struggling students who would then realize the value of education. Unfortunately, most parents who have children who aren't doing well in school probably don't really give a damn. And the majority of those parents are native speakers of English. Many immigrants may be struggling with the language, but one of the primary reasons they have come to the United States is get an education for their children. Among the few students the class attracted, one was a parent of a child at the high school. Ironically, Fatimah--not her real name--recognized the school was not very good and was doing all she could to get him transferred to another school.
Fatimah is a middle-aged woman from Kyrgyzstan. Her father was Tartar and her mother Russian. In Kyrgystan she was a businesswoman, operating a shop that sold Swarovsky crystal. Although her husband has been here several years and is currently working on an MA at the local university, Fatimah and her children have just been here since last August.
Most of the nearly 300,000 Russian speaking immigrants in the greater Sacramento area are evangelical Christians. Although I have had many students from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan (as well as Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova), Fatimah is the first Muslim student I have had from one of the former Soviet republics. While many students from the northern countries have a dour, almost humorless affect, Fatimah, like many other students I've had from the "Stans", has a very upbeat and cheerful outlook.
Tattoos are rare among the Russian speaking immigrants, save for the occasional crude army tat that some men have. Fatimah has a prominent abstract tattoo of intertwining geometrical shapes on her left shoulder. Curious, I asked her about tattoos in Kyrgyzstan. She told me that while some younger people have them, most people don't approve. She got hers a few years ago, when her husband was over here and she was still in Kyrgyzstan. "I like," she said, "so I get. I don't care what people think. My husband very surprised when he see. 'Why?,' he ask. I tell him I think it's beautiful, so I get. I am 35 years old when I get. I old enough to do what I like. My son not like, no understand. My daughter happy, smiling, says it beautiful."
Last week this class was shifted to the morning, allowing me to return to a much larger class at the adult school. Even though I am pleased not to have to travel between schools anymore, not to have to tell students that they couldn't come to class until the school completed a criminal background check on them, not to have to lock up whiteboard markers and erasers, and to have a regular class of more than a handful of students in a real classroom, I felt bad abandoning those students.
On the last day of the class, Fatimah brought an apple cake she made. It's one she makes frequently for her family, she said. Apples, flour, eggs, and sugar, it is made without oil or butter. Still warm from the oven, it was a delightfully moist, not too sweet cake. It was a lovely treat on a bittersweet ending to the class.
Oil-free Apple Cake
3 to 4 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
3 to 4 eggs, beaten
1 cup of all purpose flour, sifted
3/4 to 1 cup of sugar
(I added about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg)
Preheat oven to 350º F. Line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
Mix apples with sugar, using less sugar for sweeter apples, more for tarter apples. Stir in beaten eggs. Stir in flour and mix well. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.