Gia’s Rage: Evolution Strikes Back
As far as I knew, Professor Yaklov Kalganov was the grandson of two artists killed in Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. In 2001 he began teaching at a small liberal arts school in Ohio: Hiram College. He took the position of Chair of the biology department after a long yet unremarkable career at New York University as an associate professor. He was well-liked by his students there, but unequipped to handle the politics and demands commonly found at large research universities. Rumor has it that the decision to move to Hiram was made primarily by his wife, Anna, who never liked New York City anyway.
Soon Professor Kalganov’s human evolution class became so popular among students and even some of the faculty that he had to teach it in the largest classroom on Hiram’s small campus. He went from a small fish in a large sea to an on campus rock star.
Hiram’s biology department already had a reputation among liberal art schools as a top notch program for undergrads who wanted a leg up on others for graduate school: especially medical school. When Professor Kalganov first showed up to chair the biology department, his colleagues resented the fact that someone from their ranks was not promoted internally. However, because of Professor Kalganov’s undeniable charisma, most of the faculty came to respect him and some even to love him.
I met Professor K., as his students lovingly called him, in the fall of 2005 as one of sixty students allowed into his human evolution course. As an English major I was the only upper classman in the course who was not a science major. One of the main reason Professor K’s course was so popular was that anyone who made a B+ or better was eligible for twelve spots to join Professor K. on a summer trip to the Rift Valley in Ethiopia during the summer session for hands on research. Of course I desired one of these coveted spots and was willing to go to any lengths to get one of those coveted spots.
Since bribery was not morally a problem for me at that time, on the last day of class I brought blackberry buckle for Professor K: my grandma’s secret recipe: “Professor Kalganov. I brought you some of my grandma’s world famous blackberry buckle for you.”
“Zarl.” He pronounced my name. “Thank you. You shouldn’t have.”
“Goes great with whipped cream or some Breyer’s ice cream.”
“I will have my dear Anna pick some up then, Zarl. Thank you again.”
As the final was optional for those who had an A average, I left the classroom and returned to my apartment to complete the application for the trip to Rift Valley. I have loved Ethiopia since I had my first taste of Yirgacheffe coffee from there a few years ago. Growing up in the 80s, I also remember the awful videos of children starving in Ethiopia during the famine there. My Mom would remind me on evenings when I refused to finish my dinner that there were “starving kids in Ethiopia.” Guilt was never a good motivator for me as a child, nor has it been since. I had to go on this trip.
My next exam was at two that afternoon for German 311: Advanced Conversation. I did not have close to an A average, but the oral exam was required anyway. As the baking of the buckle interfered on my study time, I was not as prepared as I should have been. However, as I was one of Professor Anderson’s favorite students, I was not afraid of failing. And German was only my minor anyway. As I walked to Professor Anderson’s office, I fantasied what it would be like to walk the same ground as our not so distant ancestors of ancient Ethiopia.