The Secret Lives of Stuyvesant Teachers

Teachers share their past interesting experiences and stories.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Cover Image
By The Photo Department

Ulugbek Akhmedov, physics teacher

Lucky Escape from Kidnap Attempt

Physics teacher Ulugbek Akhmedov grew up in Uzbekistan under Soviet rule. In fifth grade, he was on the bus with his friend whose mom worked at an importing company and bought her son a full-length leather coat. His friend would “wear it every day just to brag about it.”

A stranger asked the children to hop on a motorcycle to show directions to a store. They obliged but as they got off, the cyclist grabbed his friend by the coat and said, “I like your coat.” “Apparently, my friend understood. He jerked and ran, and we both ran. We heard the sound of the motorcycle [and] we thought [the cyclist] was chasing us, but he ran away. It’s crazy but it was pretty close,” Akhmedov said. Moral of the story: don’t flex about your coats—and especially not in the summer.

Zachary Berman, history teacher

A Twisty Street and Pigeon Poop-Induced Panic Attack

In reference to the nervous energy that so many Stuyvesant students emanate, Berman thinks Stuyvesant students will be able to relate to the experience of having a panic attack. The context of his anxiety was a bit different from our day-to-day stresses, though, due to the obscure location it occurred in and its frighteningly long duration. While taking Arabic classes in Fez, Morocco, the largest car-free city in the world, history teacher Zachary Berman took a tour into the old city. At one point, he stopped to watch a man weave a rug, which he was so mesmerized by that he lost his tour group. Though losing a tour is not an uncommon or devastating occurrence, Fez is a city with no right angles and most streets culminate in dead ends. With no grid to follow or defined town square, the city is famous for getting people lost.

Eventually, the locals helped guide him back to his group, which had stopped at a tannery where giant vats of pigeon poop are used to tan leather. The overwhelming stench of the feces coupled with his accelerated heart rate from running directionless around the scorching Saharan city led Berman to have a panic attack that didn’t subside for hours. When he laid down and still couldn’t get his heart to slow, he thought he was having a heart attack. Six to eight hours later, the feeling still persisted, so Berman went to see a doctor who told him it was just a panic attack. Despite the whole eight-hour panic attack fiasco, Berman highly recommends visiting Morocco. During his trip he traveled over mountains, hiked through fields of marijuana, and visited a town where everyone paints the front of their house to match the blue of the sky. “It’s so different from any other place in the world,” he said.

Robert Sandler, history teacher

180 Degree Change of Weather

The first time history teacher Robert Sandler visited India, he experienced the wrath of the Indian monsoon season. “I came outside of [my best friend’s] apartment and this brown water was past my knees,” he said. But still, he waded through it to get Pepsi for his wife. After the monsoons in Mumbai, he visited Delhi where the weather flipped to a blistering 116 degrees Fahrenheit. “I almost started crying,” he said. He poured bottles of water onto his head which instantly evaporated and when he tried brushing his teeth, he had to instantly spit out the water since it was so hot.

The next day he rented a small limousine that took him to Gandhi’s grave, forts, and mosques, which cheered up the history enthusiast inside of him enough for him to forgive the brutal heat. Sandler’s trip to India was packed with adventure: riding camels in the desert as well as visiting Red Fort where the Sepoy mutiny took place, the Ajanta and Ellora caves, Jaisalmer the Golden City, Jodhpur the Blue City, Taj Mahal, Varanasi cremation, Khajuraho’s erotic sculptures, Kerala boat race, and Buddhist temples in Ladakh. Despite the drastic weather of the Indian summer, the vivid culture made Sandler call India his “favorite country out of the 30 plus he has visited.” A word to the wise: visit India, and do so in the winter.

Michael Waxman, history teacher

Stranded and Trespassing

While staying in a rural part of Japan, history teacher Michael Waxman was on his way home from a friend’s house when his motorcycle broke down. A storm broke out so he was unable to repair the motorcycle, and he was too far from either his house or his friend’s house to walk the bike in his tired, soaked state. “I was in the countryside, so I just went to the nearby farm.” The barn door was open so he snuck in to spend the night in the barn and walked his bike home the next morning.

Kidnapped In Yemen

On his trip to Yemen, Waxman was kidnapped by a rebel group and he assumes he was held for ransom. Throughout the situation he remained calm and eventually his kidnappers took him to a market where they made him buy them khat leaves, a stimulant drug that people in Yemen chew throughout the day. After Waxman bought them some leaves and food, they freed him.

The Lifesaving Lungi

In Myanmar, Waxman and his friend unknowingly wandered into a military zone. All of a sudden, a militia came up to them with guns raised. Waxman and his friend decided to make a run for it rather than risk being taken hostage, as they were sure the outcome would be jail or death. That day they were wearing lungis, a sarong which is tied around the waist. Coincidentally, Waxman had not tied his lungis properly, so, in a cartoon-like fashion, it fell as he ran and he was left in his underwear. The humor of the situation did not escape the militia, who started laughing hysterically. Their distraction allowed Waxman and his friend to run to their car and drive away. A badly-tied knot might have saved their lives.

Eaten Alive by Red Ants

After a long day hiking through Syria, Waxman and his friend sought sanctuary under the shade of a tree. They sat against the trunk and just as they were beginning to relax, a commotion erupted from inside. A colony of red ants had sensed their presence and decided they were a threat. Thousands of ants swarmed from the tree and crawled all over Waxman and his friend. They leapt up, stripped out of their clothes, and rolled around in the sand to get rid of the tiny, vicious creatures. And, thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.

William Wrigley, art teacher

Chased by the Italian Police on a Coffee High

In a convoluted turn of events, art teacher William Wrigley’s coffee addiction led to two uzis in his face, a fake story about his grandfather dying, and his family thinking he had been kidnapped while he painted off a caffeine high in his windowless studio in a small town in Italy. Wrigley spent a summer in college studying painting and history in Cortona, Italy, a hilly town with one bar where his friends would get drunk and he would be their “straight laced” designated walker—making sure they didn’t fall off a cliff on their way home. Wrigley’s drug of choice was coffee and the bartender there made a coffee so black that a single cup could give you jitters.

One night, Wrigley gulped down three or four such cups, after which the other bar-goers tied a towel around his neck, placed a crown on his head, and titled him the Coffee King. His words, mind, heart, and breath were racing so fast that he was high enough to match the level of amphetamines. To burn off the energy, he decided to go to his studio to paint and started jogging there. The incline picked up and his jog turned into a full sprint as he raced down the mountain. “I passed through the gates and my feet were echoing like thunder on the cobblestone streets,” he recounts.

As he turned a corner to his studio, two soldiers from the Italian Military Police blocked him with their guns. In his haze and fear, Wrigley forgot his Italian and started wheezing from the intensity of his seven-minute sprint down the hill. When the police asked him why he was sprinting down the street at 3:00 a.m., he blurted out the first thing he could think of: “I have to call America. My grandfather is dead.” The soldiers sympathetically gave him a phone to make the call with and he frantically called his mom who was out for dinner with said grandfather and did not pick up. He left a message saying, “Hi mom and dad. I can’t talk very long. I’m really out of breath and I’m kind of nervous. I don’t really like guns and they still have them out. And I just want to let you know I love you and I’ll see you soon I hope but I’ve got to go now.” He then retired to his studio where he painted for a few hours before crashing after the high wore off.

The next day the professors of the program burst into his room asking what had happened, because his mom had called the Italian consulate and thought he had been kidnapped. For the rest of the summer his “Coffee King” nickname was rescinded in favor of “Too Much Coffee.”