Is Prelude an exclusively musical term? Am I better served by the word Prologue? Today I do not like the sound of “prologue,” for whatever reason, so Prelude it is.
Regardless, the title of this entry might be a little bit disingenuous. I’m certainly no supermodel, as anyone who has seen my photo in this previous post can attest! “Prelude:” might be the most honest part of the post yet, and it is a word that could very well have been chosen inappropriately.
Two things I want to say before I get this show started. First, the Caucasus has been in the news a lot lately! First, an article about Saakashvili’s desire to turn isolated Svaneti into a tourist region, complete with a fancy, modern ski resort and roads that don’t close for six months of the year! Good, bad? Hard to say. Saakashvili also hopes to bring MTV to Batumi on an annual basis in another effort to drum up tourism. Secondly, the consistently rocky relationship between Turkey and Armenia has been bumping about again. Turkey has always struggled to deal with the legacy of the Ottoman Empire–especially the treatment of the Armenians during and shortly before WWI. I won’t get into the controversy, but I will point out two interesting articles that talk about recent events in Eastern Turkey. The first is linked to above (hint: click the word “struggled”) while the second deals with the first mass in 95 years, which was held in Van about a week ago and was not without controversy.
Anyway, enough politicking. My last anecdote before beginning the real story today involves my adorable host brother Luka. Last night, I lay in bed watching Indiana Jones in Georgian. Luka noticed and then came to my door moments later looking like this:
I asked him in Georgian, “Who are you?” and Luka responded with a bow, “I am Arab.” I couldn’t not take a photo.
Tuesday night the Ministry of Education called me. “Tomorrow a photographer will come to your school and take a picture of you while you are teaching. Do not be alarmed, it is approved and everything is OK.” Fantastic! I thought, What a fun thing to do! Plus I have six classes on Wednesday, so that will be pretty exciting.
On Wednesday I informed my co-teachers throughout the day that “Maybe a photographer will come in to our class to take photos of me teaching. I am not sure.” Tenth grade rolled by. Twelfth finished. Eleventh passed with no photographers. I had prepared an exercise involving the song Hello Goodbye by the Beatles for the Seventh Graders. It would make an excellent photo as I taught them the song.
By the end of my third hour of seventh grade, I still had seen no photographer. I called the Ministry who told me he’d be there in twenty minutes and that we’d figure out what to do then.
I waited in Tina’s office until a mildly overweight man in gray and black stripes (what else?) arrived, camera in hand. Tina explained to him that all of my classes for the day were finished but that she had a solution in mind. We walked toward my ninth graders’ classroom.
Inside, the students were having a history lesson. Tina knocked and led the photographer in. When I entered third, I heard several children exclaim, “Raughley!” as I greeted them with a hearty “Hello there, Children!” (bonus points for the reference, Max?)
Tina motioned for me to set up my laptop and play the music. “Hey guys, so this man wants to take photos of me teaching you. I didn’t have anything prepared except for this exercise with ‘Hello Goodbye.’ Do you know this song? Oh good. The seventh graders used up all my copies of the lyrics except five. I am going to hand out these five copies and the rest of you just pretend you have them.”
We faked a lesson wherein the ninth graders very successfully completed a seventh grade-level activity. The photographer ducked in and around the classroom, shooting from multiple angles and prompting me, through Tina, to “move closer to the students. Walk down the aisles.”
We packed up and returned the students to their history teacher just in time for the bell to ring. Sorry History! I’ll make it up to you!
The next afternoon, while teaching twelfth grade, my phone rang. It was on vibrate and I never pick up my phone in class, but I saw that it was from the Ministry so I stepped into the hall. “Hi Raughley, this is Mariam. A photographer is coming to your school again in one hour. They did not like the photos from yesterday so they will take new ones.” Okay, fine with me. At least I had shaved this particular morning. One o’clock rolled around with no sign of the photographer so I called Mariam back. “Oh yes, I will check.” she answered my query as to the photographer’s whereabouts, “She will come in one hour.”
Two hours later a young woman, who is a freelance photographer for Getty Images, showed up with a camera and a flash screen. Is that what you call this thing?
Again, the photographer has missed all my classes so Tina led us over to the History Class. Oops! Stealing children from history once more!
We walked down to the computer room with ten ninth graders and set up two rows of chairs and handed out books. I was instructed just to pose as if I was teaching from the book to an awkward classroom consisting of ten chairs and dozens of computers around the room. We started the photoshoot and the bell rang.
This, rather than destroying our efforts, allowed us to move into a now-vacant classroom. It had desks! Wow! We relocated and set up some desks in a little pod with space for me to crouch in the middle.
I crouched and pointed into the book. The photographer told me “Don’t talk. It makes your face all–” scrunchy, let’s say. The girl whose book I was pointing at had to be repeatedly instructed to smile and to not “look so bored and lazy!”
My position within the pod was repeatedly changed to get shots of me with different students. Sometimes they were poised with their pencils hovering over an exercise. Other times I pointed in their book and smiled at the words while they stared at me, smiling. Occasionally we reversed and I looked smilingly at the students while they pointed and I felt creepy. The only hitch during the whole shoot was that “These walls are terrible! It looks like bulletholes everywhere! It is okay, I can fix it.”
Seemingly satisfied, we all parted ways and I finally walked home after a long day of modeling.
That night, around five pm, my phone rang once more. “Hello Raughley, it is Mariam. I have a funny story about your pictures.” “Oh? What is it?” “You have to take pictures again tomorrow!” Though I don’t believe that qualified as a story, I had to admit, it was pretty funny.
Now, this whole time I only had a vague sense of what these pictures were for. “Some sort of advertisement” was the only description I got initially. Upon probing, Tatia from the Ministry told me that “they are for banners. Ads.” “So, like banner ads on the internet? For the website?” “No! For the streets! You will be everywhere!” Holy Crap.
Fridays I don’t usually work at school. I have an internship downtown (about which I will write another time) and I devote my Fridays to working in the center. I was mildly annoyed that Mariam wanted me to come in to school to take photos on Friday. She told me, “Just meet us at the Ministry at noon and we will drive you to school.” “Why? I can walk, it’s very close.” “No, no. We are taking you to another school. Another volunteer is there.” So it looked like I would be taking a trip to a newer, fancier school. Great, I guess.
As I had guessed, the “other volunteer” was none other than Danielle Baker, herself! I met Danielle about a week ago. She’s from the third group and apparently a huge celebrity. Starting in Kutaisi she was the focus of much media attention. (Danielle, if you read this, please forgive any mistakes or fallacies in my telling of your story!) Based on one of her many TV appearances she was requested by a family in Tbilisi and placed at the fanciest school in the country.
She has been interviewed for TV many times and has become quite recognizable as the new face of TLG. In her own words:
Yeah… the life of a Georgian celebrity is really fantastic… especially when you get random guys coming up to you at the bar saying they are in love with you.
My wonderful neighbor from upstairs came to visit the other day and told me, “I saw a volunteer from your program on TV yesterday. I do not know what her name was, but she was wery, wery beautiful!” “Was her name Danielle?” “Yes! Danielle!” “Yeah, I met her the other night. She’s very nice.” “You must meet her again. And again, and again. Then you can bring her here and maybe, just maybe, I can meet her too!” My neighbor is a nice guy and definitely not creepy. But this is the kind of thing Danielle has to put up with daily.
So I arrived at Danielle’s school, Public School #53, in a car packed with two Ministry officials and the Getty Images photographer from the previous day. We were ushered into a room of six year-olds, where we awaited Danielle’s arrival.
One Ministry (for ease of communication, let’s call her Nino) official began selecting children from the crowd until she had about ten pulled aside. She glanced at me and said, “I do not like doing this. It is very awkward for me. I think the kids realize what I am doing!” By this time Danielle had arrived and we swapped super-model stories.
The bell rang and the teacher shouted for all the students to leave. The ten photogenic students rushed out the door much to Nino’s chagrin. Nino shouted for them to come back and another teacher eventually corralled them all back into the room. Now for the photoshoot.
As Danielle is the true star among us, she was selected first for the photoshoot. We would be doing individual shoots with the same group of kids. I stood to the side chit-chatting with Claudia, who had just arrived to visit Danielle.
A side note, if you’ll permit me: Ever since I got rid of my beard, our former program director Nino Dzotsenidze has asked me “Why are you trying to look so Georgian!?” Yesterday, when I saw her for the first time in a while, she introduced me to some others as, “Raughley, my Georgian boy.” I always laughed off her assertion that I now look Georgian because I still get stares on the metro (though mild stares only). When Danielle introduced me to Claudia (someone with whom I had been facebook friends for a while) I said, “Hello” to Claudia’s surprise: “Oh! You speak English!” “Yes thanks, quite fluently!” So maybe I do look Georgian after all….
Danielle finished her photoshoot and left with Claudia while mine was set up. It was basically the same arrangement as the day before, a pod of desks with me kneeling amongst them. Only this time, the children were six, fidgety, and mostly unable to speak English.
While I sat, pointing and smiling, the boy I was sitting with continued to move about and talk. The photographer became a bit frustrated with him–but what can you do, really? Especially when your nose itches!
The boy pointed into his own book and started reading the numbers 1-10 outloud to me in English. He did very well and one of the girls, who had been told to hover over us interestedly, asked me in Georgian, “Do you know ‘one, two, three’ in Georgian?” “Psh, of course I do! Erti, ori, sami…” I counted to twenty to her adorable amazement.
The kids continued to move around and lack smiles so they needed some more specific instruction.
I finally managed to figure out what these photos are for. We are going to be on billboards advertising TLG. Our faces will literally be all over Tbilisi. I am not sure if I will be playing second fiddle to the more-popular Danielle or if it will be a his-and-hers Billboard situation. Maybe we will share billboards, maybe we will each have our own throughout the city. Maybe they will reassess and choose just one of us to use on the billboards (in that case it will surely be Danielle). Either way, once these billboards go up, I am definitely going to take photos for posterity. And because it’s freaking awesome.