Last Friday my host mom/principal told me, “Raughley, tomorrow you are going to school at ten.” Seeing as the following day was a Saturday, I naturally responded with, “Whaaat? That’s crazy talk, Tina!” (In my head, of course). She explained to me that, “Tomorrow the children are going to be planting trees at school and they want you to come!” That sounded like a worthy cause, so I happily agreed!
The following morning, over coffee, cheese, and bread (aka breakfast), Manana told me, “It’s good that you are planting a tree.” “Why’s that, Manana?” “In Georgia we have a saying, ‘A man must do two things in his life: plant a tree, and raise children.’ Today you will plant a tree.”
I grabbed my notebooks (Georgian lesson was immediately after tree planting) and headed out into the slight drizzle with Tina. On the walk to school I taught her how to say, “We are planting a tree.” I love teaching Tina English, she’s so eager to learn and she has a very adorable accent in English. She also clearly gets great joy out of learning English phrases and remembers them very well! Much better than Manana, who continually confuses “bread” and “butter” and always asks me if I want “cheese and butter” with my tea.
When Tina and I arrived at school, a handful of students were digging holes in the lawn and no trees were to be found. A bit confused, we waited around in the mist. Before too long, dozens more students showed up and shovels and hoes appeared left and right. I was taking photos when Tina said, “Raughley! Don’t you want to plant a tree?” Of course I did! It’s one of the things a man must do in his life!
I was handed a shovel and a girl and told to go dig a hole by this telephone pole. I was curious as to what purpose the girl with the hoe would serve, but she immediately hoed the ground to remove the vegetation from the future-hole.
The soil was extremely soft, due to the recent rain and continual misting that we were getting that morning. I had no umbrella, nor suitable rain-clothes, but it was not that bad. My apprentices and I continued to dig, regardless of the slight rain.
Some of the people at school were better prepared than others, though I really must admit that I am exaggerating the severity of the precipitation. Nonetheless, Tina and her staff went around from hole to hole monitoring, supervising, inspecting, and enjoying the students’ enthusiasm for tree planting!
While I was digging the hole, I realized I had no idea how big it needed to be. For starters, I haven’t dug a hole (except figuratively) in years, so my hole-digging skills were a little sketchy, at best. Don’t get me wrong, I dug that hole like a pro! I just didn’t know how deep or wide it needed to be. And we all know that when it comes to holes, size matters.
After a good long while, a truck pulled in to the yard bearing dozens of saplings. Everyone got a small pine tree in a plastic bag. It looked like our hole was a bit too deep after all. Also, somebody gave us a really runt-y tree! With indignation, Salome ran off and came back with a better one.
As we refilled our hole, lots of people came over to criticize our technique. They would point and yell in Georgian while we shoveled dirt onto the roots and tell us to tamp it down more or less, depending on their preferences.
Salome, Natia, and Mariam only knew a little bit of English. Combined with my basic knowledge of Georgian we had a hard time speaking to each other. Charading to each other was another matter entirely, and we wound up working together as a team very well! We could convey most of the necessary ideas to each other with ease. Side Note: When you need to discuss digging a hole and planting a tree in a foreign language, the pantomimes that you’ll need are really easy.
As the morning rolled by we finished planting our tree. It was solidly, but not too tightly, packed into the earth at the corner of two intersecting driveways. As my host mother Manana said, “Come back in five years and you will see how big your tree is!” I told her, “Manana, I am not going anywhere!” “Och! Kargi bitchi khar!”
As much as I might’ve enjoyed sleeping in on Saturday morning, I think that planting this tree was a far more valuable and fulfilling use of my time. I know that I’m already giving back to my community (The Georgian students’ talent and eagerness proves the success of this program! [But seriously, it does.]), but this was a satisfyingly tangible, earthy way to contribute. And as far as my life’s duties are concerned, one down, one to go.