“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players on it.” Or so says William Shakespeare! That’s like a carpenter saying, “The world’s made of wood and people are nails.”—it’s very self-serving. Nonetheless, that has never been truer in my life than here in Georgia.
TLG is a decent-sized program with probably 600 volunteers currently in Georgia and more on the way after New Year’s. I don’t know that many people outside my own training group of 60. I’ve served on panels for most of the groups after me and with the number of people who live in Tbilisi I’m always running in to other TLGers (whether they know it or not! I’m told I look very Georgian—especially if I go for a while between shaves!). Despite the relative lack of contact with other TLG groups, each group gets a bit of a sense of who the other prominent volunteers in Georgia are. We’ve all become characters in each other’s lives.
Since I’ve started keeping this blog, there have been lots of recurring characters. Probably the two most prominent are Marissa and Cristen—though Pauli, Joanne, Ian, Yev, and many more frequently pop in and out of stories. I never really considered any of my friends as characters until recently. There’s a girl from Group 5 who contacted me on my blog asking if we could get together once she got here to talk about what it’s like living in Tbilisi and Georgia. This girl turned out to be really cool and so now we’re friends (Ain’t that always how it goes?). She’s a pretty regular reader of this blog and, as such, already knows most of my Georgia stories!
Angela (the girl) and I hang out with some medium frequency in Tbilisi. Slowly, she’s begun meeting my friends from Group 2. A few weeks ago, she and I were having coffee or something when Cristen arrived in town in advance of her trip to Madrid. Angela tagged along as I picked up Cristen at the train station and, upon being introduced, remarked, “I know your face. I know your stories.” Or something to the same effect but far less menacing. This is when I realized what characters we are.
Imagine getting to meet the characters from some book you read, or some tv show you watch. Maybe it’s a little vain to compare my blog to a book or tv show (Though I’d like to think that some TV shows are of lesser quality than this blog!), but bear with me. Angela reads my blog and hears crazy stories about how Marissa, Cristen, and I form spontaneous TRIPLE DRAGONS or how Pauli and I are German-American soulmates. She can see photos of my friends but has never met them—as is the case for most of you dear readers. She feels like she knows the characters of the stories pretty well from having read four months’ worth of adventures in Georgia. And she’s right! She does know them well. Now that she’s getting a chance to meet them in batches (this past weekend might’ve been a bit of an overload for Angela, but more on that later), she can pull them off the page, fully realized in all three dimensions! She can equate real people she knows with the stories she’s read. It makes it come alive, I imagine, and adds a very curious dynamic to their own budding friendships. (Safe to say budding friendships? I think so, Angela’s fitting in quite well!)
I think my friends are great. I mean, let’s get one thing straight—Group 2 is the best group. I say it in jest, but only partially. Objectively, maybe Group 2 isn’t the best group (Hah! It is.), but subjectively, every TLGer experiences some degree of Group pride. After all, we all trained together in Kutaisi (or Tbilisi, for some of you whipper-snappers!) and bonded very strongly over our shared culture shocks. That said, Group 2 really is the best. To paint a few gross caricatures (DISCLAIMER- I am not aiming to offend with these characterizations. They are tongue and cheek and should be taken as such. They are mostly false stereotypes that I am pulling out of my ass as I write.): Group 1 doesn’t hang out, even with themselves; Group 2 is the best and coolest (Aww yeah!); Group 3 is huge and full of troublemakers; Group 4 is a whiney non-entity; Group 5 is spoiled rotten; Group 6 and 7 combined have less than 30 people; Group 8 and 9 are…wait, what? There are seriously nine groups already here?
So, long story short, Group 2 is indeed the best. I mean, after reading that list above, which one jumps out at you as being the awesomest? I’ll give you a moment to reread. … Group 2? I thought so.
But like I said, I haven’t met many people from other groups. Angela is one of the lucky ones though. I’ve met her and she’s cool! In fact, she has joined the ranks as an Honorary Group 2 Member, First Class (A very elite award, reserved for only the most dedicated and awesome members of non-Group 2 TLG). Only one other person has yet been awarded with such an honor. I won’t say who it is, but I will link to this handsome photo.
Anyway, I guess what I’m saying with this prelude is that we’re all characters in each other’s lives now. The other groups have heard of us, and we’ve heard of them. They remain distant players—understudies and stagehands, perhaps—relative to our individual productions, but players nonetheless. This past week of farewells and final goodbyes has made me really think about the characters that have come to play a major part in my life in Georgia (And hopefully many of them continue to feature in My Life, Starring Raughley Nuzzi—a light comedy with a happy ending!). I really have made some wonderful friendships and built great relationships with many of my co-volunteers. For that alone I feel very privileged to have come to Georgia.
Sentimental drivel aside, characters and plays have a literal role in my Georgian life as well. I’ve mentioned my near and dear host brother Ilia before, I’m sure. I don’t care to dig through old posts for references to him, but Happy Birthday, Dear Tina has one—and a photo, to boot! Ilia is a graduate student in Performing Arts. In fact, just last week he passed is MA Entrance Exam! Tina was thrilled. It was the same day she got a call saying that Saakashvili had a gift for me (and all TLGers, but they probably didn’t tell that to Tina). She was a real proud mama, that day.
Ever since before Halloween, Ilia has been frequently absent from my house. He’s 22, and so delinquency is certainly a valid assumption. Often when he is home he goes out with friends to drink into the wee hours. For all of November and most of October, however, he was spending all his time rehearsing in Gori.
Before the play started up, Ilia had a brief role in a Police Training Video. He played a Russian banker named Sasha who was running the bank when it got invaded by “terroristebi.” I wonder if they’re actually just supposed to be bank robbers, or what. Sasha gets taken hostage and pleads in Russian with his captors and insists that he doesn’t know the safe combination. Not good enough, buddy! He has his fingers broken/cut off (he told me through pantomime, so it could be either!) before being executed by the terrorists. A rather ignominious end to Ilia’s career as Sasha the banker (And a tragically premature snuffing of a very promising film franchise!).
Ilia’s play, Topaz’s System opened while I was in France. Though I missed the premiere, I managed to attend with friends the following weekend. A few people were in town for Helen’s birthday and, as part of the festivities, we took a trip out to Gori to see Ilia perform in the Gori theater. We arrived just in time and, though we got a bit scammed, we managed to have really good seats. The theater itself seemed really nice, if a bit small. As lights went down, Shota got the last word before the theater was plunged into darkness, shouting, “Spoon!” at the sight of my spoon. Shortly, Ilia appeared on stage—the star of the show!
The entire play was in Georgian, naturally, and so we had some difficulty understanding it. Lots of the humor and plot was conveyed visually, so we had a good idea of the gist of it. Topaz, Ilia’s character, was a school teacher with confidence issues. He eventually got fired for standing up to his boss and refusing to corruptly change grades to suit the needs of a baroness. This was act one. Much of that was obvious, despite the language barrier. That said, we were very grateful to have Shota along for the ride to explain the play to us at intermission. And I quote:
Topaz is a kind, honest man. He is a teacher. His director asks him to do a bad thing: to make a zero a five grade. Topaz will not do. So director says…, ‘Fuck off, Topaz!’ and Topaz fuck off.
Shota has really good English. You may recall that he used his linguistic skills to poetically woo Cristen some time ago. Every so often he struggles for lack of a broad enough vocabulary, which is completely understandable. In this case, he didn’t know how to say “The director told Topaz he was fired.” He made the very apt substitution of “Fuck off, Topaz!” which may suit the situation even better!
Now we are waiting to see what he will do next.
While we waited for Act II to start, I decided to indulge in a little mid-play snack. I don’t know about you, but I like something sweet to tide me over between meals, every now and then. As I mentioned above, Shota shouted at my spoon before Act I started. Why on earth did I have a spoon? In Tbilisi, before we left for Gori, I ducked into McDonald’s and asked for a large French fries and a spoon. The girl looked at me and showed me a spoon, one eyebrow raised as if to say, “You know that this is a spoon, right? You can’t eat French fries with a spoon.” She’s right. Luckily for me, I didn’t plan on eating French fries with a spoon.
At a Populi before we left Tbilisi, Joanne and I contemplated buying some Chocolate Pudding cups. We realized we didn’t have any spoons and so Joanne, being the foolish potato-lover that she is, opted out of pudding. I was a bit more stubborn. I picked up a spoon at McDonald’s and eagerly anticipated eating my pudding on the Marshrutka. Instead I fell asleep and shifted my eager anticipation to intermission, at which point I fully enjoyed my pudding!
The lights flashed and the audience shuffled back in to the theater. Angela and Helen had occupied Shota and his friend’s seats in our row so we were all sitting together. Shota looked surprised and Helen said, “Thank you for your seats, Shota! You are such a good man!” The last thing anyone heard before the lights went out was Shota’s protestation, “But I don’t wanna be good!”
Act II was an immediate departure from Act I. It opened with Topaz on the streets, being accosted by strange women. She really freaked me out every time she appeared, more so towards the end of the play than as Act II opened.
In Act II, Ilia was living on the streets, looking for employment. Eventually he met some hucksters who hired him to be a patsy for their corrupt, illegal street cleaning service.
Before long, Ilia was getting promoted through the ranks as his new garbage collection system really took off. The company was called Topaz’s System so that if and when the embezzlement scheme blew up, Ilia would take the fall for it. Instead, he became the biggest pimp in town!
Topaz’s newfound power transformed him from a meek, mousy little teacher man into an aggressive, violent crime lord. He lost his nervous twitch and subservient attitude as evidenced by the time that he raped his secretary for making fun of him. This was a pattern in Act II.
Eventually, Topaz’s old Director came back looking to hire him. He brought the previous love interest along (who was shortly thereafter raped) and faced dejection by Topaz the Criminal Mastermind.
The crooks behind the operation got wary of Topaz and decided that it was time to get rid of him. He was already too powerful, though.
He offered to hire them as security or something for ten percent of the profits, but they objected. Ilia hired some Sky People to dispatch them, terrifyingly.
For a moment, Ilia convinced Susie, the female gangster that the two of them could run away together and start a new, happy life. As she stood there holding herself and day dreaming, Ilia slipped out the back door, letting a Sky Person replace him at her side. She turned and faced the Sky Person only to shriek and die. It was horrible!
The play ended with the Freaky Trash Lady strapped to a hypnotic wheel as Sky People danced in the corner and Topaz’s old buddy went slowly insane on top of a chair.
The curtain went down on Ilia’s play and we all went home happy and disturbed. The moral of the play seemed to be that if you’re a cowardly, small man, just get rich illegally and start raping people! Your confidence will soar!