Gamarjobat Bavshvebo!

Life has been incredibly busy lately–hampering my ability to keep up with my blog as regularly as I used to (also fewer adventures have happened so far).  Take today, for example.  Last semester on a Thursday, I would have left school at 12:30 and sat at home on the internet all day or hopped on a Marshrutka off to some place (read: Zugdidi) almost every week.  Today I found myself hiking through a construction site to find a electronic junk-shop staffed by a trio of Armenian mechanics (electricians?).  This was not just some half-cocked expedition, either.  We had a mission!

We?  But Raughley, you only mentioned yourself!  That’s right, overly-critical, attentive reader!  But in fact I was walking with Vova, my school’s band teacher.  (A quick note about Vova: I am going to write his name Boba because that’s what it looks like in Russian and when I picture it in my head it’s in Russian.  Using V’s just confuses me.)  We were on a mission to rent a speaker.  But more on why another time.  For now I’ll just tell you how.

Boba and I got off the metro at Marjanishvili metro station with our sights set on renting a speaker somewhere nearby.  Boba had the relevant hookup and knew the place.  We bobbed and weaved through the crowded sidewalks with great dexterity–dodging slow old ladies and scaffolding all the while.  After a good fifteen minutes of walking Boba turned left and headed into the least expected building possible: The Old Philharmonia.

Why is that unexpected?  Because it is completely under renovation.  It’s definitely a hard hat area.  We crossed a fallen wall and a footbridge made of two or three planks of wood which spanned a patch of wet cement.  A pigeon ventured near the edge of the cement, but turned back before leaving its permanent mark on the world.  “Pigeon was here” will have to wait for another bold, avian pioneer to brave the hazards of wet cement.

We passed straight through the gutted building and out the other side where another footbridge led us down into a muddy yard where men wheeled bags of concrete powder to and fro.  Finally Boba approached an unmarked iron door in the side of the yard and rapped twice as he poked his head in.

Inside was a poorly-lit shop that can really only be described as a “Junk Drawer” of a shop.  Springs and sprockets and gears and motherboards lined the shelves in that haphazard manner of a cluttered desk where everything has its place.  As we began negotiating the terms of a speaker-rental, I kept looking around at the half-guitars and gutted computers that were strewn everywhere.  The Armenian with the thickest glasses shortly resumed soldering together bits of computer innards while Boba and I sealed a deal with the Driver for the deliver of the speaker to our school.  It’s a good deal, I’m a bit nervous overall for Saturday, but more on that later.  Just prepare yourself mentally for a post that’s either quite triumphant or dismal sometime after this weekend!

Like I mentioned, I’ve been ridiculously busy lately.  I’ve been devoting myself much more strongly to lesson planning, which, therefore, takes up much more of my time.  I’ve been teaching Comma Rules to my ninth graders, showing Star Wars to the twelfth graders, teaching conversational English to an accounting firm, and giving my host family regular lessons at home.  I’ve spent a lot more of my time than I used to in Tina’s office using the printer.  Probably each of those things I mentioned above will get a post in its own right, but the reason I mention them is more as a set up for what happened to me the other day.

I was minding my own business in Tina’s office, one afternoon, printing pictures of Obi-Wan Kenobi and R2-D2 when Tina asked me, “Are you going to the show?”

“What show?”

“Ze Doll Show!” Tina excitedly answered in English.  (Like I said, we’re doing English lessons lately and she’s by far my best and most enthusiastic student.  I even saw her doing her “homework” yesterday!)  Not knowing what a “doll show” was (beyond the odd marionette strip show I saw as an eighth grader at Faneuil Hall in Boston….), I looked at her, confused.  Eventually I managed to understand that it was a “poppet show” and it was next door in the main stage area of our school!  Why the heck not?

I went in to the packed auditorium and saw a clown on stage.  He was sitting between the curtains and decidedly not being a puppet.  That’s okay.  Clowns are pretty alright by me.  They get much maligned in popular culture.  Probably because of It and John Wayne Gacy Jr.

JWG Jr. is a serial killer known as the Killer Clown. He murdered a bunch of young boys in the seventies, I believe.

Also, probably that one scene from The Brave Little Toaster turned kids off clowns forever. 

Sorry for terrifying anyone out there.  Especially because this post is called “Hello Children!” and I then included three terrifying images/clips of evil clowns.  Whoops!  Talk about a bait and switch!

The clown at my school, however, was as charming a clown as I’ve ever seen.  Don’t know what his name is, or what he was saying, but the kids were laughing up a storm the whole time he did his bit!

Giorgi the Clown, we'll call him!

After a spell, he opened up the curtains to reveal a puppet stage all ready to go!  Not a minute later, an adorable bear and rabbit came out together, exchanging cartoonish banter and engaging in some mild slapstick comedy.  The kids loved it!

Meanwhile, at the back of the room, some journalist was trying to interview a student about the performance.  The girl looked nervous in front of a camera but she was saved (?) when an overeager mother (?) approached with three more girls apparently asking, “Why don’t you interview my children?”  The journalists left after that.

They did a little friendship song after this, but I failed to get a non-blurry shot of it, alas!

I couldn’t understand the show’s dialogue very well, but I managed to make sense of parts of it through body language, of all things.  Puppets are known for their “mono affect” (Shout out to you, Lauren Nelson!) and, aside from extraordinary puppets like Yoda, have a hard time with facial expressions.

Just look at that face. Doesn't it scream "wizened exasperation" to you? (Also, this semester has been decidedly more Star Wars-y. It's going to continue to be that way.)

I did catch the bit where the bear said to the rabbit, “Close your eyes, I have a surprise for you.”  The rabbit peeked and the kids laughed as the bear confronted the rabbit, probably saying, “Hey, jackass!  I told you not to peek!”  When the bear presented the rabbit with a delicious felt carrot the mono affected rabbit flailed with joy.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m pretty sure that’s Kermit the Frog’s primary joyful explosion as well!

Okay, so at 1:40 Kermit flails out of frustration.  But I’m including this video in part to make up for all the scary clowns from before.

I stuck around long enough to watch the bear depart and a rooster arrive, then I headed off to attend to whatever business I had.  I think it was watching Star Wars with my twelfth graders.  Yeah, that was a good day….

There was another good day recently, as well!  (Who are we kidding, all of my days are good!  My dear friend Jay Troop recently asked me what the best year of my life was and I honestly answered him, “Jay, every year is the new best year of my life.”)  Angela wanted to borrow my Apples to Apples game and so I told her to come on over and grab it.  When she got there, after an arduous trip from Tsereteli to Dumbadze and a long trek in the dark before she found her way.

When she came in she was immediately ushered to a chair by the heater and given house slippers.  Manana picked her brain while I helped Tina with her “homework” and before long it was getting late.  I got the game out to give to Angela and my family instantly perked up asking, “What’s that?”

“It’s a game, guys, a card game!”  Luka rallied from his flu-ridden state in bed (where he’s been all week, watching pirated movies) and Levan came down from upstairs.  Everyone wanted to play.  For those of you unfamiliar with Apples to Apples, it works like this: Everyone has a hand of five red cards which they have to play based off the green adjective card in the middle.  Everyone has to play a card that best matches the adjective card in the middle.  The “Judge” picks which card is their favorite (the red cards are pretty anonymous, except that sometimes my family would ask me what the words meant, revealing their hand to me.  Whoops….) and the owner of the red card gets to keep the green card.  First to four is the winner!

The family and neighbor had a blast playing.  They tried to make word combinations that made sense, like “cuddly stuffed animal” rather than funny ones.  Tina, Levan, and Angela were doing really well with three cards each as we came down the home stretch.  Tina got a gleam in her eye as she played a card face-down on the word “Enormous” and looking at me, smiling.  I was the judge.  I turned over the cards and read them aloud.  I had to choose between “Enormous Hammerhead Sharks,” “Enormous Elevators,” “Enormous Hippopotamus,” and “Enormous Mosquito Bites.”  Remembering my terrible face after halloween,

My face is terrible. Even now, three days after this photo was taken my face still looks "like you got rubber banded in the face area!"

Tina gleefully exploited my pain of days past for a solid joke.  I loved it.  Tina won.  Tata protested, “A shark is waaaay bigger than a mosquito bite!!  Not fair!”

“Tata,” I chided, “Do you remember how bad my face was when I came back from Zugdidi?  Those were enormous mosquito bites.”  Tata laughed and conceded the point.  Well done, Tina, well done.  I look forward to playing with you all again!

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