The French Connection

I think I’ll take a break from chronicling the adventures of Marissa and Joanne for a little while (Don’t worry Mrs. Needles, they’ll be back in the picture very soon!).  Tonight I’m going to write about one of the more randomly adventurous afternoons I’ve had in a while.

It all began in Tina’s office, where I was doing some lesson planning and, let’s be honest, maybe some blog writing.  I was definitely renting a car.  But more on that later. (Note: Not today.)

Nana, one of Tina’s friends, popped her head out of the secret room to ask me, “Raughley, do you want coffee?”  Wanting to ingratiate myself to my host mom and her pals, I of course obliged.  Luckily for me, there was also pizza and khatchapuri back there!  We ate and chatted–correction, we ate and the ladies chatted.  I chimed in when addressed, but mostly just enjoyed my food and drink.

Nana didn’t seem to want any food and Eka pointed this out, asking, “Nana, won’t you have some khatchapuri?”

“No, I don’t want any,” came Nana’s reply.  Tina nudged me and said, “Nana’s on a diet.  Do you think she looks fat?”  At the word “fat” Tina puffed her cheeks out, so that I’d understand.  I looked shocked and said, “No!  Of course she’s not fat!”

Eka laughed and asked, “How is she not fat!?”  Everyone had a good chuckle, so I relaxed a bit.

Suddenly, Tina’s phone rang.  She asked into the receiver, “Rali?” and glanced at me sideways.  She wrapped up the conversation and turned to me with a raised eyebrow, “Rali, you are going to Turkey?”

“Oh, yes, I am!”  I had just emailed the Ministry to inform them of my upcoming trip to Istanbul and had been waiting for a response from them before telling Tina about it.

“Did you ask for permission?” Tina asked me in Georgian.  When I looked confused she translated “permission” into Russian, but I still didn’t recognize the word.

“I don’t know the word ‘permission,’ sorry!” I told her and she laughed and said, “Of course you don’t know what permission means!”

Context kicked in and I figured out my faux pas.  “I was going to ask you today, but I wanted to hear back from them first!”  Tina, in a motherly gesture, informed me that they had called to see if I had cleared it with her and “I told them you asked for permission already.”  What a good mom Tina is!

Another woman came in to the secret room and took a seat opposite me.  As I got up to leave I heard Tina say something about “a man who is cute, smart, funny…” and I turned as I reached the door.  “Are you guys talking about me?” I asked, pointing at myself.  The burst of laughter at my Georgian language joke reassured me that Tina wasn’t disturbed by my Turkish misstep.

A few minutes later, Tina came out of the secret room and asked, “Rali, would you like to got to a French Exhibition downtown?”  Again, in an ingratiating mood, I announced, “Yes!  Of course I would!”  We packed up our things and climbed into a taxi.

We arrived at the Tbilisi Doll Museum right before the exhibition began.  Apparently France has had a TLG-like program since 1991.  French teachers have come to Georgia and worked in public schools.  A mythical French girl named Mathilda works at mine, but I’ve never seen or met her.  When she first arrived back in October Tina told me that a “Beautiful Blond French girl is at our school now.  She’s your age.  You’d probably like her–I’ll introduce you.”  That introduction never happened.

Every year, I suppose, the French Embassy hosts an exhibition of student artwork, song, and dance.  I don’t know if they always choose the Doll Museum, but that’s where it was this time!

I really like this one in particular! It wasn't over the entrance to the exhibition or anything, but School 151 clearly has its shit together!

I met one of the French teachers from my own school and conversed with her briefly in French as she explained the TLG-esque program to me.  Tina and I began to walk around together looking at the various paintings and drawings done by French students from all over Georgia–Tbilisi, Kakheti, Imereti, Guria, and Samegrelo were all represented (Probably more, too!).

I don't know which school did that painting, but I like it!
Here we've got a crucifixion, a musical sextet, a skiier, and a couple of Steve Martin-wannabes walking like Egyptians.
This is our own modest exhibit. Sadly, no paintings, but some nice text articles and photos!
Tina really liked these snowy landscapes. So did I!

As we wandered the doll-less halls of the museum, we came upon quite the sight waiting in the next room, where the “stage” was set up.

Piles of chocolates lay on the cloth-covered tables amongst bottles of champagne, jugs of wine, and row upon row of glasses!

Tina got me a glass of champagne and in return I asked if she wanted a chocolate.  She scrunched up her face and shook her head.  I smiled and asked, “Not even one?”  “Okay, but just one!”

As we stood by an open window admiring the beautiful day and noticing that “It’s already spring!  The trees have buds!” another French teacher from my school approached me with several children in tow.  I recognized one of my seventh graders.

The teacher asked me, in French, if they could borrow my laptop for rehearsal.  I had my laptop with me because we had unexpectedly come directly from school and I would be heading straight to my second teaching job after the exhibition.  I had little battery left, but I figured that it would be enough for them to have a last-minute practice session.  We popped a cd in and the girls sang along quietly to Edith Piaf’s “Padam Padam” crouched around me so they could hear.

The teacher thanked me and asked if I could help with the performance.  She led me backstage where several old ladies were drinking tea and speaking French and Georgian with each other.  Thus began my brief stint as a roadie at a French Exhibition in the Tbilisi Doll Museum.

I snapped this shot of the back-stage area where I charged my laptop. After a few minutes I was ushered to the soundboard to help the technicians hook up my laptop to the mixer.

As we did a brief sound-check in French, I marveled at the random direction my afternoon had taken.  When the first speakers arrived on stage I was allowed back to the audience area where I stood with Tina sipping champagne and smiling to myself.  Tina asked me, “Are you speaking with everyone in French?”

“I am!” I proudly answered.  I have spoken very little French in the past four years, but I’m pleased to find that it’s still mostly there!  “It’s difficult,” I explained, “because I keep switching back and forth between French, Georgian, and Russian.”  As I said this I found that I kept confusing my languages and slipping a French word in here or there.  It’s quite a challenge juggling tongues like that!  I’ll also try not to sound like a preachy, bragging jerk for the rest of the post!

The Georgian program head and a representative from the French Embassy (Sadly, not the Ambassador him[or her]self) took to the stage, explaining the history, successes, and goals of the ongoing educational exchange program between the two countries.  The Frenchman would speak for a few minutes in French and the Georgian would translate his remarks for the almost entirely Georgian audience.

The mics kept having major feedback issues, rendering the speech a little painful.

After a smidge, Tina eagerly told me to take pictures because some of our teachers were receiving awards!

The lady in the tan leather (tanned leather, too!) is a French teacher from my school. She got a certificate from the French Embassy stating her excellence!

After handing out awards, the MC took to the stage and introduced the song and dance portion of the evening.  As it turns out, the MC was a girl from my very own school 175!

She also participated as a singer for a few songs, doing a great job of it, I might add!
Some tiny tots got up there to perform some sort of traditional dance. I suspect it was Georgian, but it looked a bit different from what I'm used to in terms of Georgian dance.

As the dancers finished up and the MC began to sing, a girl who I had helped rehearse earlier approached me and beckoned for me to come backstage with her.  It was time to set up the music for my seventh grader and her friend!

I booted up the computer and got the CD ready.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to sit backstage with the sound guys while all the performers from my school went on.  When it was finally time for Padam Padam, I hit play and listened as the girls performed with gusto.

The girl in purple is in one of my seventh grade classes though, for the life of me I can't remember her name!

After the performance wrapped up, I packed up my computer and we stopped to snap a few photos of our group on the way out.

Here are the prize-winning French teachers with Tina, some organizers, and the MC--a student of ours.
Everyone posed by the School 175 exhibit on our way out and the French teacher invited me to join her class to team-teach a lesson some time! Woo!

I left the doll museum and parted ways with my mom and the others, making for Entree for ten minutes and then off to my second job.  After that I went to a beer market to buy Guinness for the St. Patrick’s Day Party that Saturday.

I went in to the store and the Georgian behind the counter went to get his manager so the guy could explain a sale to me.  I had already basically figured out the pretty-simple poster, but I let him explain anyway.  He led with a shocker, “Do you speak French?”

“Oui, je parle le francais,” I replied (I don’t want to be bothered with a circumflex at this time.  Get over it Francophiles).

He switched gears and asked me in French, “Do you speak Russian?”

“Da, mozhno govorits po-russki.” (Yes, we can talk in Russian)

“Y po-angliski?” he asked (And English?)

“Wow!  You are a superman!” exclaimed the man.  And you know what?  At that moment, I indulged myself and agreed with him.


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