It’s spring in Georgia with all that entails. Consider this my prelude to a love letter.
Last week I shared a select number of photographs from my recent trip to Turkey with my students. The eleventh graders were particularly fascinated and listened with rapt attention. As I concluded, asking, “Any questions?” they remained silent. Suddenly one girl piped up with a non-Turkey-related question, “Do you have pictures of your family?”
Amused, I flipped through my photo folders in search of the two pictures I had of my family. First up, a nice picture from several winters ago, outside my dad’s house, holding Tilly, the family dog. Myles, Rebecca, Me and Tilly, Dad, and Dana stood in front of the barn with our snow gear on. As the screen filled with our smiling faces I heard an audible gasp from several girls, “Vai me!! Is that your brother??” Like I said, spring had sprung.
Three or four girls apparently had fallen for my brother instantly, a sentiment only reinforced when I shared a picture of my siblings, mom, and I in France from Thanksgiving. I was disgusted. These eleventh grade girls were like predators on my poor baby brother!
I carry Myles’ third grade photo in my wallet. It’s a particularly cute photo of him from when he was eight. He’s not smiling because someone told him that he looked silly in his second grade photo with his big toothy smile. I swear it wasn’t me! I like to imagine that my brother is perpetually 6-8. Not sure why. I guess he got far less cute after that. But not if you ask these girls!
They asked me, “How old is your brother?” “He’s sixteen.” Breathlessly the girls cried out, “I’m sixteen!!” It was then that I realized that there was nothing creepy about their infatuation with Myles. As a matter of fact, it was about as appropriate as could be! I also finally drew a strange sort of connection between my life in America and my life in Georgia. The eleventh graders are some of my oldest students, and so I always viewed them as being quite old. They’re getting ready to finish their schooling and move out into the world. Myles isn’t. Myles is just a child! Only, in reality, Myles is getting ready to move out into the world as well. He is the same age as my second oldest group of students because he is an eleventh grader. It was a strange moment of realization wherein I understood that Myles is growing up and growing out. Not sure I like it.
They giggled and tittered as I moved on to another photo, this one of me and my friend Jay from our trip to Georgia one year ago. A new girl piped up, “Deda! Simpatiuri bitchia!” she shouted, pointing at Jay. Another one bites the dust, I suppose.
Towards the end of the lesson, as the bell was about to ring, they found out I speak a little Georgian. Wanting to know more they asked what other languages I speak. Russian and French briefly made an appearance in the classroom as several students tried to show off their Francophone skills and another tried to make herself understood to me in Russian, “Raughley, I studied German for ten years! Now I moved to this school and they do not teach German so I have to study English. I am trying very hard but this is new to me and I am shy about my English. That is why I do not speak much in class.” I was touched that she wanted me to understand her plight.
From another direction I heard an odd question come at me in Russian, “Raughley, what is your surname?” I had a feeling I knew where this was going. “Why do you ask, Gvantsa?” “Uhhh, because…because I want to find your brother on facebook!!!” “Sorry! Maybe next time!” And I meant it.
Over the weekend I facebooked my brother asking how he would feel if I set him up with a class full of eligible young Georgians. He said he would feel great! With his blessing, I arrived in eleventh grade today. As the bell rang signaling the end of class I discreetly wrote “Myles Nuzzi” on the board. Most students looked a little confused/curious and one looked eagerly at me with hope in her eyes. I pointed at her and pointed at Myles’s name. A grin burst onto her face and she leaped into the air shouting, “YESSS!!!” She pirouetted and landed in her chair, still buoyant with joy and excitedly wrote down his name. She looked up at me, fists clenched together in a gesture of gratitude and praise and thanked me five times in a row. Inga smiled and shook her head, closing the text book. I walked out of the classroom and now sit here wondering what unnatural forces I have unleashed upon my poor baby brother….
(An aside: I am sitting in Tina’s office typing away while trying to connect to the shoddy WiFi and the women present got my attention by shouting my name. I guess I wasn’t picking up on the Georgian they were using. They told me something repeatedly but I couldn’t understand. Luckily, Teo was on hand to translate, “They say you look thin!” “Wow, great!” I answered. Teo’s mother then rattled off rapid Georgian at me, and I slowly understood what she was saying, just seconds before Teo translated, “Are you in love, Raughley?” “No, not now,” I answered in Georgian. “Not now? But you were!?” inquired Keti, Teo’s mother. “Yes! I was, and I will be, but I am not right now, unfortunately.” They all understood and had a good laugh before carrying on with their conversation as before. I do like Georgian curiosity. There is always a reason for looking thin or forgetting things and that reason is always love. Whether I’m in love is none of their business, but I am quite amused that they like to pry so!)
Now, onto the titular portion of this post (Featuring several sneak-peek images from the trip to Turkey!):
To My Dearest,
Contrary to what I may have told the teachers at my school, I am in love. It’s far more complicated than it seems, though–and I’ve had some complicated loves in my time. No, this is a much more all-encompassing love. Nearly every day as I walk the streets of Tbilisi or relax in my apartment I think about how in love I am. And there’s really no way to tell my love of my love. It’s a tricky situation.
You see, this love is a difficult one to pinpoint because it covers nearly everything and everyone. I don’t want to go all hippy all of the sudden, but basically what it boils down to is that I’m in love with life. I’m in love with my life right now in 2011.
My life and I have a long history of loving each other. I described this love to my dear friend Jay (the love of at least one Georgian eleventh grader) in January by telling him, “Jay, every year of my life is my new favorite year of my life.” And it’s true! I love being happy and I love the promise that the future holds. But it goes further than that.
I just spent a week in Turkey with three people who I only met in August and who, at that time, I held very little specific love for. Not to say I disliked them, but my first interactions with each of them was somewhat blase. I take full responsibility for my blindness at that time. I was too backward-looking in August to fully appreciate the future.
I first interacted with Pauli at lunch on the drive from Tbilisi to Batumi. I thought he was nice enough, if a little quiet. We became friends in Georgian Class and have remained tight ever since. Nine months ago I could not have known that I had a German soul mate, but now I understand fully that I absolutely do.
Marissa and I didn’t talk much during training. I had an intimidating beard and she made friends with other people. After a solid two weeks with our host families we met up to celebrate Ashley and Rob’s wedding in September. She has since told me that during that weekend she thought to herself, “Raughley has rocketed to the top of my list of cool people to get to know.” We became fast friends ever since, chatting daily and visiting weekly and after eight months I am more than comfortable saying, I love you, Marissa!
And lastly, but certainly not leastly, there’s Joanne. Joanne and I knew each other so little, at first, that it’s inconceivable. Marissa and I were reminiscing the other day when she commented, “I cannot believe that you were not invited to Joanne’s birthday!” The way things are now, neither can I. After hanging out with her one weekend in Zugdidi, I decided to give Joanne a friendly call one day. We began chatting and have hardly stopped since. Nary a weekend goes by when I don’t see her and not one day that we don’t talk to each other. Joanne, you are another of my great loves in Georgia and, hopefully, beyond.
I love TLG, flawed though it may be, because of what it has done for and to me. In my time here I have grown and evolved in ways I never would have expected. I’ve come to understand myself better and am grateful to TLG for this opportunity. Maybe even more importantly, TLG has introduced me to some wonderful people. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s role in my life, but I focus on the three above because they are far and away my closest friends here and, potentially, afterward.
I spent one of the best weeks of my life traveling in Turkey with a German Law Student, an Irish Architect, and a Texan Nutritionist. In whose wildest imagination would that have come true a year ago? We come from cities, villages, and towns all over the world. We speak six languages between the four of us. We have varied tastes in music, film, and people–and yet there we were, sharing the best times of our lives (if I may be so bold). Thank you, TLG, and I love you for bringing us together.
So, in conclusion, sometimes I get in these lovely moods where I just want to call everyone in my phone to tell them I love them. I want to write everyone at home to say the same. I smile more than usual in the shops and on the streets and it’s because, regardless of the weather or time of year, I’m twitterpated.