This post is dedicated to Joanne O’Malley, who left this morning at six thirty am.
Clearly I’ve been a terribly irregular writer this semester. Part of that is due to the fact that I’ve been so busy lately, preparing a big presentation for my school, saying farewell to close friends, and traveling, as always. The other part of the problem is that my Turkey trip was so awesome, so adventurous, that I can hardly put it into words–thus uninspiring me.
With that in mind, I think I’ll take a break from trying to write about Turkey and come back to it episodically. Besides, I have so many other post-worthy adventures to share!
Take this week’s ninth grade lessons, for example. On Tuesday I arrived at class to discover they had a writing assignment. The prompt was “Describe a day that will remain in your memory forever.” Pretty standard fare, but it turned out some good essays! Several girls wrote about the days their younger siblings were born, two students wrote about their first days as new students at our school, and a few more described excellent summer holidays spent in Kobuleti or their villages.
One girl, let’s call her “Gvantsa,” told a heart-wrenching story about how she had to say goodbye to all her friends, family, and neighbors in 2008 as she was evacuated from her village located in Ossetia. She hasn’t been back since, but she can’t shake the memory of leaving her home behind under such dire circumstances.
“Nuka,” an excellent student, wrote what appeared to be the most brown-nosing essay ever. It started out by saying that her favorite memory was the day that her band played with the “Blue Star Band” (Read: The Bootstrap Band). Quickly I realized that she wasn’t just sucking up, but that she had something slightly more profound to point out. She described the concert a little and then, to my surprise, described the audience.
“The American [sic] audience was smiling, cheering, clapping and shouting the whole time. It was so nice for us because they were really excited and happy to watch our concert. Georgian audiences are very serious and only smile very little at concerts. It was magical to have an audience that was so much more fun than a serious Georgian audience.” She had clearly been touched by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm that my TLG friends had shared that night. I truly did like her essay.
After a ten minute break, Manana had another good idea for the kids. She divided them into three groups of four and gave them each a different assignment. Group 1 had to “Write what you do and do not like about your English class.” Group 2 had to “Say what is positive and what is negative about Manana.” And Group 3, of course, wrote “What are they advantages and disadvantages of Raughley.” The heat was on!
As they wrote, the groups writing about me and Manana kept nervously looking up. When I made eye contact with Lika I motioned with my fingers, “I’m watching you!” and she laughed. Goga was turned around chatting with Luka and Manana shouted to him in Georgian, “Goga! Turn around!” When he did, I shouted to him in English, “Goga!” and he looked over at me. I brandished a five-lari note as if to bribe him. Everyone laughed and Manana said, “Oiy!” and scrambled for her purse from whence she withdrew two fifty dollar bills and waved them at Nuka, a member of the group writing about Manana.
After twenty or so minutes, it came time to present their group work. The first had decided to let each group member say what they wanted to do in the last month of classes. Mari wanted to have class outside sometime. Ana hoped for more grammar exercises and less text memorization. Mari wanted to have more opportunities to talk with me. Luka wanted to play Ninja and watch American movies more often. All fair requests.
Group two pointed out that Manana was very strict, but also fair, honest, sympathetic, and kind–Manana disputed the latter. Finally, Group three was up. Achiko read out what they had written, describing me as “Clever, nice, funny, does not smoke,” and claiming that “We do not know Raughley well enough to know his faults.” That in and of itself was a telling detail. I felt bad that I hadn’t apparently opened myself up very much to the class. In that spirit, Manana said, “Well, if you want to talk with Raughley, you can have the rest of the period!”
Of course, the students clammed up and didn’t seem to have any questions for me. Manana informed me that I could lead the class for the rest of the year as she had finished the textbook. I’d have to prepare a written test for them for Tuesday, but other than that it was entirely up to me. I have my own class now!
She left the room and the kids still didn’t have any questions for me. Finally, Mari piped up, hazarding, “Can we have a picnic?”
Thus began our picnic adventure.
Today, Thursday, we had a picnic! Manana was on board and tagged along and each of the students had prepared or brought something to share! My contribution was four giant bags of potato chips.
In the morning when I woke up, the day got off to a terrible start. Though I had had the foresight to buy the chips the night before, I had only slept about 2-3 hours and had to wake up in the middle of that for a terrible errand. You see, Joanne was leaving. She had spent a few days in Tbilisi sorting out her plane tickets and it had finally been arranged–she left today. I woke up at six and helped her make her final preparations for her departure. It was a terribly sad moment when I put her in a cab to the airport at 6:30, but I’m excited for her that she will soon be home with her loving family. There weren’t any tears, but I suspect it’s because it (still) seems so unreal to both of us. Either way, it was a horribly unpositive thing to have to do on the morning of a picnic.
With that behind me, and a drowsy fog in front of my every step, I arrived at school to find most of my ninth graders and Manana standing outside. The girls bore cakes, lobiani, pigs-in-blankets, Pepsi, and other goodies. When Luka showed up, we marched out around the school. I had no idea where we were holding our picnic.
As it turns out, neither did anyone else! The plan consisted of hiking up a hill across a valley from our school. We entered a village-type neighborhood and kept walking up the winding dirt roads heading no-one-knew-where. Manana stopped in a small store and bought ice cream for everyone! We ate our chocolate-covered cones as dogs of all sizes barked and charged their fences, frightening some of the girls. After thirty or forty minutes of wandering, someone spotted a good picnic spot amongst some trees. The only problem was that it lay within someone’s private property!
Wait, sorry, did I say “problem”? This is Georgia! That was no problem at all! We called out to the old woman walking near the house and she gladly let us in to her garden where a large picnic table stood. She brought us paper to sit on, a table cloth, a large knife for cutting the cake, and a warning to “mind the snakes.” In return, while some of the students skittered nervously away from the taller grass, we prepared two large plates loaded up with picnic food. The woman was overjoyed!
We sat in the cool morning air eating, drinking, and making toasts in English with Pepsi Max. The kids laughed and chattered in Georgian, prompting Manana to admonish them, “Poor Raughley! It is so unfair that you are all having a good time in your native tongue and Raughley has to sit here quietly!” Despite our supplications, English remained decidedly a secondary language at our feast (tertiary if you count the copious Russian that three girls were practicing on each other!).
The toasts, at least, were in English and were generally very nice, if somewhat brief. Every student made a toast and one of the Mari’s filmed me as I toasted to my favorite students and “bolombde’d” my Pepsi. I got a roar of laughter out of my kids when I tapped the cup against my thumb to indicate that it was empty. They forget that I’ve been living in Georgia for ten months and that I’ve picked up a few things. They were especially astonished when I would pass them things they had asked for in Georgian. ‘Twas quite nice!
As a slight rain began to fall, we packed up our things and trekked back to school. Arriving there mid-way through third period, we waited outside until Manana beckoned us into the classroom where the other half of their class was having Georgian lessons. Manana spoke to the Georgian teacher while Ana wrote on the board, “Eating Party!!!” and drew a heart around her words. The Georgian teacher smiled and bowed out, leaving me to host an eating party with twenty kids. It soon turned into a Ninja and screaming party, despite mine and Tiko’s best efforts to quell the noise.
Exhausted, I slumped into a chair, only arising for the occasional round of Ninja or one-on-one Rock, Paper, Scissors match. I fended well for myself, but fatigue was and is rapidly catching up with me. Lord only knows how I’ll survive through song and dance lessons and my accounting lessons at the bank! It’s gonna be one of those days!
Miss you already, Joanne!