Thursday, June 19, 2014

ARAOM from My Last Week of School

A Random Assortment of Moments from My Last Week of School

Summer didn’t wait for school to finish. The sun is warm enough to keep the roads from being giant mud puddles even right after a rain, but not so hot that you can’t handle being outside. Cherrie trees are everywhere in the village. One stands right outside of school and has just gotten ripe. I watch out the window while boys climb it, picking off whole branches and sending them down. They like to give cherries to the teachers. We all eat them…even those who yelled at the boys for going up the tree in the first place. 


My co-teacher must add up attendance totals before the end of the week, and, being a Georgian teacher, chooses to do so during class time. She tells me I can take the 3rd grade class outside and play ball. Well, I didn’t know I needed to prepare a lesson, and it is the last week of school, so why not?

When we go outside, we have no ball to play with. A couple of older kids who know a bit of English are outside and help me explain freeze tag to the younger kids, and for a while we play a massive game of it, big kids (including myself) chasing little kids. After that gets old, I try to organize the kids for a game of Duck Duck Goose. Chaos ensues. Most of them aren’t listening and the couple of them who are really aren’t understanding my instructions. By the time I’m trying to think of another game, the third graders have fractured into a number of groups engaging in mini wrestling matches. I give up, sit down, and watch until the bell rings.


Second and third classes are outside playing Georgian dodge ball for their sports period. I have a break this period, so I join them.

In Georgian dodge ball, only one team is dodging at a time. The other divides in two and stands on both sides, throwing a ball back and forth at the group in the middle. If you get hit, you’re out. If you catch the ball, someone who got out comes back in. The kids are excited to see me and beg me to play. The weather feels great and I won’t get to hang out with them much longer, so I can’t really say no.

Between their constant begging me to come back into the pit every time they catch the ball and my own lack of athletic ability, I repeatedly experience the excruciating embarrassment of being pelted by an 8-year-old. But I’m also experiencing their affection and happiness. And these are all the things that color my world. It’s in times like these that I know I’m living a life I want to live.


 By Thursday, my co has done all her counting, and doesn’t come to school. I don’t really mind at this point…classes have been a bit of a joke this week anyway, and I don’t have to hold them without her. So instead I hang out with the 8th and 9th class and everyone else who is attending their “show.” It’s fun little event that all the other teachers show up for, so I guess no one is having class today at all. The two grades form two teams and compete in song/poetry performance, eating spaghetti with no hands, etc. A lot of other students are there to watch as well. I joke and dance with some of my high schoolers while we wait for it to start. I’m thankful for the chance to just enjoy them one last time. I soak in every smile I catch.


On Friday, my friend Mariah comes to visit. I’ve decided not to return next semester, but she has agreed to transfer to Khovle when she returns in September. After my host mom gives us lunch she comes to school with me. Most of the students aren’t there. Most of the teachers aren’t even there. But myself and a couple of girls from 7th class are still determined to carry out plans of surprising a couple of the older boys with a water attack. Mariah agrees to be the camera girl.

It doesn’t take the boys long to figure out what is going on. Especially when I show up with five empty plastic bottles. The surprise attack turns into an all-out war.

The boys got in more attacks. 17-18 year old boys have more strength than me, and I am willing to admit that. They didn’t have much difficulty commandeering our weaponry and using it against us. At one point we tried to escape by climbing a tree, which only ended up trapping us. But whoever won, ALL OF US got soaked, so I can’t say I’m dissatisfied with the outcome.

And besides, it was a fun way to end the day; the week; the semester.


Even if I come back in a year or two as I’m planning, the kids won’t be the same. They’ll be older, some will be graduated, etc. It’s a bittersweet thing…leaving something behind when you know you can’t ever really have it again. I’ll miss it, sure, but I’m thankful that it happened. I’m thankful I was a part of this community for the past few months of my life. I’m thankful that each of these children was a character in this chapter of my story. And I in theirs.

But the chapter is coming to an end. It’s time for a month or so of adventure in Europe, then a final week or two of Georgia, and then back to America.

Next stop: England.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No you can't.

Tuesday, May 17th, 3:30pm

The sun is shining as I walk out of the schoolhouse with the half dozen students who stayed after class for English Club. The small mountains on both sides of our village are finally green and just begging to be explored. No one really wants to spend the evening at home, so we decide to go for a hike.

4:00 pm

By the time we are on the mountain behind my house, we’ve gathered a few more students and make quite a motley crew: myself, my little brother and sister, a girl from 7th grade, a girl from 9th grade and her brother from 8th, the chemistry teacher’s son from 4th grade, the 11th grade boy she had just finished tutoring, and two other high school boys. One thing I love about these small villages is that all the kids hang out with all the kids. Sure, in the public school in my hometown a 15-year-old would be able to socialize with literally hundreds of other kids…but they would ALL be within an age range of a few years. There is something to be said for the sense of community at a school with not even 200 students in all grades 1-12.

As we are making our way to a 200-year-old bridge in between two hills, I get a call from the school director’s granddaughter. The girl is only 16 but practically home schooled herself into speaking English fluently, and I consider her a personal friend.

“Hey, I need to talk to you about English Day.”

Yes, English Day! It’s less than a week away now. I’ve convinced four of my TLG friends to come to my village on Saturday. I just need the director to open the school for me and for a couple of local teachers to come and help with discipline. We’ll do English workshops and games with the kids, complete with stickers and prizes. I’ve also been working with my English Club attendees through different levels in my Excellence in English Program, and while more foreigners are around would be the perfect time to present their award certificates.

“I’m really sorry, I don’t understand why, but now she says you can’t do it.”


“She says the younger students can’t go because of the meningitis outbreak, and if you make it only for the older students, the younger students will try to come too…”

She knows as well as I do that these are excuses, not reasons.

“I’m sorry, I know you want to help us, but they don’t want the extra headache. You know how it is in the villages.” Yes. Unfortunately, I do. No good deed goes unappreciated.

After we say our goodbyes I catch up with the kids, who are hanging out around the bridge. If nothing else, at least I can enjoy hanging out with my students. One of the boys is sitting on it, a couple of other boys are walking on it.

Mets minda…I want to, too!

The phone rings and it’s my host mom, so I pass it off to my sister before trying to cross.

The kids freak out. The boys are literally holding me back. As I get free from one, another grabs my arm and another runs in front of the bridge to block me. “It’s very old, it’s dangerous!” they tell me.

“Come on, Levani was JUST on it.”

“Yeah, but he’s a boy.”

Oh. No. You. Didn’t.

During almost all of this, the girls are yelling for me to come back to them so my sister can relay the message from my host mother. Apparently it’s urgent, so I finally give up on the bridge. I’ll get back to that business in a second.

“What is it?” I ask, not masking my irritation.

“We must go.”

“What? Why?”

“It is only four girls and many boys.”

“But two of them are your brothers, one is a nine-year-old, and the others are our friends who our families know. So who is the problem??”

“Oh, I don’t know. But it is not good.”

Knowing I have no choice, I go with the girls, but not without fire in my step and a few choice words that they hopefully don’t know in English.


At the house, I use the little Georgian I know to ask the same questions of my host mother. “Is Levani a bad guy?” No, she doesn’t think so. “Is Giorgi a bad guy?” No, she doesn’t think so. So what is the problem?

“People speak maybe it’s boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Seriously? I can’t hang out with my students because people might spin the story for the best rumor material? I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m not even offended that they think I might crush on a high schooler. Most kids here graduate at 19, and I’m only 21. Between my only being a few years older than them and my outgoing personality, I’ve been aware from day one that I have to be conscientious about my interactions with them.

But for me, that meant not giving them uneven amounts of attention or being in a room alone with one. I had never considered how inappropriate it might be to go on a walk with them. And a mixed-gender group of younger children. In broad daylight.

No you can’t, because people are lazy and don’t care.

No you can’t, because you are a girl.

No you can’t, because people will talk shit.

It’s three stones for one bird, and this little American eagle is out for the count. I’m not used to being shot down like this. I feel tears coming. I don’t fight them.

It isn’t the first time I’ve cried this semester. And I doubt it will be the last.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Saturday, May 24th, 8:00pm

At the hostel, I chat with a former TLGer who is back in Georgia for a visit after a couple years away. We share stories with each other and others hanging out at the hostel about the craziness that is Georgia. His host family, for example, was an extremely traditional family full of men who very well could have been connected to the mafia. They had a stock pile of questionable weapons and assured him that if anyone in Georgia gave him a problem, they would kill that person. And their parents. And their children. Sounds like a good place to live. Why not?


After a while we head out to indulge in the small but potent Tbilisi underground, comprised of disgruntled 20-somethings who know that their country is backwards but can’t escape it. We end up at Dive Bar…a popular hang-out for us foreigners and the locals who enjoy our company. I see a Ukrainian guy my age who I’ve met here before, while he was hosting a crazy group of travelers from Barcelona. He tells me they were traveling in a caravan, but couldn’t take it to India, so they just left the vehicle and all its papers with him. He also tells me that he and some other friends are going to the wine festival tomorrow, and then camping tomorrow night. I’m welcome to join. Sounds like fun…why not?
Sunday, May 25th, 2:00pm

A TLG friend of mine and I meet up with the Ukrainian and his friends, and he shows us our weekend home. As you might guess, it isn’t a usual sight in a country where black is the most popular color of clothing. She also hasn’t been used in a couple of months, and they didn’t clean her out before they left…but hey, our chariot awaits! We hop on board and settle in on the bed in the back. Looks like this could be an adventure…so why not?



We camp out at a lake called Lisi Lake. By the end of the night I’m sitting around a fire with two British guys, another American, a Ukrainian, a Turkish guy, and an Iranian girl. As it gets darker, the scenery around us gets more beautiful. In front of us is the water, dark and still. Part of the city is framed by hills to our right, and we can see large buildings with hundreds of little golden lights lined up in rows stories high. To our left are more hills, standing tall and deep purple, never minding the quiet lightening lighting up the sky behind them. I can’t help but think to myself that this is what being young should be like. No…that’s not enough for me. This what I want my life to be like. Spontaneity, companionship, beauty….I mean really, why not?