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.
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.”
“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.