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Charleston, SC, United States
"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cold, Dead Body, and Big Shoes.

Well the new semester is now in full swing what with week two in the books. I can’t say I’m really happy about the way it has started out, but then again, I’m not overly pessimistic about it either. While I’m enjoying my classes and getting though some really good material in both History and English, I’m just really bummed that I seem to be babysitting the upper grades. ‘Don’t do that. Put that down. Sit still. Be quiet. Stop throwing things. Well, if you don’t touch him then he won’t touch you.’ Really? Just sit the f@*k down and be still! It’s 45 minutes! If you don’t want to learn anything then that’s on you and the mass sums of money your parents are paying for this school. But, don’t keep the other kids from learning as well. And, I’m not talking about the little kids here. I’m talking about 8-11th grades. Ugh.

However, that is not what this blog post is about. I promised that I would do a better job of updating those of you back in the Land of Freedom about the goings on here in Tbilisi and what I’m up to. So a couple of weeks ago a group of Fulbright girls, and one guy, were in Tbilisi for a holiday and we were hooked up by a girl who had been in PC with me here who knew one of them from America. (Yeah, long strange connection there). Anyway, I agreed to meet them on a Saturday and show them around a few places. You never know who you’re going to run into when you agree to do these types of things, but this group turned out to be completely normal and we had a pretty good day walking around and seeing the sites of Tbilisi. It kind of works out too since I’m planning a trip to Istanbul in April for my Spring Break (my favorite holiday… JOB anyone?) and a few of them agreed that since they are all working somewhat near Istanbul that they would meet me there one day and show me a few of the sites. So, cool. I got a day out of the house and away from lesson planning and maybe a free tour guide when I go to Turkey.

This past Saturday I met up with a guy who is here from the University of South Carolina to start up a journalism school at one of the Universities. He and his wife got here in September and will stay until the summer then other faculty members from USC will come and spend anywhere from a semester or two working to keep the program up and going. We shared a few stories on what it’s like to work in a school with Georgian teachers and administrators and he expressed a few frustrations that I had to laugh at. I’m so glad I’m off the learning curve. Not to say that I know it all by any means, but there are very few things that surprise me anymore when it comes to the working relationships and dynamics of a school here in Georgia. Anyway, we had a good chat for a few hours and then I walked around for a while to stretch my legs and enjoy some pretty decent weather.

That weather was short lived by the way. This past week has been all snow, wind and cold. I saw the sun for the first time in a week yesterday and it’s gone again today behind thick clouds, fog and snow. Brrr… I’ll get back to this in a minute.

That day of fresh air though was much needed since my work load has increased a lot this month. I’ve picked up two more private students and my day now generally runs from 8am to 7pm. By the time I get home from school I have about an hour to rest and grab some food before I spend 2-3 hours with private students in the evening. I have at least one every night (sometimes 2) except Tuesdays. It worked out that way and now I’m holding fast to not scheduling any students or allowing any make up days on that night. I need at least one night to myself and so I can knock out some lesson planning at home rather than sucking up my 30 minute lunch break everyday trying to stay on top of it. I do have a good window in my schedule on Tuesdays at school so I can generally get most of the week’s plans out of the way then as well.
Then, last Sunday morning I was sitting around having a relaxing morning cup of coffee when… AHHHHHHHHHHHH! (A blood curdling scream made me almost throw my coffee across the room). The screams continued for several minutes before I had the courage to open my front door to see just what the hell was going on in the apartment next door. Apparently the mother in the family next door had died during the night and as the family rose (late on a Sunday as normal here) they discovered her death. I quickly went back into my apartment as to not be the neighbor who hangs around during a moment of family grief. I could hear everything though from my living room as other family and friends arrived within the hour. More screams and crying as the medical unit came, I presume to announce the death and take any measures that were needed.

Now, what you need to understand here is that in the Georgian tradition the body is not moved out of the house and the wake lasts for 3-5 days depending. There is no embalming process. The coffin is just brought in and set up and the wake begins. So all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the family’s door was open and people were coming in and out and generally hanging around in the stairway in the evenings. Incense was lit on Monday and for three days the stairway and even my apartment smelt like an Orthodox church. Since I elected to stay in my apartment all day on Sunday I did not have a chance to give my condolences to the father (whom I had only met once and spoken to a grand total of about 3 times since I moved in) until Monday when I came home from school. I had no idea what to say other than ‘sorry for your loss’ and give him a handshake and a knowing look. He seemed to appreciate it, but I have no idea if there was anything else I should have done. I was not about to do the Georgian tradition of entering the home and walking around the body three times. I’ve done that before and let me just tell you that there is something to be said for the work of a good mortician rather than the ‘natural’ look. No thanks. I could see it (the body and coffin) from the stairway and the only thing that told me was that they had set her up along the common wall with my bedroom. So for the next three nights every time I went to bed all I could think was, ‘on the other side of this 6” of wall is a dead body.’ I slept well enough, but it was not something I was overly thrilled about. Thankfully the funeral was Wednesday and all seems to have gone back to normal.

In other news, I thought I would share with you what is starting to become an annoying tradition in my 8th grade class. Each week they (the students) seem to get together and determine some kind of question that they want to ask me that has nothing to do with the topic that we’re discussing. And, they generally wait until the middle of the lesson to ask it. I, for some reason, have humored them for the most part and answered the questions. For example, this past week was on the topic of my wardrobe and produced a pretty funny back and forth. I wear slacks, a shirt and tie and my nice black shoes to school just about every day. One of the girls (after some clarification) wanted to know if when I went ‘out’ in the evenings with friends or whatever if I wore the same clothes. At first I was confused by the question because it struck me as completely off the wall. I told her that of course I didn’t and that I generally wore jeans, a sweater (in winter) and regular shoes or boots if it was really icy. This caused a mini discussion amongst them before the follow up question. “So when you go out, do you still wear such big shoes?” I almost fell out of my chair I wanted to laugh so hard. My shoe size has been a topic of humor among my friends and family ever since I was in 8th grade myself. I’m 5’10” and about 145lbs and wear a size 12 shoe. (This sounds even worse by the European standard since it translates to a size 46). My students honestly wanted to know if I just wore my nice black shoes because they are big and shinny. After I stopped laughing I told them no, that my feet were just big and no matter where I went I was always wearing big shoes.

Not all of their questions catch me in a good mood or at the right time either. For example, this past Monday during 1st period History, they decided to ask me why they should have to study World History. Fair enough, but it was the follow up reasoning that got me a little pissed.

“Why should we have to study other people’s history when we are Georgian and have the longest history? Do other people have to study our history? Why should we have to study theirs if they don’t study ours?”

Now I know that throughout my life I have sometimes said the wrong thing at the wrong time and I try never to do that at school. But at 9am on a Monday after just being interrupted by a girl with a bad attitude who just ruined a legitimate question with self promotion, my guard fell a little bit.

“You have the longest and best history?” I asked.

“Yes. Our history is the longest and best and other people should have to study us!” she replied.

“And let me ask you: just what have you done with your long and storied history? What have you accomplished with it? What have you given the world that would make it so that they would want to study what you’ve done with you looooong and rich history?”

She and the rest of the class had a mini discussion about this and then all sat quietly for a minute. I wasn’t going to let her off though because this one student has made it a point to generally bring her bad attitude to class with her every lesson. So I decided to make her answer my question. She simply responded with, “I guess nothing.”

Now, part of me wanted to feel victorious here and move on. Another part of me felt really bad. I know that Georgia does have a long and very rich history. I also know that they haven’t been able to translate that into much progress and historical “impact.” Not all of that is their fault either, but a lot of it is. This girl was simply a victim of interrupting the wrong teacher at the wrong time. I know when I’m at my best and when I’m not. And I am not my best during 1st period on a Monday. So, while I would like to apologize to that girl, I doubt I will since I’m pretty sure this next week will bring an equally asinine question which this time I will try to respond to in a more diplomatic manner.

So I’m going to make a little mention about the weather. December was great and January started off well enough. However the last week of January turned cold and February has been freezing! The sun is gone and the place is covered in snow. The one day it wasn’t snowing it was so windy that I had flashback to Kazakhstan and walking on the Siberian Steppe.

But, all this cold led me to one of life’s great pleasures. I love when I “discover” something that should have occurred to me years ago that seems so simple that I kick myself for not realizing it earlier. On the really cold days I break out those ‘hot hands’ packets and put them in my coat. Now they will last for about 10 hours. I only really need them between about 8am and 4pm when I get home. They still have hours of good heat left in them especially if you put them on top of the heater at home for about 15 minutes and get them ’charged’ back up. But why would I need them at this point? I’m home and relatively warm. Ah ha! With the new low in temperature during the day and since my floor is no longer getting sun during the day, my floors are really cold. Cue the light bulb over the head. After you recharge the hot hands packs, just stuff them down into the toes of your slippers! Warm feet for hours ahead! Now, as I said that may sound overly simple and obvious, but this week has been awesome walking around the house with toasty warm feet. I’ve even had to take the slippers off a few times to cool my feet off. I know. It’s dumb. But hey…

The only other thing I can think of is a movie update for you. I was super excited to the ‘The Rum Diary’ with Jonny D since it was supposed to be somewhat of a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. I was a little disappointed though since Depp seemed to just act exactly the same as he did in ‘Fear and Loathing’ and the whole story didn’t seem to connect. The whole thing was just watered down in a way and while it did have a few great laughs, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

So, with that said I’ll leave you with a quote from the movie that did have me laughing. The three main journalists are on their way to get their prize roster blessed by a witch so they can win some money in a cock fight to hopefully print one last edition of their newspaper:
“By day she drives a garbage truck. By night she becomes Papaneemu the hermaphroditic Oracle of the Dead.”