Today (October 11), I went into Gori for a meeting with school principals, Georgian teachers and TLG volunteers. I am required to attend for introductions and a sort of orientation meeting before I can begin my job at the village school. I put on my new blazer with jeans and a button-down shirt because I wanted to look professional. I walked to the bus stop with Teona and Nazi (they want to go with me). A few teenage boys approach me at the bus stop and say “hello”, but they don’t speak more than a few words of English, so I guess they want to show off to Teona and Nazi. I coached them how to say “what’s up” and “how’s it goin”, just to break the ice and have a few laughs. After a few minutes there are a lot of teenagers showing up (everyone has a cell phone—is this a flash mob?). I get the feeling I’ve been set up to meet these kids because they’re all staring and whispering.
It’s Tuesday, and it’s a school day, and it’s 2 O’clock in the afternoon. Don’t these kids go to school? Why are they going to Gori in the early afternoon? I’m totally confused, and no one speaks English, so I’ll never understand what’s going on here. Everyone is staring at me. I’m hearing “Amerikeli” and “Carli” and other words like “Inglisuri” and “Skolashi” (English, at school). I think Teona and Nazi are getting a lot of attention because of my arrival in the village. Their friends are talking a lot, asking questions. Teona looks at me a lot and smiles continuously. I haven’t had this much attention since…okay, I’ve never had this much attention.
The bus is late, but it finally shows up. We climbed onto a very full bus carrying about 25 people with 15 seats. It was a FULL bus. Scratch that…the bus was dangerously overcrowded. If you had room to breathe you were lucky. And it’s HOT. I can’t believe anyone would complain about the weather here because it’s super warm during the days in early October, and when the sun goes down it’s downright perfect for sleeping. If I had known the weather would be this good, I would’ve packed some polo shirts. So much for good advice from Greenheart Travel’s packing list.
Nazi and Teona are amazing kids. It’s easy to see they are popular, well-liked, and admired by everyone. I think their parents have an excellent reputation in the community. I feel incredibly lucky today.
There were a lot of teenagers, male and female, and I was offered one of the seats, which I tried to refuse repeatedly, but it was useless to resist. I guess I was supposed to take the seat because I am old, or a foreigner, or something like that, but I can’t help feeling guilty. I had to take the bus a lot while I lived in Denver, and if there were no seats available it would be polite for men to give up their seat for any female, young or old. This doesn’t seem to be the case here, and it bothers me. I would give my seat to Teona on any occasion, but she’s getting fussy, so I sit! At the next stop a woman climbed on with a baby and there was no way in hell I was going to remain seated in this situation. I stood up, and thank goodness…she took the seat, and I stood up for the rest of the trip. It’s about 12 km from the village, and it would take approximately 5 minutes if we had a car (but we don’t ), and if the roads were satisfactory (but they’re not), so it takes about 40 minutes.
When I get off the bus, I meet the principal of the village school. He is a very distinguished looking gentleman (I believe he is older than me) who does not speak any English (I’m beginning to think no one speaks English is this country). Teona stays with us, and we take a cab to “School #7” in Gori where the meeting was being held. We walk up to the third floor and I’m asked to sit next to my assigned “co-teacher” who (thank god almighty) actually speaks a little English. She’s been teaching English in the village for about 7 years, which is nothing compared to other teachers in the room. A few of the teachers have over 20 years teaching experience, but I’d say the average is something like 15 years. They’re all women, of course, except for the TLG volunteers (half are males).
The meeting was not very helpful, but I’m glad to meet my co-teacher, and the principal, who helps me find my way back to the center of the city where I meet up with my host family mother & father (Diana and Vaso). They make their living operating a modest-sized shop of assorted groceries and products at the city bazaar.
(This is in addition to the store in front of their home in the village where grandmother works during the day. If Nazi is not at school, she’ll also mind the store at home. Teona seems to have other responsibilities every day (including the weekend), and is rarely home during the daytime. I’m pretty sure she is attending two schools—in the village and in Gori—to become a teacher, but I really don’t know what she is planning.)
The atmosphere at the bazaar shop is really friendly, and I’m offered some bread, raw fish and beer. I try to decline the raw fish, but they just laugh at me and show me how to eat it. Rip off the fish head and eat the rest! It’s not so bad, I guess, but …wow. A few of the men at the bazaar are approaching me, speaking a few words of English, asking me if I like Cha-cha (homemade Vodka). It’s really a crazy scene, and if I had any talent as a writer I might get you to laugh out loud. I love this place, and I love the people, and at the moment I have no regrets except that I didn’t do this a long time ago!
Teona shows up and says “let’s go”. So I say my goodbyes and head over to the bus stop with Teona and Nazi. What a surprise…the bus is full of the SAME teenagers I saw during my bus ride INTO the city. Is this a coincidence? I suppose it’s possible. I am still trying to give up my seat to females, but there’s no chance. The boys are laughing at me (in a kind way) and asking me to take a seat. This is a memorable bus ride. I can feel the attention. Teona is smiling at me again, and she is talking with her friends. More people get on the bus, but there’s no room! It’s packed like a sardine can! But there are more stops, and more people! It’s comical. I’m laughing at every bus stop, and Teona laughs with me.
We finally get to our stop, and we walk home for dinner and an early bed time. Tomorrow is my first day of school, and I’m nervous. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, and I hope I don’t completely screw up and make a fool of myself. I want to do my best, and I want to make a difference, but my experience is non-existent! I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ll try to remember that success is not dependent on results. If I give it my best effort, I’ll probably be okay.