Republic of Georgia, Teaching, Village Life

First Week Back

My first night back I almost cried. My bed was so cold when I got in I had to double check that it wasn’t damp. My second night back was a vast improvement. We stocked my bed full of hot water bottles. No, not the little rectangular ones that you buy in a pharmacy. These were plastic mineral water and beer bottles that ranged from 1 to maybe 3 liters. Proof again of Georgian ingenuity. We put 3 in the bed about an hour before I was going to sleep and then I took up another 2 when I was actually turning in. I slept like a baby.

My first day back in class I pretty much showed up at school and didn’t have a clue what was going on. I walked into the first class with the local English teacher. We said hello to the students. Then she turned to me and asked the infamous question: “Do you have some lesson for today?” I laughed. No, no lesson. What do YOU want to do? It’s ludicrous to me that I am doing all the planning and teaching. I am theoretically supposed to be an assistant with no actual teaching experience. I sat back and watched the chaos for about 15 minutes and then I just had to step in. Back to work, I guess.

My third day back I went to a funeral. Anyone who is here in Georgia would laugh because it’s just so . . . Georgian. Funerals take up a lot of time here. A friend in another region attended so many funerals she eventually had to put her foot down and refused to go to any more. In Georgia, there seems to be a much stronger sense of cultural obligation to attend funerals.

This particular funeral was for the mother of the school principal. In American, I do not think the teachers of a school would feel at all obligated to attend the funeral of their principal’s mother, unless possibly they were the principal’s close friends. But here in Georgia, the teaching staff rented a bus and drove to a house on the other side of the valley. We walked through the room where the casket was open and we stayed all afternoon for the luncheon. It was an all-day affair and I was beat by the time we got back.

The next day was the after-funeral. Sort of like an after-party. This also happens a lot in Georgia. All the food that was served at the funeral luncheon made a reappearance in our teachers’ room and we had a mini-supra. My marriage prospects were discussed again, as well as my ability to help people get U.S. visas. (Friends, no; spouse, yes)

My fifth day back, I went to . . . another funeral. This is a personal record for me. I’ve never been to two in the same week. Other volunteers have much more impressive statistics. This was for the mother-in-law of the Russian teacher, who I consider a friend. I went to the funeral of another of her family members in the fall. Since this was actually in our village, almost all the teachers and many of the students made their way to her house.

The custom for this type of visit is as follows: The body is always in the center of the room, possible uncovered, possibly not. There are flowers, wine, fruits, and chocolates around the casket. The walls are lined with chairs and the carpet is covered with plastic sheeting. The immediate family is always in the room, crying or at least looking very very somber. You file in, walk around the casket, kiss the family on the cheek or gently squeeze shoulders. If there is room you sit down and stay for awhile. This may initiate a fresh round of tears or vocal outbursts from the family expressing their sadness, their sense of loss, and how much they loved the person. I found this a bit frightening the first time I attended a funeral in Georgia. Funerals in American are somber, sad occasions as well. However we do not have a parallel custom of expressing our grief loudly or publicly. I think we consider that best reserved for behind closed doors. This particular funeral, we stayed for about 5 minutes and then quietly made our way out. The funeral luncheon is going to be on Sunday.

My first weekend back had initially been empty, empty, empty. However, by Wednesday there was the funeral luncheon on Sunday, and on Friday night I was informed that we were going to a fellow teacher’s birthday party on Saturday. I love having control of my calendar. Generally I don’t have anything much better planned. But still, it’s the principle of the thing!

Saturday I had thought to wake up early and either make a relatively quick trip into town for a few things (relatively, because it’s impossible for it to be truly a “quick trip”) or to try making pancakes for the family. Instead I woke up at 10:15.

I just can’t seem to get up early here. Not that I was much better in the States. I needed 45 minutes of snooze time to even be able to face the prospect of getting out of bed. I think I’m catching up on sleep. My visit home was one of the most sleepless months of my life. Between jetlag, sickness, someone sleeping in the armchair downstairs, someone coming in at all hours of the night, a yowling cat, showers at 3 AM, people using the facilities, phones, doors, and motion detector lights, etc, etc, I hardly slept at all. Sometimes in Georgia, there’s nothing to do BUT sleep. And generally I am okay with that.


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