Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life Without End

When I was little I begged my mom to let me become a girl scout or more specifically a Brownie. You got to wear cute sashes with badges and eat food with melted chocolate and marshmallows. Mother made this dream happen and signed me up for Brownies. I walked dusky city streets to my meetings and took long bus rides to camp where we trudged in the woods and sang great songs. A dream comes true.

And now as I walk the mountain pastures enchanted by the snow on the Southern Caucasus Mountains I think on those days.

I feel like I have earned a few badges here.

I have spent days without hearing my natives tongue, eaten raw pickled fish. I have taken bus rides to nearby villages to shower at facilities where one pays to cleanse, to find that there is some sort of burnout on the electrical grid and begged to take a shower though cold as we had lost all water at home and cold beat nothing.

But soon I will cross the stage, just like in Brownies (it was called stepping up) to become a Cadet. I had survived and thrived the regiments to become a cadet.

Soon I will leave here. Yes I do count the days. Dream of central heating and showers.

The narrative of this chapter though I think will not end. Its like ai is part of the landscape or it is part of me and only with some distance will I have perspective.

I have much to tend to before I leave.

A big musical extravaganza conceived and directed by me will take place on my last day of school (December 16th) We will sing American kid classics with each grade singing two or three songs. The event will culminate with Georgian traditional Christmas songs.

It is called Stars of TSkatlsminda . It begins with Luka singing a traditional Georgian folk song about rain and then Auto takes center stage and booms in his native tongue, “ But tonight there is no rain in TSkaltsminda, there are only stars”. After the applause I will walk out of the school, turn left towards the sea and my house. I know I will never here the chants of “Mas. Mas/Teacher. Teacher” of these bright eyed children ever again”

I will come home and pet Mitzi the adopted feral kitten and she will purr. I worry that she may starve without my secret feedings. I worry that Marie the little orphan student will not understand my departure. Just one more women gone missing from her big heart.

I will come into my house, into my ugly green room and that night it will be the loveliest shade of green and it will embrace me, verdantly.

I will put my tattered clothes into a suitcase.

I will drink one more toast, to family, parents, to Georgia, to love.

I will kiss and hug Maya, Geti, and Nardoli. We have never found common ground, the heart. Yet they cannot know mine. They have only ever known this place, this Brigadoon village. I will die a bit like I do at goodbyes.

Garmajos we say when toasting. Good to all people. I will not know how these stories end, or even any of the chapters. I hear the refrains from Lerner and Lowe’s musical about strolling through the heather filled moors of Scotland and fear I will be haunted.

I will call a taxi to take me to the night train. It will drive past the red roofed church, where since my arrival they have been constructing a bell tower. I will never hear the ring of it… I will wait in the damp station till the desolate whistle announces the train. I will be meet there by a young volunteer Nathan who will assist me in my leaving. We have walked religiously on these mountains, always talking of God and our love for him. He will lift my bags to the train and we will sit in the sleeper car…and I will cross the country in the dark, just how I arrived, from some dark unknowing place.

And life will not end, but chapters do.

On December 21st the Winter Solstice I will board a plane and head to the west, to Tess. Then on December 26th to Detroit where Joel will be, the ball will come down with love and community

In Amsterdam Tess will cook for me and we will find a church. We will walk and listen to Christmas music. We will talk of my mom who loved Christmas ever so that she has become Christmas.

And perhaps I will have two Christmases this year. Perhaps on January 7th, when it is Shoba, Orthodox Christmas I will find an ecclesia and light a candle under an icon as I have done here so many times in this land that has been home now for five months.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bad Teacher Does Good

Georgian is a very difficult language. It has thirty-three letters and does not correlate with any other language. It strings all sorts of sounds together and seems to have no inflection. I can go on with the many reasons that I have done so poorly in learning the language. At the beginning I was very studious in my efforts, making flash cards, writing thank you notes in English and translating them into Georgian, listening to vocabulary on my computer.

But when my fellow volunteers began to taunt me about my poor pronunciation I began to shut down.

Now it is in fact true that I boldly bastardized this language. It is also true that Instead of referring to my self as Mastedlebiel (teacher) I called myself a mastalabia. Even after correction I got stuck some how and continued to introduce my self as the English Masta labia.

My poor skills in this realm are not age related. I know this, as learning lines in plays has always been a challenge for me. Once unable to remember all my lines I wrote them out on recipe cards, and had the character root through her tin box, skimming my lines so as to not mess up.

My poor skill has to be neurological, some sort of wiring event.

I resigned myself to this disability and comforted myself by reminding myself that I was brought her to teach English not learn Georgian.

(And I do know enough to understand when the bus driver is trash talking me and how to toast with the locals so what else do I need to know?)

Now for these last three months I stand in front of bright eyed heartbreakers and with total commitment teach them English. I sing, dance and just 100% go at it.

I repeat and repeat over and over as if repeating will improve comprehension.

But really I seem a simpleton with OCD perseverating on single words.

I heard myself at a at a shop saying the word many times in English and many times in Georgian, “Hello, Hello, Gamejobat, Gamajobt.”

At school I do the same, “sit, sit, daggit, daggit”. It seems I have freak echolaic disorder .I repeat my own chants and then translate them into one-word phrases. Eccentric indeed, but accidently many Georgian’s and the student’s learn the language.

See I am like a parrot, repeating so often that incidental learning takes place and thus all learn some language. In the end, all is good.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is There a Safe Haven? /Or De Ja Vu

Here in this far away world life in many is as I know it. In too many ways, unsettling ways it is familiar to me, a chapter I have lived through before.

The house I live in is the gathering spot for many local teens. It is also the catch your breath and sit by the fire for many of the older widows in the neighborhood.

All gather in the common room. In this land there are literally two houses. One is for cooking and sitting. The other is only for sleeping. The sleeping house has no heat. The common room has heat that sputters forth from the wood-burning stove. There is always an offer of coffee or food from the ever-placid Maya. It is one of the few houses in the village that has a big screen TV and a play station. Often there are as many as eight young men (up to the age of 20) playing games on the big screen and three older babbias (widows) chattering on stools in front of the fire. The house is all bustle and noise like Times Square of Tskalsminda. The cats come about seeking a crumb and a pat. In this flurry I dwell.

Before autumns chilling rains I often took to my “green room”, my bedroom to collect myself.

I live in a state of confusion and silence often. The language escapes me, and I am always trying to intuit what goes on.

The deluge of rains and chill of the room spur me from my sanctuary and I become like the feral cats seeking comfort. Instead the nosy common room agitates me. I feel like the Little Match Girl just looking in a window burning her matches, warmed briefly by the scene but still I dwell in the cold.

But it does temper me some and I loose myself in the mirage of bucolic farm family.

I cannot see that I am blind.

For months now I adapt, and adapt. It is a never-ending Girl Scout escapade. I will get a prize at the ceremony.

I get blinder and more silent.

I imagine I am on a vision quest or retreat; the scarcity of food, the cold the rains are shaping me, teaching me the spiritual strength of surrender and supplication.

I begin to hoard food, oats and apples, a diet not much different than that of the pigs. I sleep with my socks on my hands for warmth. When I got sick and could not mend I took medicinal vodka with tea and honey.

Now my vision is further blurred.

My sense is my kiwi colored room is not that of a haven. Not only is it cold but also things seem amuck. I misplace things, have damp clothes draped on the bed stand to dry. Things go missing. Money seems to disappear.

Am I loosing my bearings? Perhaps the house is haunted. Perhaps by the father who died seven years ago in a car accident?

His portrait looms in the gather room of the sleep house, in the picture his beer glass raised and his eyes twinkle. Since his death at age thirty-three his mother refuses to sleep in this part of the house.

Thing go poof in my room.

100 lari goes missing, a Diet Coke, a Snickers Bar that I put aside for the boy (14) just to bond and entice him into learning English are not to be found.

I walk about the village up the mountain road is the cemetery. I sit by the father’s grave. I chat with the carved image on the gravestone. I promise I will watch his children, especially his son.

I get duller as I adapt to this life. Still though I do not think I am crazy. I must assess. I leave a trap. I mark three twenty-dollar bills and leave them in the corner of my drawer. I pray that there will always be three bills there. To have an apparition come visit is even preferable to the thought that this family is the sneaking into my room, rooting through my things. Yet if three bills remain then perhaps I am becoming unhinged.

I count the bills, and then again. Only two remain. I question the family. All plead innocence. Maya is disturbed promises to get a lock. The daughter kisses the image of her father on the locket that hangs around her neck.

The gild is off the lily. Now I am an interloper to be endured having questioned the honor of this good family. We muddle through as people do. I buy more treats for Maya, bananas, and things that she loves. I buy more Snickers for Nordari.

“Love bears all.” Even if there has been a theft I must hold my heart open.

Once in life I was a boundless thief. Nothing was sacred. No one exempt. Coins, food, trinkets. I justified my stealing my adaption to being a poor.

When babysitting I took liquor from the house and hid it in the bushes. Later scurrying in the dark so to bring the libation to a party. Shoplifting was done with a list .For my college textbooks my friend was the register clerk so I handed her a blank check. I had a kinship with the Fagin’s Lost Boys in Oliver Twist. The sport of it came to surpass the need.

So I understood how things “ go missing.”

But surely I think now that the theft has been unearthed I will not be victim again.

Recidivism in thievery is rare when the crime is brought to light. This I know from experience, having been caught by security at an elegant shopping store. It was not guilt but fear (and the fact that my accomplice’s my best friend Betsy Bowser ratted me out to her parents so she was no longer allowed to be in my company.)

Still I remain careful. I put my things deeper away, hid the big bills.

The greater work is in my heart.

The noise of my head screeching, “ I am violated”.

Still I want to stay in this house, though spare is a habitat for orphans. Churned up thoughts and noise are quieted by many walks and more prayer. I chose to forgive.

Life returns, the rhythm. The soup gets warmer and the stove gets hotter. The mother’s hearts drop their heartaches on the alter choosing to love again. Little kisses, foibles forgiven

Time though long is short so one must decide to live with the bruises of the heart that do not break it.

I want to burn holy candles in my room, cleanse it, and start afresh.

It is jarring to me upon returning home to find the Mitzi the cat in my room stunned by my arrival. She has just killed a mouse. She is proud. I am happy for her fleas filled self to habitate my room. Yet, the mouse troubles me. The symbolic meaning for mice is scrutiny. It suggests that there is a trap, and one must look more deeply.

There are elective mutes. Can one elect to be blind?

I do not want to see. I have to keep my eyes on the end, like a racehorse. I must persevere to completion.

I take a walk about, bringing five lari with me to pay a debt. I leave the other behind so that I have fare in the morning for my ride to the next town.

As things are so chilly I have the habit of tending my life after a walk. I set out my clothes arrange my purse. But, wait, did I not have five lari. left in my wallet. Am I crazy?

Also another candy bar is missing.

Perhaps thieves are trained. Perhaps they are orphans like Fagin’s charges. As a child I had much want and much need.

This boy think is ravenous, for candy, a father, and love.

I bring him to the cold house. His mother is away for the night. We sit.

I use the miracle of Google translate and speak to his heart.

Back in my teaching years my peers called

“ the priest” No one could lie to me.

This does not make me holy. This is because I have sinned greatly, been deceitful. I am a fallen soul indeed.

I look at this brown haired boy, too tall, too handsome, too much man for his fourteen years. His hair is tousled. He smells of cigarettes and sweat, days of sweat,

I compose to him. It reads like this.

You are young. My own son once stole from me. These things happen when you are young. I sometimes pray to your father. This time I must have the truth from you. (I am obliged to tell my agency of events such as these but I do not want the village, all 800-peasant folks to catch wind of the transgression of the son woman who sells the candles at the church.) If I do not get the truth I must call the police.

Then I directly asked him, “Have you stole money from me? ‘’

He hangs his head all puppy like, “ Yes”.

I weep, in relief that this dear boy has just unburdened and has taken a step towards maness. I weep under the iconic gaze of his father’s eyes piercing from the portrait. He seems a man, closer in this bold step of admission. I am a witness.

We agree to tell Maya. He agrees to talk with the priest.

Maya is informed ,further noise in the house. Perhaps she thinks me a temptress with all my bounty. Perhaps he will stop or perhaps not. I cannot know the outcome.

But for me, I have lived this before. I feel in a stage play where I have played all roles.

I am weary from these things. Yet these are the things of life.

I stole much in my life; time from employers, recently a fruit from a buffet. I have still many occasions of shame.

Once to my great shame my grandmother with cause, slapped my face. It stings still fifty years later. What I remember more though than the smarting flesh is how immediately after the slap she took me out for ice cream. She feed my mouthy spirit hunger with food and love.

So till I depart I will banish shame, and buy him Snickers and tousle his boy hair.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Life Long Love Affair

Long ago when I was a little thing I had a very bad day at school. I do not really remember the incident so I create legends about teachers about those incidents when the teacher had us squeeze behind desks to teach us to hold our tummies in. In these legends I always have troubles, for talking out, making the desk leap out from my girth or disrespecting authority. (Which in a Catholic School was especially grievous as when one disrespected authority one apparently disrespected God.) As it goes in legend’s there are helpers, I do remember from my school days the wonderful janitor Mr. Bobson who lived in this cavernous sort of room where a monolithic furnace. He was kind. He gave me candy. And he made the school warmer than heat.

But as it goes one day was worse than all. Maybe it was the day I did not know my catechism facts or the day I was publically scolded for my sloppy uniform. It was just a bad day. Bad, bad, bad. On that day I quit school. No more. But being a cantankerous sort I could not let them win. That was the day school began in the dank basement of Fairfield. Street I collected my younger sibs and I became the teacher. And that is how I think it began, me as a teacher. That and the movie King and I where the ever-lovely teacher (Deborah Kerr) in her ever-lovely blue ball gown dances about with the half naked king.

My first teaching job was in the State Hospital for the Mentally Impaired. I drew the lucky card with my student’s. Memorable, delightful souls. But the setting in what was called the chapel as it once served as church for the Native Americans when they were herded into the same land for their institionalization. The chapel was like a setting for a horror movie set in a school.

Being cranky and disrespectful by nature I disregarded the decision not to paint the room. I went in with a friend and painted a rainbow on the wall. It was the only time in my thirty-five year career that I was officially reprimanded for defacing state property.

No more of that or I could get expelled from teaching.

So through the years I became adaptive, trying on my own to enhance generally ragged settings, even going so far as once buying the paint and painting the walls during my summer holiday.

I did not become inured to the nasty settings. It troubled me always that kids were expected to learn in places that made prisons seem attractive. My last year of teaching in River Rouge was the worst. The steel factory spewed its stench and noise all through the town. The view from the window was the belching flame of the smokestacks and never once did I see a bird except for those garbage bird seagulls squawking overhead taunting us with their ability to take to the heavens.

Lovely schools and chivalrous custodians seemed like fantasy. And as for the king, well even in the movie he dies right?

And then comes Georgia.

This night I went for a walk about. I just wanted to see how the Black Sea pushed the clouds about the mountain. As the sunset. I wanted to see the moaning cows head for home. I wanted to see how the village settled itself into the evening.

I walked by the school, which sits on top of the hill. I could see all directions and the way the sun glimmered on the red roof of the church bell tower. All was golden as I looked past the iron fence into the schoolyard where I will teach in Sept.

I see the custodian and shout Garmajobat/hello. H hurries to the gate, unlocks it understand that I ma the new English teacher. He kisses my hand, and leads me on the tour of the school. It is lovely, up higher where my classroom is all. Just out my window I see the church steeple. He crosses himself.

He proudly takes me about the building, showing all, stopping to pray again at a little make shift shrine to a student who died by car last year. (Car accidents are common here, crazy drivers, and mountain roads.)

The tour continue with me going to the basement of the building where with not one word of English or Georgian he makes clear to me that he has a very advanced heating soloing system and illustrates to me how it works. We see the European style plumbing, which really just means that we do go out the building but do not have to voids in a hole as typical Georgian.

He is beaming with pride. And I am thinking of my dad the heating and cooling plumber and Mr. Bobson. I am thinking that all dreams come. It is the timing that fools us. I am in a land with a school in a magic setting and a mythic janitor. I am thinking about the auditorium and how it might be time to do a staged version of The King and I.