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.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Love Makes the World Go Round or Love Around the World

Here on the village farm in the food chain or pecking order cats are above dogs and below chickens. They are just barnyard animals that are tolerated only because they kill mice and insects. Insects are part of their diet, and they snatch about at all crawling jumping creature and snack on them. Cat seem an irritant to be tolerated as the have some purpose in the farms eco system. Feral and starving they cry incessantly and always underfoot begging for food. A swift kick clears the path.

When I arrived at my home there were two young kittens. Skittish little things that had been summer sport for the visiting girls (aged two and four). With no toys for diversion the cats became their entertainment. They chased the cats screeching and flailing. Thwarted in their efforts to catch them the girls would find sticks and play a game of cricket using the cat as their ball. Wisely the kittens took cover and usually were the victors in “Let Get the Cat”.

The cats had two very different personalities. The tabby was the whiner who was relentless in his complaints about his hardscrabble life. If one tried to temper his fate with affection he would bolt, thinking we humans just giant versions of the tormenting girls. The sib was more affable and forgiving taunting patiently with her cat charms, brushing near a leg for a cuddle. She much more accepting of her destiny rarely went begging or fussing. Homily all spattered black and white so perhaps she compensated with personality.

Like the summer girls with little to engage me about the house and being I was preverbal like them I found myself interested in these cats.

They became my farmyard entertainment and perhaps a touchstone to my own isolation. Many a night before in my life a cats purr had balmed me.

I waited out the sweeter cat and when she skimmed by I seized her. (This is never done by adults here as the have a rational fear of fleas.) I got her. It felt like a big catch. I just held tight, tighter till she settled. I patted her a bit. She seemed to want more than food; she wanted the ever-illusive nutrient “love”.

She purred. Thus began the courtship.

I saved bits of scraps from dinner and fed her. She had appeared frail, seemed to have some barnyard ailment or perhaps due to her life style a failure to thrive.

She fatted up and became sprightly. She curried favor with the household by just being in their midst without complaint. They began to abide her being about.

She disowned her cat mother and began to follow me about like the little lamb that went to school with Mary.

I called her Mitzi as it sounded like the Georgian word Mets, which means mine.

Somehow I had acquired guardianship. If I had a sit she would join me, sublimely finding a moment to ease up to my lap. All in the household became aware of this cat.

The village chats about the teacher and her cat. Now folk joke and tease me asking if I am taking her with me to America?

On cold nights she sneaks into my room and does not even purr just all quiet so I do not ban her from my quarters. Having no heat her little cat fur seems some comfort.

As one must with love I must ask myself some tough questions. My questions about Mitzi mirror what I ask my self as I begin towards the climax of my time here. Did I make a mistake with this cat? Did I take it in only to abandon it? (Or have I just been a meteor in the life of this village, an autumn diversion to distract from life’s more pressing issues.) The cat reminds me of the student Luka a high functioning special needs boy who follows me around the school carrying my bags. He was also hungry, just to know how to hold a scissor and how to draw a circle and for someone to remind him to wash his hands.

He all all messy with a runny nose but has blue eyes that shine like the sea that glistens in the distance. Intuiting my frustration due to language barriers he often steps in and directs the other students in their native tongue. “Dagit! Chumy”, (sit, quiet) says Luka with great authority.

Every day when the school gate clang announces my arrival this boy runs to greet me.

As I type this cat is laying parallel to my body.

The cat will live, but will he thrive? Will Luka get kicked out of class being an irritant as he is so desperate for intervention he never quiets?

I will not know the endings or answers to these haunting questions. What happens when I walk away from this land, this boy, this cat?

I have hope that on winter nights when Maya rest weary and alone on the couch near the fading heat of wood burning stove that Mitzi will nestle near. I hope that Maya (who I have secretly witnessed sneaking food to Mitzi) just pets her a bit and that this loving little cat makes Maya forget her loneliness the way she made me forget mine.

And Luka, having been clearly my favorite I hope retains some status. And if not I just hope like hell that he believes a little more in love and Luka.

As always in love, I refuse regrets. Come here little thing, Modi, come, come…” And the cat purrs.