Friday, March 16, 2007

English Language Competition

I know you’re all excited to hear the results of the Greater Baghdati English Language Competition. You've been up pacing the house, fingers crossed, wondering if Dimi School was going to come out on top. Well the results are finally in! Dimi School got creamed. But while it did not run away with any 1st, 2nd or 3rd place prizes, it did win three of the four “Most Promising Student” prizes, a sort of honorable mention for the kids who were most eager or engaging. We'll take it.

The whole event was organized by myself, fellow PC volunteer Jeff, and Manana, a local teacher. The judging was done by a dozen Peace Corps volunteers who were also in town for my birthday. Overall, it was a huge success. The Country Director for Peace Corps came, along with the Governor of our region. Both donated prizes and we supplemented them with some free books from the embassy.

Overall, 100+ kids competed in the contest, which involved an interview and essay. I think there are a lot of people in the community who have no idea what the strange Americans are doing here so this gave us a sort of public showing.

“You know those strange guys with the big backpacks? Turns out they’re not Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re English teachers who put on that event at Mayakofsky School that had all the American girls.”

The only downside was some apparent cheating by at least one local teacher, who fed answers to a couple of students in the 5th grade. It was the only room in which there wasn’t an American volunteer overseeing it. It caused a large controversy in the community, but worse yet it proved that this competition probably isn’t sustainable. When the Peace Corps volunteers leave there’s simply no way this competition could be administered fairly since most teachers not only allow cheating, but actively support it. However, despite this hiccup the competition was a big success and the students who participated were much more active and motivated in class the next week.

The weekend also played host to my 31st birthday, a milestone that my 21-29 year old friends had no problem making fun of—Thanks for the pillbox Ian. My other presents included a decorative dagger, coffee cup, some drinking horns/bowls, beer, salami, a bandana reading “You’re wanted in Williams” and a doll that plays music when you pull the string on its back. It was definitely the most eclectic collection of gifts I’ve ever received and I look forward to regifting many of them.

This is my first birthday in Georgia and it proved as boisterous as my last one in Seattle. I have a very good group of friends here and it was greatly appreciated that so many of them traveled so far to celebrate it.

In a major scheduling error, I designated March 3rd for the competition and my birthday party. This turns out to be Mother’s Day in Georgia and to help my host mother celebrate this I dropped 14 overnight guests on her. When I realized my mistake I tried to reschedule it for a local restaurant, but she thwarted my plan, as well my request that my fellow Americans and I would do all the cooking. It was no use. She insisted. Even after her nephew died and she knew she had to be in Tbilisi for the funeral the next morning she still insisted. So she cooked all day Saturday and stayed up until 2am picking up dishes and wine glasses. She refused our help at every turn, except for carrying a table downstairs. Early the next morning she went to Tbilisi and returned that night. Then she woke up early the next day to wash all the sheets and laundry by hand. My Mother’s Day gift of some colorful jars for storing food seemed paltry compared to everything she did for my birthday.

Such generosity is pretty overwhelming, so I felt particularly bad that some of the party’s dancing spilled over onto the bearskin rug and broke off a claw. Georgian hospitality knows no limits and Georgian women are the engine behind it. I imagine somewhere in the upper reaches of heaven is a massive banquet hall reserved just for Georgian women, and they are getting drunk as hell and putting their feet up.

Once a year Georgian women get a taste of such heaven on earth, when they gather for International Women’s Day and hold a women-only supra. They eat and they drink and the men get no part of it. A few years ago in my village the women got so drunk they blocked the only road through town for 4 hours. No taxis or buses could get through as they sang and danced and locked arms across the street.


Blogger Jennifer said...

I distinctly recall saying you weren't old during your birthday toast. This may have been an exaggeration or a lie, but it's the pretense of polite friendship that counts.

11:02 AM  

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