Friday, April 06, 2007

My Favorite People

I'd like all my friends and family back home to meet John Bento. John does not know me personally. He is a teacher in Portland and will soon be a Peace Corps volunteer here in Georgia. Despite having never met me, John recently mailed me a care package. I will list the contents:
1. Three microbrews from the Deschutes Brewery.
2. BBQ sauce
3. Season 1 of Chappelle Show (DVD)
4. Monty Python: Quest for the Holy Grail (DVD)
5. Big bag of jerky
6. Hot sauce
7. Peanut Butter (chunky)

John Bento is now my favorite person in America (not counting my parents and brother who have sent me wonderful care packages and books for my school). But John Bento is not a blood relative. However, he is a great man. His spirit of service extends well beyond simply teaching America's youth and volunteering for service abroad. John Bento also extends himself to give to others less fortunate: Peace Corps Volunteers. Sure John Bento is a generous hero of the people. Of course he is a great man, but don't be intimidated by that. Inside all of us is a John Bento. Inside everyone--even Luther, Total Jim, Pojken, and all my cousins--is a John Bento waiting to burst out. You can all be like John Bento. You can all send me stuff and I will sing your praises and toast to your health and future.

Ryan Nickum, PCV
c/o Peace Corps/Georgia
PO Box 66
Tbilisi 0194
Republic of Georgia

While writing this update I've discovered that there are two other shining examples of generosity amongst my friends and family: Sean Sirutis and Jesse Carew. These fine gentlemen sent me DVD's of Seahawk games (all losses, i think, but it's the thought that counts). They also included books that my students will like, downloaded podcasts of NPR, a VHS tape of the Powderpuff Girls (a cartoon), as well as Mexican seasonings, an eclectic assortment of movies and books, and a calendar of northwest scenery. Bravo to them. What fine young men. I will bring them back ceramic drinking bowls and drinking horns and religious icons which can be used as drinking vessels. Basically anything oversized you can put wine in. People just keep giving that stuff to me and I'm a kind person and will pass it on to to those who mail me parcels. I will never forget those who send me things from home, particularly, NW microbrews. I will never forget John Bento.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just Another Day in Georgia

I awoke and ate a breakfast of vegetable soup with a hamburger patty dumped in and a cup of coffee. After sneaking the dog some food I went to school. As usual one of the English teachers I co-teach with couldn’t come to school. One of the others left in the middle of class because she noticed the ambulance had pulled up in front of her brother’s house (false alarm).

Her brother was to be the computer teacher at my school, but days before they unveiled the new computer room he was in a horrific car accident. His passenger was paralyzed and he smashed up his face and was put into a coma. Nobody was wearing seatbelts, because as everyone knows, seatbelts are bad luck. Taxi drivers cut them out or intentionally jam coins into the receiving end of the device.

Left to teach one of my 6th grade classes by myself, I set the textbook aside and taught them soccer terms and then let them go outside to play a game, insisting they use English terms or I wouldn’t give them the ball.

“Tell me what it’s called or you don’t get the ball... it’s a ‘corner kick.’ Repeat. Corner kick!”

They got the hang of it after a while. When class was over the other sixth grade class rushed up excited and asked if we were going to play soccer also.

“No,” I told them. “You never do your homework. If you all did your homework we could play, but you never do.”

With that valuable information they all hustled off and found the smart kid and dutifully copied his homework before class. My expectations of students have changed dramatically since arriving here. At the beginning I wanted them to all write their own homework, study and succeed. Now I’m satisfied if some of the really poor students will just make the effort to copy an assignment. At least there doing something.

So we played soccer. The 10th and 11th grade boys smoking in the yard came out and ridiculed the 6th formers ability. I told them this was English class and that they should go to their own class. They all thought I was crazy. Go to class? They’re 16-18 years old and male. They should be commended for coming as far as the schoolyard. Most guys their age just stay home. Occasionally they would step onto the field to kick the ball away from one of the girls. In Georgian I would ask them “Are you a little girl? Are you? Then get off the field. These girls are better then you anyway.

After school all the sixth graders, one English teacher and myself went to the house of Sopo, a sixth grade girls who hasn’t been to school in a month because she has a tumor on her cheek. Doctors keep giving her family conflicting diagnosis.’ Some say it’s cancer and some say it’s not. The family suspects the doctors are exaggerating the severity to milk them for more money.

At Sopo’s house I gave her a test to take as a homework assignment. Sopo does not like homework. The family turned on the TV and the kids sat around laughing at cartoons while poor Sopo hung back, ashamed of the bump on her face and all the attention.

Because it was my first time in the house, Sopo’s parents decided they had to show me hospitality, so they served bread, plum sauce, smoked pork fat and home made cha cha, an 80+ proof liquor that tastes like bad vodka and is usually made from any fruit or that’s beginning to rot or is otherwise unfit to eat.

I drank 5 shots in 20 minutes before I finally convinced Sopo’s father that I’d had enough. My students didn’t even bat an eyelash as I put back oversized shots of moonshine and toasted to health, teachers, our school director, America and Georgia’s friendship, etc.

On the way out the door, Sopo’s mother gave me two bottles of plum sauce, which out of politeness I’d complemented earlier. She promised me 10 more bottles in the summer. Then I slipped out and walked down the washed out street that ran down the hillside. Along the way home I walked past the usual groups of staring men, kind of cold and suspect, drunk and giving me a creepy and confused gaze.

At home I helped my host father clear the vineyard of dead vines and helped him chop wood. It was the first time they’ve let me help with the chores.

At dinner, my host father complained he was tired from all the yard work. I teased him that it was because he was old. My host mother said it’s because he drank so much wine in the course of his life. He hinted it might have something to do with his choice in marriage partners. This is how they flirt. But the mere mention of wine inspired him to grab a bottle of homemade red wine from the storeroom. Which storeroom, I’m not sure. It must be hidden because the one I know of only has his homemade blush wine. It’s a little more vinegary than the others, but always served. The red is much better and I suspect my host father keeps it hidden for himself.

We ate vegetable soup and dipped green onions and radishes in salt and ate them. I like it for some reason. After a little while we filled our glasses with the red wine and toasted to our parents, God, our siblings, and their daughter and granddaughter.

After dinner, I checked on the puppy—doing fine. The sun set as the chickens fought over some corn and I read a history book about Tacoma while my host family watched soap operas. At 11pm I went to sleep wondering if Sopo would be okay. I also pondered the absurdity of toasting to health with a shot of toxic homemade hooch. Such a strange land.