When I was young (13ish), I was dumbfounded to realize that one of my closest friends had not ever been to the beach. It was a weird thing to me because my parents took us to the beach every summer. Living in Charlotte, NC, it was only three hours away. That was my introduction to the concept that not everyone has the same resources and therefore could not afford to do and see all the things someone else does regularly and perhaps takes for granted.
One of the most endearing things that Georgian schools do, in my opinion, is the excursion. This is a trip, usually at the end of the year, that the whole class takes to another city or historical site. What I love about this trip is that it is a bonding experience for the kids. Nothing bonds like shared journeys. The other thing I love about it is, it is an opportunity for kids who would otherwise not be able to see their beautiful and historic country. I meet kid after kid who has not been to the capital or other major cities in Georgia. For the excursion, they pool their resources for food and travel expenses and go. They rarely stay overnight, unless special accommodations can be provided.
I was not invited on any excursions last year, unfortunately, but this year I have been invited on several. The first was this past weekend with Natia’s, my host mother’s, 1st grade class. They are the bigger of the two first grade classes I have.
We assembled in front of the school Sunday morning. The class was so big that we had to take two marshrutkas. And on top of that, to save costs, the kids had to sit on the laps of the parents. We were packed in like rats. When I walked up with Natia that morning, one of the marshrutkas was already there. And it was overrun with the boys of the class. First grade Georgian boys… wow. They are a toxic mix of energy and physical aggression. Thankfully they are too little to hurt others or themselves, or they would be serial killers or sociopaths. The bus was literally rocking with their enthusiasm. The girls, equally excited were standing outside being harnessed by their mothers. Don’t be fooled by the gender difference. I saw a first grade girl run up behind another unsuspecting girl and perform a flying double elbow to the head. The assaulted girl crashed to the ground stunned at the sheer violence that was enacted upon her, then obviously started crying. The assaulting girl stood above her and smiled triumphantly. I saw it with my own eyes.
Once the other marsh came, the girls and their mothers loaded up that one. They were so packed, I didn’t think I would have a seat. But a kitchen table chair appeared out of nowhere and was placed in the aisle. Problem solved.
Since the kids were no longer required to adhere to classroom etiquette, throughout the day they would just yell out my name out of pure joy. At times, my name was cascaded through the group like a rally cry. At other times, when most were in their own thoughts, it would be screamed out by one single child, who remembered I was around. They don’t know English at all at that age. They know their letters and English words for a handful of things, but they can not put together any sentences for conversation. So when they do yell my name and I turn to them, they greet me with a smile of love. That’s all the communication they need. And I am satisfied.
It was a rainy day. It took us an hour to get to our destination. We went to the town of Chokhatauri to visit the museum of Nador Dumbadze, a famous Georgian writer. Natia explained to me that after his death, his friends constructed this museum in his honor. The museum was an A frame house. It was packed with photos and memorabilia from Dumbadze’s life.
The kids were herded into the main room to hear the tour guide give a synopsis of his life. Thankfully it was short, as the kids were getting restless. After the tour guide’s presentation, the kids took turns standing on the fireplace giving short recitations. I think they were quoting works of Dumbadze. As one kid would start talking, they all pressed into him jockeying for position to be next. It was painfully awkward. They did this, despite Natia telling them not to for all of the speakers until there were only a few left. The others, as they finished their recitation, continued through the house on a self-guided tour. Unfortunately, for the other speakers, the house was made of wood and the rest of the tour went past an overlook down to the fireplace. The remaining speakers had to battle to concentrate over creaking footsteps and the jeers from their classmates from overhead. When the recitations were finished, we all were free to continue touring the rest of the museum.
We had brought a communal lunch and were supposed to go outside to eat it but it started to pour down. So we had to stay in the museum with 34 first graders for about 30-40 minutes. …herding cats.
But the rain did finally stop and we went outside to a great picnic lunch. One thing Georgians know how to do well regardless of circumstance and that’s eat. We feasted.
The kids ate first and as they finished, they started running around the grounds of the compound like mini hurricanes. Their favorite game is a mix between chasing each other and bumping into each other. And it’s a gender-neutral game. Doesn’t matter if you are boy or girl, you too can be knocked on your ass. As it was wet out now, the game had an added dangerous aspect to it. Also now interspersed with sporadic cries of my name, were the mothers calling out to their little ones that were doing something just a litttttle too dangerous; like jumping off a mini cliff, or throwing empty bottles into the fountain, or absentmindedly punching someone repeatedly in the face. …herding cats.
After lunch, Natia gathered the kids for one last talk and a group picture. The parents, being the example for their kids, left no space between the kids and themselves in order to take pictures. So, either no one had a good class picture of the kids or if they did get a clean shot off, they were close ups of some kid’s face. And of course, finally, the traditional end to any great Georgian gathering- fireworks.
Riding to the museum, I rode with in the girls’ bus, which was for the most part quiet. On the way back, I rode in the boys’ bus, which was a chatter box. And as soon as the bus was turned on, they yelled to the driver to play the radio. Besides having to stop to let one girl vomit, we made it back without incident.
One excursion down.