Another reason I love Ozurgeti is its size. It’s a small, intimate community. I love reading books or seeing movies where everyone in the town goes (usually by walking) to see the latest production at the theater or the auditorium is packed for the kids’ production of ‘A Christmas Story’. That’s how it is in Oz. Every event is met with overwhelming support from the community.
I had thought that the seniors were the only ones with an end year production. Boy, was I wrong. It seems as if EVERY class has one. And Tuesday was my 4th graders turn. Natia had told me about it the night before. Fine. And although she told me it was 12, it actually was to start at 1, which meant it didn’t start until 2.
All the teachers were there, as well as all of the parents and their friends from other grades. I guess they stopped all the other classes to do this because it was performed in the main corridor of the second floor of the school, which is its heart. AND this was during school, which meant the parents that were working had to get off work to come. Community.
The performance, although long, was the cutest thing ever! They of course dressed uniformly and made ties out of construction paper. These performances consist of songs and dances and recitations of poems and speeches. Given the length of the program, they had to have practiced for a long, long time. Adding to the cuteness factor was that there is ALWAYS one or two kids who steal the show by their obvious talent over all the others. And also the couple who forget their lines or ad libs to add flavor.
Georgia does not separate the disabled (mental or physical) students from the rest of their classmates. I have my own opinions about that philosophy, but I have heard it argued that under Soviet rule, these kids were segregated and dismissed so utterly, that society has now swung the opposite direction in how they are treated. So there is no separate curriculum for them; “one size fits all”. One positive about this cultural set up, is the classmates respond beautifully. They learn from 1st grade that something is ‘different’ about Giorgi, but he’s a kid like us. So Giorgi is accepted as he is. And they are together until they graduate.
In this particular class, there is Tornike. I don’t know what is medically wrong with him, but he literally bounces off the walls during class. The teacher gives him direction when things get out of hand, and the other kids shoo him away like a fly when he becomes too distracting.
Tornike was in rare form during the program. He was trying so hard to be on his best behavior and trying to stay on tune with the rest of the songs. He was if anything, super excited. Well as I said, throughout the program all the kids had speaking parts, either of a poem or a speech. Towards the end, it was Tornike’s turn. His first three words were loud and clear. But I think he scared himself. You could see it on his face. He had a ranging of emotion from excitement, to shock, to forgetfulness, to OH SHIT!, then embarrassment. The teacher came up behind him and lovingly tried to coax the words out of him. But by that time his emotion turned to tears. Not the uncontrollable sob tears, but the hot unbidden tears of emotion. When that didn’t help him to continue, the rest of the class chimed in to assist. When he finished, his face had a look of gratitude and embarrassment for not doing it on his own. But his classmates kept on with the pace of the program as if nothing happened. Tornike wiped his tears, smiled nervously at his classmates to the right and left, then got into character and joined the chorus of the next song. Community.
I started to daze towards the end of the program. It was hot and stuffy in the hall and it was all in Georgian. But I was jolted back to alertness by hearing my name in one of the monologues. I looked over to my co teacher for explanation and she said that they were talking about me. And I would have to go up there. Oh goodness. So I made my way through the dense crowd (I was at the back). Once at the front of the audience, they were still speaking about me (in popcorn fashion), all in Georgian. It was so humbling. Then the strongest student in English (speaking) looks directly at me, smiles and says “We don’t want you to go. You are home.” That was followed by the second of the one-two combo of the strongest student in English (written/ grammar), “We love you and will miss you”.
I couldn’t take it. I was overwhelmed by love and started crying then and there. Then they invited me to dance a Georgian dance with them. Of course.
“It takes a village to raise a child” – African Proverb