As a teacher, I have witnessed a lot of end school year rituals. Obviously, the seniors have extra reason to celebrate. They all scramble to try and hold on to the feeling and memory for as long as they can through symbols and long honored tools to help accomplish this. My favorite, and the one that has the best chance of lasting is the annual (yearbook).
Here is Georgia, they don’t really do the yearbook thing. My first guess is because its cost prohibitive. Instead they do something I remember the ‘counter culture kids doing back in the states, and that is signing white tees. I forgot how the actual procedure goes (as you will notice later). On this last day of school, it was a glaring reminder that this was a special day to celebrate with a universal rite of passage.
Up until this day, the majority of students spent countless, tiring hours going to their tutors preparing for end year exams. Exams were over and recorded. My students were happy for the most part. Now it was time to celebrate with friends.
- Senior presentation.
In my time here, I got to know one particular class extremely well. The core members of my English club are in that class. for a couple of months, they have been practicing for their Senior Program. I was invited to come to see it and also go with them on their excursion afterwards.
I got to the school as instructed at 10. But as I should have guessed, they started 2 hours later. The lobby area where they were to perform was packed out. One reason they started late was that their senior teacher had to make an ‘entrance’. She was dressed up beautifully and escorted into their classroom. Then we waited some more.
The first thing I noticed when I walked up to the school were the boys wearing similar clothes; blue jeans, white shirts and ties (most wore ties). They were outside hanging out and smoking cigarettes. I didn’t see the girls until I went inside. The two words that immediately went into my head consecutively were- “cute”… “scandalous”. Their outfit consisted of black mini skirts with white aprons and black knee length stockings. I think they were shooting for the Britney Spears’ ‘Opps! I Did It Again’ look.
I notice time and time again that the females here often push the line (according to American standards) in terms of scandalous attire. I try to wrap my mind around the whole thing in the context of cultural acceptance of women, i.e., what the line is from appropriate to inappropriate attire in Georgia versus the States and why that is, how Georgian men can so easily make a switch in their minds between ignoring Georgian women in public and eye raping non-Georgian women. Case in point, I was waiting for an early marsh back to Oz in a seaside town. It was early in the morning, so only a couple of taxi drivers were milling about. Out of nowhere, a very fair skinned blonde girl appeared across the street from us to wait on a bus to Batumi. She was dressed like she was going for a hike. There was nothing scandalous or even remotely controversial or ‘inappropriate’ about her attire. But once seen by the Georgian men, they all perked up, even the ones in the shops came out to have a look. And I didn’t understand the Georgian they were muttering, but it was a familiar tone understood by all males. Ten minutes later, same side of the street, a Georgian women walked out to wait for the bus. The first thing I noticed about her was the high-heeled hot pink shoes. She wore sheer hose, and a tight black skirt. She had long curly black hair, matching pink lipstick and black sunglasses. She couldn’t have been considered inappropriate in her dress, but she definitely was very attractive, hard to miss, and demanded attention. Much more so than the blonde haired girl, but the men reacted as if it were another cow wandering for grass or they didn’t react at all. I don’t understand.
A friend here in the Peace Corps theorizes that it has to do with the ingrained level of respect Georgian men have for their women. They are placed on a high, untouchable pedestal. To the point where it doesn’t matter what they wear, slutty or not, they are not objects to be subject to anything less than dolls still in the box. (That is not to be confused with how the women are actually treated.)
But back to my kids.
Their program was really cute and well done. They started with a musical skit that took place in school (hence the outfits). Then they transitioned to a mock award ceremony. Here, when different classmates would ‘win’, they performed various songs or dances.
This was the first time in my two years here that I was able to see my Sofo dance. I had heard she was good, but I didn’t realize the level of her talent. She performed the ‘Wedding Dance’. The thing about traditional things is they are heavily repeated to the point that you get to distinguish between good, mediocre and bad. Even if you can not do that thing yourself. Take wine. Drink it enough, and it becomes possible for you to distinguish good from bad and what makes it so. What makes the Wedding Dance unique is the way the lady glides effortlessly across the floor away from or toward the male. Sofo was amazing. Her movements were ghostlike. I was so proud.
Then of course they ended it all with ‘We Are the World’.
They signed some more shirts and took photos afterward. Megi, one of my favorite seniors, asked me to sign her shirt. I had signed lots of shirts previous to hers and I signed it similarly- just with my name. Megi, not one for mincing words, immediately called me out on it and said, “Sanchez. What is it!?! NO! You are supposed to write a memorable message!” Dude, now I remembered. It was sooo obvious. The previous kids’ shirts I signed just smiled and went to the next person.
Sofo, Lana, me, and Megi
When the kids finally finished taking photos and changed clothes, we all went downstairs to prepare to leave. Usually the classes take a regular marsh for their excursions. Outside waiting for us was a coach bus! Ballin’ status!!
After waiting for several straggling students, we finally left. The parents sat up front, the girls took the back, which left the center for the boys. I don’t know of there was a shortage of seats but the other two male teachers took turns sitting next to me. Both of who spoke limited English, enough to understand each other.
The driver of course didn’t know how to get to our destination, so we took several wrong turns and had to continually stop to ask for directions.
Our destination was the Prometheus Caves in Tsakaltubo near Kutaisi. I had gone to these caves before, but I was still excited to be with the kids. Most of the kids (and adults) I asked had never been to the caves. And again, for that reason alone, I love the concept of excursions. It’s an opportunity for Georgians to see their own country when it is cost prohibitive to do so otherwise.
They loved it.
Another tradition for Georgians is to bring their food when they travel. The first time I came to the caves, we simply got back on the bus and left. This time they unloaded the food in a yard on the side of a market. I had not noticed this area the first time. it had picnic tables and a grill. They moms started spreading out the food and chopping up the vegetables, while the guys started firing up the grill for the mtsvadi.
We started the feast and per usual things were slow. But the music was turned on and the cha-cha was brought out. I hate cha-cha, but this stuff was especially toxic. How is that possible!?! I only took three mini shots. But the boys (and by boys, I mean the ones that just graduated and the male teachers) kept pounding. They offered to buy me a beer just to keep my drinking. The feminist in me was super happy for two different reasons, both due to ‘my’ girls. Megi, with nose turned up, made sure that I understood that I did not have to drink that stuff. She’s protective that Megi. And Sofo, seeing that we had bought beer, too, filled her glass several times.
Then the dancing started. Sofo and another talented student, Nini, got the party started. And as per usual they all begged and pleaded with me to dance. I hate that. I eventually did dance and their cameras came out like the paparazzi.
At dusk, it was time to load up the bus and meander our way back to Oz. But of course we again made several wrong turns. One of which, was down a one-way street in Kutaisi. We were stopped by the police.
While stopped the kids got off to stretch their legs or smoke. One kid crossed the street to take a photo. (I wish I thought of that.) But on the way back to the bus he was apparently heckled or something by some local kids. At first I thought the teachers were just scolding him. But then I saw him walk towards the back of the bus and confront the local kids again. The teachers and other students intervened. I thought it was going to be a brawl. And this might be bravado talking, but if there is a brawl going to happen, I want to be with my team. So I decided to leave the bus, too. But by the time I got to the stairs, they all were being herded back on the bus.
I thought it was over, but the kid involved with the drama started yelling at another kid on the bus. I asked someone what the problem was. Apparently, the kid in the middle of it all had called for backup from his friend and said his friend didn’t come to his aid. But the friend protested and said he came, just the wrong way, which I believe. They argued about that for what seemed like ever. Then the alcohol finally kicked in and they all fell asleep.
“So what we get drunk?
So what we smoke weed?
We’re just having fun
We don’t care who sees
So what we go out?
That’s how it’s supposed to be
Living young and wild and free”
Young, Wild and Free, Wiz Khalifa