Sorry this is coming about a month and a half in delay! It must have taken me this long to process that I wasn’t going back. Not yet, anyway.
When I signed up to be in Georgia for one semester I knew that saying good-bye would be difficult. I’ve said my farewells to many amazing people in the past few years and it never gets any easier. In the end we press on with great memories and hope that we’ll see each other again soon. With Georgia it was very different. Of course I had many great memories but the chances of seeing any of these people soon (my Georgian family, teachers and students) are much slimmer. My last few weeks were filled with laughter and tears, singing and dancing, begging and crying, eating and drinking, second thoughts, fear and guilt. Now that I’m home the feelings are still fresh, I still don’t have a clear head, but I’m trying to make peace with it all.
First I have to say just how amazing my school is. After the initial hesitation to my leaving (cornering, begging, pleading and crying…mostly during class) all seemed to be slowly accepted and a grand send-off was planned in my honor. During my last week there were only two actual days of class. The other three were entirely dedicated to my farewell. Just a quick note to say: certain events which follow are only possible in a village school. Other schools have silly things like curriculums and police security called Manditors which would prevent such festivities.
The first day’s events blew me away. I was told to invite some friends and that each class would have a small performance or presentation for me. It was so much more.
I was locked in the library the whole day so it would all be a surprise; there were no classes. When the time finally came for the party to start I was handed a bouquet of roses and then blindly lead through the school to meet my friends who had just arrived by taxi. The entire school was gathered outside to greet them and bring us all inside for the big reveal. When we walked inside the floors and walls of the school were covered in chalk with messages to me. The entrance to the school was turned into a mini concert hall, music was already booming, the kids took their places, and my friends and I were placed in the front row.
The 5th class began reading short excerpts about how they love me ☺ Giga, my favorite little muppet-voiced man, forgot his lines and started to cry. I took mental note to find and give him a big hug as soon as I could get away from my post. Then, Mindia (please see my last post for details about this wonderful boy) started off the show. He stood before me taking deep breaths and preparing for his big moment. On came the music and he sang… “Besame Mucho” with all the bravado of a true latino man. These past few weeks he’s been following me everywhere, staring unashamed , and proposing plans of how I might stay. As a fifth grade boy who doesn’t speak Spanish I don’t think he realized that he was singing such a passionate song (or did he?) but it was no genuinely Mindia I couldn’t help but love every bit.
Next, the 6th class came out and performed a few jokes that no one seemed to get. Nani and Nelly from the 6th class along with LUKA from the 7th class performed a traditional Georgian adjaruili dance. It was amazing! Then came more dancing! One of my 11th grade boys, who often travels around Georgia and Turkey to dance (and doesn’t care much about school incidentally), brought along two of his friends and put on an amazing show. When the music comes on it’s like someone flips a switch and every macho Georgian boy turns into an overly theatrical stage performer - just three handsome teenage boys tearing up the dance floor and every boy in the audience ready to jump in.
After that my 11th grade boys graced me once again by reciting Georgian love poems while holding forth small bowls of wine. Finally, Marissa and I got to perform the dance that took us way to long to learn and wasn’t nearly as impressive as the kids but of course everyone joined in at the end and it turned into a big dance party.
When I thought they’d done all they could do I was dragged back outside where there was a tree ready to be planted in my honor: the Stepa tree. Finally my friends and I were taken upstairs for a huge feast, lots of wine and tcha-tcha(all home made). I was so touched, emotionally exhausted from laughing, crying, ect and then I remembered…I was only Tuesday. I still had four more days of saying goodbye...or good-buy.
Here are some highlights from the remainder of the week: - Wine chugging contest with my 10th graders. - A cake fight. - Boney M dance party. - Wine chugging contest with my 11th graders. - Dressed in traditional Georgian costume and forced to learn a new dance in 10 minutes. - TV Crew appearance in the village. - Surprise! I must perform this new dance in traditional clothing for the TV crew. - Wine chugging contest with my 12th graders.
As for saying goodbye to my family - it wasn’t any easier. Of course I had to go back to the village and say my farewells to Bebia Natela. In our last few days together we did a lot of cooking. She new I wanted to really get a few of her famous recipes down before I left. She surprised me by cooking up a recipe I’d made for her: my great-grandmother’s Mexican fideo. Of course she’d given it a few of her own Georgian modifications.
After a quiet dinner Bebia brought out her little guitar and told me to dance! We’ve been doing it every time I stay there since she discovered there is someone willing to listen to her music (the teenage boys have long given up). At night we share a bed and she reminds me that the piss pot is just outside the door if I need it. Still, no thanks.
The next day we go out and pick a huge sack full of mandarin oranges for my train ride. A group of us will be boarding the night train to head to Tbilisi. Mari comes to pick me up and take me to the apartment where I’ll finish packing and get ready for our farewell dinner. As we drive off, bebia hands me a rose through the window and tells me she loves me – we’re both crying – Mari rolls her eyes.
Since I’ve been home I’ve been fortunate enough to skype with some of the family and quite a few of my students! Sounds like not much has changed, the family drama continues. The best way to describe my time in Georgia would be that it was intense. I feel so fortunate to have had a look into their lives and live as one of them for a short time.
Here is the recipe I jotted down for Bebia’s delicious Khajapuri. It’s present at every Georgian gathering and was almost always present at our dinner table. Absolutely delicious!
Georgian cheese bread
Dough(prepare at least 1-2 hours before you would like to bake the bread):
5-6 cups of flour bebia’s palm full of yeast (~ 1 tbsp)
3 tbsp melted butter
bebia’s palm full of salt ( ~ 1 tbsp)
light cooking oil
In a large mixing bowl combine flour and salt. In a small tea mug mix yeast with a dash of salt, sugar, small spoonful of flour mixture and add about ¼ cup of warm water. Mix well and let stand in a warm place(next to the wood burning stove is perfect) until it begins to bubble and rise. This will late about 15-20 minutes. Slowly add small spoonfuls of the flour mixture and more warm water to the tea mug and let stand until mixture rises to the top of the mug. This could take another 15-20 minutes.
To the flour mixture add yeast mixture, melted margarine, a sprinkle of oil, and room temp water (start with about ¾ cup and start to knead add more until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers. Bebia just poured straight out of the pitcher until dough was completely combined but still quite firm). Knead dough for 2-3 minutes then make a clean ball, sprinkle with flour, cover and let stand for 1-2 hours.
~2-3 cups of paya’s cheese broken up into small chunks
*A soft mild cheese like mozzarella works really well in place of Bebias freshly made cheese. Just make sure you buy the soft balls of mozzarella (NOT shredded) and then break them up. If you don’t have mozzarella you can try a mixture of other cheese you like. I’ve done a mixture of feta and shredded white cheddar that turned out really well.
Roll it out:
Bebia made your bread in two different forms: one big circular loaf and small individual diamond shaped. The former is more traditional and the latter is fun for when you want to throw in extra components to make them all a little different (ex: apple jam in half and cooked, seasoned potatoes in the other)
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F with rack in the middle.
To make the large circular loaf (this recipe will make 2-3) tear off a large fist full of dough and roll it out into a circle about 8 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Then place a large fist full of cheese right in the center and spread it out leaving about a ½ inch border. Now gather ends together bringing then up and over the cheese squeezing excess dough into a topknot. At this point it will resemble a very large Chinese dumpling. Finally press down or roll dough outward until it is about 12 inches in diameter. Now just poke a few holes, brush with egg and melted butter mixture and pop in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. If you’re feeling particularly guilt free go ahead and slather more butter on top as soon as it comes out of the oven. Don’t worry, bebia would insist.
Let cool slightly so you don’t lose all of your delicious cheese then cut it up like a pizza and enjoy in mass quantities with lots of hot tea and seasonal fruit. Tchame, tchame – Eat it all up!!!