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The Final Week

Goodbye! Au revoir! Adios! հրաժեշտ! до свидания! ნახვამდის!

sunny 5 °C

On Tuesday, the time was nearing for my departure from the village and so I began planning and pre-packing my things. I pulled all the clothes from the drawers of my dresser and stacked them on the bed in neat piles. I made a special heap of things that were in limbo; things I was not able to bring back to Canada nor did I have the heart to throw away. I deposited my actual garbage in the scorching wood stove and watched it burn through the unlatched iron door. A few minutes later T'sit'so walked over to the refrigerator to file away the leftovers from yet another meal when she peered in through the doorway of my room, seeing the mess inside. "Oy deda, Cor, tqven t'oveben dzalian male," Oh mother, Cor, you are leaving very soon. She didn't bother to hide a sadness that swept across her, but instead loomed around the doorway staring at me for a moment before finally moving on to the cooking stove to make her cheese. I sat on the bed thinking about what it would be like when the day finally came to say goodbye to my school, my students, my community and my family.

Wednesday night, approximately 6 p.m., provided me with an impromptu supra which saw three large Georgian men enter the dining room through the wide door opposite my room. They all had the same haircut; buzzed on the sides with a bit of length on top, parted to one side. Each of them had thick new growth on their faces, bushy eyebrows and dark eyes. Even with all these similarities, none of them looked anything alike. I was still in my room, mulling about when I heard Chabuki hollar at me to 'modi', come. Chabuki was sitting in his normal spot at the end of the table while two of the men sat on the far side, pinned between the wall and the table itself. The third guest, and biggest of them all, sat on a small stool usually put in operation by tiny Bebia. As I approached the table, the men stared at me intently, no doubt having already heard of the Westerner who inhabited their boss' home. This is when I saw the small, black 'L' shaped object shoved into the back of the mans trousers. As I took a seat, I wondered if any of the other men carried guns heedlessly stuffed halfway into their pants. Sure enough, and likely brought on from the discomfort of the weapon digging into his spine from the pressure of leaning against the back of the bench seat, he leaned forward while reaching back and pulled his gun out and casually stuffed it into his coat pocket which draped the corner of the faux-leather bench. I thought how five months earlier this would have shocked me but I had now become as indifferent to it as if they were removing a bulky wallet from the back pocket of their jeans. I sat down at another stool where a plate and wine glass appeared, as a matter of course, with Teona and Tsitso instantly urging me to participate at the table's inevitable carousal. It was clear before I sat down that these giant Georgian maphia workhorses just wanted to see how much ghvino and chacha an average Canadian male could ingurgitate. I would like to possess some reason or excuse that this night of debauchery was the act of coercion from the locals, pressed upon me in a way that I could not manipulate, try as I might, and I was ultimately forced through their wily tactics to consume an unreasonable amount of wine. These were guys around my age (not common in my village) who toted handguns as a career path, something I found absolutely fascinating, and after only a few minutes of salutations we were having a great time talking, joking and toasting. Alas, I must admit to feeling less pressure to drink this evening because I had made up my mind early on to take the challenge, to show these barrel-chested beasts what I could do while I was proudly wearing my Canada T-shirt.

I woke up that same evening to my host mother laughing and poking me. I opened my eyes to see what the matter was, looking at my watch to see my local Nokia phone reading 20:30 hours. It was cold in my room, not uncommon, but an even colder draft blew over my neck and back. I couldn't understand what she was saying; I couldn't translate any of her Kartuli because my head was cloudy and my brain felt like it had melted inside my skull. I lifted my head with great effort and for the first time realized I was sleeping face down in the flower garden of the front yard. I stood up with purpose but slumped forward at the waist and with an awkward jog/shuffle combination, I found the bed in my room and heaved myself onto it. Tsitso followed me in, took off my shoes and threw a blanket over me. I heard her back in the diningroom giving Chabuki, who had been left alone by the goons sometime earlier, a piece of her mind and her thoughts on the evening. The alcohol soon stole my consciousness once again but I vaguely remember her coming back to wash the dirt off of my face.

Thursday morning was full of pain and suffering from the moment I rose out of bed like a poisoned, wilted sapling. I cursed myself and all the decisions I had made that brought me to that single moment in my life. The chemical induced depression of a powerful hangover draped over every part of me. Dehydration made my knees ache, my defective iliotibial bands scream and compelled me to wish that human brains came with a simple 'off' switch. I may not have regretted (as much) my choice to drink the previous night if I could have just remember the events that took place; affording me a funny story or two at least. I made use of the large hood on my sweatshirt as I slipped into the house sandals my host-dad had given me upon my arrival and shuffled into the dining room.

"Corey gaprinda! Gaprinda Corey!" Corey flying! Flying Corey! Chabuki sang to me, then let out a full bellied laugh as he witnessed me writhe and creep along the tile floor. The sound of his voice bashing inside my skull made me want to hit him in the mouth with a New York phonebook while hanging out the window of a speeding car, but I resorted to a docile smirk, knowing nobody was at fault for my current condition but me.

Tsitso walked in hearing Chabuki's version of 'good morning' only to add to the jokes at my expense, understandably. Luckily the screeching of my host sister never appeared, being a Thursday morning she had already left for school. I, on the other hand, didn't have any lessons on Thursdays and was afforded the time to recover from the pathetic mess I was.

"Ginda Vimushao dres, Coro?" Want to work today, Corey? "Mushaoba, diakh?" Work, yes? Chabuki persisted.

I stood, hunched over like Bebia, as if it made me feel better, wondering what the Kartuli for, 'No way in hell, do you see the deplorable site before you?' was.

"Ho." Ya. "Why not? What are we working on today?" I asked, knowing the English wouldn't elicit any response from Chabuki.

After harvesting and processing hazelnuts all day while feeling like I was on the brink of complete organ failure, I showered using antibacterial baby wipes in a feeble attempt to feel clean. I decided to take a few minutes to myself trying to finish up a book I borrowed from a friend which I needed to return before leaving the country. A clatter heard behind my bedroom door coming from the dining room grew to quite a commotion with the sound of clanging plates and chiming cutlery among a crescendo of boisterous and excited voices. I opened the door leading into the seeming melee to find a table decorated with brightly coloured napkins, torti a type of cake for special occasions, and an abundance of food. Full of pride at what she helped to create, my host sister urged me to sit at the table. After some type of awkward photo shoot with me and the table setting, the family and the farmhands: Givi and Igori, sat down to eat. A supra was on. Igori acted as the Tamada but urged me to translate into English or add to the toast he had made. We drank wine, ate a pile of food, listened to music and chatted the evening away. Later in the meal, Chabuki unwrapped a large Qanci (1 litre drinking horn) from a complete set and the remainder of the supra was spent enjoying a lot of wine from the various ceremonial clay containers. We ate the cake, though I was strictly told it was not a cake, but rather torti, and was reminded several times throughout the evening that torti was completely different than cake. So we ate the cake that wasn't really cake and the evening was a great success. The host family gave me gifts and presented me with a duplicate drinking horn from their set, telling me that half will be for me, and the other half they will keep, and that someday we can bring the set together again. Tsitso wiped a tear from her eye as she walked off to the cooking stove to make her cheese.

Friday was not unlike any other day at school, except this Friday represented my last day. I taught the kids English like I always did, trying to bring in as much enthusiasm and fun as I could into an otherwise cold, stale and rigid atmosphere. I handed out small Canadian flags, pins, keychains, pencils and erasers and told the children that Canada and Georgia were friends, that we were friends, and that I would always remember them. I gave them a small speech that they could be whoever they wanted to be as long as they were willing to do the work and that all of their schooling, not necessarily just English, was they key. The kids snuck in hugs when they knew my rule was high fives only, shook my hand, blew kisses, begged me to stay and even gave me gifts: some drinking horns, crafts, drawings and paintings.

After class I saw a car pull up outside the front gate of the school and I recognized it. Chabuki, lame footed from his diabetes, hobbled around the car gathering food, cake (but not really cake), wine and dishes, assigning random children in the yard to carry it inside. In one of the classrooms teachers were being directed by the school Principal to place all the desks together and where to set up the food, wine and music. After they were all ready, they asked me to enter and take a seat. A huge plate of khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) was placed before me and I recognized that too, as Tsitso's wonderful doing. I thought about how this may be the last time I was ever going to have the chance to devour the freshly baked cheese bread, so I dug in. The sporti teacher, Malkhazi, had the responsibility of Tamada duties and executed them with a flare for the dramatic. After each toast I was urged to add onto his speech with some words of my own which my co-teacher translated to the rest of the group. I thanked them all for their hospitality, generosity and kindness; for taking me into their homes and their hearts; for making me feel like a real member of their community and for helping me to experience one of the most surreal and wonderful voyages of my life. After we finished eating and with our bellies full of wine, we cleared the tables away and the teachers danced to local Georgian folk music as I tried to mimic, flailing my arms around like a supreme idiot. Each teacher came up to me individually and toasted me, thanked me for coming to Georgia and to Samikao school. They told me I was a lamazi bichi, beautiful boy (often used to mean very nice), and thanked me for making such an effort to become a member of the village and embracing Georgian life. Some, like the children, begged me to stay and to buy a house and move my wife here. Others kissed me on the cheek in a heartfelt embrace. Some gave me gifts and bouquets of flowers. They amazed me by how sincere their words were and was shocked to see a few teachers wipe tears away. We took photos and danced some more while I took a moment to wander the halls of the school one last time before saying goodbye to everyone. My co-teacher stood at the top of the stairs at the schools entrance with one of my favorite students mothers and they waved me goodbye as the Georgian flag stirred and rippled back and forth. The sun was setting making for a pink and orange dusk but still reflected powerfully off the windows. Palms trees and cacti dotted the school yard. A few kids who stuck around for one last goodbye chased Chabuki's car, waving wildly, for as long as they could run. This was the last time I would see my school; nothing like how I first interpreted it over five months earlier.

At home that night, the festivities of the school supra continued with the family and the following day, Saturday, was to be my very last in the village.

I never fully recovered from the week's mafia meeting on Wednesday and was exhausted by the time Saturday morning rolled around. I was wearing my hoodie again, and again felt it necessary to flip the hood over my head as I walked around my room before breakfast. I didn't have as much to drink the last few nights after the Wednesday assault of my liver, but the relentlessness of the supras was wearing on me. I couldn't do another supra if I tried, I thought to myself, as I opened my bedroom door leading to the dining room.

The table was set yet again with the familiar flash of colour from the napkins, a huge variety of Tsitso's concoctions and two jugs of wine. I collapsed in my spot on the bench for a moment before Tsitso told me to go wake up my host sister upstairs. When I arrived at the top of the stairs I saw Bebia wrapping her white hair in the black floral scarf she donned habitually. I greeted her with a dila mshvidobisa, (good morning) like I had every morning for five months. However, on this dila, it sent her into an inconsolable bleakness. She waved her scarf at me in embarrassment as her eyes reddened and tears steadily leaked out of them. In an attempt to lighten the mood, knowing Bebia was a fan of my antics, I grabbed two blocks of wood from a pile and brazenly marched up and down the upstairs hallway banging the pieces together yelling at Teona to wake up. Teona eventually emerged from her room annoyed but was unable to suppress a smile while Bebia laughed in her patent high pitch wheeze.

Back downstairs at the table we sat for my last meal with the family and I felt a tickle of sadness at the thought that I'd never be with this, my new family, again. From the door leading to the barn outside walked in Igori and Givi to join us for breakfast and say a final farewell. A neighbour came in from another door to find my host sister setting out napkins and wiping tears from her eyes, Bebia dabbing at hers with a handkerchief and Tsitso barely keeping it together as she conducted her business of taking care of everyone. The neighbour, at first, laughed at the scene of crying women, just as Chabuki did and even offered an attempt to lift their spirits. As breakfast began the village director, Zaza and his family stopped in to say goodbye and have a bite to eat, as well as a few other neighbours. Halfway through the meal it felt as though the entire village had made their way to the Chorgolashvili household to say goodbye to the English teacher. Everyone toasted me and every single one of the men did so by drinking one litre of wine from the horn. They thanked me, blessed me, wished me luck and happiness, blessed my wife and our future children and always made a point to say how I have made all of Canada a great friend to Georgia. As I looked over to the neighbour who had arrived first that morning, I saw his eyes resembled Bebia's; wrinkled around the edges, red and streaming with tears. I had only spoken to him a few times, but saw him every morning as I walked to school. And as he rode a decrepit bicycle the opposite way guiding his herd of cows along the dirt road I always gave him a 'Gamarjobat' (Hello) or a 'Dila mshvidobisa' (Good morning). Bebia hadn't stopped crying since I greeted her in the morning. Teona would collect herself only to find herself crying again. What a scene, I thought, and all for my leaving? There must be some other, more deserving reason to have all these people visibly upset. The supra continued as they typically do; food, wine, music, dance and chatter. Chabuki was an emotional rock, unmoved, unlike all the others around him.

After a final check of my baggage, everyone who had stopped by to greet me farewell was waiting in the driveway. A long line of kissing on the cheek transpired and as I turned away from the last one I saw the three women of my family huddled together crying. I hugged my host mother and kissed her on the cheek and thanked her for everything she'd done and, facetiously, for the extra fifteen pounds she'd packed onto me. As I hugged Bebia and towered over her I could see Tsitso stuffing a huge bag of khachapuri in my duffle, a plastic bag of dried fruit in the top pocket of my backpack and sweets in every crevice she could find. Bebia breathlessly mumbled away in Kartuli and I couldn't make out what she was saying and she gripped me with all the force an eighty two year old could summon (surprisingly a lot), failing to let go.

Chabuki and Teona helped me load my belongings into the car and we set off on the thirty minute drive to Abasha. I looked at all the familiar sites as they flew by with a different perspective; they weren't at all intimidating as they were five months ago, but instead were quite familiar. I recognized some of our own cows and our pig with the weird-mole-thing (a technical term) on its face. Other neighbours stood at their gates and gave a casual wave as Chabuki honked the horn just like he had when I first arrived. The big beige house on the corner, I knew the owner now, and taught his daughter in my grade one class. We drove past the tree with the jagged, labyrinthine branches that I liked so much which stood in the front yard of an old man's house who smiled and tipped his hat to me every time I walked by. We slowed down to pass Bebia's best friend, an equally ancient relic of a woman, who gave a big wave with the cane in her hand and the other hand supporting the small of her back. The fountain near the abandoned building where the stray horses frequented was just up around the corner. We drove out of Samikao where the road forks to either Abasha or Martvili, where another fountain and large granite cross signified the split.

At the marshutka station we heaved my bags out of the car and tossed them to the side while Chabuki made some calls on his cellphone. Teona just huffed under her breath and I could periodically make out a faint, 'Oh, Coro, Coro, Coro'. Chabuki had called a driver he knew, and so the marshutka knew where to pull up, and after a few minutes waiting in a faint drizzle, it did. Before I knew it, my bags had been thrown into the waiting mini-bus and I was urged to hop in quickly as well. I hugged my new sister goodbye and shook Chabuki's hand and took a seat against the window. As the vehicle pulled away I saw my sister through the window looking at her father and she began to weep again. And as my eyes shifted to Chabuki, I caught a glimpse of the emotional rock pulling a sleeve to his eyes and gently wiping at them.

It was all over.

I spent the next few hours on the bus thinking about what exactly I had left behind. Wow. What a trip.

Posted by CRBackman 10:40 Archived in Georgia Tagged children food farewell family school dinner georgia goodbye teachers cheese crying mafia neighbours supra saqartvelo samegrelo samikao

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