Thursday, February 24, 2011

Indeportant Acts of Georgianglish (and Other Misunderstandings)

When living in a different country it’s inevitable that you’ll face lots of misunderstandings every day. Words get incorrectly translated, customs get misinterpreted, and the big ‘ol language barrier all contribute to this. (I can only imagine how confused the cast members of “Three’s Company” would be over here).

I admire all my students’ efforts to speak English, but often their blunders make for slightly different sentences. Beso, one of my favorite ninth graders, came up to me in the hall one day surrounded by his friends and asked me if I liked rape. I was a bit surprised by his question and replied by repeating his question to make sure I got it right. After Beso and his friends began nodding and smiling he admitted to me that he loves rape. He went on to say that he loves rape lie Jay-Z and Eminem.

After sighing with relief, I explained to Beso that ‘rape’ and ‘rap’ are very different things that he should be careful not to confuse.  

Our exact conversation went a little like this:

Beso: Do you like rape?
Me: [Jaw drop] Do I like rape?
Beso: Yes, yes! Jay-Z, Eminem…
Me: Ohhhh! RAP! I love rap, I hate rape.

Another one of my sweet kinderlach (shout out to Yiddish) is thirteen-year-old Mari. Mari is a real firecracker who’s too clever for her own good sometimes. While writing vocabulary sentences in class one day Mari shared the following sentence: “She is indeportant to her family”.

I turned to Mari and I asked her, “Do you want to say important or independent?”

Mari looked at me as if I asked her a strange question. “I want indeportant. Independent and important. She is indeportant”.

Well, there you have it; my kids are making up words. Shakespeare made up words and the youth of Georgia are too.

At home with Eka, misunderstandings are a dime a dozen. Eka happens to be obsessed with three English words:

1)      Probably
2)      Sometime
3)      Tomorrow

Whenever she hears me say any of these three words she often repeats it like a sweet Georgian parrot and then adds the phrase, “probably sometime tomorrow” just because she thinks the three words sound beautiful when said together.

Well, a few nights ago while watching an American film on television at one in the morning Eka heard someone use the phrase ‘f*** you’ and decided she liked how that sounded too.

She turned to me and promptly said, “Tomorrow f*** you probably sometime”.

Initially shocked, I told Eka that her sentence didn’t really make sense. Eka thought for a minute and then turned to me and said, “F*** you probably sometime tomorrow”.   (Well at least this sentence made sense).

Nini got a huge kick out of Eka abusing the F word and so we didn’t exactly go through the trouble of telling her it’s not exactly a polite thing to say to someone. Granted, I told Eka that the F word is a bad word, but I didn’t go into very many details… 

(Oh, and if you think that’s bad then I’ll spare the story about the time I taught Nini that an “Mmmbop” is just a word for ‘a boy with long hair’).

Well, back to the F word. A few days later Melissa came over to the house for some coffee and cookies (I have a rough life, I know) and Eka deemed it a good time to test out her newly learned phrase. So, with a huge smile on her face she looked at Melissa and said, “Probably f*** you tomorrow!”

Melissa’s eyes nearly popped out of her face.  Before I could even tell Eka that she really shouldn’t be yelling that phrase to every Tom, Dick and Harry- she looked at me with big eyes and said, “f*** you”.

Of course, after this small charade I did explain to Eka just how bad a word the F word really is. And I kid you not; the scream she emitted when she realized what she’d been saying for three days could be heard in Kalamazoo (which is actually a small city in Michigan). Anyhow, Eka gave me quite the scolding for allowing her to say what she said for three days.

Sometimes a simple misunderstanding can be averted by using the Georgianglish principle. The Georgianglish principle is similar to basic Spanglish. See, when speaking Spanglish (a combination of Spanish and English) people tend to add the preposition ‘el’ before any noun and add the letter ‘o’ after any noun. (Case in point: ‘el computero’ sounds like it could actually be a word in Spanish).

Georgianglish is similar; you just add an ‘i’ at the end of a noun and words suddenly sound Georgian. One afternoon I was restlessly trying to explain what ‘cancer’ is in Russian and after describing what one person thought was ‘narcotics addiction causing baldness’ it turned out that simply saying ‘canceri’ actually turned out to mean cancer in Georgian. Just adding one little letter put everyone on the same page.

It even works with celebrities. Eka was watching a movie on television and she was having trouble remembering an actress’s name.

This is the actual conversation we had (except it was in Russian):

Eka: Who is that?
Me: Susan Sarandon
Eka: No, that’s not her name.
Me: Oh, Susani Sarandini?
Eka:  Ah yes, that’s it.

Oh Georgia, your quirkiness never gets old. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chilling with Stalin

When I first decided I was going to come to Georgia I was really excited to tell anyone and everyone that I was about to go on an adventure and teach English for the year. The funny thing was that most people didn’t really know anything at all about the country. The responses I got were limited to the following five statements:

a)      Georgia? Where is that?
b)      Georgia? Don’t people in Atlanta already know English?
c)      Georgia? Are you insane?
d)      Georgia? Isn’t that where the winner of Project Runway was from?

But the most common I response I got was the following:

e)      Georgia? You know who comes from there? Stalin.

Yes, that Stalin. Despite the fact that Joseph Stalin was a man of questionable morals (to put it kindly) he’s definitely an iconic leader who had a huge influence on history.  Ever since I got to Georgia I’ve been eager to go the Stalin museum in Gori (the city where Stalin was born) and see how the museum presented him.

See, before I came to Georgia my parents gave me the following advice: “Never bring up Stalin. You never know who loves him and who hates him”. In my five months here so far, I’ve encountered both deep admiration for Stalin and extreme disgust for the man. I was honestly just curious to see how native Goriebi felt about the man.

On Saturday I finally made it to Gori. The girls and I actually got to the museum before it opened so we spent some time walking around the museum grounds and snapping photos. The house Stalin was born in and the train car he used to travel (he was terrified of flying) are actually in the museum courtyard.
Stalin's house!

Love him or hate him...

 In fact, I was so excited to see the train car that I didn’t notice the huge strip of black ice just in front of the train. Of course I slipped and fell flat on my back. Tara watched the whole thing in shock. It was rather painful and I ended up just lying there for a minute screaming some rather crude sayings blaming Stalin and his damn train for my intense back pain. If I wasn’t wearing two shirts, a sweater and a puffy winter jacket, I’d probably still be lying there blaming each individual member of the Bolshevik revolution- but since I was practically wearing padding I rallied from that fall ready to get my Stalin on.

Our admission to the museum included an English speaking tour guide who told us all about Stalin’s background; how he became a leader and how we went on to influence so many people. The tour was very informative, but didn’t touch upon any of the ‘bad things’ that Stalin did. Our tour guide, Tamuna, only casually mentioned that he was responsible for killing 47 million people but nothing in the museum actually noted this fact. Tamuna told us that the purpose of the museum is not to focus on the questionable actions of Stalin, but to show his sense of character and his journey to become such an influential person.

It was definitely interesting if not a bit surreal to hear someone talk about Stalin in such a glorified manner. With my western education I can only really compare Stalin with Adolf Hitler and I’ve yet to meet anyone who even marginally praises Hitler for being a great leader and omits the fact that he was also responsible for an entire genocide.

In addition to the museum we also went to Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave city from the third century. Uplistsikhe was just really cool and so beautiful. It’s pretty well preserved and you can see where the ancient apoteka, amphitheatre, winery were. We also had a great English speaking tour guide to tell us about the caves but I couldn’t help but finding his name to be so strange.

So get this- our tour guide’s name was Stalinberia. I was pretty taken aback when I heard this. For one thing, having ‘Stalin’ as part of your first name is pretty crazy, but the weird thing is that his name was Stalinberia. See, Beria is the last name of the man who supposedly poisoned Stalin who’s responsible for his death.

Sometimes I have a huge mouth with no filter and that happened to be the case when Stalinberia introduced himself. I think my exact words were, “Stalinberia? Like Stalin and his supposed murderer? That’s like being named Caesarbrutus!”

I probably should have kept my mouth shut but I couldn’t help it; all that kind of slipped out. His name surprised me so much that my mind started wandering on the tour thinking of other combination names encompassing a killer and his victim. (Other bizarre combo names I thought of include Lincolnbooth, Abelcain and Mufasascar). 
This one is for Barbara.
Right where they're standing is where human sacrifices took place way back in the day.
The whole gang (and Melissa's backpack)
Anyway, right after our tour the girls, Taylor and I actually stumbled upon the slaughtering of a cow. I can honestly that one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard is fellow cows mourning over their slaughtered companion. The “moos” they emitted were so woeful and full of sorrow; even the nearby stray dogs were whimpering over the dead cow that was just lying there spread-eagle.

Ironically enough, my day of Stalin and cow slaughtering was one of the loveliest days I’ve had yet. Granted, it might be due to the fact that the rest of our day was filled with adorableness. We met up with a sweet Fulbright scholar who is teaching English in Gori and already working on her PHD (she’s twenty-two) and later we cooked two huge pans worth of Israeli shakshuka at our hostel. (The easiest way to make friends at a backpacking hostel is to cook dinner and invite people to help you eat it). Then with our new hostel friends, we hit up a few bars in Tbilisi and just had a great, great night.
Meeting up with Fulbright scholars in Gori
Oh and in case you’re wondering, I rode the metro escalators all weekend and I didn’t shed a single tear.

Monday, February 7, 2011

When Big Puddles Attack

Samtredia has a good relationship with puddles.
Back where I’m from in the States, February weather translates into snow-induced school closings and early dismissals. In Samtredia, Georgia- February weather also means school closings but for a slightly different reason.

It rains here. Sometimes it rains so much that school is cancelled.

In general my school has been having a rough couple weeks. A combination of swine flu and pneumonia has somehow made it to School No.11 and bedridden about sixty percent of the elementary school. (Last week, 27 of my 35 third graders were home-sick). The school director thus made the decision to indefinitely cancel all classes for students in fourth grade and below.

School hasn’t been the same without all the cute little rug-rats running around screaming my name and asking me if I like ‘snow, cat or dog’ (hey, it might be a strange grouping of words but it’s English).

Plus, with all the third graders absent my days are much less adorable. They just happen to be my favorite. They shriek like I’m a puppy wearing a dress whenever I enter the classroom and give me love notes and gifts when class is over. It’s almost funny how singing some songs, whipping up a few games, drawing a picture on the board, and correcting some class work- can send eight-year-olds into such hysteria. I guess I just miss the little squirts. Well that, and I’m generally concerned they might all be violently, ferociously ill.

Asides from the dying elementary school, school days are being cut short by one to three hours each day because of bad weather. Most kids walk to school and the school faculty is terrified to have kids walk home in the rain convinced that they’ll get the swine-flu pneumonia bug. 

Thus, every morning my day is pretty unpredictable. I don’t know whether classes will be shortened or whether certain classes will just be cut out of the day. It’s a bit annoying, but the unpredictability makes my day interesting. For my own sanity, I’m trying to love all the little quirks in the Georgian educational system.

Anyhow, today was an especially odd day at school. We had no electricity or heat (which is pretty normal) but all classes were cut to half-hour sessions which really isn’t that much time at all. You go over homework, you read something, you play a game- boom, class is over. At around 10:45 though, the faculty decided to cancel all classes because there was a giant puddle outside the school and they were worried it would only get bigger throughout the day.

I thought the same thing you did- a school cancellation because of a puddle?

Well, turns out that ‘big puddle’ was more like a lake. My students were even joking around and asking me if I knew how to swim since I’d practically need to swim home. As I left school today, the entire school even led me in a chant of “Swimming! Swimming! Swimming!” (Again, a bit of a bizarre chant, but it’s English).

This is the 'big puddle' aka lake outside my school.
Normally, on the left of that concrete barrier is a small creek and on the right is a road
Hydroplaning at its finest.

Random lonely ferris wheel cart
The new church they're building in town- and its lake.

Everything just looks prettier after the rain.

Isn't Samtredia pretty?

I love a good tree reflection photo