Well…I’m alive and no Cha Cha showed up…thank goodness. Turtle, on the other hand…she’s still spewing gibberish as I write. It’s her turn tonight. Thankfully.
And to her credit, she won the day. Her heartfelt eloquence when asked by the Tamada to speak elicited oohs, ahhs, and awwws. She was pulled in so many directions all night she’ll be a few inches taller tomorrow. Turtle will be spoken about for years to come, no doubt.
There were about 20 women and 4 men. The old guy who was the Tamada or toastmaster, was also the guy that drove us to the cafe and churches. His assistant was the bell ringer at school. The director of the school and myself rounded out the male component.
I address gender here because in Georgia female teachers outnumber male teachers by more than 6 to 1 and the fact that male teachers tend to appear as failures to society and are not as respected as other professions.
I also mention gender because the Tamada who talked like Tom Waits after a carton of smokes and a bottle of Chevis Regal, was basically Tom Hurley to the women. Every time he tried to give a toast, the women kind of listened but basically ended up telling him to shut up and sit down. It was hilarious since I know zero Georgian yet could tell when Tamada was getting dissed! Eloquent toasting and heavy drinking are part of Georgian tradition assuming, of course, there are enough men to participate in the tradition. But when there’s not…
The women take over. Mariana, a senior teacher and very well respected person commanded the night. When she spoke, even the Tamada sat down. And she was not without her drink. Tonight was not a place for men, it was a place for professional women to bond, have fun, and express their love for teaching their students and maybe, most importantly, their love for each other.
Don’t get me wrong, I was included and very uncomfortably at times as the center of dancing attention. And there’s no doubt they appreciated me and my work with the students. But this was a night of celebrating Shorena, Azmat, Turtle, and the all the great teachers who had passed. Yes, there was a strong Irish sentiment present tonight.
Eventually the Tamada would try to assert himself with a long winded toast that fell on deaf ears until Mariana would start a song. This woman, with amazingly kind eyes, perfect posture, and a certain stature that said she may have commanded a tank at some point in her life, would begin to sing. And her voice…my god her voice…one would never expect this beautiful sound to come from such a woman-it demanded silence from all. Until Mary, the young dance teacher I spoke about in a previous post, would subtly croon in almost a baritone. After a verse, Khartuna and others would sing the chorus of the traditional song in a 4 part harmony; something bands might take years to prefect and tonight it just happened. It was simply magical.
These moment were broken up, of course, by bouts of drinking and dancing. Not one, but two dance instructors were there and I had to dance a pas de deux with Mary displaying my new Georgian dance skills. I felt like an ass, yet I was greeted with applause and comments that said I must’ve practiced for weeks. Ha! I’ll take it though…
The night ended as a long Irish goodbye culminating in a final 4 part harmony serenading us through the door. Somehow, this whole scene felt familiar, as if I’ve felt this camaraderie before. Then I remembered, it was amongst my male friends. I don’t think I can recall a time when I felt this way amongst all females. Yet here I was, witnessing a scene I was very familiar with:drinking, laughing, toasting, singing; remembering the dead and hoping for the future. The only difference was that this time, I was the interloper.
And a thought occurred to me…Georgia’s future is uncertain and it’s education system is undergoing significant change. If Georgia was wise, it would trust their future to the teachers of Zestaponi Public School #5. Their backs could bear the burden; their hands could mold the future; their song could fill the well of despair; and their professionalism could set the standard of performance for all Georgians.
Tonight was wonderful…