Teaching ABCs and 123s in Georgia
11 November, 2010
Teaching ABCs and 123s in Georgia

Maryann Dreas is teaching English in the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe for a semester through a government project.

Maryann  Dreas


Maryann Dreas is teaching English in the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe for a semester through a government project. 


MT. VERNON — In the tiny European Republic of Georgia, there is a story everyone knows by heart:  When God was dividing up the world’s land among the world’s people and nations, the Georgians arrived late.
When God

asked them where they had been, they said, “We were having a feast, a supra, and we were toasting in Your Holy Name.”  God replied, “Then I will give you the little piece of land I saved for Myself.”
Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains and straddled by the Black Sea, Georgia is a land of cheerful people, bountiful harvests and glorious stories of mighty kings, graceful swordsmen and ancient monasteries atop snowy heights.  The rich and scenic Georgian land has been coveted and conquered by every powerful neighbor: Romans, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Turks, Russians.  Only two years after the last conflict, when Russia began its occupation of Abkhazia and Ossetia, Georgia’s government is reinventing the national identity, from painting the drab leftover Soviet buildings in pink and yellow to bringing in 1,000 Western volunteers to bolster English language classes in public schools.  That is my mission here: To teach English to charming children ages 8 to18 in a village called Maglaki in the Imereti region, and to share language and culture with my Georgian host family.  Their old, well-worn farmhouse shelters three generations, and now, me too.
Every morning, my host mother and I walk to school, where she is the English teacher and I am her assistant. In the afternoon, we teach English to the other teachers at the school, and when we come home, we find a few local children there for English tutoring.  Mine is a job that never ends, and I enjoy every minute of it.  The children often bring me gifts of roses from their gardens and shells from the Black Sea.
Georgian hospitality is heartwarming but at times, even smothering; when I come in the door, they jump up and offer their own chair, and try to feed me anything in sight, often the fruit and nuts right off their trees.  It is a challenge to find creatively polite ways to tell them I don’t want any more. “Tchame!  Eat it!  You must be fat when you go back to America!”  Everything is 100 percent organic, of course, so I’m not worried.
The traditional supra drinking feast, literally a family house party, shows the festive spirit and the strong values of the Georgian people. Supras are held for birthdays, holidays, harvests, and sometimes, just because. Over the traditional cheese bread, khatchapuri, and to the sounds of the drum and accordion, the grandfather leads the table through an elaborate toasting ceremony that may last hours. The toasts always follow the same pattern, but everyone at the table must offer their own catchy toast or song to match the theme.
When in Georgia, the first toast always goes to God. Glasses and hollow cow horns of homemade wine and chacha raised, Georgians remember their Orthodox faith they have clung to during centuries of foreign rule. Intense religious devotion has shaped the country’s heritage.  This October, the Georgians celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of the famous Jvari church in Mtskheta, one of the oldest in Christianity. While the current structure is 1,000 years old, the actual church was founded in the 300s, not long after the Apostle Andrew preached on Georgian soil in the 1st century A.D.
In Georgia, the next toast at the supra is for peace. They wish for lasting peace on their battered land, so they can raise their children and families on their own land. They wish for books and bread, and no more bloodshed. Their daily lives revolve around the natural cycle of their cows and the earth, but they want to know everything about Chicago and Illinois, and they want the English word for this and that.
Then we toast family, and they toast my American family. “Gagimarjos,” we say, cheers to you and yours. Years from now, I will think about my big, happy Georgian family. They made me a part of it as soon as I arrived. They may not have wealth or electricity and water every day, but they have plenty of love to go around.
At the supra, Georgians always toast the future. They say, “We are a small, poor country. America is big and strong. What can we do?”  I have realized that the U.S. and Georgia are so different, in everything from sanitation to soap operas, but their goals are the same: To build a stronger society and economy, and a brighter future. Georgia may be small, but its strong values and heritage promise great things.  “To America! And Saqartvelo!” we toast.  To America and Georgia, gagimarjos!

Prepared by
Vladymir Voina


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