I can barely sit still here. I can’t stay away.
The brave and faithful Keti Chikovani calmly begins each of twenty YouTube Peace Corps Georgian instructional videos (the link takes you to “Lesson 14: Emergencies”) greeting us with “Hello. Welcome to Peace Corps Georgia Language Podcast, brought to you by Peace Corps Georgia,” and proceeds — “Well, let’s start,” exactly the same, every single time — so hopefully determined to work us through the paces that I feel almost guilty, anonymous and ashamed as I am before my glowing screen, failing her every attempt to nudge me into the barest familiarity with, never mind fluency in, a language invented by people who apparently hadn’t the merest intention from the beginning for anyone, anywhere, to understand them.
So I have flash cards. Stacks of them. They defy me. They do not hate me, for I feed them. They devour my devotion, drink my disquiet, quaff my qualms, sate themselves on my self loathing. My flash cards would be purposeless pulp without me, my desperation finding its meaning therein. We need each other, but the direst need flows heavily in one direction.
Flash cards are my torment and my salvation.
The idea is to be ready. Among the tidbits of information Peace Corps staff have recently dribbled out to us is the caution that we will likely live in a town or village where, maybe, there’s a person with modest English facility, thus leaving us each one with the responsibility for meaningful communication. We will want to command respect of the locals, they encouraged. We will want to establish friendships. Fluency in Georgian will ward off loneliness, inform our menu choices, extract us from dicey situations, and allowing a degree of hypothecizing optimism, grow neurons.
We must learn Georgian, in any event, and soon.
The challenge of Georgian, in particular, is that it’s a language like no other. Among vast realms and cultures branching across the centuries from the Indo-European language tree — everything Germanic, Latinate, Slavic; also Hindi, Urdu, Gaelic; and on and on — you will not find so much as a thin twig of Georgian. It birthed itself there, this language, as if the immaculate issue of a jovial God, just under two millennia ago in a land the size of West Virginia, where Russia glowers from the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan abide uneasily to the south, their southern neighbors being Syria, Iraq and the sort. Maybe a language no plundering army could so much as guess the meaning of afforded Georgians a certain safety in opaqueness.
Plunderer: Where have you hidden your treasure?!
Georgian: უკან ბეღელი შიგნით ღვინის დოქები.
Plunderer: Never mind. What about your virgins?
Georgian: იმავე ადგილას, დებილი
It probably worked. It’s working on me.
The Georgian alphabet, with its 33 letters of artfully delicate swoops and squiggles — no capitals — strangely advantages me. My English cursive hand, it turns out, has long resembled Georgian writing to those reading my chicken scratch, and with the same disorienting effect my flash cards now have on me. To those of you forced to decipher my handwriting over the years, I offer deepest apologies — ვწუხვარ (vtsukhvar). I had no idea.
There is packing to do, during the week and a half we’ve got left. Some have gloatingly posted pictures on our volunteer Facebook page of their already packed bags (2 x 50-lb. bags, not 49 & 51, plus carry-on), but others of us, with important things to do, remain in process. If we think we’ll need rain boots, now’s the time. Some things we’ll find “in-county,” some things not, or they’ll be costlier. At 63 years, I mostly banish from consciousness the average age of a Peace Corps volunteer (28!). I’m a little creaky in a joint or two but nowhere near rickety, not yet. At least I don’t have to sort out the intricacies of outstanding student loans while saving the world unpaid. Leaving to spend two years on the other side of the globe reminds one suddenly of all the things that more or less take care of themselves just by one’s being home.
Tomorrow and the next day will be for Chloe & Jack, the two older grandchildren of three. We’re visiting a sustainable farm to see pigs, cattle and chickens, even though, if I’m assigned to a smallish town or village, chickens and a pig will keep me company out behind my host family’s house. Two good things already, then: I won’t go hungry, and I’ll know where my food is coming from.