To me, the zoo has always been a magical place. I didn’t get to visit very often when I was a child, however, as it was at least an hour’s drive away and expensive, which means that I enjoy it even more as an adult. So when my co-teacher mentioned her thought of taking some of our students to the zoo, I fully supported the plan.
Because one marshutka cannot take everyone, my co-teachers decided to select the upper level students from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th classes. Given my past experiences with Georgian start times, I just smiled when my teacher said we would leave at 9:00. However, I haven’t been able to part with all my American idiosyncrasies, and I arrived on Saturday morning about 10 minutes early. Imagine my surprise, then, upon finding the marshutka already there, students waiting excitedly, and only one person missing. Within a few minutes, he arrived, and we left the school at exactly 9:00.
After stopping halfway through our two-hour drive to Tbilisi so students could use the bathroom and buy ice cream, we stopped 20 minutes later to eat lunch. Carrying their backpacks and bags to the table, I watched in amazement as students pulled out glass cups and dishes, silverware, pots of chicken, bags of cucumbers, bottles of limonati, and plates of cake. The leftovers were eventually gathered up, the trash was discarded, and the students made their way back to the marshutka.
Upon reaching the zoo at last, we bought our tickets and herded our group of 21 toward the porcupines, wolves, and wild dogs. I don’t know what the plan was, or if there was one to begin with, but students quickly dispersed without a meeting time, rendezvous point, or time limit. We were able to keep them together until we reached the middle of the zoo, which houses the amusement rides and carnival games. After twenty minutes of spinning rides, ice cream stands, toys for siblings, and cotton candy sticks, we began collecting all the students again. However, they had not all stayed in the same area, and each teacher went looking while a group of students waited. Whether we found the original missing students or not was irrelevant since we came back to an empty bench where the group was supposed to be. After a few rounds of this cycling in and out, we were finally able to collect everyone together.
Taking another ice cream and soda break on the corner while an elephant tried to free its leg from a tire, we continued down the path to see the zebras, ostriches, yaks, various cranes, and a small antelope. Walking toward the exit, one student caught a glimpse of the reptile house, so we piled into the confined area to look at deadly snakes, weird-shaped fish, and camouflaged lizards. We continued to the our exit destination but were again deterred when students needed to use the bathroom, buy a last minute bag of chips, or spend the last 60 tetri of the money their mothers gave them for the excursion. It was the amusement ride situation all over again; students coming and going and running toward animals and being sent to find their classmates. After 30 minutes, we managed to gather everyone together. With a teacher leading the way, one keeping students together in the middle, and one in the back keeping on an eye on those prone to wander, we were finally able to leave the zoo.
Thinking he would gain some extra points with the children, the marshutka driver offered to take everyone to Peace Bridge to wander around for a while. The students begged my co-teacher, and she eventually was persuaded to say yes, with a time limit of 30 minutes. Unfortunately (for our students), she gave in too late and the driver did not want to turn around. We continued out of Tbilisi, where we stopped for gas. In Georgia, for those not familiar with the gas system, we all vacated the marshutka and waited off to the side where we found a one-stall bathroom, meaning the 2-minute gas stop turned into a 15-minute bathroom break.
Finally on the road again, the students broke into choruses of Georgian traditional songs and simple English poems and alternated between Selena Gomez’s Love Song and Maroon 5’s Move’s Like Jagger. After only 45 minutes on the road and even though they had snacked on chips, ice cream, and crackers all day, we stopped for dinner at a gas station with a table. Upon learning that the table was not free, we piled back into the marshutka, drove a few kilometers more, and stopped at an abandoned restaurant. Once we had wiped the ants and bugs off the rusty table, students pulled out their dishes, leftover meat, bread, and cheese, and bottles of half-full limonati. When we were finished, we wrapped everything up again, climbed back into the marshutka, and headed toward the village again, arriving only two hours later than the original estimate.
Eventually, we will use the pictures of the animals and English/Georgian text for a student presentation on the excursion. The younger students are putting together posters of what they saw and the older students are making books with the animals’ pictures and descriptions. It was a day where students we able to practice their conversational English and listening skills. All in all, it was a great trip.
From this experience, I have learned a few things about Georgian excursions that will possibly help prepare the next person who attempts this feat.
- Eating is a top priority.
- Students will bring backpacks and various other forms of carriers; they contain food, silverware, dishes, and drinks for the impromptu supras.
- Rather than in response to a need, preventative bathroom breaks will happen, and they will happen frequently.
- Children will call their parents at every milestone they reach. If they don’t, parents will call their children to see that they’ve reached the next milestone.
- Although I couldn’t bring myself to do it, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” may just be the time killer, English-teaching song that your group needs. Granted, you’re in Georgia, so it may be better to turn it into “99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall.”
- The over-achieving students of the group will bring notebooks and pens in case there is something educational to be had from the trip; they will quickly realize the extra baggage is unnecessary and ask you to carry it in your over-sized, black, Georgian purse.
- It’s assumed that students will eventually come back to the group if they get separated; however, in reality, they won’t.
- Parents will give their children money for snacks and entertainment; students know they will have to give the excess back when the get home, so factor in time at the end for them to spend their spare change.
- Students want to buy their siblings a souvenir. Whether it is a plastic sword, handcuffs and police baton set, small doll, or bottle of bubbles, they will not come home empty-handed.
- Upon arriving home two hours late, my family expressed their surprise at being home before dark; my family explained that if parents come on the excursion, the group will not come back until 9pm. If parents are not on the trip, students will be home by 6pm or 7pm so that parents do not worry.