Walking to School

Georgians, from what I gather, rarely walk anywhere. Why walk, when for 40 tetris (25 cents), you could just take a marshrutka? When I first arrived in Kutaisi, I asked my co-teacher how long it would take to walk to the school from the dormitory. She said (and whatever she says is in a delightful monotone with little emphasis on any syllable): It takes fifteen minutes to walk, but Steven, why would you walk. It is just five minutes by marshrutka. And it’s the same everywhere. Sometimes the marshrutka will stop, and a few people will get on, and then it will drive twenty feet forwards, where someone else will get on who had been waiting.

I like to walk. Kutaisi isn’t the best place to walk, due to the quality of the air and the roads, and often my throat will hurt by the end of the day from breathing the air, or my feet will hurt due to constant uneven pavement, but I still like to walk. My evening lessons are in the center of the city, and it takes me an hour to walk each way. It’s not like I have a busy schedule or anything, and walking is a good way to eat up some time so I don’t twiddle my thumbs all day.

One of my adult students asked me the other day where I lived. I replied that I live on Nikeya street. He asked something to another student who has better English, who then said he said it’s bad, very bad, that you live on that street. “Ki, vitsi, vitsi” I responded (yes, I know, I know), “dzalian tsudat.” (very bad.) Nikeya is one of the busier roads in Kutaisi, it leads from the suburbs into the center, which is about 6km from my dormitory. But the school is only maybe 1km away, so while it may not be a nice stretch of road, I’d rather spend fifteen minutes walking to school than sitting around waiting for a bus. It’s a chaotic, busy, noisy road with many, many potholes that make Grand Rapids’ roads look smooth.

On the fifteen minute walk to class I pass a number of things. There are two auto-repair places. One is fairly modern, with lifts and work benches and people who seem to be mechanics. There’s an auto parts store next door as well. Normally there are nice cars parked outside. The other auto repair place is just a little dirt driveway that has a little shack with a counter and window, and an air compressor. There are a few guys wearing Canadian tuxedos hanging around outside usually. They only seem to work on the boxy soviet era Ladas here, or whatever the Georgian equivalent of the Lada is (I don’t know what the brand is). They usually have some old clunker up on a jack or two.

I also walk past a car wash. There are three stations, but it’s usually empty, except for maybe one car, and about four denim clad Georgians (or with leather jackets) sitting around. This morning at 10 they were all sitting on stools sipping Natakhtari (the Georgian beer), as no cars had shown up yet. Yesterday outside the car wash, there was a pile of burning trash next to the sidewalk. When I walked home at 1, it was still burning. Today when I walked past on my way to class in the morning, there was an old lady scraping the remains into a plastic bag.

At the corner where I turn onto the street with my school (busy intersection with a few shops), there are always a bunch of old men huddled around a rickety stool playing cards. There are usually around eight of them, arguing or yelling about something – Georgians really like to yell all the time too. I’ve also begun to recognize a few of the bum dogs. They usually hang out in the same area. There are maybe four regular bum dogs that I see, rain or shine, on my walk to class. Tails always between the legs, looking like they’re running away from someone who just scolded them, digging around in the many piles of garbage on street corners, looking for some bread.

The weather conditions are either rainy or sunny. If it’s rainy, I wear my Danners and plow through all the puddles, just because I can. It’s much shorter than zig-zagging my way around all of the puddles. If it’s sunny, I breathe in dust for the whole walk, and by the time I’ve done the walk both times, I can definitely feel it in my throat.

Then I get to school, and am eagerly greeted by all the students. (For the first time in my life, I’m the most popular one at the school!) Everyone looks at me, and the students I have in classes shake my hand and say Hi Steven. How are you? “Very well,” I respond, “how are you?” At this point, I get blank stares for a few seconds, before the student gives me a double thumbs up. “Ah, very good,” I say, as I go into class.

(Oh, and then there’s the walk home. Uneventful, for the most part just like my walk to class. But my co-teacher accompanies me for the first part of the walk, until she either crosses the street or goes into a shop. Steven. I cross the street now bye bye. Or: Steven. I go now to the shops bye bye.)