I was sat in the school office today, printing out some bedtime reading regarding the Edexcel IGCSE Geography syllabus, when Rusiko, the lovely lady whose desk and computer I had commandeered, came back after her lunch break. I was busy trying to figure out how to get Google on her computer, and could not get the search engine to find it, and being a mac user usually, I was starting to throw my toys out of the pram, as I just wanted to get to the Edexcel website. Rusiko fixed it for me, for which I was very thankful, not sure how, but seemed like she just clicked on one little thing and there it was. I hate technology!
But whilst I was there, she remembered that a letter had arrived for me that day. I was expecting her to give me some Christmas cards that I posted from England for my kids as part of our lessons on how to write a letter, about addresses, and about locations. But this was a big letter, not a Christmas card. It looked more like this:
For those of you who know anything about Georgia, or living in other countries, you will truly understand why just the fact of receiving a letter is such a big deal. There is no Royal Mail here, no posties, no post boxes, no stamp buying in WHSMITHS, and usually if you receive a package, an official lady (in most cases), comes to your address, and makes you sign and date a serious looking book to say that they have given you a slip of paper informing you that you have received information that you have a package awaiting you. Next you have to go to whichever building they have given you details of, and you have to fight to get to the front of lots of people who don’t understand the concept of an orderly queue (or any queue at all for that matter!), and once you get there, you hand over your ID, passport or whatever, and fill in a form. Next, the guy goes somewhere out back to find your parcel and you join another ‘queue’ in order to get your paper stamped and to get another piece of paper giving you the cost you have to pay for said package. Then you have to go into another room, join another ‘queue’, hand over the money, get a receipt for it, and then go back to the other room to rejoin the first queue, in order to receive your package in its overly large sack, with its plastic tie top. All of this obviously depending on how long it has taken for your package to arrive, and if it even gets here at all, or if they have the correct documentation. Also bearing in mind that all of this is done in Georgian writing and language, with the only default language being Russian, unless you happen to meet a kindly person in the ‘queue’ who can speak English and point out which boxes require which information from you, where you should write passport number, date of birth, where you should write your address (if you even have one, because most places in Georgia don’t actually have a street name or house number). So its a pretty complicated thing. And only the person whose package it is can go and sign for it, and if its the ‘post office’ near the Ministry of Education and Science, then you also have the added complication of nowhere to park, and how to get there as every building is held up by scaffolding whilst the whole place undergoes intensive renovations. Which I have to add, is making the place look really amazing, and is a true glimpse of the new Georgia, and how the whole place will look in about ten years from now.
The irony being that the person also probably cannot read English and probably has no idea what you have actually written on the form, but as long as it looks kind of like what is written on your passport then it is OK.
I should probably add here too, that foreign passports are generally very interesting and fascinating to most Georgian officials. Not for security or other reasons, but because they love to see what stamps you have in your passport and to ask you about your travels and what it was like to be in another country. The most time consuming stamp for me, being the one that I acquired whilst driving up the Alcan, and from the Rocky Mountains and into Canada. At the time, I thought it was the best stamp in my passport ever, but now I realise that it can be quite a bind as people love to look at it and have a big long discussion about all the different kinds of stamp one can get in their passport, ad this is the best one they have ever seen. Its a beaver, and just to appease you, in case you are curious, this is what it looks like:
I got it in the very aptly named ‘Beaver Creek”, so if you want one, then that is where you should go. Just bare in mind that every person who ever looks at your passport as ID will want to then spend ten minutes talking to you about it, a novelty which very soon wears off, and perhaps is a bit of a joke played by the cruel people of Beaver Creek on any unsuspecting tourist who travels their way!
Anyway, the conversation went pretty much along these lines, but not necessarily in English:
Rusiko: ‘oh yes, there is a letter for you’ Me: ‘oh, ok, great’. After examining it for a bit, ‘ah yes, its from the Queen’ Rusiko: ‘hahaha’ Me: no really, its actually from the Queen, you know the Queen, in England’!
I thought Rusiko handled it very well, especially given that Brits are renowned for their sarcasm! Which always reminds me of how confusing it must be to people who don’t get British humour or sarcasm, as nicely illustrated I think, by this conversation between house keeper Mrs Doyle and Father Jessop:
No wonder communication between cultures can be so hard, especially with the language barrier too. But anyway, Rusiko is very cool and very understanding and it was quite a funny moment as I showed her that the letter really was from the Queen, and I tried to maintain an air of cool and calm, as if this kind of thing happens to me everyday!
After I had looked through the letter, and seen how excited the people in the office had been, I decided to take it to my classes to show them as they always have homework lessons at the end of formal lessons and always stay until late with their form tutors. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity, and they are already really excited at the Christmas cards which are now arriving in Georgia from my visit to England. They have actually started to come much quicker than I could have hoped for, although not all of them have arrived yet, which is causing a few (not unexpected) issues for those students who feel left out of the Christmas card list! But it was definitely a great way to bring the lessons alive. And writing our letters to the Queen was a part of that same lesson.
I nervously knocked on their classroom doors,one by one, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade and asked the students which of them had written to the Queen. Rather oddly, the children had somehow thought that the Christmas cards they had received might be from the Queen because they had come from London, even though I had signed with my own name, and also added something else that I knew would throw them a bit……the kiss….xxxxxx
Georgians don’t do the x thing, but if they do know about this then they will often write at the end of an email or facebook message, or say on the phone ‘I kiss you’ which has a much creepier and strange feel about it, but basically means the same as ‘x’ but with a bit more significance and depth to it. I already knew this, and I wanted to get the kids to start asking questions, and they did ‘what does x mean’? SO I got to explain to them, one of the idiosyncrasies of the English language and culture. Now they know. I might teach them SWALK at a later date, not because it is on the curriculum, but because every child should go through that stage in life of covering an envelope with SWALK! Or perhaps that was just my generation?
I started by asking the question ‘which children wrote a letter to the Queen in England?’. Then asked them ‘what do I have in my hand’? A good opportunity to test their vocab, letter, envelope, stamp, etc. Next I showed them the address label, because we had been learning about how you write the person’s name, the street name, town, postcode, and country. The Queen’s letter writer had done it beautifully. Next we looked at the envelope:
What does ‘Airmail’ mean? How do you think this letter got here, what did I have to do, where did I post it, how long did it take, can you imagine this letter sitting in a bag on the aeroplane? Can you imagine that this letter was at Buckingham Palace, and then posted, and eventually arrived here? I wonder what kind of journey it had, and how many people it met on the way? What about post marks, what is a postmark, what date was it posted in London and how long did it take to get here?? Was it fast or slow, why do you think that might be?
What about a postage stamp? Does it have one? Did the Christmas card I sent you have a stamp on it? Is it the same or different? What is the difference between first class and second class? How much did it cost, was it in Lari or pound stirling? What can you remember about the words ‘Royal Mail’, what does it mean, can you remember the history of the Royal Mail? What does GB stand for? Which countries are in GB, what is the other name for GB? Who is the Queen for the United Kingdom? What is a Kingdom, what does United mean?
And what does this other post mark mean, the one that says ER, what does it stand for? Where is Buckingham Palace, what date was it posted from there, who lives there?
Why is there a picture of a crown above the letters ERII? And then we looked at the back of the envelope and at the Coat of Arms. Why are there lions, why is it Latin, what do the words ‘dieu et mon droit’ mean? Why would you see those words in a court of law in Britain?
And then we opened the letter, and inside were two letters, one addressed to me, and one addressed to the students, as well as some information that the Queen thought the children might like to read…..lots of perfect material to relate to History, Geography, and English lessons, and most funny, a page about pets. Very British! And I had a bit of a secret chuckle about that, especially given my loss of Uisce yesterday, and the opening line of the information being about the death of the Queen’s first dog (a corgi) and the date marked on it. Good to know that the Queen shares that same sentiment as me, and clearly I am a Brit through and through!
It was great for the children to be able to feel the embossed print of the Bucking Palace emblem and Coat of Arms, and also to hold the paper to the light to see the water mark, and to explain what this was, and better still, it was printed on recycled paper which tied in perfectly with our recent lessons on the environment and recycling, something that is not really done in Georgia as yet and is a fairly new concept. I had to explain what a ‘Lady-in-Waiting’ was, and it was funny to explain to the children why the Queen had a) not written the letter personally, and b) why she had not written letters individually to every child, although they did seem a little put out by this fact and didn’t buy my explanation that the Queen was a very busy lady! We looked through the information together and a photo she had sent of herself, which led to some great conversations about what the palace is like, about the Beefeaters who guard her jewels, and her picture of her wedding day, and of the fact that a bagpiper plays outside her window every morning at 8am whilst she has her breakfast and reads the newspaper!
And what was really cool for me, was the reference from Her Majesty about ‘your Oceans Project Georgia initiative’ and this comment:
And there you have it really, a bit of a break from the norm, and its not every day that you get a letter from Buckingham Palace! The kids loved it, and I hope that in some way it managed to bring at least something of Geography alive for them today. They all wanted a photocopy of the letter addressed to them, and they were very excited to take those letters home and all want the letter in their particular classroom, so I think we will have to find a frame for the Queen’s photo and another for her letter to them, so that we can put them in the school hallway, to remind them that they are in fact in a school with a British link:)