A Basic Beat
- Young people
For three days, the wind blows like nothing I’ve known.
When you’re out in it, it threatens to knock you off your
feet if you turn a corner unprepared. It rattles the windows at
night and hollers. I lie awake, waiting to hear a pattern in its
wails, sighs and whoops.
It’s like that at the
school. There are children in the hallways, and everywhere.
There is a comb and scrap of mirror on a ledge. There
are drawings of castles, rabbits, and apple trees, taped to the
walls in classrooms and corridors. There’s a young man
who wanders around near the steps to the main building. He
always smiles and wants to say ‘hi’. We
don’t know the significance of any of it yet. We keep
on listening and hope that a pattern will emerge.
We spend Tuesday with Darina at the school, trying to get a
sense of an ordinary day. Every time we walk into a
classroom, though, we are interesting novelties, strangers, and we
In a first grade sports class, a small, dignified boy called
Baccho makes it clear he is not going to crawl through the hoop his
teacher holds unless we both do it first. The music class
becomes a performance of Georgian song and dance, with Darina,
Alastair and I the audience. In Life Skills, where they are
supposed to be learning how to bake a cake, all the children turn
around in their seats to look at us.
‘They are interested to know
who you are,’ Darina says.
‘Quite right,’ Alastair says.
The teachers, also interested to know who we are, ask our
opinion on integration for children with special needs into
mainstream education. This is a new-ish Government policy
just starting to affect the school. Like the good unknowing
therapists we are, we fudge it, asking what they think, and telling
them what we know about the way it is in Scotland.
At the end of the school day we
spend ages with Darina, deciding which children it’s best for
us to work with and how to structure our time here. We want
to make groups with children of similar ages and abilities.
We want to focus on children struggling with some kind of
communication difficulty or emotional distress, children we think
could benefit from therapeutic music.
Darina runs backwards and forwards in high heels.
It all looks complicated, then impossible. We share out
the remains of a bar of chocolate to keep us going. Then, out
of nowhere, it’s all arranged. We will work with six
groups of children, two groups per day. One or two of the ten
women who came to the meeting on the first day are assigned to each
group. They will observe and participate. Later, they
will take over running sessions themselves. Each day will end
with a training session for all the adults.
So this is the basic beat, the
rhythm and structure of our days. The way the music unfolds
is still before us, still unknown.
Thea has been cooking for us each night. We come home
tired from the school and there is aubergine simmered in yoghurt,
cabbage stew or spiced beans, all served up with white bread.
There are various homemade chilli and tomato sauces that
appear on the table in old jam jars and water bottles. There
is Irakli’s wine, which he makes in vats downstairs and
brings up a jug at a time.
One night, Irakli has his friends round, two brothers, Roma
and Baccho, electricians like him. As we eat, we talk.
Ika tells us that he came to Tbilisi in 1993 at the age of
twelve, fleeing the war in Abkhazia with his mum, sister and
brother. He tells us during a toast that his dad was killed
in the war. He mimes a gunshot, crosses his hands over his
heart, and then lifts them above his head.
‘With God,’ he says.
Georgian history is littered with wars, occupations, and
oppressions. Most recently, in 2008, Russian troops crossed
the border into the disputed region of South Ossetia, forcing
thousands from their homes. Many still live as refugees
within their own country, in temporary settlements around Tbilisi
We toast all the different kinds of God. We toast
Russians, Georgians, Scots, the English, and everyone. We
toast ancestors, brothers and sisters. We toast Thea, who
does not come to sit with us at the table, and their children Mari
and Gio, who run in and out, sitting on laps and chatting.
The men do their best to get Alastair drunk, encouraging him
to knock back a tumbler of wine with each toast.
‘Once,’ he says,
holding a forefinger in the air.
He drinks the glass in front of
him with a flourish and they leave it at that.
The phrasebook gets passed around
again. Irakli sings a Georgian song. Alastair sings
‘Charlie is My Darling’. They all go down to the
cellar to inspect and stir the new wine. Alastair comes back
declaring himself a man. Somewhere along the way, they invite
him to go fishing with them at the weekend.
Thea and I sit in front of the computer and, with a lot of
help from Google Translate, she tells me about her family and her
life. She is also a refugee from the war in Abkhazia, as are
many of their friends. She and Irakli met in Tbilisi when
they were still children and married young. She’s a
graduate in something that sounds like philology, something to do
with Georgian literature. In the evenings she works in her
parents’ grocery shop across the road.
Mari borrows my notebook and draws
moons, hearts and clouds, telling me the Georgian words for each.
We are planning to work with
children who struggle with verbal communication. And here we
are, struggling with verbal communication. It’s
different, of course. There’s no version of Google
Translate or phrasebook to help out for children who don’t
speak at all. But I am finding out how much you can say with
sounds and tone of voice and gesture. Without many words,
there is an ease in our meetings and a sense that we are welcome.
From what I’ve seen, I think
this ability to offer authentic welcome is embedded in Georgian
culture. A knack for hospitality seems like a pretty good
basis for creating the safe space in which therapeutic music can
I hope we’ll find a way to
encourage staff at the school to bring their singing, heartfelt,
family selves to work.
On-site skill-sharing: Public School No.200 (Tbilisi) 2011
- Young people