Spelling Success: Tbilisi

She had only once before in her life been to the capital, and that was five years ago, when she was in grade four. Things would surely have changed much, both for her and the city, in those years.

Lizi Gerliani was back, this time accompanied by her English teacher (my wife) and as one of only two finalist representatives of Svaneti for the National English Spelling Competition, Georgia, for 2017. She had displayed a talent for this part of our language some years ago, when I was still my wife’s co-teacher, often trouncing pupils some years older than herself in our village school. So this was, in a way, a natural result of that.

She is most fortunate to be an easy traveler like me, as some people get carsick very easily on our winding mountain roads, needing frequent stops. They arrived just fine, Lali went to our flat, and Lizi ended up in the hotel where the 24 young contestants from grades 9 to 12 in two age groups would stay for the event. First would be a rehearsal, then the real thing, at the State University.

(I don’t know why it’s not called a Spelling Bee here; the use of “bee” as a get-together of people with something in common goes back to 19th century USA, with the first national spelling bee winner there being an eleven year old boy, way back in 1925. There’s a rather good film based on the wonderful novel Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, about an unraveling Jewish-American family whose young girl, formerly in the “slow” class, also shows promise as a speller. Her father is rather a mysticist, and dives with her into the Kaballah to help her prepare for the National Bee. She gets in over her head, but I won’t spoil the rest. Suffice it to say that no such thing happened with Lizi. The film even has Richard Gere as the father! But the book is even better, in my opinion.)

As I made a point of telling her before she left, Lizi was already a winner in all our eyes. She didn’t win in Tbilisi, but the competition was very strong, with some contestants practically using English like a mother tongue. The couple of thousand words which she pored and agonized over daily in the couple of months she had from receiving them by email up to the date of the event aren’t wasted. Indeed, this year’s winner had placed second last year, and returned. So another thing I told Lizi, when she returned, was that she now has a whole year until next time; it’s not over yet, by a long shot!

Some of those words on the lists, to be honest, I wasn’t sure of the pronunciation of myself, and I’m virtually a bibliovore… but we did what we could to help Lizi prepare, then let her go.

She enjoyed herself, had some hotel luxury, got to see some of the shiny new lit-up Tbilisi, as well as escaping for a few days the comparative drudgery of farm life in a Svan village and making some new friends. And she saw what the spelling competition is, and will be like in 2018. I’m delighted with her progress, which apparently is giving her new inspiration in some of her other school subjects as well. I expect to see her back with a vengeance twelve months from now.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1350 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


Tony Hanmer

30 March 2017 21:36