Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1 month down - 9 more exciting months ahead!

It's crazy to believe that 4 weeks ago, this past Sunday my Dad and I woke up at 3 in the morning to drive to Chicago to catch my early morning flight.  This has been a whirlwind of a month, that's for sure! 

Well, let's see, where to begin?? This last week didn't seem to be filled with too many exciting things, but there were some highlights.  After finally recovering from an awful cold, I'm feeling more myself, which I am so thankful for! Last week, I didn't go to school on Tuesday or Wednesday, Thursday the kids laughed at me and told me I sounded like an old woman because of all of the coughing I was doing...but then Friday was an excellent day! And here's why: After being somewhat frustrated with how Georgian school is operated, I decided to finally do what I felt like should be done, instead of sitting there, observing and becoming more and more frustrated.  In my 9th grade class, I have 4 boys that literally sit there and do nothing the entire time because the English material is way over their heads.  They hardly know their letters, so it's ridiculous to expect them to be able to participate reading a text in class.  So, on Friday, I just asked if I could take these 4 boys out into the hall and work with them.  To me, this idea seemed completely normal, but let me tell you, the look these boys gave me was absolutely hilarious.  I went right outside and sat down on the floor and motioned for them to join me.  A couple sat down, and 2 others knelt, as if they feared the floor.  Sure, it was a bit dusty, but not a big deal.  However, I was wrong.  In Georgia, it's a HUGE deal for a teacher to sit on the floor! One teacher came out and made one of the boys go get me a chair.  I kept trying to say I was fine, but sitting on the floor is just simply not acceptable.  The director of the school saw me and gave us the strangest look, then ushered us into a nearby classroom that she opened up for us.  

Once we got passed the craziness of finding a location, I was able to work with these 4 boys to just see what they know.  We practice writing letters, recognizing them, putting letters together to make words, etc.  It's just crazy working with 14 year old boys, but doing activities that I did with my 1st graders while student teaching in the states.  But, what was amazing, was that these boys completely changed personality wise in front of me.  They were smiling, laughing, participating, even helping each other.  While the language barrier is definitely there, they are patient with me and we had fun acting things out, trying to understand each other.  I can't tell you how refreshed I felt after working with them.  For the first time since I got here, I felt like I was needed and that I could help make a difference with some of these kids.  It made being here for the next 9 months seem much more manageable.  I've known for a while that teaching is all about ups and downs, but it's those days, when you have the ups, that make it worthwhile to go through the downs.  I also bonded with my 5th graders while we were learning the names for wild animals.  I've been trying to think of a way to make these classes more fun, but it gets difficult when you have very limited resources.  So, as we were learning the name for monkey, I began to act out what a monkey does and so on for each wild animal.  The kids were laughing, Nino, my teacher was laughing, I was laughing, it was just great! In Georgia, laughing doesn't seem to really have a place in the classroom.  School isn't about having fun, it's about reading the books and answering the questions.  So, it was GREAT to laugh a bit and show that we can still have fun while learning.  

Let's see, we have another American in Samtredia now! Michelle's college housemate, Tara, joined us in our wonderful little city! It was great to meet her and I'm really looking forward to many adventures of the 4 of us! I met up with her and Michelle on Saturday (Melissa was off bouncing around in Batumi with her family) and we showed her around the city a bit.  Then she took us to see her house where we randomly ran into her family! It may not sound like a coincidence, because it is her house, but Tara's situation is a little different! Her family has a house and an apartment in the middle of the city.  We thought they were all at the apartment, but then they drove over to the house! It was wonderful to meet another kind family and be taken under their wing.  A few exciting things about Tara's home/family are:

1. Her 12 year old brother plays the Georgian drum and is super talented.  And, he loves to play for people :)
2. She has the most adorable Grandmother who bakes her gluten free bread and loves to make us food whenever we're around.
3. They have a TV where you can change some Russian channels into English! Hello BBC and CNN!!
4. They also have a piano, that's in tune!! AND her dad offered to give me music to practice. 
5. Her father is quite the jokester and loves goof around at the dinner table.  
6. They make their own honey and have lots of delicious food in their backyard! 

We are all so grateful for all of our own host families and it is is so wonderful to go visit each other and feel loved and taken care of, all the time! 

Sunday, my family and I went into Kutaisi.  Sadly, the computer charger that I bought in Kutaisi during orientation week fried...so we went back to the city to see if we could find ANOTHER one.  Super unfortunate, but not as big of a deal because Cici let's me use her computer whenever I want.  Having my computer is simply a comfort thing and a convenience.  Sadly, we did not find one, but when we went and met with some relatives of theirs, Cici's uncle (who speaks a bit of English!!!) told me that he knew someone that should be able to fix my original hp charger.  So, we'll see what happens. I'm hopeful, but I'm also realistic.  Luckily, Tara is going home for her sister's wedding in about a month, so I'm sure my parents could ship a new charger to her house and Tara can bring it back then! For this reason, the blog posts have pretty much gone down to a once a week endeavor and it will probably be a while before I get more pictures up... sad day. 

The rest of the day Sunday we went to Galeti Cathedral and another beautiful church...that I can't remember the name of.  There is something incredibly special about my family touring these churches on Sundays.  I absolutely love it.  Hearing the history and the stories from Cici is so special - I wish I had a tape recorder so I could remember all the details that she tells me. 

Oh! Lela and Mikheli also bough a new electric stove!!! It is sooo beautiful and it makes me want to bake cookies! Next on the shopping list, a new shower.  I'm pretty much pumped for that one as the other day I had to kill a GIANT jumping spider in the old bathroom.  Mom, you would have been proud. 

Also, Michelle and I have been craving peanut butter.  It is impossible to track down in Samtredia and our small jars that we bought in Tbilisi are pretty much empty.  So, yesterday Michelle was discussing this with her host mom and they decided to make peanut butter! I missed most of the attempts, but when I showed up yesterday, they had finally nailed the recipe!! We ran out and bought more peanuts (right as the market was closing) and made a huge batch!! So, this morning, I happily enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich and yogurt for breakfast.  A lovely change from bread and cheese, or bread and meat, or bread, meat and cheese.  After a year of this homemade, delicious peanut butter, I'm not sure if I'll be able to go back to good 'ol Jif!  

I'm not positive what my plans are for the weekend quite yet, but I'll either be heading to Tbilisi to visit some friends from my orientation group, or heading back to Batumi with Tara to meet some of her friends from her group! Stay tuned...

Love you all :) 

**Cici's computer doesn't have spell check, so I apologize for any typos...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some Photos :)

Here's a few pictures from a fun night in the park, hanging out with Melissa's 11 year old brother and some of his friends.  I also included several from our weekend in Batumi!! 
Can you find the face we made??? 

Seaside, School and Sickness...

Wowee! It's been a long time since I last blogged, sorry about that.  I blame my inability to stay healthy.  Last week, my stomach was not happy with something that I had eaten and of course, right after recovering from that, I caught the cold that had been running around my house.  Currently 3 out of the 5 inhabitants our home are sick with a slightly different version of a cold.  It's been somewhat entertaining, but slightly tiring.  I am just looking forward to a time when I am healthy and 100% myself.  I feel like my family has had yet to see me that way since I arrived.  I found myself longing for my good 'ol American health care system and a doctor who understood exactly how I was feeling and what medicines would help me.  However, plus side on the Georgian medical system - it's fast and cheap.  I saw the doctor at 9, I was in and out within 10 minutes and my 9:45, I was home, in bed with all of my medicine already.  The 3 different pills I was ordered to buy were all of 6 Lari and 40 tetri (about the equivalent of $3.50).  Impressive, right? Let's just hope they help! I'm going on an excursion (a fancy name for field trip) with about 15 high schoolers and 5 other teachers, including Cici and my mother, this weekend.  We're going to the city of caves which is about 6 hours away from here.  We'll be able to do some great hiking and exploring.  Even Cici and Lela haven't been there before! I'm very excited and want to be at the top of my game for it.  

Enough complaining.  This last week has been very busy, filled with the starting days of school and a weekend getaway to Batumi, a touristy city on the coast of the Black Sea.  

I'll start with Batumi and work my way backward.  On Saturday, Michelle, Melissa and I all headed out bright and early to catch the 8:00 Marshutka ride to Batumi.  It took about 2 hours to get there and it was quite the experience. To help you understand, picture this, a small 13 passenger mini-bus, filled to the MAX with 20 or so people.  Some people sitting on other's laps, some standing in the aisles, some standing in the doorway, with constant shuffling around at each stop.  Marshutka's are a very common form of transportation and are super cheap, hence the reason so many people use them.  Luckily, M, M and I got on at the first stop and were able to find seats, all next to each other.  We also never had to move because we were getting off at the last stop! Worked out well for us.  We arrived, safe and sound and relieved to be able to move our legs! 

During the day on Saturday, we roamed around the city, had lunch at a nice sea-side cafe, stuffed ourselves to the max and took in a little culture by going to the local art museum and then sneaking into an international movie showing.  Apparently it was the weekend to go to Batumi because we ran into tons of other TLG volunteers along the way.  It was great to hear everyone's stories from the week and once again, I was very grateful for my placement.  Some of our guy friends were relocated last minute to the Adjara region in the southwest part of Georgia.  Many of them are not happy with their living conditions, so I feel incredibly blessed to have what I have.  

Dinner was a wonderful experience.  After searching for the perfect place to eat, we found this hole in the wall place that looked adorable and rustic inside.  There was a small party at one table, but the place was otherwise empty.  The owners took us under their way and with Michelle's Russian knowledge, and a waiter's broken English, we ordered the most amazing meal of our lives! The night was complete when our waitress got us all up to dance with them.  It felt so great to let loose a bit and dance to some fun Georgian music with our new friends.  After that we met up with other TLGers on the rocky beach next to a beautiful boardwalk and caught up.  It was incredibly relaxing and a lot of fun! I was reminded of how much I love really those really long conversations when you're just starting to get to know a person.  So great! After a late night Saturday, we slept in on Sunday and happily awoke to the sun shining!! Because the day hadn't been very nice on Saturday, we decided to take full advantage of the sun and we grabbed a quick lunch, threw our swim suits on and set off for the beach! For those of you that really know me, you know I LOVE laying out and improving my tan.  I was in heaven on Sunday.  We literally stayed at the beach from 12-5, reading, listening to music, chatting, swimming in the Black Sea and enjoying the day.  Instead of taking the Marshutka back at 2, we decided to splurge for a taxi, figuring that that it was worth it to spend the day in Batumi.  Well, I think it was, but we all learned that nothing ever goes as planned.  A trip that we thought would take an hour, ended up taking 2 and a half hours due to road construction and a taxi driver who meant well, but didn't exactly know where he was going.  Michelle and I were talking on the walk back to our houses about how Samtredia already felt comforting to come back to and we both really realized that this was our home for the next year.  It's funny how things hit you at the strangest times.  

Ok, changing topics a bit...school in Georgia.  Well, it is a whole lot different than school in America.  For starters, it beginss at 9:00 and I am usually done teaching by about 1:00.  Classes last about 40 minutes, or until whenever the director decides to ring the bell, and then there's usually a 10-15 minute break between classes.  It's a much more relaxed atmosphere, but at the same time, it's crazier.  Kids run around everywhere and aren't told to slow down or be quiet in the hall during or between classes.  I tried to tell a little boy to slow down when he nearly ran into me and he just gave me the strangest look.  Probably because I was speaking English, but also because I don't think slowing down is a concept he's ever been introduced too! Anyway, students seem to get away with a lot more here, in terms of many of them not having books for class, or just coming and sleeping through class, or coming and literally doing nothing.  Teachers tend to refer to them as 'naughty boys' and simplify their needs by saying that they are so far behind that there isn't anything they can do. It's just hard to watch.  After talking to other TLGers, it sounds like this is common throughout all Georgian schools.  Lesson planning and prep is also very different.  My teacher and I briefly go over what we're doing the next day, but for the most part, she just does whatever is in the book and then makes things up during the middle of class.  Our director does not require lesson plans to be turned in or any sort of long-term goals to be written.  This would be unheard of in the states.  

Melissa, Michelle and I were all chatting about our school experiences and Melissa pointed out that it seems as though teachers teach to the highest in the class.  Once one person gets it, they move on, instead of making sure that all understand it.  This creates a very large achievement gap among the students and is the reason that so many students are behind in the upper grades - they never got in in the first place and then got so far behind, the thought of trying to catch up seems so impossible, that they give up.  It's hard to watch.  I have to work hard to remain optimistic in school because it seems like there are so many things to change, that I too, find myself wanting to give up.  Funny how life works like that... I have enjoyed working with the older students a lot more than I expected to, though, so that has been really great! My 5th graders are soooo excited to learn English and LOVE saying hello to me in the hallways.  Middle school boys seem to be the same here as they are in America, while they also love saying hello to me, they enjoy adding, 'i love you!' and running the other way.  Makes the world seem much smaller when people act so similarly, when they live so far apart.  

Well, speaking of school, I should go look at our books and plan a few activities for tomorrow.  I'm praying that I'll have my voice back! Love to you all :) 

Oh, and here's a link to my facebook album of pictures from my trip thus far! http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2023754&id=1177410562&l=962bf45217

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When it rains, it POURS.

This is no joke! Last night I experienced the craziest storm I've ever heard.  Most of you know that I LOVE storms, and I rarely am frightened by them, but last night was different.  This was the loudest, brightest, storm I have ever witnessed.  Though my windows were locked, rain was coming in through the cracks in the windows, the wind was blowing everywhere, lightening lit up my room constantly and thunder just kept crashing! At one point, my hands literally flew to cover my eyes because the lightening was so bright.  I quickly ran about my room attempting to find my towel so that I could soak up the rain puddles collecting around the window, unplugged my computer and moved it AWAY from the window so that there wasn't any damage.  Then, true to my previous childhood ways, I hid under my covers and said a prayer.  You probably think I was being ridiculous, and a part of me felt silly... I mean it's just a storm, right? However, something about it felt different.  Maybe it's because I'm not in the comforts of my own sturdy home that I know can withstand countless amounts of wind and rain.  Maybe it's because I know what's normal for Iowa storms and what's not.  Who knows.  All I know, is that I had better get used to extreme Georgian weather! The last few days have been incredibly windy.  My mama (father) asked me a couple days ago if I had wind like this in the states and I told him that if the wind ever got this bad, it meant a storm was coming.  He laughed and said not to worry, a storm wasn't going to come here.  I felt at ease.  Well, what do you know? Crazy storm comes last night! Now I know that his version of a storm and my version are much, much different.  They refer to storms as really bad natural disasters (ie: tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.).  Thunder and lightening are no big deal.  

Anyway, as I sit on my bed and listen to the rain patter against my window (at a much calmer rhythm) I'm remembering all that I have done in the last several days.  Sunday was a wonderful day, spent with my family touring several churches near Samtredia.  It was a great surprise to wake up and hear that my mama wanted to take us! He works so, so much that when he's home, it's really special and he likes to spend quality time with his family.  Anyway, we visited 4 churches, one built in the 6th century in honor of Jesus Christ, a second built in the 7th century in honor of Saint George (the patron saint of Georgia), another built in honor of Saint Maria and a fourth women's monastery.  All of these churches were so beautiful and it was amazing to hear the many historical stories that Cici, my host sister shared with me.  The whole day was quite emotional for me because church has always been a place where I've felt at home, while I'm away from home.  It was so special to be able to share the experience with my host family and listen to their stories.  I could go on and on sharing some of these stories, but I've decided to just share 1 in particular.  At the second church we went to, the one built in honor of Saint George, there is an old tradition of saying special prayers to Saint George at this particular church.  Why? Because Saint George's ear is buried here, among several other of his body parts.  Because Saint George is so important to this country, when he died, his body was cut up into many pieces and buried in many churches all over Georgia.  But here, in this particular church, because his ear is buried there, Saint George will be able to hear your prayer or wish and it will come true! So, when we visited this church, my mama (father, remember, not my mother) gave us all candles to place in the altars around the church.  Each altar was placed next to some sort of icon.  One particular altar was very meaningful as it was a place to remember those who have lived and died before us.  I immediately thought of my grandma who passed away the week before I moved here.  It was very special to be able to light a candle in her honor and pray for my grandpa to Saint George.  Cici also told me stories about her own family and their connection to each church we visited.  I felt so honored to be a part of it all!  

Before we visited the last church, a women's monastery, we happened to drive by the police station where my mama works.  He asked if I wanted to see it and I replied, of course!! It was so cute watching him show me where he works.  He was so proud.  I was impressed too! The police stations over her are incredibly beautiful.  Much nicer than in the states.  He is 2nd in command at the station and is in line for police chief (which explains the incredibly long hours he puts in).  It was hilarious meeting the other members of the force as they were all excited to show me their cubicles and their favorite room...the gun room.  I wanted to take a picture, but mama wouldn't let me!! He did however let me hold one of his hand guns.  I had never held a gun before...gotta say, I didn't really like the feeling! But it was fun, nonetheless.  

Next, I learned that it pays to know people who work for the government.  At the women's monastery, which was built on the top of a hill in a small town called Mtvali, I was almost able to meet the Patriarch of Samatgrelo (a region in Georgia near Imereti) who regularly prays and visits this monastery.  Mama called his police chief who was going to arrange the meeting.  Unfortunately the Patriarch was busy blessing a fellow American who is also a TLG volunteer, living in Samatgrelo.  Don't worry though, he called the house later and said that he wants to meet me so that he can bless me, too!! So surreal...

Tonight, it seems as though sickness is plaguing my household.  Cici, my sister has a terribly sore throat and Mama came home with an awful cold! I've been coughing, but I think it's just allergies and I'm already taking allergy meds.  Hopefully Deda, Babua (mom and Grandpa) and I can avoid it! However, just to be safe, Mama asked if I would take a healthy shot of vodka.  Apparently, in Georgia, vodka keeps you healthier! Who knew? We'll see if it helps! 

First day of school tomorrow...I hope it goes well! I've met all of my English teachers, there are 3.  They all seem really great and helpful.  Plus, they all actually speak English! I've had several friends whose English teachers haven't spoken English...here in Georgia, everyone can read and write in English, but hardly any can speak it.  Hence, the reason we are here.  We attempted to make a schedule for me and I'm bouncing around every period between the 3 teachers.  I'll mostly be teaching 5th-9th grade and then 2 1st grade verbal fluency lessons.  As many of you know, I'm not used to working with 5-9th graders, I'm usually working with the 2nd and 3rd graders! It will be very different, but I think a great experience nonetheless! Yay for stepping outside my comfort zone! 

Well, I'm off.  Here's a picture of my family and I touring the churches.  More will be on facebook later! 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Happiness Cannot be Contained!!!

Gamarjobat! (Hello!)

I am currently writing you from Samtredia, a small city of about 20,000 about a half hour west of Kutaisi.  I arrived here yesterday after my host family came to pick me up at our training site.  Let me tell you, all of us TLG teachers had dropped our expectations extremely low so that we could be prepared for the worst.  Possibly no running water, no internet, no one who speaks English; all things we all wanted, but knew we may not be fortunate enough to get.  I feel so blessed because I have all three at my new home!!

I was picked up by 4 people: My host father Mishikal, my host mother, Lela, my host sister, CiCi and the director of my school, Katuna.  Cici, is 16 and she speaks really great English!! (side note: the meeting reminded us all of a high school dance – all the Georgians on one side of the room and the meek, scared little teachers on the other!  Both sides just staring at each other, wondering who they are going home with…) Cici has been such a life saver as neither her parents, nor her grandfather (who also lives at home) speak any English.  From what I can tell, she is the best English speaker in the school, besides the two English teachers themselves.  However, as easy as it is to just speak English with Cici, I really want to be able to talk to Lela and Mishikal, so I am more motivated than ever to keep working on my very poor Georgian skills.  I won’t always have Cici around me to translate!

Immediately when I arrived, they showed me my room and gave me a tour of the rest of the house.  My room is wonderful.  It’s between Cici and her parents and has 3 doors, opening to each of the respective rooms and the hall.  Upstairs there is also their grandfather’s room, a formal dining room and a large great room which they never use.  However, in the great room, there’s a piano!!! I was so excited when I saw this, I almost cried.  Not being able to play the piano was something that I was really going to miss this year, and being able to play will be a little piece of home that I can have with me, anytime I want!  Right outside the front door, there’s the new bathroom.  They are still in the process of getting it all ready.  Inside, there’s new tile flooring, a washing machine, new sink and a wonderful western toilet! You have no idea how excited I was to see 1) a western toilet and 2) a toilet that I can actually flush toilet paper down!!! We were not so lucky at our orientation site.  In about a month the new shower will be ready as well. 

Downstairs, there is the old bathroom where we shower for now.  Outside, next to the bathroom, they do their cooking so that insects don’t get inside the house.  I’ll be curious to see how cold it is in the winter and whether or not they still do all of their cooking outside.  Downstairs there is also an eating room, a living room (with a tv) and another family room.  For the most part, we hang out downstairs because it’s much cooler. 

Like I mentioned before, I feel so, so very blessed to be with such a wonderful family, in such a nice home.  My mama (Georgian word for father) works for the police and my deda (Georgian word for mother) is a teacher at the school I will be working at.  I feel incredibly safe here, especially since my father knows everyone in this town! In Georgia, there is something called the Patroni system.  It’s for females to use to keep them safe.  For instance, my father is my Patroni, as well as several of Cici’s friends.  All I pretty much have to do is say that I am a guest of Mishikal’s home or friends with Tato, and I’ll be able to ward off unwanted attention.  When men hear that, they know that there are other men looking out for me that will get them in trouble if something were to happen.  It seems pretty foolproof to me!! Especially with me father being a cop! 

In Samtredia, there’s not a whole lot to do for entertainment, but we’ve managed to fill our time so far! Last night, we went and walked around town and headed over to a park where many of the teenagers hang out at night.  Cici joked that because there’s nothing to do in town, people just go to the park and talk…every night! I told her that sounded just fine to me, so we headed out to meet some of her friends.  It was hilarious because as we were walking, I ran into the 2 other girls that are also staying in this town from TLG.  Melissa was walking with her host brother and Michelle was with her host sister! It was so wonderful to see a familiar face amidst all of the Georgians! We all live fairly close to each other, which was a really nice surprise.  We’ll be able to travel together, which will be much more convenient. 

I met several of Cici’s classmates last night.  In Georgia, class sizes are very small and you are literally with the same 20 or so people for all of your schooling.  For this reason, classmates are very, very close.  I asked if people ever start dating their classmates and Cici gave me a shocked look! She told me her classmates are practically like brothers and sisters, and she could never imagine liking one of them.  Watching them interact together, I could see this was the truth.  Tato (Cici’s classmate) was very protective of Cici, and in turn protective of me.  It was sweet to watch.  We walked back late at night and it was comforting to know that we were very safe, even in the dark of the streets.  Cici walks this road every night and everyone knows her.  Granted, I think it will be a while before I do it myself, but it’s comforting to know that eventually, I’ll be able to roam around freely and not have to worry about anything. 

Today, we went and visited the school.  It is about a 15 minute, easy walk from here.  I met several teachers, but not the English teachers.  I will meet them on Monday.  After a tour of the school (where every teacher told me that they liked me and that I was a good girl – after knowing me for a good 20 seconds…) I had a brief meeting with the director where we talked about who I would be working with.  It was nice to wrap my thoughts around everything before actually meeting the English teachers, that way I can think about what I want to do before meeting them.  Students used to begin learning English in 2nd grade, but there was a new law written that they now won’t learn it until 5th grade; though I haven’t figured out why.  So, in this new program, I will be working with 1st graders, once a week to simply expose them to the English language.  I will be talking to them, playing games, etc., just to sort of get their brains ready to learn English.  Then I will spend the rest of my time teaching 5-7th grade English.  This is definitely going to be a lot different for me as I’ve spent most of my time with 1st - 4th graders.  However, I think it will be really good for me to experience and I’m sure I will learn a lot about this age.  I’ve heard great things about the teachers I will be working with so I am very excited to meet them!

After touring the school, we went to the Market to pick up a few things.  I live very close to the Market, which is super nice.  Later today, we’re going to meet some of Cici’s friends and check out the swimming pool.  Apparently it’s very clean and nice! Our schedule has been very relaxed before school begins, which is nice.  Mishikal wants to take Cici and I to some old churches in the next couple of days, so I’m excited for that outing!

Well, thanks for sticking through with me to the end of this blog post – I feel like there are still so many things I could tell you, but I should let you get back to your lives!! Keep me updated on your lives as well, I’m so curious to hear how you are all doing!! Miss you all dearly! 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Start of Something New

With Orientation coming to a close, we’re all becoming quite anxious about our prospective host family stays! We are leaving TODAY!!

Since I last wrote, we’ve been busy little bees, attending class after class.  We still have Georgian all morning long, but in the afternoon, we replaced methodology with Georgian culture classes. The first day we discussed the idea of culture itself and issues surrounding it.  It was a little slow for most of us because many have discussed these ideas in college, but some of the ‘older’ generation said they really enjoyed it.  (Side note: there are people here of all ages! A majority of us just graduated from college, but there are many that are 5 years out, in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s! It’s been interesting hearing everyone’s life stories and what brought them to this program at this stage in their life.) Anyway, we also discussed aspects of Georgian life that are important to know before entering the culture, such as female/male gender roles and what’s expected of each.  Georgian culture is still very traditional.  The man has the final word, makes the decisions (with the help of the woman) of the household, is very strong-willed, etc.  To be honest, we haven’t heard the greatest things about Georgian men! Us girls are very wary of the men in the bars because they are very aggressive.  Again, don’t worry mothers, Nino, our director has given us COUNTLESS lectures on how to stay safe and ward off these crazy men.  We’ve all been practicing our ‘bark’ and have already learned to stop smiling to guys.  It sounds extreme, but completely necessary! 

We also talked a lot about how to act around our host family, things to do and things not to do.  This sounds strange, but we’re all prepared to be pretty much coddled for the next month or so.  After talking to the previous volunteers, all the host families have been super overprotective of their volunteers, always making sure they know where to go, how they’re getting there, what they will be eating, etc. I’m just looking forward to meeting my family and beginning the next year!

In orientation, we’ve also had several sessions on the education system, banking and insurance in Georgia and transportation.  All of them have been very helpful and everyone we work with is so willing to answer our many questions.  What’s amazing, is that several of the workers, for example, the bank employee and the our insurance representative both gave us their cell phone numbers and are literally on call 24 hours a day to take care of us!!

For those of you who were aware of my computer issues, all has been resolved, finally!! For some odd reason, my computer power cord/charger died or fried, or something! Anyway, I wasn’t able to charge my computer for about a week.  This was initially scary because as much as I don’t want to be, I’m slightly dependent on my computer… It was just scary thinking about not being able to communicate with all of you back home! Anyway, with some patience, we were able to take a trip into Kutaisi a couple days ago to go solve several IT problems.  Some needed power chargers, some needed adapters, some needed Ethernet cords.  After going to 3 different places, we finally managed to track down a compatible charger!!! I can’t tell you how excited I was! It was also quite the experience to be in the market.  It reminded me of African markets, yet it was inside and in much closer quarters.  There was literally EVERYTHING there.  We found tvs, women’s shoes, cell phones, bread, washing machines, towels, furniture, etc.  I’m excited to go back and experience it all again, when I’m not searching for 1 thing in particular.

Ok, this blog is being written in 2 sittings because our internet has been out today.  New news is: I have a location! Michelle, Melissa (2 really great friends that I’ve made here this week) and I will all be heading to a town called Samtredia.  It is west of Kutaisi and is an industrial town that is right in the middle of several main roads.  We’re excited about this because that means traveling between cities will be quite easy! We will also be stationed within the town, not in an outside village.  All of us have been preparing ourselves for the worst: small village, with no one around you, where no one speaks English and you don’t have internet.  It looks like I won’t really have to encounter many of those issues! I’m really excited to have Michelle and Melissa nearby, as we will be able to see each other often! It will help to not feel so alone.  At this point, we don’t know what our host family consists of.  We will find out today when we meet them! I’m feeling so many emotions right now that it’s hard to wrap my brain around the entire experience.  I’m excited, anxious, scared, nervous, relieved, and paranoid…all at the same time! But that’s what this year is about; learning to deal with all of these emotions while experiencing a different culture than my own.  I am so excited to update you further about my new family and place of residence! 

Also, sorry that once again I haven't posted any pictures.  It's been such a crazy last few days and loading them eats up so much internet for other people.  Once I'm settled I'll be sure to get some up though! 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Georgian, Georgian and more Georgian!

Hello all! I feel like it’s been forever since I last wrote about life here, but in actuality, it’s only been a few days! All of us agree that it feels like we’ve already been in Georgia for a long time, when really it’s only been about a week.  I think it’s because we literally cram so much into one day that for the amount that we’ve done/learned one would think we would have been here for weeks!!

I am officially in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. The city is located in Imereti, the region we will all be teaching in.  We drove 3 buses here on Thursday after meeting the Minister of Education at the Ministry for a small meet and greet session.  This was my first encounter with the Georgian ideal that there is always a time to sit around and drink wine.  Our meeting was around 11 in the morning, but we were all given a glass of wine to enjoy as we mingled around.  On the way here we stopped in Mtskveta, a city outside of T’bilisi for a ‘supra,’ or a large traditional Georgian feast. We all sat around this HUGE table that fit 92 of us on the veranda right on the river.  It was absolutely beautiful!! We were all overwhelmed with the delicious food and juice.  We had been eating pretty decent food at the hotel, but nothing compared to what we ate that day! Just to share a bit about our diet – it is largely based on meats, breads and cheese.  The produce here is absolutely delicious but can sometimes be lacking.  It completely depends on the location.  In Tbilisi we had tons of cucumbers and tomatoes (and yes, for those of you that remember, I do not like tomatoes at all, BUT I’m trying really hard and think I’m finally coming around to them J).  However, in Kutaisi, we’ve had to beg for veggies at meals.  Tons of greasy meats and carbs… Just another adjustment we’ve all slowly begun to make! I’m very excited to see what my diet might be like with our host families, because I’m not sure how much more we can take! We’ve been supplementing with dried fruit and cereal that we bought at a local supermarket Good Will.  This is basically their equivalent to our Wal-Mart.  It was HUGE!! It was interesting because everything was imported from Germany

Anyway, we just finished our third full day of orientation.  Our schedule is quite long.  Here is what a typical day looks like:

9:00 Breakfast
10-1:30 Georgian Language Lessons
1:30 Lunch
2:30-7 Methodology and/or Georgian Culture Lessons
8:00 Dinner
9:00 Group Meetings

We do have a break in the morning and the afternoon as well, but it still gets to be quite long! However, I think most of us are really enjoying it! I especially like having Georgian class in the morning.  I’m definitely picking up the language better than I thought I would, which is reassuring.  I do often find myself speaking Spanish when I’m supposed to be speaking Georgian though, which always makes me laugh!! We move pretty quickly, but there’s a lot to cover, so I’m ok with it! We’ve mostly learned conversational/small talk suggestions and we’ve starting conjugating several verbs.  We’re also learning the alphabet.  For those of you that don’t know, the Georgian alphabet has 33 letters – all representing a single sound.  This makes it actually quite easy to read, once you actually learn all 33 sounds and symbols! While learning things in the beginning here, most everything is transliterated, making it easier to transition from English to Georgian. 

Methodology classes have been pretty awful and boring – for everyone, not just those of us that have a background in Education.  We can all definitely see a need for change in their education system as the way the way we were taught was not helpful at all! We pretty much just read through a bunch of worksheets that went over presentation techniques and the four basic language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening).  It was boring for me, so I won’t bore all of you with it!

In Kutaisi we are staying at a government building that is normally a school for minorities or other volunteers who come to Georgia and need to learn Georgian.  It is dorm style living so we’re staying in suites of 5 and get to share bathrooms with the rest of the floor!! Imagine 45 girls, 5 showers 5 Western Toilets and 5 Eastern toilets (more comically referred to as squatters...).  It’s actually been pretty entertaining and quite comfortable living.  We do have AC, except for when the power goes off… this actually happened today during our culture lessons.  It was hot, but definitely something we’re going to have to become accustomed to! Also, we didn’t have any cold water this morning, so our showers were extremely hot! We all agreed that we would rather take cold showers than hot ones – so really it just made us appreciate what may come soon in the future!!

Kutaisi is a pretty run-down city.  We went walking around the other day and it is very obvious that Georgia is still a developing country.  The countryside is absolutely beautiful, but the cities and towns are just very run down, very basic.  It’s interesting walking around here because we just get stared at, the entire time. It’s to be expected I guess, we all look very foreign to them and they are curious! For all of you mothers out there, yes, we walked in a large group and took boys with us J. 
We’ve started referring to a walks through town as urban hikes because the sidewalks and the roads are in pretty terrible condition! You never know if there’s going to be a rock jutting out, or a board that might come loose under your food…tread lightly!

Overall though, everything has really been great so far.  We are treated so well here by the TLG staff and are well looked after! I’ve met some really great people and am excited for the many friendships that will grow from this adventure! We will be in Kutaisi until next Friday, where we will then depart for our host families.  We still don’t know where we’re going…they are keeping us in total suspense! I think that’s ok though. 

Well, I must stop for 2 reasons: this is beginning to be unreasonably long AND I must go eat some dinner!! I love you all!!