Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Wonderful Weekend Part 2

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Today I’m visiting the Irishman’s village. I sit and let his mother serve me coffee and khatchapuri, even though I’ve already eaten, just to socialize for a few minutes before we head out on a picnic with his seventeen-year-old host brother. The Irishman mentions that our food for the picnic is “still rather alive.” Oh boy.


We’re well on our way and have even picked up the host bro’s friend, some drinks, and some fruit. We drive through open areas where the mountains are visible for miles on each side, and through cute little villages filled with ruined buildings that have been there for who knows how long.

When we get to the Kavtura River, we park the car at a public camping area and walk. The Irishman and I assume that we are scouting out a good picnic spot.

But then we walk. And walk. And walk. Eventually we bother to ask, and are told we are going to a church. And indeed, after a good hike, we come to a beautiful church tucked into the mountains. The church and the area in general are both called Qvataxevi. Apparently it’s an old church that burned during one of the many wars in which someone or another decided to conquer Georgia. Dozens of people died, mostly monks. But it was restored and so was their faith…if it had ever been damaged. Monks live there even today, and Georgians and travelers alike journey to the secluded church regularly.


We park the car by the road, grab all the picnic gear, and slide through dirt and leaves to the bottom of the mountain, where a small river runs between our mountain and the next. It’s too cold for the trees to be green, but it’s still gorgeous. Giant rock faces, quaint waterfalls, the clear water. I soak in a thousand shades of color and wish that we wouldn’t have to leave in a matter of hours.

The boys get a fire going and it’s time to cook the food. The main course of which is a cute, fluffy bunny.

I take a walk in the other direction and return when the throat-cutting part is done.

We sit around the fire and eat fruit and khatchapuri and listen to music while the rabbit cooks. When it’s done, it tastes great. And I’m able to eat it without lingering on how cute it was when alive.

The host bro says he’ll drive me home so we don’t have to get back in time for my bus. Everyone in Georgia seems to know or know someone who knows everyone, so it’s no problem for him to call my university-age host brother and relay the updated plan.

We explore for a while after we eat. This would be a great place for camping. Except for the jackels. But seriously, I need to look into working for Lonely Planet or something. I want this to be my life. Not my whole life, but it would be really cool for a while. To experience Georgia in this way, but long term…without worrying about going to a “real job” the next day.
And this is the burden I've taken upon myself in my travels, I suppose...to be always content but never satisfied.

A Wonderful Weekend Part 1

I’ve not been in my new village, Khovle, for a week yet, but I’m already feeling a lot better.

Part of it is recalibrating myself. Realizing that I need to be more realistic and flexible with my goals and teaching strategies. And with Georgia in general. She’s not the most organized, but she’s good at surprises. I guess it’s time to learn how to enjoy not being in control.

The other part is that I had a really great weekend. My friend the Irishman is teaching in the next village over, so I decided I could stay and settle in with the new family but still get some fluent English interaction.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


As my host sibs and I walk to meet the Irishman on the main road, we are joined by a couple of neighbor kids. I don’t know if they were originally planning on coming over, but they accompany us back to the house. We have to wait a few minutes for lunch. I ask my host siblings to get out their panduri, a traditional Georgian instrument, and with a little encouragement my host sis and neighbor girl play and sing for us. Then the Irishman takes out his mandolin and plays a tune. I film and take pictures the whole time and probably look like a good soccer mom in the making. But can you blame me? This is really cool. The kids know some English and we know some Georgian, but we all know music.


The Irishman and I are sitting around a table with my host siblings and the neighbor kids while my host mother serves us some wonderful dishes. She then gets out her home-made liquor and pours everyone a shot. Yes. Everyone.

We do a few different toasts-to Georgia and Ireland and America sitting at the same table, to friends, to family. I and my host sister are the only ones who can’t throw back a whole shot.

What can I say? This is Georgia.


The kids are ready to guide me and the Irishman up Cross Mountain, upon which, as you might guess, there is a large cross. The house is literally at the foot of the mountain. We cross the road and are there. On the way up, we come across a herd of cows, a 200-year-old bridge, and amazing views from which you can see Khovle, the Irishman’s village, a couple of nearby towns, the ruins of old churches that have been in the village for centuries, and even an ancient house which was excavated by archeologists from the U.S.

We laugh, have a moss fight, pick flowers, and try to light prayer candles at the cross on top. The wind thwarts the candle lighting. But the neighbor boy still leaves a mark by writing our names and “best friends” on the back of the cross. Vandalism? Maybe. Super sweet? Absolutely.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


So a lot has happened in this past week.

At this point it would not be wise for me to go into details, and thankfully I came out physically unharmed, but due to events that unfolded in Zovreti on Monday night and Tuesday, I am moving to another village. My host family and my teachers were very kind to me and I will especially miss my students. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the kids and I won’t see most or possibly any of them again. Which sucks. But I think it will be healthy for me to get a fresh start in a different village and a different school.

Until my new host family is ready for me, I’m staying at a hostel in Tbilisi. I still feel a little bit blah, but it’s been good to have a break. To be able to sit and relax at the hostel all day. I’ve also met a lot of other young travelers. People from France, Italy, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Spain, Cyprus, and Turkey. And lucky for me, English is the common language they always know.

I’ve also met other Americans. And after only a month I’m already at the point where meeting Americans is kind of exciting for me, despite being one myself. I even got to chat with a few other ladies who are TLG teachers and have been in Georgia a semester longer than I have. We got gelato and walked around the city together. I felt like a 3rd grader getting to hang out with the cool, big kids in 5th grade! But seriously, I really appreciated getting to exchange stories and advice.

On Monday or Tuesday, I’ll be headed to the village Khovle in Shida Kartli. I’m already learning a lot about myself and the world. We’ll see what lessons lie ahead.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's a Good Day to Have a Good Day

Wednesday, March 5th

My three-day weekend with friends was definitely as refreshing as I needed it to be.
Then, on the bus ride back to Zovreti from Zestaphoni, I sat beside one of my fifth graders and we taught each other words. He was honestly already one of my favorites. He’s an adorable kid with this girlfriend in sixth grade who is at least a head taller than him. He sits in the front of the class and looks at me with these bright blue eyes and eager smile. I want to huggle him up.

Then, yesterday, I finally got to attend dance class with some of my high school students. It was fun, both dancing and hanging out with them. And the dance teachers are both in their early twenties, which is cool for me.


We are reviewing a reading with the second grade class. It’s simple, but they still don’t fully get it. In traditional Russian-inspired Georgian style, my female co has a few different students read one at a time while the rest of the class listens…or doesn’t listen. Usually the latter. But it isn’t long before she looks to me and says, “shall we do something with them?” I love it when she asks me this. She really does understand that the read and regurgitate method doesn’t necessitate actual understanding, and she has noticed that activities which get the students involved are more effective. I think making these teachers realize that they have to try new methods is half of the battle.
So I end up reviewing numbers 1-10 with them. I hold up however many fingers and a dozen exited little voices scramble to say the correct number in English. They are so cute, we can’t help but grin when they keep getting hung up on the number 5.
Then, something even better happens. My co takes over again and chooses the next activity. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me, it means a lot. Getting Georgian teachers to realize that student engagement is more effective than zombie-learning is half the battle. Getting Georgian teachers to experiment with engaging activities is the other half.
Only one student is present in the 12th grade class today.  After the three of us chat for a while, my co having to translate the whole conversation, I give him a challenge. My co will choose ten words. I will learn them in Georgian, and he will learn them in English. On Friday, she will quiz us to see who has learned more. He accepts the challenge, and the trash talking commences. With frequent pauses to ask for more English synonyms of win, of course.

It’s time for my weekly extra English class for grades 7-9. We do a number of activities, including a couple that my male co suggested.
On the walk home, we chat and giggle and I answer a dozen questions that we reviewed in the lesson. “What music do you like,” “What sports do you like,” etc. I happily let them practice their English with me. And I soak up the interaction.
It's a beautiful day, so I decide to go for a walk. The neighbors stare at me as I pass by, either because I am the new American teacher or just because Georgians are lazy and going for a walk on any day seems silly.

I go to the school, and see one of my students there. He, his mom, and his little sister are cleaning the school. I share a very light-hearted but linguistically limited chat with them and head back down the road. I’m not far before I run into a random village dude, and then some of the kids who live in the houses nearby. I recognize a couple, including a little buddy of mine from the dance studio. I meet their mom and hang out with them for a bit. They bring out their adorable puppy, I get out my camera, and we take a million photos.

At home, when we sit down for dinner, my host mom gives me a normal size plate instead of a big bowl, which is also a victory of sorts. Traditional Georgian hospitality requires that hosts feed their guests to their hearts’ content. In real life, that seems to translate into feeding them a dubious amount of food no matter how realistically said amount can fit into a guest’s stomach.
I even get to take a shower tonight. I don’t get to bathe myself, as the mom holds the shower head for me…again. I’m not really sure how to politely ask to bathe myself. But afterwards I am at least able to convince her that I can brush my own hair this time. It’s a step.
So this is still hard. And I am still thinking that next semester I should find a place where I can be surrounded by other young adventurers who speak English. But right now, all I can do is take it one day at a time. And today, I had a really good day.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My First Georgian Excursion

Friday, February 28th


Classes are all short today so that the teachers can go on an excursion to an old church in Tbilisi, where the body of a Georgian saint is being kept for the weekend. As teachers trickle into the teacher’s room after their last classes, we sit down to celebrate one teacher’s birthday with cake. And homemade wine. And some Russian drink that is definitely more alcoholic than wine. And a little prompting from our directorio (principle), who notices how slowly my wine is disappearing and asks, “Don’t you drink?!”

Not anything we would expect in a school back home. But I can certainly enjoy the differences. I think I’ll enjoy the excursion, too. At the very least it gives me a free marshutka ride to start off my three-day weekend out of the village. I'll hang out with friends in Tbilisi, then head to Bakuriani for a ski trip with other friends. Monday is a holiday, so I don't have to return to Zovreti until then.


We are running on Georgian time, aka late, but finally reach the old and respected Semeba Cathedral.  The walk from our marshutka to the church is heartbreaking. Every beggar in Tbilisi seems to have found a place to camp out.

When we get there, there are already hundreds of people crowding together on the cathedral steps. I ask my co, “What are those people doing?”

“They are in a queue.”

“To see the monk’s dead body?”

“Of course.”

Of course. What else would they be waiting so long for? Silly American me.

Before long, I give up on the monk viewing and leave early so as to not be late meeting up with friends. My co and his brother walk me to the metro, scan a card, and push me through before I can ask which train I’m supposed to take. Thankfully there are only two options.


I’m at a Georgian restaurant drinking and talking with quite an interesting group. There’s the Georgian university student who I just happened to meet at the airport during my connecting flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi. He was traveling home from a semester in Estonia. There are also a couple teachers from the same batch of Teach and Learners as myself: the Irishman who spent six months in China just to learn kung fu and the Scotsman who has already taught in Japan and Thailand. Then there is a friend of the Scotsman, who he met in Serbia, and who happens to be a fellow Arkansan and a Teach and Learn veteran. Quite possibly the only other person from my little state who has even done Teach and Learn with Georgia. And here we are meeting through a mutual friend who is from a completely different part of the world.  How does that even happen? I don’t know, but I love it. I enjoy the conversation. I enjoy the company. I enjoy being part of a group of young adventurers who care about the world and its happenings and its past and its future. And its present.

I really belong here. I thrive here. Not in any place, but here.

Cakes Weren't Meant for Eating

Tuesday February 25th


I’m at my school, about to start another day of co-teaching. I’m feeling down. I haven’t adjusted to the language barrier, and I miss all the friends I made in orientation. As I go from class to class, the inefficiencies of the Georgian education system add to my gloom. These kids read and recite English all day, but can’t actually communicate in English at all. They know more than I ever will about the past simple perfect whatever tense, but can’t even ask me how old I am without a co-teacher translating. It is legitimately baffling that any system of teaching a language could be so terrible that years of study could yield absolutely zero ability to produce or express ideas in said language. A co notices my mood and comments. I guess I’m not a good actor. But I do love hanging out with my students, and today after school I’ll get to join in on a traditional dance class with the high schoolers. Surely I’ll find some energy to feed on there.


My co is reminded that the teachers have a funeral to attend after school today. Will I join them? I’ll have to skip dance class. The one thing I was looking forward too. But how can I say no? I’m a teacher in this community, and I have social obligations to fulfil accordingly. Why can’t I enjoy the independence of adult life without the responsibilities? Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?


The funeral is boring. We comfort the mourners for about five minutes, then go wait in the yard with all the other guests. My female co isn’t around and my male co is socializing with the other men, so I kind of just stand around with the women, not knowing what the conversation is about except when I look up to see that they are all smiling and staring at me as they talk. They seem to adore me. Or at least the pretty, polite little slice of me they interact with.

After what seems like forever, we load into a marshutka (bus) and drive to the nearest “big” town for a supra (feast). I realize that maybe this funeral thing is good for me right now…it gives me all afternoon to quietly wallow in my misery. Sometimes I just need to wallow before I can get back at it.