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Fairytales

*My dad, after inspiring and encouraging me to see the world on my own, helped me out this time. More than words can say, thanks for sending me on the trip of my dreams! The only thing that would’ve been better is if you had been there as well.

**So many thanks to Tomas for being a tour guide and recommending places to see and being such a gracious host. It was so great to catch with a member of TeamMalaysia–two years is too long!

I think I’m in good company when I say that Ireland has be high high high on my “must see” list since I’ve had a “must see” list. Green rolling hills, cliffs that drop dramatically to the sea, and of course those glorious Irish accents (ladies amiright?!). So when a trip to Ireland fell into my lap (didi madloba Dad) I was a little excited totally over the moon. Dates were picked and flights were booked and then I realized: I have never planned a trip, minus the occasional weekend. Cue irrational and long-lasting freakout. I agonized over which cities and landmarks deserved some of our limited time, and the timeline and where to stay and what to pack and how to drive ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. Truth be told, I had nightmares about the driving situation. None of which came to fruition, thankfully.

Finally, there were no more decisions to be made and I was in Ireland with my best friend for what was going to be a whirlwind Irish tour. We rented a car and had a trusty GPS and my phone full of notes and phone numbers and addresses. I survived driving from the airport into the heart of Dublin, but after circling our hostel three times with no parking to be seen and quite a few instances of me almost forgetting which lane to be in, I handed the wheel gratefully over (fine, I demanded Thornton drive because I was finished with this nonsense) and enjoyed the scenery for the rest of the trip.

Dublin: Pretty, historic, home of the Temple Bar and Saint Stephens Green and a sassy statue of Oscar Wilde. But I had romanticized Ireland too much, so Dublin didn’t feel like Ireland at all to me. It felt like any other European city, and I enjoyed exploring. Would I recommend it? Yes. Does is take precedence if time is short? No.

We hopped through Waterford, Killarney and Galway before circling back to Dublin to fly out. And the further outside Dublin, the more beautiful Ireland became.

From Glendalough to Tramore Beach and Ballycarberry Castle on the Ring of Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland is prettier than a picture book. Around every curve (and there are plenty of those on Irish country roads) there is a picturesque scene. Every lake deserves to be painted. The coast is painfully beautiful. Even the small towns are perfect in their mix of quaintness and modernity.

Driving through the country with Thornton, our conversations were routinely interrupted as we exclaimed over every new vista. Or, in Thornton’s case, as he asked me to take pictures for him of every. single. new. view. I couldn’t begrudge him too much though…after all, he was driving and not complaining that I had stuck him with that odious task. But honestly, every part of Ireland screams for photos. Abandoned castles are ripe for exploring and side roads lead to lakes where you would swear you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Coastal cliffs are breathtaking in their abrupt drop to teal water.

In essence, I was a tourist and I loved every single minute of it. If there is one country to see before you die, it has to be Ireland. Rent a car and drive. The country is small and there are hidden gems everywhere. This is a country to see, and the people are icing on top of a already delicious, and gorgeous, cake.

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overwhelmed, constantly.

The past month has been a whirlwind of weekend trips, TLG conventions, wrapping up lessons, and most prominently for me, saying all my goodbyes to all the wonderfully crazy and talented people that I call my friends/teachers/fellow travelers. At the forefront of my mind has been my countdown until I fly home. From 30 days to 2 weeks to 7 days and now, the hourly countdown. (I am a bit desperate for first world luxuries…and my family.) However, looking forward so much and with such fervor, I haven’t had a chance to come to terms with this experience.

I still remember how overwhelmed I was arriving to the hotel at 4 a.m. I remember the camaraderie of training, the frustration of learning Georgian and the struggles of jet-lag that resulted in numerous ten minute naps between workshops (usually huddled in one bed because it was freezing and yet, no central heating!) The first night in Rustavi counts as one of the most lonely nights of my life. The successes of teaching, and the trials of communication, and the many long phone conversations venting/laughing/marveling at this country with my colleagues all made this experience what it was.

In one word, this experience has been intriguing. Not all of it was good, not all of it was bad, but together everything mixed into an eclectic dance. Daily, I asked myself what I was doing here. Now, daily, I ask myself why on Earth I decided to come back. In just over 50 hours, I will board a plane to fly home for the summer, and I am anxiously awaiting that landing. But in some weird way, it’s a little bittersweet.

When I come back in September, it will not be with wide eyes and anxiety. I will know how to navigate and haggle with taxis. I won’t be talking to Surfer Matt about the latest mind-numbingly confusing thing our co-teachers have said. Brittany and I won’t be sharing our latest crazy stories, or comparing this country to Asia. There won’t be sleepovers with Hannah or conversations with Alex about the (non-existent) pros of Tolstoy over Dostoevsky or late-night rants with Lyndsay about this misogynistic culture. I will be coming back less as a tourist, I think, and with less of a safety net.

These past five months were my time to figure it out (impossible) and find my favorite places and talk through the crazy. This is when I have to internalize and focus and pinpoint what I will do to make next semester work for me. This is when I re-live the hours, days, and months until I can accept what I experienced. Right now, I don’t know what happened. It was a blur to me.

It was bumpy marshrutkas and open stares. It was frustrations and triumphs at school. It was tears and curses when I felt so alone and so frustrated with this culture. It was laughter and smiles on the weekend trips. It was learning to let go of timing and planning and my love of luxury hotels.  It was trying to find any strip of normalcy, even if that was McDonald’s.

I have been overwhelmed constantly.

Maybe once I land, and eat a meal with vegetables, and shower, I will be able to finalize my feelings. Until then, my mind will be whirling as I try, and fail, to process.

Am I a Teacher Yet?

First things first: check out Lyndsay (kittycat) Ballew’s blog for a glimpse at village life in Georgia. *hint–she went on a picnic and her food was still alive during the walk.


You can tell where you are in life by the thoughts you have, or what’s in your purse/murse, or how grateful you currently are for varying technologies.

Example: If you’ve recently thought ‘oh, good! I can get three hours of sleep tonight and still finish this paper!’ then you’re in college.

My life now is wrapped around thoughts like:

  • “Oh my gosh, getting these children to stay on the same page is harder than herding cats.”
  • “If I let this one sneeze on me, maybe I’ll get sick and can sleep in tomorrow.”
  • “Do not curse at the little munchkins. Do not curse.”
  • “Please stop talking.”
  • “She should get in trouble. She’s disobeying. But her persistence is admirable.”
  • “Oh good grief, child. The sentence is ‘He is running.’ Why is that hard?!?”
  • **about a teacher’s pet** “Was I this annoying in elementary school? Mrs. Aiken I am SO sorry.”
  • “Seriously, shut up.”
  • “Literally just said that word out loud four times. If you would listen you would pronounce it correctly.”
  • “You’re cute, but you’re not very good at being sneaky. Now I have to be the bad person and take your phone.”
  • **follow up thought** “Why do you have a smart phone at 9 years old?”
  • “You’re my favorite…Wait, can I have favorites?”
  • “Are you really gonna make me sit next to you before you pay attention?”
  • “I wonder what would happen if I just screamed at them all. Could I surprise them into silence?”
  • “Why are they screaming so much?!?”
  • “Thank you Jesus–I just saw the light bulb turn on.”
  • “Breakthrough! We just had a breakthrough!”
  • “Okay, maybe we are making progress.”

Those last three thoughts are what make this worth it, most of the time.

And my purse? It now has a ‘healthy’ (pun intended) supply of hard candies and a myriad of stickers.

….am I a teacher yet? Even a little bit? I hope so–because otherwise I’m exhausted for nothing.

Also, props to Brooks Stevens. Wikipedia says I have you to thank for the wonder that is the clothes dryer. (developing country problems)

Why? Because…

Society seems to be addicted with wanting to know the reasons we do things. “Why do you choose to be vegan?” or “Why do you want to get married so young?” or the one applicable to me “Why do you want to travel so much?”. For a long time, I stuttered through an answer that sounded a lot like “Oh, uhm…passport stamps?” which is definitely not the reason but it’s a good deflector. For now, though, this is why I travel:

1.I love the sense of wonder and the curiosity and also the nerves (masochistic as that may be) that lead up to travel. I love those moments in transit where you are a blinking red dot on a map, constantly moving. I love the sense of anonymity that starts in the airport, and doesn’t fully leave you until you come back home.

2. I love what traveling does for me. The experiences I have had abroad make me a stronger person. Flying by myself at the age of 12 was a good start, and working through the hell that is homesickness (a real sickness, you guys. REAL.) and then finding the courage to move away again are evidence of the little bits of strength that I have gained. I like understanding now that there is no weakness in missing people, only in letting that feeling control your actions.

3.The person I am when traveling is the best version of myself, and the one I love the most. I am better at making decisions, I am more confident, and I am certainly more happy. …I’m also more sassy, which I love, but I’m sure others could maybe do without.

4. Being away makes me more appreciative of being at home. There is a sliding scale for this. If I leave for 10 days, I am happy with home for 4 days before I’m planning another escape. When I was gone for almost 6 months, I think I had a 2 month honeymoon period before it seemed like the walls were closing in. I love my family and friends always, but I appreciate them more when I cannot take them for granted. Occasional emails, Facebook messages, and Skype dates make me love who I surround myself with.

5. Mostly, I love the people I meet and the things we do while in a country. Feeding elephants with my team in Malaysia; Working with children in Peru; The weekend trips skiing or shopping in Tbilisi. These are fun moments that differentiate my trip to a country from others who travel to the same place.

Gray Skies.

It’s week 3 of teaching, and I’ve been in Georgia for almost a month. I have learned more of this language than I ever though possible and I love my fellow volunteers and love that I am doing this–I am really teaching and working and living with the locals! But my Heavens this is exhausting. I am one of the lucky ones–my sisters speak a small bit of English, but still it is exhausting trying to communicate. I was woken up at midnight last night because my family wanted me to “chame, Mariam, chame!” (eat, Mariam, eat!). Uhhh, no thanks. I’m sleeping. **Also, I go by Mariam here. It is easier to pronounce and gets everyone excited because of how popular it is. Whenever I say to someone new “Me var Mariam” they get very excited and tell me I am already a true Georgian! 

 

I came here expecting to fall in love with the people, and the culture, and my family and community. While everyone is very nice, that is not happening. Being in a city, I’ve lost some of the culture that I wanted to see. I traded it for running water and a Western toilet–fair trade? Maybe. My family is very nice and hospitable and helpful, but that is it. Being in a city, they lost some of their cultural closeness, and so of course it isn’t translated. They traded it for modern conveniences and a chance for their children to go to university–Fair trade? Yes.

It is still a letdown, however.But it doesn’t have to be. As Georgia changes to try and fit in to modern Europe, the culture has to change. I had imagined being in a village behind in time; instead I am in a city where I can see the clash of old Soviet and Georgian cultures and the new influences of modernity. If I look at this positively, I can see how useful and interesting this is, especially given my planned career path. But at the end of the day, when I’m woken from sleep to eat, my mood tends to match the gray clouds that constantly cover Rustavi’s skies. 

 

Reading Rainbow.

It’s been a week since I moved to Rustavi and started teaching. I use the word teaching loosely because I have been…frustrated, to say the least. I know that I don’t have a degree in teaching, and that I am not the most qualified (besides my exceptional grasp of the English language) but I had been hoping for a bit more of a hands-on approach. So far, my teachers seem content to have me sit and read in my American accent, or correct the students as they read through memorized scripts they don’t actually understand.

Today, though—Today I had a breakthrough! On Friday I had promised 5th form that if any of them wanted help with reading, I would stay after on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to teach. Only few raised their hands to say they would come, so I wasn’t too optimistic. But today after school, I had 9 little girls waiting anxiously to learn how to read/strengthen their reading skills. We started with the Alphabet, then vowel sounds, then consonant combinations. For every consonant combination, I had them come up to the board and write a word they knew that had that combo in it. They know a lot of words! From there we wrote sentences, and practiced a bit with telling time at the end.

It was only thirty minutes, and I know it was only nine children, but it was the highlight thus far! I loved being able to teach and let them think, instead of having them just memorize. (I gave them candy for each answer, so maybe they will share that tidbit and I will have more students on Wednesday!).

I’m so glad the after-school lesson was successful; I needed that pick-me-up after the worst day of classes ever. Eleventh grade likes to make lewd comments/ ask lewd questions, and ninth grade was simply rowdy and uncooperative. Tenth grade is extremely unmotivated and it is going to prove a challenge to get those students involved and active. Today started out extremely rough, but those thirty minutes are why I came to Georgia to teach, and if those sessions are the only times I have to actually be hands-on, it will be completely worth it.

My New(est) Place and Space

Spending 10 days in a warm hotel in Tbilisi did absolutely nothing to prepare me for moving to Rustavi. Looking at the statistics, this is the third largest city in Georgia, so I was not prepared for as many changes as those moving to villages. I was wrong. I live in an apartment with my host family, but they do not speak English. There is a line between knowing some English words and understanding even the most basic of statements. My family, sweet as they are, has not crossed that line. It is so frustrating and so lonely when you can’t talk to anyone face to face! And it has only been 2 days! We also lost power four times yesterday and water twice, so that is something new. I am lucky enough to have Internet on the family computer, but I’m hoping to get wifi soon for Skyping, my schoolwork, and to take to school with me. (There is none there, and I can buy a portable hotspot.)

Today was my first day as a teacher, and I am excited to continue! I read aloud too fast (NO surprise there) and I was exhausted after only four classes, but I know that will get better. Some teachers seem excited to work with me, others ignore me a bit, but i’m sure we will all find a rhythm. (I am trying incredibly hard to be positive because the alternative is complete despair.) Compared to most, I am spoiled–my school has heat, windows, printers and copiers. Please be praying for all of us, and especially my friends in the remote villages, as we try to acclimate.

**To put it in perspective, one of my friends walked 40 minutes today to the closest city for internet. And Hannah has an outdoor toilet that is guarded by a vicious dog–she has to have an escort every time!

As Andrew would say, I’m learning Georgian through complete submersion. It’s an adventure!!