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!!

Gamarjoba!

Gamarjoba! Alo!

I don’t know how to start this post. There are so many thoughts and realizations rolling around in my head, but none of them are cohesive or interesting enough to write an entire post about. So, here are my ramblings. Enjoy!

To start: the language. It sounds beautiful when it’s spoken. Not as rough as Russian, and not as smooth as Italian or French–it is gorgeous to me. But spending three hours a day studying it does not a fluent speaker make. “Me var mohkalise mastavelebeli” I stumble through, or “Dila mshvidobisa!”. Georgian is a language where five consonants in a row is common, and my American tongue doesn’t work that way. While I continue to try, I at least provide comedic relief for my peers in the mean time.

It has finally dawned on me just how poor (for complete lack of a better word) Georgia is. Right now we’re in a hotel in the capitol, Tbilisi, and we have already lost water twice in two days. When we were briefed on our villages, some of the showers are outdoors. (I am praying I am blessed with a host family who has indoor plumbing.) I could very well be washing my clothes by hand!

The culture is so extremely different. The girls are advised not to smile at men unless you already know them. All of the volunteers are advised to not make eye contact on the street–that just isn’t done here! Georgian girls often have bastrumi, which are men who are pledged to protect them. It sounds a bit romantic, but it’s an indication of the reality. I am in the most patriarchal society I have ever encountered.

The food! Potatoes; bread; potatoes inside of bread; noodle and potato soup; I think you get the drift. We have all requested veggies because that is a starch overload, even for me. But the famous Georgia dish, katchapuri, lives up to the reputation! It is essentially dough stuffed with cheese, but the softness of the dough and the tartness of the cheese mix well. I think it is a favorite for many of the volunteers.

My co-teachers! I hit the jackpot with an awesome group of people. Everyone has traveled previously and has the stories you only get from living in Malta, or serving in the Peace Corps. I love them all, and my roommate, Hannah, is a fantastic (read: crazy) person with great stories and a sense of humor. **Remember my last roommate? This one doesn’t do drugs or complain 24/7!

Check out Hannah’s blog for better written commentary! And when we leave for our villages, she will be in a different part of the country with completely different stories.

kargi ghame, and talk again soon!

The low-down

Okay, the basics–I’m going to answer them here and that shall be that. 

Right now I am in Tbilisi, in a Soviet-era hotel, with my fellow soon-to-be teachers. (whom I love.) We start training today, and in about a week we will move out to our respective regions, meet our host families, and start teaching! In the mean time is preparation on the language, history, and customs of Georgia. 

—————–

(and now a story especially for Ms. Angie, who asked who the most interesting person I met while traveling was)

I flew to Houston with no incident, except that I was selected for the pre-check security line, and I am fairly certain that took longer than regular security. While in Houston, however, I had to exchange my United boarding pass for a Turkish Airlines boarding pass, and a few of us passengers were chatting in line. One lady was especially vocal, and being as nosy as I am, I listened in. Apparently she started a political party called Green Love, or something along those lines. But now she was en route to Dubai–and she was flipping out. She kept asking about coverings and being white and a woman, so I tried to explain that she was going to Dubai, not Syria. She would be fine. (the fact that her political views were anti-Arab may not go over so well.) That’s when she pounced on me, asking how I knew that or did I know anyone in the area that she could meet with, or what to wear. I wanted to introduce her to *the Internet*, especially Google, but I didn’t think that would go over well. From there we moved on, and had this conversation:

Sherry: What’s your name?

Me: Oh, I’m Mariah. And you?

S: Oh, huh. Interesting.

M:…

S: Do you know what that means? Or the origins of it?

M: Yeah, it’s Hebrew. 

S: haha. I have a story I have to share with you…later. I’m Sherry. 

M: Oh, nice to meet you. But now I’m curious as to what you know about my name!

S: Oh, well, it has Native American roots. You know, they call the wind Mariah….

                    –LONG pause–

S: That’s actually my name too. 

At that point I was finished talking to the political activist who lied to me, and flew on to Istanbul!

 

Pretending to be an Expert…

…Isn’t that what having a blog is all about?

This is my third disgustingly long travel itinerary.

(2 hour flight to Houston. 8 hour layover. 10 hour flight to Istanbul. 8 hour layover. 2 hour flight to Tbilisi.)

And so now I fancy myself an expert in the drudgery and exhaustion that those travels entail. My tip and tricks.

1. Airplane food is…useful. Why I was fed breakfast at 2 in the afternoon (local time) I don’t quite understand. But find something on that cafeteria style tray and eat it. **Don’t eat everything because being full, and crammed into a seat that barely reclines–not my idea of comfort.

2. Embrace the layovers. Turn off your brain–but not all the way. Obviously then you die. Rest, without sleeping too much. Strangers, strange countries, and foreign languages do not mix with sleep.

3. EAT FRUIT. For the love of it all, eat fruit. Or vegetable if you’re into that kind of thing. During my layover in Istanbul, I had a fruit plate for lunch and a fruit cup as part of dinner. You’re crammed into tight places with a lot of people and a lot of germs. Be kind to your body.

4. Sleep on the schedule you are flying to. So many people tell me to sleep on the plane, or sleep when you can! But I try to sleep at times I would be sleeping if I were already in the timezone I will be in at the end. Usually I cannot sleep at all so this is a moot point.

5. This is NOT the time to rid yourself of a caffeine addiction. Trying to come of the Coca-Cola products is commendable, but please wait until the few days of chaos are behind you. This is not the time for caffeine-induced headaches. (I was writing this as I sipped a glorious Coca-Cola Light in Istanbul, until my laptop died thanks to the complete lack of outlets in that airport. More on that later.)

6. Drink water and stay hydrated. That means lotion, fruits, water. It’s a fairly simple concept.

Stick with these, and you’ll come to your final destination a little sleepy, but not nearly as exhausted as others. I promise. **I don’t actually promise. This just works for me.

Flights! (Finally)

I adore plans. Plans and checklists and itineraries are my love language. So when I was accepted to teach English in the Republic of Georgia, of course the first question I asked is ‘When will I arrive?’. And I was told January 12th. That didn’t happen. And then I was told January 31st. So when January 28th rolled around and I hadn’t received a ticket, I was getting nervous. There was talk of whether these delays were meant to be a practice in faith, or a sign that this wasn’t for me. But after much praying, and talking, I decided to wait a little bit longer. I FINALLY HAVE MY FLIGHTS! I will leave on February 5th and two days later I will find myself in a country at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East!

I know I was a bit annoyed (peeved) at being delayed so much, but I am so glad I had this month to focus on schoolwork and spend with family and friends!

I was able to spend time with my Pops as he was admitted to the hospital first with a blood-clot and a week later as he suffered a stroke. I visited the panda bears at the zoo with Miss Tamara. I drove to Fort Rucker to see another my friend before she begins flight school!! (SO, SO excited for her!). I was snowed in on my birthday!! And spent one last day sledding and eating pizza with my favorite cousin.

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#pandaswag

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Pandas are fascinating. And one of my favorites.

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One of us (ME) was obviously prepared for the snow. The other threw snowballs at my face.
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Birthday Selfie! an excuse to use my scarf. snow!
A trifecta.
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Cramming in one last picture before I leave. Future pilot and future teacher.

This delay, while NOT in my plans, was certainly in my best interest. And where a month ago I was not ready to leave, and actually dreading it, now I am so unbelievably excited and anxious to visit new places and spaces. 

My List of Twelve.

At the beginning of 2013, I sat down and made a list of 15 things to do better. Not really resolutions, but goals to make me a better person, and looking back over them, I was overwhelmed with how many things I was able to accomplish! It was awesome to me that just by writing them down, I was able to keep these in the back of my mind to constantly improve. Some of the goals were “Travel!” and “Be fearless”, “Practice the Golden Rule” and “Love others (where they are)”. I loved how I had to really examine myself and my flaws to determine what I wanted to fix. For example, I was having issues with loving others, or holding out on that love, until I felt like they were better or had changed or were ‘worthy’ of it. And deciding who is worthy of love is not my place, so that was huge on my list!

I’m excited to do the same this year, and to keep me more accountable, let me share!

Twelve things to be better in 2014:

  1. Practice faith daily.
  2. Find joy in the little things.
  3. Seek out sunrises.
  4. Let my FAITH override my fear.
  5. Be gracious.
  6. Be intentional (in my time and my relationships).
  7. Be thankful.
  8. Be sweet.
  9. TRAVEL.
  10. Love.
  11. Seek knowledge and understanding.
  12. Laugh. Every. Day.

I’m excited to use 2014 to move to new places and spaces (literally!) but also emotionally and mentally!

24 Things to Do Instead of Getting Married Before You’re 24, a response

Fantastically thought out and well written. Definitely something to come back to if you need to be inspired!

justaylored

I recently read this article titled, “23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23”. Normally, I don’t read these as they are usually written in an in-your-face-I-can-do-what-I-want tone. For whatever reason, I read this article, perhaps because I am 24 and not married and I was curious as to why 23 was the magic number. Unfortunately, the article is pretty much the same, lame advice for twenty-somethings, written by twenty-somethings whose sum total of advice is “17. Eat a Jar of Nutella is one sitting.” I didn’t think much about it until I saw at least 3 people repost it on Facebook.

I don’t know about you, but if the highlight of my life (outside of marriage???) before I’m 23 is to eat a jar of Nutella or “22. Be selfish” then I think marriage to anyone sounds pretty good.

My goal for life as a single…

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just an old, sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind