Tag Archives: republic of georgia

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.

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#georgianlogic

This country is nothing if not confusing. On a good day, TLGers refer to it as baffling or complex or charming. And on bad days I have sent (and received!) a text or two about this ‘backwards freaking country’. Some stories, in Twitter format.


A brimming cup of hot tea and a bumpy, swerving marshrutka. What could go wrong? #georgianlogic

My throat hurts? Better wrap a scarf around my neck…in the 85* heat. #georgianlogic

It’s 90* today? Still wear three layers and a sweater, but pour water on your head/lap to cool off. #georgianlogic

There are 16 seats on this marshrutka? That means we can fit at least 25 people, easy. #georgianlogic

It’s raining today? I better use this plastic bag instead of my umbrella. #georgianlogic

I’m complaining of a sore throat and ear infection? Better listen to my lungs and ignore my ears/throat before you prescribe five different medications. #georgianlogic

Oh, my family bought sour cream–that will brighten up the fried potatoes we have daily! Oh, no…okay. Sour cream goes on bread only. #georgianlogic

Co-teacher doesn’t want to teach today? Spend all class talking about traveling and complain when the ignored students become rowdy. #georgianlogic

Book two seats on the 3:00 marshrutka, only to be accosted at 2:15 by the marshrutka driver…who is waiting on you to take your seat so he can leave. At 2:15. #georgianlogic

Two-lane road with traffic steady in both directions? The perfect time to pass a semi-tanker stamped with ‘danger’. Bonus points if on a mountain road. #georgianlogic

I’m 23 and not married? Absolutely I would love to be your boyfriend! #taxilogic #georgianlogic #notgonnahappen

I’m 23 and married? Why don’t I have children yet? #taxilogic #georgianlogic #fakering

You want a girl’s phone number? Best way is to grab her phone from her purse when she isn’t looking and call your phone. Later, text her love notes. #georgianlogic

Ordered a Ceasar salad. Came with a cup of mayonnaise Ceasar ‘dressing’. #tasty #georgianlogic

“Whose car is that?” “It is ours.” “When did you get a car?” “Oh, I do not know.” “Did you buy a car today?” “Uh, yeah I guess.” #georgianlogic

Vegetables are finally in season? You should boil them into a tasteless mush before serving. #georgianlogic

Standing next to the trash can and you have trash? How convenient. Better throw the waste on the ground. #georgianlogic

Special thanks to Hannah, Matthieu and Brittany for their additions to #georgianlogic



 

**Bonus Story: A few weeks ago, I was struggling with homesickness and went to pick up the package my sweet Momma sent me. On the way, the taxi driver and I were having a very limited conversation, but it came up that I am from Georgia in America! Boy, he got excited and almost had a wreck as he hurried to show me his Willie Nelson CD’s! We jammed to, what else, Georgia on My Mind, and that was a good taste of home right when I needed it.

Life Update (a.k.a Word Vomit)

Wow. It’s been a crazy month!

To start, my fellow teachers (newbies like me and veterans too!), and Georgian co-teachers were all herded to Tbilisi to take part in four days of training to learn how to teach effectively. Besides the odd timing (is the middle of the semester the best time to learn how to teach?) and the wonderful bout of food poisoning I was blessed with, it was a good time to enjoy free Wi-Fi and text to my hearts content and see all my glorious friends and drink too much a reasonable amount with dinner. There was also something in there about learning and seminars, but that was not nearly as fun.

After training, a bunch of us spent the weekend in Tbilisi, and then on Sunday went in search of our various adventures for…Spring Break! I went with Matthieu, Canada Matt, and Lincoln to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Y’all. I went on an 8 day adventure, with no set plans, and I had to actually use a backpack because of the walking and not staying in hotels and moving every two days. To put it mildly, I was out of my element. To be truthful, I (and many of my friends) were convinced I was going to kill my traveling companions and end up in Armenia prison. Much to everyones relief, that didn’t happen. It was surprisingly one of the best Spring Break trips I’ve ever taken!

We took marshrutkas/buses from Tbilisi to Yerevan, and then first thing the next morning from Yerevan to Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabakh. Firstly, let me explain why no one has heard of this country. Nagorno-Karabakh isn’t a real country. It is a self-declared republic that is, for all intents and purposes part of Azerbaijan. However, they don’t want to be part of Azerbaijan, because the population is ethnically Armenia, so they have declared themselves a republic and are technically at war with Azerbaijan. Upon entering the ‘country’ you get a visa, and that visa means you can’t ever actually enter Azerbaijan, since you technically entered illegally when you entered Nagorno-Karabakh. Was that confusing enough for you?

The views were gorgeous on the eight hour bus ride to Stepanakert, and that city is amazing. Clean and neat and Wi-Fi in the public parks and the best Italian food east of Italy. Really. Also, it’s insanely cheap. More than Tbilisi, I am smitten with Stepanakert. However, there is another city, Agdam, that is bombed out and technically illegal to go to. Of course, our first stop after registering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Agdam. We took a taxi tour through, and then stopped to explore some on foot. We ran into some soldiers, but they were nice and never told us to leave. Snapped some cool pictures of the bombed out city and the blue mosque, and then we were on our way! Initially, I was nervous because it was illegal and I wasn’t too keen on breaking rules. But after talking with the soldiers, I was feeling fine! …and then we were stopped in the next town by the State Police, taken to the station, and questioned for two hours about our intents and purposes in Agdam. And then I was not so keen on the going-to-the-illegal-city. Because I did not care for the “are you Muslim?” “are you Azeri?” “are you in the military?” “why were you there?” “did you take pictures?” line of questioning. Also, we had to delete our pictures, and lets be honest. Going to an illegal city in an unheard of republic is a thousand times cooler when you have the pictures to prove it.

We left the next day, spent some time in Yerevan (Mexican food!!!, Cascade Steps, Republic Square) and then headed back to Tbilisi! I still have the remnants of blisters on my feet *when walking most places for a week straight, pack good shoes!* but it was fun! And if you ever go to Agdam and make it out with your pictures, send me a few. I need to replace mine.

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)

Be ready for adventure.

I have yet to spend a weekend at home with my host family. Instead, I find myself jetting off to Tbilisi, or Bakuriani, or, most recently, Batumi. These trips are always fun and filled with surprises, and the Georgian twist is that things never go as planned. With the Bakuriani trip, we couldn’t find the train station so ended up crammed on a marshrutka. (I was sitting on a stool in the aisle of the bus. I mean crammed.) I thought I had learned to expect the unexpected–that was until we decided to visit Batumi.

Batumi is a port city on the coast of the Black Sea, about 20 minutes from the Turkish border. It’s gorgeous and I’ve fallen in love and I will be going back very soon. But hopefully my journey this time will be a bit smoother.

It started out innocently enough. Brittany, Hannah and I decided to meet in Tbilisi and grab the sleeper train to Batumi. It’s about a 7 hour ride, and we could arrive well-rested and ready to conquer the city! Then, we could grab the sleeper train back and still have Sunday to explore Tbilisi and be home early and ready for the week. Naturally, as Americans we decide to meet at Wendy’s. (American food and wifi? It has become our Mecca.) All is going well–Brittany and Hannah arrive with no problems, and one of my Georgian friends shows up as well. We have a good time talking and laughing and then he offers to drive us to the train station. Not ones to decline free transport, we graciously accept–although the fact that we almost had a head-on collision may have made us regret that just a small bit.

Now we’re at the train station and we’ve bought our tickets and we have two hours to kill. I cannot lie–we are feeling pretty accomplished. Oh, how the mighty do fall. Hot Ryan (a fellow TLG-er who is, you may have guessed, pretty attractive) texts to say he is at the train station, and we meet up to chat before the train leaves. It’s quickly decided that he should join us on our trip! Now we have an hour to grab some snacks and run to his hostel so he can grab his bag. Two metro stops isn’t that far, we reason. We have plenty of time.

…We do not have plenty of time. Somehow, the time moves at warp speed. Where it was 10:15 five minutes ago, now it’s 10:38 and the train leaves at 10:45. As we hustle back onto the metro, we joke about Georgian time versus real time and how the train won’t leave until 11:00, at the earliest. (hint: We are lying to ourselves.) As you might assume, we dash back up the escalators in time to SEE THE TRAIN LEAVE. We were exactly one minute late.

Ever persistent, we brainstormed alternatives. Taxi to the next station and grab the train there? No, we don’t know where that is and it’s a long shot anyway. Marshrutka to Batumi? No, the last one left hours ago. Train to Kutaisi and then taxi? Nope–that was the last train of the night. Finally we admit defeat and decide to grab a taxi. To Batumi. Six hours away. At midnight. Sanity had clearly left us. So after paying more than twice what our train tickets cost, we are jammed in a taxi ready for the night. We’ve got makeshift pillows and snacks and we are trying hard to make this an adventure! I think we all manage to grab a little sleep, but it was most definitely worth it the next day!

A lemon-filled croissant on the sea wall, lunch in Turkey, and the sunset over the Black Sea most certainly tops my list of best days while traveling. And that night, we slept soundly on the sleeper train back to Tbilisi. Lessons learned: Roll with the punches, don’t ever leave the station with only an hour before departure, and always be ready for an adventure.

 

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.