"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things
you didn't do than the things you did do; Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Take My Life Extremely Seriously

It’s December 16, 2010, and I have finished—not altogether honestly (yes, I have ditched a few days of school) and not always a walk in the park (you bet, like the rest of my TLG friends, I’m slightly [re: completely, utterly, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here] overwhelmed at times)—my first semester living in a far, foreign, and frankly third-world(ish) country. As I time travel back through the last four months, it feels almost like I’ve just gotten here and curiously like I’ve been living here for years. Among the crazier things that I’ve experienced in Georgia is the time I killed, de-feathered, and subsequently eaten a turkey, the time I sat down on my bus back to my village next to a man with a surprisingly tame Maltese falcon perched on his wrist, and the time I was followed in my friend’s village for at least 2 kilometers by a pig the size of a baby hippopotamus. I have been to an “authentic Mexican” restaurant that did not have sour cream or guacamole. I have one class with eight boys all named Giorgi; I respectively call them G1, G2, G3, G4, and so on—and sadly, even with my genius numbering system there’s still some confusion when it comes down to whose turn it is to speak when. And, if I would have consumed a little more liquor or perhaps if they would have asked just one more time, I could have been the wife to one of the four eligible Georgian bachelors who has asked for my hand in marriage—all who deserve serious bonus points for being so annoyingly persistent and having sleeves exploding with persuasive tricks of all sorts.

Still, amidst what has grown to be what I like to call the ‘necessary craziness’ that my life can probably no longer do without, I feel accomplished. I’m not saying that my initial expectations of signing on with this particular teach abroad program were fulfilled, because they weren’t. I’m also not saying that I feel as if I made a true difference on any one individual since I’ve been here, because I’m not sure I have. And I’m not equating myself with Mother Teresa (though I should—living on my $250/month salary and handing out these damn good English skills of mine and my $80,000 teaching certification and correlating Bachelor’s degree for basically FREE).

I recently co-created an invitation for a Christmas party in Tbilisi. The idea was that all of the TLG teachers would all be able to get together for one last friendly hoorah before heading home for the holidays. Now pause please, and let me backtrack. Sometimes when I’m out with large numbers of my TLG colleagues, I feel like I’m back in college as there always seems to be the token person puking in the bathroom (or sometimes not quite making it there) and the circle of people bitching (yikes, profanity!) about the program we work for or about each other. No need to raise high the roof beam, carpenters (yes, I just shamelessly threw my J.D. Salinger reference in there!) I’m not likening myself to any diva or deity. In fact, I once drank so much awful wine on the way to Borjomi/Vardzia that I didn’t even make it to see Georgia’s exquisite cave cities—though the pictures that I happened to unknowingly snap make it easy for me to lie and say I ‘remember’ the trip in its entirety ;-) Not all large TLG gatherings unfold as such. I was recently at a TLG vs. United States Marines American Football Match and had a wicked good time with friends (see left) cheering on the sidelines. Still, kindly, I asked in the Christmas party invite to limit vomiting, fighting, and any other forms of inappropriateness. Whoops. Shouldn’t have asked for so much. These three simple wishes were the first three (of many to come) nails in my Almighty coffin. Some TLG teachers, upset at my obviously ridiculous requests, deemed me thereafter as someone who “takes herself far too seriously and actually believes [she] is making a difference in this country.” Having fallen into the dreaded milieu of these types of people, I was naturally offended(ish)…at first. After my moment of “Mommy, someone called me a bad name!” I came to this conclusion:

I take my life very, very seriously. And so far, it’s going pretty well for me.

So, in all seriousness, I think I’m doing some pretty powerful things in Georgia. I’m nowhere near satisfied—and, given my tendency to be highly overachieving and overly self-critical, I probably never will be. I do know what can be done with just a mustard seed though:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

How much of a difference have I actually made? Well, while I can’t be sure of everything, here are the things I am certain of:

When I stepped into my first classroom, I was handed a textbook I had never before seen and told to “teach this today!”

I used to only get yes/no responses from my English teachers.
Me- “I love your bag. Where’d you get it?”
Teacher- “Yes”
Me- “No, where?”
Teacher- Smiling, “Yes. Yes.”

My students would be asked to rise at the start of class and to regurgitate a paragraph or two from a text that was more than likely grammatically incorrect in the first place. When I would ask students to summarize what they had just recited, I’d get blank stares in return. Still, the students who read the paragraphs for memory with no mistakes but had not an inkling of what the text was about would get the high marks, while the students who read with poor fluency and pronunciation fall-ups but could impressively paraphrase his/her understanding of the text would receive low marks.

After tests, grades were read out loud and in front of the whole class.

In all of my classes, the attentive students would sit in the front row while the rest of the class would be allowed to talk, text message, and interrupt accordingly without being reprimanded. For at least the first two weeks, my teachers would have a handful of students from every class stand up just so she can tell me, publicly, which students were the “lazy” students who “don’t know anything.” Students with the best English skills would be called on while the rest, deemed incapable, would get comfortable with never participating.

Here’s what my classes look like today:

I always know what I am teaching and what instructional method I’m going to use at least one day in advance, and so do my cooperative co-teachers. Planning is not given as much thought or time as it should, but I’m proud that our level of preparedness for class sessions is always higher than impromptu. After talk-time rituals with my teachers, English is at least mutually comprehensible. My students don’t get points for the ability to memorize a text. They get points for translating, paraphrasing, and connecting historic texts to something they see in contemporary culture—and they’re damn good at it! Grades are private, and my students seem to be motivated to self-improve. I have helped my teachers to realize that sometimes it’s the “lazy” students who “don’t know anything” that we should be paying the most attention to and that it’s our job, as teachers of English, to make sure that the rich don’t stay rich while the poor stay poor. The first row of students are no longer the best and brightest, and they’re no longer the only ones who participate. At the end of every school day, there is a drawer of cell phones in the teacher’s lounge belonging to students who dare to text message in my classroom during my lesson; and, for the past three weeks, the drawer has been empty.

So, exactly how much of a difference have I made in Georgia since August 30, 2010? THAT much…that freaking much.

And it’s not even enough. Sometimes I feel so inadequate and like so much of a failed teaching professional that I wake up in the morning and can’t think of anything I’d rather do less than go to school. And sometimes, when the bad gets the worst of me, I then become guilty of actually staying in bed and not going to school.

Four months and four marriage proposals later, my epic return to the Windy City has arrived. I have ruined every pair of shoes I brought with (I’m talking huge, gaping holes in the soles) and I officially hate all twelve shirts I’ve been rotating (and wearing sometimes 3-4 days in a row). I am also quite positive that any medical professional would agree with my self-diagnosis of anxiety-induced insomnia. Yeah, that’s right. I WebMD’ed it! I am smelling, breathing, and thinking so much ‘Chicago’ that I can no longer sleep at night. The things running through my mind are: a certain bald guy, 24 hot and steamy hours in my luxurious bathroom with my waterfall showerhead and Aveda shampoo, one venti, non-fat, 5-shot gingerbread latte from my favorite Starbucks barista, and my blue-eyed purring machine who doubles as my feline and my favorite book: GATSBY!

One semester down, one to go! Mogvianebit gnakhavt! (See you soon!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Getting Around in Georgia, and Why I Loathe Taxi Drivers...

Everyone is always asking me what I find interesting about Georgia; it’s on our monthly reports, our colleagues want to know, our families want to know, and even the occasional stranger will ask. There are many things I find interesting about Georgia, yet I usually don’t answer this question honestly because I have a sneaking suspicion that the people eliciting a response aren’t looking for a genuine answer, so I respond, “Qvelaperi. Dzalian momts’ons Sakartvelo” [Everything is interesting. I just love Georgia!] instead of truthfully listing the aspects I find especially peculiar about life in Georgia.

After quite an adventure with my friend Stephanie this past weekend, I’ve decided that traveling by taxi is a particular blog-worthy Georgian peculiarity. For tourists meandering the rather small city of Tbilisi, traveling by taxi is quite popular. It’s also assumed to be the ‘easy’ alternative for getting from point A to point B if you happen to be a tourist who does not speak Georgian—don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that taxi drivers speak English (because they most certainly don’t), but as a rule, one can usually travel anywhere in the city for no more than 5 lari (unless you are a tourist who has not gotten the memo to limit the amount of spoken English in the backseat, in which case the driver will most likely rip you off and charge you some ridiculous fare, well, because all English-speaking foreigners are rich—didn’t you know?!)

There are 5 popular ways to commute in the city:

1) Avtobusit [by bus]: Personally, I would consider this the ‘safest’ means of travel. You can pay 40 tetri (about 25 cents) to travel virtually anywhere in the city, and there are blue signs with a picture of a bus scattered along the main streets all over the city to indicate where to stand in order to catch one. Unless you are skilled in reading Georgian rather quickly, a newcomer might have to ask a local which bus to take in order to get to a specific street/location. Once you are familiar with which bus numbers go down which streets, it’s a simple means of travel. The schedule is also pretty reliable (except for #6, which is the bus I take to get to my friend Stephanie’s, and sometimes keeps me waiting anywhere between five minutes and one hour). It’s also important to know that the words ‘maximum capacity’ carry no weight in Georgia, and, depending on the time of day, traveling by bus might find you forced into the lap of some disgruntled stranger or pinned up against a pole while 15 hands compete for a place to hold in order to keep balance.

2) Marshrutkit [by marshrutka]: Definitely the fastest means of transport, and possibly the most dangerous as well, but nonetheless my favorite option. Marshrutkas are EVERYWHERE (except in Vake because it’s much too ‘posh’ for marshrutkas and except on Rustaveli Street, because apparently they were banned two years ago because the street was much too congested). I was informed that there are over 200 marshrutka routes in the city. There are no schedules for marshrutkas, and there is absolutely no way of knowing where they are headed unless you again, can read Georgian quickly, or have been told by some local Georgian which one to get on. There is a trick for beating the system, but it requires a day of doing nothing but standing on popular streets and writing down the numbers of marshrutkas that fly by (this is how I’ve figured it out, and I can proudly travel almost anywhere in the city by marshrutka these days). For those of you who I’ve lost completely, marshrutkas are small vans: usually rusty and rattling at every turn, equipped with about 15 seats (but usually packed with 25 people), and travel wicked fast. It’s an adventure you have to experience for yourself to believe!

3) Manqanit [by car]: Many Georgians have cars. After all, I’m sure that you can speed through any traffic signal, reverse for over 50 meters on a HIGHWAY if you realize you’re going in the wrong direction, and even hit a pedestrian, and STILL get your driver’s license here. I don’t travel often by car, unless someone from my village offers to give me a lift while I’m waiting for a bus, in which case I gladly brave the offer.

4) Metro [self explanatory…yes, the same as those in America]: Super easy! There are only two metro lines, so it won’t get you everywhere in the city, but it will get surely get you within walking distance from wherever you might need to go. None of the metro stops have maps of the routes written in English, but some of the nicer stations have the Georgian names written in roman letters, which makes it a lot easier for beginner travelers to get around. If you travel by metro, you’ll have the pleasure of taking quite possibly the longest and fastest moving escalators in the world. Special perk: On the way down, they also show music videos on flat screen TVs for the ride underground. On a lucky day, they play clips from Disney’s Oceans or Planet Earth ☺

5) And finally, taksit [by taxi/cab]: There are two types of cabs: cab companies, which will have a phone number written on the sides of the car, or what I like to call regular-drivers-who-will-stick-a-‘taxi’-sign-on-the-roof-and-call-themselves-taxi-drivers. We were advised during our initial orientation to take only taxis that are clearly employed by a company and to avoid these ‘self-employed’ taxis. Realistically though, there are much more of the latter and it’s sometimes just easier to flag down any taxi rather than calling and waiting for a ‘real’ taxi driver to find where you are in order to pick you up. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s immediate.

And here’s what I find peculiar: No matter what kind of taxi you take, there’s a 90% chance that the driver will have absolutely no clue in the world where you want to go. So how might you fix this problem? Provide an exact address? You’d think yes…but no. If you think a street name and number will help a taxi driver take you to the exact place you’d like to be, you’re wrong. The incident that prompted me to write about the trouble of traveling by taxi was this: My friend Stephanie and I decide to meet our friends out at a bar/pub on Saturday night. It’s late, the buses have stopped running, and it’s too cold (re: we’re too lazy) to walk to the metro. We call our favorite taxi company (it’s our favorite because they are the only taxi company in Georgia operating with a meter—which means we never get ripped off no matter how much English we’re uttering in the backseat). We do a simple Google search to figure out the exact address of the Irish pub we’re headed to and tell Stephanie’s host family the name and address. Immediately, they bombard us with panicked curiosity, “Why do you want to go here? We don’t know this street. It must not be popular.” Something to keep in mind: If the family has not heard of the street, the taxi driver has also not heard of the street. The cab gets to her apartment and her host mother comes downstairs with us to apparently tell the taxi driver how to get to where we want to go. Having to give directions to a taxi driver…strange. Isn’t his only job to be able to take us to where we need to go? There’s some obvious confusion, but we drive off anyway. We’re headed in the right direction, so things are looking good—but I have my friend Stephanie ready to dial our friends (who are already at the bar) at the good chance that we might soon get lost. And of course, we do. The first sign that your cab driver has absolutely no idea where he is going is when he reduces his speed back down to the speed limit. The second is usually when he gets on his walkie-talkie to tell his taxi driver friends that he doesn’t know where to go. And the third (this is my personal favorite) is when he drives down an alley, lets out an angry sigh, puts the car in park, and lights a cigarette. Um…hello…why is the car stopped, why are we not at our destination, and why is the meter still running during your smoke break? But this is our cue: This is when we call our friends, have them put someone on the phone who works at the bar, and shove our phone in our taxi driver’s ear so that he can get more specific directions (since an address counts for nothing) of where this ‘strange’ bar that we want to go to is located (which turns out not to be strange and sketch at all, but quite the opposite and crowded with many paying patrons—I wonder how long it took everyone else to get there…) The whole time, I can’t help but to think: This is your JOB, man! You can travel from one end of the city to the other in 15 minutes! It can’t be that hard to learn all of the street names, since I’m sure you’ve been living here for oh…your entire life! If only I had a lari for every time I’ve had to put my phone up to my driver’s ear. So what do I find interesting about Georgia? Traveling by taxi. It’s definitely…interesting.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Death to Web 2.0, Interactive Whiteboards, and the Newly Required Technology Course for Pre-Service Undergraduate Teachers

Well, I gave in to “Carla, qkhava ginda?!” too late in the evening again—so here I am lying in my bed and staring at the clock on my mobile phone as today turns to tomorrow; in other words, I’m suffering from major insomnia and caffeine overload in Georgia. As I toss and turn in my sheets I’m thinking about a lot of things, but I’m mostly thinking about school and the rockstar lesson I’ve created for my 4th graders tomorrow using only five 8x10 sheets of blank white paper and a black magic marker. I’m starting to think that I think too much about planning lessons for school, and then I also think what a shame it was that I didn’t even think as much about planning for student teaching as I think about planning now—because it’s harder now. It was easy to throw together whole unit plans when I had everything and anything I wanted at my fingertips—and they were damn good unit plans, too! What makes a good lesson plan, anyway? And is planning necessary? I spent most of my undergrad listening to my professors emphasize the importance of preparation, so David Victor would certainly be disappointed if I couldn’t argue in favor of the tedious endeavor. So what are the necessary components?

Well, roughly, my lessons plans would go as follows:
1. Alignment with 1-3 Standards set by the State
2. Lesson Objectives
3. Concepts to be Learned
4. Springboard Motivator
5. Instructional Method/Procedure
6. Technologies Used
7. Evaluation and Follow-Up
8. Reflection

It’s really a great template, and I’ll still argue in favor of it…sans #6. I can (now regrettably) say that I completed student teaching having implemented some sort of technology every single day. In fact, not only did I become such a master at incorporating technology into my daily lessons, but I became so infatuated with using technology in the classroom that the idea became a vital argument in my philosophy of education and subsequent interview tangents. And here is where I will, for the first time in my life, hold Elmhurst College (and all current educational reforms which link the use of technology to good teaching) negatively accountable for struggling so much to teach English as a Foreign/Second Language in a developing country: Thanks for brainwashing me into a completely technologically dependent iTeacher (…and please note that I mean that in the most loving way possible, as I’m extremely grateful to my university and professors for molding me into quite a capable, knowledgeable, and gifted teaching professional).

I mean, what makes someone a good teacher? What do school superintendents and principals and department chairs and classroom teachers want to hear in an interview? That you’re good with technology? That you know how to create Podcasts? That your grammar lessons, which utilize the school’s interactive whiteboard, encourage student involvement and participation? Because I too think these abilities are important, but no longer find them essential. Has teaching become so much of a science that becoming technologically savvy trumps the learned ability to captivate an audience of learners using creative rhetoric? I fear that American education has become so information-overloaded and obsessed with technology that a serious system reboot is in order. Between politics and socioeconomics and geography and language and resources (or lack thereof) and a plethora of other possibly endless factors, it’s obvious that education is not universal. But the art of teaching should be, and ‘art’ is exactly what it is. Let me tell you something: teaching is not a science. One cannot read a manual on “How to Become a Good Teacher” and subsequently follow said steps to then become a good teacher. Likewise, being an expert at utilizing technology in the classroom does not equal proficient teaching. I’m not saying that technology doesn’t enhance learning, because it does—and that’s what it should be used for. But let’s face it, that’s not what pre-service teacher programs are preaching these days. What these programs are breeding are techno-experts, not expert teachers with the ability to enhance learning with technology. Because what happens when there is no technology? I mean sure, pre-service teachers are required to spend sufficient time observing and teaching in “diverse” settings, but even in the most “diverse” and “poverty-stricken” schools I spent time at in America, my biggest complaint was that the facilities maybe only had one interactive whiteboard in the whole school or that the textbooks were outdated.

Interactive whiteboards? Please. How about teaching in schools where children stash pieces of chalk the size of a thumb nail in their pockets like treasure because it’s so hard to come by? How about teaching in classrooms where the most technology to be found is sometimes the light bulb that dangles from a thin cord from the ceiling and only turns on every third day? I’m serious. I teach in this school. It’s November and I can see my own breath in each of my classrooms because it’s iceberg cold and I too stash miniscule pieces of chalk in my pockets.

I realize now that my audience has become multicultural and that I now have friends, family, Americans, and Georgians following my blog. I’ll preface here for my Georgian audience that I’m not being at all slanderous of Georgian education by pointing out the obviously ill equipped classrooms and complete lack of resources. Quite the opposite, actually. Teaching in Georgia has forced me to challenge my own beliefs regarding sound pedagogy versus the technological imperative. For example, two teachers are dropped into a mysterious classroom in some unknown place in the world and one classroom is fully equipped with all the innovative technologies and the other contains nothing but 30 desks arranged in rows and a shitty blackboard at the front of the room. The students fill up the room and the teacher is told to “teach” using only what has been provided. Who might you suspect will create the better lesson? Which set of students will be most engaged? While the answer might seem obvious, I’m going to boldly claim that after teaching for awhile in Georgia, I would claim the latter—and rightly so. If you are panicking and wondering how in the world it would be possible to create an impromptu lesson out of absolutely nothing, you’re not alone. I was quite embarrassed when I came to Georgia having recently been certified in teacher education and literally not knowing how to teach without any technology or available supplementary aides—well, because I was taught that good lessons should include ample technologies, supplementary material, visual aides, et cetera. I had to pause for a moment (and by ‘for a moment,’ I mean for a good week) to think about exactly what constitutes as good teaching and what exactly it is going to take to make this year a success for myself and the students before me each day. I panicked at first and even felt a bit helpless not being able to use technology as my crutch. Then I stopped complaining, if you can believe it, and started to become mindfully creative in my planning. What’s a better investment, anyway? Teacher A who has become a professional consumer of all things technology? Or Teacher B, who can be dropped into any school in any country with any group of pupils and be able to create magic from nothing but 30 desks arranged in rows and a shitty blackboard at the front of the room? You decide.

The idea of technological reliance as quite possibly the greatest detriment in 21st century education is a topic that deserves much more dialogue, and you can begin the conversation by reading this recent article at Slate.com:

Here’s to being mindfully creative,

Girl-Trying-to-Make-a-Real-Difference-Teaching-in-a-Developing-Nation ;)

P.S. If you’re looking for ways to purposefully engage and motivate students without simply filling up class time, I plan to jot down creative ways to do this without the use of technology and without having to dish out mass amounts of money to purchase additional supplies for each lesson. Check back for tips, tricks, and techniques for becoming cleverly resourceful in a realm with no resources!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mivdivar Okrokanashi, HO?

Autumn has covered the mountains of Georgia! I’ve officially moved in with my new host family in Okrokana, Georgia, which is technically not Tbilisi but nonetheless a 5-15 minute ride down to the centre of the city (depending on which mode of transport I choose and how in/capable the driver is). Making the twisty, turny, and somewhat dangerous trek up the mountain to my new home makes me nervous for only a moment until I glance over the cliff at the wondrous view of all of Tbilisi below me. To my right and left, the foliage has begun to change colors and drop to the ground beneath, which sweetly reminds me of fall in Chicago.

My new home is near perfect. I’m greeted at the gates to my driveway by two large Dobermans and enter to a beautifully landscaped side yard equipped with outdoor dining furniture and an in-ground pool. I live with my artsy and cultured host mother, her parents, and her two children. My host brother is 25 and studied in New York City; he’s good to have around because not only is he extremely protective (not in an overbearing way), but he seems to know every person in the city. My host sister is 19 and is someone I know I’ll quickly develop a close relationship with; she’s studying drama at the university and I’m not merely boosting her confidence when I say that she is the most amazing aspiring singer and dancer I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Every evening, my host mother plays the piano and the two of them lull me into true relaxation as they play and sing the most beautiful duets. They gave me permission to videotape, so you can look forward to getting a taste of what I am fortunate to hear on a daily basis. Everyone in the family (even my Soviet-raised host grandparents) speaks English—and when communication fails, they’re helping me with my Georgian, which is thankfully sure to improve even in such an ambitiously studious and multi-lingual family.

My new school is right up the road and is populated by 200 smiling faces. I’m working with two young English teachers and am still working out my schedule. After school, I usually hop on the bus down Rustaveli and find myself in a quaint little coffee shop. It’s funny because I almost always am running into another TLG teacher; we’ve invaded all of the English-speaking coffee shops ;) My favorite is Prospero’s, which is a bookstore/coffee shop combo and serves spectacular cappuccinos and omelette sandwiches. My mouth is watering as I type!

Before I moved to Okrokana, I had just gotten used to taking marshrutkas to get around the city. Since marshrutkas don’t go up to where I’m living now, I’ll take the bus into the centre and then hop on a marshrutka or take the metro if I need to go anywhere that’s not walking distance. There’s only one bus that goes up to my village, so I thought I was wholly capable of traveling solo…note the key italicized word.

I went on a photo hunt with my friend Raughley after dark the other night. It’s a goal of mine to visit all of the beautiful sites and cathedrals of Tbilisi at multiple hours of the day in order to capture the best photos. We walked up to Parliament and up further to Sameba (“Holy Trinity” in English) before looping back down for gelato and a small walk through Old Tbilisi. We made it to Freedom Square where my bus had been dropping me off. #90 pulls up and I step on the bus to consult the driver, “Mivdivar Okrokanashi, ho?” and he responded by motioning me on the bus with his right hand and quickly started to move again. I gave Raughley a hurried goodbye and took my seat.

I have now been in Tbilisi long enough to know that the bus is surely heading in the opposite direction of my mountainside residence, so I take out my phone to text Nino (as I often do when I find myself in trouble…poor Nino!)

“Umm, do buses usually make a loop or do they only travel from point A to point B?” –Me

I didn’t get a response from her right away and, since I am not at all fearful of getting lost, decided to sit tight and enjoy the ride. I mean, since #90 is definitely my bus, I might as well see what the entire route is, right? ;) Sure enough, the bus stops at some sketch bus stop on the other end of the city and the bus driver tells me to get off. It’s not pretty late at night, so I call Nino again.

“So…I’m lost!” –Me

“Carla, I’ll kill you! Put someone on the phone, and not a man!” –Nino

Nino does her Georgian thing, I’m handed back the phone, and she tells me what to do. 30 minutes later, I’m on a bus (#90 again, but this time heading in the right direction!) I’m sitting on the bus now wondering about my previous rendezvous and whether I had perhaps spoken incorrectly (as I sometimes do) when I asked the bus driver if he was headed toward Okrokana—but NO! Me vitsi qartuli…I know Georgian! And I damn well spoke correctly. Newsflash, Mr. Bus Driver: Motioning someone onto a bus with your hand—even if they are a foreigner—means “YES, GET ON!” in any language!

I’ll wrap it up for now. I’m heading on a TLG-sponsored free excursion to Kakheti this Saturday to make wine and churchkhela. It’s also fashion week in Tbilisi, and since my host mother knows the designer of shoes for the events, she’s taking me to the premier event on Sunday evening…very posh. ;)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On!

Yep, that’s right! I’m bringing back the infamous slogan from Teaching in London 2K10. A lot has happened since I’ve blogged last—and you’ll probably be itching to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth after I admit that most of the juicy details of the past week or so won’t ever go public. What do you think I’m running here? A tabloid? ;)

Anyway, I’ve once again packed up my life (all three bags and 150 pounds of it) and made the eastward journey from Zugdidi to Tbilisi, where I’ll be living and teaching permanently until the 30th of June. If I could bottle up my positive energy and see it on eBay, I’d be a rich woman!

Tbilisi is the “Chicago” of Georgia—so you can imagine why there’s a newfound freshness and comfort in my web voice. Top three reasons to be excited about living in Tbilsi: 1) Yoga classes, 2) European coffee, and 3) pasteurized skim milk.

I am writing from temporary new home in Sanzona, which is merely the name of one of the districts in Tbilisi. I haven’t been here long enough to figure out how many districts there are in this city, but I’ll dedicate an afternoon to getting on and off buses and marshrutkas to figure that out whilst I await my new school placement. I’m living with my dear friend Tatia for now—and her home is so antique and extraordinary that it deserves its own model in the Thorne Miniature Room at the Art Institute of Chicago. The whole place is also coloured with the laughter, singing, and consistent chatter of the most beautiful two year old in all of Georgia!

Check back for more updates on the move to my new (permanent) host family and school placement!

“I will walk by faith even when I cannot see, because this broken road prepares Your will for me. Help me to rid my endless fears; You’ve been so faithful for all of my years. With one breath You let me live; Your grace covers all I do. So I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Well I’m broken, but I still see Your face. Well You’ve spoken, pouring Your words of grace” –Jeremy Camp

Monday, October 4, 2010

Of Men and Mice

Among the more comical things in Georgia are the frequent spelling issues (these are more than errors—they are serious, I-can’t-even-believe-my-eyes, ISSUES!)

My friend Ilana was recently given a book of short novels as a gift from her host family. The first: John Steinbeck’s famous Of Men and Mice…not to be confused with Of Mice and Men. I mean, I give the Georgians logical credit for this one, though, for putting men hierarchically above mice. Nice work!

I also rest assured that if teaching doesn’t work out, I can always count on being employed for life editing English restaurant menus—saving people one menu at a time from ordering and eating/drinking things like: Italian pozta and juce cold.

And, if you ever have a hard time deciphering any of these words, just look them up in the dictTONary...not to be mistaken for dictionary—which you can pick up at the local English bookstore. ;)

And that's all for today, kids!
Grammar Girl

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Daydream Worth Sharing

I am a product of an ambitious generation. I grew up in a community where I am known and accepted as a self-motivated, highly persistent, courageously independent, over-achieving woman of what few envious ones might call the perfect combination of dangerously energetic and appropriately collegial. And yes, I am unashamedly aware how smug and righteous my self-definition appears to an audience of strangers! I’m unapologetic, however, simply because creating a persona of this kind is specifically what motivates my actions and ensures my success in any endeavor. Or, to be more specific, and to strategically comment on how nonchalantly and unexpectedly the present perfect tense segues to past simple, it is what motivat-ed my actions and ensur-ed my success in any endeavor. I believe this self-characterization to be absolutely necessary in the initial pages of my travelogue in order to give a full portrait and latter comparison of the girl who excitedly and spontaneously packed up her home in Chicago for an adventure abroad, to the woman who is now residing in an addictively chaotic city situated in the northwest mountains of Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the southern state!)

I would consider myself an avid viewer of the Discovery Channel, and with the admittance of my guilty pleasure, I can confidently say that I’m aware of exactly what it takes to “make it out alive” in a very wild world. I will liken some initial survival tactics to the relationship between an adult lion and her cub using one word, and a word I am not particularly fond of: reliance. Helpless and ill-equipped with the necessary defense mechanisms, the baby cub is picked up by the mother’s razor sharp teeth and thrown into an empty and unknown field left to blindly make the transition from innocence to experience with the knowledge of nothing but the cub’s existence as…a cub. I, too, was taken from my maternal TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) staff members and placed in the center of an unknown and surprisingly frightening environment. The split frame of my personal documentary is still so vivid that even this daydream makes me uneasy. One minute I’m in a dorm-like hostel with English-speaking strangers bonding over complaints of Turkish toilets and over-salted meats, and in the next moment I seem to have disappeared and teleported, if you will, to a broken cobblestone street corner where a man is publicly purchasing inappropriate magazines of scantily clad American women from a street vendor and a five-year old girl brushes up against me and continues boldly ahead carrying a silver sequin hand purse and a pack of Marlboro Lights. And in this moment I am frozen and wear a crown of observant eyes so as to catch what strange visions continue before, behind, and beside me.

“Come on, Carla. Move!” A friend’s hand pats my shoulder and I am briefly startled as I wake to the reality of my surroundings. I’m dressed to impress in my black Cassidy Fit trousers from The Limited, a burgundy scoop neck blouse, and black suede loafers with stitched gold daisies at the toe. Naturally, I’m sweating profusely. I’m convinced that the sun on this particular afternoon, specifically to smite me, is hotter than it’s been in years—and my nerves are pulsating at speeds that even my mastered deep-breathing techniques cannot tame. It’s a Friday afternoon around 2:00 and we have found out less than 24 hours ago that we will be placed in the Samegrelo Region of Georgia in the city of Zugdidi. I am with eight other newly acquired friends who are also employed by TLG. We have just made the trek from our training site (better known as “summer camp”) in Kutaisi and are being filed into our Resource Center in Zugdidi for a meet and greet with our soon-to-be host families. At this point, we have no idea who our families are. So we are paraded inside and up the stairs as strange, smiling faces gape at us as if we were the walking, breathing equivalents of Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians. We enter at last a large room with couches (and more foreigners) and are asked to “relax” for a moment before our names and corresponding family names are read aloud—as if the suspense of meeting our new pseudo-relatives allowed for any relaxation! A few moments pass and we are called out, one-by-one, and asked to stand up in order for our new host families to identify us and approach for an awkward initial welcome. So I’m with my host family now and we exit the building, strategically arrange my suitcases into the back of their Mitsubishi SUV, and pull away for a day of visiting my school, the houses of various family members, and the Black Sea. And in this moment I am once again a cub—sitting helpless in a strange field of foreign faces—needing to begrudgingly rely on the immeasurable and intangible concept of time to get me out of the dark and into the sun.

Some consider reliance synonymous with dependence, but I prefer to scratch it out and replace it with “weakness”—because whom in a product of this seemingly indefinable and complex generation of adventure-seeking and highly determined folk actually enjoy being reliant or dependent on someone or something else to survive anyway? In fact, we are so independent and abhor the notion of giving credit or showing gratitude to anyone who may have helped in the process of getting ahead so much so that it took Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance to legitimatize the concept of having the capacity to manage one's own affairs, make one's own judgments, and provide for oneself. And with that my daydream concludes, and I will now make it my personal mission to be just that: self-reliant in Georgia, and in charge of my own emotions. I am dedicating the remainder of this week and weekend to learning at least five new things, meeting five new local people, eating five new foods (if my stomach will allow) and assuring myself that there are so very much more than five reasons to be happy and live happy in the grandeur of the Caucusus.