"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

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.

Boredom? What's that?

I might be in a foreign country feeling quite alone at times, but not once since my arrival in Georgia have I been bored (except for that once when I confused being tired from being constantly busy with boredom—but that doesn’t count!)

There is always, always, always something to do in Georgia. Most of the time I’m with my family, but I also get many other invitations (i.e. hiking 8 kilometers with students on the weekends, which apparently, though unacceptable to hangout with students on weekends in America, is totally acceptable in Georgia—and even rude if you decline!) So that’s how I spent my Sunday morning: hungover and up at an unimaginable early hour to hike to a fort near the Georgian/Abkhazian border with 20 small and overly hyper children.

Side note: When you are told you are going for a hike, what do you wear? I showed up in sport short, and old T, and my best tennis shoes, but my students showed up in flats, jeans, jewelry, and the whole spectrum of glamour. Needless to say, 20 small and overly hyper children turned into 20 small and overly hyper children with non-stop complaints of aching feet and I-can’t-go-any-further sobs. I lost track of time, but over an hour later we made it to our destination. My derelict students somehow recharged and sprinted to the top of the fort where they proceeded to scare the (insert appropriate profanity here) out of me slipping on rocks, swinging on probably rotting branches, and scaling 30-foot high cliffs. And there I was, looking at them from below, having a private fight with myself for not having looked up “BE CAREFUL” and “COME DOWN FROM THERE IMMEDIATELY” in Georgian prior to our little weekend field trip. One of my students came down with a bleeding burn down his back and the other with a cut to the back of his knee that I surely would have going to the ER to repair, but only in Georgia could we just slop some vodka (courtesy of the children) to the open wounds and continue on with the afternoon.

I made it back, took a nap, and got ready for my host cousin’s birthday party to be held at a local restaurant I’ve been to several times. Only a video posted to Facebook can capture what kind of experience this was, so be sure to check it out once I’ve posted it.

I missed school today because I have the wretched Georgian stomach plague yet again (curse you!) and my host mother has made me lobiani (a BEAN DISH) for dinner; I’m still unsure of how this will cure my stomach issues, but I’ll go with it—since I’ve overused davnakhdi (I’m full) and ar minda modloba (I don’t want anymore, thank you!) too much this week.

I have a 3-day school week now, since I’ll be making the trek to Tbilisi on Thursday after school as long as my stomach troubles (fingers crossed) leave my body before then. My apologies for not having posted as often as you would probably enjoy. I’m still trying to pick and choose from my personal journal which aspects of “life at school” I’d like to share with you all. ;)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Matter Where You Are in the World, Laughter Always Sounds the Same

It’s funny how life unravels and uncoils to show the most sacred and beautiful aspects of one’s being even in seemingly dark and hopeless moments. I’ve been in Georgia for about two weeks now and already I’ve learned more about myself and about life than I ever thought possible. I’m sitting here alone (ahh, bliss!) in my dimly lit bedroom looking out the balcony at my laundry blowing in the wind and the mountains spying on me from just a few kilometers away. The rooster that wakes me up at 5:00AM sharp has meandered his way to the middle of the street four floors below, my siblings are loudly finishing their homework in the room adjacent to mine, and I’ve been smelling broiling meat from the kitchen that has been pointing every other thought of mine to vegetarianism.

Amidst my many pleas to the Lord and my frequent tears shed to close friends, I’m feeling a lot of heavy anxiety, frustration, stress, and worry. And let me tell you—it’s quite possible to feel all of these unpleasant emotions at the very same time. The heavy rain and unwanted thunderstorms have been complimenting my mood for the past three days.

Now pause. Add bright lights. Add cheerful music. Add my smiley little pupils. Add laughter. And then add comfort—that no matter where you are in the world, and no matter what languages are spoken and not understood, laughter always sounds the same and can always be shared.

I started teaching today at 6th school in Zugdidi, which is roughly 4 kilometers from my house (I’m getting better at this whole kilometers thing), and I have a whole lot to look forward to. I’m teaching with three English teachers and my schedule is hard to explain because it’s never been the same. Go figure ;) My students love to hear my voice and so I’ve been spending the first couple of lessons on pronunciation and reading. I’m teaching all levels, so my lessons are quite different for each form. Two of my teachers give me full reign, and the third will be more difficult. All I have to say is…wait for it...THANK GOD FOR ENGLISH 416 and for all of the phonemic transcription I learned at Elmhurst College, because I have to transcribe virtually every word I speak on the blackboard. The ‘th’ sound and differentiating between ‘f’ and ‘v’ will surely be the most difficult molehill to conquer, but hopefully my model of the human mouth and pointing at where the tongue should hit the lips/teeth will help. My students think I’m so silly, but we have a riot laughing with each other even when I’m probably making no sense. Who knew I’d ever be teaching this stuff? Cheers for a new challenge! More on the progression of my lessons will be posted in the later weeks.

This past weekend I was able to travel to Batumi with friends Yevgeniy, Ilana, and Adam. Our new friend Katuna got us in touch with a friend of a friend of a friend who helped us rent in flat for the weekend—which totally makes us true Georgians since we went through the ‘challenges’ (as Nino would say) of renting instead of taking the smoother and perhaps smarter option of renting a hotel like tourists would. The process of renting a flat was…interesting. I’ll leave it at that. Our water stopped working five minutes after we arrived and we had some extreme bad luck, but the weekend was nonetheless fabulous—and it was great to meet up with some of the other TLG volunteers and to compare experiences. I returned to Zugdidi Sunday evening to discover that a supra was in order at my grandmother’s home to celebrate the birthday of my host father and the 15th wedding anniversary of him and my host mother. The night ended with the family standing on chairs and downing shots of various hard liquors to some of the most poetic toasts imaginable. Kudos to all Georgians for always having the most perfect and thoughtful words to share at the dinner table (though they’re always being translated from Georgian to Russian to English and more than likely lose some of the artistry and eloquence in the process). Yev and I then got…kidnapped…and taken to a teenage summer camp for an experience which I can only sum up in four words: Georgian Backstreet Boys Concert! I returned to my flat dzalien daghlili (extremely, extremely, extremely tired) and thankful that hangovers at school are perfectly acceptable.

More to look forward to: I am traveling to Tbilisi in two weeks and can absolutely not wait to visit Stephanie, Terri, Nino, Tatia, and Shorena! I think we’ll stick with a hotel this time though ;-)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Supra’ed by 14-Year-Olds

What I am about to say might not be appropriate, but it was such an absurd vision that I can’t resist blogging about my rendezvous. But first I’ll backtrack to last evening. Yesterday I was bedridden with a 102° fever. I was taking all sorts of medication all day, but couldn’t shake the fever. I ended up going to the hospital (which seems like a huge deal and made me bawl my eyes out since I would normally never go to the hospital for a fever—but my host family felt it necessary) to get an IV to bring my body temperature back down. And let me tell you that Georgian hospitals are…and experience. I’ll leave it at that. I’m home now, on 5 different prescription medications, and on a strictly boiled potatoes and hot tea diet. I’m feeling almost 100% better today, so I’ll be starting at school tomorrow morning to meet my students and the three “English” teachers I’ll be working with. I use quotations because it turns out that the English teachers don’t speak much English. I’ll dedicate an entire blog posting to my experiences in the classroom once I’ve spent some more time in the school.

Today I layed around the house for awhile, ate potatoes and more potatoes, and then went with my host sister to a restaurant where she was meeting her friends from school. I got there and immediately realized I would need a companion, so I called Yev. To give you a sense of the scene, I can say that the restaurant was three floors and used to be a nightclub but it now apparently the local hangout for middle school students. I felt like a chaperone at a teenage dance. When Yevgeniy arrived, we were asked by a fellow 14-year-old boy to join him and his friends for a supra. Supras, if I haven’t mentioned, are huge feasts/parties, and we basically attend a supra per night; Georgians like to party! So we get to the table with our middle school friends where the proceeded to order 5 bottles of vodka, tons of beer, and various sodas. These children were downing shots and smoking like crazy and ordering mass amounts of food. I wish I had brought my video camera to share the madness with ya’ll. I couldn’t stop laughing at how surreal the whole thing was. I guess that’s what happens in a country with no drinking age. Yevgeniy grew up in Russia and noted that even though there is also no drinking age over there, it’s strange to see kids ordering alcohol in abundance in a public restaurant. Leave it to the Georgians ;) Yev and I left the supra to go grab some coffee at a cafĂ© down the street and I saw a young girl, about 5-6, walking alone and carrying a pack of cigs. The sights never seize to amaze me.

That’s all for today. Something to look forward to: Some friends and I are going to take a marshutka to Batumi this weekend, get a hotel, and enjoy some quality American time together. It’ll be my first trip away from my host family. I wonder how many calls I’ll get per day from them checking up on my whereabouts and wellbeing ;)

Mshvidoba! (Peace!)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Qkvelaperi Kargad Iqneba

Meaning: Everything will be okay. I’ll do my best to try to explain. I am no doubt having an amazingly fabulous life-changing experience here. I am, however, in the second stage of culture shock. We were prepped on culture shock in our initial training in Kutaisi, but I didn’t realize until my second night in Zugdidi how very real this notion is.

Stage 1) Initial Euphoria (Honeymoon Period) - Anything new is intriguing and exciting! For all of us, this was the energy and excitement for our new journey prior to leaving the country. When we got to training in Kutaisi and complained about having to use squatters to go to the bathroom and losing water and power on a daily basis, Nino warned us that while we thought this was culture shock—we had NO idea what was to come on the day we had to leave Kutaisi for our host families. You see, most of the volunteer teachers are similar. We’re extroverted and adventure-seeking. How do I know? Because we all left behind our friends, family, and life behind to experience something new and foreign. While not many of us came knowing others, I can assume that (much like myself) we are all easy to make friends. Well, because it’s easy to make friends from strangers when the strangers you meet speak the same language.

Stage 2) Irritation and Hostility (Culture Shock) – A participant feels homesick and has a negative attitude towards the host culture. And here I am in Georgia, waking up every day to a family talking in the living room in a tongue I cannot understand and sitting at a dinner table wishing desperately to add to conversation I cannot easily join. I’m in my dark place. I do not want to come home, and while I sink into my bed at night—my head heavy and my eyes red and swelled with tears—I am still assured that this too shall pass. And so I apologize for taking a break for a few days from blogging. As I was walking through the botanical garden the other night wearing fear like a scarlett letter, I was thinking what a shame it would be that I would have to lie to all of my readers about how perfect everything is when in reality I feel so far from myself. And so I thought back to my purpose for creating a blog in the first place, which is to share this year—my real and sometimes scary journey—with the people who mean so very much to me. So that’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I’m in my dark place: lonely, terrified, and frustrated that I can’t communicate to the people around me who I am and what I’m about. It’s nothing to worry about and I surely don’t want anyone reading to be concerned. Culture shock is very real and expected when someone/anyone chooses to live abroad instead of merely visiting. I can say that I’m looking forward to the time when Stage 3 has kicked in, though.

Stage 3) Gradual Adjustment – A participant starts to adjust and the local culture seems more familiar.
Stage 4) Adaptation and Biculturalism - A participant is completely adjusted to the host culture and may even experience Reverse Culture Shock upon his/her return to their home country.

What are the signs of Culture Shock? A participant is experiencing anxiety, lack of self-confidence, panic attacks, loss of initiative and spontaneity, excessive anger over minor things, strong desire to associate with people of the participant’s nationality, isolation. Yep. Check, check, check, check. I’m self-diagnosed :)

And so I’ll leave you with what’s been getting me through these few days (other than Yevgeniy):

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand” –Isaiah 41:10

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” –Joshua 1:9

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” –Psalm 90:17

So with that, I remember my mission and purpose for packing up my life to live on the other side of the world for a year: I’m here to do good work and to make a difference teaching in a school where I am desperately needed. I’m here to teach, learn, and grow as a professional and as a woman. Bring it on, dark place!

Qvelaperi kargad iqneba!

Zugdidi, Georgia! Cows, Chickens, and Pigs, Oh My!

It’s official. I’m here at what will become my new home for the next year. I’m staying in the Samegrelo region in Zugdidi, Georgia—which is in the far northwest of the country near the Abkhazian border and about 15 minutes from the Black Sea. They use kilometers here to measure distance, so since I don’t know what they’re talking about, I stick to measuring distance in minutes ;) I haven’t been able to blog in awhile, so pardon me if this post of a quick montage of eight or so days. I’ll start with my family and new home and backtrack from there.

I have a mama (father), deda (mother), da (sister) and dzma (brother). My “siblings” are 14 and 9 and they absolutely adore me…I think. My sister Mari is 14 and speaks very broken English but has come to be my savior for translating for the rest of the family. The others know zero English, so we communicate by playing a whole lot of charades and via hand gestures. We live in a tall flat on a street with no name. None of the streets around here have any names—which explains why the postal service doesn’t really work. It’s genius how everyone still seems to know how to navigate around the city and through the nearby villages. Speaking of villages: we have another home in a village close to our flat with my bebia (grandmother) lives. She lives with two of my aunts and lots of my cousins. I have a huge family! It seems like every day we’re going to another house to visit more family members. There are also lots of cows, chickens, and pigs. Cows are basically like squirrels here. They’re in the grass, on the pavement, at the park, on the side and in the middle of every road, and so on. But back to my family! My grandmother grows just about EVERYTHING you can think of in her backyard including grapes, walnuts, other various nuts, kiwis, plums, peppers, oranges, lemons, eggplant, apples, etc. etc. etc. This grandmother is my host father’s mother. My host mother’s mom and dad—my other grandparents—live in another house and grow most of the same things. My host grandpa doesn’t speak any English but is always smiling at me and saying “I love you” repeatedly; it melts my heart.

A word on hospitality: I am so very loved here in Georgia. Because I am a guest, the entire family does everything to make me happy and comfortable at all times. For example, if you move in with a Georgian family you will be staying in the largest bedroom (there might be four other people sleeping in another room or more sleeping on couches, but the guest gets the best of the best—which really makes me feel guilty!) I’m jumping around with my pronouns here, but I’m just trying to convey that while my family is overly hospitable, it’s a part of Georgian culture for every family to act likewise with any guest. I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS am eating or drinking something. We hear TCHAME TCHAME TCHAME TCHAME all day long, which translates (ever persuasively) to EAT EAT EAT EAT MORE! It takes roughly 10 NO responses to convey that my stomach is full. No that we’ve been here a couple of days, I only have to say that I’m full about 6-7 times. In Georgia, MAYBE means YES and NO means I-CAN-CONVINCE-YOU. It’s quite comical.

A word on marriage: The first thing I’m asked by every new person I meet is, “Are you married?” and the second is usually, “Do you want to marry a Georgian?” It’s also an extremely patriarchal society and the gender roles are ever pressing. Georgian women are expected to be virgins when they marry, and Georgian men are expected to have gained experience from many partners when they marry. How this works out—I will never understand! Georgian women start dating around 14-18 (usually someone picked out by the family), date for roughly 2 months, get married, and have children immediately after. I’ve been proposed to by strangers on two occasions in the park, but my patroni takes good care of me. Every family has a partoni, which is a male in the family who looks after unmarried women. Between my father, my millions of uncles, and my 9 year old brother who holds my hand everywhere we go—I think my patroni is covered.

A word on safety: I can say honestly that I have never felt safer in the entirety of my life. Georgian cities are small and word travels quickly, so everyone knows that Americans are here to teach and do good things and therefore even strangers are looking out for our safety and wellbeing. Because I’ve only been here for a few days, I also am not allowed to do a single thing on my own. If my family could be in the bathroom while I’m going—they would! I always have a chaperone and always have to hold hands with either my mom, sister, or brother while crossing the street. Today was my first day in the city on my own—and by on my own, I mean that I was able to hangout with my American friends without the company of someone in my host family. And let me tell you, it was no easy endeavor! My sister called me every hour to see where I was and what I was doing. Because I still have a lot of Georgian to learn, it’s impossible to communicate that I am twenty-two years, extremely independent, and quite capable of being on my own. And I’m still convinced that I was able to enjoy the company of my English-speaking friends today only because Yevgeniy was in the group.

Yevgeniy is my Russian friend from Boston who is also working for TLG. We live five minutes from each other, so I’ve been blessed to have him around every day. In Zugdidi, people speak Russian, Georgian, and Magrulian. Yevgeniy’s Russian does me well because he’s constantly translating and helping me to communicate with my family. Seriously, I don’t think I would have made it this long if it weren’t for Yevgeniy—which means so very much, since you all know that I’m the very last girl to ever admit any weakness. Whenever I am all teary eyed, weepy, and frustrated, it’s Yevgeniy to the rescue!

Never Do Today What You Can Leave For Tomorrow, or The Art of Doing Nothing At All

Nino made known to us recently that it is the Georgian way of life to never do anything today what can be done tomorrow; well, because tomorrow you might not have to do it anymore. ;)

I’m here in Georgia and find myself going back to something I had written for a college course on rhetoric.

I struggle with anxiety. It’s nothing major and definitely not anything that would require therapy or medication to fix. It’s more like an obsession-to-self-diagnose-myself-with-things-on-WebMD sort of issue. Everything stresses me out! So much so that a professor of mine used to write: “_________ stresses Carla out today,” and would laugh when I could always fill in the blank with something new yet nonetheless truthful. It could be my Type-A personality and my need for everything to be entirely perfect, or it could just be that I absolutely hate change. But c’mon, is there anyone who loves it? I could never quite comprehend the need for change. Can’t we just appreciate what we already have? You can call it a copout, but I call it a comfort zone. And most of us never venture very far out of it without a little uneasiness. After all, stress is the consequence of the failure to adapt to change. Or at least I use that as my excuse to justify my complaining about things that are new to me. I realize that I am the cause of most of my “stress” but in all actuality—it would be nice if it wasn’t always present. Regardless, turning molehills into mountains is something I’ve always been good at—and I say that with a smile.

I bet you see this one coming: All things Georgian stress me out! Certainly not in an I-regret-coming or I’d-rather-be-home-in-Chicago sort of way, but in a sense that I am constantly aware of my difference of ideology in this strange and foreign place. My schedule (save this week since we are intensely learning Georgian) is no schedule at all. Georgians wake up whenever they please, but no earlier than 10. This, of course, means that school starts no earlier than 10 and services also open no earlier than 10. The afternoons are completely free and it drives me utterly insane. We don’t eat lunch until 3 or later. The evenings are also free. Free to do…nothing. Dinner isn’t until 9 or later, and “bedtime” is much later than my strict sleeping schedule at home.

I’m writing this on September 2nd, but it may be a week or so before you are able to read it since there’s no internet here. Oh, we’re in Kutaisi now by the way. We start teaching in exactly two weeks and have no idea where or exactly what we will be teaching. We move in with our host families in a week and still have no idea who they are or in what city they live. Hence anxiety, and lots of it! If Americans ever vocalize these stresses, the Georgians respond nonchalantly with, “Not to worry. It’s not a problem.” Because nothing is ever a problem for Georgians. However, nothing being a problem is of course a problem in itself for me and this new lifestyle gives rise to an exponentially infinite amount of stress.

Well, or so I thought…

I decided that if I’m going to be living in Georgia that I should try my very best to live as Georgians do. So I bit my tongue (literally, nervous habit!) and dedicated the day to the great art of nothing. For two hours, I sat on the stoop of my hotel and watched and elderly couple bicker back and forth in Georgian. I just sat there. Listening. Watching. Inventing an English dialogue and smiling here and there at things I thought they might be or were probably saying. In the afternoon I dug Boggle out of my suitcase and tucked myself into a corner in the lobby to play a few solo rounds. A man who had been sleeping near me woke from the noise of the shaking dice and came to sit by me. He started speaking (much too fast for any new language learner…s l o o o o w w w d o w w n n n n p l e a s e) and I smiled and nodded in agreement to sounds that made absolutely no sense. He began pointing at the dice, so I pointed back to show him—without words—what I was doing. I pointed first to D, then R, then A, then W. Then I underlined the word “draw” where I had written it on my score sheet to show him that there was certainly a method to my dice-shaking madness. He then pointed to D, then Z, then M, then A, and wrote “dzma” on the paper. I shook my head no to this ridiculous and seemingly unknown combination of letters and pointed to another example of a word to show him that the letter combinations had to create a word and not simply be a random bunching of letters. He shook his head, pointed again to D, Z, M, and A, and then rigorously circled it and started speaking again in lots of Georgian. I decided to let him win this argument. I shook up the came, took off the case, set the timer, and he started searching and jotting down words (all words I did not know—he could have been making them up) so I also searched and jotted down my findings. This went on for an hour and a half. I played Boggle with someone whom I could not at all communicate with—my words in English, his in Georgian. I laughed again at my simple afternoon full of the ‘nothing’ that turned surprisingly into ‘something’ I will never, ever, ever forget.

My motto from this day forth will be qvelaperi kargad iqneba, which translates roughly to: everything will be okay.

So, while I have no idea what I am doing or where I am going, I will rest assured that the Georgians speak the truth when rid away all worries.

Cheers to Georgia, and to my wonderful afternoon of simplicity and bliss!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Departing for Georgia: Part II

We left the airport in Amsterdam refreshed and caffeinated; I was luckily seated right in front of a local gal, Nino, from Tbilisi who gave me her card, mobile number, home number, office number, and e-mail address to contact her for *anything* I might need while I'm here. She also told me that her brother lives in Kutaisi (near where my host family will be) and that she'd gladly make him drive me to whatever city I'd like to visit ;) If that isn't a warm welcome from a complete stranger, then I don't know what is. Our TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) staff member is also named Nino and told us that if we know Nino, we know the name of 50% of Georgian women. Nino is like a pseudo-mother to us all; she has been so protective of us all since we've landed. We landed in Tbilisi pretty thankful to be out of the air and finally at our destination. We were told to expect some media attention at the airport. Because our program is government sponsored, everyone knows and is interested in our presence. I was picturing a few cameras, but was in no way prepared for the paparazzi parade that awaited us outside of baggage claim. Reporters from big time news broadcasts like BBC had cameras and microphones shoved right in our faces. It was quite comical since they can't speak English and never actually asked us any questions - so I found myself looking like a deer in headlights not knowing exactly what kind of message/statement they were expecting from me. Boy, was I glad when that was over.

We took a bus to the hotel, checked in to our rooms, and ran like hell to the showers. The hotel is extremely clean and nice and we have an amazing view of the city from our back lobby. We're here until Thursday and then check out again to go to our next hotel for more orientation. There are 92 teachers in total, and we are still waiting on some of them to land in Tbilisi. Once everyone arrives, we head to Kutaisi (the second largest city in Georgia and located within the region we'll be living) to a school/hotel combo-type place to stay. From Sept. 3 - Sept. 9, we have a very packed schedule & orientation classes: breakfast at 9, Georgian language classes from 10-1:15, lunch at 1:30, ESL methodology classes from 2:30-6:45, dinner at 8, and then "evening festivities" - whatever that might mean ;) I'm so full of excitement and joy merely thinking about my schedule; I feel like I'm right back in college!

A note on scheduling: Georgia does everything later. No one rises until well past 9:00, so breakfast is never earlier than 9 or 10 in the morning. Lunch is always around 3pm, and dinner is always at 9pm! So basically, I eat dinner at about the same time I used to go to bed back home in America. I made the mistake of napping quite a bit yesterday, so I didn't sleep well last night. Now that I am fully rested, hopefully adjusting to this strange schedule will only get easier.

A note on food: I thought I was going to be losing weight while away given the new cuisine, but it turns out that I'll most definitely be gaining some. I've been eating cheese, cheese, cheese, strange meats, cheese, cheese, and did I say cheese? :) Everything is so delicious!

At our meeting yesterday, we got our mobile phones and Georgian language dictionaries. Because our phones are corporate lines, we can call any other teacher or our TLG staff members for free - which will be convenient once we're living with our host families and want to call up any of our new friends for weekend excursions. Today we're going to what our TLG staff members call "Georgian Walmart" to pick up any essentials we might need or forgot to pack. I'm excited about this because I need to purchase a blowdryer AND straightener (since mine blew up in the hotel room...whoops!)

I would attach a photo, but I haven't taken a single picture since I've gotten here. I better get on that! It's hard to get motivated to even leave the hotel because it's 97+ degrees out there, and MUCH too hot for me! It's supposed to cool down mid-September, and until then I'll daydream of hats, gloves, and snow. I'm so over you, summer!

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