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September 26, 2010

დრუ სობოტა Drew Sobota

მკურნალის ქუჩის #1 Mkurnali Street #1

ქალაქი  ქუთაისი City of Kutaisi

საქართველო Saqartvelo (Georgia)

If ever you’d like to send anything to me, I recommend writing  as nice & neat as you can, & in both languages. This will help ensure better delivery (The mail system here is not good).  If you’re having trouble reading the Qartuli, press “control, plus sign” a few times.  The text should get bigger.


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God loves education.. & possibly birthdays

September 25, 2010

Shortly after I finished my previous blog entry, which I completed after class on Monday, I came home to change clothes & eat.  On my way home, a young Georgian man stopped me to converse.  He spoke English that was comparable to my 9th graders so I could understand pretty well.  He told me he wanted to give me the publication he was holding which read, “Need More Time?”  I recognized this, but I couldn’t pin it.  I asked if this was a religious thing.  he didn’t comprehend.  I opened it up, fanned a couple pages, & sure enough, there was a reference to a scripture in Ecclesiastes.  I asked again more slowly, “Re-li-gion?”  He understood.  “I-am-Jehovah’s-Witness.”  “You’re him?”, I said.  He didn’t get it, but it made me chortle.  Then he inquired of my faith.  I told him I was a Latter-day Saint to which he responded with a perplexed expression.  I then said, “Mor-mon.”  Then, the young man made a joke of his own without even knowing.  He said simply, “This I know.”  as if he could tell that I was LDS by looking at me.  I’m pretty sure he meant that he knew of the religion.  I took the publication & thanked the man big-big.  Who knew there were J-dubs in Georgia?  :p

Class is becoming more progressive.  Slowly but surely.  I’m still learning how teachers have planned their lessons in the past so that I can work with them & not introduce something so foreign that it hinders the students’ progress.  I think they’re all doing a great job.  Especially compared to the schools in the villages.  I’ve heard many a complaint about some teachers not being able to speak English much better than their students.  My case is the opposite.  I’m so lucky.  My co-teachers speak wonderfully & as long as I speak no faster than a medium speed, they understand me very well.  I want to get these kids speaking & conversing.  The little ones need to take it slow, but older children focus too much on reading & translating.  They don’t comprehend the words they read.  I think the ‘read & translate’ method is good to some extent, but the students need to practice aloud more.  I want to get them sharing & caring in English.  Ship says he refuses to learn Qartuli.  “You’re not gonna get this old dog to speak Georgian – not when I’m goin’ home for good at Christmas.”  I don’t disagree with his approach because when you get right down to it, we’re here to teach English, not learn Qartuli.  but as I’ve said before, I feel that the more Qartuli I learn, the better I can teach English.  This way I’m not wasting time in class trying to get small points across.  I don’t study every chance I get because I have other things I like to do, but I put in a couple hours a day at least.  Right now it’s mostly vocab because I have no text references for tenses.  I basically speak in present tense only, even when I’m talking about the past.  I know a little future tense.  Beginning next week, I will take formal Qartuli lessons from one of my teaching companions.  I know it’s not applicable outside of Georgia, but you have no idea how exhaustingly frustrating it is to not be able to communicate.  I’d jump on learning Russian if there were resources for studying it English to Russian, but alas, I’d have to study it by way of Qartuli to English to Russian.  So I might as well learn me the Qartuli.  An interesting thing about Qartuli language is that word order doesn’t matter & they don’t really use infinitives.  This makes for quite a challenge when learning English.  Word order/agreement is a must if you want to be correct.

I’ve added some more teaching hours outside of school.  I made some friends at the local mall & they’re very serious about learning English.  I might start a club if I don’t get too busy with other projects I’ll be involved with.  One is Tinico’s (my main companion) English grammer text book that she, herself, wrote.  She wants me help her finish & be the editor.  I’m honored.  The other endeavor is an organization of which she’s the chairwoman called S.O.S. Village.  The objective is to provide the same quality education that well-off children receive, to those that may be homeless or whose parents are unemployed or what have you.  More on those later.

Tuesday night was fun.  It was Jon’s birthday.  He turned 29.  After dinner we headed to where we stayed during orientation week because the 4th group of volunteers were finishing their orientation & it was their turn for a question & answer session.  “The panel” is what it has been dubbed.  It was a fun time.  Everyone else serving on the panel is very well educated academically speaking, and boy did they love to show it.  Some folks’ answers went on for 5-10 minutes.  I tried to keep it simply by sounding off specific info the group could retain.  I told them my host father makes wine for a living.  Someone then asked if I had been to a ‘suphra’ yet (this is a special party with a toastmaster.  They get wicked drunk).  I said I hadn’t, but that I’d experience enough suphra anyway.  In fact, I avoid my host father as much as possible because he’s suphra’d most of the time.  My final advice to the group was to have preferences, not expectations.  A lot of people in my group have had expectations & have spent most of their time here looking for an escape when they’re not met.  One kid has had it tough.  Between his host family & school, I haven’t heard a positive word from him.  He scrambles around Georgia spending all his money, drinking himself silly, & trying to get laid. Because he’s out of control, he’s hostile.  So I tried to subtly tell him to have preferences instead of expectations, but I don’t think he wanted to hear it.   I was getting anxious listening to him vent so I hailed him a cab, hugged him goodbye, & let him know he could call me for anything (except to complain).  Whadayagonnado? :/  I think the next group of volunteers will be better off with preferences, especially if they’re here because they want to serve & teach English, not because its a neat place to visit free of charge with some occasional English teaching in their spare time.

One final thing.  A storm-the scariest thunderstorm I’ve been under since I was just a boy & my sister had to comfort me (I hated swirling clouds & thunder).  It was the talk of the teachers the next day at school.  Apparently nobody got any sleep.  I was thankful for the few hours I did receive.  During the portion of the night when it was loudest, I was curled up in a ball plugging my ears.  I think God was celebrating Jon’s birthday.  Perhaps I should enlighten the young Georgian man who apparently does not need more time.

This was supposed to be longer but I’ve had some interruptions.  It’s midnight and I’ve been in this chair for 4 hours already.  I still have some other tasks I want to finish & then I think I’ll call it a night.  Happy Sabbath everybody.



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1st week of school & a weekend excursion

September 20, 2010

School has begun.  While the first day didn’t start off as I had imagined, for my host father walked in on me showering (there are no shower curtains in Georgia), it was still a very fun day. It was a bit crazy at times, but I expected some chaos.  Students from the lower grades sang solos.  They are so talented.  They’ve got all the confidence in the world & they perform like mini pop-stars.  I was pleased to learn that the school anthem was composed by none other than 3 of the staff here.  It’s so neat.  It has an uppity feel with cadences, chromatic motion, lyrics & harmonies.  This school is full of talent.  Some of the teachers can play piano wonderfully.  I had goosebumps many times on the first day.  During the opening songs, children were playing & screaming as they do.  Teachers were pulling me aside to dance while little ones wailed their hearts out.  I simply went with it & put on a happy face.  I was much obliged.  During a brief intermission, I was asked to say a few words to the school.  I told them the same things I told the staff 2 days prior: that I was grateful to be here & my experience so far has been leaps & bounds better than I imagined.  I thanked them for such a warm welcome to the country.  I look forward to getting to know & work with everyone.  It would be great if I could learn everybody’s names by Halloween (or at least Christmas).  There are just over 500 students in the school comprising 12 grades or forms as they say here.  Currently, I’m teaching forms 3-9, but as I said, I hope to work with the whole school.  My schedule consists of about 20 hours of teaching per week with 5-10 hours of prep time/lesson planning.  Not bad at all.

After the sing-song-ceremony, I was ready to have my first lesson.  It didn’t happen.  My primary teaching companion led me to the teachers lounge where the ladies played piano, sang, & danced some more.  This was what day one consisted of: just singing & dancing.  MUSIC.  I love it!  Normally the school day is from 9am-3pm, but because it was the first day, getting acquainted was the central theme & the children were dismissed around 1 o’ cock.  The ladies then treated me to lunch.  These people can eat like nobody’s b’dness.  We were at that restaurant for almost 3 hours.  It was delicious.  The bread & beef here can be quite tasty.  They would not let me pay.  I insisted (twice), but they would not have it.  The total bill for our group of 30 ladies + me was $130.00 USD.  That’s a lot of dough (& I ate a lot of dough), but pretty inexpensive for 30 people.

I was told a few times on the first day that students & teachers both like me very much & that’s what they say: “I like you very much.”  It’s not unusual to say such a thing here.  It’s a basic compliment.  One student gave me a ‘light-up’ pen that has “I love Georgia” on it.  This went in my box of keepsakes as soon as I got home.

After I came home, I studied Georgian.  Then when I had some confidence built, Marika, Lile, & I attempted a chat.  I wouldn’t say we failed but its not a total success either.  Most of the time its fun not understanding, but there are times when I desperately want to get a point across (& them too) & it becomes so frustrating when we don’t.  When this occurs, it’s time to whip out the old LEXICONI.

While researching online, I’ve read sources that say Russian is the second language of Georgia.  The primary source, however (people of Georgia) claims that its English.  And that’s the main goal of ‘Teach & Learn with Georgia’ – to officially replace Russian with English as their second language.  I can hardly believe I get to be a part of that.  The president of Georgia has issued an executive order for all to learn English & his initial desire was for 1,000 volunteers to come and teach & learn, but that has now been upped to 10,000.  I worry Georgia will run out of money.  People get paid squat here.  It seems that Georgia would rather be drunk than educated.  My host father (wine distributer) makes about double what my host mother (teacher) does.. & I get paid almost double what they gross (even that’s next to nothing American $ wise.. This is the reason I’ve used the term volunteers synonymously with teachers). That says a lot.  It says that the Georgian governement is spending a boat load on English teachers – about $15-20 thousand USD a month on my group alone.  We’re less than a tenth of the amount of teachers the president wants in total.  I worry for Georgia & pray they have good accountants & the numbers stay solid.

Now that we’ve done money, it’s time for the other end of the iffy-subject spectrum: religion.  Marika & I had a very pleasant discussion the evening after my first day.  One thing I learned that is interesting was that Georgians cross themselves whenever they pass a church or crucifix emblem.  They do so with their pointer, middle, & thumb fingers touching.  The other two must be curled so that the devil does not pass through the space created by the three.  The three also represent Father, Son, & Holy Ghost.  I went to bed shortly after our discussion ended.

On the second day of school, the teachers jumped into their curriculum.  My 3rd graders are mastering their letters of the alphabet as well as basic introductions.  Each day they say, “Hello, how are you? I am glad to see you.”  They also know questions like, “How old are you? Where do you live?” etc.  They know members of family, body parts, counting to 20, items in the classroom, ‘his & hers’, & some fun verbs like run, jump, swim, etc.   4th grade is a tad more advanced than 3rd grade & so on until 8th grade.   One of my favorite things so far with the 3rd & 4th graders is songs.  I think it helps so much.  they sing Brother John, Bingo, Its Better to Say Hello, & more.  Their determination is precious.  The 8th graders are pretty advanced.  I can have actual conversations with them, and although they’re comparable to ones that I have with Marika, at least we get through to one another.  9th graders are writing essays about their summer holidays.  They refuse to say holiday, singular, because summer break is more than 1 day long.  I’ve tried to explain that it’s still referred to as all one holiday, but it hasn’t stuck.

Then came the weekend.  Friday night was an adventure.  It started with simple drinks in the city with friends Allen & Jon.  We were invited to meet up with Andrea, Allen’s girlfriend, & her host family, the Buskivadzisagans.  They are such a gas.  They are so kind & so generous.  They fed us a magnificent dinner.  It ended up being the best meal I’ve had in Georgia to date.  Khachapuri & chicken w/ fruit.  ’twas the first chicken I’ve had since being in country & it was just like home cookin’; delectable.  Their family consists of Leri, Dali, & their children Nini, Mari, & a little boy.  They took many a photo/video of us being ourselves.  Jon played piano most of the evening encoring with Blackbird by Paul McCartney where everyone joined in.  Then just as I thought the night was over, they slipped in the dvd that had just been recorded.   There’s so much love in their home & when you’re there, you feel like its your home after only a few minutes.  Leri even said, “Chemi sakhli aris tqveni sachli,”  translation “My home is your home.”  During the course of the night we laughed a lot, mostly because of the language barrier but jokes almost come across better that way.  The best part of the night was a combination of moments.  Early in the evening, us native english speakers were explaining that we mostly only use “diakh” & “k’ee” to say, “yes”.  “Diakh” is the more formal but the least formal of them all is “ho”.  You can obviously see why we refrain from this one.  We showed them the word for prostitute/whore in the lexicon & they understood.  I told them I would have to be careful how I answer my mother or sister or any other woman for that matter.  Then, hours later, when my gang & I were finally making our exit (and after Dali gave us all a brand-spankin’-new Shakespearean sonnet book in Georgian with English translation), Leri & Dali asked for my address and offered me a ride home when I said I was going to take a taxi.  I told them, “76 Tbilisi Qucha”.  Dali is diligently trying to learn English & she repeated after me, sevaahn.. sex,” to which I emphasized the short “i” sound in six.  She tried again & again & was still not getting that short “i” sound.  I said it properly once more & told her that “sex is a whole other thing”.  Apparently, they all understood because they roared with laughter.  Then, a pause, Leri’s eyebrows raise & he simply says, “HO!”  Even more laughter & with that we were on our way.

Its almost a shame that the one book I have in Georgian/English is Shakespeare.  That’s another language I don’t get at all.  As a matter of fact, I think I understand Georgian better.  Oh well.  Its a perfect souvenir.  She signed it and everything.  It would be nice if I had brought a Harry Potter with me, though.  They’ve got that in Georgian spades.

During dinner that night, they invited me to go to Batumi with them on Sunday for a day trip.  I told them I was staying the night in a village with a friend on Saturday night & that I would have to get a taxi the morning of the excursion.  Leri once again didn’t hesitate to offer me a ride from Nakhshirgele.

In the morning, Ship & I went shopping for supplies for our schools because they could use it.  Then, we were off to the village by marshut’ka (minibus).  I’m hoping that will by my last marshut’ka ride.  They get crammed full and the Georgians do NOT care about invading your bubble…. & they stink like bigfoot’s armpit.  I’m sorry, but they do.  Ship & I guessed that they shower about once every 9-10 days.  Village living is quite different than city living.  The country folk go to bed earlier & get up earlier as you might expect.  They tend to cows, chickens, vegee fields, & wine making.  There’s one road in Nakhshirgele & it’s always scattered with cows & chickens.  I don’t know how these folks keep track so well.  I stayed with Ship & his host family which has Gramma, Gramma’s son, his wife, & 2 daughters, Mari & Sopho (16, 17).  There’s actually 3 families that live in this mini hotel, but they’re all related.  Ship says that Gramma does pretty much everything with a helping hand from the ladies.  She’s amazing.  Ship & I went for a stroll up the road to so I could see his school which is in worse shape than mine, not surprisingly.  You might imagine that these schools would be condemned by American institutional standards, and you’d be right.  During our tour of what seems a rundown school, we were met by the caretaker of the school who showed us his digs.  He has a bed, some wine, posters of women, & maps of where he was during world war two.  At that time, I believe Russia & Georgia were not at odds like they are now.  He was a part of the ally forces through Russia and it must still be a big part of his life because he was trying to tell Ship & I about what he went through.  I believe his unit was constricted by the Germans in Leningrad & he fought hard for freedom.  He assuredly lost some of his brothers in arms.

When Ship & I returned home, I was asked to play my guitar & sing some songs.  This is when I found out how much the family extended.  They drew near within a matter of minutes & the performance became somewhat official.  It was great to play for them.  They enjoyed it very much.  They were clapping & attempting to sing along.  Ship said after I left, the village was asking when I would return.  Pretty sweet.

Leri came at about 8 am & it was off to Batumi where I was privileged to paddle the Black Sea all day.  I played my guitar on a stone hill on the beach with an exquisite view of the sea.  I was lucky to be inspired to write a few lyrics to a new tune.  I brought back a couple dozen rock specimens.  I forgot how cool a little old rock can be.  Allen, Jon, Nini & I walked the city a bit.  It has beautiful buildings including a castle of a Sheraton Hotel.  There’s so much color all over the city, I love it.  The parks are lovely.  Nini showed us geese & peacocks.  She’s a wonderful young lady of 16.  She seems older, but honestly, they all do.  Their maturity & confidence seems leaps & bounds more progressed than American or English girls.  Even Jon (who’s claimed since we got here that he’s fed up with women for awhile) couldn’t leave Nini’s side & he’s almost 13 years her senior.  She’s a good girl with a great sense of humor & has many talents, I’m sure.

Once we left the sea, I had no idea what we were doing.  We ended up at one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen.  It’s called Gonio Fortress & it began as a Roman fort (I think).   When you walk in the view is just incredible.  There’s these ancient stone walls with the most beautiful mountain scene behind it.  It was surreal.  I felt like I was on the set of LOST in a dharma fortress.  We saw coins that were minted under the kingdome of Pontius, ancient pure-gold jewelry, & images of a so-called tree of life.  These items are known as ‘Gonio Treasure’.  Its said that the apostle Matthew’s final resting place is here.  I’m not sure if I believe, but its a neat thought.  More info on Gonio-Apsaros later.

The Buskivadzisagans then took us out to dinner in Batumi.  Nini snuck my guitar into our private dining room & once again, I was asked to serenade the group.  It was a wonderful evening.  I was even a bit eager to share certain tunes.  I thought the concert would end on the rock-soulful Ants Marching by Dave Matthews but Jon was eager too, & he wanted another turn to shine so I let’m have the encore.    We were in such good company & it felt good to share some pieces of ourselves.

It would have been nice to get a good night’s rest with the start of a new week the following morning, but I did not make it home until well after 1 a.m.  It was all worth it though.  To swim in the Black Sea was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had.  I couldn’t stop giggling any time I paused to take in the view.

I made it up this morning & had a great day at school.  They’ve added to my schedule, which is awesome.  I really love being there.  And they love having an American walking their halls.  Today I was pleaded with to stay for at least a year.  That’s one I need to continue praying about because I don’t yet have my answer.  Thanks for reading.  Take care.

Note: These blogs are always being edited, so feel free to take a second or even third gander at my entries. They’ll be different.

Note 2:  Pictures are inevitable.  -could be months, could be days.  Stay tuned.




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it’s 3am, I must be lonely

September 15, 2010
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And I suppose I am a bit.  I was awakened by the neighbor fellas’ drunken singing.  I’m not surprised that they’re inconsiderate, but I am still irritated.  Tomorrow (today) is my first day of teaching & I was hoping for a good night’s rest.  I’m not sure if I’ll go back to bed, but if I do, it will only be for an hour or so.  Oh well.

So yesterday, Ship was in town to visit an internet cafe (which is really just a room with 7 or 8 computers, no refreshments whatsoever).  I caught him on facebook & discovered he was just a 7 minute walk away.  He was downloading Fiddler on the Roof for his host family.  He said he wanted to have movie night with them once a week.  That’s pretty neat way to share a little bit of western culture with them.  I recommended some pixar films & some other musicals.  Alas, the cafe had to close & his download was unable to finish.  We headed into the park to discuss our experiences with our host families so far.  He’s lovin’ it just as much as I am.  We also talked about methodology for the upcoming weeks of teaching.  He thought of another idea for me to visit his school & teach with him sometime in October.  Then, he’ll visit my school the following week.  This way, some of these Georgian students can meet another American & get a double dose of English.  Ship & I are positive that our principals will love this.  We walked to my home so Ship could use the bathroom, meet my family, & check out m’ digs.  Ship says I’m a lucky son of a gun.  He is too.  I called him a taxi & rode home with him.  When we arrived at his village, his host family was waiting at the gate, eager to see that he was safe & sound.  I greeted the ladies with as much Qartulad as I could muster right then.  The rest of the time I was in awe wearing a gaping smile (I received a text from Ship later that evening telling me the girls were referring to me as the happy man).  I quickly took a gander at Ship’s bedroom (I didn’t want to upset the taxi driver).  It’s almost twice the size of mine.  He’s got a queen size bed (mine’s a twin) & a closet.  The rest is just empty space.  I thought village homes would be quite quaint, but his is just the opposite.  Ship’s flush.

Did I mention I got a haircut?  It felt great.  It was the fastest, smoothest haircut I’ve ever had.  I kid you not, I was in the chair for no more than 4 minutes.  It costed a little over $2 USD.  Some of my new friends kid that I now look mighty Georgian.  I promise you, I don’t.

What else, what else..  I had dinner in the city tonight with my fellow Kutaisian volunteers.  One of them is leaving.  She doesn’t like the big city nor her small family(Gramma, Dad, & Mom).  There’s no interaction she says, & desires that it be the other way around (small city, big fam)  Hopefully she’ll be moved to a village with a family that has daughters who speak some English.  Anyway, for dinner we had kacha puri (cheese bread in pizza pie form), salmon, and Qartuli fries.  My friends thought they needed a 30 Lari bottle of wine.  The total bill was 43.  I only owed 2 🙂   A word about food.  I thought I’d hate it & just have to get used to it.  I dwelt in 2 places before reaching my homestay.  The hotel in Tbilisi- where the food was NOT satisfying, & the dorm in Kutaisi- leaps & bounds better.  For some reason I thought the homecooked stuff would be the worst.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every meal & snack I’ve had here.  Soups, meat dishes, various breads, & figs are just a few of my favorites.  The texture of the chadi is exquisite.  I mentioned that I loved it the other night & the neighbor apparently overheard.  Within 3 minutes she brought me some fresh chadi.  I do not know her name.  At that moment, Marika was cooking a stew on the stove.  It was red & I’m pretty sure it consisted of tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, peppers, & more.  As soon as I had my chadi, I dipped it into Marika’s stew-still cooking.  It was a bold move but I figured she & the girls would get a kick out of it.  They did.

I haven’t been studying Qartulad (Georgian language) as much as I want, which is okay because I’m here to teach English, but it’s really fantastic to be able to communicate in a foreign tongue.  I also know that if I know Qartulad better, I can teach English better.  I guess its a good thing I live with a family that insists on speaking Qartulad.  I suppose I’m absorbing.

Drivers do not wear their seat-belts here.  During orientation & training, the volunteers were told that if you buckle up, drivers might be insulted.  I told them I don’t care.  I’m not dying in a Georgian car accident.  And they drive SO aggressively here.  But the strange thing is that they’re seemingly wreckless.   In America, pedestrians have the right of way.  In Georgia, its just the opposite.  You get a honk, maybe two & you had better be out of the way.   I don’t think the drivers I’ve ridden with have been offended when I buckle up, but they laugh & think I’m silly.  I sigh & think they’re stupid.  And i know I’m right.  Maybe I’ll try and enforce the western addage  click it or ticket while I’m here.

Well, Qakha has just awakened, & while I’m grateful to be a part of his home, I can’t understand anything he says except for “Endru Marigoni” meaning, “Andrew the artist.”  He says it quite often.  I think he thinks it’s still funny.  And I’m sure he’s a funny guy but after hearing that so many damn times, the humor is no longer translating.  I wish he would take a lesson from his wife & daughters.  I’m getting that Georgia is somewhat like America in the 50’s/60’s when it comes to the roles people play based on their sex.  It’s fine so long as women are happy & I guess they are or else a change would be demanded.  Maybe someday.. Maybe soon.

Kind of a random entry, but I s’pose that’s how it’ll be sometimes- a fact here, a story there..  I’m a songwriter not a writer.  And even my tunes take months for me to crank out.  This was a pleasant distraction from the Georgian prose being wailed right outside my door.  “The rain’s not gonna wash away what I believe in.”  Thank you all for caring.



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3 days grace

September 13, 2010
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After being in our homestays for not quite 2 days, Jonathan, my new friend & exemplar from England came to visit. This won’t be uncommon amongst volunteers & host families already know it.  He’s an excellent piano & guitar player. He’s got about 20 years experience with music practice & it shows big-time.  I haven’t seen someone play like that in years. It was so refreshing to watch live. I got goosebumps a few times.  I always play guitar alone & its been a great outlet, but to share it live with someone as good as him, its just awesome.  After the private concert we went into town to see sights, shop, & practice our Georgian.  A man approached us.  We were obviously foreign.  He wasn’t shy to show how glad he was to meet us & he invited us into his nearby home to eat cake & to toast us.  I’ll admit, I didn’t want to go for a few reasons, but mostly because my understanding of Georgian is like Borat’s understanding of American humor(..pause…NOT). But seriously, its like that.  Jon is a man who embraces the spice of life known as spontaneity & in this case, that fact was evidenced.  After Jon & Dakhvit chatted on the street for a minute, Jon turned to me and simply said, “Ten minutes.”  I said, “Ten minutes, what!?”  We started heading down a Kutaisian alley to this man’s home and I thought, this could be how it ends.. But I too seasoned the circumstances by embracing it.  We soon learned that he was drunk.  Jon said that Dakhvit’s German was worse than his & that his Georgian was rediculous too.  He was saying the same things over & over & at the top of his lungs.  Finally, after 2 or three shots (for he had drank ours after we informed him we don’t drink) Jon had had enough.  He quickly & quietly told me to call his phone, finish my orange Fanta, get up, & leave. “This guy’s insane,” Jon exclaimed under his breath.  I’ve never been good at ‘goodbyes’ & I’m definitely not any better with drunken Georgians.  He shook my hand & kissed me on the cheek 4 times over 5 minutes.  This is standard in Georgian culture after men become acquainted.

After getting out alive, but a bit wet, we headed to the mall where Jon wanted some shorts & I, something European(a vest? some skinny jeans? I had no idea).  I just want to embrace all that I can here.  We went to a shop where I bought a pair of shoes a few days prior.  They were 70 Lari but the manager said that because I was a guest in their country, I could have them for 40 Lari.  I was touched.  I tried on a vest & wasn’t coming around so I asked an associate that spoke Englsih to pick one out that she would like to see on her future husband.  She liked that, but alas, I still wasn’t digging the vest.

Onward Jon & I went for some grub.  We went to Mcdonald’s.  Don’t judge.  It was my first trip to MickyDees since being in Georgia.  I’ve done well with eating what’s been given me, but it was simply time for a doublecheesburger.  Afterward we walked toward the dorm/school that we were trained in.  There’s a mini-mart type place a block away that I bought Cokes from about every day we were there.  I made a friend in the shop-keeper so Jon & I went to visit her.  The power was off because of strong winds (crazy strong winds), so we practiced our Georgian by candle-light.  She’s so sweet & helpful.  Her name is Sopio (Sophia).  After chatting with Sopio for about an hour Jon & I took a taxi home.  That was 4 Lari ($2.20).

In the morning, we went to church with Marika, my host mother & learned that church is a couple hours & you stand the whole time & listen to the priest.  I wasn’t aloud to read my scriptures for it would seem rude.  I don’t think I’ll go again anytime soon.  Marika understands.

At dinner that night, I was trying to be polite & wait for Marika to sit before I started eating.  She commanded, “Endru, Eat!”  I told her that in America we have a saying: “Lady’s first.” & that its considered polite to wait for everyone, especially ladies.  She did not convey this to her husband who was curious.  She simply announced again, “Endru, Eat!” followed with, “You  are  my  son.”  I’m really glad I didn’t cry because I might not have been able to explain that I wasn’t upset, but touched.

After dinner, I used the internet to check messages.  My host father, Qakha, plopped down beside me and started speaking Georgian Jibberish.  I told him, “No, comprende” and called for the rest of the family.  The ladies told me he wanted to see photos of my family.  I brought up facebook & went to my sister, Anne-Margaret’s profile/photos.  Qakha promptly asked if she was married & implied that he might come to America & steal her away.  Marika took his head in both hands & started shaking him, laughing all while.  She & the daughters were all oOOo’s & aaAhs, repeating, “wary wary beautiful! – so nice girl!.. wary wary nice!”

Then I showed them my dad & my uncles..

I showed photos from Anne-Margaret’s ‘family reunion trip’ album.  It was neat how interested they were in my family & they got to see a lot of them because of that album.  Thanks Sis.

So today(Monday) was the day I got to tour the school at which I’ll be teaching.  I loved every inch of what I saw but the teacher I’ll be working with kept apologizing for how messy it was.  I told her it was “seshanisnavi!” or “wonderful/brilliant”.  The floor needed primering & curtains needed hanging & thats about all I could tell.  The little ones that attend 19 Gogobashvileh Street(address of school), have pen pals in Missouri.  They have Winney the Pooh, fairy tales, pop-ups, & books about The Savior right there in class.  Personally, I think that’s impressive.  Separation of Church & State?  Not here.  Combination of such, & what better way to learn & absorb information than with The Spirit present.  You can bet I wish America was like that, but with a melting pot in every classroom, as well as the generations loving mediocrity more & more, it’s not gonna happen before a millenial reign.

After the tour I had a meeting with the principal & the teacher I’ll be working with.  They asked what my preferences were regarding which age group & how many hours a week I wanted.  I shared yet another Americanism saying, “I’m easy” & expalained it.  They said they would discuss it further but it looks like I’m going to be teaching the young ones from now until Christmas, & if I return in January, I’ll teach the older kids.  The teacher I’m assisting said she only works 3 hours a day.  We’ll see if we can’t up that amount so these kids can learn more, faster.  More practice means higher retention level –> greater success & that’s what I’m all about.

We concluded our meeting & I was told that all the teachers wanted to meet me.  So after we got situated in a fair sized classroom, I was asked to say a few things regarding this project & my sentiments towards it & Georgia.  I told them that I’ve had a great experience so far; better than I imagined-that I’m probably the luckiest volunteer in Georgia because I’ve been overwhelmed in such a lovely & positive way & blessed beyond measure already.  I said I look forward to getting to know & serve with each of them, but they must LET me serve.  Because so far, every time I try and lend a hand, they won’t stand for it.  I tried to convey that  this  is  why  I’m  here.

I don’t know.  Wondering about it now, I think I can be more creative about service to the Georgian people.  Just saying, “Can I help you?” & “I want to serve you,” is not enough & I’ve always known that, but with such a huge language barrier its difficult.  I don’t know how they would react if I took an agressive approach.  I’ve been told it can come off extremely rude.  I think I just need patience.  They’ll get to know me & I’ll get familiar with the language & them too & eventually I can start jutting in & taking some weight off their shoulders, hopefully somewhat emulating Christ.  I want to provide an example that exemplifies Him, & that doesn’t happen over night, certainly not by me.

Okay.  Enough hokum pokum.  But I do recommend ya’ll get used to it.

Once I said my peace to an entirely female staff, minus one (to whom I expressed  ‘we’re in this together, man!), they decided it was time for a question/answer session.  First, they asked who comprises my family/extended family. I told them, Mom, Dad, Sister, Grandparents, 4 aunts & 4 uncles, most who’ve been/are married, therefore, many cousins.  I told them that my mom, grandma, & sister are the 3 most important ladies of my life, NOT for brownie points but because they were genuinely interested & its the pure truth; simple fact.  But brownie points indeed..  The next question was if I was single to which I responded, “Yes.”  Some laughed, some nodded in affirmation.  I couldn’t keep a straight face.  I didn’t say divorced because I wanted to keep it light.  Plus my host mother knows & if someone decides to inquire further about me, she can let them know.  Otherwise, it won’t even come up until I know the language better.  The Georgians aren’t afraid to ask the questions we Americans would consider intrusive.

That was this morning that I toured the school & met the teachers.  I came home, read some Mark Twain & have been blogging ever since.  I don’t know if they’ll get any longer than this.  Thanks for reading. I’ll conclude with the second edition of SHIP SAYS.

SHIP SAYS: You remind them of  the Bride-nappers!

This will take a while for understanding’s sake..   As I mentioned earlier, there’s a mini-mart type joint about a block away from the school/dorm.  I would go there every day during break time to get a coke or snack or some miscellaneous item that would be useful (babywipes, shampoo, etc.).  I was basically having the same conversation with the shop-keeper every day: Gamarjobat, rogoro khar? Me var Kargad, gmadlobt.  That’s Hello, how are you?  I am well, thanks.  Towards the end of the week, I decided to ask her if I could practise speaking Georgian with her.  She was happy to oblige.  We talked for about an hour & a half, but probably only understood about one paragraph’s worth of words.  It was a good time though.  Just before I left a Georgian-native man entered the store & tried to communicate with me something he found funny.  He was speaking what I call rocket-science Georgian(super fast & way beyond my comprehension level).  He kept gesturing towards the shop keeper, then me.  Then a smirk or chuckle.  I told him, “No comprende, Amigo” but in Georgian(which I’ve forgotten how that goes for the moment).  He could tell I didn’t understand so he signaled that he wanted my phrasebook which I gave him.  He proceeded to flip through it looking for something specific.  Finally, he had it.  He pointed to the word, KIDNAP.  I said, “Ara, ara, ara!” meaning “No, no, no!”  I then took the phrasebook & showed him the word for BEAUTIFULLY KIND & HELPER.  He smiled & left.  I just thought the guy had a strange sense of humor as most men here might.  I left the store shortly after to return ‘home.’  Ship was standing on the dorm stoop havin’ a smoke, a beer, a chat, & a laugh with the various young people.  I told him what just happened & he flipped out.  Apparently, in intercultural learning class that day(It was during this particular class that the musicians took the minibus into town for supplies), we were taught about the tradition of bride-napping.  Ship told me that men from up in the hills would desire a wife & someone fresh to be part of their village or community.  I believe in most cases, a man would court a young lady & somehow let her know that he & his cohorts are going to come to her residence, throw a big coat over her head, & steal her away.  Then she would have the night to decide if she would stay with him, or return home shamed because she spent the night with unfamiliar men(really unfair.. couldn’t she just explain that she was kidnapped, i thought.. I guess not).  I believe that in rare cases, some young women had no idea these guys were coming, but most of the time it was welcomed..?  So anyway, Ship tells me that I just dove deep beneath the cultural iceberg & that I’ve had an experience unlike anything any other volunteers will probably have.  I wasn’t understanding.  I told him that the guy was probabaly just poking fun at foreigner.  He told me again that it was a deep cultural thing that happened; that the way I was presenting myself by practising Georgian with her was like I was officially & obviously courting her.  Then on top of that, I called her a brilliant person for helping me so much.  Apparently I skipped a few levels there too.  I barely know the woman & I’m complimenting her very directly.  I guess that’s not customary.  You have to work up to that via “the way you keep your shop is so nice” to “Coming to this shop brings joy to my day because of the way you keep it” to “This shop would not be so nice were it not for you” to “You are the reason for the shop” to “I come to this clean of a shop, not because its clean, but because of you” and so forth.  Bad examples, but I think you get the point.  So I skipped all that, & told her she was brilliant.  Ship says, “Are you starting to see what happened?”  I nodded for a second with a furrowed brow, & then switched directions side to side & said somberly, “..No..”  Then, in some sort of anti-triumphant manner(the alcohol might have played a small part) & in front of many volunteers & some Teach & Learn with Georgia staff members(who are native Georgians), Ship says, no- Ship yells: You remind them of the bride-nappers!


Prayers. (say ’em)

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the long short so far..

September 12, 2010
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I’ve been in Georgia for a little over 10 days. I don’t know if I’ll ever progress out of Euphoric mode. Everything is so new & fresh & rare.  The culture is very primitive, very traditional.

The stay in the Kutaisi dorm/school was so much fun.  A lot of work, but tons of fun.  Of the 92 other teachers in my group, I think I got to shake hands & chat with 80 of them.  I volunteered for a few different assigments including gathering teachers’ contact info & room assignments, & I organized a trip for the musicians to go into town to buy some goodies.  That way I was active & meeting lots of people.  Friendships have been born & I think quite a few will last forever.

Getting oriented was exhausting & even a bit frustrating at times, but I loved it.  After waking up at 7 or 8 & doing my morning routine, it was breakfast at 9. Georgian from 10-1:15. Lunch 1:30 to 2:15. Then depending on the day it was intercultural learning or methodology from 2:30 to 6:30. Break time after that. Dinner at 8, & maybe a meeting for all volunteers afterward.  Then it was free time.  This was when I got to know so many folks.  It was great hearing where everyone has traveled & where they’re from.  I might be the only one here who hasn’t taught abroad before. eek. I’d say there is a person from each of the 50 states. There’s folks from Canada, Belarus, England, all over Central America, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, & more.  Its a way marvelous bunch.  The age span is 20-65 & everyone gets along very well.

The food is ok.  Some real good, some real bad, but all in all, I’m eating considerably well, but not enough water for fear it will make me sick.  I’ll have to ease my way into it. Maybe a cup today, 2 tomorrow, etc. EVERYBODY had stomach issues the first week. Flatulents smell worse than ever, but if you’re alone, its kind of intriguing.  My best friend back home (Ohio) was a Godsend & sent me info on all kinds of traditional Georgian cuisine so that I might know what I like & be able to ask for it at restaurants & in my homestay.  Thanks Jitter.

Speaking of homestay, I was placed in mine yesterday.  6 out of 92 volunteers got to stay in Kutaisi & I was one of them.  I would have been fine with being placed in a village but am ecstatic about being in the 2nd largest city in the nation.  The downtown area is pretty much the neatest thing I’ve witnessed.  Wonderful architecture rich with history, great parks, cool shops are just a few of the things I love so far.  I bought a pair of shoes for $8 u.s. dollars yesterday.  How cool is that!? They’re pretty much P.F. Flyers but Georgian. My host family is extremely sweet & hospitable. They won’t let me help around the house yet but I hope it gets old fast because I want to serve them.  I’ve only been here 9 days but I’ve done so much and my testimony of service seems like it’s increased 10 fold.  There was a moment during the minister of education’s speech that I felt the Holy Ghost so strongly & I’ve never had a greater desire to serve.  He said that Georgia doesn’t have natural recources like gas & oil; that the Georgian people are the greatest recource & they need to be educated. That’s why me & all the other volunteers are here: to educate them so they can educate the world back- through service. It was right then that I feel in love with the project itself & left my infatuations at the door.

My host family is comprised of mom (Marika), daughters (Marita & Lile, 11 & 15), & dad (Qakha).  He doesn’t seem to fit in with his wife & daughters but I think that’s because almost NO men fit in with their women.  The ladies are so sweet & give so much & guys get treated like kings & I think most of them don’t deserve it at all.  I really wish my host father spoke english so I could share western culture in depth with him.  I think he could greatly apply it.

My accomodations are top drawer.  The house is considerably large & it has a huge porch great for relaxing, chatting, studying, etc.  If you walk all the way to the far end of the porch you’ll find my room.  Yes, you enter from the outside.  So its like a studio apartment. The bathroom is just outside my door & is accessed from the outside.  The washing machine is in my room as well.  I might be the luckiest volunteer in Georgia. Truly.

If I tried to write about everyone I’ve met & grown close to it would take me days, so I’ll pick one: Philip Jude Kunz.  He’s 55 & from Montana.  He’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.  He’s probably the most passionate about being in Georgia to teach.  He’s  been to Japan as well.  When I asked if I could call him PJ, he said, “sure,” & that as a youth he went by ‘Ship’.  I thought that was pretty cool so I call him that too.  He’s full of little nuggets of hilarious advice & knowledge & I’ve decided to devote a portion of my blog to him.  SHIP SAYS, I call it.

SHIP SAYS: Caution – do not drink the tcha-tcha..

So it was our first day of Georgian Language class & we were learning phrases like “hello, how are you?” & “What is your name?” as well as some basic vocab.  A classmate was inquiring about how to say ‘water’ & if the water here in Georgia was the reason most of us were feeling a little ill in the stomach.  The teacher asked if he had been drinking tcha-tcha, which is Georgian-made Vodka. He responded “No” but she said its not very good & often makes folks sick.  After she told us this fact it was silent for a minute; we were waiting for our teacher to continue the lesson. I turned & saw Ship put his head down to write himself a note which he spoke aloud very faintly but very solemnly, so he might retain the information. This was heard by the entire class: Caution – do not drink the tcha-tcha.

These recaps only scratch about 10% of the surface of my experience so far here.  It is wonderful – better than I imagined.  Thanks for reading.  I love you all.   More to come later (few days?.. week?)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kutaisi  the city I live in

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September 11, 2010
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No, there’s no rat problem in Georgia. I just spent a solid hour typing out my experience so far & just as I was about to wrap it up, the computer crashed.  So for right now, I quit.

General specs:  still in euphoria – wonderful host family – living in Kutaisi – have own room seperate from house – food not so bad (thanks Jit) – Shoes for $8 – many friends made(other teachers) – busy busy – fun language – primitive culture – Beautiful women(no smiling; sends wrong message) – kissing men = handshake – I have failed to meet anyone

I’ll try again soon.




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About author

I'm currently teaching English in the republic of Georgia. I started this blog so that those I love & those interested can read all about my experience.