Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kargad (means- good, goodbye...and the word I use for everything)

I've almost made it through my first week of school, and I'm loving each day more and more. The kids are so eager to have me in their classes. I especially love the 7th grade. They were learning body parts the other day so I did a brief game of "Simon Says" and then taught them the song "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." Nothing puts a smile on a person's face like a room full of Georgian kids singing that song! 
I have to say though that I definitely for see many challenges in the future with the teachers in my school. There are three english teachers and they all have openly admitted they do not understand me a lot of the time. I do love them for doing their best to communicate with me, and make me feel at home. The other teacher's in my school however have taken a different approach to me being there. They are baffled as to why I do not speak fluent Georgian, and every day this week they ask me why. Today, in the teacher's lounge, after they clearly were all talking about me and my lack of Georgian skills, I couldn't take it anymore. I told the head english teacher who I love, to tell them that first off I am not a peace corps volunteer so I didn't not get 12 weeks of training, I only had one. Second, off now that I'm living with my host family I am teaching myself Georgian and I do not have a class to attend anymore. Finally, if any of you would like to tutor me I would be so glad for your help. And then I didn't say goodbye to them when I left the room (my way of acting angry). I think they got the message. 
I'm not good a languages to begin with, and on top of everything I have an eager Georgian sister that always wants to translate, and my friend Michelle who speaks fluent Russian. Its definitely easy to coast. I hope that as I go out on my own more it will force me to pick it up faster. Everyday that I'm out I run into my students or someone that I've seen at my house. So far our conversations have consisted of "Hello, How are you? Good. You? Good." The end. I've added in something out the weather if I'm really feeling risky haha. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Georgian Maybe Everything

Even though I've been living with my Georgian family for a few days I realized that the stereotype of Georgians not planning anything is so very true. Take Sunday for example the whole day I was told we would be going to Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia. As we drove into the mountains I had a funny feeling that we were not going to the city. We ended up going to this village that used to be underwater! It was really beautiful and we went on this foot bridge right out of a video game. Basically, it should not have been walked on by humans if you wanted to live but all five of us managed to make it there and back so I guess it all worked out. 

Today, was my first day of school. I really enjoyed meeting all the kids, and the other english teachers. It seems like everyone is happy to have me, and wants me to help them with their english. I do however feel like I'm in a fish bowl. All the kids kept staring at me through out their lessons, and I could not put one word into the conversation in the teacher's lounge. I guess things will get easier once I find a teacher to give me Georgian lessons during my breaks. My school is over a 100 years old, and is definitely not in the best condition compared to many of the newer schools in my town. I kind of like that though. For a while I felt like I wasn't in a country that needed that much help, but being in this school makes me realize how far behind Georgia actually is. Everyday I get a history lesson on the Soviet Union and communist regime. Its crazy how much was left out in my history books, and how educated Georgians are on the subject. I've already started to brainstorm ideas of how I can help out the school. One of my first missions is going to try to get english books donations. I went into their "library" which was first off a small room, and found only 4 english books that weren't even really "books." They were workbooks! How can children enjoy reading english if all they know is in a workbook?

This whole experience so far as made me think back to my education, and learning French through out middle school and high school. I want my kids to enjoy their learning experience, and I hope I can drill into their heads that learning a second language will open so many doors. I wish someone had made me understand that earlier in life. 

So more on the home front...I'm starting to realize that I will never have my own ever. So like I explained before my family has 3 homes (I said two earlier, but apparently they have 3). BUT we all have been living in this little apartment all week. My room is the dining room. I got home from work thinking maybe I would take a nap, and Eka my little brother is in the dining room aka my room for tutoring. Yay for no space..ever. Currently I'm in the "family room" wanting to go to bed, but my dad is playing the piano in the dining room. Its just a lot different than my American family where we all have our own space. Usually I'm in my room, my mom is in the family room, and my dad is in the basement. It definitely does not phase my Georgian family at all. Today was really nice though when I got home because I just had lunch with Grandma. She is adorable! We speak in charades, Georgian, Russian, and English.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hairy, Sweaty Georgians = Yummy Wine

I am officially out of the honeymoon phase and into the real Georgia! I have been placed in Samtredia, Georgia in the Imertia region about a 30 minute drive from Kutisi and an hour and a half from Batumi. I would describe it as a small town. There are shops, a park, 13 schools, railroad station, and lots of crazy Georgian drivers. I am definitely not in the middle of nowhere. Its half way between a big city and village aka perfect for me. 

I left the training building around 10am on Friday morning with 4 other volunteers. Everyone else was taking the bus to Tblisi since they are all being placed around there. As we drove my stomach was turning in knots, and I couldn't not wait to meet my family. We finally arrived in Samtredia, and after a few moments the driver of the van came back with 5 women. I wasn't sure which one was my mother! Finally, I was introduced to the director of my school, two english teachers, some family friends, and finally my mother, Layla. Then my two siblings came to greet me with big hugs and kisses. Nino, my sister, is 16 and Irakli (or Ika) is 12. They are adorable!! Nino speaks really good english, and is always eager to speak to me, and Eka is just adorable and speaks to me in little broken english words. 

One thing I find crazy is that my family has two homes! They have a house a little outside the city center and then an apartment very close to everything. We basically go back and forth each day. The parents gave up their bedroom for me in their big home, and I feel so bad! And the Grandma, Lilly, slept on the couch! They even had someone hook up a TV system so that way I can watch some TV in english. My parents are really sweet. At first I wasn't sure if they didn't like me, but I think they are starting to warm up to me. I think they are disappointed I don't speak Georgian or Russian. I guess with different cultures its hard to tell. 

I'm sad I'm not near the friends I made at orientation, but I'm sooo happy to have Michelle, Melissa, and our new friend Emily. Its so great to have them all close by, and especially Michelle who speaks great Russian and can communicate to my family. I think they will all make my transition here ALOT easier and more fun!!

Tonight I experienced the Georgian tradition of wine making. It was so incredible to see the pressed grapes turn into yummy wine. They said they take the grapes that are left over and make Georgian vodka...cha cha!

I'm really lucky that my family is happy to have me and I got my one wish..indoor plumbing! I think this is going to be a great year!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Super Sweet 16 (Georgian Style)

Over the past few days I have gone through some intense teach english training, some small dips into the Georgian culture, and a lot of struggling with the Georgian language. Our whole week was basically planned out from the start, and we really didn't even have time to think. My Georgian teacher Nana was so patient and kind, and even wrote out phrases like "I am allergic to wheat." for me in Georgian so I can communicate that to my family. 

We basically didn't leave the training building over the first few days unless it was to go to the bar across the street or down to the local market. One thing I can't get quite used to is the staring. For some Georgians, like a person I met the other night, this is the first time they are seeing Americans. I have done my fair share of traveling, but I have never felt like such a foreigner before. The language barrier definitely doesn't help. My friend Maryann and I were in a shop for 15 minutes trying to communicate stain remover. I'm thankful that Georgians are extremely kind and enjoy communicating no matter the charades! 

One funny story I must share and explains the title of this blog is that on Monday night we were finally let loose in the city center of Kutsiti. My friends Suriya, Melissa and I were walking around and started to hear some loud music. We thought that it would lead us to a bar or dance club so we walked that way. When we finally came to the source of the loud music we discovered it wasn't a bar, but it was someone's home! We stood there for a few moments laughing at our mistake, but soon a few young girls and older woman came towards us. So using the basic Georgian we knew we told them how sorry we were. Once they realized that we were American english teachers they insisted that we come in. One of the young girls spoke up and said in beautiful english that it was her 16th birthday, and it would make her birthday if we joined in on the party. Well, we couldn't say no to free homemade Georgian wine and food! This is what our culture class was preparing us for right? haha. All the kids were speaking amazing English and the father kept toasting us in Georgian saying "God has sent us here. Here is to Georgia, America, and Russia!!!" He was in love with Melissa and kept asking her over and over again if she was Russian. Although we did end up missing the bus back, and had to experience our first Georgian taxi experience (we got home just fine) it was one of those nights that only happen once in a life time. We truly got to experience Georgian hospitality at its best. 

So now on the eve of my last day of training I'm feeling all types of emotions. Tomorrow I will set out for Samtredia to meet my host family and start the next leg of my journey. I'm excited to settle into my new home, catch up with Michelle and Melissa (my two friends that are already there) and begin teaching English!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Georgia on the my my my my mind

I am officially in Georgia and it has been an incredible journey thus far! I say journey because it really feels like I have been through it all. I guess I will start with my flight...

In Newark Int'l Airport I was able to connect with Raphaela, another volunteer, with the same crazy flight schedule as me. It was great having someone to travel with, especially since we had an eleven hour layover in Munich! Even though we both barely got any sleep on our flight to Germany we both hit the ground running to see as much of the city as we could in the little time we had.

One of the highlights of Munich is the famous beer hall named the Hofbrahaus. I informed her that due to my Celiac disease I could not drink beer, and she then told me that she is allergic to alcohol. Oh what a pair we were! Our waiter was insistent that we order beer, and after we ordered our water and sprite he rolled his eyes at us! Oh well, I guess you can't win them all.

After just barely making it back to our second flight hah we were able to meet up with about 12 other volunteers. It was exciting to finally meet the people I would be spending the next week with. We didn't make it into Tbilisi till after 3:30am. At this point I had been up for over 24 hours, and I was exhausted! However, through this tiredness I still managed to get the email and phone number of the Georgian boy sitting near me on my flight!

Anyways, after meeting up with everyone at the airport it wasn't till after 5:30am that we finally arrived at the hotel, and this is when we were informed that we not only had to meet with the Minister of Education and Science that day, but we had to wake up by 10am if we wanted breakfast and be checked out of the hotel by noon. Needless to say we were not pleased, but I think the excitement of finally being here pushed us through.

After my 3 hour power nap I was able to meet the other volunteers that had checked in the day before, so we are a total of 50. Meeting the minister was really exciting especially since there were so many press, and we all got to taste our first glass of Georgian wine! After that it was back to the hotel, then a lovely dinner on the outskirts of town, followed by a 5 hour bus ride to Kutisi where we would be learning Georgian and teaching methodologies for the next week (and where I am now). When we finally did reach our final destination I can not tell you how amazing it was to lay my head down on a pillow!

I've only gone through my first day of classes, but I already can tell I will be learning a lot. One thing I must comment on before heading off to dinner is that I LOVE all the volunteers here. There is about 50 of us, and not one of us is alike. We all come from such different backgrounds and cultures. There are volunteers from the States, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Romania. Everyone has such interesting stories to share about their world traveling, and speaking with them makes me realize more and more why I decided to do this, and truly confirms that this will be a great experience!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"It's all happening!"

Wow, it's the night before I'm about to embark on an incredible journey. I'm not sure where to begin. Lets flashback to Spring 2009 when I studied abroad in London, and I interned at Operation  Smile UK. I had an amazing experience being the Volunteer Coordinator where I scheduled medical volunteers on missions to operate on children all around the world. During this time I was able to truly understand the meaning of international development and working in the developing world, and I wanted more. 

During my senior year I began researching and applying to all different kinds of international fellowships to have the opportunity to work in places like Rwanda or India. I was determined to make a difference in the world. After going on second and even third interviews for some extremely competitive positions nothing seemed to come through. So it seemed I would be doomed to the cubical world or waitressing life until one night my roommate Michelle and her roommate from studying abroad, Melissa, found the opportunity to teach english in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia through Teach and Learn with Georgia and Greenheart Travel.

After being accepting into the program I debated back and forth if this was the right program for me. My heart was really set on Africa or South America, but after weighing the pros and cons I decided how could I past up the opportunity to help a country that has never received help like this before and in addition do it with two of my friends! I was elated to get started on my dream to help others in a developing country, and yet I was delayed due to some medical record issues. So as my friends left the country without me, I had two and half more weeks to enjoy the States, my family, and work on my Georgian (or try to at least). 

Now it is time for me to get started on my own journey, and I am feeling all different kinds of emotions. I'm so excited to meet the other teachers, and to explore different parts of Georgia during our orientation week. From the other blogs I've read of teachers that are already in Georgia our homestay placements are going to vary. Everything from living in a town with wifi and indoor plumbing to living on a farm, 30 mins from town, with not one English speaking family member. All I know is that I will be flying into Tblisi, and then attending orientation in Kutaisi. After that, I'll be living with a family in the Imereti region, and working in a school 5 days a week as a teacher's assistant till July 2011. This is going to be an adventure, but I'm ready to take it on!

So if you are wondering where my blog title comes from it's from Winston Churchill when he said, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." My whole life I have always been volunteering and giving back to the community. I started off as a Girl Scout cleaning up my local park, and now I'm off to educate Georgian children. Although, I do have a feeling they will end up teaching me much more than I will teach them. And like Kate Hudson's character, Penny Lane, so passionately said, and I believe this fits perfectly with my life right now, "It's all happening!"