Friday, December 17, 2010

Tis' The Season!

Over the past few weeks I've been teaching and practicing different Christmas, New Years, and Winter songs with each of my classes in preparation for a winter concert. Since my first week at school Nana always mentioned how she wanted to put on a holiday show, and today it took place! 

Since we don't have a stage or all-purpose type room the concert took place in our large music room. I wanted to have a party along with the kids singing songs so for the first hour just the 3rd, 4th, and 5th formers came in for fun. We had tables set up for them to write their own Christmas cards and letters to Santa. I wrote out samples like 'Dear Bob, Roses are Red. Violets are Blue. I want to wish a very Happy New Year to you!' Many of the kids copied from my examples even adding in 'Dear Bob' haha. I put out smiley face and star stickers and they went WILD over them! I now know what to bribe them with for next semester! 

So much love for 'Tara Teacher'

I also created a 'Pin The Nose on the Rudolph' game. They could not get enough of it! I even had 7th and 8th graders sneaking into the room to play! It amazes me sometimes that the simplest things, like games or songs I've known my whole life, are so incredibly enjoyable for them. 

Pin the Nose on the Rudolph!

The concert part of the day went great! Each class came into the room to preform for teachers, parents, and some members of the educational resource center. I really could not have been more proud of all my children. Even the 6th formers who did not know the last few verses of 'Let it Snow' pulled it off in style! 

'Dashinggg thwru thee snoww'

My 11th and 12th formers were definitely the stars of the show. They preformed a skit that we wrote together in class about drinking on New Years, and then they sang 'Jingle Bell Rock' and 'So This is Christmas.' My principal liked it so much that she had them do 'Jingle Bell Rock' again in order to catch it on camera! 

Its the right time to rock the night away!

The concert was a success! I was even interviewed by a journalist from the neighboring city of Kutaisi! I really enjoyed teaching my kids songs. It made me remember all the shows I was in growing up, and how much fun it all was. 

The girls got in on the fun too

So that is a wrap for my first semester in Georgia! I'm flying to Israel with the three other Samtredia gals on Monday for our winter break. I'm not sure how much internet access I will have, but I will be sure to blog if I can get some. Until then, Happy holidays and Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am Woman...Hear Me Roar!

Through out my training it was emphasized that Georgia is an extremely male dominated country and in many regions of Georgia, females are expected to wait hand and foot on the males in their family. I have definitely seen many examples of this backwards behavior, but I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the strength of the women's voice in Georgia. 

Three people that I have come to know and love and would not be able to get through my day without happen to all be strong women.

Firstly, my Bebia. She is the backbone of my family. I'm not sure if my family or now I, could function without her. She wakes up before I do and goes to bed way past I do, and is seriously a powerhouse. Although some of my friends also have Bebias, she is 'The Bebia' to us all. Even at only 4'11 she is a dominating figure, and you never mess with her. She cooks all the meals, does all the laundry, cleans, irons, sews, and is overall the ultimate Georgian Bebia. She also doesn't let Alvto, my Georgian Dad, tell her what to do. She is always concerned about how I'm doing, and she has been amazing about my gluten free needs. I've probably spent the most time with her out of all the family members too. However, she will never replace my American grandmas, Mom-Mom and Granny! 

Next is, Nana, the head English teacher at my school. I was really concerned at first that I would be working with an older teacher since I heard they did not like new teaching methods, and were not happy to have American teachers in Georgia. However, it has been the complete opposite with her. She was thrilled that I came to work at her school, and is so thankful to have me. She is always wants me to teach her new English words, and we are always brainstorming ways to get our kids to come to class hah. She is seriously my life line at school, and I'm not sure I would be able to get by without her since my other two English teachers I can barely hold I conversation with. She has been teaching at my school for over 40 years so we always get into deep conversations about the Soviet Union, and how those times were. Its amazing how much she has been through, and yet she is still keeps up to date with current Georgian pop singers and actresses. I know the feeling is mutual because the other day she met Michelle, and she goes 'I have three grandchildren, Nanuka, Zuka, and Tara!'

My final power woman is Sopho. Sopho is a geography teacher at my school and also happens to be Nana's daughter-in-law. She is such a friendly, out-going person and I'm so happy to have her in my life. She runs the Samtredia newspaper, and introduced me to her entire office that I enjoy visiting frequently. It amazes me how much she does and sometimes I wonder if she ever sleeps! She is a mother of two, teacher, journalist and so on. One thing that I find so refreshing about Sopho is that she is always trying to better herself. She takes English lessons twice a week, and she is always asking me to practice with her. She is also learning how to drive which is very unusual for most Georgian women. I find her passion for life to be so motivating. Even though we have big language barriers sometimes it does not stop us from talking to each other. She gives me hope for young Georgian woman out there that you can have a family, work, and dress fashionably all at once! 

I'm so thankful to have met these amazing Georgian women during my time here. I would also like to say that the three Samtredia go-gos are also 'power women' in my life, and without them I do not know what I would do!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gluten-Free In Georgia

Almost a year and half ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. So basically every time I would eat anything with gluten in it aka bread, pasta, cookies, granola bars etc. my body would attack itself and tear at my small intestine. The symptoms are very common such as stomach pains, head aches, long bathroom visits (need I say more) that I was probably suffering for many years and never knew. The only treatment for Celiac Disease right now is a gluten-free diet. 

When I was first diagnosed I would still have gluten here or there. How could I not share a pitcher of beer with my friends during Happy Hour? (Yes, beer's main ingredient is wheat, so wine and vodka for me!) After a few weeks of doing the diet half way I realized if I really want to feel better and help my body I'm going to have to give up gluten all together. 

Going gluten-free in the States is surprisingly a lot easier than you would think. There is a lot of gluten-free products in general super market stores, and a lot of big restaurant chains have gluten-free menus. However, being gluten-free in Georgia has presented some interesting dilemmas. 

Bread is a HUGE part of every Georgian's diet. They seriously eat it for at least one meal a day. Every family is different so I won't generalize for the whole population. I'll just talk about my family. My family eats bread with every meal. Breakfast and Dinner consist of usually just bread and cheese, and then lunch is the main larger meal where we usually have meat of some sort. 

During my week of training I had my Georgian language teacher translate a bunch of phrases for me like "I can not eat wheat, barley, oats, and rye." "I am allergic to wheat." Even though I'm not technically allergic its just easier sometimes to explain it that way. I explained my condition to my family on my first day, and at first they were a little freaked out. Every Georgian I have met can not believe I do not eat bread. My family has been pretty amazing about it though. There is this corn bread that I'm able to eat since its made out of corn flour so my Bebia makes it for me all the time. She has also made me cakes and pizza out of it too! I don't think they fully understand my disease because a few weeks ago when I got attacked by bugs and my face was bitten up they asked if I ate bread haha. 

Bebia making me a gluten-free pizza!

Gluten-free gal!

Eating out in Georgia has been a bit of a challenge. I have learned a few different meals that are gluten free so I usually just stick to those. However, grabbing something quick presents a bit of a problem since most quick meals are bread. I've been savoring my gluten free protein bars, and I am excited to stock up when I'm in Israel! 

It is definitely sad sometimes when I watch my friends chow down on some kachapouri or kinkali and I can not take part in enjoying the delicious traditional Georgian foods. But I know I am keeping my body healthy by doing so and plus I don't need the extra calories anyways! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

You Drive Me Crazy

Transportation in Georgia is a breed of its own. I thought the drivers in Rome were fast or the buses in London were crazy, but nothing and I mean NOTHING can compare to Georgian transportation. 
There are a few ways to get around including large coach type buses, trains, taxis, cars, and my personal favorite marshutkas. Marshutkas are small mini buses that travel all over the country and are definitely the most used transportation in Georgia. You can pick up a marshutka basically anywhere along side the rode, and even though they are only meant to fit 15 there have been times where I've seen 25 people packed in!
Me and the other three Samtredia girls took a quick trip to Batumi this past Saturday to get away for a night. We had interesting marshutka rides both ways. On our way there we got into a car accident. We were riding along and all of a sudden...BANG!! I'm not sure if it was our fault or not, but no one was hurt which is the most important thing. The car's complete front end was  torn off, and our marshutka had a flat tire. We got lucky and were able to pick up another marshutka to Batumi within minutes. And since we were only 20 minutes away our 10 lari trip turned out to only be 2 laris! 
On our way back to Samtredia on Sunday we were having a smooth ride until a little boy decided to throw up a half a kilo of berries on the floor a few inches from my feet. The driver pulled over, and the poor kid went outside to puke out another half a kilo. The rest of the trip the marshutka smelled faintly of berries and pee. I took a shower as soon as I got home. 
Its really refreshing to take my 20 minute walk to school every morning. Its also relieving to not be driven. Georgians like to drive fast! My family's driver Dato, thinks he is apart of the Nascar as he speeds down the road with no sign of slowing down. No one ever wears seat belts so as were driving down a bumpy, non-paved road going 75 mph were also bouncing around like corn kernels being popped! I know that the government is starting to implement stricter rules on the main roads such as wearing seat belts, speeding, and dark windows, but it doesn't stop the townies from driving like maniacs!
When I first came to Georgia my family kept asking to look at my license. I thought it was only because it looked so different than theirs, but really it was because there aren't that many women drivers here. In my town I've rarely seen any at all. I guess it comes back to power and control, and a woman driving a car would just mean they could get away faster. 
Sopho, a geography teacher at my school and Nana's daughter in law is learning how to drive. She is driving a car without a license and offered me a ride home the other day. I declined and said I love to walk (which I do!). I love the idea of more Georgian woman drivers, but I don't want to be the passenger car accident dummy either!