Monday, October 25, 2010

Teaching, Yarn Making and Cha Cha

So sorry for the delayed update, things have been going so well over here and I haven’t had much time to unpack (literally and figuratively).
I have successfully finished my first week of teaching! Whew! My school is, well, interesting. It’s a large block plopped in the middle of a neighborhood that is about a ten minute bus ride from my house. The school is large—the teachers don’t know how many students are in the school (?) but it seems to be quite large. The classrooms are relatively well equipped—some better than others. All have desks and chairs, and most have blackboards. All the walls are covered in grafitti, some more graphic than others—I would imagine its quite distracting, and the school is equipped with some lovely squatter toilets (more on that to come…)
I teach every grade (yep….) and am teaching about 23 classes per week. I work with five other English teachers of varying abilities (both in terms of their English speaking and their overall teaching effectiveness), but all of them are very sweet and have made me feel loved and appreciated at school. I teach with all of them at some point during the week…and I have some more classes with some than others.
            My kids are overall pretty wonderful. In every class there is, per usual, several students of clearly higher abilities and to counteract those kids, the trouble kids who never bring their books and who throw spitballs in the class. This is to be expected, naturally, but it is definitely frustrating when trying to teach a class of such mixed levels. I have three favorite classes: my third grade class, my 11th grade class (all girls…talk about angelic), and one of my eighth grade classes.
           The third grade kids are totally out of control, speak little to no English, have the attention span of goldfish, but they are so absolutely adorable. One kid is so small he actually managed to lodge his legs in his desk and then lost his balance and fell out of his desk during the ABC’s. I almost died laughing. The have barely learned the alphabet and don’t know any verbs besides “to be”—and even that is rocky. Thus, whenever we talk about family, they say “I am one brother” and “you are one sister?” and then my co-teacher yells at them in Georgian to pay attention. It’s totally out of control and hysterical.
My 11th grade girls are lovely and so driven to learn English. They ask me to take pictures with them and go to McDonalds to hang out (to which I scrunch my face and tell them that in America, a lot of people don’t like mcdonalds, or fast food in general). They are so sweet and I feel like I might actually make a difference with them.
My eighth grade class is enormous and half out of control. The back of the classroom doesn’t give a damn, and they just sit there—but I manage to get their attention sometimes, and I always have the attention of the front 2/3 of the class, including my favorite student who resembles a caterpillar with his unibrow. He speaks horrible English and always talks excitedly to me in Georgian---and he tries to hard in class. He always raises his hand and wants to participate, but he makes so many mistakes and more often than not is never even on the right page, or he repeats the answer that the person before him said. But he tries and is good and has a unibrow. Gotta love him.
            The toilets in school are holes in the floor. It took some getting used to, thats for sure. It turns out I was standing the wrong way for the first two weeks, hence my difficulty using them. My friends died laughing when I told them that I was having such a hard time, and things have been much easier from then on. It still doesn't smell good, but I bring my handy hand sanitizer and have become quite a pro.
           One of the most difficult things about school is the lack of resources in the classrooms and amongst the teachers. Some of the classrooms don’t even have blackboards, and so there is no possibility for us teachers to write anything down for the kids to see. Without tracking classes, kids are lumped together by age and not by ability—and it turns out that many kids in my school have transferred from other schools and speak absolutely no English. In my first class this morning, I had a girl who was almost fluent in English, and a boy in the back of the class who couldn’t even introduce himself. It’s very frustrating.
Georgia, like America, displays an enormous economic disparity. While there certainly are many wealthy students, many of mine cannot afford textbooks, and thus they have no way of keeping up with the lessons. Also, teachers here do not make lesson plans, and all read directly from textbooks and do only the activites in the books. There is little room for creativity, no projects, and it seems no papers. I have so many ideas and so much I want to do…but I have no idea what level the kids are at, because I teach every grade and my English teachers will just point to the book when I ask what the kids are learning. The teachers leave school at 2:30 or so and it seems do not make any plans for the next day (again, no plan... no problem--but it is a problem for me!); they just come in the next day and read more of the textbook, or, as happened today, just tell me to “teach.” Teach what? How? What do they know? It’s incredibly frustrating trying to teach kids when you don’t know what they’ve learned and have difficulty ascertaining that information. We will see what I can muster I made up a tongue twister on the spot because it seems none of my kids can pronounce the sound "th." They all say "ze book" or "zhey ate," so I made up this rhyme on the spot and told them to memorize it for the next class. We'll see what happens...and I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of making things up on the spot over the next two months.

            In other news, I went to the Khakheti region (the cradle of Georgian winemaking) this weekend with other TLG teachers. It was raining, but as our hosts said, “no problem.” We drove an hour and a half outside of the city and went to this lovely farm/vineyard for the afternoon where we had a class in making textiles, wine, cha cha (Georgian vodka…oh god is all I have to say about that), taking care of the farm animals, etc….and then of course we had a supra! God, I love this country. It was so beautiful and picturesque working with these Georgian farmers with hands covered in dirt, laughing as we made yarn together. We couldn’t understand each other, but we somehow still did. Pictures to come! Nachvamdis!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Hello, hello friends and family!
This blog has been a long, long time coming. I apologize for the delay in getting it up and internet here in georgia has been spotty, at best. Anyways, here is a recap of my life. Seriously.

My flight from the States to Georgia was on October birthday. My special day began with my dad and I sitting at the airport, begging the Delta and American Airlines crew to give me a flight out of boston. Five hours of pleading and re-working, I had a flight to JFK, and a whole new itinerary. Stressful for somone who loves (read: needs) a plan. My flight to JFK went smoothly and there I had some time to meet my now close friend Caroline, with whom I was to be traveling to Kiev, Ukraine. Turns out there were many other TLG friends on the plane, and we all met in Kiev after our 8 1/2 hour flight in which I befriended both the cute Russian girl next to me in order to understand the menu choices and the large man behind me who kept waking me up with his goings to the bathroom. Lovely.
Anyways, we arrived in the Ukraine for just a quick layover, and quickly got ready for our much smaller plane bound for Tbilisi, Georgia. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and claustrophobic sitting next to two large Georgian man, on the back of the plane, squished up against the widow eating what appeared to be a small piece of turkey  (but we really dont know). However, when we started flying over the Caucasus mountains, I forgot all my worries and just revelled in how stunningly beautiful this part of the world is. It really looked like it did in pictures.....enormous, majestic snow capped mountains laying the ground for green, rolling hills. It was BEAUTIFUL. suddenly, this random trip seemed less random and more determined.
We landed in Tbilisi aroud 5 30 pm, met our TLG leaders, other TLG members (TLG is the organization that runs my stands for Teach and Learn with Georgia--google that!!!) and were whisked away. Where? We didn't know. No one decided to tell us anything, so imagine our suprise when we pulled up to none other than the Sheraton hotel. One week in a five star hotel with pool and hot tub? BYE. Couldn't have been a better birthday present. We were thrilled, I hopped in the pool, we ate dinner, and went to sleep early.
The following week was comprised of training....for roughly ten hours a day. Four hours of Georgian language lessons, four hours of Georgian cultural lessons, hours of teaching methodologies, and meetings with doctors, bank represetatives, and group leaders made a week fly by, yet despite the crazy schedules, I managed to make some wonderful friends. Everyone on this program is so different and interesting, and they come from all over the world. We all bonded so much in just five days, and though most of us are clustered in or around Tbilisi (the capital), it was hard to leave each other at the end of training.
The day we met our families was like a really twisted and anxiety-provoking game of red rover. The teachers stood on one side of the room, the expectant families on the other side. It was WEIRD, and felt like we were eyeing the "good" families, and they the "good" teachers. My name was called and I met my host mother, took my bags and got in a cab to start my new life here.
To make a very long story short, it didn't work out with my first host family. They were absolutely lovely (mother and son), but the living arrangments and set-up were not what I was expecting and not what had been arranged in my contract. After nights of not sleeping and feeling ill, I finally called a TLG team member, and he came to my home that night to take me away. He literally whisked me into a hotel (I was a sobbing, bubbling mess by this poit) and promised to find me a new host family within three days. Thus, I spent the next two days and nights in a lovely hotel with a room all to myself, and even met a few other teachers who were at the hotel, also waiting for a new host family. I made best friends with them (obviously), and we scampered around the city and shopped and became more and more acquainted with this amazing country. One afternoon (Thursday?) I got a call from Giga, the man I had talked to, saying that he would be by to get me at 6 o'clock that evening to bring me to my new host family. A brief freak out moment later, I raced home to pack my bags, and was brought by TLG to my new home, where I am now.

I now live in Saburtalo, which is a district in Tbilisi. There are various forms of transportation that I can take...and while I'm learning how to get around and where to go, what the names of the streets are, etc., I am definitely rising to meet this challenge. I'm speaking more and more georgian with the bus drivers and marshutka drivers (and obviously my family), and have taken getting very lost on the outskirts of tbilisi (ie last night) in stride. This is a big challenge for many of you know, this is my first time out of the country, and moreoever, my first time traveling ALONE. It has been very, very difficult at times, and I have thought about coming home and giving up. But I think about why I came here, and how it is that we grow into more mature beings, more in touch with ourselves--and I realize that it is experiences like getting lost on a bus on the outskirts of tbilisi that we come to better know ourselves. This is hard, but it's also incredibly amazing and rewarding and I think will be transformative in ways I didn't think possible. "We grow only through discomfort," is a quote that I read the other day. It has proven to be true thus far.

My host family here in Saburtalo is wonderful; I have a mom (deda), a dad (mama), and a da (sister), named Mari. They are lovely--the parents are in their 30s, and Mari (who I call 'chemi kartopili' (my potato)) is nine. I love them, and their house is comfortable and I feel safe in it...which is all I needed. They give me my space when I need it but also encourage me to be with them and obviously want me to spend time with them, and they me. I feel so incredibly luck to have them.

Anyways, I need to go take a nap because I didn't get to bed until late last night. On the way home from meeting some friends for dinner, I got a call from one of my Georgian friends asking if I would please come to his birthday "supra," or a big, big party with lots of drinks and food. Last minute? Yes. But i wasn't passing up supra....for the Georgians, it seems, no plan, no problem!!!