Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Conclusion Post

Last post, folks. I'm here to tell of my last two weeks of teaching.

The second to last week, I ran the classrooms, and my Co-teacher provided translation wherever needed. One of the activities I made up was a way for the students to tell the time. I would send one student up to the front of the classroom, and they would think of a time in their heads. With their arms acting as arms of a clock, they would show the class their time. I would then ask "What time is so-and-so?" And the students would try and respond to the correct time. I had to tell the clocks to think of more difficult times, because the class was getting the idea so quickly!

Once each student got to go up, and if there was any extra time, I would teach the students Hangman. I realize now that hangman teaches not only spelling, but classroom management. I would only call on the students sitting quietly and raising their hand. My once unruly and chaotic students have suddenly become well behaved! I should have done this months ago. Hangman would also teach students the subtle differences between English letters and how they are spoken. Oftentimes students will confuse 'c' for 's' or 'k' for 'c', or 'e' for 'i'. When saying the alphabet in Georgian, you don't say the name, but the sound. So ATM would be 'ahh tuh mm' I have needed to explain the importance of the difference, being as the sounds of the letters change, and can cause confusion if they are pronounced phonetically.

The reason why I have been playing games was to instill a bit of a legacy in my Co-teachers. I have often wondered how the English lessons will run when I'm gone. I hope my two Co-teachers will carry on with different lesson plans. If not, than I just taught my students games to play.

From teaching at the primary level, I realize just how little you learn at school. What is more important the student discovers how to learn, and the techniques taught to them will aid them when they finally settle down!

I am surprised at how many of my students have learned these past few months. My students are much more adept in carrying on a conversation. No longer do they keep to the basics, but can babble fluently, even if we throw in some Georgian vocabulary.
Walking home with of my students has been more of an impact when compared to the classroom. We are able to freely communicate about our surroundings. My walking companions are able to speak about their surroundings. They can converse about trees, oranges, mandarins, stones, snakes, flowers, butterflies...and cow poop! "What is it?" Asked one of my students, as he pointed to a fresh cow-patty in the road. Unable to refrain from ignoring him, I replied 'defecation.' The word soon spread to the rest of the students, and 'defecation' became the most English word of them all. Another question asked, "Taylor, what means Opo Gangnam style?" That question stumped me.

The last week of school had ended as the school had begun: a large chaotic mess where little learning was accomplished. I wouldn't call it a waste of time. This lack of classes was due to a end of the year concert performance. The children would put on singing, comedy, dance, and musical acts. Christmas themed, colorful, the whole school was decorated in a Christmas decor. Among the acts, two of my eighth grade students had requested me to teach them a Cha-Cha-Cha routine with some music. The past two weeks were spent finalizing the performance. Along with theirs, the staff and students wanted to see me dance, so I threw in a short Salsa routine as well with another one of my students.

When it came time for the concert, the school faculty and parents were in attendance. The concert went smoothly, and the acts were heartwarming and cute. The dances went well and got a good reaction out of the crowd. I'm so proud of my dance students! Together we introduced Latin dance into the village!

I wrote this message a month from when school ended. Since then, I was traveling in Turkey. This is a story in itself, and would distract the reader too much on the aims of the blog ( to highlight the travels and insight I gained while teaching and living in Georgia.) I went back to Georgia after the new year, to spend the rest of the time with my host family for a few days of celebrating Orthodox Christmas on the 6th. Although the final day was stressful, due to my bags being lost while in Turkey. I had to deal with one airline company while planning on how to get to Tbilisi before my flight. At the same time, I was giving my goodbyes and collecting souvenirs.

And that is the end of the blog. I hope you enjoyed reading about one English teachers experience in the Republic of Georgia. In sum, I've seen a peaceful regime change, had coffee with boarder guards, made my own wine, explored cave cities, learned a foreign language, gained teaching experience, met some awesome people, and saw a lot of history! I thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog, and sharing what I have seen with you all. If you ever are considering visiting Georgia or teaching English abroad, I highly recommend visiting this little part of the world.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Friday, November 17th to Monday, December 3rd: Georgian wedding

At the far end of my village lies the home of my friend, Shorena. Her Sister, Salome was to have a wedding in Batumi. Georgian weddings are a big deal, and I was invited to come. In a addition to a free night of delicious food and ample drink, Shorena, being a dancer was to perform at the wedding reception. I told her my involvement in ballroom dancing, and was willing to teach it to her. Soon after learning this, Shorena requested that we dance at Salome's wedding. I imagined doing tango or cha-cha, but could see the guests forming all sorts of misinformed opinions of our otherwise platonic friendship. We decided to dance the jive. being that it is a light hearted dance, I felt it was appropriate for a wedding.

The request that we dance at Salome's wedding was made a two weeks before the date. I had to: teach Shorena jive steps, introduce to her the styling particular to that dance, and create a short choreographed routine to a song. Shorena had me come over to her house and we would practice on a covered porch on a smooth mosaic floor at the entrance to her house (after being royally fed). Miraculously, Shorena learned the dance quickly; obviously due to forte as a dance instructor, and partly due to her already being a dancer. Georgian dancing is highly energetic and there are kicking motions that are similar to jive. Within the first week, we had danced a number of moves to an array of songs. By the second week, we had just finished a routine to the tune "Why do fools fall in love?" Our last practice, I was notified that we were to have 500 spectators for this humble performance!

When it came to be the day of the wedding, my family demanded that I look my best. Donning my only suit, I walked to meet Shorena. I arrived that morning at Salome and Shorena's home. I brought with me Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, which was a great asset in providing entertainment while waiting for the wedding to start. During this period, family and guests showed up to the house. After some greetings, pictures and toasts, we left in a column of cars, honking horns to announce the marriage. The first stop would be the church. 

Inside the parish's church, there was an orthodox priest who gave the wedding services. It was all in Georgian, but you could get the gist of it. At this wedding it was not all that important for people to be in attendance. Some were loitering outside the building and others were just casually standing in watch of the ceremony. It was surprising to me how light the actual ceremony was. At one point, the priest had to shush some of the more noisy of the crowd. On another occasion, the priest's I-phone went off; he simply handed it to his assistant, who answered the phone for him! From there, our caravan sped off to Batumi, wafts of dun air rotated ellipsoidal above as tires tore through the dirt road from the parish.

I had a really bad time at this point. Part of Georgian weddings consist of driving around town, honking horns, announcing to the world their flourishing matrimony. I didn't mind the gloating on an otherwise private event, what upset me was the bad driving. Georgian drivers already take risks, but this was too much. The driver who's car I was in was more fervent in his display of driving. He would tailgate, run red lights, go into opposing traffic, etc. Witnessing this on a daily basis, I am somewhat used to risk-taking, and for the most part, am able to tolerate a moderate amount. Our driver was much more avid on showing off, which I can not stand. I never felt the need to punch anyone in Georgia before now.

Once out of the car, the caravan stopped and got on a small ferry in Batumi harbor. We took off and went on a short trip along the Batumi shore. The boat traveled on a mirrored surface, the Black Sea was very calm this day. Opaque jellies swam just below the water's surface. We took pictures of the couple, and simply enjoyed the sunny day along the Black Sea coast. The boat ride lasted no more than forty minutes and the group once again piled into their cars. I went into a separate car this time. Thankfully not all of the drivers were so eager to die with their passengers.

The restaurant we arrived at was a banquet hall. Every table was filled with the rest of the guests. Up until now, our group was no more than twenty five people. The square hall contained the 475 other guests, already sitting on purple and white decorated tables, feasting and toasting to the newly arrived guests. At the end was an elevated platform where the bride and groom sat themselves, away from the other guests. Adjacent to their right were 4 singers and a keyboard. The group was hired to sing polyphonic Georgian music, as well as provide recorded music for dancing.

Right away we sat and ate among the revelers. It was Georgian traditional dishes, and a white wine especially made for weddings. The restaurant had a designated toast master, or Tamada. my neighbors applauded his eloquence and said he was a good tamada. By the way he was tosting, I imagined the message he carried sounded like this "Go forth and have lots of Georgian babies, which will strengthen our country against our sworn enemies! Meanwhile, we shall have yet another excuse to get really drunk!" It may be that I am just getting homesick or, I have become jaded to the whole supra tradition.

Having to constantly refuse alcohol being thrust upon me is a downer. Seriously, I'm don't like the feeling of drunkenness all that much. To many Georgians, getting drunk is the greatest feeling in the world. What is more, hospitality is tied into drinking. Men would hound me for not drinking, like that of a high school party. I was not going to be pressured to drink. Firmly refusing, however politely will inevitably leave most of them satisfied. Though with some, I have to just refuse several times, consequentially bringing on offence. In my mind, these hosts just want to see how an American gets drunk. I no longer care for offending, Their opinions I simply ignore.

Towards the end of the night, on of the children left an impression on my opinion of Georgian culture. I felt a tap on my shoulder. Spinning around on my chair, I faced this boy. His eyes were polished brown spheres wiggling in their sockets. His began to sway and stumble, holding himself up with tables and chairs. By then he and his sister had been swooping up the untended glasses of wine, in imitation of their elders. Trying to dissuade children to stop guzzling wine was an even bigger downer. I wish they knew what they were doing to themselves, but unfortunately they have few role models to look after. That being said, I am so thankful for my host family, who are much more moderate towards drinking. They are a beacon of moderation in a society that boosts of its dipsomaniac behavior.

Not all of the wedding was bad. I enjoyed spending time with my friends Nino, Shorena and Mari. Those gals are great! I feel deep friendship are more obtainable with Georgian women than with Georgian men. They do not thrust drinking upon me, or behave chauvinistically. Seriously, some men don't know how to act around foreigners! Puffing out their chests, driving erratically and pouring drinks down their guest's throat is not helping my opinion of them. Plus, women generally speak better English. Communication flows and friendships ensue .

We were able to dance to pop music, as well as traditional dancing. I am slowly getting the gist of Georgian dancing. The encouragement from my dance partners bears my courage to try it some more, and am ready to try again when the situation calls!

Towards the end of the night, I was able to witness justice upon the most wicked. The dipsomaniacs who professed their prodigal tolerance to drink could be seen in the parking lot, pouring onto the sidewalk all the night's toasts in jerking cathartic gestures.

Watching drunk uncles and cousins hit on my lady friends made me laugh. Watching drunk uncles and cousins fight in the parking lot at the end of the event (partly due to rejection) was a jewel of a memory!

After waking up at Shorena's house, my head awash with yester night's events. I was entreated to breakfast. Before I realized what was going on, we were returning to the banquet hall, for another round of reckless abandonment! I was thankful for Ivanhoe, and its remedy for my boredom.

I am so thankful for being included in events such as this wedding, and will note the good points as time passes, but I am starting to harbor ennui for my life here. I have had burst of homesickness during the wedding.

With only a few weeks left, I have the temptation to live on autopilot, and wait for the rest of my time to pass as quickly as possible. Living this way is rotten, and to combat this mindset, I remember what I came to Georgia for.

What has been helping my attitude are some of my students. Getting to learn from them and to see them communicate gives meaning to my work. There has been so much improvement in my students, and I can see that my influence on them shall continue in my absence!

Another activity which I have been enjoying is harvesting mandarins. This month, the mandarins, which provides as a source of income, to the homesteads of Gorgadzeebi, have ripened. A great amount of, picking, carrying, sorting and storing the citrus fruit has taken place in the village homesteads. Including my host family. I have been actively helping in the harvest. At first arrival, I was dissuaded by my family. I persisted my offers to help and they relented, there was far too much work to be done to pass any offers of assistance. Clippers were handed to me. Short instructions were given (the stem should be cut precisely where it attaches to the peel, so as to prevent the stem from puncturing neighboring fruit.) Next, I was with my family in our mandarin grove. My favorite part of the work is climbing the trees for the largest and juiciest mandarins on the high boughs . Being the most expensive, it is appropriate that they are the hardest to obtain. Up top, I am exposed to the warming sun, and to fantastic views of the valley. Although the work is long, I am warm in the sunny weather, and enjoying spending time with my family.

I didn't expect to get along so well with the Zoidze family, and it is going to be difficult to leave them. I never wanted my presence here to hurt anyone, and I never expected my leaving to cause pain. They want for me to come back and visit. I reciprocate their affections and wish to return, perhaps with friends or family of my own. I do not even have any plans for when I get back to the states, much less any plans on when to come back to Georgia. I am left with an uneasy feeling of the future, that nothing is settled and set.
Land lubbers on the Batumi cruise.

This picture was taken before our dance.

This little girl and I were so bored, we would make faces at each other through out the evening.

My brother, Levani

My sisters, Shorena to the left, and Khatuna to the right.

Shorena and I at Khatuna's birthday party.

My mother Naira.

We kept one of the kittens, now named Kato. This cat now spends its time crying and being pampered.

A fraction of the mandarin harvest.

Near my house, I found a perfect spot to read. On this rock, you are surrounded by falling leaves, under a canopy which block both wind and sun. 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

October 31st Halloween

As part of a cultural exchange, I felt inclined to show the children the customs of Halloween. Some of the other volunteers had designs of their own, mostly including pumpkin carving, and candy. I decided to so something similar. Firstly, I had to gather the materials. Luckily, the Bazaar had the required paper supplies for masks and spooky decorations. Although the paper was in small demand, it was still quite expensive in Georgian terms, at 20 pages per Lari. Candy however was inexpensive and readily available. The best candy shops and stalls were located in a half cylinder warehouse of corrugated steel, near the bus station. A kilogram of hard candy was sufficient, and would prove useful for my other designs. The pumpkins were more difficult matter of obtaining. The regular, rounded pumpkins so necessary for carving were in short supply. Instead, of being orange and round, they were ellipsoidal and pale green. The flesh was much too thick for any carving, even with the proper knife and I had only a pocket knife with a smooth blade. Luckily, after a further digging into other areas of the market, I did find two perfect specimens, and purchased them at the asking price. With two pumpkins, matches, candles, 80 sheets of paper and a kilogram of candy, I had the supplies needed for the holiday.

My family was quite curious about why I had bought two pumpkins, when there we had a garden of ripe pumpkins already at home. I explained by drawing a pumpkin on a piece of paper, followed by an arrow to a new drawing of a pumpkin of identical shape and size, with the standard Jack-o'-lantern face. In all respect, they probably didn't understand, but just accepted that they will find out in time.

Before Wednesday October 31 rolled around. I notified my students and co teachers of the Halloween event, my students were enthusiastic on learning. I told them to bring paper for mask making, unsure if I had enough. That day, I brought colored pencils, crayons, scissors string, and of course two pumpkins. My first class, the 6th graders were very excited on learning about Halloween. I had planned on having an impromptu meeting with interested students after the school lessons were over. Instead, my co-teacher thought would be better for the 4th grade to spend their time making masks. With the knowledge I know now, it was better that I celebrated Halloween with a limited number of students. The contents of this post will reveal why.

With multi-colored paper in their hands, my 4th grade class was ready for mask making. I drew on the board: a bear mask, a mummy mask, a fish mask, a scarecrow mask, a cat mask, and a dog mask. A few had chosen a mummy for a face; most however, were quite taken with the bear. The class time was spent making these masks. I hovered around, providing advice, encouragement, and input. When it came time for the string, I cut into 18 inch long strips, the twine required to fit the masks to their faces. A simple double knot through two small holes, cut into the sides of the faces, just under the eyes did the trick. Some students were independent, the majority was not so independent. I had to do a lot of knot tying that day!

With the masks complete I had to show them how to trick or treat. I had them don their many-colored bear masks, and a few mummies and dogs. I wrote on the board "Trick or Treat" and had them pronounce it. Then, I kicked them out of the classroom and into the hallway. The door closed. I waited for a knock. The knock never came. I again, opened the door and told them to knock. This time, I herd a rattle. When I opened the door, I opened it with a kilogram of candy in my hands. A few students greeted me with a "Trick or Treat!" but most just glared at the bag of candy held in my arms. I wish I had taken a picture of all the masked faces staring at me. I partitioned the candy out to the children and had them enter the classroom. By the time the students each had a piece of candy, the class was over. My reward: an enormous applause and "Thank You."

I had another class that day, it was with the 2nd graders. The co-teacher and I decided that it wasn't best to have the same treatment. The classroom was too ill managed, and we didn't find it correct. I would have liked to do the same with them, but I didn't push the motion any further. The second grade class was shorter anyways. To make masks and hand out candy in such short time...impossible.

With the my daily classes at an end, it was time to carve the pumpkins. I gathered the two pumpkins, stored in the room. My staff didn't know what I was doing, they kept on telling me it was food, and that we should cook them up and eat them. I had to ignore them, it would become clear to them once they see the spooky faces leering projected candle light towards them. With my pocket knife and the two pumpkins, I withdrew to the front of the school. In the open air, I proceeded to carve. From the start, I could tell it wasn't going to work. The knife was much too soft. I need a carving knife to use. What is more, the students watching became too riled up. They didn't know what I was doing, and like the staff, tried to explain to me that these were for food. They crowded around me, getting too close to the blade. I didn't want to cut anyone! They didn't understand, and didn't have the patience to just watch. Some students even took the pumpkin I wasn't working on, and were tossing it up into the air and catching it! The plans and Ideas I was making were quickly failing. I am trying to make a fun lesson for them, but once again, they proved too unruly. This is why there isn't an English club. This is why I don't attend the older students' classes. They act like clowns when together. I wasn't going to tolerate it any longer. I gave up. I put the knife in my pocket, and gathered my two pumpkins. I was to retreat into the teachers lounge and from there, carve a pumpkin to show them. They could just wait or go home, from the behavior of the worst I no longer cared.

At that moment of dejection, my 8th grade class came to the rescue. My 8th grade class, had me come into their classroom. Giuli was teaching her English class at that time. With the help of my Co-teacher I explained what I was doing and were able to understand what was going on. Giuli and I decided to have a Halloween party similar to earlier that day. In addition mask making, we were pumpkin carving. From that class, one of the students had got a large knife from a nearby house. The 10 inch blade was just what was needed for carving. I was able to make two small trapezoidal eyes, a triangular nose and a mouth with a few square teeth. You couldn't do these things in America, bringing a knife into a public school is considered a notch down from an act of terror. While I was carving one jack-o'-lantern, I had the students scrape guts out of the other. In that 45 minutes, We managed to carve two pumpkins make masks, and enjoy another round of trick-or-treating.

It is amazing how plans in this country can go from failure and frustration to a startling success. You can not plan on anything working as you hope. One can only put faith in its people and hope for something unexpected to ensue, it always does.

The pumpkin with Cote.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Saturday November 3rd: Stalin Museum

This weekend, I decided to visit the Stalin museum. Situated in the city of Gori, it was a great building dedicated to the most famous Georgian of all time. The museum is famous for being slanted towards Stalin, who is seen as a hero of the people in Gori.

The city is nestled in the plains a few hours west of Tbilisi. The surrounding hillsides are bare and dun. Early November weather is cold with grey clouds blocking out the sun. The buildings were all built cement square block common during the communist era. Businesses are on the bottom floors, and apartments make up the top. Instead of painting the otherwise dull buildings in bright colors, like Batumi or Tbilisi, Gori embraces the brown and the grey colors. From far away, Gori blends in with its surrounding hillsides. The residents walked quietly down the streets, conservatively dressed. From what I have seen, I imagine the city motto as: "Don't stick out."

The museum itself is a great square structure, reminding one of the Dodge's palace in Venice. Having little ornamentation, the veneer of the museum predicts a cold interior which is exactly what is in store for the museum's patrons. In the front of the museum, under a columned shelter, lies Stalin's childhood home. Made of brick and mortar, his home shows the world his humble origin, located in the town center in the middle of a park.

Inside the museum are many marble busts, statues, portraits, engravings and embroidery, all with Stalin's image. My favorite medium: traditional rugs of various peoples from central Asia. Each rug has Stalin's face in the center, with traditional design patterns around the edges. Contrary to a persistent belief that Soviet times were culturally oppressive, Soviet policy was not Russo-centered. The Soviet Union was an attempt to forge a new society of many peoples, and locals were encouraged to embrace their heritage. These rugs retain their cultural uniqueness, simultaneously giving praise to the Soviet cult leader. Similar examples could be see in other tributes to Stalin: Wood carvings, jewelry, porcelain all had regional uniqueness.

Aside from a security guard in the front, I didn't see a single man working in that museum. Most of the employees were past middle age. They would conduct tours in Russian or Georgian, or occasionally English. Those that weren't conducting tours were hover ghost-like around the rooms. Always watching you to see if your going to touch anything!

The rooms are of  walled with marble, and with floors tiled. Pale winter sunlight filtered through smoky glass windows, providing more light than the yellow incandescent lights would yield. The museum was kept cold. Voices barely rose above a whisper.

The displays looked as if they haven't been changed in decades. Faded brown, gold and red colors framed the numerous portraits, pictures, and memorabilia. Browned paper under the displays were first in Russian, followed by Georgian, and sometimes English.

From the first few chambers of the museum, followed the death mask room. A striking contrast to the previous three, the room was the most memorable by far. On entering the round room, you walk along the walls up to an elevated platform. There, laying in the middle of the room, is a bronzed death mask of Stalin. The room is dimly lit, no windows and only two doors. If the museum is quiet, this room is dead silent. Thick rich red, almost purple fabric lines the walls and ceiling, swallowing all sound. I was so quiet, you could hear your breakfast digest and your breathing.

In that room I stood for two whole minutes, transfixed on the bronzed figure slumbering. All the while, I was being watched by one of the specters. From the other room, through the doorway.

At the front of the exhibit, like in many museums, was a guestbook. Many of the entries were written by upset and disgusted guests. Phrases like "This is a lie!" and "War criminal" were scrawled in angry lettering. They were angered by the museum's lack of truth. The museum ignored the atrocities, and that the museum painted him as a hero. Though technically they are right, I don't believe that is the purpose of this museum is to tell 'the truth'. Part Stalin's √©lan was to capture peoples affections and admiration. To the patrons of the museum, Gorians, and many other people, they still believe Stalin is a hero. They cherish their beloved local hero, and are entitled to show him as a charitable figure. The museum opinion is a bizarre, eerie opinion but exists nonetheless. The rest us must acknowledge their opinion, and respect the museum as it is. The point of the museum is for one to observe the man, his background and more importantly, the influence he still carries over us all. 

Stalin as a young man

The death mask room. You can see the curator hovering in the open doorway

This was a fun picture.

And here is Adam, being inappropriate.

Uplisikhe, a cave city nearby. There were plenty of great boulders to climb on.

Surrounding countryside of Uplisikhe

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thursday, October 18th to Sunday October 21st: Kazbegi

Thursday, October 18th to Sunday October 21st

The fifth week of school was over. It was during this week, I watched the film, "Dinner With Andre." The movie is dialogue entire, between two men in a restaurant. A deeply philosophical movie, one of the things they talk about is going to places, to break their routine. I wont go much further into the movie, I only speak of it because it gave me motivation to go on an excursion to Mt. Kazbegi in the North Caucus mountains, even though the other volunteers couldn't make it. Traveling alone, I would have a different experience than traveling in a group.
Having taken Friday off, and having no classes scheduled for me on Thursday, I was free to take the train to Tbilisi, and from there to Kazbegi.
The train ride was another joyful trip, before sleep took over, I spoke with two men who shared my cab. The younger, more talkative one bought some beer at the Kobuleti stop, and we drank to our health and to Georgia and America, and to our families. The older one, a small man in a leather jacket, was going to Tbilisi for surgery. He works in Istanbul. For twenty five years, he has been working as a sailor. I hope the man's health picks up, I enjoyed speaking with him. Soon after drinking and eating chips, I fell asleep. Waking up in Tbilisi, I said my goodbyes to my cab-mates, and stepped off the train.
At the station, a bus was scheduled to leave to Kazbegi, a short walk and a few inquiry's later brought me to the proper minibus, scheduled to drive to Stephantsminda, the village closest to Mt Kazbegi. The bus was piled to capacity, mostly European travelers.
The road to Stephansminda is an ancient rout known as the Georgian Millitary highway. The rout travels through a pass cut by glaciers. The was built by Russian soldiers to connect Georgia to the Russian province of Chechnya, before the highway was only a dirt track. This is the place where Pompey of Rome traveled in conquest. He came, he stopped, and he turned back. Scythia, the steppe north of the Mountains was believed to be the end of the world and not worth the visit.
The day I traveled the Georgian military highway, the hill country's deciduous forest was ablaze with Autumn colors. Up at a higher elevation, the forest advances no further up the steepening slopes, yielding to subalpine grasses and sporadic birch and pine groves. The narrow river valley we are traveling in widens into a broad flat plain, carved from glaciers. From this valley, the road turned into a wide dirt track, designed for tanks and machines of war, whose treads eat asphalt that tires glide over. Our bus bounced past other cars, buses, and semi-trucks. I had read the Russian border was closed, but the stream of traffic indicated otherwise.
Across the river adjacent to the road, a village lies on slope, above a steep drop  into the river below. There was no road or bridge from where we were. The only rout I observed into that village was by a cable-car. The car looked like it could fit only two people, and hangs suspended over the river.
Past the isolated village, we drove through more towns before making our final destination to Stephantsminda.
Stepping off the bus, I was struck by the Fall aroma from the beach trees. The thin, cold air seemed to amplify the decaying leaves. Instantaneously, I liked this place more than Mestia in Svaneti.
Having first acquired a guest house, I spend the day exploring the town. I walked up to the pine forest above the town, and was able to read a great deal of Cormac McCarthy's book The Crossing. Sitting in the sun, overlooking the town with a view of the church and Mt. Kazbegi. This first day, I didn't want to go on excursions, but to just enjoy the mountains by simply being in them.
Early the next morning, after eating a home cooked meal of mashed potatoes with cheese, I walked to the town center and rented a bicycle. South along the river, I rode towards Sno Valley. When I arrived at the village of Sno, I stopped to view the town's sole tower, overlooking the city. I parked my bike by an ancient wall, and looked for an entrance. While searching, an old man came by in a cart drawn by a donkey. We spoke, but I couldn't understand him at all, as if he has had a stroke. I held donkey by the reins, as he fetched some water from some spring, for his burro. From there, I found the way up into the tower. I climbed the narrow ladder up to the head. The interior was cramped and dark. The top yielded view of the surrounding town and mountains. Soon after, I was back on the road heading further up the valley.
Past several other villages, I rode on. The land was populated by grazing cows, sheep and horses. The animals were accompanied by either shepherds or their special breed of dog. The dogs were huge, and with cropped ears, with a friendly disposition. In the villages, pigs hung about the muddy streets, scattering when they saw me riding towards them.
The dirt road to the final town of Juta ran up a mountain side. The temperatures fluctuated in the extreme, thanks to the combination of sun, shade and wind; rest and activity. Looking up, I spotted circling birds overhead. In this windswept mountainside of no trees, herds, water, or shelter, I felt completely isolated, almost like I was on a Martian planet. There was no sign of the village, or of any people whatsoever. Quite a unique feeling.
When I arrived at Juta, I came upon a source of water for which I was thankful for, having run out on the road. By then, it was noon and I was exhausted from riding/walking up to Juta. After moving past Juta, I left my bike locked to a fencepost and continued on up the valley. Where the road ends and only a dirt track is there, which is traversed by horse drawn carts or by foot. Wind would gust through the valley, shared by cows and horses.
squat, square structures came into view in the distance, which when I got closer, I could see was a military outpost. A man waved me over, for which I waved back and walked to. They invited me over to speak, curious to see a lone foreigner in the mountains. I was curious why they were there as well. I was told that past the mountain in the north, laid Chechnya and to the south east was Ratcha, accessible after a 8 hour hike through a pass. We had coffee inside their camp, which was occupied by three friendly Georgian military men. I wanted to take more pictures, but I did not think it wise to take pictures of their camp, however friendly my hosts were.
After the hot cup of coffee, I gave my thanks and headed back to Stephantsminda. The bike ride down the mountain was exhilarating. I didn't realize the climb I had made. On the way down, I hardly had to do any pedaling!
Within forty-five minutes, I had arrived back in Stephantsminda. The sun was still high up in the sky, and I still had the energy, so I decided to continue past the town, heading North on the highway. A few kilometers up the road, lay the Georgian Russian border.
Soon after Stephansminda, the terrain becomes rugged, gone is the flat and grass-covered glacial plain that Stephansminda rests on. Here cragged peaks dip down steeply into a narrow and rocky riverbed. Shrubs and Pines cling to the mountains' shanks as the road, built alongside a cliff face winds down in elevation. Aside from one village adjacent to the riverbed, the land along the highway is wilderness.
It was on this rout, that I came across a tunnel. two hundred meters bored through the mountain side created a menacing, unlit gaping mouth. Having stopped at the entrance, I continued down into the tunnel as blackness overtook me. I continued on, picking up speed naturally from gravity until the light was not even enough to distinguish shapes, where the road was and where the stone walls were.
Riding a bike in darkness is an exhilarating feeling. You feel the wind on your face, and can hear the wheels spinning on, yet you are unable to have a sense of direction. As your sight dims to memory of the terrain, you become disoriented, as though your bike stirs itself. It becomes impossible to continue this way, only after dismounting does the spinning wheels respond to your control. Through that thin cool air, you walk along side the road, until your surroundings are lit once again from the end of the tunnel.
Upon reaching the Georgian checkpoint, I knew it wasn't going to get any further. Cars coming from Russia were stopped several lanes in. As I entered the fenced compound guard dogs barked incessantly at my passing. A far cry from the outpost I encountered earlier. Here, the guards were armed with black metallic guns, slung over their shoulder. "Sad Midixar?" One of them asked me, as I approached him.
Tyler: Do you speak English?
Border guard: A little. Passport?
Tyler: I don't have it.
Border Guard: Do you want to go to Russia?
Tyler: No, I want to see the border with Chechnya.
A long pause, the other guard was curious and came over. He replied.
Border Guard: I'm sorry you must go back.
Going back was a two hour bike ride up back to Stephantsminda. By the time I reached the top, my legs were jelly. The bike was returned as the sun was setting, having just slid behind the frosted peaks.

Although I traveled alone on this trip, I was never isolated from other travelers, and had a few beers with them after the daily excursions. I feel that branching out from the TLG group is better than just being with the same people. 

View from the GMH.

Sheep dog puppy.

GMH going away from Stephantsminda

Tower at Sno village.

Upper Sno valley. You can see the military outpost to the left.


These are what the villages look like up here.

I missed this when I rode by it the first time. 

Road to Russia

Georgian checkpoint

The tunnel I rode through in pitch darkness.
Kitty news: 'Knuti' is kitten in Georgian. They are now wondering the property . 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday October 8th to Sunday October 14th: Week 4 of school and Chakvistavi part two

When I first came to Gorgadzeebi, I wrote about the trip to Mtiarla national park with some of my students. And that, although we stayed a night, I wasn't able get to go on a longer hike. That we had stayed at the park headquarters, having  stayed only a short while. I have been meaning to go back to the park for some time, until another opportunity presents itself. One such opportunity has been sighted; My school faculty have been meaning to take me to Chakvistavi (the village that is nestled in the park) for the past few weeks and at last I am able to once again visit the park.

I went on a picnic with my school faculty to Chakvistavi. A dozen teachers and I piled into a rented Marshutka and departed up into the mountains. It was a fun spending time with my teachers on the road. We made a few stops, sometimes to view the lake, sometimes to push the marshutka out of a ditch (the road was recovering from a hard rains earlier in the week.) When we reached Chakvistavi, we all went to the local restaurant, which we had rented out to our large party of two dozen. From there, we had one of the best meals I've had in Georgia. Lots of traditional Georgian dishes: including beef, chicken, wine, and chacha.

The picnic was a supra, so a great quantity of wine was consumed. I myself participated as much as I could. The Tamada (toastmaster) was directly to my right. He could always see if I was drinking, so I tried to keep up with him. Fortunately, he was less strict than other tamadas I've seen, so I didn't have to drink at every toast. There were a lot, and although I can't understand what is being said, I just listen to good prose and diction to the people speaking. At intermittent periods of the picnic there would be dancing. Urged by the staff, I did try the steps, but I have only a vague idea of Georgian dancing. Even so, the staff loved it. Pridon, the school director also tried dancing with me in a hustle like dance. It was fun, except I'm a terrible follow. I'd like to stick with Georgian dancing, in the future.

The day I wrote this entry, I woke up in the mountains, after a day of feasting and drinking in Chakvistavi, the village at Mtiarla park. I was staying at a guest house; a older, wooden home. Surprisingly, they had more television channels than my house. The guest house had two children. In the main room, a fire was burning in a huge fireplace. The room was snug and warm as I sat by the fire, drinking coffee and helping the family's children with their homework. I think those two children will be the only one's in their village to be able to make the 'th' sound.

Back to this morning, I decided to walk back home, first before doing so, I went to see a waterfall in the mountains. A half an hour of walking up a mountainside, I hit the falls. An impressive sight, mist was everywhere, and it was very cold, being in the morning the sun hadn't quite hit the falls, so it was darker. The trail continued, so I said (out loud) "Why not" and headed up the mountain, deeper into the forest. This trail continued on, up a steep hillside. The trail was switching left and right, up further and further. As the elevation increased, the forest switched from mixed trees to strictly beech. The top of the mountain was completely covered with old-growth beech groves. The huge silvery trunks looked like columns, supporting a canopy of green shimmering leaves, swishing and swaying from a constant breeze flowing through the foliage. After encountering such wonder, I had to continue on further. I began debating in my mind if I should not head back, but instead walk the entire loop. I wasn't sure how far or long it would take. So much of the decision was based on pathos, and pathos was winning over logos.

Before making full resolve, the debate continued-out loud with puppet hands. I figure, I'm in the woods, I can make all the noise I like. In support of my soliloquy, the noise will alert the bears, who now know that I'm a crazy person who talks to themselves.

I ended up walking in an eight kilometer loop back to Chakvistavi.

I reached the rangers' station at the park entrance. A long rest, a drink of cool water, a long read from The Iliad and a big plate of potatoes later. While eating and reading, I met a Georgian couple. The husband incidentally was an architect, and had designed the ranger's station at Chakvistavi, along with several other parks. The buildings are of a stone and wood bottom, like an Edwardian structure, but instead of plaster, are stone. The top was wood paneling. I do like the structures. They blend in well with the old houses and forest, while still looking modern.

Getting back on track, They agreed to give me a ride in their car to the entrance of my village.

Their car was so spotless and new. I'm used to sitting on stained upholstery, on dusty concrete, leaning up against trees, this is not a clean country. It was strange to be sitting in a new car, I didn't want to corrupt this sporadic beacon of sterility.

I had agreed to accept any consequences that would befall on me after making the spontaneous decision to go on a 8 km hike alone in the woods. This time, the consequences were in my favor.

Feast at Chakvistavi. Lots of good food sitting on that table.


The trail was roped off with dozens of these webs. You can see the spider in the middle. 

Big beach tree. The canopy provided shade and a nice rustling sound.

Big Beach tree.

Fungus among us.

Beech forest.

South Caucus mountains. Distinctively more green than the North

My school staff in the marshutka.

Our math teacher and myself.

We could never get a proper pose, no one could pay enough attention to the camera.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Friday, September 28th to Friday, October 5th.

Monday elections: In my school grounds was held the Georgian parliamentary elections. To stay neutral, I am claiming ignorance of political parties, politicians and viewpoints. Many volunteers were worried about violence on election day, however Batumi was as tranquil as it has been. Voters were seen at their appropriate stations in an ordered fashion, although there still was no lines be seen. My marshutka to Gorgadzeebi wasn't running this day, so I had to get a ride to the next village and walk the rest of the way. When I arrived in my village, I stopped by my school to see the democratic process take place. Many of the residents were loitering outside the school. Inside was a ordered process, helped along by volunteers, clad in green vests. Among them was my host father Romani. It was an exciting day, however peaceful.

My first planned lesson took place this week. The lesson, run by myself, involves reading, spelling and pronunciation. The children would receive their own flashcard with an image of an object. The object is something that they should already know in English, but may not be able to say or spell correctly. One by one, they would come up to the chalk board, and find their object's name on the board. They would then point to the word, say, and spell it out loud. A simple procedure, and it ended a bit early, but was still effective. The children were able to help each other out, and they liked being called up to point out a word. The lesson gave the students confidence in their reading. 

Apart from giving encouragement and confidence in the students, I'd like to make more creative lectures. The current lessons involve reading dialogue, writing vocabulary, or  drilling grammar. There is nothing wrong with these methods, and should make up the majority of the class; however, if used too much, students get bored, and some become discouraged, due to their slow progress. They often are corrected while reading or writing, and never learn the reason of their mistake. Introducing a few new methods would invigorate the dull lessons, bringing back interest to the classroom. For instance, the students would be taught days of the week, where they write it down or speak it out. Instead of that, putting the list to a melody, and having the children sing it could be more effective. The remainder of my classroom time will be planning more interactive, creative, and fun lessons.

Outside the classroom, I am available for homework help, although no one has come to me for help yet. I have been teaching some more dances, and have downloaded some music for the children to listen to. Next week, I'll teach some more waltz, this time with music. The lessons are impromptu, but the children learn from it anyways. I also have a nice time walking home with some of my students, where I practice my Georgian, and they their English.

Earlier in the week, I read other volunteers' blogs and lesson plans, and extracurricular activities. Each one stated how involved their students are, and how much progress was being made. After hearing a number triumphs in teaching, I became discouraged with my self, since I have not been as involved and have't been able to make as bit an impact. Partly, it is due to their lack of English, and partly due to the ingrained systems of teaching of my village, and partly due to the study habits of most of my students (non-existent). I feared I was not making progress due to my own inhibitions, that that I don't know what I am doing, that I don't know how to teach. On looking deeper into the blog posts, I realized these success stories were told by volunteers with previous teaching experience and those who have been in Georgia longer than I. Even more so, the regions they taught in were in bigger cities, or regions that have seen previous volunteers, who have paved the way for more advanced lessons and extracurricular activities. Here in Gorgadzeebi, I feel that I am pioneering everything I do here. Progress, as a result is slower than I think it should be, and complicated lesson plans are reserved as lofty ambitions. I can only pave the way for my successors.

On further reflection, one small contribution I have begun to make has been an increased emphasis in having children say and spell a word correctly. Oftentimes, when a student is corrected in their spelling or speech, the teachers do not have them repeat the word, but instead move on to their next blunder. The student doesn't learn why they make a mistake, only that they made one. They are doomed to repeat the same errors. I see the folly in progressing for progress's sake, and have been asking the students to repeat or spell the word correctly.

And now for some photos.

Aya Sophia fresco roof in Trebzon

At the Aya Sophia museum/church in Turkey, a group of students wanted to take a picture with me. This happened more than once in Turkey.

A view of Trebzon from make-out point.

Sumela monestary, an hours drive in the mountains from Trebzon, Turkey

There was a lot of really nice, though faded and vandalized Byzantine art at Sumela

So much vandalism! 

Sumela Monestary

The cats at my house are growing.

Some are more shy than others

Did you know that Batumi has a dolphen tank?

Quite a good show for 12 lari.

My sister Shorena loved it. I'm so happy I got to see the show with her.