About the Blog

I recently accepted a position from Teach and Learn with Georgia, a Georgian Ministry of Education program designed to bring native speakers of English into classrooms around the country. I will be moving to Georgia in August of 2014 to begin my assignment.

Before this latest adventure, I studied at Bogazici University in Istanbul Turkey and at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I speak English German Spanish, Turkish Azerbaijani and Uzbek and am currently trying my hand at Georgian.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why moving to Georgia when I was 22 was the best possible thing I could have done with my life

I’ve been working on this post off and on for a long time. It’s been a hard one to write. I’ll probably come back to this blog and tell some more anecdotes later, but I feel like some of this has to be said. Last spring I applied for a whole bunch of stuff: jobs, internships, scholarships, fellowships. I didn’t get a lot of call backs. Let’s get real, I got three, one  in Florida for two years, one to teach at a couple hours outside of Istanbul, and one to come to Georgia. Lots of things made me decide to take Georgia. Not money obviously, since I’m poor as a church mouse after earning less and less every month (thanks international currency market, nothing like a falling lari). Not prestige. Nobody has heard of Georgia, much less of the program that I joined. I wanted an adventure, as far away from the world I was living in, with its competition and often mixed up priorities and materialism and lack of ability to compromise and work together on the smallest little thing. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. I didn’t even know where I was going to be sent in the country. I got a whole lot more adventure than I had bargained for.
I walked to Mulakhi one day. The sunburn was 100% worth it
I read a book recently about my generation—the oft despised Millenials. It said that we can’t focus on anything, that we flit from thing to thing, never settling down, never actually getting stuff down, waiting for signs from ‘the universe’ about what we should do with our lives. Let’s just say that the author didn’t have a terribly high opinion of us. You could almost hear this middle aged man spitting out the words at a meeting of the old-and-crotchety-before-their-time club, where everyone bitches about the kid they still have living in their basement.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of kids in my generation who are lost and who are just frittering away their lives doing essentially nothing. I don’t think mine is the first generation who has done this though. We grow up deeply disillusioned with the world we live in, the order which we must uphold. We grew up through 9/11 and the idea that the ‘bad guy’ could be anyone on the street, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with ISIS. We grew to maturity in a world filled with natural disasters, school shooting and terror attacks becoming so common that they are commonplace, normal, nothing to get upset about. Or if you do you share a hastag until the next tragedy comes along. And nothing changes.  Violence and poverty and disease and abject horror and desperation flit past our eyes every day and we flip through the television channels and many simply sink into the unreality of reality television. The rest of us are at a loss of how to make something, anything about this world better with our time and lives and energy. We seek that way but it isn’t always obvious, and so we are accused of being unable to settle ourselves. The frustration grows. We don’t aim to be lazy adult-children who live with no purpose, indeed it is the exact opposite, purpose in this often purposeless world that we wish for like a staving man looks at food. We have been told for so long that we need to go out and change the world that we berate and secretly hate ourselves when we can’t. 
Nika toasting me with wine on my birthday while the adult men laugh hysterically. Nika is an excellent tamada
I took a year off between undergrad and grad because I needed to get away from academe, and the world that I know for a bit, and to reaffirm what it is that I really want to do with my life.

So, why was moving to Georgia the best thing that I could have done? Because living abroad strips you of most everything. Your family, friends, community, comfort, safety net, safety blanket, pounds, illusions, pretensions, self-respect, baggage. You are cold and alone and frightened, a beast let loose in an unknown place. Sink or swim no longer seems like a glib motto, but a rallying cry, a piece of driftwood in a sea of sharks. It is in this vulnerable state that you can come to know yourself better. You find what remains is your truest self, because that doesn’t come off, slip away. You see the good the bad and the ugly. How little you actually you care for life as you stop batting an eyelid as animals are slaughtered in front of your eyes. How selfish you can be as you seek solace, alone time and get annoyed when host siblings break into your stash of nice makeup and girl scout cookies. You see who really matters in your life, when you get 3 hours of skype time a month and you see who makes the cut (ie Mom and Dad). Who you are willing to splurge time and energy on finding the postman and buying stamps so that you can write to them. What parts of life seem the most important to you—your social life? Family? Friends? Duty? Job? Relationships? Your own pleasure?
My birthday cake was delicious. Ask Ani
I’ve discovered some very ugly things about myself. I don’t flinch anymore when the teachers here pull students ears or hair. I myself have never done it, but I will be honest, there have been tempting moments. I have yelled at students, I have gotten in their faces and raised my voice, in English, Georgian, Svan and whatever language will get them to quiet down. I have dreaded going to certain classes. I haven’t loved all my students equally. I have been selfish with my time and resources. I’ve been jealous of the skills and lives of others. I’ve wanted things I don’t need, or shouldn’t have. Essentially, look at the 10 commandments and I’ve found it within myself.  This is disturbing, but it’s also good to realize that so much of what keeps us in check is the pressure of society, community, ‘fitting in’, and knowing what people we know would say. I’m perfectly aware of that now, and I’ve realized that I need to find more of the self-control within myself and not from without.
I’ve found some good stuff in there too, thank God. I’ve discovered that I love teaching and sharing information with others. Not every day, every hour, but that moment when your kid finally gets it, that’s amazing, one of the best feelings in the world. When your students start to love you, that amazing. When they ask you to go on a field trip with them, or want you to come home, or to their birthday, or ask you to never leave. It’s amazing to know that you’re having an impact on young minds and hearts. I've discovered that I want family. That family is incredibly important to me and that I want my own someday. Now, I don’t want to promise myself anything that it turns out I can’t have, but I want to make family and relationships a bigger priority in my life. I’m not going to give up on my professional aspirations and ambitions, but it won’t hurt to make space for other things in my life. There are other things worth pursuing, and I don’t want to find myself in a place where it is too late for something that I really truly want. I’m willing to admit that I want children. Not just one, several. Our culture has reached a place where for a young intelligent woman to say she wants children is faux pas, an admission likely to bring silent judgement for being ‘old-fashioned’. Bite me, is my response. Being here, now that I’ve found out my need to please others (in order to be a ‘kargi gogo’), is teaching me to let judgement roll off my back. I’m also getting much better at letting my emotions hang out. When I’m pissed, people are beginning to be able to tell.
I walked to the Cross with the kids one day. Obligatory selfie
Moving to Georgia when I was 22 was the best possible thing I could have done with my life because without it I wouldn’t be sure moving forward. I learned what kind of work I enjoy, the things that make me tick and get me excited to get up in the morning, it reaffirmed how much I care about public health, about women’s issues, about a region that nobody has heard of, much less visited, much less lived in learned the language the culture the people and grown to adore. Georgia taught me to enjoy the little things, to stop and think and listen for a moment (or an hour and a half if your marshrutka is running late), to toast with panache, to hike up a mountain without killing yourself, to be a big sister, to lead by example, to slaughter a calf, to hitchhike, to prioritize friends and family—the human connection. To write letters, to dance like nobody’s watching, to wish upon the stars, to conjugate in the optative tense, to light candles in a church without lighting yourself on fire, and how to chase with beer.  I learned to be comfortable with silence and uncertainty and to go with the flow. And I learned that I’m going back to Georgia at some point some how. Georgia infiltrates you, like strong liquor does, it’s not always pleasant, but you do have some awesome adventures, make some great friends and walk away a little wiser from each encounter. And so my friends, may we raise a glass, საქართველოს გაუმარჯოს! Victory to Georgia! 

Monday, July 6, 2015

My babies are growing up!

Whoo boy has a lot happened since the last post. I’m so excited to get home and see you all and tell you all the crazy stories about my life and the insanity that is it, but I should probably update this occasionally too, just to reassure you that I’m alive still. That is, again, till I’m home, when you will all know I am because I will spend hours afflicting my pictures and anecdotes on you. Until you regret asking me how Georgia was. I’m currently about 2 months behind on this blog and I’m not super sure that I’m going to catch up in my final 2 weeks in country. Let me give you a couple of highlights.
The main character in this drama. This is 13/16 seniors, better than I ever got in class
I’m sure my seniors would have to hear me call them my babies. But I’m so proud of those kids it’s a little ridiculous. I am betting I grow up to be at least as bad as my own father, who will brag to anyone on the planet about how exceptional his kids are. For hours. I apologize for everyone who gets stuck next to him on the plane with nowhere to escape. And now I know that is exactly what I am going to be, but worse. I’ve taught these kids for a single year and I almost started crying at their graduation ceremony. This ceremony is called ‘bolo zari’ or last bell. It started late (what else is new) and the kids had decorated the day before with balloons and posters. They had white dress shirts and aprons, each with its own distinctive drawing on it and the rest of the space was being written on by fellow students and teachers, farewell notes as it were. Some students insisted I write on their shirts, other siblings insisted that I write on their older brother or sisters’ shirts.
 Each kid got a dramatic introduction and to walk out in front of all their peers (we started during 5th period, but classes had essentially ceased after two periods). There were a couple of short speeches by parents/teachers (several of my seniors have parents who are teachers) and by the students themselves. Lasha read a poem, Jemo danced and a couple girls sang. I find the utter lack of insecurity here really refreshing. Of course you sing and dance and speak in public. It’s just what you do. The 11th graders had several dance routines and a ton of short comedy sketches, which were hilarious. I even understood some of the punch lines, which is surprising. A bunch of community members came to watch the proceedings, but not as many parents as I had thought. Just as the show was about to break up, Rashibo, the MC for the event (and most events in town it seems, he’s one of my 10th graders) announced that I had a gift for each of the kids (which I did). Being the conclusion wasn’t exactly what I had expected/wanted but with some translation help from Roma (newly graduated) I gave each of the kids a journal I had bought in the US with a personal note and my contact information. They seemed surprised and some were really pleased. I suspect most of them have lost them by now, but no matter.

And then we had dancing, pictures, clean up and a massive supra in the teachers room. I had cake at least once a day that entire week since parents kept bringing food to the teachers and I never say no to cake. I was teaching my after school program that week and I heard a knock on the door. One of the administrators was at the door saying that I was wanted in the kitchen. My first reaction was “oh shoot” I figured I was in trouble for something I had done (playing music too loud? Letting the class get a little crazy? Climbing out the window when we got locked into the building that one time? Giving the kids chocolate? Eating the edible plants on break with my girls?). I walked to the kitchen like I was facing a firing squad. When I got there, about 10 folks were seated around a table. They turned to me as I came in “Hannah, torti ginda? (do you want cake?)”. It was super delicious cake too. Full points to the hospitality class that includes my friends Gio, Lasha and Mischa. Good work boys.
The following Monday we had the final banquet. This is for parents teachers and our recently graduated 12th form. I had a full 4 hours warning of when it was going to be, but I decided that from what my kids had been telling me, I needed to put the effort into my appearance for this shindig. I got new nylons, since I can’t wear them more than twice without tearing them to shreds (whoever let me graduate the ‘this is how you be an adult’ class was sadly mistaken). I washed my hair and got out my dress from the wedding. I actually put on makeup and when I emerged downstairs the entire family was shocked. That embarrassing moment when people don’t believe you can look that good. I was told I looked like a doll, but I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. I was told that the banquet would begin at 7pm. I made the mistake of being ready at 7 as a result. At about 7:45 Jener Mas (who also happens to be my host grandfather) came over, dressed to kill. Nato was ready by about 8 and we went to the school to pick up the speakers. We made it to the restaurant where they were holding the banquet at about 8:30. We were the first ones there. After much cajoling and arguing we were let into the banquet room at about 9:15. Finally around 10pm the kids came roaring in, having clearly pre-gamed the event hard in some cases and the party kicked off.

We all sat around a massive table that was set for us with salad, bread and some cold dishes already. And drinks. There was pop along with a bottle of vodka for every half dozen folks or so and a huge plastic barrel containing about 30 liters of wine. At least. Did I mention we were about 50 with some abstainers? Now, I had walked in thinking that it might be a little awkward to get drunk with a) your coworkers (though this the least so since I’ve already gotten drunk with them on many occasions, a tradition I wish I could bring back to some staff rooms in the US. It certainly lightens up teachers meetings) b) the parents of your students, all of whom are a good 20 years your senior but still treat you with a great deal of respect since you’re a teacher and c) young men and women who ceased to be your students a week ago. I can now confirm, it’s not awkward at all! At least in Georgia it isn’t.
The hot dishes started coming out and Jemal was picked as the tamada since Lasha and Roma were both too terrified to do it. He was clearly nervous but he did a good job. I started wedged in with the other teachers, listening, eating and drinking (my 3 months of sobriety had just ended so I drank slowly figuring I didn’t need to be the hot mess of the evening). They put some music on and Jemal was also called upon to dance since he went professional about a year ago. Did I mention that my kids are insanely talented? I couldn’t resist hitting the floor when the ‘modern’ music came on and my kids who hadn’t seen me dance at the wedding were all pleasantly shocked. Maybe an hour and a half into the party we went outside to watch the fireworks that we had bought for the event and send up paper lanterns, the ones with wax that you light so they fill with hot air and then they fly. We managed not to catch anyone on fire though it was a close call with Mari’s dress. We went back inside to continue eating drinking hanging out and dancing. The kids insisted that I come join them at their end so I was placed next to Jemo, which I considered quite an honor since he was the man of the hour.
I might not be a Svan princess, but gosh darn it I am trying.
Round about 2:30am the teachers and parents got up to leave and I stood with them. Every student I went to hug said “Hannah Mas, you can’t go!”. Roma, my best English student, put it quite eloquently “Hannah, you’re not like the other teachers. Stay with us.” With Nato’s permission I stayed, since Dato (18) was DDing and promised to bring me home. I was very impressed with him and Beqa, who was the other DD. These young men just finished school and are at a giant party with their friends to celebrate. But neither of them touched a drop of alcohol. A couple of parents stayed out in the main room, saying they would wait for the kids to finish. It was then that I discovered there was perhaps an ulterior motive. The students assured the parents they could go home since “Hannah Mas is here. We have an adult to look after us”. Clever kids. The parents did eventually go at the urging of Murtaz Mas and the kids turned the banquet room into a disco. We danced and laughed and I had two boys ask for dance lessons so they can pick up girls in Tbilisi. Because isn’t that what a good teacher is for?

Around 4:30am I found Dato and said that I was done, being an old lady as I am. Roma walked me to the door and Dato drove me home. The cops immediately pulled us over but since Dato was clearly sober we were let go. I crawled into bed around 4:45 and woke up blissfully clear-headed and without school since it was Independence Day. Most of my kids went to the concert and Jemal was dancing. Average hours of sleep in the group? 1. Most of my students left within the next week for Tbilisi to study there for university exams which just started and continue until the 14th of this month. I saw a couple of them when I was in the capital for my final ceremony as a TLG Teacher. I plan to say goodbye when I get to Tbilisi before I fly out. I taught my seniors 4 days a week all year, and while I never had a day when every kid came to class, I grew to know most of them quite well, and they know me. I can’t speak as an expert since everyone in town has known them longer than I have, but I have had the privilege of knowing them in my own special way, since they seem willing to talk to me about things they won’t with other teachers. I get to ride the line between peer and authority, friend and teacher. And I love these kids, and am so exceptionally proud of each and every one of them. I cannot wait to see what their futures bring for them; because I have no doubt that they will be bright.
My home for this year. Not bad scenery.

 I miss you all so and cannot wait to be home and see you again!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mary's Visit Part II

One of my mountain guide friends (I know most of them pretty well since they have to speak English for their job) had offered at the wedding to take Mary and I hiking the next day. I suspect the next morning when I texted him around 11am he regretted his generosity. I went with Mary to school and she got to meet the other teachers, a bunch of the students and come to part of my first grade class. We went home to eat and change and headed out around noon. I had told Mary that we would go for ‘a nice little hike’ forgetting that I have lived in Mestia for too long and hang out with people who climb Banguriani (probably minimum 10000 ft) for fun. My friend suggested the hike to Jvari but I know that this hike is almost entirely vertical, having done it twice before, so I suggested Chaladi Glacier instead. And off we went. My friend was pretty reticent on the trip, whether because when together Mary and I can break records for number of words in a conversation, or because he was a little embarrassed to speak English around her. In any case, we made up for his quiet. There are some gorgeous views of Ushba on the way to Chaladi so we took pictures and chatted and got a little sunburnt. We reached the short bridge and from there the road becomes a trail. After half an hour or so my sister asked how far to the Glacier. I thought 5 minutes, my friend said 20. But please feel free to trust my estimates at all times. We did break out of the forest cover eventually and sat to take a look at eat and drink a little. Then back. We made it back to the house without incident, though it was incredibly hot in the sun, I was regretting wearing pants and had stripped to my cami. We said goodbye, thanks very much see you again soon and broke off the party. It was 6pm. According to my friend it was a 14km hike. Mary was a trifle tired. So we broke out the oreos she had brought. That night we had an epic dress up session with Nini, Ani, Piso (the cat) and Mary’s sari. Indian soaps are inexplicably popular here so all the girls know what saris are, but have never gotten to try one on. Mary started explaining that it was a sari for holi and what kind of holiday that was, and Nini replied that she knew exactly what it was, she had seen it on TV. So I suppose the soap operas are sort of educational.
At access with my kids
Our final day in Mestia we went over to the ethnographic museum to view its treasures, including a fantastic collection of icons and other church paraphernalia, which was sent up to Svaneti during times of strife in lowland Georgia and which then got lost in the bureaucratic tangle in the aftermath. I’m sure their return is in the process now. Svaneti also produced some beautiful objects itself, and these items were protected from the various sackings of Georgia (I think Tbilisi had been invaded something like 25 times) because it’s so remote. Even in the most recent war, Russia didn’t bother trying to invade up here. The whole ‘1 road in’ does make defense a little easier. Anyway, we went to the museum roof to take some gorgeous photos and then I took her to a Svan tower for a panoramic view of the valley. The view would have been slightly more panoramic if she had actually gone on the roof but she kept complaining about ‘safety’ and all this other stuff. Whatever, guard rails are for the weak. Plus the roof hasn’t collapsed under me yet. Those split board are totally legit. And I probably would hit the stone floor rather than dropping through the opening to the second to top floor. And it wasn’t that slippery from the rain. I’m totally trustworthy, please let me babysit (or you know, teach) anytime. Mary was struck by the beauty of Mestia but also its intense isolation and cold (she wanted the heater in my room on at full blast. I was sweating intolerably) She remarked that I am a “rock star” in my community, but also that if she had been living here for 7 months already she would have gotten distracted since boredom runs rampant and the man flesh is something to look at. No worries friends, this blog and grad school apps have occupied my time quite well enough. And, you know, my job.
On pilgrimage
 The next morning we took the marsh to Zugdidi, or we were working on it for an hour and a half in the center, and I actually got out at one point and tried some of my ‘Chicago gangster’ posturing. This includes gesturing with my chin, eyebrows and shoulders. Trying to do it in Georgian did make it slightly more difficult. When I reentered the marsh, Mary was laughing so hard she was shaking. We finally got off and I was stuck with the task of translating for our party of tourists. A couple of Ukrainians on the bus spoke Russian but the driver still seemed to prefer to talk to me for unknown reasons. We transferred to a different bus to Batumi on the Black Sea and drove through lush coastal Samegrelo. The main road West is under construction so we had to take the back village route. We stopped once and listening to the conversation in the front seat was hilarious. “Why are we stopping here?” “I want to see if we can pick anyone up” “No one wants to go to Batumi from here, keep driving”. “5 minutes” “NO ONE is going to Batumi, keep going!!!!” Then the marsh hit something on the potholed, dirt road and we had to pull over and flag down another bus going to Batumi, which was then paid off and we were shoved onto it. I was the last one on as I had become the ‘tourist herder’ and as I got on our driver said to the new driver “She’s a good girl, she’s a teacher in Mestia and speaks Georgian, take care of her”. Mary had to sit in the fold down aisle seat next to a truly confused Georgian toddler whose mother kept feeding Mary and I from her collection of travel snacks.
And this is how you wedding. Imagine this but with about 775 more people. 
Once we finally made it to Batumi after our 3 marshrutka and approximately 7 or 8 hour trip we staggered off of the marsh, the Ukrainians asked for my number, and then we met up with my friend Chris who promptly took us to a lovely hotel and we explored the Batumi waterfront which is gorgeous and drank in the warmth of the sun. We sat at a café and ate for a while, then headed back and ate more food from a local market that came to love us for our purchases and my Georgian speaking. I convinced Mary to come out to the bulvar on the waterfront for the sunset and then we sat and enjoyed the energy of the city in the dark, and laughing as we ran through the singing dancing fountain because life can be wonderfully unexpected sometimes. Batumi is an incredibly underrated city, other teachers call it “the City of broken promises” but it is achingly beautiful in the setting sun and its old town is too photogenic for words. The next day dawned rainy but we visited a couple churches, Mary’s second mosque (I tried out Turkish on the caretakers who replied in Georgian and then I listened to their entire conversation about where the heck I could possibly be from). We wandered through the misty town, ate and drank at any number of charming cafes, explored the beach, saw some dolphins swimming just off shore, and finally returned to the hostel where we were encouraged to have another cup of tea before we left since it was a cold rain. I caught us an inner city marsh to the train station (reading Georgian can be super useful sometimes) and we were again way too early but there was a grocery store across the street so I bought us some food and we sat and read and people watched until our evening train to Tbilisi pulled up, perfectly on time. It took a little over 5 hours but we arrived before midnight, caught a taxi who got very confused as he insisted on speaking English with me and eventually got to our hostel, where the guest before us had remained an extra night so the caretaker took us to a neighbors, who apparently runs the Georgian version of the Bates Motel. The German living there for the summer had an ‘overnight guest’. The next morning we met him at what I expected to be an epically awkward breakfast. He started with the perfectly normal ‘Hello, how are you?’ which he followed up with ‘You’re the teacher in Mestia, don’t you remember me?’. Low and behold, he was one of the guys who had given me a ride from Hatsvali to Mestia back in February. This country can be freakishly small sometimes.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mary’s Visit: Part I

It has been brought to my attention that I am a horrible sister. Therefore, for Mary and Mom, here you go. It just takes a while to write these up, and life has been a little crazy recently.

At the Cathedral in Tbilisi
The saga of my sister’s trip to Georgia begins, as all good sagas should, with a bit of a rough patch. Namely, my marshrutka (marsh from now on out, because I am too lazy to type the entire Russian word for minibus/ a special state of being) ride. If you have ever wondered what the 8th circle of hell looks like I can now tell you. It starts with waking up to 5:15am in the morning, to get picked up at 5:30. The only reasons anyone should ever be up at this time is a transcontinental flight or a potentially fatal gas leak, and you had better make darn sure it is potentially fatal. I will readily admit, I am not an early riser. The marsh was late to pick me up and we didn’t leave Mestia until 7am. The realization that I could have slept for another hour, walked to the center, and still made the bus, was to say the least, a mite dispiriting. We were completely full by the time we were 20km out of town. I was wedged in between the driver and another guy up front, which helps prevent motion sickness but also makes sleeping impossible. Bad Russian pop alternated with bad 80s love ballads, playing on loop. The whole trip. Two babies in the seat directly behind me cried and screamed at random intervals so that you could never get used enough to it for it to stop bothering you. They eventually started playing their own games on a phone, adding another special element to the noise. It was exceptionally hot, at least for me, but I keep my sleeves rolled down for as long as possible because I had a henna tattoo on my inner arm and kargi gogos definitely do NOT have tattoos. Eventually I figured, forget it, I’m about to pass out from heat stroke these guys can think whatever they like about me. I really wanted to just get off that hellish marsh, but I was also sure in the knowledge that I would just have to get on another one in order to get to Tbilisi. Our driver got pulled over by the cops and it turns out he doesn’t have a license. Whoops. He then continued driving. I finally reached the city, got swindled out of 2 lari (80 cents) by a cab driver and was too tired to argue over it and collapsed into my bed in the hostel at 5pm. The next day I got things ready for Mary’s arrival, did paperwork and ended up having to hitchhike to the airport because I couldn’t find the correct bus to take me there. After the driver found out I was a teacher in Svaneti he offered to help me with anything he could in Tbilisi. His son fences at Notre Dame, just to prove that this is a small and complicated world.
Nini got to play dress up
After causing a minor scene in the airport when my sister arrived and probably confusing every Georgian in the place by the fact that the twins were being reunited I brought her into Tbilisi and fed her before she collapsed in the way that is inevitable with an 8 hour time difference. We spent Monday Tuesday and Wednesday wandering around Tbilisi and enjoying the city. We discovered an inordinate number of lovely cafes and holes in the wall, eating far too much ice cream and bread products, window shopping for icons and Soviet kitsch and visiting the Georgian National Museum with one hall devoted to “The Museum of Soviet Occupation”. Actually we went to the museum two days since halfway into our first visit the electricity went out for the block and that museum is creepy as all get out in the dark. When we explained the next day why we wanted our tickets to still be valid we were waved right in, but of course, please enjoy our museum. It was so wonderful to have my sister visit for so many reasons (Reeses Peanut Butter cups anyone?). It was good to be reminded about my ‘other’ life. I sometimes forget about the life that I have in the US. As silly as it sounds, because life in Mestia is so different it’s easier to just compartmentalize and turn it into different lives, Georgia life and America life, than to try reconcile the two. It was wonderful to speak with someone who knows me as well or better than anyone on the planet. It was great to laugh and be silly and generally be a 22 year old woman with all the freedom in the world, and a bank account so she can enjoy it. It was great to show someone around what I think of as ‘my’ country (as least within my friend and family group) and to share its charms with someone I love. Living in a place like Georgia, you feel a little like you have to prove why you like it. People go to Europe because they do, but other parts of the world you have to have a reason, finding yourself or writing your novel or whatever. You can’t just like it there, something specific has to make you happy. I got to show my sister some of these things, like the incredible kindness of strangers, the food, the festivity, the scenery, the piety and history, the friends that I’ve made here. It was also good to see Georgia from a fresh perspective again. At this point much of what seemed incredible to me seems normal, so a new arrival can articulate Georgia far better than I can.
I love how epic Ani and I look in this picture
Mary aptly described Tbilisi as a strange mix of Central Europe and Calcutta—almost Europe but the occasional scent of exotic spices, the Persian lift of arches and the general air of “it’ll happen when it’ll happen” belies something a little further east. I also introduced her to Borjomi mineral water, and found a convert. Georgia, you’d better start imports to Baltimore. We were given lilacs one night by the lilac and cucumber vendor outside our window for being a) pretty b) female and c) Georgian speaking. They were lovely and smelled great. I took Mary inside her first mosque ever and the caretaker was super nice about it. I then proceeded to blow her mind by explaining its used by both Sunnis and Shias ever since the Shia mosque was blown up by the Bolsheviks. This is the equivalent to Catholics and Anglicans getting together in say, Northern Ireland, and worshipping in the same building. Georgia’s different like that. We also visited a synagogue and any number of beautiful churches, finishing at Sameba, the beautiful new Cathedral of the Trinity up on a hill, completed only in 1998.
It had occasionally been noted that my sister and I share a slight resemblance
After three days in Tbilisi we took the night train to Zugdidi and then the morning marsh to Mestia. We discovered the $11 for first class is more than worth it. I became a complete convert to Georgian Railways and I plan on taking it rather than the marsh whenever possible. I got very annoyed with the tourists on the marsh and got maybe a little too judgy, surprising even my sister with my cynicism, which takes quite a bit. One interesting and unexpected thing I have learned here in Georgia is exactly how to get my bitch on. Don’t get me wrong, the nice Midwestern girl is still there, but I’ve got a bit more edge now, and I no longer feel bad letting you know exactly what I think. I frankly get annoyed with tourists though, especially because once they start showing up, they assume that I am part of their crew. Georgians easily make the distinction though. Also, I find it funny when I speak Georgian with other locals on the marsh and the tourists then English-speaking tourists try to ask in broken Russian how to do things. Typically this ends with the driver turning to me and going “Translate please”.  Once in Mestia I settled Mary in for a nap and did some work around the house. That afternoon we went to Access and she got to meet some of my students and then we went to the wedding. Poor Mary was freezing cold up here in Mestia, and I will readily admit it’s a tough transition from Tbilisi to Mestia. I had been boiling in Tbilisi so I was pretty comfortable in Mestia but I had to layer Mary up pretty well before she could go to the wedding. Everyone was very shocked to see my double at the wedding with me, but since I had told people my sister was coming they were also delighted to get to meet her. We made the rounds of the wedding tent and were personally ensconced at the bachelor table by two of my students. They are apparently going to be working more actively on finding me a husband. I got my Georgian on and urged my sister to “eat eat” and “drink drink”. The geography teacher from my school was the tamada and when I asked one of my friends at the bachelor table whether he was related to the bride or groom he replied “both”. Of course. My friend Dato gave Mary a ride home when she got tired and I went back to the wedding for a little more festivity before coming home for some well-earned rest. 

This is what the kids look like in my mind all the time

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The thaw has begun and other random observations

Welcome back to a day in my Svaneti life. Since random things happen all the time there is no such thing as an ‘average day’. Let me give you a couple examples. Two Mondays ago I went on a long glorious solo walk. I had wanted to catch some sun which then disappeared behind the clouds and left me freezing cold, but it was good to be alone for a bit and enjoy the silence. I came back after only 2 hours or so since I was about to turn into an icicle. What I ended up coming home to was a pair of oxen hooked up in the yard, with Nika at the helm. I will remind you that Nika is 7 year old and 3 feet tall only on a good day. He was affectionately slapping the oxen’s’ heads and invited me to do the same. He then turned to the darker of the pair and said “this one is angry”. Good, good Nika, maybe let’s not play with the angry massive animal with horns. But whatever. I thought maybe we needed to fetch more wood or hay, since oxen sledges are the favorite way to do both of these activities (dead serious, there was a minor traffic jam once in the center because the oxen team had dragged a pair of logs across the road and then gotten stuck). Instead Gari Bidza brought the iron plow over from the neighbors and he Gocha and Nika proceeded to plow the front and back gardens. With oxen. How this works I discovered is that one guy leads the oxen, the other puts most of his weight onto the plow and almost falls over the furrows every turn and the small child smacks the oxen when they stop moving. And the token American watches and considers how she could turn this into a convincing grad school essay about how she was raised Amish. There’s a life skill I never expected to learn. But I now believe that given a little hands on practice I could plow your yard for you.
It gets harder and harder to write these posts, not because nothing happens but because things that I do seem normal, rather than extraordinary. While in Tbilisi, the capital, recently I went to Carrefour, a Western-style supermarket that expats go to for curry powder, brown sugar and avocados. Frankly, this place seemed far more extraordinary than slaughtering a pig in the backyard the day after Easter. The idea of purchasing meat in little plastic and Styrofoam packages blows my mind. Being able to get out of season fruits (ie anything in the winter). I remember reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a kid and she got an orange for Christmas. At the time I thought ‘big whoop, it’s an orange’. After having now experienced a winter sans-citrus (cabbage was a special treat) I’m thinking “Schmoly you got an orange?!?!”. That particular passage makes sense to me now. The idea having everything you could possibly want available at your fingertips, the incredible variety of foods, and of brands of the same food, nope nope nope. Essentially if you know what’s good for you, don’t take me to a Sam’s Club upon my return to the US for at least 3 months.  The same goes for entertainment (Netflix is going to be insane), infrastructure (I’m so used to the power going out it doesn’t faze me. I’ve also turned off the heater in my room and gotten rid of my third blanket. It’s not even 60 most days but it’s too hot to sleep), health and hygiene (I can buy floss somewhere less than 3 hours away and can speak to the doctor) and a million other little things. Going from the end of the world to a University that’s at least 10x the size of Mestia is going to be…a transition. I apologize in advance for everyone who has to deal with my crazy upon my return. It’s not my fault, reverse culture shock is just worse than culture shock. I think it’s because you feel like “Ok, this should be easy, this is home, this is what I grew up with” but then it still feels so foreign and you start thinking that it’s YOU who’s broken and not just a little lost.
Piggy was delicious by the way, and I was very impressed with how quickly my host father dispatched it. I was expecting the process to be kind of awful, since pigs make a lot more noise than calves and they also squeal. But the animal was silence within 15 seconds, the blood was collected by Saba (11) and then the animal was bathed, shaved and then the rest of the hair burned off by my host father and his friends in the yard. We then ate the organs—the heart was a little overcooked but the rest were quite good. We have a ram in the yard now that has a date with the chopping block though for the time being it’s just hanging out with one of the new calves. I kind of hope we don’t eat this calf since he’s super cute, brown and white spotted.
 My sister came and visited for 10 days here in Georgia and I brought her up to Svaneti to meet my family and see where I am living. She walked into our main room and her first observation was “it’s like Little House on the Prairie but with a flat screen TV”. This is a true statement, but I hadn’t really thought of my life like that for a long time. It’s just, you know, my life. We went to a wedding supra and my sister was astounded by the number of people (later I was told about 800), the amount of food, the sounds of Georgian and Svan swirling around us, the kids who pointedly placed us at the bachelor table (I think they were maybe bribed), the music and dancing, the fact that you just dig in and the massive amounts of alcohol on offer. To me, it was a wedding, a fun event to get dressed up for. And I did—a new dress and a new lipstick color. If you have ever wondered how to make a situation awkward for all involved I can tell you having a clump of your 10th and 11th grade boys call you over “Hannah Mas!” and then give you a thumbs up and a “very nice” as their rating for your choice of outfit fits the bill. Everyone was apparently quite surprised that I cleaned up that well. I also wanted to dance at the wedding but couldn’t get any of the bachelors at the table to dance with me (perhaps explaining why they are still at the bachelor table). So I tried to find some of my seniors to dance with me. I finally convinced Jema, an incredibly talented young Georgian dancer, to at least walk with me to the front where dancing was kicking off. He got embarrassed after about 15 seconds and bowed out so a neighbor danced with me instead, and then I danced with some of my 11th grade girls. I noticed after a bit that he and the rest of my boys hadn’t gone to sit down though. Nope, they were all standing there, watching. When the song finished the reaction was “that was very good” and “Hannah Mas, that was fantastic”. I reminded them that I might be a little cooler than they thought. I think my seniors were mostly thinking of how much longer it would be until I wasn’t their teacher anymore. 
We also visited Tbilisi, Batumi and Davit Gareja, though I will most likely speak about those visits in another post. What I will say is that it was both awesome to see my sister and being her tour guide was exhausting but a pretty amazing ego boost. Everyone here in town knows exactly how well I speak Georgian and are utterly unsurprised when I speak it. I don’t get any compliments and at home typically what I get is surprise (read: consternation) that my Georgian isn’t coming along better. In the cities and on the marshrutkas where nobody knows me though: shock and delight. I have never been told so many times how well I speak a particular language. Everyone wanted to know how the heck this little pale girl spoke their native tongue with such confidence if not particularly grammatically.  I was offered many relatives for marriage and told innumerable times what a good girl I am. To which the responses were “that’s very kind” and “thank you very much”. Upon my return to Mestia on Sunday I found myself caught up in a birzha that then moved to a village on the outskirts of town and I didn’t get home till nearly 1am. I knew some of the members of the party, others I hadn’t met before but they knew who I was, and others were visitors who were flabbergasted to say the least to find a young American from near Chicago speaking Svan and obviously at ease at what can sometimes feel like the end of the world, and certainly the end of the road. But this is home for a couple more weeks at least and I couldn’t be happier to be here, some days might be rough, but this is where I am and I cannot think of what I’d rather be doing at this moment.
Coming back from training we were crossing a bridge in our car and had to slow down because a cow was manically running across, but weaving from one far side to the other. After reminding myself again to be careful of the cow brain in this country, I took a closer look at the marshrutka in front of us which had also been forced to slow down. There were white things on top wrapped in blue and I couldn’t tell what they were until we got closer. And then, of course, it was half a dozen live lambs wrapped up in tarps and strapped to the top of a moving vehicle. How I didn’t guess that right away is difficult to determine. The lambs seemed perfectly ok with the arrangement. I wondered who was having kebab for dinner and half wanted to ask the driver to follow. Georgia has a pretty endless ability to surprise you if you’re willing to keep your eyes and mind open.

Easter was beautiful if freezing cold here in Mestia. I went to church for the vigil, which started an hour late due to the priest having guests. We kicked off almost exactly at midnight. About an hour in bells rang and everyone streamed out of the church, to circle it three times with their lit candles. The snow was falling heavily and the ground was slick. An altar boy (Datka, from my 6th grade) rang out a cadence on the pair of bells in the churchyard. We gathered in front of the entrance to the church as a group to praise the Risen Lord, listening to the collection of delicate women’s voices calling out. We repeated the same phrase I have always done, just in a different language, Kristes Aghsdga! (Christ is Risen) Cheshmaritad Aghsdga! (He is Risen indeed!). The call and response that has been used for millennia, confirming the miracle of life’s triumph over death, forgiveness over sin, light over darkness, love over hate. Because God is love. I wish you Peace and Contentment my friends, as we all celebrate in one way or another the rebirth of life as spring approaches. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

To a metropolis and back again!

As I always say "Happy October Revolution"
I’m going to get McDonalds! Now, I will tell you, when I live in the States, I abhor this particular symbol of American culture and avoid it like the plague. But something happens to you when you live in isolation from your home country for long periods of time. You start to miss the strangest things. I never watch sports on TV. I went to a Big 10 school and watched perhaps 5 sports games in their entirety in 4 years and that was for the company. Here, when basketball or American football pops up on the TV screen I am riveted to it like it’s the end of the world is arriving. The announcers even speak English. Country music becomes far less grating on the ear. I can still only take a few minutes at a time, but this is an infinite increase of listening for me. And MSG and chemicals in my food sound delicious. I can list for you the preserved food items available in Mestia: chocolate, chips, pickles, canned peas and olives, Russian ramen (just don’t), biscuits, pop, mayonnaise, kielbasa, and a few frozen items like khinkali which a new government study shows often contain salmonella and/or listeria. Yummy. Add to this a diet pretty lacking in variety (potatoes, bread and beans are the staples—I thought I was in heaven when we had cabbage one time) and you start having food cravings that would put a pregnant woman to shame. Now the nearest schwarma stand is 3 hours from me. The nearest fast food restaurant is 6, and requires an overnight stop because of the scarcity of transport. Mestia’s idea of fast food is hot bread. Which is delicious but when you already eat approximately a loaf of bread a day, it’s less appetizing. You start to understand why McDonalds is an event. Up here you can either embrace the isolation, enjoy your ability to live like a hermit, and immerse yourself fully in the community, or go completely bat-crazy. I’ve taken the former route but it’s time to descend to the lowlands after 10 weeks on my mountain. My body wants a milkshake.
PS. The McDonalds was ridiculously overpriced and utterly delicious. No regrets. It was also hilarious to watch the city dwelling Georgians watch the obvious foreigner who also acted like a total deer-in-the-headlights villager.
Tskaltubo Sanatorium
And I totally was deer in the headlights. I wandered through the bazaar in Zugdidi like I’d arrived on mars and probably drove the entire place insane with my slow pace and getting lost down dead ends every three seconds. It was a short shop while I waited for my next marshrutka to take me to Kutaisi. On the way from Mestia I was one of two passengers on the marsh and the driver bought us khachapuri when we stopped and we had a chat about who the hell I was. He and the other woman were duly impressed that I live in Mestia and speak some Georgian and Svan. Down in Zugs with my backpack everyone assumed I was a tourist and kept saying “Mestia, Mestia” ie—I have a taxi and will drive you to Mestia for a ridiculous sum of money. So I did the only thing you can—I answered them. მესტიაში ვცხოვრობ--I live in Mestia. Then they were interested. “Kartulad laparakobt? (You speak Georgian) Ra tkma unda (Of course) Martla Mestiashi vtsxovrob (do you really live in Mestia) ki, inglisuri mastsavlebeli var (Yes, I’m an English teacher). Didi xania ik vtsxovrob? (Have you lived there long?) Erti tseli (one year) [looks and sounds of surprise, as I’ve mentioned before Svaneti is to Georgia a mix of the Wild West in terms of law and order plus the physical hardships of living, in say, rural Alaska] Kargi gogo xar (you’re a good girl).” This conversation and variations thereof was repeated probably half a dozen times in the course of 10 minutes. Essentially every time I got outside of the circle of participants and people who listened in on the last one.
The former concert hall and Gocha, our lovely guide.
I had, as ever, the most insane driver ever from Zugdidi to Kutaisi. I inevitably end up with the utter maniac behind the wheel. This particular driver was a young man in sunglasses who pushed the minibus well beyond its limits so that everything in the things was shaking. But we made it to Kutaisi in an hour and a half rather than the usual two hours. Once it Kutaisi I was overwhelmed by the size, the traffic and the heat. It was probably 60 or 65 but I was dying, and had to change from my pants into shorts, and strip down to a single long sleeved tee, which I was ready to strip off as well and walk around in just a cami, but felt way too shy what with already airing my hairy legs. I met up with some other teachers in a tea house in central Kutaisi after successfully negotiating the buses. I sat in sumptuous pleasure and talked. And talked. And talked. It was so good to speak English with another native speaker and not only that, but to speak with someone who is experiencing things so similar to what you are. We had a small birzha in the road while waiting for other teachers to arrive and confirmed our villager status but squatting in the middle of the alley and having to move when people in cars younger than we are turned the corner to find the strangest collection of foreigners they’ve ever come across. They probably will to talking about us for years to come. I spent both nights sober due to my rabies shots and felt a bit like the grandma of the group, looking after everyone, but I still had some great chats with folks, getting deep, as people who are thrown together as we have been often do.
Yes, that is an ox-pulled sledge carrying wood for the stove down my dirt road. For anyone who ever questions my developing world credentials
We spent all of Saturday sight-seeing in Kutaisi, but my favorite was a stop in Tskaltubo, which saw its heyday as a resort with 20 or so sanatoria in the Soviety era. Now the town has 20 or so abandoned sanatoria along with an impressive collection of other abandoned buildings. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still way more of a town than Mestia is (it even had a schwarma stand, worked by a Svan from Mulakhi, who shook my hand in surprise and respect when I greeted him in Svan) but there’s a lot of abandoned stuff there. The highlight was breaking off from the massive group with 4 other teachers, all of whom I get along with exceptionally well and approaching one such abandoned building. It had a trio of guards outside so we were a little worried they’d be pissed we just wandered up. Matt and Liz started up a a conversation while I worked on my schwarma and eventually the rest of us approached. We chatted away and the head guard, a round man slightly shorter than I, of middle age told us “well, nobody is supposed to go in, but I’ll give you a private tour if you like”. We did. Once he had heard me speak Georgian he apparently decided I was the group’s translator and so every room we entered he would tell me a bit and then turn and say “Utxari (say to them)”. While I couldn’t translate everything, I did pretty well if I may say so myself. We wandered the empty, decaying building, which must have been beautiful in its day with awe. We looked at the visitor’s book, with entries in Russian, Georgian, Italian, English, German, Arabic and Chinese (at a guess) all from the 70s. We saw a Happy October Revolution card and leafed through the books in the doctors offices. We wandered through the restaurant, and the concert hall, saw Stalin’s Pavilion out the blown out windows, as well as the outdoor dance terrace, and the long balcony running along the front. He kept urging us to stay longer, but our rented marsh was leaving. We thanked him many times and he urged us to visit again, to come see him, to have a meal with him, wished us the very best in our teaching, happy Georgian spouses, many Georgian babies and introduced us to all of his pals. This country might have had some very rough patches in the not so distant past and there might be some coming in the future, but its spirit seems to be utterly unbreakable.
My kids. That's Gurami clowning around in the background

The Georgian word for selfie? Selfi

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March? Already?

Spring is coming! At least I really hope it is. I’m writing this while home alone (I just had to take a break, when I looked over at the wood stove and noticed it was conspicuously dark. While I am getting better with it my natural tendency towards absent minded professor makes it occasionally difficult). Nato and Gocha are out visiting Gocha’s aunt who is ill and Nini is…somewhere. Unfortunately illness and death seem to be in vogue here in Mestia.
 My host sister Nini is on the mend after terrible stomach pains requiring a visit to Tbilisi to see doctors there. I myself made 8 visits to the clinic here in Mestia in less than 2 weeks after I was bit by a neighbor’s dog on the leg and developed an unrelated bad infection on my face. It was a minor bite, but getting the rabies vaccine and the scrapes from the canines cleaned seemed like a good idea. After 3 weeks the bruises are almost gone but it feels like I will have a lump under my skin for a while still. For those of you who enjoy irony, I was bitten by Lassie. The rabies vaccine consisted of 3 shots given over the course of a week. But now I’ve got that vaccine at least. The infection on my face was more nasty than anything else. A pore on my face got infected to the point where my entire jawline was swollen. The surgeon at the clinic gave me a local anesthetic and then drained the infection. I had to go back every day the clinic was open for a week to get the dressing changed. I took a bunch of antibiotics and at this point it’s almost completely healed. I had an infected tear duct on my eye at the same time, but the antibiotics killed that pretty quick as well. A bigger worry was my insurance card not being here. Luckily my Svan tutor Lasha’s mother works at the clinic so at her urging the clinic staff forged the paperwork to prevent me from having to pay for my procedure and aftercare. If you want to know if your community values you, I would suggest seeing if they will lie for you without you yourself suggesting it.
Then last week, two teachers at my school lost one of their parents. One of them was related to Nato as well so she is currently observing the 40 day fast (vegan food only) following the death. The first funeral was on Thursday and I went with the rest of the teachers. It was held in St George’s Church and presided over by Bap Giorgi, my priest. Funerals are short services here and most of the mourners don’t go inside the church, but instead mill around outside for the half an hour or so. Then everyone goes to an empty building on the main square for a supra of fast approved food. I realized that I’ve adjusted to Georgia when I looked around the room and figured it was a medium sized supra, and then did a quick estimation and discovered it was 300 to 350 people. Friday I was invited to an ormotsi, the supra 40 days after a death, but I was teaching at the time so I was unable to attend. Saturday Nato and Gocha went to another funeral.
Sunday was the funeral for Nato’s relative. I went to church that morning and then went to the deceased’s home. Nato had been going every day to sit with the body, which is apparently a requirement for close relatives. As I approached the home I saw the yard was swollen with people, and some of the men had started singing a polyphonic, making it sound mournful and heavy. The sun was shining brightly and the swell of male voices echoed off the other side of the valley. As I approached I noticed that at funerals traditions of gender segregation seem to be more closely observed. There were no women in the yard. I asked where they were and was directed inside. An inner and outer room were both lined around with benches, full of women dressed in black, relatives, neighbors, mourners. I wasn’t sure about going to the inner room, since I had never met the woman when she was alive and I didn’t want to intrude on people’s genuine grief. Lasha’s mom saw me and motioned for her to sit with me. I was probably the youngest woman there by 10 years or so and I knew at least half of the women in the room They then of course moved on to the topic of who I’m going to marry in Svaneti. Because, you know, life goes on, and you gotta get your matchmaking in while you can.
 Perhaps half an hour after I got there an ancient woman moving with a cane came out of the inner room and we stood up as one. We started moving out, the swarm of men outside the door parting like the Red Sea for the stream of women to pass. Nato caught site of me in the crowd and asked why I hadn’t gone inside and found her. We started down the muddy street towards the church and stopped when we reached the bank and turned around. First came a few men carrying a wooden lid, then two teens, one carrying a portrait of the woman, the other with a bundle of flowers in her hands. Four men passed eventually with the open bare board coffin on their shoulders. Following the pallbearers was a cluster of perhaps a dozen men with their arms linked. Their voices were raised in a dirge, the multiple melodies blending perfectly. We followed the coffin to the church, walking more slowly than I ever have, an untidy column of 300 or 400 people, dressed primarily in black, voices muted. The pallbearers changed periodically and when we reached the church carried the coffin into the church. This time I waited outside and listened to further discussion of my marriage prospects. Asmat (Lasha’s mom) assured everyone that I am a very xocha dina (good girl).
After a very short while the close family emerged from the miniscule church and the women headed over for the supra. It seems that for the burial itself only men are allowed in the cemetery, so the women are allowed to tuck in. The same empty building was set up. The feast was strictly segregated, two tables for women, five for men. A delicious variety of dishes had been prepared, beans, bread, eggplant, mushrooms, salad, stew, halva, rice, spinach, pickled vegetables. The wine and chacha flowed freely because the lack of sunlight in the room with its bare concrete floors and walls froze its sitting victims. The men came in after a bit and the tamada started his toasts, but as women we were allowed to largely ignore him and so as we pleased. I chatted and laughed with the women around me, I’m finally feeling confident enough in my Georgian and Svan to move about without an English speaker. I looked over and spotted a cluster of my younger male friends and nodded my greetings. We didn’t stay long and Asmat and I walked home arm in arm, full to bursting, aware of the tasks awaiting us at home, comfortable in quiet companionship. These were my first two funerals here in Georgia, but I’m glad that I went. I am glad that I was able to show the respect of my presence to my fellow teachers in their time of mourning, and I’m glad that I have been accepted to the extent in my community that I was admired rather than derided for attending, that I was seen as making the effort of coming rather than encroaching on the neighborhood’s shared grief. I appreciated the pace and the sense of finality that I found at the funerals, the final walk to church with everyone who knew you surrounding you.

It hasn’t been all death the past couple week though. My kids provide me with endless sources of amusement. One day I left school at the same time as my fifth grade class and they broke into the omnipresent Georgian cheer ‘Hannah’s Gau-mar-jos [cheers to Hannah!]’. That this was the same day as I broke out the scratch and sniff stickers is entirely beside the point. It was endearing, cute and just the lift I needed before another 2 hours of teaching that afternoon. Then one day my 1st and 3rd grade classes were combined (what was a special kind of hell, what with their having completely different levels of English) and Gio asked me “Hannah, are you a teacher?”. In Georgian of course, if I get any full sentences out of my 1st graders this year I will weep with joy. His older brother Kakha proceeded to chastise him, “Of course she’s a teacher, she teaches us” “But she only plays games with us” “That’s because she’s fun”. I hated to break in, but it was time to keep the lesson moving. We had a song to sing. Lastly, Georgia celebrated Mother’s Day on March 3 and then International Women’s Day (Happy Intl Women’s Day to all the women in my life!) on March 8. We had Mother’s Day off and the next day in class Luka, a 5th grader, wished my co-teacher a Happy Mother’s Day. He then turned to me, “Hannah Mas, do you have a child?” My co helpfully explained that I am unmarried and that he could wish me a Happy Women’s Day later that week, while I doubled over in laughter. Because kids are adorable and pretty much the same everywhere, and I find that a very comforting fact in this very confusing and ever-changing world.