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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

School has started

This week at school was…interesting. Admittedly I’ve never taught anywhere before so it is difficult to tell whether this is normal or not. From the students end, it always seemed like my teacher’s had it all figured out, but this was probably my awe of them talking and not reality. I certainly was in way over my head. The schedule wasn’t quite set yet so I was never quite sure which classes I was going to. I simply starting walking into school knowing that I could be anything from 1st to 12th grade and that I could only hope that I had a co-teacher with me. I did several times get put into a class on my own, which I discovered is one of the most terrifying things in the entire world. Particularly when the students have little or no idea what it is that you’re saying to them. I was sent to the first graders on my own one day, and it was their first day of English. My Georgian was not up to it. I am starting to wish that I had a greater physical presence. That or I need to work on my confidence because I think the students can tell that I’m a little unsure of myself and they are exploiting it. I’m glad that I am physically stronger than I look, but an extra foot or so of height and perhaps a sex change would give me a little more authority in the classroom. I did have to haul one first grader off of another for fighting, he didn’t expect me to simply be able to pick him up and move him. More incentive to work out while I’m here.
My road and Tetnuldi in the background
 I’ve decided to start running again while I’m here (at least while I can run on the roads, which might not be for much longer). I can’t go very far at all (ie like a kilometer). I am telling myself that this is because of the altitude to feel better about it. It’s very interesting because this region seems to produce a lot of athletes so there are actually a fair numbers of runners. I see at least one every single day. But there’s a catch. A big one. Every single runner, every one, is male. I am the only woman running that I have seen. Given the reactions that I get, I’m pretty sure I’m the only female runner the Georgians have seen too. But, they all seem more pleased than pissed about the breaking of gender roles. I get essentially cheered on by everyone I see and my host father has taken to calling me ‘sportsman’. People seem to know me too, since one night I was running past this house and the father called out to his son (maybe 20ish, also leaving for a run) ‘Who is that?’ to which the reply was ‘the new English teacher’. This all happened in Georgian so I was glad to understand it, but it also made me laugh because frankly I have no memory of meeting the son. So apparently I am known now.
My school!
Speaking of gender roles, I’ve found that I seem to belong in this strange limbo land of being pretty clearly a woman, but I being Western don’t have to conform as closely to Georgian gender expectations. It’s almost as though I can be both a man and a woman. I can get away with running or shirking household duties because I am an honorary man. I could sit at supras and drink away if I wanted to (though again, drunkenness, not allowed ever). But I am still expected to dress in a certain way most of the time, and I notice the looks that I get as a woman. HBO and its like have thwarted me again with the ideas it gives men around the world about Western women.  I don’t seem to get the creeper stare when out with any family member (10-year old Nini will even do) or when I’m running weirdly enough, but just walking, completely allowed. The male gaze, for anyone who has ever wondered, is a very real thing. It makes me and every woman I’ve ever met exceptionally uncomfortable. That being said I have faced far less harassment in Georgia than anywhere else I’ve lived. Full stop. Less creeping than in the US. I think again the rural grapevine is working in my favor because I’m understood as not really an outsider. I belong to the community and to a family. Ergo, don’t mess with me because everyone will know and it will get back to the zillion men in my host family who probably won’t take kindly to it, since I am a kargi gogo (კარგი გოგო, good girl). And you don’t mess with a kargi gogo. To overestimate the importance of those two words is difficult, they denote not just the way you act around men, but children, the church, work both in and outside of the home, your attitude towards your family and your personality/sociability. My teachers all agree and I think are already planning who to set me up with. I was asked in the teacher’s meeting (which mostly consists of yelling) whether I was going to get married in Svaneti (I had been here less than a week at that point). My response? It depends on Svaneti. I felt it was the best response considering.
This is what Svaneti looks like to me
I’ve decided that I am in fact living in ‘How to be Georgian 101’. My host family has been wonderful including me in their everyday lives, which I so appreciate. Last night my host father came home from Zugdidi where he had been shopping. I tried some Georgian gum (which comes from some unidentified plant that I can’t pronounce). I still have some stuck to my teeth. He had also bought a ton of grapes. We crushed them and now have a blue barrel in the corner of the living room where they are fermenting for wine.  My host father is determined to teach me how to light the wood stove properly. Given how badly I fail at camping this is an uphill battle, but I appreciate his willingness to teach. He already asked me if I would be staying in town for Christmas, so presumably he likes having me around. Nini certainly wants me to stay, which somehow surprises a great deal since that would require her to do English over the holidays. This morning my host mother showed me how to make cheese from fresh milk and then how to make khachapuri, the national dish, from it. The process was similar to making gubdari so I maybe sort of had it. Except not quite. I seem to be in training to become a Georgian, but I always wanted to become a part of the community and learn about the culture when I came. I’m glad that I’m getting the chance to do that. Also, I’m going to have the most wonderfully random collection of life skills after I live here. I feel like I will be able to live just about anywhere in the world and do ok for myself so that in and of itself is a skill.
My end of Mestia as the rain comes in from the Mountains
The cold is already starting to set in. The power went out again this morning for a while so we were again dependent on the wood stove for heat, light and cooking. I worked with Nini and Saba on their English while Nato translated for me and peeled potatoes. We discussed the goals for the various classes today and about my idea for an after school club for the older kids with whom I don’t have as much time to work. English through rap. American music seems to be popular just about everywhere so I figure rap might draw some kids in who might otherwise not show up to a conversation club.

I also went for a nice walk this morning in the fog. The mists covered the mountain that sits above us almost completely but strangely enough cleared on Tetnuldi (other side of the valley), giving a stunning view of the snowcapped peaks. I find myself wanting to romanticize life here for you folks but I also want to be realistic. Life is hard. Power cuts mean that it is difficult to get basic things done and the cold will soon be bone-shattering. The school I work at has next to no supplies. The walls are largely bare. Students are still getting textbooks. Chalk is rationed. Wood stoves are the only source of heat in the winter and we haven’t gotten them out yet so the building is freezing in the morning. Kids aren’t fed at school so the level of concentration drops the longer the day goes on. The government runs a special program to bring new graduates out to villages and towns since young people flock to cities, despite youth unemployment being astronomically high. The road I live on isn’t paved so after the rain it’s a muddy mess. Central Mestia has a newly build commercial center that is empty and will be for the time being due to infighting.  This is a place of great beauty and if I was just a tourist it would be easy to gloss over everything else. Visitors are so often in search of ‘the authentic’ without realizing that by authenticity they often mean poverty. They want life to seem raw, but where the hell did the lights, wifi and hot water go? They seek the quaint, ruin porn and blood feuds. Life here is so much more than that. I’ve only been here for a little over a week but already I find myself at odds with some of the tourists coming here, and the characterizations I find in the guidebooks of a mystical swirl of history, a place suspended in time. Mestia is no such thing, it is…a place that cannot be summed up in a paragraph and one that as an outsider I cannot yet describe and perhaps never will be able to. But is it quickly working its way into my heart. 


  1. I so admire your eagerness to see parts of the world through many different vantage points--host families in different countries, studying, teaching. I pray God gives you peace, joy, and PATIENCE (that's what I always needed Him to give me) as you settle into your new life there. Your pictures are stunning. Many, many blessings on your work there!

    1. Thank you so much Emily! I could use all the patience God is willing to send my way!

  2. Hannah, Bu küçük köyde geçirdiğin günler, derslerin ve öğrencilerin hakkında güzel bilgiler verdin. Yazdıklarını büyük bir ilgiyle okudum. Sana başarılar dilerim :)