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, October 15, 2014

Batumi and Svanuri

Well, another week in Georgia, another million stories that I forgot to tell you. This past weekend I made a very whirlwind trip to Batumi on the Southwest coast near the border with Turkey. I mentioned to my host mother Thursday evening that a friend was having their birthday over the weekend in Batumi. Within about 3 minutes my host father was on the phone with mashrutka (these are buses that go between towns and within bigger cities and are used as transport since few people have cars and the trains don’t go nearly everywhere) drivers , looking for one trustworthy enough to take their young charge. There aren’t any direct ones this late in the tourist season so it was arranged that I would get on the mashrutka to Tbilisi and be handed off to a mashrutka to Batumi by the driver. It left at 6 am. The last remnants of Westernness left in my soul made me set my alarm for 5:15. I knocked on the door downstairs and Gocha, my host father tried to shoo me off, thinking that I was Roy, the big scary dog. As soon as I spoke he opened the door and welcomed me in. Lasha appeared out of the early morning mist with the car (no idea where he had been, my family keeps the strangest hours sometimes) and whisked me to the city center and got me onto the correct bus. I was there well within time. I got on and waited. And waited. We filled up and finally set off at 7am, with me cursing under my breath the punctual part of me that had gotten up as early as I did. We picked up various people leaving Svaneti as we went, listening to the driver’s rocking playlist (remixes of the current top 40, which he had a flashdrive, gotten from goodness knows where). He eventually pulled over at the side of the road, flagged down a mashrutka to Batumi and got me on it. I was in Batumi by 1pm and wandered the town a little before the rest of my friends arrived (we have been here long enough to be working on Georgian time).
A park in Batumi
We had a slightly overdramatic reunion on the seaside boulevard in which we laughed hugged and cried out in a way that is utterly ridiculous given that I’ve known these people for a month and yet entirely correct given how well we already know each other and the fascinating experiences we are sharing. It was great to speak to other teachers about their everyday lives and see how they are both similar to and different from my own. My school seems to be the normal amount of organized but I seem to have lucked out with my co-teachers who allow me to run some things in the classroom without completely abandoning me to my fate with the 6th graders. My family, having dealt with crazy foreigners before, gives me far more personal space and independence than most of the families which is much appreciated. We made our way to the beach in Batumi while chatting and I went for a delicious swim in the Black Sea with my friend Hannah from the program. We are known respectively as Perfect Hannah and British Hannah to tell us apart. At dinner we discovered just how Georgian we had become when with a little food left on the table we all started gesturing and yelling at one another “Chame!!!! (eat)”, this being a several times a day experience for all of us. I stayed in Batumi for only about 24 hours and caught mashrutkas to Zugdidi and then Mestia. I was given a pair of British tourists to essentially guide through the process by the tourism office in Batumi. Given how basic my Georgian is I wasn’t exactly qualified to translate but I think we did just fine. The weird thing was that as we left Zugdidi I heaved this massive sigh of relief as the road started to climb. I felt like I was going home, which I suppose I am, but it’s amazing to me that in only a month Mestia truly is a place I am glad to return to. The road and the mountains embraced us and I felt entirely at ease even as the driver careened about. I suppose I’ve been adjusting pretty darn quickly.
Batumi's Sunset on the Black Sea
I also had my first Svan lesson this week! My geography teacher Murtaz wrote down a bunch of words in Svan and then in Georgian. He wrote them in the Latin alphabet though, rather than in Georgian so it was kind of difficult to figure out what was what. I came home and transferred it to another notebook and my host family helped me since they all speak at least some Svan, which is spoken by fewer than 15000 people and is estimated to die with this generation. While it might seem like a useless thing to be learning, I find the death of a language and the cultural knowledge that goes with it heartbreaking. Speaking Svan also gives me incredible street credibility here in Mestia so well worth it. I tried it out with a little old lady who saw me running and you’d think she’s died and gone to heaven. She grabbed my cheeks and almost dragged me inside to stuff me full of food. I was able to escape and continue running but it was funny to keep seeing people and students I know. Some tourists were also walking along the road and I could tell that I confused the heck out of them because they just stared at me, trying to see what was going on. I am starting to feel as though I belong to the community here, which is a wonderful sensation.

We had a supra at my house on Wednesday night because… wine was ready? We don’t really seem to need a reason which I appreciate. There was maybe a real reason but most of this stuff goes right over my head so whatever. It was my host uncle, host parents and two neighbors. I got to join in because I was at home. The conversation seemed to float between Georgian and Svan, but at least I can sort of recognize the latter now, or at least pick out the words and made an educated guess as to which language it is. Several rather amusing things happened. First of all I drank, but my host father didn’t.  Another honorary man night. I only had 3 or 4 glasses of wine, this being a school night and all. One neighbor, the father of host brother Lasha’s friend Lasha, gave me a pocket knife as a present.  I have no idea if this is normal or what it could possibly mean. He was the tamada and only spoke Georgian or Svan to me so while we could kind of chat it wasn’t 100%. The other slightly, not concerning, but perhaps interesting item was that the other neighbor, Lasha (yes everyone is named Lasha) asked me about marriages in the US and whether large age gaps (10 years) are possible. I said yes. Turns out he’s 30 and unmarried, which it seems his friends tease him about rather a lot. Oh and he wants an American wife. Time to backpedal like a boss. This week one of my 12th graders, named, you guessed it, Lasha, asked me about my training. I figured out he meant running, and then he asked me about where I went and why. Turns out he’s training too. Interesting note: I’ve never seen him while I was running. So did someone mention it to him, or did he ask?  I’m not kidding when I say all I have to do to be desirable and interesting as a potential spouse (or other) here in Mestia is breathe.
I got mail from the US this week as well. Rather hilariously I was eating lunch when there was a knock at the door. Nini went to answer it and all I heard was a male voice ask “Where’s the English teacher?” in Georgian. It was the postman! My mom had sent me a card and it arrived in only 2 weeks. The postman had to get my passport number before he could give it to me, but it was so exciting. People don’t get mail very much here so whenever stuff comes the postman just brings it around to the houses. I’m not sure if he even read the address, it was in Latin script so he just figured it was me.
The view from my House
And just to finish off this blog post there was a sunshower during my run today and what should I see on the mountain above me but a double rainbow! Mestia is truly an amazing place, and one that I feel privileged to call home for now.  

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