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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Internet is Hard

So this post is a little old, and it hasn't made it to you yet due to internet issues, but it's here for you now!
My 2nd Grade Class
Happy Thanksgiving! Well, what to say. First of all, that internet has been heck of hard to find recently up here in Mestia which is one of the reasons I have fallen off of the face of the earth for a couple of weeks. Sorry about that. I have also been working like a fiend on my graduate school applications which are due in the scarily-quick-approaching-future so that has eaten up my internet time quite well too. But, those deadlines are almost past, I’m feeling like I’m in a good place for the apps, and I miss talking to you all about this amazing place, so it’s time for an update.
Instead of doing anything for Thanksgiving I left training which we had for 4 days in Ureki Guria and sat on a mashrutka for way too many hours on my way home to Svaneti. I could have stayed down south and gotten together with people I suppose, but I missed my Georgian home, bed and family. I’ve grown incredibly attached to the people here. My host mother has stopped qualifying my daughter status with ‘American’ so I am now just her daughter. My Svan is coming along so that means that I have been even further absorbed by the community. My future happy marriage and children (here in Svaneti, spoken in Svan) have become a regular toast at supras at my home. I’ve moved from a kargi gogo to a xocha dina, which is only a language shift but to be embraced by Svans seems to take a bit. I’m not just liked for being a guest anymore, I think I’ve earned the respect of people around me for the work that I’ve done in and out of the classroom, my attempts at their languages (not just the rarely found national language but the dying indigenous one) and my simply having stuck around for this long. It’s starting to get cold and snowy so I think future chances to earn respect are rapidly approaching.A couple more vignettes to illustrate my point.
My 6th Grade Class, Note male to female ratio resulting in much discipline 
My students have started giving me little presents. One day it was a clay flower made by one of my seventh grade girls. My fifth and sixth graders tend to stick to fruit; either clementines or apples. My younger kids draw pictures for me. My co-teachers have given me delicious sweets and a great list of Svan vocab and a pair of hand-knitted mittens respectively. After being gone for 4 days my kids, even the 6th grade boys who occasionally make our 45 minutes together a foretaste of hell, seemed genuinely excited to see me back at school today. My teachers welcomed me back with open arms and my older boys all gave me awkward happy smiles. Pictionary was a revelation to my 8th graders, one of whom remarked in Georgian that they loved this game. People ask me how my life is going way the heck up in the mountains, but I have to reply in all seriousness that all is well. I’ve been to three weddings and a baptism supra, with more sure to come. I haven’t been to a funeral yet, but I feel like that might just be that my family doesn’t want to bring me down by taking me to one. I have no doubt that I will be to one before the semester is over. I can catch rides from pretty much anyone in Mestia since they all know who I am and I feel exceptionally safe in this place. Anywhere else I’ve lived if a man who I vaguely recognized pulled over, opened the door and said to get in, he’d take me home, I’d probably yell and leg it out of there. Here, I climb aboard and have a nice chat before I get to my door.  It’s just the nature of the place to feel completely at ease with anyone in the community. This is not to say that I have thrown caution to the wind but the level of intimacy here, with everyone knowing everyone else means that you have to worry far less.
My seniors, or 9/17 of them which is a huge victory
Young cousin Gio took quite the shine to me on Giorgoba (St George's Day on the 23rd of November), so much so that I couldn't escape to pack for training the next day until he left.  I also discovered just how much friggin work slaughtering an ox is. Every clan or samxub (everyone with the same last name, my samxub up in Mestia is both Kakhberidze and Gvarliani, one from my host dad and one from my host mom) gets together to celebrate the day and slaughters a bull or ox for the event.  It seems to have some deliciously pagan roots, and is also a great way to get enough meat for the next couple of months. I missed part of the slaughtering due to being at Church, but I came home to a headless animal in the yard and the men of the clan working on dividing it into pieces. I saw the neighbors get started the day before, they stunned it with the blunt side of an ax and then slit the throat with a hunting knife. I didn't break my stride walking past. Everybody spent the day dealing with chunks of dead animal. Since I know absolutely nothing about how to process dead animal, I was put in charge of Gio, coffee and eventually some dishes, because really, it was the best division of everyone’s labor. I found the head in the storage room the next morning, and then got fed it after training. It tasted ok, but the brain texture was too weird to each much. 

Banguriani in the snow. Gorgeous, right?
 With the help of a friend I discovered the upper foot path that mirrors the dirt road I live on, but further up the hill. I walked it alone a couple of Fridays ago as a treat after a long week (28 in classroom hours) and because I unexpectedly had the day off. Plus the weather was gorgeous and warm. I took the road out and the shortcut up to catch the path. I had forgotten, almost, how steep ‘hills’ can be here. Fall is largely over so the trees are bare but the grass remains the cows graze and small red berries dot any number of bushes, their color feeling fluorescent again the brown and gray background. The path itself is narrow, dirt winding and bounded on either side by ramshackle fences. The level of picturesque borders on the absurd. I took my earbuds out and walked, enjoying the silence but for cows in the brush. The level of silence you can find here is startling. After about 8, town shuts down, traffic grinds to a halt (such as it is during the day) and the only sounds are animals: cows horses pigs dogs. Once I saw a couple of my students racing down the road on horseback at 10pm. Georgians don’t bat an eyelid. You could hear the hoof falls well before the boys arrived because of the silence. I think adjusting to the noise of even a town again will be difficult because I am now so used to the silence and the darkness. The sun was setting already even though I was walking around 3:30, but the rays it casts here are devastatingly strong. It reflects off the snow on Banguriani like a mirror giving the valley a couple of extra minutes of light and warmth. Laghami is one of the small neighborhoods/villages that compromise Mestia. It is the furthest out with towers and sits almost directly above my home. Because it’s so far out of the center it doesn’t get the same number of tourists (especially in November) and feels deliciously untainted by the failings of capitalism. People acknowledge and accept my Svan with a grin and traditions of hospitality seem to remain strong. It might also be that people in Laghami know me as the English teacher rather than a passing tourist, and act accordingly.
The footpath to Laghami
On that next Sunday I visited the church in Laghami, which is one of the oldest in Mestia and is covered in beautiful frescoes of scenes from the bible, all of them hundreds of years old. A friend and I went and found the caretaker after church at Xalqis Iglesia and got him to let us in. He was a chatty older Svan gentleman with the most bizarre English vocab I’ve ever come across. We stuck to Svan and Georgian for the most part. The church itself is stone, built slightly up from ground level on a hill. It had a small anteroom and then the actual sanctuary, which has a tiny altar (inaccessible to me as a woman), a modern wooden stand holding icons and space for perhaps half a dozen parishioners comfortably. A dozen if everyone agrees not to breathe. It is indeed a small place, and some of the frescoes are impossible to see due to the layer of black grime covering their surfaces. But the high deep stone windows cast rays of pure light onto the floor and hit you with devastating intensity. They give the place a divine feel, and one of intense quiet and serenity. It is a stark place, but also rich in its own way. The combination of cold gray blocks with the lush colors, red and gold, of the byzantine costumes worn in the paintings is enough to bring a hush on its own. The power of small places is perhaps nowhere clearer. My Georgian friend went down to his knees and hands and kissed the floor upon entering, and I found myself doing the same for the simple, Holy atmosphere of the place made it seem the only reasonable reaction.  The palpable power of the spirituality of the sanctuary made me feel both a complete outsider, and utterly at home within its walls. I suppose I feel the same most of the time here in Mestia, an odd combination of looking in and out at the same time, a not unpleasant sensation of belonging and the logical realization that this is not where I am from, and that I have only been here for 3 months now. I am glad for the sensation though, especially on days like yesterday when I was so far from everything I know, but I at least could be surrounded by love.

My host siblings, managing to not kill themselves with fireworks

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