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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Back in Georgia!

Well folks, I’m back in Georgia, back to work and back to trying to update you as to the goings on in this gorgeous place called Mestia. I had a lovely time on my break at home, getting a chance to see you all and catch up and bore you all to death with stories that start with “Well, in Svaneti…”
My return wasn’t overly eventful, other than that getting my ticket was a little suspenseful. I got them though and got to try another airline for the trans-Atlantic trip. Polish, Qatar and now Turkish. I also got an 8 hour layover in Istanbul, one of my favorite places in the entire world, and I got to show a fellow teacher around a bit, which made the stop even more enjoyable. Then a quick jaunt to Tbilisi. I had decided that I wanted to get back to my life here in Georgia as soon as I could so I went from the airport, a short stop at the hostel where the other teachers were staying (as in about half an hour) and then onto my mashrutka to Svaneti. This ride took a bit longer than the one down, total about 9 hours, but everyone on the marsh was very kind, one guy bought me a khachapuri to eat and everyone was quite curious as to who the heck I was since most of them weren't from Mestia. Eventually in the mountains one of them broke the ice by asking if I was Czech or Slovak. I had to laugh and told them that actually I was the American English teacher which met with great approval. I made it to Mestia about 4 o’clock in the afternoon after some exciting fishtailing on the roads up here. The cliff on one side added to the adventure. The roads aren’t really plowed, the snow is just tamped down in the center of the road so that they’re drivable, so the only road up to where I live is now 1 lane. But I couldn’t stop smiling on that trip because I was going back to my Georgian home and a place that I feel so at ease in.

Nato and Gocha were waiting for me at home with food, smiles and hugs and I was bundled upstairs for a couple hours of sleep since I had hit hour 45 of my trip. That I did, but I forgot how many layers you need to wear for sleep here so I was a touch cold. I went back downstairs in time for a rather fascinating tradition. Nato had obviously been cooking up a storm all day, but it was still the holiday season so I didn’t think anything of it. Upon my return downstairs the table was set up for guests, but I didn’t see any. A trio of candles were lit and placed on the plates of various food items (all of them fast approved, so vegan). Glasses of wine were poured and put around, but no one sat. Nini opened the door and left it ajar, which I was little annoyed about because as I said, it’s cold in Svaneti. Gocha picked up a glass and Nato motioned for all of us women to stand behind him. He held the glass and half toasted and half prayed, pouring some wine of the floor when he finished. Nato went and did the same, and then I was invited to. I had finally figured out what was going on. We were having a supra for the dead. And so I toasted those in my life who I’ve lost, remembering them, enjoying the memories and thinking of how much they would like to see me here, happy fulfilled and being invited to the party. We waited a few moments and then joined the empty spaces at the table and ate. My host brother Lasha was at the cemetery for other commemorations. I discovered that kissing while we had our guests was prohibited. After we had finished eating we cleared the table and then re-laid it with fresh plates and fresh helpings of food. We repeated this three times, each time opening and closing the door, toasting, praying, pouring, kneeling. Nato told me that this was a scary, creepy day but that only the Svans knew it. I thought that this was an interesting way of viewing the situation; that the knowledge had been lost by the rest of the world, but was retained here in the mountains. Nato Gocha and Nini went over to the grandparents and Lasha stayed home with me, working on getting meat ready while I collapsed on the couch for some more sleep. I woke up ever so often to see him, Ani and various other family members coming through. Preparations picked up again at 11pm, because at midnight we repeated the ritual one last time, but with meat and milk, for the fast had been broken. This time Gocha, Lasha and Uncle Gari shared the responsibility of toasting the dead first and then the women and children were invited to participate. We ate drank and laughed at our supra and I thought of what a wonderful way to remember the dead this was. It had its quiet somber and even religious moments, but really it was about being together and celebrating the visit of guests, whether dead or living. Supras are an interesting tradition, a way to celebrate the visit of guests but also to simply enjoy the company of one another. Why not use them as a way to enjoy the company of people who aren’t here any more? I have very little doubt that everyone who I’ve lost would enjoy a feast of food, drink, laughter and good company. Perhaps this tradition has been lost in the rest of the world, and it seems a shame. Next January 18th you may find my door open and me inviting the wraiths of my loved ones in. Those that you’ve lost are welcome too though.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Some old stuff I found in my journal today

I firmly believe that I ended up with a better host family than I could have asked for. The love and care they show for me is beyond description. I suppose the best way to put it is that I don’t feel like part of the family. I am part of the family. My host mother has stopped using the qualifier ‘American’ in her introduction of me. I am her daughter. The degree to which I am accepted by the family is matched only by how the community has reached out and embraced me. I physically cannot walk down the street without a neighbor asking me over. I haven’t walked more than 5 minutes without running into a student for months. Since I always stop to chat my walks take far longer than might be expected. Today is perhaps a perfect example of my life.
Nini, Saba and Banguriani in the background
I woke late (rolling out of bed at 9:30 and came downstairs for a meal with Gocha Nato and Nini in a home smelling deliciously of incense. They’ve started lighting some almost every morning in the buildup to Christmas, which also includes a 40 day vegan fast. Nato is taking part, the rest of us are vegan on Wednesday and Fridays. I’ve added a couple of extra days to that, but the thought of adding more carbs to my life, plus the fact that Nato has disallowed me means that I’m not fully fasting. We joked and laughed while eating potatoes and bread (remember the carbs?). I packed a bag and went to find wifi in town. I caught a ride to the center and chatted with the driver, whose wife I know well. Then at the museum (the only wifi in town it turns out) I sat and got comfy for as long as I wanted since when the guard found out I was the English teacher I could have moved in and he wouldn’t have minded. Nini called and Saba her and I had a lovely khinkali (meat dumplings, google them, they’re delicious) lunch with chips and chocolate after. We got stared at since one of these things was not like the others (read: me) by the Georgian tourists in the restaurant. Nini and Saba were beautifully oblivious so I was too. I suppose to them at this point, I belong, so why should anyone stare at a local? We slid on the ice and caught a ride home with the neighbors who found my Svan both hilarious and endearing. I did a couple of dishes some laundry and lesson planning and then we watched nichieri (the Georgian X-factor) together. My 5th graders asked if I watched so now I do to keep up with the kids. A couple neighbros came over and we chatted (Nato Gocha and I). I went for a quick walk because the weather was indescribably lovely (and warm!!!) and ran into my friend/tutor Lasha so we had a nice chat as well. And planned my residency permit application since my rule is always BYOG. Bring your own Georgian. Then home. Nato and Gocha ran out for a sec, so I gave Nika (7) an English lesson, which was incredibly rewarding to see him sound out the words he wrote. I kept the stove burning since Gocha had jokingly told me to do that (and make bread khachapuri and gubdari while I was at it). The kids had bought fireworks so we almost killed ourselves with those and I chatted with Manana, her sister and Gari about my upcoming trip home. Then we and the kids played cards (Gocha helped me), Simon says and learned the English words for body parts, followed by me and Gocha helping Nato prepare for her trip to Tbilisi in the morning. Me Gocha and the kids had a quick devotional as well in front of the wall of icons complete with candles and incense (wardrobe change required).
Almost the same view from when I arrived in Mestia. Happy winter!
It was so fascinating to watch Gocha, who frankly can be a little terrifying, prayer book in hand, getting the incense ready reading in his strong gentle and often passionate (Georgians are kind of the Italians of the Eastern bloc) voice words that I didn’t entirely comprehend but which on a different level I understood. He took the burning incense when Nini began reading and held it out before each icon, as if giving them a chance to smell. We finished reading, prayed and kissed the two largest paintings. Then back to games for the kids, and a meal for Gocha and I. The past week I’ve found my groove with my host father. We had both been pretty stand-offish not sure what to make of the other, dancing around fear avoidance and bewilderment. Now we’ve moved on to care and joking. He made sure that I ate what he viewed as enough and insisted I sit when we needed something, getting it himself instead. I feel as though I’ve finally earned his respect, through the work I do and my relationship with the kids, as the bar he sets has everything to do with devotion to the family. Tiko and Lasha call him often from Tbilisi.
Gocha and Nato went searching for winter clothes upstairs while I cleaned up the meal, watched the bread in the wood stove, fed it and kept an eye on the stew . Now Nato is kneading bread dough while Nini and Gocha watch the news and I curl up to write this. It’s a quiet Saturday night here in Mestia, but at this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nine of my 17 Seniors. They are alternatively my favorite class and the bane of my existence. 
So yesterday two of my male seniors clearly skipped class. Well, I mean, they all skip class all the time but this time they were a little more in my face about it. They were out at the spring behind the school, which is where the older boys hang out for break and the next 10-15 minutes until of the teachers sticks their head out the window and yells at them to get inside and go to class (a skill I am rapidly becoming proficient at I might add “Metormete—Inglisuri [12th grade—English]!”) I saw the boys Lasha and Roma today and asked them where they wandered off to after leaving the spring, because it sure as heck wasn’t class. They never appeared in the whole 45 minutes, which I was kind of pissed about. Their response? “We went to the library”. I feel like this must be the Georgian equivalent of “Oh Halloween? I was at Bible Study”. If I wasn’t so annoyed it would have been hilarious!
We do laugh a lot though
Gilotsavt Barbaroba! It’s another Saint’s Day here in Mestia (what else is new?) but due to her being the patron saint of children the school was essentially empty. From the 5th, 6th and 12th grades (theoretically 39) I had 2 students.  So I went to church instead. I’ve never seen that place as full as it was. It was lovely to see so many kids and young adults. I ended up standing in a cloud of my 1st-7th graders all of us holding single candles alight surrounded by the smell of incense and the undeniable feeling of mutual love. I think my students remain taken aback to see me in church but my teachers are still pleased as punch. I was a little annoyed because at one point I was told I needed to remove myself from the church proper because they were having a special prayer for Orthodox only and Manana Mas kept telling me how I needed to get baptized. I squelched the urge to tell her that I was already baptized, thank you very much. But the other teachers all said a special prayer for me and my mom. I told Tamuna Mas yesterday that my mom’s name is Barbara and when she told Murtaz Mas he apparently INSISTED that she say a special prayer for the women who bore and raised me since I turned out such a polite and warm hearted (her words, not mine) woman. Which is wonderfully sweet and adorable and almost made me cry and made up for my feeling a little annoyed earlier. I’m glad that she told me this since I was feeling super emotional all day and then I could channel happy overly-emotional crazy.
The cows in front of the house. Please note that dirt roads turn into ice roads. It is inevitable that I will wipe out one of the these days. It is just a question of whether I will be more humiliated to do it in front of the 1st or 12th graders.