February 26, 2012

Six months later…

The flight home. Turkish Airlines is phenomenal.

For about six months now I’ve been meaning to have a little bit of a closure post here. At this juncture, I’m not sure that it holds a lot of value to do so, but I will rest easier knowing the digital record of my journey isn’t just hanging out there, forever stuck in Armenia.

It’s interesting my last post was from that trip—it was one of the highest highlights of my time in Eastern Europe. But lots happened after that too. Many of those memories may be too far gone to dig up now.

Saqartvelo, the Republic of Geor-jee-a, was quite an interesting place to live for six months. I gained 10-15 pounds in meats and oil-filled sauces and cheese-filled breads dripping with butter. I took years off my life inhaling second-hand smoke and politely taking shots of potent wine or tcha-tcha with every new acquaintance. I got bit by two dogs.

I was welcomed with open arms and treated in the best way anyone knew how by my school and my host family. Children stroked my hair and gave me hugs and presents. Their smiles broke all barriers of communication.

The opportunities for travelling—to Ukraine, Armenia, Greece and Turkey—were worth every penny and pound of pig brain. I took a boat across the Black Sea with a bunch of truckers and the Georgian Tae Kwon Do team. (Read that last sentence again for emphasis.)

Most importantly I saw the world through a lens I could have never understood in any other way. Come to think of it, I still don’t understand it. But I guess it’s the awareness of that lack of understanding that matters. That’s what I hope changed me a bit toward the more-informed, understanding of differences kind of person I want to be.

Let me know if you ever need me to show you around Batumi. I’ll try to drudge up some Kartuli. We’ll have khechapuri with our Turkish coffee on the rocks of the Black Sea shore while we watch dolphins jump. And then we’ll have shared a perfect Georgian moment.

June 16, 2011

Erevanshi – (In Yerevan)

Dianne and I sit overlooking Lake Sevan. Plus I'm on the phone with Faith.

Dianne and I sit overlooking Lake Sevan. And ha, this is also when I'm talking to Faith on the phone.

I really wanted to post about Armenia around the time that I went (middle of May) but I was slow on the draw. Now school is over (!!!). But I’m still going to go back to it.

I was able to meet a group (Linda and Dianne Fuller and some other old friends) from the Fuller Center (where I was working prior to Sakartvelo) in Armenia for a day and follow them around with a camera while they toured the work FCH is doing there to attempt to eliminate the poverty housing that an earthquake contributed to many years ago.

It was so much fun! I even managed to piece a video together. I reconfirmed that it’s better for my self-worth to do things I feel somewhat skilled, or at least trained, in. Even though I was rushed and rusty, I felt more competent doing that work than I ever do teaching. Plus, it was such an unexpectedly comforting thing to see people from my previous life show up in this one.

Here’s the video if you want to see it:

June 7, 2011

Visiting Matte’s Village

Matte in front of his house.

(As usual I wrote this awhile back. I don’t know why I confess, it’s not like any of you would know.)

My friend Mark and I surprised Matte one Saturday by showing up in his village. It was one of my favorite Georgian experiences so far, I think. We were able to meet his family and see inside another Georgian village/home/community. We caused quite a stir in the village when we tripled the Amerikeli population of Meshvidi District Village. We turned down at least five invitations to ‘shemodi sakhlshi’ come inside.

Matte's host cousin.

Mark and I realized the “surprise” visit might not have been the best idea when Matt’s host mom had to leave a memorial service (they have services on the anniversary of deaths here, so this was something like the third anniversary of a relative’s death) early to come home and cook us a feast. Whoops. But it was delicious. Despite that, his family was very excited to have us. Or they appeared to be.

His cousins gave us a tour of the village and we found a natural waterfall and a man living amongst the trees (see photo of Mark with said man below).

Matthew (Georgian name = Matte) is one of the few TLGers I know living with a Muslim family. He says the kids all want to convert to Christianity because Georgia is something like 95 percent Georgian Orthodox Christian, so they don’t like feeling different. Oh, peer pressure.



Matte and his cousin enjoy the view.

Mark and random dude who has an... open-air abode up in the mountains.

May 22, 2011

Construction and school’s end

This is post-demonstrative lesson. We survived!

It’s been awhile! Life happens, I guess. Here are a few highlights in mine.

My coteacher and I gave a “demonstrative lesson” that other teachers were invited to attend. It was exceedingly difficult to plan with the language/cultural-understanding barrier, but we finally got it done and it’s been a huge relief for me. The next three weeks should be a breeze.


Well, they also want me to plan some sort of school finishing program in English, so maybe not. I’m not going to think about that right now.

My home is under serious construction. The kitchen has been moved into the garage and an outdoor building once used for storage now has a shower in it.

One whole wall came up as well as the floor. These are the remains.

Every single day since construction began about 10 men have been here working from 8:30 a.m. til sometimes 12:30 at night. I would have predicted such an experience to be incredibly stress-inducing. Especially for the women in the house (their role is to feed the men, which in Georgia means about five times a day). But remarkably, so far everyone seems very happy and excited.

The best part for me has been that Maia’s crib joined me above the garage for certain afternoons when it’s too loud for her to sleep in the house. And sometimes we hang out. Maia doesn’t judge my poor Georgian, so let’s just say it can be the best communication I get all day.

There’s some holiday this week and then I have a full week of school before final exams begin. Then school will be done and I will have to say goodbye to my strangely interesting life here.

A recent night on the beach with friends. Under this statue that's very famous to Batumi.

May 22, 2011

Ohhh, Iraqli!

(Written awhile back…)

One fourth grader, Iraqli, has something for me pretty much every time I’m in his class. The best/worst part is that he’s usually working on it during class. My co-teacher, Tamara, has started to intercept, like a responsible teacher should, trying to get him to stay on task. She throws her hands up and makes a Georgian sound, clicking her tongue and groaning – Ohh, Iraqli!

(There have been others, stickers and things, one that says “Me miqkhvars Iraqli”, I just didn’t take photos…)

May 3, 2011


Andrew's Descent in Kiev.

I have so many things to blog about and so little internet time. Quickly, I want to share some photos from my recent travels.

For spring break, chemi megobrebi da me mivdivart Ukrainshi. (My friends and I went to Ukraine.) We took a boat across the Black Sea, spent a few days in Odessa and a few in Kiev. We also toured Chernobyl. More on that later.

Jenny is the gal in the pink sweater. She likes to go by Jenny from the Block. Elyse is from Detroit and actually, she and I have been in this together the longest–I met her in the airport in Detroit way back in January. Mark lives near me in Batumi and was recently featured on Rustavi 2‘s evening news for his fine teaching skills. Perhaps you were able to catch it.

We left Batumi April 25 and stepped off the boat (nearly 12 hours after anticipated) on Wednesday around noon. But trust me, the boat was as good as Andy Samberg depicts it to be.

We stayed at a hostel there and checked out Odessa’s stairs and bridges (got a photo for you, Ryan) before taking the night train to Kiev. We were struck by the diversity we found in Ukraine. And honestly, my favorite part was being able to walk around largely unnoticed. In fact, I was repeatedly spoken to in Russian or Ukrainian. No one ever thinks I’m Georgian.

Goodbye Batumi!

The kid on the right we named Norway because we're ignorant Americans who can't remember difficult Norwegian names. He was the only other non-Georgian/Ukrainian aboard the ship. He joined our group for a few days.

We were so glad to be somewhere that we could safely walk in the middle of the road.

Hello Odessa!

April 20, 2011

Student Art – Part One

My students, particularly my fourth graders, like to give me drawings or stickers or even an occasional candy. There’s probably some law against accepting such things in the States, but here? I eat it up!!

I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it all back with me however, so I’m going to put photos of said art up here. Maybe I’ll even be able to show them sometime.

April 19, 2011


They surprised me with lunch. Tchame!

Have I mentioned that when cognates are Georgianized an ‘i’ is added to the end of the word? So, laptop is laptopi. And boulevard is boulevardi. Etc. It’s strangely entertaining.*

Anyhow, my students have been begging to take me on an excursioni to a church being built at the top of our village.

The weather was finally good enough that we could go a week or two ago.

We lollygagged our way to the top. Suddenly everyone was gathering around a large rock and pulling random snacks and cold khechapuri out of their purses and bags and preparing “lunch.” Someone even managed a two-liter of Coca-Cola. I was surprised, but food is central to any Georgian activity, so I recovered quickly.

And I’ve finally purchased myself a card-reader so I shouldn’t have trouble with photo accessibility anymore. Take a look.

*Also, all names must end in a vowel, and most often that’s an ‘i’ (US eee sound). So, all the men sound like their being called by their mother. Matty, Pauly, Jonny, etc.



This is Sopho and Malva (L to R). Sopho is a freaking superstar student.

The view of Batumi from the top of my village.


March 31, 2011

შავი ზღვა – The Black Sea Continued

As it turns out, the scenery is a different sort of beautiful when the sun shines. Thought I’d share the view in this new light…

The Shearton is the landmark in Batumi. I've used it to orient myself while lost about a million times. As far as I know, that's all it's good for.

Beautiful, is it not?

The Boulevard

I call this, "Gender-Neutral Love."

Statue on the Boulevard...


March 21, 2011

Trabzon, Turkey

(Again, this is from like…March 7ish.)

Matthew, Peter (TLGers who came with my group on Jan. 15 – Group 10) and I were lucky enough to run into some “old” TLGers (Group 2) just in time to hop aboard their weekend trip to Trabzon, Turkey.

It was phenomenal. We took a bus along the Black Sea for a few hours and stepped off to find ourselves in a whole new world. Well, mostly. I still stuck out like a sore thumb on account of my not-dark hair/eyes and clothes with color. But in this city we were ready to own our tourist status, so problem ara!

We walked and photographed and ate dolma, baklava, olives, Turkish delight, bread, cheese, sausage, fresh fruit, and we even found some ice cream. We drank Turkish chai, juice and milk. We saw some bazaaris and I found myself some pretty awesome boots. It was an attempt to blend in a bit better, but my traveling companions informed me that will never happen. Whatevs.

Tomorrow and Tuesday are off of school on account of International Women’s Day. It still confuses me when cultures where a wife can be openly referred to as “my friend and maid” have a national holiday for women and the majority of the U.S. hardly could tell you which date the holiday falls on.

You should all go to Turkey if you get the chance. On the bus ride back a group of young fellows busted out their English and shared their Turkish milk (they were pouring from a carton into plastic cups) with us. And later the bus driver treated us to some chai. Are we so welcoming in America? Well, it’s an attitude I hope I get to reciprocate many times when I return.