Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm back!

Hi! It’s been way too long since my last update. Over 2 months! I don’t know why I put it off for so long and now I feel overwhelmed with all the news I should be posting here. So much has happened with my family and fun adventures around the country and I’d love to rant on about it all, but first I should probably mention how school is going.

School! Yes, I’m actually teaching. You’ve probably forgotten by now. I think most of my Georgian family and friends did. When the day finally came I was a little shocked anyone remembered I was supposed to be there. But sure enough, there we went, down the gravel road, on a minibus, and on to school.

Chitatskari School has approximately 160 students (1st-12th), 25 teachers, and about 5 rotating mascots (a few regular stray dogs, cows and pigs). The school has definitely seen better days – about 15 years ago. In the early 90’s the school was used as a base for the military during some kind of civil war. The damage: windows broken, walls knocked down, leaving the back half of the school off limits and the front half just barely functional. I have no idea why there haven’t been any efforts to properly rebuild it since. Then two summers ago, the building took a Russian bazooka to the front. Luckily, this only left a small whole that is actually pretty minor in comparison to the back end of the building.

To my surprise, none of the students seem to mind. They run up the stairs, effortlessly jumping over the half crumbled stairs, flinging themselves up and around the corner on an iron railing that could completely detach at any moment. It seems to be a theme in this country that about 50 percent of the time things simply don’t function and it’s completely normal. So, the students share books and provide the chalk; teachers bring in jugs of water since there is no plumbing anywhere in the building; a local baker stops by to sell rolls everyday because of the lack of a cafeteria; everyone dresses in layers as the weather turns cold (or use wood-burning stoves).

I only have 5 weeks left of teaching. I cannot believe how fast the time is going! I’ll go ahead and introduce a few of my favorite classes to you:

The 3rd Class

The boys: Nika, John, Lexo, Lasha and Shotiko

The Girls: Mari, Nino and Ana

This is their very first year of English so we are starting from the very basics. This semester is all about listening and speaking with very little writing involved. The boys are a handful right from the start. During the first week I had to break up numerous fights. Most of them end with one boy being kicked in the groin, falling to the floor crying, and then lunging at the ‘groin kicker’ with death in his eyes when he finally regains ability to walk. Luckily, this only happens during break time when the whole school turns to madness (kicking, screaming, hair pulling, etc) and none of the teachers blink an eye. On the whole they are a pretty decent class. Participation is high and I’ve successfully converted their screams of “MAS MAS MAS!” to “ TEACHER TEACHER TEACHER”

The 4th Class

The boys: Beka, Luka, Giorgi, Erekle, and Sergo

The girls: Lika and Keso

I love this class because they are all about my stupid song and dance routines. I was absolutely shocked one day when Beka, a rather grown-up looking 9 year old, stood up and the beginning of class to perform a song and dance I’d taught them the class before. He’d memorized and PRACTICED at home to the point of robotic delivery. When he finished he simply sat down and gave me a nod.

The 5th Class

The boys: Mindia, Giga, Mako, Tedo, Irakli, Nika, Beka, Beka(2), Saba

The girl: Nino J

Something magical happened when this class was put together. These students are the highlight of my day, everyday, even when I don’t have their class.

Nino is my little helper. The only girl in the class but she can hang with all the boys. Everyday before she leaves she simply says, very matter-of-factly, “Teacher, I love you” and kisses me on the cheek.

Mindia – oh, Mindia! Only 12, but he looks about 17 at about a foot taller than the rest of the class and with a fully sprouted chico-stash. Every move he makes is with purpose and pizzazz. His arms wave about emphatically as he speaks. During the second week of class he came up to me at the end of class holding out his backpack and motioned that he MUST show me what was inside. He pulled out a rabbit by the ears. “My pet!” he says, then with one elegant motion he’s out of the classroom dancing down the hallway. Every day he tells me I’m beautiful. The other day, after someone had informed the students I would only be staying until December, he pulled out his hanky, mimed crying into it and then ringing out the tears. He also, often breaks into traditional Georgian song and dance. Bless his soul for keeping me constantly entertained.

Then there is Irakle. He has the most adorable perma-smile I’ve ever seen. No less than 5 times a day does he walk past my room, stop to give me a huge grin and then keep on walking.

Giga is the hardest working student in class. He is also one of the smallest and has the voice of a Muppet. He still has all of his baby pudge and I just can’t help but grab his face and squeeze his cheeks. He best part is he doesn’t mind at all. He just smiles and say, “What?” in his squeaky little voice.

The whole class is so upbeat and uninhibited I can’t help but be in a good mood.

I also teach the 6th, 7th, 8th and 11th classes. More stories about then to come!

Finally, I’ll introduce you to my amazing co-teachers. Mari and Tamrico are pretty much the best company a girl could ask for. Although our teaching styles often clash we’ve found ways to work together and they’ve adapted to a lot of the communicative methods all the volunteers have been asked to help incorporate.

They are both in their early thirties and have known each other since they were in University getting their degrees in English language. They are both Abkhazian refugees who were forced out of their native cities I the early 90’s, the year they both graduated high school. Abkhazia is the most northwest region of Georgia, bordering the black sea and Russia, that is now occupied by Russia and off-limits to Georgians. They tell me stories about how beautiful the cities were, full of life, days by the sea. Then how they were forced to leave their homes, possession, and lives their families had worked so hard to build and haven’t ever been back. Their beautiful cities were destroyed soon after they left and many people were killed. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.

Tamrico is a spit fire! She made it impossible not to love her from the very start and has ALMOST convinced me to stay many times. She tall and beautiful and breaks all the rules wearing jeans to school instead of a skirt or dress pants. She is passionate about her family, her homeland, her religion, and having fun! Most days, school seems more a medium for us to get together and have a good chat rather than teach a class. She will actually stop a class when a good discussion topic occurs to her. “Steeeeeph!” her eyes light up, she shoos students away. “ Let’s give them some exercises. We have to talk!” I’m lucky enough to have the in about family and school drama. I’ve gotten to know her family and friends and even witness some of their most life changing moments (I will most likely write about these after I leave here). She always wants to know about my friends, my family, and my plans. After school she takes me around to second hand clothing shops forcing sweaters and turtlenecks over my head and proclaiming, “Steeeph! You must buy it! Ugh! ” She has planned out a Georgian life for me more times than I can count. Down to how I will meet my Georgian husband, how I will wear my hair on our wedding day, and my conversion to Orthodox Christianity.

The first day I met Mari she was so nervous she was shaking a little and her voice went up an octave. She had been teaching English for 7 years but this was the first time she’d spoken to a Native speaker. But it didn’t take us long to get into a good grove. Now we have at least once really good laugh a day, sometimes to the point of tears, and then get right back down to business. Mari much more traditional than Tamrico, doesn’t break so many rules and she runs a pretty strict classroom.

Some days feel much more productive than others. Our resourced are scarce and the preparations for this program were definitely lacking. It’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished anything here more than taking a little relief off of the teachers. I’m definitely open for suggestions on resources or methods I could leave behind to keep them moving forward.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Meh da Shen

Gamarjoba! I’m back online! Sorry I haven't been very active on here and this post is so delayed, but when the odds of having power, Internet, and alone time all at once are slim to none, that’s just what happens.

September 13th

The tiny village of Tsatsqvi has been power-less for 3 days now – so it’s been pretty interesting around here. My Georgian family has been going through some major changes in the past week. I’d rather not go into all the dirty details but the result was that I was left in the village with only bebia for two days. Now, I know two days doesn’t sound like a long time but just imagine: your in a village without power(this means no computer, internet, television, hot water or light, of course), the livestock on the road could very well out-number the human population, and you living with an 83-year-old woman who doesn’t speak more than five words of English(most of these words being some variation of eat!) My Georgian is on par with a 5-year-old, at best, so the conversation is pretty limited and mostly consisting of dynamic facial expressions and make shift sign language. Finally, bebia’s 53-year-old daughter has just eloped and flown the coop, leaving her alone for probably the first time in her life. Except for me.

Meh da shen, she keeps saying to me as we keep each other company, me and you. I can tell she isn’t used to having such an empty house and I’m sure she’s wondering what the heck she is going to do with me. The first day is pretty consumed with cleaning up the aftermath of the wedding supra. I wash about 100 dishes by hand while bebia dries and puts everything back in place. We take a few breaks from the cleaning and she motions for me to nap with her on the downstairs bed. Oh, Stepana. Meh da shen. She pats my hand and lets out a laugh. Neighbors stop by throughout the day to congratulate her on her daughter’s marriage. With each visit the food and booze are brought back out and we clean up after them again and again. There are a few tearful moments throughout the day as she says her daughter’s name. Oh, Mari. Oh, Mari Mari. At this point I’m still completely in the dark on when the rest of the family will return. Things are not looking good.

By 9 o’clock we’re both exhausted so we go to bed early. Not to mention, there is nothing to do after dark when you have no light. At about 11 o’clock I’m woken up by a huge crack of thunder! We’re having a hell of a storm but I go back to sleep. At about 11:30 I’m woken up again – bebia is in my bed. It would have been shocking if it were the first time this had happened but it’s actually was not. I haven’t quite decided if she thinks I’m scared of storms or if she’s scared. She’s normally in and out within 15 or so minutes. She makes sure all my windows are secured, pats my head, lays down with me for a bit then makes the rounds to the other rooms. But this time there was no one else. Oh, Stepana. Meh da shen, meeeh da shen. She was in and out about five times before she just decided to stay. My bed is actually two twins pushed together so it's pretty roomy and neither of us take up much space. At about 6 am I'm woken up again when she comes in with a bucket. Stepana, pissy? The smell of urine wafts into the room. Ara, bebia. Madlobt. No thanks.

By this point there's no going back to sleep. It’s still pouring rain and continues to do so for most of the day. I can’t go anywhere. I sit outside under a roofed section of the driveway and watch as bebia milks the cow with a raincoat draped over her head. The rain finally takes a break and I make a break for it. I love bebia and I feel like we have a stronger bond after our two days together, but I really needed to get out of here. I ask bebia if she needs anything since I’m headed into town. She hands me a empty glass bottle that says something in Russian and has a picture of a cow on the front. Marketi. Paia, paia! It’s for the cow. I can’t wait for the reaction of the storeowners as an American whips that out of her bag. Just another day in Georgia.

The rest of the family did return and all is going back to normal. We just started school this week. Details and stories to come very soon. Also, I promise I'm trying to get some pictures of the family up here. I just tried to upload a picture of bebia and I and gave up after 10 minutes of loading. Talk to you soon. X's and O's.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Georgian Life

Gamargoba! Hi! I’m alive. Sorry I have been off the radar for the past week - but I am, actually, off the radar. Google map doesn’t even know where I am.

I have been living the simple life with my new Georgian family – who are awesome by the way – for the past week. We are in a cute little house at the end of an unmarked gravel road and could probably sustain ourselves for over a year without leaving.

For everyone wondering about my placement, here it is: I am in the northwest region called Samegrelo, the nearnest city is Zugdidi, my school is in the village Chitatskaro, and my home is the tinier village next door called Cacxvi.

The family:

First, there is my 83-year-old bebia, Natela. She never moves faster than a shuffle but gets more done per day than everyone else in the family combined. She is up bright and early every morning caring for: paia the cow, jodia the calf, basara the dog, and about half a dozen nameless chickens. She gets a kick out of overstuffing me with food and watching my agony as I force down the last of the khagapuri, very filling Georgian cheese bread. She has a great sense of humor and an amazing laugh that’s more of a combo of a whistle and a wheeze.

Next, there is Marina. She is one of Natela’s daughters and my aunt. She is a 56-year-old Russian language teacher with a wicked sense of humor, even though we are only talking through single words and gestures at this point. Our first meal together she mimed to me she was on a diet and I was way to skinny. I have a feeling I won’t be losing any weight while I’m here. So far I’ve seen Marina dodge cows and oncoming traffic at 90 km/hr, carry a bed up stairs, and make jam out of fresh figs from the garden. This woman is tough.

Finally, my two host brothers – they are Natela’s grandsons and Marina’s nephews - 17-year-old Giorgi and 19-year-old Giga. Giorgi will be in the 12th grade and one of my students. He lives in the village house with us full time. Giga is staying here for the remainder of the summer until school starts. Then he’ll stay as the family’s apartment in the nearby city with his mother and father while he attends University for electrical engineering. These boys are what Georgians like to call my patroni. They will have my back no matter who or what tries to mess with me. So far I haven’t ever felt the need for a patroni but it’s nice to know they are there and looking out for me.

The property:

We are in a two-story house built by the now deceased bebua in the 1930’s. Influenced by years of soviet occupation and struggle the house is very much about function, not fashion. No frills, no d├ęcor, just the bare essentials and it works. You enter the front door into the living area; keep going straight and you enter the cooking area: dirt floor, fireplace, one gas burner, a plastic table and a little tv; to the left is food storage: fruits, veggies, rising dough, fermenting milk, and compost; go back through the cooking area to the left and your in grandma’s bedroom – which you must pass through to get to the ladder - that goes to the second floor - where you’ll find the other three bedrooms - including my own.

Outside we have amazing produce. Right now in season are: figs, apples, grapes and peaches. In the winter we’ll have: tangerine, pomegranate, pears and persimmon. We just put in the garden for some veggies: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc. Paia the cow provides the milk, cheese and yogurt. The chickens provide the eggs and are sacrificed on occasion for the meat. Our jam is made and then preserved. The wine is always local.

Our backyard is filled with green mountains. On a hike the other day with Giorgi we came across about 5 army trenches about a 10-minute walk from the house. They were dug two years ago by the Georgian army who patrolled and waited for and Russian activity. Giorgi tells me that the Russian bombed the telecommunication satellites and antenna at the top of the next mountain. They have since been replaced. One our way back we pass a massive bull with only one horn. “What’s up with this bull?” I ask. “Russian bombs.” Says Giorgi very seriously – then he goes into about a 5 minute laughing fit and blames every sign of destruction we see on Russian bombs. “ Is a joke!” I’m not convinced.

The struggles this family has faced are very real and not so far in the past. But they have come out of it with strong sense of patriotism and an excellent sense of humor.

As I’m writing this now we are all taking our afternoon nap. Giorgi, Giga, and grandma nap together on the bed downstairs by the kitchen, Aunt Marina sleeps on a chair in the living room, and I’m sprawled on the couch next to her. No one goes upstairs during the day; it’s too hot and the ladder is a pain in the ass.

Tonight we’re having a ritual to honor the deceased. They explained to me that it has something to do with Mary Magdalene. I’ll find more out tonight as it all happens. One of the deceased we’ll be honoring was babia Natala’s husband. He built the house we’re living in and was then fatally injured in it by a thief passing through about 5 years ago. They tell me that thieves are now long gone.

I remember the point of being here. Learning, from both sides, is the goal of this program. I have learned so much from this family in the first week of being here. I hope I can contribute some knowledge as well. So far I’ve only been able to show picture of my family and friends, teach my host brothers to dance salsa, how to do basic yoga postures(they insisted after seeing pictures and hearing music), and of course provide daily English practice.

Much love to all of my friends and family! I have been extremely MIA due to not having internet in my village. Spent about 4 hours trying to get a wireless modem and succeeded - at least for now - I'm still in the city. We'll see how it works when I get home. Love you all and hopefully I'll be talking with you on skype and introducing you to my Georgian family :) Can't wait to connect these two wonderful worlds. XO for now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Impressions

Ok, everyone – I’m here, I’m safe, and I’m lovin’ it. Getting here was pretty uneventful. I had some great seating companions on both flights. On the flight to Amsterdam I was sandwiched in between two very talkative Dutch men in there 50’s and then surrounded by about 25 fellow volunteers on the second. Completely exhausted and slightly delirious by the time we arrived but I was lucky enough to be one of the 5 out of 25 whose bags were NOT missing from our flight – thank GAWD!

Now – what to say about Georgia. Every time I arrive in a new country it’s hard not to have expectations. After reading guidebooks and websites and talking to anyone who knows anyone who might have been to that country, I inevitably start to paint of a picture of what it’s going to be like – and it’s usually WAY off. I was way off.

Our group lands in the capital city of Tbilisi and we head straight to the hotel. While driving through the city something seems…off. Is this not the biggest city in the country? Where the heck are all the people? Why do I only see a few random old men roaming the streets with their midsections exposed? Is this the new fashion craze or just how they expect to release all of their body heat in this boiling weather? Their shirts are literally just pulled up and resting on top of their cheese bread filled bellies. This is definitely something I’ll have to get used to.

After only one night in Tbilisi, we are up bright and early Sunday morning to drive all the way to the coastal city of Batumi. Not our original plan but we have an amazing day ahead of us. From Tbilisi we get on the M27 highway – the only main highway that goes from west to east across the entire county – and head west to the Black Sea. The highway is fast and hectic! It is in fact a two lane highway but there seems to be an imaginary middle lane for constant passing of cars going BOTH directions. Imagine people playing chicken in a center lane.

The highway is lined with building from the soviet era. None of them appear to be operating – most of them never fully completed yet still worn and tired looking – but then someone appears. What could they possibly be selling in this completely unmarked cement box? How many customers do you think they get in a day, no, a week?! Where the heck are all the women – seriously?! Finally, there’s one selling bread!

And so the six hour journey goes. I have so many with questions! We end up passing through about three different climate zones. First hot desert, next high up in the cool mountains, and finally we arrive in the subtropical humid coastal town on Batumi! Lush forests, colorful beach houses, and tons of people now surround us. More men walking around with their bare bellies but this time they are accompanied by many friends, wives, children and they are all having a great time at the beach.

Oh, yea – we came all the way here because THE PRESIDENT has requested our company at the opening of a very posh, very white, beach side restaurant. I just drove 6 hours through a bare and seemingly desolate countryside - where it seems NO building has been fully constructed or maintained - and now I’m sitting at a beautiful open-air lounge overlooking the black sea. Misha – as they like to call him – strides in wearing a very casual linen shirt and pants. He’s actually pretty handsome. A handshake here, a charismatic “How’s it goin’?”, “Where ya from?” there. This kind of reminds me of how a late-night talk-show host might enter a room.

Besides the cheesy entrance and PR charades he ended up being totally cool and inspiring. He gave an excellent look into the life of a Georgian over the past years: personal stories of when he was a boy getting thrown in jail for listening to American music, lots of witty stabs at Russia, and he finishes by tells us why we are all here. This project is his own. His Dutch brother-in-law, who has been teaching abroad over the last 20 or so years, inspired him. He knows that language is the key to providing opportunities for his country and this people and he wants us to be the ones to make it happen. Even more, he tells us to share our cultures; our ways of live. “I want them to see that you are all free people with free will and free speech, because now they have that as well.” He opens up the floor for questions, thanks us all, and is off! This day is going to take a bit to sink in.

After a quick dinner we are on the bus AGAIN. Three more hours back east to Kutaisi where we will be staying for the next seven days of intense Georgian language and teacher training. We are also expecting to get some information about our village (yes, their now saying village) of placement and host families.

My first impressions of this country are all over the place. It’s worn but beautiful, its people struggling to rebuild yet generous beyond belief. I feel mostly respect for this country and excitement for the months to come. Mad-lobt, Georgia. Thanks for talking me in.

*See if you can spot me in this video of the pres:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ready, set, go.

This is my very first attempt to blog. HELP! I am by no means a writer, so I don't expect to write lengthy entries every day nor will I hang such an impossible goal over my head. My hope is to simply share some of my experience with you in the most enjoyable and honest way I can. Images, stories, epiphanies, emotional breakdowns... you get the idea.

Just a quick explanation of the name I’ve chosen ‘gyspygolightly’. What a stressful process. This was on par with choosing my first AIM name and my ‘professional’ email account. I just tried to focus on my goal for the blog and what would be featured the most: my life.

I realize that by it's true definition I don't represent a ‘gypsy’ at all. However, my very best friend called me one after hearing about my most recent travel plans and I felt really at home with the word. That’s the only way I can describe it. Of course I was relating to the very American connotations of a gypsy: being free to wander, without burden of' possessions, some times mischievous (this last one is not really me but I like to pretend to be a little bit bad).

‘golightly' just sort of popped in my head with a really good ring to it. It’s a product of my obvious obsession with Audrey Hepburn and her character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, But also, I thought it held a much deeper meaning that balanced out its slightly harsher counterpart.

The next stop for me is the Republic of Georgia. I leave this weekend with very little information about the what’s, where’s and when’s. The program I am going through his called Teach and Learn in Georgia. Feel free to check out the webpage for more info on the goal of the program (

I truly love my current wander-some lifestyle and all the opportunities it has afforded me. In all of my travels I’ve found which is my most valuable quality on the road(come to think of it, pretty much everywhere): light-heartedness.

I’m very excited about this new adventure and even more excited to share it with all of you. You know who you are: family and friends who have been there since the beginning and the very special people I meet along the way who make each experience so much richer.