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.


  1. Stephanie, I love reading your posts!!! I came across this blog on your facebook profile, and I can't wait to hear more about your older students. Are you doing this through a program? I remember you mentiong that you're a volunteer. I think I would be interested in doing something like this. It was good to hear your life has been so full of new experiences recently:) Take care!

  2. I loved reading your post. It is valuable what you do. Experience the culture and write about it, teach students the way they were never taught before and loving them, is one of the things everyone will remember for a long time.

  3. Stephanie,

    Very lovely post. Photos are even more lovely, how did you manage to get kids' joy reflected in these photos so nicely?

    Will be waiting for more your posting. What forced you not to extend your contract?

  4. Stephanie,

    I am soooo impressed by you! You are a wonderful writer and the photos you have taken to document you journey are great. I am so envious of your bravery to travel and live in an environment so different than ours. I wish I could have done something like that. I am honored that I get to "follow" your life.

    See you soon. I know your mom is counting the days.


  5. Another stellar, enjoyable read... I love reading the adventures of Stepani! Your photos are great, too. Looking forward to you being back with your parents though so we can hear the not-suitable-for-publishing tales!