Lost In Transportation

It's kind of an absolute flip-flop in mentality: In America I couldn't leave my phone. In Georgia, I can't keep my phone on me.

The most recent example of my detachment of communication resulted in the indefinite loss of Mr. Nokia. I can't even make up a great excuse for losing "him" besides the fact that I was crammed between a railing and a window.

This was the second time (within a month) I've dropped the phone while in transit. The first time was in a teacher's car on the way home from school. This time I dropped it in a crack between my seat and the sliding door on my way to Kutaisi last weekend.

It's not as though I hate the phone, although it's pretty much dated in the "Saved by the Bell" era, I just don't have the awareness of it like I do with my Blackberry—that used to live on my hand.

But the problem of phone-loss syndrome isn't a problem for me in a communication sense. No, no, I'm quite OK without my phonebook of three people. The problem lies within my host family.

You see, when a Georgian has a problem, everybody has a problem.

Families here are very close and always up in ya biznis...and everybody elses'. And as much as I like the close bonds and togetherness, I also hate them.

If my family knew my Liberty Bank card got eaten by an ATM in Armenia or I carelessly dropped my phone on a bus in another city, it would be an all-out embarrassing production of trying to help and would involve getting others involved that have no business getting involved (evident with anything the dumb American loses or does wrong).

I mistakenly told Goga about my problem after I inquired his help about unlocking my Blackberry from T-Mobile. Since then, he has questioned me extensively about finding it and even threatened to tell his mother about the loss.

The culture apparently hasn't really caught up with the once-thought-normal concept of having personal problems and/or realizing when a problem should be handled solo.

It was actually a topic of conversation I had with an English-speaking girl who works at the Zestafoni Police Dept. After failing to get anywhere with marshultka drivers and reporting my loss to TLG, I went to the hot fuzz to help track it down since they seemingly are never doing in this town.

I was referred to (nameless) since the five men in blue smoking cigarettes and watching Telemundo inside the main office weren't exactly making progress in explaining my steps on filing a report.

(Nameless), who carried a perky smile and easy-going demeanor, was more than willing to help me cut through red tape with the department, block the sim card at Geocell and talk about my frustration of independence.

"In this country you are always a child," she told me. "It doesn't matter how old you are. I am ready to be on my own. I want to move to England."

The fact that she was one of the only 20-somethings from this town I've met who speaks English knocked me back a few steps. The fact she was ready to be on her own in another country almost knocked me to the ground.

Bravo to you, young lady. Maybe the "Leave it to Beaver" mindset of Georgia isn't as strong as I thought.

Or maybe I'm losing more than just my telephone.



Appease Please

The feel of a plump, circular bruise on my shin has subsequently signified the start of spring. After a week of brilliant sunshine, warm weather and football games involving me running for my life from 10-year-olds, I think the transition is complete.

Despite one of my students being expelled last week (he's a little shit) classes have settled down a bit. Tomriko and I have been able to reach a similar teaching page, which has resulted in me playing more games and instructing more activities with the better classes.

One of which was a listening exercise with English music from my laptop. For the first time since
I've been here, all of the classes were attentive and ready to participate. The song game spawned interest from my 7th graders (best class) to sing the ABC song. I'm not exactly sure why, but they wanted to sing it—even though they didn't really know it.

I even tried throwing in "Old McDonald" at the end of the lesson, but they were more interested in me singing Michael Jackson.

Not a chance.

I've come to terms with the fact that close to half of the Tskhratskaro kids (particularly the boys) are unteachable. That sounds a bit cynical, but classes range from 4 to 12 students, so the odds are not in favor of any idealist notion that the majority will one day leave the country and put their mark on Hallmark or The New York Times .

That's not to say they aren't smart. I just figure if you're used to drawing and making paper objects in the back of class and automatically passing, you probably don't really need to give a damn about past participles or how to pronounce "brilliant."

Speaking of brilliant, I lost my TLG phone—again. I'll talk more about that at a later date.

The main convenient store, which I basically consider the Zestafoni town center, began selling ice cream outside last Monday and even added another cell phone money machine. Either the town just upped its anti or they've discovered my western weaknesses.

Spirli or Spiliri. I'm not exactly sure how to spell it or say it, but I was a guest of it on Saturday. It's a village about 20 minutes away where Lollie (I still can't spell her name correctly) Bebia has a home.

Initial plans were to stay for the night. Of course I had no idea what kind of conditions I would be facing and had not prepared for an all-out camping trip inside brick walls. There wasn't enough heat or booze in that place to keep a 600 lb bear warm, so I was thankful Eka pulled the plug on the idea around dark.

So even though I feel the sting of spring, it's still Georgia—not Florida. And although there are days in March in which the thermometer will break the 60-degree mark, you must still wear a coat to appease the "sick" gods that watch over this country.

Or at least the mortals that cook you lobio.

In other news, there are new options in the documentary plan. I met an education coordinator in Kuitasi that is from the northern Caucus region. His family is now living in Poti due to the conflict in the region.

I'm hoping to get the ball rolling on the project in the next few weeks.



From Around The Grounds

One of the prettier pictures from Armenia

The chickens love sitting in the marshultka stops

It's almost time


Teach and Learn and Wait

Last week, TLG volunteers were required to meet with the Georgian Education Minister to hear future plans for the education system and to express concerns currently being faced in the school system.

It was a relief to be in a room with other people who shared similar teaching problems, yet I was a bit perplexed as to why we had to make the trek to Kutaisi to hear about them.

Because TLG is a young program, it has many wrinkles to iron out—one being its communication system. Unless I'm friends with a fellow teacher on FB or see them in Zestafoni, I really have no idea what they are experiencing or how they are teaching their kids.

So much hearsay and misunderstanding seems to float in this country, yet I'm amazed at how well things seem to work themselves out in this country.

Despite the setbacks with infrastructure, power, internet and books, the Ministry is optimistic on creating an overall of the entire education system. It plans on bringing in thousands of more Western teachers in the next few years (including German and Italian) to create a population of more than one half that can speak English by 2013.

It's ambitious. It's bold. It's progressive for a country that has a constitution that states it can't fail its students—despite how far behind they are.

Getting passed the Soviet hump is certainly the biggest challenge as most of the teachers in schools outside of new schools in Tbilisi are old and ingrained with the doctrine of "bad students and good students," which pens one side of the room with unmotivated outcasts against one side of those who are more than willing to participate in lessons.

After nearly two months, I'm still struggling with connecting with my teacher, Tamrico. Teaching in the village at a small school, Tamrico is the only English instructor I share a classroom with. My comrades in Zestaponi have at least three they see on a daily basis.

Today, Tamrico and I met with other teachers/co-teaching volunteers for a workshop discussing the problem of lesson planning. I'm hoping the light on the issue will make her want to work as a team in the coming weeks and develop collaborative lesson plans that share the teaching roles and in turn create a more constructive environment that isn't so damn boring.

It's pretty frustrating when you spend more than half of a lesson correcting book mistakes and answering teacher questions instead of actually doing something of relevance.

Most of the kids are pretty comfortable with me now and even give me daps (fist pounds) when I walk in the door, which is why it's quite embarrassing that I'm uncomfortable with them on a classroom level.

I know things take time. But time, money, and bright students/teachers are things the country would be foolish to waste on old habits.


Armenic Proportions

Walking into Reza's was a lot like meeting the parents of your significant other for the first time—delightfully painful.

It's the kind of feeling you can never prepare for, but you know you have to deal with at some point down the road. I had never couch surfed before, which was not unlike several in our group visiting Yerevan. But nonetheless, I was a newbie—in limbo.

It wasn't so much the uneasiness of being in some stranger's house or encountering weird foreigners that were sharing the living space, it was the pure anxiety that came with the notion I was not going to sleep at all.

And I was right.

Reza is an early 20-something Iranian going to school at the American University. Besides the fact that the house rules state you must take your shoes off, everything else was very westernized. If I didn't already know I was 12,000 km from home, I would have guessed I was shacking at a frat house back home.

After two nights of being on the floor with fellow TLGers, random backpackers from Eastern Europe and Asia and Peace Corps kids, levels of exhaustion reached great heights—forcing the four of us from our group who hadn't already abandoned ship to do so. We retreated to another surfer's home a few blocks away, an Indian student named Sumit, who was equally as hospitable and entertaining but provided a much quieter setting.

Our days were mostly spent zigzagging the countryside; visiting old churches, graveyards, lakes and pagan sites built nearly a thousand years ago. It's always mind-numbing for me to think about how old stuff is in this part of the world but its everywhere, making it a delightful continuity since you see it on every turn.

Instead of relying on taxis or tour buses to get us to where we wanted to go outside of Yerevan, we decided to rent a marshultka, which was actually cheaper in the long run and also allowed us to catch up on the sleep we lost on the cold floor since we had room to spread out. Our driver's name was Roman, who actually preferred to be called Rafael for some reason and enjoyed playing us a mixture of Armenian and English pop songs...over and over again.

For three days Rafael drove us everywhere, including his home, where he fed us fresh fruit and coffee and even offered to let someone milk a cow (but no one did...thank God).

The second day we headed southwest to visit a church built on a well that housed the first supporter of Christianity in the country. For 13 years the "well guy" was forced by the king to live in the dark hole, where he survived only on the food that some village women provided him out of pity. It was said that years later he converted the country over to form the first state of Christianity...but don't ask me how.

I didn't climb all the way down the main well, as I was more intrigued by the mountainous landscape in the distance. From a ridge not far from the church, Mt. Ararat stood gallantly in a light blue backdrop of Turkey—flaunting its beauty to all who held a camera.

Ararat is in fact the mountain most religions believe Noah's Ark sits on. Looking at the white, ridged outlines on its side, all I could think of is R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon."

"If you believe they put a man on the moon. If you believe there's nothing out there to see."

I'd like to believe there's something up there worth looking for. It kind of adds to the whole intrigue of a 16,000+ foot mountain.

It's interesting to note that every historical site we visited sported a U.S. Aid sticker somewhere in the vicinity. America is of course known for providing the service to countries across the world, but Armenia has an interesting relationship with the west since it holds great ties with Russia and Iran.

The added pressure of keeping a wedge between the two rocky states somehow obligates our government to fork up some extra dough to support its tourism. So, the next time you hear some politician ranting about social programs to cut, just remember Armenian churches and museums...and KFC/Pizza Huts.

Yerevan was the most cosmopolitan city I've seen thus far in the caucus states. The modern architecture and mixture of cultures has created an beautiful array of restaurants, night clubs and department stores in its centre.

Tbilisi may have more color, but Yerevan certainly has more trees...in a metaphorical sense of course.

Yer-e even has a few karaoke bars, which of course was one of my highlights of the trip (Kenny Rogers, The Beatles, Queen and George Michael if you were wondering).

I skipped out on the inevitably depressing Genocide Museum (remembering the 1915 Ottoman Empire onslaught on the Armenian people) tour and wandered the streets, finding another museum of manuscripts and a bookstore that housed a copy of Hemmingway's "The Old Man in the Sea" for 600 dram ($1.50) that I for some reason felt obligated to buy.

I thought about buying a present for my host family, but then I remembered where I heard Armenians had gold teeth, stole and were basically liars and I thought better of it.

I'm not exactly sure why all the caucus states hate each other. Maybe it's kind of like America's fascination of blaming Canada for being so passively perfect or Mexico for having such cheap workers.

I think I'll just hate Turkey and call it a day.