Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Georgian Language Cognates

I’ve found that while for the most part, the Georgian language is something completely different from anything I’ve ever studied before, there are a lot of random cognates with English, and even more so, with Spanish. Here is a list of the words I’ve learned so far (Romanized) that are cognates with other languages that I know.

Georgian            Spanish            English
Biblioteka            Biblioteca             Library
Moda                   Moda                        Fashion
Istoria                  Historia            History
Matematikas       Matematicas            Mathematics
Kimika                Quimica            Chemistry
Fabrika               Fabrica                        Factory
Inglisuri              Ingles                        English
Ghvino               Vino                        Wine
Computori          Computadora            Computer
Chai                                            Tea  (ok, this is not a cognate, but we call Indian tea “chai” 
                                                                  In English.)
Torti                   Torta                        Cake
Televisori           Televisor            Television
Biologia             Biología            Biology
Aut’obusi           Autobús            Bus
Klasi                   Clase                        Class
Skola                  Escuela            School
Kaphe                 café                        café                       
Bari                     Bar                        Bar
Politsia                 Policia                        Police
T’ualet’i              Inodoro                 Toilet
Parki                    Parque                        Park
Muzeumi            Museo                        Museum
Rest’orani            Restaurante            Restaurant
Ophisi                  Oficina                        Office
Banki                   Banco                        Bank
Es                         ésta                        This
Kat’a                    Gato                        Cat
Mobiluri               movil                        mobile/cell phone
Kontsert’I            concerto            Concert
Konphrentsia        Conferencia            Conference
Eqskursia              Exurción             Excursion
Pikniki                  picnic                         picnic
T’aqsi                    Taxi                        Taxi
Ena                        Lengua                        Language/Tongue

And of course, every language has its false cognates; here are some that I especially like
Deda- Mother
Mama- Father
Bitchi- boy
Chika- cup
Kino- cinema (this comes from Russian I think)

I wish I could say that all these cognates help me speak Georgian, but unfortunately Georgian verbs are like some kind of alien language to me, long strings of consonants that don’t belong together and which are conjugated in a manner that still mystifies me despite having been explained several times now. To give you some idea of what I’m up against, I’ll conjugate the verb “to like” in the present tense for you.

Momts’ons                        Mogvts’ons
Mogts’ons                        Mogts’ont
Mots’ons                        Mots’ont

Anyway, I’ll continue to study, though now I have only a little more than 1 months left of my stay, so I don’t know how much I can improve in one month. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter…

The first week I spent in my city it felt like summer, but just a week later the weather changed and it started to feel chillier and chillier and since the beginning of November it’s been downright cold all the time.

No, wait, I take that back. I lived in Vermont for 5 years. I know what the cold is. 0˚F for weeks on end, snow storms where you loose your car in a parking lot and never a snow day because Vermonters are well prepared for dealing with ridiculous amounts of snow and are completely fearless in the face snow and ice. Here we just had our first frost this week, and this city still hasn’t seen snow yet this year (one of the only places in Georgia).

But, the one key difference between here and there is a little something called heating. In America, even a cold house is still probably tolerably warm if you put on a sweater and warm slippers. Here, well, it’s normal for the temperature inside the house to be the same as outside the house. I was a little worried back in October when I realized that our house only had one tiny electric space heater. Then once November came around, my family dragged in a wood stove that hooks up to a pipe in the wall. Of course, wood stoves can only be lit when someone is home/awake to feed the fire. And while I know many Americans use wood stoves to heat their houses (and I’m not sure how the system works), wood stoves here are only capable of heating the room in which they are located. And even then, while they certainly take the chill out of a room, you’ll never really feel warm unless you are sitting within a one meter radius of the stove.

Another problem with keeping houses warm is the fact that houses here are basically cinderblocks or cement covered with dry wall (if you’re lucky). A little thing called insulation is conspicuously lacking, causing any heat that is generated to be immediately sucked from the house.

I guess I’m lucky that that little electric space heater has been now moved into my bedroom since the wood stove was set up, since my room is the furthest from any source of heat, but because of either the cost of electricity or the danger of leaving it running for hours on end (or more likely, both) I can’t leave it on while I sleep, and obviously leaving it on when I’m not home is out of the question. Which means that my room is perpetually cold. If I don’t wear a sweatshirt to bed I will wake up in the night from the cold. Sometimes on cold nights, I get into bed and wait for the blankets to warm up… but they never do. And let’s not talk about getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve now started a ritual that when my first alarm rings, I get up, hit snooze and turn on the heater. Then hopefully after 30 minutes of hitting the snooze button my room will be sufficiently warm that I can get out of bed without completely freezing to death. Then I take my clothes, which all feel like blocks of ice, and warm them in front of the heater for a few minutes before putting them on.

Oh, and let’s not forget about school. It’s clear that whenever the school was built, however many years ago, undoubtedly during soviet times, there was some sort of central heating in the school. Cast iron radiators can be seen here and there around the school, quite like my own home in America. But, the days of central heating are long gone. As in most homes, the school relies on wood stoves to heat the classrooms. But, of course, with probably over 20 classrooms in the school, there are not enough wood stoves to go around. Some classrooms are lucky to get a wood stove, most still go without. We teachers are lucky because in our lunch room and in our teacher’s room there are wood stoves, and so after every class we go and warm our numb hands during the 10 minute breaks between classes. I have no idea how the children are able to study in these conditions. When I am sitting and not moving my whole body turns to ice and all I can think about is the cold. I am always happy when I can get up and teach the class because it means I can move around and get the blood flowing.

But, all this I can handle. Sure it means that I spend a lot of time huddled around heaters and drinking tea in the morning just to hold a hot mug in my hand for a few minutes since the wood stove has been out for the past 8 hours and the house is the same temperature as outside. All this I knew coming to Georgia. All this I have experienced before when I lived in Chile during university. This is nothing. The part about this that irks me the most is what is produced by all the wood stoves.

I used to love the smell of a wood stove when I lived in America. That lovely smell of burning wood on a winter night. It was always something pleasant for me. But here, when every house in the city is burning their wood stoves to warm their houses, the air becomes thick with smoke. Perhaps if they were only burning firewood it could be tolerable, but Georgians use their wood stoves as another form of rubbish disposal. Every form of waste in my house with the exception of glass bottles and food scraps are thrown into the fire. Plastic bags, potato chip bags, candy wrappers, today I even saw a plastic egg carton thrown in. For the first few weeks, the smell of burning trash in the air was absolutely sickening to me. Just walking home through the smoke filled streets was enough to make me slightly nauseous. But, as I write this I realize that I haven’t felt that feeling in the past week or so. I guess I’m getting used to the smell of burning plastic… which is probably not a good thing because breathing in those toxic fumes can not be good for one’s health.

All I can say is, for those of you who are planning to come to Georgia, be prepared for the cold of winter. Long underwear, thick sweaters, fuzzy socks and slippers will all be put to good use in your daily life. Not to mention a good winter jacket, scarves, hats, gloves, and (the one thing I forgot) good boots.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mestia, foiled again…

Every week we plan on going to Mestia, a little town in the heart of the Svaneti region deep in the Caucus Mountains. It is supposedly the most beautiful place in all of Georgia (and by Georgian logic, that means the most beautiful place in the world). I am fortunate enough to live in Samgrelo, the region just next to Svaneti, but nevertheless, every time we plan a trip up there, something happens and we are unable to go.

The first weekend we very nearly made it up there, but we stupidly accepted an invitation to a wedding instead at the last minute. Then the next weekend we were going to go but my friend was invited to meet up with some of her friends in Kutaisi. Which, when we got there, it turns out they couldn’t meet anyway, which is how we ended up in Batumi that weekend. We were going to try again this past weekend, but it was raining here, snowing there and with the perilous mountain roads that I have heard about, I was not willing to risk it in bad weather (not to mention we would have been wet and miserable up there anyway). This weekend I have planned to go to Armenia. Will we make it next weekend? Who knows.

I’m realizing I don’t have many weekends left before I’m done with Georgia. I’ll be finishing teaching after the 2nd or 3rd week of December, planning a trip to Turkey for about 2 weeks, and then heading back to America for a belated Christmas, then, if all goes to plan, back to Korea two weeks later to start a new job, for which I am signing my contract for this week. 

I wish I had more time to do all the things I want to do here. I still want to go to Mestia, Vardzia, Gori and  to a ski resort. A friend of mine invited me to go with her to Abkhazia, one of the Russian occupied regions of Georgia, because she has some friends working up there with an NGO. Not to mention there are still a few places in Tbilisi that I still need to see, like the sulfer baths, the huge cathedral, the fortress, etc etc etc. And every day I’m hearing about more beautiful places I must see before I leave. So much to do and so little time. And of course, though it’s a small country, there are no highways, no high speed trains and you must rely on marshutkas for transportation which are unpredictable about time tables, prices, and just finding them. Just getting anywhere in this country is half the battle and half the adventure, which means lots of time wasted when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, and when you only have 2 days a week to explore, it’s just not enough time to see everything you want.

If you come to teach in Georgia, be sure to come with enough time to see everything you want to see, so you don’t leave here disappointed. The week long orientation in Tbilisi affords little time for actual exploration of the city as you’re locked in the hotel from 9am-8pm most days. Then, once you’re placed, if you’re lucky you’ll be somewhere central where you can explore easily on the weekends. If you’re unlucky, you could be in a village where marshutkas only come every few hours to take you to another small city where marshutkas to where you want to go also come infrequently, and you could spend a whole day just getting to your destination. My trip to Armenia this weekend will be about 13 hours of travel. 6 hours to Tbilisi, then another 6 hours to Armenia. For me to get to Khaheti, it’s 6 hours to Tbilisi and 1.5 hours to Khaheti. And I’m in a major city! Just be sure to plan your trips carefully!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


My Shower

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I was lucky because I have been placed in a house with a real shower with hot water. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that I am showering every day here in Georgia. My goal is always to get a shower in once every two days, but usually I’m lucky if I can get 3 showers a week, usually it’s closer to two.

To get into the shower I need to face a few battles. First, the hot water must be turned on. Unfortunately, we don’t have on demand hot water, but a hot water tank that must be heated up. Just turning it on doesn’t mean I have hot water. I’m not sure how long you need to wait to get hot water, but it’s usually more time than I have. I’ve waited up to an hour for the water to warm up, but that is still not long enough.

Then, if there is hot water, the next problem I must face is whether or not the shower head is working. For the past two weeks, every time I have wanted to take a shower, there has been some problem with the shower so that only a dribble of water actually makes it out of the shower head, the rest drips down the cord. If my host father is at home, he can always fix it for me, but if he is not home, which is often the case, then I must go without the shower.

So, lastly, if I do have hot water, and I do have water pressure to take a shower, I must consider the temperature. If the wood stove is burning and the house is warm (and by warm I mean not cold) than taking a shower might be reasonably comfortable. If the wood stove is not burning, that means that the house is the same temperature as outside, and just to give you an idea of what temperature that is, we had our first frost this week. Getting undressed and into a shower when the air temperature is in the single digits (Celsius) is not a fun time, even if the water is hot. There’s never enough water pressure to cover my body, so one part of me is hot from the water, but the rest of me is freezing. Therefore, morning showers have now become impossible.

Now, me and my friends look forward to the weekends when we can stay at a hostal with a good, hot shower and hopefully one that even has central heating so we’re warm when we get out of the shower and warm when we sleep. That doesn’t always happen, hostals and guesthouses are often the same as our own homes, if not colder, but that is at least the goal. And I'm one of the lucky ones. Many folks I know live in villages and don't even have hot water (or an indoor bathroom) to speak of.

Friday, November 25, 2011

School Supra

 Supra at school

If you know anything about Georgia, you have probably heard of the famous “supra”. A supra is basically a feast in honor of something or someone. Sometimes a birthday, sometimes a wedding, sometimes to welcome a guest or for a funeral, Georgians can’t pass up any opportunity to eat and drink. Today in the teacher’s lunch room at school food started appearing on the table. This is strange because no one actually eats meals at school, usually all you can find to eat in the lunch room is cakes and cookies, teas and coffees. As more and more food started appearing I got the feeling something was up. 

 Khajapuri- cheese bread

 Stuffed tomatos and eggplants

After 10 minutes, the table was completely covered with food, and another table had been dragged in to pile more food and drink on it. I was informed that all of it, down to the pastries had been homemade. Then, right there in our free period we stopped for a supra, today, in honor of a teacher’s father who passed away two years ago. What looks deceivingly like a bottle of beer (because it is a beer bottle) on the table is actually full of homemade Georgian wine, and of course everyone was given a glass to make a toast to the teacher in honor of her father. 

Tsatsivi- Turkey in walnut sauce

Vinagreti- cooked, cold veggies in mayonnaise
I find it amusing how common it is to drink at school here. Yesterday after school one teacher pulled out a bottle of cognac and most of the teachers did a shot or two of that. The gym teacher (the only male teacher in the school) is always pulling wine out of some cabinet and passing around glasses during break times and a few days ago he even had a bottle of Tbilisuri (which I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I believe it is something like rum) that he was trying to convince me to drink on my break period.  Georgians never cease to amaze me. 

 Adjarian Khajapuri

 Boiled beef

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mgrelian Sunday Dinner

I came home on Sunday evening to find my family cooking up a real Mgrelian dinner. Within Georgia, there are many groups of people with their own traditions. I live in the region called Samgrelo and the local dialect is called Mgrelian. While it’s a relative of the Georgian language, the two are not mutually intelligible. Locals here speak Georgian in school and work and about town, but speak Mgrelian at home and when spending time with friends. The Samgrelo region also has certain foods that are particular to the region and Sunday’s dinner featured one of the most famous of them, ghome, which is basically “grits” which are eaten in the southern part of the US. It’s made with cornmeal, which has been boiled for a long time until it becomes a gooey substance. Then it is usually eaten with cheese or dipped in various sauces, whatever happens to be available on the table. 

I’ve had ghome before, at weddings and supras, but I’d never seen how it was made. I came home just in time to see the process. It’s pretty simple. 

First you put some cornmeal in a pot with lots and lots of water, then let it cook for a long time, stiring occasionally. Generally white corn flour is used rather than yellow corn flour, but as you can see here, yellow cornmeal is also good.

You can add more corn meal if it’s not thick enough. It should be very gooey, not liquid at all. Kind of like thick oatmeal.

Then serve on a small plate. Preferably, with a piece of cheese or two thrown in while it’s still piping hot so that the cheese melts into the ghome.

After it was served, they left the remaining ghome on the stove and it hardened and basically became tortilla chips!

In addition to this, we had baked chicken, preserved “Mexican cucumber” (whatever that is… it’s not an identifiable vegetable for me, but it certainly doesn’t look like a cucumber), beans and, of course, bread.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Batumi is Georgia's one really touristy, developed city. Walking around in the downtown area and coastal area of Batumi feels like walking around Europe... not like the rest of Georgia, that's for sure. There's not much to write, but I'll let the photos do the talking. We only spent less than 24 hours here, which was plenty to see everything when it's not beach weather. But, there are still some beautiful sights to check out, it's worth the trip down here. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Medical Attention

It all started with a sinus infection. I’ve had it for weeks if not months but I finally couldn’t ignore it any more and decided to suck it up and go to the doctor. I’d heard some horror stories about the doctors here in Georgia. Doctors that don’t speak a word of English, bribing people to pass their certification exams, and prescribing dangerous medicines for the wrong illnesses. But, I figured this was just a sinus infection and couldn’t be that hard to screw up.

For us TLG teachers to go to the doctor, we must first call the health insurance hotline (whose operators speak amazing English by the way) and get recommended to a clinic. They text messaged me the address of a clinic in my city and told me that the doctor would wait for me to show up since I would be a little late.

I arrived at 4 o’clock and was shuffled into a room where a woman who didn’t speak a word of English took my blood pressure and pulse and took all my information. I was getting worried that this woman was the doctor, but then I was shuffled into the next room where I was met by the doctor and to my relief, he spoke perfect English. I lucked out by getting a doctor that has worked for various international organizations before. He was very professional, more professional that I’ve seen in Korea, that’s for certain. He listened to what I said were my symptoms and he agreed that it was probably a sinus infection , but he’d have to do a blood test to check my white blood cell count. After the nurse took my blood he told me, “I’m going out for a while, wait here for the blood test results and I’ll be back.” I didn’t think it was possible to run a blood test that quickly, but 30 minutes later he was back and had the typed up results in his had. Slightly elevated levels of white blood cells. He wrote me out a prescription and sent me on my merry way to the pharmacy to get my antibiotics and nasal spray.

The nasal spray started to work immediately and I started feeling much better by the next morning. I took my antibiotics with my breakfast again and then again with my “lunch” (which is just cake since that’s all my school serves in the food department) at 11. After school, I went to the internet café to check some email and make some skype calls. I go to one particular internet café because it tends to have the most working microphones. But, the downside to this place is that the air inside is terrible. I can’t put my finger on what makes the air so bad, sometimes it’s from people smoking, but even when no one is smoking I tend to leave there after my time is up feeling a little nauseous. But, usually with some fresh air I feel better. Even after my 15 minute walk home I still wasn’t feeling better. Perhaps it’s the fact that stepping outside doesn’t mean getting fresh air anymore. Once evening time comes around everyone starts lighting up their wood stoves and burning, not only firewood, but anything and everything combustible from broken lacquered furniture to plastic bags and everywhere in between. I used to love the smell of a wood stove in America, but here the air reeks of burning trash. Not helpful to my nausea.

I lied down for a while but still didn’t feel better. Then I threw up. There wasn’t much in my stomach to throw up, considering all I’d had in the past 8 hours was one cake, a persimmon and a cup of tea. Then I threw up again. Then I threw up again, but there wasn’t anything left to throw up this time and I just had the dry heaves. I felt for sure that some dinner would help, maybe it was just my empty stomach making me sick. But no, 20 minutes after my small dinner of one piece of bread and sauce, that came up too. And again.

Then my family started to worry about me. They send the son out to the store to buy me some Borjomi mineral water, which is the Georgian version of ginger ale for an upset stomach. They thought for sure that would work. I wasn’t so sure. Then all that Borjomi came back up too. And again. I lied down on the couch under a blanket shivering and went to sleep. A while later I got a phone call from the health insurance folks I had spoken to the day before. My host mother had called the TLG representative and she had called the health insurance. “Ms. Lynch, you have two options. First, we can call you an ambulance and you can go to the hospital to be treated,” woah, woah, I’ve only been throwing up for 4 hours, there’s no need to call an ambulance. “Otherwise, you can wait until tomorrow and you can go to the doctor.”. I told them that I would be fine, I would wait until tomorrow to go back to the doctor.

Then another phone call came. This time it was the TLG representative again. I told her that I was fine… well, relatively speaking, and I wasn’t going to die. Then I asked her to translate for my host mother that I would go to the doctor in the morning and not to worry about me. Dispite even getting a translation for “don’t worry” for my host mother, she clearly was still worried. I fell asleep again and then I was woken up to my host aunt telling me that my host mother’s brother, who happened to be a doctor was on his way over with some “medicament”. She said, “He will come in 10 minutes.” This was at 9 or 10 o’clock. At 1 AM I was woken up when he finally arrived, with an IV pack in his hand ready to rehydrate me. I kind of had a feeling this was going to happen. At this point, it’s too late to say no. Plus, I probably did need it. How long would it take? 25 minutes. Ok. Now the only question was, how safe is it to administer an IV in one’s home?

 This was too priceless of a moment to let it go by without a photo...

They set up a table with a chair on top to hang the IV from next to the sofa where I had been sleeping. He swabbed my arm down with vodka to disinfect. The doctor found the vein without too much trouble, but then they realized that whenever he leaned over to put the needle in, his shadow blocked the light and he couldn’t see the vein. Eventually he got the needle in and started the IV but after 5 minutes, he decided that this was a “tsudi vena” bad vein. Oh, did I mention he didn’t speak a word of English?

He decided that he’d have to set up the IV in my hand rather than my arm, but he needed a smaller needle. Half the folks in the house jumped into the car and went with him to some hospital somewhere to get another needle. They were back just 10 minutes later and before I knew it I had an IV drip into my hand. This, however, did not stop the vomiting. My poor host mother had to hold a bag for me while I threw up more since I couldn’t hold it myself with my arm in the IV.

The other problem now was that it was getting close to 2 am and now the IV was on a slow drip since hand veins are smaller than arm veins. My poor host mother stayed up until after 3 am when the IV finished and took out the needle (the doctor had long taken off by then). I stayed on the couch to sleep because I couldn’t have possibly gotten to the toilet from my room in the middle of the night in my condition (it’s not easy when I’m healthy now that I think of it). They brought me another blanket and I slept fitfully the rest of the night, but without throwing up again.

In the morning, I was able to eat a piece of “dry bread” and a cup of tea. I finally got to the doctor around 2 pm. Everyone in my family had been making theories about why I was sick. I attributed it to the medication. My host mother and aunt believed I had eaten unripe fruit because they saw that I had eaten an orange that was still green with my breakfast. But, the orange tasted fine and I refuse to believe that an unripe orange at 8 am could give me dry heaves 15 hours later. When I explained to the doctor what I had done the day before he immediately asked me why I had taken my antibiotic so early at 11 am. That was my only break when I could eat I explained, but he told me that I really should wait at least 6 hours, preferably 8 hours between taking pills.

Anyway, I guess we’ll never know the real reason why I got so sick, but he decided that I needed another IV, which somehow turned into two more IVs. I sat laying in that cold office getting my IVs playing games on my cell phone for the two hours to pass the time. But, when I was finally finished, I felt rejuvenated. I had had to take a taxi over to the clinic because I just hadn’t had any strength to move, but now I felt like I could walk home, heck, I felt like I could even go teach a class or go do something, anything. I left there with orders to start taking my medicines (properly spaced this time) as soon as I was feeling better again. And the next afternoon I was on a bus to Tbilisi to spend my weekend in Kakheti. I just hope that if I follow the instructions this time I won’t have any more problems!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


1.5 hours east of Tbilisi lies the little town of Signaghi. Located in the heart of Georgia’s wine country, the region of Kakheti, stepping into this village is like stepping out of Georgia and into some town straight out of a fairy tale. The main streets of town are cobble-stoned and all the buildings have been meticulously repaired, at least on the outside, and one really gets the feeling that you’re somewhere in Europe. No, Signaghi is not the “real Georgia”, but I get the real Georgia every day here, my weekend here was an escape to another world. 

We took the 9 am marshutka from Samgori station in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia for 6 lari (about $4 USD). We had found the name of a well recommended guesthouse before arriving, but when we got off the marshutka at 11:30, we were met by an old woman shouting “guesthouse!” “guesthouse! 15 Lari!” (about $10 USD) so we decided to follow her to her house on the main street a few minutes away. With no heat in the room and the bathroom outside, it was clear why it was only 15 Lari a night. But, we were there and we didn’t want to waste more time looking for another guesthouse so we paid our 15 lari to stay the night. Before we went out, she took us into her wine cellar and let us taste her homemade wine and homegrown grapes. She also told us (in Georgian, of course because “guesthouse, 15 Lari” was the only English she knew) “Eating in the restaurant is very expensive. Let me make you a good lunch.” We didn’t enquire the price, but we agreed. Turns out she tried to charge us 10 lari each for a bowl of soup and a few khinkali (Georgian dumplings). When I told her that that was too much, she said, “ok, ok, you are teachers,” and she cut the price in half. 

 View from afar of St. George's Church

Then it was time to explore the town. We walked way down a road and found a gate in the fortress wall and some fantastic views. 

 View of the Caucus Mountains in the distance

We walked back and checked out St. George’s Church. I finally remembered to bring a scarf with me to cover my head as I enter the church.

 In front of St. George's Church

Then we walked the 2 km out of town to go to Bodbe monastery. Unfortunately they wouldn’t allow photos inside because it had some fantastic, old paintings on the walls and ceilings.

We hiked down to find the Holy Spring. They had a bath where you could jump in the Holy Water as well, but that looked awfully cold. 

Then we met a German guy who works for the UN here in Georgia and he gave us a ride back to town in his massive UN vehicle. I found it rather funny because he told us that he’s not allowed to ride the marshutka because it is too dangerous, but we teachers are not allowed to drive because it’s too dangerous. Personally I’d take the crazy marshutka drivers who are used to driving ok Georgia’s crazy roads over driving myself through Georgia’s crazy roads. 

Dinner was a salad at a restaurant that had wi-fi so I could finally call home for the first time in 2 weeks. The time difference between here and home does not make calling home easy and it seems whenever I actually find a good time to call home, my mother is working overtime and isn’t home to answer the phone.

After this we were kind of at a loss for what to do. My travel buddy doesn’t drink and the whole town basically closes up except for the 2 or 3 bars around. We seem to have come a little late for the tourist season as well, there was hardly a soul to be seen, especially tourists. We wound up going back to our room and going to bed at 8 pm mostly out of boredom. 

We woke up early and headed over to check out the last tourist attractions left in the town, a part of the wall with an elevated path for tourists to walk along, and St. Steven’s church. We killed the rest of our time waiting for the 11 am marshutka at a new café near our guesthouse that is operated by handicapped people. Finally we went and bought our tickets and got on the marshutka back to Tbilisi. While it was a long ride from my city, 7.5 hours of driving time, it was well worth it. It is the most beautiful town I’ve seen so far in Georgia.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Georgian Hagwon

Written on 10/28/11

I was very upset after being brought to a Georgian hagwon today. I was asked to come and chat with the students, which I had no problem with. But I think what happened was that I was nearly recruited to volunteer at this apparently for-profit school.

I was brought in to talk to the teachers of the school, there was a Russian teacher who also spoke good English, two English teachers and a Spanish teacher who I could only communicate with in Spanish. They were all very nice, but kept asking me, what days can you come to our school and help? Please come on Sundays when we have our kindergarten class! Sorry, I am only here for a month and a half more and I would like to keep my weekends to see your beautiful country. Well, what about another day? What day? What day? I don’t know, I could come by on Tuesdays sometimes, maybe. Oh good, oh good, we need you so much here! Please come watch this class now, they are very advanced, today we are studying a passage from On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. Please let us know what you think of our wonderful students.

 I’d never heard of this book before but the title sounded intimidating, and my interest piqued to see what kind of students would be reading such material. It turned out it was a test prep class with five seniors practicing for their college entrance exam and one 9th grader who’s English is too advanced to study in any other class at the school.

The students had indeed read part of one chapter of this book, On Human Bondage, which turns out is a novel that was written in 1915, a book which is probably a similar reading level with Jane Eyre. Certainly, it would be considered high school level reading in America. Now, the teacher asked the students to recite from memory this half a chapter of the book. The first to go was the 9th grader. I was very impressed with this boy because, while he didn’t memorize this whole passage word for world, he replaced words he didn’t know with synonyms and words that made sense in context, keeping the story coherent. The teacher seemed a little upset with him that he didn’t have it memorized word for word, but didn’t get upset until she asked him to remember obscure words from the text from the Georgian definition and he missed a few words. She asked him “How can you understand the story if you don’t study the vocabulary?” to which he responded in excellent English “Teacher, I understand the context and I can figure out the meanings of the words that way. I don’t need to take this exam for 3 more years.” The teacher nodded and moved on to the remaining 5 students. Each of them recited the text from memory and told the definitions of the words. But, it was clear that they did not understand the text by the mistakes they made from their recitations. After 45 minutes of listening to kids regurgitate text they didn’t understand, the teacher turned to me (and I was getting angrier and angrier by the minute sitting there, doing nothing, watching these kids regurgitate meaningless words while their parents were paying for them to learn something) and asked me “What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?” To which I replied, “These students memorize the text very well, but I wonder if they actually understand the meaning. May I ask them some comprehension questions?” The teacher looked a bit taken aback, but of course couldn’t say no. When I started to ask them questions from the story, they looked a bit stunned, deer in headlight effect (a look I’m getting used to in my own school). The only student who could answer my questions was the 9th grade boy. After class, I tried to explain the difference between reading and memorizing to the teacher. That these students were working so hard to memorize the text that they weren’t thinking about the actual meaning of the text. This 9th grade boy (who admittedly is at a very high level because he had been in an exchange program in England) actually read and understood the story, had formed opinions on the text and actually understood the character’s actions where the other students had just memorized the text without thinking about the actual meaning of the text.

The class after that got no better. After I asked my comprehension questions, the teacher moved on to another reading from an English reading book where she read a text aloud, translated it for them, then wrote no less than 35 new vocabulary words on the blackboard for them to copy and study. Then, without having the students read the text for themselves, or discussing the topic of environmental problems, she closed the book and then moved on to a text, written in Georgian which they needed to translate into English. This on it’s own, I don’t feel is a terrible exercise, translation is a good brain exercise, but this is the way most public schools are run. Here is English text, translate it to Georgian. Here is Georgian text, translate it to English. The students are never actually asked to form a sentence on their own, not in writing or spoken word. Kids here can’t even speak OR write a coherent sentence and even the hagwon propagates this nonsence.

I tried to be understanding. It is a test prep course after all. I asked the teacher, what do they need to do for the test? She pulled out a sample test. There was no text memorization section. There was no Georgian to English translation section. There was reading comprehension and an essay section. Neither topic had been addressed in class. There was no reading comprehension, only text memorization and there was absolutely no writing, unless you consider copying vocabulary words from the blackboard writing.

I left there in a very bad mood. First, after seeing such a poorly run class and then, add insult to injury, I was asked to volunteer my time teaching at a place like this while they make money off of me. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do in a situation like this. Do I ask for money? The amount I could be paid for one or two days a week would really be negligible, at least outside of Georgia, considering I make $250 a month at my full time job. How much could I make? $10 a day? Not really worth fighting over and frankly I feel bad charging for my services since I’m supposed to be here as a “volunteer” even if that isn’t completely true since I make the same salary as a typical teacher here. I don’t know what it was really that made me so angry, if it was the waste of money on the part of these kid’s parents who probably don’t have a lot of money to spare anyway, or if it was the fact that they expect me to volunteer my time while they make money, or if it was just the fact that I wasted an entire afternoon of my life in such an infuriating situation. Now I have to figure out how to stay away from this place in the future since my co-teacher, I think, will beg me to come every day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bad Dubs

Written on 10/19/11

I remember when I used to be obsessed with Anime in high school and I’d have these discussions about bad dubs with my other Otaku friends. We’d complain about how bad this voice actor or that voice actor was and how it would be so much better if we could just watch shows with subtitles.

Now living in Georgia, I realize that no bad dub I saw back then could ever compare with the terrible dubbing of Georgian TV. Nearly every drama, cartoon and movie on TV comes from abroad. Most are American, but Spanish and French language dramas also seem to be popular as well. Georgian TV dubs all of these, but perhaps for budgetary reasons or other reasons, instead of removing the original voices and getting voice actors to recreate the dialogues, they merely lower the original voice soundtrack and speak over it. The Georgian voices sound as if they are being read from a script without seeing the actual program, as there is no emotion portrayed in any character’s voice. Under the Georgian you can hear people speaking with interesting voices and with emotion, while over the original voices, Georgian is spoken in emotionless voices.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Love Georgian Dance

I wish I came from a culture that treasures dance like Georgia. Boys and girls alike here take dance lessons and it is something that everyone enjoys. How could you not, just look at this stuff!

 Kids dancing at a wedding

Dancing at a restaurant

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Post Office

Written on 10/28/2011

I had a feeling the conversation would go something like this, but I figured I had to give it a shot.

Me: “Is there a post office here in our city?”
Co-teacher: “Why yes! Of course we have a post office!”
Me: “Oh, really? That’s great. You know I wanted to send a package to a friend in Korea. Do you think the postal system can handle that?”
Co-Teacher: “Oh, you mean you want to send something?”
Me: “Well… yea… “
Co-Teacher: “Oh… I don’t know if the post office is actually open.” She turned confirmed with another teacher in Georgian, then turned to me again and said, “yes, I think it was working 5 years ago, but I don’t think it is working now.”
Me: “So… how do you get mail if there is no postal service?”
Co-Teacher: “Well, we can send things at banks. And we use e-mail.”
Me: “So, if I want to send a package I can go to the bank?”
Co-Teacher: “Hm, I’m not sure, but you can send money there.”
Me: “So, if your relative in America wanted to send you something, could you receive it?”
Co-Teacher: “Yes, Georgia has some problems, I think.”

Sorry folks, don’t expect any post cards from Georgia….

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The real reason for fences

Written on 10/20/2011

I was walking home through the village back to my city yesterday with one of my co-teachers and I was asking her some questions about the farm animals that roam about freely.

Me: “There are so many cows roaming around everywhere. How do their owners find them?”
Co-Teacher: “Oh, they go home at night.”
Me: “How do they know how to go home at night?”
Co-Teacher: “Oh, well, Georgian cows are very smart.” (This was a joke of course)
“You know, several years back, you could even see cows in the city.”
Me: “You know, I live in the city and I see cows around my house every day. They just walk around and eat anything they can find, grass, bushes, they even eat the bushes that stick out through people’s fences.”
Co-Teacher: “Yes, that is why we have fences. To keep the cows and pigs out.”
Me: “Not to keep people out?”
Co-Teacher: “No no, no one ever locks their gates here. But if there were no fences, the cows would enter our yards and eat everything.

Ah… Georgia.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Written on 10/19/2011

Smoking is everywhere in Georgia. We were informed at the orientation that it would be impossible to expect to find a smoke-free host family. Even if the family members themselves don’t smoke, they said, guests would be sure to smoke in the house. And Georgian houses always have guests coming in and out all day long. Not to mention that people smoke everywhere, hotels, restaurants, bars, internet cafes, in the car, taxi etc etc. I’ve yet to see someone smoking on a bus or marshutka, but I feel that it may just be a matter of time.

I discovered no less in my own home in my first few days after I arrived. Neighbors were always coming in and out of our house, often with a their cigarette butt hanging from their mouth.

But then, after a week of being at my house, my host father announced to me that he had been smoke free for 4 days. My host mother was very proud of him and it seemed to have given her the confidence to make her whole house smoke free.

The next day our neighbor walked into the house again with his cigarette in his mouth and she gave him a lecture about how she didn’t want people smoking in her house. At first he looked at her like she was crazy, perhaps it was the first time someone had ever asked him to step out to have his cigarette. But she persisted, dropping my name in there, perhaps saying that I didn’t want to be sucking in his second hand smoke. She turned to me and said something in Georgian that I understood to mean “Isn’t that right?” and of course I responded “Kho!” (yes in Georgian). He just looked at us, shook his head and stepped out until he had finished his cigarette. But from then on, whenever he came over with his cigarette, all my host mother had to say was no smoking and he now steps out of the house without complaint. It’s good to see that people are becoming aware of the smoking culture and that they have the power to make changes for the better.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

School Problems

Written on 10/19/11

The lesson in our book today was to talk about the problems in our school, how we would fix them, and (using ‘I think’ and ‘I believe’) tell what we expect in the future. I have only been at the school for a total of four days so I clearly have a lot to learn. The major problems listed by the students were as follows, and more or less in the following order:

Lack of a gym
The library is too small
There is no laboratory to study science
Students don’t have access to the internet in the computer lab
… and finally….
There are no lights

For some reason they didn’t seem to think that the fact that the school has no running water or the fact that a class of 8 students often shares 2-3 books were problems though.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

School Drama

Written on 10/19/2011

The school was abuzz today with news that one of our students got married yesterday. The girl is only 14 and in the 10th grade and has married a man in the village. I couldn’t figure out how old the husband is, but as he is not a student in our school I’m guessing he must be older than 18. Apparently there used to be a law that once women were married, they could no longer attend public school, but even now that the law has been changed, many girls still don’t go to school once they get married. I’m not sure what this girl will do, but the teachers were quite upset all day that she could have run off and done something so stupid.