If y0u have been following this blog up till now you might think that all I have been doing is traveling around. Not the case, I have actually been teaching five days a week. It has been a great experience, I lucked out and got a very modern school with great kids. Today was my last day, and I am definitely going to miss them more that I thought I would. As a whole they are super-friendly and very eager to interact with the resident foreigner, and for the most part are excited about learning English. I feel like on the average day I got about 500 hello’s and 100 hand shakes. It was kinda like being a politician w/mini-sized constituents.
It’s been a while since I have updated this blog, partly because I was in Armenia for five days, and partly because I am a little bit of a slacker and creating a post is actually kind of time consuming. Anyway, Armenia was a lot of fun, there were some beautiful sites and we had a good group of people. We arranged our trip to Yerevan (the capital city) through Envoy, a hostel in Armenia.
We left from Freedom Square in Tbilisi via taxis at 10:30 am (it would have been 9:30 if I didn’t have to take a taxi back to my house to retrieve my passport, d’oh!), and arrived at the Armenian border about an hour and a half later. The border crossing was quick, easy and cheap. Next we loaded on to a nice clean mini-bus and headed South to Yerevan. The drive took about ten hours in all, but we stopped at some incredibly scenic locations along the way.
The first stop was in Atkhtala to see a 10th-century fortified Armenian Apostolic Church and monastery, one of the best preserved in Armenia, and the only church with Georgian style frescoes.
The story goes that when the mongols invaded Armenia they got to this church but were unable to find any villagers, until they heard a baby crying from inside one of the walls. So they rolled in a cannon and shot it at the face of the mural depicting the Virgin Mary (I don’t know Mongols, but that sounds like pretty bad karma to me). After they did this they discovered that all of the townspeople had been hiding in secret passages in the walls of the church. They pulled all of them out and executed them but…
…the cannon ball came out the other end directly in the center of a cross on the exterior of the church without causing any more damage, which the people perceived as a miracle. Mongols: 1, Villagers: 1.
Next our tour guide brought us to a traditional Armenian barbecue.
Our next stop was Haghpat Monastery a UNESCO World Heritage site and a “masterpiece of religious architecture and a major center of learning in the Middle Ages.”
Yerevan at last!
On the third day we got in a cab to run an errand and somehow the cab driver convinced us to change our plans and spend the day driving around the Armenian country side with him checking out a bunch of different sites, for a good price. The impressive part was that he only spoke about twenty words of English. That didn’t stop him from attempting to explain the historical significance of every site that we came across. Definitely a character. Overall a fun day:
Overall Armenia was a good time. It was nice to get out of the Georgian bubble, and see another country. The people I met were very friendly and the food was great (lots of meat, vegetables and all sorts of dried fruit, good Cognac too). Yerevan is a more westernized, modern, cleaner city but it doesn’t have the character or history of Tbilisi in my opinion.
So this last weekend my host brother’s Avto and Dato and our English speaking neighbor Giorgi brought me and a group of TLGers to Sighnaghi for a day trip on Saturday. Sighnaghi is a very attractive old city that Georgia has renovated recently in the hopes of making it a tourist destination). We stopped to drink cha cha a few times on the way back, it got a little crazy. The pictures below are courtesy of Dylan Guarda because I can’t get my camera to download pictures right now and because his pictures are 80 times better than mine.
Anyway here are some random thoughts that are running through my head these days:
It’s getting cold here. Really cold. My school hasn’t had any heat (or lights yet), just parka’s and winter hats, brrrrrr.
I see a lot more drunken fights on the streets here than I do at home, even more than PB.
It would be cool if somebody I knew from the Georgia program was also going to Japan afterwards so that I would have someone to compare the differences/similarities between the two cultures/experiences.
I am planning on keeping this blog going once I get to Japan in February.
This blog has gotten just under 1,000 hits so far, although I think a good chunk of that might be my mom checking it every day waiting for me to update it.
I am going to be traveling around Eastern Europe for three weeks at the end of this program. I don’t think there will be another time in my life where I am already in this part of the world with time to kill. The downside is that it will be the first time that I won’t be with my family for the holidays.
I had a six hour layover in Warsaw, Poland on my flight back home, I just had extended to 48 hours. Why not, right?
No joke, Turkish coffee really is good, it is really thick with grounds, I feel like it makes you feel mentally more awake without feeling jittery at all.
No one really tells you what to do here and it is socially acceptable to be significantly late… I could get used to it here.
I wish Google search had some way to filter out results having to do with the state of Georgia.
Gas is about $6.50 per gallon in Georgia, The average Georgian makes $4,900 and the average American $48,000. They are paying a lot for gas here. And I thought California was bad.
There is a ton of national pride here.
The top two questions I get are “Do you like Georgia,” and “Do you like Georgian food,” for some reason another common one is “Do you like Russian women.”
You can still see a lot of signs of the 2008 war with Russia around Georgia. Apparently Russian fighter jets dropped bombs about a mile from my host family’s house. There is a military base literally right across the street from us. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.
Singing and dancing are a really big part of the culture in Georgia, young and old people both seem to enjoy traditional Georgian music as well as well as Western and Russian pop, rock, hip hop and techno. The students dance around quite a bit in the hallways in between class.
Georgians like their music loud. Even on Marshutka’s at midnight when 90% of people are sleeping.
TV and music on at the same time? Why not?
The boys at school are constantly tackling each other and play fighting in the hallways, and in the class rooms, and during sports, and pretty much any other time they are in close proximity to each other. There is no point in even trying to stop them.
I get about 500 “hello’s” per day in the hallways.
I get called a “good boy” a decent amount at school by other teacher’s…
Family’s spend a ton of time together.
People yell quite a bit here and use a lot of exaggerated gestures.
It’s funny how a class can be total terrors one day, and well-behaved the next day.
The kids love the football I brought, but insist on calling it a rugby ball.
Family’s spend a ton of time together.
If you look around there are a whole lot more men around in public than women.
I got food poisoning for the first time that I can remember in my life, I actually got it at a pretty nice Italian restaurant in Tbilisi eating Chicken Alfredo. It was hands down the worst 24 hours I’ve had in the last year. Ugh, but my host mom took very good care of me.
My host mom gave me hot water mixed with baking soda and told me to chug it after I threw up, to clear out my stomach.
I chugged it.
But I still wouldn’t recommend it.
Things have been going pretty well lately. The 7-12 grade teacher took two weeks off for her honeymoon, so I have been teaching her classes by myself, in addition to co-teaching the younger kids lessons. I think I have been doing alright, but it has definitely been a challenge at times. I am sure 12-18 year old’s are tough to teach/keep in line anywhere, but when you throw in the language barrier it definitely gets trying. It seems like about a third of the kids are excited about learning English, a third are somewhat interested and a third either couldn’t care less, or have a learning disability or something, it is tough to tell sometimes. At any rate it will be a relief next week when I go back to only co-teaching the young’uns. Another thing, it’s been freaking cold at school. It has been snowing on and off this week and there has been zero heat in the building. Come to think of it I haven’t even seen a light on. Everyone just wears their parkas and winter hats all day.
Anyway, this last weekend I went to Svaneti, which is a mountainous region in the northern part of the country (it borders Russia) with a few friends. The mountain ranges there were, they reminded me of the Swiss Alps. We flew there on Friday afternoon and planned on flying back Sunday, but unfortunately the flight back was cancelled due to weather. We had to spend twelve hours on buses/waiting for buses, but the drive down through the mountains was really scenic so it all worked out in the end. I would go into detail about all of the sites but let’s be honest looking at pictures is funner than reading a long winded blog. So here ya go:
I was able to do some great site-seeing this weekend. My host brother Dato was nice enough to drive myself and a bunch of TLG volunteers to Davit Gareja a monastery complex on the Georgia/Azerbaijan border. My neighbor Giorgi, came with us as well and acted as our guide (he speaks great English). The sights were awesome, the weather was pretty good considering it has been raining a bunch this last week. I would write a brief description of the hsitory of the complex, but I am kinda lazy so I am just going to copy and paste from Wikipedia and put up some pictures, here goes:
“The complex was founded in the 6th century by David (St. David Garejeli), one of the thirteen Assyrian monks who arrived in the country at the same time. His disciples Dodo and Luciane expanded the original lavra and founded two other monasteries known as Dodo’s Rka (literally, “the horn of Dodo”) and Natlismtsemeli (“the Baptist“). The monastery saw further development under the guidance of the 9th-century Georgian saint Ilarion. The convent was particularly patronized by the Georgian royal and noble families. The 12th-century Georgian king Demetre I, the author of the famous Georgian religious hymn Thou Art a Vineyard, even chose David Gareja as a place of his confinement after he abdicated the throne.
Despite the harsh environment, the monastery remained an important centre of religious and cultural activity for many centuries; at certain periods the monasteries owned extensive agricultural lands and many villages. The renaissance of fresco painting chronologically coincides with the general development of the life in the David Gareja monasteries. The high artistic skill of David Gareja frescoes made them an indispensable part of world treasure. From the late 11th to the early 13th century, the economic and cultural development of David Gareja reached its highest phase, reflecting the general prosperity of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia. New monasteries Udabno, Bertubani and Chichkhituri were built, the old ones were enlarged and re-organized.
With the downfall of the Georgian monarchy, the monastery suffered a lengthy period of decline and devastation by the Mongol army (1265), but was later restored by the Georgian kings. It survived the Persian attack of 1615, when the monks were massacred and the monastery’s unique manuscripts and important works of Georgian art destroyed, to be resurrected under Onopre Machutadze, who was appointed Father Superior of David Gareja in 1690.
After the violent Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921, the monastery was closed down and remained uninhabited. In the years of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the monastery’s territory was used as a training ground for the Soviet military that inflicted damage to the unique cycle of murals in the monastery. In 1987, a group of Georgian students led by the young writer Dato Turashvili launched a series of protests. Although, the Soviet defense ministry officials finally agreed to move a military firing range from the monastery, the shelling was resumed in October 1988, giving rise to generalized public outrage. After some 10,000 Georgians demonstrated in the streets of Tbilisi and a group of students launched a hunger strike at the monastery, the army base was finally removed.
After the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1991, the monastery life in David Gareja was revived. However, in 1996, the Georgian defense ministry resumed military exercises in the area, leading to renewed public protests. In May 1997, hundreds of Georgian NGO activists set up their tents in the middle of the army’s firing range and blocked the military maneuvers. The army officials finally bowed to the public pressure and the exercises were banned.
The monastery remains active today and serves as a popular destination of tourism and pilgrimage.”
Just some random thoughts this time, here goes…
When you don’t speak the language and don’t have an iphone or television to distract you at all times you end up spending a lot more time observing your surroundings.
I wish I would have packed more. I packed really quickly (I don’t think I spent more than 30-45 minutes tops), in retrospect I packed more like I was going backpacking around Georgia rather than living in one place for three months. I have about one weeks worth of clothes, and I am pretty sure I am going to want to burn them all by the time I leave here. On the other hand I’ll have a better sense of what I should bring when I go to Tokyo in February.
It can be tough to tell what is a cultural difference and what is just someone’s personality. For example, is someone being standoffish because towards you because that is what is expected culturally in a certain situation, or is someone just being a prick. Or vice versa with someone being extra nice.
I really don’t think I have experienced anything like culture shock since I have been here (knock on wood).
At first I felt bad when my co-teacher would snap at the students, but then I had to teach a class of twenty five third graders and I started to see where she was coming from. Add in not speaking the students language and things can get chaotic pretty quickly.
It’s funny how something that is so foreign at first, becomes totally normal in a short period of time.
Life in the village is pretty quiet for the most part, I think the trick to not getting bummed out is finding a way to stay busy all day. I have a lot of free time as I am only teaching 3-4 hours a day.
Gender roles are waaaay different here. The women seem to do do 99.9% of all of the cooking and cleaning.
Families spend a lot more time with each other in Georgia. Everyone who is home in the evening in my host family spends the entire evening in the living room.
It seems like there are only about eight different commercials on TV here and they are starting to drive me nuts.
I can’t believe I have been gone for almost a month, I feel like this experience is going to be over before I know it.
There are constantly cows, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats roaming the village.
People smoke everywhere here. It is like Mad Men. I am definitely lucky that no one in my host family, I wonder if it is because they are dentists.
San Diego wussified me when it comes to cold weather.
Not knowing the language is the most frustrating when I am trying to figure out public transportation. Doubly so when I am hungover.
I probably said this before but Georgians take hospitality on a whole other level.
A cab ride that would be $80 in the U.S. is the equivalent of about $15 here. But definitely make sure you have the exact amount because they are shady when it comes to giving change.
People assume that you are Russian when they realize that you are foreign, and will try and speak to you in Russian. Nyet.
Facebook is huge here, so is the Russian version of Facebook.
I don’t know what it is like in other families but my host family is definitely interested in learning English. My host mom has an English textbook out almost every night.
That’s all I’ve got for now, here is a bunch of pictures…
I have been doing a good amount of sketching lately, here are a few drawings that are pretty much finished: