The Kiddos

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.

tlg, students, georgia

The third grade class, they are really well-behaved

Fourth grade class, this class is pretty small which is good, I definitely feel like I get to know the students a lot better and in a smaller class and waste less time trying to get the kids under control

My co-teacher Eteri, she's great

Fifth grade class, they are really good kids but can get a little rambunctious at times

Fifth graders

Some of my students helping me carry a bag to the bus stop, which is also the entrance to a military base

Snowball fight! I definitely got hit a few times

Second graders

First Graders, they are learning the Georgian and English alphabets at the same time

These kids could be a handful, but they were some of my favorites

These kids could be a trouble, but they were some of my favorites

They loved the football!

They loved the football!

Watch out gogo!

Giorgi's mom made me a cake for my birthday

The teachers room

The teachers room

All smiles

All smiles

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday

Handing in homework

Handing in homeworkThe School, one of the newest in Georgia

Sixth grade class, they were really really eager to learn English to the point of being competitive about it

Christmas card from one of my third graders, 'mas' is short for teacher in Georgian...

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Armenia

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.

envoy hostel, armenia, envoy tour guide, envoy tour, atkhtala, atkhtala monastery

Our awesome tour guide

akhtala, akhtala church, armenia, garrison, envoy tours

An old garrison next to the church

Surb Astvatsatsin church, armenia, envoy hostel tour

Surb Astvatsatsin church

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…

Surb Astvatsatsin church, envoy hostel tour, armenia, cannon ball

Surb Astvatsatsin church exterior

…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.

Surb Astvatsatsin, Akhtala, envoy hostel tour

Surb Astvatsatsin church, Akhtala

Akhtala monastery

Akhtala monastery

Next our tour guide brought us to a traditional Armenian barbecue.

Mmmmmmmmmm meat, armenian bbq, envoy hostel lunch

Mmmmmmmmmm meat

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.”

Haghpat Monastery, armenia, envoy hostel tour

Haghpat Monastery

Belltower at the Haghpat Monastery

Belltower at the Haghpat Monastery

Sanahin Monastery

Sanahin Monastery

Giant underground ceramic vessels for making wine

Giant underground ceramic vessels used by monks to make wine

Hmmm, maybe not the most responsible thing to do at a world heritage site...

Hmmm, maybe not the most responsible thing to do at a world heritage site...

A gravestone that shows how the people died, never seen that before

A gravestone that shows how the people died, never seen that before

Yerevan at last!

cascades, yerevan, armenia, tlg

View from the top of the Cascades in Yerevan

armenia, marriott, ussr, soviet

There were to tons of buildings that looked like this around Yerevan that were built when Armenia was part of the USSR. I guess not everything the Soviets built was grey and drab.

Bazaar in downtown Yerevan

Bazaar in downtown Yerevan

Cool piano man statue in Yerevan

Cool statue in Yerevan

A statue of Armenia's most famous DJ

A statue of Armenia's most famous DJ

Dinner

Dinner

Armenian Genocide memorial

Armenian Genocide memorial

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:

Sketch of our cab driver, armenia, drawing, cab

Sketch of our cab driver

Filling up the taxi with gas? He had us stand 100 feet away, I'm just glad we didn't get rear ended.

Filling up the taxi with gas? He had us stand 100 feet away, I'm just glad we didn't get rear ended.

khor virap, armenia, gregory the illluminator

Khor Virap, this church was originally built in 642 AD, and over looks Mt. Ararat (where Noah's Ark was supposed to have landed after the biblical floods)

In a prison cell beneath the church

In a prison cell underneath the church

Mt. Ararat

Mt. Ararat

Scenic view

Scenic view

Flat tire!!! Why bother pulling off on to the shoulder, when you can just as easily changed it on the road.

Flat tire!!! Why bother pulling off on to the shoulder, when you can just as easily changed it on the road.

I had no idea there were Roman ruins in Armenia

I had no idea there were Roman ruins in Armenia

Sketch of an intense chess match in the hostel, envoy hostel, chess

Sketch of an intense chess match in the hostel

overnight train, party time, armenia, tbilisi, wine, beer, mafia

Overnight train back to Tbilisi. Not the most comfortable thing in the world, but some beer, wine and card games made it go by a little easier

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.

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Random Thoughts 2

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?

Turkish style coffee = good. Turkish style toilet = bad.

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.

It worked.

But I still wouldn’t recommend it.

Freedom Square in Tbilisi

Freedom Square in Tbilisi

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi

sighnaghi, mexican, mexican food

We ate at the Mexican Restaurant to the right, I think it might be the only on in the country

Giorgi proposing a toast. On a side note, I feel kinda bad for leaving that little white dog out.

Giorgi proposing a toast. On a side note, I feel kinda bad for leaving that little white dog out.

Giorgi proposing another toast, or possibly plotting to take over the world.

Giorgi proposing another toast, or possibly plotting to take over the world.

Fear the Cha Cha

Fear the Cha Cha

No hands shots off the ground

No hands shots off the ground

Mission (more or less) accomplished!

Mission (more or less) accomplished!

Parking lot dance party?

Parking lot dance party?

Yup

Yup

Georgian Bar

Georgian Bar

Little kid rockin' out

Little kid rockin' out


Host bro's

Host bro's

Khinkali's, one of Georgia's most famous dishes, they are spiced meat filled dumplings

Khinkali's, one of Georgia's most famous dishes, they are spiced meat filled dumplings

aaaaaannnnd back to Freedom Square

aaaaaannnnd back to Freedom Square


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Svaneti

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:

Da plane, da plane! It was a Canadian run airline (airline might not be the right word they only have one plane) anyway the pilots were Canadian which seemed kinda funny.

Da plane, da plane! It was a Canadian run airline (airline might not be the right word they only have one plane) anyway the pilots were Canadian which seemed kinda funny.

Svaneti, Mestia

View from the plane

Svaneti flight, Mestia

View from the plane, Georgia is making me wish I was a better photographer

road mestia, road svaneti

I am pretty sure this is part of the road that we took on the way out of Mestia

Queen Tamar Airport, Mestia, Svaneti

Queen Tamar airport in Mestia, it was built less than a year ago

Uhhhh, I guess they have run into some problems in the past...

Uhhhh, I guess they have run into some problems in the past...

Mestia, Svaneti

Mestia, it is the main Town in the Svaneti region

Move it cows.

Move it cows.

Cruising around town

Cruising around town

These towers are everywhere in Mestia. They are from the 9-12th century, from what I read, extended families would build and live in them to protect themselves from invading forces and other families (this region has a pretty violent past)

These towers are everywhere in Mestia. They are from the 9-12th century, from what I read, extended families would build and live in them to protect themselves from invading forces and other families (this region has a pretty violent past)

A Svan Tower (thanks google image search)

Close-up of a Mestian Tower (thanks google image search)

More Mestia

More Mestia

Mestia hiking, Svaneti hiking

The start of an eight hour hike up into the mountains

Hiking Svaneti, Hiking Mestia

Half way up the mountain

Hiking

Hiking

Kinda felt like I was hiking in a Windows screen saver...

Kinda felt like a Windows screen saver...

Hiking

Hiking

Hiking

Hiking

I wish I would have had time to sketch this scene

I wish I would have had time to sketch this

Koruldi lake, svaneti, hiking

Koruldi lake, at the top of the mountain

Just someone hanging out their laundry on their balcony...

Just someone hanging out their laundry on their balcony...

...or is it!

...or is it!

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Davit Gareja

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.”

TLG peoples

TLG folks

Dato driving, he is the man

Dato driving, he is the man

Full Marshutka

Full Marshutka

Me and Giorgi

Me and Giorgi

The drive

The drive

The Ubadno (Georgian for desert)

The Ubadno (Georgian for desert)

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja

The Georgian/Azerbaijan Border

The Georgian/Azerbaijan Border

Frescoes painted in caves behind the Davit Gareja complex

Frescoes painted in caves behind the Davit Gareja complex

Davit Gareja, kinda reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings

Davit Gareja, kinda reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja

A Monk (Priest?) at Saint David's Grave

A Monk (Priest?) at Saint David's Grave

Rectory carved into a mountain side with Frescoes painted in it

Rectory carved into a mountain side with Frescoes painted in it

 

Popping in to Azerbaijan

Popping in to Azerbaijan

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja

 

Drinking Giorgi's home made Cha Cha (similar to really strong vodka) after a long day of hiking, this could be trouble...

Drinking Giorgi's home made Cha Cha (similar to really strong vodka) after a long day of hiking, this could be trouble...

 

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Random Thoughts

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…

My host-mom Talico and host-sister Tamuna, picking apples on the farm

My host-mom Talico and host-sister Tamuna, picking apples on the farm

Picking Apples

persimmons

Dato making wine

 

Me, my host-mom Talico (she is a teacher at the school) and my host-brother Dato (he's a Dentist)

My host-sister-in-law Iza peeling potatoes and my host-mom making wine

This is a little building next to the house that the family uses to store corn

Mooooo

The neighbor kids Luca, Vanda and Saba, Luca is trouble, he is trying to eat my eraser in this picture. Vanda is one of my first-grade students. The house I am living in is to the right, my host family rents out the house to the left to three other families, Dato's Dental office is also located in there.

Rear view of the property, that is a little out house on the left hand side of the barn

Churches over looking Tbilisi located within the old fortress, I am working on a drawing of this church

Old Tbilisi, on the left is an old Soviet clunker, on the right is a newer Audi, kinda sums up Tbilisi in a way

Old Tbilisi, on the left is an old Soviet clunker, on the right is a newer Audi, kinda sums up Tbilisi in a way

The "Old Tbilisi" section of town, definitely has a European feelOrthodox Church The "Old Tbilisi" section of town

Abandoned looking building in Old Tbilisi, it might be being renovated, or it might just be a bombed-out looking building

I have been doing a good amount of sketching lately, here are a few drawings that are pretty much finished:

This is the old school in the village, which has been gutted and abandoned, most of the buildings in the village are made of stacked concrete slabs, which I am guessing is a Soviet Russian construction method

The Village

Bumpy Marshutka (like a mini-bus) ride to Batumi

 
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