My Son is in the Republic of Georgia To Teach ESL!

Discussion in 'Random Ramblings' started by speckledhen, Sep 26, 2010.

  1. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    He went to Boston for a month to become certified to teach English as a second language for a year (at least). He already has a degree in International Economics so needed the course to get certified through CELTA. He was hired by Teach and Learn in Georgia (TLG) to teach in the Republic of Georgia, formerly soviet Georgia. So, he's gone from GA to GA! He is living with a host family while there.

    My son, Chris, who is my younger son, has started a blog to chronicle his experience living and teaching abroad, the link is here:

    (((disclaimer here: this is a young adult and I'm sure he'll use some expression or say something that we don't approve of. Don't blame the parents, LOL))))

    I will post excerpts from the blog here to get you started. I've told him that he needs to fix a couple of spelling/word usage mistakes, like using "metal" when it should be "medal", but he is a gifted writer, I think. You'll love this blog--so interesting! Am posting three entries to whet your appetite--you can read along if you go to the link.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    ...and so it begins.
    Oh my... where do I begin?

    I'll just say this. It's been a very long time since I wrote anything longer than a Facebook post. Please ignore the disjointed thought process and bad spelling. Do as I say, not as I do, kids!! :)

    Let's begin with the basics. Isn't that how it always is? Later, I'll write something poetic - a gift for the youth of tomorrow or something memorable. For now, let's just start at the beginning.

    I cleaned out my house and took an iPhone video which was to be my last look at my home outside Atlanta. I said good bye to everything I've known, hugged my brother and my sister-in-law and proceeded through security and onto concourse T.

    On September 14th, I departed Atlanta. Heading for Washington DC on an Embraer 170 jet, I took a deep breath as I left the ground. I saw Atlanta in the distance, then Stone Mountain, and then nothing but the green distance streaked with brown and blue and webs of white and grey as entire cities passed by my window.

    Note: Thanks to United Airlines and Airzena Georgian Airlines, I arrived in Tbilisi 10 minutes early - ALL my flights arrived early despite the DC-Amsterdam Boeing 777 returning to the terminal after a bag was checked and the passenger never boarded.

    Random thought: The Simpsons said Lucy Lawless could fly, but Airzena...really? That's taking things a bit too far! ;-)
    In Amsterdam, I met with about 24
    other volunteers heading for Tbilisi. It's a good group of Americans, Australians, and Brits; still, we are mostly Americans.

    After a painful 7.5 hours in a very large and very crowded Boeing 777 (9 seats across, people!), we descended through the clouds and over Georgia. Mountains people! Mountains oh my! It's a beautiful descent with mountains in the distance and cities and villages below. As we approached Tbilisi International Airport, I could certainly see the grey blocks the Russians left and the Easter egg colors the Georgians painted them to wash away some part of the Russian monstrosities left like dozens of children's building blocks scattered about. If anything negative came to mind, I'll say the landing was certainly bumpy.

    We all went through the passport checkpoint. "Yes, it's empty. There are no stamps in my passport sir because it is new." I said to the surly man behind the glass. Why he flipped through every page of the book or why he stamped it somewhere in the middle, I'll never know. I now have a stamp in my passport book. It says, Georgia!

    We met with the TLG leaders, picked up our bags, and waited in the lobby for some time while those whose bags were delayed or lost, filled out their paperwork. Most of us exchanged some dollars, euros, and pounds into Georgian Lari (GEL) and all-the-while smiling at the several camera crews evidently trying to find some frown, or flaw, or stray nose hair somewhere within a foot of my face for 30 minutes at a time. Smile! You've only been awake for 26 hours, Chris.. smile! So I did. Maybe I looked like I was in pain.... only JVC and Sony know for sure.

    From the airport, we boarded a chartered bus and headed down George W. Bush drive into Tbilisi. Georgian drivers...what to say... hmm... God must watch out for them. They drive about 80 mph down roads barely bigger than the bus, dodging people, cars, and the occasional goat while smoking with one hand and honking the horn at seemingly invisible adversaries everywhere with the other. It's certainly something to experience. I heard that it's now the law (just in recent days) for drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts on the highway. In the city (per one of our trainers), you'll be pulled over by police if you ARE wearing a seat belt because they think you might be on drugs. There's no law, so why are you doing it?! Otherwise, it's still an insult to wear a seat belt in any vehicle - you're questioning the driver's skill.

    While at the hotel, I exchanged nearly all of my dollars into Lari, at some simple foods, and went for my medical exam the next morning- blood sample, urine, blood pressure, questions, done.

    After the exam, a few of us went exploring around the hotel while others did the same elsewhere. We passed down an alleyway with the occasional graffiti advertising a website called "geosluts" - which I guess is better than the Kutaisi graffiti I'd see later spelling out "rap gang" - either some hooligan needs a better English teacher or LL Cool J is on the prowl! Anyway, we passed rows of dilapidated houses and far too many stray, hungry dogs. As we passed one house, a Georgian man waived to us and motioned for us to come over. He pointed to grape vines hanging over his back patio area and motioned once again for us to come into his back yard. He called his son over and proceeded to cut down a bushel of grapes for each of us. We could only manage a simple gmadlopt! (Thank you!) but could not do anything else by smile and wave. He did the same and we headed back to the hotel to share our little adventure and eat some amazing grapes. Nearly every other house has something growing - mostly grapes, but we also saw apples, pears, pomegranates, corn, and numerous others. Later that day, we all gathered once again and headed onto two buses with our newly joined friends (another 24 arrived in the night), and headed out on a 4 hours bus ride to the training center in Kutaisi.

    In Kutaisi, we piled into the training center - which is really a nice dorm with a kitchen, meeting rooms, and a computer lab. This building has been updated and re-outfitted for our purposes. There are western style toilets in half the bathrooms and Turkish squat toilets in the other half. The rooms are freshly painted, the ac units are new, every room has a computer, and for some reason, all the sheets are pink with a polyester fur blanket thingy! Of course, like most buildings built under soviet occupation, there are no elevators as the weak and handicaped were not teachable and therefore no elevators nor wheelchair access is necessary. This wouldn't be an issue for me, but my 3 suitcases and laptop bag are very heavy to drag up to the 4th floor. Ouch!

    Over this past week, we had language training, intercultural training, methodology, info on current reforms and policies, and of course safety training. The language is amazingly complex yet seems deceptively simple. The alphabet is unique in the world but when I hear it, I hear everything from Latin, Hebrew, Russian, and more. I just get a kick out of the fact that the infinitive of a word has no relation (at least in spelling) to its conjugation. The 33-character alphabet, they say, resembles tools found in the various ancient sites throughout the country. The alphabet has changed somewhat in the past thousand years, but it's still easily recognizable as Georgian.

    I've seen dozens of stray dogs (no animal control here yet), crazy drivers, curious faces, long stares, and the occasional chicken, goat, pig, or cow wondering down the street toward downtown Kutaisi. I said hello to a few Georgians, visited a 12th century Christian Orthodox church, listened to a singing cleric, and walked beside the gravestone of an ancient king.

    Teachers in Georgia are not certified. Most Georgian English teachers have never spoken with a native speaker either so their English is not..hmm.... exact either. They can get more money if they are, but it is not required - at least not until 2014. The pinch - we're told that at 625 Lari before the 18% income tax, us volunteers make more money than our co-teachers. We are a tool and this tool makes more than you do. Isn't that a kick in the butt! English language training is now the #1 priority in the current educational reforms. English training starts now in the 2nd grade and continues until high school graduation. The minister of education wants every Georgian child to speak English as a second language (with Russian, German, French as third), and he wants every child to hear what a native speaker sounds like. And of course, most book-taught Georgian English teachers will have to be taught also.

    As for culture, this country is a wine country and a man's world. Nearly everyone drinks and smokes. The drinking age is 18, but it is rarely enforced. If you can not drink a lot of wine, you are weak; you are not a man. There are very few excuses for not picking up that 2nd or that 10th glass of wine. Saying no is like a game of little white lies and half-truths. I may have a little more leeway as a foreigner, but I won't get away with much. All eyes are on me now...literally!

    There is no smoking age - so it's not uncommon to see very young kids smoking... the youngest I've heard from other volunteers - five. Yes, I said FIVE years old... smoking and also drinking ludi (beer) with daddy. The vast majority of people wear nothing but black and grey - the colors of mourning for Georgia's lost sons and fathers in various wars and occupations. Buildings are in disrepair for the same reasons people wear black - War! When will the next one come? What will be destroyed? Who will die? Some younger people are wearing more colors, but I there's no doubt that I stand out in my bright clothes!

    Georgia is beautiful and full of very proud people. In it's 8,000 year+ history, Georgia has been invaded by Mongols, Turks, Ottomans, and Russians. Its cities have been fought over, occupied, destroyed, rebuilt, and still has managed to maintain a unique language and culture. You can really hear it in the voices of our trainers when they speak about Georgia. Believe me, if you ever hear a Georgian talk about Georgia, they're not boasting. It makes me proud to hear how proud they are too!

    Last night, a panel of volunteers from the previous group came to tell us about their experiences in this past week of host family living and school work. One guy said it best when he said, "In the dorm, I felt like an orphan. Will I be happy here? Will my host family like me? Will I like them? I can't wait to find out!" After that volunteer was liquored up by his host father, he was given a loaded shot gun and taken hunting. He hit a target some yards away. As he put it, "My daddy's rich, my mama's pretty, and they're proud of their new son."

    Being here is more important to these people than I could have imagined when I first boarded that plane just a week ago. They're relying on me to teach their children, the parents, the neighbors, extended family, distant relatives, and my coworkers as well. When the soviets were here, everyone was expected to know several languages and to attain one or many advanced degrees. However, there was nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no expectation for anything better under a Russian boot where everyone made the same amount of money and had no options for anything better. Now the Russians are gone and the gap they left is still being felt 20 years later. (Of course, more so in the disputed areas on the border.) The younger generation is less educated than the older and motivation is a big problem for kids and teens alike.

    I just finished my last dinner here in the Kutaisi TLG training center. At 10am tomorrow we head back to Tbilisi to meet with our principals, some co-workers, and our new families. At that point, they'll take us home with them and then the real learning begins.

    I have my work cut out for me!

    Next Entry:

    Surprise! It's a boy!
    After a little packing and a long and winding road, stopping for a potty break, once again for a light lunch, passing fields and mountains and someone's burning marshutka (minvan) which turned our already hot bus into a rolling sauna, we made it to Tbilisi. We found ourselves at the Ministry of Science and Education to meet our school principals and host families. On one side of the room, eager Georgians sat smiling as we came into the room and sat across the aisle. I felt so under dressed; these Georgians were much better dressed than any of us, I can assure you!

    One by one, the school number was called along with the corresponding host family, and then one of us - lots of smiles, hand shakes, and clapping. A TLG staff member followed each volunteer out the door to help translate. Then my school and host mother were called. I met the very well-dressed principal, Nana, at the front and as my host mother, Tsitsino, came to the front. The usual smiles and handshakes were exchanged along with a somewhat bewildered look I wasn't expecting and certainly was not hoping to see from my host mother. In the hallway, some words in Georgian were exchanged between my host mother and the TLG staff member, Tatia - who then went back into the meeting place and returned with computer printouts and another staff member.

    I asked Tatia if there was a problem. She said, "Everything is okay. We just need to check something. They were.. they were..hmmm...." I chimed in, "...expecting a girl?" Thank you Nana, my Georgian teacher, for letting us know that gogo is a girl and ( BYC censor is working overtime, LOL--the word for boy in Georgian is "bit*cha, asterick added by me) is a boy. A little logic and observation did the rest. Now, the last time I checked - and I check quite often, I was still a boy! As to why the mix up, I don't know. The host family were asked for their preference on two important details - the age range of the volunteer as well as the sex of the volunteer. My host mother wanted a girl, and surprise's a boy! After a little more conversation, a few phone calls made through TLG and the family members at the Ministry and more smiles, Tatia said, "It's okay. They like you and want you to stay with them." I was assured at least three times on the way out... wanting a girl and getting a boy or vice versa - well... it happens in all new families. If they're okay, I'm okay. I just hope they really are okay with it, and this is not an example of gracious Georgian accommodation of strangers' needs as I've been told.

    On the way through Tbilisi in classic Georigan driving style of honking horns and near misses, I spoke a little in English with my new Principal, Nana. She pointed out the school were I am to work. If I remember the conversation correctly, the school is a very old school - several hundred years old. We turned left just a block or two past the school and stopped at a rusted tin gate entrance to a court yard. Nana said, "Okay. This is your home. I'll see you Monday at 9am." We (me, mother, and aunt) retrieved my luggage from the back of Nana's jeep, and proceeded through the gate and up a set of stairs to the house entrance.

    From the exterior appearance of hanging clothes lines, rusted gates, tin roofs, broken concrete, and dimpled plaster, I did not expect this home to be so lovely! I was lead into a home with paintings, polished wood floors, leather furniture, an upright piano of gleaming hardwood, a tiled deck area, modern bathrooms, pull-up bar exercise thingy, and of course - more Georgians smiling. I have a decent sized bedroom and the second floor of the house at the stop of a spiral staircase. There is a small bathroom down the hall and a separate office I can use whenever I need. I unpacked my stuff into the drawers here and headed downstairs to join the family again.

    The family is very nice. There are, I think, grandpa, father, mother, aunt, cousin, son, and daughter. Meri is the daughter. She's 13. Her brother, Nika is 15. They both speak a fair amount of English. The aunt also teachers English at the local school, but like most Georigan English teachers, she has rarely spoken with a native speaker at our natural speed. After I slowed my speech down a bit, she and I were able to speak better. Her son, Beka (sp?), also speaks a little English - he's about 12 or 13 maybe. I can't tell. Nika is 15 and looks much younger to me. Is this what we're supposed to look like without all the hormones we eat in the west? I haven't met the father yet. He's out of the city on business. However, I did meet babua (grandfather). He was a doctor but now is retired. Babua speaks Georgian, Russian, and Latin. He tried all three on me to no avail. I was asked my religion and my age. Through the aunt (Mareki - Meri also) and over a dinner of lobiani, khinkali, katchapuri, and coffee, babua told me that he knew I was an American as soon as he saw me because I don't look like a German or any other European. I also have a new responsibility - per babua (his name is Nika also), I am
    Georgia's "destiny." Now I feel utterly unqualified for this job.

    I gave the gifts I brought to the famiy. We looked through picture books of Atlanta, Georgia, and the visual dictionary I brought for the kids. I'm glad the Georgia peanut brittle I brought to the family was a huge success - at least as far as the kids are concerned. They showed me a book on Georgian history with a lot of great pictures of old churches and cities now gone. Meri (the daughter, not the aunt), played the piano for me and I spoke a little about soccer, video games, and computers with Nika. After a little more chai, I said my good nights and went to bed.
    Posted by Georgian Bacon at 9/25/2010 11:50:00 AM

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Accidental vegetarian, Funny American
    Yesterday, I woke up to find my deda, Tsitsino, once again in the kitchen.
    Today, a true project is underway. On the floor is a large wicker basket
    containing about a thousand tomatoes, on the table - more than a dozen large
    glass jars, and in the sink - parsley, dill, garlic, and hot peppers. Eka was
    leaning everything at the sink while Tsitsino was placing a handful of parsley
    in each jar, followed by garlic, a single hot pepper and then packed with
    tomatoes and topped with a handful of dill. Each jar is then filled with
    water, boiled, and finally sealed for storage in the room under the house.
    She still does not let me clean up after myself. I keep trying to wash my cup
    or plate in the sink and Tsitsino stops me with "ara ara ara" (no no no!).
    Even today, when Babua (grandpa) was packing several canvas bags with those
    heavy jars of tomatoes and walking them down the outside stairs to the storage
    room, I thought I would surely get the chance to help get these down the
    stairs. Now, it's babua who says "ara ara ara" and points to the mountain of
    food on the table and tells me to eat. This morning, I found my deda in the
    kitchen with the largest pot of tomato sauce in existence. This pot must have
    been about 50 gallons. The jars of tomatoes were not yet taken down stairs.
    This was additional; this was something to see. So far, the only things I'm
    allowed to serve myself are Coffee, Tea, Water, and Coke... even that took a
    little negotiation.

    Trust me when I say, I can't eat nearly 50% of what they try to put in front
    of me. I've been trying to insist that the family either eat with me or
    before me. Deda always feeds Nika and I together like we've always her two
    sons at the table. Nika always looks to see that I'm eating also. He asks me
    after every new dish if I like it, and I always says "yes, it's delicious"...
    and again, trust me, it is.

    My deda is a culinary marvel. She cooks constantly; it's all wonderful and
    it's mostly vegetables. I've never eaten so much cabbage, onion, potato,
    eggplant, cucumber, tomato, peppers, and bread in my life. I've been here
    since Friday night and I have yet to see any meat of any kind. I've heard the
    world khortsi (meat) spoken in the house, but there's no kind of meat to be
    found anywhere. I'm not complaining at all. If this is all I have to eat I'm
    satisfied. My favorite dish so far has been all of the above cooked together
    (minus the cucumber) and it's excellent. My deda also makes her own fruit-
    based liquor for special occasions. I had a small glass as babua made several
    toasts to the family and to me on the night I arrived. It was good but way
    too strong for me. Drinking 3/4 of this one small toasting glass made me turn
    red and sweat - something everyone at the table found hilarious.

    Every time I walk into the kitchen, I'm greeted by deda - putting down a bowl
    and a plate for me. The base of every meal is bread and a choice of chai,
    coffee, or water. There's always a bowl of fresh, raw honey, homemade white
    cherry preserves, a plate of cheese, and a small bowl of salt. Yesterday, I
    told Nika that I can't eat the cheese because Georgian cheese is so salty, it
    gives me a headache. Tsitsino, hearing this, pulls out a lump of white cheese
    from the fridge that I can eat - with very little salt. I think it's here for
    babua. Babua is diabetic, so there's also no candy in the house. They drink
    alcohol only on special occasions and do not smoke - so not a typical Georgian
    family as I have come to expect.

    I still haven't met the father, and as far as I know, he still doesn't know
    that I'm not a girl. On this point, I feel for Nika. He is one of two men
    in the current house of half a dozen women who either live here or are regular
    visiting family members. I have the feeling he is missing his father. I'm
    hesitant to investigate further. I may be completely wrong about the
    situation. Before leaving for a soccer game with a teammate's father, Nika
    showed me his metals. He was awarded several metals as a forward on his
    soccer team and one for placing in a chess tournament.

    I think being here is funny enough. I'm often asked to say anything in
    Georgian - at which everyone laughs. Meri tries to help me with
    pronunciation, but I think i'm missing the flem necessary to produce authentic
    Kartuli (Georgian) sounds. I stayed in the house most of the day yesterday,
    but I needed to buy shampoo and soap as my travel sizes were now gone. I told
    Nika that I didn't need to wait for him, that I could go for a short walk on
    my own, that I didn't need an escort to find the school that we passed on the
    way here and where I'll need to be on Monday. Well, needless to say, that I
    didn't find the school, but I did manage to buy shampoo, soap, and a 2 liter
    bottle of coke at a couple close shops. When I returned in one piece with the
    items I intended to buy, was probably the shock of Nika's 15 years.
    Posted by Georgian Bacon at 9/26/2010 05:48:00 PM​
  2. Southernbelle

    Southernbelle Gone Broody

    Mar 17, 2008
    WOW! I couldn't stop reading - what an amazing experience he's had so far and to be an integral part of such a major culture change - just WOW!
  3. justbugged

    justbugged Head of the Night Crew for WA State

    Jan 27, 2009
    Thank you for sharing. You must be so proud of your son. I really enjoyed reading his experiences of living in such a vastly different culture.
  4. Bat Cave Silkies

    Bat Cave Silkies Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 11, 2010
    Bat Cave, NC
    I, also, could not stop very fascinating!!! I don't think I'd be brave enough to go on an adventure as your son has, so I'll live vicariously through his posts.

    Thank you speckledhen for sharing this with us.
  5. rebelcowboysnb

    rebelcowboysnb Confederate Money Farm

    Otherwise, it's still an insult to wear a seat belt in any vehicle - you're questioning the driver's skill.

    I get that reaction here too sometimes.​
  6. lockedhearts

    lockedhearts It's All About Chicken Math

    Apr 29, 2007
    Reading this, I felt as if I could have very well been reading something my Nephew had written. At his young age of 26, he has traveled overseas and is also very well written. He is also a teacher. I think your son has a great gift, well a couple, his writing and being able to teach.
  7. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    I hope he's finally found his niche in life. I have always thought he expressed himself well and why he isn't in something like journalism, I don't know. Maybe he'll write a book someday about his adventures in the other Georgia.
  8. Cetawin

    Cetawin Chicken Beader

    Mar 20, 2008
    NW Kentucky
    How wonderful. I am going to follow his blogging about this adventure.
  9. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    If you want something really cool, GoogleEarth Tbsili, Georgia, which is the capital city, I think. You can zoom in and there are literally thousands of photo icons you can click on to see a certain landmark or building or scene. It's very cool!
  10. rebelcowboysnb

    rebelcowboysnb Confederate Money Farm

    At the end of the day, Nana introduced me to one of her daughters. I think this would be the point where you say.... ummmmmmm??????

    Proves that some things are the same in both Georgias.​

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