During Peace Corps training, we learn about the importance of intentionally seeking and building relationships with host country nationals (Georgians in our case). As a teacher, most of the Georgians I interact with are young students. While I have been a bit overwhelmed at times with the drastically different educational culture, yesterday I did something new. I played instead of working.
You must totally re-imagine recess when you come to Georgia. Instead of playing outside for 30 minutes between a couple morning classes, students drain as much energy as they can by playing during the class breaks, which can last between five and 15 minutes. Sometimes they play in the hallway, and sometimes in the classroom, but rarely outside.
Yesterday, during the 15 minute break, I heard the fifth graders running through the hallway. I tried to concentrate on lesson planning but quickly realized that my efforts weren’t productive. I left my desk and walked into the hallway to watch the kids play. One of the 5th grade girls ran to give me a hug and when a boy approached us to tag her, I instinctively yelled, “BASE!” My limited Georgian ability allowed me to explain this new word as “a safe place,” and for the rest of the 15 minute break the students continued to use their new word.
Peace Corps also teaches us to not expect quick results. But I have to say, I appreciate the rare moments when I can bypass all the planning and the lesson just falls into place… a safe place.
Charley and I have been serving for about three months now. We are picking up momentum with projects at work and hiking on the weekends. This past weekend, we explored a new area southeast of Kutaisi. After a few hours of hiking, we decided to rest on a steep incline. Because of the incline, we could peak into someone’s yard and saw a Georgian woman doing chores. She seemed nice, so I knocked on her door to ask for the address (we were considering taking a taxi home). She invited us into her house for coffee and hazelnuts. After we turned down multiple offers for lobio and other satchmeli, Tiniko suggested that we return next weekend to have dinner with her and her husband, to which we said yes.
With views like these, we will definitely return!
Now, I mentioned we’ve picked up momentum at work. Classes at school continue to get better each day and some students who “zoned out” during class are now enjoying class activities. One sixth grader in particular surprised me and now is a superior class participant. Charley and I are brainstorming long-term projects and would like to introduce my students to American football next fall.
Occasionally, I help Charley teach English at his organization to lawyers and future-lawyers. The organization also promotes civic education. Last week, I attended a rally against domestic violence with Charley and his organization. Domestic violence is, unfortunately, a problem everywhere (not just in Georgia) and GYLA initiated a rally to raise awareness about this issue. Charley’s sign got a lot of attention from other participants and local media.
This second YouTube video features Tbilisi State Medical University students. They’re amazing!
Please check out this YouTube video of our swearing-in ceremony in Tbilisi.
When I first saw the Georgian alphabet, I wondered how I would ever be able to distinguish between the letters. Upon completion of Pre-Service Training, the Peace Corps hopes that trainees will have obtained a language score of intermediate-low (ACTFL score of 4 on scale 1-9). Charley and I did pass this requirement and will continue to be tested throughout the 2-year service.
I heard a joke yesterday about the Georgian alphabet. Apparently, when God was doling out alphabets to the peoples of the world the Georgian people were at a supra (feast with an extravagant amount of wine, and sometimes cha cha). Later that day, after learning that even their neighbors the Armenians had received an alphabet, the Georgians knocked on God’s door and asked for their own alphabet. He insisted that he was making spaghetti for dinner and that the Georgians should come back later. The Georgians became impatient and again asked for their alphabet. Frustrated, God threw the spaghetti on the ground at their feet and said, “Here’s your alphabet!”
We are now Peace Corps Volunteers. We swore-in on July 18th in Tbilisi at a nice ceremony followed by Georgian cultural songs and dances. Immediately afterward, we found our bags and headed to Kutaisi. But first, we needed to find a marshutka willing to take us and our bags (and extra stuff from Peace Corps like water filters). While most marshutka drivers refused to accept anything less than 100 GEL for the two of us (and stuff) we were given about 25 GEL for the trip.
My supervisor and our future host dad used negotiating skills and finally found a driver who agreed to take us for what we had. He drove-up to our luggage and began placing it in his–wait for it–air conditioned van! Our biggest bag probably weighed close to 80 pounds and he easily hoisted it onto the luggage rack. The ride was glorious, except for one passenger who seemed to be complaining that we were not charged more. (She only spoke in Georgian, so we just guessed from the words we recognized and her body language.) The driver responded to her with something like… are you not a Christian? do you have no heart?
Later, when she fell asleep the driver spoke to her husband about the American Peace Corps Volunteers in the back of the van. Hours later, he unloaded our luggage right outside the apartment. When I thanked him by saying, “didi madloba,” he responded by putting his hand over his heart and doing a small bow. There truly are good people here.
July 1st all the trainees traveled to Tbilisi to visit organizations useful for our work in Georgia. My group visited Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science and Charley’s group visited Centers for Civic Engagement. Before we swear-in as volunteers, we will share the resources with the other trainees. The Ministry of Education and Science sent us an English version of their national English curriculum for volunteers’ lesson-planning.
Of course the two of us arrived in Tbilisi later than we intended but a Georgian stranger helped us navigate the metro system and ultimately reach the Peace Corps Office. The man could see that we had no idea how to buy a single pass for the metro (because they don’t exist). He encouraged us to buy a metro pass and when we told him we just needed to use it this once he used his own card to let us in; basically, he paid our metro fair, helped us find the correct metro, change metros and gave us a nudge at the correct stop. He works in the same area as an IT expert (Linux, for you computer programmers out there). I saw the man later that day when I was walking with my fellow Education trainees. I waved, surprised, and he gave me a knowing look and a wink. I think there are angels in Georgia!
After we finished a tour of the Peace Corps office, a Foreign Service Officer from the consular section spoke to some of us about study abroad programs in the US for Georgians. It seems many Georgians assume that there only option is the FLEX program which is just for high-school aged students. There are many more opportunities for a variety of lengths, ages and experiences. Unfortunately, some programs do not receive many applications. The FSO expressed that participants from all the programs return to Georgia with a great appreciation and affinity toward the American region or school they visited.
My group had a chance to witness this affinity later that day; the two Ministry representatives we spoke to participated in American exchange programs. The importance of these events in their lives was evident when they spoke of their schools or time in the US. One representative attended Miami University in Ohio (shout-out to Charlotte if you’re reading this!) during her PhD research. I’ve never been to or heard much about Ohio, but this Georgian woman loves Ohio! The other woman we met has visited more states in the US than I have. Both women expressed their appreciation for Peace Corps’ work in Georgia and for our growing Georgian language skills.
We’re overwhelmed, not by the work we have to do but by how this program in Georgia has welcomed Charley and me with open arms. When our training class for Azerbaijan was canceled about a month ago we feared waiting several months for a reassignment. I discovered that the Peace Corps went above and beyond to get us into this program in Georgia; not only did the staff here make room for us but they even made one training site a mixed-sector site to accommodate us as the only married couple not serving in the same sector. We will be receiving more vaccinations than other trainees because our assigned vaccinations were for Ethiopia. There is a saying in Georgia (or Sakartvelo as we now call it) that every guest is a gift from God, and we’ve definitely experienced this hospitality not only with our kind host family but with the Peace Corps program in country.
We are learning Kartuli for hours every day and I taught 10th grade today for the first time. Charley visited Gori and interviewed the director of a local NGO which gives legal advice to people displaced by the 2008 war. The food is amazing! Fortunately, we walk so much that I don’t worry about gaining weight.
Our journey into the Peace Corps has been long and surprising, but we are amazed by this beautiful place as we train for our future service.
Starting a blog isn’t easy for me. It’s not like the research papers or decision memos I eventually enjoyed writing in school. I suppose a blog is more like writing a short story or novel when you don’t know how it will end, and I’ve never enjoyed creative writing.
Marrying Charley has been the biggest step in my life so far, and it was a good one indeed. Together, we are leaving my hometown (where I’ve lived all my 28 years except a summer internship) and moving to Georgia to serve in the Peace Corps. I’ve always wanted to explore the world outside the bubble I call Bryan-College Station, TX and now I realize that I could not have done so without my wonderful husband leading the way.
Applying for the Peace Corps taught us about perseverance, which I suspect will be tested during our service. The medical clearance process was especially difficult for us and served as an eye-opening experience for life without health insurance. We met kindness in some providers who offered us discounted prices and some doctors who helped us out of the goodness of their hearts. I’d like to especially thank Dr. Wright, Dr. Waguespack, Dr. Derbes, Dr. Jenkins and family friend Dr. Salzer. Thank you for all you’ve done to make our dream a reality. I’d also like to thank our families for all the support over these past few years. You have truly been a blessing to us.
Serving in the Peace Corps wasn’t always my dream–I figured it was just for hippies. So, when a professor recommended it we were skeptical, but decided to go for it. To qualify for the Peace Corps, we began volunteer-teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at the Clara B. Mounce Library. Our Peace Corps recruiter asked us to gain 30 hours of teaching experience, but several hundred hours and two years later I must admit that teaching has become my passion (Charley says it’s my calling). Therefore, as we fly to Georgia I’m no longer thinking of the Peace Corps as padding for my resume. I’m not even thinking about what jobs I’ll apply for afterwards. I am simply excited to teach and serve the people of Georgia alongside my husband.