Questions from Home

Posted on May 20, 2012 by


It’s been about a month since I’ve last written, and this fact, combined with numerous requests for a post, have led me to decide that it’s about time I took a moment to update you all on my activities. In figuring out what the focus of this blog should be, I reread a letter that my mom sent me with a number of questions, the answers to which I think (hope) will be interesting.

1. What do you love the most?: I think the real question here is What don’t I love? I say this whole-heartedly– I am absolutely crazy about this country, the food, the people, and the culture. I love teaching, and I feel like I’ve found my niche. My heart has never been more full! But, if I had to choose what I love most, I think I’d go with a combination–for I can’t pick just one thing!–of my host family, especially my host sister, Qeti; lobiani (the most delicious food in the world…or at least Georgia); constant exposure to new things and new people; and the incredible scenery, especially now that it’s so green!

2. What are the biggest challenges?: Phew, this question is a tough one, too. I would like to preface the answer to this question by saying that all the challenges I have are minor, and really more inconveniences than anything, as well as the fact that I truly have no major complaints. But, that being said…. First of all, one of the biggest challenges is not being able to eat what I want when I want it. I never know when meal time is going to be, or what I’m going to be served. I’m incredibly grateful to have food given to me at all, especially such delicious food, but I am looking forward to my trip back to the states when I can prepare my own meals. My second biggest challenge here has been adjusting to the inconveniences of a lack of running water, electricity, and modern amenities like a toilet or a shower. And finally, another sizable challenge here would be my lack of ability to communicate. While I have mastered some basic phrases and can say where I want to go, what I want to do, etc., anything about how I’m feeling or why I’m feeling that way is much too difficult. Sometimes during the week I find myself longing for a conversation with a native English speaker. The lack of communication is challenging with my students in school, too. It’s very difficult to tell them specific expectations I have for them. But, slowly, we’re learning together.

3. What’s the climate like? Do you jog in this weather?: The weather here is incredible. Now, that is. Winter was pretty miserable. And during winter, I definitely took a few weeks off my usual running routine, only going a couple days a week. It’s been in the mid 80’s for the past few weeks, and I couldn’t be happier with the sunshine. I’m getting back into running…I have a goal of 100 miles this month! Jogging here is a much different experience than my runs at home though. The streets/sidewalks are often broken, and NO ONE here exercises. I get a lot of strange looks.

4. What are the grocery stores like?: Well, they’re non-existant. There is one “grocery store” in Kutaisi that I know of, but I’ve actually never purchased anything from there, and I don’t think my family has either. All of our fruit and vegetables are purchased from an outdoor market near our house. I will try to get some pictures of this sometime this week. Other things, like yogurt, are purchased at little shops on our street that would be our equivalent of a convenience store.

5. What are the schools and students like?: I’ve posted some pictures of my school before, and I know I’ve done a little describing, so I apologize for the repeated information. The school is mainly a large concrete building that is falling apart. There’s not heat/airconditioning, and we often lose electricity. Our bell system is electric (although not on a timer, the teachers rotate bell-ringing-duty shifts), and so a lot of time we transition from class to class as the result of a teacher marching down the halls clanging a metal bell instead. Even when we have electricity in the school, we never turn on the lights and I have yet to see a printer, CD player, projector, etc. We don’t have a lot of resources: a blackboard and chalk, and somedays not even chalk. Many of my students don’t have books, and I’m frequently found lending out pens and paper. I consider myself lucky though that have a set of the books, as I know many other volunteers here are without these. The classes range in size from 12-25 kids. My favorite grades to teach are 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The students at this age are incredibly sweet and appreciative, as well as very eager to learn. They’re also very well behaved, and their english ability surpasses many of my older students. My toughest classes are 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. The boys at these age levels are incredibly rowdy and don’t seem to care too much about learning. I should’ve put this in the challenges section, but one of my biggest difficulties is trying to connect with these students and instill some sort of desire to focus on learning English. Because my work here is such an important and life-changing experience to me, I often take their apathy personally. It’s frustrating to be trying to help someone when they simply don’t care and don’t want to learn. My 9th grade students have been in English lessons for four years now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that with the exception of one student (whom I adore!), my Georgian is better than their English. The lack of classroom discipline and respect for teachers is still something that boggles my mind. But, despite these challenges, there isn’t a single kid in any of my classes that I don’t love. So, I keep at it.

6. Are you homesick at all?: I’m not! Don’t get me wrong, I miss my family and my friends very much, and I’m so excited to be reunited for the weeks I’m back in the states this summer! I also miss modern amenities, a lot of food, and just being in America. But I’m a long way from being homesick. Like I said before, I’m completely in love with everything here, and feel incredibly lucky to be having this experience!

7. What do people say about their current government? How have their lives changed since the fall of the Soviet Union? What do they miss about their former lives, and what do they appreciate most now?:
Well, this is quite the intense question, and it would take much more than a couple paragraphs to answer it accurately. Like all things in life, there isn’t a universal feeling on the current political state–some people seem happy with it, others do not. Most people here in Kutaisi are thrilled with the current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as he really has done a lot to revitalize this country. Last night, I went out to dinner with my 24 year old host brother. He spoke to me about the state of the country 10 years ago, when he remembers a life of being without. Being without water, electricity, food. Sometimes, he recalled, they would have enough money to buy some bread and beans for a meal, but always they were hungry. He emotionally told me of his father finally finding work, and the first time he brought home 200 Lari for the month. How rich they felt, how lucky they felt. Today, he is appreciate of all that he has, and puts a lot of value on hard work and money. Many people here speak of the former Soviet Union in a nostalgic tone–life was good for them, then. There was always work, they were well taken care of. Today, while the country is slowly developing and repairing itself, the unemployment rate is very high and poverty is rampant.

8. Would you say women are highly protected, or actually held back? What kinds of goals do young girls have?: In my opinion, gender roles are one of the most interesting parts of this culture, because they are neither traditional nor modern, but seem to be a weird combination of both. For example, women are extremely sheltered here. Qeti isn’t allowed to go out when her brother or father are home, my running and traveling is highly discouraged by Beqa, women are required to be virgins before marriage, there aren’t any conversations about sex or sexual development, and it is expected for women to serve men. At the same time, however, most jobs, which the exception of marshutka and taxi drivers, are filled by women. In the restaurants, banks, ministry, etc., 90% of the time I’m interacting with a female worker. My female students, as well as Qeti, have the same career ambitions as American kids. They want to be doctors, lawyers, models, economists, actresses, etc., and they all plan on attending university. It’s a very odd juxtaposition of values.

Wow, this all turned out to be much longer than I planned it to be. I hope it was helpful in giving you all a better idea of what my life here is like. I’m very happy, and am looking forward to more time spent on this side of the world. It’s funny how life works–sometimes it takes living in a place where you have so much less than you’re used to and being around people who’ve had nothing to realize that you have everything.