Sunday, December 5, 2010

Buckle Up Georgia

December 1st  brought about a new law here in Sarkartvelo.  MANDATORY SEAT BELTS!!!  The old law was a mess of a law where a seat belt was only required when traveling outside of a city going over 80 kilometers per hour.  This of course is not the easiest law to enforce much less have people take seriously.  The new law requires seat belts to be worn by the front row passengers in all cars going any speed.  I, of course, decided to test the desire by Georgians to wear these life-saving restraint devices.  School ended at the normal time on the 1st so I went to the nearest marshutka to Batumi to see if the driver would make me put on the seat belt.  I tried to take my normal seat on the marshutka but was stopped by the driver.  He told me to come sit on the front seat for what I know had to be..."We know he is American and they wear seat belts and won't go crazy about it."  I took my position and was surprised to notice that I would have to fake wearing a seat belt.  The device that catches the clip was missing.  The driver then instructed me that I would have to hold the seat belt across me so we would not get pulled over.  I looked over at his seat belt and realized he had secured a weight device to keep his seat belt from flying back across the marshutka thus proving he was not wearing the restraint device.  The past several days I have spent more time looking to see if people are actually wearing the seat belts and much to my amazement the people that should be enforcing the law (the police) are the one not wearing them the most.  I do not think they were allowed to opt out but I could be wrong.  I wonder if you can citizen’s citation here in Georgia and give the police office the 40 Lari fine.  I hope the facade of wearing a seat belt will help them to eventually fasten the thing and help decrease the vehicle fatality rate that plagues the country.  I was hoping I would get to see a Georgian version of this commercial but I don't think that will happen.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

60 Days In

I have now been in Georgia for around 60 days.  Some of the days have felt like some of the longest days of my life while others rank as some of the shortest due to all the fun I've had.

The past few weeks has afforded me time to think and to analyze my educational experience thus far.  I, a few weeks ago, found myself only sounded by a stream of negative thoughts.  I must admit when you are thousands of miles from home, with a broken laptop (my charger basically caught on fire), in a city where the nearest native English speaker is half an hour away on foot, the ability to see negative is there.  

I must remain focused on why I am here and what I know I can do.  My attitude towards students is one that I would say was not the same when I was growing up.  I would have preferred to move on to new material rather than wait for others to learn.  I have learned though that this style is very much still in effect here.  Thus my modified attitude has brought a change in the classrooms that I enter.

I have begun to bring the under performing, often ignored, students to the front of attention by actually having them participate in class.  The current system appears to just allow those that do not understand the first time to just sit back and just never get it.  I can not force that type of massive attitude change alone, I must show others and lead by example.  The students who now sit at the back of the room now realizes that they are more likely to be called on to read or to answer a question.  More pages of "glass half empty" could be written but you probably do not care to read all of that.  

I continuously remind myself of why I am here.  I am here to teach the English language to a population that, until recently, a majority of have never seen a native English speaker.  I remain optimistic when I see the members of my host family greet me with a good morning.  I am encouraged when the teachers at my school say hello or good morning Jason in English rather than saying it in Georgian.  

These may seem like such small "victories" but in a country that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is still recovering from a war with Russia in 2008 this is quite significant. The students at Kobuleti 3 surely do not realize how fast this country is speeding towards modernization.  The unforationate situation is that the students who do not try now in school and actually graduate or go on to pursue higher education or a technical skill will not benefit from the changes that are quickly modernizing this country.  

The students that misbehave surely do not realize that when Trump Towers, Hyatt, Hilton, or the Radisson look to begin hiring in the coming years they will look to employ multi-lingual people who behave and do as they are told.  When more airlines announce service to airports in Georgia these students do not realize that those jobs go to people who can speak more languages than just Georgian.  

These facts make the goal of the currently hundreds of volunteers here in Georgia even more important.  We are helping to grow the base knowledge of the English language to these students.  Our success will help determine their future.  Those students who choose to attend university must take an English exam to gain admission.  Their success on the exam will decide which university they will attend.  That reason alone is a major encouragement.  I can single-handed shape the future of my students by educating them about the English language.

Over the course of the last several weeks, the month of September, I have been trying to focus on what the deeper meaning of me being in Georgia is.  I have turned my focus to the book of Proverbs in hopes of trying to further understand.  I have sought wisdom and found understanding.  Proverbs shed light on my attitude and helped me to realize that I needed to be an encourager and not one who discourages.  Looking at the glass half empty would be so much easier to do but I have been too blessed to focus on that. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Days of School

First Days of School

The first three days of school have been…interesting.  The first day began with walking into school as the school director was handing out awards over a PA system that was louder than most rock concerts.  I was interrupted by the screaming sound system by the smell of cigarette smoke coming from parents who were standing inside the school with their children.  It is apparently okay for parents and even students to smoke inside the school and all around the grounds. 

I have been shocked to see that so many of the students have been taking English for more than a year but when you ask a simple “What is your name?” the student asks the teacher in Georgian what I was saying.  The simple question, or so it would seem, of what is your name is finally answered in shockingly poor fashion of “ummm mi naume Gio.”  This is such a basic phrase that I think that if I can say what my name is in Georgian that the students who have taken English for a year should easily be able to answer what their name is in English. 

I worry about gaps in those who know and speak English well and those who sit in the back of the room and seem to be content with just sitting.  I have targeted these, underperformers, as those that I will focus extra attention on.  This group of students is male dominated and the older the student the more sitting in the back of the class they desire to be.  I had one class of Level 12, or Seniors, on Friday.  The class had 12 or 14 students in the class and later I found out that only 3 or 4 desired to attend university.  This is an important fact because those who desire to attend university must score high on the national English exam to get into the university that they desire. 

I attended school 3 days this week and had 8 classes with 3 different level of student.  I found that the 9th grade students had the poorest behavior, the 6th grade students absorbed information like a sponge, and the 12th graders cared about English but found the passages of their books so boring that they cared less.

September Summary

I apologize for the delay in blogging.  Here is a summary of what I have been doing before and during school.  I will blog separately about school.  The past week or more has been slightly uneventful.  I have been slightly busy taking TLG volunteers across the border to Turkey to show them how to obtain a visa and also how to get to the Istanbul Bazaar.  The Istanbul Bazaar is a small scale mall but is very Western.  The IB opened a few months ago and has stores that resemble American stores.  You can clearly see by the clothing which stores are American Eagle, GAP, Victoria Secret, and Dollar General.  The number one reason why people go to IB though is the Burger King.  The Burger King is just like any BK from home but is the closest thing to Western style fast food around.  McDonald’s just opened a location in Kutaisi around 100 kilometers from Kobuleti but it is much closer for people to cross into Turkey and go to Burger King.  The pursuit is less about going to Burger King but more about obtaining a source of large amounts of protein whether it is beef or chicken.  My worst crossing was last weekend when I went with my friend from New Zealand.  We waited in line for over 2 hours just to cross into Turkey.  I have become friends with the Turkish border guards.  A few remember my face and tell me to show my friends where the visa office is instead of them having to give directions.  I will make the journey again tomorrow to take another group of people to Turkey.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


My friend/coworker Meaghan and I decided to go visit my Polish friend Dominik in Mestia for his birthday this past weekend.  Dominik lives in the Georgian mountains about 30-40 kms from Russia.  The journey to Mestia in the Svaneti Region began with a cab ride to the Kobuleti train station, a 2 hour marshutka or 15 passenger van type thing to Zugdidi (Zugdidi is the largest city closest to occupied Abkhazia which is about 25 kms from there), followed by another 5 hour marshutka ride up through the mountains.  Mestia has towers that belong to every family there.  The towers were used as protection many years ago.  We climbed on the roofs of two of the towers to get an amazing view of the valley but while inside one tower we found out of the 12 or so people in the tower there were people from the United States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, Italy, and Norway, talk about a small world.  Mestia is in a valley surrounded by mountains and a major river runs through the city.  The city is currently undergoing a development boom with the entire downtown square having construction going on.  The airport will be finished in two months with hopes of having international flights.  The general contractor superintendent told us that flights to Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi seemed to be sure bets though.  The flights will be around the same price as a marshutka but will take hours and hours less time.

One of the best Georgian traditions is called a Supra, which is like a major feast.  Dominik's host family fixed a massive feast for us to celebrate his birthday.  The supra lasted several hours and included dozens of different food dishes.  The next night we had another mini supra at Dominik's host uncle's house where we got to hang out with two people from Poland who we had met on the ride to Mestia.  The people from Svaneti are extremely hospitable and I will be returning there one day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I would first like to thank my coworker Ali for helping to make this blog possible.  I had to download software to get my computer around the government filter.  YouTube, Blogspot, and over 6000 other websites are blocked in the Republic of Turkey.  This has been my first experience with having general websites blocked.  The Turkish Government claims that this is to protect the name of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but this is a major issue with Turkey and their drive to join the west.  

I found the Turkish people to be very proud of being a "different" Muslim country.  The Turks, thanks to Ataturk, have a Latin based language that is totally different than Arabic.  Turkish resembles German with in not so technical words dots above some vowels and a curly cue under letters that give those letters a sh or ch sound.  Calls to prayer are performed in Turkish and not in Arabic.  The imams in Turkey also read the Koran in Arabic to attendees of service and then translates the Koran into Turkish for people to understand.  

Turkey is really a fascinating country because Turkey really does sit at a crossroads of so many different things in our ever shrinking world.

Turkey without the Gobble

Been without internet so I am having to catch up on my blogging.  Hope you guys who read this are enjoying it.

Quick summary of my travel to Turkey.  Left Georgia at 6:00 but because Georgia runs on what is known as Georgian Standard Time or EXTREMELY DELAYED we did not depart Bat'umi until 7:00PM.  We boarded this packed bus for our overnight journey to Istanbul.  We crossed the border out of Georgia without a problem and had to walk into to Turkey to find out where to get a visa so we could properly go through immigration.  For Americans it is a 20 dollar expense but my friend Meaghan found out for Canadians its 60.  She seems to think it is because Canada recognizes the genocide against Armenians by Turkey.  We finally arrived in Istanbul after 12 noon the next day.  The bus stopped several several times and we got to witness an awesome sunrise over Turkish hills in between swatting the largest mosquitoes I have ever seen.  7 coworkers and I rented a flat in a nice part of Istanbul called Taksim Square.  This place was really cool because we got to see anti-government protests just about daily.  The communists were out just about every day while the larger parties were more visible on weekends.  The protests are leading up to the national referendum on September 12th that would modify the constitution of Turkey.  If I were a Turk I would be voting No or Hayir! 

I encourage you to go to my Facebook profile to check out all of my pictures from Turkey.  If you are not my Facebook friend I will add and will not be offended.  In one of the pictures you will see a teenager dressed up in an Ask Me! shirt.  This is an incredible idea for areas that have large amounts of tourists.  The students do this for the summer and simply walk around heavy tourist areas and if you need directions to a place or help you simply ask.  We asked a guy for some facts on the Blue Mosque and it turned into him giving us a full tour.  

While we were at the Grand Bazaar I met a guy named Suleyman who worked at a local book shop.  I was looking for a book to learn some simple Turkish and he spoke English thus making it easier for me to find said book.  A simple book purchase turned into the 5 of us who were there sitting around talking with Suleyman over cups of Apple Tea!  Amberly, Ali, and I went back to visit Suleyman a few days later for him to show us around different parts of the city.  That turned out to be an invitation to his house and dinner with his family.  The Turkish fest was incredible considering it was during Ramazan so it was the first thing his family had eaten all day.  We spent hours eating, talking, watching Turkish TV, and learning about one another.  The meal ended but the food and drink did not.  Dinner transformed into baklava, which gave way to Turkish coffee, followed by chai (Turkish for tea), then an assortment of fruits like pears, apples, and grapes.  I met with Suleyman the night before I left Istanbul and we went to an outdoor concert outside the Blue Mosque which was part of Jazz in Ramazan.  We talked about modern Turkey, Christianity/Islam, politics, and life.  

I enjoyed Turkey 500 times more than I thought I would.  I plan on using my visa to get back there very soon.  I have left out tons of details but I must move on to different topics now.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Georgian President

We got to meet President Mikheil Saakashvili or Misha as the locals call him.  We met him at a swanky club in Bat’umi called the Boomba Room.  The club seems to be a place where Paris Hilton is more likely to hang out than the local Georgian.  There was a concert at the club the night before and tickets were 400 Lari or over 200 dollars.  The president addressed all 100 volunteers that are now in Georgia.  There was tons of media there.  I wish I fully understood what he said in Georgian to the national media because I know that he mentioned Russia several times.  The arrival of the 2nd wave of 50 volunteers means that there are now more volunteers in the country with this program than with the Peace Corps.  The president was there for around an hour and answered a few questions from volunteers.  A guy named Evan from San Francisco asked the president about the litter problem in Georgia.  The answer was lackluster and I find it difficult to break what appears to be a tradition of just littering any where you damn well please.

I have been constantly surprised just how small our world really is.  The previously mentioned Evan grew up in the same hometown as my friend Paigelee Hodges in Hayward, California, just outside Oakland.  Another volunteer lived for 2 years in Oxford, MS, and was living in Tuscalousa, AL, before he came to Georgia.  Bob, another volunteer, got his doctoral degree from Ole Miss.  When we were flying from Amsterdam to Tbilisi a Georgian boy was sitting beside me.  He was reading a book in English so I started to talk to him, come to find out he was returning to Georgia after spending the summer learning English as what he called the University of Mississippi.  He and 13 other students from his school had been living in Martin Hall.  I was walking down the road the other day and was stopped by someone who heard me speaking English, he asked me where I was from and I told him.  He responded that he lived for 10 years in New York City where he lived near my friend Dustin’s office on the west side of Manhattan. 

I must begin packing.  I am leaving for Istanbul, Turkey, in a few hours.  It will be a 20 hour bus ride but I am looking forward to it!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I have now been in Kobuleti for four days. It is hard to tell when exactly I got here because the days just blend together. I am living with a family that owns a hostel. This has provided me with an opportunity to meet many different people. I have met families from around Georgia but also Armenia and Russia. The kids have been very entertaining. Some children from Gori taught me how to play some Georgian card games and also helped me expand my Kartuli vocabulary. Some of the words have escaped me now but the kids have made transitioning into a different area much easier. The varying levels of English that are spoken by the kids surprised me. I met a ten year old Constantine, who spoke incredible English while another 10 year old who spoke very little English.

Kobuleti and for the most part most of Adjara is going through vast amounts of infrastructure work. The main street that runs along the beach in Kobuleti has a large section of road that is dirt. I have seen the makings of what is new water lines being installed on the south part of the city. The street in front of my house is the road for what I call the Kobuleti bypass which is the road big 18 wheelers take to bypass going through the heart of the city. Most of these trucks are Turkish in origin with a few from Germany. The Armenians who were staying here told me that all the goods destined for Armenia must come through either Georgia or Iran because of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey and Armenia not having open boarder crossings.

I found out I will be working at Kobuleti Public School 3. Most Georgian schools are named by the city/town/village for which they are located and then simply have a number after them if needed. An example would be that if a village has only one school it is just the name of the village school. Most of the TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) volunteers have found that their school principals do not speak English. I have not found out if my principal does or not. I have yet to meet him or even speak to him. I did go to the Kobuleti Education Resource Center the other day. This reminds me of almost like a school district office back home where meetings and such take place. The walk to the resource center is only about 15 minutes but in the worst heat wave in Adjara in years the walk will not be done frequently until the temperature drops several degrees Celsius.

My host family dad is named Mamuka. He is really laid back and allows me to come and go as I please. This is rare compared to what some of my coworkers have been experiencing. My host mom is named Tea, pronounced Te-ah, she is a history teacher. The eldest daughter is named Salome, she is currently studying English in the United Kingdom for a few weeks. I have yet to meet the other kids. Mamuka’s parents are always here helping run the hostel as well as his sisters who are here off and on.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Days

The first days upon arrival in Georgia were a whirlwind.  Once we cleared immigration and picked up our bags the national media was standing at the gate as soon as we cleared what was customs though there was no one to check any of our bags.  We were then loaded on buses and taken to a hotel on the outskirts of Tbilisi.  The hotel is used for sports teams and included a pool hall and ping pong tables.  At night there was a pianist that played at the back of the hotel near the bar. 

Our orientation in Tbilisi included sightseeing and some basic information sessions.  The initial Tbilisi  There are people here from the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia), South Africa, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Canada, and I would say around half the states in the United States.  We also met the Minister of Education and Science at the Ministry headquarters.  orientation allowed us to get to know each other. (who lives in

Our days in Kutaisi were long and tiring.  Sitting in classrooms for around 8 hours a day left me occasionally feeling beaten down.  The Georgian language classes were very fast paced but included many helpful situations like how to pay and negotiate cabs, how to buy in a market, and how to say hello.  The afternoons were filled with sessions on how the Georgian education system works.  The schools are paid based on the number of students who attend the schools.  I need to find out if there is a school choice system or if there are boundaries for schools.  We were warned that a few Georgian English teachers may worry about our presence taking away from their ability to tutor kids on the side as a way to supplement their income.  I could see that being a possible issue in a small village but in a city that is far more doubtful just based on the student enrollment numbers.  We get to meet our host families tomorrow, apparently my host family is quite large.