Sunday, August 12, 2012

What's on Your Shirt?

While the level of social interaction is generally pretty low in a village where the number of fluent English speakers can be counted on one hand (with four fingers left, I believe), the lack of English here has left me with plenty of time and ample specimens with which to play my new favorite game: Does The Georgian Know What’s on His Shirt?

Clothing here is all imported and if a shirt has writing on it, it’s in English. The number of people who wear things they can’t read amazes me. Maybe they were told the meaning when they bought it, or maybe it was just shiny or cheap or convenient. I’m rather inclined toward the later options because there are most definitely some discrepancies between the shirts and their wearers.

 My host brother, for instance, has a shirt that says “The Scent of Sexy.” When I think of what the scent of sexy might be it isn’t 18 year old boy who showers every fourth day and has at best a casual familiarity with deodorant.

I’ve seen quite a few girls with shirts with fancy or glittery font proclaiming that the reader “can’t afford [them].” Maybe that’s true in Georgia, but anyone who can read your shirt can definitely afford you at your current standard of living, and maybe even give you better dental work.

I saw the best one yesterday; it was on an older heavy set woman (American fat, not the rest of the world fat, just to be clear). It was blue and had an off one shoulder neck line with a thin strap over the exposed shoulder. In pink block lettering with a white diamond in the background just to add emphasis it asked “What’s Your Blog?” My question is does that woman know what a blog is??? I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say “no.”

Probably my favorite odd, inappropriate use of English is a trend in reusable shopping bags I’ve seen in Samtredia. The bags are a swirly pattern of pink, purple, light blue and yellow and written huge across this background are the words “Rave Girl.” Picture a slightly stooped seventy year old lady with a shin length floral print dress carrying a bag that says “Rave Girl.”

I know just enough Georgian to know that people talk about my lack of language, so I feel it balances out well that I get to silently observe the English around them that is so incongruous with their lives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Third World vs Batumi

In many ways Georgia is totally a third world country at this point. There are more unpaved roads than paved ones, the power goes out at fairly frequent random intervals, and it isn’t unusual in some parts of the country to go two weeks without running water (I, fortunately, don’t have the water issue because my family has a well)

One veteran TLGer told me that his village took a vote on which community improvement they wanted; the government was either willing to pave the road leading from the main road to the school or to improve the water system. The community voted for a paved road.

In a country where the citizens have to choose between paved roads and running water, it’s a little disconcerting to see cities like Batumi being built. Batumi has the rather futuristic-looking Radisson Blue and a Sheraton with a pricy restaurant observation deck overlooking the Black Sea. There’s the 20 story alphabet tower which is nothing more than a fancy casing for an observation deck, twenty hotel rooms and a bar, and soon they will be breaking ground for the Trump Tower. As for attractions there are fountains set to lights and music, a botanical garden, an exotic bird enclosure, a farris wheel, and a place to go trampoline bungee jumping.

They’re putting all of this stuff in to attract tourists, but what they don’t seem to take into account is that at least half of the non-Georgians in Batumi are being paid by their own government. They want wealthy Europeans to come, but what they’re really getting is TLGers spending the weekend out of their villages and we aren’t spending money, at least not any money they hadn’t given us in the first place. Even then we aren’t in the Radisson or the Sheraton, we’re in the hotel Illico ten blocks back from the beach wondering when the last time the towels were washed.

The fancy part of Batumi is a ghost town, yet the Georgian government prides themselves on Batumi like it’s nobody’s business. On their show, “Georgia’s got talent,” they show every contestant walking through some part of Batumi, past the hotels or the tower or the botanical gardens, as a way of saying “look, Georgian people, this is your beautiful country!” even though it isn’t. The Georgian people’s country is made of dirt roads, crumbling houses, and power outages. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

School Disipline

Before leaving for Georgia, I saw that a lot of blogs mentioned how bad the school discipline was. None of them really explained the school structure, so when I read about the kids running through the halls and calling teachers by their first names, I thought it meant disrespectful kids and lax teachers.

 Maybe all Georgian schools don’t run like mine does, but mine is a mess. Let me try to describe for you a typical school. Class starts promptly at whatever time the teachers bother to show up and/or are finished gossiping and decided to ring the bell. This is supposed to happen at 9:00am, but is usually a little later than that. 

After the bell is rung, the teachers wait a few minutes then go to their classes where the students are supposed already waiting. In case that wasn’t clear, the teachers don’t have classrooms, the students do; there is a first grade room, a second grade room, and so on (with all grades in one building). My largest class at its fullest is only fourteen students, and my next largest is ten, and the rest are five to six. Admittedly it is the last week of school, but I have yet to have a class with perfect attendance. I have had only one student present in a class of ten however. And there is no penalty for being absent and none for not having your homework either. That being the case, I’m actually pretty surprised at the number of kids who do their homework--- about ½ of them. 

Once first bell is over, the teacher leaves. Leaving eight nine year olds to do whatever they want for the next approximately ten minutes.  The time between bells is completely uncertain, however. The teachers gather in the teacher’s room again and talk and those teachers that didn’t have a first class start to show up, and eventually someone remembers that they are actually at school and supposed to be working so they ring the bell. Sometimes students even stick their head in the teacher’s room and ring it if it’s been long enough.   

Not speaking Georgian, I have no idea how well informed the student body is, but by the way the rest of the school day runs, I imagine they aren’t informed at all, and had no idea that on June 12 there was going to be a meeting of the entire faculty (18 including me) between first and second bells. So while the faculty talked about textbooks, the entire student body did God knows what completely unsupervised.

And children being left on their own for long periods of time is not unusual. In fact, it’s totally normal. Some grades don’t have lessons every bell, so they just roam the school yard for an hour or so or go home and get food. Water fights seem to be the pass time of choice this time of year. There is an old-style pump (like the kind you have to put water in in order to get water out) in front of the school and the children love to play with it, filling bottles with water then chasing and soaking each other.  

IF the teachers try to stop this, and that’s a big if, they are completely unsuccessful because there are no disciplinary measures to be taken. There is no principal or vice principle that looms over the school and has the potential to fuck up your future, or at least your weekend. Here, this is only a head teacher, and basically his only extra responsibility is ordering textbooks. He’s technically in charge of discipline, but what’s he going to do, call their mom? I don’t imagine many kids in my school are college bound, so a mark on a permanent record (do they scare kids with those in Georgia too?) is probably not too scary. 

I was told not to expect too much from Georgian schools, and all the blogs and even TLG really seemed to put it on the kids, but I feel like the kids are giving me more than I should expect. The building is falling down around them. Part of it is already condemned. There was a pile of ceiling on the floor of the first floor today, right outside the third grade classroom, and somehow there is substantial water damage on the ceiling of the teacher’s lounge which is on the second floor of the three story building and there is not running water (solid cement walls, go Soviet construction!) so it’s not like a pipe burst causing the water damage. 

Between the conditions and the lack of structure and supervision, I’m surprised there are any students at all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Georgian Drivers

Georgian drivers are the scariest thing ever. When TLG first told us that we weren’t allowed to drive while we were here, I was a little bummed, but now I realize that I wouldn’t even want to try it. The worst one I’ve seen so far was actually employed by TLG, oddly enough, and picked me up from the airport. Maybe they do that purposefully so as to scare potential drivers off right from the start. 

The roads are marked just like ours, there are solid or dotted white lines separating the lanes, but they mean absolutely nothing. People here regularly drive with two tires in each lane. They’re not just slowly changing lanes, they just don’t care that the markings are there. It also isn’t rare for three cars to pass side by side in a two lane space. 

My host father is all about this one. We went to a market in Samtredia today and he would move to go around a car right in front of oncoming traffic. He was spanning the lanes just inches from the other two vehicles as the car passed in the other direction. 

As you can probably guess, being a pedestrian around Georgian drivers is about the most frightening experience in the entire world. It isn’t like Virginia Beach where, if you’ve been waiting to cross the road for a while, you can just walk into the crosswalk when the closest lane is clean and the rest of traffic will eventually stop for you. There is no stopping in Georgia. The pedestrian does not have the right of way and if you get caught in the middle of the road and people find themselves having to stop for you, they honk and curse like you just ruined their entire day.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

First Days in Tbilisi

Last night was my second one in Tbilisi and so far it has been wonderful. Last night eight of us new volunteers went to see the old fort that used to be used to defend the city. One of the TLG leaders was really awesome and saved us the money of buying two taxis by talking to a Marshruka driver for us and letting him know where to drop us off.

We weren’t sure how to get to the fortress, and the first very steep road we climbed ended up being the wrong one. No one knew enough Georgian to really ask directions, and the few people we did ask all told us very different things (some blatantly wrong). WE ended up climbing through an alley filled with construction trash to get to the right road.

The fortress was closed by the time we got there, but the view was amazing.

Once we got back to ground level, we stopped at a bar with a lot of outside seating for a beer solely because we were told we weren’t allowed to drink at all during orientation.

Last night’s adventure was even better than the first one though. There were only four of us who hadn’t been to the church yet, so we decided to brave the impending storm and go take a look. We didn’t get far at all before we were being poured on. The rain was fairly warm though, and since we only have a limited amount of time in the city, we decided press on toward the church. We were in the old part of the city, so the streets were narrow and winding and the sidewalks were cobblestone. The shops were very small but quite amazing. There were little bakeries and there was a vegetable shop, some convenient stores, and stores that sold candles to take up to the church.

The church was nice, but I was hoping for a little more from it. Nothing about it really struck me as being completely amazing. At least nothing when compared with the Vatican, which is the only other tour-worthy church I have ever been in. When we left the church, it was no longer raining, but that didn’t last long, and we were soon completely soaked walking through the streets of Old Tbilisi in the rain. When we got back to where the Marshruka dropped us off,  none of us were quite ready to go back for the night, so we found a nearby restaurant and went in for some drinks.

There was a singer/DJ and a woman playing an electric violin. A group of Georgian men were dancing to it, and provided our entertainment. Their dancing was nothing at all like anything I’ve ever seen. First of all, you’d never see a group of guys dancing together in the states, but even the movements they did were not anything I’d seen before, and at one point two of the guys were dancing side by side with their arms around each other’s shoulders.

While we watched the dance, we decided to split a khachapori since it’s about the most famous Georgian food and we all had yet to try it. It’s like a shallow bread bowl with really salty cheese baked into it, and once it comes out of the oven an egg is cracked on top. I can’t say I loved it as much as I thought I might. The saltiness of the cheese really threw me off, but it was still good.
While we were enjoying our second dinner, we met some veteran TLG volunteers and they talked with us and told us about their experiences and then took us to their favorite bar, which ended up being one of the coolest places I’d ever been. About half the people in there were TLG, but they were from all over the country and just spending their weekend in Tbilisi. I tried chacha, Georgian moonshine, for the first time. The particular batch we had wasn’t very strong; the stuff is rumored to sometimes be as much as 70% alcohol. One of the Georgian guys, Erik (I’m sure he Americanized it for us,) told us about a music festival we’re all planning on checking out tonight.

At this point, I don’t want our training week to end. My group is only fifteen people and everyone gets along really well, and although we’ve been incredibly busy doing the training during the day and trying to explore the city at night, it’s just been an amazing time so far.