Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Am I Doing Here?

That is a question I have repeatedly asked myself over the last 24 hours. Basically, there is no hope for the teachers, students or the school I am at. Anything I do to help improve the classroom or to teach English is forgotten about 30 seconds later...if they can even remember it that long. I am so frustrated with everything. Asking politely for information does not work, having chats with the teachers does not work, and I highly doubt that TLG cares about the problems considering how they have responded to other issues, such as the fact one of my friends went over 15 days without a shower because his host family did not have a shower or any running water. But somehow managed to have a flat screen TV.

The "English" teachers I work with have very little comprehension of the English language, and getting basic information from them is hard. They seem to struggle with any question beginning with Who? What? Why? When? Where? How? no matter what the length of the sentence. Also I realized that I can not use synonyms at all in my speech as it confuses them greatly. They learned one way to say everything, and now it is up to me to determine what that is. I guess school life will become like the 1980s/early 1990s video game classic, King's Quest IV for me. In that game unless you typed in the exact phrase that the game required, you could not get Rosella to do anything.

The students are no better. Loud, disruptive, rude, and lazy. The fact they can proceed to the next English class spelling, "My name is..." as "Mai neim iz..." is appalling. The fact that the teachers do not correct these problems is even worse. The students show no accountability for anything, and what is sad is that they do not have to. Students are not punished for lateness or failing to show up to class or not doing their homework. Today after a discussion with the "English" teachers about accountability they let the same behaviors continue. They do not believe in involving all the students in the class in the lesson, just the smart ones. Consequently, only 2 or 3 students do anything in the class. This practice seems to be rampant in Georgia based on conversations with my friends.

I'm frustrated, disheartening, and ready to give up. I come home from that wretched place in tears more days than I care to think about. The class schedule changes daily so I can never plan for anything, and the school district is always telling me at the last minute about these events I have to be at, which are actually very worthless. Yesterday I asked twice if there had been any schedule changes since Friday, and twice I got the answer, "No." There had been. Gee, thanks are so helpful.

My return trip to the United States cannot come fast enough. I'm having a very difficult time trying to remain positive, optimistic, and feeling like I am accomplishing something worthwhile and important while I am here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Illness Abroad

Being sick abroad is awful. Basically it sucks. If you are sick at your home in the United States at least then you can curl up on the couch, maybe wearing that Snuggie you do not want to admit you have, and be able to watch crappy TV all day and eat Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with Stars. No one questions your judgment in watching shows on TLC all day or something from WE about weddings or something from FoxNews involving Glen Beck. You're sick, you can get away with that. Unfortunately, abroad you do not have those options available to you. (Oddly, out of the 1833 satellite stations available at my house, FoxNews is not one of them. That station would probably do well here.)

When you get sick abroad basically the first thing you hope for is that you will get well soon enough that you do not have to go to the doctor's or have to take medicine in packaging where English is absent. Or have to take something that the pharmacist must mime to you how to take because of the language barrier. (I personally hope not to go to the doctor's in the United States as well. Growing up by the Mayo Clinic I grew accustom to a certain level of health care that exists few places in the world. Consequently, I expect a lot. But the Zion Canyon Medical Clinic never let me down when I lived in Springdale.)

Since my arrival I've struggled a lot with the food. (However, increasingly I think it may be food allergies). I've had food poisoning several times since I arrived, most recently 2 days ago. Long story short, it was bad and I am still not fully recovered from it. The 1 hour car ride from the mountain village over very bumpy roads made it an even more enjoyable experience. During the ride back with my host family my mantra was "I will not disgrace myself in the Mercedes Benz SUV with the leather seats." I made it back to Batumi...barely. Thankfully the family business was on the way home so that I could get sick there and not in the car.

Unfortunately, most of my friends of had to deal with the same thing as well and we all seem to have the exact same symtoms when we do get ill. Fortunately, my host mother is a doctor and helped me out considerably. It was curious the combination of homeopathic and medical remedies she gave me, however. But whatever it was that she had me do, it worked. I feel as thought I will live another day. 48 hours ago it did not seem that way. At one point she took my temperature with a mercury thermometer. I think the last time I saw that done was in th 1980s. Guess who is getting a diagital thermometer as her Christmas present when I return from the United States?

I came to Georgia thinking I was pretty much immune to food bourne illnesses after my two months in the Middle East. In Israel only once did I have a problem with the food. It was some awful falafel from the West Bank. Sometimes I wonder what the Israeli reaction to this would be. I should have known that falafel with a Coke for only 7 shekels was too good to be true. Consequently, I arrived with just one box of Immodium thinking that I would never need it. It is almost gone. Ironically, I still had my box of Immodium from Israel at my house this summer. I was doing some cleaning and threw it out thinking that I was not going overseas anytime soon and I would not need it for anything before it expired. The next week I found out I was headed to Georgia. Lesson learned: Throwing out a key item from the traveler's first aid kit will result in moving overseas.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The First Day of School

After being in Georgia a month and a half, I finally got into the classroom. I keep having to remind myself that this is Georgia and not the United States, things will be different. It is something I am having a hard time accepting and embracing. Letting go of order and organization is something that I am greatly struggling with.

I began today with high hopes, but they were short-lived. I tried washing my hands in the bathroom only to discover there is no running water, this AFTER there is soap on my hands. I had to use the water in my Nalgene to rinse my hands. As for the soap, I had to bring that from home. I had noticed previously that soap is absent from the washrooms. Awesome. That is going to bother me all year. It is on the list of things to discuss with the school director.

Between the lack of water and a lack of any clear idea what was happening today, I started school rather upset. This was compounded when the staff informed me I was going to speak to all the students, teachers, and parents for the opening assembly. That was not embarassing or anything. I said a few words in Georgian, said a few things in English, and was received with cheers and applause. Being American in Georgia is like being a celebrity. Even seems to know you but you have no idea who they are. My host family is always telling me that people saw me on the marshut'ka or out in the yard, and I have no idea who these people are. It is a little unsettling to have people watching you, especially when you cannot see them. Routinely people pay for my marshut'ka fares or give up their seats for me because I am a guest in their country.

Today I attended 3 classes, 9th, 11th, and 6th. The 6th graders were awesome. I am going to continue attending that class. Much like their American counterparts, the high schoolers were rather aloof and disinterested. If I can get out of the 11th grade class I will. I would rather devote my time to the students who are interested in learning English, the 6th graders. The class also has only 11 students compared to approximately 40 in the the 11th grade class. That size will allow for a lot more personal attention. Today I taught the 6th graders to play Hangman to review classroom vocabulary. I think that will be a class favorite.

I got to leave school about 1:15 p.m. We were supposed to have other classes, but I could not understand why we didn't. Oh well...I am off to prepare some things for the 3rd graders. This will be their first year of English instruction, consequently, basic things like letters and numbers will be taught. Perhaps I can use some of the songs from Sunday School in that class like "Popcorn Popping," "Do as I'm Doing," and "Once There Was a Snowman." Third graders like that sort of thing right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mac vs. PC: The Continued Debate

This blog post is dedicated to one JDZ, canyonneer, facilitator, responsibility man, and an eternal Mac user.

During my tenure at Zion Adventure Company I was one of the few pro-Windows and PC operating systems employees at the store. We worked on Macs, our POS was designed for Macs, and while it impressed many people, I struggled with it greatly. Once I even had to ask, "I just saved a Word document...where did it go?" That would never happen with a PC. Often I would bring my laptop to the store to work on projects because things never seemed to work with the Macs, especially when my beloved Microsoft Excel was involved. Excel and Macs are not friends. But yesterday I noticed something curious in my blog stats about the whole PC and Mac debate. Only 3% of my blog views have ever come from Macs. (I also have had visitors from China, Georgia, and Canada). Hmmm...interesting. I have a feeling that the 3% is from JDZ's iPhone.

However, I must admit that I think my next computer will have to be a Mac. It pains me to say it, but in the business world it brings a certain something to the table. Legitimacy, perhaps? I'm not sure, but I am very sure that Microsoft Office will be on it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Georgian Diet

I apologize for the absence. My life has been pretty mundane lately, leaving very little to write about. I read, do yoga, write, watch my Arrested Development DVDs (yet again), sleep, and visit Batumi. However, I was informed that some people check almost daily for a post (aka my mom).

The fact that Georgians do not weigh about 500 pounds each is a fact not lost on me or the other Americans here. The "diet" is something else. It is definitely not based on the USDA Food Pyramid in the least. The other day my Minnesota friend here, Jeff, commented if anything about nutrition is known here. I should ask my host mom. She is a doctor. Basically the Georgian diet is comprised of:
  • Carbs, at least 4 different types per meal
  • Cheese, at least 2 types per meal
  • Oils and butter
  • More carbs
  • Meat
  • Still more carbs
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • And for good measure tomatoes, cucumber, and melon

The mainstay of the Georgian diet, khachapuri, is bread and cheese. It has been a few days since my host family has made it, which is mildly shocking. The baking contraption that resulted in the Georgian Brownie Baking Fiasco of 2010 (see the previous post) is designed solely to bake this bread in. Khachapuri is to Georgia as falafel is to Israel.

Consequently, I think my cholesteral level has increased in just 5 weeks. Food is central to life here in a big, big way. One of my friends, Chanchal, hates to sit still in one place longer than a few minutes at her host family's house because food will magically appear even if she ate just a few minutes prior. I hear "Tchame Charlotta! Tchame!" (Eat Charlotte! Eat!) daily from my host mother. One day at my house we had no less than 5 full meals because visitors just kept coming. To combat the weight gain inevitable with a diet so high in fats and carbs I've become an expert at eating just the melon and few fresh veggies available. However, after I leave Georgia I do not think I will ever be able to eat watermelon again.

When I first arrived my host family was worried because I never seemed to eat anything as I am a vegetarian. I wanted to say, "The scale indicates otherwise." We have worked out finally that I will eat what I can or I will make something special for myself. Cooking for myself seems unlikely, however. My host mother likes cooking too much to let me be in on it. However, I can help with some aspects of food preparation, an area few of my friends have been allowed to enter in their host homes. Many of my friends cannot even do their own laundry! When I first asked about the washing machine the immediate response from my host sister was, "I can do that for you." No Jilda, I can handle it.

As Georgia is the supposed birthplace of wine that plays an important part in life here as well. Not so much in my family as they are Muslims, however. While at Chanchal's house for dinner one evening, 2 glasses of wine magically appeared. When they found out that I didn't drink, an uncomfortable silence filled the room as if that was the most perplexing thing they have ever heard. They demanded to know why not. I've become an expert at saying, "Me ar vsvam qkhava, chai, da alkohols." (I don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol). I need to use that more than one would expect. Chanchal and I speculated that they likely had a conversation amongst themselves about the "crazy" eating habits of Americans. First, vegetarianism and now this!

Oddly Georgia is lacking in the dessert department. Chanchal and I decided that while Georgian desserts look really good they just end up being a major disappointment. I've been pleasantly surprised a couple of times, but mainly I get let down. My host mom made an awesome cake last week, a Russian recipe. Unfortunately, it contained the most awful of foods next to coconut, raisins.