Monday, November 21, 2011

Georgian Morning News Shows

Growing up in the United States, morning news shows are common place and for most families a part of everyday life. Moreover, people seem to be fiercely loyal to whatever show they watch, whether it is Good Morning America or the Today Show for example. Growing up, my family watched the one on CBS simply because our favorite news station in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, WCCO, was a CBS affiliate. We were loyal to WCCO and Mike Fairbourne always forecasted the weather accurately, and we would not waste our time with KARE 11 or channel 5.

Since I moved to host family #3, I’ve been introduced to the curious, yet wacky, world of Georigan morning news shows. I cannot believe it took me over a year in this country to discover this! I found out about the dubbed telenovellas on day one, but not this. With Georgian morning news shows, the first question one must ask is, “Where does one even begin?”

Most of my experience with them comes from the one on Georgia 1 TV (or something like that, it remains unclear what exactly the name of the station is), however, every other station is very similar. I’ve discussed this with my friend, Tom, and there seems to be definite trends throughout the stations, though most of my discussion will be based on Georgia 1.

The Set: One of the first things one notices is the set. I must admit, it is terrible. For those readers in Utah, it looks like they raided they clearance bin at Deseret Industries. (DI is the Utah equivalent of Goodwill or the Salvation Army). Nothing matches, and it is all hastily thrown together. At G1TV there is this hideous yellow, black, and apple green-coloured thing on the wall. Each day I try to decide what it is. I’ve come down to either apples or music notes, but when it is paired with the light grey wall it hangs on, it is especially fetching. The floor is orange and tan checked tiles. I also like the picture of Tbilisi in the fall covered in a fake window pane to give the impression one of looking out at a scenic vista of Old Tbilisi as the river runs by. The picture looks like it was printed on a daisy wheel dot-matrix printer as it is that grainy.

The Hosts: The hosts all seem to be in their mid-20s. Just today I realized that the hosts all seem to look exactly alike so as to be interchangeable, especially the two guys. I have no idea what their names are, but one guy definitely likes sweaters with oddly styled collars. Part of me wants to take this guy shopping to help him buy something that isn’t so awkward. The female hosts dress just like every other Georgian woman, which is a discussion I really do not want to get into. Let’s just say that at my school, I am the least dressed up staff member (apparently Birkenstock clogs do not scream “Stylish!” in Georgia) and that students will tell me how great I look just by adding a necklace. Moreover, I often get condescending looks from women on the street or bus over my apparel. I am not making this up. Actual faces of scorn. However, I felt vindicated recently when a Georgian man said that the shoes women wear here remind him of what a “certain type of woman” would wear in Germany. Or the US, as I added.

The News: This is perhaps the best part of the show. The “news” that is reported simply is, and I am not making this up, read from the newspaper. Some production assistant has gone through and highlighted what the host is supposed to read. Basically it is the title and the first paragraph or two. The highlighting is laughable as well. The highlighter is practically dead, and one would think with the money that was not spent on the set, that an adequate highlighter or two would be in the budget. Apparently not. The fact that the “news” is reported this way is a little unsettling, because by this method the show chooses exactly what is told to viewers and often what is reported is taken out of context. Moreover, most Georgians will just accept what is said as the truth as they won’t go to seek out the full story themselves. The partially reported news then becomes the whole story, and is perpetuated as such. On the station I watch daily there is a segment where one of the reporters talks to a retired Georgian dancer or actor or actress. Considering this is a daily segment, it is amazing that they keep finding new dancers to interview.

Turkish Toilets

For the loyal followers of this blog (all 6 of you), you may remember from last year my struggle with the famous (or infamous) Turkish toilets that pervade life in Georgia. One reader even posted a comment asking if I had overcome that. I can honestly say that “Using Turkish toilets is not a skill set I ever thought I would master after getting an MBA, but I can use them now.”

Turkish toilets, for the unacquainted, are simply holes in the ground but holes covered with a lovely porcelain cover, complete with grooves to help hold your feet in place. A thoughtful gesture to be sure. And that is about it. To use it, well, it shouldn’t take much imagination. One just sort of hovers over the opening and hopes for the best. Some places they flush by themselves, however, often you have to fill a little pitcher with water and pour it down the hole. It is awful.

My first experience with a Turkish toilet where I had no choice but to use it came at a wedding hall. Someone felt that they would be a good addition, and I cried the first time I used it because it was so humiliating and degrading. After that fiasco I wrote in my travel journal that the United States should not give any more funding to Georgia until laws are created that stipulate that newly constructed building cannot have Turkish toilets. Since then I have told my friend that wherever she has her wedding reception, it must, absolutely must, have Western toilets. There is no reason for a wedding hall not to have Western ones.

Slowly I learned some new skills to make it easier. Only once have I had a problem with it. Last spring I was at the university, and desperately needed to go. I knew I couldn’t make it to the Sheraton 1.5 blocks away, so I rushed to the Turkish toilet here. At this time the light was out in the little stall, and in my haste I misjudged where my foot was. Um, yeah. I sort of got my foot wet. I was wearing sandals, but they were Chacos, so they could be easily cleaned. They have been through the Zion Canyon Narrows and Keyhole Canyon. They have had worse on them before.

Last spring I came to the realization that I actually have a favorite Turkish toilet. At no point in my life before this could I have conceived that I would someday have a favorite one. While not my preferred toilet type, there is one I don’t mind using. It is the previously mentioned one at the university. Now there are working lights in the stalls, and about 90% of the time there is also soap, paper towels, and running water. However, the bathroom sink is often commandeered by the lazy office staff in that part of the university to wash out their coffee cups. I need to learn to say in Georgian, “This is a bathroom, not a kitchen. Wash your dishes elsewhere!” The coffee grinds from the thick Turkish coffee these women drink often clogs the sink. It isn’t cool. I am pleased to say that coffee cups from my department are washed in the student cafĂ©.

When I was in Istanbul last month, I must admit that I was rather shocked to find out that Turks have Turkish toilets in their homes. I opened up the door to the second bathroom at the apartment where I was staying to be greeted by one. It made sense, yet at the same time it didn’t. They have Western ones too, but everyone seems to prefer to use the Turkish one. Why continues to perplex me. Where I stayed everyone used the Turkish toilet, so I did as well. The water to the Western one wasn’t even turned on. So sad.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Living Without Water

(Editor's Note: I wrote this last week when I was really upset about not having water at my house. It is not one of my more positive or upbeat posts. Sorry.)

Being in Georgia makes one appreciate a lot of what one would have taken for granted at home. I never thought I would be placed in a position in 2011 where in EUROPE I would have to deal with being without water. I like to try and keep the blog positive, but being without such a basic necessity makes one less than pleasant.

It has now been 31 hours that there has not been water at my house. It conveniently went out mid-shower yesterday morning. I had not even had the chance to rinse the shampoo out of my hair when the water abruptly disappeared. My host mother, Nunu, brought some sketchy water to rinse my hair and face with. At first the lack of water was laughable, but now 31 hours later, it is not a laughing matter in the least. I have a 24 hour time limit on being without water I discovered. I should no even have to be without it for a minute.

Westerner will find the reason for the lack of water appalling: It rained. Often in Batumi, when it rains the culinary water supply gets shut off because the entire system is so bad, archaic, and problematic that runoff can easily mix with it. (Or this is at least what I have been able to put together based on what I have been told.) WTF? Rain? In no developed country would a casual rain result in taking about water from people. It would have to be the type of rain that would bring about catastrophic flooding for that to occur. I repeatedly mention this fact to Georgians. Furthermore, I make sure that my friends here who are immigrating to Canada know that they will always have water and despite living in Calgary will always be warm in their home.

The lack of water seems to concern no one but me, which is disturbing itself. The fact that the people of Batumi accept that they should not have water because of rain is unnerving. In any civilized society, the people would have long ago rebelled to ensure that nothing like that would happen. The people would have demanded it. I keep thinking that the people in New York City at Occupy Wall Street have access to clean water. Hell, I have had access to clean, drinkable water in the middle of nowhere Utah when I have been camping! One can get clean, potable water at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! But in the second most important city in an entire county, I cannot be guaranteed that. Again, WTF?

If I were Georgian, I would demand water all the time before any more of the country's money goes to fund ridiculous and hideous architectural projects. (Frozen Fountain and Ministry of Justice I am thinking in your direction). To be a truly developed country, one needs water and power. (And in 2011, Internet all the time). Water, throughout civilization, has been a basic necessity to the survival of the culture. The Romans would probably laugh if they knew why I was currently without water. Moreover, from what I have heard this problem seems to have begun only since Georgia became independent and the Soviet Union fell. Hmmmm...curious. I have also heard from many people that life was better during the days of the USSR. This is probably one of the reason it was better because then they had water.

However, thinking about it, I am A TAXPAYER in this country. I should have just as much of a say as a citizen as to how the country's funds are used. Earlier this year a project was undertaken in Batumi to fix, as it was my understanding, the water and sewer systems. The project supposedly cost $75 million (funded of course with foreign money, from Germany I believe), and I have actually seen a considerable amount of work being done throughout Batumi allegedly connected to this. Last year the street that I currently live on was torn up for months while work was being done. Consequently, one would have thought that I would have water right now. But wait! That is logical! And this is Georgia. Silly Charlotte! Logic is for Americans!

Ultimately, Georgians have no one to blame but themselves. To let such a problem for on for 20 years while public money is being used to fund things not essential for life is unconscionable. Maybe I should start an Occupy Batumi to ensure that water is always available, regardless of weather, to the citizens of this city.

Thankfully the Sheraton always has water, and I am a Westerner who can pass for someone staying there. I can easily slip in and use the facilities there.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Relationships in Georgia

This is a topic I have been hesitant to write on for the last year, but now after some rather curious and insightful events into Georgian culture as it pertains to relationships, I feel the time is right. I am still not at expert level for this topic, but I’ve been a conscientious observer.

The Basics

In simplest terms, what is considered normal in America, can be construed very differently in Georgia. Seemingly benign behaviors from an American viewpoint will result in questions, looks, and confrontations from the host family. (More on that in a minute). In America, hanging out with the opposite sex is just that: hanging out. You go to movies, make dinner, whatever; it is harmless. In Georgia, from what I have been able to discern, that is more on the level of American dating. Here when they find out you are dating, the next question is: Rodis aris tqveni kortsili? (When is your wedding?) Consequently, dating here is like being engaged in the United States. Moreover, it appears (based on what I see at the university) that most of Georgia’s young people have to hide their relationships from their family or the public in general, as in Georgia everyone knows everyone and they like to talk. More than once I have walked by couples hiding in a small thicket of trees by the university to simply hold hands away from prying eyes. It is weird. They give me dirty looks for interrupting, but can I help that the path goes right by them? No.

Displays of Affection

Furthermore, displays of affection have very different meanings. In Springdale, hugs are freely given on the streets, at the library, at Sol Foods, it doesn’t matter. When we see our friends there, it is the most appropriate way to greet them. Here hugging is almost scandalous! Something which saddens me. With my close male friend here, sometimes we can hug; sometimes (depending on who is around) we have to shake hands, which I feel is rather awkward. It feels like we just got out of a business meeting instead of being friends. Last year some of the students I tutored came to me saying that they saw my friend (also their neighbor) kissing on the street. I was just as shocked by this as they were, and when I spoke to her about it she said she was simply holding hands. Apparently here handholding is like kissing. Wow…benign in America, scandalous here. I also find it odd that here it perfectly acceptable for two guys to walk arm in arm on the street, but a couple really isn’t supposed to do that. Curious.

Yesterday at the university during our lecture, I asked my students what winking means in Georgia. In America, we all know basically when to wink and it what contexts it is appropriate. I had previously been told that it is like waving. This person wasn’t Georgian, and according to my students she was very wrong as it means a guy is flirting with you. Great. They then got very excited at the prospect of a Georgian boyfriend for me. I didn’t mention to them that there are two guys who wink at me…a lot. Two guys I see on an almost daily basis.

Host Family Confrontations

While still living with host family #2, one morning they confronted me about my “boyfriend.” With my limited Georgian capabilities, I at first thought they were talking about the cats in the yard by the building because the word for cat and man in Georgian are pretty close. At this point I was thoroughly confused and I kept saying “I don’t know!” because at that point I couldn’t remember “I don’t understand!” Saying “I didn’t know” made them mad, to which they replied, “Shen itsi!” (You know!) Then I realized that they were talking about my close friend I mentioned previously. They thought we were dating because I went places in his car. Great. Between that, us hugging in the yard, and him walking over to meet me, the host family and the neighbours thought I had a boyfriend. Moreover, they were mad that he had not properly introduced himself. The whole confrontation was really awkward, and I felt unnecessary considering I am 31 years old and who I associate with was none of their business. Furthermore, explaining that he wasn’t my boyfriend, just my friend was made more difficult by the fact that the words “friend” and “boyfriend” in Georgian are the same. Eventually, I gave up trying to get them to believe that he wasn’t my boyfriend, and just said he was a “kai bitchi” (a good boy) from a “dzalian kai ojaki” (a very nice family). One morning I was even late for school due to trying to explain, yet again, that he wasn’t my boyfriend. When I apologized to my co-teacher, she was upset that the host family would pry into my life so much. It was refreshing to hear from a Georgian that it was none of their business.

While the whole supposed boyfriend fiasco was unfolding with Host Family #2, at school the same thing happened. I was using my laptop in the cafeteria one day, and one of the cleaning ladies saw the wallpaper on my screen. It was just a picture of a friend and I being silly in Rockville over the summer. She thought it was my boyfriend. She asked, and I replied, “Kho, chemi megobari.” (Yes, he is my friend.) Only after I said that did I realize what I said, and it was too late to take it back. Now she thinks I have a boyfriend in the United States, and every time she sees me she gives me this huge smile and a thumbs up. Oh well.

But the ideas about my supposed romantic relationships in Georgia do not end there. Upon moving to host family #3, the place I currently am living and which I love dearly, I was informed that the family thought when my close friend informed them that I was going to be moving in for the year that he had secretly gotten married. I am sure that the family is really suspicious of our friendship. Yesterday morning while working on a university project in my room in the morning, his mom came into check on us. It was like being back at BYU. This morning when we were headed out, one of the students from school saw us together…twice. I am sure I will hear about that on Monday at school.

It should be interesting to see what happens this year. One of my host brothers is taking very seriously the task of finding me a Georgian husband. He already believes that I would make a perfect Georgian housewife because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t carry on. Little does he know I would not be a Georgian wife who stays at home all day cooking, ironing, and cleaning. In his quest to find me a Georgian husband, he has enlisted the help of the owners of the business he works at. He works at the Adjarabet Casino in Batumi. I can only imagine what sort of guys casino owners will bring.

American Food Abroad

Living abroad means separation from all that is normal and routine in one’s life, a statement which is obvious. Things may be very similar, but yet not quite the same as one is accustomed to at home. However, until one has done it for an extended period of time, it is hard to convey how simple things from home can make one’s day. Often this involves food, especially if it is American, you’re American, and it is something impossible to buy in Georgia. While many of the same brands exist in Georgia, there is just something about it being from America in English-language packaging that makes it so appealing. Or the brands you know are here, but the product formulation is slightly different. For some reason I get really upset that blue M&M’s don’t exist here. It bothers me greatly. I recently discovered some imitation Chee-tos at the store made in Iran, that do a fair job, but still not quite the same. However, I would recommend that the American brand start to make chili flavored ones, like the Iranian company. Do I eat Chee-tos in the US? Absolutely not, but here they are a nice reminder of home. The irony of an Iranian product reminding me of America isn’t lost on me.

Moreover, American Food Excitement seems to always involve food you would not be seen eating in America, or would not admit to eating and/or liking. This is especially true with fast food. Do I eat at any fast food restaurant in the US? Very rarely. When I talk to my university students about the Burger King across the border in Turkey, they are shocked that I don’t eat fast food in America. They have the idea that all Americans eat fast food all the time. No, that is not the case, but a large portion of America eats it with stunning regularity. However, they are impressed when I tell them that the fries and milkshakes taste EXACTLY the same as they do in the United States. Last week when at the Kemal Pasa Burger King, I noticed the staff is still the same as it was when I last visited in April. Employee turnover at Turkish fast food establishments is shockingly low, compared to its American counterparts. Moreover, the guy there recognized me! It probably isn’t good to be recognized at a fast food establishment at a country you do not live in; however, how many blonde, American females living in the Batumi, Georgia area frequent that Burger King? Um, just one.

At the university, we now have another Peace Corps volunteer. Dave and I frequent the neighbourhood khatchapuri stand. One day Dave asked if I would like a Taco Bell Hot Sauce packet for my khatchapuri. Ummm…YES! Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I consumed anything from Taco Bell. I think it was while I was at university in 2003. I was sick for a lot of my last months of university, and for most of that time I had no appetite. When I was actually hungry, what did I eat? Nachos fromTaco Bell. I still find that fact rather unsettling. It was the only thing that appealed to me besides Cheez-It crackers and baby carrots. Having that hot sauce on my khatchapuri rocked my khatchapuri world! I will be going to Taco Bell to get hot sauce when I am back in the United States. That is not something I thought I would ever admit to. Last week another Peace Corps volunteer I know mentioned he had a Pop-Tart for breakfast, and I was envious. I never thought I would be envious over a preservative filled breakfast pastry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adventures in Overseas Laundry

Much like baking overseas, doing laundry has often been a struggle for me. This seems to be something many people living abroad for extended periods of time struggle with, especially if they are American. My cousin who lives in Norway does. She rants about it often to me. I never would have expected there to be laundry problems in an idyllic place as Norway.

In Georgia, I’ve had to deal with things I never thought possible in America, such as buying washing powder for machines versus hand washing. Or the fact that Tide is viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. My second host family wouldn’t let me use it. I even wrote the company about the image problem their product here has; I never received a response.

But while living with host family #2, adventures in overseas laundry went to a whole new level. It was here the “washing contraption” briefly (thankfully) entered my life. I use the word “contraption” because calling it a machine was very ambitious, and basically was glorified hand washing. As you can see it is a barrel with a maybe 1/100th horsepower motor in it. It smacked of the Soviet era. When describing it to my old host sister, she confided to me that her family had one until as recently as 2004 or 2005. Vaimee deda! The barrel had to be filled with water manually, and drained manually. There is a small dial on it giving you the option of either 2 or 4 minutes of extremely gentle, almost imperceptible, spinning. After the “spin” cycle, you had to manually rinse and wring out the clothes. I was not allowed to change the water between loads, so the water was so nasty after 3 loads of wash. I doubt my darks were even remotely clean by the end, and probably dirtier than before I started. The contraption simply created the illusion of clean. Washing my clothes in the manky water of Keyhole Canyon in Zion, even with a dead deer in it, probably would have resulted in cleaner clothes.

While doing laundry the one time I used it, I thought, “Writing a blog post about this isn’t going to result in a washing machine like in Israel.” When I was in Nazareth, I wrote about having to hand wash clothes. The owner of the inn where I worked somehow found my blog, read the post, and decided that a washer was a good idea. A week later a washing machine was in my apartment. The entire time I was doing laundry at the host family’s apartment, I kept telling myself that it was “character building.” However, I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. Now I have a delightful Russian language Samsung front-loading washer. I will be taking advantage of its cleaning capabilities tomorrow. After my recent experiences with laundry I will never again complain if I have to use a Laundromat. I will consider a great blessing.

Yet Another Host Family

The return to Georgia has suffered because the living situation has been, at best, tenuous. Friday I moved to my 3rd host family in just over a month. I do not intend on moving again until I return to the United States in either May or June.

The second family, well, it wasn’t working. There was a myriad of reasons, but largely they were not honoring their commitments as a host family. However, they still expected all the benefits of being a host family, such as money and free English lessons. It was hard to give them either when I would go 10 days at a time without being provided meals. I once tried to get a glass of water, and even that was not well received. When Georgians hear how this family treated me, they are ashamed and embarrassed, as hospitality in Georgia is highly regarded. This family did not have a usual Georgian last name. They may not even have been Georgian to begin with.

But I will not dwell on the past. I now live with an absolutely amazing host family, one that I chose. A few days after moving to host family #2, it became very apparent that things would not work there. At that time I was approached by a close friend in Batumi about moving to his parents’ home. It took a long time before I felt comfortable with the idea. I didn’t want it to impact our relationship. As things steadily worsened, the more a move to the Diasamidze house felt right. Moreover, considering how much I hated life and Georgia there, it became the only viable option. The entire family has welcomed me with open arms. I now have 2 older brothers, who look out for their younger sister, and parents who make sure I am eating. This morning as I was leaving for school, Tamazi, the host dad, asked if I ate. I said I did, which resulted in the reply, “Kai gogo.” (Good girl). I also have a wonderful host sister-in-law, and an absolutely adorable host niece, who is 7 months old. She cries less than the 7 and 10 year old boys in the previous host family. Much less.

And the host family has a washing machine! (The next blog post will talk about the washing contraption at host family #2’s house). When I first saw it, I touched it in literal disbelief about what I was seeing. Unless you have gone without a washing machine it is hard to articulate how having one is such a blessing. At least in America there are Laundromats. Here nothing like that exists.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back in the Former USSR

Returning to Georgia has been a curious, almost surreal experience. It is hard to articulate just what it has been like. The newness of arriving last year is gone. Looking back on my time in the United States over the summer, I did not realize just how quickly I acclimated to life there again, with the exception of grocery shopping. That was something I struggled with. In American stores it was hard to deal with all the premade, preservative filled nonsense that crowds the stores. After Georgia I just wanted ingredients or things made from what they should be, like bread. An ingredient list in Georgia would be about 5 items long for bread, but in the US it is like a paragraph.

However, since returning to Georgia I've been surprised at how I just slipped back into life here. I know much better than I thought what life is like here. I guess Georgian life has ingrained itself in me, and I now can easily move between the 2 worlds of America and Sakartvelo. Sure, something things still irritate me, like the lack of customer service in restaurants, especially after a summer of giving superb customer service in the restaurant where I worked. But mostly, I accept life here for what it is. Last year when I arrived, I came with all these idealistic notions about what I could accomplish, a sentiment held by many of my friends as well. We quickly realized that without things like electricity, chalk, or water many of these would not come to pass. Now I have a much more realistic viewpoint about what I can do. I am going to focus on the small successes and call it good. It took many months of contemplating my friend Zviad's advice that I am doing more than I know to actually accept that. I will do what I can, and I will call it good.

This year I am living in a flat, a new experience for sure. Despite being in Georgia only 10 days, I'm already in my second flat. The first one was with a great family, however, the guilt of my arrival displacing the mother to the sofa was hard to deal with. No one should have to give up their bed for me for an entire year. Yesterday I moved to a different, very large flat. I would say that it is decorated in the Soviet Splendor circa 1962: concrete, grey, and limited lighting. In it's day it was probably the type of flat that the proletariat would pine for. The family has 5 people, and so far I am not aware of displacing anyone. I've only met the Bebia (grandmother), as the rest of the family is in the village. She said that she never had a daughter so I will be her daughter. She said this about 5 minutes after meeting me. The location is about 500 feet from my school, which is good. My aunt and cousin were concerned that there would be no running water, but it does have that. Added bonus: I now live about 200 feet from my friend Zviad, which is good. He has many plans for our hanging out over the next year.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Georgia: The Upcoming Return

I apologize for the blog hiatus this summer, however, another year in Georgia begins on August 27th when I begin the 4 flight, 48 hour odyssey that will take me back to Batumi. Another year of learning, living, and loving commences then. Hopefully, there will be just as much if not more to write about this time around.

Despite my absence from Georgia, everyday someone asks about it and I think about it often. It really became apart of me more than I had realized. The same thing happened with Israel. I am actually looking forward to going back, but I need to remember that things will not be the same. That is something I struggled with when I returned to Zion this summer. Last month I lead the book discussion at the library on Dato Turashvili's Flight from USSR, and next week I get to give a presentation on Georgia for the community. People here seem more excited about it than I am. If anyone has suggestions on areas that I should cover, please let me know. I want to focus on what will interest people.

As for the past months in Zion, they can be summarized as follows:

  • Swimming
  • Working
  • Sleeping
  • Cleaning the pool
  • Baking
Of course, more then that happened, but you get the idea. My Israel travel journal remains undone, which is one of the top things I hoped to accomplish this summer. I have 3 weeks still, but in that time spending time with friends is the priority.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Back in Zion!

I am back in my favorite place in the world for the next 3 months: Zion National Park in Southern Utah. Monday while driving from Provo, perhaps one of my least favorite places in the world besides the Tel Aviv bus station which is like something from a Mad Max movie, I counted the miles I had to go before arriving home. I've spent most of the last 7.5 years in Springdale and Zion, a place I originally was only going to be for 9 months.

The weather has been unseasonably cool, which I cannot decide if that is good or bad. Good as it will keep my electricity bills down at the house I am living at (my only housing expense for the summer). It also makes hiking and early morning walks much more enjoyable. Bad because the water in the pool at my house is still too chilly to swim in.

Being back is also great as I get to reconnect with all the people who mean so much to me. My mom said that being in Springdale with me was like being with a celebrity because everyone was so excited to see me.

While in Springdale I will be working, at least 2 jobs. I am back to Simply Birkenstock and Zion Lodge, the place that brought me to Springdale in the first place. I will probably be helping as needed at a couple of other businesses as well, though those have yet to be finalized. Plus I have to keep up the house. Thankfully, I do not have to deal with the messy business of irrigation. Water in Springdale and Rockville can be a very touchy issue. In Southern Utah, you buy rights to water. If you go over your share, be prepared to pay an astronomical sum for your usage.

I'm off to read by the pool, and to deal with the mouse in my house. Good times.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back in the USA...Early!

Due to a flight mix-up I am already back in the United States for the summer. I found out Thursday evening that I would be leaving early Sunday morning. Vaimee deda! I had to leave on Saturday morning to ensure I would make it. Being back in the US is a little surreal. Leaving early has been good, however, I am going to miss out on some things with the school and the university.

Two weeks from today I arrive in Zion for the summer! Look forward to some posts about life and adventures in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How Canyoneering Prepared Me to Live in a Post-Soviet Country

You will often be cold and wet. Just deal. However, I must say that at least when canyoneering thanks to Kokotat drysuits, neoprene socks, and the 5.10 Canyoneer (a God-send) the coldness and wetness could be dealt with. I’ve been warmer hiking the Narrows when the water was 38 F, then when I walk to school here on the sidewalk. I will be bringing neoprene socks back with me for the next winter.

Cleanliness takes on a new definition, and is really just a state of mind. You and your clothes will never be completely clean, just less dirty.

Headlamps are always a good idea. You never know when the power will go out for extended periods of time.

Be prepared to say yes to anything. You never know what might happen.

You will need to learn a whole new vocabulary. If only in Georgia I had more chances to talk about Piranhas. Last week at the Batumi Tourism Expo I almost had tears in my eyes from seeing a Petzl GriGri.

Always wear something that says Zion Adventure Company. Especially if it is a black Marmot fleece jacket.

Layering clothes is essential. You can never have enough.

You will find creative solutions to everyday problems. I recently fixed my umbrella with dental floss…very MacGuyver.

People will think you are crazy even when you do things that you think are completely normal. For example, wearing sandals when it is in the 70s.

People not doing what you are doing will stare at everything you do. (Think the last rap in Mystery Canyon). Especially if you have blond hair, you’re American, and your name is Charlotte.

Toyota LandCruisers are the ideal vehicles. High-clearance, rugged, and you can buy one new in Tbilisi.

Have your permits in order and ready to go. Especially your visa to Turkey to get milkshakes at Burger King.

Use your safety devices to their fullest. This includes friends, expats, the US Embassy, the Burger King in Kemalpasa, the rare shipment of peanut butter to Goodwill, adaptor, cell phone, the internet, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and the coveted US passport.

You need to use route-finding skills to maneuver around the potholes, puddles and road construction.

Pack carefully. You can only bring so much.

Make sure you have a right shoe and a left shoe. Georgia is not the place to have to buy shoes as they are over-priced, ill-fitting, and horribly uncomfortable.

Wear or have protective gear with you at all times. This includes knee-high rubber boats, several pairs of socks, Kleenex, hand-soap, a few laris, quick-dry clothes, and an umbrella even on sunny days, etc.

You have greater capacity for growth and change then you ever could have imagined.

Always have bottled water on hand.

Space can be very limited. Personal space is non-existent and you will have less space than when you go through the end of Snake Alley. Or you will end up on a packed mini-bus with no ventilation in 100 F weather with 100% humidity.

Suggested times are just that. A suggestion. Be prepared for things to take a lot longer.

The correct footwear is essential. Stiletto heels on Batumi streets do not fall into that category.

Downclimb with care. This also applies to walking down the uneven stairs at school made from questionable Soviet-era concrete.

Always do your own research or use a trusted guide (aka Tom Jones’s Zion: Canyoneering). Georgians often will tell you very wrong information, such as you need a body guard to visit Mestia. Not true.

And, ultimately:

The first step is the hardest, and JDZ or Calvin or Rob or anyone else will not be there to encourage you. You simply have to do it by yourself.

Moreover, if I can successfully master the tricky and ancient art of using Turkish toilets, I can do anything in canyoneering.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Georgia: Year 2

After much deliberation, I have made the decision to return to Georgia for another year. Yes, me. This came after only a lot of deliberation. Many times I thought, “There is no way! I am done! And I cannot be done soon enough!” For me leaving the village and the village school has literally revolutionized my time in Georgia. Now I feel that my time isn’t being wasted like it was before. Village life was stifling, depressing, and uninspiring for me. Moving to Batumi has provided me with opportunities to growth both personally and professionally, and I’ve been able to build meaningful relationships with people that would have not happened otherwise. All of which helped to solidify my decision to return.

In February, I began to think about much I was enjoying my opportunities that came as a result of teaching at the University, that is pained me to think about leaving after just beginning with such a new project, one filled with great potential for both me and the students. My time at the university has reaffirmed to me that teaching at the university level is for me. Now I just need to get a PhD to help ensure that I can do that.

What is curious about me pursuing a PhD is that a lady in Springdale for years told me this is what I would do. Jean would tell me that I was a good teacher (this based on a class I taught infrequently at Church), and that I needed to go and get a PhD to teach at a university. She mentioned this over and over for years, and I would always think, “Okay, Jean, whatever.” But part of me wanted to pursue it, however, I never thought it would actually occur. Now it is. I have begun to look at PhD programs in tourism management or development. There is a program at the University of Leeds that looks especially interesting, as it focuses on Responsible Tourism Management.

I will head back to Springdale next month for the summer to rest and refresh myself for another year of living in Georgia. I also need to get a new passport and restock on supplies to make life here easier, like peanut butter and hot cocoa. I will return to Batumi in late August and begin teaching school in September. Once again I will be teaching both at the public school and the university. Today I was presented with yet another teaching opportunity at another university.

There is so much to look forward to: more suphras, more passport stamps, more unique opportunities for growth and development, and of course, more khatchapuri. How will I survive for 3 months in America without khatchapuri? Just fine, thank you. Currently I am on “khatchapuri hiatus.” It has been almost a week since I ate it. It needs to be several more.

Finally, with my return Georgians will have another year to find me a Georgian husband, since they have failed this year in that regard, but they also have not tried very hard. Last week while at my friend’s house, my friend, Gvantsa, sat me down, took my hand, and gave me a talk about getting married. She sincerely wanted to know my thoughts on having a Georgian husband. She said she that they will find me a husband who is handsome and clever. Um…okay, Gvantsa. I wanted to add that he needed to be ambitious, educated, must have spent time in the West, a non-smoker, a non-drinker (very unlikely here), and that there is only one person in Georgia I would consider dating.

The Face of Poverty: One that I Know

In the United States I have long lived a life very far removed from homelessness and poverty, both from a physical perspective and a social perspective. I was raised in an affluent community, attended a university with a high level of affluence, and then moved to Springdale, a community where a piece of land goes for USD$1 million and most people that work there have a hard time affording to live there.

Needless to say, my direct association with homelessness and poverty has been minimal. San Diego in April 2007 provided me one of my first real experiences with it. I met a young man with the cutest puppy ever begging for money. At first I just walked by, then my conscience got the better of me. I was off to spend $20.00 on a dinner without a second thought. I went back, gave him some money, then I refused the hug he wanted to give me to show his gratitude. My pride was too great. Over my subsequent days there, I looked for him around the neighborhood, but I never saw him again. This was also the trip when my friend Tim and I saw a homeless woman being told by 3 SD police officers she could not use the outdoor shower at the beach. She was simply trying to clean herself, to give herself some dignity, and I am sure that the SD police department had more pressing matters.

Since my arrival in Georgia, poverty is something I am much more cognizant of as it is everywhere: homes lack running water and flush toilets, one of my neighbors has an outhouse when I live in a mansion and their entire house is probably smaller than my bedroom and bathroom, Gypsies begging for money seemingly everywhere I go, etc., however, last Sunday my experience with poverty was something I never would have expected. As I was walking to my friend’s home I walked past the church across from her house. As usual, there were a few women begging. After walking by them, I sensed I was being followed. Great, just what I wanted. When I turned around, I saw just who was following me: one of my students. She was there begging with her mother. It was shocking to see. She recognized me, and that is why was following me. I said hello, and continued on my way. I was not sure what to do or how to respond to this. What is significant to note about this student is that she is one of the mentally handicapped students I work with.

The rest of the day I was unsettled by this event. I had no idea what to do or who to approach about this. In America, I would be legally obligated to report this to school authorities. In Georgia, well, things normal in America are unheard of here. The first person I asked about this said I should just forget about it. The second person, who works for the Adjaran government, said that I must say something to the school. When I did mention it to school officials, they sort of blew the situation off. I was informed that she had been given clothes and food in the past, and that in her family begging was a primary source of income. I got the impression that I by bringing this situation I was meddling in what has an accepted practice. But should panhandling ever be accepted? Moreover, after telling the school officials I felt as though they didn’t want to know then they would be accountable to do something about it.

Looking Back at My Arrival

Last night I spent some time looking over my journals since my arrival in Georgia, now more than 8 months ago. Rereading them has been an insightful event, as I can truly see just how far I have come since then, personally and professionally. Here are a few excerpts about my impressions regarding life in Georgia from the weeks following my arrival. I regret that my time during training is completely devoid of any mention in my journal. Ten days that my personal history is lacking, however, while at training in Kutaisi (I think it is Georgian for “depressing”), everyday was the same: hot, humid, dirty, and dreadful.

August 1st, 2010

I have arrived in Georgia it is a far cry from the life I left behind in Utah. Twice in less than 24 hours there have been questions about the alcohol content of Utah beers. In Amsterdam someone asked me if I had heard of Polygamy Porter. Of course! He goes on to say that his friend bought him one of the shirts…in Springdale.

Zion is never far away…

Leaving Springdale was difficult to say the least. A lot of tears were shed. Saying good-bye to Calvin was epic…finally I just had to walk away; Calvin’s Jewish rock climbing group would arrive shortly…On the way home from the post office I saw him drive-by. It was heart-wrenching. It was after 2 p.m.; I expected him to be long gone for the trip.

August 3rd, 2010

Arriving in Georgia was surreal, and in some ways it still is. [I can attest that even 8 months later life here can still be surreal at times.] Georgia looks a lot like California from a terrain stand point, except the hills are not covered in McMansions. Customs and passport control was so easy compared to Israel. They looked at my passport, stamped it, and said, “Nice smile.” I was done.

For 2 nights we stayed at the Barazeti Palace Hotel. We were the only people staying there, but a lot of people seemed to hang out. And it was the darkest hotel ever. They took energy conservation to a whole new level.

August 17th, 2010

So Georgian guys shave their armpits. It is weird.

August 22nd, 2010

Yesterday was another boring day at the office. I did venture out by myself, however, I bought fresh bread, but I was admonished for spending my money on the family. I also bought toilet paper and hand soap for the family. I have a sinking feeling I have I have mistakenly been using Grandmother’s food soap as hand soap for the past 2 weeks. I am trying not to think about it.

September 4th, 2010

That form of transportation [the marshut’ka] has to be one of the most dehumanizing forms of transport known to man. They pack people in like sardines, just sweating like hogs in the south in the summer. It is simply wretched…

Maybe the police station has a flush toilet that I can use as the school only has Turkish – drop a shot – toilets. Oh the indignity of it all! There is no way I will ever, ever use those toilets! It will be an exceedingly cold day in Hell before I will even consider it as an option. Plus the bathrooms are 1) filty and 2) lacking hand soap. Disgusting. When I first made this realization on Wednesday I made an audible gasp and ran out. Fortunately, school is only 6 hours long. I plan on just holding it the entire time if I have to.

September 9th, 2010

A man came towards me wearing, I kid you not, a shirt that said:

“Nauvoo – The City Beautiful”

It was a true “WTF?” moment. The guy saw me staring at him too. Seriously, how did that shirt get here? I doubt it came in a D.I. [Deseret Industries the Utah equivalent of Goodwill] shipment of humanitarian aid.

September 10th, 2010


September 15th, 2010

I just made a horrific discovery. The water in the bathroom sinks does not work. That is a major problem. If they want me to come back tomorrow that had best be fixed. Also there is no soap, so I had to bring some from home…I will not let anyone at this school touch me. The threat of disease is too great. Obviously, personal hygiene is not something taught in schools…Perhaps I can use the bathroom problems as a bargaining chip. I will teach an intro to English for teachers’ class, if there is running water and soap in the bathroom. I have high standards, sure, but organization and hygiene should be basic…or so I thought.

September 16th, 2010

Today Jilda was not at school. I did not know this until people asked me where she was. I saw her before I left. Well, it turns out that she didn’t go to school because Jaba hid her shoes and she didn’t want to wear sandals because “it was cold.” Seriously? I had Birkenstocks on this morning. My feet weren’t cold. When I questioned her about the legitimacy of such an excuse she then tried to make it better by saying that Grandma had a headache and was lonely. I get lonely, too, but I would never have someone skip school for that. What a bizarre country this is. It raises the question of just how important is education here? Very? Not at all? When it is convenient? Curious.

September 18th, 2010

I really do not need a lot to live on. I would rather have experience than possessions. The more I can get rid of the better. It is sad, but I am looking forward to going through the boxes at mom’s house of my things. Rid myself of even more things. When I purged so much in July it was this great feeling of freedom. Things I thought I needed, but really I did not. Things I held on to for years thinking I would need them or use them, but nope. The tennis rackets come to mind. It pains me to think about all the money I have spent over the years on things or eating out. Money that could have gone to travelling and new experiences.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Travel Journal

A major part of my travels and life abroad has been my travel journals. To understand why it is so important, some back story is needed.

In June 2009, my boss at the Birkenstock store in Springdale came in frantic after his drive up from Las Vegas earlier that day. He had run over a snake in Virgin, about 15 minutes down the road from Springdale. He asked if I would come with him to find said now very deceased snake in exchange for a dinner at Oscar’s, my favorite restaurant in Springdale. It took no convincing on Charlie’s part to get me to go. Dinner at Oscar’s? Guacamole at Oscar’s? Of course! We drove the entire town of Virgin twice and never found this mystery snake, but we did get to see a fire someone started at the side of the road. Nice! A fire during the summer in the desert next to dry brush. That doesn’t have bad written all over it or anything. On our drive back to Springdale Charlie said to me, “Charlotte…I see you writing.” Huh. Nothing like that had ever been said to me before. The next day I see a posting at Info Central in Springdale aka the Post Office about a class on travel journal writing. I was in, and since that time travel journal writing has become my writing outlet. I write daily, and when I don’t something is missing from my day.

The class turned out to be a book reading by Lavinia Spaulding, the author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler. I bought the book and begin reading it, and I took to heart a comment she made to me while we were chatting. She said to start keeping the journal before I leave, to record what happens leading up to the departure. At that point in time I still had not decided where I was going to spend my winter abroad. I had barely finished my MBA, and as my graduation present to myself I was going abroad for a couple of months. I was thinking of Australia, India, and Israel, where I eventually went. Because I had 6 months before I actually left, it is interesting to look back at how I felt and what I did in order to get ready to go. It is also interesting for me to read about the 3.5 weeks I had to prepare for my overseas move to Georgia.

As I read Spaulding’s book I learned a lot about what can truly be categorized as an art form; mine surely have become that for me. Travel journal writing represents you, and can go in any direction. Once I returned from Israel, I kept writing in this format. Now my travel journals include things like to do lists, my calendar, cards, magazine clippings, receipts, movie tickets, brochures, etc. anything associated to something significant. It even included the card I was given by NPS in Zion during a routine DUI check over 4th of July weekend last year. The ranger asked if I had been drinking, and my response was, “Yes…water.” I had to be truthful right?

My journal comes with me all the time and people often comment on my “scrapbook.” I quickly correct them, and let them know that it is NOT a scrapbook, despite the colors, papers, stickers, memorabilia, etc. inside it. After almost 11 years in Utah, the scrapbooking crowd is not one I want to get mixed up in, however, I will admit that sometimes I do buy scrapbooking supplies for the travel journal because they are acid free. But in no way is my travel journal a scrapbook.

After almost 2 years of travel journal writing, here are some things I’ve learned about it.

· It might become your most treasured souvenir. It truly represents you and the experience you had. When I came back from Israel, the TJs came on my carry on; they were too important to trust to checked luggage, no matter how good Air Canada is. This is going to be difficult when I return from Georgia, as I just started my 5th journal and I still have 3 months to go. That is going to be very heavy.

· Work on it daily. Before I would gather things to include in my journal about a trip and think I would deal with it later. I never did. Doing it in small manageable sections helps keep things in order and your memory of the events fresh. Working on it daily, it has the potential to become a meditative practice of sorts. In Israel, I thoroughly enjoyed and looked forward to my time I would spend at the Basilica of Annunciation garden in Nazareth every day. However, in Georgia I have not been as diligent as I would like to be. Despite my desire to work on it daily there are two major gaps since June 2009: Jerusalem in 2010 and being back in the United States over Christmas of 2010.

· Find a format that works for you. For me, I like the sturdy sketch pads with a soft, blank paper, hard black cover, and a wire binding. They are perfect for adding bits of memorabilia. I also like to use a variety of colored pens, and I only write on one side of the paper, leaving the other side blank to attach things to.

· Get others involved. I’ve not done this the best, but get others to write in your journal. My old host brother, Patara Jaba, LOVED the travel journal, especially putting stickers in it. I have a whole page of nothing but snowmen now sitting on clouds, which Jaba believed to be snow. Creative.

· Be creative. Simple but true. Add anything to make it your own. Even the mundane can be interesting. For example, I saved every bus ticket in Israel. They were in Hebrew after all. In Georgia, I save a lot of receipts and try to use my rudimentary Georgian to decipher what it is I bought. Some other things I’ve included are:

o Post cards

o Ticket stubs

o Receipts

o Business cards

o Brochures

o Labels

o Photos

o Boarding passes

o Maps

· Remember you do have something to say, whether good or bad. Abroad what can be considered mundane in the US or wherever home may be could be an exciting adventure abroad, so write about it. For me grocery shopping abroad is a great experience; you never know what you may find. But in the US, I try to do it as little as possible. Moreover, my early journals in Georgia are filled with pages of how much I was struggling and questioning my decision to come. Now I have the capability to look back at that time with a lot more knowledge and perspective with the ability to learn from it. Travel isn’t always happy and rosy, so there is no need to hide the truth. Tell it like it is. When I was in Israel, I think I made things out to be better than they were. My fear of riding buses, sitting next to military personal, border crossings, bag checks, etc., was significantly downplayed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

University Teaching: Part II

My opportunity to teach at Batumi State University has been amazing. I love every second of it! Having this opportunity has been a great blessing, and has allowed me to meet some amazing people. It has me even thinking about pursuing a PhD in Tourism Management. I found a program in England that focuses on responsible tourism management. Hmmm. My participation at the University has me considering coming back to Georgia for another year. However, a couple of times I have wanted to say to the students, all adults, that my first graders listen better than you do.

In a previous post today I said my translator wasn't cool. He is really cool, it was just not cool of him to mention Michael Jackson. Zviad is great at what he does, especially since some of the business topics are rather difficult to discuss in English, let a lone Georgian.

"Charlotte...Why Aren't You Married?"

I've lost count how many times that question has been asked of me since I arrived in Georgia.

Being a single woman (and gasp! 30) in Georgia has meant that I hear this comment a lot. The fact I am husband-less is perplexing to them. People seem genuinely concerned that I am not married, and some have offered to set me up with people. Fortunately, nothing occurred past them suggesting that they have someone for me. I've had lectures from teachers and students about this. At my first school, an 11th grade boy was lecturing me on 1) my lack of a husband and 2) the fact I did not have a wedding dress. His response to both was, "Charlotte...that is very bad." Well, Tengo, I am not going to buy a wedding dress if I do not have someone to marry. Moreover, I was not going to bring one to Georgia in the off-chance that I would meet someone here. Just think of the space that would take up in my checked baggage, Tengo.

To avoid the awkwardness of my single status I use the response, "In America, we get married older." (Except in Utah, where I am also a social oddity due to my lack of a suppose and my "advanced" age). This response (fortunately) seems to appease them. However, whenever I meet a new class my marital status is always one of the first 3 questions they ask. The questions are:

  • "Where are you from?": To this I say Las Vegas, a fact which impresses them greatly. (It makes me cringe considering how much I dislike Las Vegas, but at least they have heard of it). Then I go onto say that I live in a village in the mountains outside of Las Vegas. I always say village because Georgians love visiting the village and each has an affinity for the village their family is from or lives in.
  • "How old are you?": I always have them guess at this one. Usually I am 23 or 24 to them. They seemed shocked when I say, "Otsdaati." (30).
  • "Are you married?"
The lectures from the teachers are the same. All feel that I need a Georgian husband, and that when I return to the US, this needs to be a top priority. I love the freedom I have, but having a guy to share the journey with would be cool. The other day I was invited to have coffee, fruit and hazelnuts with my host mom, Bebia, one of the neighbors, and some assorted female relatives. Of course the marriage question came up from some of them I had not met before. In my broken Georgian I said:

"Chemi mastisabeli inglisurad skolashi laparket, 'Charlotte...shen unda kamari kartuli.'" ("My teachers at school say, 'Charlotte you need a Georgian husband'"). When I said this all of them nodded in agreement without looking up from their coffees, as if to say that this was the wisest thing they had ever heard. Fortunately, no one mentioned any potential suitors for me. I appreciate their concern. But who knows? Maybe they will get their wish and I will marry a Georgian man. Unlikely, but one never knows.

Michael Jackson in Georgia

Since my arrival, I've been somewhat perplexed by the popularity (for lack of a better word) of Michael Jackson in Georgia. I'm not sure what to make of it, but he definitely is in the forefront of Georgian consciousness in way not seen in America. Being American, MJ has not been a part of my life for a long time, since about 1994 when all the scandals began. It is as though that part of his life never made it beyond the borders of the United States. However, I do have 1 song of his on my laptop: "Smooth Criminal."

My first encounter with Michael Jackson in Georgia came while riding down Rustaveli Avenue in Batumi in the family's Mercedes Benz SUV. My first host dad was in real estate and construction and was driving tell me what new hotels were going where. Then out of nowhere he says something which one of the cousins translated as the following:

"Charlotte, uncle wants to know if people in America think that Michael Jackson is really dead or if he is still alive."

'What...?' I thought, 'Is this serious?' It was. I had to try hard not to laugh, but everyone was looking at me waiting for a response. "Oh no! Everyone knows he is dead, but some people believe Elvis is alive." This answer seemed to satisfy host dad's curiosity, and he immediately resumed his discussion on Batumi construction and development.

MJ has been mentioned several times since then, and each time I am perplexed by the type of questions I am asked and the context in which these questions are asked. Often there is no reason that MJ should come up in conversation! He just does! Recently my translator from the University drove me home after our class. When he saw the neighbor’s house (which is even bigger than my house) he said, “Wow…does Michael Jackson live there?” I know he was joking, but part of me died. I thought my translator was cool, and could at least name a better celebrity. No, he used MJ as his go-to celebrity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Packing for Overseas Travel & Living

Me at the Batumi Sheraton with a car that had a MINNESOTA license plate, and my Mountain Smith backpack.

Travel, regardless of the distance, requires packing. Whether you pack a simple lunch and some water to hike the Observation Point Trail in Zion or fill a 50-liter backpack for a yearlong worldwide trek, we bring essentials (and often a few luxuries) to meet our needs. Increasingly, airline regulations and fees make packing an even more challenging endeavor, forcing decisions and prioritization regarding what can and cannot come. No wonder packing is something that most travelers seem to wait until the last minute to do… And in that haste, packing becomes even more difficult.

Articles and tips abound about how to become a savvy packer. Tips range from painfully obvious to extremely creative; regardless, few tips are one-size-fits-all. Often, intriguing packing tips never actually get implemented into one’s packing, especially during the frantic rush to close the suitcase. Or one might read the suggestions with skepticism, seriously questioning whether x or y recommendation will work for their specific needs.

My quest to become a savvy packer started when I realized I simply packed too much, and I only used a fraction of what I actually brought. Things I never used or wore at home came along with me on distant journeys, with the pretense that I just might need them there. (This was a common line of thought for numerous years of summer camp and college.) Truth be told, if I didn’t use it at home, I would never use it while traveling, either. Consequently, in seeking to improve my packing technique, I turned to outside sources for assistance. Though I regarded much advice with a healthy dose of skepticism, I slowly began trying new things, some of which worked well and have become a permanent part of my packing repertoire. All the advice below comes from my personal experience, having spent 5 of the last 10 months or so living and working abroad, gradually refining my packing technique.

As I am living out of a backpack, a suitcase, and a duffle bag until June, here are some things I have learned:

  • Research item availability and prices before you go. Last year when I spent two months in Israel, I decided I would buy shampoo, soap, and toothpaste there, instead of going overweight and having to pay fees for my heavy bag. Unfortunately, I quickly learned Israel was much more expensive than I anticipated, making the cost of purchasing those items more than what I would have spent on the overweight baggage fee. Also, many commonplace items may not exist or have equivalents in certain places. The one-stop-shopping stores that dominate American shopping, such as Wal-Mart or Target, often do not exist, making finding needed items a time-consuming task.

  • Multi-tasking products are essential. My favorite multi-tasking product is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Highly concentrated, great scents (I like the citrus), and multiple uses (shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, and laundry soap) make it a great space and weight saving item. Plus you can easily meet 3-1-1 rules with it.

  • Bring a Nalgene. In many countries, tap water is potable and can be consumed without hesitation. Consequently, fill up before you head out for the day. Also, Nalgenes or any other hard plastic water bottle makes a great place to store small, breakable items in a suitcase for the return trip. If only I had thought of that before I returned from Mexico!

  • Bring a journal. Have something with you to keep a written record of your travels - the people you meet, the foods you eat, the chaos at the border, the sights you see, etc. While you might cringe at the initial weight of a journal in your pack, it pales in comparison to what it will contain by the end. I recently started my 5th journal chronicalling my time in Georgia.

  • Choose fabrics wisely. The fabric qualities of packed clothing can make or break a trip. Unfortunately, fabrics that excel in some environments perform poorly in others. For example, my quick-dry shirts are amazing in the desert. In the sub-tropical, humid climate that is the Black Sea coast of Georgia, not so much.

  • Pack some postcards from home. During my travels abroad, people routinely ask me about where I am from. I pack a stack of Zion National Park postcards to show people what my adopted home is like. They are amazed a place like Zion exists. In Israel, many people were shocked to learn that there is “another” Zion in the world. While in Georgia (the country, not the state), the postcards helped to ease the tension during a visit to my home by the local police. (It’s a long story, and no I was not in trouble, they were just checking up on the American in their village).

  • American measuring cups and spoons. While in Israel I did a lot of baking, and trying to bake American recipes made without being measured exactly made for some interesting outcomes. Though mostly good, it was a good lesson to bring them for future extended overseas trips. For $2.00 I got an 8 piece set that weighs next to nothing. It came in very handy for the brownies I made for Halloween.

Ultimately, packing is an art form, and is unique to each person. Take suggestions and advice and make the necessary changes to make them your own. Most importantly, however, learn from your packing mistakes. It sounds simple, but it’s true. What worked for one trip, may not work for another destination.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Me the International University Lecturer

Last September while perusing the cookies at Goodwill, the Western grocery store in Batumi, I heard something that I had not heard in a while: American English from people I did not know. I had to stop and listen to make sure I heard correctly. I did, and it was then that I met a couple from Las Vegas in Batumi with the Peace Corps, who just happen to visit Zion a lot. Because of that chance meeting, I am now: Charlotte Vaillancourt, international lecturer.

In December, Kathy of the PC couple asked if I might be interested in helping with the new travel and tourism management program at the Batumi Business School and Shota Rustaveli University on a volunteer basis. Sure? Why not? I initially thought I would simply be helping write curriculum and making suggestions for courses and course work. Teaching was not on my radar as I already did that 5 days a week. However, teaching soon became a part of it. Monday night was the first night of lectures for this new program, and I had the honor of giving the first lecture. This week I am speaking on Corporate Identity and branding; next week is PR and Marketing and the Basics of Tour Operations. Fun!

Despite not being nervous about public speaking, I was apprehensive about the lecture. This was the first time I had taught a university course that required translation. (When I taught classes for Church in Israel, they were translated, so it wasn’t the first time I had worked with a translator). I wondered if I could explain things in such a way that 1) the translator could understand and 2) could be translated in such a way that the students would understand. The evening went very well, I must say. I even got a “Kai gogo” (good girl) from the business school director. On Tuesday evening there was one topic that the translator had trouble with: recycling. Recycling doesn't exist in Georgia, a fact that pains me every time I get something in a glass or plastic bottle from a restaurant.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, and that lecture and experience made me realize something. Teaching at the university or college level is what I want to be doing. I think more than anything; however, I am still torn about if I want to continue pursuing English teaching or business/travel and tourism teaching. Both are big areas, which will need qualified teachers. Yesterday I began researching PhD programs; however, that is still a few years away. I need to save up enough money to pay for it in cash first, just like with my undergraduate and graduate degrees. There is a cool TESOL program in my beloved Israel that sounds good should I choose that route, and there are plenty of business programs worldwide. Whatever I decide to do, I want to do the program abroad. I regret not doing study abroad while I was an undergraduate student. If there was one reason to have taken out a student loan, it would have been for that and only that.

A Humbling Teaching Moment

Perhaps the most humbling teaching moment during my months in Georgia occurred today my time with the 4th grade class. The story needs to be prefaced with the following. Unlike in the US, in Georgia, students with mental or cognitive disabilities or delays usually are not in the public schools. Mainstreaming, as Americans know it, is rare to non-existent here. However, at my school, we have 35 students with varying mental and learning disabilities. Most attend classes together, but several, mostly younger students, are integrated into the classroom with their peers for part or all of the day. This is an amazing thing in Georgia, as when we arrived we were told that children with such handicaps would not be a part of the school, and that most parents would not want their child in a class with such students. I was shocked to hear this, and I am sure it did not sit well with many of my fellow teachers. It is just so not what we are accustomed to in the United States. On the show Glee, one of the characters, Sue Sylvester, uses the word “handicapable” when she talks about her sister with Downs Syndrome. I like that a lot. More people should adopt that.

In 4th grade, one of the integrated students, as they are known at the school, is with his class. I’ve had a soft spot for Gio since my first day in his class, when he repeatedly tried to introduce himself in English to me. Today while the students read about Giorgi eating ice cream, I could see that Gio was getting impatient. He needed something to redirect his attention. As the other was helping the other students, I sat by Gio and we worked on simply writing the letters “L” and “J”. Immediately, he became focused on the task at hand. His handwriting was much neater than many Americans’ I have seen, that is for sure. Soon we began reviewing words from his book, which he knew. It was hard to hold back the tears, especially knowing that so many other children like him were never given such opportunities to learn, or let alone excel at their level. Gio continued to impress me with just how much he did know, and at one point he turned around to tell one of the other students to be quiet and not to give him the answer. It was great. Being able to help teach Gio is a great blessing; I wish I had the opportunity to be in the class everyday to get to work with him more. I hope that his presence in the classroom will help to give other students likes him the same opportunity and help to change attitudes throughout the country.