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.