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.