Monday, December 10, 2012

How Georgia Prepared Me to Live in the United States

When I arrived in Georgia as part of the now legendary TLG Group 1, there was no precedent and little information to go on to prepare for life there, simply a lot of misconstrued assumptions. I remember thinking how short the Wikipedia entry was on Batumi, and the possible implications that could bring. However, in the short time I had to prepare for my initial departure to Georgia, I didn’t have much time to contemplate the content of Wikipedia entries or the images of Batumi and Adjara on Google Images. Had more information existed then as it does for recent TLG arrivals I probably would have easily talked myself out of going at all.

Perhaps the best preparation for my life in Batumi and Georgia came from the most unlikely of sources: canyoneering. Canyoneering involves rappelling into slot canyons then slowly crawling, climbing, or swimming your way out. The life and work I left behind involved the red rock slot canyons and sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park in Southern Utah, one of the premier destinations in the world for this sport,. At the end of my first year in Georgia, I wrote a blog post titled How Canyoneering Prepared Me to Live in a Post-Soviet Country ( As I reflected on the lessons I learned canyoneering in Zion and the surrounding area, it was curious how the experiences prepared me to live on the Black Sea Coast and in Georgia. For example, canyoneering requires a lot of route finding around obstacles which can include debris and dead animal filled waterholes, boulders, logs, etc. In Batumi, route finding is required to navigate the streets to successfully avoid marshutkas, puddles that rival Minnesota lakes in size, Gypsy children, etc.

Though I left Georgia six months ago today, it has taken me this long to begin process my time there. This was the second year where my flight was changed at the last minute, forcing me to leave without proper good-byes. (In the future I will expound upon this.) As I write this from the shadows of Deer Trap Mountain in Zion National Park, part of me feels that my time in Georgia is incomplete, that my time there is unfinished. My original plan was to return in January, but a promotion to a rare year-round employment position in Zion will have me in the United States instead. Also the recent "elections" (the quotes are intentional) leave some serious concerns about the political stability of the country and the future of the TLG program. Apparently I would have a job to return to at the University, but who knows how likely that is. However, as canyoneering prepared me to live in Georgia, Georgia has prepared me to better live in the United States.

The life lessons learned in Georgia that have improved and impacted my way of life in the United States include:

Elliptical machines are our friends. Before I joined the gym at the Radisson Batumi, I would have never considered the elliptical machine as a friend, yet it became my go-to piece of workout equipment. I was overjoyed to discover the employee gym in Zion had two, though right now after a 6 month elliptical hiatus, the elliptical machines seems to be a little more like a foe than a friend considering the pain I am in.

Buy ingredients, make food. This was a lesson I first learned in Israel, but it was reiterated every day for two years in Georgia. I love how the shopping was done almost daily to buy fresh ingredients that were used to create food. I struggle grocery shopping now because there are so few ingredients. Or the most commonly used ingredients is high-fructose corn syrup. The weekly visits to the local farmer’s market for produce and locally produced goat cheese were a highlight this summer in Springdale. Shopping there afforded me the opportunity to buy locally produced and fresh products like the ones I became accustom to in Georgia. How sad it is that so many Americans don’t understand what food should really taste like because they buy an engineered version of it.

Be prepared to drop plans at any time. This was something I have always struggled with regardless of where I am. I am a planner, and dislike surprises to ruin my schedule. When I first arrived in Georgia, I hated the lack of planning, and it took a lot of time for me to work past that. However, by saying “დიახ” (yes) I was afforded some of my most treasured memories and relationships from my time in Georgia. Too often I find myself saying; “Well, let me check my calendar…”back in the United States. A sad fact indeed.

Use cash, not credit. For years I was set on maximizing my frequent flier miles from my American Express card, and felt that cash was an outdated and cumbersome method of payment. Then I read an article about how many millionaires and billionaires use cash exclusively. Curious, I thought. After two years in Georgia, my life is cash based with a couple of exceptions (gas and cell phone). I spend only what I have on me, and I spend much less than I did before, which happily means more money for travel. However, I do appreciate how businesses here have change on hand, though I wish more Springdale businesses would take Amex. (Sol Foods and ZO I am thinking in your directions).

Always be as hospitable to people as people were to you in Georgia. Living in a major tourist destination I have the opportunity every day to meet people from around the world and share with them the place I was blessed to live in. As I learned in Georgia it doesn't take much to increase the level of hospitality shown. Here recommending a hike or a restaurant or simply engaging people in conversation can truly change the course of someone’s time here. Recently I randomly met a guy here who had been to Georgia. And to Batumi no less! And we were both there at the same time. Because of the Georgia connection we were able to start a great friendship. He, too, remembered with great fondness the warmth and hospitality shown to him during his time in Georgia. Using the lessons of hospitality I learned from being the recipient of it daily in Georgia, I helped in a small way to make Zion a memorable part of the trip for him and his friend from France. It was humbling to realize just how little it took on my part to do that. I was almost embarrassed by the sincere gratitude they displayed. Even though I was teaching tourism students in Batumi when I completed my time with TLG, I think I was the one who learned the most about how hospitality and tourism work together.

When I Skype with my host family the first question is always when am I returning to Batumi and followed by if I am married yet. While I am unsure as to when I will return, Georgia is and will always be a part of me. Two years there shaped me in countless ways, and I cannot easily forget the time I spent there, the things I experienced, or the lessons learned as they have been ingrained within me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My! Don't You Look Clean!

Bathing in Georgia for teachers varies widely. Depending on the location, whether or not there is water, the weather, and a myriad of other factors, most Westerners here don't bathe nearly the amount they do at home. Some people bathe perhaps once a week. Last fall I heard tales of teachers having to trek into Tbilisi to bathe as their villages were to be without water for 5 to 6 weeks. Considering the hysteria I experienced after 31 hours without water, I cannot fathom what weeks would be like.Reading the blogs of other volunteers makes me grateful that I do not fall into this category.

However, recent comments by other teachers make me wonder if they do not view me as committed to cultural integration because of how frequently I get to shower. Over the weekend I saw someone for the first time in quite a while. He exclaimed, "My! Don't you look all shiny and clean!" Why, yes. Thank you for noticing. I've just come from the Radisson where I enjoyed the gym, the yoga room, and a hot shower.

Apparently, word is getting out that I shower everyday. In the United States word would only get out if you didn't shower every day.Part of me feels guilty, and readily acknowledges that yes it is decadent and Western. But part of me isn't ashamed either. I manage my money well, and not drinking allows for a lot of laris in the bank. The ability to shower is just a benefit that comes with working out. (It should be noticed I only get to shower if I work out first; consequently, there is a considerable amount of incentive to work out).

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, me being clean is something I can control. Living in Georgia, there is little I feel I can directly control about my life here. For example, things constantly change at the University and I don't even get to choose what I often have for my meals at home. Life here can be quite chaotic, and so much of how I live or what happens to me is dictated by forces beyond my control, like culture and historical precedent. My level of cleanliness is something I can control in Batumi, and being clean helps to create some semblance of normalcy for me.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tbilisi: The Business Trip

In my years in the business world, I have only taken business trips to places the vast majority of people 1) will never go on a business trip to or 2) will never visit period. The 3 places that come to mind first are: Death Valley National Park, California; Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah; and Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

My host brother arranged his business trip for the Government of Adjara for the same days I would be gone; consequently, we got to road trip (actually train trip) together. The ride was uneventful, and in that this would only happen in Georgia way, we ended up seated across from his best friend's wife. Good times. It was mildly horrifying to wake up from my nap to seeing a Jon Malkovich movie being watched by my host brother on his laptop. Jon, along with Willem DaFoe and Christopher Walken, really unnerve me.

Back to Tbilisi. Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, a city that has over 25% of the entire country's residents and is built along a river in a valley, making it only 5 km wide, but 45 km long. It is a maze of streets built onto hillsides with beautiful and distinctive architecture in some areas to the cold, utilitarian apartments from Soviet times for the proletariat in others. This trip finally made me a fan of Tbilisi. If the Soviets got one thing right in 70 years of rule, it was putting in a subway system. It remains unclear to me why my host brother hates it so much.Until now Tbilisi was just a burden for me, as I am only allowed to fly in and out of that airport for work, despite the fact there is an international airport 3 km down the road from my house. Not like I am bitter about this or anything. Also, the prospect of a long train ride or a mini-bus ride just to visit was less then appealing as well. It is much more appealing to ride for 30 minutes to the boarder and visit Turkey because that means passport stamps and a visit to Burger King. Plus I can do that in less time then it takes to get half-way to Tbilisi.

The visit to Tbilisi was to discuss and meet with the other bloggers involved with the recently begun Guest Blogger project for the official TLG blog. It was interesting to meet the other bloggers, as many of them had only been in the country a few weeks. As a veteran of Group #1, I can honestly (and quite proudly) say that only 2 people have been with TLG longer than me. The recent arrivals have come to a much differ TLG than I knew at the start. They have precedent and others to turn to for advice besides the program; my group just had a lot of faith and not much else. We quickly learned to fend for ourselves out in the wilds of Adjara and Batumi, as TLG was 6-9 hours away depending on the mode of transportation. Moreover, part of me hopes I never came off to others the way some of the recently arrived teachers did yesterday at a bookstore in Tbilisi. I have no idea who they were, but all they did was complain about everything. It was obnoxious and disheartening, as by doing so they were setting themselves up on missing out on a lot. Unfortunately, I probably did the same in 2010 as well.

The highlight of the meetings was having breakfast with Dmitri Shaskini, Minister of Education, yesterday at the Marriott. He was impressed that I lived in the mountains outside of Las Vegas. Here Las Vegas has some sort of mythic quality, like it isn't real, something more akin to Middle Earth. Then the program director told him I had been here since the beginning, which won me more points it seemed. Finally, I think I shocked him and several others when I asked him the question I had been wanting to ask since he came to Batumi last year for a discussion:

"Do you think stronger management or stronger leadership is needed to create sustainable change in the education system?"

Or something like that. The example he gave was good, and as one is liable to argue, illustrates how both are needed to be successful. It is a balancing act that must be carefully orchestrated.

The breakfast buffet spread at the Marriott was amazing! When seeing the selection of Kellogg's breakfast cereals available to choose from, I was momentarily left speechless. Ironically, the Marriott breakfast buffet also had the worst khatchpuri I had ever had. Good khatchpuri has to be made in some little shack on the street with questionable levels of cleanliness or lovingly in a home. Not in an industrial kitchen. Also, the French toast was an epic fail.

After breakfast, I met with a couple from California I've gotten to know. We spent the day seeing sights that I had never seen before. After, I met up with my good friend Tom, who is also from Group #1. He used to live nearby, but sadly is in Tbilisi now. We chatted and walked up and down Rustaveli Street, until it was time to meet with Dato Turashvili. Back in November 2010, I wrote a post about accidentally meeting the famous and best-selling author (after JK Rowling) in Georgia. After that chance meeting, he made my friend and I promise that we would meet up with him whenever we were in Tbilisi. Tom had read Dato's most famous book, and was excited to be able to tell his 12th grade class about actually meeting him, as the students are currently studying the book at school. My freshman English class will soon be doing the same. Upon leaving the coffee shop we always meet at, Dato hurried a head. It was fun to see Georgians recognize him, and to see their faces light up at seeing someone so famous, by Georgian standards.

The last portion of the trip was perhaps the most trying of the 3 days: the night train back to Batumi. Until Georgia, my whole idea about train travel had come from Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, a movie about train travel in India. (Highly idealized train travel it should be noted). Georgian Railways doesn't even come close to this, and any trip involving train travel in Georgian is a huge adventure. On Sunday afternoon, my host brother, his work colleague and I were finally able to buy our return tickets. For the following several hours, my host brother kept talking excitedly about who the 4th person in our small compartment might be. He wanted, in his words, "a hot woman." Sadly, that was not meant to be for him.

Instead, we got Marcel from Dmanisi. (Dmanisi may sound familiar as it is the place where the really old humanoid skeleton was found, Dmanisi Man.) Marcel was at least 4 inches shorter then me, appeared to be mid-fifties, but was really only 34, and almost instantly began telling my host brother and his colleague about his intense liking of me and how he wanted to marry me. This was hilarious for my host brother, who kept winking at me, however, it was awkward/horrifying for me. It remained unclear as to why Marcel was going to Batumi. At times it was translated as he was going on vacation. At others, more disturbingly, it was translated that he was moving here and working on Chavchavadze Street, which is the street merges into my street. I'm hoping for the first option.

The Radisson Blu Hotel Spa

Not drinking in Georgia allows one to save loads of lari, the local currency. Consequently, I decided to splurge on something for myself to make this winter more bearable: A membership at the Radisson Blu Hotel Spa. To put it mildly it is one of the best things I could have done for myself and perhaps more importantly, my sanity.

Winter in Batumi can be a rather trying time. Days of incessent rain can easily bring the most upbeat people into a funk that never seems to end. Loyal readers will know that I struggle with this, especially coming from a desert, where rain is seldom, humidity rarer, and the sun is almost always shining. However, this year knowing that every morning my day starts with a visit to the Radisson has dramatically changed my life. People have noticed and commented. Well, it does do wonders to have access to endless amounts of hot water on a daily basis, a rarity in Georgia. Decadent, true, but totally worth it. As I post on Facebook last week in a post-soviet country the only motivation you need to work out is the prospect of being warm and having hot water. If it were only so simple in the USA.

My time at the spa is divided among swimming and the gym. I recently made the discovery that I like, no love, the elliptical machine, of all things. It is shocking to me as well. I put my headphones on, watch CNN or Al-Jezera and try daily to beat my distance and calories burned for the prior day. After a month of visiting the Radisson, I had been feeling bad that the scale said a loss of only 6 pounds. It seemed odd that it would be that low considering how loose my clothes are getting. Yet, in the past two days 3 different people have commented. Tonight host brother #2 said that "'re kilos are flying away." Thanks Lasha. I appreciate that. But there are still many more kilos to make fly away in the next 2 months.

As it is the off-season for tourism in Batumi, rarely are there other people there. However, on last Saturday there were approximately 6 people using the facilities. I must admit it felt rather crowded. Most days it is empty save for me, my host brother, and our university colleague. At times this can be awkward, very awkward. Case in point, a couple of weeks ago I ran into my host brother in the steam room. Um...yeah. I was greeted warmly with "Charlottenburg!" (My nickname, which I've noticed that he has started introducing me with to people and these people think that it is my real name. Charlottenburg is a part of Berlin, his dream city.) My heart sank, as this was one person I never wanted to see at the Radisson ever. "Oh...hey there." I hate being seen in my bathing suit unless I know I will never see those people again in my life. My host brother I see on a daily basis. Despite being wrapped in a thick terry cloth towel, I felt woefully under dressed. It got more awkward when our colleague shows up and invites us for a visit to the sauna. There I sat between two partially clothed men I see on a daily basis, and know well. Fortunately, the sauna looks out at the Batumi skyline. Enough said.

Until that "encounter" my host brother and I had set up a schedule of using the Radisson. We actually told one another that since so much of our lives are spent together, we need time apart. It was agreed that I would go in the mornings, and him in the evenings. This worked for awhile. Now we both go in the mornings, with the unspoken understanding that we don't really talk to each other. It works well. But, I will say that the day of the steam room encounter I was there at my scheduled time; my host brother wasn't.

A lot of the initial awkwardness of seeing my host brother and colleague at the spa has gone away. Today for example we had a discussion about work outside the sauna. No one seemed to care that we were not even dressed in business casual, and that we all had flip flops on. I'm sure that after my swim this morning, I looked awesome.

Friday, February 10, 2012

TLG Blog Contributor

Beginning this month I will be an official contributor to the Teach and Learn with Georgia blog. Last month I received an email asking me to apply based on what the committee had read here. (I must admit knowing they had read my blog was a little creepy). When one of my entries is posted, I will put a link here.

My first post will be on my one successful attempt at baking in Georgia: Apple Crisp. My house now has a functioning oven, and I am hoping to recreate the same results on Sunday for a suphra.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Adventures in Overseas Laundry: The Winter Edition

Laundry overseas is interesting to say the least. Now in Batumi it is made even more so by the fact winter has descended on the area. Doing laundry in the winter in Batumi requires 4 primary things for success:

  1. Planning
  2. Patience
  3. Pain
  4. Good weather

This is the first aspect of successful laundry during the winter in Georgia. One needs to ensure that several days can be set aside for the clothes to dry, yet still have enough clothes to wear during those days. Without the luxury of clothes dryers, I dry my clothes outside despite the humid weather and wet conditions. Fortunately, at my house there is a covered and partially enclosed porch which helps to keep the weather at bay, which allows for faster drying. Whenever I do laundry I assess what is crucial to wash first, meaning which will take the longest to dry. I have one sweater here that I love, but I hesitate to wear it because the last time I washed it, it took about 5 days to dry.

As much as I hate to, I have no choice but to wear things more than once, a fact that has probably hastened the destruction of my clothes after living here. Much of my overseas wardrobe is comprised of items from the Old Navy clearance rack, simply so that if they are destroyed I haven't lost much. Over the holidays, my mom saw one of my old white shirts from Georgia versus a new one. She was shocked at how the old one had taken on a silver-grey colour. "Is that from living there?" she asked. All I could do was nod. I should probably change my bed linens, but I am concerned about being without even one of my blankets during this cold time of the year.


Drying in humid weather takes a long time...days. Consequently, I might have to wear my less desirable clothes until things are dry, such as today. Today I have to wear my light grey jeans, which I am not that fond of because the others are needed for work or are in the process of drying.

Also one needs to be patient with the European washing machines. For reasons that I cannot begin to understand, a 37 minute cycle does not take 37 minutes. It seems to get stuck on minutes 7 and 12 for about 10 minutes each. Try 1 to 2 hours. I feel like I have to babysit the washing machine. It is really annoying.


Winter laundry can be a truly painful experience. Hanging up cold, wet clothes in a cold, wet environment without the benefit of gloves, is really uncomfortable (to put it mildly). I can't wear gloves because then I can't get the clothespins to work. I try to work quickly, but end up with hands and fingers that burn from being so cold.

Good Weather

This is the last vital requirement for a successful winter laundry adventure. Any bit of sun aids in the drying process. Today is sunny, consequently, anywhere you go in Batumi you will see laundry out drying in the sun. There is something really refreshing about seeing laundry out on a line to dry, an increasingly rare occurrence in the United States. This fact saddens me, as many HOAs go so far as to forbid them. In Southern Utah, I put one up over the summer. A few gusts of the dry air, and the clothes, though scratchy, were good to go. When I worked inside Zion National, I advocated for a clothes line. The National Park Service said one could exist only if it could not be seen from the road. NPS should be promoting such behaviors not inhibiting environmentally sustainable practices. Needless to say, the location of the building prevented a clothesline that couldn't be seen. Consequently, machine drying continues.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Winter in Georgia

Cold does not begin to describe winter in Georgia. The "sub-tropical" environment that is Batumi part of the year ceases to exist, and becomes something akin to International Falls, Minnesota (America's Icebox) times like 100.

I thought I knew what cold was having grown up in Minnesota. After all, being in Owatonna meant that school never was called off for weather. (Our school district was notorious in this regard). I've walked to school in -26 F temperatures with a -76 F windchill. But Minnesota is a dry cold. Temperatures in Batumi never really go below 32 F (0 C), but because of the proximity to the Black Sea, the cold here is something unbelievable even for someone from Minnesota. When I was back in Minnesota in December and January, it was unseasonably warm this year. Also, having central heating standard in homes is a God-send.

Batumi's cold is a frigid, damp, humid cold...a cold that gets inside of you and literally does not leave for months despite all efforts to get warm. Trying to get warm is almost a futile effort, because you can't. It is horrible. As I type this, I am in the "warm" room of my house, yet I can still see my breath. Part of me is glad my travel alarm clock with temperature feature broke, because then I can't be appalled by how cold it really is in my house. My house has had gas heating installed, however, it is not yet operational. I hope that it becomes operational in the very near future, as in right now. Snow and rain are also a near constant part of the mix, making it extra fun. The forecast for the next 10 days goes from happy suns to 6 days of seemingly endless angry, frowny, grumpy, grey rain clouds. So much to look forward to.

Teaching will be interesting at the university. My office has a heating/cooling unit which runs at 28 C all the time (and the 3 of us still complain of being cold), but at Batumi State University having heat in the classrooms is something that doesn't seem to happen. It may still be viewed as something "decadent" from the capitalist West for all I know. Perhaps investing in a portable heater that I will carry from class to class is a good idea; however, classrooms are also limited in outlets. Consequently, I have to decide between 1) teaching class with a laptop and PowerPoint or 2) being warm. Decisions, decisions.

The next question one might ask is, "Charlotte, how does one attempt to combat this?" Answer: very carefully, with a multi-faceted approach.

First, the layering of clothes night and day is essential, crucial, and critical to success. On an average day, I wear at least 3 shirts, my trusty ZAC Black Marmot fleece jacket, 2 pairs of socks, pants with leggings underneath, waterproof leather boots, scarf, wool jacket, and now 2 pairs of gloves. Sleeping is really hard. I'm already in my pajamas, with 2 pairs of pants and 2 long sleeved shirts and 2 pairs of socks. I will sleep under 3 blankets and 1 thick comforter. I sort of make a little cocoon of it all and hope I don't need to get up during the night. Despite all this, I will still be cold. I must admit that I've cried myself to sleep more than once because I've been so cold, and that much of the clothes a departed Peace Corps volunteer left me to give to a second hand store has been commandeered by me for layering purposes. When I finally leave Georgia, it will go to its intended destination.

There is also a small space heater in my room. Yesterday morning there was some rather lively action coming from the extension cord it was attached to. My room has 2 outlets, neither of which work. At about 3 a.m. yesterday I was awoken by a loud bang, and couldn't tell if it was real or I had simply dreamed it. Then I saw an odd orange glow in my room. It was an electrical fire. It burned itself out quickly, but it left a rather sizeable burn mark on the parquet wood floor. I called my host brother on the phone despite him being across the hall. His rather chill response indicated to me that this was nothing new to him.

Next, I've developed a taste for tea. I drink a lot of it to stay warm. The proximity to Turkey provides easy access to an ample supply of delicious apple and blackberry teas. I also have a stash of 30 packets of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa in my drawer.

Finally, I joined the Radisson Batumi Spa and Health Club. I will admit that the ability to be warm, hot even, and access to a limitless supply of hot water were higher factors than the ability to work out, but not by much. As it is the off season, there is rarely anyone there in the morning besides me. Perhaps the name should be changed to "Charlotte's Private Spa and Health Club." I work out, then I get my hot shower for the day. Tomorrow I am finally going to try the pool, Finnish sauna, and steam room. I will probably be there close to 5 hours, with a repeat on Sunday. I know that such a move is so decadent and Western, but it truly is a main key to keeping my sanity in what is a Georgian winter. And many people in Georgia have it much more worse than I do. Life in the village would be unbearable right now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Layover: Warsaw, Poland

Both going to then United States and returning to Georgia for my holiday required a very long layover in Warsaw, Poland. On my return to Georgia, I ventured into the city with my friend, Alexis. It helped to break up the 12+ hours we had before we could fly to Tbilisi. One terrible thing about the Tbilisi airport is that all the major airlines only seem to fly in and out of there at insane early morning hours. So a 12 hour layover is followed-up by an arrival at 4:40 a.m. Awesome.
Getting to the city center from Frederic Chopin International Airport is shockingly easy. Unlike many major cities, the airport is really close to the city center. Simply hop on the #175 bus (3.6 zloty) and approximately 12 minutes later you can be at the Old Town portion of Warsaw. Buses run from about 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. making it really easy. Immigration is a breeze with an American passport. No visa is needed, but the passport stamp is super lame. I find it ironic that Poland was my first Western European country that I visited. At university I had made plans to visit Poland and attend a language academy. I also wrote extensively about World War II and the LDS Church in Poland while studying.
Until I ran into her waiting by the Lot Polish Airlines gate at Chicago I had no idea that Alexis would be on my flight to Warsaw. Alexis and I have been with TLG since the beginning of the program in July 2010. She had planned to go into the city just as I was, so we ended up going into the city together. It was much more enjoyable that way. Prior to running into Alexis I had planned a whole Warsaw Judaica tour for myself. After living in Israel I am drawn to anything related to the Jewish Experience no matter where I am. Prior to World War II, more than 30% of the population of Warsaw was Jewish. Physically little remains to commemorate the horrific events of WWII, but the memory remains strong.
Warsaw was pretty cool, but very, very cold. It was a lot like I expected it to be: grey, overcast, cold with lots of Soviet-era architecture, so much like Tbilisi, only cleaner with less laundry hanging from the balconies of the apartment buildings. The buildings and squares of the Old Town section evoke the classic and quintessential view of Europe. It was great.
Our first stop was the Warsaw Uprising Museum. This had not been part of my Warsaw Judaica tour, and it should have been. Fortunately, Alexis had wanted to go. After walking several blocks in what we hoped was the right direction, we found it. Admission was cheap (14 zloty, approximately USD$5.00) and it provided several hours of warmth and diversion. The museum deals with all of Warsaw during the whole occupation and war period. As far as museums go, it was very, very well done. All the artifacts, texts, and displays really made the events come to life; however, I would have liked to have seen more about daily life for the average person during this time. The museum was huge and literally seemed to go on forever. As soon as we thought we were about to be at the end, we would turn a corner to find more. Moreover, it seemed to be a very popular place not only for foreign tourists but for local visitors as well. By the time we left the place was getting packed.
After the museum we decided to venture out on foot for the Palace of Science and eventually Old Town. Warsaw is an easily walkable city for the main sights, however, in the cold while carrying carry-on luggage and wearing new boots makes things fun, exciting, and rather painful. We pressed forward despite the cold and being hungry. By this time our last meal on the plane had been about 6 hours prior. Thanks to the concierge at the Hilton we successfully found the sights we were looking for. For my readers, if ever in doubt when visiting a place go to a major, Western-branded hotel and talk to the concierge. Regardless of where you are, they are liable to be 1) English speaking 2) know the city and 3) have maps, good ones at that. I have used this in Tbilisi, Chicago, and Warsaw and never once have I been let down.
While walking to the Palace of Science, we came across a few places where one can see where the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto were. The wall is gone except for one small portion, which we didn't see. However, seeing where the wall was good, and provided a lot to talk and think about. Eventually our discussion turn to the movie The Pianist and how hot Adrian Brody is. And then of course other guys who are hot, like Ewan McGregor. By this point we were pretty tired and cold.
Stepping into Old Town is like going back in time. The street are cobbled, the architecture changes, and cars are few and far between. It is my understanding that the citizens of Warsaw rebuilt the Old Town in the 1950s after WWII had decimated the area. It is adorable. By this point the combination of cold, tired, and hungry were taking their toll on us, and we found a small restaurant to eat at. It was warm and hospitable, and the Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella was amazing. During our late lunch we discussed how to get back to where we thought we could meet the #175 bus. We were approximately 3 kM from the road where we got off of the bus in the morning. At this time the prospect of walking back to that road was daunting in our tired state, and we hoped that along the main road leading from Old Town to the road that some sort of bus would be running.
As we started our journey back the the airport, it began snowing. An ominous sign, to be sure. We didn't want to add wet and snow covered to the list of things we were already experiencing. Just then a bus went by, and it appeared to say "#175." We got excited because it did indeed say that. We ran to meet it, a task made more difficulty with boots and carry-on luggage. It was only 4 p.m. but the sun had already set in Warsaw, and with the snow heading to the airport seemed like a good idea. I was so tired that numerous times on the ride back I dozed off. Warsaw was a good diversion. Next time I have a layover in Warsaw I will once again head to the Old Town section. It is just that easy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My New Job in Georgia

My return to Georgia on Sunday brought a huge change to my daily life in Georgia. I no longer teach at a Georgian public school. This term I will be solely at Batumi State - Shota Rustaveli State University. The university once again approached TLG about moving my placement there, and this time it was accepted. I am truly humbled and thankful for this opportunity. I still work for TLG, just in a completely different capacity then most teachers. For the Tourism Faculty at BSU I have been volunteering for over a year teaching in one capacity or another. This term I will be designing from scratch a completely new course for the university: English for Tourism Majors. It will be a class to improve conversation, solidify grammar, while providing real-world insight and experience with tourism today.

I must admit I am rather daunted by the task. Knowing what I know about Georgian university, it will be interesting to see how the class will turn out. I will definitely be approaching the class from an American college and university perspective, meaning that students will have to work. The Peace Corps volunteer I work with took this approach with his classes and it has been successful. My take on it is that as junior year students at a university they should already know how to work; if not, they will have to learn quickly.

Several things may stand in my way to hinder the success of the class, things that usually do not hinder classes in the United States. The list includes:

  • Power outages (which occur with a regularity that is scary)

  • A lack of technological prowess and literacy among students and staff (here PowerPoint is still viewed with something akin to awe and the university only recent gave students email addresses)

  • Classrooms without heat (I'm in my (supposedly) heated office right now, shivering as I type this)

  • An educational system still largely entrenched in the Soviet system (think rote memorization)

  • A culture where individuality and individual thought isn't promoted; it's a culture of conformity largely

  • Drinking in class (my office has a substantial stash of alcohol for those "just in case" moments)

  • Smoking in hallways (the idea of second hand smoke killing doesn't exist here)

  • Male colleagues who refuse to listen to me because I am female (however, when the male PCV repeats exactly what I have just said then they suddenly love the idea)

  • A general lack of resources

  • No flush toilets (thank God I have mastered Turkish toilets, because it is too cold and wet to walk to the Sheraton every time I need to use the washroom)

  • No Wifi (Seriously it is 2012. The MacDonald's' restaurants in Georgia, of which there are 4, all have Wifi and flush toilets)

Despite those challenges, I am looking forward to this new opportunity. I am sure it will give me plenty of experiences to write about. Moreover, with the University I am constantly invited to go somewhere or do something. In December I was part of a trip to the Keda region to experience the local vinitourism (wine tourism) endeavors. This also resulted in my 6 or 7th appearance on Adjara TV. I love the irony of me discussing vinitourism when I don't even drink.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Georgia 2012: The Return...Yet Again

As I write this I am sitting in the Frederic Chopin International Airport in Warsaw, Poland, trying to warm up after a cold day of exploring the city. I am en route to Tbilisi, and I should be in Batumi in about 13 hours. Fingers crossed.

Anyway...I received several comments while in the United States about how people want to see more blog posts. During last term I didn't write much simply because everything was very similar to the year before. Consequently, I am opening up topics to you. What would like to read about? Are there areas of Georgian culture or life that you are interested in and I have not addressed? Put a note in the comments section, and I will get to it write away.