Skool Daze

I was asked a while ago by a cousin of one of my students from Oz, if I could come and speak to her University class. Yes Please!!!

We finally got the timing right and I went in to speak this past Friday. The school was Ilia State University and the class was a tourism class.

Initially she had asked me to prepare some visuals. But the night before she said it was fine to just speak.

I had been curious about the facilities of universities in Georgia. They don’t usually have a campus, as one would see in a U.S. university. The building are somewhat grouped together in the same vicinity. There are no dorms or housing facilities for the students. They have to provide their own housing which for most people, is a huge problem do to cost involved. Unless you know a relative who lives in Tbilisi that you can stay with, you probably couldn’t afford to attend school.

I also think that there is a cultural aspect to the housing situation, too. I think the idea of having females living alone in close proximity to boys is too scandalous a proposition for Georgian society.

There was another speaker from India who went before me. He spoke for a LONG time and i thought there wasn’t going to be time for me, but it was a 2 hour class.

DSCN6836

DSCN6816

 

DSCN6834

DSCN6823

 

DSCN6814

I spoke on my take of tourism as an American in Georgia. I think I did pretty well!

***

The medieval university looked backwards; it professed to be a storehouse of old knowledge. The modern university looks forward, and is a factory of new knowledge. – Thomas H. Huxley

 

Uplistsikhe

Last weekend, I was able to take a day trip to Uplistsikhe, cave city near the city Gori. Uplistsikhe, is an ancient town which played a significant role in Georgian History for over 3,000 years.   Between the 6th century BC and 11th century AD, Uplistsikhe was one of the most important political, religious, and cultural centers of pre-Christian Kartli (name for that part of Georgia back then), It was ravaged by the Mongols in the 13th century. It was a major city situated on the silk from India and China to the Byzantine Empire.

DSCN6782

Gori is the city where Joseph Stalin grew up and it is said that in his youth, he and his friends would spend the day at the caves.

After a short marshrutka drive out of the city, we were dropped off at the edge of a village. After that, one had to walk the rest of the way (unless you had a private vehicle). It was a beautiful fall day and landscape was amazing. It reminded me of Arizona, or some of the topography from the western United States. The walk was pleasantly short.

DSCN6768

DSCN6747

DSCN6769

DSCN6766

DSCN6754

DSCN6781

 

DSCN6758

 

 

I really enjoyed this site. The city was perched up on a cliff over looking a river. One can only imagine how beautiful this city must have been in its day.

DSCN6792

DSCN6802

Stupid Mongols.

Oh, when leaving the cave city, you have to go down rock tunnel. It’s dark and creepy and cool. But it also has bats! A real bat cave!!

DSCN6796

Bat Cave

 

***

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Ozymandias, Percy Shelley

 

 

Teacher’s Pet

In Ozurgeti, I had the occasional private student. Mostly they were reserved for the Georgian English teachers. Most of the teacher took a full load of students afterschool to supplement their pay. It ironically made the students not care about their actual lessons in school. They put more time and effort into the time with tutors.

Even when I did have the occasional private student, the rate of income in western Georgia was soo low, that I practically did the lessons for free.

In Tbilisi, the demand is very, very high for Native English speakers. Tbilisi is like a bubble unto itself in Georgia. It is a very cosmopolitan city (as much as Georgians can be cosmopolitan). Citizens in professional jobs understand the importance of knowing how to speak English. The first thing my students in Tbilisi say for the reason they want lessons is that they want to be able to speak to English clients or something similar.

Even getting private students was a fluke. My host dad, Zura, is always thinking of business (money making) opportunities and one day offered to ask around if some of his contacts had need for a native English speaker. Within the week, two organizations wanted me to work for them. One would have been working with my friend, Pete. But because Anna doesn’t get home until late, the times were not working out for it to happen. Once TLG found out I was available for extra services, they put my name out, too. So now I get a constant inquiry of potential students.

Davit. Davit is an IT specialist that works with my host mom, Mari. He wants to learn English because he doesn’t like not being able to communicate effectively in English with clients. He can understand fine, usually. But he hates the way his delivery is jerky. He wants to be confident with a smooth, ‘conversational’ delivery.

Davit is a great guy. I have learned so much from him. He is very open and non-partial with Georgian history and politics. He also has a progressive outlook on life, which is refreshing in Georgian men. Davit is obviously shaped by the ‘dark days’ of the break with Soviet Union and the Revolution. He wants to protect his kid from that as best he can. One interesting thing he told me in a tangent conversation was about a culture nicety that gets lost in translation. Georgians don’t usually say, ‘thank you’ or ‘please’. Or at least that’s how its perceived by those that speak English. But that’s what gets lost in translation. Georgians, he said, don’t say it literally in their language in conversation but they use intonation to imply it. So since they don’t use it in their conversation, usually when they translate in their heads, it doesn’t happen.

Tamuna. Tamuna is a single mom that works for the Ministry of Interior. She is one of the students that I have to travel to. She is about 30 and works like a maniac. She, too, wants to brush up on her English to speak better to clients.

Tamuna is also a progressive minded Georgian woman. Which isn’t as hard to find as men. Actually, I can see my seniors from last year in Tamuna. Although she got married early, she didn’t let that hold her back. She doesn’t care about what others think, even her parents. That frame of mind allowed her to pursue a divorce. Both of those topics came up during a conversation about gender roles.

Nani and Layla. These two girls work together. Nani was referred to me by a TLG friend. They work together at a bank. Both want English for business reasons. (All of my students’ English is understandable, but they want it to approach fluency.)

Layla speaks slightly better English than Nani, but I think Nani’s vocabulary stronger. They wanted to have joint lessons. Which is fine by me. They are so fun together! And its obvious that they are the best of friends. They have a travel group that they are a part of that travels in the summer throughout Georgia. So whereas most Georgians haven’t even seen their own country, these girls have been everywhere.

Layla and Nani

Layla and Nani

The best part of having these private students is I learn so much from them about their thoughts, dreams, fears and ideas about the world and their country.

***

“I don’t know what he wants, I don’t understand what he’s trying to say. Don’t you get it? You walk to school every day with all these children who are normal. I can’t talk to my son! I don’t know what he wants or what he thinks or what he feels. I can’t tell him that I love him, I can’t tell him who I am. I want to talk to my son! I don’t care what it costs, I don’t care what the stupid doctor says it’s right or wrong. I want to talk to my son!”

Iris Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

Tbilisoba

Tbilisoba is an annual celebration of the city of Tbilisi. Every major city has a celebration for itself it seems. I was not able to go last year, I don’t remember why.

The festival is similar to all festivals, except with a Georgian spin. Here are the few things I wanted to comment on:

There is a new law against public drinking. So that definitely gave the festival a different spin. And it made things uncustomarily difficult to find alcohol. Hard to find alcohol in Georgia… go figure. Fortunately they had wine sampling tents and a never-ending sea of vendors grilling Mtsvadi.

DSCN6635

DSCN6631

 

I was able to finally meet with some of the newest TLG peeps. They were rolling deep together and I didn’t have time to chat with them all. But we have a conference in November, so ill be patient until then.

DSCN6639

 

***

“But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr Brightside”

Mr. Brightside, The Killers

 

King’s Castle

I want to visit as many places here in Georgia as I can before winter sets in. This past weekend, I wanted to see some castles and fortresses. Fortunately, Kakheti is full of such places. I wanted to visit the town of Gremi based on the cool photos I have seen. It is easiest to get there from the city of Telavi, so I decided to stay the night in Telavi and visit Gremi from there.

Telavi is an eerily pretty city/town. It is obvious that it has had extensive upgrading. But the eerie part is all the storefronts are still empty of shops and stores. I thought Telavi would be a good destination because of the 2 for 1 factor. The city of Telavi has one of the few intact fortresses of Georgia. Telavi was the capital of Kakheti back in the day.

DSCN6664

When we explored the fortress, it was hard to figure out how to get in and where to go exactly. We actually walked the wrong (or most inconvenient) way. We entered one entrance only to find a school inside and no access to the rest of the fortress grounds. We continued walking around the castle on the side not intended for tourists.

DSCN6649

Finally, we got to where we were supposed to be only to find the way barred due to renovations. All in all though it was still an impressive site. I was prepared to pay the museum fee, but we couldn’t find it. There were no signs except road signs pointing in the direction. But when you walk in that direction for just a little while, you find a road sign pointing back in the direction you just came. Don’t have time for that game.

DSCN6671

DSCN6654

The guesthouse we stayed in, Eto’s Guesthouse, was super cute! It was comfortable and Eto was as nice as can be. She served us homemade wine, both white and red. And the breakfast the next morning was tasty. So shout out to Eto!!! If you are traveling through or to Telavi, try it out.

DSCN6647

The highlight of the trip however, was Gremi.

Gremi was also a site of the ancient capital of Kakheti. It’s down in the valley from Telavi. Upon approach you see the beautiful architecture of the church and tower.

DSCN6719

The entire site of ancient Gremi was easy to walk to and it has been well preserved (renovated). The church still has the frescos, the adjacent tower also serves as the museum. On the grounds are hot baths, and smaller churches.

DSCN6673

 

DSCN6678

DSCN6713

One of the smaller churches in Gremi

DSCN6709

Bath House in Gremi

I highly recommend visiting Gremi.

DSCN6691

***

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Humpty Dumpty, Nursery Rhyme

Eat Fresh

Before I came to Georgia, I used to eat ‘second-lunch’ after school religiously at one of three places; Wendy’s, Cook-out or Bojangles. Delicious.

In Ozurgeti, they didn’t have fast food restaurants. The closest thing was a Shaurma Stand. And those are actually more like food trucks. There was one Shaurma place that had indoor seating, but it closed pretty fast. If I wanted fast food there was nothing in-between home cooked meals or American McDonalds in Batumi or Kutaisi (both cities at least an hour away).

Tbilisi has several McDonald’s, a super Wendy’s and what I now realize is a huge Subway chain. I just found out there was one right at my metro stop on the way home. And the food, to my surprise, is EXACTLY like in the States; meatball subs, veggie subs, teriyaki chicken subs, and my personal favorite, Turkey and bacon sub. They even have guacamole. Oh, and the foot-long combo!

This is going to be very dangerous.

***

“Five
Five dollar
Five dollar footlong
Five
Five dollar
Five dollar footlong”

Subway Jingle

Hold The Wall!!!!!!!

This weekend I was able to check off one of my last major points of interest in Georgia. The town of Sighnaghi, “City of Love” is in the Kakheti region in eastern Georgia. It is hailed as one of the prettiest towns in Georgia. It was one of the few towns targeted for tourism through a thorough upgrade of all its buildings by government subsidies.

DSCN6548

DSCN6553

DSCN6581

DSCN6570

We stayed at the cutest guesthouse. It still had the ‘old’ feel to it, but it, too, was obviously renovated.

Nana's Guesthouse

Nana’s Guesthouse

Sighnaghi is in the heart of wine country, but since we missed the harvest, we didn’t get to enjoy the wine tasting. We thought we planned the visit to coincide with a festival, but that proved to be false. So with those options off the table, there were only a few other things I wanted to see in the town.

1. St Nino, the apostle who is noted for bringing Christianity to Georgia is buried within walking distance of the town. The church and monastery complex with her namesake was included in the massive upgrade and overhaul. The new and improved version left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to linger and look around as everything seemed sanitized and commercialized.

Walking to St. Nino’s facilities, we came upon an old lady who was also walking to the Church complex. She seemed nice enough, but then she started showing signs of crazy. Most Georgians, when they realize we don’t speak Georgian (or Russian) well, they will either stop talking as much, start talking louder for a while… then stop talking as much, or start using a lot of mime motions… then stop talking as much. Well this lady was either crazy or oblivious to the fact that we didn’t understand 90 percent of what she was saying. She kept talking without missing a beat… in Russian…for the next 2 km. We sort of realized in the end that she was concerned with getting us to the right area in the complex which she thought was the Holy Spring. Once we got to the complex, she seemed to be ‘in the know’ or at least the crazy lady everyone recognizes. She pointed down a steep stairway, and deemed her mission complete, then left us.

After hearing about St. Nino all this time, I really wanted to see her gravesite. The maps were no help as they all had 3 “you are here” markers. I saw a mini gravestone in front of one of the churches on the site and figured that was St. Nino. As I was going to take a picture of the little sad thing, I figured I would go into the church for a look first. As soon as you go into the church and look left, there is a frenzied line trying to get into a little alcove on the side. Hmm… THAT must be it! So I waited in line with my friend, who was able to get into the church without a headscarf. We both thought she was going to be ejected at any moment although there were others doing the same thing. But still…she was a foreigner.   As we got closer, it was obvious that this was indeed St. Nino. We all could see what people were doing once they were in the alcove. Most were praying and kneeling and doing a lot of kissing (of the tomb). All those actions made me nervous once it was our turn to go in. I asked my friend what she was going to do, and she said she didn’t know. When we got to the door and the previous viewers left the room, my friend looked and then turned and left. I went into the alcove, stood and looked around. I bent to see the actual tomb. It was tiny. It had a painting of her on the tomb with a medallion. The alcove was filled with painted murals above. All this happened within 6 seconds, and I was out of there. I turned to see a sea of Georgian faces staring back at me.

Awkward.

2. Sighnaghi is one of the few Georgian towns with an intact Fortress wall. Guidebooks say its because the town was pretty insignificant to start with and not worth the trouble for invading armies to climb the mountain to attack it.

DSCN6579

DSCN6576

We were able to walk the wall and look off into the beautiful valley vista. Walking the walls and climbing the turrets reminded me of The Lord of the Rings, when they were fighting at Helm’s Deep.

DSCN6597

DSCN6603

 

***

1387935512-9a694b6ead8d942e224ca0ad9c27bb5b

The Lord of the Rings. Battle for Helm’s Deep