IKEA Kids

Kids here take summer break very seriously. When they break, they BREAK. They do not want to do  anything  school related. I don’t blame them. It starts to heat up around 11 am.

TLG wants us to organize a summer program in order to get paid. But the problem is, again, the kids don’t want to do anything in the summer that even resembles school. So we have to scramble and beg the school administration to brow beat and rustle kids up or try to coerce the kids that love us the most to come to whatever program we have put together, using up valuable goodwill capital doing so.

This summer, I went to an NGO here in town and asked them if they had a willing group of kids in place already that I could hook up with. Fortunately, this NGO is in touch with the populations in Oz that need social services, old folks homes, orphanages, etc. My contact gave me the run down on one of the group homes and scheduled a visit.

I was a little nervous at first, because of the unfortunate stigma of orphanages in the States. But from what I saw here, the government takes great care of their troubled population. (Except for the gypsies. They roam the streets with seemingly no assistance.) The house was situated on a main road right along with the other private residences. Inside was pleasantly and nicely furnished. Actually, their furniture and household things were much better and modern than anything I had seen in other Georgian homes. From the kitchen to living areas to common rooms, it looked straight out of an IKEA catalogue.

I fell in love with the kids immediately. When initially meeting a new group of kids, I always have a phobia that they will ‘see through me’ and reject me. And although they sized me up at first, they took to me quite rapidly by showing me THEIR rooms and drawings. I was put at ease and knew we would work well together.

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Badri, Mariko, Kristina

Badri

Badri

There are 8 kids at the home between ages of 10 and 16. I saw one of my 1st grade students there, but I had erroneously been told she was an orphan, too. Her mom is the caregiver. I decided to split them up into two groups for their lessons, which worked out great according to ability level. (With the exception of one older boy, Ruslan. He doesn’t know any English. So I will tutor him individually.)

 

Kristina

Kristina

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Badri, Mariko, Kristina

 

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Giorgi, Kristina, Mari, Resi

Resi

Resi

It’s a pleasant surprise to have a small group of attentive students all who want to learn. Today Mariko was perturbed that our time was up. I could not have fallen into a better situation.

***

I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See
Their Needs
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere
To Go
That’s Why I Want You To
Know

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror

Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Georgia. This is real; no photoshop.

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credit: Tony Hanmer

 

Marshrutkas. The most common form of public transportation.  They travel between cities, towns and villages picking up people along their route. You can catch them at terminals in the towns/ cities, or flag one down from the side of the road. Some mini vans are comfortable rides with comfortable seats, but most are vehicles that would be condemned in the States, with seats that are barely bolted down. During rush hour, they driver literally packs people on like cattle. People sit on laps and stand belly to backs. If you are already on the marsh, you complain that the driver stopped again. But if you are the one who has been standing on the side of the road in the rain or snow for God knows long, you thank the driver profusely and squeeze into the clown car.

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

 

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Georgians work with what they have.

credit: Joe Bailey

credit: Joe Bailey

Village Fabulous

Call me a snob or whatever, but I have not visited (stayed) with anyone in the villages. If I could get there and back in one day, then I would. But I shied away from overnighters. I think it had to do with not wanting to impose on the host family or not have them think anything improper about the volunteer they are hosting.

Well this weekend, we were at the Black Sea in Kobuleti at our usual spot. It was the last day, I needed to get back to the center of town by 4 to catch the last marsh back to Oz. I had plenty of time.

I was walking up to the hotel to get the last beer that we had, when some Georgians under a cabana waved me over. As this happens regularly here in Georgia, I knew exactly was this meant. At the cabana was a table of food with maybe 7 Georgian men drinking. They had bottles of vodka, but I also saw Coca Cola, too, so this couldn’t end up too wild.

Next thing I knew, I was drunk and had missed my marsh. I could have sworn I only had two glasses… Great guys, though.

So I had to make a decision to either stay another night at the hotel, or go with my friend, Ashley, to her village. I didn’t really want to spent more money and stay alone, so I went with Ashley.

Ashley stays in a village right outside of Kobuleti, which is ironically also called Kobuleti. (When I told my host family and Georgian friends in Oz, they had never heard of it. Which is odd, because they usually know all about their surrounding villages.) The town of Kobuleti is right on the Sea, but the village is in the mountains further inland.

We got a shared taxi up the auxiliary road but had to walk another 7 minutes up a gravel hill to her house.

Once we got there, though, the view and house was beautiful.

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Stephanie and Ashley

Stephanie and Ashley

The house, and neighboring houses, are on the mountain side covering a small valley. Ashley’s house was surrounded by mandarin trees. They had a large cement paved driveway/courtyard area.

Most of the houses in my town are of a moderate size, but this house was huge. It was also very well made with vaulted ceiling and crown molding.

They had just had a calf. I am not an animal lover, but it was indeed a cute cow.

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Ashley’s family consisted of a host sister, Anna, her parents and the mother-in-law. The host mom was away in the hospital.

The host father was a great host. We had fish from the Black Sea, which I love! And he went to the effort of cooking us some mchadi, which is basically cornbread usually eaten with cheese. We ate and drank wine on the patio.

They had a cool contraption for getting fresh cold water from the river. It was basically a zip line. They simply unhitched it and slung it down into the darkness. Once it had the feel of being full, they cranked it back up.

That night, the stars were out in abundance. I knew there were some planets to be seen, but didn’t know exactly were they were… or which planet was what. So I downloaded the Stargazer App, and we found Mars and Saturn. (Jupiter was still just under the horizon).

I think I also had an aversion to village life because of the rustic sound of it. But Ashley was living just fine. She has an indoor western toilet and everything! I think the trade off is quiet, simple, country beauty verses convenience.

Ashley

Ashley

I will definitely be giving village life another look.   …to visit, not to live.

***

If it hadn’t been for cotton-eye joe
I’d been married long time ago
Where did you come from. Where did you go?
Where did you come from cotton-eye joe?

Cotton Eyed Joe, Rednex (A favorite of Ashley’s… unfortunately)

 

HAPPY

I hadn’t really looked at my phone last Monday. I was content to be with the people I was with. When I finally did look at it, I had several missed calls and texts from my student, Lana. She texted, “I am trying to get in touch with you. As soon as you get this message, contact me. It’s very important!”   …okay.

She said they were making a dance video the next morning and wanted me to be in it. I am NOT one to turn down an invitation to be in a dance video. I told her I was visiting a friend in the village, but I would do my best.

Next day, I arrive back in Ozurgeti and Lana tells me to come to the park in front of the theatre. When I arrive to the spot, I notice a computer next to a huge speaker with an extension cord sprawling away into a shop across the street. I don’t see any kids (or anyone, for that matter) around. When I get to the speaker, I notice a gang of people walking towards me from all directions. Boys and girls all dressed ‘hipster Georgian’. I immediately feel out of place as I was wearing a thrift shop mix of Adidas shorts and a batman t-shirt. Whatever.

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We mill around for a while. I am confused as to what I should be doing. I think they were collectively getting artistic inspiration. I was told that I would be dancing alone, but could do whatever I wanted. But first they were going to do their part.

They had the cutest choreographed dance!!! We danced to the song, Happy, by Pharrell Williams.

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They videotaped it three more times for editing purposes. Then everyone (most people) left and the videographer took down the speaker. I was again confused. I simply followed the choreographer, Marika, back to the theater. She apparently just needed a cigarette break. She had gathered with her crew of young ,seemingly single, females. They hid behind one of the giant pillars in front of the theatre. This was a cultural thing. Women who smoke are frowned upon in Georgia, so the ones that do smoke tend to hide their activities from the watchful eye of the public. Girls who smoke are seen as ‘loose’. I guess she didn’t mind if I knew, figuring that I was not Georgian or American and knew those social mores didn’t apply with me.

Once they were finished, we walked to another area of the park where the videographer was setting up again. This area was to be my stage.

The music started. Action!

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I love dancing, but dancing to a fast paced song without stopping is a daunting, exhausting task. Surely I used to, I think. They wanted to do it all in one take. I couldn’t think of enough dance moves to fill the space without repeating or think of dances that fit the tempo. By the end I was spent. I’m getting too old for this.

Then they wanted me to do it again in another place! Thankfully they let me rest. In the mean time, they taped a little girl doing a solo dance, too. She was soooo cute!!! And mort importantly, she had the right idea; short, concise, manageable movements. I was going all out, whereas she was in her lane. Kept it simple. Noted.

So it was my turn again, I threw in some ‘robot’, ‘grocery store’, ‘sprinkler’, etc. I still was winded by the time the song was over. but they were happy. Mission Accomplished.

Note to self for future. No more dancing to entire songs for me. I am resorting to music video dancing, which is to get down for short bursts of a dance, then stop for others to be seen or have a turn. It’s all about conserving the energy.

***

One more thing…

This year there were a LOT of programs at the school. I don’t know why I didn’t put one and one together that they were all choreographed by our dance teacher, Marika. She is so talented!

Marika, the Choreographer

Marika, the Choreographer

She came up with all the single class dances for their programs and all the dances for the senior banquet and programs. I appreciate that she CAN dance, and we dance well together. I think she has been used to ‘leading’ for so long now, that its awkward for her to be led in a particular dance.

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Anyway, cheers to her and her bringing the art of dance to the kids! This is a picture of me with Marika and her crew (and her daughter, in green).

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***

“Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

Pharrell Williams, Happy

The Time Of Our Lives

I have been waiting for this day for a year now. MY seniors’ banquet. I knew some of the seniors from last year, Lado, of course. But I didn’t know them or as many as I do this year.

This senior group was one of a kind. Everyone said so, its not just me being biased. They have a high percentage of talent and beauty. Several of the girls are on track to be national dancers, they have fantastic singers, and I saw one of the boys on a national quiz show. They are loved by the younger kids because they are kind and inclusive (as opposed to last years seniors who were mostly jerks). They are light hearted and just like to be happy. So to be able to toast to them and dance with them was special for me.

I had to walk from my host family’s house to town in my suit, which makes me feel awkward. Imagine being dressed up and walking 20 minutes on potholed, dusty roads past pigs, nosey neighbors and dodging cowshit. Not fun. But on the way, I was stopped twice to take a picture with a baby.

The venue was changed from last year. So I didn’t know exactly where I was going, I figured I would get to town and see people. Which is exactly what happened.

They were gathered in the circle in front of the theater…. waiting. Eventually the seniors started trickling in. A speaker system was produced from the heart of the theater building and blasted music. They called it a flash mob, but it was in fact a mini concert by the seniors!!! It was so good I couldn’t stop smiling.

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Then they walked off like nothing happened onto a red carpet that just happened to be in the middle of the street to the restaurant. No Big Deal.

I gotta give them props. That was ballin’ status.

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Once inside the venue, they of course had to dance to ‘We are the World’. They the night was sprinkled with choreographed dances mixed with Georgian dances. (This is definitely residual from Soviet times, where EVERYTHING had to be rehearsed) After ten or so toasts and the rehearsed dances were finished, we all danced and danced and danced.

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Once the moms had some shots of cognac, they too started dancing. I was passed around like a top to first take photos, then to dance with them. Oh so fun!!

The food just kept coming and coming. I still can not wrap my mind around the abundance of food at supras. I KNOW that the idea is to overwhelm guests with food, I KNOW that, yet I am still always overwhelmed.

Of course my English Club girls were beautiful. They had a great time. Sofo and Megi had the foresight to bring a change of clothes. Sofo went a step further and had what seemed like multiple costume changes.

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I looked up and it was 3 in the morning. So I stumbled home, drenched in sweat, and went to bed.

My camera was not charged fully, so I was not able to get the amount of pictures that I wanted, but these hopefully will paint the scene. I ripped some from the Interwebs.

Lana

Lana

Sofo

Sofo

Tamuna

Tamuna

 

Theo

Theo

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Mari

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***

“Now I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
If I swear it’s the truth
And I owe it all to you
‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life
And I owe it all to you”

(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, Bill Medley

 

TLG End of Year Ceremony 2014

This past weekend was the End of Year Ceremony for TLG.

I love seeing everyone together. We get to swap stories and just be in each other’s presence instead of having to text or phone.

This year it was at the Resource Center in Tbilisi instead of an ambassador’s residence like last year. Unbeknownst to me, I received an award! I was one of 15 to be selected as ‘Best Volunteer’. How about that, huh?

My co-teacher, Mañana and me

My co-teacher, Mañana and me

Guria Regional Rep. for TLG, Tamta, me, and Manana

Guria Regional Rep. for TLG, Tamta, me, and Manana

On the last day of the conference, we toured the Kakheti region, which is wine region in a country that prides itself on wine. As I hadn’t been to kakheti before, I was super excited to go. Not so much with the other delegates. Either they had been before (because they live there) or they were not excited to spend ALL day on a bus, or they wanted to do stuff in Tbilisi. Oh well, sucked for them. I enjoyed it.

We went to:

Alaverdi Monastery

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This place wasn’t so old but it was very beautiful. During Soviet times, they frescos were all white washed. But they are slowly restoring them.

Shuamta Monastery

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This place was huge. We were fortunate enough to come during a wedding.

 

 

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Obviously weddings are done differently here. For example, although there is a religious ceremony aspect to it, not all are invited or expected to attend. There is just one best man and one bride’s maid. So the number of people there are probably 20-25. Everyone else invited to the ‘wedding’ are waiting at a banquet hall for the supra. Also the church/ monastery isn’t closed off to the public. People can still use the church to pray or whatever or (like us) creep on whoever is getting married.

Alexander Chavchavadze’s House Museum

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I was very impressed with the beauty of this house. We took a wine tour and a tour of the house. Alexander was a mover and shaker during his time. I will research further into his history, but here is a link that’s pretty good to give the gist.

***

Because we’re goin’ to the chapel
and we’re gonna get married,
goin’ to the chapel
and we’re gonna get married,
gee, I really love you
and we’re gonna get married,
goin’ to the chapel of love.

Chapel Of Love, The Dixie Cups

Community

Another reason I love Ozurgeti is its size. It’s a small, intimate community. I love reading books or seeing movies where everyone in the town goes (usually by walking) to see the latest production at the theater or the auditorium is packed for the kids’ production of ‘A Christmas Story’. That’s how it is in Oz. Every event is met with overwhelming support from the community.

I had thought that the seniors were the only ones with an end year production. Boy, was I wrong. It seems as if EVERY class has one. And Tuesday was my 4th graders turn. Natia had told me about it the night before. Fine. And although she told me it was 12, it actually was to start at 1, which meant it didn’t start until 2.

All the teachers were there, as well as all of the parents and their friends from other grades. I guess they stopped all the other classes to do this because it was performed in the main corridor of the second floor of the school, which is its heart. AND this was during school, which meant the parents that were working had to get off work to come. Community.

The performance, although long, was the cutest thing ever! They of course dressed uniformly and made ties out of construction paper. These performances consist of songs and dances and recitations of poems and speeches. Given the length of the program, they had to have practiced for a long, long time. Adding to the cuteness factor was that there is ALWAYS one or two kids who steal the show by their obvious talent over all the others. And also the couple who forget their lines or ad libs to add flavor.

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Georgia does not separate the disabled (mental or physical) students from the rest of their classmates. I have my own opinions about that philosophy, but I have heard it argued that under Soviet rule, these kids were segregated and dismissed so utterly, that society has now swung the opposite direction in how they are treated. So there is no separate curriculum for them; “one size fits all”. One positive about this cultural set up, is the classmates respond beautifully. They learn from 1st grade that something is ‘different’ about Giorgi, but he’s a kid like us. So Giorgi is accepted as he is. And they are together until they graduate.

In this particular class, there is Tornike. I don’t know what is medically wrong with him, but he literally bounces off the walls during class. The teacher gives him direction when things get out of hand, and the other kids shoo him away like a fly when he becomes too distracting.

Tornike was in rare form during the program. He was trying so hard to be on his best behavior and trying to stay on tune with the rest of the songs. He was if anything, super excited. Well as I said, throughout the program all the kids had speaking parts, either of a poem or a speech. Towards the end, it was Tornike’s turn. His first three words were loud and clear. But I think he scared himself. You could see it on his face. He had a ranging of emotion from excitement, to shock, to forgetfulness, to OH SHIT!, then embarrassment. The teacher came up behind him and lovingly tried to coax the words out of him. But by that time his emotion turned to tears. Not the uncontrollable sob tears, but the hot unbidden tears of emotion. When that didn’t help him to continue, the rest of the class chimed in to assist. When he finished, his face had a look of gratitude and embarrassment for not doing it on his own. But his classmates kept on with the pace of the program as if nothing happened. Tornike wiped his tears, smiled nervously at his classmates to the right and left, then got into character and joined the chorus of the next song. Community.

I started to daze towards the end of the program. It was hot and stuffy in the hall and it was all in Georgian. But I was jolted back to alertness by hearing my name in one of the monologues. I looked over to my co teacher for explanation and she said that they were talking about me. And I would have to go up there. Oh goodness. So I made my way through the dense crowd (I was at the back). Once at the front of the audience, they were still speaking about me (in popcorn fashion), all in Georgian. It was so humbling. Then the strongest student in English (speaking) looks directly at me, smiles and says “We don’t want you to go. You are home.” That was followed by the second of the one-two combo of the strongest student in English (written/ grammar), “We love you and will miss you”.

I couldn’t take it. I was overwhelmed by love and started crying then and there. Then they invited me to dance a Georgian dance with them. Of course.

Community.

***

“It takes a village to raise a child” – African Proverb