Jess: The First And The Last

It seems like ages ago that I first came to Georgia. I will forever love and remember my crew from that time, though. They are still like my brothers and sisters.

Jess

Jess

One of them, Jess, decided to return to celebrate Christmas with her host family. Jess is from Australia, which proves she made an effort to get back here.

We met up the morning she arrived, got some lunch and caught up on each other’s lives. It was soo good to see her again.

I met Jess the first night of arriving in Georgia (sans arriving at 4 am the previous night) in the recreation area of the Bazaleti Hotel. Jess was also stationed in Guria with me. So we rode on that first marsh ride across the country together not knowing what to expect. So Jess was LITERALLY with me arriving to Georgia and again as I depart.

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Love you, girl. Happy travels and surely we will meet again down the road.

***

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.

I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin’ ’bout my girl.

My Girl, The Temptations

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We Interrupt This Broadcast

This has been a bumpy 90 days.

Ups and downs mentally about my (our) ability to stay and teach in this country because of the new visa regulations.

When push came to shove, I decided to jump ship from TLG and therefore Georgia while I still had some leverage over my own future. Which means I will not be returning to Georgia after Christmas.

Which also means a new volume of my life is preparing to launch.

This is a super sad and emotional time for me as it’s not AT ALL what I expected or planned for my trajectory. It means picking up roots (tiny as they were) again and starting from scratch somewhere else.

But on the flip side, I am also excited to see what else this beautiful world has to offer and I offer to it.

I know this isn’t exactly a great explanation of what happened in detail. But it’s all I currently have the brain power to spit out.

***

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

 

 

 

Training Day

TLG usually tries to have a training workshop sometime during the year. This training is for all of the native English speakers and their Georgian counterparts to get help on co-teaching and better methodologies. I think it’s a great idea, because the Georgian teachers need a lot of help with new ways to teach English to their students. I think it’s a bit much for the Native English speakers because most of them (us) do not have a background in education and the information they receive will not be returned to the classroom for long, because most volunteers leave after a semester. I use the trainings to see my friends again, and this training to be able to meet the new volunteers.

In the past, we had trainings in the east, usually near Tbilisi. But this year, now that I’m living in Tbilisi, the training in the West. It was held at a hotel at Ureki beach, 20 minutes from Ozurgeti.

It was good to see the new people. There were a lot of cool people in the group with interesting stories and great personalities.

The training sessions, for me, were descent. The lead trainer was a lady named Eve. She was working for an organization called Education Fellows. They send trainers all over the world to do what she does. Every time I go to one of these things, I think to myself, “I could do that.” So I talked to her and got some information. She, too, had a cool story of all the places she’s been in the world.

 

Irma

Irma

I was joined at the training by Irma, from my school. She is the most sheltered and bland Georgian woman I know. Bland in that she is afraid to try anything new. She doesn’t leave the house during the week. She leaves on the weekends to simply go to Church and back home. She doesn’t eat fruits, chocolate, or salty foods. If it doesn’t look exactly as it should, she won’t eat it. So to say the least, this was an eye opening experience for her.

Although she still held to most of her dietary restrictions, I think she had a great time meeting new people and doing new things. From her Facebook page, she seems to be having the time of her life.

***

I don’t want no other distractions
There’s too much here to see
Faint hearts or jaded reactions
Contraptions of history

You say it can’t be done
You’d rather die of fun
Get out of the way
For me for you for everyone
Forever is tomorrow is today

Forever is Tomorrow is Today, David Gray

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

The Near Future

My time in Oz and the West coast has run its course. I will continue on my journey in Georgia in the East. Next school year, the plan is to relocate to the town of Mtsketa. In my opinion, it is the prettiest town in Georgia. It was the original capital before moved to Tbilisi and its only 15 minutes from Tbilisi. So I will have the best of both worlds, town and city.

It’s been great Oz!

***

“At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me
And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone
There comes a time in everyone’s life
When all you can see are the years passing by
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone

I sold what I could and packed what I couldn’t
Stopped to fill up on my way out of town
I’ve loved like I should but lived like I shouldn’t…”

I’m Moving On, Rascal Flatts

Community

Spring is near. I didn’t realize the toll winter was taking on me. A high percentage of my day was spent in bed or downstairs next to the woodstove. It was bone chilling cold. Looking back, I think I was in a mild depression.

A TLG friend wanted to prepare a birthday weekend bash for a friend of hers, so I offered to help. Through connections I made last summer, I was able to secure a hotel right on the beach in Kobuleti for the weekend. 25 of us descended upon the hotel starting Friday afternoon. Most of us were TLG, but I also invited a couple of Peace Corp friends and the EVS from my town.

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Hotel Mirage. We all stayed in the deep pink building on the right. (My room on the top left.)

Proprietor of hotel, Dato

Proprietor of hotel, Dato

I came from Oz to Kobuleti with Mathilde on Friday afternoon. It was only going to be 8 of us total on Friday night. The bulk of the weekend’s meals were to be prepared by the hotel, but the first night we were on our own. So we made some pasta dishes. The proprietor sat with us at the end of our meal and had a few toasts with us to start the weekend off right. Then it was off to the races!

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It was a great weekend, although the hotel had some negative aspects. Since I got there relatively early, I got to choose my room. I picked one on the top story to share with my friend Alex from Oz. Looking at it you would think it was a great room. It had a spacious sitting area with a refrigerator. The bedroom was fairly large and it had a private bathroom (all of the rooms had private bathrooms). But my patio door wouldn’t open. I asked them to fix it the first day, but nothing ever came of it. There was a slow drain in the floor for the water… that was annoying after showers. And lastly, there was no heat. There was a wall-mounted heating/ cooling unit on my bedroom wall, but there was no extension cord to connect it to the power source in the other room.   …Okay.

Regardless, it was still a great hotel. And we had all we needed- friends, the sea, food and drink.

The weather was beautiful. During the day we lounged on the beach, played games or simply relaxed. Some folks went into Batumi or even traveled to Turkey for a daytrip.  The last night we had a bonfire with roasted potatoes and grilled meat.

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This was a much needed trip. Hanging out with English speakers for a three day weekend was therapeutic. I got to know some of the other TLG folks better, and my Oz friends made connections, too. There are some great people in this country who have lived impressive lives or have larger than life personalities. Looking across the campfire seeing my friends from France speak in their native language to TLGers that speak fluent French or to see people swap stories of their various far-flung Georgian living situations was warming to my heart.

And that’s what it’s all about…making connections.

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***

Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now my whole team fucking here
Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now the whole team here…

Started From The Bottom, Drake

Mid Year Conference

This weekend, TLG had a mid year conference. We all met at a hotel in Kutaisi called Tskaltubo Spa and Resort.  It is said to be a former resort conference center for the high officials of the Soviet Union. Once you got past the awkwardness of the heaviness and stark ‘hardness’ of the architecture, it was actually a pretty good place to reenergize. They call these types of resorts, sanatoriums. Which for me conjures up historical images of out of the way centers of healing, where quack doctors and specialist enticed people to visit, by claiming the newest unorthodox method to heal various ailments.

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Tskaltubo Spa and Resort

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Tskaltubo Spa and Resort

As I mentioned in past posts, TLG shook-up the roster the volunteers here. I call it, “The Purge”. As of September of this school year, in addition to the 25 still here working in the program they added another 60+.  So I went into the conference knowing I wouldn’t know that many people. And I still had negative verve from thinking of the prospect of spending energy on getting to know them, when they, too would soon leave the country.  But my nature won’t allow me to be around new people and NOT  get to know them.

***

Unbeknownst to me, TLG started another program where native Georgians can also volunteer to go into rural schools and teach English. It was so cool and refreshing to see these Georgians telling their stories. It was like seeing a glimpse of the future of the program and  of Georgia.

***

The morning after the first evening at the resort, we were all at breakfast. At a lull in the conversation, someone brought up being happy about taking a shower. We all yelled in agreement! Not just ‘take a shower’, because some of us, me included, have that convenience. But it was the QUALITY of the shower- hot water…high pressure… enclosed tub… clean tub… inside in the heated room… enclosed from the outside weather. Heavenly! It was soo funny that we were all thinking the exact same thing. Some of us purposed to take two a day. My roommate took a bath.   …the little things.

***

Words can not express how impressed and infatuated we are with our staff member, Tamara. She is the orientation coordinator for TLG. So EVERYONE who comes to this county to work with this organization is hand held through the initial shock of Georgia by her. She was obviously there this weekend with us. And she STILL remembers my name! She is simply awesome. On one of the last nights of the conference, she walks by our room as we were drinking and we begged her to stop in for a while….  and she does! And gives us a toast, too!   Classy. It’s like having a celebrity do a shot with you in a local bar. Insane.

In the same vein, I knew there was a DJ in the building we had the presentations. But none of the people that I knew and were hanging out with were going or even mentioning going. So I went over solo just to check it out one night around 1 o’clock. There were a couple of people sitting and hanging out in this lounge where the music was playing. I came in, took a trip around to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.  As I was about to leave, one of the TLG staff called me over. She said, ‘You are SANCHEZ JOHNSON, yes?”  Why, yes I am!  She said that she was impressed with my service here in Georgia and that she wanted to meet me and introduce herself. How fun and humbling is that?

Two more stories in the category of “recognition”: I was hanging out in the infamous room 126. It was packed out. But a conversation was struck up with someone I thus far had yet to meet. She mentioned that she had recognized me by my blog. I love that. Talk about warm fuzzies. The process is so voyeuristic but yet so intimate and personal.

And lastly, the main reason we were there was to make presentations on our various regions. I must confess, I wasn’t too excited about ours. But it ended up being pretty damn good!

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We actually almost won the competition. Go, Guria/Adjara!!!  Because of time my little piece was cut even shorter than what I had prepared for (which was totally fine with me).  Afterward, people commented that I was a great speaker. That’s reaffirming. One Georgian lady even said I should pursue acting.  …okay.

***

We also where treated to an excursion to some nearby caves, Prometheus Cave.

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Prometheus Cave

 

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Prometheus Cave

 

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Prometheus Cave

We had a really, really REALLY great time over the weekend. Most of which I can’t detail here… to protect the innocent. Reminded me of some of the weekends with my #43 crew. Good, fun people!

***

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”– Mark Twain.