Getting sick is taken quite seriously in Georgia. Lately I have noticed growing concern over the H1N1 virus. I have seen countless surgical masks worn in school and around the city. People are so worried about getting sick, that many of my students have missed school for a week or even longer while taking precautions. I can’t imagine my mom allowing me to miss school because one of my classmates might have had the flu. She only let me stay home after my temperature was running high. I don’t think I ever missed more than 1 or 2 days during the entire school year. There was always so much work or tests to make up, so I did not enjoy missing school.
My host brothers each missed a week of school last month, but had nothing more than a cold. Lela even had a doctor make a house call for them. The expectation that students will miss several days of school for a minor illness contributes to the attendance problem in the schools. It is kind of nice that people are allowed more than enough time to get healthy, but I do think the number of days spent at home is unnecessary sometimes! I am sure this boils down to just a cultural difference.
I have observed that Georgians are very invested in their health. They insist on eating plenty of natural foods and have dozens of at-home remedies, some of which can be very strange, such as cabbage on your skin to break a fever! They always know which foods are good for a certain part of the body. I do feel like I eat better than I do back home, if only I could exercise a little more. I get so many strange looks when I go out for a jog, because it is a rather uncommon sight for Georgians. I don’t have a lifestyle here that is as active as mine in the US, but as I said in an earlier post, Georgians have a similar life expectancy to Americans, so they are doing something right!
One more Georgian health tip: women shouldn’t walk around the house without socks or slippers, or “your ovaries will freeze.”
I started a pen pal exchange program with my Georgian 6th and 7th grade students and students from St. Joan of Arc in Lisle, IL, my former K-8 school.
Here is an excerpt from one student’s letter that melted my heart. This student has significantly improved throughout the year and I am so proud to see how well he can express himself.
Recently the TLG teachers in Tbilisi and surrounding areas were invited to a meeting with the Minister of Education. It was a good chance for all of us to hear his thoughts and address some of our concerns.
Most importantly, he reiterated that education reform is a slow process. It will take years for the Georgian education system to be where it needs to be. However, I know that they have identified some key problems. If they had a billion dollar budget, improvements would obviously be made more quickly. As we all know, this is a developing country which is committed to making positive changes towards its future, the influx of native English speakers being one of them.
I think the many teachers who decided to leave the country before the end of their contract just didn’t have the patience. We are all frustrated to some extent with the schools. However, the minister pointed out certain things to illustrate how much progress has already been made, and just to realize where they were starting from. In terms of the structures themselves, many schools did not have windows just ten years ago. Though some may complain that their schools are freezing, imagine not even having glass on the frame, and people would use whatever wood they could find in the school to board them up. Now that windows have been fixed, they are addressing the heat issue. They are also focusing on improving school bathrooms this year. My school has Turkish toilets (or “squatters” as we affectionately call them). These are not the most pleasant things, but at least they are indoors. Many schools have facilities located in a separate building, which are often just a hole in the ground.
The minister also said they didn’t even grade students years ago- no exams, nothing. Can you imagine trying to teach in that environment? Also, while attendance is still a huge issue in every school, it was much worse before security guards were placed in each school. Parents feared sending their children to school because most boys were carrying knives and getting into serious fights.
This session with the minister lifted my spirits at least. I have never seriously thought, “What am I doing here?” but there have certainly been some difficult days. I love Georgia so much and I desperately want the country to succeed and be able to stand on its own two feet. If I can have any small part in Georgia’s progress, then my months spent here are worth while.
I was so bummed to have missed the huge snowstorm in Chicago two weeks ago. It has been snowing in other parts of Georgia, but it rarely does in Tbilisi. Today was the first measurable snowfall that I’ve seen. It was very wet/slushy snow so quickly there were puddles everywhere. The city doesn’t drain very well during rain or snow. I was very glad to have my new rain boots to wear today, yet I still saw plenty of women in their 4-inch heels!
After spending almost a month in Chicago and a few days in Berlin, I am so glad to be back in Tbilisi! I did not expect to miss it as much as I did, so I guess it really started to feel like home here. I missed my host family, Georgian food, and just daily life in Tbilisi. The weather in Tbilisi is so warm compared to Chicago, so that is an extra treat.
I have big plans for the next few months. I think it will be very different from the first semester. First of all, many TLG teachers who I made friends with last semester have not returned to Georgia for a variety of reasons. However, I am eager to spend time with my new Georgian friends and meet the new teachers coming to Georgia. I also have plenty of traveling to do. There are places in Georgia I cannot wait see- mainly Svaneti and Batumi. I am hoping to go skiing in the next few weeks, but that depends on the snowfall in the mountains. My host family told me there is not enough yet.
I also plan to make changes at school. Last semester I learned which grade levels I work with best. I have decided to focus mainly on grades 5-8. I also want to try to meet with each teacher at least once per week outside of class, just to be sure we are on the same page.
I want to get more serious about learning Georgian too! Ideally I would like to meet with a tutor twice per week. I have materials and I do occasionally study on my own, and my host mom, Lela, is happy to help.
Gaumarjos to the next 5 months in Georgia!
There are few things I love more than a day at the salon. The head English teacher at my school invited me to join her at a salon today because she needed to get her hair colored. She had come into school once with a beautiful braid in her hair and she said I could get this done there too.
I knew she was taking me to a very small, unknown salon in her neighborhood. At first I decided to get my hair washed. The owner of the salon took me into a back room with a sink. While standing, I flipped my hair over into the sink and cover my face with a towel while she washed it. It was not exactly the relaxing, head massaging wash that I am used to!
The salon did not seem to use any type of Barbicide, so that would be my only complaint. The staff was so friendly and I think quite excited to have me, who was probably the first American to ever visit their salon. Overall I had a wash and blow dry, braiding, and my eyebrows done for only 6 Lari, about 3 and a half dollars. On top of that there is no tipping expected for most services. I will definitely be going back! Cheap services such as these are one of the many perks of living in Georgia…
This is the link for my commercial that’s running in Georgia right now. I think people in the U.S. are having trouble viewing it so I am trying to figure out a different way to post it. You all know I am not the most tech-savvy person unfortunately!