Gamarjoba megobrebo, natesavebo, da skhva adimianebo! Momenatra tqven!
(Hello friends, relatives, and other people! I missed you!)
It has been many a moon since I sat down at this here laptop and updated you all about my doings here in Georgia, and for that I apologize. I hope the wait was not too agonizing. In the interest of not prolonging that wait further, I will explain just what I have been up to these past 12 weeks, briefly what I am up to now, and what lays ahead in the coming weeks and months.
As I wrote approximately 15 years ago, I lived in a small village called Tezeri for the duration of the 11 weeks of PST (Pre-Service Training) with my most excellent clustermates, possibly THE most excellent clustermates, in all of Peace Corps. This training included 4 hours of Georgian language class every day (except for Sundays and the odd Saturday when we were able to travel to cultural sites, or visit other villages, or celebrate the Fourth of July like The True Americans That We Are). In the afternoons we travelled by marshutka (the dominate mode of transportation here Sakartveloshi) into the nearby town of Khashuri for our technical trainings in English Education. Before and after sessions many ice creams were bought and summarily destroyed. Collectively our weight gain (though the number is currently unknown) tippeth the scales in favor of whale status.
PST also included three weeks of teaching practicum in my village’s school with exceptional counterpart teachers, one of whom my cluster befriended especially and has the most beautiful singing voice. There was some hiking, lake swimming, wine drinking, repeated visits to my village’s neighboring cluster, star gazing, and lots of situations when no one expected food to appear but then it did, of course.
And one month ago we learned where our permanent sites would be for the next two years. I happily learned that I would be living in in the very village where my best friends outside of my cluster resided, a gorgeous mountainside village called Kvishkheti located only about ten minutes from Tezeri. In addition, I am now lucky enough to be living with a most exceptional family who has hosted not just one, but two other volunteers during PST who I consider great friends of mine and excellent volunteers. Peace Corps score.
This past Friday, July 18th, in a sweltering theatre in Tbilisi, 52 other trainees and I were officially sworn in by Ambassador Richard Norland as the 14th group of Peace Corps volunteers in the Republic of Georgia. As far as ceremonies go, it was quite nice. There was a huge cake afterward and who doesn’t love that?
After cake eating and some emotional goodbyes to family and friends, we hopped on different transports with our new host families or counterparts or directors, and split off to different areas of the country. And so began an entirely new part of our Peace Corps experience, which thus far was focused on our new relationships with each other and the intensity of learning the language together. And this will, of course, be the dominant theme of our service– that is, not all being around each other all of the time.
So we enter a time of rest before the beginning of teaching (this applies to the English Education volunteers only– the IOD volunteers (Individual and Organizational Development) have already had their first and second days of work at their various organizations and NGOs. Sucks to suck). We spend our days reading, spending time with our host families, exercising, and writing self-reflective, navel-gazing blog posts about the nature of our experience so far (see: the rest of this blog post). I have been enjoying sitting at my family’s market and being given ice cream as I watch the people and cars go by. Some volunteers have actually already started their work, either their mandatory summer camps at their schools or forming their professional relationships with teaching counterparts through lesson planning. I have not begun this part of pre-school year work, however. I will indulge in a week of relaxation, and then I will start working again.
I have also had the great fortune to be elected to a representational Peace Corps committee and applied and was selected to work on a second. The first committee is called the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC). I will serve for a year as the representative of the Education East volunteers (those of us living in the East of Georgia have one program manager and those in the West have another). This committee serves as a go between for the volunteers and the powers that be in Peace Corps Georgia, and we will work closely with the Country Director to ensure that volunteers have the safest, healthiest, and most productive service possible. The second committee is called LIFESkills, and it holds summer camps for children from all over Georgia and teaches healthy lifestyle skills through sports and active learning. Needless to say, I am over the moon, and possibly orbiting distant stars, about being on this committee. At the beginning of August another new committee member and I will go the the week-long life camp in Kakheti and serve as counselors and observers. Can’t can’t just can’t wait.
As far as culture shock goes, I am wearing rose-colored glasses and euphorically surfing on the crest of cultural adjustment. While riding a unicorn who grants wishes. Not much more to say about that until the hard times come (presumably on the coattails of winter, though more likely they will be tucked into his cummerbund. Winter is such a snappy dresser). These challenges will come and hopefully I will be calm and strong about negotiating them.
I will end this information-heavy post with a thought that has been occurring to me often over the past few months of settling into a new life in Georgia. It comes into my head when I am sitting and quietly observing the daily life of my two host families. I feel this quiet sort of wonder that this house, this mode of cooking, this family, has been living and working and have been right here this whole time. While I was growing up and going to school and getting to know my family and myself, this house was here. This whole other way of life was happening and I had no idea, and they had no idea of me. It is a responsibility and a gift to leave my culture and come to live in Georgia’s, and it is an honor to be taken in by my family here. I cannot imagine a more fruitful way to spend my time when I am young and still so self-centered, albeit by necessity, than to strike out to places that have been here the whole time, and to experience what I have been missing. I hope that when we are presented with the opportunity to leave our known worlds and immerse ourselves in another that we have first the capacity and means to seize it, and then the bravery to move forward. I increasingly think it is the primary work of human beings to seek to understand one another as best we can and through understanding empower our better humanities.
I am reading The Grapes of Wrath and our good man John Casy expresses this thought better than I:
But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang–that’s right, that’s holy […]. I’m glad for the holiness of breakfast. I’m glad there’s love here. That’s all.
I hope everyone is happy, healthy, and pursuing what they love. Kargad ikavit.