Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wait, So What is it I'm Doing Here Again? Oh Yeah, TEACHING!

There is one topic that my teaching blog has failed to account for- teaching. Writing about food, culture, and travel is great and everything. But I have yet to write about what I'm actually doing here.

This wasn't an accidental oversight. Truthfully, the reason for this shortcoming is that I don't always like to write about bad things or things that bother me. Don't get me wrong, teaching isn't as bad as that makes it sound. It's just that there are aspects of the Georgian educational system that are kind of hard to a. explain on a very basic level, and b. hard to deal with on a personal level.

A. It's hard to explain to people the things that schools throughout Georgia go without: supplies, all the students being able to afford books, all of the English teachers actually being able to have a conversation with a native speaker, electricity, heat. It's hard to explain that there are a lot things in American schools that no one even thinks about but Georgian schools just don't have them.

B. It is also hard to explain how I am dealing with explaining to teachers that there are many things in their books that are just incorrect. The books are rife with grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, and gender stereotypes. And the gender stereotypes are often the hardest to deal with. How do you tell a teacher that you don't want to use an entire page of the book because the entire exercise is based on the fact that women can't drive, or that women are supposed to clean dishes and go shopping while men are supposed to fix appliances? How do you explain that although the students will probably forget the actual lesson in a few days, they will retain the underlying assumptions about the roles of women and men? But the gender stereotypes can be another blog all its own (and eventually will be, hopefully).

So what am I actually doing here, day to day? Well, my average week looks a little like this...

Mondays are never very remarkable. Almost all schools in Georgia start at 9am and I have the first class on Mondays. It's the 8th grade. They might be my favorite class. But they might be my favorite class mostly because of one student. He is ridiculously smart, but he is hyperactive. My co-teacher told me that he was diagnosed with "hyperactivity," whether that means ADD or ADHD (its hyperactive cousin) I have no idea. But instead of getting him the help that he needs, his parents refused to believe it. Their child is "normal." So he talks through all of class, standing up, moving his desk, switching chairs, disrupting everything and everyone. But the funny thing is he talks all through class in English- it just has absolutely nothing to do with what we're studying. He'll talk about werewolves and act out his own little movie scenarios (complete with different voices for the different characters) and basically do anything that is not related to class. He could be a really fantastic student if he could just focus. So yeah, that's my first class Monday. Then I have 6th and 4th grades. Nothing much to report on those, honestly. I'm free around 12:30 and then I go to the gym at 3.

And, yes! I have a gym! It took about 2 months to find, but I found one! It's at the Telavi Tennis Courts, which is a small scale tennis club down the street from my house. The gym isn't too, too bad. It's a small room, maybe 12x12. There are 2 treadmills; an eliptical (which doesn't work), a bike machine (which might also be a little broken); a weight lifting machine for legs, arms, and shoulders (it's in need of a little oil and the cords could be tightened a bit); there's this weird thing that's like a bench and it moves so you can work your abs, but I usually just use it as a bench; several random cheap looking things that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to do; a rowing machine that only works your arms, but not your legs at all. And the best thing out of them all is a machine that's supposed to just vibrate the pounds away. It's a belt that's attached to a little machine. You strap yourself in, press go, and stand around while this machine jiggles the pounds away. It is the weirdest sensation! The gym isn't wonderful, but it serves its purpose. And it helps me feel better about all the bread and potatoes I consume on a daily basis.

Tuesdays I have 8th and 6th again, but my last class is 9th grade. Holy Heavens, I hate my 9th grade class. (Can I say that I hate a class? Doesn't sound very teacherly, does it?) It is always taken over by the boys in the class. None of whom do anything or care at all. Some of the girls will do their work and bring their books, sometimes. But they can't ever speak over the din of the boys talking in the back. And you can't do anything to stop it. There is no detention hall, no notes home to parents, no punishment for anything. One day I stood in front of the class and told my teacher to translate everything I was saying exactly (because the boys don't know anything except "Sit down" and "Shut up!" which they yell out constantly during class). I told them they were disrespectful and they should be ashamed at themselves. Shame. Yep, that's a big word in this culture. It didn't get them to stop talking, but it did actually draw them out of their little chit chatting. Ahh well, baby steps, I guess.

Wednesday is my busy day. I go to 8th, 4th, and 9th grades. I get done at 2:20. It was originally 2 o'clock when I first got here in February, but the schools have switched to their warm weather schedules. So now I'm done at 2:20. I have to rush up the hill to my house (about a 10 or 15 minute walk), grab a very quick lunch, then race up to the university by 3 where 2 other TLG volunteers and myself teach English to Telavi University professors. I teach the advanced class. Although "teach" isn't really an appropriate term. I basically show up and have conversations in English. This is the most cultural interchange I probably have all week. Most conversations come down to what they do in Georgia versus what we do in the U.S. It's really interesting and it's a really good forum where I have a valid reason to ask all the stupid questions I have about Georgian culture. After that I go to the gym again. Yay, gym!

And then there's Thursday. I have 8th and 6th grades and then 3rd grade. The 3rd grade is good. It's mostly playing games. But the problem is that I am really handicapped by the language barrier. My co-teacher for the 3rd grade is my worst teacher. I have to repeat everything I say at least once- her conversational skills are next to nil. And the 3rd graders' English isn't good enough to understand what I say unless it's basic questions about what's in the book. So I'm really dependent on this teacher who can't understand me. It eats up a lot of class time. This is also the same teacher who blew me off several times when I had tried to arrange meetings with her to make lesson plans. And when we eventually get around to making lesson plans she doesn't pay attention to them during class anyway. She is really a terrible teacher. It's so frustrating.

But Thursdays always get better. After school I catch a marshrutka (the minibuses that are the primary mode of transportation throughout the country. There isn't really an organized public transit system, just the minibuses) to Akhmeta, a town about 40 minutes away. Akhmeta is where the UNHCR office is located for the region. One of the girls from my group is living with the director of the UNHCR Akhmeta office and helps run the Pankisi Community Center. Pankisi is one of the major areas where Chechen refugees are living. I visited Pankisi for three days last time I was in Georgia. Those were the most powerful three days I think I've ever had and I knew I wanted to try and come back, even just for a visit. But now I can do more than just visit. Every Thursday I go to Pankisi and teach two English classes. The first is for high school seniors who don't have much occasion to practice what they learn in class. I really like this class because they actually want to learn. Sometimes I forget that these kinds of students exist! After the seniors I teach the staff who work at the community center. They are a really great class, too! These women are so funny and have such lovely personalities. I'm pretty sure most of them are refugees (which reminds me: You should never do the activity of describing the rooms of your house while teaching refugees. Mostly because the dining room, living room, bedroom, and kitchen can be the same room. I was so embarrassed when I did that. Oi vey). I wish my Russian was better so I could sit down and talk to them and hear their stories. The staff of the community center is entirely women and they are so inspiring. I always leave Pankisi in a good mood. Always.

And then it's Friday! I wish I could say Fridays were easy, but they are anything but. I have all day with my worst teacher. Our first class is 7th grade, then there is a 10 minute break, and then we have the 7th grade again. It is the most foolish way of organizing a class. I'm sure the students love it because they don't have as much homework. But I think it's a foolish waste of time. After the 7th grade it gets a bit easy with the 3rd grade, but I still find myself wicked stressed after leaving school at the end of the day. My bad teacher is just so bad. And it's an evil cycle: her students don't speak or understand English very well, so I'm dependent on her translating everything I say, which eats up more time, which means that the students don't learn as much and they stay in this stagnant place. It's so frustrating. At the end of the day I usually end up calling someone in the area just go to a cafe and chill out. By the end of the week I'm usually in need of a casual drink with a friend. And I do mean casual- drinking with the host fam is always a huge ordeal that requires toasting and eating and drinking to excess. Sometimes I just want to hang out, chat, and have a beer. Well, ideally I'd like to have a cocktail, but they seem hard to come by in this country of beer and wine. I didn't really have a problem with this until about 2 weeks ago when I was walking down the street and out of nowhere I thought of gin and tonics. Ever since then I can't stop thinking about them, especially since the weather is getting nicer. But I have yet to see any limes or tonic water in this country, a sad fact I'll have to live with until July. And I don't understand how they can be bereft of limes. They have oranges and lemons everywhere, so why not limes?

Wow, that was quite the sidetrack. It's probably a bad sign when you're talking about work and you get sidetracked onto cocktails. But these things happen... evidently.

Weekends are always different. Sometimes I'll go into Tbilisi if I need a break from Telavi. But it can get so expensive, especially because it's almost impossible to spend an afternoon in the capital. It just makes more sense to stay the night, which is 20 lari right there (I get a TLG discount at this one hostel that's in the center of town. It's really great. It's called Boombully. Definitely check it out if you ever find yourself in Tbilisi). I try not to go into Tbilisi too often. Most weekends I'll stay in Telavi, see other volunteers in the area, and basically chill out.

So that's what my week looks like. I hope I haven't bored you too much. But I figured I should account for what my job actually is. People might start to suspect that I've been hired to just hang out and travel around; although, that was the driving conspiracy theory behind my last blog post, wasn't it? But despite the looks of things, I do actually have a job here. I promise.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Hours in a Kutaisi Police Station

On the evening of Sunday, April 17, 2011, approximately between 1900 hours and 1915 hours I lost my wallet on the street or in a minibus in Kutaisi, Georgia. It was pink. It contained 150 lari, my bank cards (American and Georgian), my health insurance cards (American and Georgian), my American driver's license, and several hundred dollars in American gift cards. I know these details quite well now because I spent two hours in a police station explaining the contents of my wallet and the events surrounding its disappearance.

I now sincerely regret going to the Kutaisi police because of a simple wallet that I will undoubtedly never see again, a fact I have now come to terms with. But upon the realization that it was gone I panicked slightly, it being the first time I had ever lost a wallet. I was in Kutaisi traveling with a friend, both of us are English teachers in the eastern part of Georgia, about a 5 hour drive away (if you are lucky enough to have your own car and not the public buses). As I was traveling and away from my town and I had never lost a wallet before I had no clue what I should do. I called up Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG), the teaching program I work for, and they told me to go to the police. And thus began an epic endeavor that would color not only that evening, but the entirety of my three days in Kutaisi.

My friend and I arrived at the police station a little before 10 o'clock at night. There was a detective working there who spoke a little bit of English. However, to be on the safe side, I called TLG to help me translate. I gave them a description of my wallet, where I lost it, and what it contained. After hanging up with TLG the female detective who spoke English told us to sit down upstairs. It would only be another 10 or 15 minutes.

Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president, has been pouring money into police departments all over the country to renovate the police stations. The aesthetic is all glass facades- a symbol of transparency. The Kutaisi police station had clearly been recently renovated- the walls and floors were all shiny white marble and you could see the pristine condition of the desks in the upstairs office. But the facade was not glass. It was the standard pink stucco of most Georgian buildings. I'm sure they didn't opt out of the glass facade in order to continue their corrupt ways or anything, don't think I'm alluding to that. Although I did find it odd to have renovated the police station top to bottom (there were before and after pictures hanging on the wall), but neglect to give it the standard Saakashvili touch.

When I went to the office upstairs I was offered a seat in a large, barren office area. There were the new desks arranged in two clusters of four. Most of them were empty, save a few papers and personal items. Definitely no computers in sight. I sat down and watched a James Bond movie that had been left on in the empty room. After 20 minutes the female detective came upstairs and I asked her if they had tried calling the other police stations to see if anyone had turned in my wallet. It had been over 3 hours since I lost it. My primary hope in going to the police in the first place was for them to contact the other stations in the city. I did not expect any crack detective work, I just wanted to see if anyone had turned it in somewhere.

About half an hour after arriving I was informed that a local English teacher would be coming to help get my statement, which I had already given to them via the TLG translator on the phone when I first arrived. My friend and I were shuffled into a smaller office. Despite the fact that the office had all of the lights off and the door had been locked, the television in there had also been left on, and it remained turned on during the entirety of my interview.

After waiting another half an hour I was introduced to a rather unsavory looking detective who's gun was rather hastily shoved into the waistband of his trousers. Although he seemed friendly enough, I got the impression that I would not want to be on the wrong side of the interview table from him. To kill time before the English translator arrived I was given the usual Georgian line of questioning, “Do you like Georgia?” “Do you like Georgian food? Khachapuri? Khinkali?” “What are you going to see while you are here?” It was our first night in Kutaisi, so I gave a list of the sights we were planning on seeing, something I would later come to regret.

The English teacher finally arrived and we went through a long hour of repeating the same basic facts. "I got my wallet out to get money while waiting for the 1 bus." "I shoved it in my bag as I saw the bus coming." "No, no one was around me at the time. No, no one saw how much money was in my wallet." "No, no one could have stuck their hand in my bag. It was on my lap the entire time." "Did someone steal it? Probably not. I don't know."

There were many times I wanted to say that if I knew exactly how I lost it I wouldn't be here in the first place. But I figured that would not be the best thing to say to these rather greasy looking detectives. Shortly before midnight I finally signed my statement-which had been entirely hand written by a yawning officer on a blank piece of computer paper. And before I left I was instructed to come back in the morning at 11 o'clock to pick up my "official documents- free of charge." I had to suppress a groan at the thought of returning to the police station. And I had to suppress a laugh at the thought of being charged for paperwork- damn right it'll be free of charge. I don't have any way of paying you, anyway.

At 10:55 the next morning I trudged my way to the station. The officer at the front desk looked at me uncomprehendingly when I tried to explain that I had been there the night before because I lost my wallet. No English. He went to find someone that could understand me. "Khuti tsuti" (5 minutes), and he raced upstairs. The person sent down to understand me also had a bit of a problem. "Please wait here five minutes." He also raced upstairs and returned with a rather tall, friendly looking man who arrived to state quite bluntly, "Our computers are down. Come back later."

"When?" I asked with a sinking feeling developing in my stomach.

The man turned to the clock behind him (11:20). "After 5 o'clock." Presumably, his shift was over at 5 o'clock.

So what more could I do but leave? By this point I was determined not to let this bother me or my trip. My friend had offered to lend me some money and it was only my first day in Kutaisi. So we went out for the day to see the sights. We returned to the city center around 7 and I had very little desire to spend another night at the police station. We returned to the apartment where we were couchsurfing. I was plenty happy to call my wallet gone for good. The police could not do anything to help, and I doubted they would even try. So why should I dedicate more time to a lost cause?

Around 11 o'clock that night my friend and I were sitting around in our guest bedroom talking, when suddenly we heard the large metal front door creaking open and someone shouting, "Chase?" (the name of our host) We heard Chase come out of his room and say, "You can't just come in, you need to knock before you come in." He said it in a rather even, if slightly irritated, tone. The intrusive speaker, who I would find out later was Chase's landlord, mumbled something of which the only word I could understand was "police." I let out a groan and hauled myself into the living room. The detective from the night before (the one with the gun shoved into his waistband) was standing in the middle of the room, looking like he owned the place- and rightfully so, as his wide girth seemed to make the room look smaller.

"You did not come to the police station today," Chase's landlord said.

"Yes, I did," I stated, without doing much to veil my exasperation. "I came at 11 o'clock. They said their computers were down."

"They need your passport. You must come."

"Now?" I piped in a high pitched tone.

He conversed with the detective in Georgian for a second and responded, "No, you may come tomorrow morning at 11."


They left and the apartment felt bigger again. Safer. I apologized profusely to Chase, whom I had only met the day before and who's kindness I was dependent upon for my housing. My mother has always told me to never trust the police. She was a public defense attorney in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Boston. Her voice was running through my head the entire time I was at the police station. They wanted to know where I was staying in Kutaisi. As I said, I was couchsurfing with this guy. He did not have to let me stay there, and considering that the police barged into his apartment looking for me I'm surprised he didn't kick me out then and there. The police had my phone number. If they really needed to find me they could have easily called me. But instead they walked into someone's house without permission and without even knocking. I realized that I had no choice but to deal with them, no matter how much I just wanted to forget about the whole ordeal.

Once again, at 11 o'clock the next morning I found myself back at the police station. This time their computers were working and the English speaking female detective was there. After having my passport xeroxed and receiving 7 copies of the same piece of paper without any explanation of what these paper were for- they were entirely in Georgian, save my name- I thought I was free to leave. But the female detective asked where my friend and I were going that day. We wanted to go out of town to the Sataplia caves.

"Yes. We will have a police officer drive you," she responded.

"No, no. That is alright. We are going to get a taxi. We do not need a police officer." But there was no point in arguing. We were getting a police officer to drive us. We were also instructed to come back to the police station the next morning, the morning of our departure to Tbilisi, in order to get a ride from the police to the bus station.

We were handed over to a police officer in uniform and a plain clothes detective (with a gun sticking out of his waistband). We got into a large SUV with no sign that it was a police vehicle other than a siren attached to it somewhere (which they used to break up the line at the gas station). The SUV took us to the edge of town where they pulled over to the side of the road next to a waiting taxi. The uniformed officer got out and spoke to the cab driver, then returned to open my door and repeat, "Sataplia, Sataplia." I have no idea why we needed to go so far just to be put into a cab. Maybe it was cheaper away from the city center? Maybe the police officer knew this driver? I have no clue. Due to the language barrier, most of my interactions with the Kutaisi Police Department went unexplained.

The next morning I prepared a note for the English speaking female detective explaining we had left for Tbilisi. My friend and I could not be bothered to go through a whole ordeal of getting a ride from the police again. So I wrote the note in the hopes that the detective was not working and I would be able to escape the city unnoticed. This was the one time I was glad not to find someone who spoke English. I went to the officer at the front desk, handed him the note and said the detective's name. The officer told me she would not be in until 10. I tried to convey that it was okay- "Kargi. Kargi" (Good. Good). He started to get his phone out, clearly with the intent of calling her. And I said, "No, no." and mimed him giving her the letter. Eventually he got it and I left quickly.

I can not help but think that all of my interactions with the police in Kutaisi were so absurd and quite unnecessary. The first night did not need to last as long as it did, and the succeeding days did not really require a daily trip to the police station. Every day I was in Kutaisi I went to the police station once. I'm sure all of this transpired because of two factors- the language barrier and the fact that I am a foreigner. Because of the language barrier everything took longer and there were miscommunications. Because I was a foreigner they were clearly going out of their way for me. I'm sure most Georgians would not go to the police if they lost their wallet, which would probably explain the fact that it took them two hours to get my written statement together. And I know that if a Georgian were in the same position as I had been in, they probably would not offer them rides around town. I don't know if this was the famous Georgian hospitality kicking in, or if their hope was to impress me, but whatever the reason I was disgusted with the whole affair.

Saakashvili considers his reforms of the Georgian police to be his most major achievement. Of his reforms he has said, “Together with you [police officers], we have created one of the most successful, one of the most well-equipped, one of the most efficient police force in the country, where the reputation of police was extremely bad just several years ago.” (Civil Georgia, 'Saakashvili Hails Georgian Police as "Most Efficient,"' 24 June, 2006 <>) I wish I could say I agree with him. It is clear the Saakashvili administration has put a lot of money into the police force, but from my experience this money appears to be going towards making things look nice, but not improving the roots of the problems. Saakashvili claims the police are "well-equipped." I saw only one computer at the station in Kutaisi. Saakashvili says they are efficient. The officer taking my statement did not know what to do- his supervisor had to dictate everything to him, while several other detectives sat around watching television. If I have witnessed the result of years worth of reform, I am truly afraid to think about the state of the Georgian police ten years ago.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Google Saved My Life

Over the past month I've been waking up some mornings with the strange urge to google search random things. I'm not talking I-wonder-what-the-capital-of-Mongolia-is strange ( it's Ulaanbaatar, in case you were wondering). I'm talking how-do-I-survive-a-dog-attack? strange and what-are-the-symptoms-of-bochulism? strange. I haven't had any dog attack or botulism related dreams, at least not that I can remember. In fact, the dreams I can remember have been remarkably mundane. But I still wake up with the need to know how to survive these life-threatening situations.

Well, it turns out to have paid off.

I was walking to school the other day and I suddenly noticed a very cute dog standing in the open doorway of a fenced-in yard (all the houses in Georgia have some sort of wall, gate, or fencing around their yards and homes. This results in the streets resembling a long, high walled wind tunnels). Telavi has a lot of stray dogs and dogs that probably belong to someone because you always see them near the same house, but they just wander around outside during the day. I've been here for about 2 months and I have not once met an unfriendly dog, and on one occasion I met an, erm, overly friendly dog. When I came upon this particular dog in the gateway I was startled at first not because of the dog, but simply because I hadn't been paying attention. When I saw the dog I paused and noticed that it had a thin, broken rope dangling from its neck and it had already been staring at me. I quickly took an inventory of everything I could remember from the eHow article on surviving a dog attack. I wasn't more than five feet away, so there was no way of avoiding the dog. I blinked to break eye contact and decided to walk on slowly in the direction of the opposite side of the street. Although I had never met an unfriendly dog in Telavi, and this dog couldn't have been more than thirty pounds, I still had a bad feeling about this particular pooch.

As I stepped forward the dark barked and jumped out of the gateway, straight towards my legs. Instinct told me to flee! Run away! Run away! But google had told me to stand still. I came to a dead stop and bent my knees, ready for the dog to pounce on me. I actually stopped so quickly I swayed back in the direction of the dog. This ended up freaking the dog out and it fell out of its lunge towards me, scrambling to get back to the gateway. I stood there for a moment, waiting to see if Fido would make a jump for me again. Thankfully it seemed content to defend its territory from the safety of its yard. I crossed the street calmly, but with haste and felt the tingling going up my spine the rest of the way to school.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tourist for Hire

I received an interesting phone call today from TLG, the government program that I am working for. They were calling to let me know that they offering an excursion for volunteers this weekend which was leaving from Telavi, the town I live in. Alexander, the friendly Georgian in charge of these excursions, wanted to know if I was interested in joining this all expenses paid, one day excursion. Unfortunately, I had already made plans for the weekend. Alexander seemed a little disappointed, but assured me there was another free excursion next Sunday and he promised to e-mail me the information.

Alexander's call was very informative and I appreciated his effort to inform me of this complementary outing. But at the same time the call reminded me of a telemarketer calling to let me know about a free weekend at a ski resort, if I would only agree to an hour long informational session, or a free lunch for anyone interested in a real deal of a cruise package! But, no. Of course these excursions aren't gimmicks to get me to buy something... Or are they?

The teaching program I'm on is called TLG, Teach and Learn with Georgia. It is run by the Georgian Ministry of Education and its objective is to bring native English speakers into Georgian public schools and teach English alongside a Georgian English teacher. At its heart it is an educational program. But I can't seem to shake this nagging feeling that it is also some greater tourism ploy. And this suspicion is not unfounded. From the outset TLG has strongly encouraged us "volunteers" (because we are technically, legally, and contractually called volunteers, an irony that I will reveal later) to travel around Georgia. Although TLG is an educational program, it is also a cultural interchange program. We live with host families- which, as you may have inferred from my previous blogs, is a whole lot of cultural interchange. As a result of living with host families we get to know the culture of the area we are living in. TLG also encourages us to visit fellow TLG'ers around the country, which offers a chance to learn more about the cultures in different areas; and in a country that's only the size of South Carolina, there are actually significant differences between the regions. (Me? I'm in the region known for its traditional values and aversion to social change. Great.)

It is not surprising that TLG encourages us to travel. Most of us are under 30 and if we're willing to take a job in the tiny, little known country of Georgia than chances are we are a group of people not averse to travel. But what I was surprised by was just how emphatic they are about getting us to travel around the country. In order for TLG "volunteers" to be able to travel around we are actually paid more per month than our Georgian co-teachers. Yes, you read that right. We get paid more than our co- teachers who do this thanklessly day in and day out. And it is not a small difference. Volunteers working for TLG get paid 500 lari after taxes every month. The average Georgian schoolteacher gets paid 100-200 lari per month. This is an awkwardly huge discrepancy that I am often embarrassed of when people ask me what I get paid. And Georgians do ask what we get paid, often. I have met people and within five minutes of being introduced they have asked me what I get paid. The extra salary is not going toward our savings for flights back home, either. TLG pays for our flights to and from Georgia, including summer vacation. During our week-long orientation the TLG staff was quite open about the fact that we get paid this extra amount in order for us to travel around Georgia, and in part to compensate for some of the situations that people might be placed in. In a country where a kilo of fruit or vegetables might cost as little as 3 lari, 500 lari goes a long way.

So why the expense? It's not like the Ministry of Education and Science couldn't use the money somewhere else, like making sure every school has heat and electricity, basic supplies for schools such as chalk and proper chalk boards, repairing the rooms that simply can't be used because the floors have been torn up and the windows have been broken. The list could go on. Perhaps the government hopes that by bringing enough foreigners into this tiny Caucasian country- they're goal is to have 1,000 volunteers by the end of the school year- that word will spread about what a wonderful vacation spot Georgia is. After all, when the program started they placed volunteers in the west of Georgia, on the Black Sea. I don't know how familiar you are with Soviet-era vacation spots, but let's just say Moscow is still green with envy that they don't have easy access to Batumi any more. The program has been moving eastward. My group, which arrived in January was the first to be placed in the Kakheti region, the last region in the east of the country. Despite the fact that the TLG program is being run out of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital and about an hour and a half car ride from Telavi, they started placing people in the west. The west of Georgia not only has beautiful beaches but it is also a lot more socially progressive. And it is in Batumi, the biggest town in the west, that Donald Trump will have another tower in his name. This latest mammoth of gambling and western "culture" (any dictionary with a definition of culture including Donald Trump should be sent back to the editor) is the product of a friendship between Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, and Donald Trump himself. Clearly, the president has high hopes for Batumi to become the latest summer hot spot.

I might be thinking about this too much, but I simply can't shake the feeling that this is all part of a greater desire by the Georgian government to propel itself back to the "first world" or the "developed world" (which ever term is no longer politically incorrect). I had a conversation with a Georgian man not much older than myself today and he told me that Georgia used to look at countries like India and Pakistan (those were his countries of choice, not mine) and think how nice it was to not be in the third world. But now Georgia is behind. After independence in 1991 Georgia went through a few civil wars, which left a majority of the nation without electricity, even Tbilisi had regulated blackouts at night. This electricity crisis lasted several years. It was probably this period that caused Georgia to slip "out of the top." As other countries in the world were quite literally powering forward- advancing technology, incorporating computers into daily life, developing this little thing called the world wide web- Georgia didn't have any power. And to this day there are stop lights in Telavi that have not worked since Georgia became an independent country. If there are any Georgian political experts in the audience, please correct me if I'm wrong with this theoretical summary of modern Georgian history. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that is is a bad thing for a country to want to improve its status in the world and bring in foreign investments, but I do want them to be up front about it. If I'm being used to promote Georgia, just give me a heads up, and maybe a bumper sticker or something. However, before Georgia uses all of this energy and money, they should sit down with a mirror and see what needs to be fixed internally before they focus on external opinion.

Perhaps the Georgian government hopes that these several hundred volunteers will spread the word about this sleepy little country with high hopes. Perhaps I am simply a pawn, part of some plan thought of during some governmental financial planning meeting. All I know is that no matter what ulterior motives may lie behind my being here, I am here. And I will enjoy my time here while I have it, even if I am playing right into their hands...