Gratitude Getting Announced

Greenheart Travel recognized our Chalkboard Project once again on their blog. I had sent the thank you cards the 5th graders to made to a lovely woman named Sara who works at GreenHeart. She was the woman I spent the most time emailing back and forth questions, updates, and anything other tid-bits along the way. I thought it would be a nice, unexpected surprise for her and everyone there. Anyone who works in nonprofits or socially responsibly companies probably never get enough thanks for what they do.

I’m so happy to see their excitement for something that took little effort and a lot of heart to create.  And please note, I did misspell a word on my handwritten card  - oops –  and I’m an English teacher for crying out loud!

One of my favorite cards they made that day.

One of my favorite cards they made that day.

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Featured on GreenHeart Travel!

I just had to share this with you all! I was asked by Greenheart Travel, who granted us the funds for the chalkboards, to write a little bit about the project.

As I was writing this I felt as if I were back in Shroma, catching the marshrutka “home,” unloading the boards at the school, celebrating with a supra, and hanging the first board with my precious grade 6 class. I’m so lucky I found Greenheart Travel and for our project to have been accepted by them. Thank you again and again and again.

Here’s the link just in case you want to copy and paste it:

 http://greenhearttravel.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/erasing-shromas-chalkboards/

Out with the old!

Out with old, I say!

In with the new!!!

In with the new, I say!!!

 

 

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I Miss You Georgia

It’s been hard to accept the fact that I’ve left Georgia! I really didn’t want to leave. I had even been accepted to extend my volunteering contract to a full year so I had the option to stay. However, my financial debts need immediate attention…which requires a paying job.

So, soon enough I’ll be on my way to financial freedom and who knows where I’ll go after! For now, as a way of helping my broken heart cope with having to leave earlier than I would have liked, I’ve written down 20 reasons why I’ll miss the Republic of Georgia so much. As I read through each one again and again, I’ve been able to release this experience to the past and take the bold next step along my path. I hope this helps you also wrap up the time you spent with me along the way and possibly even tempt you to visit this amazing little country someday too!

My I Miss List

1. I miss the feeling of a community where people care for you just because you exist.

2. I miss the children chanting “English! English! English!” at the tops of their lungs in the hallway before I enter the classroom and start a lesson.

3. I miss how creative I had to become because my only teaching materials were a piece of chalk and a chalkboard.

4. I miss having a little brother to play with and tutor.

5. I miss my crazy weekends in T’bilisi surrounded by friends where I didn’t have to speak in fragments.

6. I miss the unreliability of all transportation which makes any trip worth remembering.

7. I miss how precious the water supply is and how much I appreciate a meal not because of it’s taste but because I watched as it was laboriously made over the course of days and weeks.

8. I miss how people don’t judge each other by how they look, but when someone does dress up (or shower) it’s noticed and mentioned.

9. I miss never knowing when I’d have electricity which helped me focus my writing.

10. I miss having the oldest version of a cell phone anyone can ever remember seeing and that we all had to actually call each other.

11. I miss the feeling of complete freedom to travel anywhere and trust that life’s magic would work everything out along the way.

12. I miss the hours of open time to think and reflect.

13. I miss the spontaneity of plans and the paradoxical “relaxed rush” to get places.

14. I miss the complete trust I had to give to my host mother whenever we left the house since I never knew where we were going.

15. I miss how kiss-y and touch-y everyone is with each other.

16. I miss how loud everyone speaks.

17. I miss how nothing is taken for granted and even the tiniest gifts seem even more precious.

18. I miss making a visible, exciting, and meaningful difference in peoples lives.

19. And I miss being amazed by everything and everyone around me.

20. But the one thing I don’t miss – is the taste of the food. Oh, how I’ve missed Mac n’ Cheese, Hatch Green Chiles, and Hummus with Cheetos!

So, thanks again for coming along with me on this adventure! I’ll be visiting family and friends for the next 3 months – and then off again to a new country: full of strange new things, food, people, festivals, and customs! Show me what you got South Korea!

I’ll be seeing you all then!

Just a regular day in the local market in Ozurgeti….gonna miss Oz too.

 

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Home. Safe and Sound.

After hours of flying, a multi-hour layover in Warsaw, Poland, and then even more hours of flying….I’ve made it home.

I’ve got to say it was very hard leaving Georgia. I didn’t want to leave, and I had been granted an extension to my contract for another year. But, one of my goals for the coming year is to pay off my debt and that is something I can’t do volunteering my time. So, after my early hour interview, I’ve been accepted into the EPIK program in South Korea and will be heading there in February!

Winter in Warsaw is a very beautiful place....and cold!

Winter in Warsaw is a very beautiful place….and cold!

The adventurous crew I spent the day with exploring Warsaw between flights.

The adventurous crew I spent the day with exploring Warsaw between flights.

And me - back in the American Southwest!

And me – back in the American Southwest!

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Final day in Georgia 2012

I arrived in T’bilisi bright and early off the night train! I had do get a few things done like turn in my TLG phone and get my Certificate of Completion from the head office…but the rest of the day was spent wondering the streets with the few friends who were also in the city waiting to fly out that evening with me.

What a gorgeous day it was too…I wish my pictures could really capture how lovely this city is when it snows. During these very frigid winter days I’d been hoping to see this city covered in a blanked of snow…and I got my wish! We took the gondolas to the top of the mountain that over looks the city to get a few photos and hurried back down out of the cold. T’bilisi feels so calm and cozy when it’s snowing, and today was the perfect last day in the country….like a deep, cold breath of air and a snuggly, warm hug all rolled up into one.

I want to thank the country of Georgia for being such a hidden gem and allowing me the opportunity to glimpse into their world – I’m so so lucky to have had a chance to experience it.

მე  მიყვარს  საქართველო. / me mikhvars sakartvelo / I love Georgia.

And I also want to thank all who has followed me along during these past few months….it’s been a wild ride on this side – and I hope I’ve entertained, enlightened, and inspired you all in some way through it all!

Kargad (bye) for now!

T'bilisi greeted me with snow!

T’bilisi greeted me with snow!

Lovely bridge in the heart of T'bilisi.

Lovely bridge in the heart of T’bilisi.

 

What a Winter Wonderland!

What a Winter Wonderland!

T'bilisi from the top!

T’bilisi from the top!

Set and ready for Christmas...the streets are beautiful at night!

Set and ready for Christmas…the streets are beautiful at night!

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Goodbye my lovely Georgian Family

After my last day at school I walked home and began to pack. I had only brought one bag, so it didn’t take long. I joined the family downstairs for the remaining few hours before I left to catch my overnight train with Kanise back to T’bilisi. There was an odd feeling in the room because we all knew that so soon all our lives would change again…for them it would return back to normal – before I had arrived, but there would be an emptiness in the room that I had created and filled for the past 5 months. And for me, I would be returning to the States, a place so completely different from what I’d grown accustomed to here. Even thought I know what I’m returning to, I know it will come as a shock, as it always does, of how much abundance and opportunity we have.

So, together we waited just doing what we always do…watching TV, cooking, Toma doing homework. (But then we totally escaped outside for a few minutes and threw rotten oranges off the backyard cliff – which was totally fun!) Toma and I returned because, after all, it’s freezing here, and soaked up the last moments of what it felt like to be together in this place in all our lives. I made sure Nino had all my contact information and passwords for the email and skype we’d set her up with, and I left my USB internet stick for her as well. I’d been saving a gift from the States for Toma this entire time and was so excited to finally give it to him! It was an Animal Bingo set! If you all remember, he doesn’t really have many toys - so an interactive game like this seemed shinier, brighter, and more exquisite that you or I might think…I could see it in his eyes. He opened it and we began playing immediately. There were a few new animals he didn’t know so I wrote out how to pronounce them in Kartuli phonetics so he could practice when I’m not around. When Tamuna arrived to take me in her car to Kanis’ house, he gently packed it up, making sure each and every piece was in it’s proper place. I knew he was going to love it.

Suddenly, the moment was upon us. I was leaving. This was it. I turned and Nino was already crying, which made me cry as well. I have so much respect for this very strong woman. I’ve watched her work from dawn to dusk to make sure we have enough to eat, make a living at her job, help Toma do his homework and do whatever else the house, land, or kitchen requires of her. She’s raising a son on her own in a developing country doing everything she can to help him move up in life. She wears makeup in a country where this isn’t the most common, she’s danced and lead groups of singing girls to different countries in the area, and she opened her home to me to show Toma what other worlds look like and practice his English. I want her to succeed and I hope one day she gets her chance to rest, because she deserves it all. We gave each other a long hug and I turned to Medico, whose eyes had also filled with tears. I was surprised at how much emotion was coming from her, I suppose I just hadn’t realized that even though we couldn’t speak togehter, I have been a constant part of her life for the past few months as well. I turned to Toma, who for the most part was focusing very hard on trying not to cry. I gave him a hug and said “Chemi dzma,” (my brother) with a watery-eyed smile.

They walked me through the front yard and to the car…where we cried again and had another round of hugs. I got in the car, we drove away, and it all finally felt real. I was leaving Shroma and my Georgian family….until we meet again.

Medico (bebia/grandma), Nino (deda/mother), Toma (dzma/brother) and Me saying our farewells.

Goodbye hugs with Tamuna, my English co-teacher in Shroma.

 

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Ice Cream Parties!!!

I can hardly believe it’s my last day in Shroma. It’s all gone so quickly…and dragged so slowly at times. I taught all my classes the song “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” as you can see on that amazing chalkboard in the first picture below. I also followed through on my promise to have an Ice cream Party. Now, a word on that first: When you promise nearly 50 children in two different classes an Ice Cream Party at the end of a hard working semester….make sure Ice Cream is in season in that country in December. Yea, that’s right “in season.” Apparently, this country stops selling ice cream in the fall.  Luckily, Kanise saved me and had found a tub or two in Ureki – a town just north of Shroma. So on Monday, we ventured up there after school and found (I’m not even kidding) the very last reserved of ice cream in the entire country. Four beautiful tubs of ice cream lay buried at the bottom of a freezer filled with chicken and frozen khinkali (meat dumplings). I got all four and kept them in the freezer at Nino’s house until today. 

After learning and singing the song everyone whipped out little plates and forks for their ice cream party! I mixed crushed cookies in the ice cream – at first to just make it taste even better but then I realized it made the ice cream go further too! Ice cream in the winter was pretty weird with no in door heating I’ve got to say, but it was such a crazy special treat for all the kids I don’t think they minded how cold it was. Once they were finished and had licked their plates clean, they neatly wrapped them up in plastic bags to take home…..then came the good byes. (*tears. *many of them.)

We had groups hugs, individual hugs, boys only hugs and girls only hugs, and even more kisses on cheeks. I was given a red stringed necklace from Tamta, one of my 5th grade girls, and that is now my most treasured piece of jewelry. These kids who have so little give me all they have – these moments today are one of the sweetest moments I’ve had my entire life. To visibly see the impact I’ve had on these kids as well as the lasting change I’m leaving behind (in the form of books and chalkboards)….I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was filled with supreme happiness and a sharp twinge of pain as I said good bye to the community I’d joined.

I went back over to my 6th grade class for one final goodbye. I walked into the room and looked at them all siting there – they looked at me and I opened my mouth to tell them that I was leaving, but burst into tears instead. They rushed to me and again, I had another round of hugs and kisses and tears being wiped from my face. I said all their names as I hugged them individually or gave them high-fives. I left with my eyes will watering and went to the teachers room to say my farewells. This was also hard to get through without a tissue or two on hand for everyone there.

I took a few deep breaths and started walking back home to pack my single suitcase for my travels home. As I walked through the cold, I had to admit, ice cream on the day you say good bye just can’t be beat.

5th Grade Class Pic with our Ice Cream Poster!

The greatest Hugs I’ve ever received.

Even more hugs!

6th Graders Celebrating!

 

 

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