Didi Madloba (Big Thank Yous)

Today the 6th graders got a chance to be as crafty as they possibly could – and probably for the first time in school! As promised, after all the donations to get this class the Level 3 English World Books, I wanted to send all the donors something unique. This is a school where not all the children have school books, let along a notebook and pencil so when I arrived with fancy heavy-weight paper, class photos, and loads of colored paper, markers, glue and glitter to make Thank you Cards, they could hardly contain themselves! I handed them each the cards with the pictures already taped on and a slip inside with a donor’s name. Every single one of them wanted to know more about their person and I did my best to describe you all and your many amazing qualities. They wanted to know where I’d met you all, if you were part of my family, what you looked like, and how old you were….to say the least it was probably very exhausting for Tamuna my amazing co-teacher and constant translator.

At first they were a little confused about what they should do exactly with these thank you cards. They’d never made anything like this before. And, I think they didn’t want to “mess up” because they knew these were very important papers. So I lead them with a few ideas for sentences in English and Kartuli, cutting out hearts and where to put the glitter…which as most of you know ended up EVERYWHERE. It didn’t take long for their creative minds to take over and start decorating each card with gusto!

When the bell rang no one wanted to leave. They were all trying their hardest to make each one perfect, it was really touching. I’ve never seen so many kids so focused on a project that had touched them on the level this had. These really were Thank you Cards made with love. I know for some of these kids – the English books you all provided were the first school book they’ve ever been able to write their names in. Some of them came in during breaks in the day to finish decorating too.

I then took all the markers and extra paper to my 5th grade class, where they made Thank you cards for the ladies I corresponded with in GreenHeart Travel and who helps us get the grant for all the chalkboards. Oh man, did that class go wild with excitement! They were so proud to have this responsibility, they also stayed after class to finish up.

I hope the cards are something special you will all cherish – made by hand from some amazing children who now have their eyes on a larger world than just their small village in Georgia. I can only say it a million more times: Thank you so so much my friends…..or in Kartuli: Didi Madloba Megobrebi.

So many Thank Yous to count!

A close up of a group Thank you card. So pretty!

….and on the inside we all signed our names!

A pile of the 5th Graders Thank You Cards!


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Giorgi the Little Rascal

I’d like to take a moment to share with you in detail a person I rarely mention but with whom I interact with almost on a daily basis. His name is Giorgi and he’s in 4th grade. He’s one of our neighbor’s kids and spends many hours of every day working with his mother for Nino at our house. Unknown to him (or anyone for that matter), I started calling him the Little Rascal, because to me, he encompasses everything those words are meant to describe.

He’s a troubled kid to start. He’s very poor, probably illiterate in his own language and can barely understand the English alphabet. He’s a bully and also one who gets bullied at school. He’s short but stalky and strong and it’s taken him a very long time to warm up to me. I think at first when I would wave at him or use his name at school when I said hello, he was embarrassed since I was sorta calling him out of the crowd. I had only been wanting to show him that I had remembered him and make him feel special….but it seemed to have the opposite effect. So I started playing a little rougher and would tousle his hair when I walked by, or call his name and make a funny face at him…which seemed to loosen him up a bit but I still think he just thought I was crazy.

Then, as the days went on and we would find ourselves walking in the same direction home at the same time, he started offering to carry my bag. I handed him my bag but then looked at this strong little monster and realized how awkward it was for him to carry my heavy bag along with all of his books which he carried in a plastic bag. I took my bag back but offered my very light weight vest for him to carry as to not break his spirit or sense of duty or manliness. And this became our routine. Giorgi and me bags in hand and him carrying my vest the long uphill climb home.

As my time at the school drew to an end I started making a point to pull the 4 illiterate kids in my 4th grade class aside. I gave them notebooks like my 6th graders and taped the Kartuli Rosetta Stone I had made to it. I gave them special writing assignments during class and congratulated them at the end of each day for their efforts. I could see their excitement at my encouragement and approval in something they had done right – and possibly right for the first time in English class. Giorgi was one of these students…and I don’t think it was until those moments that he finally decided I might be crazy, but I was alright.

When I was in Batumi last weekend I spent about an hour looking for the tiniest but still cool looking backpack for my Little Rascal. I found a cargo printed one that seemed almost too small, but I got it anyways. Today, I gave it to him at Nino’s house with his mother present. I had also tucked in another notebook, pencils, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener too. There wasn’t anyone there to truly translate for me, but Toma did a great job I think. I told them I wanted to thank him for always carrying my vest on our walks home – and to be careful with his new backpack so it will last longer. No more plastic bags I told them and I looked at his mother whose eyes were welled up with tears. I’m not sure how poor they are, but he’s had a plastic bag as a backpack since I’ve been here so I can only imagine a backpack is a luxury item for them.

And would you know it – the pack was almost too big for him! I was pleased, since he’ll eventually grow into it.

I asked Toma to take a picture of me and Giorgi. As I wrapped my arms around him for a hug – I realized it would probably feel strange for him, but it’s my last week and that darn little kid deserves a hug. Before he left with his mom for the night, I remember he kept looking at me with a sort of confused look. I hope he knows that I really do care about him, and that he’s worthy of it all just because he exists….as we all are I suppose. : ) Thank you for listening, I’m really going to miss Giorgi my little rascal and pal.

Little Giorgi with his books in a plastic bag and always carrying my vest on our walks home.

Giorgi and I with his new backpack!

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Anaklia Concert

I woke up this early Saturday morning thinking I was headed on a nice, relaxing excursion with my host family to a lovely town called Anaklia….You’d think I’d have learned by now – things are never what you think here. Instead, I was rushed into getting ready an hour earlier than I thought and had to skip breakfast. We hurried down to school and then waited…for an hour…before loads of my second and third grade girls and their parents started showing up and loading up into a marshrutka. As we started rolling out of town I realized this was going to be a very, very long day.

We arrived in town a few hours later not in Anaklia but in the city of Zugdidi. And BRRRRR! was it cold. Those poor little things were forced to put on tights and their traditional Georgian skirts and wait outside until the doors of the theatre opened up. Soon enough they did. If you haven’t guessed by now, apparently I was invited to another concert/competition between different local villages. Most of the groups were older and danced or sang, but our little cuties played their panduris (Georgian Guitars) and sang their little hearts out! How cute they were all lined up giving it their all!

When the event ended we had to wait around for the girls certificates/awards and then like the speed of light they were suddenly bundled up in their regular clothes and we were driving full speed ahead to… well, I don’t know where. I think the orgiainal plan had been to have a Georgian style picnic somewhere on the beach at Anaklia, but since it was so cold we drove around until we found an empty restaurant to over take. I think Nino and the other adults asked the empty restaurant to let us use their chairs, tables, and silverware in exchange for our picnic lunch. And right here is the perfect example of why Georgians are so awesome….they said yes. And they even had their waiters serve all the little girls water in fancy glass cups. Later a few of them joined us in toasting the little girl’s accomplishments and singing a few songs as well. I think if there were ever a handful of little girls who felt like princesses it was this lot!  We left extra food for everyone at the restaurant as a thank you and we drove off as they started cleaning up.

It definitely hadn’t warmed up, but it had stopped drizzling so we all hoped out of the marshrutka and took a stroll along the newly bricked beach front. We passed a very fancy hotel, a police speed boat, and skipped all the way across the bridge – and when I say skipped – I mean we skipped, arm in arm, shouting in English, “We are skipping,” the entire way. (Worn out much? The answer would be yes.) Once we got to the other side Nino told me we had just stepped foot in Abkhazia! This is a region that most of the world considers part of Georgia, and Georgia wants it to be, but the people in this region claim independence from all it’s neighbors. So who knows really. It actually states in my contract that I’m not allowed to step foot in this region or South Ossetia during my time as a TLG volunteer. Hopefully only a few steps won’t hurt!

After a very long and rather exciting day, we loaded back up into that marshrutka, turned it around and drove home. Another surprising day filled with life…I love this place.

A freezing morning as we wait for the doors to open.

Nino’s girls doing a fabulous job entertaining the crowd!

Nino and her happy little girls after the concert.

The tiniest girl of all…barely taller than her Panduri instrument!

Magda, Nino, and Tika – three lovely little girls!

Anaklia’s iconic bridge.

Group photo in front of Anaklia’s new hotel.

Toma in front of a very cool Police boat!

Mother and Son in Anaklia!

Host brother and Volunteer sister in Anaklia!

Anaklia by night.


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Oz Concert

I was told that today after classes we’d all be heading down to Ozurgeti to give “the poor peoples” mandarines. I sorta chuckled when they said this, but I suppose for Georgia, many of the families in my village have enough to eat and drink and live a comfortable life. We loaded up in the school bus with boxes of ripe mandarines and headed to town on this very rainy day.

Now, I’ve learned a little bit about Georgia since I’ve been here, so when we stopped and just sat around for a good 5 minutes I made a point to say I needed to go to the store and get some photos printed (the ones that are going on the kids thank-you cards). So after another 10 minutes of just hanging around waiting for whatever it was we were waiting for….I made my move and headed down to drop off my USB stick with the photos on them that needed to be printed. The guy in there knew my face since it was the same place I’d been when I printed out the pictures of each of the kids (that’s going on the inside of each of the thank you cards). Then I rushed back to the bus – and sure enough – it was still there.

After another half an hour things started moving. We drove to a nearby school in town and everyone hopped out. The priest, the school director, the teachers, and a ton of students. We assembled in a large, colorfully painted room and to my surprise the kids all started singing!? Ok, so this is a musical concert for the “poor peoples” too. I had no idea!

This must have been organized at some point before today because our school would sing a song, then their school would sing, then we would recite a poem, and then they would. They also played a sort of trivia game and also charades. As it was wrapping up my Director grabbed me and made a little speech about how Shroma had received a volunteer English teacher and I knew how to sing….

Ok. Here we go I guess!? Nino sat down at the piano and began to play Jingle Bells….I cleared my throat and hoped for the best since I hadn’t really spoken or used my voice much since the end of class and during our entire bus ride. I think my own students from Shroma were the most amazed. And I realized they’d 1) never heard me sing – which ‘aint too bad and 2) had never heard me speak full speed! I sang two rounds of the song and then everyone joined in singing the Karuli version of the song with me still singing it in English! Wow!

The teachers from Shroma unloaded the mandarines and I ran back over to pick up and pay for the pictures. Nino somehow managed to get me and Toma in a friends car to get home rather than taking the bus – so we got home at least 45 minutes before everyone else! Hurray – good job Nino!

Shroma has impressive vocal chords!

Nino and Toma listening to the other school as they sing.

A final picture with as many of us as could squeeze together!

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6th Grade SURPRISE!

Today was the big day! (Read this page first to find out why I have been fundraising to get my entire 6th Grade class new English Level 3 books!)

So, I was able to catch a ride in a car all the way to school so I didn’t have to carry all 21 books and workbooks – thank goodness! I had them all wrapped up in large plastic bags so no one could see what they were, and I hid the books in the teacher’s room until 6th Grade English class started. When I went into class most of the kids had their Level 2 books and Special English Notebooks out and ready for class….so they were surprised when I had Tamuna translate and tell them to put it all away for today.

I then gave a bit of a speech, which Tamuna translated to the class, and it went a little something like this:

I started by saying how very impressed I was with every single student in the room. Each of them has been trying very hard all semester and I can see that from their work in their notebooks as well as how much they talk to me during and between classes. I said they were been moving so fast through their Level 2 books that I got an idea. I asked them to remember the day I took pictures of each of the kids in front of their old chalkboard. *And they nodded a yes. I said, well I put those pictures up on my webpage. I told them I wrote about how awesome the class was and how smart they all were, and then asked my family and friends back home for help to 1) get them the new chalkboard they’d been using and 2) to purchase each of them a brand new English World Level 3 Book and Workbook. *I then grabbed the two wrapped stacks of books, put them on the table and unwrapped it in front of them. I told them that far away, there are people who have seen their pictures and loved them and wanted to help them learn English. *there was complete silence – the kids were astounded – they didn’t know what the right response was. I told them, that I have tried my very hardest to make it possible for them to keep learning English after I was gone and that they would have to continue to work hard in learning……and then they all started clapping, and wiping tears, and some even laughing and shouting!

I then called each kid by name, one by one, up to the front of the room. I gave them a huge hug and handed them their two new books. I had them write their English and Kartuli names in both books when they got back to their desks – and they did so with gusto! Then Tea’s turn came. She’s the girl who gave me my very first teacher’s gift. She wasn’t one of the strongest students in class and was very very shy and quite the entire semester. She came up to the front and I asked Tamuna to tell her this: I see her learning. I know she is learning but if she is going to be able to use this new book, she is going to have to start speaking more English out loud…and I know she can do it. She shyly nodded, a small grin of her face and eyes flaming with a sort of timid excitement. She turned back around and sat down.

Once every kid had their new books…I told them the surprises weren’t over yet! I then grabbed the two maps that I’d left outside and told that them these same people also bought 2 new maps for this classroom so there will be something on the walls now! We then took some pictures and hugged a bunch more and by that time the bell rung and class was over. I told everyone to bring any markers that they may have tomorrow – because we have some very fun and creative (thank you card) lessons ahead!

The best part for me, about this day was when I saw Toma run over to his mother after class and I heard him tell her in Kartuli what had happened…she smiled and nodded and told him that she already knew. He turned and looked at me – He couldn’t believe I’d been able to sneak this one by him – I had been able to keeep it a secret so he could be surprised  with the whole class!  All three of us smiled and school continued on that day.

Class picture

The maps and our completed Ice Cream Party poster!

Me and the gogonebi (girls)!

Me and the bitchebi (boys)!

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To and from T’bilisi in a day

Our train took all night and we arrived in T’bilisi at 6:30am. It was still dark outside so we grabbed a taxi and headed to a hostel where some of his friends worked. We were allowed to take showers and change, get on free wifi and make some coffee. As the sun came up, others woke up so we put on Christmas music and the girls who worked there brought out the mini Christmas tree and decorations! What a festive way to start a morning!

We left our bags at the hostel, grabbed two other friends who were leaving in the next few days, and journeyed through the subway to TLG’s main headquarters. There they had to turn in their phones and take the Letter of Recommendation and Certificate of Completion that each volunteer receives. After a hearty MacDonald’s breakfast/lunch we headed back, grabbed our bags and took off for the airport! (Note to self: Never bring more than one bag while traveling or you will have to pay some pretty steep fees for the extra weight! Cajun had to learn this lesson the hard way today, poor guy.)

We said our goodbyes and Brian and I headed back to the city for a few drinks before I had to get back on a train headed for home. I got to see Bekki and the Marines once more as well and was soon enough settled into my cabin for the long ride home to Shroma!

T’bilisi just before winter hits!

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Tchanieti Village

Tchanieti village is just 5 minutes outside of Ozurgeti and is where Cajun has been teaching all semester. I was invited to stay because he was having a goodbye supra to celebrate his time teaching. The school is much different from Shroma in many ways. It’s about as large as mine, but there aren’t nearly as many students, and most of the classes only have 4 or 5 students each! Cajun also had only 2 co-teachers and the school has a basketball court! In between classes the boys will go outside and play basketball while the girls watch or do their own thing. There isn’t as much crazy running around or play-fighting like in Shroma. And I didn’t hear any fireworks going off inside the school as a practical joke either!

I also got to meet Cajun’s host family that consists of a Father, Mother, Grandmother, and an adult Son with his newly wed wife. Plus, the neighbor’s child, Giorgi, spends everyday in their house with Grandma while his family works. His host mother cooks the most amazing Georgian style pizza with potatoes on it!

Another thing I’d have to say about Tchanieti is that it’s a LOT colder here! Most houses in Georgia are heated by the one iron stove in the kitchen/living room…so when you get in your own room at bed time it’s absolutely frigid. The window in his room didn’t even close entirely and on our last evening there we woke up to snow on the ground. Brrrrrr…

Cajun backed all his stuff and his host family drove us down to the train station in the evening. We waited there for about an hour before we said our goodbyes, I grabbed some snacks at a nearby shop, and we hopped into our carriage. On our way to T’bilisi to see Cajun off on his flight home to South Africa!

We have arrived!

The beautiful entrance to the village and school.

Cajun being silly with 3 of his younger classes combined. (My smallest class has 12 kids!)

It was 2 against 5, still not fair when Cajun’s on your team though.

All the Tchanieti boys

Goodbye Supra. Hello good times.

The man on the left was scratching his face when I took this picture…I swear.

Cajun, his 2 co-teachrs, and Mr. Katchapuri (aka: Mr. Cheesebread) in the background

Cajun and his Host Mother

Cajun and his Host Dad being goofs.

Little baby Giorgi, the neighbors kid, all bundled up for the walk home.

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