Friday, May 27, 2011

Nature, Wrapping It Up, and Letting the Good Times Roll

The internet and I have had a curious relationship ever since I arrived to Georgia. Never has such a significant part of my income taunted me for internet access yet only in small quantities (1 gb or 5 gb with Georgian mobile provider - Magticom). Before Georgia, I don't think I ever appreciated the ability to have unlimited access to the internet. In America, you do generally pay a good bit more for access, but after reading an article from the technology editors at The Economist, most people only use a small amount of bandwidth. They were discussing that one major internet provide company (can't remember who) is going to charge more for people who use beyond something like 140 gb of bandwidth. They said that people should pay for what they use, and things like this are turning the internet into a measured consumable product. A forecasted downside of this new trend is that innovation through technology and internet-accessible resources would be limited. The internet has come a long way simply because there haven't been limits placed on it.

This brings me back to Georgia. When we first arrived, the "obscene" amount of money we paid for internet was able to provide unlimited internet access. The USB-wireless technology was released in 2007 in Georgia and limited in 2009 (still in the midst of an economic crisis). Their justification was that it was to model after companies like AT&T which limit bandwidth consumption on their 3G devices. While internet access is available in unlimited quantities with the land-line based DSL and cable internet providers, Georgian mobile companies, such as Magticom, may be making major money in the short term, but I don't think that the Georgian economy or people can support such an expense in the long haul. Of course, there's the actual cost, but there's also potentially lost innovation. In Georgia's developing economy, it needs all the innovation it can get.

I have found in general in my business-sense observations in the former Soviet countries, that there's this grotesque misconstrued version of capitalism. Capitalism in America does have its dark side, of course, but in Georgia for example, businesses and some people catch hold of all of the darkest side of capitalism and run with it. There was an article (most likely sure through Fortune Magazine) saying that Georgia is one of the best places in the world to start a new business. A friend of mine claimed that it's because there are no regulations. I'm neither here nor there on this, I personally think capitalism and a free market keeps things competitive, however, without the guiding hand of regulations and monitoring, dishonesty and (in some cases) corruption brew easily. Whether it be an individual language tutor charging outrageous prices for poor quality lessons in the capital or a private school like St. George's School in Vake (calling them out again) running a money machine and providing poor to no education at all. In general, people in Georgia think: if you pay more, it's better. To a degree, this also exists in America, but with the long-standing record of scams and scandals in the past, most experienced eyes in America can recognize this before.

On a not serious note, you've probably been wondering what's going on with me. :) Well, I have been continuing my IT classes in the IDP settlement, and today I'm finishing my last class. It has been a good, but challenging time. On the surface, my kids are normal Georgian kids, just like any other classroom. However, the trauma many of them and their families suffered from being uprooted from their homes and transplanted elsewhere with essentially nothing has taken and will take its toll. Some of the kids have told me to "go f*** yourself" (in English, ages 10 and 11) and another 10-year-old girl told me in Georgian to "go to hell" when I asked all of them to remain quiet. I think the parents in this settlement have this overwhelming sense of apathy towards parenting and their children's success. As a result, most of these kids have no idea about what respect for teachers or discipline are. I'm kind and encouraging, but tough love comes out when they misbehave. I started with 30 students. Through my "tough love" principles, I will finish this 3-month project with 10 or 11. The 10/11 that will finish are really good kids. They still misbehave, but I've been able to make progress with teaching them computers and about life. Next Friday, we are going to have an open-house/ceremony for the parents to come in and see their children's work, have refreshments, and students will be presented with certificates and a flash drives for completing the course successfully. The NGO liaison and someone from Peace Corps are coming as well to give it more officialness. The 10/11 students are really excited, and I am too!

One thing that really bothers me in the center I teach in is that there's an art teacher who teaches on the same days as me, yet he rarely comes. The children don't really have any activities to do and they look forward to any courses or classes. They wait eagerly for him to get off the bus with me and are disappointed when the bus drives away. Then when he will come some days, they are all excited and forget that he never came the last time. They are just so happy to see him and have something interesting to do.

I had a similar experience in my town when I was taking dance classes. The dance teacher commuted from Tbilisi, and he made the children feel bad when they had trouble learning the dance steps with a, "I came all the way from Tbilisi to watch this!?" I know there are aid workers in the NGO like the one I'm teaching through that are amazing, but it makes me upset to experience a neglectful attitude towards the emotional well-being of children especially and other groups that need the most support.

Ok, so I tried to steer away from the serious. Maybe this next try'll be more successful. :)

In the beginning of May, I went with my primary counterpart to her village in Eastern Kakheti for the "7-days after Easter Festival." I had gone the previous year, and having already met these people the year before, it was comfortable with so many familiar faces around. I took it easy, might have gotten some form of parasite (currently dealing with), and just overall relaxed. We went to "Nekresi" Church in the region of Kvareli (nearby) which was perched on the top of a mountain.

Photo #24 - Nekresi in the Mist - A steep walk or short car ride up the
mountain is worth it to check out this quaint church remodeled from the
sixth century.
I love this particular area in Kakheti, because it's truly beautiful and calm. None of the street noise from my town/apartment.

Photo #25 - Village Views in Chikaani - Just beyond this lush greenness
lies Dagestan and Ingushetia. It's hard to believe how small (and beautiful)
 Georgia is sometimes.
After arriving back in my town at 3 am from the village, as we stopped over in Tbilisi at midnight to make achma (Georgian lasagna without meat or sauce), I continued on with May. I have been reminded this spring about the insane number of holidays, and as a result, a lot of class time has been interrupted. I and several other volunteers greeted the new group of trainees in late April at the airport. 43 arrived and I think only 1 so far has dropped.

Then not too long ago, I went out to help the trainees with cluster mentoring in one of the villages. They had to create and implement lessons with a counterpart at the village school, and I observed and gave feed back, also answering any questions along the way that they might have. I stayed with a trainee I'll deem "Good Aura" (as she is also referred to by villagers). It was really good to hang with them. It was different from when I did cluster mentoring last year. The Georgian that I speak, which is by no means perfect, did evoke the sort of "Oooo - ahhhhh" effect I've witnessed before. And! it was a great experience. The town was cold and one of the trainees' host family members commented that the town is just cold in general, year round. However, it was beautiful. Take a looksy:

Photo #26 - Village Views, Borjomi Region - An afternoon coming back
after observations, I noticed the view. These are some lucky trainees. You
can't get much more beautiful than this for a training site.
In other news! I was busy missing school with helping out with training, that I worked extra hard to catch up. I missed the senior class's "Last Bell/Call" performance due to the IT trainings, but half of the graduating senior class went out of their way to invite (and take) me to their banquet. I had only taught them for the past school year, whereas the other half I taught for the full 2 years, yet wasn't invited to anything. O well! Can't win em all, eh?

Photo #27 - 12b Banquet Entrance - As the banquet began, teachers were
seated at one table, students at another, and parents at another. Teachers
cheered on the fancily clad seniors getting ready to take their seats.
Then, the next day, there were transport troubles for 2 trainees who came to my site for job shadowing, due to the government shutting down regional transportation to/through Tbilisi to prevent the number of protesters who were scheduled to arrive to try to get the current prez to resign/ousted. Nevertheless, they made it. They observed one class because of 12th graders taking their cumulative final exams preventing some students from going to their main class rooms. Many students came to school and left shortly after seeing the blockaded hallways. Then the next day, due to scheduled protests in Tbilisi the following days, the trainees left. While they were here over the weekend, I did introduce them to some of my close Georgian friends in town. We went to Dmanisi to try to catch a glimpse of the "first Europeans" - Zezva and Mzia. That's right! They were Georgians. Dmanisi is an ancient settlement and archeological site.

My friend Nona is pregnant with her first child, and I was so surprised on the ride back from Tbilisi when she asked me to be the baby's godfather if I will be in Georgia. If she's serious, I would be thrilled. I have no god children as of yet, and it's such an honor to be asked to be someone's child's godparent, especially in Georgia, as it makes you a member of the family. She said in partial jest that anything her child does, good  or bad, she can blame on me. I'll keep you updated on that front. She knows that she will have a boy, and her and her husband have decided to name him Saba.

ANNNND... finally. This past Tuesday, we finished reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and we had a chocolate potluck party and watched the film (original version) to celebrate. Everyone brought in something chocolate. I made m&m cookies and fudge. I think everyone had been so busy cooking their dessert that when it came time to eat it among all the other chocolate dishes, everyone felt nauseated. :) It was a really great experience.

Photo #28 - Charlie's Chocolate Factory Party - Here is a glimpse of most
of the dishes. If you'll notice, we did interrupt the chocolate with bananas
and Turkish delight to create some balance.
It always feels good to finish a project you've been working on for a while. After the IT presentation of certificates next Friday, I'll be officially done with that project. I think I'm going to start preparing to retake the GRE. I was notified that I got a job offer with American Councils' FLEX office in Ukraine for the fall as a recruiter conducting interviews and testing for potential exchange students. In addition, I booked my flight home to America, am planning a cruise to the Bahamas or something with my best friend, and before flying back planned a trek across Georgia with some soon-to-be RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) from Ukraine who are coming to Georgia. I am feeling fantastic about life, and hope the same can be said about you! :)


  1. Hey -- it's Peter. This series of articles seems directly relevant to the first section of your post.

  2. Really great job Jefferson and I hope we'll read something else when you'll return in Georgia :)

  3. There are regulations, but they're let off when dealing with corporations or foreign owned holdings. Also, all corporations must have a Georgian citizen holding it - that is, one of Misha's friends. So yeah, "without regulations", but with a footnote.

    But yeah, I miss those days of unlimited Magtipix!