Religion, Social Customs

Considering the Patriarch

One of my first weeks in Korbouli I had the day where I and most of my village waited for the Patriarch. It ended up being kind of a downer and shaped some of my initial opinions of this Patriarch man.

The Georgian Patriach, Ilia the Second, is what the Pope is to Roman Catholics. Not being a Catholic, that’s that much less of an understanding I have for the Georgian’s relationship with their Patriarch. I think it’s all a little creepy. That’s the Protestant in me speaking, I know.

I admit to being highly suspicious of religious leaders. And not just of popes and patriarchs, my skepticism extends down the church hierarchy. I’m not a big fan of deacons either. Or elders. In fact I seem to suspect almost anyone in a position of authority. (Could it have something to do with the fact that most of them are men?)


I’ve kept an eye on this Ilia Meore after the initial disappointment of my village. He’s on TV regularly. His territory is of such a size that he seems able to get around quite a bit. The poor Pope just cannot compete. The Patriarch baptizes babies; he visits schools; he blesses hats (really!), he leads special services. He’s a busy man. And the people adore him. I’m positive that his public approval rating far exceeds that of Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian President.

So I believe my opinion of the Patriarch has softened a bit. It was inevitable. Of course he can’t stop at every village he drives through. Though maybe he could at least have slowed down.

I found a very interesting CNN clip on YouTube about the Patriarch that gave me some additional perspective.

Have a look:

Communication, Teaching

Marching As To War . . .

Last Monday I had gone school as though to war. There were two battles to be won. The first: a resolution to my long-standing request for a room to hold my English classes in. The second, and far more painful: “confronting” my English teacher about our non-existent teaching partnership.

Both of these issues were long-standing. My fear of conflict and general tendency towards procrastination contributed to the situation. However, I felt that something must be done or I would simply burst. Into tears, that is. And probably at school, in front all my teachers and students.

The classroom was needed to give me some space of my own and my students a visually engaging educational classroom. The discussion with my English teacher because our current arrangement (me trying to do it all) was getting us nowhere. It was doing nothing for our students and nothing for our relationship. Our exchange of morning pleasantries was forced and awkward on both sides. I was angry that she was contributing nothing. I can only guess what she was feeling. Invaded, maybe? I don’t know.

The Thursday before we had been supposed to go to a co-teaching training session that was being put on by the Ministry. I wasn’t eager for it, but thought it would surely force us to discuss our issues. Painful and awkward, yes. But necessary. I was waiting at my house for her. We were going to catch the martshutka together. A vibration in my pocket. I pulled out my cell phone and read her text. She was bailing on me. How convenient.

That, on top of everything else, brought me to Monday. One of those mini D-Days we all have in life. It ended up being very anticlimactic.

In the teachers’ room, I spoke to the Assistant Director about my room request. I explained why. I explained that I’d already gotten permission from the German teacher. I just needed the administrative go-ahead so I didn’t have issues later. (I didn’t tell her that; that was what I was looking for from her) She said “Fine, fine, no problem.” The discussion stalled when I tried to talk about moving chairs into the room. But it was progress of a sort. I left for classes.

After classes I stalked my English teacher, looking for a private moment when I could initiate THE conversation. Getting the courage to open my mouth was the hardest part. But once I did, it all just . . . flowed. Yes, she knew about me wanting to use the other room. She would help me move chairs that afternoon. Yes, she too wanted to work on lesson planning. Thursday? Sure, we would do it then.

And we did. My new classroom was assembled by the end of the day and we had a very satisfactory and relationally-healing lesson planning session. It was . . . amazing.

It’s hard to explain the relief I felt. You probably all think I was exaggerating the situation. I edited out a whole page of this post, which went into detail on the entire history of these two problems. It was long. It was sad. It made me feel like a whiner. So I deleted it all. But it WAS long, and it WAS frustrating and I just could NOT get resolution on either issue. And suddenly it was like I was pushing on an open door.

For me, dear friends and readers, it was an answer to prayer. A tarnished often over-used phrase that usually receives eyes rolls, except when you are the recipient.

Family, Social Customs, Village Life

Women: 1; Men: 364

March 8th was International Women’s Day. Did you know?

I only became aware of IWD two years ago when I was working in Human Resources. It was part of my job to arrange displays in the hallway of things like Veteran’s Day, Hispanic Heritage month, Black History month, etc. We bought a poster in March for International Women’s Day. I’d never heard of it before. I wasn’t sure whether I should be pleased or insulted. At least we get one day, I guess.

International Women’s Day is celebrated in Georgia. A good thing. Really. The place of women in Georgia is strange for me. Gender roles are very traditional here. The whole check-the-sheets-on-the-wedding-night bit. Women are traditional and both some of the men and women are very proud of it. I attended a supra where there was someone who was able to translate the toasts for me. The toast to women curled my hair. Well, curled it a bit more. Not everyone here is eager for “liberation”. In fact liberation, especially of the sexual kind, is bound to be repressed.

School was actually cancelled on Women’s Day. A real holiday. I was impressed. There was a small concert at school the day before. The children recited long poems and/or speeches about women. A few girls performed traditional dances. I understood like 5% of course. I suspect that the speeches and poems affirmed, rather than challenged, the traditional roles of women in Georgia. But if nothing else, women were given a little recognition for a day. It’s something.

And how do Georgian women celebrate this most auspicious of days? With a supra of course! Possibly even a women’s only supra, such as the one I attended with my host mother on the eve of International Women’s Day.  

Now a women’s only supra indicates one thing for sure: plenty of drinking. In my experience, Georgian women do not drink any significant amount in the presence of men. That wedding supra I went to? I had maybe 2 glasses of wine and stopped lest I garner myself the label of “foreigner lush”. I’ve learned, however, that when Georgian ladies are alone the alcohol flows much more freely. Much. So I was not surprised that drinking played a central role of our Women’s Day supra. Drinking and toasting, followed by dancing and loud singing of traditional songs.

The ladies were adamant that there be no witnesses to their fun. Faces kept appearing in the windows all night, small faces that were shrieked away when they were noticed. Mama wants to let it all go, but privately, amongst close friends and neighbors. Not that Georgian children are innocents when it comes to drinking and its effects. Their papas are likely under the influence on a fairly regular basis.

Another quirk was how militant the ladies were about their drinking. If they are going to drink, everyone is going to drink. I’m telling you; women here have to do everything together. Lots of checking on the level of each other’s glasses. Loud demands for bolomde, if anything was remaining. The ladies down the table had their limonate bottle confiscated because the tamada was sure they were drinking that and not wine. I myself was not exempt from having bolomde called on me, though I was usually game for it.

I have no idea how late the drinking and carrying on continued. By 1 AM I was falling asleep in my seat. I attempted to make a break for it, but was caught and forced to dance to 2 more songs. Then I literally RAN out the door before anyone could stop me. Unfortunately the hostess still followed me, got down on her knee, and begged me to stay 5 more minutes. I knew if I went back in there, it would be another hour at least. So I stayed firm, thanked her profusely and walked off into the dark, snowy night. For their sakes, I hope the ladies partied it up all night.


Alphabet Addiction

The children who attend my afternoon classes are addicted to the alphabet. There are worse things to be addicted to, I know, but this particular addition is having a negative effect on their learning.

Let me explain.

Only the 7th and 8th grade students in my school are on the books for studying English. Each class has two lessons a week. Lessons are 45 minutes. So 2 classes x 2 grades = 4; 4 x 45 minutes = 3 hours. If I taught only the 7th and 8th graders I would have 3 hours of teaching a week. Which would be unendurable.

So I offer a number of classes to other children that are not in 7th or 8th grade. I currently have 3 such classes that each meet twice a week. (3 x 2 = 6; 6 x 45 minutes = 4.5 hours; 4.5 + 3 = 7.5 hours a week). It is supposed to be 1st-3rd grade, 4th-6th, and 7th-9th. This nice distribution of grades does not always happen.

The students in the first 2 classes are brand new to English. So in the fall we started off working on the alphabet. Some caught on right away, others . . . well, let’s just say that it is March and all my students cannot write the alphabet. Sing the alphabet song lustily, yes. Write it, no. I don’t know how much I should hold myself responsible for this situation. Some of them I think must be trying NOT to learn the alphabet. It’s just been too long.

But then there are the others . . .

The other children who have now mastered the English alphabet who take great and EXTREME delight in showing me each single time we have a lesson. The minute they are in the classroom door it begins. “Anbani, anbani?” (I can’t even get them to say it in English!) A sea of little hands, index and middle fingers raised together with the remaining fingers folded down—the Georgian way of raising hands—greets me. Some don’t even bother with that formality; they are out of their seats, at the board, chalk in hand. And if one kid gets the chance to write the alphabet, then they ALL want to write it. Minus the few kids who still haven’t quite caught on.

I try to control this enthusiasm. I make sure that those still learning are given a chance to practice. I limit the amount of time we spend on this. I try to teach new material at the beginning of the lesson and save the last 10 minutes or so for alphabet madness. But their minds are distracted. They are not interested in new vocabulary or learning any verbs. They are thinking about the anbani and WHEN they will get to write it.

Today I tried to review numbers, colors, and some other basic vocabulary. The interest level was almost zero, which closely approximated their retention. “Mas, mas!” one little girl cries. I am mid-sentence. Mas is short for mastsavlebeli, the Georgian word for teacher. “Yes?” “Anbani, mas!” “You already know the alphabet! Shen itsi anbani!” Disappointed looks all around. “Now we learn new English, more English, kide inglisuri!” Shoulders slump. Heads go down. They want to write the alphabet. They ONLY want to write the alphabet.

What can I say? They’re addicted. It’s a rush, apparently. To get up to that black board and effortlessly or near effortlessly (blasted Russian ‘n’) write an entire foreign alphabet. It’s like their party piece. Except they all have the same one. I’d just love to get them to turn that enthusiasm to some new piece of English. Memorizing vocabulary lists. Mastering verb conjugations. But for now they aren’t having any of it. It’s anbani. Day after day after day.

Educational System

We look so happy . . .

My friend Jason let me know about this. I just about killed myself laughing when I saw the picture.

Go have a look

We went to a meeting with all the volunteers from 2 regions. The Minister of Education and Science was explaining to us the overall plans for education reform in Georgia. It was a very good meeting.

You just wouldn’t have guessed it from our faces.

Communication, Language, Social Customs

Georgian For Life and Happiness

Having now been in Georgia for about 5 months now, I think it would be enjoyable to share with you a bit about the Georgian language.

Whenever I talked about Georgia before I left or when I was home for the holidays the question of language was always in the top 3. Once we clarified which Georgia I was talking about (the state?) and where it is located, inevitably I was asked “What do they speak there?” And it was always sort of enjoyable to say “Georgian” because it’s the kind of answer which is not really an answer even though it’s the truth. (Like when people used to ask me where Azusa Pacific University was and I would tell them it was in Azusa.)


Yes, in Georgia they speak Georgian. Due to their history, many people of course also speak Russian, but Georgian is the language of the State, the media, and daily use.

This is the Georgian alphabet:

ა – A
ბ – B
გ – G
დ – D
ე – E
ვ – V
ზ – Z
თ – T
ი – I
კ – K’
ლ – L
მ – M
ნ – N
ო – O
პ – P’
ჟ – ZH
რ – R
ს – S
ტ – T’
უ – U
ფ – PH
ქ – KH
ღ – GH
ყ – QKH
შ – SH
ჩ – CH
ც – TS
ძ – DZ
წ – TS’
ჭ – TCH’
ხ – KH
ჯ – J
ჰ – H

It has 5 vowels and 28 consonants. Most of them are straight-forward enough.

However, there are the ejectives (ტ – T’, კ – K’, პ -P’, ჭ – TCH’, წ -TS’) and 2 other consonants that cause me some grief. Ejectives, which are not the same thing as aspirated sounds, are annoying because there are also non-ejectives that are the same sound other than the fact that one is an ejective and the other is not. So there is ejective T and non-ejective T, ejective CH, and non-ejective CH, etc. I’m not offended if you tune out at this part, but having suffered through a semester of phonetics I am going to take every opportunity to share my hard-won knowledge with (any) interested parties (John?).

Sometimes the difference is crystal clear to me when I hear it; sometimes it is not. My production of them can be pretty sketchy at times. I try, but it is apparent to me based on people’s reactions that I am not always doing as good of a job as I like to think.

The other two consonants that are difficult are the ღ and ყ. They are approximated in English as GH and QKH. The first, I am told, is similar to a Parisian ‘r’. Which explains my problems producing it. Patricia, you remember that wonderful phonetics project where I attempted to speak French, yes? The second feels like a deep click in your throat. If I think about it when I try to say it, I jinx it. Just gotta go on instinct.

The Georgian alphabet characters are just lovely, I think. So exotic. A pleasure to write. All rounded curves and smooth lines.

The following are the essential phrases for everyday life in Georgia:

გამარჯობათ – gamarjobat – hello – This is used on a near constant basis. Easy to say so no problem.

დილა მშვიდობისა – dila mshvidobisa – Good morning – This sent me into hysterics before I came to Georgia. It just sounded so fantastic. The pleasure has not really worn off. It means something along the lines of ‘peaceful morning’. ‘Dila’ is morning and some part of ‘mshvidobisa’ means peace.

როგორ ხარ? – rogor khar? – How are you? – Near constant use. Everyone who sees me will ask.

გმადლობთ – gmadlobt – Thank you – The additional ‘t’ on the end makes it more formal, same with ‘gamarjobat’.

დიდი გმადლობა – didi gmadloba – thank you very much – Rough translation is ‘big thank you’ as ‘didi’ means big. I tend to say ‘didi gmadloba’ more than just ‘gmadlobt’. Eager to please foreigner, I guess.

ნახვამდის – nakhvamdis – Good-bye

კარგად – kargad – Bye – The shorter way of taking leave. Also means ‘well’. So when asked “how are you?” this is the traditional response. Like saying “I’m good. I’m fine.”

მეტი არ მინდა – meti ar minda – I don’t want more – An essential for all eating situations. Even if you say this that doesn’t mean you won’t end up eating more, but all you can do it try.

გემბრიელია – gembrielia – It is delicious! – Also important for eating situations, but never say it if you don’t mean it as it could be taken as genuine. You might be served that item again and again and again and again.

არა მშია – ara mshia – I’m not hungry – Another essential phrase. It won’t necessarily get you off the hook, but sometimes it is an acceptable excuse. Will probably have to repeat it several times for you to be taken seriously.

Georgian has a very discouraging verb structure. There are 6 persons (1st, 2nd, and 3rd singular, 1st, 2nd and 3rd plural) and each one is conjugated differently. And all the conjugations are so LONG. English is nothing in comparison. There is, of course, structure to the tenses and persons, but there are also lots of irregular verbs. But it’s the length that gets to me. I’m reading it and it’s like trying to pick up a big stack of books or videos. I can pick up the first few syllables, but the longer it gets the more I am straining to try to hold the whole verb in my head. Half the time, just like with an armful of videos, everything just starts falling down and I lose it. Very dramatic mental image, I know.

Another fun little feature is that Georgian does not have PREpositions, it has POSTpositions. So it’s “I go schoolto” and not “I go to school”. They also seem to have fewer of them. It stresses them out a bit that English has 3-4 prepositions for a postposition that they only have one of. And the teachers, like most adult learners, really WANT to understand the difference between ‘at’, ‘in’, ‘to’, and ‘into’ even though I hardly think that is a good use of our time. Difficult to convince them of that though.

And no articles. Noooo articles in Georigan. So that’s another little something fun for my students to learn. A plus for me though in learning Georgian. And nothing in Georgian has a gender. No ‘el’ or ‘la’, ‘los’ or ‘las’. It’s great. And there is also only one word for 3rd person singular regardless of whether we are talking about boys, girls, or automobiles.

So there are some major pluses about Georgian in comparison with English or Spanish. There are also some drawbacks, of course. My Georgian has come along nicely to the point that I don’t really worry about having to communicate on anything that’s an aspect of daily life: greetings, pleasantries, family, plans, shopping, transportation, etc. Of course there are many, many things that I am completely INcapable of discussing in Georgian. Let’s be realistic here. But I am proud of what I can say even though in the grand scheme of things it is not much.

A quick anecdote in closing: One day my host sisters were having a little fun at my expense because I was working on my ყ and ღ sounds. I took it for awhile, but then decided it was time to turn the tables. “Okay, say ‘thirteen’ for me, or ‘the’, or ‘thirty.’” TH is one of the few sounds that English has that Georgian does not. As they were rendered helpless by this slippery sound that forever eludes them, tongues thrust between teeth, I laughed aloud. It’s nice that although my Georgian is not the best, the level of English in my village is not any better. We’re all in the same boat.