Archives for category: Georgian Culture

Since the semester is mostly over I currently have a little more free time. The heat in Tbilisi has been intense (and record-breaking!), so I was ready to get out of town. I had long-ago read an article about the Convent at Phoka, and I had tried their chocolate from an Old Town souvenir shop. Someone mentioned Paravani Lake in a conversation (the convent is on its shores), and an idea formed in my mind. It was an especially perfect plan, because one day isn’t enough time to go to the seaside, but I did want to be by the water. I woke up Sunday morning and said “Let’s go on an adventure!”. Famous last words.

Paravani Lake is located in the Southern part of Georgia in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. Southern Georgia (Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions especially) is interesting for its ethnic diversity; there are great numbers of ethnic Armenians and Azeris, villages of Russian spiritual Christians, the odd historically German village, and a few others. There are two roads from Tbilisi to Tsalka, from where there is only one road to the village of Phoka, via Kojori and Manglisi or via Tetritskaro on the Marneuli road. We went via Tetritskaro, as the road is supposed to be in better condition. I had been on part of this road a few times before, including on my first trip to Georgia in 2010. What was amazing about this drive was that nothing looked different. Every time I travel westward on the main road to Gori and beyond, there’s something new and more developed: new marshrutka stops, freshly painted signs on shops, better roads…the road towards Marneuli was just the same as 8 years ago. This is the poorest area of Georgia, and you could see it. Once you leave the dry, brown plains, just after Tetritskaro, things turn green and you enter what is one of the most beautiful areas of Georgia I have seen. Green, with lots of streams and ponds, plentiful wildflowers in the meadows and evergreen forests atop small craggy peaks and rolling hills. It was a beautiful drive. There’s an organization, Elkana, which is working to develop rural tourism in this area, and now I get it. The Georgian government just released a video promoting tourism in the region, with many beautiful shots but ignoring the region’s ethnic diversity, which ruffled a few feathers.

Just before Tsalka, we decided to go explore a few of the villages, more or less at random, and see what there was to see. We turned down the road to the village of Kokhta (I was told this means tower, but I can’t find confirmation of that…) and drove on to the next village, Chrdilisubani (shadow neighborhood). There was no tower, but there was some shade. If anyone knows anything about these villages, please let me know! We spoke to someone in Chrdilisubani to clear up whether or not the road connected back to the highway (answer: it goes back to the highway, but it isn’t really a road. GoogleMaps Lie #1). He was clearly a native Georgian speaker. When we retraced our route back through Kokhta, I noticed that the church had a three-barred Russian cross on it rather than the Georgian cross of grapevines or the Armenian cross I would expect to see in an Armenian village. This piqued my interest since this region is known to be very diverse. Do the Russian spiritual Christians use the Russian Orthodox cross? Did we stumble across some Dukhobors? Maybe Georgians or Armenians just preferred that cross in this village? I couldn’t find an answer in a few quick Google searches, though I can say I’m pretty sure the village is not Azeri.

We continued on to Phoka, through the segment of bad roads in the village of Sameba (the rest of the road from Tbilisi to Phoka was fine).  The beautiful scenery continued, especially as we drove along the shore of Lake Paravani, and the further we were from Tbilisi, the cooler the temperatures got. It was down to 61* (F) on the car thermostat by the time we were in Phoka. There was also a little bit of rain, but nothing major.  We found the convent shop by following the convenient signs. This is a very entrepreneurial convent, who have studied cheesemaking in France and take advantage of their location and solitude to make high-quality gourmet products. We splurged on cheese and chocolate and fancy jam.  The plan was to go to a little marketi, buy some bread and maybe tomatoes, and have a little picnic and return to Tbilisi. End of Day.


Treats from Phoka (that white chocolate with rose petals was so good!)


G had the idea to make a loop, rather than going  back to Tbilisi the way we had come. Ninotsminda is the next major town down the road from Phoka, and he knew of a road from Tabatskuri Lake down to Ninotsminda, and had driven from Bakuriani to Tabatskuri Lake before and said the road was good enough. Our new plan was Phoka–>Ninotsminda–>Tbatskuri Lake–>Bakuriani–>Borjomi–>highway back to Tbilisi. It would be beautiful and nice and great.


We went to Ninotsminda and bought some bread, and picked up a few (very lovely) Polish hitchhikers outside town. Their goal was to go to Vardzia the next day, so they wanted to find a bed in a place where it would be easy to get a tour to Vardzia. We suggested Borjomi, because it’s a nice town, there are organized tours there, and we could drive them all the way. Perfect! We consulted GoogleMaps which didn’t show a road straight to Tabatskuri, but said that the road to Bakuriani that went near there was a highway, the M20, and off we went. Now, I didn’t expect this highway to be a highway like the divided highway between Tbilisi and Gori, but since it was the same color on the map as all the roads we had been on earlier that day, I expected it to be, you know, passable. It was in yellow, and village roads are generally shown in white. Village roads are dicey, sure. But this was a yellow road; it would be fine.


Clearly it was not fine. (GoogleMaps Lie #2) There was a bit of asphalt, and then good gravel, and then….After a short way of bumping and scary crashy-grindy noises and no indication of a better road ahead, we thought to reevaluate the plan. The black storm clouds behind us clinched the deal, and we turned around back to Akhalkalaki. Here we had two choices: go back the way we had come (leaving our hitchhikers further from their destination than they had started) or continue the loop on the road to Akhaltsikhe. We knew the road we had been on was fine, and we knew the road from Akhaltsikhe to Tbilisi was fine…but what about the road between Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki? GoogleMaps said it was yellow. And as we had learned, yellow can mean pretty much anything. We saw that Aspindza was along that route, and I remembered that that was the road to Vardzia, and that THAT road was OK, so it was only a little bit of mystery. We went for it.

Luckily, this part of the road was fine. Potholes, of course, but normal potholes. (This is ALSO a beautiful drive along a small river with mountains on either side). However, the poor little Prius had had a long day, and between Aspindza and Akhaltsikhe a rattling emerged. G climbed out and looked and saw “something” hanging, but couldn’t reach it. We arrived in Akhaltsikhe a little after 8 (on Sunday evening) and saw a lot of closed garages. We found a tire shop and carwash that was open. They let us use the bathroom, and the backpackers bought some coffee in the unfortunately named cafe “Coffee. Oil”. They couldn’t help us with the car, but they told us where the open mechanic’s shop was. Once we found the mechanic, the car got lifted up and we got the good news that it was only the protector that was dangling, so they put it back in place, and after just 10 lari we were good to go. Onwards!

The backpackers had cleverly gone online to book a guesthouse in Borjomi, so we dropped our new friends off and said goodbye (of course the guesthouse wasn’t where GoogleMaps said it was. Lie #3). Now we had been on the road for 10 hours, were hungry (never got that picnic!), and not as relaxed as we had hoped. Clearly we needed a khachapuri break in the village of Akhaldaba outside Borjomi, where they make amazing wood-oven khachapuri. It finally started raining seriously, so we waited it out while we ate. Refreshed and with the rain abating, we had an uneventful (but late) drive back to Tbilisi.

poka map

Long story short: visit this area of Georgia; it’s stunning; do not trust GoogleMaps there.




The Chandelier at the Opera. Photo from See the full gallery here.

The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theatre (Tbilisi Opera) has finally reopened to great fanfare. Most shows have been sold-out, and it seems like everyone is itching to get inside and see the renovations. I was one of those people. Friday night, my friends and I went to see Swan Lake. While Swan Lake was a great choice of performance to watch, we would have been happy to see anything we could get tickets for that fit into our schedule so we could get into the building and take a peek. I’m the furthest thing from qualified to give a critique of the ballet, so I will just leave it at “It was pretty.” The performance was accompanied by a live pit orchestra, which always adds a nice touch. You can check upcoming performances on the Opera’s website (NB: I can’t find an English version) or see the schedule and buy tickets on Tickets can also be purchased at the box office. The upcoming schedule features a Georgian ballet and a Georgian opera, in addition to some international favorites. I know nothing about these performances, but it seems like it would be an interesting and unique experience.

The renovations of the building did not disappoint–everything is sumptuous. Every inch is painted with beautiful designs, there are oodles of chandeliers, and the chairs are all velvet-covered. Leg room isn’t generous, but the seats are comfortable enough. The restrooms seemed to be the only place where money was an object during the renovation–in contrast to every other nook of the building they were not luxurious, but they were clean and functional, so I have no complaints. Throughout the hallways and in some of the smaller spaces there are exhibits of memorabilia from the theatre’s history.

My only complaint is beyond the theatre’s–audience behavior was quite shocking. I haven’t gone to the theatre in any other country in years (even before I moved here, I wasn’t living in a place with lots of theatre-going opportunities), so maybe this is not a Georgian problem, but one that has grown worldwide, but I was shocked to see people who had paid 80 GEL for the most expensive seats in the house who were fiddling with their phones on throughout the performance (they didn’t appear to be filming, which would have been even worse)–the glow was distracting, even from three floors up. The doors to the hall were constantly opening and closing, and there was quite a lot of loud talking. (from the adults. The little girls nearby were quite well-behaved) Despite the annoyances which kept me from being fully swept up in the performance, it was still quite enchanting.

I took a few snapshots of the decor, but they pale in comparison to those the pros took for the grand opening…so look at these instead.


My friend Maggie and I were interested in The Millihelen’s Ex-pat Mall Makeovers, so we decided to go and do one of our own. We were curious to see just what a make-up artist would do with our non-Georgian features. Dramatic eyeliner is the major trend I have noticed in make-up in Tbilisi, so I guess we were expecting some of that. We met on a rainy Saturday, so although we’d thought about getting our hair done, too, it seemed like that would be a waste. So we just went for make-up. We met at the Karvasla Mall behind the train station, because we thought there might be a beauty salon there, but we weren’t actually sure. Fortunately, in the back corner of an upper floor we found Melange Beauty Salon, and it was hopping! The receptionist spoke English, and she introduced us to the make-up artist, who we communicated with in a mix of Russian and Georgian. We told her that she was the expert and we wanted to look pretty and in style in Tbilisi. Other than that, we pretty much left her to her own devices. She had good-quality products (mostly MAC), and everything was clean. They even gave us tea to drink while we were waiting and watching each other get our makeup done.

Em Before & After

Em Before & After

I went first, and the make-up artist spent a fairly long time evening my skin tone, concealing blemishes, and doing some light contouring. She definitely didn’t go nuts with it–it was very subtle. She went nuts on my eyes, but in a good way. I have blue eyes, which are relatively uncommon in Georgia, so I think she took that as a cue to play them up. I got a very meticulous smoky eye with liquid eyeliner, and even false eyelashes! (Totally a first for me). She finished it off with a light, natural-looking peachy-pink lipstick. I felt like I had Taylor Swift eyes, and I loved it! I kept wanting to start looking at people and opening my eyes in dramatic, Blank Space fashion.

Maggie Before & After

Maggie Before & After

Maggie was next, and our make-up artist took a different approach with her–medium emphasis on both the eyes and the lips. Like with me, she began with contouring, and it was likewise flattering and subtle. She lined Maggie’s eyes in very dark blue, which was surprising and looked great, and gave her a dark, plummy lip. It wasn’t at all what I expected her to do, but I think it looked really good.

We paid 40 GEL (18 USD) each for our makeovers, which was more than we had expected–I usually only pay 4 lari to get my hair cut, so I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic price difference across salons and services.

My fake eyelashes stayed on for nearly a week (so  I got some extended pay-off from that investment). I initially thought that it was overboard, but I guess they actually looked quite natural, because only one person noticed (my colleagues usually comment if I so much as wear eyeliner, so I think they would have mentioned it had they noticed). To be honest, now that the fake eyelashes are gone, I’m kind of disappointed in my natural lashes by comparison. I probably won’t do it again, but wow, did I feel glamorous!

Mandatory post-makeover selfie

Mandatory post-makeover selfie

Maggie is making a video version of our adventure–I’ll link to it when it’s ready.

Tserovani is definitely not a tourist attraction; it’s one of the settlements built for people displaced by the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. Going there just to have a gander would be in poor taste, at best. However, visitors who come to Georgia with a particular interest in the region’s politics and history are often very curious about what life is like in the IDP communities. If that’s the case, there are ways where you can visit in a way that is beneficial to the community. The local NGO “For a Better Future” is based and works in this community, doing a variety of community-building and livelihood-development projects, and they offer a great way to visit Tserovani, talk to the people, and have a fun time. They’re working to build marketable skills and create jobs in the community, and one of the ways they’re doing that is by teaching women to make traditional enamel jewelry (samples of their beautiful work here) through social enterprise. They’ve taken it a step further, though, and also offer workshops where the enamel artists will teach visitors how to make a piece of jewelry. I’ve been twice, and think it’s pretty awesome. The information for registering is on their website here. The director speaks English well, and many of the artists are studying English. The first time I attended, they had a Peace Corps volunteer as well, so language is really no problem. The provide you with a light lunch of specialties from South Ossetia, which has included things like Ossetian khachapuri (khabizgina) with potato, lobiani, fruit, and a special, delicious cake traditionally made only in Akhalgori. The artist-teachers are very sweet and helpful, and strike the right balance between making sure you get a good final product, and giving you creative license. Part of the idea is also to build relationships between the IDPs, other Georgians, and foreigners, so a little friendly chit-chat is part of the event. It’s a lovely way to learn more about the IDP community, and get a pretty amazing hand-made souvenir from Georgia. I highly recommend it!

Jewelry made by my friends and I at the enamel workshop

Jewelry made by my friends and I at the enamel workshop

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a holiday that is a big deal in Georgia although it’s little-known in the US.  Personally, I had never heard of it until I attended a women’s college.  It was kind of a big deal there, but in an entirely different way.  In grad school, we generally celebrated, but in a very Russianist way.  It was an East European Studies program, after all.  Usually the guys in seminar would provide some sort of baked goods or flowers–very nice (and generally made me feel rather guilty about having forgotten Defender Of the Fatherland Day entirely).  Turns out that was just a light warm-up for March 8 in Georgia.  Georgian Mother’s Day is March 3, so the beginning of March can start to go to one’s head (even non-mothers are congratulated on Mother’s Day, because, hey–we’ve got potential!).  Women’s Day is basically a big Leslie Knopean Galentine’s Day, except you go out for dinner rather than breakfast.  The two occasions when I have celebrated traditionally have involved going out to party with all the female colleagues.  When I lived in Kakheti, we had a supra at a co-worker’s house, and this year our department went to a restaurant to eat, drink, and dance together.  One of my colleagues made a point of insisting that we ignore men entirely, which is a bit hard when they are strutting about doing comedy versions of Georgian dances.  Last year some friends and I took Women’s Day a different direction and went to a feminist meeting, where they had some truly excellent cake.  Regardless of the celebration style Facebook was buzzing with images like those above and links to cool stories about women, and everyone was messaging, texting, or calling their favorite women to send them good thoughts.  I’m not a fan of all the attention, but I certainly appreciate the cash bonus and the opportunity to spend time with my colleagues in a different setting.


It was a few weeks ago now that Polly posted her challenge to other ex-pat bloggers to write their open advice letters to future ex-pats in their city.  I’m a little (OK, a lot) slow on the update here, but I like the idea a lot, and was discussing it with a friend last weekend.

Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi at Tbilisoba 2013

Have no expectations; make no assumptions.  Just because the store says “Open”, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to go in and do your shopping.  Just because chicken is on the menu, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to have chicken for dinner.  Just because it’s a national holiday, it doesn’t mean you’ll have the day off work (or anyone will know whether or not you have the day off work in advance).  Just because there’s a box that says “Post”, it doesn’t mean there’s a functioning postal system.  Check your expectations at the door, and learn to go with the flow.  I’m told it builds character.  A little spontaneity can be great fun, and Georgia is designed for spontaneity.  It’s part of adapting to the culture.

Learn a little Georgian.  All it takes is a “Gamarjobat. Rogora khart?” to have Georgians impressed with your linguistic skills.  Anything beyond that, and you’ll be told you speak fluently.  No one really expects foreigners to speak Georgian, but they’re very proud of their language, and love it when you make an effort.  It will also make your life infinitely easier if you at least learn the alphabet and can sound out signs.  Besides, Georgian really is fascinating, and is worth it as an intellectual exercise alone.

Everyone knows everyone. This country is a gigantic village, and gossip is the national sport. (Yes, ex-pats, too!)  Georgia’s population is in the 4 million range (counting can be tricky what with Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and family and friendship ties are strong, so the country is very closely tied together.  This means news travels fast–faux pas and failed relationships are fodder for conversation, particularly when it relates to foreigners.  And amongst ourselves, we foreigners are really no exception, and our community is also small.  (I heard a story about Foreigner A who was telling Foreigner B about a friend’s neighbor’s new fling…who turned out to be Foreigner B!) There are no secrets.  The interconnectedness also means that it’s hard to avoid a certain person if things have gone south.  On the bright side, you’ll always know what’s going on, people will always be looking out for you and chances will be good you’ll run into a friend at pretty much any social occasion (or walking down the street).

Tbilisi TV Tower at Dusk (June 2010)

Tbilisi TV Tower at Dusk (June 2010)

Everything happens on Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t work the way it does back home.  While you’re working on adapting to a foreign culture, you don’t necessarily think about the differences in online culture–I sure didn’t.  But Georgian Facebook culture is very different than American Facebook culture (or at least my cohort’s Facebook culture).  In Georgia, it’s totally normal to become Facebook friends with someone after one meeting, and being Facebook friends with co-workers or teachers is absolutely the norm (it’s also normal to be real-life friends with these people).  It’s generally OK to be on Facebook in the office, as long as you do some work, too.  In fact, being on Facebook could well be part of your job–most businesses don’t have their own websites, but rather spread information through their Facebook pages.  As a matter of fact, when I was writing my post about the elections I noticed that none of the candidates seemed to have official websites–everything was hosted on Facebook.  Georgia’s general enthusiasm for life also carries over into Facebook enthusiasm–as I understand it, if you see something you vaguely like on Facebook, you should click the “Like” button (unlike what I’m used to, where that is saved for a higher level of interest and approval).  So, don’t be surprised if a Georgian colleague adds you on Facebook, and then likes all your photos–that means you’ve made it!

Vake is not Tbilisi, and Tbilisi is not Georgia. Foreigners tend to congregate in a few neighborhoods of Tbilisi, and Vake, the upscale district, is one of the favorites.  I’ve long been a Vake-hater, but I have to admit it’s now starting to grow on me.  (So many places with good coffee!)  But Vake is far from representative–it’s wealthier, more Westernized, and is the hub of consumer goods (coffee!),  Most Georgians aren’t like the Vakelebi.  Though the difference is stark between Vake and other neighborhoods of Tbilisi, there’s also a world of difference between almost anywhere in Tbilisi and most of the rest of the country.  Personally, I prefer other neighborhoods of Tbilisi, and the rest of the country is full of charm.  Get out of Vake and explore!

Once you’re in, you’re in–try not to abuse the lovely Georgians’ kindness.  Georgians are wonderful and hospitable, and once you’re one of “their people”, most of them will drop everything to help you.  Don’t let the power go to your head and abuse their kindness. You’ll never be able to reciprocate in kind (just TRY beating a Georgian man to paying in a restaurant.  All of a sudden they become incredibly sneaky and develop lightning-fast reflexes).  I really recommend, though, that you try to repay them by being as good and helpful a friend as you can.  Help them practice their English if they’re interested, bake them cookies (no, wait, don’t–that’s my move!), share your foreign goods, or help them out in other ways.  You’ll feel less guilty, and have better friendships for it.

Metekhi Church and Presidential Palace in foreground, Greater Caucasus in background (May 2013)

Metekhi Church and Presidential Palace in foreground, Greater Caucasus in background (May 2013)

It takes a certain kind of person to be an ex-pat in Tbilisi, and generally people either hate Georgia and leave ASAP or have to tear themselves away (or don’t manage to tear themselves away and subsequently stay forever).  Georgia is a pretty great place to live–as you can see, most of my advice is for dealing with Georgian’s kindness and enthusiasm.  Not bad problems to have, really.

I am not a spontaneous person by nature.  I like to plan.  I usually am armed with a Plan A and a Plan B.  Georgia has made me a bit more flexible–as a mental survival mechanism, I usually have Plans A, B, C, and D in my head, and I try not to get my heart set on Plan A too, too much.  Georgia, on the other hand, is a country that embraces spontaneity.  Ask any foreigner living here about the frustrations of planning an event, or even meeting up with a friend.  It can drive you crazy.  As my mother and my roommate often remind me, learning to let go of my plans builds character and flexibility.  And though it’s hard for me, I am learning (and I’m going to have SO MUCH character soon).  Last weekend, I had a major breakthrough in my spontaneity, and my totally spontaneous weekend was awesome.

I had been invited to visit a friend’s village that weekend for a village festival, but I honestly wasn’t very interested in going to what I thought would be a very large supra where I would be force-fed a lot of khachapuri and treated as a novelty, so when I woke up to horrible allergies in the city, I decided that a trip to the village (with all the possible allergens there) was just not my cup of tea that day.  Besides, I’m taking an online class, and I had homework.  Right after my friends departed to the village, I received an exciting instant message–Cat was being spontaneous, and would be passing through town that evening: was I around?
I was very glad I’d decided to stay home, and spent the day getting work done so I’d have some flexibility once Cat arrived.

Cat came to town, and we got some dinner and ice cream, and we went to the welcome party for a friend’s new flatmate, while trying to figure out what to do the next day.  Cat had planned to go skiing, but wasn’t sure which resort to go to.  In the meantime, roomie S, who was already in the village, sent me a text message about the festival–our friend’s brother was designing his mask for the festivities, and there were horses–this festival seemed a bit more exciting than a regular supra; did Cat and I want to come and join?  It looked like there would be rain in Gudauri, so we decided: why not?

Sunday morning we made our way to the marshrutka station, from whence we made our way to the village, not far from my old home in Kakheti (incidentally, my friend’s mom attended the school I used to teach at in a town nearby–small country!).  Our friends were standing alongside the road to flag us down, and not long after we alighted from the marshrutka we saw the spectacle of the village festival:  the young men of the village were wearing masks and had adorned their clothes in strips of brightly colored rags.  They were menacing passers-by with whips and extorting money out of passing cars.  We asked our friend to explain this odd phenomenon.  The explanation seemed a bit incomplete, but here it is:  The festival is called Kvelieri (ყველიერი) which comes from the Georgian word for cheese. But there is no cheese involved in the festival.  It might be related to cows.  The guys in masks are called berikos (ბერიკო), which I have since learned means “little friar”.  The festival happens in the village of Patara Chailuri every year in February or March.

So, there we were, being chased by guys with whips and possibly celebrating cheese.  We weren’t really sure, but it was fun!  After not too long, we were ushered to our friend’s house to meet his family and have some lunch.  His mother is a very good cook, and the menu included a special type of kada (ქადა, Georgian sweet bread) made just for this festival which interestingly incorporated both onions and vanilla (and was really good.)

After our mini-supra, we went to the village square where the main celebrations were taking place.  There was a song-and-dance show put on by the local kids, a wrestling competition, and a very cool (and probably not very safe) gigantic swing fashioned from a tree trunk.  (The swing is recommended pre-supra)

After sampling the festivities, we returned to the house for more food and some rest.  Before we began our journey back to Tbilisi, we learned from an inside source that the berikos had made themselves nearly 500 lari over the course of the day!  Kvelieri was unlike anything else I’ve seen in Georgia–this place still has some surprises up its sleeve!

(Apologies for the lack of pictures: I hope to remedy my camera situation in the near future. If you’re a real-life friend, you should be able to see some tagged by the others on Facebook)

The Independent has just posted a fantastic article about Georgian pop music and it’s political themes.  The list features some old favorites of mine (like Misha Magaria) and introduced me to some new songs as well.  It inspired me to spend a good part of yesterday afternoon watching Georgian music videos on YouTube.  The ones sponsored in part by the government (such as Chemo Tbilis Kalako, Me Mikvars Radja , and the Ministry of Internal Affairs videos) are particularly catchy and well-produced.  Unfortunately, most of these tracks are not available for legal download in the US–a quick search only found Bera’s album and “We’re not Gonna Put In” for sale–two of my least favorite tracks.  Enjoy via YouTube for now!

This winter, I had my 15 minutes of fame on a popular Georgian TV show.  Specifically, my Georgian teacher from grad school had her 40-ish minutes of fame, and I was a supporting character.  She was being profiled for a human interest piece on her work educating foreigners about Georgian language and culture, and since I was also in Georgia, they wanted to speak with me about what I had learned, as well as to film me teaching, showing how my teacher had inspired me to do good for Georgia.  I think the piece turned out very well in the end; they made my teacher and my graduate program look great (I hope the show got my grad program some good press), and it was a good half-hour of TV programming.  My TV appearance also eased my path with regards to integrating into my community–my 1st grade class got to be on national TV, for which their families were very grateful.  My school was delighted at the PR opportunity, in particular the chance to show that even though our school is poor we have a fantastic English lab with a small library and a computer.  My host family was able to see my university and “meet” the people I’d worked with.  (My history professor (Hi, Professor B!),  was a big hit; my host grandfather said “He is a good man”).  My Georgian teacher, now a TV star, was seen as a hero in my community, and whenever I wanted to visit her in Tbilisi I had no problems leaving town whenever I wanted.

Rustavi 2
(from Wikimedia Commons)
Note: the TV logos pictured in this post are just the easiest-to-find TV company logos. It is not a sign of which channel interviewed me.

The final product of the program looked fantastic–my students were adorable (and looked like they always paid attention and were active participants in class).  The bulk of my interviews were done in English, which the TV staff translated (accurately, as far as I remember and understand the Georgian), though I did do a small piece of the interview in Georgian which was featured in the show.  They also taped me having a little chat in Georgian with my teacher and her kids.  The reporters and camera people were very friendly and nice, and I was super-impressed by the cameraman’s interaction with my first graders.  He was very kind and polite to them, while also getting them to do exactly what he wanted–that’s no easy task!  My only complaint about the final product was that I really wish they’d let me brush my hair before they started filming me.

Georgian Public Broadcaster (P’irveli Arkhi)
(from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I reaped so many benefits from this TV program, I’m not going to tell you the details of which program or channel, because while I was happy with the outcome, I have some criticisms of the journalistic process.  Georgia is, of course, a post-Soviet country, and the media sector is still in transition. Freedom House rates the Georgian media as “partly free” in 2012…far better than in many other parts of the Former Soviet sphere of influence.  (You can see all their data here.)   In my opinion, a large part of the problem stems not just from the legal environment but from the fact that there isn’t a culture of investigative journalism or rigorous reporting.  My impression is that the reporters are told information by their sources, and then the run it (this is an issue that foreign aid groups and NGOs are aware of, and are working to change through journalistic exchanges and further education).  There is also not always a good understanding of the processes necessary to film in certain places, or talk to certain people.  The style of television and what is popular to watch is also different here in the States (as I’ve posted about before) which I’m sure contributes to the different culture surrounding TV journalism.  I should note here that my experience with the media back home in America is also limited–I’m not a journalist by training, and all of my contact with the American media has been through local TV stations or newspapers and human interest pieces, almost all while I was in high school.  What most surprised me about my experience being interviewed for the show was that it was I and not the journalists who was ultimately responsible for getting the permissions necessary for them to film me.  Since they wanted to film me teaching, that required permission from the school principal, the local education authority, and the class (as well as permission from my employer to talk to me)–all of which I had to make sure they had.  At one point in the interview, I was asked to change my answer, because I didn’t give them the answer they were expecting.  Apparently, I interpreted the question differently than they had intended it, so when they rephrased the question I did have a different answer, but I still didn’t say what they wanted me to say.  When they filmed me teaching, the crew had a very specific idea of what they wanted to see in the classroom (me giving commands in Georgian and encouraging the students to translate), which unfortunately does not correlate with the way I teach.  So all of the scenes of me teaching are dramatized, rather than documentary.  It also turns out that I’m not cut out to be a TV actress, because it took me at least 5 takes to open the door properly.  Overall I felt that the portrayal was accurate, but I was worried by the way in which the journalists were driven by their preconceptions of how the program should look, rather than finding the facts and letting them drive the story.

PIK (Pervyi Kavkazi) TV
(from Wikimedia Commons)

Since my last post was a bit of a downer, you’ll be glad to know that this post is quite positive, though it’s about a group that often gets a bad rep: teenagers.

Teenage friends enjoying themselves at Davit Gareja

Of course it’s entirely possible, that I only know the good kids, but from my experience these are a great group of kids/mini-adults.  For background, last semester I lived with a 15-year-old host sister and 17-year-old host brother, and spent a decent amount of time hanging out with them and their friends.  They joined us on our trip to Davit Gareji, and it was great fun to have them there with us.  I also worked in a school that was grades 1-12.  Though I only taught grades 1-6, I briefly sat in on Russian class with the 8th graders, and helped the high schoolers with some extracurricular projects.  The დიდი ბიჭები (didi bidjebi big boys) volunteered to carry our wheelchair-bound third grader up and down the stairs every day so he could come to English class with his classmates.  This summer, I worked with a group of disadvantaged teens, and though their educations had been disrupted, they were some of the most bright and eager students I’ve worked with.

High School graduates in their Last Bell flash mob.

My impression is that in Georgia, teenagers are treated as adults, and they rise to the occasion and act the part.  I’ve already mentioned the teenagers who offered to carry one of the little kids to class, a very thoughtful action on their part.  One of my first days with my host family, my host mother (who usually looked after me) had to go to a dentist’s appointment, so my 17-year-old brother stayed home so I wouldn’t be alone, and even cooked lunch (OK, he just boiled hotdogs–but you have to start somewhere).  He’s also the one who helped me bake chocolate chip cookies, even though it wasn’t his idea of fun (he seemed to enjoy it in the end).  My host sister’s studying was often interrupted by silly requests from her brother, but she never whined and I rarely saw them argue.  For that matter, I have rarely heard whining from the teenagers I know here.  I can’t imagine most American teenagers behaving with this maturity (I’m pretty sure I didn’t).  Of course, they’re probably on their best behavior when I’m around, but I’ve been impressed.  Молодец ბავშვებო! (molodets bavshvebo! Good job, kids!)

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