Surrealism and Normality
Its been a very surreal day today, something so far fetched, yet also reliably normal and as comfortable as a new pair of fluffy slippers. In fact, its been a rather odd week entirely when I think about it. I had started to beat myself up a bit for my lack of success in achieving anything at all this week, but when I thought about it, its been a very good week and loads has been achieved. Its like some weird quantum physics rule or something, where the less you do, the more you get done, and thinking on that further, I think that my best exam results at school were always achieved in the subjects that I spent the least time ‘working’ on, which never felt like a chore, and which I simply enjoyed. So I think the new philosophy for life in Georgia is to stop fighting things or getting frustrated at lack of time scales or preparation or whatever, and to just let everything wash over me and to go with the flow more. Since coming to Georgia, there is one British phrase that I have found myself using very often ‘wait and see’. It never applied to my life as much as it does now, and its probably the one phrase I should learn in Georgian, as I say it as much as I say ‘maybe’ (albat). If its meant to happen it just will, and no point worrying over it or wasting time making plans. Perhaps I am just becoming more Georgian or spontaneous, or perhaps I am just more used to expecting the unexpected?? That will be interesting for friends visiting over Christmas who I haven’t seen for over a year, I wonder how much I have changed, and in what ways??? Will my new found laid back approach drive them crazy I wonder?
Italian Greyhound Saga
So, having gone to bed around 2am, I was a little cross this morning to be woken up by Isla my Italian greyhound at 7am because she desperately needed to go out for a pee, or at least that was the impression she gave me as she doesn’t generally whine. It turned out she had no intention of going for a pee at all, she just wanted to catch the next door neighbour who always feeds the stray kitten across the road and the stray kitten’s 3 kittens. Isla has worked out the neighbours daily routine and she knows exactly when there is the chance of food to be had! Sometimes, Isla allows me to think that she is completely stupid, and others time, its scares me when I realise just how smart she can be, and also how manipulative! Its not just an Isla thing as it turns out, it is actually a typical trait of the Italian Greyhound. Here is some advice from one owner for people considering acquiring one:
“The liquid eyes of an Italian Greyhound can melt the hardest of hearts. These little dogs are masters at twisting owners around their paws. As a result, IGs can become spoiled-rotten rapidly and can turn into rulers of the house! Don’t forget to teach them what “no” means. However, they do prefer to be companion and friend, but not master and dog. If an Italian Greyhound captures your heart, you will find that the process is painless and you will become a willing slave. If you are looking for a breed that will obey your every command, the IG is NOT the breed for you.
You must remember that their dreamy expression hides a deadly mind. They are very adept at getting what they want and can be persistent. Be prepared to give in on many issues because they are masters at laying a guilt trip! If you are not flexible this also may not be the breed for you.
Curiosity and the Italian Greyhound go well together. IGs love to be in, around and on top of anything that they find interesting. If an IG decides that an object is edible he will eat it! Care should be taken to make sure that they do not get into too much trouble or into danger. If you don’t have eyes in the back of your head, this may not be the breed for you – grin”.
So, anyway, 7am this morning, awoken by an Isla running around the room, dropping toys on my head and whining in protest to go out, I was not impressed at all, and at 8am the plumber arrived to fix the taps and toilets. I was even more cross at Isla’s ability to faff around outside to find the perfect pee spot, because it meant that I lost any window of opportunity to use the bathroom before the plumber and his young son disconnected everything, and so I spent an agonising hour or so, busting for a pee, bladder expanded to the max, and struggling to concentrate on anything, including my own name.
Facebook and Roz
The only distraction to a painfully full bladder was to distract myself with messages and emails. Facebook informed me that Roz has been having a tougher time of things the past week. The waves have been huge and powerful, she has been rocked about all over the place, and on a couple of occasions she has had no miles sponsored for her efforts, I feel disheartened and its not even my expedition. I love facebook and blog’s like Roz’s (http://www.rozsavage.com/). It is like reading a gripping novel in real time, but with the added edge that you know it is real life and that anything could be going on whilst you are tucked up in bed sleeping, especially with the time difference between Georgia and the Indian Ocean, and we seem to have opposite shifts entirely. God knows how Rita, Roz’s mum must feel at times, as I have often found myself sending little prayers to the weather Gods and to the sea Gods to keep her safe, and I am not even particularly religious. But, I was thinking how shit she must be feeling in those big waves right now, I wonder if she is sleep deprived, covered in sores, and physically tired from rowing everyday, as I know she is just over half way on her solo row across the Indian Ocean, and to motivate herself she has started to cross off her estimated miles per day. I’m really proud of Roz, and it also amazes me how little she complains and also how she really underplays her experiences at sea. This is the statement I woke up to today: “I would love to meet Ted Danson for his work on ocean conservation, Prince Charles for his forward-looking initiatives, and Johnny Depp”. I had no idea who Ted Danson was, so I looked him up. Turns out he played Sam in the American TV sitcom Cheers, and in March this year he published his first book about his environmental work on the oceans and its called Oceana, his ex girlfriend is Whoopi Goldberg, so there you have it! Education via facebook, wikipedia, and blog, and all before breakfast, as a coping mechanism whilst desperate for a pee!
And then an idea dawned on me, and I knew just what to do to try and brighten Roz’s day as her boat gets continually filled with salty water from the waves crashing into her little boat. One of her biggest concerns on this expedition was that she would be in pirate territory, and several folk have previously been held to ransom or murdered by pirates, so she is unable to give her exact location on the Ocean, in case she gets targeted. It is hard to comprehend what that threat must feel like when planning an expedition or setting out on a solo trip, but I think this BBC news item from february of this year puts it in a more real context:
“Piracy is a highly lucrative trade in Somalia, where gangs can often demand millions of dollars in ransoms.
As of last week, the EU’s anti-piracy naval force said pirates were holding a total of 31 vessels and 688 hostages.
Many of the vessels they target are cargo ships sailing near the Gulf of Aden – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes”.
As you could imagine, Roz had great difficulty getting insurance for her expedition, particularly after being advised to even cancel her planned expedition, and later having to change her planned destination of Mumbai. Finding insurance was a real headache and it was at the eleventh hour that she was offered some tailor made insurance for this trip because of the piracy concerns. Pirates, pirates, pirates…what can I do to lighten the mood??? And then, it came to me! I could email Tracey Jacobs in LA. She is Johnny Depp’s Agent, and she might be able to pass on a message for me, so that Johnny could send Roz a few kind words to help her on her way. No idea, whether it’ll make a difference, but it can’t hurt. And then I started to think about some what ifs, like, if I was Roz and I had been at sea on my own for the past 125days, what would it feel like to suddenly have those three visitors arrive on my little rowing boat in the middle of the ocean, having not seen another person in such a long time. Imagine that Ted Danson, Prince Charles, and Johnny Depp arrived with a ‘hello old chum’, a thermos of hot British tea, and a large packet of Hob Nobs? Would that be a good or a bad thing, or would it just send you over the edge? Would you think you were hallucinating or that you had gone mad, or would you just welcome them and get them to row for a bit,or maybe even kidnap them for a while?? If it were me, would I let them row my boat? If I had got myself all the way there, all to my own credit, and under my own steam, would I let someone take over for a bit? Or would I have become entirely territorial and over protective of my boat and oars?? Maybe it could lead to murder in a fit of rage, for three men deciding to be chivalrous and take over rowing for a bit?? Maybe I shouldn’t contact anyone, and just stay well out of things?? I don’t want to be the instigator for a catalogue of murders and things.
I was wondering as well, what it must be like for Roz now. She doesn’t eat meat for many environmental reasons, but she did enjoy some fish in her diet, and now, after her experiences on the Indian Ocean she is thinking about giving up eating fish too. Why? Because they have been her only company on this expedition, and she has had all manner of creatures flying and flopping about and landing on her boat, including a squid which left a large inky stain on the only part of her boat which was covered in canvas and not stain resistent material. Her boat has become a bit of a magnet for fish, something to do with it being the only shadow or solid structure for hundreds of miles around, and fish like to use her as a shield. The fish have become her friends and provided some amazing dances and shows to occupy her day. A few days ago, she was actually having difficulty rowing, because every time she put her oars in the water, she was sticking them into a group of tuna fish and she kept bumping them accidentally, and now she can’t imagine eating any more fish. This could make Roz a very difficult dinner guest if she continues at this rate:) And don’t go offering her bean sprouts either, she has been growing them on her boat and they are one her staples on this expedition!!! Perhaps just as well she is alone with a diet so high in beans!!!!
Its a Funny Old World
Anyway, enough about Roz. I was trying to tell you about how weird my day was. So, I started the morning with a cup of tea, and an email to Johnny Depp, and I am excitedly awaiting my first shower in over a week, as we are doing lots of works in the house, and the shower is broken at the moment, awaiting new parts. As more little jobs get done, it makes me realise how self reliant I have become, and all of these items just feel like winning the lottery now. Over the summer I had a total of 6Gel to live off, owing to the Ministry not paying me for two month’s work. I had the house to myself, it was ridiculously hot, and I feel as if I have been doing some kind of extreme indoor camping activity. And the funny thing is, that I was almost in self induced solitary confinement, as I didn’t really go out or speak to anyone, and was left alone with my thoughts and own timetable, and it was probably the best holiday I have ever had!
The last time I had such a great holiday was when I took my tent and trangiar and camped on a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland called ‘An Blascaod Mór’. It was previously the most westerly inhabited part of Ireland, an was an Irish speaking community, producing some of Ireland’s best Gaelic writers. The last islanders left in 1953 when Ireland could no longer guarantee their safety, and in 2007 it was decided that the land would be sold to the state and it would be made into a National Park. I was there prior to this, and it was heaven. Lots of rain and mist, apart from the odd visitor in the day to the ruins, I spoke no one and was left to myself for the whole of the summer. The fishermen would leave me provisions when they came with tourists to the ruins, and I ate the most delicious fish, cooking on the beach, and swimming and washing by the seal cave. It was absolute heaven and probably the most peaceful time of my life. I spent my time exploring the island, sitting and watching nature, and listening to the sounds of the island, the wind, the rain on the tent, the rolling of the waves, absolutely magical. One of the things I remember most about this time was reading the autobiography of the island’s last inhabitant Peig Sayers, and this is how the autobiography began:
“I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days”.
She tells of famine, of the diminishing of the Irish language, and of the penal laws, and of her life working as a servant for rich landowners. Here is a bit of a clip about some Blasket stories:
One house mate arrived back a week or so ago, with tales of travels around Europe, guests are arriving from Germany today, and in the early hours of the morning, my other house mate is arriving from the UK. The house is now a hive of activity, and its strange to now have to start checking what day it is and using my calendar to write down appointments again, and also getting used to company. I don’t have the freedom of my own routine now, and its strange to get used to working around other people and compromising again, but its also very exciting, and another chapter of life, and its funny to see my house mates settle back into life here after their travels. At the moment we are all in different places mentally but slowly we are synchronising a bit more. Summer is already becoming a memory of times gone by, and the new school year is slowly creeping up on me. It is the reason why I feel I am achieving nothing, yet at the same time, my hard work is now starting to pay off, and things are coming together in the most unexpected and amazing ways. The plumber is due back today, and hopefully today will see the replacement of the temporary beds and the new beds will arrive……I hope they will arrive anyway, or our guests and other housemate will have no where to sleep!
Over the summer, it was so hot, and I had to change positions through the day to try and keep cool, and I ended up moving into the whole apartment, and now, I am slowly withdrawing back into my own little physical space. I have divided my room up into two temporary rooms for now, so that my house mate has her own space. But, its been very surreal, because in dividing my room, it actually feels bigger now and much more private and homely than before. Soon we will start to decorate the kitchen, and yesterday we got television, and now we have internet and soon a house phone. But for some reason today, as is often the case in Georgia, the electricity is off, but it is no issue as it just means that somewhere close to here, regeneration and repairs are being made, and soon it will come back on again. Sometimes life in Georgia, feels a little like living on a building site. Temporarily inconvenient and dusty from the repairs, but with the excitement and hope of what is to come once the work is finished. Like being caught between two different worlds, the old and the very shiny and new.
Feels Like Home
After living in host families since I came to Georgia, I have just been loving that I no longer live out of my suitcase, fitting around the lives and requirements of others, and it really just makes the new found independence and freedom that much more special. To just have a place to call home! Even the animals have fully settled in this week, they sleep differently, are more vocal and relaxed, and have even started to play again, and I have really missed that side of them, their quirks, and their companionship. They are the pets I had in my home in England prior to starting medical school, and its great to see that they have settled into Georgian life so well.
Isla has become a pain in the arse of late though, and she has settled into Georgian life rather too well for my liking, so its time to be a bit more Caesar Milan with her for a while until she learns that she is bottom of the pack and not the boss of everyone. I was really pleased that she made friends with the neighbours and that they really like her, but the little treats they give her are getting bigger and more frequent, and she has started to want to be next door after her walk and she has worked out a way to acquire breakfast at three houses on our Italian yard now, before coming home to eat her own breakfast, and when she can’t go next door she has started to whine a bit, especially when she hears the yard gate open or the neighbours’ voices. I’m all for her being sociable, but at the moment, food is the ONLY thing on Isla’s mind, and she has also started begging for food, something that I hate to see in dogs. A few times she has been sick from eating Georgian cheese, and I have kindly asked everyone not to give her any food, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I think I have to get tougher on that now, and a little less polite in my British communication. There are two problems really, one is that the neighbour’s dog died shortly after we arrived and they really miss him as he was about fourteen years old, and secondly, they are afraid that if they don’t feed her then she won’t come and see them anymore.
The final straw came yesterday. I said goodbye to Isla before leaving home for a couple of hours, and I was horrified to find when I came home, that Isla had been next door with the neighbours since I left the house. I couldn’t figure this out at all, and I blamed myself for being a terrible dog owner, and on that basis alone, should probably never be a parent to any child. But, I also couldn’t figure out how she got out, as I was sure that I said goodbye to her as I shut the door. Maybe she had slipped behind me somehow??? I just couldn’t figure it. Later in the day, we were at my friend’s house. They live on the fourth floor in an apartment, and I suddenly saw Isla jumping on the spot to see out of the window and she was about to jump onto the windowsill, thank god I saw her as that would have been a long drop the other side of the window. And then I knew exactly how she had got out of the house earlier in the day. Georgian houses have windows and on the outside they have metal bars, which means you can leave the window open all day, but its not easy for people to break in as the bars provide security. Isla had jumped onto the windowsill and got through the bars and jumped down onto the metal steps of the balcony. This is not four floors up, but she was very lucky not to hurt herself as Italian Greyhounds have spindly legs and they are easily broken, especially jumping from height and onto metal steps below. I know Italian Greyhounds can jump high, but I have NEVER EVER seen Isla do this. uUt, I think the lure of sausages and cheese and cookies next door may have been a bit too tempting for her, and knowing how food driven she is right now, and how grumpy she has been at not being allowed next door, I know that she would be prepared to do anything to get there.
So, now its time for some tough love with her, but the difficulty is, that it it is now a game of good cop bad cop, me being the one who always tells her off and never gives her treats! At home she is constantly in trouble now, and next door she is a Princess and gets whatever food she asks for. So its going to be a tricky time whilst we get her back on an even keel. She has also got very fat since living here, and I hate this fact as its not good for her. Problem is, she doesn’t eat at home now, she only eats when she goes to the neighbour’s house, and I don’t want to upset the neighbours or hurt their feelings, but at the end of the day she is my dog, and I will be the one paying the vet bills next time she jumps out of the window and breaks her leg, or worse still gets out onto the street.
Filming in Georgia
So aside from not having showered all week, and sleeping on a camp bed, on what would be perceived to be the more glamorous side of my life, I had an amazing week this week, and spent some time doing some film work, for the first time in ages. It was lovely to talk about my other passion in life, and I have started to give English lessons to the film crew. It was great fun, and so fascinating to learn about the cultural differences between Georgian and British/American film making etiquette and things. I also spent a day out in town with the costume designers looking for different items for the actors, and funnily enough I now feel more prepared and inspired to buy clothes for school in the next week or so.
I saw a whole side of the quirky bit of Georgia that I love, miles and miles of underground tunnels with old ladies selling second hand shoes and scarves. Watching the people barter with them, and listening to the sellers telling the prospective shoe owner how they were ‘kargia’ (good) or ‘zahn lamasia’ (very beautiful). It wasn’t so different from the trendy markets of Camden Town in London, but it was also so much cooler and very different to the set, props, and costume designers I have seen in action on UK films. On the Casino Royale Bond film, the props were all bought brand new and not necessarily from the cheapest shops, and after filming everything was sold for more than they bought it for, to collectors and lazy shoppers working on other film productions. There was something about hunting all over Tbilisi that was far more exciting, and it was the part of Georgia that I had seen in films before coming here, and which I had fallen in love with. Probably the more romantic and traditional aspect of Georgian culture, which is something I hope will remain.
Shopping in Georgia
Normally I hate clothes shopping, but there is something about purchasing items with a purpose, that makes it more challenging and more fun, and more rewarding when you find exactly what you were looking for, and knowing that you are contributing to the overall look of a film and how well it is received by the audience. The girls were also terrific fun and it was nice to practice both English and Georgian. I think they found it quite funny to see how interested people were in me, and it was funny to see that they were focused on getting a good price on the shoes and the stall holders were only interested in where I was from and what language I spoke, and it was funny to show the girls a little bit about what life is like for me and many other foreigners in Georgia. People speak to me in Georgian, and when I say that I don’t know Georgian, they switch to Russian, and get stuck on Russian, and can never quite grasp that I don’t know Georgian or Russian, and no matter how many times the girls explained that I didn’t know Russian, the sellers would continue talking to me. Its a normal part of my life here, and I’m so used to it that it was amusing to see how surprising it was for the girls to witness.
The Curious Case of the Shoes
The markets and shops were just amazing, and a real insight into other parts of Tbilisi and also Georgian culture, and I always love to have new experiences that take me into situations new, probably more so after my self imposed solitary isolation over summer. I was trying to imagine what a costume designer from the UK would think of the markets here, and I realised a little with horror, that they would probably come and buy out every piece of stock here, and still make a massive saving on what they would usually spend. You could find shoes here from probably the 1900s until the present day, so many vintage shoes, in all different shapes and colours, and each shoe with its own past life and stories to tell.
I have noticed that Georgians have a strong connection with shoes, and I haven’t really understood it yet, but I remember that even in my host family and school in Vale, no matter how poor the person was, they would religiously clean their shoes, and even though we walked through mud and over rocks their shoes were never dirty or scuffed or worn out. We once took part in a funeral procession through the village, and I was baffled at how the ladies could walk down steep rocky slopes wearing the most amazing high heeled shoes, yet never get them dirty or trip or break their ankles. I don’t own a decent pair of shoes, I just have an old pair of crocs, but I have really started to notice that aside from the three most important Georgian questions every stranger asks you: 1) how old are you, 2) are you married, and 3) what is your name, in that exact order, the next important thing to Georgians, is your shoes, and you will almost always be judged on your shoes. Not on brand or style, but on how clean they are.
I find this really fascinating, and I wonder where this thing with shoes comes from, and whether others have noticed it too?? In Latvia, during the Soviet times, every person was given the same shoes and same clothes, and I know that my stepmum developed her creativity and became an art teacher and later a tailor probably because of her experiences during the soviet times. I admire my stepmum for this, and its one of the things that I love about her. She is so resourceful and creative, and nothing is impossible. I guess Latvians are similar to Georgians in this way, and it makes them a very hard working nation, and able to always turn nothing into a special something. I would say this is probably true of the film girls too, as they were purchasing things and knew exactly how they would cut the material and turn it into something else. In the Soviet times, my stepmum would cut up and sew and dye the material from the clothes given to every person, and would make them into something more personalised, and she did this not just for herself but for others too. Maybe Georgians have grown up doing the same thing, and perhaps that is why shoe recycling in markets such as those we visited, is now a big part of Georgian culture?? But, I have not come across this in Latvia or Lithuania, so why is it so unique to Georgia? Even in the UK, we don’t recycle shoes on the same scale as this, and the thought of purchasing second hand shoes is an odd one for us, and very unhealthy. We do it for fim production, but not in everyday life on the whole. The only times we would do it, is when the shoes are vintage, or when we really have no money at all, but even if a child had a second hand school uniform, they would always have new shoes, and when they have finished with them, they would be in no fit state to recycle.
Maybe it is because Georgia is not a nation of walkers? In Britain, we traditionally run around and walk a lot, even if it is just running to catch a bus, but Georgians on the whole don’t like to walk, unless it is specifically for a leisure activity, so maybe this is why their shoes outlive them? Georgians also have many pairs of shoes and they love shoes, and will often notice if their friend has new shoes and everyone will admire them and want to know all the details of the new shoes. In Britain, if you don’t have much money, then you will have just one pair of shoes, bought new, and worn until they fall apart or you outgrow them.
It was a very cool day anyway, and it has been fantastic to keep my hand in the film industry even if its just in a tiny way, and I am looking forward to some more days on set and getting to know the Georgian crew better. There are also some exciting new oceans project film developments to report, but I will tell you about those in a bit.
I Love Sarah
One fo the most surreal aspects of our day though, was not the cute little kitten that the stall holder produced, nor the shoe selling ladies dashing off to their cars and running back with the other shoe to the one you wanted. It was in fact a T-shirt. A white T-shirt, hanging on a rail in one of many shops, surrounded by a hundred other items. I was so surprised, and I really couldn’t believe it, as it was the first and probably last time that such a thing would happen to me! One of the costume designers found a T-shirt that had ‘I Love Sarah’ on the front of it! She wanted to buy it for me, but I thought that would be a bit weird of me to wear a T-shirt showing my name and the fact that I love me, and would probably be seen as a little narcissistic! And if I had been in the UK, I probably would have thought that she was joking. But she wasn’t, she was deadly serious, and she bought it with great pride. It has turned into quite a funny thing as it happens, but I will explain more about that in a minute. The shop lady, a sweet old lady, looked a little baffled by what the joke was, and so we explained that my name was Sarah. Now, that probably doesn’t seem so weird, given how common the name Sarah is in the UK, but in Georgia, it is not a native name, and it often causes a lot of confusion and is hard for some people to pronounce. One old lady on my street, keeps asking me what my religion is, and she doesn’t understand that I am not Jewish, because to her it is a Jewish name, and she just can’t figure it out, let alone the fact that not only am I not orthodox Christian as most Georgians are, but that I don’t have a particular religious faith. To most Georgians, they having no faith is the same as being an atheist, and they can’t distinguish the different between atheist and just being a non decider or a fence sitter. I now that Sarah and Sally have the same background as names, and I often wonder whether I should just say that it is the same as the Georgian name Salome, but then I just give up as I am hopeless at coming up with opinions or decisions on such things.
But, the important part of the story here, is that I was really touched and thought it was so ironic, that he I was in a market full of clothes, and what should the costume designers from the film find, but a T-shirt that says ‘I love Sarah’!!! I will come back to the second part of this story in a bit.
At medical school, I often had to give presentations, and although I didn’t so much hate them, I never really enjoyed them either, and they were just not my thing really, and I never felt a special bond or affinity with them in any shape or form! I was never so much in aversion to them until we did them to death at medical school, and it used to really piss me off, because every term we would have these ridiculous OSCE exams (Objective Structured Clinical Exams). OSCES are basically a series of 5 or 10 minute ‘stations’, and each time a bell rings you move onto the next one, in a circuit, until you have completed each one. You have no idea what to expect at each station, and you never know who your examiner will be or how many people will be in that room. My medical school was even more frustrating because they were always fairly disorganised, and so you would have to run up and down stairs and by the time you got to each station you had already wasted 1 minute and were now hot, sweaty and out of breath, topped with the fact that this was an exam and if you didn’t pass a station then that was the end of medical school for you! Every station was different, and you had to tear off a little sticker from a badly printed sheet to give to each station examiner, so they could score you out of ten or whatever. I loved the clinical stations and the ones where you had people lying on a bed pretending to be patients with pretend illnesses, and you had to ask them questions and prod and poke them until you guessed what was wrong with them and decided how you would treat them, what medications to give, and what follow up, and at my school they believed in this crazy thing called ‘ICE’ too: ‘Ideas, Concerns, and Expectations’. This was probably the most ridiculous bit of any clinical exam, as you had to ask the patient how they felt about having a broken leg, what were they expecting you to do about their broken leg, and what were they most worried about regarding their broken leg. The answer was usually along the lines of, ‘actually I’m pretty miffed that I broke my leg, it hurts, and your the doctor so I really expected you to know what to do to fix it, but clearly if you are asking me what I think you should do then I would rather have a real doctor’. That along with the compulsory health promotion aspect of ‘so you have broken your leg, and have you ever considered giving up smoking and how much alcohol do you drink, oooh you are a terrible person and you must change your ways, tut tut, you will have to wait four hours to see the real bones doctor, but in the meantime lets talk about your terrible smoking habits and how you are going to die a slow and painful death!’. Now, I am all for health education and giving people to help quit when they want it, but there comes a point when I just think, ‘you know, they are an adult and we all have our vices, and if a cigarette gets them through the day and makes them happy, and they know the risks, then let them decide for themself and have just a little free will and a lot less nagging is tut tut tutting’. I’m not a smoker, have never been a smoker, and had bad asthma as a kid. I grew up in a family of smokers and I hate cigarettes, but if that makes a person happy, less cranky, and gets them through the day, then so be it. There are too many do gooders out there who just think that they know best and can make others feel guilty for what they do. There are too many rules in life and in some cultures, and perhaps that is one of the reasons that Georgia appeals to me. Here everyone smokes and drinks and if you don’t then its you who is the weirdo, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!
But the ICE, no matter how ridiculous, was not the worst thing about the OSCES. Hell no. The worst bit, was the presentations you had to give about statistics and also the dreaded Pubmed station. I remember every OSCE thinking, OK great I have saved the life of every patient so far, should have got my points, but now if the University Librarian who is examining me, has too much of a stick up his arse, then that is the end of med school for me, having also remortgaged my house to pay for my tuition fees since the government don’t fund people like me to study medicine, any other subject I would have received funding, but something with a job at the end like medicine, nope. And his dreaded question ‘what is a boolian operator?’ And whoa betide me if nerves got in the way and fear took over and I suddenly couldn’t remember that well rehearsed line:
“Boolean operators are used in computer programming. The main boolean operators are AND, OR, NOT, and XOR (exclusive or)”.
I mean, what bullshit is that!! I’m great at saving patients lives, I can take blood from a patient, re-start their heart with a defibrillator, fix their broken leg, but I’m shit at computer programming and giving presentations on powerpoint or whatever. Does that make me a bad doctor???? According to my medical school, Yes! Being a doctor these days apparently has nothing to do with having a good bedside manner, its all about being good at computer programming…according to the librarian examining me anyway, and to the fuck wit who decided that all doctors needed to know this. But, I am digressing here.
There was a good reason that I brought up the topic of presentations. And that was the fact that when I decided to leave medical school, I thought woohoo, no more presentations!! Since I have been in Georgia I have attended a few different presentations and I always find them rather interesting, and it would be very amusing to put a group of Georgians in the lecture hall of one of those really dull med school lectures and to see if the lecturer notices any differences. Actually, they probably would, because my medical school had a real inferiority complex and if anyone spoke or had a mobile phone switched on, or didn’t sign the register for the lecture, or asked a question that the lecturer didn’t like then you would be hauled up in front of a ‘fitness to practice’ or an ‘academic progress group’ and branded for the rest of your med school life. The longer I have been in Georgia, the more ridiculous I have started to view that medical school, and I really feel quite strangely when reading the statuses of my friends still studying there, and it is a huge relief to be out of that environment and into the real world again.
But, presentations in Georgia are something else, something that really surprised me as a cultural difference, and I wonder how foreigners view Georgians when they present to them. In Britain, we sit quietly, have mobiles switched off, never interrupt, if we have a question we raise our hand at the end, and we remain in our seats. All very quiet and civilised and we are ashamed to be caught out if we nod off. In Georgia, people fidget and talk, let their ringtones go for a minute or two, chat to their friends, walk in and out, turn up late or leave early, and the presentations don’t always start when they say they will. As a psychologist, I guess I just find the whole thing really fascinating and I wonder how things will change in the next ten years. Were presentations in Georgia always like this, or is it just that the culture is catching up with the western style of presentation? My old boss at the Neurological Hospital was Italian, and I used to find it very odd that she used to openly yawn, tap her fingers and look at her watch during presentations, as did the other Italian staff, but the Dutch, British, and Indian doctors and staff would always sit and look attentive and would NEVER show any signs of tiredness for fear of appearing disinterested. But here in Georgia, it is different again, and they never look like they are paying any attention at all, but they always ask good questions at the end, so they must have been listening.
In fact, I often wonder whether other cultures actually have less stress when listening to presentations, and whether they recall more information as a result of this? In Britain, we spend so much of our attention trying to look like we are paying attention, that most of our brain power must be devoted to looking attentive rather than actually being attentive. How free and relaxed is that as a listening technique!
But, I really did think that I wouldn’t have to present again, and ironically this week, I have now given two presentations and have to plan two more for next week. And not only are they presentations, but they also need to be understood by Russian and Georgian speakers, and I am having to screen everything for cultural differences, something I never imagined I would be doing, but which is actually very good for rebuilding my confidence and new skills.
Actually, having to give the presentation a sentence at a time, in order for it to be translated is actually really good for focusing the point that you want to make, and also for settling nerves, and I did enjoy it a little more than I had anticipated. Another interesting difference was that, it was hard to judge how the audience were receiving the information or how they were feeling. How do you get non verbal feedback when you have two entirely different sets of rules and neither side has the instructions for understanding these. The British are probably one of the most difficult cultures to read non verbally during a presentation as we generally just sit and look like miserable bastards, or poker faced and cold hearted with little facial expression, because it is the British way or ‘stiff upper lip’. I would genuinely love to know how people view us Brits, especially from those who have given presentations to Brits. Are we hard to gage??
I know that many nations think of us as overly sarcastic and sometimes it is hard for them to take us seriously, and we also have a tendency to underplay the situation. These might help illustrate this:
Georgia is such a Small World
So, it was at the first of these presentations for school, that a funny thing happened, and a lady came in with her little daughter and said she already knew who I was, as I had given her son, an actor, and English lesson this week, and she knew all about me in terms of film. I knew nothing about her at all, not even her name, but she knew everything about me already. It turned out she is the business partner of my friend Nikoloz, a film Director who spends his time between LA and Georgia on different projects including his own films. And then she told me all about the ‘I Love Sarah’ T-shirt, and was totally gobsmacked, but also very honoured, but at the same time totally unworthy. The costume designers had apparently really enjoyed our day out hunting for costumes and were really excited about the t-shirt, and had now decorated it and coloured it, and were taking it in turns to wear it. I guess that is one of those things I just love about Georgia, as I have said before ‘always expect the unexpected’ as even days that should be mundane, turn into mini adventures and sagas, that you could never even imagine!! So, my world here in the Capital city is slowly becoming more interconnected and smaller socially (or should that be bigger?). I will now be teaching the children of the people I know from film, and the film crew will also be working on my Oceans Project!!! Super super cool. But, when I lived in London, I didn’t even know my neighbours even though we lived next to each other in the same apartment for years!!! Here, I know not just my neighbours, but the people on my street, and outside of my little community. In Georgia, everybody knows everybody!
The Oceans Project
I felt like I was working really hard on the project over the holidays and feel I have done very little the past few weeks, but suddenly everything is falling into place, and on reflection I am amazed at how much progress has been made.
On the 15th September, my new school is having an Opening Ceremony for various dignitaries to celebrate the new school building and expansion, and this means that I will be giving a presentation about the project to the guests. Then, later in the day, I will give another presentation, at the official launch of my little baby, the Oceans Project. It feels very strange indeed, as for so long it has just been this seed growing inside my crazy little mind, and suddenly it is all out there, naked, in public view, and has become something that exists in physical reality. I keep wondering if it is all a dream, and am waiting for something to go wrong or for the catch, but so far so good. And the funny and strange thing is that, now whenever I meet people, I feel like they have put me on a pedestal and they say they know all about me and the project is great and they are excited about it. I guess I am just not used to such attention or being praised for anything in life, and it is so far from British that I don’t really know how to accept the compliment. I am so touched by how well people have responded to this crazy idea I had, and I just hope that I don’t turn out to be a total disappointment now, both as a teacher and with the project. But, I figured its not worth worrying about that, and I need to just focus on making things happen instead. But it is all a very new emotion, and hopefully one that will allow me to grow as a person.
The project is so amazing now, and it is funny to think how such a simple idea could develop into its own little entity. Things have changed and developed along the way, but now it is pretty much there.
The project will run on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for children aged 12 and over and will consist of 31 lessons. We have 20 spaces on offer for free to children who cannot afford the 20gel per week for the three hour lesson, and at present we will have 6 groups of 6 children per evening, although I have been advised that we may need to increase this. This came as a total shock, because I had been worrying about how to get bums on seats, and was worried we may not have enough children. But I have been advised to prepare for more children and also to run the project not just this year, but in future years as well. Another shock, but really amazing and unexpected.
The Oceans Project will take place at my new school where I will be teaching pre-school children, GCSE Geography, and primary school children. Each lesson will begin with about 30minutes of the BBC Oceans television series, followed by small group work, where I will give them topics or a question related to what we have seen on the video footage. We will also watch the occasional clip from BBC Planet Earth too because the footage from a film making point of view is amazing. Each group then has one hour in which to research that question and to put a presentation together. Then the groups will come back together and give a 2minute presentation. The idea is that, by researching the topics themselves, they will learn more and remember more and will find little bits of the topic which excite or interest them the most. By the children presenting to each other they will also be more interested. We will video these presentations and put them on youtube, and they can then visit them over and over again, share them with friends and family, and hopefully this will educate others or form the basis for revision. The thing that I am most pleased about, is how beautifully each topic raised in the BBC Oceans series can be related to a conservation issue here in Georgia or to our Black Sea. For example, in the series they go cave diving, and around the Black Sea are the deepest caves in the world. The series talks about fossils, and Georgia has fossilised dinosaur footprints, and the series talks about man and the sea and man’s migration from Africa into Europe. Early man did this by crossing the Bosphorous Strait and aside rom Africa, the earliest human remains were found here. The Oceans series looks at the Mediterranean Sea and this sea shares its waters with the Black Sea. Talk about global warming and climate change and you can link that to Noah’s Ark, The deluge hypothesis, and the fact that the Black Sea was originally a fresh water lake, but due to ice caps melting, there was a tsunami and the waters rose, and the waters poured into the Black Sea and the indigenous people around the Black Sea, including Georgia were driven up towards Germany and the Danube as their farming ground was now flooded. the Black Sea has many unique features, and it is one of the most isolated seas in the world, yet it is one of the most threatened by man, many species are already extinct, and dolphins in particular are a threatened species, especially around the coast of Georgia.
The plan is that the children will become aware of the local issues, and will take an interest and through their knowledge they can raise the awareness of the adults around them, and make even small changes, like not using so many plastic bags, or not polluting the rivers so much.
Oceans Project: Volvo Adventure
Amongst these topics will be worksheets and information that will prepare them for the Volvo Adventure Competition. This is a joint project run by the United Nations Environment Programme and Volvo Cars who are based in Sweden. There are two competitions and the winners will go on an all expenses paid trip to Volvo in Sweden. There they will take part in environmental workshops with children from all over the world, and give presentations, and the winners will get $10,0000. The first competition is for children aged 12 and under and is a cartoon strip competition about a bunny called Bob. Each team of three children must create a cartoon strip about Bob and an environmental issue upsetting him. The second competition is for children aged 12 and over, and is for teams of up to 5 children. They must identify an environmental issue affecting Georgia, and come up with a plan to solve it. This year’s winners were a team of 5 from China, and they realised that the use of disposable chopsticks was causing deforestation, pollution and health problems, and through education and presentations they convinced family and friends to use the same pair of chopsticks on more than one occasion. A simple solution to a big problem in China!!! Here is a video about the competition, which might give you more of an idea, but we hope to have at least 36 teams entering the competition:
Here is the video diary for the UK team, who took second place at the competition, based on their idea that it is better to grow produce locally rather than importing everything from other countries.
Oceans Project: Duke of Edinburgh International Award Scheme
As part of the Oceans Project, children aged 14-24 will have the opportunity to gain their Bronze and Silver awards, and post project we will work with them on their Gold award. The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was set up by the Duke of Edinburgh (The Queen’s husband!) back in the 1950s as a charity to help young people with personal development. The award is broken down into sections: community, skills, physical, expedition, and for gold there is also a residential. When each award is achieved there is an awards ceremony where the young person will receive a certificate and medal, and for the gold award, there is usually a presentation by a member of the Royal family.
We will be the first people in Georgia to offer the award here, and to offer it as part of the Oceans Project, to be included in their 20Gel per week, is an amazing opportunity. As well as learning skills, leadership and teamwork, the award is highly regarded by employees and universities, especially in the UK. Here are some videos to outline the programme a little more:
Oceans Project: GCSE Geography
As part of their Duke od Edinburgh (DofE) award, we will offer different activities that can be counted towards their award, or they can choose their own. One of these will be GCSE Geography. In the UK, British students must take GCSE exams and later they take their A’ Levels, and they can only go to university or get jobs if they have these qualifications. GCSE has not been offered in Georgia before, but as part of my new school ‘British Connections International School’, we will be offering GCSEs and later A levels for the first time. Part of my daytime job will be teaching Geography to the secondary school students, but the Oceans Project children will also have the opportunity to sit this exam.
Many of the topics and issues raised in the BBC Oceans television series are also on the GCSE syllabus, and I plan to make videos on GCSE syllabus topics that I will put up on Youtube to help my own students from school, especially for exam revision. The oceans project children will be some of the children from my GCSE Geography group, but the oceans project children can also take the exam, use the videos and a set book from the school course, and in their oceans project teams, will be making their own presentations and videos which will help their learning.
Having the GCSE will help them with their careers, especially as it will be in English language and is a recognised British exam, so any UK University, college, or employer will value it. Here is a video about GCSE Geography:
and this one really sums up my own passion for geography:
Oceans Project: Snorkelling Certification and Training
BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) will be sending over one of their best instructors from the UK to train up 6 people in Georgia, over the age of 18 so that they can then teach the Dolphin Snorkelling Course to the children on the Oceans Project. The 6 instructors will end up with the following qualifications:
o Snorkel Diver
o Advanced Snorkel diver
o Snorkel Lifesaver
o Snorkel Dive Manager
o Snorkel Instructor
as well as one year of BSAC membership.
We have yet to decide which adults will receive this training, and we also have the opportunity to send over two Instructors to train up 12 Georgian instructors, possibly sports teachers, swimming instructors, or just those who love the water.
This will fit in really well with our Earthwatch expeditions in summer next year, as the children will be raising money over the duration of the course, and many of the expeditions are Ocean based, so we could add on a ‘try dive’ or scuba course if funds allow, or perhaps develop a snorkelling and later a scuba diving club.
Oceans Project: Education through Expeditions
Antony Jinman, one of the youngest British polar explorers, has since set up his own company which helps children to get a better sense of the world around them, through communicating with scientists in the field. Here is Antony talking about his project:
This programme is usually only available to UK based schools, but we will be offering this at our school to my class of GCSE students as well as the children on the Oceans Project. We even have smart boards at the new school, and hope that the children will also be able to link up and talk to BBC Oceans team members such as Tooni Mahto and Paul Rose, as well as the scientists working on the Earthwatch expeditions, even before they go on their expedition. This way, children can study the materials here, but ask any question they want to the people they have seen out there in the field, thus making their learning more approachable and real life.
What’s more, is that I will be an Ambassador for ETE (Education through Expeditions), we will link up with schools in the UK and other children learning in this way, and the plan is for the Oceans Project graduates to put together their own serious expedition with Antony, and to then connect with the children in other classrooms and to teach those children what they have learnt.
This is something I am really excited about, especially as many children here have never been abroad, and just reading the text book is not enough for them to grasp what it means to experience different environments or cultures.
Oceans Project: Filming
We are also very excited to be working with film director Nikoloz and his crew on two different aspects of the Oceans Project. Each session, the film crew will come and teach the children different aspects of film making, and will help them to make their own short films that can be uploaded to youtube. We will also be entering various wildlife film competitions, film festivals, and children’s film making projects, as well as getting to know different people who work in this field such as BBC Oceans presenters Paul Rose and Tooni Mahto.
The second part of the filming, is to put together either a short film or a television serious at the end of the project that we can show on television or enter into competitions. This will be all about the Oceans Project from start to finish. The great thing about this is that we hope to change foreigner’s attitudes about Georgia. That Georgia is about a lot more than just Russia and war. And to change people’s attitudes and knowledge towards the environment, towards children, education, and what we can do about it.
In November, myself and my school director will be going to London to visit the Royal Geographical Society, and to meet with some television producers, so that is really exciting.
Oceans Project: Earthwatch
So this will be the culmination of a lot of hard work raising money to pay for the expedition and is going to be our biggest challenge. The idea is that the Oceans Project children will get to take part on one of twelve selected scientific research expeditions which have been designed especially for teenagers (Spanish Dolphins is no longer an Earthwatch Project), these are:
– Amazon Riverboat Exploration (min age 16)
– Climate Change at the Arctic Edge, Manitoba, Canada (min age to be confirmed)
– Climate Change in Wytham Woods, Oxford, UK (min age to be confirmed)
– Discovering Italy’s Ancient Roman Coast, Italy (Min age is 12, this is an archaeological
– Mangroves and Reefs of the Bahamas (min age is 16)
– Restoring Belize’s Reef Ecosystem (min age is 16)
– Shark Conservation in Belize (min age is 12, this is one of the projects I plan to go on)
– Trinidad’s Leatherback Sea Turtles (min age is 16)
– Unearthing Roman Britain, Gateshead, UK (min age is 12, this is an archaeological
– Whales and Dolphins of the Hebrides, Scotland, UK (min age to be confirmed, this is one I
hope to go on).
– Whales and otters of British Columbia, BC, Canada (min age is 12)
– Spanish Dolphins (min age to be confirmed, one I definitely plan to go on!)
We have funding for the teachers to go on each expedition, and they just need to find their flights and pay for passports and visas.
This week, I had two pieces of very exciting news in relation to the expeditions or Earthwatch, the first one is that McDonalds and HSBC bank are looking to work with or sponsor us either in kind or financially, and the second is that I am to be interviewed for a piece in the Earthwatch International magazine and online magazine about the project. What is really brilliant, is how well everything has somehow meshed together. Paul Rose is not only the presenter of BBC Oceans, but he is also one of the advisors at the Royal Geographical Society, and he is an Ambassador for the Oceans with Earthwatch International, and he previously agreed to come to Georgia to give some talks here.
Here are some tasters of the Earthwatch organisation and what the children will be doing:
Now, just to hope it all continues to go from strength to strength!