Monday 3rd October 2011

I can’t help but feel a burst of excitement and pride as I write today’s blog. In just a few hours from now, Roz Savage will reach Mauritius and become the first woman to have rowed across not just the Atlantic Ocean, not just the Pacific Ocean, but also the Indian Ocean, single handedly in her 23ft rowing boat. She started this journey after a career in management in London, and was no rower. But she did have a passion for the environment and that is what drove her to this epic challenge to row across all three oceans. Its not time to relax yet though as this is still a dangerous part of the journey, and she could come a cropper on the reefs, but for now the weather forecast is good and she should arrive at sunset.

I’ve been blogging about her expedition since she started this trip, and at every Geography lesson at school now, the kids ask me how Roz is doing and where she is now, how was the weather, and what is she eating, how does she live and so on. They are so excited and inspired by her, and I wonder whether Roz realises just how much of an impact she is having on children from around the world??? On the Oceans Project, we were talking about plastic in our seas, and I remembered a video that Roz had made about her experiences of plastic in the oceans. It was something so special to see her video on the big screen at school with the kids fascinated by it, and I get the sense that they really connect with her on some level, and that she gives the environment a human connection that they can relate to somehow. They have asked whether we can talk to her on skype and I can’t wait to see their faces and to hear the questions they will ask her, and it makes me swell with pride, especially as she is British.

I am also sad as Roz has decided that this is her last ocean and rowing journey. I can completely understand why, and that she needs a change in direction, but I also feel sad for her and for those who have recently started to follow her, but I know she will go on to do other great things, and I really hope that we can catch up with her at Explore in November. That would be amazing! I’m also incredibly jealous as ROz and her mother Rita are both incredible people, who obviously have a close relationship, but also really look out for and need each other, and that is something very special. They also have this beautiful relationship now sealed by the experiences they have shared together through the expeditions, and that is totally unique. I’m sure that the expeditions have taken their toll on both of them, but also strengthened them personally too.

Good luck Roz, and can’t wait to hear more about your adventures and to see the media footage of you achieving this world first in a few hours.

Today

Today has been a bit of a frustrating day, at least the morning was anyway. I needed to pop up to Vake’s supermarket ‘Goodwill’ to buy some tin foil for the pre school activities, and it was incredibly frustrating. Georgians everywhere, dawdling and milling around, chatting, smoking, walking arm in arm or hand in hand, and right in my bloody way! What is it with Georgians and their lack of forethought or personal space??? Its a pavement, its meant for walking along, not standing around on. I seemed to hit the break time of every single flippin university today. A load of students just standing around doing nothing but socialise in their hundreds. I actually felt like an old lady, cursing the youth, and wishing they would get proper jobs or something instead of blocking my path. I mean, Georgian footpaths are a death trap at the best of times. Uneven surfaces, cobble stones, rocks, slippery stuff, and bits of metal randomly sticking out of the ground. Dangerous enough, without having to dodge around everyone, with no idea of where they would move or head. Georgians are just so unpredictable at times.

Its definitely autumn now though. No one in shorts, and now I am seeing tights, fancy scarves, and little jackets again, and the bus stop informed me that the temperature was 19degrees, although it felt a lot colder with the wind, and the stupid dust that kept blowing into my eyes. The house is also cold now. It was difficult to get of bed this morning, and I’m now using my hot water bottle, and my nose is cold. Even my cup of tea gets cold in just a few moments now. I just hope that we get the windows fixed soon, as its getting hard to work at home already.

But, I made it to the Goodwill store, only to be greeted by a security guard who insisted I put my rucksack into the lockers. I wouldn’t mind, but today I was on a timer and it was the first time I have ever been asked to leave my bag. Its one of those weird Georgian things, and many stores make you put your bag into a locker whilst you shop, even in clothes shops. I probably wouldn’t have minded so much, if I wasn’t just going there for tin foil and that was all!! I guess the irony is that it is mostly foreigners, ex pats, or rich but travelled Georgians who shop in Goodwill as its very expensive, especially by Georgian prices, and the people who go there are probably the least likely to shoplift!! I was going to say that it is like teh equivalent of Waitrose, but its nothing like Waitrose actually. The concept of sell by dates does not exist in Georgia, and on many occasions I have purchased items, only to get home and find that they have gone off, and that they are several years out of date. Its not even as if there is a returns policy either, so it pretty much sucks o be honest. The quality is also not up to Waitrose standards, and there is no competition from other shops either. But I bought my foil anyway, and it went down well.

Walking back through Vake towards Vera and on to the bus stop for school, I got to thinking about some of the weird ideas that Georgians have, and how socially different they are to British cultures. For example, I hate to see men spitting in the street, but they all seem to do it, along with a throaty sounding snort prior to gobbing their mucus and germs and saliva onto the pavement. To me this is absolutely vile and is just so unnecessary. Yet Georgians often frown on me and are repulsed when I pick up after my dog when we walk in the street. But to me this is just good manners as its not nice for others to e walking and then to stand in a pile of dog shit. I don’t want to be responsible for dirtying the streets or causing illness, and I use a dog poo bag to clean up after my dog. Yet Georgians freak out about this, but are not bothered in the slightest by spitting in the street. It is just odd!

Earlier in the week, I bumped into a couple of ex pats and we got talking about some of the funny ideas that we have come across since being in Georgia. For example, there is the thing with the loaf of bread whereby it must be pointing upwards otherwise God will be offended, and the whole thing about not talking about snakes as it is bad luck. This happened to me at school this week too, when I was talking about the 7 continents and I told the children that Asia reminded me of a cobra I saw there. The children were clearly uncomfortable about mentioning snakes, and it was a bit like talking about Lord Voldemort to a wizard in the Harry Potter books, and instead referring to him as ‘he who must not be named’. Actually, its also a little like the TLG volunteers who are afraid to talk on their corporate phones from the Ministry in case they are being recorded! Georgians have some very strange ideas at times, and its hard to pinpoint where exactly these ideas come from. For example, my friend this week caused uproar in his host family’s house by breaking bread whilst his host mum was cooking onions. Apparently, if you do this whilst cooking onions, then the bread explodes!!! Illness is also a weird one with some weird ideas, and it seems that no end of things cause you to be infertile here. According to this I will be totally safe should I start sleeping around as I will be well and truly uterously shrivelled up and dysfunctional in that department! Why?? Because I sit on the floor for a start. Then there is the fact that I love to swim in cold water, that I shower in the morning instead of the evening, and so on. There is also this weird thing about eating cold stuff when the temperature or weather is cold, or when you have a cold or flu, whilst to me, this is the perfect excuse to indulge oneself. If I have a sore throat then I want ice cream, not hot stuff!!! It seems like everything that I like is bad for me according to Georgian customs. But what I don’t get, is that they have all this fear of infertility, yet the stuff that actually has scientific basis to it, gets totally ignored or written on. Surely, if you were so worried about your fertility, then you would give up smoking, give up drinking (especially cha cha), and would also make sure that you ate a healthy diet! That probably has more impact on a person’s fertility than sitting on a cold floor for a few minutes!!! Sometimes bits of Georgian culture really infuriate me.

Since I started school, I’ve needed to take the bus more as it is too far to walk between schools. This has opened up a whole new experience and really brings out my British streak of frustration and just not getting Georgian customs or culture. For a start, there is clearly no concept or repercussion in terms of health and safety here. The buses in Tbilisi are yellow coloured and have three sets of doors, one at the front by the driver, one in the middle of the bus, and one at the back of the bus. When people get on a bus, they stand in the doorway, and they irritatingly never EVER move along up the bus. This really pisses me off sometimes, as it means that you cannot get on the bus and have to wait another twenty minutes in the cold or dust surrounded by people blowing cigarette smoke into your face, until the next bus comes. If people would just move up or sit down, then there would be room enough for everyone. Instead, you have to push and squeeze onto the bus, face pressed against the window, and holding on white knuckled to anything you can find that will stop you from falling each time the driver slams on breaks or takes a corner too fast. As if hanging on for dear life was not already challenge enough, the game gets even more fun when you realise that the drivers always open the doors of the bus before it has even stopped, and sometimes they don’t close the doors for a while, so it can become a bit of a survival of the fittest contest. This was also the case on the metro too. Georgians have some unwritten rule or etiquette on who gets the seat too, and it seems that, in general, the seat always goes to the elderly, or to pregnant women or to children as priority. Older men almost always have a seat, even when older ladies do not, and often a man will sit on the outside of two seats so that no one can take the inside seat. I have yet to see a woman take up a seat in a group of men. Sometimes children will sit on the same seat, with their grandma or mother close by.

Bus etiquette is further complicated by this kind of ticket machine thing which is invariably in the centre of the bus, usually in the spot by the door where everyone is stood, hanging on for dear life, regardless of whether or not there is space further up the bus. Georgians get on the bus, and then hover around the ticket machine, blocking the way and path for those who wish to move up, so you have people trying to get on the bus whilst it starts to leave the bus stop. The system is a simple one, just a swipe card or fifty tetri coins, and you get a ticket which is often inspected by conductors who wear yellow jackets. Usually if they know you are a foreigner then they are too shy to speak, but I’ve noticed that over time, they have become bolder and less lenient when it comes to no tickets. I actually get a little angry with people who don’t purchase a ticket, especially with the cards which give you discount on subsequent journeys on that day, a bit like an Oyster Card in London. I mean, someone has to pay for the bus service, it needs a bus, a driver, and fuel, and someone has to pay for it, so why shouldn’t passengers pay that fee?? But not everyone seems to agree, and I feel sad to see so many TLG volunteers or foreigners not paying for their journeys, just because they think they can and that it is their right to have free transport. It is that kind of behaviour which gives foreigners a bad name in my opinion, and as a foreigner all eyes are always on you.

Talking of foreigners, something strange is happening in Tbilisi at the moment and I am not entirely sure why. In general, there are no coloured people in Georgia, and those who are coloured are TLG volunteers. But lately, I have noticed four coloured guys in the city, and what makes it weird is that they are always beging on the street corners. It is strange to me, because they are not Georgians, nor do they speak Georgian, or Russian for that reason. Where have they come from?? Why?? If they think they will get rich in Georgia they will have a shock, although Georgians tend to be pretty generous, even when they really have nothing to give. I am curious as to who payed for the air fare or tickets for these guys to come to Tbilisi in the first place, most people have never heard of Georgia and it is hardly on a route to any popular destinations. I feel bad that these guys are begging. They are a little rude, and they certainly do not look poorly off and I have seen them walking about town looking pretty glam too. It is sad because many Georgian people have never seen a coloured person before and not everyone has spoken to a native English speaker, yet their first experiences with foreigners are with these guys, and I understand people’s concerns that the Ministry will let foreigners in, and they will just take, take, take and not put anything back into the system. They look so different and better nourished than the Gypsy beggars and Georgian street children and disabled people, and I wonder what their plan is.

As I walked back from Vake to Vera today, I happened upon two teenage Georgian boys, probably mid twentys, and I ended up following them along the street for quite some time as we were headed the same direction. It was fascinating to watch them. Both were fairly well clothed and looked happy and healthy enough. But, every so often, they would stop a passer by and ask for money in order to buy themselves a lobiani (bread stuffed with a kind of re-fried bean). They didn’t stop every passer by, just the odd one, in between laughter and chatting. I don’t know whether they were just incredibly skillfull, or perhaps just lucky, as every person they asked gave them some money. I often wonder whether giving money to beggars is the right thing to do, as often they make more money than they would in a regular job, and I feel like I am encouraging people to come up and harass me in the street. But I am also afraid to give money to any organisation that reports to be looking after them, as I never know whether or not the money will actually reach the people I have intended it for, and those such charities or NGOs are never really published or pushed within Georgia. So many NGOs here waste money. Lots of aid comes from abroad, and from what I have seen, even in businesses in Georgia, is that the money gets spent on material items like employing your relatives or making your offices look nice, rather than putting the money into where it was intended. SO many NGOs waste money on staff, offices, and websites, that don’t work, and then nothing happens about their planned event or project. Like so many things in Georgia it is all about looking good, and Georgians are the worst at wasting money in this way.

So I finally got back to Vera and caught my bus to the pre-school, along with my purchase of foil. Whilst waiting at the bus stop, I was seething a bit as people kept walking right into me, with no apology, and people pushed me out of the way as I tried to get on the same bus that they were also catching. In Britain, this type of behaviour would be so socially unacceptable, and I am starting to panic a little about how much I have relaxed in my expectations and views of etiquette and socially appropriate behaviour, and I am realising how rude people will think the Georgians when they meet them on our Earthwatch expeditions or whatever. I am even worried about seeing my granny again, as I know that I have changed so much, and a big part of me does not want to be forced into conforming to all those rules when I visit England again. Even just the fact that my school director smokes is going to be a massive cultural change. Here you can smoke anywhere you want, almost everyone smokes, and its perfectly normal. But in Britain, you are not allowed to smoke anywhere and we frown upon smokers and see them as rebels or weak people. I have got used to the differences since living here, but its going to freak me out seeing so much bureaucracy and legislation when I return!!!

Pre-School

Well, I am really falling asleep now, so its time to give up for today, but before I do I wanted to talk quickly about what we did today. I have decided that Mondays at pre-school will be art days from now on, as it is my quietest day teaching wise, and they need a little variety in their daily routine. So today I bought foil and old cardboard to school and loads of glue, so that we could make some space ships. It went fairly OK, much better than expected, and aside from two boys who have a habit of wandering in and out of the classroom and doing generally whatever they please, I felt it went pretty well and they were all very focused and also shared very well.

Today I also introduced the children to ‘Hide and Seek’ which they seemed to love, although they hadn’t quite got the idea that you hide in a different place each time!! Last week, I introduced them to ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf’ and that also went down really, really well. Both games are a fantastic way of using numbers and also learning to control emotions and feelings, when to be quite and when to be loud. I’ll have to come up with another game for next week though!!!

Whilst we built our spaceships we practiced our English and sang some nursery rhymes. It feels like they are making a lot of progress and are keen to learn and to teach me Georgian language too. I think they feel a real sense of achievement when they master the songs and actions and had fully join in. Its a bit weird introducing so much of British culture into our classroom, but its OK do far.

I’m really struggling to stay awake now, so on that note I’ll say bye bye for now, and will write more tomorrow.

Night Night xxx

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in Teaching and Geography, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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