I received an email from my granny yesterday, it made my day, especially as I was feeling so full of cold and cough. Seems she just had a cataract removed from her eye and will be undergoing a knee replacement shortly, but she seemed fairly chirpy especially given all of this and of losing so many of her friends to cancers and old age recently. Must be one of the hardest and strangest things about being in your 80s and 90s, and knowing it will soon be you. I mean it is weird enough that all of my friends are suddenly having babies now they are mid to late thirties, and I hate to think what it will be like to see them all die, especially as you realise you are one of the only ones left. Even harder to think that she was with many of them before they died, and I wonder if it is any comfort to her to hear from a medical person that they ‘died peacefully in their sleep’?? I’ve been with a fair few people as they died and I can’t say that any of them died peacefully in their sleep, and I know that they all suffered in the run up to their death (using the word ‘run’ here seems so wrong???), but my only hope was that they were so out of it that they didn’t realise and couldn’t feel anything, and that now they were no longer suffering. But I always found it comforting somehow to know that a patient was not on their own when they died, that somehow having a person with you, even just holding your hand, would give your life some kind of significance or meaning. I was always sad when an elderly patient at the old people’s home where I worked, passed away with no friends, family, or visitors. It was kind of creepy to think about them, what experiences and things they had seen during their life, the children they had raised, the dates they had gone on, the dances, the countries they had been to, and wars that they had fought in and survived. I was always fascinated by their scars and tattoos. They seemed to tell a story or to mark a point in their life, and I always enjoyed listening to them talk about how they got them, especially the military tattoos. Sometimes I wondered how they had gotten through life, so seemingly in tact psychologically. I remember one guy called Keith, who had been in the merchant navy talking about his time in the war, working on the ships and the ship, and how he then became an accountant, met his wife and his children. I used to love talking to Harry, and hearing about his life in Sunderland, about watching football matches as a boy, his work, meeting his wife and how she was the absolute love of his life. About what it was like to have his heart attack, about losing his vision to macular degeneration and no longer being able to see. What it was like to be totally with it mentally, yet living in an old people’s home surrounded by people with dementia and not being able to see or talk to any of them. Of knowing that his nursing home bill equated to one brick of his house in costs every week, at almost £1000 a month, to live in a tiny room, surrounded by demented people, and carers who couldn’t really give a shit, being told when you could wash, and having others wash you and dress you and not being allowed out of the locked front door, even to go to the corner shop for your newspaper or a bar of chocolate. He told me about the war, about how we was once locked in a room as prisoner and how the enemy had set fire to it, but luckily he escaped, and how it was the most terrifying time of his life, aside from being pushed around by carers who couldn’t speak English and who were rough and harsh with him. That really used to anger me, There he ws, my Harry, having given his life to fight for my country, so that I might have the freedom of the life I have now, for him only to be abused by a total foreigner, probably working illegally because the care home could get away with paying them less than the minimal wage, and there they were pushing him about and not being able to speak a word of English, and with totally different cultural and moral values. My Harry, the gentlest guy ever. I loved looking after Mary, a 101 year old lady from Ireland, who had worked as a nanny with children. A gentle lady, who was totally with it right up until her death, and it angered me that carers sometimes treated her like an idiot. She was incredibly funny and cheeky, and I always tried to spend a little time with her on my shifts whenever I could, even just to read the paper to her. She put her affairs in order, and said that she would die that night, that she was ready. I half jokingly told her not to be so silly, and she smiled a last cheeky smile. The next day when I came to work, I heard that she had died. She just knew that it was her time, and that she felt it was time to go, so she did. It is funny to be in Georgia now, as I don’t think that old people’s homes really exist here as people tend to be looked after by their families. YOu don’t really see people with dementia or Alzheimers, and I don’t whether that is because people die younger here, or maybe they don’t get this condition as much as in the UK, or maybe they are just not out in mainstream society?? It is the same for lots of disabilities, and maybe because it is taboo and people keep such relatives at home?? One thing is for certain though, I’d rather die younger than as and old lady who is no longer able to move or do things for myself, and I would hate for my family or friends to have to put up with me. I would hate to be in a home too, unless I was completely gaga.
Death, Dying, and Decay
In fact, it is one of those very weird things that really freaks me out. I am fine about being dead, and the process of dying I am relatively fine with, but I just can’t get my head around being here and then not. It just seems far too strange that a person can be alive one minute, with thoughts and feelings and presence, and then suddenly not, how can there possibly be nothingness once you are dead??? In all of my autopsies and dissections as a medical student and in visiting the Bodyworlds exhibitions and things, I always found it weird that on an atomic level or whatever, there was no difference between myself and a dead person. Both have exactly the same things physically, just that one is alive and one is dead. How can something look like the person, with tattoos and a history, yet no longer look like themself, how can that character and persona just disappear?? It can’t just not exist, it must go somewhere??? It was one of the things that really fascinated me as a Neuropsychologist too, particularly how a person could be a particular character, but then, just one brain injury, disease, or illness could turn them into a totally different character. How is that so?? And what must it be like to live with someone for all those years and then for them to be a completely different person. How do you continue to love them?? My grandfather was totally different in his last month of life, and no longer knew who I was, he wasn’t my granddad anymore, yet he also still was. When my granny had her hip replacement and was on morphine, she turned into the most rude and abusive woman ever and was really nasty, she was not my granny, yet she also still was. It always fascinates me how old ladies change totally when they have a urine infection and they suddenly become a total nightmare, rude, abusive, bite you, swear at you, and some even sit on the floor in the middle of the corridor and refuse to move or get dressed. Yet, once the antibiotics have cleared up their urinary infection they are the best kempt, sweetest and friendliest people you could ever hope to meet, and you just think how appalled they would be to have seen themselves just days before. This is even weirder when it is people that you know well in both the before and after states, people like Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Britain, branded by the public as ‘The Iron Lady’ and who now she has Alzheimers Disease. And then there is James Cracknell. James is often in my home town of Henley-On-Thames as my town has the oldest rowing club in the world and James is an amazing Olympic rower. Here is a little piece about him:
“James is one of Britain’s most successful athletes of all time, with 2 Olympic Gold Medals and 6 World Championship titles. His epic rowing finals in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 were two of the most watched sporting contests in history but it is since retiring from his 13 year international career that James has distinguished himself as a very special and inspiring sportsman, athlete and adventurer”. Added to this he has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and in 2008 completed the Amundsen race to the south Pole, as well as completing the marathon de sables. Last year he was filming a cycle journey across America for National Geographic channel when he was hit from behind by a juggernaut, and suffered incredible head injuries, which would have been even worse had it not been wearing his cycle helmet. I was totally shocked to hear what had happened to him and to think what a loss it was for everyone who knows him, including his wife and little daughter, as well as his explorer friends like Ben Fogle, with whom he was just planning a further expedition.
Since then, his personality has changed and he now has post injury fatigue, and he just failed his first ever challenge, which is really devastating for someone such as James. To him he is a failure, but to me he remains an inspiration, especially having completed the London Marathon post brain injury, and he now a great advocate for British brain injury charity ‘Headway’.
I’ve lost several friends who were young at the time and shouldn’t have died or been aflicted with such illnesses. I know 6 people who had a stroke before the age of twenty, two of my friends died of heart attacks, one aged 12 and the other aged 24, and three of my friends have had leukemia or cancer, one of whom died aged 23. One kid in my secondary school died from sniffing gas aged 15, and one of teachers was stabbed by a teenager. At medical school, one of my classmates in her early twenties had a stroke and dissected aorta and lost her memory before going on to study medicine, despite being in a wheelchair, aged 23. Another friend of mine Elise, was studying to be a vet at St George’s University in the West Indies where I was studying for my MPH (Masters in Public Health Medicine). She had a stroke whilst on vacation back in her home country of the USA, spent some 18months in intensive care and on a life support machine, and it has been amazing to follow her progress and the impacts that her stroke has had on her life. In Grenada, she was a typical, lively and fun student, who seemed really fit, loved running, spent time relaxing with friends, and was studying hard at being a vet. Next she was on life support and it seemed like she would never wake up. There was so much excitement when her eyelids started to flicker, when we heard that she seemed to respond to sounds and voices, and then when she slowly woke up. Now she is able to talk, and even more amazing, she is back to updating her facebook status. She has finally left the hospital after probably two years, and her family last week moved to Texas where the weather is warmer. She continues to have speech and language therapy, and physiotherapy, and is in a wheelchair with one her legs paralysed. She suffers from pressure sores on her bottom, and just getting through the day is a massive achievement as everything is exhausting for her right now. She is so frustrated at her progress as she thinks it is slow, but to me it is very fast and is miraculous as I hardly dared to believe that would even be aware of anything or would wake from her coma. Compared to other stroke patients I have met, her progress is fast, but from my own experiences with Guillain Barre, I know how frustrating it is when it is you who is the patient and who wants to get back to your normality. Yet, she is such an inspiration, and she always puts on such braveness and seldom complains about anything. It must be strange though for family members, to have seen her and to have prayed that she simply would live and survive, and now to have her back, but not as the old Elise but as a slightly newer version, with a different personality. To have gone from a person with a great memory and who was studying to be a vet, yet who now struggles with even the simplest things. This doesn’t seem to be a big issue for Elise thank goodness. From the families I used to work with who had children with acquired brain injuries, I often wonder what it must be like for them. To have a regular, normal child, who goes to catch the bus to school, but gets knocked over, or gets knocked off their bike. Is then in a coma for months, and suddenly you have a child who is disabled, a different personality, and suddenly takes over every aspect of your life and is completely dependent on you. To need to convert your entire house so that they can use their wheelchair, or to give up work so that they can come home and be cared for at home. To have boxes of medicine take up spaces in your hallway, which was once taken up by scooters and bikes, and to know that they will be dependant on you for the rest of their life. That their future is not as you had hoped for them. I think that is so tough for families, particularly the other family members like brothers or sisters. If you have a child who is born disabled then you have more time to adapt to that, but a child who is suddenly struck down and who loses ability and gains this emotional, psychological, or physical damage is just impossible to prepare for. I wonder if you always feel bad for them or guilty, or wish that you had done something differently prior to their accident?? It is something that really makes me feel and appreciate the fragility of the human being, and other life forms too. One minute you are living your life, and then in a fraction of a second your whole world can just totally change….
Back to my Granny
So, my granny was remarkably chipper from her email, and I am looking forward to catching up with her in November, even though it is strange to think how weird it will be going back to Britain when I know I have become a lot more Georgian in my outlook on life over the past year. I wonder whether she will notice any changes in me????
I wonder whether part of her good mood was the Indian summer that she reported, especially since she loves to be out of doors and pottering around the garden. I know from facebook that a lot of friends in Britain have also been enjoying the warm spell of weather, and its funny to think of them out sunbathing and having picnics in October!!!!
Indian Summer, even in Georgia!
Its a funny expression ‘Indian Summer’. I had no idea where it came from, so I looked it up. It seems that it is an American expression and refers to the native American Indians who would appear after the snow had melted, or perhaps those who gave presents but then took them back, just as the weather gives the sun and then takes it back. But, even more interesting, is that prior to the use of this American term ‘Indian Summer’ many countries used to have other names for it, such as:
– St Martin’s summer. This comes from France because St Martin’s body was taken and re-buried on the river Loire which then bloomed. The expression was then used in Britain, Italy and Spain, until the American expression became more popular.
– Old Ladies’ Summer in many slavic countries.
– Gypsy Summer (Bulgaria)
– “brittsommar” (Sweden) which is names day for Brigitte’s and a big market is held outdoors.
– “Altweibersommer” (Germany and Austria) which refers to old ladies’ summer and also the spiders webs which appear at this time.
– “vénasszonyok nyara” (Hungary) which refers to old ladies’ summer or crone’s summer and relates to the Norse and Medieval mythology about witches, so it is a witch’s summer.
– “Oudewijvenzomer” (Belgium) this is another old ladies’ summer and is also St Therese’s day.
– “oudewijvenzomer” or “sint-michielszomer” (Netherlands) again relating to old ladies’ summer and also St Michael’s summer.
– “Haf Bach Mihangel” (Wales) or St Michael’s little summer.
– “Bobų vasara” (Lithuania) which means ‘summer of old ladies’.
– “Atvasara” (Latvia) this is re-summer or flashback or repeat of summer.
– In China they say ‘a tiger in autumn’.
In general, it seems to refer to those cold and frosty mornings which are followed by sunshine and clear, blue skies, and pretty much sounds like most of my time in Tbilisi outside of the summer time. But it has been used to express the weather during hot and sticky days too, so that can be a little confusing!
Anyway, I think it would be safe to say that we have been having an Indian summer here in Tbilisi too. The mornings are feeling really cold after the temperatures in their 40s just a month ago, and mornings now hover around 16degrees, but reach around 24degrees by mid day. The seasons are very abrupt here, and it is definitely a country of extremes. It is literally like someone just came along and switched a button to change summer into Autumn, and it is so hard to imagine now, that it was incredibly hot over summer. I just hope we get the new windows put in soon as its getting quite hard to get up in the mornings now, and its not great to be able to see your breath as it hangs on the hair before freezing. I have even started to wear a jacket now, and I think the shorts are about to retire for summer!!!
Nikolas Sarkozy comes to Georgia
So, what else is new since my last blog???? Well, it seems that school is cancelled tomorrow (but not pre-school). Why??? Because the Prime Minister of France Nikolas Sarkozy is visiting Georgia. I am not entirely sure of the logic in cancelling school, and it is certainly one of the disadvantages of being a foreigner as that is the crucial kind of information that gets missed out in communication. Perhaps the day has been given as a mark of respect for his visit? Or because of security? To let people go to Freedom Square tomorrow to attend his speech, or because it is also a public holiday?? Come to think of it, it may just be the Tbilisi based schools which are closed tomorrow, rather than it being across all of Georgia?? But I wonder how many TLG volunteer teachers the Ministry has forewarned, and how many of them will turn up at school tomorrow and wonder why it is locked!!
I’ve become quite a cynic since I’ve been in Georgia, and instead of just being delighted about having some extra free time, I find myself wondering about the logic of this move. Does it mean that hundreds and hundreds of teachers across Georgia will not get paid because of missing school tomorrow?? Will they have private tuition cancelled? Will they have time to cover their lessons over the year if they have already made plans? Is it all just for publicity??? Have the true implications been thought about? I mean, what if you are the sole bread winner and you are relying on that income to feed your family, will you lose all that money from one missed day that you had no say in??? I wonder how many people are interested in hearing him speak tomorrow, and also how many will attend, how many people would like to go, but don’t have the option??
On the plus side, it has to be good for Georgian-French relations, and also for Georgia’s desire to join the EU, and the more foreigners the Ministers and lay person meets, all the better as far as I am concerned.
But I am also skeptical. Time after time, I have seen how much money is wasted and put into the wrong things here in Georgia. That it is wasted on what is for show, and not on that which will actually have an impact or assist other things. For example, the new teacher training centre which TLG volunteers were invited to, along with the Prime Minister of Georgia. So much money was spent on it, and on the opening ceremony, yet many school children and teachers still have no text books. Was a new teacher training centre really needed? What about the university that is already here, what about the centre users, will it be free for them to attend?? So many courses and Ministry projects I have seen, and which are designed to help teachers are realistically not available to be utilised because of bad planning or organisation. So much time and money is wasted in Georgia, at all levels, and on a grand scale. Each first grade child has now been given a laptop to use, yet many schools especially in the villages have no electricity or sockets at school and not everyone is even able to switch a computer on. All these exciting new books were purchased for schools, each with an accompanying cd, but since no-one has been given or has a cd player, its worthless as no one can use it. I do understand that there is a bigger plan underfoot and that things will progress slowly. But at the same time, it does anger me when I see how so many organisations waste money. Money is donated from foreign countries or NGOs to help local people, but instead of doing this, many relatives or friends of that person are employed, fantastic offices are found, and someone is paid to design a website that is poor or cannot be used by those who should have access to it. The money is put into material things. Then what happens is that the item is never used, or that project funding runs out and it folds, and the people that the money was given for, don’t benefit at all. It seems to happen time and time again, and its really sad to see. It is also one of the biggest criticisms of Georgia, especially from parties such as the EU. There are lots of environmental and other events being carried out in Georgia, they have months of grand meetings, only to invite people to attend at the last minute, when it is just too late.
But, that’s enough of my political rant or whatever it is, and you have to take the rough with the smooth here in Georgia, as with everything else in life.
Its been a bit of a battle this week, mainly because of this Georgian love of talking and pre-empting. It is something I have now observed across all age groups, and is incredibly frustrating as a Brit coming from a culture where children are seen and not heard and where we are brought up not to interrupt when others are talking. My third grade were so great in the first week and I was really surprised, but it seems that they have become well and truly Georgian again. They are good kids on the whole, and the majority are keen to learn. But it is impossible for them to keep quiet for even a minute. Before you get a chance to get a word in edge ways, they have already interrupted you, often with raised and waving arms and cries of mas, mas, mas, or miss Sarah this, and miss Sarah that. If they just shut the feck up for a moment then they would receive all of the information, and I wouldn’t need to explain it to each and every student a hundred times over. This is where my lack of Georgian is a real issue, as it can be really hard to maintain management of the class. Yesterday I gave up towards the end of the lesson and decided to see if they could just sit still and in silence for the last five minutes of the lesson….they couldn’t!!! Today, I tried to put a stop to it from the off, and had a little more success, so I think the harsh approach is what I need here, but its not my style, so it is really challenging. Then today, I came up with a plan for my next lesson, that I will try and implement to see if it helps at all. I warned them about this today, and I think it may have instigated a little of the change. The idea came about because I am aware that there are one or two excellent children in that class and I think it is really unfair that their learning is continually disrupted by the children with behavioural issues, lack of manners, or whatever you want to call it. So, from next lesson I want to experiment a little, by having the best students sat on the front row, the slightly less enthusiastic students on middle row, and the boys who have no interest whatsoever sat at the back, where they can colour or doodle or do whatever it is that seems to occupy them more than geography all lesson. If a child is good, then they move towards the front, if not they move back a seat. Some of the boys are very bright, but are just lazy, and they don’t like to be seen as stupid. So I hope that the table idea might add a little challenge for them. That way, the good students will not miss out so much, and the non interested students won’t distract them so much.
I feel a bit of a failure for not including them or trying another approach, but I also need to nip this behaviour in the bud early on, especially whilst they are so young, otherwise it will never change. I try to reward them for any positive behaviour I notice, but I can’t focus all of my attention on them if it means the good kids miss out, which is what has happened. One of the biggest problems is that there are really, four kids that cause the problems. One is a girl, and the challenge with her is that she thinks she knows English well and is keen to prove herself, but this means that she tells other kids off and what to do during the lesson, and also pre-empts my questions and gives completely superfluous information…basically she just likes to talk and is bossy! A right little know it all. I can deal with that, and already we are making some progress as I only answer questions from students who have their hands up and who are sat quietly. She is pretty smart so has at least cottoned on to this. But, it isn’t just about classroom management with her, its about preparing her for British exams like GCSEs because it doesn’t matter how much you know the subject matter if you don’t answer the question in exactly the way that they want. So, she needs to learn this, and it will also help her in her progress as an English speaker as she needs t learn to listen, instead of second guessing what people are saying to her. This is a problem for so many Georgians, and it can be really frustrating as a foreigner. Maybe I want to know how much something costs, and i ask ‘how much is this?’, instead of giving me the price, they go on to tell me that it is very delicious and a lot of other information that is totally irrelevant if I only have 1lari and it costs 10lari, it doesn’t matter how delicious it is, I won’t be buying it if I can’t afford it! The biggest problem with the naughty boys, is that they are what I would call ‘typical little versions of stereotypical Georgian men’. They have been totally spoilt by Georgian women who fuss over them and without knowing it, are encouraging their naughty behaviour. For example, the laziest and most disruptive boy in my third grade, is constantly needing the toilet, I don’t like them going in the lesson as it is only 45minutes long and they have a 5 minute break between classes, plus a breakfast and a lunch break, so they have ample opportunity to visit the toilet. I feel awful stopping them from going out to the toilet, but in this case, he is the ‘boy who cried wolf’. Apparently he tries to do it in all lessons and some teachers just let him sit and draw all lesson and go out when he wants. When I was sat in the staff room a few days ago, he was in and out and every teacher gave him a big cuddle and told him what a good boy he was, praise for basically bunking out of class and not learning. He has the least English of all his peers, yet has had the most tuition, but I get the impression that he has pretty much just done what he wanted since he was small, and if that is the case then he is really going to hate me as he won’t be leaving any of my classes in the future, and he will be sat at the back and I really hope that in time he will start to participate a bit.
It is weird with the classes as they have really good lessons and then awful ones where they just want to talk about non lesson stuff, and they pay no attention to being told off, they just want to play games and do nothing.
But, my other lessons have been making progress, and I almost felt redundant in one of my lessons this week as the kids just worked so well together and covered a lot of material. I’m hoping we can order the text books soon, so that I can stop photocopying the pages, but they seem to be doing much better on covering the material so far, and I am loving the work with the geography.
My older class was a bit irritating this week though. I have a girl in class who is there to help her English but who isn’t actually studying or taking geography. I am almost at the point of asking if she can leave my classes though as she isn’t taking down notes, and is distracting the students who do need to learn geography and who are taking the exams. She has a very strange attitude towards things, and I have to admit to being quite disappointed by her as I had thought she would have been much better, especially with being an older student. Hopefully it was a one off!
This week we finished off our 7 continents and moved on to the compass, and then onto the UK and how to write a British address, that went down very well, and I really love my fifth grade class, and have even invited them onto the Oceans Project, so I hope I don’t live to regret that! My older classes have moved on to fold mountains, earthquakes, and the richter scale.
This week, we changed the times of the project and reduced the number of sessions from three to two, we have also altered the age limits. The Tuesday session went fairly well, aside from a few logistical problems with doors being locked and books being moved from the library, but hopefully all will be better in the future. I was really impressed by how great the kids were and especially the quality of their presentations. Our next group will meet on Saturday morning, the day that most of them said they wanted to come, so the truth will out on Saturday as to whether they actually come or not. Ironically, the two Georgian teachers who lost their jobs at my previous school, have now dropped out of the project for ridiculous reasons in my opinion, about their not being many children on the project, which is weird given that neither of them have ever attended one of the sessions! But it means that the pay can go to the other teachers who have been filling in for them and who have higher levels of English and enthusiasm. Its a nice little team now, very supportive, and I know they will get me through those moments when I am finding motivation difficult to muster. Now I just need to organise the filming sessions and plan the visit to the UK in November.
Ski Trip to Austria
One thing which fits in nicely with the Oceans Project is that the school is organising a ski trip and English camp, and I have been invited as one of the teachers. That should be fantastic as I will get to know the kids and their parents better, chance to travel, and to ski a bit. So, I hope that comes off. One of my longer term plans is to organise an oceans summer school, with snorkelling or scuba diving in the mornings and lessons in the afternoon, that would be amazing!! Perhaps we could go to the Orkney Islands in Scotland, one of my favourite places in the worlds.
New Bank Account
So, I finally managed to open up a new bank account, and I have been very impressed with everything about the Bank of Georgia so far, and its a totally different and more European standard bank that the wretched Liberty account which the Ministry of Education opened for me. Bank accounts are weird here, and opening an account is quite different to opening an account in the UK. In the UK, you need three months of utility bills and bills with your home address on them, plus some letters, forms and a background or credit check. In Georgia, you don’t need this. There were two very nice ladies looking after me, both of whom also spoke some English and didn’t mind translating for me. I had to tick some boxes on one form, which was about my being related to any Ministers or political parties, and the second was a Georgian photocopy. The lady just wanted my passport, date of last stamp in my passport, and to know whether I was married and my date of birth. Aside from that, did I want a Visa or a Mastercard! In the UK, most banks start you off on a solo or electron card unless you have money already. The other difference is that in Georgia you need to pay about 40gel to cover the cost of your card. But the nice think about the Bank of Georgia is that it has online banking and sms banking, there are more atms, and I don’t get charged for using my card, quite the opposite to Liberty. It was nice that they had some signs in English too, certainly made life easier!!!
OK, so its time for bed now, but that is about all for today……nighty night xxxx