Happy New Year!!
First of all, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year, Hogmanay, and 2012. It isn’t actually New Year in Georgia yet, in fact we haven’t even had Christmas, as that is on 7th January, and then on the 14th January we will have New Year. But I will be in Austria with any luck!
Down Time at Last
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying some down time, and decorating at this time of year really does feel perfect, like a new start and a new life. Things have changed massively for me the past 18 months, and I have to say that I never ever imagined being at this particular place in life at this time, but I’m thankful to have made it this far, and I hope that the path that life leads me on continues in this way, as its a very different and happier life than the one I was leading as a medic, or even prior to this.
On Life with an Aspy, and on Discovering we all have a little bit of Aspby in us
Two weeks ago my housemate moved in with the boys, and it has been quite funny not to share every single little thing together as we were quite a married couple in many ways, and it is funny how we now communicate almost as much, just via emails and things. aside from being a typical smelly boy, we shared pretty well together and he has come to be a very good friend, even though we both drive each other nuts from time to time, as happens when two Scorpios live together. That and he has Aspbergers, which he is still getting to grips with. Lucky for him, I have worked with Aspys a lot and am therefore a little more understanding of the little quirks and things that come with the territory. Living with an Aspy is at times very hard, a little like living with someone who has OCD, but in other ways they make the perfect housemates and I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to get to know him as an individual and to share in some of the things which make life doubly hard for me, especially as a non European, and in living in a culture like Georgia wherever is totally new and different. In many ways, I think he also bought out the aspy in me, and the advantage of being in a totally new culture together as foreigners, isn’t really so different to having asbergers.
If you don’t know what Asbergers is, then check out this wiki description:
“Asperger’s syndrome ( /ˈɑːspərɡərz/, /ˈæspərɡərz/ or /ˈæspərdʒərz/, also known as Asperger syndrome, Asperger disorder or simply AS, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.
Asperger syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Fifty years later, it was standardized as a diagnosis, but many questions remain about aspects of the disorder. For example, there is doubt about whether it is distinct from high-functioning autism (HFA); partly because of this, its prevalence is not firmly established. It has been proposed that the diagnosis of Asperger’s be eliminated, to be replaced by a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder on a severity scale.
The exact cause is unknown, although research supports the likelihood of a genetic basis; brain imaging techniques have not identified a clear common pathology. There is no single treatment, and the effectiveness of particular interventions is supported by only limited data. Intervention is aimed at improving symptoms and function. The mainstay of management is behavioral therapy, focusing on specific deficits to address poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness. Most children improve as they mature to adulthood, but social and communication difficulties may persist. Some researchers and people with Asperger’s have advocated a shift in attitudes toward the view that it is a difference, rather than a disability that must be treated or cured”.
But, either way we both survived an incredibly stressful time in our lives, both as new teachers, of new subjects, and in a foreign country, as well as launching the Oceans Project together, sharing a house, and one that required a lot of renovations as well. To illustrate how much of a challenge this was, I will give you a run down of a typical morning in our household. 7am, get up having gone to bed at 4am due to planning lessons and Oceans Project, take dog out for a pee, find falling apart fourty year old kettle, use spanner to turn on water in kitchen, find matches to light gas oven, place kettle on, stomp around very cold kitchen, wait twenty minutes for kettle to boil. In meantime navigate cupboard doors falling off their hinges and collapsing cupboards to make breakfast. In meantime, other housemate uses all the hot water in showering, but timing for shower needs to be perfect as turning on kitchen tap means pressure or temperature in shower changes, usually to zero water, and lots of goosebumps in very cold bathroom. Work around each other in kitchen whilst both on scorpionic, half a sleep mission. Housemate has no concept of time and wants to talk in length about a favourite topic or worrisome issue, try and avoid conversation inorder to catch very full bus to school to arrive by 9am. All the time tripping over cat and dog and remembering which lights in house work and which don’t, and avoiding neighbours as pass through the yard. Getting to school on time was everyday a mad mission! So, I think we both did very well, particularly as said housemate had issues with putting the kettle on and then getting focused on other tasks, leaving house with pans overflowing, thus leaking gas everywhere, and having a thing about not locking doors. All quite a challenge, and I’m far from an angel to live with, God no. There is a reason I like to live alone. I like my quietness, I like to be left to chill especially after giving to others all day in class, hospital or wherever. I like things to be clean and tidy and I hate searching for things or having to wash up so I can have something to eat off in the morning. I’m a miserable cow to live with, and stuck in my ways, and not good at compromising. I like things done in my way, I’m aspy in that respect, and more so as I have got older. Another thing that has made sharing a house together fun. There is more than ten years age gap between us, and we are at different stages in our lives. I like cocoa before bed, stability, and have lost my younger wanderlust a little, I’m explored many places, done the all night raves and nightclubs, partied, and now I’m looking for more civilised socialisation. I don’t get to spend a lot of time at home, or with my pets, and I love nothing better than to be home, cooking, reading, walking my dog, cuddling up with my cat and a nice glass of wine.
But, I think given everything thrown at us this term, and the trauma we had with our other housemate, we have done really well, and have parted terms better friends than before, with a much better understanding of each other, and many planned ventures new, which will really hold us in good stead.
New Year, New Paint
Decorating the bathroom was more of a necessity than a pleasure and I hadn’t really planned to do anything there for some time, but it took my housemate longer to move all his stuff than originally anticipated. But I’m loving working on it now, and the bathroom, whilst not massively different, does feel a lot better, and I hope to take my first shower today, in over a week. Lets just hope that my grouting and paint stays in place!! I daren’t go out right now, even though I need more paint. I’ve been wearing my one set of ‘decorating clothes’ for over a week and my hair has become a dreaded mass of plaster dust and paint. The plaster from grouting has been particularly nasty, and not great for the old health. It got everywhere, up my nostrils, down my throat, and in my ears. It has congealed into this horrible sticky white mass, and the sooner I get it out of my system the better. The joys of working in a confined space with no windows!!
But now, the bedroom has started. It looks better already, although I am having huge issues with the top half of the room as my ladder just doesn’t reach. So I may have to get a professional in to do that bit of each room, or order a platform or scaffolding to enable me to get up there. Its probably almost 12foot tall from floor to ceiling! And I really want to clean the chandelier and fix the broken bits back to it, as with the second chandelier which is in pieces and needs fixing together again.
The Beauty of Georgian Architecture
It really is the most amazing house, and I think that given it hasn’t been decorated for some 30-40 years and has received some earthquake damage which has left big cracks, it should brush up very nicely and becoming a beautiful place to live in. I am assured that the cracks in the ceiling are fairly harmless now, and that the house will not move anymore as it now sits on bedrock!! So I hope the experts are right! Its fairly standard in Georgia, especially in these old houses, and many houses have some earthquake damage, especially in the regions.
Houses in Tbilisi are very magical to me. On the outside they look run down and derelict, and then when you peer through their windows, you find the most amazing interiors. There is good reason for this, as people tend to spend more money on the interiors than the outside, and after so many wars and troubles people did not have resources to do work on an exterior that would likely get ruined anyway. But the government are slowly restoring some of these buildings, especially towards the Ministry of Education, and the results are fantastic so far. Everywhere you look in Tbilisi, you will find the most amazing architecture and attention to even little details. Beautiful wrought iron gates, mouldings, roofs. And I would always recommend you to look upwards when visiting the Capital. I am certain that in another ten years time, Tbilisi will be the most beautiful city in the world, and for that reason I don’t mind so much when we lose electricity or water on a pretty much daily basis, whilst the roads outside the house are being re-laid.
Decorating the house is a pleasure for me, and I have wanted to do it since the summer. It is like polishing lost potential and bringing it back to life again. And I can’t wait to see the house restored and lively again. I’m looking forward to having a decent kitchen where I know where my stores are, and can really cook properly again. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano, but it was always something that was socially out of my league in Britain, only for upper classes, and I certainly could never have afforded a piano or lessons. In Georgia, most people have a piano and can play, so one of my little dreams is that when the lounge is decorated, I can source and learn to play the piano. I want lavender growing on the balconies, and I want to be able to grow all the fruits, veggies and herbs that I currently miss in Georgia. Spring is going to be a lot of fun! I can’t wait to see my cat Izzy rolling around on the balcony in the summer sun, and lounging around with Isla, and my perhaps even having time to sit outside and read a book and sip nice cocktails or pimms! I’m looking forward to my future life here.
Reflection on Life in Vale: a Year On
It is funny, because this time last year, I was just getting over a parasitic infection picked up in water at my host family’s house, from the well. I had to go back to the UK as I was really sick, and my urine was black. I even uploaded a photo to my blog at that time!! I was really miserable, and really missed Georgia. It was my first trip back to the UK and I had massive reverse culture shock. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to see my granny again, and I wasn’t unhappy on that front at all, but I was just incredibly homesick for Georgia. I had never been homesick in my entire life! Yet there I was, having this nasty kidney problem, having not eaten or drunk properly in about three months, and having lived with no running water or electricity, and had about two showers! Yet, I missed it and I preferred a life lacking in materials as I had found the important things that had always been missing in my life…connections to other human beings!
I still miss my host family, and I often think about them. I think they have a new volunteer now. I have been thinking about them a lot recently, especially whilst decorating and processing the changes since this time last year. And the thing that has really struck me as odd, is that things about them which totally freaked me out when I lived there, are things which I now consider to be fairly normal, especially in Georgia, and which don’t really shock me anymore. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing, but the fact is, that at that time, I felt guilty because I felt I should not stand by and let them happen, but now I wouldn’t do anything about it. And I’m starting to realise how strong and powerful social pressure and beliefs and attitudes can be. You either go with the flow or you don’t survive in society. Simple as that. There comes a point where your own values have to change or you just go crazy.
What is Socially Normal??
I’ll give you some examples of things which totally freaked me out when I first arrived. Not having seat belts in cars, our elderly neighbour coming to our house and begging my host grandma to kill her, host grandma leaving used needles on the ground outside the house, and also re-using them to inject herself and neighbours, my 7 year old host sister getting drunk with my host dad, my 15 year old host brother and 7 year old host sister laughing hysterically at Russians beating each other up on tv, teachers at school clipping kids on the head or twisting their ears or telling everyone that child is stupid or has emotional problems. Host grandma milking our cow without washing the udders and having cow pats inside the bucket, our dog being emaciated and chained up and kicked, children at school playing with lighters, host grandma, 15 year old host sister, 14 year old host brother, and 7 year old host sister sharing the same bed every night so that I could have a room to myself. These things totally shocked me when I arrived in Georgia, but they are really not so weird anymore. Why?? Because they are socially acceptable?? Maybe? I didn’t report them to the Ministry in my monthly reports, because to me they were all normal for Georgia. My host family and school had been vetted by the government and other volunteers also reported the same things, so I put them all down to be a normal part of every day life. I am perhaps less sympathetic and I understand the shock less down, when I hear new volunteers talking about shocked they are at these things, perhaps because I have become hardened to them and they are now part of my normality here in Georgia, and were based on my British upbringing. Time is a funny thing, it habituates us to things that would previously have been totally unacceptable.
The only thing on that list that still grates on me is the treatment of children in school. But I have to say, that this is not something which is socially acceptable, and is in the process of changing. Because I had been sick, the Ministry moved me into the capital and to a new Public School in Tbilisi. That was probably more of a culture shock, as the treatment of the children was far better, and the children were just very different. Thankfully the ear twisting method is a thing of the past, maybe a more Soviet style of teaching, and in my year here, I am pleased to say that the Ministry has worked really hard to address this, and teachers who behave in such a way are being weedled out, thanks to the weekly (in my day), now monthly reports of its foreign teachers in schools. It is also working hard to change that ‘he is stupid or has emotional problems’ kind of attitude too. From what I saw, these children were far from stupid, but if you could not afford to buy the text book, then you could not memorise the text, and would obviously fail in class, especially if you did not know English or could not read in English. These kids had no chance, and with no photocopiers or money for such things, it was never going to be easy. A text book for each class would cost around 20gel (about £5), but when the average monthly salary for a family of 6 people was around 100gel, books were way down on the list of priorities, particularly for a subject like English. Thankfully the Ministry addressed this through a deal they made with McMillan publishers in Oxford, and now every 1st grade student across Georgia has access to a laptop, set of McMillan books, and the volunteers now start English teaching with the younger students as this has been deemed more effective in the long run than working with older students.
As a volunteer, I perhaps would have been a bit gutted by this news, especially as I loved teaching those above 6th grade, but as a long term strategy it really makes a lot of sense, especially for the future of Georgia. I guess sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the change and moment, and to lose sight of what is better long term. And I have to say that I applaud the government on this very smart move.
TLG and the Ministry of Education: My Thoughts a Year On
I hadn’t really appreciated actually how much the Ministry of Education has achieved over the past year, or the massive impact that having volunteers from other countries teaching in Georgia has had on Georgian society as a whole, or on the education system. Reflecting over the changes in my own experiences since I came to Georgia has really highlighted this for me, and even though I no longer work for the Ministry of Education, I have to say that I am still very proud to have been a part of that project, and to receive the continued support of the Ministry in my endeavours new.
Thankfully my experience of schools here has been very varied, from my village school, to city school, and now to Independent school. I still get really frustrated by school, and the very typical Georgian things which really drive me crazy. Pretty much every Georgian child cheats at exams, it is socially acceptable, and parents think they can bribe teachers for their children to get better marks. This can make really frustrating, especially when you are trying to raise the bar, or train the children up to take British exams or to apply for university abroad. It is hard for the students too, especially those who do study hard, as the pressures of friendship mean they are forced to allow other students to copy them in exams or to cover for them. Hard work is not rewarded, but taking the easy route is. It will get there, in time, but there is a very long road still, and perhaps not surprising given that the previous rules of the country were dependant on bribes and corruption, it was the norm, but now it is changing, and change is always hard.
I have been reflecting a lot on my previous term at school, and placing my experiences in the context of my public schools, I somehow remember how advances my current school is. Life gets hard when I compare it to a British standard, and perhaps it does me good to remember school in the context of more typical Georgian schools sometimes. But I don’t want to just accept social norms and be happy with that, I want to raise the bar, I want to push our school to be something far better, the best school in Georgia, but also to raise that bar above even British standards. I am really lucky to have a very supportive board of Directors running my school, as much as the lack of communication and Georgian spontaneity drives me mad a lot of the time. Its mostly a cultural thing, but doesn’t mean it can’t be changed or that it is acceptable!! It is what it is, and the future is there to be had. There is no violence in my school, no ear tweaking, in fact, if anything it is more the reverse, with students treated like they are the teacher’s children, and they perhaps get away with things a little too easy at times. They are very spoilt, and most of them don’t appreciate how lucky they are. That makes life hard for me sometimes. Remembering how desperate my other students were to learn, and what resources they lacked. The kids at my new school are rich and have a world of opportunities, but are lazy and spoilt and don’t really understand how lucky they are. This is something that geography can try to address, and one way to change this whole attitude where they think its ok not to study for GCSE exams because their parents can just pay the exam board to give them a good grade, is to show them what the real world is like. At the moment, they have a very sheltered and protected life, and have no idea about life outside of Georgia. Somehow I have to teach them these things, as many of them will be going to the USA or Britain for their further education, and such behaviour as bribery or cheating will certainly not be tolerated there! At least not so openly anyway. But more than that, I want them to learn the great feeling of success, or doing something difficult and on your own and the sense of reward. Otherwise what is the point of the journey? It is surely better to have climbed up Everest than to just land at the top with a helicopter. Sure the view is the same, but you don’t have the appreciation or sense of achievement.
Prince Charles has the Right Idea
Somehow I need to change this mentality, otherwise Georgia will get left behind and continue to have a bad reputation. I love Prince Charles in his attitude towards bringing about change. As a Prince he is not allowed to get involved in Politics, yet he is very good at putting people on the right path, and I love his whole ‘seeing is believing attitude’. I hope to instil a little of his strategies into my campaign for the future and children of Georgia somehow through showing them and getting them to experience things as they really are, outside of their little cotton wool filled boxes where they think parents can fix everything, including university places and good grades on exams. Out there in the real world, life is going to be super tough for them, and my job as their teacher is to equip them as best as possible for the road ahead.
Reflection on the Past Term as a Teacher
Often people complain that my lessons are too hard or that I am serious, but there is a reason for this and it is called tough love. The standards I am setting them need to be high, and the students who find my lessons easy and fun are the ones who do their homework, turn up to class, and don’t cheat on exams. They are the students who will get A stars on their GCSE papers, the students I love teaching. The other students, have a tendency to be lazy, do nothing but joke around, and then complain to their parents or to teachers, but the reality is, that no amount of dropping the standard of the lesson will make lessons less hard for them. They are the kids who just want to play hang man every lesson and don’t want to do a jot of actual work. The ‘wasters’ who think that mummy and daddy can pay for their grades so they don’t have to do any work. Thankfully these are the minority of students, and in Georgia, every school has them. So much so, that often teachers give in and award good grades just so that they don’t get dragged into nasty school politics.
But, it has been a massive learning curve for me this term. I’m still new to teaching and to teaching geography. I have loved it and I really love my students, and reflecting back, I am amazed at how much progress we have actually made over the year. Some of it measurable, some of it not. Kids are now really excited when they get a 10 as they have learnt the value of a fair grading system, and now they are starting to strive for tens. I’m more confident too, I know the kids better, and I can’t wait to get to show my fun and lighter side a little more during our ski trip to Austria, and I hope this will really help us next term. I have to admit that I still don’t know every child’s name, especially my class with four Mariami’s, especially when all Georgian surnames are impossible for me to pronounce or read, and in general all surnames end in either -ze or -shvili. But I am slowly getting there. I think my classroom management has improved and I am also a lot more relaxed and less nervous now, and standing up in front of a group of people and talking no longer scares me. I feel like a real teacher now, and I hope to take my lessons a step further next term.
So Where is Georgia?
I was very shocked to discover that most of my students don’t actually know where Georgia is on a world map, and that some of the students still think that Tbilisi is the capital of France (younger students)! I expected the Junior school to be less knowledgable, but I really thought that the older students would know better, and that was a massive eye opener, especially at my subconscious expectation that knowledge about thing such as where Georgia is on a map, was a given! They know all about plate tectonics, but how on earth can they understand that the Mid Atlantic Ridge runs through Iceland, or where other plate boundaries are, if they don’t even know where flipping Georgia is! Within Georgia, they are experts, but outside is like a black box. This makes me feel really bad as a geography teacher and makes life very complicated.
You are probably asking me why I don’t just show them a map? Well, first of all you need a map! They have Russian maps, very old ones at that, and most of Georgia has been lost to Russia since those maps were made, even the Lonely Planet maps in my guidebook of Georgia are wrong! One of my plans is to apply for funds so I can purchase such things as maps and atlases, but I move around 10 classrooms, and that means carrying everything to each lesson, or purchasing materials for each class as we don’t have enough classrooms to make a dedicated geography room, as much as I would love one. That means I need to purchase 10 maps, at a cost of $40 each plus shipping as they have to come from the USA as I can’t buy them here and UK Amazon won’t ship them. That means, once I have raised the money and placed the order, they will need to be couriered to school. We need maps as part of our curriculum and the exam will involve them interpreting things like maps and aerial photos. So one of my plans this year is to try and raise money to purchase a map for each classroom, which will also help them with history. I would also love to get them a world atlas so they can look at pictures of other places, as many Georgians are very afraid or perhaps racist when it comes to other cultures particularly towards Armenians and Chinese people. They hate to be thought of as racist, but their attitudes towards these two other cultures and sometimes to people of other skin colours can be quite shocking, something especially evident in the village I lived in, where anything different from the norm was scary and it was easier to push it away and say you did not like it. For Georgia to move forward, it has to accept things new and to be less afraid or horrified by stories like ‘Chinese people eat snakes’. Even getting some Georgians to try Chinese or other ‘foreign’ food can be a nightmare, and even Italian can be pushing it. I have so far found two types of Georgians, those who have embraced all things new and who love to travel, and those who are totally wary of it, and will only stick to what they know. I have known many a Georgian who is even afraid to try spaghetti bolognaise, even though the ingredients separately are all easy to find in Georgia and eaten on a daily basis!
My other option would be to get them using the internet and Google Earth, but sadly we don’t have computer access in our lessons, so this is not an option either. I have the odd magazine ‘Wanderlust’ and these went down really well with my students, and led to some really good discussions. This totally opened my eyes up to the future of geography teaching and how somehow I have to make the facts they need to learn more appetising and digestible in a way in which they can relate to. To take geography to the next level, perhaps not just for my classes, but for geography teaching worldwide, in a new age where we have so many more things than when I was at school and you relied solely on the teacher to teach you everything you needed to know.
Future of Geography Teaching: My New Year’s Resolution
So, I have big plans for my lessons this year. First off to apply for funds that I can use to provide resources not just for my Geography students, but also for Oceans Project and my planned expedition for the summer. This will include 14 ipads, 10 large world maps, and some atlases and mini projectors, and internet access. This way we can use Google Earth, books, internet for research, and watch video clips of volcanoes and things from Youtube. This would also link in perfectly with our ETE package so that the children can talk to explorers and scientists live from the field.
I’m very excited to announce that as of January 2012, I will officially be an Educational Ambassador for ETE (Education through Expeditions) and Oceans Project will have its own page on the website too. This means that my students can talk to children on Baffin Island in the arctic, ask them questions about all sorts of things and really start to appreciate the environments in which they live.
I have also been offered the opportunity to take part in the Algalita/5 Gyres Japanese Tsunami Expedition May 30 – July 1, 2012. Departing Tokyo, travelling due east to Hawaii, crossing the Tsunami Debris Field, arriving on the Island of Maui, July 1. With the aim of studying plastic debris in the ocean and monitoring the ecosystem. This is an amazing opportunity, but sadly I won’t be able to take part as I already have an action packed summer ahead (if all goes to plan), but I really loved receiving the offer thanks to the 5 Gyres Project and I hope to join them on another expedition after summer sometime.
If all goes to plan, then our first Oceans Ambassadors from the pilot project, will be ‘graduating’. Their sessions end at the end of May and then they will be off on two week expeditions at different times between June and August with Earthwatch, including a shark conservation project in Belize, a pink river dolphin project in the Amazon Jungle, and an archaeology dig in SouthShields, UK. In the meantime I need to figure out sponsorship, vaccinations, medicals, passports, visas, and preparing them for their first time outside of Georgia. At the moment they have a Christmas break but are still very busy. They had to make a number of sales pitches to Film Directors recently, inorder to raise $10,000 to make their short film. On the 12th March they begin shooting for three days, and the plan is to take it to lots of film festivals. Those who do really well on the shoot and through the project, will then have the opportunity to be paid to work on a big budget film being made here in Georgia, called Jeans Generation, which has been in the planning for some 18months and involved its own sales pitches, script writing, etc in LA. I am immensely proud of the Ambassadors, and I get quite teary when I remember those crazy youngsters involved in my decorating project in the summer, and now they are working hard producing their first movie, and have really become very professional and all grown up and well behaved. I really look forward to what the future will hold for them and for all the excitement the summer will bring, first the film, then the film festivals, hopefully the Volvo Adventure in Sweden for those who entered, and then their Earthwatch expedition, and longer term, I hope that they will go on to become Project Assistants with future groups.
Oceans Project: New Year’s Resolution Number Two
Its been a tough call with the Oceans Project, it needs a lot more time than I currently have, and I am waiting to hear from school about whether or not they can re-jig my timetable so that I can stay at school long term, as I love teaching Geography, but also to enable me to dedicate more time to the Oceans Project. So I have asked for my lessons to be squished into three days instead of five thus giving me two whole days each week to work on the project. Since I am also taking on a new class in January, things are going to be really hectic, but I hope we can figure things out. As a result of that, I have decided to postpone starting a second Project group and also a third group, and summer camp, as I really want to see the current guys through, and then pick up with a new group from October. Its a tough decision, but the outcome is now in the hands of school, and on our funding applications.
Expeditions: New Year’s Resolution Number Three
There are two key factors behind this decision, the first one is that we are applying for a Land Rover Go Beyond bursary, and if we get this then we will be away between May and October on expedition. Myself and three other Oceans Project Staff. This is an amazing opportunity and will have massive benefit for us as individuals and for Georgia. My personal goal is to make geography tangible for my students and to get them involved in the expedition as much as possible to spark their interest and knowledge. So the plan is to use lessons from January to cover aspects of my journey and the National Curriculum, and then that they perhaps get to vote or suggest places of interest on the way that they want me to visit. This way, I hope that being able to relate to me, and seeing me on video by a glacier or volcano or whatever, will somehow bring the world to them and make it more understandable, and they can then ask questions to experts we meet on the way. On the one hand it is a shame that it will be their summer holidays whilst we are away, as it means they won’t all be able to follow me over summer, but hopefully I can create enough material to use in the following year. Plan is to also link up schools on the way, to instal webcams and to see people doing geography fieldwork, as we just don’t have facilities or equipment here to do what we need to do, this way we can do it virtually, and I would like to link this in with a PGCE in Geography for Independent schools through the UK, and not do my PhD right now, as the only point of doing it was to further my knowledge and benefit the project, so the PGCE seems a better plan for now.
Longer term, I plan to then run a video conference style Oceans Project which involves schools from across all the countries we visited. The main issue for now is that the team has two chosen routes, one from London to Georgia and back via Europe, and the second is London to Australia and back.
Tbilisi Zoo: New Year’s Resolution Number Four
One of the best things about this expedition, is that two of the Oceans Project staff, also work at Tbilisi zoo. Its not a great place right now, small pens, bears and tigers pacing up and down, and a massive lack of funding. But staff who are really keen to improve the situation and who have a lot of ideas on how to enrich the lives of the animals there. For sometime, we have wanted to set up some voluntary opportunities for the kids on Oceans Project to undertake voluntary work at the zoo, which they can also count towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Another plan is to apply for European volunteers who will come to Georgia, stay with me, and then get opportunity to work on Oceans Project, at school as Teaching Assistants, at pre school teaching English to the little ones, and also undertaking projects at the zoo if they so wish. So we will be making a joint application, especially as the zoo is right across the road from school and Oceans Project classrooms.
This means that one of the zoo keepers/Oceans Project Leaders will also join us on expedition, and the hope is that we can visit various zoos, experts and wildlife centres on route, see what they are doing, get advice from them, and create a network for raising the standards of Tbilisi zoo, perhaps even offering exchange opportunities, not just for zoo keepers and wildlife workers, but also for teachers in the schools we visit. so it is a super exciting opportunity for us to really make a difference, and one other aim is to somehow link up the most remote Georgian schools, especially those where there is currently no volunteer from the Ministry, and to connect them up so that we can run a special Oceans Project for them , and perhaps the Ministry can also offer online English lessons or similar to them. So, lots of plans ahead, if we can get the bursary! So it is safe to say, that life is going to be as hectic as ever, but in a very exciting way, with my three main strands of happiness: geography teaching, Oceans Project, and personally.
New Year’s Resolution Number Five and Number Six
I told you that there were two key factors in my decision not to run a second Oceans Project group as yet, as this one has been fairly guarded and private for sometime, but features heavily on my day to day life. It is adoption. Four months ago, I met an incredible 12 year old rather unexpectedly, and who I hope now to adopt, perhaps as a legal guardian at first and then formal adoption. I always knew that one day I wanted to adopt and that when the time was right I would know, and that is exactly what happened. I’ve gotten to know her fairly well the past four months and when she is struggling or upset and anything at all, it totally breaks my heart. We seem to get on very well, and she has no idea that I am in the process of trying to adopt her, as I want to make sure all the paperwork is possible first, being as I am a foreigner in Georgia and my situation is rather unique. Georgia is tricky in terms of adoption as many children in orphanages are not actually up for adoption as the parents won’t fully sign them over, and the government wants the children to stay in Georgia. During 2006-2008, adoption abroad was possible, but now only children with severe learning disabilities or deformities can be adopted abroad. The only adoption agencies for Georgian children are either American or Georgian, none are British. For me to adopt through an American agency would be a nightmare, the cost is over $70,000 and I would first need an American passport and then the adopted child would need an American passport. Since I have no intention to be American or to ever live in America, and am on a Georgian salary, this is not a realistic option for me. So, this means I need to adopt through the Georgian system. But I am not Georgian, although I plan to remain in Georgia and to become a Georgian citizen, which I cannot do under Georgian law until I have been here for 5 years. I will always be British and will obviously keep my British passport, but I would also like to stay in Georgia as I prefer the quality of life I have here on the whole. but being a foreigner makes the Georgian adoption process more complicated, although not impossible, and in many ways I can offer better prospects to a child. Georgians do not generally adopt, but adopting is more acceptable and any adopted child would have a community of supporters, and it will be seen as a positive thing and people will want to rally around and make sure she has all she needs. As a foreigner, I am in a fairly good situation, I have good accommodation, a stable and good income, and can afford to bring her up in a better situation financially than she currently has. As a teacher she will also have good education and help with English, plus opportunities to travel and to go to university, plus she would also have a British passport. Which kind of feels a little weird and I can imagine Brits frowning on that, especially as I no longer live in Britain. But I have paid my taxes, ever since I was 16 years old, and have given a lot to my country.
I is going to be a tough old road, and I have no idea whether or not it will go through, or maybe she won’t even want to be adopted, but I really hope she will. Then the fun will really start, not just taking on a 12 year old on the cusp of becoming a stroppy teenager, but also a massive language and cultural barrier, I need to work hard on my Georgian and she will need to work hard on her English. The cultural barriers are really going to be testing, Georgians are tactile and children have a different relationship with their parents than Brits do. Then there is food, we probably eat and like very different things, I cook more western food and she eats traditional Georgian, so I think we may need to adapt and compromise a lot. Then there is the whole parenting issue, especially with the age, will we be more like equals or will I turn into some ogre setting boundaries all the time, and British not Georgian boundaries?? Will she want to travel, will she like my cat or my dog, will she like her room, do I give her a monthly allowance for clothes shopping, do I start bribing teachers to make sure her grades are good because I want the best for her??? Then we have different religious and cultural traditions, Christmas, New Year, Easter. How will she feel meeting my family and how will I will, I’m a very different person now, and I don’t fit into my old culture the same anymore, will she be afraid, will she like them? Will they try and tell her what she can and can’t do, will I allow them to do that? I have an inkling that I am either going to be too laid back, or far too controlling and protective!! That is where being able to communicate will really help, especially as she is likely to have a lot of emotional baggage, as will I too no doubt, and the relationship and new routine will be very testing for both of us. But I think it will also be a lovely one and I love to see her becoming more confident and skilled.
There is another factor too. She has epilepsy, recently diagnosed, but I have no idea what kind (there are over 40 kinds of epilepsy) and seizures may not even be epilepsy, they may be due to low blood sugar or a heart problem. I don’t know who diagnosed it here, or any details about her seizures, and that is one of the big worries right now as I know she is very stressed at the moment and stress is a huge cause of seizures. It may even be due to her diet, and seizures could be reduced by changing her diet to a more fat based one. I hate that every day that goes by, is another day not knowing what the situation is or how much she is suffering, and I hate being in limbo and not knowing whether or not the adoption could even go through or whether she would even want it. But I don’t want her to know about it until we know whether it is legally possible and what paperwork we need. So it is just a waiting game, but she is a huge factor in my plans for the year. So this year is going to be about her until I know otherwise. Decorating the house, teaching, creating stability in my own life, paying off med school debts once and for all, and really becoming more confident as an adult and grown up at last. Changing my thinking so that I include another person and developing a parent mentality.
Goodbye 2011 and Hello 2012
I’m excited to be entering this year from a completely different space from last year, and the year before that. It very much feels like a new and exciting chapter in life, and I can only guess at what is to come, and I won’t know until this time next year, whether or not my resolutions and dreams and aspirations will be achieved. WIll I still be in Georgia, will I be a mum, will I be running Oceans Project still, and will I have been on my big adventure??
And so, I finish 2011 with leaving the old behind me, and starting my new life in 2012. I sincerely hope that you have a fabulous New Year wherever you are in the world, and that the coming year is a healthy and happy one and that you achieve your dreams too. xxx