Health Kick and Budgets
For someone who is on a health kick in preparation for a very long distance ocean row, and currently on a tight budget financially, it amuses me somewhat to think about the number of lunches and meals out I have thoroughly enjoyed this past week. On Friday I got to eat out with my host family from the village, taking them to the Elvis cafe and treating them to milkshake and fries, and to my horror realising that they were on very new territory and a bit like fish out of water as they informed me that they had never eaten fries before and never tried milkshake. I was scoffing away, and they ate so little in contrast, but it was a very jolly occasion and any passer by would have observed our very big grins and tears of happiness at catching up and spending time together. Its hard for me to find opportunity to take the three buses and walk back to the village to see them, it would involve an overnight stay, and its a big deal for them to come to the city, but I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with them in future if my host sister comes to university here.
Saturday I again found myself at Elvis, this time for a yummy brunch of American waffles, tinned fruit and ice cream (I chose one scoop of banana ice cream and one of blueberry), and enjoyed some time with friends as we used Elvis as the start, finish, and base for our city treasure hunt, calling the kids to make sure all was well, and being at a central point in case they needed us. This is the first of many such sessions as we introduce the Adventurous Training part of their Duke of Edinburgh/International Award for Young People to them. We need to get them out in teams of 4-7 folk, route planning, using compasses, and maps, dealing with inclement weather, having fun, learning first aid, and camp craft. So today was the first of many steps, especially in preparing their parents as well. For their bronze award they must walk at least 24km per day, over two days, un supervised, in an unfamiliar place, and with one night of camping. For silver award they must cover around 48km over three days, with 2 nights of camping, and for gold award they must cover around 80km over 4 days with 3 nights of camping, plus do a five day residential with people they have never met before. In the UK, this generally involves taking a group to the Peak District or one of the other National Parks, dropping them off for them to follow their planned routes, and meeting them at designated points along the way and checking in with them to make sure all is well, and then camping in the same area, but giving them as much independence as possible. In the Bahamas, participants don’t hike, but generally do sailing expeditions alone, and you are allowed to use any kind of transport (horse riding, mountain biking, kayaking for example), provided it is under your own steam and not motorised. Any use of public transport invalidates your journey. So the treasure hunt was a very baby step on that journey for us, and we still have a huge task ahead as we raise funds to purchase camping stoves, compasses, maps, and sensible outdoor clothing and tents for them, as well as funds for coach hire. Generally the Adventurous Training part of the award is the part that most people enjoy the best. But in some bizarre way, it looks as if this will be far easier to arrange abroad than it will be in Georgia, and the effort involved is the same, if not less for an expedition abroad rather than being in Georgia, especially when you factor in things such as wildlife (Georgia potentially has bears and snakes), quality and accuracy of maps, terrain, emergency services and evacuation or mountain rescue, cell phone coverage, and accessibility to public transport. In the longer term Georgia will be an ideal base for this, but at the moment it is a daunting task without knowing the infrastructure here, and that makes it much more appealing to go to another country, where risk assessments have already be carried out, and where maps are more widely available and accurate, and where it is less easy to get oneself into danger. Georgia’s terrain is far more extreme than that in the UK for example, the mountains are bigger, the rain is heavier and more likely to have flash floods, and the kids are more likely to come across rabid dogs or steep ravines, or to be involved in earthquakes or thunder storms.
By Tuesday, I had a piece written about me for the yoga magazine as I was the featured student this week, and I took up some offers of lunch invitations with fellow yoga participants, which was thoroughly enjoyable, and extremely relaxing, and last night met a friend from the same group I was with when I came to Georgia through TLG. We often catch up when weather allows, but this time it was her treat as she was up to meet her mum who is flying over to visit her from the USA and she was killing time before the early hour flight arrived. So that was very nice, and we went to Coffee.ge as she had never been there before, and we supped on a very delicious Baileys frappucino, something I mastered a few visits ago as I knew they did both Baileys and a variety of frapucinnos and I thought that mixing them together would be magical – and I wasn’t wrong!
Today is the mid way point on my first month of yoga and we have the option to be weighed and measured again, for the first time since the day we started. One of the very nice Georgian ladies who attends the sessions told me yesterday that I had lost weight, and I have noticed that my tatty old shorts seem to be falling down a little more than usual (probably because the material has finally exhausted itself!), but the irony is that I’m not trying to lose weight, as I know I have to really bulk up and keep the calories high for my ocean row. That doesn’t mean I want to become a fatty, but I do want to tone up, and one of my goals is to keep my weight constant, maybe even put weight on as I build up my muscles, rather than to lose a set number of kilos. But it does feel funny to be weighed after my indulgent week of invites and lunches! I’m feeling really great from the yoga, flexible and more energetic than I was, and my joints aren’t creaking like they were. My breathing is also much better and I definitely have a spring in my step again and a high of endorphins. I’m actually starting to feel quite down at the fact that May will soon be over, and I hope I will be able to continue with the yoga, as its just out of my price range and I really love the sessions and would love for the guys to be my official support crew on the ocean row. Just walking to the sessions each day is great exercise (especially when I have to walk fast if I’m running late), and adds a nice structure to my work from home and grant writing, and I know that doing it on my own at home just won’t be the same. But I have to not think about that for now. I don’t know what is happening at the moment, with the PhD scholarship, with film work later in the year, with fixing dates for the kid’s expeditions with Earthwatch, and with ocean row media coverage and boat shows and things. Everything is all uncertain at the minute, everything is happening, its just a question of dates and final decisions with sponsors, scholarships and so on, and I need one thing to fall into place, so that I can start to make more concrete plans. So I’m just trying to focus on doing as much as I can in the present, and not worrying about the future or adding things into a calendar.
On Tuesday I met up with my little group of International Award participants, who I am mentoring/supervising/assisting. It was quite funny as they now attend my old school, which is close to the yoga studio, so after the session, I went straight to school and was spotted by the Care Taker who hurriedly invited me in and took me to my old co-teacher even though I was happy to wait outside until the girls had finished their class, since I knew I was earlier than I thought I would be. It was so great to be back at my old school, to be showered with hugs and hellos from my old students, and to see my OPG kids in their school environment, they just seem so much more mature and grown up than I remember them being when I first met them, and it was funny to see them looking surprised to see me at school and not at project. The school looks amazing now, and they have done a really good job in renovating it, which really made me happy. It is now a Ukranian/Georgian school so there are lots of new students and teachers, but it has a very different feel about the place and I really like the new atmosphere and think the kids must feel better now they are learning in a more inspiring and less depressive environment. The biggest change was that they now have proper ceilings and lights, electricity, new floors, windows, heating, and colours on the walls. The new doors are like the ones they have in the Ministry and it really is a very different school to the one that I remember, and feels more full of hope and future possibilities.
Because I was early, I was invited in to join my students in their English class, and it was great to meet their teacher and a lot of students I haven’t met before. There were still the naughty boys, and those who were cheating on their tests, but I was extremely proud to see my girls, and was very impressed by their teacher. Her English was exceptional and her knowledge of grammar and the clarity of her voice put me to shame as a native English speaker. She also had a very nice way with the kids, and that just made me really happy to see, and is such a long way from the days when I first came to Georgia and saw old Soviet style teachers pulling kids ears, clapping them around the head, calling them stupid, and making mistakes in their correction of students who were right in their English. Things have changed so much, and I think that is a massive credit to the Ministry of Education and Science and to the TLG programme. I’m sad that so many teachers and students left that school, and it is still a different school than the one I worked in, but I’m glad to see that so many positive changes have come about, and hearing my old students speaking English and being made to feel so welcome after many months of not seeing them, really made me proud and honoured to have been a part of that process in some small way.
It was even more cool to hang out with my girls and to talk through what they have been doing for their International Awards, and catching up on their news, and future aspirations, looking at their art work, diaries, and notebooks. I really do have the best and most privileged job in the world.
Last week I set them another expedition challenge, in the hopes that it would help me to distinguish which kids were ready for expedition and which were not, so they had to write a short piece about how this expedition would impact on them and why they should be chosen. Visiting the school, it was funny to find three of my students sat writing their statements and then being jaw droppingly surprised and happy to see me there in their classroom. Yesterday was the deadline for the essays, and on reading them, each of us as Project Leaders were in tears, and amazed at far they have come since September, especially those who could barely read, write, or speak in English at the start, and those who were just painfully shy, but have turned out to be so hard working and to have some of the best and funniest personalities that have you laughing each time they do speak. Needless to say, the short list for expedition has actually grown, rather than decreased! So, I now have to weigh up the options, and decide whether to run more expeditions to accommodate them over one year, which is more work for me, and tricky with not knowing my time scales for the rest of this year, but would really have a massive impact on them in their futures, as they have very few opportunities. It is possible and would work funding wise, but its hard to know how to balance it and make it the most successful longer term. Its also vital that we support them post expedition as its going to be a huge reverse culture shock for some of them, especially in terms of eating well on expedition and returning to relative poverty.
How to Decide??
So, that is my biggest challenge right now, especially as we only have a couple of weeks left on project, and the kids are already talking about our next project as none of them want project to end, so it looks like I’ll put together some kind of summer project, and need to think about September onwards, especially since I will be off rowing across the Pacific for 6 months next year, and that means that I need to get all grant applications in before I leave, and need to ensure the other project leaders are happy to maintain things whilst I’m away, which is a huge ask. Even selecting which leaders are ready for expedition is tricky! Lots to process at the moment, but all really positive.
In a moment I’ll be heading off for my yoga session, weigh in, and then I have a project related lunch, and on Friday I have two meetings, one with some visitors from the Netherlands. So it looks like this week is going to be another speedy one!
But on the topic of lunches, I wanted to just share this story with you, that I came across earlier this week, and which seems like quite a fun and brilliant idea, and would make a great idea for a cafe or community centre, for example.
People Are Awesome: The Coffee Shop Where Everyone Pays for Everyone Else’s Drinks
The main conceit of the 2000 Kevin Spacey film Pay It Forward is that if one person does a kindness for three strangers, and those three people each do kindnesses for three strangers, and so on, one person can change the world. Rarely do we see this acted out in the real world the way it was cinematically—one scene finds a man giving away his brand-new Jaguar to a guy having car troubles—but on a smaller scale, these sorts of random niceties happen far more often than you might think. Today, it’s selflessness at a small coffee house in Bluffton, South Carolina.
It all started two years ago at Corner Perk, a small, locally owned coffee shop, when a customer paid her bill and left $100 extra, saying she wanted to pay for everyone who ordered after her until the money ran out. The staff fulfilled her request, and the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, has returned to leave other large donations every two to three months.
“People will come in and say, ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand. Are you trying to buy me a coffee today?'” the shop’s owner, Josh Cooke,told the local news. “And I say, ‘No, somebody came in 30 minutes ago and left money to pay for drinks until it runs out.'”
It took a while, but word has started to spread around the tiny coastal town, home to about 12,000 people. Now, more and more customers have been leaving money to pay for others’ food and drink. Cooke says some people don’t even buy anything when they come in; they just stop to donate and head right back out.
A medium cup of coffee at Corner Perk costs $1.95. That may not seem like a lot, but for a family struggling to save money in these tense and difficult economic times, two bucks saved at the right moment probably feels like a million. And a jolt of generosity is a better pick-me-up than caffeine any day of the week.
Eating for Equity
A feast cooked from scratch is usually enough to impress hungry dinner party guests—especially when the menu includes hearth-baked pizzas, mountains of roasted veggies, and doughnuts made from local flour. For nonprofit group Eat for Equity, though, the food is just a prelude to the night ahead. Each themed dinner—complete with drinks, a DJ, and interesting company—benefits a different nonprofit and impacts social change by cultivating a culture of community and giving. With branches in Boston, Minneapolis, and Portland, now the movement is going on tour in an effort to become a national movement.
The evening festivities steer clear from the black-tie glitz and glamor typically associated to “benefit dinners” and hold true to their comfy, college roots. Dinners are hosted in a different house each month, continuing the welcoming environment that started the whole movement. The motto is just as simple: “Come as you are, give what you can.”
“Eat for Equity is a simple idea, but it’s really engaged,” says director and co-founder Emily Torgrimson, whose group was recently named a finalist in GOOD Maker’sInternational Women’s Day challenge. “For people in Minneapolis and other cities, it’s about food, giving, and community. People are craving community and ways to contribute.We’re entirely volunteer-run and we ask people to give 15 to 20 bucks, drinks, donations, time by cooking, opening up their homes, DJing, washing dishes, nominating organizations, anything. There are lots of opportunities to give.”
Torgrimson unintentionally founded the organization in 2006, while a senior at Boston University. Low on cash but eager to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina aid relief, Torgrimson invited 12 of her friends to her dinner party with a cause, where they feasted on Eat for Equity’s first meal: a glorious pot of jambalaya.
Since its inception in Boston, the organization has expanded to Minneapolis and Portland. Once a month, volunteers cook up a storm and open their homes for benefit dinners, each benefiting a different charity. Organizations are chosen from the areas of health, environment, education, and humanitarian aid. Each dinner draws between 50 and 150 guests and brings in an average of $1,500. Over the course of five years, the Minneapolis branch alone has raised $34,000 for local and global grassroots nonprofits like the American Refugee Committee,Oxfam America, the Oregon Food Bank, and more.
Puna Music Festival, Hawaii
And one more thing for the day, last time I checked, we were in second position in our plan to promote Hawaiian music, and if we win, we will receive $500 towards our Hawaiian event, as well as accommodation in an eco lodge in Hawaii. I think there are still a few hours of voting left, and this will be a fantastic opportunity for me to link and promote both Georgian and Hawaiian music through my Pacific Ocean row and to link the young people of both countries together. So if you can, pleas vote for us: http://pmf.maker.good.is/projects/Hulahooray This will also be a great way to help bring other cultures and the rest of the world to our kids here, and they will really enjoy such a special evening. There are 11 hours left to vote.
Hawaii Bans Plastic Bags!
Hawaii is also in the news today, as the first American state to ban plastic bags, so I’m glad to see them leading the way, probably because they really feel the stress of plastic pollution, and plastic costs them a lot of money each year in their attempts to clean up and to protect the health of their residents. Hawaii is probably the thing I am most looking forward to on the Pacific Ocean row, and I also would love for my yoga instructors to meet me there and get me back into ship shape for the second leg of my ocean row, and again in Samoa, and at the end of the row. It’s my goal to be able to hold a strong and steady ‘tree pose’ whilst at sea, and I’m curious to know how it will feel to walk and do yoga on land again, after so many hours couped up in a boat, and without my land legs. I’m sure there could be a very interesting research project in there! And who knows, maybe a book about ‘yoga for ocean rowers’ or maybe for rowers in general? http://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/hawaii-becomes-the-first-state-in-the-u.s.-to-ban-plastic-bags#.T7JioGZCev8.facebook