Friday, February 29, 2008

The Winter of My Discontent


Tis the season for... well... not much really. Here in my village Winter has slammed us with some truly awful weather. Last year we had a few days of snow and subfreezing weather. This year it has just been one dumping of snow after another. Most of the homes in my village don't have gas and must heat their homes with wood stoves. The government has reduced the amount of logging in the neighboring mountains so people generally scavenge the forests for fallen limbs instead. These are dragged back to the house and we cut them using a two-person saw. I really enjoy this chore because it gives me a sense of accomplishment, something I don't get much of in my other endeavors here.

My host family continues to be one of the best aspects of life here. They're funny, outgoing, warm, and generous. Occasionally the grandkids visit and when they do we light the woodstove and play with them. The kids are particularly enamored with my cell phone's ring tones.

Because of the bitter cold and lack of heat, I find myself spending a lot of time in my sleeping bag listening to podcasts. There are often supras to attend, but for the most part there is just a lot of free time, but because of the weather there's not many good ways to spend it. I'd like to sit up and write, but my fingers quickly grow numb. Also the power goes out a lot when there's snow and my computer rapidly runs out of batteries. So for entertainment I watch the neighbor's ducks wander the dirt road. I check up on the Stalin statue to see how the snow has altered his hairstyle. I watch the stars come out on clear nights and make frequent cups of coffee. On weekends I usually escape to other volunteers' sites or head to Tbilisi. My feet have been numb for six weeks now and even the occasional hot shower in Tbilisi fails to revive them. This can't be good.

Winter here can sort of crush your spirit. This seems to be the case for many of my students as well. Their efforts have declined dramatically and it's not unusual for me to assign students in class work and have none of them work on it. They seem confused that I don't find their excuses for not doing the work very convincing. "Teacher, I don't want to." Well that doesn't really do it for me.

To further exacerbate my frustrations they've largely decided that they don't want to participate in the 2nd Annual Language Competition. Last year this was a huge success and one of the few genuine accomplishments I can point to for my service here. We organized it, judged, held an awards ceremony and doled out prizes. The community was actively involved and the students participated with enthusiasm. This year most of my students said they didn't want to attend and few wrote the essays that would make the eligible to enter. When students refuse to do something as simple as write a 40 word essay it makes me feel like the balance is kind of tipping in an unfair manner.

Despite their largely discouraging efforts, I have a few classes that still make coming to school feel worthwhile. My two 7th grade classes have a good number of students who are enthusiastic about English and eager to improve. This doesn't always mean they do their homework, but they still show enthusiasm. As the school year winds down over here I have to keep thinking of how I'm going to get the most out of my final months here. So everyday is spent reanalyzing the reality of school and how best to focus my energies. Hopefully these two classes will be interested in doing more in the coming months. If they don't, well it's going to be pretty discouraging.

Luckily, it seems that most of the worst of winter is over. Spring isn't too far around the corner. Perhaps my toes will unfreeze. Maybe the sunshine will awaken my students' interest in school. Perhaps my clothes will finally be able to dry in under 5 days and I can start bathing more than once a week. Who knows. At a minimum I hope that once the temperature becomes bearable I can spend my free time trying to write something up about my experience here. I'm pretty certain that the difficulties, impasses, and frustrations I feel are probably universally shared by volunteers in other countries. The roller coaster of emotion that comes with this type of service, the variety of strange and uplifting experiences, the humor of so many odd moments here, well it just seems like something that would easier to write about than other topics. And it might be nice to gain some perspective on everything I've experienced in the past 20 months.

If I were the Tamada and the toasting topics were left to my discretion I would ask everyone to raise their glasses and toast to spring. Toast to education and hard work and learning and how these things will help a person and a country move forward. Toast to warmth and heat and dry socks. Toast to combating apathy. Toast to wearing seatbelts and not passing other cars on blind corners or trying to speed on icy roads. Toast to some sort of lasting accomplishment being left behind in my village to have made this all worth while. Toast to 139 days to go until I can come back home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may have had something to do with the crappy winter. It must have been all those bizarre ritualistic sacrifices that skiers make to the snow gods. Good to see that it finally worked -- the location however was off by 10,000 miles. Crap, my bad nickum.

Take care. Good to see there is some sunshine in the mind. Finish out strong. I've already got my 30th birthday planned out. I've imported a case of wine from Georgia. We'll know what you've been going through.

9:40 AM  
Blogger john said...

Hey FUCKO, I used that headline first! I won't tell you about the 60 degree weather we,ve been having or the beer, or my new place where you and page can soak in my hot tub or anyhing else like that. God, I miss you guys but I SO do not miss Georgia!

4:47 PM  

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