It’s Almost Over

I officially have eight days left as a Peace Corps volunteer and 10 days left in Georgia. The time is flying by so fast it is surreal. As the clock ticks down, I’m inundated with all kinds of emotions. There have been a lot of lasts lately. Last time seeing friends (at least in Georgia). Last time visiting this or that place that I’ve come to love. Last GLOW meeting. Last grant written. And I’ve tried to take a moment at each to acknowledge and appreciate it.

While I will have many sad moments in the week to come, sadness is not the overriding emotion I’m feeling lately. In fact, it is quite far down on the list. To be honest, I’m ready for this experience to be over. If I’m REALLY being honest, I’ve probably been ready for quite some time. And once I come to such a place, I get impatient for the next thing. I’ve been impatient for that for quite some time. However, the process of getting to the next thing fills me with anxiety and dread. So, I’ve spent much of the last month struggling to finish up my projects here, do my final Peace Corps reports, and start the job search process in earnest. But I’ve been dogged by a kind of paralysis the whole way. I’m getting it done but not nearly as quickly or efficiently as I should be. My anxiety comes from knowing that I will once again be in the position of needing to find a job fast, but really not wanting to take a job for the sake of having a job as I have always had to do in the past. Joining the Peace Corps was about many things for me. But first and foremost, it was about taking control of my career path and finding a job I love. While the Peace Corps provides a readjustment allowance to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), I know that in the real world this money doesn’t go very far when you have rent to pay, a new wardrobe to buy, and a moving van to rent. But I’m REALLY trying to not let that derail me from my mission to not settle for an okay job instead of a job in which I can find real fulfillment.

So, there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in my life right now. But, there are some things I do know for sure. First, on June 12, I will finish my Peace Corps service by ringing a bell in the Peace Corps office. I will then enjoy my last weekend in Georgia with friends in Tbilisi. The Ambassador will host us at his home for a BBQ and pool party on Saturday which we are all really excited about. Very early Monday morning I will hop on a flight to Athens where I will spend three days on my own before Ann joins me for another three days in Athens before we head to Santorini where Aaron will join us. We’ll relax on the beach for four days, then back to Athens for one day and then I say farewell to Ann and Aaron for a while and fly off to Berlin. I’ll spend five days in Berlin on my own exploring the city and reflecting on yet another huge transition in my life. Then on July 1, I land in NYC where I’ll spend one full day taking in my favorite city on earth and meeting baby Ella! And then, finally, off to North Carolina where I get to spend about two and a half weeks enjoying the company of one of my favorite people on earth, John. This two and a half weeks will likely also include a trip north to Philly to apartment hunt (and if I’m lucky, interview?) and a week at the beach! On July 21, I arrive in Indiana to spend a week and a half with my family before heading off on a road trip to Yellowstone at the beginning of August. And finally, in mid-August, John and I make the move to Philly, where hopefully sometime in the near future I will find that job I’m so anxious about.

It just struck me that this summer is shaping up to be just as busy as last summer. But this summer will be filled with family and friends I haven’t seen in a long time, really great food, exciting adventures, and beautiful beaches. And let’s not forget new beginnings.

When all of this activity has died down some, I’m sure I will have some time to reflect on the grand adventure the last two years has been. However, I can already say that despite some of the really low moments I’ve had here, this experience has been everything I could have hoped for. It has given me a confidence in so many aspects of my life that I lacked previously. I’m not one for regrets, but I have wondered what my life would be like now if I had had this experience at 24 as I once planned instead of now. But what if’s are pointless, so I am grateful to have had this experience now. I’ve gained so much from it.

So, as I said in my last post, I have made a point of spending my last month and a half spending time with people who have come to mean a lot to me. Above you’ll find photos from some of our outings. While I’ve been paralyzed when it comes to work, I’ve been very successful in taking advantage of quality time with people I care about.


These people!

This is a blog post I started mid-April and abandoned for unknown reasons other than things have been a bit crazy and I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the upcoming changes. So, here it is, better late than never. A tribute to the beauty of Georgia and the beauty of friendship.

Over the Orthodox Easter weekend, I was able to visit the last great mountainous region I had yet to see, Mestia in Svaneti. Twenty-one out of the 29 G13s (the cohort I came in with) headed to the mountains in this far western region that borders the disputed territory of Abkhazia for one last hurrah together. Earlier in the week, the weather threatened to be cold with constant rain. But luck was on our side and the weather was perfect for hiking. Above are some photos, mostly of our hike to the glacier. It was a sunny day and many of us were stripping off layers and sunburnt by the end. The beauty of the Caucuses never ceases to stun me. I’ll miss being able to travel around this beautiful country.

But this trip had a special resonance since it was the last time we would all be able to spend a significant amount of time together before we all begin to leave in June. This group of people have come to mean a lot to me. Which shouldn’t be surprising given the intensity of the two years we’ve shared together, and yet it still is for me. Two years ago, when we were still all at home and getting ready for this grand adventure, most people were curiously pouring through each other’s facebook pages trying to figure out with whom they were about to spend the next two years. I wasn’t. I wasn’t interested as I assumed that my fellow volunteers wouldn’t likely play a large role in my service. After all, I’m a mid-career volunteer and the majority of my group were in thier mid-twenties. I assumed, following PST, I would go off to my site, focus on integrating, and only see this group at occasional PC conferences. But that hasn’t been the case at all. First, my sitemate Ann is the queen of bringing people together. From Halloween and birthday parties to game nights, she’s the hostess with the mostest. And there is just no way to avoid her since she’s my sitemate. 😉 But another thing I didn’t realize, is that I would come to rely on time with this group as an escape from the every present awkwardness of being a foreigner with rather miserable Georgian skills. As our time here together ticks away, I feel confident that I will stay in touch with many. But we will never have this moment back. So, for the remainder of my time here, I plan to take full advantage of my Peace Corps family.

Stealing a Blog Post to Share the Marsh Experience with Y’all!

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on the crazy transportation system of marshutkas in Georgia since my first experience with one almost two years ago. But I’ve failed at making that happen. Happily, my friend Angela wrote one that is not only informative, but also entertaining! So, with her permission, I am just outright stealing her post. To read the original or to just check out her blog, click here. Note: Because I live in a city, and she in a village, and because we are two different people with varied experiences, our thoughts differ a bit on marshes in some ways. So, in some places, I have inserted my own thoughts in bold. How-To: Successfully Ride a Marshutka* in Georgia *there was some confusion during Pre-Service training on whether the appropriate way to say it is “marshutka” or “marshrutka.” Apparently the Russian term is marshrutka, but in Georgian it’s მარშუტკა (marshutka) There’s not much traditional public transportation in Georgia outside the main cities. There are two metro lines, public buses, and intra-city marshutkas in Tbilisi. Rustavi mainly operates on intra-city buses/marshutkas as well, and the same goes for Batumi and Kutaisi, although I don’t know those cities as well. There’s also a fantastic bus/marshutka system that runs between Tbilisi and Rustavi, those lucky ducks. Note: all of these are fairly well organized, with bus and marsh #s labeled on the vehicle. In Tbilisi, there are even bus stops that tell you when the next bus is scheduled to arrive! For the rest of us plebes out in the hinterlands, there are just normal marshutkas. So, what is a marshutka (or as we call it in the PC, marsh)?


See that sign on the bottom left corner of the windshield?


That indicates the marsh’s final destination, and sometimes major cities on its way. Note that the signs are all in Georgian, or in my town’s case, Russian… this makes it extremely difficult for a new PCV/foreigner without a good grasp of the Georgian alphabet to find the correct marsh. Without further ado, here are Angela’s steps to successfully riding a marsh**, carefully honed by months of embarrassing trial and error:

  1. Stand on the side of the nearest highway. There is only one major highway in Georgia, going East-West, so chances are you’ll be on there. If not, you may have to transfer from your village or town to somewhere on this highway or the nearest city.

    Pro tip: The closer you are to the incoming traffic, the better–this indicates intent to hail down a marsh.

  2. Squint intensely into the distance. Remember, you’re on a highway, so these cars are going quickly, and often passing each other! They don’t wait for you… remember your Georgian ანბანი (alphabet) and look out for a marsh sign that might go to your destination.

    Pro tip: If you can’t read Georgian quickly enough, if the first letter fits, just go for it. You’ll probably never see these strangers again even if you get it wrong! When you enter the marsh (Step 4), you can make sure by asking “[Intended Destination]-ში ხო მიდიხართ?”([Intended Destination]-shi xo midixar?–You’re going to [Intended Destination], right?)

  3. Go for it! Wave your hand at the marsh. Stick your arm into the highway. Try to make eye contact with the chain smoking driver. Look like a confident, well-practiced foreigner hailing a marsh instead of the ball of nerves that you are.

    Pro tip: If the marsh just passes you, chances are that it’s full. Or maybe the driver doesn’t like the way you look. Don’t let it get you down.

  4. Enter the marsh. This is harder than it seems. Sometimes you have to pull the sliding door on the side to open. Sometimes that door is glued shut to make more room for seats, and you have to enter through the passenger side door. Sometimes it’s a fancy marsh with an automatic sliding door system that the driver has to activate.

    Pro tip: If the door doesn’t open, don’t keep pulling at it. It will alert everyone that you are a total newbie to marsh riding. Probably someone on the inside will help you.

  5. Pick your seat. There’s an art to picking your marshutka seat that has to be developed on your own. Everyone has his or her own preferences. Here are mine:

    If I am riding the marshutka to the end of the line (usually a metro station in Tbilisi), I choose one of the single-seaters near the back of the marsh. Fewer people*** will stare at me, or even notice me, and there’s less of a chance that the woman next to me will be carrying a live chicken. YES! If I am riding the marshutka to somewhere that isn’t a common stop–see Step 9– I choose a single-seater as close to the driver as possible. If none of those are available, I choose a double-seater as close to the driver as possible. If the back part of the marshutka seems to be crowded upon first glance, and there’s a seat or two open in the front next to the driver, I go through the passenger seat door. NEVER! If there is anyway I can avoid it, I never sit up front with the driver although as a foreign woman they will often offer it. My stance is avoid men, even the driver, at all costs. Plus, my strategy of putting the headphones in and not speaking the entire ride is potentially rude if you are sitting next to the driver. Of course, sometimes you catch an exceptionally busy marshutka–rush hour, or the last marsh to run for the evening–and there are no options. You’re lucky enough to have even snagged a seat in the first place. Marsh drivers aren’t supposed to take passengers when there’s only standing room, but trust me…they do.

  6. Sit in your seat, if you got one, and try to change it if necessary.

    Pro tip: If you need to get off before the end of the line, but didn’t get a good seat near the driver, you need to be introduced to the art of changing seats. This is when you keep an eye on the seats near the driver, and when someone in those seats vacates, you abruptly stand up and claim it for your own. Georgians are well-versed in this art and nobody will bat an eye at you for doing this. Don’t be shy. If someone stands up before you, though, let it go–that seat is theirs. If you wait too long, it’ll get taken, either by another Georgian already in the marsh, or a newcomer who’s just gotten on.

  7. Enjoy the ride as you please. If you have a seat partner, they might be in your space. It’s okay. They are definitely more used to it than you are. If you want to listen to music, that’s cool too. Georgians might try to strike up a conversation with you if they see you’re a foreigner who knows Georgian. If you want to talk, stay polite but reserved (especially if you’re a female); if not, they’ll get the message.

    Pro tip: Marshutkas are actually pretty safe–safer than I was led to believe–and you should feel comfortable. Don’t let your guard down too much, but don’t stress yourself out.  Disagree – marshes are the most common place to be groped by a Georgian man. If stuck sitting next to a man, they will more than likely encroach on your personal space. If you don’t hold your ground and make it clear that it is in no way okay to touch you, soon a hand may “absentmindedly” land on your knee. I’ve learned (through experience) to be a bit more aggressive and I will actually take said hand and fling it off of me. Typically these men are drunk and they look a little befuddled for a moment, but then they get the point. Foreign women are often “tested” by men, particularly on marshes. So, I would never assume that a man encroaching on your personal space in a marsh is okay. It may be sending them a message that other kinds of touching are okay as well. Bebias (grandmothers), on the other hand, can encroach all they want. Also, my tried and true tactic for riding on marshes is to never talk to anyone. Typically it is only men who try to talk with me. And that never goes anywhere good. So, I’m extremely anti-social and “pretend” not to speak Georgian always. Head phones are essential to be successful in this strategy.

  8. Get your money ready. If you are getting off before the end of the line, it’s vital that you start preparing your coins early, otherwise the whole marsh will be upset at you for delaying the ride.

    Pro tip: Some marshes indicate how much the ride will cost somewhere in the vicinity of the sun visors. Some actually charge you before you get on (if you get on in a large marsh station). Some don’t say anything, so in order to not get ripped off, ask a friend who’s done the ride before for how much it should be.

  9. Stop the driver! Skip this step if you are riding to the end of the line. You can do this by saying გააჩერეთ (gaacheret–stop) or გამიჩერეთ (gamicheret–stop for me). If your Georgian is good enough, you can use landmarks like კუთხეში (kutxeshi–at the corner) or გაჩერებაზე (gacherebaze–at the bus stop), and tell him ahead of time. if your Georgian isn’t good enough, you have to just try to time where you want to go with the speed that the driver’s going, as well how hard he’s going to slam on the brakes once you tell him to stop. If you don’t really care about specifics and just want to get off in the general vicinity, you can throw in a სადმე გამიჩერეთ (sadme gamicheret–stop for me somewhere/anywhere) and the driver will appreciate being given the freedom to stop somewhere convenient.

    Pro tip: If you are sitting near the back of the marshutka, or somewhere away from the driver, don’t be afraid to yell. This is why I prefer to sit near the driver… Also, if your view of everything is blocked by standers or women holding vegetables, you can try to relinquish your seat and shove your way to the front for a better view ahead of time.

  10. Pay the driver. Try to have exact change, or if not, coins. Large bills will cause the driver to mumble under his breath and spend some time giving you change.

    Pro tip: If you are sitting really close to the driver, you can even pay him way ahead of time–before you tell him to stop. Also, if there are tons of people in between you and the driver, you can try to give the money to someone who has better access to him.

  11. Dismount the vehicle. Wipe the sweat off your face. You’ve probably overshot your destination, but what’s a few hundred yards? Don’t forget to close the door behind you. Unless it’s an automatic door.
  12. Special note: if you have a large hiking backpack, or any other sort of large duffel or suitcase with you, you will likely need to put that in the back of the marshutka. If you get on at a station, no problem. If you get on by the side of the road, the driver will have to get out, unlock it, and help you put it in. You also have to remind him that it’s in there when you get off the marsh. I used to be really nervous about leaving bags worth anything back there, because you really can’t see what’s going on in the back with other people loading and unloading their stuff. I’ve never had a single thing taken (knock on wood) and now I am pretty relaxed about it. Word.

**Disclaimer: This how-to guide is not all-encompassing and has generally worked for me in traveling to and from large cities such as Tbilisi and Rustavi, or to villages off of the main highway.


The typical view from a passenger seat…in a very atypically empty marshutka ***Types of people you might encounter on a marshutka:

  • Driver – always male, usually smoking, sometimes gives random people on the side of the street money for questionable reasons. Has been driving this route every day from 7am to 7pm for longer than you’ve been alive
  • Driver’s BFF – always male, usually sitting in the seat next to the driver, smoking with the driver, probably rides this marsh on the daily, doesn’t have to pay but sometimes does anyway
  • ბებიაs (grandmothers) – heading to the bazaar to sell their large bags of fruits and vegetables that are taking up all the legroom; sometimes the livestock comes onto the marsh too In the city and on city to city marshes, I thankfully don’t have a lot of experience with this.
  • Travelers like yourself – look distinctly scared, constantly staring out the window in fear of missing their stops, shiftily clutching valuables on their laps, trying to get Western personal space (basically impossible)
  • Georgian students going to tutoring after classes
  • Georgians heading to work
  • Georgians heading to town
  • Georgians heading home after work/after a day in town
  • Georgians taking their kids shopping
  • Georgians going to the Public Service Hall to get their passports
  • Georgians visiting family in the villages
  • Georgians taking vacation by the sea
  • Georgians taking vacation in the mountains
  • Georgians trying to party in Tbilisi
  • Seriously, Georgians doing normal human things like you and me. Don’t freak out. I mean, they’re the exact same people you see every day on the streets, just in a marshutka…They don’t bite. The dogs waiting for you on the side of the road might, though. The dogs are the ones to watch out for.

On Being a Woman in Georgia

Photos of just a few of the amazing Georgian women I’ve met.

I wanted to take an opportunity to step back from sharing my day to day life and talk about the part of Georgian culture that will probably have the most lasting resonance with me, being a woman in Georgia. I’ve been a feminist since my college years. But it was always something in the background. It informed who I was, who I chose as my partner, and how I worked. But it wasn’t something I was particularly vocal about. Georgia has changed that for me. Here are just a few facts to show you why:

From a survey conducted by UNDP Georgia in 2013:

  • 95% of women report being solely responsible for all household duties
  • 63% of women report doing most of child care
  • 88% of Georgians believe that a man should be the breadwinner
  • 28% of women live with their husband’s family

And here are thoughts on women’s roles in the family vs. their careers from the same survey.

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So, Georgia is a very traditional society. Much like the US in the 1950s. And one could argue that perhaps there is nothing wrong with a traditional division of labor in a marriage. It certainly makes life less complicated. But, setting aside the lack of opportunity for self-realization for these women, if you dig into the actual lived Georgian experience a little more closely, you’ll realize the result of these “traditions” is that women get the short end of the stick and are often in environments where they lack support. Let me explain.

The biggest problem in Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s is unemployment. During Soviet times, a large number of Georgians worked in factories. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, nearly all of those factories shut down. And no industry has taken its place. In talking with Georgians about how this impacted their families, I’ve heard stories about how men, having had good paying jobs previously, refused to take jobs that they deemed beneath them and often fell into alcoholism and depression. But women, compelled by the need to feed their families, took whatever jobs they could to bring in some money. Now, I know many fellow volunteers who have traditional families in which the woman stays home and the man works. But I’ve never known one of these families. One family I know well is a two-woman-run household. The household was made up of a mother and her mother-in-law and her two sons in their early twenties. The mother is a teacher and tutors on the side to make ends meet. The mother-in-law, in her mid-sixties, spends 4-days a week caring for and cooking for an elderly woman in town. One son is at University. And the other spends his time mostly with his friends. Where is the father? He left the family for Ukraine six years ago and hasn’t been back. He doesn’t send money. Another family I know, is a little different, but still led by a strong woman. The woman is a doctor and University lecturer. Her son just graduated from University last spring. I’m not sure what he is up to since. The father is a painter of the artistic variety. But he also drinks. A lot. So, all of the financial and household responsibilities fell on the woman. I’ve known many families like this. Where women are struggling to make ends meet with the men either absent or more of a burden than a help.

So, getting back to those statistics, when tradition demands that women take care of the household and children, and men be the breadwinners, what happens when men aren’t providing financially? Does a man step up and take on the home responsibilities? No, he doesn’t. Because to do so would make him less of a man. At GLOW camp this winter, we were talking about gender roles, and a girl from a village asked me what I would think if my husband did dishes. “Wouldn’t you think he was less of a man?” This attitude is pervasive here. Which means that women do much of the work in Georgia while many men sit back and do little or nothing. But women don’t earn respect for all of the work they do. Men are still considered the head of the household even if they don’t contribute. And women are rarely in high positions in Georgia. Georgian women make up only 12% of high positions in Georgian ministries despite the fact they they tend to be the most educated and driven.

Let’s also go back to the statistic that 28% of women live with their in-laws. Let’s think about this in terms of what it means for support. In some very meaningful ways, it can be a good thing for women. Living with her mother-in-law, a young mother can have help in caring for the children and doing household duties. However, what if the marriage is less than ideal? What if there is physical or emotional violence? What support is there when you are surrounded by your husband’s family. Below are some facts on marriage and violence in Georgia from a study done by the United Nations Population Fund conducted from 2008-2011.

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Domestic violence is a serious problem here in Georgia. This past fall, there were a number of rallies around the country to raise awareness of uxoricide (the act of murdering one’s wife). Last year there were 23 deaths of women at the hands of their husbands. That in a country of only four million people! When women are removed from their own families, and surrounded by the husband’s family, they are often left without any support in such situations. And given that domestic violence is considered a family affair, neighbors and friends don’t often come to a woman’s aid. In fact, often the police fail to intervene as well. I once heard a story about an improv group that did a performance in which a man was screaming and hitting a woman in front of a police station in Tbilisi, the capital. The police looked the other way.

Another particularly heinous practice that is beginning to die out in Georgia but still happens in villages today is bridenapping. This is an old custom in which a man meets a woman, more often a girl, he likes and just picks her up and runs away with her. They spend the night together and, by Georgian standards, they are now married. The girl has no way out of this situation because to return to her family would bring shame on her and her family since she is presumed to have lost her virginity. More on that in a bit. In the case of bridenapping, the girl is now trapped in a marriage with a virtual stranger and forced to make it work. Often she is young and hasn’t even finished school. Depending on the husband’s wishes, she may not finish school. Her entire life determined on one man’s whim.

So back to the virginity thing. As I said above, without her virginity, an unwed woman is worthless in Georgia. This belief remains strong here even amongst the young. While boys are often brought to brothels at 16 by their fathers or their uncles, girls are expected to remain virgins until married. And after marriage, sex is largely for procreation for women. Thus, men often continue the habit of visiting brothels or have mistresses, while it is assumed good women have very little interest in sex.

Yet, there is evidence to the contrary in the rush to marry.The average courtship in Georgia is about 3 months since premarital sex is out of the question. The decision to marry is sadly often made based on physical desires rather than compatibility. And once married, divorce is very rare. If divorced, although it isn’t unusual for men to remarry, most women will never marry again. The reasons go back to the idealization of virginity. A woman who is no longer a virgin is considered unmarriageable by most Georgians, both men and women. Which leads us to another point that I’ve come to realize in Georgia. Women are just as guilty of perpetuating these traditions as men. They buy into and promote the ideas of being a “good girl” (following all of the traditions) and traditional ideas of masculinity. Mothers raise their sons as little princes and their daughters to learn to work and not expect much. And the cycle continues.

This is why working with GLOW, the girls leadership NGO that I helped found, is so important to me. During our camp, we talk to the girls about gender based violence, gender roles, and healthy relationships. We also empower them to take leadership roles in their schools and communities. After attending camp, many of these girls go back and do presentations on these topics in their communities educating their peers. GLOW serves girls ages 13-17, the prime time to reach them with these messages. Many of them may be married within a few years. If we can get them to think about what they want in a partner, they may be less likely to make choices based on superficial and fleeting factors. Perhaps if we can help them change their expectations of a partner and marriage, it will lead to changes throughout Georgia over time. Perhaps they’ll begin to demand more of the men in their lives and also demand equality. They’ve earned it.

I’m going to make one final pitch to ask you to support GLOW’s campaign which ends this Friday, March 27. Only 4 days left and we are only half way to our goal. We are raising money to start a small grants program which will allow our GLOW Ambassadors, the most active and dedicated of our GLOW alumnae, to apply for funding for their community projects. These girls have done some great projects in their communities with no funding. Imagine the impact they could have if they had access to funds to print materials, promote their events, and purchase supplies. So, please consider giving whatever you can today. I really do believe that GLOW is making a difference for the next generation of women in Georgia while also helping them to have an impact on their entire communities. While they often do gender related projects and presentations, they also do projects around the environment, peer pressure and bullying, project development, HIV and Hepatitis C, and other important topics. Help us help them have an even greater impact in Georgia.

I want to close on a positive note. Despite the disadvantage that women have in Georgian society, this country is filled with amazing, strong women. At my organization, which is almost entirely women, they are doing incredible work to improve conditions for the disabled, inspire youth, and build democracy. With GLOW, I work with strong women from our director and board, to our counselors and interns, our GLOW Ambassadors and campers. At Peace Corps, everyone from our doctors, to our program managers, safety & security director, and administrative staff are examples of dedicated, hard working Georgian women. And a special shout out to Nino, our safety & security director, who I couldn’t find a photo of. She is a particularly bad-ass woman. And of course my host moms and grandma who provided me with so much support and friendship in my early days here in Georgia. All of these women are the reason that I’m passionate about GLOW and feminism.

I’m still here…for a few more months anyway!

I haven’t posted a blog in more than TWO months! That’s a record. I’ve been equal parts busy and lazy. Last week, we had our Close of Service conference which was my group’s last conference of our Peace Corps service. It was a great time but also bitter sweet. I learned that I will be finishing my service on June 12 which is less than three months away. It is crazy to think that after all of this time thinking about COS, it will be here in no time at the rate the last three months have gone. I’m excited to move on to what’s next and will be happy to leave certain aspects of my life here behind.

But the conference got me thinking about all that I will miss. This has been an opportunity unlike any other. In Georgia, by virtue of being a Peace Corps volunteer, I can throw out an idea and people assume it is a good one. They don’t see limitations or problems. They just encourage you to run with it. Because Georgia needs so much, it is filled with possibilities. I’m quite certain I will never find myself in another job so open to my ideas again. At the conference, I also started to really look around at my fellow PCVs and think about what a loss it will be to not have them all in my life on a regular basis. Once again, Peace Corps offers you an opportunity unlike any other to bond and build relationships with people you would have never expected. In the coming three months, I’m sure I will dedicate a part of or entire blog to the value of the friendships I have built here. For now, I will just say that I already sense the loss I will have leaving them all.

I’m swamped with work right now and have been since the beginning of January. Mid-January to mid-February were quite busy with projects for my organization which wasn’t ideal because I left our awesome winter GLOW camp (in mid-January) with a list of things to do a mile long. I thought that things would be quiet at my org and I’d be able to focus on GLOW for a bit. But alas, no. I was working on a concept paper for a grant opportunity with USAID. I hope to be able to work on the actual grant application before I leave. But now I’m scrambling to get things together for our GLOW Ambassadors conference which is a little more than a week away. In December, I won a grant from Peace Corps to put on this conference for the GLOW girls who have proven themselves the most active leaders in their communities, our GLOW Ambassadors. We’ll give them an opportunity to share their projects with their peers, do an intensive project design and management training, and also learn about working with community stakeholders like local government, NGOs, and media. We’re really excited and think it is a great addition to everything else we are already doing with GLOW. But it is a lot of work. Especially since it is a new event. So, that’s where my focus has been lately.

After the conference, I will shift my focus to other GLOW projects that I want to complete before leaving. I’ll be creating our first ever Annual Report. I’ll also be helping to develop a database that can be used to keep track of former campers, counselors, speakers, and partners. It has been a while since I’ve done any database work but it still excites me. I know. I’m strange. And last, I’ll be working to get our new small grants program up and running. The small grants program will provide grants of up to 500 GEL (currently about $230) to our GLOW Ambassadors for local community projects. These girls have already executed numerous projects and presentations in their communities with no funding. This program will allow them to write a grant (a new skill) to help fund a larger project that has the potential to have a greater impact than those they have done to date. After the conference, I will be working to develop the grant application and guidelines for the program. But at the moment, we are in the process of raising money to fund the program. On Monday, we launched a new campaign to raise $5750 in only 11 days. It is a tough task, but hopefully with our entire GLOW team, we can find enough people to help us reach our goal. If you would like to support the project, you can do so here. I know I’ve asked for support a number of times in my service. But this, this is the one project I feel really passionate about. This is my baby.

Three of my fellow PCVs and I founded GLOW Georgia in January of 2014. Previously it was just a Peace Corps run summer camp for girls. In the past year and a half, we have grown it dramatically. We have a director, a board, and interns. This year we added a winter camp. We also developed the Taking GLOW Home program which encourages campers to take what they learned back to their communities through projects and presentations. Through that program, girls have done more than 70 projects and presentations across Georgia since September 2014. And 17 of those girls have been so active in their communities that we’ve named them GLOW Ambassadors. Next week we’ll be providing further training for these special girls through the Ambassadors conference. At that time, we’ll also announce the new small grants program which will enable them to accomplish even more in their communities. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. And I’m excited to see where GLOW Georgia will go. So, if you’ve never supported any of the projects I’ve promoted in the past, I hope that you will consider supporting this one. It is best thing I’ve done in my service and it is having an impact across Georgia.

I’m going to try to be better about posting over the next few months. I certainly have a lot to reflect on and share. To come…updates on my GLOW work, my long planned marshrutka post, my post-COS travel plans, and much more! Stay tuned!

My first solo New Year’s Eve

So, what does a girl do when she finds herself alone in a fancy hotel room in the country of Georgia on New Year’s Eve? Good question. Trying to figure that one out as I write. A little time for reflection certainly seems in order.

I’ve been struggling a bit the last few months, basically since I returned from my trip to Wales in late October. It seems my love affair with Georgia (which honestly was never hot and heavy) has ended. I came to this realization sometime around August or September this year. That’s when I began my countdown (note the countdown clock to your right if you are on the main page). Leaving the country for 10 days in October didn’t give me the rejuvenation I so vainly hoped for. But honestly, I suspected it wouldn’t. And the last week, excepting Christmas Day, has been a particularly rough one. So, now here we are on the precipice of 2015, also known as THE YEAR I GO HOME. I have about 5 1/2 months left in Georgia.

I know I will probably have some really great days and really bad days ahead. My goal at this point is to focus on all of the great projects I get to be involved with and the good work I get to do. When I’m unhappy, I have a tendency to get rather negative. And I’m trying to fight that because negative thoughts just lead to a downward spiral. I’d really rather not drag myself to the finish line. I’d like to reach it with, most certainly relief, but also a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I want to know that I did what I came here to do and did as much as I reasonably could. To that end, for the next four months or so, I’ll be really busy with a number of projects both for my organization and for GLOW. I am, in reality, excited about these projects. On those days when I don’t feel like leaving my apartment, I need to focus more on these things. They are the positives. The things that absolutely make my Peace Corps service worthwhile.

So, I’m not big on new year’s resolutions. But the one thing I am going to work on is focusing on the positive rather than the negative when I’m down. No more downward spirals. These last five and a half months will be REALLY long if I don’t.

Looking to the following year, I have A LOT to look forward to. Next week we have our Winter GLOW camp. In February, I’ll be working on GLOW’s first Annual Report and applying for GLOW to participate in the March Global Open Challenge by In mid-March, we have our Close of Service conference which is when planning for post Peace Corps truly begins. And in April, we have our first GLOW Ambassadors conference which we were able to secure funding for just last week. In addition, I’ll be working with my organization’s director on developing a fundraising plan for their future and I’m sure other grant writing things as well. Also, in April, over Orthodox Easter weekend, a bunch of us will be going to Mestia, the only mountainous region of Georgia I have yet to visit. May will be spent doing administrative stuff to prepare for my departure and celebrating a milestone birthday. And in June, I leave. Sometime in mid-June I’ll hit the road with my friend Aaron. The route isn’t planned just yet but it should include some part of the Balkans, Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. Then, back to the States (hopefully by 4th of July because I do love my fireworks)! When I’m back I’ll get to visit Yellowstone for the first time with John and his family and then Minnesota with my mom. Then I’m moving to Philly! Hopefully a job will come sometime shortly after that.

Tomorrow I will start the first day of 2015 recharging with bacon, a bath, and some me time in my fancy hotel before heading back out into Georgia to finish my Peace Corps service. Big changes and lots of fun times in the year ahead. I’m really looking forward to it. So, as I listen to the waves of the Black Sea intermingled with booming fireworks overhead, I can’t help but get pretty excited about this next year. When I get down, I’ll focus on all of that. If that can’t improve my mood, I don’t know what will.

And the cherry on top, tonight, I also get to celebrate achieving our goal in my organization’s campaign to buy a portable sensory room for our day care centers. Thank you SO MUCH to all of you who helped by sharing the link or by giving. It was truly a team effort with more than $5000 raised from almost 80 people! You guys are really incredible and I so appreciate all of your support! I honestly wasn’t sure we could do it when we started. But thanks to all of you, we did. And it will make a huge difference for these special needs kids.

Last but not least, a shout out to John for the awesome Christmas gift of an evening of luxury at a pretty sweet hotel. Only a PCV or RPCV could know the value of that.

I need your help. Seriously.

You’d think that after working in fundraising for seven years, I’d be more comfortable with asking for money. But I’m not. I know that people have their own priorities, needs, and desires when it comes to spending their cash. And I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with trying to persuade people why they should give their money to this or that cause.

But this time it feels a little different. While my organization is raising money for a very specific, important project (which is described below), we are also trying to achieve a very challenging goal. Our goal is to raise $5000 from at least 40 donors in the month of December. Really, we need to raise $5760. But $5000 will help us achieve at least one part of our goal. Either way, it is a tall order. But if we succeed, my organization will be able to fundraise through the site on an ongoing basis which would be a huge benefit for us. I’m the second volunteer in a row that they have had. I leave in June. The chances of them getting another volunteer for next year are pretty slim. If they can successfully complete this challenge, it will be okay that they don’t have a Peace Corps volunteer to help them fundraise because they will be able to do it themselves. Georgian organizations largely depend on international donor organizations for their funding. But my organization has been very forward thinking in trying to diversify their support base. Ongoing access to the community would be a huge opportunity for them.

So, today, I’m asking you to help my organization realize this opportunity. Honestly, I know that most of my friends and family don’t have the ability to make the big gifts. The one’s that will get us to our total dollar goal. But you all have the ability to give $10 or more to help us reach our goal of at least 40 donors. Please consider doing so. It would mean a lot to me and it would make a big difference for the future of my organization.

So, I know I haven’t talked about what exactly we are raising money for. It isn’t because it isn’t important. It is very important. But for me, as I see my time here winding up, I want to be able to help ensure that they are able to find support in the future. Thus my focus on the big picture challenge portion. But rest assured, my organization is actually focused on the benefits of the project which will have an impact on 52 children with disabilities in my region of Georgia. So here are the details.

The Project:

KEDEC, my organization, administers three day care centers in the Imereti region of Georgia. The day care centers support the individual development of children with various types of disabilities (ages 6-18) and promotes their participation in public life. The children are involved in educational and cognitive activities, which help improve their social, communication, functional and life skills.

Through these daycare centers, KEDEC serves a total of 52 children with disabilities, who come from low-income families and/or live in rural regions of the country. The children’s lack of learning and physical abilities has a direct effect on their socialization skills. Special education teachers are tackling this problem by providing integrated and inclusive programs for the children. However, the day care centers lack an adaptive infrastructure and environment that could help children develop essential sensory integration skills.

Thus, through this campaign, we are raising $5760 to purchase a portable sensory room that will provide a multi-sensory environment which can provide this interactive stimulation. The sensory room is designed to develop children’s senses, through special lighting, music, and objects. Purchasing a portable sensory room will allow us to provide this type of therapy to all 52 children at our day care centers, further developing their sensory and communication skills and helping them better integrate into society. The portable sensory room will be used in active programs, where cause and effect understanding, concentration and memory abilities can be developed in a fun, focused environment.

The goal of raising $5760 is a high one for us. And raising it in only one month is even more challenging. The project is worth it and will have a huge impact on the lives of the children at our day care centers. In addition, you will be helping KEDEC tap into a resource that will help maintain and develop the day care centers for years to come.

Help us make this happen. Give what you can anytime from December 1-31. We really need your help. And if you are so inclined, please share the link with your friends and family. Every gift counts.

My Second Thanksgiving in Georgia

This week is Thanksgiving week. As Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I thought I’d write a post about the many things I’m thankful for. Living in Georgia isn’t always easy, so I think it is important to sometimes reflect on the things that I appreciate in my life. So, here they are in no particular order:

  • The opportunity to break away from my ordinary life and plunge myself into a world in which I often feel uncomfortable and even irritated at times. But those are the spaces where we grow. And I’m lucky to have this opportunity.
  • The kindness and generosity of my neighbors and colleagues who take care of me, check up on me, and make my days a little brighter.
  • My site mate Ann who also checks up on me, takes care of me, and makes sure I don’t retreat too far into solitude. And is just a great friend. My experience here would be completely different, and diminished without her. Thanks to her extroverted ways, I have friends here. I imagine that without her, my life in Kutaisi would resemble that of a hermit. But maybe I would have learned that coveted skill of being able to stare at the wall for hours. Alas, we’ll never know.
  • Having my own apartment that allows me to have solitude and peace when I need it. And I need it often.
  • John. He never fails to make me smile (or laugh). His weirdness ensures I will never be bored and life will never be ordinary. Can’t wait for more adventures with him.
  • The opportunity to travel. I love adventures and I’ve had many this year. In Georgia: Vardzia, Kazbegi, and Tusheti; outside of Georgia: Yerevan, Wales, London, and Warsaw. Here’s to a lot more travel in the coming year.
  • My Peace Corps family. I’ve built some great friendships with some really amazing people here. In seven months we’ll all be going on to new things. That will be a bittersweet time. But I can’t wait to see what they do in the world. And I’m already looking forward to the reunions. But in the meantime, I’m also thankful to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with them, not once, but three times! Last week, we celebrated with all of the Peace Corps volunteers, staff, and even the American Ambassador at our annual All Volunteer conference. On Thursday, Ann and I will celebrate with some of our friends in Kutaisi. And on Saturday, I will celebrate with a few of my volunteer friends in Kobuleti (the beach).
  • My family and friends back home. Through skype, facebook and care packages, they help me feel connected to home and I can’t wait to see them all within the next year. Special shout out to my friend Jack who took my plea for help with accountability super seriously earlier this year and has checked in with me every single Thursday since. That is dedication, my friend! Also, a special shout out to my family and friends who helped support my organization’s project to renovate our daycare center for children with disabilities this year!
  • A certain genius named Matt at the Cardiff Apple Store who singlehandedly made my vacation, helped keep me in the Peace Corps, and made me a lifelong mac customer by giving me a brand new laptop for FREE!
  • To being almost done. I won’t deny that I officially began the countdown about two months ago. I’ve got a lot to do between now and then. A lot of work I will be proud of. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m also ready to leave. And the next bullet partially explains why.
  • Being an American woman. I know that the United States is far from perfect on many fronts including gender equality. However, I can’t help but be grateful that I was born in a country that allows women to reject oppressive social norms without too many consequences. Truly thankful that no one in the States ever utters the phrase, “It’s our tradition” to justify oppression.
  • The opportunity to work on GLOW to help young girls in Georgia become leaders, learn about gender issues, and make change in Georgia.
  • New beginnings. For me, joining the Peace Corps wasn’t just about doing something I’d dreamt about since college. It was also about setting my life on a new course. And having some adventures along the way. One never knows what to expect from their Peace Corps experience. But I can say with confidence that I have gotten out of it most of what I had hoped to gain. I have new work experience that should serve me well in my job search when I get home. I’ve got a better understanding of what it is that I might want to do. I’ve had some great adventures. And most of all, I’ve been happy for the first time in quite a while. The lows may be a bit lower here, but the highs are definitely higher. I’ve had a lot of fun. And I’ve learned a lot about myself. Looking forward to the next chapter.

Jet lag

I made a commitment to myself to not miss a single month blogging. And for the first time, in October, I missed a month. I just haven’t had much I’ve wanted to say. And I did some traveling too. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately and not feeling particularly keen on sharing my experiences. My thoughts and feelings about being here have reached the point of boring me. I’ve been feeling ready to go home.

You would think a little time away would have helped with that. But it did exactly the opposite. It just fed my longing. You have no idea how much I’ve come to appreciate order and courtesy. The British people made me want to cry with joy with their reserved warmth, self-deprecating humor, and affinity for queues. I felt as if I were in some sort of dream in which everything made sense. Let’s call this fantasy land the West. Visiting Warsaw was like being gently roused from the dream only to drift back into it with the scene changed only slightly. But then I awoke boarding a plane to Georgia of all places where orderly queues are for suckers and airplane etiquette is for pansies. And the level of relaxation and peace I had reached over the previous ten days disappeared in a matter of minutes before I even stepped foot back in the country of Georgia. As we landed, the Georgian passengers cheered, they were so happy to be back in their beloved Georgia, and I wanted to cry. It took quite a few days for that feeling to dissipate. But I’ve finally returned to my former state of: I’m not crazy about Georgian culture in general, but I care about a lot of people and things here. And for the next 7.5 months, I’m going to do what I can in Georgia. So, you can see now why I’ve not been writing. Nobody wants to read that!

Here are a few of the things that have helped me get through the past rather rough week. 1. The old man who lives off of the courtyard at my office. Everytime he sees me, he lights up with a huge smile and proclaims “Amerika!” and calls me over to him where he takes my hand in both of his and slips a hard candy into it. And sometimes he goes on to ask when my boyfriend is coming to visit from Amerika and can’t understand why he isn’t coming. 2. The 14 year old girl, Ana, in my conversation class who is bright, enthusiastic, and speaks English well. She is applying for our winter GLOW camp. She wants to study international relations and visit the US someday. My goal in the time I have left is to get her on track to be a great FLEX candidate in a few years so she can achieve that goal. FLEX is an exchange program that some of the best and brightest students of Georgia participate in. And they come back and do great things in their communities. Most of our GLOW counselors are FLEX alumni.

Some other things you might want to hear about: GLOW work goes on. We are working on plans for the January camp and an April GLOW Ambassadors conference. We are also working on a new website and hopefully a new logo. And a number of other things. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m helping my organization with a fundraising campaign that will launch in December. At that point, we’ll need to get 40 people to give $10 or more to the campaign. When the time comes, I hope you’ll consider being one of our 40. We also need to raise a total of $5000 in the month of December. That is the harder part of the goal. Hopefully we can achieve it!

Also, PCVs celebrated Halloween in style this past weekend in my city, Kutaisi. Our second annual Halloween gathering in Kutaisi thanks to my sitemate Ann. It was exactly what I needed to get me out of my post trip funk. In two weeks we’ll all be gathering again for the annual All Volunteer Conference where the tradition is to celebrate Thanksgiving as a Peace Corps family. I am once again on the cooking committee which is in charge of making Thanksgiving dinner for 120 people this year. It is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. And the following week, actually on Thanksgiving, some of us will be gathering for a smaller Thanksgiving celebration. REALLY looking forward to this because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What’s better than an entire day dedicated to nothing other than food (and, in the States, football)?

Tusheti and the next 9 months

First, let me share that a few weeks ago I went on the trip I’ve been wanting to take since before I arrived in Georgia. I visited Tusheti. Tusheti is an utterly beautiful region of Georgia. I’ve been to some impressive places in Georgia and Tusheti beats them all. I’m not a poet. So, I’m not going to try to do it justice with words. I’ve included some pictures from my trip here and also here’s a pretty cool video I found on youtube. We were there for three nights. I didn’t want to leave. I hope I get to go back. That is all.

Except. I think I should make a pitch here for visiting Georgia. I know my blog may not always reflect the beauty of Georgia. What, with my focus on frustrations with the culture, social issues, and various other pet peeves. However, Georgia is physically probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Truly, I think you could spend a month in this tiny country, no bigger than North Carolina, and never tire of exploring its stunning landscapes and ancient ruins. So, should you ever find yourself with the opportunity to visit Georgia, I hope that you will. First, because you will fall in love. And second, because I really think the future economic success of Georgia lies largely in tourism. And they are starting to realize that. But right now, everything is still super cheap by American standards.

So, that said… Maybe it’s the arrival of fall and its connection to new beginnings (spring has nothing on a lifetime of back to school anticipation). But I’ve been feeling super ready to get back to “real life” lately. I’m excited and hopeful for whatever direction my career (used very loosely here) takes. But mostly, I just want to be a grown up again with the autonomy and choices that come from earning a decent living. I miss having a proper kitchen. I miss cooking fancy. I miss good wine (note: there is good wine here but I can’t afford it). I miss having a variety of vegetables, cheeses, and meats available. I miss the farmer’s market (somehow the bazaar doesn’t really compare because there just isn’t the same level of choice here). I miss starting my Saturday morning walking Chester and listening to NPR. I miss breakfast sandwiches. I miss Wegmans. One might credibly make the assertion that I, perhaps, miss Rochester. But I know that can’t be true! Ultimately, I guess, I miss the good life. And food. I miss food. I always miss food.

But in only nine months, I’ll be leaving Georgia and will get to have all of that again. As I am beginning to see the horizon off in the distance, it is still way too soon to actually do anything in preparation for it. Sadly, I’m not one of those volunteers headed off to a graduate program after Georgia. Thus, I will bide my time until a job search begins to make sense. Which honestly will probably be May since I don’t anticipate being ready to start work until September. So, in the meantime, I’m doing my best to focus on the here and now. And there is PLENTY to focus on. You remember GLOW, that camp we just finished in August? Well, we get to do another one in January! Our donor liked the project so much, they decided to give us more money to repeat it in the winter. In addition to that, we are working on a number of other organizational development projects for GLOW including rebranding, launching a new website, and a number of new programs including an internship program, a small grants program, and expanding the Taking GLOW Home program. Plus, developing all of the organizational structural materials like a charter and, this spring, our very first annual report! So, GLOW is very busy.

And now I’m also working on some new projects with my director too. One is a fundraising project that will open up a lot of doors for our organization to do fundraising in the future for our daycare centers. Fundraising that will rely less on having a Peace Corps volunteer which is great for them as they won’t always have one. Another thing I’m working on with my director is moving this social enterprise project forward. After inching along for many months, it seems as if we are going to start moving at a faster pace. I’m sure there will still be much to do when I leave. But thankfully I’ve now got another PCV partner to help keep things moving when I leave. Which makes me happy. And I’m also working on another little project in which I’m trying to help a few local small businesses develop marketing plans to build and expand their businesses. So, I’m busy. And I’m doing some projects that will hopefully help me find an interesting job when I land back in the States. And I’m learning a lot about what kind of work I find satisfying. I’m looking forward to when I can put that knowledge to work in a job search.

Oh, and I’m also enjoying the next few weeks in Kutaisi without leaving which hasn’t happened in months. I’m looking forward to it. As it has been cold and rainy here for the past week, I don’t want to go anywhere. The next time I venture out of Kutaisi will be to head off on my trip to Wales. I can’t wait for that! I hope to get to enjoy a little of all of the things I mentioned missing above while I’m there. On a shoestring budget, of course.