A Different Home

For the first time since April 2014, I went home for a visit. It was a really great trip, with lots of eating, talking and spending time with family and friends. I’ll put some photos up below, but in keeping with my general aversion to travelogue-style entries, I’ll spare you the details. Instead, I want to write in a more general vein, about the idea of going home when home isn’t exactly home anymore.

The minute I stepped out of the airport into the barely controlled chaos of LAX, I felt that everything was completely familiar. Like I went to San Diego or somewhere close by for the weekend, and was just heading back to my little house in the hills to sleep in my own bed again. Except I sold that little house over 2 years ago, and the bed is sitting in a storage unit in Montebello. The feeling, though, was in my bones and in spite of certain realities could not be shaken off. I drove my rental car without even thinking about directions – just went where I needed to go. And boy, did I enjoy driving again!

There were some dissonant moments, though. For instance, I was staying in the house of a very generous friend who happens to live 2 houses down from my sister’s house. So every time I drove there, I felt like I was going to visit Mimi, my sister. But Mimi sold that house a year ago and now lives on a farm in southern Washington. Another example – I was in Burbank, and automatically drove to where I had gotten on the 134 freeway literally hundreds of times before, all those times I came home from working in San Francisco or Sacramento via Burbank Airport, and … it wasn’t there any more! Instead, there was a huge wall, and I had to drive a few miles more (back to where I came from) to get on the freeway.

But generally, I fell back into all of the easy relationships I have always had with the city, and with my network of friends who live there. L.A. seemed very much the same, though I’ve been told that Hollywood has exploded with new development, which doesn’t surprise me in the least, considering Mayor Garcetti’s cozy relationship with developers when he represented the district. I didn’t see it though – no reason to go there, though I drove through a few times. It looked pretty much the same to me, as did the rest of the city. So it felt to me like coming home, except that I have no home there anymore.

So, this begs the question – is Georgia home now? I think I have to say … no. It’s still a foreign country, not my own. There are many things (and people) that I love here, and I feel very comfortable here, but it doesn’t feel like home, really. L.A. feels like home, but it isn’t really, and probably never will be again. So this leaves me strangely stranded in the middle somewhere. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling, but it’s very different from being a visitor – or the opposite, a native, or at least grounded in a particular culture and place.

Interesting. We’ll see where it all leads, if anywhere. In the meantime, here are some of the people I saw and spent time with and really felt loved by back in L.A. – home, or whatever it is.

My weekend

As is my habit, I want to go deeper into one specific topic or story. In this case, it will be my weekend, which was a study in contrasts.

Saturday was the dark side of the picture. A day arrived that I had been dreading for a week, ever since I found out that my CHCA colleague and friend, Nana Sharia, had died unexpectedly last Saturday morning. She was 44 years old. Nana had multiple, serious physical disabilities; I believe she had muscular dystrophy, as she exhibited all the symptoms, but that’s just my non-medical opinion. Whatever it was … she was a tiny dynamo on crutches. She spoke perfect English (and Russian, and of course Georgian), and always greeted me with huge enthusiasm and warmth whenever I was in the Tbilisi office. She had been a Muskie fellow and studied Public Administration at the University of Louisville, where she later worked in the Center for Environmental Policy and Management. When she returned to Georgia, she worked for several major international NGOs, focusing on homeowners and tenant associations, as she did at CHCA.  She was smart as a whip, and I was so looking forward to being her friend here in Tbilisi. We spoke often of meeting at Prospero’s, a local expat bookstore hangout, and I was planning to call her in mid-August when I got back from my visit home to set a weekend brunch date. She even sent me some Skype messages as recently as June 22nd … and then, on July 17th she passed away from a blood infection.

I went to the funeral with all of my former colleagues from CHCA. We stopped on the way to get flowers, and stood around chatting in the hot sun while waiting for others to arrive. When the Gori contingent pulled up, they were really pleased to see me -especially our driver, Tengo. I was really happy to see him, too, but sad it had to be on such a somber occasion. We walked a distance to the flat where Nana lay in her coffin. The Georgian custom is to enter the room, and circle the coffin. We did that, and it was hard for me. I am unaccustomed to open coffins, and in this case, Nana looked so very small that it was heartbreaking. Four elderly ladies sat along one side, weeping and calling out “sad midixar, Nana?” (where did you go, Nana?). About 5 of us stood in a corner afterwards, crying. Eventually I left the room and sat down on some nearby stairs, just to get a breath of air.

We were there about 2 hours. They eventually brought Nana down to the parking lot, where an elderly man – possibly her uncle – started speaking over the coffin, and then weeping. It’s unusual to see a Georgian man crying in public; in fact, I’ve never seen it. But then I haven’t been to a funeral before, either. The whole crowd, maybe about 150 people, followed the pall bearers as they brought her to the hearse. At this point, I had to leave, as the graveyard was very far out of the city, with no public transportation, and I would have no way to get home, since all of my colleagues lived in different directions or out of town. Eka assured me that the important thing was that I went to family home, but I still felt badly. In fact, I was sad all afternoon and just sort of lay around my flat taking short naps and staring out the window. It was a hard day.

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Sunday morning I got up and decided to spend the day shopping for gifts for my upcoming trip to the U.S. I had a leisurely breakfast and then made my way by marshutka to the Freedom Square area of Tbilisi. I wandered about, looking for a tea shop I knew was in the area (it was not, but it was nice walking around), and then met a PCV friend to look a jewelry from the IDP settlement of Tserovani. This was the very settlement where over 2 years ago I left training on my own for the very first time to job shadow a (I now can say it) highly unfriendly PCV, now back in the U.S., who made it clear that I was only there because the PC office had specifically requested it. She did not house me with or near her host family, whom I never met although I had brought chocolates for them; instead, I was put in the house of a friend of her Director. My host was very nice, but she left during the second night for Tbilisi without telling me, so when I woke up in the morning, I was alone in the house, and very confused! The PCV showed up 2 hours late, and then that evening told me I was on my own for dinner in a place where I knew no one, and where there were no restaurants. Hmmmmm … that was not such a good experience. Luckily my host’s neighbors were having a supra for a visiting friend, and invited me to join them. Given that my Georgian at the time was virtually non-existent, it was an awkward evening, but that was my first supra! You can see my judiciously edited blog entry from that visit here: https://saraweaves.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/idp-settlement-visit/.

Though I never did become friendly with that particular PCV, I did become quite friendly with her Director, the lovely Nana Chkareuili. I also become a big admirer of the gorgeous enamel jewelry created by her NGO’s social enterprise, called Ikorta. See here: http://www.ikorta.com.  Here are a few examples of their work:

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A new PCV, by the name of Melody – much friendlier! – came to Tserovani over a year ago, and it was her that I met on Sunday. I picked out some beautiful pieces, and when she proposed that we go see the new Star Trek” movie at the spanking new Eastpoint Mall right outside of town, I jumped at the opportunity. After a quick visit to a very nice shop selling tea, spices and delicious cheese (for anyone who is interested, https://www.reinisfischer.com/aristaeus-boutique-shop-georgian-spices-and-cheese), off we went, via subway and marshutka.

Well, the mall was as snazzy and upscale as any L.A. mall – and nicer than some! The movie was fun, and helped me put aside my sad mood. After the film, we wandered a bit; there was an interesting mix of shops, many extremely upscale and well beyond my price range, but others with a nice array of affordable stuff. Well, affordable now that I actually have a salary, anyway. I’ll go back there one of these days and do a bit of shopping.

So this was a really nice day. I enjoyed seeing Melody, I enjoyed shopping, I enjoyed the movie. I just wish I had the ability to do some of that stuff with Nana. But this is life – and death. It comes to us all, but for some, too soon.

One of the best trips ever – Khevsureti

So, on the spur of the moment, last weekend I joined a large group of Georgians and Americans, including the original 4 PCVs who started off together here in Gori 2 years ago, on a trip to Khevsureti. I’d been in the general area before, when visiting friends and I went to Kazbegi. Mt. Kazbegi and the town below it, Stepantsminda, are about 3 hours or so due north of Tbilisi, almost up to the Russian border – Chechnya, actually. It’s stunningly beautiful, but to my amazement, Khevsureti, which is the mountainous area lying to the east of Kazbegi, is even more beautiful and mysterious.

We started out in our rented marshutka along the same route we took last September to Stepantsminda, but at the turn off to the Zhinvali Reservoir, we turned right and started a 5-hour climb up to the tiny village of Shatili. The road up to Kazbegi was smooth and paved; this road was dirt or decomposed asphalt, rocky and rough the whole way. We speculated that it was to stop hoards of tourists from ruining the ancient sites we were headed to see, but really, I think it’s just lack of funding to repave.

As we drove by Zhinvali, which I had so admired from the Ananuri Church on the north side of the reservoir last September, it was smooth as a mirror and reflected the surrounding landscape without even a ripple.

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We traveled up and up, through leafy, gladed forests with streams and rivers running through them, and eventually began to climb up to higher altitudes where snow still lay on the mountains in June.

 

Eventually we reached the summit, where we stopped for a lunch laid out on a snow bank consisting of fried chicken, lobiani (bean pie), sausages, bread and … some other things. It was delicious, that’s what I remember, and cold – especially when a few of us ladies snuck down the road to have a pee. Chilly! We snapped a few pics to document our presence there and on we went, down and down, to Shatili.

We reached Shatili in the late afternoon. The owner of the homestay/house where we were staying wasn’t there yet, so we wandered about the tiny village onto a large meadow, where I enthusiastically began my usual obsessive flower photography activities.

Luckily the owner finally arrived just as it began to pour. We piled into the house, where a very complicated discussion ensued about who was going to sleep where. The Georgian contingent was very concerned that someone would have to sleep alone on a bed located on the stair landing; the American contingent was fighting over who got the lonely bed. A cultural divide, for sure. It finally all worked out, we stowed our stuff and started drinking coffee, eating kada (a kind of hard, sugary role, one of my favorites) and playing nardi (backgammon) and spelling games, which resulted in humiliation for me as one of our Georgian friends bested me several times.

Eventually the rain let up, and we hiked off to the ancient ruins of Shatili. Here’s some background. With thanks to Wikipedia: “Located in the deep Arghuni gorge at approximate 1,400 meters, the village is actually a unique complex of medieval-to-early modern fortresses and fortified dwellings of stone and mortar which functioned both as a residential area and a fortress guarding the northeastern outskirts of the country. The fortress consists of the terraced structures dominated by flat-roofed dwellings and some 60 towers which cluster together to create a single chain of fortifications.”

This description, while entirely accurate, fails to convey the beauty and strangeness of this place. We climbed down into it, through narrow, stony passages, between stacked structures built without concrete, but standing since the 1100’s, to a river flowing right below the complex.

Back to the house, where a lavish supra ensued, complete with mtsvadi (shishlik/roasted meat), tomato/cucumber salad, bread, cheese, eggs, onions, mchadi (a type of cornbread, often eaten with cheese), all sorts of pickles, and copious amounts of wine.

And then the toasting ensued. I sometimes don’t enjoy the Georgian toasting tradition too much, because it’s harder for women. Traditionally, women do not join in toasting. They sit, while men stand. They sip, while men gulp. And they most definitely do not speak – they just sit and listen, and listen, and listen … but this night was a bit different. Everyone was young, or American, and tradition was honored but just a little more flexible. I recorded some of these toasts, and named the subject of the toast in the title. It’s pretty dark, sorry, the lighting was not good, but I think the feeling is palpable.

One of my few regrets here is that I never was able to master Georgian to the extent necessary to make toasts on occasions like this. I can shout “gilostav” (congratulations/best wishes – sort of like mazeltov) and “jost!” (as in gamarjost, the most common toast, meaning victory – when people are really enthusiastic, the tamada/toastmaster yells gamar! and the table yells jost! three times, it’s really a lot of fun) with the best of them, but my language skills never approached Russell and Rachel’s. Kudos to them.

Here’s a few more pictures capturing the spirit of the evening.

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The next morning, up early to drive further east, right up against the border, about an hour on a crazy bad road to an extraordinary place – Mutso. Again, from Wikipedia: “The village, almost completely abandoned more than a century ago, is a home to approximately 30 medieval fortified dwelling units arranged on vertical terraces above the Mutso-Ardoti gorge, four combat towers and ruins of several old structures and buildings. Difficult to access, the village retains original architecture, and is a popular destination for tourists and mountain trekkers. Listed, however, among the most endangered historic monuments of Georgia, a project of the rehabilitation of Mutso has been developed since 2004.  A legend has it that the villagers worshiped the Broliskalo Icon of Archangel. They were renowned as fighters and hunters, and considered themselves permanent members of the army of the sacred flags and guardians of fabulous treasury donated to the Icon over the centuries. The legends say the treasury that is still kept in the high mountains around Mutso waiting for the chosen one to come.”

The journey was as fantastic as Mutso once we arrived. We drove through the most dramatic gorges I’ve ever seen, with a rushing, cold river, high vertical stone cliffs, surrounded by high, snowy mountains and verdant, green meadows. On a few occasions, we had to disembark from the marshutka and clear rockfalls off the road. We snuck below a small waterfall. We saw a gate warning drivers not to enter because on the other side – Russia. And, most extraordinarily, we stopped at a “plague house.” This is a small stone structure, with a tiny window, overlooking the gorge. Inside are ancient skulls and skeletons of adults and children.  These are medieval communal tombs  wherein times of plague infected villagers would voluntarily enter these tombs and wait for death, looking down on the river. It was a haunting spot, all the more so for being so gorgeous.

Arrival at Mutso, I have to admit, filled me with a certain degree of dread. It was a very long, steep climb, and I’m no hiker! I was actually as worried about going down as up, since my arthritis really acts up under those circumstances. But I was really determined that, having come so far, I was not going to just bail and wait at the bottom. So off we went, straight up a trail that ultimately led … nowhere. We then all had to climb straight up the side of a nearly vertical hill covered in slippery, slate rocks to pick up the proper trail above. I did it, but man -that was kind of scary. At one point I just sat down, while Rachel patiently waited above, trying to decide which was worse – to continue up, or go back down. I went up, but when I finally reached a verandah viewing point, I decided that had to be enough for me on that day. I really enjoyed the view, rested a little, drank some water, and then very slowly and carefully made my way back down.  I’ve been paying a pretty high price in terms of hip and knee pain for the last week for that decision, but I don’t care – it was worth it.

We then all got back on the marshutka for the long ride home. It was as beautiful returning as it had been going, and we made a few stops along the way for lunch (best khinkali in Georgia was the word) and photos. Below are the final snaps from what was, really, pretty much a perfect weekend, and a fitting and wonderful way to approach COS. Special thanks to David Poppick, fellow Gori PCV, for sharing some of his photos with me.

Now, a week later, Russell and Rachel are already gone, and I’m due to leave in about a week. That will be another post …  but for now:

 

Easter

 

I recently had a wonderful experience that I missed last year, due to being in Batumi exploring botanical gardens at Easter. This year I was here in Gori, and I spent Easter with my Georgian family.

The whole thing started off with a funny, and frankly, slightly embarrassing incident. I was at home, getting ready to go over to my family’s, when I heard kids singing in the stairwell. I could tell, it was like Halloween, they were going door-to-door and doing … something. But what? When the inevitable knock on the door came, I let curiosity get the better of me and recklessly opened it. Six little girls, grinning ear-to-ear and holding baskets filled with red eggs, frantically recited some doggerel and held out the baskets. I was COMPLETELY lost! Like … was I supposed to take an egg? Give them money? Give them an egg? It turns out it was the latter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I explained that I was an American and that I didn’t know what they wanted … they kind of just stared at me in shock and beat a hasty retreat to the neighbor’s door.

Sigh … I felt like an idiot. But ok, I went off to my family’s house, dressed in a skirt and bringing along a scarf to cover my head, as we were going to church. First, though, there was some serious egg-painting, which I enthusiastically joined in with. Here are some of the results – mine is the one with yellow swirls, nice, The thing in the middle is the traditional Easter cake, called paska. It’s pretty good, too. I brought one to my family, who promptly gave me about 20 eggs and another paska to take home. Heated up with a little butter … mmmmmm.

At midnight we piled into the car and drove over to the big church. Parking wasn’t that bad, but the crush of people was unbelievable. I think the whole town was there. It was so intense, and at a certain point, Tamriko (my host mom) pulled us out and said we would go to the smaller church a few blocks away. That was a wise choice!

We walked over, shivering a little in the early spring night air, and entered the courtyard of the church. There were also a lot of people there, but not the crazy scene we had just left. When we arrived, the priests were inside chanting, but after a few minutes, it was time to walk 3 times around the church holding long, thin candles. Holding hands with Nutsa, my younger sister, we started off. The priests and acolytes at the front were holding colorful banners, one of which had been embroidered by Tamriko. Another priest was ringing bells, and everyone was chanting a call and response that sounded ancient, and heartfelt. It really didn’t feel right to be using a flash or taking photos at all, really – but I did record the bells and chanting. So, these are not really videos – they’re really audio recordings. The chanting, in particular, was very beautiful. Although it’s a religion very far from mine, and traditions I am not familiar with, I felt accepted and part of the crowd. I saw people I knew, people greeted me, they let me stand among them without comment (for once) and so I was free to just be in the moment and appreciate the history and feeling.

The inside of the small church was very beautiful. There were whitewashed walls, murals of saints, and of course many icons. We all crowded in, listened for a while, and then Salome said it was time to go home – it was about 2:00 am. Her dad gave us all a ride home, and then he returned Tamriko to the church, where she stayed until morning, as is the custom for religious people here.

So, although I had not really anticipated being moved by the hoiday and its symbolism, I was. That was interesting. It made me want to know more. Wanting to know more – a big part of why I’m not ready to leave yet, and will be staying here, learning, and sharing, because this blog will definitely continue. As I like to say – stay tuned!

Competitions and Contests

One thing I’ve noticed over the past two years, given that I have two host sisters in their teens, is that Georgians kids really, really love competitions. And international organizations are eager to feed that love, too. Not only are there a myriad of local and state competitions, but the British Council, the EU, and numerous others sponsor an endless flow of contests and shows which reward the winners richly. Many competitions are academic; some focus on specific issues, like a recent competition to show who best knew the Georgian Constitution, and others are just pure standardized test-taking and score-counting. The stakes are high in the 12th grade – the very top performers get free college tuition from the government. Then there are English essay and recitation contests, film contests, overseas opportunities, art … really, everything you can imagine.

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I’m not sure how I feel about all this incessant competing, but my host sisters, Salome and Nutsa, are enthusiastic participants, so I’ve been pulled into the process more than once. The outcomes are often good, though not always, and when that happens, it can be very disappointing. I’ve been impressed by Salome’s perseverance – last year she made it through a pretty grueling process to the very end of the Giffoni Children’s Film Festival finals, but was not selected. This year she tried again, and this time she was selected as a juror and will be traveling to the south of Italy for ten days this summer. It takes nothing from her achievement to point out that a young Georgian living in an impoverished village somewhere out in the rural hinterlands would have no more chance of entering and/or winning this competition than the proverbial snowball in hell. For one, you have to speak fluent English. For another, you have to have internet access to find out about the competition, and to submit your application on-line. You have to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to even feel yourself worthy of applying. And, significantly, you have to be able to afford to travel to Tbilisi for interviews, for participation in Giffoni Georgia, and, should you be lucky enough to win, to pay airfare to Italy. All this is just so far outside the experience and resources of the majority of Georgian teenagers living outside of major cities, in small, impoverished villages, that it simply will never happen … or at least, it will never happen until things change, particularly the educational system, which heavily favors those who can afford private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, such as those that Salome and Nutsa are afforded by their loving, supportive parents.

I recently have read some interesting blog posts from ISET, the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University on the topic of secondary education in Georgia.  For those who are interested, see here:

http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php/en/iset-economist-blog-2/entry/lost-from-the-start

http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php/en/iset-economist-blog-2/entry/the-samtredia-redemption

On a somewhat less serious note, I thought it would be fun to present a few small videos of one of these competitions. This is the British Council English competition held each year in Gori. Kids compete in a two-stage process, stage one being an essay, and stage 2 being a recitation. There’s entertainment, and prizes include cellphones and iPads. The level of fluency of competitors is really quite impressive.  Below is a sampling of the entertainment, along with Salome’s recitation.

 

I particularly enjoyed watching the kids doing traditional dance. When I was coming into the building, I wasn’t sure where the contest was – there are two auditoriums. I was talking on my cellphone with someone from my Tbilisi office, in English, and I kind of wandered toward the bigger auditorium, only to notice that the entrance had been sealed off and construction was going on. I turned around to face about 12 kids, dressed in traditional dancing costumes, literally to a person staring at me in quite obvious dismay. No one spoke – they just stared. It was funny, because I knew exactly what was going on. They heard me speaking English, and they wanted to tell me to go upstairs, and they didn’t know how to say it in English. I know that look, because I personally wear it several times a week. It was particularly funny because actually, they could have said it in Georgian, and I would have understood them – my language skills are at about that level. Or they could have just pointed, “upstairs!” But they were frozen, absolutely unable to even move. I was relieved to see that they were able to step it up for their performance, haha.

There was also entertainment with young people belting out pop songs, mostly ballads, at excruciating volumes, with a lot of emoting and hair-tossing … I didn’t record those. 🙂

My other host sister, the younger Nutsa, is no less talented. A very gifted artist, she won an international art competition – the World In Your Hands Art Contest, run by the NGO Together for Girls. Her artwork was featured in Safe Magazine, and shown at the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016.  The instructions were:

We all know that girls can achieve great things and be powerful agents of change when they’re given the right tools, support, and opportunities. Unfortunately, poor health, violence, lack of education, gender inequality and discrimination, and violations of girls’ human rights often keep girls from reaching their potential. So what should we do?

How would you improve girls’ health? How would you reduce violence or gender inequality? How should we address the violation of girls’ rights? We want you to use your artistic talent to show us your solution.

Use your creativity and talent to create a piece of art that illustrates how you might overcome one of these barriers confronting adolescent girls:

Poor health
Gender-based violence
Gender inequality and discrimination
Violation of girls’ human rights
Lack of access to education

Show us your solutions – take the world in your hands – and help us build a better, brighter world.

Nutsa’s result, one of the top five chosen, was this:

This water color painting was accompanied by the following essay (written with help from Salome):

When I heard about this competition, I started thinking about how to say and how to show  my ideas about violations of human rights for girls. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest problems in the world. I live in the Republic of Georgia. Last year in my country, nine girls died because of violence. In my country people think that a girl’s “work” is to stay in the kitchen and have kids. Because of these incorrect opinions and stereotypes that some parents have, sometimes girls marry as young as 14 or 15. That’s it why I made a painting about violating girls’ human rights. When people see a violation of a girl’s rights, they always close their eyes and think that it isn’t their business. In my opinion if we will close our eyes again, and if we won’t do anything to protest violence against girls, this problem will come to us, too.  There are governmental and non-governmental organizations working in my country to solve this problem. I want to join them and show you my thoughts about how to solve this problem. I think that if we will forget  silly but strong stereotypes, if we will be brave, strong and  educated about our rights, we will solve this problem and we will show the world that we can do all the things we want. Because we are brave, we are strong. We are courageous and educated girls.

All of this makes me very proud of these two girls.

Heading home for 50+ PCVs

As COS (close of service) approaches, so does the reality of having to return to life-before-Peace-Corps. No more easy access to medical and dental care. No more staff to call if I’m having a problem. All my PCV friends, leaving town! And, the biggest reality bummer of all – gotta get a job! Of course, I’ve always been aware this day would come, and I’ve been researching and planning for it for a while now. None of which has gotten me a job yet, but I’ve still got just under three months to go, so send me your best wishes. In the meantime, prompted by an inquiry on the 50+ PCV Facebook page, I’m going to share my research with anyone who would like to take a look. So this post will be very short on stories and photos, but I’ll try to make up for it with useful links.

First of all (in response to the Facebook inquiry), I’m not aware of any Peace Corps special help or program for 50+ volunteers at all. There is a brand-new program called “Emerging Leaders” for “early to mid-career professional RPCVs with a degree in business, international studies, law, or sciences, and have 2-10 years of professional work experience.” You can find out more about it here:

Introducing the Emerging Leaders Project

All of their regular help is available to us, but if there’s anything beyond that, I’ve never been able to find it. Having said that, their regular help is pretty good. Before I start providing the links, I’ll offer some advice. While researching and working on resumes and such between MST and COS is a good idea, applying for positions more than 3 months in advance of your COS date is pretty much an exercise in futility. I speak from sad experience, having sent out a resume in February that resulted in a very fast response and an excellent interview the same week, only to have it all crash and burn because they understandably couldn’t wait until July for me to make my way to Washington DC! Federal jobs of course can take a lot longer, but it’s a gamble to apply too far out, for the same reason. I sought advice on this from staff and some contacts in DC, and the answer I got was – 3 months out.

So, first advice on the work you need to do between MST and COS. First, if you plan to apply for federal jobs, start learning how to write a federal resume, which is quite different from a normal, 2-page summary. It’s much more detailed and demands a lot of factual back-up for every assertion made. This may require you to write to your old job and ask some questions! Personally I certainly can’t remember every grant I wrote for the last 20 years, or every budget, or even my last salary level! Luckily my former employer was very helpful. So, here are some good places to look at examples of federal resumes and see instruction on how to write them:

http://files.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/sample-resume.pdf

http://gogovernment.org/how_to_apply/write_your_federal_resume/create_your_resume.php

I also participated in a webinar led by someone from OPM who gave a very thorough presentation on this topic. He allowed us to download his presentation and you can find it here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4wEFalcuGE0eVgxOW5wMUVfZjA/view?usp=sharing

Now, aside from writing federal resumes, there’s drafting of normal resumes as well. It’s easy to research this – just google it, and thousands of articles and samples will pop up, so I won’t provide any here – you just have to peruse. But, there are some tips for 50+ job hunters that I found in a few helpful articles, here:

http://www.nextavenue.org/category/finding-a-job/

Much of the advice these articles address concern three myths about older people: older adults are too set in their ways; older adults aren’t tech-savvy and older people aren’t resilient, and offer advice about how to offset these stereotypes. This can be useful. For instance, I really spiffed up my LinkedIn profile and did all the things advised here:

http://www.aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-2015/liven-linkedin-profile-for-job-search.html?intcmp-WORK-FEED

OK, so you’ve worked on your resume, you’ve fixed up your LinkedIn account (or opened one, :-)), you’re 3 months out from COS, where do you look?

First, start with Peace Corps resources. They have a “Peace Corps Virtual Career Center” page with a lot of resources, here:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/careercen/?utm_campaign=CareerArticles&utm_source=link&utm_medium=Passport

They post job openings of all sorts – domestic, international, public and private sector – here:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/careercen/careerlink/jobs/

You can sign-up for an email service that either daily or weekly sends you all the jobs, or just in the categories you select.

Next, there’s a good Facebook page for job-seekers, here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/413308168851174/

Another good source is the National Peace Corps Association job page, here:

http://jobs.peacecorpsconnect.org/

Sometimes there is duplication between all these sites, of course, but that’s ok, it’s easy to catch.

Next, there’s the dreaded USAJOBS. This is only for federal jobs, and if you want to work for the government, this is the only portal of entry. You can create a variety of searches there, save resumes, etc. Does it work? I’ve heard it’s a black hole, but there isn’t really any choice. I’ll let you know whether it works for me or not! Here it is:

https://www.usajobs.gov/

Another really good source is the PND Job Bulletin, PND standing for Philanthropy News Digest, from the Foundation Center. They send out a weekly email bulletin that has really good nonprofit jobs that I don’t see elsewhere. You can find them here:

http://philanthropynewsdigest.org/jobs

There are other job-search sites that might be helpful. Please keep in mind that I am not a teacher – I am an IOD PCV, and worked in the non-profit field prior to that, so this list skews that way. I’m sure there are other education sites, but sorry, I don’t know them. I can’t personally vouch for any of these, but they seem worth exploring, anyway.

https://execsearches.com/nonprofit-jobs/

http://www.over50jobboard.com/

http://www.workforce50.com/content/job-search-for-over50.cfm?q=&l=06870

http://www.simplyhired.com/a/special-searches/fifty-plus

http://www.aidboard.com/international-development-job-websites/http://www.internationaljobs.org/contents.html

Last, I’ll give the advice that we all hear, but it bears repeating – network and reach out to your contacts as much as you can. In the course of our careers we 50+ PCVs have amassed a lot of experience and know a lot of people, and we can use that to our advantage.

Good luck to everyone.

This & that …

It’s been a while, and that’s due not to apathy or laziness, but rather being really, really busy. So now, a quick catch-up on a number of rather interesting things that happened in the last 6 weeks or so.

First, I have finally found the text I want for a tattoo that will represent my time in Georgia. I want text, because I love the way Georgian script looks. I want it to contain the letters უ and ლ (pronounced “oo” and “l” respectively) because I love writing them. I just like the way they look. And I want it to be personally meaningful. With thanks to Francisco Resto for bringing this quote to me, from Shota Rustaveli, perhaps the most famous of Georgian poets, from his epic medieval poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, here you have it:

 რასაცა გასცემ შენია, რაც არა დაკარგულია

I’ve seen this translated a few different ways. My go-to translator, Marta Bibilashvili, says it means “whatever you will give to anyone, it is yours, what you do not, that is lost.” I really like this one. Cisco, whose Georgian skills far surpass mine, translated it as “That which we give makes us richer, that which we hoard is lost.” You get the idea, and I feel it represents my experience here quite accurately in many ways. So, sometime in April, my 35-year-old tattoo on my left leg will get a new sibling on the right. No photos will be forthcoming. 🙂

Second, speaking of my Georgian experience, it’s winding down to an end soon – at least the Peace Corps part of it. Just a week or so ago, therefore, we had our “COS Conference” in Tbilisi. “COS” stands for Close of Service. We got a lot of information and even more forms to fill out and appointments to make, all of which I’ll be working on for the next few months.

A highlight of the conference was a trip taken by me and two fellow PCV’s, Catherine and Karen, to see “Swan Lake” at the newly renovated Tbilisi Opera House. Not only was the performance incredible, especially the lead ballerina playing Odette, Ekaterine Surmava (who in spite of her rather Russian-sounding name is definitely Georgian – contrary to the common misunderstanding in the U.S. on this topic, these are TWO DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES), but the completely full to the rafters audience was on very good behavior. I regret that I didn’t take more photos of the Opera House, which was magnificent. Here are some grabbed off the internet, a shot of the actual performance, as well as a few of us girls enjoying ourselves.

Third. Well, the more alert of you may have noticed that above I alluded to the PC experience ending. And it will. But will my residency in Georgia end? It remains to be seen, but I am having some very intriguing discussions which may result in a major pivot. Stay tuned.

Fourth, we had our “Let’s Play Together” event here in Gori in late February. This is the same program that we originally called “Kakheti Special Needs Field Day” (see my post from June of last year). It’s now evolved to a full-on regular program that is held every few months throughout the country. We always planned to have a LPT day for Gori, and after I got back from Vietnam in January, I started working with fellow PCV David Poppick, who is assigned to the Workplace Development Center in Gori. WDC serves disabled children and adults and was a great partner for this project. We had 36 special needs kids attend, an equal number of “youth partners” (teenagers from Gori and around the region), and over 20 PCVs participating. Here is a link to the LPT Facebook page, which has all the photos and videos – it would be great if you would “like” it, because the more, the merrier!

https://www.facebook.com/LPTGeorgia/

We also were honored to have Keti Zazanashvili, professional dancer, who works with partners who are disabled. They put on a fantastic performance; it was truly inspiring to see the rapt attention of the audience, and think about how the disabled kids here in Gori perceived this presentation. Keti generously hosted dance workshops throughout the day. Here is a TED video where she explains the origins and philosophy of “inclusive dancing,” it’s really fascinating. Also, she speaks extremely good English, but with a classic Georgian accent, so if you want to know what that sounds like, here it is:

A video of the performance at LPT/Gori is available on the Facebook page.

We also had the perennial favorite, arm-wrestling, wherein Russell was soundly beaten multiple times, as well as arts & crafts, relay races, dodgeball, “fish,” ping-pong for the seeing-disabled, and much more, including a delicious lunch. Again, lots at the LPT Facebook page, but here are a few highlights:

Last, some other miscellaneous stuff, let’s see … well, ok, my host sister, Salome, was selected as a delegate to the European Youth Parliment. This is a very prestigious event here in Georgia, and very few kids from “the provinces” get the chance to participate. It was a big honor, and she learned a lot – including some lessons about what it’s like to spend time with snotty, rich kids from private schools.  Just yesterday, I was in Tbilisi waiting for a marshutka on a busy street when a pristine, white van, the likes of which I had never, ever seen in Georgia before, pulled up. A few expensively dressed teenagers daintily disembarked, as I openly stared at the white curtains and seats, the red accents, and the generally shockingly fancy vehicle – it was like seeing a Rolls-Royce in a used car lot. And then it made sense – it said “Buckwood School” on the side. Ahhhhhh … one of the schools Salome mentioned. Got it. These are lessons we all have to learn, but my heart still ached for her.  I am proud to report that after some struggles, she has emerged all the stronger for it, and wrote a fantastic essay on lessons learned and resilience gained for an exchange program application. Here she is at the EYP event:

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A great dinner at Marta Bibilashvili’s lovely apartment for all of us Gori PCV’s – no reason, just being nice. She had just returned from a 3-week trip to the U.S., sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and focused on learning about youth and volunteerism. It had been a dream of Marta’s to travel to the States, and I’m so glad she got that opportunity. She was nominated by the PC!

Well, that pretty much covers the last six weeks or so. Not counting extensive work on new CHCA website, writing an EU grant, job hunting adventures, and the last, the VERY LAST, language exam! I am proud to announce, that due to pity, the language teacher awarded me an “intermediate-mid” level, which means I advanced a step. I think I actually have advanced, but I assure you that no one could ever have discerned that from my performance during that test, which included forgetting the word for “picture,” several dead silences while I frantically searched my numb brain for vocabulary, verbs conjugated in the future instead of past tense, and other embarrassing gaffes. Never mind – onward!