Sunday, June 16, 2013

კარგად იყაკი!

კარგად იყავი – pronounced kargad ikavi – roughly translated means, "be well" or as Americans might say, "take care." Tomorrow morning I will get on an airplane and say goodbye to the place I have called home for the last 26 months. I can't believe this day has finally come.

The past few weeks have been very difficult, full of farewells and tears. But now that my bags are packed and it's time to go, I'm feeling just like I did when I left the U.S.…kind of blah. I'm not sad, excited, nervous or anxious. It just doesn't feel real yet. Georgia has become my home and to think I'm leaving for good… well, I just can't wrap my mind around it. However, I'm sure tomorrow morning will be a different story. :-(

The last 26 months have truly been surreal. There really is no way to sum up my Peace Corps service, other than to say it's been a life changing experience. I've had the best and worst days of my life here. I've seen some of the most beautiful places in the world. I've made great friends, both Georgian and American. I've met the love of my life. And hopefully I've made a difference to the people around me. 

What's next, you ask? Well for starters, I'm flying to Hilton Head, SC to see my mom, relax, and start the reintegration process. I'm planning trips to Greenville, SC to see my dad, Wilmington, NC to see my brother and his family, Indiana to see my grandmothers and family members, Colorado for a high school reunion, and DC to catch up with friends. After that, who knows! I haven't quite figured out where I want to live or what I want to do; I'm hoping it all just clicks one day. Until then, I'll be enjoying my new American life!

As I close this chapter of my life and get ready for whatever's next, I thought I would share some of my favorite memories from the past 2 years…

Meeting my training group for the first time

Spending time with my sweet host sisters, Ana and Mari

My daily walk to school in Rveli

Our community project to renovate a classroom in the Kvibisi school


 Moving in with Rachael

Meeting Alex, my Kvareli counterpart, for the first time

Signing paperwork before our official swearing-in ceremony

A foggy morning in Tusheti, one of the mountainous regions in Georgia

Making churchkhela, a Georgian dessert, with my Kvareli family

Istanbul, Turkey

Lunch with the then-U.S. Ambassador, John Bass

My first Georgian winter... brrr! (this was inside my bedroom)

The first time I successfully made a fire in our pechi, a wood burning stove

Tapas in Spain

The birth of my nephew, Grant

An adventurous outing to Uplistsikhe, an ancient rock cut city

My mom comes to Georgia!

Our trip to Turkey

A breathtaking weekend in Svaneti, Georgia

My amazing host family in Kvareli

The view of the Caucasus Mountains from my house in Telavi

Meeting Gus's parents in Tbilisi


Our amazing trip to INDIA!!

Skiing in Gudauri

The National English Spelling Competition

The Telavi bazaar

Rock hunting in Batumi

Completing two years of Peace Corps service!

And of course, meeting Gus!

For those in the U.S., thank you for your constant support and encouragement over the last few years. I can't wait to see you all again! For those in Georgia, thank you for everything! You have made my life better just by being a part of it! Please know you will always have a place to stay in America. For those I served with, I congratulate each of you and wish you all the best. კარგად იყაკით!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What I regret

For the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in Georgia… wondering if I made the most of it; if I took advantage of all the opportunities I was presented with; if I soaked it up enough… something I'm sure every Volunteer around the world questions. Could I have done more? Sure. But I don't want to look back at my life and have any regrets or wish for any do-overs, and this experience is no exception.

I'd like to believe I experienced every minute of this journey – moments of incredible happiness, extreme sadness, and sheer boredom – for a reason, just as the saying goes. Yes, I might do things differently if I were to join Peace Corps again (and yes, the thought has crossed my mind!), but regardless of what I did or did not accomplish here, this was my experience and I'm proud of committing myself to the full 2 years. So this blog isn't a list of my regrets; it's a list of things I would do differently next time.

Be in the moment. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to pack my bags and get the heck out of dodge. There were days when I made up excuses why I couldn't go to a supra or on another excursion. And, believe it or not, there were days when I craved the rat race and 12-hour workdays. I assume most Volunteers have had the same feelings at one point or another, and I'm not sure there's anything anyone could do to avoid it. Living in another culture and out of your comfort zone is just plain hard. But next time, I would say yes to the supras, yes to the excursions, and yes to all things Georgia. I was here to experience the culture after all!

Georgian supra
Tusheti excursion

Do without. Thanks to my wonderful friends and family back home (and fine, my own online shopping addiction), I really haven't had to do without since I got here. I've had brownies, peanut butter, mac & cheese, new clothes, luxurious lotions, and so much more. I also bought a modem that allowed me to access the Internet every day, even during power outages. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful for the care packages, and very much enjoyed and cherished every bit of it. But next time, I would like to *try* to do without some of those items – if for no other reason than to be a little less American and know what it's like to want things you can't have.

Awesome care package!

Learn something new. Volunteers have a lot of free time on their hands – and I mean A LOT of free time. Before coming to Georgia, I had a long list of things I wanted to accomplish: learn Spanish, read the classics and train for a marathon, just to name a few. Of course, I didn't do any of those things. I also didn't learn any Georgian dances, which is a huge part of their culture. Next time, I would “just say no!” to the countless TV episodes and movies that are passed around, and do something a little more productive with my free time.

Georgian dancing

Stay offline. With free Wi-Fi popping up in all the bigger cities, and portable modems that allow access wherever you go, it was easy to stay connected. As a business Volunteer, I needed Internet access to research and submit grant proposals, connect with other NGOs, and develop trainings. And of course it was nice to keep up on the news, Skype with friends and family and, most importantly, stream football games. But on the flip side, being online kept me from enjoying other parts of my service, and often left me feeling extremely irritated and frustrated by all the complaints and pointless updates. Next time, I would greatly limit my Internet usage and instead, take advantage of the countless opportunities around me.

Gearing up for some Gamecock football!

Love thy neighbors. Too many nights, I walked home from work too tired to care what the neighbors were up to and definitely too tired to try to talk to them. But relationships are what have sustained me here, and sometimes I kick myself for not getting to know more people. So next time, I would spend more time with my host families, friends and neighbors, and a little less time in my room.

Georgian friends

Run Forest, run! Back home I used to think how nice it would be to have my mornings free to work out or go for a long run. Here, I had plenty of time to do just that, but something always kept me from doing it… the incessant staring, the massive potholes in the roads and crazy drivers who tried to kill me, the water outages (who wants to run if you can't shower afterwards?!), rain and snow, and my only legitimate excuse, a bum knee. Next time, I would just run – not only for health reasons, but also to keep me from losing my mind.

My running path in Kvareli

Talk the talk. Most of my frustrations stemmed from the fact I couldn't really communicate. I know enough to get around and have basic conversations, but having a strategic business meeting or in-depth conversation was never an option. Georgian is an extremely difficult language, but it's not impossible to learn. And, truth be told, I rocked this language during training! It's my own fault I stopped going to my tutor and never touched my language books after PST. Next time, I would make learning the local language my #1 priority. I mean, how effective can you be if you can't really talk about anything significant?

A beautiful but difficult language!

All of that aside, when I leave in nine days, I will leave knowing I tried my best and definitely enjoyed my time in Georgia. And maybe in five or ten years, I'll even be able to see what impact this experience had on me and more importantly, on Georgia and its citizens. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer will be with me forever, and that is something I will never regret!