My organization and I applied and received a grant from the Let Girls Learn project to encourage teenage girls into sustainable, green farming! How? We taught them how to compost and provided them with the materials to do it in their villages!
When I studied abroad in Hong Kong during college, I took a day trip to Mainland China for a Spa Day with a friend. In the cab, on the way to the spa, I saw a milk ad on a billboard. It had a cow, showing its utters, stating how fresh her milk is. Right next to the cow billboard, there was an ad for pork. It had the same set-up, a pig was basically saying, “Hey, I’m yummy. Eat me.” It freaked me out. I realized that American commercials (excluding Chick-fil-A), tends to shy away from things like that.
American culture, regardless of personal values, does not have a strong desire to know where our food comes from. Things are slowly changing, but it is true. When I told people that our “pet chickens” were later “dinner” in Peace Corps, people thought, “oh, my poor thing.” It is completely forgotten that most of the world and human history knows exactly where their food comes from. For centuries, most of food came from our backyard’s or our neighbors.
For Georgia, this is still the case. According to The Fund Georgian Center for Agribusiness Development, the “agricultural sector employ[s] around 53% of the active workforce.” For less than 4 million people, that is a crazy amount of farmers. In my personal opinion, this is probably an inefficient way to feed a nation. To make matters worse, there are a lot of harmful farming practices in the country.
Georgian farmers heavily use pesticides and toxic fertilizers. Green farming practices are nearly non-existent on a national level and are not commonly used by local, small-town farmers. According to WECF International, Georgia still uses illegal and toxic pesticides in their farming practices. Many of these pesticides are untested, and they are replicates
of the “western trademark pesticides.” Farmers tend to use these replicates because they are cheaper; however, they contain harmful toxins and pesticides that are also less effective at killing their targeted pest. The improper use and storage of these illegal and banned substances pose a health risk to the farmers and contribute negative effects on the environment.
Also, men make up about 90% of farmers in Georgia (our own needs assessment). Females may look after small livestock, such as chickens. However, the men are strategically in charge of the farm and make the important decisions. Women, on average, own fewer assets, such as land, livestock, and human capital. They have less access to inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers, labor, and finance. They tend to depend on their husbands for these things. Increasing women’s resources could “help rural women maximize economic opportunities, increase productivity, and improve food security, education and healthcare since women tend to reinvest in their households” (The World Bank).
To alleviate some of this, my youth organization, Youth2Georgia, wanted to do a Composting project in the villages of Imereti. Initially, we submitted the proposal to the German Embassy, but we got denied. Therefore, six months later, we revamped the project idea and submitted it as a Let Girls Learn (LGL) grant. I discussed a bit of what LGL is in this post if you want to read more. We felt that composting was a great way to reduce the dependence of harmful fertilizers and pesticides while increasing female participation in sustainable, green farming practices!
So for a couple of months, I worked hard with my counterparts. Many times, a Peace Corps Volunteer will write the SPA or LGL grant, but because we were not on a tight deadline, I refused to do that. For nearly two months, I spent several hours a week working with my counterparts. In fact, I did a mini, informal Project Design Management training. I explained all aspects of the Let Girls Learn grant writing process. They even wrote the first draft to the grant. I worked with them on all the edits. In the end, I rewrote a lot of the English and fixed it up. However, it was a truly a group effort and I was very proud of how much we designed the project together.
In total, we delivered three separate trainings. The first training was at Iberia College with about 20 participants. We trained the entire staff under the school of agriculture and their students. The staff and students included both male and female. We strongly believe that in order for gender equality to be achieved both men and women must participate in the process. The second training involved teenage girls and several of their mothers. We were hoping that involving the parents would increase the likelihood of them actually composting.
We have later learned that there was no correlation between parent participation and girls composting. In fact, it seemed that less teenage girls wanted to participate in the training with their parents. Therefore, for our third training, we only invited 20 teenage girls. All the participants were from villages in our region. Therefore, all of them had access to large farms in which they could do composting.
Now, I will admit…We were not the most successful with the turnout. Only about 17% of the participant actually composted on their farms. However, over 80% indicated they understood how composting is made and why it is important as evident by our post-tests. More importantly, they understood why increasing female participation in farming is important (we had a gender component in our training).
On one of our monitoring days, we visited the sites that started the composting. I’m not making this up, but it was one of the most beautiful days I had in my service. I cannot tell you how bright the smiles were of our participants. For those who composted, they loved it! Seeing how proud they were made me proud! It was heartwarming how they took care of their composting bins and how it will change the quality of their farming.
For two of the three trainings, I had partnered with one of my friends and Peace Corps Volunteer Ryan. If you read the Thanksgiving post, he is referred to as Yarn Skallah. He was conducting a grant and a project to teach youth to professionally film and edit videos in the same community I was doing my composting. We thought it would be a great idea to film the composting trainings. If you are interested, here is a YouTube video of my trainings!
Given it is early December, I only hang out consistently with a warm metal box at my house; I call it my heater. Everyone else calls it a heater too, so I suppose I should give it a better nickname…Regardless, I was next to the only heater in my place, propping my feet up on a stool, with my laptop on my lap (and verifying in my mind, once again, why they named a laptop). Most Georgian homes do not have insulation or central heating. I am extremely lucky to have one gas heater in my home that works- even if it does not heat the entire house. So there I am sitting there trying to stay warm when suddenly my dad calls me on Facebook Messenger.
He begins with, “How are you doing, Baba?” I responded with, “I’m working right now.” He was confused since it was around 10 p.m. at night on Saturday. I told him two things: 1) Peace Corps life does not have a regular 40 hour week. It especially does not end at the end of the workday. 2) I had a record number of grants to read, so working on the weekend was a given. This promoted a discussion to exactly what grants are in Peace Corps and why I was reading them. I told him that I was on the Small Projects Assistance Committee. Since my dad was curious, I thought….this might be a good blog post.
I had barely mentioned that I was on SPA on this post, but I did not go into detail. As stated on the USAID website, “The Small Project Assistance Program (SPA) is a joint collaboration between USAID and the Peace Corps to support local community development…Local Sustainability Division manages USAID Mission access to SPA and encourages USAID Missions and Offices to participate in the program. Peace Corps Volunteers compete for funds allocated by USAID through a proposal process managed by the local Peace Corps field offices.” I believe that each Peace Corps manages SPA slightly differently, but since I’m in Georgia, I’ll explain a bit of how it goes here.
Have you ever followed any of Peace Corps’ posts on social media? Well, I bet you that a lot of those posts were SPA related! For example, if you see an English Cabinet that is renovated in a village school- that is probably SPA! So basically, SPA is a powerful tool to get our $hit done! We mobilize our communities with notebooks in hand changing lives.
Sounds cheesy, well, it is because it is. How are so many of these grants ends up so awesome?
First, we welcome and encourage Peace Corps Volunteers to have us review their grants in advance before submitting it. In essence, I would read the grant and offer the Peace Corps Volunteer objective critique and constructive feedback. It could be about the grant idea in general or the actual writing of the grant.
However, they are not required to submit us anything in advance. We are there if they want us. When it comes to the recommendation after the submission deadline, each of us actually read every single grant. To reiterate, all six of us reads every single grant submitted and rates each grant based on objective criteria. During our quarterly meeting, we discuss the grant with two of the Peace Corps staff members and then offer our recommendations to the Country Director.
Each Peace Corps Volunteer and one counterpart is required to go through training at PDM Project Design Workshops. Each volunteer brings along one counterpart to the training, that way, we are also increasing the capacity of host country nationals. If the grant is approved, they are either funded a maximum of $2,500 if it is a local or $5,000 if it is community-wide. For basically chump change for many companies, these funds can literally shape and change a community.
Being a part of the process is amazing. First, I feel like it is one of most impactful part of service. I have helped dozens of volunteers with their projects indirectly. I have offered them suggestions that strengthened their proposal and/or their grant idea. Some volunteers have engaged us in conversations with their counterparts from the start. Others will just send us their final version to ensure they aren’t missing anything before the submission. However, speaking with Peace Corps Volunteers in the early stages can be fun. It can shape the success of the grant. For example, my friend Emily (who is on the Gender Equality Committee with me), engaged me from the start! She wanted to do a healthy living club at her school.
There have been times where she would call me, “Rawan, can we do this? Can we do that?” I have spoken to her and her counterparts on speaker phone giving recommendations. I also read the grant and offered a comprehensive review once she put pen to paper. When her grant got funded, I almost felt like I was a part of the project! It is awesome to serve as a resource for other volunteers to help them create and implement better projects in their community!
No, this is not click bait. My friends and I actually camped where the dinosaurs once lived. I will admit, the campsite site is not called, “Jurassic Park,” but rather, “Sataplia- Imereti Caves Protected Areas.”
Here is your Georgian lesson for the day, “Tapli” means “honey.” The kind that you eat, not the nickname that your grandmother has for you. The Georgian language has some logic to it, whenever the “place” for something is, you add, “sa” in front of it. Therefore, “Sataplia” loosely translates to, “the place where the honey is.” So, why am I referring to it as the Real Jurassic Park? Well, Sataplia is well-known in Georgia for the dinosaur footprints and its beautiful caves.
The plan was to leave in the morning on Saturday, November 25th, 2017. We originally wanted to go to Oktase Canyon, but they were not allowing any visitors because of the snow. Many of us traveled far for this camping trip (I did not), so the snow was not going to stop us from camping. So we settled on Sataplia because it was close and mainly because they were open to visitors.
Everyone who knew we were camping thought we were crazy. The other American Peace Corps Volunteers thought, “Don’t freeze out there!” Thanksgiving weekend has been the first snow of the season for many parts of Georgia. The Georgians were simply dumbfounded to why anyone would want to sleep outside- by choice. I was able to get a local Georgian friend of mine to call his uncle to drop us off at Sataplia. His question was, “Where are you going after Sataplia?” Our answer, “We are staying at Sataplia.” He kept on repeating the question, because why on earth would anyone stay in Sataplia in the snow. From then on, we coined the theme of the camping trip, “#Campingordeath.”
When we arrived, we definitely looked like the crazy Americans. The park rangers were confused as to why we had so many things with us. When we explained to them that we are Peace Corps Volunteers who want to go camping, they welcomed us with open arms! The director of the park had hosted (as a host family) a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2013. So within minutes, some of them left the park to go buy some cha-cha (similar to vodka), wine, and bread to celebrate!
In the meantime, one of the park rangers, Lasha, took us a personal tour of the caves and the park. Lasha embodied the hospitality of Georgia. Of course, the entire tour was in Georgian, but we understood most of it 😉
For the next couple of hours, we drank and ate bread with the park rangers in their office. We shared with them our pretzels and snacks that we bought for the trip. You simply cannot get a better cultural integration moment than that! We laughed and ate and just enjoyed each other’s company.
By the time we finished drinking and snacking with the park rangers, it was almost 4:30 p.m. We immediately started setting up our camp and collected firewood. It was the first time in my life collecting firewood. For bonfires in the U.S, we would just buy the wood at the store. Nope, I spent the next couple of hours looking for dead, fallen branches in the woods. I’m not going to lie, I surprised myself with how much I carried and contributed.
The park rangers let us borrow their shovels, so we used that to remove the snow where our tents would be. Then, we set up our tents and our sleeping bags. I inherited an old sleeping that has been passed down several Peace Corps generations in Georgia. I am very thankful for it because it kept me alive throughout the night.
We spent the night telling each other stories, huddled around each other to stay warm. Tyler kept up the fire most of the night and he did such a good job. Yay us for collecting enough firewood! It was definitely a fun experience camping. Now, would I do it again in the muddy snow? Debatable.
I also found out that on our way back, the park rangers had given the office key to one of us. They offered their indoor office in case it was too cold outside. So, it was nice knowing that they did not want to find seven, dead American bodies lying in the snow the next morning.
Yarn Skallah*: “So we have a slight issue. Baia does not think she can get us a Turkey anymore.”
Me: “Do you think you can get a turkey? I mean you can literally probably just kidnap one off the street? They just run around, maybe no one will notice.”
Yarn Skallah: “I was hoping you get one at your site.” I simply laughed at this.
Me: “What is a Thanksgiving in Georgia without a bit of drama? I have never seen a turkey sold here. But I will ask Dato and we will figure it out.”
*Yarn Skallah is a nickname that Ryan adopted during our PST experience. He has specifically requested for me to use his nickname in this blog post. I will refer to him as Yarn going forward.
The above conversation is in reference to our planning stage for our Thanksgiving event in a nearby village. Baia, referenced above, is a local, famous, female winemaker who has a guesthouse attached to her vineyard. Our plan was to rent out the guesthouse, invite several of our Peace Corps friends, and celebrate Thanksgiving early with Baia. I also invited Dato, my director at World Vision, to celebrate with us.
Immediately after that conversation, I request Dato’s help, “Do you know if we can buy a Turkey here?” He nods and said, “Yes, at the poultry market. We can go today and see.” So within the hour, I hop in the car and Dato and I were off to this poultry market that I had no idea existed. Funny enough, it was a couple of blocks away from my host family’s house. This market was filled with live chickens and pigs for sale. Unfortunately, that day, there were only 5 live teenage turkeys. We felt that the price was a bit high, so we decided to pardon the turkeys’ lives and let them live for another day.
I felt perplexed by the whole thing. I really wanted to brine the turkey for days before roasting it. However, Dato was convinced that on the weekends, the price of a live turkey drops. Considering that our event was on a Saturday night, this would work out in our favor. Whilst all this was happening, I could not help but laugh at the situation.
Here I am arguing about live turkeys for Thanksgiving with a villager who grows them for a living. In California, Justin and I would buy our turkey weeks in advance from Costco and begin defrosting it a few days before Thanksgiving. It got me thinking, did pilgrims, the ones who did not raise turkeys, have the same conversation at the market nearly 300-400 years ago? Or did they just kidnap one off the “street” like I jokingly suggested we should do?
During the whole week, I had a gut feeling that there might not be a functioning oven. I know that may seem odd to you, but MOST homes in Georgia do not have ovens. Yarn and I continue to discuss this potential dilemma on the phone while we are both working. Dato overhears me and proudly suggests, “We can just boil the turkey.” I swallowed. I calmly said, “we are not boiling the turkey. You do not boil turkeys. You roast the turkey. I cannot stress this enough, but we need an oven.”
We call Baia to see her oven situation. She basically has something equivalent to an easy-bake oven. Her suggestion, “boil the turkey.” Hearing that sentence was making my blood boil. How do people think this is a suitable alternative to baking?! In the end, I told Yarn that I will attempt to bake the turkey at my house and then wrap it in foil and come to the dinner a bit late. But then, we were stressing out because I had no way to bake the turkey unless I literally just put it raw and hanging on the oven rack. I do not have a big enough casserole dish or anything equivalent. This was a problem for future Rawan. I decided to just focus on buying the stupid turkey first.
I go to Georgian tutoring clearly stressing out about how to cook the turkey. A first world problem is, “oh, I hope I don’t make it dry.” A Peace Corps problem is, “I hope I have an oven. I hope I don’t get chicken $hit murdering a turkey. Oh, if I do find an oven and a turkey, I hope I have a way to bake it.”
My tutor’s suggestion for getting stressed about the turkey’s death was, “It is good you have yard.”
“What do you mean, Lana?”
“So Justin can kill it in the yard and you do not have to worry.”
I proclaimed, “Justin does not kill chickens. Turkeys are bigger. He still won’t kill it.”
Lana suggested, “For cooking, you can still boil the turkey.”
On Saturday morning, Dato, my supervisor, was going to hire one of World Vision on-call drivers, Dato, to pick Justin and me up. Oh, this is not a typo. They are both named Dato. In Georgia, you will find a lot of Datos (short for Davit, the Georgian version of David). In fact, half of the males in my office are called Dato. Regardless, the two Datos, Justin, and I arrive at the poultry market early that Saturday morning. The plan is to see the marshutkas (mini buses) arrive from the villages with the live chickens, turkeys, and pigs in tow to ensure we get the best turkey.
While Dato was finalizing our transportation for the next morning, I sat on my dining room chair thinking about how I’m going to cook this turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Ryan calls me with a suggestion, “How about you cook the turkey at Baia’s?”
“But Ryan, I thought we went over this. Her oven won’t work. It might be better if I cook it my house. The turkey is supposed to cool off a bit before we cut it anyway.”
“What if I bring my oven?”
“You are telling me you going to lug around a big oven.” It would be a logistics nightmare to carry a huge home oven from the town to the village. Then, I remembered, “Wait, you don’t have an oven.”
….an awkward moment of silence…
Ryan admits, “Yeah, I just bought one.”
“What do you mean you just bought an oven?” In pure excitement, I continued, “You are literally the Thanksgiving Santa Claus. You literally just saved Thanksgiving.”
Ryan had bought a small, electric and very portable oven. It was similar to Baia’s, but it was bigger. It would be enough to cook a very small, teenage turkey. (Well, so we thought…more on that later).
I called Dato immediately after and told him the change in plans. We were now going to go early to Baia’s so that I cook the turkey there.
When Saturday rolled around, Dato was very matter of a fact about the whole thing. We strolled to the turkey section of the market. He looked at me and said straight in the face, “Which one do you want?” I felt very connected to my food at that moment. I said, “I don’t know.” So Dato proceeded to pick two up and offered both to me to see which one weighed more.
As I held up the turkeys by its legs, they were both super chill and calm about it. To be more specific, they did not object. Both of them just hung upside down, blinking at me, unknowing that one of them was literally about to die. The picture above looks like it may be flapping its wings. Trust me though, the wings naturally spread hanging upside down. Another side note, turkey features are super soft.
Here is a Georgian turkey shopping hint: blow on its features while it is upside down. The trick is to blow softly (but hard enough) to see the skin below the features. That way, you can tell what food the turkey is fed. Is it junk food? Is it proper cornmeal?Don’t ask me how exactly, but skin color has something to do with it. I’m not sure I believe in this, but my boss totally took a huff puff or two.
When I finally came to my decision, I gave both back to Dato and said, “That one!” It felt very off-with-its-head-queen-of-hearts moment for me. The turkey seller took the turkey and went off to butcher area for it to be killed (picture below). I could have went home with the live turkey, but I decided to spend the whole 5 GEL to have it killed and plucked! It was honestly the best 5 GEL that I ever spent.
The process of killing, plucking, and cleaning the turkey took about 30 minutes. While we were waiting, we stood in the warm “roasting pig room.” The men who worked there were so curious as to why these two Americans and one Georgian man were at the market early in the morning buying a turkey. Second moment of confusion, why would I waste a whole 5 GEL to have someone else kill it for me. Would you like to guess what happened next?
You guessed it, they gave me suggestions on how to cook the turkey. You guessed again, “Ah, just boil it!” I looked at my boss and I finally snapped. “I’m sorry. I’m not going to take advise from people who have never cooked a turkey. And, I’m not going to take advice on something so inherently American- something that is almost a 400-year-old tradition.” Dato laughed. I, on the other hand, am serious about turkey. On a depressing note, the conversation was a very good distraction to the noise of the pigs being killed. Silver lining, our turkey was very quiet.
When it was plucked and cleaned, the lady offered to put the turkey in a garbage bag for me and Justin. It was so awkward just going home with a plastic bag with a turkey just lying dead there. I think I miss buying meat and poultry where it is on a styrofoam platter covered with saran wrap.
While I started preparing the turkey at Baia’s, I noticed something I was not happy about. The turkey was not fully cleaned out of its insides. Anatomy lessons are great, I just wished I did not have to have one on Thanksgiving. I was surprised to see how small some of the organs were. If I’m grossing you out, I’m sorry. At least, you were not the one who had to clean it out. I look all happy there, but moments before, I was nervously about to cry while cleaning the turkey out properly. Again, another first world privilege I took for granted.
As the way Peace Corps life goes, another challenge awaited. After I prepped the turkey perfectly, we noticed that it did not fit in Ryan’s oven. I picked the smallest turkey I could find at the market, but it was a bit too big. Neil, another Peace Corps Volunteer, tried punching the turkey’s breast so that the bones would break. That didn’t work. So we took regular kitchen scissors and tried cutting it while maintaining its main form. That slightly worked. So I wrapped the whole thing in foil so it does not directly touch the oven’s “ceiling.”
The turkey was so small, it took less than 2 hours to bake! Remember how I said I bought one of the small turkeys at the market? Well, apparently, it showed when we took it out of the oven. The poor turkey was so underdeveloped that the breast was protruding. It looked like a bunch of voulchers took a few nibbles before we were able to serve it.
Regardless, it was delicious. I mean, how could it not be? It was the freshest turkey any of us have ever had. I also managed to cook it perfectly, despite my conditions. It was not dry and it tasted like a real, American Thanksgiving meal.
At the dinner table, many of us toasted to our friends and family back home. We combined the Georgian tradition of toasting with hoars and the American tradition of going around the table individually giving thanks.
When it was my turn, I gave thanks to the turkey. Without this turkey, this Thanksgiving would not have been possible.
*Only one animal was harmed for the making of this thanksgiving.
Mini METS are our one-day STEM workshops conducted at various Peace Corps Volunteers’ sites.
When BJ, Amanda, and I created the METS Initiative in 2016, BJ had suggested that it should be more than just a camp. There should be another component of the initiative: Mini-METS. Amanda and I wholeheartedly agreed. Mini-METS are one-day “camps” that would be hosted in various Peace Corps Volunteers’ sites upon request. As you may know, METS is our STEM initiative. It is STEM spelled backward and it also means “Me too” in Georgian.
Even though Georgia has made efforts to increase science education, it is still not a popular major to study in university. Not only that, many of its scientific facilities are outdated. This is one of the reasons why the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) invests in Georgia. In fact, MCC is the one that awarded San Diego State University the $30 million grant to partner with Georgia to have an American Accredited University in Tbilisi. As you may recall from my previous blog post about METS, Georgian San Diego State Universities acted as our counselors in our camps.
As this article in the Daily Aztec mentions, the money from the grant “will be allocated toward renovating labs and improving the quality of higher education.” Also, the article mentioned that “MCC wanted an American accredited U.S. degree to be offered in Georgia because Georgia needed higher education to meet the standards of emerging democracies.” This is one of the many reasons why the whole METS initiative started. This is why we feel that we need to continue our work in METS beyond just our summer camps.
This past Saturday, on October 28th, 2017, Atka, Rose, and I hosted the second Mini-METS in a local town in the Imereti Region at our friend Ryan’s site. The first one was conducted in the spring by BJ and Amanda. On Saturday, we had nearly twenty youth show up to the event. We conducted three activities for Mini-METS: 1) rockets 2) math tricks and lastly 3) lungs. With each presentation, we discussed the theory first and then did the experiment. It is important for students to understand the science behind the experiment. I don’t want them walking away thinking it was “magic.”
So for the rockets, Atka explained what were reactants and catalysts. She taught them how all the materials interact with each other to create a mini “rocket.” Curious to what our rockets actually were? Simple. They were Alka Seltzer tablets, water, and a film tube canister. No, seriously that is it. You put half an Alka Seltzer tablet in a small film canister with warm water. Close the lid. Place the canister upside down and wait for it to launch!
What was surprising was some kids left immediately after this experiment. It was a bit shocking because this experiment is a huge hit and every student loved it! They were all jumping in glee and we had to do some crowd control. It is just difficult to compete for their attention- on the weekend- especially when they have Facebook waiting for them at home.
Then, I did a math presentation. I know, it sounds like a snooze. What kid would want to learn math on a Saturday? Ryan was hesitant to have this when I told him that it was part of our agenda. I can’t blame him. I thought it was going to be boring when I introduced it at the Kobuleti camp. However, it was such a hit. The kids in Kobuleti were literally jumping out of their seats to participate.
So, I tested my luck for the second time to do it at Mini-METS. Guess what? Another hit. I taught them how to divide big numbers by five – in seconds and in our heads! Spoiler alert: you double it and then divide it by then. I decided to do a simple math trick because many of the students in the audience were in the sixth grade.
Lastly, Rose did our lung presentation. She explained how lungs work and what can cause inflammation. One way to stop inflammation of the lungs is smoking. Thus, it was basically a mini-anti-smoking campaign. How best to illustrate how bad smoking is? Do an experiment where you can literally see the damage after a few minutes.
Our lung model is basically built from plastic bottles, balloons, and cotton. The device is the one actually smoking the cigarettes. Even after even a few cigarettes, the cotton inside the plastic bottle changes color to a more yellowish-brown. Thus, this indicates that lung damage from smoking is almost immediate. It is a great way to show kids immediately how smoking damages the lungs. I want to say this experiment is completely harm-free, but I cannot. We did incur a bit of second-hand smoke during this process.
A lot of the kids enjoyed this too. I’m not sure how many of them will not pick up the habit of smoking though. Smoking in Georgia is a big problem. The majority of males in this country smoke. It is not very “lady-like” for women to smoke, therefore, the problem is mostly with men. Regardless, we hope that we were able to impart some knowledge on these youth.
Overall, Mini-METS was a success. It is really fun seeing kids get excited about science and math. It made it worth it to wake up early that Saturday morning!
I remember as a child whenever I couldn’t get a new toy, I would whine, “I wish I were rich. Then, we could buy it.” My mother and grandmother would look at me and tell me to re-evaluate my definition of being rich. They said that richness can come in many forms. The corniest one of all is, “richness in the heart, where you are full of the love given by family and friends.” Naturally, they received the biggest eye roll a child could give. At the time, they weren’t getting any love with that response.
Now, as an adult, I have to agree with their definition. I’m probably going to impart that same “corny and lame” definition to my future children. I’m assuming, but I think we can all agree that there is truth to their definition. However, how many of us would still chase after the traditional sense of being rich- you know, the one with money? A year into service, I don’t think I will be chasing massive “traditional wealth” any longer. However, I will not deny that I would like to live comfortably. Basically, I want to be able to take modest vacations once a year and live in a small house that I own. In essence, I would like to be solidly middle class.
During service, I have a lot of positives and negatives moments just like any other person. However, in the Peace Corps, the lows tend to go a little deeper than an average person in America. Caveat, pain is all relative. For instance, my Georgian neighbors do not think it is a bad day if their water runs out as well as their electricity, internet, and gas. They just deal with it because that is their daily life. However, in the beginning of my service, that would be a bad day for me. Why? Because I never had to deal with all things going out concurrently in the United States (if I paid my bills that is). My definition of a bad day means so different than a year ago.
During my Peace Corps mid-service training last month, when I turned on the hot water in the shower at the hotel, it did not work. Instead of fussing with the nozzle or getting irritated, I just took a REALLY cold shower. I got used to things not working that I did not even try to fix it. Low and behold, if I turned the nozzle to the cold end and waited, hot water would have appeared. My mistake. I should have tried to outplay the engineering of the bathroom design. This insignificant experience shows you something though, I no longer get frustrated over the little annoying things in life. I just move on and deal with the “bad.” I only discovered that the water indicators were switched after conversing with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who experienced the same thing. I have gotten to the point now that when I do have the perfect shower temperature, I have a great day. Little things like that make me ecstatic.
Therefore, if hot showers make me happy, imagine how grateful I am for having friends and family visit me. As you already know, my great-uncle visited in February and my friend Sarah visited me in April. In July, I had four different people visit me. My friend Nicole, one of my closest friends since I was 14 years old, came for nearly three weeks. My friend Tim, from my study abroad experience in Amsterdam, came from England. Then, my aunt and uncle from my dad’s side came for a weekend at the end of July. Then, my friend Danielle visits me a month later. I don’t know anyone as fortunate to have this many people visit them during their Peace Corps. Thus, I feel rich that I have so many people in my life supporting me in this journey that they are willing enough to take a plane to this part of the world.
In terms of the love and support I receive, I am very rich. It does not take much for me to remember this either. Every day, in my town, I see children begging for money. I see old ladies sitting on street corners outstretching their hand for some spare change. There are a lot of street dogs and cats. I do have the hardest time with seeing the children and the dogs.
For children, I cannot imagine growing up and being ignored by everybody or even worse, being treated worse than an animal. The street children are shoved and kicked out of restaurants. The children do harass the customers. Sometimes, the children even wrap their bodies around unwilling customers’ legs. I just cannot even imagine the psychological damage, the abuse, and the neglect they grow up with. The silver lining is that I’ve traveled to countries were situations for street children is much worse. There are organizations, including mine, that works to help alleviate child poverty and advocate for children’s rights.
I cannot say so much for the cats and dogs. One day, as I was walking home from work, I heard the loudest cries I’ve ever heard around the corner from my house. I turned to see where the noise is coming from and I saw a dog limping and yelling. One of its hind legs was nearly severed. The dog was limping and one of its legs was hanging on by a thread. A pool of blood was underneath where it was standing. I assumed that the dog was run-over by a car. In those few minutes, I have no idea if anyone helped the dog. I’m not perfect either, I was so horrified that I walked away crying. I was not able to stomach the sight. For the next 30 minutes, I heard the dog yell in pain and I simply prayed.
In America, I would have gone to the dog and called someone. I had no idea what to do in Georgia, so I simply prayed and hoped it wouldn’t suffer for too much longer. On a positive note, Georgia is trying to take care of its stray dogs as much as they can. Nearly all of the stray dogs have received rabies shots and it is indicated by a tag on their ear. Also, many people feed these dogs with bread or scraps of food. There is still hope in this world.
In a world where politicians do not believe in climate change, we need more STEM education than ever in our lives. I hope that both camps I helped conduct inspire at least one child to pursue a degree in STEM. So many of our world problems could be solved using Science, Technology, Engineering or Math 🙂
This is my second blog post that I have written in darkness. However, this time, in complete darkness. The only thing illuminating this room is my laptop screen, which is powered by my reserve battery. I am sitting on my bed with a pillow propped up to support my back. Yet, even with my laptop turned on, I still cannot properly see my toes. It is really dark in here. As you may guess, I currently do not have any electricity. I have not had electricity for a few hours now, which, is not uncommon in most places of the world.
Since I have no electricity, I have no internet and no power. My electricity supports the internet modem (obviously). I will post this when the Internet returns. As for the water, I do not have city water (aka running water) 24 hours a day. In the afternoon, the city water stops and I use a pump, powered by electricity, to give me water. Thus, no electricity means no water, no electronics (except for this laptop), and no internet.
I did finally remember that I have a candle and definitely took advantage of it.
Whenever there is a bad storm, the power goes out. It does not surprise me or even frustrate me. Sometimes I think it is funny and sometimes I place internal bets on how long it will last. However, what always happens is reflection. The running theory is that when you have no distractions or modern conveniences- again, except for this laptop- there is a lot of room for reflection. Here is what I think I have learned with only 9 months of service left…
1) I do not miss or depend on modern conveniences as much as I thought I would. I do not own any of the following in my home: a dryer, TV, microwave, an enclosed shower, attached indoor toilet, or even a sofa. The thing I miss the most is ironically the sofa. Soviet-style dining room chairs are not the most comfortable and neither is a 40-year-old mattress. Sometimes, I just want a sofa. However, my life does not feel any less complete with any of the abovementioned absent in my life. Sure, they made my life easier, but I don’t actually truly crave them. It is more like a fond memory, something I kinda miss. However, it is something I can live without.
2) Working on something I love sometimes does not feel like work. I do not think I put in 40 hours in the office, realistically I put in close to 32-35. However, I do believe I work more than 40 hours a week easily if I include my secondary projects. I go home and I work on activities and committees that I have cofounded with my Peace Corps friends. It is hard work, but it has meaning. I may not see the impact or have instant gratification, but I believe in the work I do. Therefore, it does not feel like a chore. I truly enjoy doing it in my free time. That is an odd concept, volunteering to do work on my free time without any expectations of receiving anything in return.
3) I’ve become more creative and innovative with little resources. I have literally conducted workshops out of upcycled paper and nothing else. In the U.S, when we think of a professional training, we thinking conference rooms, snacks, notebooks, whiteboards, you name it. As long as I have some sort of roof in bad weather, I’m good to go. I don’t even need a functioning restroom with running water to host an event for dozens of people. Excepting to have all those resources and conveniences would be a very diva-like move indeed.
I have learned to ask more meaningful questions to see how we can teach and train without any visual aids. During DREAM Camp, we had break-out sessions. Since they were occurring concurrently, we only had one projector. For fairness and sustainability, we decided that the three concurrent breakout sessions would require ZERO resources except for chairs and maybe some sheets of paper. Even with few resources, the sessions were meaningful and successful.
4) I’ve grown to become a more patient person. When projects do not go smoothly, and they never do, I ride out the bumpy wave. I have grown to be more patient with the unexpected turbulence. However, I am not immune to having bad days. For example, yesterday, I was a bit of miss cranky pants. We were buying supplies for our composting grant and the merchants were less than helpful. Things were not delivered on time, ATMs decided not dispense cash, and credit card readers decided to become illiterate. After an hour of walking around the city figuring things out, I thought to myself, “why can’t things just work in this country sometimes?”
It was ironic because this bad attitude was only 24 hours after I had presented on a panel. On this panel, I said, “You can’t change your situation or people, but you can change your attitude.” So basically, I had to take my own advice or be a hypocrite. It was not easy. However, I have noticed that I have become better at practicing patience.
5) Gratefulness is a feeling that encompasses me the most. Maybe I count my blessings to keep me sane, or maybe the difficulties have pointed out the beautiful things in life. I don’t know why, but I feel grateful most days now. Life is not easy in the Peace Corps and I think when little miracles happen they seem really big. When people show up to a meeting on time, I feel like I moved heaven and earth. When my youth take my advice seriously, I feel like I actually made a difference. In the United States, little miracles are easy to ignore because they do not take so much effort to achieve. Feeling all the feels makes me feel in a sense happier. Peace Corps has been rewarding and I seriously hope that general feeling does not go away.