Tim in Georgia

This is a blog to chronicle my experiences in the Republic of Georgia as a Peace Corps TEFL volunteer. *The views expressed herein are mine and are not necessarily those of the Peace Corps or the US Government.*

12 January 2008

What's on Tap?

I have decided to start a contest…you have two weeks to submit questions (about Georgia, the Peace Corps, my time here, etc.) to my email (link at left) and I will answer the most interesting one here, on my blog. In addition to being mentioned by name and hometown (unless you instruct me otherwise) on my blog, which is read by at least 3 people – you and my parents – the winner receives an inconceivably interesting photo gallery of Georgia delivered expressly to their email inbox. So think long and hard and creatively! Fame and immortality await…

As many of you may know, I have campaigned passive-aggressively against bottled water for years. And, I am pleased to learn, my efforts have finally paid off! To celebrate the new year, my hometown of Chicago has imposed a new 5 cent tax on all bottles of bottled water to discourage their use. The main rationale isn’t that bottled water is silly (although it is – Chicago’s tap water is exceedingly healthy), but rather that it causes much environmental and economic waste. The bottles are often left on the ground, not reused, or discarded in the garbage despite being recyclable. Like the London tax on driving in the city center, this new legislation should be publicized at every opportunity. However, unlike the London initiative, I doubt that Chicago’s effort will be successful. It is already silly to pay a dollar or more to purchase something that you can get elsewhere (like your tap or the water fountain) for free or nearly free. Adding a meager 5 cents to the cost is unlikely to do anything to curb consumption. But, this is an important first step. Chicago: Bravo!

The newest sin tax.

Exchange rate notes: When I arrived in Georgia in June 2006, 1.82 Georgian lari were required to obtain 1.00 American dollars. Now, in January 2008, you can buy 1.00 American dollars for the low low price of 1.58 lari. In terms of US dollars, I get paid more and more every day, which is quite nice. Additionally, due mainly to my absence from the economy, the Canadian dollar surged ahead of the U.S. dollar. I find this mildly amusing. Are people in America at all concerned about this?

In another side note, when I checked my gmail account today, the ad that appeared at the top of the screen advised me to immigrate to Canada. This might seem simply accidental and strange, until you consider that google has some of the most advanced and specific ad-placing software around. They likely know things about me (and you!) that they have no business knowing. So why are they suggesting that I move to Canada? I for one have no idea. I receive many emails from official .gov addresses – which google should realize, since it handles my email – so it should be obvious that, at the very least, I am well-connected with my current government. Additionally, google recently partnered with blogger, the site where I publish my blog entries, and so I’m sure that google is also aware of my blog chronicling my Peace Corps experience. Perhaps google is making value judgments here – it can likely surmise that I was previously living in America, am currently living in Georgia, and is proposing Canada as a sort of middle ground.

I often wonder if the internet is becoming too smart for us – or at least too smart for me. I think that there comes a point in each person’s life when they reach their technological threshold. At some point, nearly everyone becomes so overwhelmed by new technologies that they simply do not understand new technologies anymore. They either do not use these new, magical technologies, or they use them very reluctantly and with low levels of competency.

A strange thing to note is that technological prowess seems not to decline over time. If I know how to program my VCR, I will likely always know how to program that same VCR, barring severe senility or other mental disease. People are less able to perform physical functions as they age – sportsmen slow and retire, bending over is more painful and time-consuming than it used to be, some people require the aid of a cane to maneuver bipedally – but the technological portion of the mind does not seem to slow down in such a visible manner. It does seem to have a maximum capacity, however.

This phenomenon has a long history. It began as fear of new technology. For example, when railroad technology was advancing rapidly in the 19th century and railroads became more and more accessible to the public, many were afraid to ride them. They feared that traveling at such speeds (faster than a man on horseback) would cause damage to the internal organs. It was mainly the young that began using railroads, and eventually fears about them diminished. The young, who had not reached their capacity to welcome new technologies, embraced railroads and the old, who had reached their capacity, were afraid and reluctant.

A contemporary example exists here in Georgia. Cell phones are all the rage – nearly everyone has one. Yet people use these phones in different ways. The young use their phones for a plethora of activities – playing music and games, sending messages to friends, taking photos, transferring files, and even talking on them. The middle-aged, who were acquainted with land-line phones, use them nearly exclusively for talking, and the old generally do not use them. The old are aware of cell phones and, when handed a phone that has been dialed, can speak to the person on the other end. But, they are generally unwilling or unable to initiate this action without help – even though they can do exactly the same thing on a land-line phone independently.

So why do I bring this up? I fear that I am reaching my technological threshold. I fear that, when I return to America, there will be several new technologies – too many new technologies – for me to absorb. Blackberries and podcasts existed before I left, but as a poor college student without an ipod, I never absorbed these technologies. Couple that with all the new things that have appeared since I left – iphones and whatever else – and I may be overwhelmed and incapable of adapting to all of them. By not needing or really even wanting any of these technologies while in Georgia, I fear that I may have lowered my threshold. At least, though, I will only become technologically dumber in relative terms, and not in absolute terms.

One note about Georgian cell phones – they are ridiculously fancy. My Nokia 1100 scrapes the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps my growing fear of new technology is one of the reasons that I love it so. But, for all their technological modernity, Georgian cell phones universally lack voicemail. While I have no idea why this is so, it may explain why a few of my not-so-favorite students find it prudent to answer their phones during my class.

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03 January 2008

School Holiday Celebrations

My school recently executed its first English-language Christmas party. My students sang songs, recited poems, told jokes, and described Christmas traditions in both America and Georgia. I think everyone had a good time. Here are some photos of the event.

Vazha dons the ugliest Santa mask I have ever seen (let alone purchased).

We even teach shapes and colors!

The singers.

The students wish all of you a happy holiday season.

The author - looking festive, as always.
Even more excitingly (at least for me), was meeting with several intrepid students on the first day of winter vacation. They gathered with me in my classroom to make Christmas cards, take some Christmas candies, and receive free of charge the most sought-after gift of this holiday season - the Happy Holidays Verb Packet!

My intrepid students and me.

My students browse our English library (thanks to all of you who have sent books) for some holiday reading.

Nino and Vazha, my favorite 8th graders.

If your monitor has extraordinary resolution capabilities, you can even see part of "happy new year" written on the board, as well as our classroom rules. Although you might claim to be uninterested, I can see you squinting!

Happy Holidays!


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