Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 12 & 13: The end of our Georgian stay...

First of all, I want to say that I took over 800 pictures during my entire stay in the RofG, but somehow I managed to only take 3 pictures the last two days. Therefore, I will only have maybe one or two pictures on this post. I will probably follow up with a reflection post that will hit on all the many stories that I left out, or some of the most interesting pictures that I have not yet posted. 

We left early in the morning from Gavazi. Stephen and I, in the fashion we were most accustomed to, tried to get in the bed at a decent hour, and awoke to a breakfast of hard boiled eggs and buckwheat. Renee, who had the most plush living quarters from what she told us, arrived early to meet Stephen and I at our home stay house (the van was leaving Gavazi from our place...lucky). However, Dr. Williams and Heather arrived in an ever so jubilant mood; apparently they had a large time with the locals partying and dancing the night before. Plus their living conditions weren't as cozy as our so they made the best of the situation and took in some culture. And as soon as we departed on the 5-6 hour trip to Tblisi, Dr. Williams and Heather were out like a light. This would prove to be the longest early morning van ride yet. 

Our arrival back at the british house in Tblisi marked the 3rd and final time we checked in, and in a little over 14 hours we would be checking out and beginning our journey back to the states. Altogether, The British house was top notch: they had a restaurant, wireless internet (sometimes...), and TV. On the TV we picked up BBC, various and sundry other news stations, and World Cup Channels.  Futbol (Soccer) was not a sport that I paid much attention to before this experience, but it was almost unavoidable (especially when I was surrounded by high schoolers at the FFG Camp). Soccer was one of the many things that I learned to gain a greater appreciation for in the RofG, along with dramamine, water pressure in the shower, American soft drinks, toilet seats, and strangely enough - People. To be a stranger in a country 7000 miles from my own, and to be shown the kind of hospitality we were, almost makes me forget all the times in America where we are completely left out in the cold by our friends that our too busy to help us in times of need because they are pursuing their own agenda. In the RofG, the only agenda they have is to help one another prosper, even if that means putting business or priorities behind what they are consumed with at the moment. In America, we call that being confused; In Georgia, they call that showing love. Just a little bit different.

After a shower and packing all our bags up, Curt wanted us to experience the only restaurant that overlooked the river that bisected Tblisi. It was the last meal that we would share with Curt, our translators Teona & Sesili, and in the RofG. It was a good one. (The picture above is the Well that the restaurant was built around and me and Curt hanging around it). 

Our last night in the RofG was spent reflecting about the times we had during the past two weeks, the relationships we had built, and the road that we had laid for the FFG organization. Sadly enough we got in bed pretty early (10:30), because we had to be at the Airport in Tblisi at 3:15. Departure time was at 4:00.

We left at 4:45. Not, Good. We were scheduled to arrive at the "Charles" in Paris at 11:00. We arrived at 12:15. If you see were this is going, then you know it wasn't good. 

So we missed our connecter. Thankfully, we did manage to talk to some embassy people and work some tickets for the 2:30 flight to Atlanta. It was a frustrating time in Paris, and I have purposely chose to forget most of the events that transpired during the three hour layover. I will say one point of humor originated from a gentlemen who looked like Morris Day of the Time. He was a sport. 

We eventually got on our flight and before we knew it, were landing at the Hartsfield-Jackson Int'l Airport in Atlanta. 

After a few concourses and some customs check-thru's, we were reunited with our parents, who had been waiting patiently for us to arrive back some three hours ago. We shared hugs, words, web addresses, etc. This was an experience that we would never forget. One that we know had a great impact on those that we were focused on and maybe some we weren't. And for every bit of information that we learned about the RofG, we learned two bits about ourselves. We learned about pushing our own limits, stepping outside not just our comfort-zone - but outside our comfort-Area Code, and what our stomach could handle. 

My First meal back in the U.S. was when my parents and I stopped in Jonesboro at the Olive Garden - the Tour of Italy. Delicious. I slept all the way back to Tifton. 


Michael Pisciotta

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Day 11: Kakheti

After a restful night a sleep & a buckwheat breakfast we were off to Kakheti for a school visit, some sightseeing, and a supra.  As you can see from this picture, there was a lot of heavy, slow-moving traffic that day (of the bovine variety). 
We eventually made it and were just in time for a school visit. Some of our favorite FFG Students would be getting to show us around today: George, Shota, and Data. Georg
e was an incredible dancer, Shota really liked american basketball, and Data was t
he National officer that was known for his public speaking abili
ties. So naturally we would be well taken care of.  The school in Kakheti was large
, and they had a badmint
on court, and a soccer/basketball court (not uncommon to many of the schools we traveled to). We had the opportunity to see their FFG chapter room, w
hich also doubled as there computer lab. Upon our arrival we saw that they had much American paraphernalia on the wall.... and dead in the center of the wall was something that struck Heather and I by surprise....
You Can't Hide That Gladiator Pride! Clarke Central High School! After Heather and I had traveled half way around the world the last thing we would think we would see would be a Clarke Central Spirit Flag! Apparently a Peace Corp Worker had left it at the school some time ago as a souvenir, and little did that Peace Corp Worker think that people that lived mere minutes away from Clarke Central would ever see it again! Truly Amazing (and ironic). 

After the school visit, we traveled to the birthplace of Ilia Chavchavadze, Georgian activist, poet, and "Founder of modern Georgia".  His museum was impressive as was his wine cellar. The FFG students knew almost as much about Ilia as the tour guide, and I was impressed with how proud they were of their country's people and history. 

Our group then traveled to a monastery which was very amazing in its on right. The students took us up to to rooftops to check out the scenery. Sho
ta and I had some quality bonding time as well.
Following a day full of sight seeing and hanging out with the FFG students you would think that they would have a nice, quiet evening supra planned for us. But as you may have already got the picture from reading this blog, things are seldom as the seem in the Republic of Georgia. 

The food and drink was abundant, people young and old were playing the guitar & the piano, everyone had to sing and most everyone danced. By this time I had grown accustomed to the tradition Georgian dance and even tried my hand at it....
Embarrassing? Yes, I know. Fun? Most in the world. I found that no matter what language you speak laughter and love, along with sports, is universal. Many of the older male students that could speak english asked me a very simple question when I first got to know them, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" You see, in the RofG the number of siblings you have correlate to how blessed you have been in life. When I responded with a "no", they still smiled from ear-to-ear and responded with "We are now your brothers!" This made my trip and I knew that this would give me a lot to think (and write about) on my way back to the U.S.A. Speaking of which, the return would commence in less than 48 hours. We would trek back to Tblisi, which could be regarded as the land of plenty, tomorrow but for now Stephen and I would relish the time we spent in Gavazi & Kakheti at Giga's home. It would be a journey from Gavazi to Tblisi, but hopefully the dirtroads might have found a box blade by now....or not.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day 10: Home Stay in Gavazi

Gamar joba! After a journey from Buknari to Tbilisi and Tbilisi to Gavazi, we arrived in the mountainous region that we would call our home for the next two days. Gavazi was easily as rural as Chala was, except for the fact that people from Chala (as well as everyone else in the RofG) make fun of people from Gavazi, because they value the simplicity of life and have a glorious absence of refinement. In our country, most would call this being a "redneck". 
The house where we would be staying at (left) seemed very primitive compared to the hotels and hostels we frequented on our journey. However, Stephen and I had a real bed (Dr. Jen and Heather slept on boards with sheets on them), a furnace to heat water for hot showers ( Dr. Jen and Heather had pans w/ lukewarm water, ladles, and some assembly required), and each other (renee braved the home stay by her american lonesome). Therefore, we were very blessed. The son of the family we stayed with, Giga, was 15, tall, goofy, and loved american rock music. His favorites were The Doors, Bob Dylan, & The Who and in recompense for us listening to music on CD's at night with him he would show us the way to Gavazi's High school in the mo

Stephen and I found out the house was equipped with a natural alarm clock as well - half a dozen roosters outside the house. After a breakfast of buckwheat, fruit, and a very cheese-grits-like substance, Giga, Stephen, and Myself hit the dirtroads en route to Gavazi's High school. In a semi-serious moment, we passed an military base equipped with soldiers pac
king up their jeeps for a days trip to the larger city of Kakheti, which we
 would be traveling to the following day. Many of them were smoking and burly in build, but as we passed they raised their hands and waved followed by an ambitious "Hello America!"  I found this to be a sign of reassurance that we would make it through the next two days. 

Gavazi's High school had a very rustic feel to it, but it did have a computer room, a wood shop, and  a full greenhouse/garden/vineyard/Beehives outside of the main building. The principal of the school was Paata- the father of the FFG's National President, Nino. Following the school visit we had a supra at a local restaurant and saw all of the hot spots, including a grist mill and this 3rd century church....

Stephen and I retired early as we would be visiting our friends in Kakheti, Shota and Gorgi, doing a school visit, seeing a monastery, doing a supra, and possibly some recreational activity. A big day ahead of us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Camp (Day 6-9): Our Lives are Brilliant....

On to Buknari, the Black Sea, and the bunk that we would call our Home for the next four days. Stephen and I were pleasantly suprised by our view from the room at the camp.

As a Summer Camp Counselor at the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center in Covington, Georgia, U.S.A. I pretty much thought I had seen it all. I was way off. The compound had all the same amenities, but the Buknari site had one exceptional feature, a beach! Using space to our advantage, our first order was to construct a bonfire on the beach so that our Georgian campers could roast marshmallows to make s'mores. Wood was sparse, but we managed to get enough to get it going. By the bonfire we were introduced to the National Officers of the FFG(Future Farmers of Georgia), and in turn, they introduced us to everyone else. After spending some time with the campers playing ping pong and kicking the football (soccer ball), we decided to meet for the last time before we started teaching our lessons during the sessions. Up first, Dr. Jenn bringing the Values/Ethics seminar.
Teaching with a translator presented some difficulty for all of us at first. We eventually caught on to how to relate the ideas to Teona and Sesili, our two wonderful translators, and began to cruise through the lessons. I was very impressed by how most of the campers listened, took notes, and become actively involved in the lessons through asking questions and participating in games. I felt relieved that Dr. Jenn went first, but she set the bar pretty high for us. Stephen was up next giving the lesson on Vision.

After a two hour coffee break, which is not uncommon in the RofG, Stephen was up. With his lesson, was a game called Find Yourself Outside, in which students had to find things that represented them as people around them. Some of them picked chairs, some of them picked blankets, but it challenged all of them to examine their purpose and direction in life. The campers thoroughly enjoyed this activity and especially learned from it.

After Stephen's lesson we packed up and were headed toward Batumi to an orphanage house that held around 50 children between the ages of 8-18. We had planned to bring our sack lunch dinners there and eat them outside. When we walked in the FFG National Officers took over, doing activities and teaching the children the some ideas behind our Values/Vision lessons we related to them earlier. They were paying attention (!) and did an excellent job teaching the kids from what the translators told us. Then our campers threw us a curveball (not always a bad thing) with what they did; they gave our sack dinners to the orphans who don't get food that is as good as sandwiches. The spirit of these children dumbfounded me! I was proud to even be associated with teenagers that have that kind of heart of giving. Without the sack dinners, we got to go into Batumi to eat, but on our way there we saw something that suprised us even more.

WE MADE THE NATIONAL NEWS, which in America is very difficult to do unless you go on a crime spree.

On Sunday, it was Heather's turn to teach and what a lesson she had planned: Communication. Her lesson involved a game of story telling, and how much something you tell someone might change the next time you hear it. The campers had a good time with the story game. Heather also taught the campers something that they were stumped on, how to write Thank You Notes. Apparently, in the RofG Thank You Notes are not required for graduation, wedding, or birthday gifts. But now they know.

After Heather's session we decided it would be best if Renee and I went on the last day, to cap the camp. This would allow the camper's plenty of time to get some of their energy out before we traveled into Batumi for the night's activities, which included a laser-water fountain show.

The morning of the last day is still very vivid in my memory. While Stephen did the smarter thing by giving the Georgian people pictures he brought, all I had was stuff. In the same sense, I felt like if I didn't give something to some of my newly made friends, I would just be a distant memory of a visitor that came to entertain. I wasn't; I came with intent to better, to help build the FFG Organization. I gave one of my friends my UGA hat that has seen better days, but it has been there for me through good times and bad. I gave another one of my friends a soccer ball, which is like gold to these teenagers. The soccer ball was the first soccer ball I ever bought with my own money. Strangely enough, I don't think it will be my last.

Renee taught first. Her lesson was on setting goals and step-taking to ensure success. The game she chose involved an obstacle course. It was difficult to facilitate at times, but overall I think the campers enjoyed themselves.

I was up next. I focused on having a fun and leaving the kids with something that could remember easily. My lesson was on using your strengths to help your team. My activity was one my high school Agriculture teacher did with our class when I was in 11th grade. It's called Handicapped Paper Air Plane Factory. The name pretty much says it all. I was very skeptical of putting an activity like this on them (one with a lot of directions), but the campers really got into it. If nothing else they had fun and got a little loud with my lesson.

I was very satisfied with all the team's performance and effort at the camp at Buknari. I believe we were successful at giving them knowledge that they can use as a foundation to build the FFG Organization on. The ball is in their court.

There is one story from the camp that particularly sticks out in my mind though. After Heather's lesson on Sunday, before we traveled to Batumi, Stephen runs in our room. He tells me that there is a camper playing piano in the girl's cabin and she is amazing. We round up the troops and go to see this she-beethoven. Of course, she is playing traditional Georgian music, but she has broken English and tells us thank you after we applauded her effort. She tells us the next song is American Western. Yep, the same corral music that you would probably hear in Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1930's. It was very good, and of course we clap again, but she wasn't done. American Jazz was her next selection, and once again, smooth and silky. One more song and she tells us "this is my favorite." At first, I didn't know if I was hearing it right...but I was and it was familiar...
My life is brilliant.
My life is brilliant.
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.Of that I'm sure.
She smiled me on the subway.She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.
You're beautiful,
You're beautiful,
You're beautiful, it's true......
Who knew teenagers in the Republic of Georgia are listening to James Blunt's ballads?

Day 4-5:Caves and Rooms with Bathroom Slippers

After Chala, we relocated to the rural town of Akhaltsikhe for a night of rest and relaxation. We were comforted to find that the hotel did not only have a swimming pool, but also grazing cattle that frequented the roads that led us to the hotel. It kind of felt like home.

Our first item on the agenda was a trip to the school in Akhaltsikhe. It had a certain rustic feeling to it that included composite pictures of every principal and teacher at school as well rusted iron bars that guarded the class room with computers on it (this was not the only time we saw this). The visit went well but I noticed Curt, our fearless leader, was looking on to the next stop. A place called Vardzia.

After a bumpy ride through the hills (and by hills, I mean mountains), we arrived at our destination. We trekked up the first mountain to see three large caverns where Curt described an ancient civilization of Georgian peoples that strikingly resembled Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Hilarity ensued.

Upon a climb, a few turns, and passage through a fort with gates to deter intruders, we beholded the 12th Century Cave-City of Vardzia.

Monks still live there today. For more information visit

We proceeded to our final destination before camp, the coastal city of Batumi. Arriving into the hotel in Batumi, I immediately knew that this would be the nicest living accomadations that we would see during our time in the RofG. Wireless Internet, living rooms in our quarters, disinfected up-standing toilets and our own personal bathroom slippers! Impressive.

After a Coke Light/Camp Planning break we hit the sack. We knew that the upcoming days at camp would define the success of our trip to the Republic of Georgia.

Finish the Drill

It has been several weeks, and many happenings since my last blog so I would like to apologize about the tardiness of what will be following. Once again, I want to extend many thanks and praises to our supporters in the United States.

Let's recap what has been happening since the last post: Our Diamond Dawgs lost in the College World Series Championship game to the Underdogs of Fresno State, The mighty boys in Silver Britches are ranked the Number One football team in the nation on not only the EA Sports NCAA 2009 College Football Game but also by the Coaches in America, The Dark Knight is breaking box office records and our race for the White House is still as much of a hot mess as it was when we first left the country.

I would now like to take a no holds barred approach to advising the next group (and I pray that there will be one) that globetrots to the country of Georgia.

-bring a small notepad that you can write happenings and events in. While in the RofG it was virtually impossible to keep up with all the things you will see and all the places you will go. With limited internet access, you will not be able to blog whenever you feel like it. I found this out the hard way.

-Take pictures. but not with a camera, silly, like physical pictures that you can give to your newest friends that don't speak you language. This is Stephen Bowman's brainchild and was quite the parting gift. These Native people of Georgia will love this gift and it is something that they will cherish like your their favorite son or daughter.

-Lloyd Christmas said it best, "Some people just aren't cut out for life on the road." You will travel by van/bus/taxi with people that could easily drive on sunday at Watkins Glen, Talladega, or Atlanta Motor Speedway. Most everyone struggled with this at some point and time and dramamine will be your best friend.

-Bathrooms are few and far between, so to avoid having to stop the vehicle that is already moving at the speed of light, go whenever you have the chance.

Now that I've picked a few bones, I would like to leave who ever the next suitors are to the Georgia 2 Georgia Experience with this advice: Be flexible, prepare for the elements, and you only live once. So go for it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reflections of Georgia

This is somewhat of a reflection piece. Don’t worry…Michael and Renee will update the blog soon and fill in all of the gaps from our trip. And trust me, there are good stories to be told!

I just wanted to add some thoughts about what occurred. First of all, I had the opportunity to be with four amazing students for two week. Everyday I learned more about them and was continually amazed at their knowledge, excitement, and truly giving souls. I can honestly say we have all bonded as a team more than any team I have ever been on. I guess traveling across an ocean will do that for you. We all got really good at knowing when to step in and help each other and when to push each other’s buttons (again, funny stories…right Princess Stephen?).

I am so proud to call these students “mine.” When they were teaching and interacting with the students at FFG camp as well as on our school visits, I was like a proud Momma hen…

Each one of these guys brought a different dynamic to our team. The amazing thing (as a leadership professor) is that each dynamic offered made this team stronger. It was truly group member roles at its best.

As our trip progressed, it was fun for me to see the growth in these guys. I am proud to say that there was little complaining when the "facilities" were not what we are used to here in the States (having to chase chickens out of the outhouse) or when the roads were so bumpy that we all turned a bit green (stopping a couple of times for a break). These students were troupers. I can only say that I hope they will keep me around a bit to watch them change the world!