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Where are the cows? There ought to be cows! Send in the cows!

Well……. maybe next year.


It is hard to believe that we have been back to our home in Aurora, CO for almost six weeks.  Adjusting as a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) is exhausting and daunting.  This posting’s title and first line is a parody on the song Send in the Clowns”  written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music.

One of the first things we became aware of as we lay in bed that first night back home was the quiet.  This was very very different from the nights during  the past two years in Georgia.  We retired early (about 10:00 PM) but our host family stayed up late preparing things for the next day. Their activity produced a variety of sounds, like pots and pans being moved about, that echoed in our room.  We made a game of it trying to image all that was going on in the rooms below us.

Our first morning was also marked by its quietness.  We did not hear the bellowing  of a cow wanting to be milked or the rooster crowing or the hens cackling.  What I said to Suzanne as she lay next to me was: “Where are the cows?”  This prompted laughter and my start of the parody mentioned above.

Getting back to our return:

When we finally arrived back at our house, some of our very special friends were there to greet us.  They brought along some munchies and drinks to share and put a few essentials in our refrigerator.  They did not stay long as they understood how tired we were from our long trip and shortly after they left we crashed into our nice soft memory foam mattress for a long nights sleep.  We awoke happy to be in our comfortable surroundings but realizing that we only had 2 days to prepare for our son, Stephen and his wife and 3 children to arrive on our doorstep.  And the next 4 weeks were full of family gatherings, trips to museums with the boys, almost constant eating, traveling to the wondrous Rocky Mountains for the Fourth of July holiday and fireworks!  We stayed in a lovely home compliments of Tasha’s mother from which we watched the fireworks and played a game of Trivial pursuit which David commanded.

A borrowed car from our neighbor helped us get through the first days but soon we found the new car we wanted and we are pleased with it.  Other events after the company left were to check in with our doctor and follow up with Linda and David who generously watched over our home for 2 years and rejoin our dear friends in the many activities we enjoy together.   Here are a few pictures to illustrate some highlights.  Click on the first picture and follow the arrow to the right>.

 

 

Then, suddenly,  it was just us…Tom and Suzanne.  It’s now 2 weeks later and we are still putting clothes into order, getting used to shopping at the mammoth food store, enjoying the mostly useless mail in our box, checking bank information, tending to needed work in the yards, taking naps, and sometimes just sitting quietly to ponder life and the future.

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Tips for helping us return.

The following thoughts were taken from a blog of another RPCV and changed to reflect our experiences in Georgia. You can read their exceptional blog at: http://jeddandmichelle.com/

Practical Ways You Can Help a Returnee

 

  • Don’t expect everything to be exactly the same Returning home “should” feel comfortable for RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers). But in reality, it might not. Because we may not even realize how much we’ve changed on the inside, Returned Volunteers may feel conflicted or confused even when things are familiar. We will be seeing our former life from a different vantage point, good and/or bad.

 

  • Support us by showing interest Whether you see it or not, we’ll be processing the experiences we’ve had in Peace Corps for a long time coming. It’s a huge part of our lives that we don’t want to forget or minimize. If you do want to hear about our experiences, it can help to carve out a time and space to really talk. But we don’t have to sit down and hash it all out at once. Ask genuine questions that you’re curious about, as you think of them. Or, just hang around and our stories will come out naturally in conversations. However it happens, we’ll definitely appreciate your interest.

 

  • Please try to ask specific questions  It’s basically impossible to answer the question, “How was it?” As our friends put it so well, this is as good as you’re going to get: “There were some really awesome parts, but honestly, there were some really awful parts. Most days were something in between.” Could you sum up the last two years of your life on the spot? Again, if there’s something in particular that you’re truly curious about, ask. (What kind of resources do the teachers have access to in Georgia? What are the most common meals people eat? What was your house/host family like?) If you don’t know where to start, ask to see a few of our videos/pictures they’re a short and sweet way to share an overview of our experiences with you.

 

  • Include us  We’ve lived apart for 26 months. And we have greatly missed our family and friends. You will definitely make home feel like home again! But be aware that we don’t know what our future holds except that our first priority is too connect with family all over the U.S. We have been each other’s main support for this journey and now we are delighted to reach out to all of you and support one another in new ways.

 

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Final Goodbyes!

This last week has been filled with many sad goodbyes.  It is hard to put into words all the emotions that have been experienced.  I said good bye to my co-workers with a dinner at our favorite Ajaran restaurant, Suzanne said goodbye to her teacher counterparts and finally to our host family for the past two years.  Now here in Tbilisi we say goodbye to the Peace Corps staff and fellow volunteers as we perform the final acts before becoming RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).  In the attached photos we share some of those encounters.

Office goodbyes:

 

Teacher goodbyes:

Friends goodbyes:

Family Goodbyes:

 

Staff goodbyes:

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Last training at Batumi State University!

Financial Literacy…. who would have thought this would be my last training with some of the students at the local university.

For the past two years I have been working off and on with Nino Inaishvili the director of Batumi’s branch of Education USA which helps students with their English skills and prepares them forthe TOFEL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  This is a requirement  young women and men in Georgia need to achieve before  applying for admittance to universities in America.

This financial literacy training is designed by the Peace Corps and has as it goal “to increase their knowledge and awareness of money”.  Topics covered: “The Value of Money”,  “How to understand and determine the difference between  wants and needs”,  “How and why to create a budget”, “Why save? coupled with creating saving goals”, and “Loans, what they are and what to consider before getting a loan”. I also spent time discussing the differences between debit and credit cards and the pitfalls of credit card misuse.

In a country where savings is not always practiced or practical because of low incomes, it is very important to teach the concepts of good financial practices.

The students were very engaged and did express their satisfaction with the knowledge they gained.  It made for a good closure of my work here.

Here are some pictures of the sessions.  I started with 16 students, but because of exams and other commitments only 7 finished.  Still this was a good exercise.

Click on a picture to bring up the full size album.

 

 

 

 

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It’s time to start thinking about packing.

Our time as Peace Corps Volunteers is nearing its end.  As of April 14, 2014 we have only 67 days till we board the first of our three flights home.

Wow!  It is hard to believe 2 years have passed but when the end of April arrives that is exactly what will have happened since we left Aurora, Colorado for our Eastern European destination.

There’s really not much to be said on this blog but WOW!

Over the course of the next several weeks we will try to post some reflections of our time here and our thoughts about what we might expect when we wake up in our own bed in our house in Aurora, Colorado.

So for now the header photo says it all.  We leave on Saturday June 21, 2014 at 4:55 AM and, baring any delays or missed planes, arrive in Aurora at 6:45 PM the same day.

We are looking forward to seeing all you  as soon as we have a car to drive and have practiced a bit!  In the meantime, know that you all have been a tremendous support to us and we are truly grateful!

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A quick trip to Hopa, Turkey.

Well we finally made it to the bazaar in Hopa, Turkey.  Everyone here said we needed to go because things were so cheap.  We were not impressed.  First snag… Turkey is 2 hours behind Georgia so when we crossed the boarder at 9 AM Georgia time it was only 7 AM in Turkey. When we arrived in Hopa, just 20 minutes away, we found ourselves having to wait for the stores to open.  It would have been great if the weather was just a little warmer.  We did a lot of walking, looking through many shops but not really seeing anything we wanted to buy.  As here in the Georgian bazaars there were many small shops filled with clothes, shoes, and household items.  Where to find the bargains was the second snag.  After spending several hours walking around with our host brother (Aleko) we boarded a mini bus and went to a more conventional shopping mall where we did finally purchase a few mementos from our trip.  Here are a few pictures of this little excursion.

 

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COS (Close of Service) Conference

Just like the title suggests, we spent March 13th and 14th at a conference in Tbilisi, Georgia with our fellow G12 Volunteers learning what it takes to complete our service.  We may be heading down the home stretch but getting there is filled with almost more paperwork  than the application process and many, many goodbyes. This was the last official gathering of our group and for some it was also the last time we would see them before heading home.

Many of the conference sessions were geared towards looking for jobs after service.  Other sessions dealt with all the forms that needed to be completed, health coverage after service and traveling. We presented the last session which dealt with the need to bring closure to our work and say goodbye to our friends, host families and colleagues.

The conference concluded with a formal reception which included the Georgian Deputy Minister of Education and the US Ambassador.   Our Country Director started the event with a few special remarks about our group which was followed by some thoughts by two of our PC friends.  There were thankful remarks from the Georgian Minister of Education. The Ambassador, who had just arrived from a trip to the US, could not say enough about his gratitude for our service.  The evening concluded with a delicious Georgian meal at a local restaurant where we celebrated with a “homemade” piñata and humorous awards.

Before leaving Tbilisi, we headed off on Saturday night to what we thought was a dinner with a good friend.  We arrived at the restaurant to be greeted with “Surprise”.  Rachel, with help from Elizabeth, had arranged this event to celebrate Suzanne’s 70th birthday and our 45th wedding anniversary.  There were about 25 volunteers who joined in the party and some of the pictures below will showcase them.  It was an awesome evening!

We conclude with a picture gallery of conference events:

Followed by pictures from our surprise dinner:

For a lot more photos go to this link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8zfzhtrxy1jdhca/rz6snhtxoZ

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Christmas in Costa Rica

For the holidays and winter break, we had saved most of our personal vacation days from the past months and were able to spend 20 warm, lovely days with our family in Escazu, Costa Rica.  We left Tbilisi on December 20 and arrived there about 27 hours later on the same day!  It was late at night so we had to wait for the morning to give hugs to the boys and have our first meeting with our new granddaughter, Eliana . The boys, Kylan and Auden were up by 7 and greeted us with big hugs.

In the following days we had many adventures: some with the whole family, a few with just us and the boys or other combinations.  We also got to meet many of Stephen and Dana’s friends who joined us for dinners and barbecues with various numbers of children. One of the big highlights was a 3 night visit to Manuel Antonio beach where we had spacious accommodations, great weather, monkeys outside our windows, and the Pacific ocean just a few minutes drive away.

Here is a sampling of our pictures and videos.  More can be seen at the link below.

We are including a link to Dropbox where you will find lots of pictures and a few videos of our adventures.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9yhtb4guf012ir1/1k5nGDT-JX

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Happy New Year!

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May the new year bring you peace and happiness.

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December 2013, It is cold in Georgia!

December started off in a normal way.  In Batumi the weather was mild during the days but chilly at night.  As expected we have had our share of rain up to this time and the roads from our house to the highway became lakes making it difficult to walk.  Umbrellas are our constant companion.

The beginning of December also signifies the passing of another year of marriage bliss as Suzanne and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.  We took the opportunity to book a room at the Radisson Hotel in Batumi where the service was really great.  Not only did we get a room upgrade but the hotel also sent us a bottle of wine, a basket of fruit and a small cake.  When I booked the room I did mention several times it was our anniversary but I did not expect this.  So for the next 24 hours we enjoyed the comfort of the hotel, I had a swim and a massage while Suzanne enjoyed relaxing in a tub and reading a book.

Well that was the nice part of the month.  We returned to our house in the village on Sunday evening just before dinner.  After putting our things away and starting the heater in our room we went down to talk with our host family and have dinner.   Here is where all the fun began.  When we retuned home it was raining but the temperature was falling.  By the time dinner started the rain had turned to snow and then to ice.  This isn’t unusual for Batumi but it was the first time we experienced it.  Well the storm, blowing in from the Black Sea, had very gusty winds and extended deep into the country.    Dinner was almost over when we lost electricity.  Everything went dark and out came the candles.  While we do have power outages in Georgia, usually it only lasts for a couple of hours.  We soon learned that this was a major storm and many power lines were down. It would be 7 and a half days before electricity was restored.

What to do?  Without power our room would become an icebox making it difficult to do anything during the day and a challenge for sleeping at night.  We found ourselves spending a lot of time in the petchi room with the rest of the household and when it came time to sleep we had to put on several layers of clothes before getting under the covers.  The experiences here in Georgia just keep coming.

The power outage also affected my work as without power the office remained closed.  Suzanne’s school also shut down for the week. This would have been a fun time if it wasn’t for the snow and cold.  Travel for the first few days was all but impossible.  As we received word that power was being restored to parts of Batumi, we finally ventured out to the highway to see if we could catch a ride into the city.  We needed to find someplace where we could charge our phones and computers as their batteries were fading fast.  McDonalds to the rescue, this was the one place where there was heat and power.  I had to buy an extension cord so that I could share an outlet with others, but after three hours we had good charges on our equipment and were able to head back home.

December 14th was the date for the NESC, National English Spelling Competition.  Suzanne is the regional coordinator and the games must go on.  This did pose a problem as many of the kids who qualified for the regional round live in the highlands of Ajara and the heavy snow, up to 2 meters, would prevent many of them from participating.  We hope something will be arranged for them to have a chance to go to the national round in March.

Since the competition was on a Saturday and we were still without power, we decided to once again visit the Radisson Hotel to assure ourselves of being on time at the competition site.  Of the many good things I could say about the hotel one of the best is their generous late checkout times.  We were able to keep our things at the hotel until 5 PM which made it easier for use to go to the competition and return before heading back to the house.  We learned later in the day that power was finally restored but could be intermittent.

The rest of the month, up to December 19th, was rather normal if not cold.  We were counting the days as on the 20th we were leaving for vacation to the warm climate of Costa Rica and our grandkids.  More on this in the next posting.  For now, enjoy the following album containing pictures of all these happenings.

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A wonderful surprise.

Anniversary celebration.

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Our anniversary breakfast.

Winter wonderland.

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The petchi room.

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All bundled up for sleep.

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Butumi in the snow.

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Spelling competition winners.

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Freshly picked mandarins.

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