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Monday, June 10, 2013
Learning from women in Azerbaijan, Georgia

By Jane McManus

espnW contributor Jane McManus is with the U.S. State Department exchange trip to Azerbaijan and Georgia to empower young women through sports. Here are some of the things she has done and seen so far:

Ketevani Papava-Lobzhanidze teaches English to a group of kids from socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the seaside town of Batumi in Georgia, near the Turkish border.

I talked to her group of 25 or so junior-high aged students about women and sports. She translated, and in the middle of my talk stopped to tell me we had so much in common, because she had been a high level track and field athlete before teaching.

Her students were some of the most inquisitive ones I met, many with an impish sense of humor, and Ketevani laughed with them. The afternoon I spent with them was one of the highlights of my trip.

At Batumi State University, I met a student named Nino Lukutashuili, who listened to my presentation and said she had to quit gymnastics at age 11 after her coach moved. At the time, she was the No. 2 gymnast in the Ajara region. Lukutashuili, in the pink jacket, said she is frustrated that she'll never be able to get back the opportunity. "When I'm watching the gymnasts on TV it's very hard," she said. "Sometimes tears come."

Ketevani Papava-Lobzhanidze listens to my presentation in Batumi. This was a program for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, but this class was one of the best that I met in Georgia. The students kept me for more than 45 minutes after I finished, asking me everything from how I became a sportswriter to whether or not I am strict with my children. This afternoon was a highlight of my visit.

It's an upside-down restaurant in Batumi -- a pretty wild thing to see.

These soccer players were champions in the 13-and-under division in Georgia, more impressive given that they come from a small town in the western part of the nation. That victory won them the opportunity to play in the Disney Cup in Orlando, Fla. They ate a lot of french fries and won a few soccer games, something they'll remember forever. One mother, a former basketball player herself, said she had the same emotions about the experience as her daughter did -- tears of joy.

This is a fruit store in Tbilisi and the hanging food is Churchkhela, a combination of nuts and grape juice. They last a long time and are a portable snack.

This is a street in Old Town Tblisi. The city has carpet sellers, and craftsmen like the cloisonné jewelry and felt textile galleries.