Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Back in Georgia

Yes, I have been gone quite a while. Some of that is due to laziness, and some of it is due to minor technical errors, like the fact that my large laptop broke. Thankfully, I had foreseen this, and so I bought a small netbook and brought it with me in anticipation of this catastrophic technological meltdown. Some may say I'm a psychic, I just call it wise. I just downloaded a free version of something similar to Microsoft Office, and I haven't been happier in a long time. The weather blows, it's still cold, and it rains everyday. It's depressing. But this writing session and the tunes of David Bowie are cheering me up quite a bit. I don't know where to begin, seeing as how I have been gone so long. To begin with, I'm in a new city, and a new region. No more Guria, no more village. I'm in Samegrelo now, in Poti, and it's a hell of a lot better. Things got pretty bad with my last host family in the village. I left strongly disliking them, mostly because my host dad was a close-minded, super traditional, backwards kind of guy. I don't want to dwell on the horrible things that have happened in the past, but here's a few of the things that were just the last straw:
  1. He imposed a 7 o'clock curfew on me
  2. He didn't like my boyfriend (more on this later)
  3. The family fed me the most crap food
  4. I felt extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome all the time

I'm sad to say that group # 23 has lost several members. Goodbye Aussie Adam, New Zealanders Jacob, Anna, and Eric; Melissa, Greg, and the Oracle of Tskaltsminda Collette! Here's a wrap up of the remainder of 2011 in this crazy land of Georgia:

Borjomi Trip

Most of what I had written about Borjomi was saved on my now deceased laptop. I shouldn't have been lazy and uploaded it while I had the chance, but alas, I didn't, and now I must start again, and the new version will be much condensed and a lot crappier. This was my second time to Borjomi (I've now been three times, but that's getting ahead). I've already described how magical Borjomi is in previous posts, so I won't be redundant. I must say, however, that the magic of Borjomi never fails to appear.

The trip started off with the usual cha cha (yes, I know that is spelled wrong) train ride to Khashuri, a village not far from Borjomi. Nathan and I arrived in this large village at around 4 in the morning, and, seeing as it was snowing and bitterly cold, we continued to drink cha cha until we scored a taxi ride into Borjomi. Once in town, and out of the taxi,we were greeted with falling clusters of white fluffy clusters of frozen rain. It was like a scene from a movie. It was that picturesque. We set about to search for a place to lay our heads, and rescue us from the chilly temperatures. Also, we were really drunk, and tired, and wanted to change out of our clothes which were dripping wet with snow juice. Borjomi was deserted, which was to expected at 5 in the morning. This ain't no Vegas. With this task, we encountered great difficulty, most likely because we were drunk, tired, and covered in snow juice. Like an angel fallen from heaven to direct our wayward souls, we spotted a man: an elderly man cleaning the street. The lone soul in this city with a ghost town that comes out at night. We approached this angel is disguise and asked him if he could lead us to a hotel. The 'we' really shouldn't be there, because it was Nathan who did all the talking, in his superb Russian. The veiled angel led us the Hotel Victoria, and we had to wake up the proprietor to be let in. She didn't seem too happy to be woken up at such a hour, but she let us in anyway and gave us a warm room.

The next day, before we were met by other fellow TLG'ers, Nathan and I decided to go romping about in the national park, which was covered in snow. This was a horrible idea for me, seeing as I had come to Georgia completely ill prepared for frigid conditions. I had boat shoes on, which one would think would be waterproof, but they weren't, and so I walked about with fears that I would have to go the hospital to get my frozen toes amputated. I showed Nathan an old abandoned church that Caitlin and I had stumbled upon during our last visit. As we were leaving, and trying to continue on with our walk about the woods, we ran into a group of Georgians who were paying homage to a deceased family member in the nearby cemetery. They invited us along, where we welcomed to an impromptu supra and, of course, more cha cha. I have to admit, the cha cha was a Godsend, especially for me. It made what was left of my short rumpus in the woods bearable. I hate to say that I didn't last long, and continued back into town by myself, dreading walking back through the snow. As luck would have it, I was picked up by a park ranger, who gave me a lift all they way back to the hotel free of charge. Somewhere between driving through the park and heading into town, the ranger stopped to take a leak. At first, I thought he had stopped the car because there was something amidst. There was nothing wrong with the car, he just had to piss, and he did so right in front of the truck. This was on a hill, on an icy road, with a truck without snow tires and no e-brake on.

Borjomi park. And snow.

Later that afternoon, we were met by Mark, Jacob, Rob, Caitlin, Adam, James, Cass, and maybe a few other TLG'ers who I have forgotten. Sorry. We needed to find a new place to stay, because Hotel Victoria was too expensive to swing for a second night. I had my Brandt travel guide for Georgia, and managed to find some home stays within the area. The first home stay owners we approached informed us that they were no longer in the business of lodging travelers, but they directed us to a friends house who had several extra rooms and who would take us in. This is where we met Meekho (also spelled wrong, no doubt). Meekho introduced us to his wife, who he described as a “gestapo,” and offered us some wine and presented me with a miniature pumpkin. Meekho also invited us to a supra at his house that night, which only Cass, James, and I attended. He turned out to be quite the creeper that night, but luckily Nathan got him to leave us alone by telling him that we needed toilet paper, which he promptly addressed and left to go the market. This seemingly simple task took him quite a bit, and we later learned that his wife gave him a ton of shit for leaving and misinforming her as to his whereabouts. Hence the name gestapo.

We didn't do much in Borjomi, but we did get to check out, if only briefly, the ski resort town of Bakuriani, which was not far from town. Our marshutka driver for this expedition was a horrible driver, and insisted on driving on the wrong side of the road for most of the way up the twisting and turning snow laden road towards the peak of the mountain. Maybe he learned to drive in England? Owing to his misplaced sense of which side of the road to drive on, it's not surprising that we got into a wreck with another car coming down the mountain. As James would later say, this was, hands down, the most entertaining car crash I have ever been. I don't know if they have insurance here, for the drivers of each vehicle spent a great deal of time cussing at each other and trying to decide whose fault it was and who would pay for the damage. This conversation lasted awhile, and we amused ourselves by building snowmen and doing other activities winter wonderland related.

building a snowman

the wreck

The real clincher is our last night. James, Nathan, and myself took a marshutka back to Khashuri to catch the night train. There's not really much to do in this large village, especially when you arrive at 9 pm, and your train doesn't leave until midnight. We set out to find a cafe, which was hidden and had no sign, like most Georgian eatery establishments. We ordered some drinks, and noticed a rowdy group of Georgian men sitting at a table besides us. James made a comment that would come to be realized later on. “I bet they're going to invite us to come drink with them soon.” Not 30 minutes after he made this comment, we were motioned to join their table and the drinking commenced. I don't remember any of their names, except a man in his 20's, Vano, who would later acquire my number and call relentlessly until he finally gave up. They invited us to their house, and, since we had nothing else to do, we went. We were driven back to their home, while it was snowing, and, after 5 minutes in the car, one of the guys got out and started to dance in the middle of the street. This prompted all of us to exit the car and begin to drunkenly dance to Russian techno in the middle of the street, while it was snowing. Later on, we had an impromptu snow fight before it was time to get back into the car and head to our original destination. When we finally arrived to their home, they woke their dad up, who is the baker at the local school, and had him cook us some really delicious lobiani and fresh bread. Can yo even imagine what would happen if some drunken early 20 somethings woke up their parents to cook food for a group of drunken foreigners? That would be unacceptable. When we had finished eating, we were driven back to the train station and given a parting gift of several beers, despite the fact that we were already very drunk. My last memory of that evening was the following: our train was boarding, and we all started running to catch it. I was the last one to jump on board and Vano was tailing me. He caught up with me before I managed to land in the safety of the moving choo choo, but not before he planted a kiss on me. This is how I will remember Khashuri---random-in the street-car-techno-parties and unwelcome kisses.

Memorable Quotes/ Moments with my dear TLG'ers from 2011

  • I'm doing a Christmas play with my students. The climax is Jingle Bells. (Collette, A.K.A. The Oracle at Tskaltsminda).
  • James met a Georgian girl, around 16, who loves Hitler. She even has his baby picture as her facebook profile pic. Why does she love Hitler? Because he was an amazing painter.
  • Rob and I got drunk, and we talked about metamorphosis. It was amazing. (Caitlin, on how she spent her weekend).
  • We made bets on who would come back with a Georgian baby. My vote was for Simon, to which he replied, “I can't make a baby Ren. I am a man.” Me: “Obviously, but I met you can make one hell of a good baby!” Simon: “Yes, maybe so.”
  • Me: “All McDonald’s in other countries charge extra for ketchup. Imagine if they tried to pull that shit in the States! There would be riots!”
    Greg: “Murders!”
    Simon: “You Americans don't riot because of the economy, but you would riot if McDonald’s charged extra for ketchup?
    Greg and I simultaneously: “YES!”
  • “My dreams get crazy when I have a cheeseburger at midnight!” (Greg)
  • “My 14 year old fat neighbor can cut firewood really well. He doesn't know any English, save for fuck you, so that's all he says...all the time. Also, have you noticed that the 80 year old Bebias here can hardly walk but they can cut firewood better than we can?” (Simon, on firewood).
  • “There was a small dog at my school, who would always linger, looking for food. One day, I fed him. A few days later, I noticed the dog had not been around, and so I asked my students what happened to him. Apparently, there was a larger dog that came around, and ate the small dog. Then the large dog bit someone and so he was shot. It really wasn't worth it to eat that small dog. It's actually quite sad.” (Simon, again).
  • “We were playing folklore one day...if you want to mess with vampires, sprinkle a bunch of sunflower seeds on the graves of those who you think are undead. When the vampire wakes up, they will have to count all of these seeds, because everybody knows vampires love arithmetic.”
  • During our last weekend in Ozurgeti, Nathan and I had some pretty deep conversations. This conversation, which consisted on philosophical musings concerning several subjects, was intermittently interrupted by Caitlin and Greg. It was as if we were in a comical play, which Nathan compared with Waiting for Gaudet, a play in which the cast of characters are constantly coming in and out, performing all sorts of random acts. To begin with, there was Caitlin, who kept yelling for me to bring her toilet paper while she was in the Turkish toilet outhouse. Then there was Caitlin’s host brother, who kept approaching me and asking me to dance with him. Lastly, there was Greg, who was wondering about in the dark, cold, night with his shirt off, throwing up.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Been Awhile

I had been in the habit of producing a new blog post at least once a week, so it’s unusual for me to go this long without having anything to say. Actually, I do have a lot to say, but there’s a problem…it’s cold, and my room has no heat. It is so cold in fact that I just can’t be bothered to type anything up. But, being the ever inventive person that I am, I have devised a plan to be able to type comfortably. It goes a little something like this:

Step 1: Add on more layers of clothing, despite the fact that you already are wearing two long sleeve shirts, a sweater, tights, and fleece pants.

Step 2: Although highly unfashionable, place a headband around your ears. Then, wrap a scarf around your head and silently wish that you had a ski mask.

Step 3: Place your fingers under the warm laptop at choice intervals of time to ensure that they do not become frostbitten.

So, there you have it. Instructions on how to type when your room is colder than the temperature outside.

I may be in another country, but nothing is going to stop me from celebrating America’s favorite autumn pagan fest: Halloween. The weekend started off with another cha-cha train ride to Tbilisi with Nathan. It’s become sort of a tradition to take the night train with Nathan to Tbilisi, where we arrive drunk, thanks to drinking substantial amounts of cha-cha. When we arrived at the train station, we ran into Simon, who just so happened to be traveling on the same train. We also ran into a few other TLG’ers, but they’re insignificant as far as this story goes. One point was clear, though: Tbilisi was going to be invaded with ex-pats partying the weekend away.

Greg scored this sick mask on the streets in Tbilisi

After we had eaten breakfast, Nathan accompanied Simon and me to Nest Hostel, where I thought I would be staying for the weekend. I placed my coat and my bags on a bed, and ventured off to the balcony to chat with Simon, who was preoccupied with a seemingly important phone conversation. When he got around to saying his goodbyes to the mystery person on the other end of the line, Simon turned to me and asked if I would like to stay in Hostel Georgia, because it was cheaper and our dear friends Jacob, Rob, Greg, Adam, Anna, Eric, Jen, and Martin would be staying there. It was an unfathomably easy decision: we would stay at Hostel Georgia. As we left to head to our new accommodations, we parted ways with Nathan, who was staying with his friend in Tbilisi, for free. Lucky kid. Halfway to the metro station, it dawned on me that I had left my coat at Nest, so I called my Australian friend Matt, who was staying at the hostel, and asked if he could put it in safekeeping for me.

As soon as we got to Hostel Georgia, I took a shower. I had set a new benchmark for myself---no shower in two weeks. This sounds disgusting, and it might be, but it’s so cold that I don’t actually smell. Honest to God. It’s too cold to sweat. Technically, I could take a shower at home if I wanted to, but it’s such an ordeal that it’s not worth it. To begin with, you have to light a fire to heat up the water. Then you wait. About an hour or so. This is fine with me, but it’s the shower itself that is absolute torture. The water doesn’t get hot, it gets lukewarm. The washing room is a large, square, concrete area, which is cold even in the summertime, and unbearably so in the winter. Taking a shower thus becomes some sort of sick masochistic cleaning ritual, as I shiver the entire time and my body blooms with goose bumps. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not worth it, unless you have a wetsuit that allows soap to permeate through as well as water but still keeps you warm. The shower at the hostel was a mind-blowing, miraculous experience, and I gloated in cleanliness for the remainder of the day. I would have never thought that taking a shower could be such a rejoiceful event signifying some sort of triumph.

The night, Greg, Caitlin, Mark, Adam, Rob, Justina, Jacob, Martin, Jen, Simon, and I made our way to the underground of Tbilisi, prepared for what I thought would be a night ripe with drunken debauchery. We partied the night away sans Nathan, who I later learned was too busy getting smashed with his buddy and said buds host family. No worries-Jacobs girlfriend Jess graced us with her presence; she had flown in all the way from France to see her beloved Jake. When you have a friend who is as awesome as Jake, there are a lot of expectations for such a person’s other half. I am glad to report that Jess exceeded any and all expectations. If I had gotten to know her better, it’s possible that we could have become best friends forever. The bars that night were pretty uneventful. The real magic took flight when we headed back to the hostel. We caught a cab, which was not only cozy but had Frank Sinatra playing on the radio. We (myself, Adam, Jacob, and Jess) sang along, loudly and out of tune. Our taxi driver was relieved when he finally dropped us off. Before we headed in for the night, we did a run through of our animal noise talents. Notice the ‘we’ excludes Adam, who didn’t want anything to do with our wild creatures impersonation rehearsal. Jacob had been practicing penguin, as well as whaling, but he stuck with the penguin noises. Jess did a sick Dolphin, while I belted out my dead-on Kookaburra. When we completed our calls of the wild, we set foot in the hostel, and found the remainder of our group members sitting about drinking wine and cha-cha. Not ready to call it a night, we continued to drink. At one point, Rob found a guitar, and began to play familiar tunes. Once again, we sang along loudly, and out of tune. I don’t think anyone else in the hostel that night got any sleep.  

We awoke the next morning to a beautiful Sunday, and immediately set off to grab some breakfast. Our restaurant of choice: Prospero’s, the English bookstore, which also has a café and Wi-Fi. It’s like the Georgian version of Barnes and Noble. Breakfast was nice, minus the always sorrowful experience that is being departed with my beloved group #23members. As Mark, Caitlin, Rob, Eric, and Anna left, Jacob looked on the positive side of their absence by remarking, “now that the philistines are gone…” I spent the remainder of the day with Nathan, Jess, Greg, and Jacob. We explored Tbilisi, looking for trinkets and do-dads to buy for our family members back home. The non-stop walking left us with growling stomachs, so we stopped at an eatery, once again, to stuff our faces. The restaurant we chose was groovy, and we even had guardian animals to protect us: a turtle in the terrace and a cat, which stood silently and watched over us. I ordered several cokes, which was ridiculous to Jake, “what is it with you and coke Ren?” I don’t know Jake, I don’t know…but I like it, I like it a lot.

Mid way through our meal, we received a call from an exasperated Caitlin, who had missed her marshutka to Ozurgeti (AKA the most difficult city to get to in Georgia), and who was frantically trying to find the train station to buy a ticket back home. Against all odds, Caitlin found the train station, bought her ticket, and managed to find us at the restaurant. She arrived just in time, because upon her appearance Nathan busted out some Kalva (a kind of paste made from sunflower seeds) and placed it on the table to share, because he’s magnanimous like that. Caitlin’s face lit up with delight. She loves Kalva, but doesn’t get to eat much at home, because her family hides it from her. Jake couldn’t understand why her host family would be so cruel as to hide one of her favorite Georgian delicacies, so he politely asked if they were hiding it as some sort of game, ‘find the Kalva.’ 

Before we left Tbilisi that night to catch our night train, we had to do some shopping. Matt never found my coat at the hostel, and I’m fairly certain that someone pilfered it. I needed a coat. The only one I brought with me had been devoured by a Georgian black hole which sucks in warm winter clothes (I mysteriously lost a jacket earlier in the week and Caitlin lost her scarf on the train). There is always a silver lining, however, and I’ve learned a great many things about this country. Above all else, Georgia taketh, but Georgia giveth as well. With Nathans help, I came across a second hand store and began my search to regain warm outerwear. The shop assistant mush have been an angel, because she appeared before me and produced a coat that I immediately fell in love with. It fit perfectly, was warm, and I was able to purchase it for 25 Lari, after I bargained her down from 30 Lari. I may not be so great at haggling, but the coat was worth every Lari. My lost coat from the United States had been an expensive one, but this new, inexpensive, previously worn garment was warmer and infinitely more comfortable than the one that had I had packed in my suitcase months ago. I also left that weekend with a nice hiking backpack, something I had been yearning for and desperately needed. You see, I am a horrible packer with little foresight, and forgot to pack anything that could store weekend travel necessities with ease and comfort ability. All of my former travels throughout Georgia have been marred with the unpleasantness of carrying around my large and bulky laptop case. It was cumbersome, and would always leave my arms and back in agonizing aches and pains. But once again, Georgia giveth. There was a German traveler staying at our hostel, who just so happened to be selling almost everything he had on him. He sold me his backpack for 30 Lari, which was quite a steal when you account for the dearth of quality backpacks for sale in this country and consider the actual price of the bag-probably around $100 dollars, not Lari.

Be careful in your travels while in this country, but do not despair, for Georgia taketh, but Georgia also giveth.

The gang at Georgia hostel, and Toby-the guy who sold me the sweet backpack. From L to R: Toby, me, Jess, Jacob, Rob and Eric

Friday, October 28, 2011

Village Life Updates

I knew it was going to happen. I was waiting for it. I just didn’t know it would come this soon. I’ve had my first problem with my host family, and I’m still pretty livid, but I’m hoping things can be quickly resolved in a peaceful manner. About two weeks ago, I met the son of the principal at my school, Miriani. I don’t know where this guy has been hiding and why I’ve just recently found him, but he speaks English, is two years younger than me, and is college educated. Since he is the only one around my age in the village who speaks English, it makes sense that I’ve been hanging around him quite a bit. There’s absolutely nothing to do in the village, I have no money, and, most importantly, NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH. It would stand to reason that this is a perfectly acceptable notion: for a man and woman to be platonic friends. What makes further sense is that I would desire to be around people my age, speaking my native language. My host father seems to think differently, however, and doesn’t seem to understand that I’m bored, lonely, and NEED to be around my peers speaking English.

 I spent last weekend in my village and hung out with Miriani on Saturday night. We spent some time at his friend Giorgis house (who wouldn’t stop singing No Americano), along with my 10th grade student Ana, and Mirianis friend Dato. We mostly drank cha cha and wine, and after about two hours of drinking, Giorgi disappeared. He returned with a shotgun, and insisted that I shoot it. So I did. I shot a shotgun pointed straight into the air, for absolutely no reason at all. That night, I didn’t return home till midnight, but I had made sure to call my host family several times to check in with them. When I returned home, my host dad, Murmani, was sitting in the living room, with the lights on, reading over my TLG contract. He asked me, “Reni, romeli saatia (what time is it?!” Obviously I know how to tell time, so right off the bat I was a bit aggravated with the patronizing. He pointed to the number on the TLG contract, which I assume is a number to call if you have any issues. It made me feel incredibly awkward. The next night, I spent time with Miriani again, made sure to check in with my family as usual, and came home at 7:30, a more than reasonable time to come home for a Sunday night. This time, my host dad took me outside, and said Mariani was a tsudi bitchi (bad boy), and something or another about seqsi (sex) and chemi gogo (my girl), implying that he thought of me as one of his own daughters. It was strange, because the day before he was raving and gushing about what a good guy Miriani is. Look Murmani, Miriani is a guy. Of course he thinks about sex. He’s 23 years old. What my host dad completely failed to realize was how desperately I need to have something to do, and someone my age to speak with. This past week I didn’t have any of the usual boredom that I’ve been encountering as of late. I need this interaction; it’s important for my mental health.

To try to put an end to this dilemma, I wrote my feelings out in an eloquent and polite letter, and had my co-teacher translate it to Georgian for me. I haven’t given it to my host dad yet…I’m kind of scared. This predicament is a purely cultural one, so I doubt he’ll understand. In my village, women aren’t only friends with men, it’s unheard of; if you’re friends with a man, there must be something more to it, and most likely, sex is involved. To add to this, women aren’t out in the village past 7, when it gets dark. It’s hard to simply accept these cultural differences when you know that it’s blatant sexism. It sucks, and it’s not fair. Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I’ll list out what’s been going on in Nigvziani.

-I went to Lanchkhuti over the weekend and met up with Kenneth and Leslie who live in Supsa, a village very near mine. I also met a Peace Corps volunteer who teaches with my co-teacher Nargiza on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We were able to discuss the randomness that is now our lives and divulge information about our host families. Kenneth’s host mom is, in his own words, “like the Michael Jordan of housewives.”

-I discovered, with Mirianis help, our village cemetery. One of his friends, Dato, was decorating (?!) his father’s tombstone so he invited me to come drink with them at the cemetery. We ended up getting drunk near the grave of Datos father. This was their way to honor him. Also, I found a snake slithering in the grass, and so I picked it up. I now know what scares the shit out of Georgians: snakes. Miriani and Dato were terrified, and made me look like Steve freakin Irwin. I decided to tease the boys, and spun the snake in their direction, until a fearful Miriani, exclaimed “Ahh, put it down Ren! I hate it! When I see snakes, I must kill them! I hate it!” He made it very clear that he did not like snakes. He hates them, in case you didn’t quite understand. I told Simon about my snake and gun shooting story, to which he responded, “Ren, you’re always doing dangerous things.” I know Simon, it’s how I live my life.

-In my previous village life post, I mentioned the Granny next door, and said that “no one gives a fuck about granny.” Well, granny is dead. She died two days ago. Ever since then, there has been a procession of people streaming in throughout my neighbors home. It’s sad that now people finally give a damn about her, bless her soul. When I tried to ascertain how granny died, my host dad put his arms across his chest, making the shape of an x. He essentially did the trust fall position. After he did this, I asked ‘Guli (heart)?’ and he said yes. Granny had a heart attack. I asked Miriani where the body was, and when the funeral would be. According to my Georgian friend, the body of the deceased stays in the house for 5 days. As I write this, Granny is lying in her bed, next door, deceased. It’s creepy as hell, and I don’t know how I sleep at night.

-I had lunch at Mirianis house a few days ago. His mom was shocked to find me sitting in the kitchen when she got home. Shocked in a good way. Most of the walls in the homes here are concrete, and you’d be hard pressed to find one that is actually painted. There was a chalk drawing on the wall in Mirianis home, which he told me his dad did when he was drunk. His family asked me what we ate in Louisiana, and I mentioned alligator, amongst other things. Now, they (the Georgians) think all we eat back home is gator. They’re disgusted by this. If only they knew…

-Everyone in the village has blood pressure monitors. This is probably a necessity, due to the high amount of salt they put in foods. I wouldn’t be surprised if almost all of the villagers have hypertension. I would like to know where in the world they learned how to use this medical instrument, and how they know what the numbers indicate. Nino took my blood pressure, and she told me it was low. I’ll have to get this checked out when I get back to the States.

-I bought ping pong balls at the bazaar. Not for table tennis, but for beer pong. I was trying to teach my host family about American culture, and taught them how to play this drinking game. I would like to say that this was a success, but it was a catastrophic failure. For starters, my family ignored the directions. They would drink the beer whenever they wanted, changed players frequently, and didn’t understand the concept of having only one try, taking more than their fair share of turns.

-We have buffalo in our village. And oxen. I actually cussed out an ox the other day on my way to school in Archeuli…the large animal was blocking my path, and I couldn’t walk around it because the streets were flooded. The beast saw me trying to get through, and didn’t want anything to do with making my life easier, so it snorted and started rearing up its hooves. I didn’t want to get rammed by its giant horns so I had to walk through puddles. This is where the cussing came in.

-The goat is still causing me problems. It once climbed up the stairs and came to my porch area. I decided I would try to make nice with it, and turn over a new leaf. I thought that maybe we could be friends. I squatted down and held my hand out, and the goat came over, sniffed me, and for a second I had anticipated a tender hearted reconciliation. The goat apparently still has a grudge, and abruptly turned around, spraying urine and defecating all over my porch. Then I had to clean it up. I hate him.

-Every Georgian, even if they don’t speak any English, knows two words in English, “No problem?”

-Every home has a little stove, and they put whatever in it. In other words, if it will burn, it’s going in. I’ve seen people put in plastic bags, cigarette buds, candy wrappers, and sometimes wood.

-For some reason, every male student in my school has two of the same shirts, and sometimes they all wear the same one on a particular day, making it look like that’s their school uniform. The first shirt is black and white, and it says ‘London, Global City.’ The second shirt is blue, and doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The writing on this article of clothing reads ‘Where is my star shoe?’ I really would like to know what that means, why every male student owns one or both of these shirts, and why they have it.

-My very first week in Georgia, I noticed that a lot of people had green marks at various spots on their body. I just thought that the people here went crazy with green Sharpies and had marker fights. Come to find out, the green marker dots are actually Georgia’s version of Neosporin. You think they would try to make it clear. You’d think.

-I’m thankful the students at my school aren’t wild. James teaches at a large school (1,000 students) in Batumi, and his pupils are nuts. When the bell rings, they act like banshees, and, according to James, “run around in the halls wrestling, doing cartwheels, and build human pyramids.”

-They feed animals here the most inappropriate food. One of my co-teachers, Irena, feeds her dog bread with butter. She says that’s all she’ll eat, because she has very fine taste and only eats the best food. I once observed Nathan feeding his host cat. He gave it bread. “Cats don’t bread!” “They do in Georgia,” Nathan said. “Sometimes I put butter or oil on it. He likes that.” Dogs here are given chocolate and chicken bones too. It freaked me out the first time I saw someone giving their dog a chocolate candy bar, but they’re still alive, so I guess the animals here are used to it.

-My neighbors, whom I’ve praised previously, are still at it. Unfortunately, Granny is gone. Before Granny kicked the bucket though, I squeezed in a few memorable moments with Eleni, Nini (the daughters) and their dad, Zsa Zsa. Most Georgians think it’s adorable when I speak Georgian, and Zsa Zsa is no different. Zsa Zsa is a big guy, he’s bald, never wears a shirt, and always has a blue towel around his neck.  I once asked him “ra ginda bitcho (what do you want boy?”). That’s a pretty popular question here, and I didn’t think it was all that impressive. But Zsa Zsa thought it was…he was so impressed and amused that he got up from his comfortable chair, hugged me, and kissed my hand. He made it seem like I had just given him a million Lari. His 7 year old daughter, Eleni, taught me a new game. It’s called chicken throwing, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You grab a chicken by the feet, squat down with it, and then throw it in the air. I’m going to try to make a professional sport out of it.

-I discovered the magic word in Georgia, which pretty much gets you out of any situation, and that word is medzineba (sleepy). If you can’t drink or eat anymore, they don’t seem to respect ‘I’m full,’ or ‘I’m drunk, no more.’ They do, fortunately, accept one word: medzineba. The other night I had a glass full of wine that I didn’t want to drink, but they had poured it for me anyway even though I had tried to refuse. I attempted to leave the table as discreetly as possible, but they caught me, and told me to daglie (drink). I didn’t want to, so I said medzineba. My host dad nodded in agreement and excused me from the table. They really, really, respect sleep here.

-I had a Halloween party with my 10th graders yesterday. I told them to bring pumpkins to class, because we were going to carve them. They were allowed to bring knives, matches, and candles to school. One of my students ‘accidentally’ set his pumpkin on fire. My co-teacher and a few of the students brought several snacks along with a large bottle of red liquid, which I thought was some kind of soda. The mystery drink turned out to be wine, which we all drank, at 9:30 in the morning, in school. This shit would never fly in the States. It was a bit ironic that I was celebrating a holiday with pagan origins, alongside people who are steadfastly Eastern Orthodox Christian. But hey, cultural exchange right? Besides, no one in America seems to remember what Halloween is actually about. I was the DJ for the party, and I attempted to teach some of my female students how to drop it like it’s hot. They weren’t very good at it, but they did try.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

No money, no problems

Train ticket to Tbilsi- 12 Lari
Overnight stay in a hostel- 25 Lari
Food and drinks- 30 Lari
Taxi fare- 5 Lari
Spending time with your fellow TLG’ers- Priceless

I have no money. I’m broke. I spent pretty much all of it on my trip to Kakheti and Tbilisi, which was well worth it. No regrets. I now have only 4 Lari to my name, until we get paid, which should be in a week or so. I’m looking forward to it. But it’s like Biggie always said, mo’ money mo’ problems, and I don’t have any money, so no problems!

Part I. Ozurgeti

Having no cash to spend for leisurely weekend adventures, as per usual, I had resigned myself for a weekend sprinkled with some light reading, spending time in my village, and just good ole’ general boredom. Saturday morning I went to Lanchkhuti to use the internet anticipating paying 1 Lari to catch the marshutka into town, but Georgia had other plans for me, and being the telepathic country that it is, sensed my financial situation. As I was waiting on the side of the road for my marshutka to arrive, a car pulled over, and the nice Georgian man asked me where I was going. I told him, and he motioned for me to hop right on in. And so I did. Along the drive, he mentioned that he knew my host family, and was related to them in some way. Everyone in my village seems to be related in some form or another. Not only did I end up getting a free ride, but my hospitable driver even gave me a pack of gum AND a Jesus card.

After I spent a good bit of time relishing the precious internet, I walked back to the marshutka station. Once again, my plans for the weekend were interrupted with a phone call from Caitlin. This is starting to become a theme in my life. I don’t know how she did it, but she persuaded me to come to Ozurgeti, and spend the weekend with her host family. Her enticements? “Greg, Simon, and Adam will be there!” I don’t know why, but Ozurgeti is always incredibly difficult to get to. In fact, it might be the hardest place to visit in Georgia. I managed to find a marshutka, and when I asked what time it would be leaving the only answer I received was “10 minutes, 10 minutes.” Ten minutes translated to five hours, and the only entertainment I had was a Georgian man who sat near me, who spoke no English, and who kept pointing to random phrases in my translating book, to which I could only respond to with yes or no answers. When the driver finally decided to leave, he took the long route, meaning that he drove through villages in the mountains. Instead of the usual 40 minute drive, the trip to Ozurgeti took 2 hours. In the end, I had to wait 7 hours to see Caitlin, who called me every so often to make sure I was still alive. “Yes, I am still alive. I have no idea when were leaving. I have no idea what’s going on.”

At long last, we made it to Ozurgeti. I called my dear friend to ascertain where we would meet, and she told me to head to the theater, the only nice building in town. I didn’t know where the theater was, and Caitlin’s directions were infinitely worse than any Collette could ever give: “Just ask a random Georgian and they’ll point you in the right direction. Just keep asking. Eventually you’ll find it.” I had no choice but to accept her lousy ‘directions.’ My marshutka friend, who hadn’t stopped pointing to random phrases for the entire duration of the drive, was standing idly by; he seemed the best option for directions to the theater. Not only did this guy know how to get to the theater, but he took it upon himself to walk me there, all the while insisting on carrying my luggage. It was a short 5 minute walk until I found Caitlin, hand in hand with her host brother Luca.

It was late when we finally reached Caitlin’s home, and because of my ridiculously long travel ordeal I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was ravenous. Dinner was served almost immediately, which I most appreciated. Sitting down to eat with Caitlin’s host family is continuously comedic and never fails to disappoint. These people should really have their own sitcom. Deneeza, the host mother, parleyed information about her job. She works at the hospital, assisting with abortions, which are fairly common and acceptable here. Being the hands on woman that she is, she brought in the tools of the trade. Deneeza is all about show and tell. The instruments she brought in consisted of two long stainless steel devices, which are inserted into the uterus. She then did an egg beating motion with one of the tools to demonstrate how the procedure was performed. Needless to say, it was an incredibly fear-provoking and terrorizing experience. Deneeza freely admitted that she’s had 3 abortions, to which her daughter, Tamuna, was unaware of. Upon hearing this news, Tamuna exclaimed, in a disapproving tone, “Deda (mom)!!!”

restaurant spelling fail

To assuage our startled selves, Caitlin’s host dad, Mayrabi, bust out the bottle of cha cha. Everyone at the table began doing shots, save for myself, until Mayrabi noticed that I wasn’t drinking. He took the shot glass from the 9 year old and passed it to me. Yes, the 9 year old, Luca, was doing shots of cha cha, and drinking wine. All possible signs indicated that Luca had become drunk, which only made dinner a truly shining example of the first-rate comedic quality that is eating with Caitlin’s host family. Halfway through the meal, Luca disappeared, and came back playing a flute. I thought this was amusing and cute, however, Caitlin felt differently. “I love him, but he’s been doing that shit for two weeks now. I’m going to kill him.” 

Caitlins toilet-an outhouse. They never have toilet paper, so you have to steal napkins from the dinner table. Caitlin hoards them

When the flute playing, eating, drinking, and abortion talk was completed, we were rushed into the living room for characteristic after dinner dance party. Somehow, Caitlin managed to delay this imminent and inevitable customary routine by pretending to eat. I was the first to go, and reported back the conditions in the adjoining room near the kitchen, which had been transformed into party central….“it's like a rave in there!”

The following day, Greg arrived, and we met him at the theater. Greg too was treated with the same directions that Caitlin had given me previously, but he wasn’t too happy about it, and told Ms.Horribledirectiongiver to “know your city!” When Greg finally located us at the theater, he told us about his ordeal. I wasn’t the only one who had a rough go getting to Ozurgeti. On his short marshutka ride into town, Greg was seated next to a “fat woman who smelled like death,” whose excess weight engulfed our poor friend. But his suffering didn’t end there, and continued even off the marshutka. After stopping at a store for a chocolate bar, Greg began to search for the theater. Here was Greg, strolling along merrily, munching on his candy, happy as a clam until danger and misfortune assailed him. Gypsy children stole his sweet snack right out of his hands, and made a stab at stealing his jacket and wallet. The happy go lucky Greg quickly transformed into the Hulk, and punched one of the kids in stomach. It reminded of Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, when he said “I beat up some kids today. I felt really good about it. I did it for good reasons.”

Later that afternoon, we made a trip to the “grocery store” to buy a few ingredients to cook an American style dinner. Our American style dinner included mashed potatoes, pizza, garlic bread, and spaghetti. It had been quite a while since I had eaten anything non-Georgian, and it was a refreshing change. Because we were broke, Greg bought the ingredients, and even helped cooking in the kitchen. We explained to Caitlin’s host dad, who I call Mr. Mayrabi (they find the Mr. part hilarious), how men in America cook, and not just the women. He shook his head, frowning upon such a notion. Mr. Mayrabi wasn’t having any of that. In contrary to our previous dinner, which had entirely too much seriousness and startling news, we were treated with Georgian vocabulary lessons. Swear word lessons to be more precise. Each individual around the table took their turn saying very naughty words. Even the 9 year old Luca joined in. After all, he already gets drunk, so a few bad words can’t do any harm. The Georgians got a kick out of the Americans cussing in their native tongue, and encouraged us to remember the words. I love Caitlin’s host family, they’re so eccentric and inappropriate. Speaking of inappropriate, Deneeza is the definition of this word. Every time I see her, she touches my butt. Sometimes it’s a grab, sometimes a pinch, and at other times a slap.

The next morning, Caitlin and I woke up early. We walked into the living room and joined Deneeza and Tamuna (the host sister) who were watching television. They watch the strangest programs. For about 30 minutes, they enjoyed a wedding video. It wasn’t the wedding of someone they knew. Apparently, Georgia has an entire program consisting of wedding videos. It’s kind of like the wedding announcements you read about in the paper, except these are filmed, and are on TV, and are irrevocably absurd. The videography was awful; for 10 minutes, literally, the camera focused entirely on the bride admiring herself in the mirror. What made it even worse was the badly chosen background music-“Unbreak my heart,” by Toni Braxton. When this dreadful crap went off the air, the commercials began. My favorite commercial in Georgia is the one for the most popular beer in this country, Natakthari (no idea if this is spelled right, but I’m too lazy to check). The narrator in the commercial sounds exactly like the vampire in Sesame Street, and I wait, in vain, for him to start counting, “one Natakthari, ha ha ha. Two Natakthari, ha ha ha!”

When Greg woke up, the three of us were driven into town by Mr. Mayrabi to catch up with Simon and Adam. It was Sunday, the day of a festival in Ozurgeti, which involved bizarre puppet shows, dances, and parades with several Eastern European countries walking about in their traditional garb while playing cultural music. While catching up, Simon informed us of his most recent bathroom tribulations. Every now and then, he’ll find a puddle of urine near the toilet. His first thought to make sense of this oddity placed blame on the dog, but he knew the beloved canine was not at fault, because he’s never allowed entrance into the home. The only other possible culprit is the host father, who must have horrible eyesight, aim, is constantly drunk, or just doesn’t give a damn. Most likely it’s a combination of all of the above. To make matters worse, there’s rarely any toilet paper available. Wiping provisions then become pages from a sports magazine or book, which Simon hates to use, remarking that it “feels a bit offensive to use Georgian literature in such a fashion.” I found this scenario pretty humorous, until I found myself in the same situation not long afterwards. It was no longer amusing.

Ozurgeti fest

Part II. School

Several weeks ago, I was sitting beside one of my English co-teachers, Tamuna, in the 7th grade classroom, which I’m not even supposed to be assisting in. I’ve only taught a few classes with Tamuna, which is a good thing. Co-teaching with her is equated with boredom, because all I do is sit there while she does all the talking. I was saved by Irena, who walked in on class and liberated me. “Reni, Reni, come with me.” She always says this, “come with me.” One of these days she’s going to add on to this sentence and pull an Arnold, telling me “Reni, Reni- come with me if you want to live.” She took me to another school, located in the village behind mine, about 2 kilometers. This tiny village school goes by the name Archeuli. I had seen the school before, and with the boarded up windows and the crumbling façade, I was fairly certain it had long been abandoned. This was not the case. The first floor of the school is wasting away, and the only saving grace is a completely out of place Soviet-esque photo monument of the villages war heroes. The second floor improves drastically, and is actually nicer than my school in Nigvziani. The floors are tiled in some parts and in some are vinyl, and all of the doors are new-none of the ancient wood with peeling paint chips which occupy my normal school. I ended up only teaching two classes, with students of all different age groups in each class. This made teaching especially difficult.

totally looks abandoned

more abandoned school building, except it's not abandoned

our students don't draw sissy stuff, they draw WAR

During my second class, a man walked in, smoking. I’ll repeat that: a man walked in smoking into a classroom full of children. I’m going to add that to my only in Georgia moments. After I finished class, Irena led me to the teachers’ lounge, where the smoking man was waiting, sitting down by a table. He was joined by the Principal, Taia, who disclosed that this unfamiliar person was her husband. I hadn’t even sat down for 5 minutes before they brought out the beer. Natakthari of course, only the finest. The accoutrements followed, and cups were placed on the table, where they were quickly filled with golden liquid. Drinking on school ground during working hours: another only in Georgia moment. I was just racking ‘em up that day. If this scenario had taken place in America, I could have expected to be immediately let go, and most likely would have faced lawsuits from whiny parents who take life way too seriously. Before we left to return to the school in Nigvziani, Irena asked if I wanted to go on an excursion Sunday to Anaklia in the region of Samegrelo.

The “excursion” didn’t occur on Sunday, which was for the best, because I was stuck in Ozurgeti. Instead, the excursion took place on Wednesday, and was in Kutaisi, not Anaklia. The school hired a private marshutka to drive us to the city, and I had no idea what we would be doing. This cluelessness ensued for the entire duration of the field-trip, which they referred to as an excursion. Our first stop was at a grocery store in Lanchkhuti, which took about 30 minutes. At least every student at this small school had brought along a mother or grandmother, and these women did everything as if they were in slow motion. Our first stop in Kutaisi was Gelati Monastery, which was followed by stops at two other churches/monasteries. At our third monastery visit, we stopped to eat, setting up under a covered area with a large picnic table. The food magicians did a tremendous job with lunch, and there was a pretty impressive spread of varied foods. The marshutka driver, Dato, began talking to Irena. I knew he was talking about me because I heard him say otsakhuti, which means 25. He told Irena he had a very nice son, and he would like to set me up with him. I’m so glad I lied and told everyone that Nathan was my boyfriend. It’s saved me countless times. Irena told him I was taken, and that was that. Thank God. During our picnic, the Principal one-upped herself, and made the beer drinking experience while at school seem like childs play. As fast as the blink of an eye, a bottle of cognac appeared on the table, and Taia began to fill our cups with shots, in front of the children who were present at our table. Several toasts were made, and multiple shots later, I was feeling a bit tipsy. I had purposefully left a large amount of liquor in my cup, but I was required to drink this on our last toast, because it was a toast to the children. How nice.

Frescoes in the monastery

Trying to look pious in the monastery

This lady is way more pious

Gelati monastery?

forgot the name of this one...

Our last stop was at an amusement park. I was under the impression that we were going to ride horses, because this is what Irena told me. Horses turned out to be the fake plastic kind, like those on a carousel. I didn’t ride the carousel, but I did get to go on the ferris wheel and ride the bumper cars. The scariest thing about the bumper cars? That’s how Georgians actually drive. We didn’t get back into town that night until 8 p.m., with our time delayed because the children were hungry. So, we stopped at a restaurant in town where all of our picnic food was brought in, and even heated up by the restaurant staff. Taia bought another bottle of cognac, and we had a few more shots…for the children. It was another only in Georgia moment.

 One of the most rewarding things about teaching is the children, who are so sweet and give me a ridiculous amount of completely undeserved praise. A few have already given me presents-a keychain, flowers, and a hand knitted purse and hat. They learned the word ‘queen’ for the letter q, and several students refer to me as queen. Each day after class, most of the girl students insist on giving me a hug and a kiss. I’m showered with too much love. The only student activity I’m not a fan of is candid photo shots and videos. Only the boys do this, and they try to do it as discreetly as possible. Occasionally, I’m treated to afternoon delights. Last week, the 1st grade teacher asked me to come to her classroom after I was done teaching to eat homemade cake with her. A few other teachers joined us, and we sat by the wood-burning stove warming ourselves while getting fat eating cake.