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Monday, October 25, 2010

Good times in Georgia!

I had a fantastic weekend! I had dinner on Friday with my friend James’ host family which was amazing. His family is definitely in the upper economic echelon, so there was a myriad of delicious treats including a roasted pig’s head (I ate an ear which was not quite as delicious as Cuy [guinea pig] but still good). Their family also makes their own wine which was absolutely delicious, and I am sure we toasted through 5-6 glasses a piece. I put on the most presentable version of myself in hopes I would be invited back soon and often. We will see if that happens.

After dinner, we went out to downtown Tbilisi to meet up with other teachers and hang out. It is tough to find a good spot because there is usually like 20 of us in a party. We eventually met up with some people, but it was actually an embarrassing crowd. A couple of the teachers were already wasted drunk (throwing up on the bathroom door, hallway, everywhere) and completely obnoxious when we arrived, so it wasn’t long before we decided to get them home and go somewhere with a small group. So, Americans are now banned at this fine establishment – I am sure such idiotic displays really encourage Georgians that their tax dollars are being spent well in bringing us here. Though this was negative, we eventually settled down at a bar not too far away, though I had to ask a sketchy local dude where we could go because everything was closed. He led us to the bar, though I was a little worried it would be a sex-slave operation; however, all was well and I bought him a beer for his kind efforts. Some local men were making suphra, so we shared in their good time and had a couple glasses of beer. The funniest part of the night was when we came home (Jason needed a place to crash) and we were changing to go to bed and my host mom awkwardly walks in unannounced. It was definitely really gay, but whatever.

Jason got up early to go to Kakheti with all the other teachers, but I had special plans of my own. I met up with my 10th graders to have a day-long excursion. We went to Sameba, the biggest, most beautiful church I have ever seen, and they bought me a couple gifts (a bottle of wine I will bring back home to open and a decorative plate). It was sobering to see such playful students become so serious about the church and kiss its walls and pictures. I somehow feel like religion is too taboo or something to see youth do likewise in the States. Anyways, this place was absolutely beautiful, and I will steal pictures from my students’ facebook to show everyone. Next, we went to the U-17 soccer game versus Sweden which Georgia won in extra time. My students gave me a Georgian flag, and I am super pumped about displaying that wherever I live next.

Altogether there was like 20 of us, so it was a pretty good-sized and rowdy group. One girl spoke pretty good English, so she did most of the translation/guide work, and I am really glad I had her. I found out she read my blog in preparation for the day, so she would have talking points and find out what I liked and didnt like. I dont know how I feel about this to be honest, but it is what it is. I guess that helps explain the 50+ views I have from Georgians. The best part of the night was still yet to come!

We went to a restaurant, packed 15 of us around a single table and ordered a bunch of food and wine. Now, I know the readers back home must be thinking “I can’t believe he would drink wine with his 15-year-old students,” but please understand that the trip was actually planned by one of my Georgian co-teachers and nothing about the trip was morally reprehensible by Georgian standards. This being said, it was still really weird to watch 10th graders get drunk together (apparently they do this every weekend). So, we ate, we drank, we danced, we toasted and it was great fun. All the boys told me I am their big brother and they love me, and I really appreciated their sentiments and compliments in very broken English. It was a great feeling to be the honored guest and center of attention, and it was definitely one of the most fun times I have ever had.

The whole crew wanted to go to some amusement park thing at the top of the local mountain, but we ended up calling it off and sending everyone home because I thought it was best to get them home. I was going to stay downtown and meet up with friends, but I didnt feel like joining a drunken American mess like I had the night before, so I just went home. I had spent a lot of time away from my family anyways, so I wanted to hang out with them and see what they were doing. It was a really good thing that I went home too; because I got a phone call requesting my services as a private English tutor, and you will never guess who it was! The Turkish Ambassador to Georgia wants me to tutor his 12 and 7 year olds! I am really excited about the opportunity, but I am equally nervous because this is a pretty serious situation, and I know the dude expects high quality performance. I am excited to update everyone on that situation!

Sorry this has been a long entry, but my last thing of interest was that I met some missionaries from Canada Sunday morning. They are actually Seventh Day Adventists which is interesting because that happens to be what most of my family is and how my parents were raised. They invited me to play ping pong with them later Sunday night, so I gladly took them up on it. Everyone was super nice, and I hope to spend more time at the church and maybe even do some hiking/travelling with them. Going out with the other teachers is fun and all, but I really want to do some hiking, exploring and travelling, so I think this might be a good opportunity for that. We will see!

Phew... well it was a great weekend. I hope to have some more like it, and I will promptly update everyone when I do.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians are extremely proud of their food, and I think there are a couple factors that contribute to its superb cuisine. The more strife, invasions, defeats and take-overs, the better food a country will sport (think about England's bland food and tell me I'm wrong). Georgia is surely the poster child for such a situation because a myriad of powers ranging from the ancient Byzantines to the USSR have had their way with the region. In addition to the variety of peoples that have inhabited Georgia, Tbilisi, the capital, was a vital city along spice trade routes. While it may seem obvious on its face, I think another factor is lifestyle of Georgian people. People are poor here (average per-person income is ~$4,000). Whenever people are poor, they find value in something independent of money – family and friends. And nothing celebrates these values more than a shared feast with a variety of delicious foods and drinks. Finally, Georgian pride ties everything together and maintains traditions remarkably well (another example would be their language which has its own unique alphabet and only about 5kk people worldwide speak it. Every Georgian is multilingual, but the beautiful Georgian language will not be lost anytime soon). Let me assure you that Georgian food and drink is every bit as sumptuous as I make it out to be.

Bread is served with every meal – no exceptions. While many in the States subscribe to this method as well, our store-bought bread pails in comparison to that of the local bakeries. I found this to be the case in Peru as well, and I would imagine many countries sport superior bread to our own. I definitely find myself wanting to improve my baking skills so I am not subject to Wonderbread while in America. I would also like to pick up the skill of working cheese into the bread, as is so common here in Georgia. Americans love cheese, and I know that people would go crazy for the wide variety of cheese-infused breads that are a Georgian dietary staple. I think my favorite was a very heavy, cheese bread that had a small spot carved out on top and an egg baked into it. I know this goes against the South Beach diet, and perhaps it is better that overweight America has not discovered such a tasty treat.

Another thing I know Americans would like is the Georgian love for meat. While I definitely think Argentina or Kansas City would more aptly satisfy one’s need for a slab of meat, Georgian cuisine wonderfully manipulates meat into its dishes. The meat is usually accompanied my vegetables, complimentary wine and a delicious sauce (and God knows I love sauce). While I could definitely go for a fatty ribeye with A1, I appreciate that Georgian craft of meal preparation with a carnivore in mind.

Now I know that my sample size of visited countries is small, but I think other countries drink alcohol a lot more often than we do. Instances which would not occur in the average American lifestyle include the following: sharing a .5 liter bottle of vodka with my mama for Saturday lunch; taking shots of cognac with fellow teachers during my lunch break; receiving multiple bottles of wine from my students (during school mind you); and the general use of hard alcohol or wine to accompany one’s meal instead of “regular drinks” (I swear that I am dying of thirst half the time. I get weird, frustrated looks when I ask for water, and I haven’t had a drop of milk in 3 weeks). This being the case, I never find anyone stupid drunk; and I applaud the mature drinking style employed. It definitely makes one question the American drinking age, though I doubt we will see any changes in the near future.

As much as I love and appreciate the food and drink here, I do have a couple complaints. I miss milk as I previously mentioned, and it would be nice to have some juice or something (For that, I loved Peru). Also, I love spicy food, and this is not the place to be for such an addiction. Sometimes I just want my nose to run and tears to be forced out because my food is on fire… perhaps I will have to search out a Thai place or something. I was served pizza here the other day because my teachers thought that I must be missing American food. I loved the thought, but a pizza covered in mayonnaise and ketchup somehow just didn’t do it for me. It was even worse because a table full of teachers was watching me eat, so I didn’t want to wipe it all off. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my only libation was vodka. It was pretty disgusting, and I really need to stop being such a yes man, because I know they will get it again for me if I don’t say anything.

Overall, my gastronomical experience here has been superb, and I look forward to trying other specialties such as the kabobi. Also, I would really like to go to some more suphras because that is the place to be for food. I hate that I had already eaten before my last one, so maybe next time I will get some warning. So, while you are eating your TV dinner or McDonald’s meal, know that I am feasting upon homemade food and delicious wine. And it is good – so, so good.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reunion, Heartbreak and Gambling

I have to say that I had pretty good weekend. Things started off with Jason Solana, a fellow teacher from Florida, coming to Isani (my part of Tbilisi), though the trip was not a swift one. He took a couple wrong buses and the trip ended up taking him like 4 hours. I dont think Tbilisi is super difficult to get around once you know the bus and marshutka routes, but it is super difficult to do so as an English speaker. Basically, all the routes are written in Georgian on a small, cardboard sign taped against the windshields. This sucks for two reasons: one being that it is hard to read Georgian very quickly, and, two, if i successfully sound out the word, I have no idea what part/street of Tbilisi that is referring to. This has resulted in my personal dependence on the Metro station which is less cost effective, takes longer and smells awful; however, I am mobile and that is what matters. But I digress...

Jason was soaked because it had been raining pretty hard, and we (Levan included) stepped into the closest bar we could find to dry off and have a couple beers. A couple other teachers showed up throughout the night, and we had a great time. I know I have said this already, but I am seriously way different than the other volunteers here. A majority of the conversation was which drugs they preferred and the benefits of being an Acid-head. I like a good time and everything, but I had zilch to contribute to the conversation; even though this was the case, Levan talked a bit about the drug problem among young men in Georgia, which I found sad but interesting. Though I had no personal investment in much of the conversation, other events were afoot that were great to watch. Levan was hitting on our waitress, and I must say that he was quite successful. We had a big conversation about sexual expectations within Georgian culture and from us, the teachers. Apparently, it would not be a big deal at all if I, a male teacher, had a female friend stay the night as long as she was an American or one of the other foreigners; however, shit would hit the fan if it was a Georgian girl. I do not think the same case exists for the American women if they wanted to have of a Georgian man, and I am aware of an individual pursuing such a thing. It will be interesting to see how that develops.

I have discovered that I must use some censorship in my writing because we believe that the Georgian government monitors our contact with the outside world. We know that the government has access to and listens to our phone conversations; and I am pretty sure that my blog, among many other blogs, are being read as well. I really dont care, especially because I know that we are a giant investment. We are expected to encourage tourism and be positive PR, and, to ensure this motive, they (the ministry as we call it. I wish we had ministries in America. It sounds so cool and mysterious) monitor our communication. My experience here has been very positive, so I hope that the ministry is enjoying my positive feedback.

Jason and I hung out in the cool area of Tbilisi all day on Saturday, and we actually met up with a ton of other teachers doing the same thing. We did some barhopping and talked about our respective situations. It was interesting to hear about the wide variety of situations, and, though I am jealous of some people, I know I have a good thing going for me. It sucks to be a girl, though, and I feel pretty bad for some of the female teachers. They often have ridiculous curfews and rigid expectations, but that truly is part of the protective culture (just like the double standard for bringing a Georgian girl home). Hopefully, the girls can see this overprotection as true acceptance into the family, and, if they are lucky, maybe they can overcome some of the barriers unfairly placed upon them. Again, I digress!

I ended up catching the Metro home instead of going out to the clubs with everyone. I had done a fair amount of socializing for the day, and I can't really say that clubbing is my thing. I came to find out that I saved myself a ton of cover charges and overpriced drinks, so I am glad I made the right decision. For those of you who are interested, the drink prices are pretty fair here. A half-liter beer (17 oz) is usually 1.5 Lari (85 cents), so that isn't bad at all. Also, you can usually order a half-litre of vodka to share with friends, and that is like 11 Lari ($6.50) and it is at-least Absolut quality. So, there you have it -- it is cheaper than Kirksville, but maybe a little more expensvive than Peru. Although they have a hard alcohol here called Cha-Cha that is exactly like pisco which I find interesting.

The most interesting part of my Sunday was that my computer charger stopped working. I know this happens to a lot of people, but I wish it didnt happen to me. So, I have no computer for the time being, and it is hard to find a compaq power supply in Georgia. I think this will most greatly affect my fantasy football teams, though, because I should still be able to blog after school. The suffering is purely my own! We took my power block to Levan's friend, and he broke it open to look at it (using a hammer, nothing else). It was so painful to watch because I knew they had no chance of repairing it using such barbaric methods. I guess it wasnt working anyways, but I still hated seeing them beat it to a pulp. Men here are ridiculously stubborn. I know that the reader will think this is the case everywhere, but I assure you it takes on a new level in Georgia. The men are absolutely confident in their opinions and approach on life. There is no allowance for possible error of thought. And this brings me to the second most interesting part of my Sunday.

Levan's friend Gio had a couple bets on Soccer matches, so we were going to go to the sports bar to watch, or so i thought. It turns out this is quite the gambling facility because they have the soccer matches televised, and slot machines and roulette tables as well. Gambling here is a serious problem (again, i know the reader will think this is the case everywhere), but there is a small casino (or Slot Club as they say) on every block. Suicide is a huge problem here, and it is well-known that gambling debts are part of the reason why. I saw Levan lose 80 Lari, which was painful because I am pretty sure he only makes ~300 Lari a month. Gio did the same, and I cant tell you how many other random, angry Georgian men followed suit. I happened to do quite well, so I bought everyone a couple rounds of beer. I am hoping that this excursion is a rare one, because I dont want the guys to expect me to buy their beer everywhere we go (I am already paying for Levan's anyways). It was bittersweet fun to say the least.

I am currently having some weird financial issues with my family (gambling may contribute to this), so i hope I get that ironed out. I would really like to elaborate, but I dont want the minisitry to intervene quite yet. Other than that, all is well! School was good today, and I think I will have a pretty good week, albeit possibly an uninteresting one.

I can never know though... it is Georgia afterall.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Teaching, Singing and Politicking

Well I have completed my first week as a teacher, and I definitely have a greater respect for the profession. I even feel guilty saying that because I am only a co-teacher, so I cannot fully empathize with those who do it all themselves. Who knew that making lesson plans was so difficult? And what level am I supposed to teach to? I still have a good number of questions, and I don’t think I will answer all of them before I leave. Before this experience, my knowledge of educational theory was all based on what worked for me; however, I have found that the methods I liked most in the classroom are not for the majority of students. Regardless of my struggles with lesson planning and theory, I find myself enjoying the children and my colleagues – a sentiment that will add to my ability and my good time here in Georgia.

The teachers were waiting for me at the door on the first day of school, and it was sort of an awkward reception because only one of the teachers speaks English well (though 3 teach the language). Also, the principal speaks no English, so communication was limited. Everyone was incredibly friendly, however, I and have found that this amiable spirit has not waned in the slightest. I was introduced to each classroom and asked multiple questions from the students. The most common was if I had a wife and children, which I find weird because I look at myself in the mirror and I know there is no way… there is just no way. I guess it is a fair question, though, because 20-23 is marrying age here (I know of 3 people here my age that have been married for ~5 years). Overall, the students were very excited to see me (especially the girls), and, again, this exuberance has not yet failed – then again, it is only the first week.

I was quite worried about my role in the classroom, and, though I still am not sure of it, I know that the kids will receive quality English teaching. My co-teachers are all quite talented, and I definitely do not have similar complaints to those of the other American teachers here. Apparently, some schools have incredibly poor control over their students, the teachers talk on cell-phones during class, and the only English work done is memorizing and reciting English conversations. This is not the case at my school, and I really think that the children are receiving quality education. For this, I consider myself lucky, and I hope to further improve their English by focusing on conversational skills.

The girls adore me here, and it is amazing. God, what the average high school boy would give for the looks, love notes and hand-made gifts that I receive constantly. And I have a special connection with the boys as well! I make up special handshakes with each of them, and I have promised to play soccer with them as soon as I can. While such attention could deter learning in the classroom, I find that the adoration comes with a respect that helps maintain a good educational environment. I hope that this positive aspect of my stature will not wear off as I suspect the googly-eyed girls and love notes will.

In other news, I have played a ton of soccer this week. I am dismayed to admit that I am much worse than the 15-year-old boys I play with, but I am a muscular giant amongst them which comes in handy. Despite my lack of skill, it is still a great time, and I hope to get in as much soccer as I can before the weather turns completely foul. It is definitely a great time-filler, and it is probably good to work off the ridiculous amounts of khachapuri (cheese bread) that I eat.

Yesterday was mtsxetoba (I can pronounce it correctly, and I assure you that you cannot) which is a big holiday here celebrating the birthday of the city mtsxeta. The main event is, of course, in the birthday city, but we celebrated our holiday in Tbilisi and went out for khinkali. Khinkali is definitely one of the most loved foods here, and I would have to say it is my favorite as well. Basically, it is a meat dumpling that takes a good amount of skill to eat because it is considered quite rude to spill any juice onto your plate. When George Bush came here, he could not figure out how to eat it correctly, and, apparently, it was quite shameful – I can only imagine the awkwardness of his ignorance to the ancient tradition. Besides the flavor, my favorite thing about Khinkali is that you must have beer to wash it down or else it is not the full experience. To top it all off, they are only about 25 cents each, and even a big dude with the munchies would be stuffed after 10.

I met the other side of the family (Tata’s parents and sisters), and that was definitely an interesting experience. Her mother is a family doctor and her father is a veterinarian, so they have a super nice house. Though it isn’t too large, the furniture, cabinetry and flooring are top notch as was the wine they gave me. I have never had a drink so flavorful, and I am eager to try more of the famous wines here (Georgia boasts being the birthplace of wine). While many family’s will turn on awkward Georgian TV singers, they provide their own vocal entertainment and it is fabulous. All the girls sing extraordinarily well, and Tata plays piano while Salome (Sally) expertly leads on guitar. I usually find impromptu singing incredibly awkward, but their skill level and family focus on art made it an enjoyable experience. They were singing mostly American songs (Crazy- Gnarls Barkley for example), so I knew the words but I refused to sing along much to their dismay. Anyways, it was really cool, and their family is all super close to each other. I am excited to spend more time with them and I think it is likely I will get to do some travelling with the family as well.

If there was a negative to that experience it was the political talk that followed the musical session. Generally, I do not like to talk politics for many reasons; however, they were super interested in my thoughts as an American and they basically forced my views from me. I debated feigning liberalism because I could tell this family leaned heavily in that direction, but I just couldn’t stoop to that level. Long story short, I delivered my views as nicely as I could, they disagreed slightly less nicely and then talked amongst themselves in Georgian about Georgian politics for a good while. The biggest part of the problem is that they want to know what America thinks about Georgia’s political situation; however, most Americans could not point them out on a map, let alone make an informed statement about Georgia’s attempts to join NATO. It was awkward and frustrating! I guess that is why they told us in training not to talk about politics with Georgians. Not surprisingly, I didn’t listen and promptly dug a hole.

In closing, I am having a great time with great people. I am excited to see how school progresses, and I am definitely going to give it my best effort. There are lots of cool stories that I would love to get into, but I have had some complaints at the length of the blog, so I am sorry. I was forced to have a bottle of vodka with my mama for lunch, I saw a dude get hit by a car, I learned that using the term girlfriend here means sexually active (they strictly avoid that term), I learned how to play dominoes and backgammon with the old men, and I enjoyed coca-cola as never before. Oh travelling…. how good you are!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Women and Vodka

When I left off yesterday I expected a quiet, boring evening, but I was so, so wrong. It all began when I met Laura (or Tata, as she prefers) who apparently is my cousin here. I had no idea she even existed, but apparently I do have some extended family here, and I should expect to spend a fair amount of time with them. Laura is 21 and she has 2 younger sisters (19,18); also, she lives in Vira which is the “prestigious” part of town. This is all managed because her parents are both doctors (however, I think she said that her dad is both a veterinarian and a dentist- interesting eh… I bet he gets a lot of canine work.. badapa). It was definitely a humbling experience to meet her because she speaks Georgian, Russian, German and Japanese all fluently, and she is decent with English (more on German later). The girls here are very educated and intelligent because they don’t play sports or participate in nearly any extracurriculars, so it is no wonder that 80% of doctors here are females. Anyways, I digress. As nice as she was, it was still a little awkward.

She and I sat in the living room conversed for a while covering as many topics as the language barrier allowed, and we couldn’t help but have some awkward silence moments. I came to learn that a dude from Switzerland had actually stayed here once for a couple months (though I still have no idea why), and I think their positive experience with him is part of why they signed up for an American (that and the free English lessons for Levan). Apparently, this guy actually converted from Catholicism to Orthodox Christianity and married a Georgian girl while he was here, so they are expecting somewhat of a similar outcome from me. While we had been warned that this may be the case, it was really weird hearing this from the cousin (wife prospect?) I was having forced conversation with. The weirdness reached a pinnacle when my deda (mom) told us to go on a walk together (in culture training we were told to never spend one on one time with a girl unless you intend to pursue her; also we were told to never pursue a girl unless you intend on marrying her… oh geez). So, needless to say, I went on the walk.

Tata really is quite nice, and her English is definitely superior to Levan’s, and I hope that nothing awkward manifests itself in our cousin-cousin relationship. I would like to have things to do and people to travel with (she said we {she, her sisters and me} could go see some cool cities in Georgia). She seemed to understand quite clearly that I had a serious girlfriend, so it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. I really don’t mean to go on and on about this, but it was awkwardly funny, and an interesting experience for me, so I share it. The really good part of my story comes next.

After we got back from the walk, we found Levan having it out with his/our parents – talk about super awkward for a guest. I still don’t know the cause for the argument, but it put my deda in tears, and I felt super, super weird just sitting in the living room watching the fight and Tata’s attempt to console deda. I think Tata noticed my situation, so she pulled me into the kitchen, chose her words carefully and said “Steven… we must make potatoes.” I was expecting some family revelation or something, but we just needed to make food so I could eat. So, we fried up some potatoes, and ate them (I should say I ate them… you wouldn’t believe the pressure on girls to stay skinny here. Tata said she is only having 1.5 meals a day because she worries about it so much, and she is quite skinny to begin with). I had one of my liter-sized beers with my potatoes, and we spoke German over dinner- awesome right?

After dinner, she had to head back home so I decided to go start my season of Lost that I pirated. The beer here is quite strong, so I found myself a bit tired and care free as I relaxed for the evening… or so I thought. Levan barged in and said “Stevens (yes, with the ‘s’), come now.” I always listen to Levan, so I hustled to catch up with him as he was already out the door by the time I put on my shoes. We went down the street a bit and joined my first Suphra! Now for those of you who don’t know, Suphra is a feast with a purpose, and it is a very important cultural tradition. There is more food than the group could ever possibly eat, drinks abundant and music and singing for entertainment. I wish I could have taken a picture, but even if I had my camera I wouldn’t have dared because it would be awkward and simply unfit. The most important part of suphra (pronounced Soup-ra btw), however, is the toasts which are often quite long (even as long as an hour). This is all that we were told in cultural training, but I definitely didn’t understand it completely until I was part of one myself.

I was worried that the Suphra was just an excuse to get drunk (you are expected to finish your wine/vodka after every toast), and my worries were definitely not assuaged immediately. The toasting was just beginning as I got there, and the Georgians were eager to see how the American would handle the situation. Levan leaned over and told me two things: 1- “ok Stevens, you must drink whole shot after toast or you are not a man” and 2- “man who is drunk is not a man. He is child.” Great news right? Well I held true to custom as the entire table of 8 men, including myself, made their toast (remember I already had the liter of beer too). The reason there is so much food is so the guy has some way of handling the ridiculous amount of alcohol being shoved down his through by cultural convention. Thank God for mountain training.

I held up quite well, and Levan told me that all the men were very proud of me. The suphra continued, and I began to notice the toasts getting more animated, the men more teary-eyed and the music getting louder (mostly Akon and Bob Marley… haha, though the most loved song of the night was “Hit the Road Jack”). It was then that the man who’s birthday we were celebrating stood up and made a 20-minute, emotional toast that I actually understood quite well based on the words “love” and “friends” being used over and over again. After the toast, Levan leaned over to me and explained what it was that made Georgia so great: “Stevens, friends is everything. If you has no friends you has nothing. Here in Georgia, we have not money, not Mercedes, but we have everything because we have friends. If I say you my friend, I do everything for you. If I have just food for me and nothing else, I give you some of my food. In other country, friend means different. In Georgia, friend means everything good. If whole world had this thought, there would be only happy people that have everything. We want you know that you are our friend. America, Georgia friend.” Now I know that such sentiments are most strongly felt after 10 shots of vodka, but even now I am touched by his sincerity and value of friendship. Until this point, my notion of Suphra was false. It is not drunken revelry, but rather an affirmation of values which the country and its people hold so dearly. Other toasts focused on God, children and women, and I am sure that each speech was as heartfelt as the single one explained to me. Not a single man was stumbling drunk, stupidly laughing or making a fool of himself as I know would be the case with college men after such consumption. The maturity and power of Supra is amazing to behold, and it should definitely be something to add onto a bucket list.

If there was a downside to the suphra, it was that my first day of school was only hours after the event ended. I told this to Levan before hand, of course, but he said this is more important. I half-heartedly believed him then, but, as I lied down and thought about the day’s events, I knew he was right.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


I was feeling a tad bit down my last post because I was worried I got a poor placement, but I suspect an experience like this has many ups and downs. I am still vulnerable to these moments, but I expect that, over time, I will be generally accepting and unphased by small problems. Currently, however, I am in great spirits because I have very much enjoyed my Sunday thus far. I wake up at about 7 every day, but I need to stop because the city doesn’t wake up until around 9. Usually I would favor such a lifestyle, but I worked so hard to set my clock to waking up early! I guess that I will be getting up around 7 for school anyways, so it is no big deal if my weekends are the same.

I decided to go for a walk to the maghazia (store) because I needed a few things (more money put on my phone and headphones). It was nice to feel somewhat autonomous, but I was let down by my self-reliance because I had no idea where to go for either of the items I needed. I tried a couple stores, but after some unfruitful conversations and some Georgian curse words, I quickly lost my confidence. I wanted to by juice or soda or something (all I have had to drink is water for the last 2 days), but I was on the edge of feeling completely worthless, so I decided I could wait a bit. Reading my book with a nice, room-temperature water sounded great, so I hurried back home through the muddy streets (seriously, really muddy).

I was falling asleep while reading the sequel to Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland), when Levan knocked on my door and let me know that people were going to play basketball and soccer. I was pumped for this, so I changed into athletic shorts and my cleats to find the other men in jeans and casual shoes. Though I stuck out like a sore thumb, I stand by my practical decision because I was cool and had superb traction. We played a game of horse upon arrival (they don’t use letters, they just count to 5… boring?), and I have never seen a worse group of basketball players in my life. It was fun though, and I won the game though I definitely don’t consider myself a great basketball player. Then we played a really fun 3v3 soccer shootout-type game (seriously, the most fun soccer game every) and I did pretty well. I would have been shocked if their soccer skills were on par with their basketball savvy , but, as I suspected, everyone was quite talented. After that, the best guy there (6’3”, lanky, really good player) challenged me to a 1v1 match (Levan had to translate, because none of the other guys spoke a drop of English). It was really fun, and I ended up winning 5-4, though I suspect the other guys told him to let me win because they were ready to leave.

I came back and took a shower and didn’t mind that it was cold. I thought to myself that it could be a rough winter, though, because I know it gets cold and that water is pretty damn icy. This worry was for not, however, because Levan told me that they have hot water, I just have to ask one of them to light the heater. So, I will have warm bathing sessions (I refuse to call it a shower because water slowly streams out of a hand-held spray thingy). Good news nevertheless!

Levan went with me to the maghazia to get me some more minutes on my phone, and it turns out there are these machines in every market that you can just type in your phone number and add money just like that. It is an amazing pay-as-you-go system, and I wish America adopted something like it. It is all in Georgian, but, thankfully, I can read it now and figure out what I am supposed to do. I had a 15 minute call to Allison in Ghana and that actually cost me about $10, so I don’t know how many of those I will end up making while I am here. I guess I am getting paid $300 a month, and I plan on using that to support my family, go out and make my stay comfortable. It is just hard to make calls that are so expensive.

Anyways, I have my first day of school tomorrow, and I hope that goes well! As gay as it may be I am a little worried about what I am going to wear because I want to make a good impression. I will try to take some pictures, so everyone can see what my life is like here!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

My new home

Well today was the big day! We woke up really tired because everyone hung out and talked until about 5 am in our room. Getting up at 9 was a difficult task, but knowing that we would be placed with our families gave us some extra energy. We packed everything up and made our way down to the lobby to find tons of Georgian families filing in. It was funny because we would see them walk by and wonder who we belonged to. All the families seemed really excited about being there, and I couldn’t help but try to pick out which ones I would like for myself.

All of us teachers were on one side of the room, and the families on the other. One by one they called out the names of the family, principal and student and they would meet in the middle. It was funny to see the families’ reaction when they found out their teacher was ethnic. I definitely don’t look Georgian, but I am glad I am Caucasian because the amount of attention the black teachers get is ridiculous. Everyone wants to touch their hair and mutters amongst themselves. It is a pretty funny site to behold.

As you can imagine I was pretty nervous about what family I would be paired up with. When the time finally came it was somehow anticlimactic because my host mother obviously spoke no English, and the principal said “we must go” right after we introduced ourselves. So, I grabbed my luggage and was in the car within 3 minutes which was weird because all of the other teachers stayed and saw who their friends were paired up with. I was a little bummed but I guess someone was in a hurry. I wish I could relive the moment though, because there were some important questions I needed to ask like which school I would be at. All I can remember is that the principal said “you start Monday” and then she left. So I have been trying to get a hold of TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia- my program) to see what school I am at but the hotline is busy 24/7. Anyways, I probably should have been a tad bit more business minded instead of curious and care-free.

It turns out I live only a few minutes from the hotel we were staying at (seriously, like 2 minutes) which is weird because everyone I have talked to has branched out all over the city; however, I guess someone had to be in this area. My host mother (deda means mother) speaks no English at all, and neither does her husband, my host father (mama means father… confusing right?). It turns out they are actually Armenian, so Georgian is their second language and Russian their 3rd. As you can imagine, I don’t think there is much room for English. I am glad that I have been studying Georgian, but honestly, it still isn’t doing me too much good. There are a million different verb tenses, and the verbs change drastically between each one. It sucks. On the plus side, though, there is no assignment of gender to the nouns, there are no articles and they use postpositions instead of prepositions (shi is added to the end of a word to say in or to). Anyways, it has been fun to learn, but I still have to be very animated to get across how I feel. Seriously, it took like 10 minutes to tell them I was feeling sick last night. Then, they wanted me to see a doctor, and I just wanted to lie down. Eventually, I think they understood and I ended up taking a couple hour nap.

They have the Armenian TV package here which definitely leaves something to be desired. On the plus side, there is soccer on a lot, so at least I can understand what is going on with that. When there is no soccer though, we listen to Georgian singing, so I am completely lost. Also, there are Spanish soap operas on a lot, but they are loudly dubbed over in Georgian which is really frustrating, because, though I have no desire to watch soaps, at least I could understand it. We watched Georgia play Malta and win 1-0, so that was fun. Ahh I forget to mention that my host parents have a 26-year-old son, Levan who speaks very broken English. He came home from work (he teaches computer information at some school nearby, but not the one I will be teaching at he assures me) and watched the game with us. It is rough, but he will be the closest thing I have to a translator here. I feel awful though because I sleep in his room, and he crams himself into a tiny loveseat in the living room at night. What can I do?

I woke up early because I had gotten so much sleep the night before, and I awkwardly wondered into the living room, but Levan was sleeping there, so I quietly retreated back to my room. He was planning on showing me around the area today, but I had no idea when, so I fooled around for a couple hours until he woke up. In this time there was also an awkward breakfast experience with my Deda ‘cause I had no idea what she was asking, but I assume I will have many such experiences, so when reading my blog just assume I had an awkward meal.

Though I have no idea what school I am at, my Deda thinks it is #97, so Levan said he would show me how to get there. It turns out it is not within walking distance (which totally sucks, because they said like 85% of schools would be), and I will have to use Marshutkas (public transportation vans) to get there. They are pretty cheap (25 cents per ride), but there is this complicated numbering system, and I know I am going to get lost at least a couple times because they have different routes. It was about a 20 minute trip to the school, and I was very let down to see the condition of the school. It’s pretty awful to be honest, and I am going to be very muddy every day because the roads there are in such poor shape. There is no soccer field as I was hoping for, and there seem to be no amenities of any sort for that matter. Tevan told me to make sure to bring toilet paper with me, because a school like this probably doesn’t have any. Haha

So, the school situation kindof sucks, but I guess it is a more real experience to be placed at one like this. I talked to a couple friends today, and each one of them has a completely different experience. Coming into this experience, none of us were told what we were getting ourselves into, but this is because there is no fixed experience that they can tell you about. it is important that I just make the best of it and try to make a difference.

On the plus side, there is a huge market 3 minutes away from our house (on foot that is). They have everything from clothes, to food to a casino (haha), so that will definitely be handy. I know that many of the rural (they use the word “regions” not “rural”) teachers have no access to shops, so I feel very lucky in that regard. Also, the metro is located there, so I think it will be pretty easy for me to travel around and see my friends or vice versa. It is really nice to have all of this nearby or else I would have felt like I got the shaft in every regard. Gilby, one on my best friends from training is staying with a lawyer who is fluent in English and super loaded (they have a sauna, indoor pool and maids…plural). I cant help but be slightly jealous, but I will definitely have a more real experience where I am.

I start school on Monday, and I am pretty nervous about it. I really have no idea what I am doing, so we will see how that goes. I am not feeling sick anymore, thank God, and I am excited to see how everything progresses. I will have loads of spare time, I believe, so be excited for regular updates and funny stories when they come.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Am I really in Georgia?

It has been an interesting couple of days, and I have no idea what to think of them. Living in a fancy hotel and hardly interacting with non-English speakers makes me feel like I havent really started my experience yet. So far though, there are multiple positives such as being surrounded by 70 other volunteer teachers that are all interested in travel and service and the new, good food; however, there are some weird dudes here, and it turns out my bowels aren’t as strong as I thought they were. I find myself less social than usual because I am very different than a lot of the volunteers, but, perhaps, a bit of alone time and self-reflection isn’t all negative.
Our schedules are so busy that we are all going crazy and it has been difficult to do anything outside the schedule let alone keep up a blog. We have 4 hours of Georgian training each day, and then an additional four hours of culture or methodology training. Then we also have a couple other meetings that last a few hours, and we find ourselves with no free time at all. On top of it all we have a curfew of midnight, though my fidelity towards it has been lacking.
Georgia is beautiful, the language is intriguing, the women are attractive and the five star hotel we are staying in is… well five-star. I have two roommates, an English partier and the nicest Irish guy that has ever lived. We have gone out with each other every night save one, and I am hopeful about staying in touch with them over the next three months. What else… going out, yes. Most individuals are moderate in their drinking, and we have not had embarrassing drunkards make fools of themselves in the fancy hotel. I think the curfew contributes to that somewhat, but the average individual is pretty mature and, thus, isn’t too intent on getting wasted.
The trip here was nice, and I LOVED the Amsterdam airport. It is easily the nicest airport I have ever seen, and I won $25 at the casino, so I loved it extra. I could have done without my 7 hour lay-over in DC, but I could go for a couple days in Amsterdam just to explore. I might be able to break up my trip on the way back and stay somewhere in Europe for a few days if I wished it – something to consider anyways. The trip was made even nicer by having 20 other teachers to travel and converse with. Even though my travel time was something like 60 hours, I was still in good spirits.
I am kicking ass with the language, and I am confident in saying I am the best of all 70 volunteers with it. I think that knowing the language can only improve my teaching ability, though there are those here that would argue otherwise. A good number of people here have English teaching experience, so I guess I should give them due credit, but I refuse to believe that knowing the language doesn’t matter. After four days I can hold conversations, order drinks and explain my presence in Georgia, so I am happy with and excited about my progress.
I really don’t have too many stories so far because we have been cooped up in the hotel. The real Georgian experience hasn’t yet begun, and I know that I am excited for it to. I find out my host family and school placement today, so I am super excited about that. I requested to be at a school with a football pitch and I told them I wouldn’t mind having a large host family with numerous children, so we will see if either of those is met – I think there is a fair chance though.
We got our cell phones, so if you feel like calling me here is my number: +995 77 973 112. I welcome all calls, however I am 9 hours ahead of central time back home, so be aware. Also, it is probably expensive, so we will see who really loves me. I can also receive texts for free and send them for about 50 cents, so that might be preferable.
Overall, I am having a great time so far, but I am still waiting to really start my foreign experience. I am jealous of the many volunteers who have been all over the world, and I desperately want my own stories to counter theirs. I think I will rack up a couple good ones, and I am excited to share them with everyone back home. I will do my best to update the blog. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem once I am placed with my family and at the school, because I wont be so outrageously busy. I have heard however that I should expect large, lasting parties frequently; also, it is considered rude to spend time alone instead of with the family, so we will see how that goes. I have been told to expect no privacy as families here don’t like closed or locked doors, and I should expect my host mother to walk right in without forewarning. I am really excited to see if all these statements hold true.
It is going to be great!