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Monday, December 6, 2010


I was definitely really excited about Armenia, but my hopes turned into reality before we even entered the country. Eight hours on a van has never been more fun, although the Irishman and the Australian sheila would likely disagree. We drank homemade Araki , rotated as tamada and experienced friendship as Georgians have taught us to. We ended up singing “America the Beautiful” and other American songs while the two others in the back were shivering cold and mad at life – it’s good to be us. We had no plans for the next day so a few of us stayed up for a while once we got to the hostel and talked. We definitely started the weekend right.

On Friday, we toured around the city and took it easy because our big, day-long tour was going to be on Saturday. We went to a giant transcript museum which was only mediocre until this really nice woman came and explained the things we were looking at. Basically, there are only a couple things you need to know about Armenia: It is the oldest Christian country in the world; there was this badass dude named Mashtots (or mashed potatoes as we call him) in the 12th century that invented their alphabet and perhaps multiple others (including Georgian, although any good Georgian would dispute that); the country went through the whole soviet thing and got pushed around by them and the Ottomans; they are super proud of Mt. Ararat, but Turkey devastatingly muscled it away from them (which really sucks because you can see the mountain from like everywhere in Armenia); and, finally, there was the Armenian genocide in the 1910’s that killed over 1.5 million Armenians and forced many more to flee the country, hence the large Armenian population in The States. It was cool to look at books and bibles that dated back to the 4th century. I don’t know if a single thing there was younger than the US.

After the cool transcript museum we made our way to “The Cascades” which is a giant staircase that was built to commemorate 50 years of soviet rule. Well, they didn’t finish it for obvious reasons, but it is still a really cool hangout nevertheless. It was cool to sit and overlook a city I never thought I would visit and to see where Noah’s ark landed on top of that! Yerevan, the capital where we stayed, was really cool and clean. It had a distinct European feeling, but that ambience also came with an increased price tag for things. Nevertheless, we all loved the place although it doesn’t have quite the character of Tbilisi – people followed traffic laws, there wasn’t trash in the streets, the women dressed too fashionably and a ton of people spoke excellent English.

Saturday’s tour took us to 4 different holy places in the country including their version of the Vatican. The churches were all between 700-1600 years old, and I will never get over how old these places are. The views were beautiful, and it was very different from the Georgian countryside we had become so accustomed to. I gotta tell this one story about a church though because I think it is hilarious, so just skip to the next paragraph if you don’t care about old churches and folk tales. So this one king’s daughter fell in love with a lowly architect, right? And the young architect, whose nickname was Candles, asked the king for permission to marry his daughter, and the king had a brilliant way to deter him while saving his relationship with his daughter. The king told the architect to go create some building worthy of his daughter and the king would fund everything. The catch was that the architect must do everything himself. So, Candles began making this super awesome church way the hell out in the middle of nowhere. After 3 years the king came to check and see if the guy had wisened up and quit or if he was still building the structure to win his daughter. Candles was like 40 feet up on this sweet, innovative church and one of the guards climbed up and pushed him off and killed him! The king told his daughter that the guards had been so jealous of Candles’ skill that they killed him, and that is the story the Armenian’s tell about this holy place which later became a seminary as well. In my opinion, the king told his guards to go kill the guy if he still had the balls to try to win over his daughter, so they did. Then he could tell his daughter his guards were just assholes and then have them punished or something. Smart king, sad story. All the stories in Armenia are sad ones, no joke.

Saturday night, 5 of us went to a club and danced. It wasn’t anything fancy, but we had a blast and met some cool Armenian dudes that I coaxed into buying our drinks. We didn’t get to sleep til 4 which was a bad idea because we needed to wake up early if we wanted to make a couple more museums in the morning. The groggy morning was worth it, however, and some food quickly got me back on track. We took a walk and ended up visiting the single mosque in the country. Initially, they were not going to let us in, but Jason knows a fair amount of Arabic, so the dude let us look around inside. I guess it’s really unique because it is a Shiite mosque, although I wouldn’t know because it’s the first one I have ever seen. It was interesting to see the huge open space where all the people simultaneous prostrate themselves facing Mecca and pray. I know it is probably really hard to be a Muslim in Armenia, so props to them for having such a beautiful place to do in.

The final thing we did was go to the Genocide memorial which was really depressing actually. I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know about it in the first place, and even more sad to learn it hasn’t even been acknowledged as an actual event that really occurred ‘til recently (and the Turks still claim it never actually happened). Basically it was like the holocaust, but on a smaller scale. When Hitler’s advisors asked him if killing the Jews was a better idea than relocating them to Madagascar or somewhere Hitler said “Does anyone remember the Armenians?” and used the world’s ignorance to the genocide to justify his own. Anyways, it was humbling and terrifying, and I am so sorry for Armenia.

Sorry to end on a sad note, but my overall experience in Armenia was incredibly fun and enlightening. We spent way more money than we thought we would, but $150 to see another country and spend 3 days there isn’t too bad. I will just live a little on the cheaper side for my last 2 weeks in Georgia. This was kind of my last huge trip/plan, but I am guessing I will manage some more good times while I am still here. Many things are lacking in Georgia but fun times are more than abundant. More on those soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Bad Things in Georgia

I feel like my time is slowly looming to an end here in Georgia, but I am happy to say that I am excited about coming home. A month into Georgia, there is no way I would have left willingly; however, I really feel that I have gotten almost as much as I can here, or, at least, everything I wanted. I am and have always been incredibly positive about Georgia, and my sentiments have not changed. I plan on returning here one day with friends to show them the power of Georgian passion. I would like to document, however, the things that really bug me, and I the reader should find them interesting as well.

First of all, laziness is rampant among Georgians. The men on my street play board games 10 hours a day, 7 days a week and it drives me crazy. Now, some of them are a tad bit older, so I can rationalize that, but a lot of the men are 20-40. In a country that is trying to become modern, to better itself, to present itself as a first world, so many of its people do absolutely nothing. To be honest, inherent laziness is something I abhor anywhere I am, hence my conservatism; however, it’s an epidemic here. It is funny to hear the older people talk about how good Stalin was, because he forced individuals to contribute and the country supposedly ran quite smoothly. Believe me, I am not a Stalin fan like most of the older people here, but it is interesting to hear that take on things for sure. As a leader, Saakashvili (their controversial president), has had the daunting task of inspiring and motivating a country for years now. Although many would swear he is failing (the opposition party here calls for his resignation weekly), the city is running a hell of a lot better than it was 10 years ago. It’s interesting to be in a country with thousands of years of history but is only 20-years-old. Good luck Georgia.

The second thing that bothers me is hygiene. I know that this is no new news to you experienced travelers, but, shit it’s just gross sometimes. I have a couple funny examples that will put things into perspective and serve as microcosms of the general hygienic theory here. First is my host dad who wore the exact same outfit for 11 days. I know he didn’t physically overexert himself playing backgammon all day, but after a week, I would think one would want a change for change’s sake alone. Second, my friend Lawrence’s host mother stole a pair of his socks and has had them on for over a week now. I don’t know how she thinks she can get away with this, because Lawrence, a gay Irishman, has…colourful socks to say the least. What are they thinking man?! My third and final example is the horror of marshutka travel (the vans). Those things always smell, and the best way I can explain it is to compare it to a Subway restaurant. You can smell that thing from blocks away, and if you go in there, you will go home smelling like Subway. The marshutka has the same permeating ability and it is distressing to go home smelling like the hairy hobo that sat next to me. As painful as these experiences can be, however, sometimes it is ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. The other day a dude stepped on to the marshutka and absolutely reeked of BO and what I think was car fluids. He sat behind me which made me tear up for multiple reasons… I was pissed. Right after he got on an obese, smelly Georgian man sat down next to me and let a huge fart go. He even leaned over, pointed it in my direction and then looked at me and showed off his missing teeth as he mischievously smiled. Right after this, a Georgian that looked exactly like Ben Stiller got on the marshutka! At this point I succumbed to the ridiculous situation and now treasure it as a hilarious Georgian memory. Things are what you make of them.

The third thing that bothers me is the education system. Discipline is really poor in the classrooms, teachers don’t come up with their own lesson plans and the parents at home don’t give a shit which makes it impossible to force anything upon them. Not to toot Stalin’s horn too much, but everyone I have talked to here loved the USSR educational system, and now Georgia has this generally lackluster approach… kinda sucks. I don’t have any idea how they should go forward with their system or improve it, but I know there are serious issues. I think a lot of the laziness common among the people starts in the schools, so something must be done – perhaps my presence here is an example of such a something. Something else that bugs me is that all the kids cheat on everything: homework, tests, papers, assignments, everything. The worst part (for me anyways… ) is that they suck at it. In the States people pride themselves on being great cheaters and innovators. Even their cheating is lazy! Ugh, good luck to Georgian education.

The fourth and final thing I would like to rant about is how women are treated. I am nowhere near a feminist, I think men and women are equal. Georgia violates women’s rights constantly, and, the worst part is, everyone knows it. I will give a couple examples of the unfair shit that happens to women and I will let you be the judge of such transgressions. First, men are not faithful to their wives, and this is not only expected, but laughed about. I have met multiple married men who have girlfriends and laugh about how nice it is. Prostitutes are also really common, and I must assume there are some nasty STDs everywhere in Georgia. Anyways, this bugs the hell out of me, and I feel so sorry for the Georgian wife. Another example is bride-napping… I can’t exactly remember if I ranted about this already, but I will do a quick summary anyways. Basically the dude stuffs the girl in his car against her will, takes her to his house, likely has his way with her and then she is socially obligated to marry him because she is no longer pure (though he has been having sex with prostitutes for years now). I know of multiple individuals who have suffered such a fate, and, in every single case, it has ended in divorce. It’s absolute bullshit, and I can’t figure it out. The social ignorance involved in every aspect of bride-napping is astounding, and many people lost all respect for Georgians when they heard about this (most Georgians will refute this, and I don’t mean to offend anyone. I am just calling it like I say it {and how every other volunteer here sees it}). Anyways, I feel bad for the women here. As Georgia becomes more modern I am hoping the gender roles do as well, but we’ll see. Good luck to Georgian women.

So, those are some basic complaints I have about Georgia. Honestly, a lot of the things I dislike here can be found in all countries, including America. I guess it is human nature to suck, or at least that is what we believe as Christians. I really, really want to bring people to this country eventually, but I suspect it will be very different in a couple years because the country is very dynamic. For better or worse, they are trying to be more like the US, and, regarding gender roles and education, I hope they achieve it. I hope that everyone understands how much I love this country and how much I have grown as a person because of it, so don't take my few complaints and blow them out of proportion. I still don’t know if I really agree with this program politically because they are spending so much money on us, but whatever. I have loved being here and I know I will enjoy my last three weeks here.

In other news, I had a good week at school, an interesting weekend and I am heading out to Armenia here in 2 hours. It should be a blast, and we are only gonna spend about $100 for the 3 days trip. I might get to go see Mt. Ararat which would be the first Biblical thing I have ever seen, or at least I think so. So, I am excited about that, and I will update everyone on how the trip went and post more pictures asap.