Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A little of this, that

Here in Georgia... on the way to the Zugdidi train station... around 10pm one evening, I witnessed the most selfless act I have ever seen. Before I get into the story I have to tell you a bit about the terrain in Zugdidi. First, there are lots of rocks…everywhere. It’s a running joke that all Russia left here was a bunch of rocks. Along with rocks there are lots of farm animals running amuck…cows, pigs, I even saw a flock of sheep on a main road once. It’s pretty typical for your speeding taxi driver (there aren’t really any speed limits and definitely no seat belts) to have to swerve and slam on the breaks to avoid cows and pigs on the roadway. ..Now that you have a little back ground, my story continues. We were walking down the road to the train station when I happened to kick a pile of poo (a cow patty) up onto my flip flop… I immediately started to scream (obviously) . But then, out of nowhere a man came and took my shoe and cleaned it off using a rock and water from his bottle. He brought back my sparkling clean shoe (not exactly, but you get the idea) and then walked off before I could even say thank you! He was my magical poo fairy! I was SO amazed by this selfless, random act of kindness. My friends and I were all laughing in amazement because this entire event (from kick to clean) took place in a matter of minutes. This is a funny story, but to me, it does sum up Georgian hospitality in a nut shell. People are willing to go out of their way to help you without any expectation of recognition or thanks. Cheers to you Georgia! :)

Our cows in the back yard

Our cow's poo on the street in front of our house

hot, hot, heat (this is long overdue...)

So up until a couple weeks ago, we were still having Texas style temperatures here. And with no a/c, nighttime was my worst enemy. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep in stagnant, humid, heat…or so I thought.

Due to the stifling heat, I had to sleep with my windows open, which led to some fun, new problems. #1, mosquitoes…ridiculous, plentiful, and apparently only after foreigners. I had over 100 bites on my legs at one point. And that’s fine if you want to treat me like a buffet, I get it. But they take it a step further and insist on swarming my face. So I have a constant buzzing noise that sounds like a high pitch mini airplane. It drives me CRAZY. This then leads to some really serious midnight mosquito hunts in my room. It usually involves me running around my bed, t-shirt in hand, jumping and swatting. For some reason these mosquitoes are massive and ridiculously fast and surprisingly really hard to catch. This makes my mosquito killing sprees quite a spectacle for my neighbors, I’m sure. 

The second nighttime, sleep snatching culprits are the street dogs. There are gangs of street dogs everywhere here and its actually the only reason to worry about walking around after dark. They start barking and fighting nonstop around 10 pm and it continues until about 2 am. There have been times when I thought a dog fight was going to leap into my window. Now ordinarily, I would consider myself to be a pacifist; but if I had a sling shot I would have definitely been pelting some pups. 

Finally, once I am drenched in sweat, have managed to block out the incessant barking, and ward off swarms of mosquitoes…it’s inevitable that the roosters set in. :/ hahaha I think I’m doomed to sleepless nights while in Georgia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tbilisi, Turkish baths, & a Georgian-Vegas wedding

The majority of volunteers from my training group headed down to Tbilisi for a weekend of fun and adventure…and for Rob and Ashley’s Vegas-style, Georgian wedding. Rob and Ashley are two teachers from my group who are in a relationship back home in the states, and they decided to get married here so that they could live together on socially acceptable terms. Their wedding was nothing short of an adventure. There were about 25 people who came to the ceremony, which was held in a chapel/courthouse of sorts. The whole thing was a mini version (30ish minutes long) of an actual wedding with all the pizzazz and hilarity of a Vegas wedding: pictures, music, 1st dance, toasts, champagne, confetti, bouquet toss, cheesy music, the whole shebang. 

We spent most of our weekend doing wedding related things; we did find time for some sightseeing and debacles around the city. My friend Raughley, who is living in Tbilisi, took a group of us to a Turkish bath for a scrub down and massage.  These baths are a very unique experience…We rented a room for the boys and a separate one for the girls. The employees tried to put us all in a room together, and in hindsight that would have been a veryyyyy awkward experience (just keep reading) hahah Each room was covered in bathroom tiles and had a hot tub, massage table, lounge area, and showers. You get completely naked, and depending our your gender, an old Turkish man or woman (who is also completely nudey) comes in a gives you a DEEP scrub down and intense massage. The scrub is ridiculous…I felt like a 7 year old who had just wrongly played in the mud in my Sunday dress clothes, and now my grandma was angrily scrubbing me down.  I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that  body parts were everywhere and we laughed a TON. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top 10 reasons I'm gaining weight in 2010

10. Bring on the grease...steamed veggies don't exist here, but extra butter, oil, and fat do.
9. No means Yes.
8. Katchapure...pan fried cheesy bread, a traditional Georgian dish eaten all the time
7. booze, all the time...are you kidding me?
6. Fried potatoes at every meal.
5. Weekly homemade cake...Paula Dean style
4. They LOVE their salt and sugar here. Also, I might mention everyone has a blood pressure monitor at the table...
3. Homemade apple's sooooo yummy!
2. Bread...70% of their diet. I'm turning into a loaf of french bread
1. Tchame tchame tchame!! Eat Eat Eat! Georgians don't know the word 'full'.

Bebua making me criss-cross, chug wine with the neighbor
This is an extremely loving and communal society. People here are extremely friendly, helpful, and hospitable. They absolutely love guests and they will stuff you FULL of food to show it. Actually all I hear is “Tchame! Tchame!”, which means “eat! eat!”….and they say that ALL. THE. TIME. I actually shed a tear the third morning I was here because they were feeding me so much. I thought I was going to be ill. Hahah But they honestly take offense if you don’t want to eat or you’re full.

Speaking of food, we eat a lot of the same things every day. They eat loaves of French style bread at every meal, homemade cheese, katchapuri (cheesey bread), salad (which is cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes). They make a georgian style catsup situation, which is pureed tomato, garlic and peppers, which they eat with everything.

  Nino teaching me how to dance
They have this ‘feast’ thing that they call ‘supra’. It’s usually for special occasions (birthdays, weddings, guests, etc) but impromptu supras happen all the time. First off, at these supras there is an overabundance of food. The entire table is COVERED with food and drinks. The most important part of the supra is toasting with wine, tcha tcha, or vodka. –Really quickly let me give you a quick lesson on Georgian alchohol..most every family here produces their own wine, and they are VERY proud of it…‘Tcha tcha’ (said like cha cha) is homemade vodka that they make from the left over wine grapes. They are also very proud of their tcha tcha and they will drink it at any occasion, ANY time of day. Tcha tcha is absolutely TERIBLE…it tastes like 151 and it smells like rubbing alcohol, but they can take it down like water. Also, my family uses tcha tcha as a ‘fix all’. Anna’s foot has been hurting (I think she has a stress fracture) and they wrap her foot in tcha tcha soaked bandages…Lika had a pimple, and she put some tcha tcha on it…I’ve had a rash on my arm and bebua had me rub tcha tcha all over it…so apparently there is nothing that tcha tcha can’t do. OK back to supra… There is a ‘toastmaster’ who eloquently leads toasts and speaks about the reason that everyone is there getting together. Then each person follows suit to say a few words. This is followed by everyone chugging their drink…until it is finished. Rounds and rounds of this continue until the night is through. Usual toasts included toasting to parents, grandparents, kids, cousins, ancestors, to peace, to Georgia, to America, to friends….pretty much anything and everything. Most supras in my family usually end in traditional Georgian dancing and singing.

Bebua doing the split and chugging wine off the ground...amazing
One night Marissa came over to my house and a spontaneous supra broke out. My bebua starts toasting and having us chug one glass of wine after the other. Then he started making us criss cross arms and chug wine with different people at the table. After a while of this we were invited to the neighbor’s house for some more wine (of course) and a night of dancing. The girls in my family were teaching marissa and I some traditional Georgian dance moves, and we were doing our best to keep up. We tried to teach them some two step hahah But it was a terrible attempt. We also sang ‘deep in the heart of texas’ because they wanted to hear a ‘texan’ song. It was quite embarrassing but they loved it. This night was the first time I had seen this one particularly funny celebration dance. They put a glass of wine on the floor, dance around it, then bend over in the splits without using hands and grab the glass with your mouth and chug it. Again all of this is without hands. My 65 year old grandpa here (bebua) did this, while I watched in absolute shock. Needless to say, it was one of many fun nights here in Georgia.

A little bit of culture...

The culture here is quite strong and very interesting. Since Georgia has spent most of it’s life as a country being conquered/fought over by various empires, the people here are very proud to be Georgian. They love their language and are proud to have maintained it. Georgian language doesn’t stem from or isn’t tied to any other language in the world. Apparently there is some small people group in Spain (basque I think?) that have some similarities in the language, but other than that it’s totally unique. And I think that is in part why it’s realllly hard to learn. I struggling with all these new sounds that you have to make from your throat. Basically, it sounds like you’re trying to gargle water, without the water…needless to say,my host family spends a lot of time laughing at my attempts to pronounce certain words. Ohh I forgot to mention that there is another reason why this language is so difficult to learn. Turns out after 7 days of intensive Georgian language classes, I ended up living in specific region of Georgia called Magrelia. In this area people speak an entirely separate language (only spoken) called Magrelian. Neat. They mostly speak it in their homes and with friends, and then they speak in Georgian when they’re in town, etc. And on top of all that most people here (and especially my family) speak frequently Russian, and they are also trying to learn English. So in my house we have taken the term “spanglish” to a whole other level. There is hodge-podge of Georgian, Russian, Magrellian, and English being thrown around in the same conversation at any given time. It’s a big fat language mess and I am only 1 for 4. Eekk!

What else about Georgian people, hmmm , they all look very greek/Mediterranean-ish. Dark features, piercing eyes, LOADS of hair. This is a hairy culture that is for sure. It is not uncommon to see a woman with a stout beard going on, or at least some severe whiskers. Eek!

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Georgian Familia

Ok so let me give you the family breakdown: I live in a house with grandparents, Jemali and Sveta, and two of their grandkids, Ana (14 year old girl) and Lika (17 year old girl).

Maya, me, Lika, Ana
Jemali and Sveta have three grown kids, Lasha, Maya, and one more son who lives in Russia. Lasha is married to Sofia (everyone calls here Sopo) and they have two kids Nino (14 year old girl) and Niko (8 year old boy). They live in the city center in an apartment, but the whole family is typically hanging around the grandparent’s house. Nino has been my absolute lifesaver/translator because she speaks a little bit of English! Lasha is a police officer and Sofia is a dentist in a really nice clinic here in town.

Maya lives in a nearby village with her 6 year old daughter Nini. Her husband spends most of his time up in the Svaneti region working and he comes home when he has time off. 
Ana and Lika’s parents live in Moscow. They moved their about 12 years ago because of financial problems and the lack of jobs in Georgia. Ever since then, Ana and Lika have been living here with their grandparents during the school year, and they spend summer and school holidays back in Moscow with their parents. Pheww! Ok, we that is the general breakdown.   

Ana, Babua, Nini, Nino, Niko

Niko playing dress up with the girls
Nini, Nino, Ana, Niko


One of mannyyyy chandeliers in our house!

Lash and Sopo out at the park

We live in a neighborhood on the edge of town about 30 minutes (walking) from the city center. We have two story, grey cement house with a huge property behind it. Downstairs is where we spend most of our time and there is a large formal dining/living room, a good sized family room, kitchen, and the one bathroom. Upstairs there are a bunch of bedrooms and a balcony to the backyard. Oh ya, I forgot to mention that are chandeliers everywhere in this house. I mean EVERYWHERE. Basically most of what I’ll talk about (food, drinking, cultural attitudes, etc) is veryyyyy similar to my big fat greek wedding. If you’ve seen that, you’ve experienced a bit of what I’m living with. :) My room here is really nice! I have a huge bed, giant armoire spanning most of one wall, a vanity and some end tables. We have a huge garden in the backyard, fruit trees, grape vines, chickens, cows, corn fields, etc. Ninety percent of what we eat comes from the backyard, which is awesome. They even makes their own cheese, wine, and Georgian ‘vodka’ all here at home. It’s a lovely home that they have here and it’s really great to be a part of their family for a little while! new home!

I have been placed in Zugdidi, a mid-sized city (roughly 80,000 people) located in the North West region of Georgia bordering Abkhazia. There are 17 other teachers located in and around the neighboring villages, which is great because we have a good support system here. Zugdidi is a cute little town with two main streets and a park running through the center of town. All of the buildings are less than about eight stories tall and most are about four. Most buildings are stone or cement, harsh looking structures, but are inviting and comfortable inside.

Ok so I mentioned before that splitting up from the group was really hard after bonding over the week of training. It was also especially hard because our departure from Kutaisi was somewhat dramatic. Haha So what happened was we were divided into three groups and put onto busses where we then drove to three centralized locations in the different regions to meet our new families. We stopped first in a town called Senaki in a school that looked very much like a prison. Picture a huge, disheveled cement building that looked like a bomb had gone off in it. VERY soviet looking. Anyway, I digress…basically we were all (our whole volunteer group and some Georgian families) sitting in a meeting room in the school and one by one people’s names would be called. They would walk to the front of the room to meet their families while everyone applauded. Hugs, kisses, and tears were exchanged as the families met their new ‘foreigner’. It looked a bit like an 5th grade graduation ceremony…except instead of a diploma you got a family. Then the families quickly swept our friends into cars and off to their respective towns and villages. It was really sad to see them go! But it built up a lot of excitement (and nerves!) for us to meet our families.

I was in group number two. We got to the educational resource center in Zugdidi, and were greeted by a room full of anxious Georgian families awaiting our arrival. Again, it was kind of dramatic and really nerve wrecking meeting these people for the first time. Three teachers from my school came with my host ‘grandfather’ to pick me up and they were so nice! They brought me back to their house where the rest of the family and some friends were waiting to meet me.