Friday, December 17, 2010

Tis' The Season!

Over the past few weeks I've been teaching and practicing different Christmas, New Years, and Winter songs with each of my classes in preparation for a winter concert. Since my first week at school Nana always mentioned how she wanted to put on a holiday show, and today it took place! 

Since we don't have a stage or all-purpose type room the concert took place in our large music room. I wanted to have a party along with the kids singing songs so for the first hour just the 3rd, 4th, and 5th formers came in for fun. We had tables set up for them to write their own Christmas cards and letters to Santa. I wrote out samples like 'Dear Bob, Roses are Red. Violets are Blue. I want to wish a very Happy New Year to you!' Many of the kids copied from my examples even adding in 'Dear Bob' haha. I put out smiley face and star stickers and they went WILD over them! I now know what to bribe them with for next semester! 

So much love for 'Tara Teacher'

I also created a 'Pin The Nose on the Rudolph' game. They could not get enough of it! I even had 7th and 8th graders sneaking into the room to play! It amazes me sometimes that the simplest things, like games or songs I've known my whole life, are so incredibly enjoyable for them. 

Pin the Nose on the Rudolph!

The concert part of the day went great! Each class came into the room to preform for teachers, parents, and some members of the educational resource center. I really could not have been more proud of all my children. Even the 6th formers who did not know the last few verses of 'Let it Snow' pulled it off in style! 

'Dashinggg thwru thee snoww'

My 11th and 12th formers were definitely the stars of the show. They preformed a skit that we wrote together in class about drinking on New Years, and then they sang 'Jingle Bell Rock' and 'So This is Christmas.' My principal liked it so much that she had them do 'Jingle Bell Rock' again in order to catch it on camera! 

Its the right time to rock the night away!

The concert was a success! I was even interviewed by a journalist from the neighboring city of Kutaisi! I really enjoyed teaching my kids songs. It made me remember all the shows I was in growing up, and how much fun it all was. 

The girls got in on the fun too

So that is a wrap for my first semester in Georgia! I'm flying to Israel with the three other Samtredia gals on Monday for our winter break. I'm not sure how much internet access I will have, but I will be sure to blog if I can get some. Until then, Happy holidays and Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am Woman...Hear Me Roar!

Through out my training it was emphasized that Georgia is an extremely male dominated country and in many regions of Georgia, females are expected to wait hand and foot on the males in their family. I have definitely seen many examples of this backwards behavior, but I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the strength of the women's voice in Georgia. 

Three people that I have come to know and love and would not be able to get through my day without happen to all be strong women.

Firstly, my Bebia. She is the backbone of my family. I'm not sure if my family or now I, could function without her. She wakes up before I do and goes to bed way past I do, and is seriously a powerhouse. Although some of my friends also have Bebias, she is 'The Bebia' to us all. Even at only 4'11 she is a dominating figure, and you never mess with her. She cooks all the meals, does all the laundry, cleans, irons, sews, and is overall the ultimate Georgian Bebia. She also doesn't let Alvto, my Georgian Dad, tell her what to do. She is always concerned about how I'm doing, and she has been amazing about my gluten free needs. I've probably spent the most time with her out of all the family members too. However, she will never replace my American grandmas, Mom-Mom and Granny! 

Next is, Nana, the head English teacher at my school. I was really concerned at first that I would be working with an older teacher since I heard they did not like new teaching methods, and were not happy to have American teachers in Georgia. However, it has been the complete opposite with her. She was thrilled that I came to work at her school, and is so thankful to have me. She is always wants me to teach her new English words, and we are always brainstorming ways to get our kids to come to class hah. She is seriously my life line at school, and I'm not sure I would be able to get by without her since my other two English teachers I can barely hold I conversation with. She has been teaching at my school for over 40 years so we always get into deep conversations about the Soviet Union, and how those times were. Its amazing how much she has been through, and yet she is still keeps up to date with current Georgian pop singers and actresses. I know the feeling is mutual because the other day she met Michelle, and she goes 'I have three grandchildren, Nanuka, Zuka, and Tara!'

My final power woman is Sopho. Sopho is a geography teacher at my school and also happens to be Nana's daughter-in-law. She is such a friendly, out-going person and I'm so happy to have her in my life. She runs the Samtredia newspaper, and introduced me to her entire office that I enjoy visiting frequently. It amazes me how much she does and sometimes I wonder if she ever sleeps! She is a mother of two, teacher, journalist and so on. One thing that I find so refreshing about Sopho is that she is always trying to better herself. She takes English lessons twice a week, and she is always asking me to practice with her. She is also learning how to drive which is very unusual for most Georgian women. I find her passion for life to be so motivating. Even though we have big language barriers sometimes it does not stop us from talking to each other. She gives me hope for young Georgian woman out there that you can have a family, work, and dress fashionably all at once! 

I'm so thankful to have met these amazing Georgian women during my time here. I would also like to say that the three Samtredia go-gos are also 'power women' in my life, and without them I do not know what I would do!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gluten-Free In Georgia

Almost a year and half ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. So basically every time I would eat anything with gluten in it aka bread, pasta, cookies, granola bars etc. my body would attack itself and tear at my small intestine. The symptoms are very common such as stomach pains, head aches, long bathroom visits (need I say more) that I was probably suffering for many years and never knew. The only treatment for Celiac Disease right now is a gluten-free diet. 

When I was first diagnosed I would still have gluten here or there. How could I not share a pitcher of beer with my friends during Happy Hour? (Yes, beer's main ingredient is wheat, so wine and vodka for me!) After a few weeks of doing the diet half way I realized if I really want to feel better and help my body I'm going to have to give up gluten all together. 

Going gluten-free in the States is surprisingly a lot easier than you would think. There is a lot of gluten-free products in general super market stores, and a lot of big restaurant chains have gluten-free menus. However, being gluten-free in Georgia has presented some interesting dilemmas. 

Bread is a HUGE part of every Georgian's diet. They seriously eat it for at least one meal a day. Every family is different so I won't generalize for the whole population. I'll just talk about my family. My family eats bread with every meal. Breakfast and Dinner consist of usually just bread and cheese, and then lunch is the main larger meal where we usually have meat of some sort. 

During my week of training I had my Georgian language teacher translate a bunch of phrases for me like "I can not eat wheat, barley, oats, and rye." "I am allergic to wheat." Even though I'm not technically allergic its just easier sometimes to explain it that way. I explained my condition to my family on my first day, and at first they were a little freaked out. Every Georgian I have met can not believe I do not eat bread. My family has been pretty amazing about it though. There is this corn bread that I'm able to eat since its made out of corn flour so my Bebia makes it for me all the time. She has also made me cakes and pizza out of it too! I don't think they fully understand my disease because a few weeks ago when I got attacked by bugs and my face was bitten up they asked if I ate bread haha. 

Bebia making me a gluten-free pizza!

Gluten-free gal!

Eating out in Georgia has been a bit of a challenge. I have learned a few different meals that are gluten free so I usually just stick to those. However, grabbing something quick presents a bit of a problem since most quick meals are bread. I've been savoring my gluten free protein bars, and I am excited to stock up when I'm in Israel! 

It is definitely sad sometimes when I watch my friends chow down on some kachapouri or kinkali and I can not take part in enjoying the delicious traditional Georgian foods. But I know I am keeping my body healthy by doing so and plus I don't need the extra calories anyways! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

You Drive Me Crazy

Transportation in Georgia is a breed of its own. I thought the drivers in Rome were fast or the buses in London were crazy, but nothing and I mean NOTHING can compare to Georgian transportation. 
There are a few ways to get around including large coach type buses, trains, taxis, cars, and my personal favorite marshutkas. Marshutkas are small mini buses that travel all over the country and are definitely the most used transportation in Georgia. You can pick up a marshutka basically anywhere along side the rode, and even though they are only meant to fit 15 there have been times where I've seen 25 people packed in!
Me and the other three Samtredia girls took a quick trip to Batumi this past Saturday to get away for a night. We had interesting marshutka rides both ways. On our way there we got into a car accident. We were riding along and all of a sudden...BANG!! I'm not sure if it was our fault or not, but no one was hurt which is the most important thing. The car's complete front end was  torn off, and our marshutka had a flat tire. We got lucky and were able to pick up another marshutka to Batumi within minutes. And since we were only 20 minutes away our 10 lari trip turned out to only be 2 laris! 
On our way back to Samtredia on Sunday we were having a smooth ride until a little boy decided to throw up a half a kilo of berries on the floor a few inches from my feet. The driver pulled over, and the poor kid went outside to puke out another half a kilo. The rest of the trip the marshutka smelled faintly of berries and pee. I took a shower as soon as I got home. 
Its really refreshing to take my 20 minute walk to school every morning. Its also relieving to not be driven. Georgians like to drive fast! My family's driver Dato, thinks he is apart of the Nascar as he speeds down the road with no sign of slowing down. No one ever wears seat belts so as were driving down a bumpy, non-paved road going 75 mph were also bouncing around like corn kernels being popped! I know that the government is starting to implement stricter rules on the main roads such as wearing seat belts, speeding, and dark windows, but it doesn't stop the townies from driving like maniacs!
When I first came to Georgia my family kept asking to look at my license. I thought it was only because it looked so different than theirs, but really it was because there aren't that many women drivers here. In my town I've rarely seen any at all. I guess it comes back to power and control, and a woman driving a car would just mean they could get away faster. 
Sopho, a geography teacher at my school and Nana's daughter in law is learning how to drive. She is driving a car without a license and offered me a ride home the other day. I declined and said I love to walk (which I do!). I love the idea of more Georgian woman drivers, but I don't want to be the passenger car accident dummy either! 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Riding Solo

Over the past two weeks I've started to teach a bunch of classes on my own. The two main English teachers I work with, Nana and Nana, have been sick or had to go to Tbilisi so I've been left to fend on my own. The first few classes I had to do this for were quite exhilarating and refreshing. I was able to add conversational exercises and review games to the classes to really reinforce what we have been learning. So much of our class focuses on reading and translating that it can be really monotonous to sit through it day in and day out.

In my 11th form class I created questions on slips of paper and gave each student one. For example, "Where do you want to travel?" or "What did you do for you last birthday?" or "What was the craziest  you ever had?" It was great to get my students speaking and to really get to know them on a more personal level. I found out that Lasha wants to travel to Italy, and Tiko had a dream about singing on stage with Coldplay.

Another day I did the game "Two Truths and One Lie." They told me three statements and I had to guess what was the lie. Even the kids that can barely speak were able to play along! It went something like this: "I like to play basketball. I like the color blue. I like Michael Jackson." Hey, at least I'm getting them talking! 

I was able to handle the older classes on my own, including the 6th and 7th forms, but once I had to do 4th and 5th by myself I was a complete mess! I couldn't get the kids to stop talking and they just kept laughing as I became more and more distressed. I wasn't frustrated at how they were acting because they are just kids, and kids act up when the real teacher isn't around. I was more upset at myself because I couldn't communicate with them enough for them to really respect me. 

I left that day feeling really down, and when I came into school the next day I had the 5th form as my first class, and Nana my co-teacher was late so I had to get started on my own. However, I guess the principal gave them a good talking to after she saw I was upset the day before because they behaved like little angels! 

I'm just really thankful that I am just the teacher's assistant, and not the full on teacher. I really enjoy doing my own lessons and bringing a lot more color to the lessons, but its a relief to have the Georgian teacher there for backup. You never know what these kids are going to pull!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Big Fat Georgian ქორწილი

A few WEEKS ago I went to an engagement party for Lila's cousins, and this past Saturday I went to the wedding. Since I was just apart of a bridal party that took over a year and half to plan, the whole concept of putting a wedding together in a matter of weeks just boggles my mind. 

Nino and I headed to the restaurant around 6pm then we proceeded to sit outside the restaurant for 2 hours waiting for the bride and groom to make their special appearance. We kept warm by cuddling together and chatting with all of her crazy relatives. Also, as it turned out there were a few of kids from my school attending the wedding. They were somehow related to the bride side of the family. I swear everyone knows everyone in Samtredia! So as I chatted with Nino every few minutes we would get interupted by one of my kids screaming "TARA!!!" and then they would run away. It was adorable!

Around 8pm we finally entered the restaurant to loud Georgian music. There were two long banquet style tables that seemed to go on forever and that were already piled high with food. We sat down and waited for the bride and groom to make their grand entrance.

Chowing down on some Georgian grub

The toast leader drinking out of a horn!

As many of you know I love fashion, and well the bride's dress well she ummm yeah. I won't be too mean but basically she belonged in Texas circa 1985 at a debutant ball. It was bad. I also got a glimpse of her white leather goo-goo boots and black tights that she wore underneath. But she is a beautiful girl so that definitely made up for it! (Trying to be nice!)

Not taking a fashion tips home with me.....

After having food shoved down my throat by Nino's two grandmother's, aunt, and mother who all decided they wanted to sit near me, I was ready to dance. Nino's cousin Tamuna and I hit the dance floor and all of a sudden we were surrounded by all my little girl students. I had my own little posse on the dance floor. Then, the bride and groom pulled me in to dance with them and gave me huge hugs and kisses. They were so glad I was there! And also a wedding definitely gets more points when you have an American go-go (girl) there! 

Me and my dancers....We could give Lady Ga-Ga a run for her money

The Newly Weds (Hopefully ends better than Jessica and Nick!)

The next day the girls and I went to our first Samtredia football (or soccer for all you Americans out there) game. When we first got their it was a bit intimitating since almost everyone in the stands was male and they were also screaming at the top of their lungs. 

The Samtredia Gals at the football match

Go Samtredia!!

Two of my students climbing the fence haha

It was Samtredia v.s. Tbilisi so it was a big deal. We actually won 2-0! Everyone went crazy at the end climbing the fence and everything. The next day all my kids kept coming up to me saying 'I saw you at the football game!' and 'Do you like football??' I guess I better start learning more about football besides David Beckham is married to Posh Spice. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bebia Could Win Flip Cup Any day

After arriving back to Samtredia I made it clear to my family that I couldn't sleep on the dining room couch any longer. Between having to hide my things every morning to make it look like I wasn't living there and not having a bed I just was not into this situation anymore.

So last Friday I moved back into a bedroom in the second house. You have no idea how nice it was to just lay on a bed and read a book! My bebia (grandma) and mama (father) have been alternating staying with me every night. It was a little uncomfortable at first to be spending so much time with one family member, and especially two of which that can't speak any English, but in some ways its been really fun!  

Bebs made me feel right at home. She brought tea up to the family room and we watched GeoStar (Georgia's American Idol, which they are crazy about by the way) till late into the night. One night we were watching TV and she goes "Let me try on your glasses." I'm like "Ok." She puts them on and then hands me hers to try on. The two of us were then just staring at each other in each other's glasses and laughing. Haha. Oh what a night. 

Another night we had dinner down stairs in the kitchen. She poured us each a half a glass a wine. She did a cheers and said "Chemi go-go" or "To my girl" it was adorable. Then she proceeded to down the glass of wine and flip the cup over and said "DONE!" I couldn't stop laughing for 2 minutes. I really wish I could of caught that on video camera! 

My nights with my father have been surprisingly good. I think getting him a massage thing from Brookstone while I was in America put me on his good side. I'm not that close with him so I thought it was really strange at first that he offered to even stay with me. However, once he broke out the wine we were totally fine! 

On Sunday night it was pretty cold in the house so he goes and pours us each and full glass of wine. As we start drinking I start to feel a lot warmer and now I finally understand why Russians drink so much vodka! He then asks me how much my friends and I can drink and he goes "I bet Melissa can drink a lot because she is so tall!!" I start laughing and he asks "How many glasses of wine can she drink?" I say, (And not trying to make her sound like a lush) "5 glasses!" He is in shock. And he replies, "Call her up! She lives close. Have her come drink with us!" Mind you this was on a school night. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Its a Family Affair

My week in America was absolutely lovely, but of course like all good things, they eventually do come to an end. As my parents drove me to the airport I knew this wouldn't be as easy going back the second time especially since I knew what lay ahead, another 11 hour layover in Munich, Germany! 

My second layover in Germany wasn't as hectic as my first one with my friend Ralphaela. I definitely took my time getting into the city center, and just enjoyed the pleasures of a European city. I sat in coffee shops aka Starbucks (Hey, a girl has needs!) and just read my book for awhile. It was absolutely amazing. I wandered around lots of stores and then took a long walk to the English Garden. If your ever in Munich it is totally worth a visit. Its basically like the Central Park of Munich. I really came to Munich and America at the right time between the changing of the leaves and the Christmas decorations going up, it made me remember how much I love this time of year. I'm excited to see how Georgia celebrates the holidays considering their Christmas isn't till after the New Year!

Englischer Garten

Englischer Garten

Englischer Garten

A ball game that I remember learning about in French class!!! 

Nothing says Christmas like warm chestnuts!

I arrived in Tbilisi at about 4:00am, the same time that I came in in September. However, this was a lot different. I didn't have TLG staff waving me over or a bunch of English speakers to chat with, I was all alone. So with my Georgian-English dictionary in hand I went outside to get a cab. I ended up getting one for 25 Lari! I was so proud considering my friends apartment is pretty far from the airport. He did however shove my suitcases in the trunk and yelled "Police! Police!" and pointed in the other direction "We must go now!" I jumped in the cab and off we went. 

I made it to my friend Martina's apartment safe and sound. I slept for a few hours and then was awoken to find out that my ENTIRE Georgian family was in Tbilisi to come pick me up..well minus Bebia but STILL. Around 4pm they picked me up and after some awkward hugs and kisses we went off to the Tbilisi Zoo. Iraqli and Nino were so excited to show me the different animals. We walked around eating popcorn and staring at the animals behind barred cages. I felt like I was in the 1950s. I guess in America we have these "natural environment" areas that make us feel like were not really at a zoo so we don't feel as bad. After the zoo we hit up the mountain park and rode the ferris wheel! It wasn't as big as the London Eye compartments, but it had a TV in it! Crazy! The next day we hit up the biggest church in all on Georgia. This was the first time that I saw that tourists actually outnumbered Georgians at a tourist spot. 

The view from the mountain park

Nino and Iraqli being silly after our ferris wheel ride

The largest church in Georgia!

Nino and I inside the church

Then we were on the rode literally. I didn't even know we were headed back to Samtredia at first, and I had to spend 2 hours with Iraqli jumping all over me with no book, ipod, or anything until we stopped for lunch. By the time I got to the apartment I was exhausted! It was a long journey back to the Caucus, but it definitely did not lack in the excitement! 

The last few days I've spent around Samtredia catching up with my family and the rest of the Samtredia gals (we should really make tshirts haha). I did take a quick trip to a near by village to visit Lila's mom and dad. You would never guess with how many pictures I took how little time we spent there (like 25 minutes). I guess they weren't feeling the family time, hence the awkward picture. Got to love the Georgian smile or lack there of. 

Iraqli and his cousins getting some water from the well in the village

Cats playing in the beans

Lila with her parents
Even my family told me to take this photo...peek-a-boo

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Finding a Good Fit

I'm sorry for my lack of blogging over the past week, but if you are close friend or family member of mine you will know that I am currently in the States for my American sister Lauren's wedding!! Its a really exciting time for my family and I, and I'm so happy to be at home to share in all the excitement. It also doesn't hurt to enjoy American life for a week! 

Updates on my Georgian family, school, and life:

Before I left I talked to my sister Nino about my living situation. I explained to her that I feel like I don't have enough space, and I am not sleeping well on their dining room couch. I felt a little awkward expressing these feelings because Nino and her family have been SO kind to me. She totally understood what I was getting at and told me she would show me her family's third home. Oh yes, my family not only has one, or two, but THREE homes. Its kind of crazy. So we grabbed a flashlight and walked to another stairwell of our apartment building and walked to the top floor and there was my family's third home. Its a cute little apartment, but there is no running water and it was freezing cold. Not exactly the get away I was looking for. She said I could stay there if I wanted to since their second house is a bit of a walk. I told her that I would still like to try sleeping in the second house since I can actually have running water and a bed. Two things I have found are kind of essential to me living in Georgia. Its about a 30 minute walk to my school, but I think it might be worth it to just have a little privacy and an actual bed. So we will see how that goes once I get back!

School has been going really great! The day before I left all the teachers in my school pulled me into the teacher's lounge and presented me with a bottle of Georgian wine in a beautiful pottery type bottle and a ring for my sister! I was so taken back by their generosity and kindness. They were all so excited for me, and they kept saying "You need to bring back photos!!"

Before I left I also went to visit my friends in the Samtredia government building. I love sitting in on their English lessons. They are so passionate and excited to learn English. It has definitely motivated me to start working on my Georgian harder. There was a grant proposal sitting on Sopho's desk and I started looking at it. I told her that I would love to help her with grants and getting them money for projects for the community. She got so excited!! We had some communication problems like I could not find the Georgian word for deadline. So we decided to talk the next day with Nana at school.

The next day at school I went through the grant application with Nana and Sopho explaining each part. It was really frustrating at times to speak through Nana, trying to figure out what Sopho wanted to do with the grant money. I kept thinking to myself "Ahh, if I could speak Georgian this could be so easy!" The application has to been written in either English or Czech since its through the money is coming through the Czech government. I wish I could of done more to help them, but since I was leaving to catch a train to Tbilisi I couldn't stay too long. I'm looking forward to going back and getting more involved with grant writing and fundraising for the community. Nana talked to me about how the former peace corps fundraised money in order to redo the English room. I would love to find a way to raise some funds for my school. Its over 100 years old and is located on the other side of the train tracks away from the center part of the town. It does not receive the funding that a lot of the other schools in Samtredia receive. Most of my children's parents work in factories, sell products in the bazaar, or are simply out of work. Some of them have even gone abroad to Italy or Spain to find work since there is nothing for them in Georgia. 

 A hallway in my school

Girls walking to class

The outside of School 12

Its funny how things work out sometimes. I came to Georgia to make a difference and to help a community and I have definitely found this here at my school and in Samtredia. It is completely fitting that I am working at the school in Samtredia that needs the most help and love. I am excited to think of creative ways to help my school, my children, and the community of Samtredia.

Some very old posters hanging on the walls

My refurbished English room 

Well, I'm off to spend some time with my American Bebia, Mom-Mom. She is 93 and half and so excited to have me home for a week. I will do an update on my week in the States, after the wedding since I have an 11 hour layover in Munich!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On The Georgian Home Front

Over the past few days I've started to reflect on my experience here so far, and I've started to question if I can really live in Georgia for 9 and half months. I've definitely started to come down from my honeymoon phase where everything is exciting and new, and I'm realizing that no matter where you live in the world, some sort of routine will form. 

Living in a small apartment with five other Georgians can be quite overwhelming at times. I've tried to find my own space, but there is just very little of that here, plain and simple. There are days when I just want to curl up in bed and read a book, but I can't because my little brother is playing his drums in one room and Bebia is telling me to come have tea with her in another room and the only room left is the toilet. I've been living in my family's dining room the past month. So when I close the doors at night or I'm getting changed in the morning there is always the possibility of someone walking in (its happened twice already..hence I get dressed in the bathroom a lot more now). 

I never thought personal space was something I so desperately needed but I guess its a natural feeling. I also tend to compare my experience with the other three girls in Samtredia. All three of them live in the guest bedrooms of their families homes with nice king size beds and (gasp) closets! I do have to say though there are definitely perks to living in the apartment like wireless Internet. So for the lack of a bed, I can facebook and email whenever I want. 

I have to say that my family is extremely kind and has gone above and beyond anything I ever imagined a host family would do. Just yesterday, my mom bought me a sweater and a pair of socks because she had picked up a shirt for Nino. And today, I got home and Bebia had about 15 tomatoes ready for me to eat. I've never seen a family as close as my Georgian one either. They literally spend so much time in the same little quarters that it just amazes me. 

However, my family tends to fight a lot. I'm still not sure if they are fight ALL the time or it just sounds like it, but literally from the time I wake up at 8am till I go to bed I witness at least five spats of yelling a day. This is quite different than my American family where the arguing is few and far between and when it does occur it is not very often. It seems like everyone is always angry at each other, but I'm starting to think a lot of its a lost in translation thing. There is just no way people fight that much. They just all must raise their voices when they talk? Not sure. 

The final comment I would like to make is about my father. I'm having some daddy issues. I really thought we were headed towards a turning point in our relationship, but from the comment he literally just made to me I'm not so sure. Its really difficult to live with someone that does not try to understand you as a person simply because you can not speak the language. I think he finds it like he is lowering himself to have to speak through his daughter. I try to make small talk like when he drives me to school. I always say thank you and goodbye when he drops me off and he never responds. 

Then tonight we were all talking about me going home for my American sister's wedding. I can tell he is a bit bitter that I'm coming and going whenever I please. I didn't mean for it to happen like that, but he seems to think I'm not happy here. He offered me some apple, and I said I didn't want any, and then he goes, "Do you want America?" I pretended I didn't understand because I didn't know what to say, but I feel really weird living with him at this point. He definitely has issues with me and I wish I could address them, but I can't. Its really frustrating! I can't live with someone that is going to crack jokes at my expense when I already am having my own inner thoughts going on in my head. I already have so many insecurities about being here that my Georgian dad giving me a hard time everyday is not exactly what I need. I wish I could express to him how appreciative I am of him opening his home and family to me, but for now its just not possible. I know if I engaged Nino to tell him things it would not go over well. I guess my biggest motivation to learn Georgian now is to talk to my father so when he cracks jokes about me I can come back at him, which I think ironically he would actually enjoy and be proud of me for.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Friends and Bug Bites

I've officially been in Samtredia for a month! My fourth week here definitely did not lack in the excitement.....

Over the past few weeks a Geography teacher, Sopho, at my school has asked me to come to her office. She would get as far as "Come to my office," and then I would always be at a lost for what she would say afterwards. All I knew was that, her office was full of journalists, and an English teacher comes to help children with their English, and they wanted me to come in and help out. All I could imagine was little Georgian children that were having trouble with English in a room writing a newspaper! I was still a little confused to what they actually did, but on Tuesday we finally went together.

As we walked through a field full of destructed buildings and cows, she told me that her office was in the government building of Samtredia (Ahhh! One light bulb went off in my head.) And that they write for the Samtredia Internet site (another light bulb!) When we finally did arrive to her office I was greeted by several smiling and excited Georgians. They quickly got me some coffee and we started conversing in English/Georgian (my favorite language). They were so excited to meet me that it made me wish I had come earlier. They showed me their website which you should all go visit although its still all in Georgian.

Walking through beautiful Samtredia 

Soon their English teacher came, and I was able to sit in on their English lesson. I was really impressed by how much they already knew and their eagerness to learn. The English teacher was extremely sweet and it was a pleasure to chat with her since she could understand me and I could understand her (a lot different than most English teachers I have met here so far). I promised them all I would return later that week.

The next morning I woke up with my right ankle all swollen, and itching like crazy! I've been getting a lot of bug bites since living in Georgia. The girls and I have looked all over for bug repellent and anti-itch cream but we haven't had much luck. Since it started to get a little cooler out I thought I would be in the clear, but then it got hot again, and my ankle was bitten really bad. I could barely get my shoe on! I show it to my family and they didn't think it was that bad. They actually asked me if I ate bread haha. I have Celiac Disease and they know I can't eat bread so I thought that was really funny when they said that. No its bug bites! They put some cream on it and we iced it for awhile and that was that. 

On Thursday with my swollen ankle I went to my sister Nino's ping pong tournament. It was a lot of fun. I never saw so many kids into ping pong! My American Dad would of enjoyed it. After the tournament I went back to Sopho's office to say hi. They were all so excited to see me again. They told me how Iraqli's birthday was the other day and they wanted to invite me to the party, but none of them had my number (cue 10 minutes of them practicing their English numbers as I gave it to them). Then they started telling me about how we should all go to this museum about a famous Georgian, and then we can go to a disco! "Lets go next weekend!" they said. Haha. I was like "I would love to, but I'm actually flying to America for my sister's wedding. But as soon as I get back I would love to!" Its really exciting to have new Georgian friends. Most of the teachers in my school are in their 40s or 50s so its nice to meet people in their 20s and 30s. I'm excited to start helping them out in their office and go on a road trip with them! Oh, and I also found out they are receiving a Peace Corps volunteer in their office in March. One more person in Samtredia! Yay! Should be a lot of fun!

Nino rocking at the ping pong tournament

So back to my bug eaten foot. I got home from school on Friday and it was pretty swollen again. My Bebia took one look at it and was like, "Forget the Borscht! I need to take you to a doctor!" Just leave it to Bebia! She grabbed my hand and off we went to my friend Michelle's Dad pharmacy. They gave me some pills, ointment, and valves and needles for shots! Our neighbor Nino has been coming over to give me the shots in my butt. Who knew she could do that? Haha. I woke up this morning and I could actually see my ankle which I think is a good sign. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Georgian cabs beat out Cash Cab any day

Every weekend since I was placed in Samtredia I have gone traveling, and this past weekend was no exception. I don't mean to leave my lovely Georgian town, but how can I pass up the opportunity to see another exciting part of Georgia with my friends? The Samtredia girls and I had a four day weekend due to the religious holiday on Thursday. When I asked my sister what the holiday was for she replied, "Religious, you know for the church. You understand?" "Sure, Nino" I replied. 

We decided to kick our weekend off right with the night train to Tbilisi. The night train consisted of the two little bunk beds in a little cubby style room. For 10 Laris it was pretty comfortable. Although once you lay down you do hear every bit of the train engine, and you are completely shaken awake every time the train stops. We had a really great train worker wake us up before our stop. At first we thought she said we had 5 minutes before our stop, making us all scramble like crazy people to put on our shoes and jackets on, but then it turned out we had a a few more minutes. Whew! 

We got off at about 6:30am right before Tbilis in a town called Mtskheta. On Thursday it was Mtskheta's 1,000th year anniversary so obviously we had to attend the party! Since it was 6:30am  the festivities were far from starting so we hung out at the train station and slowly walked into town. After about an hour or so of Melissa and I running around trying to find this mysterious home stay in the Lonely Planet guide (which we never found, and that book should be rewritten) we finally managed to find a home for the night. This wasn't without doing a lot of charades and hand motions by us and many Georgians, "Me minda (cue sleep action)." Thank goodness for kind and patient people. Then we layered up our clothes because our room was freezing and took a well needed nap!

The Mtskheta train station at 6am

Walking over the bridge to Mtskheta

Watching the sunrise over the Jvari Church

Once we awoke we were refreshed and ready to see all of Mtskheta. It was really beautiful to see the town come to life through out the day. First we went to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where there were hundreds of Georgians waiting to go inside and pay their respects. After that we strolled around the town and enjoyed the Georgian dance troupes and live Georgian music. Seeing all the little girls dancing reminded me of my own dancing days and even brought some tears to my eyes! At night we experienced some beautiful (and very close) fireworks and the Georgian National Orchestra. 

The mass of people waiting to go inside the church

All Georgian Orthodox'ed' out

One of the many amazing dancing troupes!

Georgian sword dancing!

The next day we took a cab ride up to the Jvari Church and were literally among the clouds because it was so foggy! Later that day as we tried to hail a marshutka which we were unsuccessful at, but we happen to get the attention of a Georgian woman driving by. We hopped into her car after hearing her speak beautiful English and Kanye West blasting from her speakers, and off to Tbilisi we went! (Kids don't hitch hike alone or with creepy men!)

Foggy Jvari Church

Once arriving in Tbilisi we had a lot of trouble finding the right bus station to Telavi, our next destination. Our poor taxi driver literally took us to three bus stations all around Tbilisi until we found the right one! One bumpy ride to Telavi later, our marshutka driver to Telavi brought us to a home stay where we were greeted by a friendly Georgian woman and her cute red headed daughter. We thoroughly enjoyed their "heat room" which had a warm fire burning and oh yeah, a dead bear hanging on the wall. 

On Saturday our home stay mom arranged a taxi driver to take us to Signaghi. Signaghi is home to the second largest wall in the world (next to the Great Wall of China!). The architecture was very Italian-style. Our taxi driver, Mamuka, gave us a tour of the entire town! He brought us into several beautiful churches, and had us walk on the wall and explore several watch towers. Even better, I was able to meet up with a few friends from my orientation since they were touring around Signaghi too!

One of the many beautiful views from Signaghi

Me and Mamuka (he ran back to the cab just to get a knife for this picture!)

The 2nd longest wall in the world!!

Being all cute in the watchtower 

After seeing all of Signaghi, Mamuka took us to the Bodbe Convent which is dedicated to St. Nino and houses her grave. Michelle, Emily, Mamuka, and I thought it would be a good idea to walk down to the holy water, where as the story goes St. Nino was praying there, and all of a sudden water burst through the ground, making it a very holy place ever since. A very muddy 30 min hike down later we were only able to glance into the holy water tub since the list to go in was full for the day. Disappointed and already exhausted we made our way up the mountain this time. Needless to say we almost passed out once we made it to the top again. Forget PX90, just hike to St. Nino's holy water!

On the way back to Telavi Mamuka took us to his relatives' home where we were able to pick delicious grapes! He then took us to his favorite restaurant in Telavi. At first he said he would only drop us off because he thought him coming would be a bother, but we convinced him to come, how could we not? We said goodbye to Mamuka at 10pm that night. We had spent 12 hours with him! That poor man! I slipped him some extra laris because he was just so incredibly nice and promised we would come back to see his new baby that will be born this April! 

Picking some tasty grapes