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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Young Love

Earlier this week my Georgian Mom told me that her cousin's got engaged at the second house. I was like "Hmmm thats odd he would propose at our house, but O.K." I was all excited because I've heard so much about supras (Georgian parties) and I was excited to take part in this long lived Georgian tradition. I also thought that there was no better time to bring up the fact that I will be flying home for my sister, Lauren's wedding, in less than three weeks! I thought they would be surprised that I didn't tell them about it sooner. However, I think they really thought that she just got engaged and will getting married in a month, much like my Mom's cousin. Little do they know that we've been planning this wedding for a year and half! 

Anyways, so yesterday I came home from school and I was informed that I would be going to a party for the engaged couple at the second house. I was like, "A wedding?" And my little Georgian brother goes, "Yes, the wedding!!" And I go, "What? They move really fast here!" I think I get confused often for two reasons 1. The language barrier and 2. Georgians are so spontaneous. I honestly would not have been surprised if I got there and there was a white gown and the flower girl ready to go.  However, it turned out it was just an engagement party, and I was somewhat relieved since I didn't bring any heels with me!

My family and I came into the house that evening, and the chairs were already full of people and the table was stacked with food. Since I'm treated as a special guest still, they quickly got me a chair and glass of wine. I quickly scanned the room and found the newly engaged couple with ease. They seemed to be in a happy daze and full of joy. Then Nino said ok time for you to toast the couple if you want. I literally just met the couple 5 minutes ago and I was already toasting them! I stood up from my seat and mumble some words like "Best wishes, and I wish you both a long and healthy marriage!" Nino translated for me, and everyone seemed pleased so I was relieved. 

The newly engaged couple 

Soon after I began to observe the people in the room. I notice that all the men were on one side of the table and the women were on the other. Nino told me that this is an old tradition that isn't observed that often, but it is tonight. It was also strange that only the men gave toasts. Well besides me, but since I'm a guest I've notice I get more respect than the average Georgian woman. Every time a man toasted they all stood and it usually was some drawn out speech and then only the men drank. I was the only woman at the table with wine! 

All the men standing for another toast

I asked Nino how old the couple was and she said the girl was 18 and the boy was 22. I was shocked! First off they look like at least 5 years older than me, and I just could never envision myself getting married so young. In the car ride home I asked Nino since she is 16 if she was going to get married that young, and she said "NOO!!!" She said first she must complete university and then everything else will fall into place. I really admired her when she said that because its obvious that young marriage is still very popular in Georgia, but she is determined to get an education and see the world outside of Samtredia. I realized we have a lot more in common than I first thought, and I'm looking forward to getting to know her more and being a positive influence on her during my stay here.

Me and Nino at the party...Girl Power!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Living in a Georgia Paradise

This past weekend I explored the beautiful beach town of Batumi. It is located right on the Black Sea and has started to become a new and exotic vacation spot over the past few years. During the summer months people flock from all over the world to enjoy Batumi's beaches, cafes on the water, and night life! It was great to go off season and get a real taste of the this Georgian city's life. 

I took the train by myself from Samtredia and met up with all my friends from Tblisi. My Georgian father works on for the rail roads so he made sure I was taken care of. I not only did I not have to pay for my train ticket, but he arranged a conductor to escort me to my hotel. I love how protective he is, yet having to ride the train into the train yard with only 5 Georgian men and myself left on the train didn't make me feel that safe. 

The city was beautiful and my friends enjoyed what we could of it considering it was raining all day Saturday. The beach was no Jersey shore thats for sure. It was covered with huge colorful rocks that can feel quite painful if you happen to take your shoes off. My friend Melissa and I wanted to put our feet in the Black Sea and just as we stood there to take a picture the waves came crashing up on us and soaked us to our hips. It really didn't matter too much since I was already wet from the rain! Afterwards, we walked around more of the city and checked out the local art museum.

That night a bunch of TLG volunteers and I went to a free Coolio concert. For those of you not familiar with this washed up rapper from the 1990's, your not missing much. His greatest hits consists of "Gangsters Paradise" and ummm thats about it. The concert was fun because the Georgians were sooo into it, and for a second I felt like I was 22 years old in 1995. We ended up going to the after party at the club and since were in Georgia, Coolio actually showed up. 

A few of my friends and I went over to say hello, and soon we were sipping champagne and being spoon fed fruit by none other than Coolio himself. I asked him why he didn't sing "Rollin' with my Homies" (my favorite Coolio song) and he responded by slurring, "I forgot." Oh Coolio. Such a disappointment. 

He eventually pulled me off the couch and started to dance with me and as I turned away he said, "Are you afraid of me?" I said, "No." (Scared look on my face). "Are you afraid of the dark?" I replied, "No." (Starting to nervously laugh). And before I knew what was coming he dipped me back and gave me a huge smacker on the lips! My friend Melissa came to the rescue and pulled him off of me, and he gave her the look of death. We quickly tried to exit the scene and ran to the coat area to regroup. As we chatted with a few of our friends, Coolio and his crew came sweeping by us. It seemed like he was being escorted out. As he walked by me and tried to grab my arm and said, "Come onnn!!" Oh yeah Coolio, like I would really go anywhere with you! So lesson of the night is, stay away from crazy rappers unless you want a great story and want to totally rock Six Degrees of Separation. 

The next day my friends and I had a lovely lunch at a restaurant right on the water. We even saw a huge ship from Ukraine come into the port. Then, a few of us hit up the Stalin Museum. The real Stalin Museum is located in Gori where he grew up, but the museum in Batumi is located in the house he lived in for two years from the age of 20-22. He started some underground illegal political groups in Batumi during this time. It was really interesting to learn about Stalin since I'm not too familiar with Soviet history. As my Georgian gets better I hope to have conversations with my family about life during the Soviet era. I find it all so fascinating! I felt a bit strange at the museum because the tour guide kept making us take pictures with Stalin and the former Soviet Union flag. I swear I'm not a Communist! 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Fonz would be proud

I can't believe today is already Thursday! This week has flown by! School was really great this week. I think I'm finally getting into the groove of things. I was really happy on Monday when a few of the teachers came up and apologized to me for being so rude last week. They said my Georgian was getting better too! That made me feel really good. 

On Tuesday I got to lead the 4th grade and 5th grade classes by myself. I was definitely put on the spot, but at the same time it wasn't that hard to come up with ways to teach them. In 5th grade they were learning verbs like reading, writing, taking, riding etc. And in the 4th grade they were learning nouns like pencil, pen, rubber (eraser for all the Americans), pencil case etc. For the verbs I just started acting out the actions and writing them on the board. The kids loved pretending to ride a bike and take photos. For the nouns I made the kids take out all the objects and show them to me. I would lift up a pen and they would scream "Pen!!" and lift up their own. It was really adorable. 

The next day I was corned by an eager 10th grade student, named Mary. As we walked home together she got up the courage to ask me out for a cup of coffee. I thought, "Why not??" So me, Mary, and her friend Nino went to the cafe. She wouldn't let me pay for a thing! It was funny because we were the only young girls in there and everyone kept staring at us. And at one point she told me to lower my voice because the Georgian men were talking about us! I never realized that girl chat could be so controversial! 

Today was great because I worked with both the 11th and 12th grade and tried to have them speak about themselves. They have so much trouble expressing what they want to say that I suggested that we start a discussion group (like my friend Michelle is doing in her school!). My teacher loved the idea and quickly started making a list of all the kids she thought would want to join. After that, during our break she went around to the classes to see who else would want to participate. She came back with a total of 28 names. I was floored! That isn't a discussion group that is like double the size of my classes! I'm assuming that half probably will not show, but I guess I'll find out for sure on Monday!

The best part of my day today was teaching the 5th graders the days of the week. On the spot, I was like, "Wait. I have a song I can teach them!" The teacher was like, "Try anything!" and looked very relieved. You will never guess what song I taught them....the Happy Days theme song. Monday, Tuesday...Happy Days. Wednesday, Thursday...Happy Day. Friday, Saturday...Party all day with you! I never thought my excessive TV watching would help me in a classroom, but hey thanks Nick at Night! 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just a Small Town Girl...

I'm sorry to keep all my readers at the edges of their seats (aka my Mom haha) but between my trip to Tblisi this weekend, and teaching my little brother, Eka, how to play the game Uno, who will now not rest unless we play 5 games a day, I've been pretty busy!
So I made it through my first week of school, and this past weekend all the Samtredia gals went to Tblisi to explore the Georgian capital! We took the train on Friday afternoon. My Georgian Dad works for the railroad as the Deputy Transit Authority Manager (he loves sharing his long title), and to my surprised he even popped on to make sure everything was ok. Once we arrived in Tblisi we settled into our homestay at DooDoo's. She was quite the character, and I wasn't sure if we should feel safe or nervous living with her. 
After that, we met up with my Georgian airport boy (yes, we did keep in touch a bit) and two of his friends. They took us all around the city, and even to the highest point so we could see all the city's lights. We took pictures of the Georgian Eiffel Tower aka the TV/radio tower that overlooks the city. It even lights up and sparkles just like the real one! After seeing all the of the city it was time for some Georgian cuisine. 
As they drove us to the restaurant all of us girls thought something looked familiar. We ended up going to the restaurant that was next door to the hotel that we all stayed at when we first arrived to Georgian. For me it was especially funny because literally this was the only restaurant I had already gone to, and what are the odds of them picking it?? It turned out to be quite a different experience from when I went the first time though. The menu was completely in Georgian so the boys ordered everything for us. After explaining that I couldn't eat wheat (No bread...EVER? This is a shock to most Georgians since they live on bread). I was put at ease when they ordered a few things I could eat. We took shots of red pepper vodka and enjoyed some live Georgian music.
The next day we woke up at 6:30am to catch the TLG trip to Kakheti. I ended up being the only one to get on the bus because they ran out of room. The girls all told me to go since everyone that was going were people from my orientation. It was great to get out of the city and see some more Georgian country side. We drove to a Georgian wine vineyard to vintage (make wine!!!). We were greeted by a hearty old priest that was carrying around a jug of chacha (Georgian vodka) and saying "Shots? Shots? Shots?" (Everybody!!) haha. Mind you this was at 10:30 in the morning!!! We indulged in yummy pumpkin, eggplant, bread, cheese, chicken, watermelon, and apples. Then it was off to pick grapes!! I've never seen so many tipsy people carrying around knives cutting grapes off the vine. This definitely was a lot more intense then my Uncle Stanley and Aunt Sally's wine making parties back in Philadelphia! After butchering the vines it was off to stomp some grapes!! I must say that was by far the best part. We got to put on these rubber boots and hop in the tub with the Georgian workers. I seriously had an I Love Lucy moment. Finally, when all our hard work was done, we ate again! I'm starting to love how this country enjoys to fest! We had more Georgian wine, more shots of chacha, and yummy kabob and this walnut dessert that looked a little funny haha. We all left with our bellies full and our heads a little tipsy. 
When we arrived back to Tblisi I explored the city with some of my friends. It was great to finally see the capital in the day light! We made our way to the "Dry Bridge" flea market. I bought my first Georgian drinking horn! So apparently, although I haven't seen it yet, but Georgians drink wine, vodka, etc. out of an animal's horn. I can't wait to try it out! After the market I met up with the girls for some Georgian sushi! We were determined to have some before we left the city. Having meat, bread, and cheese everyday can make you miss sushi a lot more than one would think! 
The weekend was a great success, and it was wonderful to see all my friends from orientation but after exploring the city I'm really glad I decided to come to Samtredia. Its so great to walk around the whole town and recognize familiar faces. Just the other day I was reading in the park, and I was greeted my brother's Godmother, my mother's sister-in-law, and a girl from one of my classes. The life of a small town girl indeed!