Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why won't you let me run and not eat

9/18 Even though this was only the second time this similar situation had happened to me, I realized that Georgians don’t really get the whole work out/running thing.
                My first experience with this was the day before school started for the semester (9/14).  I had been wanting to visit my school and I was told that it was only 2km away so I decided to run there for my morning jog.  I ran the whole way and was greet by very strange looks when I arrived.  Then all of a sudden I was being beckoned over by strangers.  I figured when in Georgia-I might as well take this risk.  I knew this building was my school but all the unfamiliar faces made me a little unsure.  I slowly walked over and finally saw a familiar face of my aunt and principal.  Relief came over my mind, follow by the thought of “wow this is my school.”  (Both good and bad thoughts can be included with that statement).
                I was quickly given a tour of the school, and then hustled across the street to a shop with three makeshift walls.  As I stood there very sweaty and as a first smelling worse than most European guys, I was handed a box of wafers and was told to eat.  Mind you I still had to run back to my house 2km away.  And the whole point of running that far that day was because I had eaten so much the day before and was feeling weighed down by the ridiculous amount of carbs eaten at each and every meal.  So, through the help of some guys who spoke okay English, I tried to explain that I was willing to carry the wafers back to the house but was not going to eat them at the present moment.  No one really got it though.  Finally, I told everyone I would eat them after dinner, as my desert, and that seemed to satisfy them for the moment.
                Another similar experience happened to me just a few days later.  I as running along, thinking to myself that I really didn’t want to run that day but there was nothing else to do and the countless number of carbs being eaten here re-entered my head.  I was on my way back, only minutes from home when a neighbor flagged me down and started yelling at me.  I turned around and he handed me an over sized handful of grapes.  Again, I was promptly told to eat them at that very moment.  I tried to used key words and some Georgian to explain that I would eat them when I got home (as I was less than a minute away).  He seemed to understand and let me on my way.
                When I got home, grapes in hand, my sister gave me a weird look as if she understood but my aunt was sitting next to her, saw the grapes, and again told me to eat.  I said I wanted to shower and that we could all eat them with dinner.  This seemed to work for the time being.  So later, after my shower, the very same grapes were thrust back in my hand and I was told to eat.  I had a few, just to appease the situation but gave most of them to my host-brother, who is a bottomless pit at 7 years old.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

animal farm

Taking an afternoon walk is becoming one of my favorite things to do here and it kills time.  As there are no street signs and I have no sense of where I am compared to anything else, I have been walking a different directions.

For two days last week I walked in the same direction and found myself in the same animal farm situation each time.  As I was walking a realized that I was being followed by a little pigs.  He was sorting along with every step and getting closer and closer.  I picked up the pace, but then so did he.  I was becoming more and more disconcerted and started to talk to myself, saying "this is how is all starts-it's animal farm all over again."  I finally get far enough away that this pig becomes disinterested and I was left to enjoy the rest of my walk.

Just the next day I was walking that same route and found myself being followed again.  By the same pig.  He was less shy this day and came toward me at a brisk pace.  I quickly moved along, crosses a small river and he was left sorting on the other side. 

I later found myself in a very large field and talking about my weekend plans with another friend.  I heard large and fast footprints behind me, to only turn around and realized that six huge horses were running straight toward me.  I had nowhere to run.  As a was starting to freak out I headed for a small heard of cows.  Heading in that direction I realized that if this were animal farm, they too would be in on the take over kick.  As the hooves came closer and closer, I watched and waited to see if the horses would change coarse.

When they were only 20 or so feet away they turned ever so slightly.  Relief took over my body.  Still on the phone with my friends, I come back to laughter on the other side of the phone.  I to realize how ridiculous this situation was and begin to laugh.  But my laughter soon stops when I realize the same 6 horses are coming back around...again straight toward me. I head for the cows on my right and they turn a bit to their right and we pass each other again.

The whole point is, why aren't this animals just a bit frightened by humans.  I want to instill fear.  This is one of my new goals for my time here.  I want the pigs, the cows and the horses to act like their counter parts in the U.S. and run in the opposite direction when they see me coming.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

my life in the village

9/12 So I think at this point almost half the people in my village have met me and the other half have met someone who has met me.  Yesterday I  met some of my will be students-it was very exciting.

At home things have been rather slow since the wind have knocked out our power.  I walked into the dining room only to find that a chicken had also wondered in and it scared the crap out of me.  This chicken this does happen fairly regularly now that I think about it.

School starts on Wednesday and I have yet to visit my school or meet my teacher but I am sure it will happen soon or at least on the first day of school.  I have a meeting now with the other teachers from my group and maybe I will finally learn something that may be useful during my next year here.


Today on the way to Zugdidi we just barely hit a cow.

Also, we went to the bizarre. What an experience.  I tried on a dress and a shirt in the middle of everything.  It was so crazy in there.  I wanted to take pictures but I already felt like such a tourist.

My family should be getting  Internet soon, so maybe I will be able to post more often.
9/10 I feel as though so much has happened since my last post I don’t know where to start.

Disclaimer: Justin, this entry isn’t very funny, but I will try next time.

To start off we completed our last few days of training and Georgian classes, heard once more the words of warning from our program director and were let go from her grasp (with tears) and shuttled to the homes of our host families.

 I am now living and working in the region of Samregelo near the city of Zugdidi. I can’t remember the name of my village-sorry. I have discerned that I am somewhere between 7-10 km from the Abkhazian boarder. One of my neighbors was explaining to me that the this village was swarming with Russian troops holding machine guns only two years ago. I asked if anyone had been killed and I am pretty sure the answer to that question was no, but it might have been lost in translation. After this and many other “comforting” stories I has reassured that now this area is very safe. And I have to say I do feel very safe. I am pretty sure the majority of the people who live in this village have seen me running (this morning) or I have met them or they have talked to someone who has met me.

Now for my family-my father’s name is Kaha (patroni for sure), his wife Esa, their son Andro, daughter Ani, Kaha’s sister Eka (my Principal), and the grandma (who’s name I don’t remember but she is a babushka for sure; bent over at 90 degrees and everything). Ani is the only one in the family who speaks some English. We are able to communicate but we use a dictionary all the time. There is also a neighbor (Leo) who is over a lot of the time who speaks good English, which has been very useful in communicating more important information to my family. Leo also gave me a book of short American novels which was very gracious. Family is amazingly sweet and is always telling me to eat. Apparently I am too thin-or so Kaha says. My family also speaks Megrelian (sp?) which is a non-written language what is spoken in this region of Georgia. They were told to speak Georgian to me as that is part of this programs goal.

We were forewarned that Georgians would ask many personal questions right away but I wasn’t ready for my second question to be “are you married?” It was interesting the see the relief on their faces when I said no. Since this only happened last night I feel I have some time but I need to explain that I am nor marrying a Georgian man in the next 10 months that I am going to be here, which is what they would like. I know other girls and guys who have already been asked if they would like to marry a Georgian while they are here and I really don’t want to have that conversation but it will probably happen.
I have not met my English teacher yet and school is starting on Wednesday so I am hoping to meet her on Monday, if not before then. (I have spoken to other teachers in my program and they have come to the realization that their “English teachers” don’t really speak very good English so I am a little nervous). I have also learned that my school is 2km from my house and that there are around 150 students. I have also been told that I will be teaching 2 classes; one class having 10 students and the other having 9.

Now for the fun. I woke up for a run today and was pleasantly greeted by my aunt who practically shoved me out of the yard only to find a pig in the middle of the road. This however is not uncommon. I have learned that in Georgian almost all animals roam free. This includes dogs, chickens, turkeys, cows and pigs. I have notice an interesting yield system as well. Pedestrians yield to cars (or you will get hit), dogs just get hit ( we had a dead one outside of our training site in Kutaisi for two days before someone did something with it). Chickens and turkeys just barely more fast enough. Cows seem to rule the road as they move for no one and pigs seem to be the only ones not getting in the way. Anyways this morning, I was expecting to see people staring (as Georgians don’t exercise, hence the Georgian gut and women just don’t run) but it was really more the cows. They will watch you forever! At least the people watched for a bit then move on to their own things but the cows they don’t have anything else to do. For me this was a completely different experience because on Justin’s farm the cows are afraid of humans but here they are kings. It’s just so bizarre to me that people just let their animals out on the road. I asked my sister if she knew which cows were hers and she said yes but she has no idea which pigs are hers. Also, on a side note, I get fresh natural chicken every day, guess how fresh? That’s right. I have yet to experience this wonderful display of blood and guts and hear the sounds of a chicken cry but I am sure it will have sooner or later.

Tomorrow we are going to the city of Zugdidi (for what I have not learned yet) and I am very excited. I am hoping to see some of the other teachers that are teaching in the city and maybe buy a few essentials. Oh and Zugdidi looks like California in some ways. It is also 20 minutes from the beach, which my father already said he would take me and my friends. This is where I will be next weekend if I don’t meet up with some friends in Batumi (the resort city of Georgia).

Over all everything is wonderful. I have a bathroom inside and well water so I can shower whenever I want so I cannot complain. I know this is not that case for others so keep them in your grateful thoughts.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Moving day

Today, I am leaving Kutaisi (our training city) to move in with my host family.  I am not in the region of Imereti like I thought I would be but rather I am in the region of Samegrelo (the next region west of Imereti).  I will be located in a village near the city of Zugdidi.  I am so happy with my placement and I can't wait to meet my host family and have a supra tonight.  I don't think I will have Internet so this could be it for a while or not. Who knows.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


9/6 Today started very interesting as a result of last night. Last night we decided to go back to the pub across the street from our training center. I think we were only on to our second beer when a Georgian man came over and asked us if anyone of us spoke Spanish. I replied saying that I only knew a little and then the conversation was off to a running start. Oddly enough he thought that we were all high school students but I quickly told him that we were English teachers working for the Georgian government. He seemed to be a little more respectful after I said this. After a bit more conversation we said goodbye and he went back to his table. Then, not long after he left another younger Georgian guy came over to talk to us because he wanted to practice his English. We told him we would be happy to talk to him, so he sat down said a few words then we saw something we had never really witnessed before. He and his friend quickly left without saying a word when another guy from our program came in the pub and sat at our table. We have learned from our administrative people that Georgian men can be very strange when there is another guy they do not know with a group of girls. So the younger Georgian men walked away and we were then again left to our group…at least for a little while.

Not too much later I went to the bar to get another beer and the group of older Georgian men called me over to try one of their famous Georgian dumplings. They instructed me to eat it as a true Georgian and not like a tourist. Fist you take a little bit from the doughy outer layer, then you put 2 spoonfuls of this vinegar mixture into the small hole that was created when you took for your first bit. You then tip your head back and drink the vinegar mixture form the dumpling, swallow and proceed to eat the rest of the dumpling with your hands one bit at a time. After I finished my dumpling they said that I had now become a true Georgian woman. I laughed but I can hardly say this is true after the conversation I had later this evening.

We were kicked out of the bar at closing time at midnight and proceeded to walk back across (what I consider the most dangerous road in the world) to the front steps of our training center. Here we continued in conversation which later turned into a life changing conversation for me. I don’t want to use their real name so I will just call her Jane. Jane is Georgian and is one of our administrators here in Georgian and has one of the most interesting stories I have ever heard. She thinks very differently about Georgian politics, economics, and gender roles than anyone else in her family and has lost very special things in her life because of her opinions. She has such high hopes for this country and believes that the people here can change and that one day things will be different but that it will take much longer than just a few years. Jane encouraged those of us who were speaking with her to try to make changes in the attitudes of the Georgian people around us during our time here and share some aspects of our culture with those people as well. Some of what Jane would like us to share is our attitudes towards gender roles, internal politics, foreign policy and our work ethic. Jane thinks that especially in these areas Georgian should be more western in their thinking. I don’t want to bore you with more details but I can honestly say that I have never, I mean never met a more positive revolutionary in my life. She has given up so much for what she believes in and it has inspired me to work harder in everything that I do.

Last night we were granted a special excursion to the Gelati which is a monastery 10km northeast of Kutaisi. We were able to observe a short service given every night and time to walk around. The ambiance was amazing but visually, I think everyone wants to go back during the day light hours.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

9/4 Our Georgian courses are really helping. It is one thing to see the language but it is another to here a native speaker actually pronounce letters and words correctly. I really like my Georgian teacher but I cannot remember her name. So, again today we had Georgian class for three hours in the morning and then we had our second and finally day of methodology training. This class is so painful to sit through. I was falling asleep in class. I feel this was partially my fault and partially hers as well. My fault because the majority of the 92 group members went to the pub across the street and tried our first taste of Georgian beer and then proceeded to stay out on the front steps of the building until 3am. And her fault because she did not seem to understand that we are native English speakers and that we do not have to read everything aloud and repeat its meaning 5 times over. It was definitely the dead horse thing.

After class we had about an hour so a bunch of us decided to take a walk down to the closest store. It took us about 15 minutes to walk there at a good pace. Along the way we saw the most dilapidated buildings along the way. Like they had not been touch for 50 years. I find it so interesting that they have just let these buildings fall apart this way. Anyways, we got some very weird looks along the way, as well as buses, cars and Marshut’kas slowing down just so they can watch us while we walk. It is so interesting how blunt they are with their curiosity. Most of us have gotten used to it but I feel it still bothers many people. Myself, I quickly realized that it was not going to be as easy to blend in here as it was in Prague. My hair, eyes and skin are so much lighter that I will never look like a true Georgian-and that’s ok by me.

As for some very random facts. We are not allowed to flush the toilet paper because the pipes cannot handle it and this building (because it is owned by the government) has water tanks below it. We learned this today because we were told that Kutaisi does not have running water 24/7. Apparently, the water is turned on for four hours each day. A few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. This was shocking to me. We do not know why this is the case, whether is it a matter of availability of water as a resource or if there is something else preventing the city from having water all day every day. It also makes me think that I really need to make sure I am up and showing at the right time of day when I get to my host families house.

Some other information about this program. We have learned that all of the host families are volunteers and receive nothing from the government for hosting us. We have also learned that we are the third group of teachers coming to the country of Georgia. The first group came sometime in June, the second two weeks ago and now us. As you can see this is a very new program and there are still many things to work out. I will say that the younger teachers do seem to be more “go with the flow” then the older teachers. Yes, we do have some teachers that are well over 50 years old. It is an interesting dynamic but we are making it work, though it is very clear that there are some differences in lifestyles-as to be expected. We also learned that the President of Georgia was hoping for 2,000 teachers to come this year to fill almost all the 2,200 public schools here but so far this academic year there will be 1,000 teachers coming from English speaking countries. In our group we have representation from the U.S., the U.K. (Irish and British), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Zimbabwe. Mostly it is U.S. but it is really nice to connect with people from all over the world.

I think that will be it for tonight.

First day of training

9/3 Today was our first day of training, both of Georgian language and teaching methodology. Unfortunately, our training and sleeping and eating are all in the same building so we don’t get out much. We aren’t really allowed to go into Kutaisi or interact with the local population. I am hoping to take a run tomorrow morning before people are really out on the streets but my concern will be the street dogs. Apparently, there are a bunch of street dog packs on the streets of Kutaisi.

As for our training…Georgian class went well and I really like our Georgian teacher. I can’t remember her name but she used to do training for the Peace Corps before she switched to this program. I think that is also the case for the rest of Georgian teachers here. Then we had teaching methodology in the afternoon. We briefly learned different teaching techniques, well in three hours. Either way it was super boring!

Oh and funny thing my Georgian teacher says wowels, not vowels. Chet that is for you!!!
9/2 Today started earlier then the other days. We started with breakfast and a check out from the hotel. We then went to the Minister of Education and Science, where we were greeted by the press. The Minister himself spoke to us about this program, the Georgian country, his hopes for Georgia, and why we are so important to the improvement of Georgia. He then quickly left and left us to enjoy more Georgian wine and our mingling.

We then got back onto the bus for a quick return to the hotel to change cloths, just to get back on the bus to a very very late lunch in Mtskveta. This is where we had our first Georgian Supra. It was full of Georgian food and lots of different drink choices-but no wine. We then got back on the bus and headed to Kutaisi.

On our way to Kutaisi I felt like I saw a completely different side of Georgia then what I saw in Tbilisi. There was so much trash on the side of the road, along with random cows, and people selling hammocks on the side of the street. The houses also looked like they really needed some work. It was almost like a scene out of Africa. There was different flora but about the same idea. It was clear there was still building left over from Communism.

Urban hiking 2

9/1 We started today feeling more rested then the previous day and ready to explore Tbilisi. After breakfast and some well needed time getting ready we flagged down a taxi and headed to city center. I sat in the front seat while Michelle, Melissa, Emily W., and Sandra (from Zimbabwe) sat in the back. Our taxi driver was an older man, say 60-70 years old, with the typical Georgian belly. He tried to communicate with us in Georgian with no success, but Michelle saved the day with her Russian. (Most of the population older than 20 speaks both Russian and Georgian due to the Soviet rule over this country which ended with the end of Communism). He tried to tell us about the city and why it was named Tbilisi, but Michelle could only translate so much for us. Either way he was really nice. As for his driving, I think the book described it very well. Georgians care somewhat about people on the street but cars definitely have the right of way.

We walked down the main street (Rustaveli Ave) for a couple of hours, taking pictures and trying to identify landmarks we read about in our tour books. After walking around we found a small park that had a bend in the shade. We made the mistake of sitting down on that bench. Not a few minutes later a couple of Georgian guys came over to talk to us. It was not long after that they discovered that Michelle could speak Russian also. After a horrible awkward but none intrusive conversation we began to leave and found a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

Later we went to the Georgian version of “Walmart” or Goodwill. There we picked up a few essentials and realized that not only being able to speak but read Russian would be a very useful skill. Although they call it the Georgian “Walmart,” it is nothing like Walmart, Target, Tesco or anything else like what we have in the states or the rest of Europe. That night we had dinner and later we had our first taste of Georgian wine-it was amazing!!!

Urban hiking

8/31 The beginning of my travels started at 10:45pm MST as DIA. I got through security with no problem and had almost two hours at my gate before my plane departed for JFK in New York. I got about three hours of sleep on that flight then I landed at JFK at 6:30am EST time. I got a small bite to eat and pass out on a table near the Starbucks. I spent most of my day near that Starbucks because it was great people watching and good music. How could my day get any better? Later I checked in for my next flight to Munich. I was at my gate for the longest time then finally these two very nice girls came up to me and asked if I were a part of Greenheart Travel. I knew there were going to be at least four other people from my group on the flight but had no idea how to find them. We then also found another participant and later when we were boarding the plane we found yet another. So in total there was Michelle, Melissa, Ken and Emily.

After almost a 2 hour delay at the gate we were off and flying. Once we were in Munich we checked our bags into a locker and got on the Sban to city center. After walking around aimlessly around we decided on a free walking tour. Our guide was really interesting but a bit over the top and Scottish. He knew a great deal of history, which was great! From there we went back to the Hofbrau House for some German beer and bratwurst. A liter of beer later we were all feeling a little drunk but, decided to go to the second level for another beer. Finally we made our way back to retrieve our bags and to our gate.

We arrived in Tibilisi, Republic of Georgia around 3am and were greeted by personnel and put onto a bus to our hotel. We finally got to bed around 5:30am. The rest of the day we spent eating and sleeping at out hotel. Later in the afternoon we took a walk near our hotel and had our first experience of Tbilisi.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First blog ever!

I just started my blog today!!!  I will be sharing my adventures with you and expressing my thoughts about Gerogian life, culture and food.  But, I'll write more later.