Friday, December 9, 2011

Good times

Last week, Lela introduced me to one of our neighbors, a woman named Khatuna, who works for the National Park's Service here in Georgia. She and Lela grew up together, and Margo and her mother are good friends, as are Leqso and her son. So, a close family all around. I am still not clear on why it took so long to meet them, but I am very happy I did. When we went to her house, I met her niece and nephew who were adorable, and of course, there was more food than anyone could possibly dream of eating. Then came the tea. Norwegian tea that was a present to her from her friends in America. Wait, friends in America? Yes, she spent nine weeks in California working at Kolkheti National Park's sister park near San Francisco! She is the first Georgian I have met in Poti who has been to America. And I am very glad to have met her.
In my last post, I was complaining about the rain. Well, a couple hours after writing that post it cleared up and the weather this week has been phenomenal. I man 20°C phenomenal! I went outside every day and basked in the wonderful sun. On Wednesday, I accidentally got locked out (for those of you who think I forgot my key, you are wrong), but I knew where the hidden key to get in from the other side was, so I found it and got in, but could not get in past the front part of the house, because they lock the inside doors too. (I have since been told where the other hidden keys are) But, I could get into the kitchen and I decided to try solo cooking. I was successful, in that I did not burn the house down, but I did find out why Margo switched the pans I was cooking from last time I tried to cook on my own. My eggs had the very distinctive taste of fish. It was the pan she fries the fish in. (not my favorite kind of eggs)
Anyway, the week had been wonderful, and, as I get out of school earlier on Thursdays, I decided to hop on my recently acquired bike (thank you, thank you, Mary!) and visit Khatuna at the Park, as she kept asking me to do. I left the house around 1:30 PM and headed down in the direction they told me to go. “down Akaki street until you see the hospital and the park is on the other side of the street”. Those of you who know me know already that these simple instructions would be too much for me. Well I headed off down the street, and saw a sign for a hospital outside of a huge fenced in building complex. But like many buildings in Poti it looked completely abandoned. (turns out it used to be the military hospital)The buildings across the street did not look like like they fit the bill either, the bill being a national park... The problem though,was that I was at a fork in the road and Poti and Boston have a couple things in common, the biggest being a distinct lack of street signs. I called Khatuna, but my description of where I was did not help her all that much. She told me to find someone and have them tell her where I was. A woman was walking toward me, so I said “bodishi, bodishi” which means “I am sorry” or “excuse me”, as I waved my phone around. She gave me the funniest stare and kept walking. After she passed me, she turned around to give me another look. I found two men painting a store and this time they just laughed and took the phone. Khatuna spoke to them and then told me to keep going down the street for two kilometers. Two kilometers?! Based on the way people talked about this place as being “just down the street”, I thought I would be there already. The other problem, “down the street” worked itself out when the painters stopped me from going down the wrong street by gesturing wildly. I wish the first woman had been there to see it all. Who knows what she would have thought.
So I continued down the way and decided to play around with the gears just for fun. I had gone another five-ten minutes when, after switching gears too quickly, the chain slipped. I pulled the bike onto the sidewalk and saw two boys walking home from school (yes, at this point, school had ended) and decided it was time to call Khatuna again to make sure of where I was going. This time, when I asked the boys to speak to her, I actually put the phone up to the kid's ear so that he would speak to her. It turns out, once he figured out where I was going, he told Khatuna he would walk me all the way there. She assured him it wasn't necessary, just point me in the right direction. He did, but since he and I were walking in the same direction, we walked along in relative silence after “hello, how are you” had been exhausted. Then another boy came out on his bike and called to the boys. I turned around and he saw me and said “hello”. It was one of my 5th graders. He gestured to my bike, which I hadn't fixed yet, and asked, I assume, why I was not on it. I pointed to the chain, and he immediately got off his bike to come and fix it. Even after we put the chain back on, he could not understand why I would walk if I had my bike, so I said goodbye to the boys and went on my way. A minute later, I saw Khatuna who was walking down the street to look for me. I love Georgians.
The park itself is very cool; it is all marsh, and birds. Apparently, it is a stop on a major migration route, and she promised to let me know when the birds descend in the spring. We had a great time, and when I come back in January, I am definitely going to spend a lot of time there. When we left, Khatuna told me how to get there by Marshutka. It was all pretty funny.
Today in my fifth grade class, I thanked the kid who had helped me and he got to tell the whole class about helping me with my bike. It had been a great week, so nice and dry. Right before my last class, Nana looked outside and predicted rain later. Of course, halfway into class, I looked at her and pointed to the window. The whole class looked and groaned, because sure enough, it was raining. I ran home because I had not brought my umbrella (I dropped the habit of carrying it with me everywhere) and went right into the living room to warm up by the fire. There was Margo sitting at the stove and cracking open hazelnuts. The last time I had hazelnuts, I think I cracked my jaw instead of the nut by trying to crack them with my teeth, the way the family did. This time though, Margo was sitting at the wood stove and placing a couple nuts on the top. Then she took a piece of firewood and brought it down on the nut. It looked like so much fun that I joined her for a bit. I think the rain was bringing me down or something, because I had a great time cracking those nuts. Then the power went out and I got out some hot chocolate and my computer and wrote this post. I have no plans for my last weekend before I go home, but I do plan to have fun, whatever it is.
Margo has been in the kitchen mashing things and cutting parsley (smells amazing in there) and just came to show me what she had made. “Chuba” which looks like a layer cake, but on closer examination is made of mashed potatoes, carrots, and beats topped off with the parsley and what looked like frosting on the top was actually mayonnaise (mayo is a part of every salad here. Pizza is also assaulted with mayonnaise...) I think it might be a part of the New Year's fun that has taken over everywhere. Christmas here is celebrated on January 7th, and is a different kind of holiday than the Christmas of the west, so Georgians seem to have taken a lot of the more secular things about Christmas, for example the tree, and changed it for New Years, so they decorate “New Year's Trees” with ornaments and such. I can't wait to come home and accidentally call the tree a new year's tree to help fight in Jon Stewart's War on Christmas. Ok, so saying that I am going to do it might not make it so accidental...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Rainy day

Trying to think of something to write about other than the rain. But the storms have been rolling in almost like clockwork for the last 11 days! It is like nature is taunting us. This morning I woke up to hail, which turned into torrents of rain, which turned into a drizzle that sometimes comes back as a torrent. Then the sky completely clears up and blue skies, the sun, and puffy while clouds come in and make you think the world is wonderful, but it isn't and even as you enjoy the sun, you can see the storm clouds coming to ruin everything!
Ok, I am feeling a little anti-rain right now... I had just bought a bike of one of the volunteers who was leaving Poti when this never ending precipitation began, and I really want to go visit the park that people keep telling me about. Last week Lela took me to meet one of her friends who lives down the street and who spent some time in America which means she speaks a very good English. She works for the national parks service and has offered to show me the park, I really want to take her up on her offer, but this RAIN is kinda killing me. Though, it could be worse. The coast has rain, but 40 minutes east of me, Ben has never ending snow, something that I thought I would prefer until he told me it was wet slushy nasty snow, and well, colder than it is here...
Also bringing me down, the volunteers in Poti are starting to clear out, heading back home to their respective countries or east to Tbilisi to start their next chapter with TLG. We have gone from a sizable band of 9 to a group of 5 in one week.
But things are looking up. I got a package yesterday that made life very happy, though I am pretty positive the twizzlers are going to be the death of me, or at least my teeth. I went through four packs on my own.... And a couple days ago, while watching the news, the Klezmatics appeared. I scared both Lela and Margo with my jump,  my cry of “wha”, and my frantic search for my phone, followed by the realization that there isn't anyone I could call who would understand what was so exciting (though big thank you to those I did call and who at least pretended that is was all very exciting). By this point they started laughing at my mad dash to my computer to tell people at home what had happened. That was a fun moment. It was also really fun that I had just shown them the Youtube clips of the Klezmatics singing with A Besere Velt. I am not sure if they understood that I was saying though because I was not speaking as slowly or clearly as I try to in the heat of the moment.
Other than that, there really isn't all that much more to report. Oh, more more fun food that I have not mentioned yet, and honestly, I am lucky that there aren't any Georgians who read this blog, because at this point they would be screaming, "what about khinkali?" Khinkale is the second food that every child asked me if I had eaten when I first got to the school. It is a dumpling, but for me it a diffent kind of dumpling from anything I have had before. You have to eat it with your hands, because otherwise, it can be very messy. Ok, scratch that, eating khinkali can be very messy. You have to bite a tiny hole in the dumpling and drink the soup inside first, only then can you take a bigger bite without making a huge mess, though I have to say, it is still pretty hard. The meat inside is really yummy and I have another Georgian food to miss for a month when I get home, though I think that instant hot water will somehow manage to get me through the hardship. And Lela and Margo have promised to show me how to cook some of the foods when I come back in January.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kutaisi Part 2

Sunday morning we woke up on our own, and I remembered why I love traveling with other travelers. We all slept as long as we liked, and then , around 9:30, we all noticed that the others were waking up. Then, by 10:00 AM, we had all done our respective morning routines, and at 10:30 we were standing outside a restaurant we were told had great crepes (sadly it was closed and we needed to walk to an open restaurant. They didn't have things like tea and coffee, so, in turns we all went across the street to a little market to beef up our breakfast). The original group of five who came to Kutaisi together had been joined by another seven TLGers, all on their way to the Prometheus Cave. We realized that instead of taking two marshutkas and walking all over the place, we might be able to charter a marshutka to take us straight to the cave and take us back to the McDoland's, instead of the local marshutka station. It worked, and for 40 Lari, twelve of us had a great and confortable time getting to and from the cave. The Prometheus Cave is a national park, and I think that was the reason it was free. Either way, they told us to wait for the English speaking tour guide, and, for their statistics, tell them how many of us were from where. So we split up into the two Brits, two Ausies, two Kiwis, and six Americans. Sorry Canada...
The walk down to the cave was beautiful enough with much more green than I see in Poti. There were these white rocks that made a very sharp contrast with the green, it was all so beautiful. Then we entered the cave.
Every time I see a cave I have to remind myself that we are still on planet earth. It is really otherworldly. This cave had walkways and lights all over the place making neat shadows and effects.

I learned a whole lot about caves because another one of my friends went to school for Geology. We went through the different halls and saw amazing formations. When we got to the second to last big hall the tour guide asked us if we want to hear more, and we said “sure”. Suddenly the theme song to Titanic is playing and all 12 TLG volunteers fell SILENT! We just stared at each other for a minute or two to trying not to laugh and then the light show started and, well, I will never be able to think of anything else when I hear that song. It was an experience!

When we got out of the cave, I realized that there was no mention at all of Prometheus and was SO disappointed. But then I realized that the cave wasn't even discovered until recently, so alas, this is not the cave that led to the Prometheus myth...
But the whole trip was a whole lot of fun, and when we got out of the cave, I was thankful that we had chartered the marshutka because all we needed to do was walk right back to the van and next thing we knew we were back at McDonald's and spending way too much money on the food. Seriously, why is it that in America, there is a dollar menu, but in Georgia, the cheapest item is an apple for 3 lari. It costs me 3 lari to take a taxi across town! I understand why it costs so much here, it is the only fast food in Georgia, it is American, and because we will pay that much for a piece of home, even if it makes us feel greasy and unclean for the rest of the day. But I need to go out for a big meal at a real Georgian place soon, because I can't go home knowing that I spent more money in a McDonald's than I did on any other meal.
Great day, great friends and one amazing time.

PS, thank you to Ben for letting me use his pictures from the weekend. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kutaisi Part 1

So, we got dropped off right in front of a McDoland's where I promptly forgot how much I scoff at people who leave the US and eat at McDs when the smell of the french fries hit me. I caved and had mcnuggets and fries and had orange juice and it was wonderful! Then, we got together with other people from TLG. McDonalds is the almost official meeting place for all ex-pats, most of whom are TLG volunteers. With the Poti crowd, I wandered around Kutaisi until we found the information center and asked about the Prometheus cave. Then we walked up a HUGE hill to find a guest house that we are staying in. Since the hill was so high and we did a whole lot of walking to get to the house we collapsed, and though we all thought about napping, we realized that if we slept now, we would not wake up until the morning (it was 5PM). So we gathered our strength and walked out to see another group of TLGers walking in. We decided to join forces, and all twelve of us went off in search of somewhere to eat and drink.
Our first stop was the Medea Cafe (continuing our great mythological weekend theme) where we sat across from another huge group of TLG volunteers. Together we all went out to a Brewery for dinner. The poor waitress did an amazing job dealing with more than twenty non-Georgian hungry customers. Oh, ever had hen entrails? Beef brain?
At dinner, a couple of us realized that is was thanksgiving week and that this was the closest we would get to thanksgiving, so I have gotten in my Thanksgiving. I even continued a Katz tradition and had pork.
We came back to the guest house and immediately fell asleep. I am going to do that now. Tomorrow we head out to Prometheus Cave.

PS. The music in McDoland's is kinda insane. While I was there, I wrote down some of the songs that came on. Tupac, then some country song, then the black eyed peas. After that “we think” cotton eyed joe, followed by the mexican hat dance. Yes, the mexican hat dance. No idea what is going on with music here!

PPS, thank you Ben for the pictures!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Communication is happening!

Since I didn't have time last weekend to do a full post, I decided this week, I will do two, but I couldn't think of things, so I decided to go with the most recent fun stuff and see what I end up writing.
First of all, Margo, my host grandmother, and I have gotten interlingual communication down to a science. It might help that the only thing we communicate about is food, but we have gotten it figured out, from my end at least. Today, I will be going out to eat with a bunch of TLGers, but I didn't know we were getting together until after she had started making me some ghome (mame-lige) and I still don't know the name of the other food, basically a boiled chicken in some sort of stew with a tomato sauce base. Not my favorite, but what can you do. Pelamushi isn't to be eaten morning, noon, and night, though I wish it were. So I ate half the ghome and had some pieces of chicken and looked up and told her “tchame””restaurnani” and pointed toward town. This, to me, meant, “eat””restaurant” “in town”, and she laughed and said “kargi tchame” or “eat well”. Even bigger than that was earlier this week when I came home from school and she let me cook my own eggs! Admittedly, she came in and switched the pan I was about to use and turned on the stove and cut some bread. And then she seemed to feel that I hadn't used enough butter (yes, I was shocked , too) and added butter. But I was able to remove two eggs from the fridge, successfully decline a third egg, take out a bowl to mix them in, put them in the pan and fry them until they were done. All by myself! I told some of my friends here and they were jealous. One of my friends is still trying to do her own laundry. I have it good here.
So, I just got back from going out with the other native English speakers of Poti where a trip to Kutaisi was agreed upon for this weekend. I came home and Lela was not here, it is just Soso and Margo. Soso, my host-grandfather, and I are still in smile and say “hi, how are you” land, so I wrote a note to Lela explaining my plans to be gone for the weekend and walked in to talk to Margo about my plans so that I told someone, at least. I went in and said “go” “Kutaisi” “Saturday” “and” “One day past Saturday” (I forgot how to say Sunday, but the word for Monday is two days past Saturday, so I thought this might work). It DID work, because she responded “hotel” and gestured sleep. I said YES! And she started laughing hysterically at how wonderfully we can communicate. It is a whole lot of fun when it works out.
Well, I plan to have a GREAT time in Kutaisi exploring mythology! I have been using my Nook to read up on the stories of the Golden Fleece, taken from the land of Colchis. Did I mention that the western part of Georgia is called Kolkheti? Ya, I am living in the land of the Goldan Fleece and near the mountains of Prometheus' imprisonment. And that is where I am headed tomorrow. Prometheus Cave. If my camera gets over its hatred of me, I will take lots of pictures. And if it doesn't, I am going with friends who will send their pictures to me as soon as they are able.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Been here a while.

So, what to talk about today? This week has been exhausting! One of my co-teachers was out sick all week so I took the classes we had together alone. Let me tell you, there are a whole lot of basic words that I think might be more important to learn early on than the word queen... Like sit down, and be quiet, and I won't call on you if you are standing on your seat shouting “mast”. Unfortunately, that is not a concept that they understand in Georgian either. No matter what the age, shouting to the teacher that you know the answer is just a part of the Georgian educational system... I think I will be deaf by the end of the year. But it is also nice to see the students are eager to participate, and I totally relate to the kids who are so disappointed they didn't get a chance to prove they knew the answer, because I totally was that kid. I now understand why Mr. Murphy didn't call on me, even though I was the only one with my hand raised. You need to give all the kids a chance. Not just a chance, but you need to make sure that the other kids understood, especially in a language class.
Some of the big problems for Georgian students of English include the difference between “p” and “f”, “v” and “w”, and the pronunciation of soft “a”. There is no “f” in the Georgian alphabet, and they can make the sound, once you show them how, but they still get it confused a lot. I got a note from one of my fifth graders to “Poli”, with “Foli” crossed out next to it. “V” and “w” is a similar story, there is no “w” in the alphabet, but there is a “v”, so it makes no sense in the world to me why, at training, some of the Georgian trainers would say “wolunteers” instead of “volunteers”. I have been trying to solve this mystery since I got to Georgia, but anyone I ask gets confused about it. Finally, “a is for apple” is probably the most famous phrase in the English language, but by the time they get to third grade, apple has become epple. They get very embarrassed when that mistake is shown to them, but I understand completely why this mistake occurs. “A” as in cat, bat, sat, is not a part of the Georgian language, and unlike “f”, it is NOT at all easy to explain how to make the sound. So far, we have gotten the “a” in car, and I am very proud that my class can say that. There are other fun moments in pronunciation. Even though they don't have a “th” in the language, they have picked it up very well, sometimes. I had one student say “ze other” to me one day, and I started laughing. I have found that if the th comes at the beginning of the word, it becomes a “z”, but found in the middle, “th” shines though. I think it is unconscious. When they think about it, they get scared, or something, and they can't say it. But if they let go and say the word, no problem. I know that I do the same with Georgian. I always wonder if I sound like an American speaking Georgian as opposed to a Brit or a German. Do I speak Georgian with a different accent than an American who can speak Spanish, or Russian? I know in the beginning, I was saying “shien” instead of “shen” (it means informal you) because I was thinking of Russian.

Quick note, I have been writing this one in the living room and the TV is on, and Justin Bieber was on the news. Why why why is this such important news that the Georgian Media is covering it?

My biggest problem with Georgian is still the pronunciation. Qkh is killing me, though I have decided to master it because of a new food that was introduced this week. “Qkhiqkhliqkho”. I was very late to some meal, I can't remember which right now, and I was eating the leftovers with gusto. Suddenly, Lela came in and started making eggs. Then she cut some slices of bread and started soaking them in the egg. I looked at her and said, so very hopefully, “french toast?” She laughed and said she didn't know what it was in English, but yes, she has seen people eat this in American movies. I still miss pie, but it is nice to have some french toast when I am missing the food I grew up on.
I have had a couple of moments of homesickness, but so far, they have been kept at bay by the wonders of facebook and skype, and the movie, Fever Pitch. I need to invest in Boondocks Saints or (and?) Good Will Hunting when I go home for vacation, because they have more sites of Boston and I need more than lots and lots of Red Sox symbols everywhere (though they help, a LOT).

Back for a moment to the TV, Vanna White really is a better letter flipper than the people who do her job in other countries! In the wheel of fortune here, there are two who do the opening, and they are terrible, and then there is the regular and she isn't very good either. I am also basing this off of old wheel of fortune, because they don't have electric letters, they need to be flipped to show the letter, and they are just very bad at it. Maybe the letters stick or something...

Ok, I can't think of anything else to say, I have been traveling, mountains are amazing (I haven't been to the real mountains yet, that I will post about, I promise) and I really love being on the water, and not just because it keeps the place warmer than the rest of the country. It is nice to look out and read on the water. Every moment it hasn't rained I walk over to the Sea.

OH, and here is an example of my life, some days. I was sitting in the living room and the TV was on, and suddenly I heard english. Well, when english is on, usually they drown it out in Georgian dubbing, but not this commercial. It turns out it was for TLG which was fun. See, the English speakers, what they are doing, ya, that is me on a daily basis, and the days that I find children like that are few and far between, but boy is it fun when I do. I have also done what that guy did, "didi (big) house, uh, "sakhli" (house) *make a house in the air, hope they understand what I am saying*. It is a lot of fun. Insane, exhausting, but fun.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

another post about food

So many little things happen in a day, it is hard to remember (though I make mental notes all the time) when it comes time to post. So, here is a post of some of' the more mundane but exciting things that have been happening in the last week, and unmentioned things that have been happening since I arrived in Georgia.
First of all, the new foods. When I was little, I used to ask for pasta without the green stuff (parsley) or the red stuff (tomato sauce). I am still not a fan of the red stuff, but as I grew older and wiser, I was convinced that I can't say "I don't like something" until I have tried it. THEN I can complain about it as much as I like, or at least that was what I took from the lesson. Anyway, it has been put into practice here in Georgia, in a big way. Not the complaining part... First, I told you about trying persimmon, and finding out it was persimmon, I have to say, I am not very impressed with this fruit, but it is tasty and filling, so it gets a 3 out of 5. The next food I ate, with NO IDEA of what it was, was a chestnut. I was at a friends house and her mother brought out all sorts of food, including this hot round thing. You had to pop it open with pressure and then scoop out the yellow inside. Well, I had no idea what it was until a couple days later when Margo put some in front of me. Lela said it was a chestnut, and let me tell you, I have not yet had some roasted on an open fire, but boiled is fine by me. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I had my first Sharon Fruit. This is a fruit that I had NEVER heard of before, and it kinda has the texture of a tomato (NOT a plus). It is also very sweet, to the point that I have yet to eat a full one, I have to stop at half, or more often, a quarter. But my host family loves them, so I have a quarter every other day or so, and in small doses, they are really not so bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Just the one piece. Is good. The last new fruit was introduced this week. My host father brought it in on the way home from Tbilisi. It looked like a lumpy yellow apple, except it was bigger and VERY lumpy. They laughed at my confusion and cut me a piece. The whole family has learned that when it comes to food, I am not very good at hiding my reaction, so everyone was on hand to watch my face screw up as I ate the most SOUR FRUIT EVER! Quince is very VERY sour. The whole family laughed as I got the sugar and poured it on the fruit to give it a try that way. Well, it was better, but I thought I would be staying FAR away from the quince. The next day, at lunch, I was handed a cup full of fruit, and I thought, “Hey, my first homemade Kompot!” and it turns out I was right! They call it “kampot'i” but it is the same thing. And there was quince in in, which I eyed warily and saved for last. Let me tell you the difference being boiled in sugar water makes! I LOVE this stuff!
The real reason my family has started watching my reactions to food (beside that fact that they are over feeding me and wanting me to like what I am eating) is because of my reaction to this yogurt stuff (I don't remember the name in Georgian) that was, well. Lela came in with a jar and ladled some of it on to my cup and told me it was homemade yogurt. Well, I like yogurt, so I took a big spoonful. BIG mistake, because once again, it was SOUR! So very sour. Lela laughed so hard at my face! She THEN brought out the sugar and told me that people sometimes mix sugar in because it is really sour. I thanked her for tell me this AFTER I had some, and heaped sugar into my cup. This made things much better, MUCH better.
Sugar is something else that is funny. I don't put sugar in my tea (I can't help remembering a certain thanksgiving and a brother who thought he had sugar, not salt) and I really don't like sweetened tea. Well, my family does not understand this AT ALL! They have one or two BIG spoonfuls per cup. But they don't understand why I want quince with sugar. Then there is instant coffee, a thing that I am pretty positive NEVER existed in our house. Coffee here is ONLY instant, and since I am not a coffee drinker, I am not sure if the making of it is the same, though I think it is different. My assumption is that, in America, and instant coffee drinker would pour the packet into a cup and pour hot water in, and then add whatever cream or sugar is desired. Here, a small red pot with a handle is taken out. It looks like a pot for a child's playhouse kitchen or something. They pour in two scoops of coffee and two heaping scoops of sugar. Then they add water and put the whole thing on the stove, mixing the concoction until deemed ready. I have no idea when ready is, but then, they pour it into these mini mugs, they are shot glass sized. And THIS is what you drink coffee out of. I have not seen ANYONE drink coffee out of a mug, a normal, what we in the states call a coffee mug. Those we have, but they are for tea. So, this post ended up being about food, and no wonder. I am hungry (probably for the first time since getting to Poti). I have stayed at the school after my lessons are done and I am going to have my first meeting with 8th and 9th graders interested in an English Club. I have prepared a couple activities including MadLibs, but based on the way some of my classes have gone, I think I might just end up talking to them for 45 minutes. And again for those of you who think “oh, this is the perfect job for Pauli, she LOVES to talk” (which is perfectly true, in many ways) the truth is I like to COMMUNICATE, and that is VERY hard here. Even when I find a Georgian English speaker, I have to monitor everything I do, speak clearly and slowly, and stick to words that they will know, not use slang, and most of all, not use Yiddish. It confuses them as much as learning Megrulian confuses me.
I have been sitting in the computer room, writing this, and one of the singing teachers from the supra last week came over and we have made an official deal: I will teach her some English, and she will teach me Megrulian songs. Now I guess I really should learn some Megrulian.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I just finished the last post about teaching, but I really wanted to make this post its own thing. It seems that Wednesday night, school rankings across Georgia were announced. It is a whole system of stars, and a school is given a certain number of stars out of ten. Well, “pirveli skola” the first school was given nine stars out of ten. When I got to school Thursday morning, the teachers were in such an amazing mood. It seems that we got the highest level in Poti. Everyone was congratulating one another and we almost forgot to press the button to make the bell ring to start the school day. But ring it we did and I went to my class. Between classes though, I would go back to the teacher's lounge to meet my co-teachers to head to the next class. During the break, I went back, and there they were making toasts. Someone poured me a glass and made a toast to the English teachers. I took a sip and was relived to find out it was champagne, not vodka as I had originally assumed. Still, it was funny to go to my next class having had a sip of something alcoholic at work. During the next break, the celebration in the teacher's lounge was still going. I want to make it clear right now that no one was drunk, or mildly tipsy or anything. People were just REALLY happy. That's when I found out that the school was not only the best ranked school in Poti, but in the whole region of Samagrelo. My last class was using the computer room for the boombox so that we could use the listen and read activities in the book (still don't have my own copies of anything), but about five, ten minutes from the end, the computer teacher came in and told us they needed the boombox. They set it up in the hallway and hooked a microphone to it and made the announcement to the students. I was leaving the building but I heard the cheers. This was a BIG deal to them. Just before I left, Nino told me the staff was getting together for dinner tonight, and would I come. I figured a chance to meet more of the teachers and eat more Georgian food why not?
Nino came by in a Taxi and we went to a restaurant. There was one long table that went the length of the wall. We grabbed the seats at the far end of the table from the singers. Yes, I said singers. There were three or four of them, I never got a very good look, and other people kept going up and singing too. Either way, they sang traditional Georgian songs in between moments when the school principal got up to make toasts. I hadn't realized that I was attending my first “supra” when I accepted the invitation to dinner. Our principal was the “tamada” the official toast maker for the evening. We got there at about 7:30 and most people were already there, and the band was singing. But our principal had not begun the toasts yet. Nino sat next to me and explained the toasts and, well, everything that was happening. There were about forty-five teachers out of about sixty who work at the school. Nana was one of the absent teachers, which I was sad about because she had some neat things to say about what had happened when I talked to her today about it (friday). Anyway, the first toast was to God. From there, we toasted the school, the students, the current teachers, the hundred plus year history of the school, the first teachers of the school and anyone who had ever worked there, etc. She even told the teachers that for nine stars, they had to drink nine times as much. At some point Nino stopped even trying to translate. Then everyone laughed. Apparently, every friday was the day that lesson plans for the next week was due. The principal had just said that MAYBE this weeks lesson plans could wait until Monday. By that point all of us were pretty happy from the feeling and from the homemade wine. And then the real entertainment began. One of the teachers was singing with the band. It was a Megrelian song. Then there was suddenly a challenge for the different subjects to do something. Mostly it was get up and dance. First the literature teachers kinda sat in their chairs and waved their arms. Then, a math teacher and a physics teacher went up and sang, and the literature teachers got up and danced. Then I have no idea who was sponsoring the dances, but different teachers kept coming to our end of the table and dragging me up to dance. At some point, the dance teacher got up and started dancing Georgian folk dance with the art teacher and some of the other teachers. It was beautiful and he was VERY into it. At some point someone introduced me to him and I told him I would love to learn Georgian folk dance. He took up the challenge later that night when the folksong of Ajara came on. Each region of Georgia has a folksong and dance and they all know each others'. Anyway, he danced to my seat and bowed with his hand out for my hand. I took it and suddenly realized that we were the only ones standing and I had to walk past ALL the teachers to get to the dancing area. I had been dancing in the crowd no problem, but now I was dancing in front of everyone and I lost all ability to put one foot in front of the other. Anyway, I attempted to follow different things, and I thought I did a TERRIBLE job, but all day today teachers were telling me through my co-teachers that I did a great job and I must have a good ear for music (I think they were saying I have rhythm) and that I should really learn what I am doing. I told them I intend to.
The party got smaller at around 10:30 (yes, it started at 7:00) when some of the teachers realized that they were teaching the first class the next day. My ride was Nino, and she had the first class same as I did, so I figured we would be leaving soon. I kept on dancing and dancing, with MANY different people. Mostly I was dancing like my mother. Lots of elbows and moves from the sixties. Good times. At about 11:40, the dancing died down and those of us who were left, about fifteen, gathered at the other end of the table. That was when my drinking began. More toasts, this time led by the computer teacher. He toasted to women (he and the dance teacher were the only men left) and saw that I was drinking soda (a really good lemonade but made with pears that kinda reminded me of cream soda) so without my noticing it, the teachers all found me a clean wine glass and poured me a cup. In training, there had been something about how drinking beer for a toast was rude, so I figured that was the problem. It is also rude for men to not drink the whole glass of wine for each toast, but I am not a man, so I settled on drinking about a third. Well, I still don't understand what I did wrong, IF I did something wrong, but I ended up drinking other third of the glass because first I clinked with the computer teacher and the dance teacher and drank the first third, but then the other teachers wanted me to clink and drink with them. Anyway, I decided that was all I was going to drink tonight. I was about to fall asleep where I was sitting anyway. Then they begin to top off my glass (and I realized that this had happened earlier in the night too!) and I tried to tell them I was done. Nino translated that it was bad luck to not have a full glass in front of you, whether you are going to drink it or not. I said ok, fine, but THEN the computer teacher stood up and made a toast to ME! So of course, I ended up finishing that drink. The singing between toasts this time was acapella (thankfully, the music and microphones were LOUD and the speakers were very close) and sung by the teachers in all sorts of amazing harmony. Nino told me megrulian songs were very sweet and mesmerizing, and I can tell you they are. Finally, at around 12:15, we called a taxi and I went home. I had a really great time, and I am really happy for my school. I can say that I have great co-teachers and all the teachers who are supposed to know English, do, which is something that not all the volunteers in Georgia can boast about. And even though I don't have a language in common with the other teachers, they have been so welcoming and helpful and willing to mime the day away with me. Sometimes, they will catch me with an English speaker around, and they will turn them into translators. I walked into one of my third grade classes today and their normal teacher was leaving the class. She grabbed me and told me that I was a beautiful dancer and that she had had fun the night before. She held me as Taso translated and all I could say was “matdloba, didi matdloba” (a dank, a groysn dank). Finally she let go and Taso and I taught the class. But that is Georgians, and I am getting used to it. Slowly.

PS, I will add pictures once my camera decides not to hate me. I don't have all that many pictures because it was running out of batteries (though it SHOWED that it was more than half charged!) and now it is having issues transferring onto my computer. I only got one picture, and it isn't amazing, but I will work to follow the wishes of my friends and family and will put the picture in as soon as I can. I thought a post without a picture was better than no post at all.

Teaching, one week in

First things first. Teaching is exhausting! I have always heard it and thought I understood, but I was wrong, so very wring. Well, not wrong, but unable to imagine just how tiring it would be. But there are already rewards, so those of you who think I might be warned away from teaching as a profession would be mistaken.
So, how was my first week of school, what did I do, what are the kids like, etc, etc? I had a great time the kids and teachers alike have been very welcoming, and even though I have had the class three times now, I am still asked for my autograph. I told them that I would give them my autograph when I left Georgia in June, by then I hope I am not still such a novelty. When the teachers come into their classes (English teachers travel from classroom to classroom) the children all stand and say “good morning teacher (“teachers” if they remember how to make teacher plural) How are you?” They get very flustered if I answer them “I'm fine thanks, how are you” but some of them are starting to respond. I teach one first grade class, one second grade class, two third grade classes, and one fourth, one fifth, and one sixth. The average class size is about twenty-five, and no, I have NO IDEA what their names are. However, I can tell you the most popular names are Nino, for Saint Nino, the woman who brought orthodoxy to Georgia, and for boys: Luqa, Giorgi, and Duka. I have many of these names in my classes. My first day in almost every class included me introducing myself, and my co-teacher or the students translating what I said into Georgian. Then the questions began. Most popular questions included, “Where are you from?”, “Do you like Georgia (Georgian food)?”, “Do you have brothers or sisters?”, and “Are you married”. I think they were a little thrown by my emphatic answer to that last question, but I am thankful that I do not come from a culture that expects me to be married with children at the age of twenty-three. Oh yes, they asked me my age, and my phone number. I think they asked for my number because they were practicing the numbers when I came, but that one threw me through a loop. The one question I felt a little bad about happened in my fifth grade class (which might be one of my favorite classes). I think Nino told them to have questions ready for me when I got to the class, because some of them had questions written in their notebooks, but who knows. Anyway, one girl raises her hand and asks me “if English students study Georgian.” I pieced together that she was asking if students in America study Georgian in school the way she was studying English. I felt really badly as I told her no, they really don't, but I am, so if she wants to help me with my Georgian, she is welcome to. Some of the teachers told me that on top of the new education measures that start English education in first grade, it is becoming difficult to get any job in Georgia without knowledge of English. It seems to be a big issue for many people here who don't want to lose their own language and culture. I mentioned before that Megrulian culture has already been pushed to the margins, and many are worried that the same with happen to Georgian culture in favor of more western things. I must say, there is a lot to be said for the pride and love that the people have for their very rich and very beautiful traditions. I will write more about that in my next post, because I want to keep this one about teaching.
All three of my co-teachers have very different styles and I like all of them. For now, especially since I still do not have my books and teaching materials, I have been more of an assistant, but I think that in some classes at least, I can see ways to be more than an assistant. In the classes which have less of a command over the English language that will be a little more difficult. As it is, in all my classes, I help correct their homework and classwork, but it is very hard to be sure if the student understands what I am saying or if they are just nodding their head. Also, students will try to ask me questions in Georgian, and it takes a lot of miming on both sides for communication of the question, never mind the answer. But it is so worth it when I see them writing something correctly the next day, or even when I come in and ask them how they are in return and a couple of them nervously say something like “i'm fine thank you”.
When the class ends, I feel like I am Dorathy heading back to Kansas. All I hear is “goodbye, goodbye goodby, goodby”. And they get so excited when I look them in the eye and say goodbye back. The whole lesson we have struggled to understand each other, so it is nice to leave knowing that we communicated something.
Today, I had a fun conversation on the stairs with one of the older students. I am trying to get used to saying “gamajorbat” in greeting instead of “hi” but really, “hi” is so much shorter and easier and it actually makes life easier in the long-run, because it marks me as the English Teacher from America and prevents people from coming up to be and speaking high-speed Georgian. Anyway, I said hi to a whole crowd of students and one of them got excited but couldn't remember what to say back. I smiled and kept walking, but he ran up the stairs to that he could begin again: “Hello, my name is (BLANK I have no idea what his name was), I study English, how are you?”. We didn't get much passed how are you, but it felt good. It reminded me of when my spanish roomate's mother came to visit, and I needed to use my much broken spanish to communicate with her. A whole lot of the time was spent saying something and letting Borja translate, but when we could communicate directly, it felt so good. I have the same feeling when I walk into the teacher's lounge and someone says “good morning” and I respond “dila mshvidobisa”. The whole room smiles, and I don't think it is entirely about my terrible accent. It feels good to understand one another directly.
I think anyway.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I have a purpose!
There is a reason I am here in Georgia, and it feels good. I went into school today with a whole bunch of books and posters that were taken to the library. I was directed to the Principal's office where it seems she doesn't speak any English. We exhaust my Georgian pretty quickly. From there, we might have sat looking at each other until one of my co-teachers arrived, but once again, it was Yiddish to the rescue. She told me in Georgian that she didn't something English, something doich. I decided to try and said “ikh shprek a bisl doich”. She got very excited and we talked a little more in German/Yiddish. I think she was so excited to communicate that she didn't notice that I was not speaking the same language. I was trying to speak German rather than Yiddish, so that might have helped. Anyway, I was whisked off to my first class, full of 6th graders. They were pretty excited to have this American co-teaching their class. Nana, their Georgian teacher, started off the class with a little Q and A. The students had to ask me questions in English. We moved on to their homework; I need to brush up on my grammar terms. Nana told me they were working on something and I just started at her going, uh oh. It ended up working out though. They were working on a new chapter, so there was new vocabulary. I helped them make up a story about a treasure map and what they do with the treasure after they kill/lure away the guard bears. They decided to give the money to the poor. Very nice. After that block, Nana took me upstairs to the teacher's lounge. There I found out that I look like a Georgian. Every teacher thought I was a former student there to say hello to a teacher, but they could not remember me. Some even thought I was a current student in the wrong place. Either way, the blank stare I gave them in response to the rapidfire Georgian was enough to convince them that their first assumption was wrong. Another teacher would laughingly tell them that I am a new English teacher from America.
I only have two classes on Mondays, 6th graders first class, and 2nd graders last class. The 2nd grade is taught by Taso, whose mother is a geography teacher at the school and whose daughter is in this class. The class is full (and I mean full, about 36 kids) of really cute and really excited to learn kids. I helped demonstrate a dialogue, I wrote in their notebooks, how to make a G and g, and I watched them sing the ABCs, as well as say words like Apple, Cat, Dog, and Egg. Good times. I am exhausted and that was only two classes. Tomorrow I teach four. The third teacher I will be working with is Nino, and she has been helping me out since last week's meeting with TLG. All in all, I have three great co-teachers with very good English to work with for the rest of the year. All the other teachers had varying degrees of English, but I told them as I have told everyone else, teach me Georgian, I'll teach you English.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One fun day

Yesterday (Saturday) was a whole lot of fun. It started a little off, I woke up at around 11:30, and Lela came in to ask if I wanted breakfast, she has been waiting for me! I was quickly got up and was introduced to hot cereal in georgia: some sort of rice mush. But I like it, which has made Margo, my host grandmother very happy. About two hours later, I was again invited to the kitchen where most of the family was busy devouring two chickens, one of which was their chicken. Lexo, my host brother, had come in the day before with a huge bowl, saw me, and tried to run away, but not before I noticed the chicken inside the bowl. I laughed and told them that I was not a vegetarian, and that I know where my meat comes from.
Anyway, another feast stood before me. Everyone was very excited to get me to eat this white mush that was different from the rice mush I had had that morning. It had peices of cheese sticking out of it. They told me it was a major dish in Georgia. I tried it and started laughing. I explained that this is a major dish around the world. In some parts, they call it Polenta, but I have had it at my friend's house, and we called it Mamalige. There was also a nut and bean concoction and it was also very good. Finally, I was handed a martini glass filled with liquid and fruit. And boy was it good. SWEET but good.
After the meal, I went into a food coma, I mean seriously, I had had two huge meals in three hours. When I felt like I could move again, I went out to the family room with a book to sit and read. When I got there, Lela told me that Margo was making "churchela", this snack food they had given me on the car ride from Tbilisi to Poti. This stuff is GOOD. So I ran into the kitchen to watch her make it. First they squeeze grapes and pour the liquid into the pot. Then they add flour and just let the whole thing condense. It was a little more complicated, but trust me, I will learn how to do this, and watch out, I am making this at home. SO GOOD! Anyway, that by itself is called "palomush" and when it is ready, you pour it out onto a cookie pan and when it cools, you cut it up and serve it.

But, if you want to make "churchela", you make a string of nuts and dip it into the whole mix, while it is still in the pot. It is a little like candle dipping, you dip, hold it until it is cool, and dip again. Then we hung it up to dry.

And that was when the insanity began. I went to get my camera to take pictures of it all to show you. Well, I was turning on my camera and accidentally clicked the button to take a picture. The flash went off and terrified everyone in the kitchen, especially Lela who HIT THE ROOF! I mean, she can jump. We all spent the next five minutes laughing, and Lexo, being the wonderful son that he is, spent the whole night miming taking a picture behind her back. Good times.
While we waited for the "pelamush" to cool, I settled in with my nook while margo and her husband watched Spanish soaps that were being dubbed into Georgian. It was fun to hear "si" "ki" and know that they all mean yes. Suddenly, Lexo appears with a big wooden case. When opened, I see it is a backgammon set, and I find myself playing (and LOSING) my host grandfather. I won one game by two pieces,  but I lost count of how many times he beat me, though I never lost by a MAJOR amount. And I am proud of that fact, he was GOOD!
When we closed the thing, there was a checkers/chess board on one side, so Lexo and I got into a checkers match. Suddenly he jumped my piece backward, and I found out that they play a different kind of checkers. You can jump backwards, and I am not sure if you can move your peice backwords as well. When you get to the other side, your peice becomes a queen and it can travel across the board. The first game, I won, TOTAL beginners luck, because the rest of the games were a slaughter.I taught him our version of checkers, and got to win again.
We moved on to cards, and here I was nervous. Do we know ANY of the same games. Well, that was when my host grandfather says we will play Durak. Lexo found Lela and asked her to translate for me. She told me the game was called silly, and when you lose, they call you silly. This made me wonder if this game could possibly be the game that we play endlessly at camp. I tried to get a look at the cards, to see if there were any numbers under six, but I didn't get a good look. They started to play the first round, and I grabbed myself some cards, played and won. And then we played again, and I won again. I love stupid!
As we played dominos, the "pelamush" was served and we ended game night, but it was a LOT of fun. Finally, probably the best ending to the day happened. I looked up at the TV as I was going to bed and who do I see? Tony and Ziva of NCIS! I ran for my camera, I had to get a picture of this to show you.

They have played a lot of American movies since I got here, all dubbed so it is almost impossible to hear the English, but with movies like "how to lose a guy in 10 days" that doesn't really matter, I know what is going on. But this was the first TV show. Very good day.
Today I am going on a search for a store with rain gear. This has been the search of the week, but I will find it somewhere.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Flats are not good for walking

Today was a lesson in footwear. I was going to the beach, where I REALLY didn't want to deal wet socks... so instead of wearing a layer between my flats and my feet (as I usually do and it really works well for me) I went without. BAD IDEA! First of all, why why WHY did I decide I didn't need to pack my flip-flops, and HOW do people go ANYWHERE in non-sandals footwear without socks!?
Before I continue with this story, I should explain that my flats and I were already on the outs. See, last night, I went out with Qristina, her boyfriend, and his cousin. I thought we were going somewhere indoors, you know a bar or something, so I took off my sneakers and put on my nicer looking flats. But no, we hung out for about two hours in the park, a very fun two hours, but all that time, mosquitoes were out IN FORCE. Well, of course I didn't notice until this morning, and my feet looked like they had chicken pox. Luckily, my Katz genes were also working and it didn't/doesn't itch. I just have these little dots covering my feet where they were exposed. I should not have forgiven my flats so soon!
I was going to go to the beach with Donna, but she ended up being unable to go. Since I was already on my way and the day was HOT, I decided to continue with my plans and spend the afternoon in the sea and sunbathing and reading. On the way, my feet started hurting, but I ignored it. My plan was to walk to the beach the same way I got there last time; from Donna's house. BAD IDEA. She lives WAY down the street, to the point where I had to sit down on the bench outside her house before I could keep walking, my feet hurt so much. But I had made it this far, I was not giving up now. I got to the sea and remembered that going all the way to Donna's was a BIG mistake. Because the coast closest to her house is all rocky, making for GREAT picture taking, but not comfortable lounging, as I was longing to do. So I had to walk down the coast in the direction I had come until I reached the beach, with sand. There I quickly stripped down to my bathing suit, and walked as fast as my feet could take it into the water.
OH, it was amazing. A small part of me was able to appreciate the sand as I went down to the water. It is black and so soft. Not good for sandcastles, but so, I guess luxurious feeling. Of course, most of my thoughts were geared toward getting off my feet, but the slope was so shallow it took forever to get out to my waist. There I had enough and just sat down to get off my feet and out of the heat. OH it felt good. After I had soaked enough, I went back to grab my nook, but it wasn't in my bag. I had stopped along the way in a store and was panicked that I had somehow taken it out of my backpack and left it there when I took out my wallet. I got back in to enjoy the water, but that little part of my brain that wont let me leave things alone was whispering that I had lost my nook. My nook that has been a HUGE part of why I have not gone insane from my slow learning of the Georgian language. My nook that is my friend when the internet is down, or just when I want to spend some time outside. I already had the plan that if my nook was lost, I would call home and BEG for a new one that I would pay for, I would pay for, as well as the shipping, I just REALLY NEED MY NOOK. (as my parents can already guess by the fact that they have not received a phone call, I found my nook, I left it at home) Anyway, my growing anxiety caused me to cut my swimming and relaxation short and I started heading back.
As I put my shoes back on, I realized that the water had only been a temporary solution. The pain was back, and getting worse. I already noticed a huge blister on my right heel, and by the feel of things, my left foot was not much better off. But I needed to get back, so off I went. To pass the time, and because I was curious, I called some of my TLG friends. A BIG thank you to Cindy, Danny, and especially Dan for keeping me distracted as I walked home. And thank you to Dan for listening as I realized that not only do my feet hurt, I have no idea where I am. I thought I was taking a short cut (HA!). I knew by now how to get home from the school that I might be teaching at, and since I still don't know the name of my street (yes, something very important to know) I asked people on the street for school one:“skola erti”. Well, it turns out they say first school, not school one, so the first people I talked to had no idea what I was talking about. Finally a father and daughter came bicycling by and I thought I would ask. The father spoke some English, the daughter none, but I think she might soon be one of Donna's students, since she goes to the school Donna works at. Anyway, he directed me to the school, which I found again pretty easily. That was when I remembered that I still had to walk home from there. A five minute walk on a normal day seemed like cruel and unusual torture today. About twenty minutes later, I hobbled up the stairs, told my host grandmother I was home, went into my room and collapsed on the bed.
NEVER again will I not bother with socks. They would have been annoying for the whole time it took to dry and brush the sand off my feet and then I would have been fine. Then I would have been able to check out the lake I guess I was walking toward when I was lost. But no, I thought it would be easier to go without socks. If things go the way I think they will (and at this point, there is just as good a chance they wont” I will be teaching the day after tomorrow and spending the whole day on my feet. This is going to be fun...

PS, I meant to make this post about Megruli, the regional language spoken here in Samagrelo, the region that Poti is in. Qristina and her friends have been trying to teach me Megruli and I have been resisting, because it is too hard trying to learn Georgian, without adding another language to the mix. But it turns out that most people around here can all speak Georgian and Megruli, a lot speak Russian, and many speak English. I am very intimidated, but I have decided to try to remember “hello”, and “how are you” in Megruli. After all, it is a special language here. I know a little something about special languages...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Exploration of Poti

So this is my third day in Poti and there is a LOT to talk about, but where to begin... I guess, I should start by explaining that Lela's husband, Lela, Qristina (the real transliteration from Georgian), and I piled in the car in Tbilisi. Sarcosi was in Tbilisi the day we left and the traffic and driving was something to behold. But we made it out without so much as a honk of the horn. We got in to Poti about one or two in the morning, and there were Lela's parents with freshly made khachapuri. The family had called ahead when they found out I liked the cheese and khachapuri. In fact, I have not yet had a meal with them that khachapuri was not on the table. We even went out to eat last night, and they ordered khachauri. It might be important to add that though I still love this stuff and I need to find some sort of way to exorcize or else there will be a lot more to me when I get home. Anyway, after I had some tea and khachapuri and bread and cheese, that were not baked together, and fruit of many kinds I managed to get to my room. That is where I discovered that I was luckier in host family than I thought. My room is at the end of the house, and I will save a post about the house for a later more settled time. It has two windows that look right out onto the street and in the morning a parade of cows, chickens and ducks go by.

Also, in Georgia, cats are dogs. That is to say, while we have cats all over the place, they have dogs. And dogs run in packs. It is VERY logical for me to be scared of dogs here. Apparently, earlier TLG volunteers who have less self-preservation instincts than I do went up to these stray dogs and pet them and were overly affectionate, while the dogs were not having it. In fact the dogs bit them and they got to spend weeks getting rabies shots, etc. See, I have been right all along. Dogs=Bad... (friends who have dogs/are getting dogs, I think I am going to be worse when I get home... sorry).
Saturday, I went out with Qristina. We went to the school I will be teaching at, which was also her school, so she had a lot of fun showing me around. I met one of her old teachers who said all the teachers at the school are very good and I will love working with them. I am very excited about that. Then we walked over to the park next to a beautiful cathedral. I know where I will go for a nice quiet read... Just beyond the park is what I call the “lion bridge”. I even learned how to say it in Georgian (though it took me a lot of laughter from Qristina and most of the day to remember how to say it) “lomi Khidi”. I even remembered that it is a bridge over the Rioni river. We wondered through town on some errands and then we came to an apartment complex. Qristina suddenly starts shouting up and a head pokes out. It is a friend of hers who invites us up. She is our age and is married and has a four month old baby. A very very cute baby named Tom. Her husband is a singer of national music, which I interpreted as folk music. He showed me some clips of his group and it was amazing! Just listening on the computer, the sound filled the room. He said next time I come over, he'll get the group over and they'll give me a live performance. I will definitely go back over, if not for the singing or the food (yes, they fed me within an inch of my life also) then just to see the baby when he is awake. Anyway, we went home where I was unable to eat more. It turns out that this worried my host grandmother. As part of the contract, host families are only required to give the volunteers two meals a day. Yesterday I went out with a TLG friend from my group and ate more, so I again, happened to only have two meals with my family. She went to Lela to make sure to tell me that I am one of the family and that if I need more food from them, I should take it/ask for it. I have been officially adopted, though I am still not allowed to even stack the dishes to make is easier to transport to the sink. Since I will be here a year, I think this will let up soon. I think.
Anyway, yesterday I went out to meet Donna, who is one of the other volunteers from my group. We decided to meet at the lion bridge since we both thought we knew how to get to it from our respective homes. I got there... eventually. I was planning on taking the route that Qristina had gone the day before, but I think I walked about five blocks too far. I never found the school, but I knew where I was trying to go (generally) and I made it. I found a whole new part of the park, but there is a great thing in the middle that looks like ruins (Lela told me it is the remains of a bar...).
From the park, I found the lion bridge no problem. I called Donna to tell her I made it. She told me to walk in the direction of the green building, so I kept walking down the street until I came to a huge green apartment building. I looked around. Donna had told me that she was walking up to the building when we hung up, but I didn't see her. Just as I was going to call her, she called me to tell me that she thinks we had different green buildings in mind. She was standing back at the lion bridge. When I went back, she showed me the green building she was looking at. It was made of green glass and was definitely a very green building on the street to the right of the bridge. Anyway, we went to her house and I met her host sister and her son. Her daughter was out. Again, her host sister was three years older than me. Anyway, Donna lives near the Sea, so we went for a walk along the coast. I love Poti.
When the sun started setting I remembered that I have never actually walked back to the house. When I went out with Qristina, we took a taxi home. Well, I found the right street this time and walked to the school where I completely forgot the way home. So, I called Qristina who told me she would be right there. I tried to tell her I wanted to walk home, just tell me which way I should start walking, but she insisted on coming to get me. Well, about two seconds after hanging up the phone, I remembered which way to go, but of course, she was on her way, and I didn't want to be not there when she got to the school so I waited. Today, I am going to go to the park and walk back on my own. I think I have it down. By the end of my first week of work, I will have it down no problem.
On to work, which I SERIOUSLY want to do. My regional representitive of TLG says she is arranging meetings with the principal and co-teachers and I can't go in until she arranges that. It is kinda killing me, now that I am here, I want to get started and figure out what my routine is/will be, so that I can start thinking about how to break that routine up.
As is, I can tell you that I wake up to dogs who seem to hate the sun. The second it appears, the barking begins (that is a bit of exaggeration). This morning, My family's dog and another dog went at it. I have no idea what was happening, but boy could they howl.
I want to go out, so I will post more later. Let me know if there is anything in particular you want to know about.
PS, my host grandfather invited me out to milk the cow last night. It will be some time before you all get the pictures you are waiting for. It will take me a while to work up to that.
for now, here are some pictures from last night's dinner.
Lela and her husband Goneri
Qristina and me
I havn't taken pictures of anyone else yet...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pictures from Tbilisi

I have been told on no uncertain terms that I need to catch up with the pictures. So, here are some of the highlights.

This is Danny, who is the first person I met in the program. This picture was taken WAY after we met in JFK. We are on the van on our way to the hotel with the seven other people who came in from Istanbul with us. What a great crew!

This was on the side of a wall in Tbilisi. There was more to the picture, but I really loved the son and the writing in the center. On the 5+ hour car ride to Poti, I showed the pictures to Kristina, who read it and told me that it was a poem by a very famous poet.

So, this reminded me of Louisiana... Anyone else think so? This is a major hotel on the river (on the cliff of the river) that cuts Tbilisi in half.

People in the picture first: (left to right) Cindy, my roomate, from Australia, Marie, my next door neighbor, from New Zealand, Ben, her next door neighbor, from New Zealand, and Danny, his next door neighbor, from Maine/Texas.
This park is a new project of Mishaus Sakashvili, president of Georgia. Side note, he is called Mishaus by the people of Georgia. The park was beautiful with lots of space to run around and have fun.

A huge grand piano was being built:

there was a rock climbing wall:

Basically, pretty awesome...(taken from the endless stairs that take you up to street level.)
 This next picture was basically a fun artsy shot. All of us (Bryston is behind Cindy) and the Jeans Bar. We didn't go inside to find out what exactly it was, but theories abound.

  I saw this and had a "judgment of Paris" moment. I saw the happy face and sad face and said "THEATER!" Sure enough, when we got to the front of the building, we were in some sort of theater district.
I figured Pushkin is a good guy to pose with.

Ok, it has been a great day, a day that I will probably post about later, but for now, I need sleep, so nakhvamdis for now.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What, Huh?

Shortly after I wrote the post about training, a cleaning woman came in (our door was usually wide open when we are inside, inviting our friends to come in) and said what we think was the word for “go” in Georgian. Well, it was half an hour before we thought we were supposed to check out, but who knows. We gathered our stuff and went out into the lobby where we found georgians EVERYWHERE! A couple of them were checking in, but most were just milling around in the lobby. When I saw a little girl I realized that these were our host families, come to take us away from the land of terrible hotel food. We were split up into two sides of the lobby, volunteers on one side and families and representatives on the other. Then, region by region, names were called and one family and one volunteer met in the middle. We quickly learned something very important that was not explained in culture class. We were taught that Georgians kiss one time in greeting, but we were not told which side. Many of us were leaning to the left instead of the right creating VERY awkward looking greetings. Those of is who were called later made sure to lean right. I knew that three of us were going to Poti, so I was ready when they called out that the representative from Poti was here for Arkhram and Donna. Then I waited, aren’t they here for me too? As Donna waved goodbye to me, I thought, “what if I didn’t hear my name (very possible), what if they leave without me, and I have to go tomorrow, where will I stay?” I had about a minute of these panic-like thoughts until, yes, they call my name. I walk forward and meet someone who looks to me about my age (and is) and she tells me to wait with this other woman, who seemed like she was my school’s representative because she carried posters that belonged in a children’s school and she speaks English very well. Together we waited for the first woman to get a taxi. Here came the next round of over thinking: “a taxi? All the way to Poti? I thought that Poti was at least five hours away.” We put my stuff in and of course, there are no seat-belts and my heart sinks. Drivers here are CRAZY. So are pedestrians. Anyway we are suddenly on a back road in Tbilisi, not far from the hotel, and my companions are taking out money to pay the driver. We stop in front of a building with a child playing outside and start taking my stuff out of the taxi. All I am thinking now is, “great, I got Tbilisi after all, after being so excited to go to Poti”. We head upstairs and I am ushered into a kitchen where another woman is waiting. Finally, introductions and an explanation of what is going on.
The first woman I met was Kristina, and she is studying dentistry in Tbilisi. The house we are in is her flat. The woman I thought was the school representative is her aunt and my host mother, Lela. The other woman, Kat, is also at university studying pharmacology. And no, we will not be staying in Tbilisi. We well head out to Poti tonight. My host mother is taking the opportunity to get her niece a nice fall jacket so they are out shopping right now.
Before they went though, they HAD to feed me. I am going to describe the food in terms of what is seemed like to me, not the real words… I am not that advanced in Georgian yet. In fact, the two girls my age giggle every time I use Georgian… The first thing they put our was a salad of some kind with shredded cabbage, carrots, onions and some kind of meat, not sure what kind, but it was good. Then came the bread both brown and white (both delicious). When the cheese was placed in front of me, of course, I went for it, as I love cheeses of all kinds. This was very salty and very good. I told Lela I loved the cheese and found out that the cheese is made by her mother from Lela’s cow’s milk! They own a cow. All my Yiddish Book Center, and York friends will LOVE to learn that I am looking forward to learning to milk a cow. Lela is very excited to teach me. On with the meal though. Another salad came out, this one just tomatos and peeled cucumber. We saw this a lot in the hotel, so it must be a kind of Georgian salad. Then came a mustard that no one seemed to want. I used the mustard on the hot-dog like sausage that same out next. Everyone laughed as I cried and went for the strawberry banana juice. That stuff was HOT but really good. After I seemed to be slowing down to Lela, she said something that I think I will get used to. “You want more, of course you want more” and she proceeded to the desert course. Let me just say, I am VERY lucky I grew up with a grandmother who feeds us all more than any human can take. I know the tricks, take one of each, and spread your food around so that what looks like a lot on your plate is in actuallity not all that much. Well, that trick came out of being picky, not Bubbe’s family dinners, but I digress (when do I not digress?) Desert consisted of MANY fruits, some that I know like grapes and oranges, but more than I don’t. When I asked about a very unfamiliar looking one, the three woman looked at each other and spoke rapidly in Georgian. Finally Lela and Kristina looked at me and shrugged their shoulder. In Georgian, it is “karalioki”… But that is not enough. We need to look it up and find the word for me in English. After an EXTENSIVE search, it seems that I have just had a persimmon. I have always wondered what they were. There were also cookies and cakes, and chocolate and pretzels. When Lela and Kristina went out, they invited me to join, but between my need to write this post and the knowledge that I will need to buy things for this weather (I didn’t bring rain boots, I brought snow boots…) but I don’t have room in my bags, I declined. I have been sitting across the table from Kat, who does not speak a very good english (and of course my Georgian is terrible) so I went to the Google translate page and typed the English into one side and she read the Georgian on the other. While Google translate was terrible for a Yiddish article, it seemed to work pretty well with Georgian, for our purposes. At least, it did on my side. And from her reaction, I did not insult her family, so I count this as a win.
I am very excited about this whole trip. Lela lives with her parents, who don’t speak English, her husband and her son. She is an English teacher at a different school in Poti than the one I will be teaching in. I asked her about Poti, and she told me that it is a nice small city. Sorry Zeyde, that is what I want. I know I said in my first post I wanted a village, but now that I think about it, small city is the right thing for me. I wouldn’t want to live in Tbilisi (though it is GEORGOUS) and Batumi, the other big city on the black sea is very touristy and full of resorts. Like I said in my last post, I think I am going to like Poti.

Endless Training

Well, I won’t be in a village, but I did not find out until last night (thrusday night), which was pretty intense. In the culture and methodology classes, the most important thing we learned was that the West and East have very different cultures and ways of doing things (like forcing people to eat way too much food in the west).
Sunday morning, we went to the first of what would become the most painful beginning of every day EVER. The entire group of volunteers met for an hour to hour and a half and learned some of the things we should expect. But was the week went on and we still didn’t know where we were placed the information was just too much, and the people’s questions in the group went from relevant to “why didn’t you listen to what she said!!!” Very painful to watch one person give a presentation of something that might not even relate to you, but you have to watch on the chance that it does. The information meetings were always painfully long.
Luckily, I had Georgian class in the morning. My teacher, Nana, was wonderful and I had a lot of fun in her class for the first two hours. Then we had a fifteen coffee break, followed by another two hours of Georgian. For the first three days, we ended class with the alphabet and I thanked my friends over and over again for being geeks and going over the alphabet before we got class. It was nice to end class on something I was good at or knew. Next was lunch (at 14:30! and we had breakfast 8:00-9:00! I stuffed my face with cakes at the coffee breaks) followed by Georgian culture for the first three days. This class was about telling us the worst case scenarios. Then, everyone wanted to know if such a thing might happen to them, but of course, no one knows where we will be, so no one can say anything for sure. After Georgian Culture ended, we had methodology, which would have been great, except that it was basically what I had learned when I got certified. But again, our teacher knew there were different levels to work with and kept things interesting and tried to keep it fun. But if you think that four hours of Georgian Culture was bad, try four hours of education classes… and you know how I love education classes…
Basically, the whole week of training was exhausting and exhausting. Some things were useful but most was not. The most important thing I learned was I am going to POTI! Poti is a city on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. I am SO excited. I spent what little time the internet gave me (it cut out again) looking up Poti and I think it is beautiful. Today, our host families come. I think I am going to be on a bus with the other people on the coast, because it is a five hour drive, our families won’t come that far.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wondering through the Tbilisi

The day I wrote my last blog was a day of rest for the 40 people who had come in some time in the night of the 29th morning of the 30th. We mostly hung around the lobby, or walked around the block. One group went into town, but that was of necessity: the airline lost her baggage. It reminded me of how happy I was to see my orange roller/backpack as it came out from behind curtain at baggage claim.
Anyway, a good night’s sleep later we were all ready to go out and see Tbilisi. I wanted o find a map of the city. One would expect that the program would have given us a map when we got it, or the hotel, but no such luck. When I asked Tamara, the head of the volunteers, where I could get a map, she told me there was a church in freedom sq that is under construction, but the visitor’s information center that was inside is still operational…
At 11, 6 of us set off to explore. We were very lucky that there had been a mini training meeting the night before where the cars and rules of the road were explained. There was too much said to repeat here, but the gist of it was there are no rules that are followed. Tamara explained that people sometimes stop at red lights, etc. So as we walk in the direction of Freedom Sq., we stick VERY close to the edge of the side walk. I had already noticed that according to one driver, there seemed to be one lane, while another felt there were three… I thought the lines might indicate only two, but I am a foreigner, what do I know. Well, all was well until we ran out of sidewalk. Suddenly we have to cross four lanes of traffic to get to the other side. No crosswalk, no nothing. We watched on man walk across calmly and deleberatly. So we tried. By the end, we just RAN. We all survived the whole day, and no one was even almost hit by a car, but it was very stressful, but very fun.
We wandered all over the place. There were stone carvings and statues everywhere, and, especially in the beginning of the journey, it was not all soviet and similar. We passed through what we think was a graveyard which had a courtyard at the end of it with more neat statues and stone carvings in the walls We think that the writing might have been one of the older scripts. Yes, in Georgia there are three kinds of writing. A bunch of us have been studying the letters of the most used alphabet and came up with mnemonic devices for every letter. The” r” is a rabbit, “asperated k” is a kangeroo, “asperated t” is king tut and so on. So on our little adventure, we were looking at signs and working out how to say them, and even sometimes, what they said. It was pretty exciting.
So, we are walking around, we see the sites: a new park with a giant grand piano being built, and a rock climbing wall, a mosaic depicting the founding of Tbilisi, and, most importantly to some, an irish pub that shows the rugby world cup. Eventually, we made it to freedom sq where, everywhere where we went, and asked about maps, we were told to try another place, and it is better to just walk anyway… Who needs a map? Apparently not us…
When we got back to the hotel, we hung out with the new arrivals who brought our number of volunteers up to 102. Today begins the real trainings. We get split up into 4 groups and take 3 hours of Georgian language and then 3 hours of Georgian culture. I am doing an ok job of recognizing the letters so far. “V” for vulture and tail for “t”.
I wrote this on a word document while the internet is down so who knows when I will post this, but here is installment two… I think I will try to write the blog regularly and post when I get internet, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me.