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.