Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Life gets BUSY!

So, I promised that I would share the rest of my travels and I will, but first, an apology for not being able to keep up while in Georgia. Once I saw my students, each day became a year (not because it was long, but because of everything I was doing!)

That first day back at Pirveli Skola ( for those of you just joining, it means the "1st school", basically PS 1 for you New Yorkers or others with numbers based school systems) was amazing. As I walked in the building, I had a moment of anxiety about trying to remember where the teachers' room was. Luckily I walked up the stairs next to a teacher I remembered, so I just moved closer to her and said "Gamajorba" (hello), She said hello back, and started to keep walking. Then came the double take that I WISH I had filmed, especially since it was the reaction EVERY teacher gave me. What came next was also the same from each one: a hug or holding of hands, and a kiss on the cheek. Lots of exclaiming, and another hand squeeze or kiss. I asked Nana and Nino (my co-teachers from before) if they had not told everyone I was coming. They explained it's our first day back after Easter and everyone forgot. The Pascal came out (So much yummy) and the questions. EVERY teacher wanted to know if I was married.

When the bell rang, I went to one of the first grade English classes. It was like I had not been away. They were using the same books that had been introduced when I was there. The classroom was a brightly colored green and the students were in the same outfits. Listen and repeat, stand up when answering a question, and even the same student notebooks with the same types of homework assignments (write the alphabet this time).

Since there were so few students (side note, their new secretary of Education had changed the school calendar in January, so they had a spring break, but not an Easter break. This meant kids were kind of trickling in throughout the week as they returned from wherever they had spent their Easter). that teachers in all the rest of the classes I visited through out the lesson plan, and the day was about speaking and listening. AKA ask me any questions and I will answer. It was 5 classes before the first student (a 9th grader) asked me if I was married. I had joked JUST before this class that it's the first question a teacher asked and not a single student had. We had even wondered if it was a generational thing. But then he came along and asked and ruined the whole thought excessive. The poor boy was so confused when his question was met with me throwing up my hands and saying "oh well" and Nino laughing so hard she could not stop.

It was VERY good to see my old students. 5 years is a LONG time especially for Kindergarten- Sixth Graders. They are all now in 5th Grade- 11th Grade. They remembered me INSTANTLY, but it took me some time to begin to sort out who was who. One time, I felt TERRIBLE I could not remember a girl (I had assumed she was new, and she was sad I didn't recognize her.) Luckily I was redeemed when, after I heard her laugh, I remembered not only what street she lived on, but her NAME (something I could not remember for the vast majority of my students).

It was amazing to see them all again, and they invited me out to MANY events (and I was able to accept most of them!)

More to come later.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What a day!

I finally went to sleep around 3 AM, not because of jetlag (though that probably had a role), but because we spent well into the wee hours talking laughing and catching up. I have lived 3 days since 12:30, which is when Leqso knocking on the door and woke me up so we could be on the road to Goneri's Village at 1. We got to a dirt road that never ended and started adding people to the car along the way. First Goneri's sister, which send his nephew who had come with us from Poti into the trunk for the rest of the ride. Farther down the bumpy road, we picked up his teenage niece. She sat on the lap of her aunt and uncle. It was not until we got to the cemetery that I learned what was going on. Yesterday (Easter Sunday) was the day for the living. Today was the day for the dead. Pascal bread was left at the headstone, eggs were rolled over the graves, and beer or wine was poured on as well. It was a very beautiful tradition. We piled in again and spent some time in the house Goneri was born in. Once again, I was impressed with Georgian tables- that they don't collapse from the weight of the food and drink.

Their yard had cats, dogs, chickens, ducks roaming everywhere. I was told the cows would come home later, and I was reminded of the way the cows know the way home all by themselves. I was informed that this was only a western cow thing. I decided that means that western cows are smarter than eastern cows. This was not the first time I have engaged in Samegrelo snobbery but I stand by it. Sorry rest of Georgia, Samegrelo is obviously the best.

After eating what felt like my weight, we headed back to Poti and stopped by a Cemetery to repeat the ceremony for Lela's Godfather. His daughter had a stone next to him and she explained that she had been named after this daughter. Later, I found out that the cousin we had been running with was named after the neighbor who fed me yesterday. It's his uncle. Since the day was about traditions and memories of our ancestors I shared some of the Jewish traditions of naming (Ashkenaz tradition of naming after the dead) and leaving a stone on the grave (anyone want to share why a stone? Inquiring minds want to know). It was at that Cemetery that I found out that a friend of Goneri's who spoke English, and was therefor really great for me to hang out with, had suddenly died a couple years ago. It was a jarring reminder that though things look the same here, they are not.

We headed home and I had just enough time to install the video editing software to my computer (sorry, not enough time to figure out how to use it yet. Videos still to come) and we were off again, this time with Margo to honor her mother. But when we got there, she could not find the grave. We split up in search of it (I was no help at all, so stuck with Margo) Finally, we wound our way back to the gate we'd come in through, and suddenly it was right there! It was beautiful to find it, especially after searching high and low (Literally. Some plots are raised, so walking through the cemetery is a lot of squeezing and climbing up and down). There were many families around doing the same thing, it was really neat to see everyone (I did not know anyone, but everyone else did) Finally, we went to the grave of Lela's cousin who had passed earlier this year. Too many graves today were filled with people who were too young to fill them. But today was not really about grief, but about celebrating who they were. Lela told me the rolling egg was to symbolize that their bodies died, but their souls kept going.

We got home and left pretty soon after so see Qiso, my host-cousin who was my first friend in Georgia. She is my age and married with a son and a daughter. There have been inquiries into my plans to do the same, to which I remind everyone that she was with her current husband when I was in Georgia last. She already had the jump on me. The kids are AMAZING. Her son spends his days here at our house, so I look forward to playing with him more.

Tomorrow school goes back, and I CAN'T WAIT to see my students! To that end, it is 1 AM here... GOOD NIGHT everyone.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Still in Tbilisi

I was going to wait on posting until I had arrived in Poti, but I just had the BEST time with Leqso's downstairs neighbors and I had to share the experience because I almost started crying in the middle of the whole thing I was so happy.

Leqso and I were going to visit the bazar to grab a bite and take a walk. On our way out, his neighbors asked him to turn on the hot water, and while we were waiting, they spoke to me. I had to explain in the only way I knew how "Amerikeli gogo. Kartulad tsota" American girl. Georgian little. Yeah, not grammatically correct in any way, but it's how I explain that I am not being rude (see earlier post) but just don't know what they are saying. What happened next is why I almost broke down right there. They ushered me into the house sat me down and started bringing out ALL the food. The khatchapuri, the chicken salad, the nut bread, it just kept coming. What kind of wine do I want? Red. So they pour me a large glass of red wine. THEN I find out that the white wine was homemade and the red wine was factory made. So of course, I'll also take a white wine. Then the toasts: To America and Georgia, to all religions (We explained that I was not Catholic or Christian, but Jewish. He is a history scholar and explained that Jews lived in Georgia for 2000 years and never were a persecuted people in Georgia.), to our parents, to mothers and wives, to God, to anyone who can love. Let's just show you. This jug was full when I arrived in the house. And only 2 of use were drinking...

It has been wonderful to be back. I am of course living on the street where I had the run in with the dog that tried to eat me (took out my jeans, not my leg, THANK GOODNESS) so every-time I walk down the allyway to the house, I get fight or flight. But Georgian hospitality is no joke. They take it very seriously. Even when I started saying no to more wine in my glass, they filled it, but assured me I could drink or not drink, there was no offense, they just needed ME to have a full glass so I COULD if I wanted to.

It is so good to be back in Georgia. And in a couple hours, Leqso and I head to Poti to be with the rest of the family! I can't wait!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the airport 5 years later...

So I decided to leave intact all that I had written while SUPER tired at the airport. This is copied and pasted without any editing... Yikes!Anything in italics is written after a day of sleep and relaxation in Tbilisi.

So, no internet at Logan, and no internet in Ataturk… That changed the plans for what to do with my layover time in a major way. It also makes me less worried about whether or not I have my computer with me on the way home.

So far, the journey has been completely enjoyable. The drawbacks I knew were coming, so do not count. Sure, I have been awake for 36 hours and will not get real sleep for a while yet, and travelling through the worst part of the menstrual cycle is something that should typically be avoided. But on the whole, I have spoken and seen so many awesome people. The flight to Istanbul was full of the bad movies I chose not to pay money to see when they came out and trying unsuccessfully to sleep. The seat next to me had been open, but a man in a middle seat decided to make life easier for 3 people by moving to sit next to me. I don’t fault him in any way for moving next to me, but I do blame my semi delirious state on him (I could have stretched out and slept!). We got to Istanbul 4 PM local time, and I briefly considered hopping out and seeing the sights before realizing I didn’t want to lug my carry-ons with me everywhere, and I REALLY want to catch my flight to Georgia.  I had met and spoken to a woman headed to Israel before and after the Istanbul flight so we settled in to wait for our gate numbers together (didn’t know at the time that they only get shown 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave… Which meant mine wasn’t coming up until 22:35) That’s when we were first told that the internet wasn’t working. I did what I do, and we were soon chatting with another woman headed to Israel. Teaching High School History to English Language Learners came up and she asked where I teach. Yup, she teaches at one of the Elementary Schools! As the conversation devolved into issues our district faces, they realized their flight was in another terminal, and ran. I next hung out with a woman from Monaco who was on her way to Kiev to interview people for a position for a job in Belarus. She approached me after watching me knit. There have been many folks here VERY impressed that anyone my age knows how to knit. They are also often shocked that I am an American. I haven’t quite narrowed down the reason for surprise, but it has come up several times.
Another odd and interesting thing that has come up has been Judaism. It comes up if I mention Yiddish or play with my Mogn Dovid necklace. Two people so far (the woman from Monaco and a man from Serbia) have confided in me that I am the first person they met who was Jewish, and I am not what they were expecting. My “How so” got vague responses (and untypical… I am unable to grow a beard, so why you’d be surprised I don’t have one, is a bit confusing to me). In neither interaction or at any time in the airport have I felt unsafe, though I did make the decision to tuck my necklace in my shirt (of course, I keep fiddling with it, so that decision came to nothing anyway.) I feel interested ignorance but it feels very different than it did in High School or College. Here, it came from people who had just gotten into a great discussion about Syrian Refugees and the US’s policy of deportations. It came from people I saw as like-minded folk on the other side of the ocean. It felt disconcerting in a way that they had never met Jews or had some clear gaps in their knowledge. 
I have no idea how many people I have interacted with here. With one man and woman sitting next to me, I created a story about their conversation (in Arabic) and ended up telling them what I had imagined them saying. That led to a really fun people watching/ improve game with people all over the airport. Languages I know I have heard tonight include English, Turkish, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Georgian. Every time a new flight comes in, a new language is added to the mix. Other interesting patterns emerged. I met 4 separate German groups or singles headed to Iran. And each time, they sat next to me, we got to small talking and then they got up to go to the bathroom or get some last-minute snacks. It was not until the last one went that I realized I was sitting RIGHT in front of the gate headed to Iran. That explained why all of them were headed to Iran but all Germans? That one is unclear.
I have no idea what time it is here (what kind of airport doesn’t have internet or clocks everywhere??) but it HAS to be soon that my flight to Tbilisi will board. I will not be able to post this until I have reached my host-family’s place in Tbilisi, so no one reading this should worry about the fact that all my host-family’s contact info is on the internet that I can’t access… I am not too worried about it now either. Worst case scenario, I go to one of the MANY hostels in Tbilisi until I can get a hold of them…

Soon I see Leqso and we’ll head to Poti! I actually woke up a little typing that line. It will be so good to be there again and see everyone!

In fact, when I got to the Airport, there was internet, I made contact with Leqso and I was soon tucked into the little kitchen my host family had brought me to 5 and a half years ago after picking me up from the hotel. It was major deja-vu. Leqso shared some sort of awesome fried bread called tchristari (his own recipe) and pulled out the "Christmas Drink" that was one of my favorites from before. In fact, this batch was MADE when I was in Poti. It is a sort of Sangria like drink. When you drink the liquid you are fine, it's the alcohol in the fruit that you need to remember to account for. 
It was a great welcome back. 
Today, I took a walk around Tbilisi and remembered how much I don't know about Tbilisi. It's just so big and loud and cars are everywhere (and they don't much care for signs, stop lights or lane lines). I am really happy we are going to Poti tomorrow. It is a city that has grown too, but it is a part of me in ways that Tbilisi never really will be.

Leqso and his roommate made a wonderful dinner and we spent several hours going through the old pictures from 5 years ago that I had never shared with him. It was a great day of reminiscing and enjoying.