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Charleston, SC, United States
"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Well I can't say that I'm 'in the spirit' of Christmas right now, but hey, I'll give it a shot. The Elivs Christmas album is not helping much either. How is it that I've never been a big fan of Christmas music but somehow Elvis' Christmas songs do it for me sometimes? I don't even like Elvis that much. Just doesnt feel like Christmas around here. Even KZ had some Christmas perks. Here, its just cold, wet and muddy. If I could have one Christmas wish it would be to wake up tomorrow at Mom's have a huge breakfast and sit around laughing all morning while opening gifts. Here, I just have to wake up, have some instant coffee and bread for breakfast and then go to school for 6 hours. Bah-Humbug to that!
Anyway, we had our 'Christmas' padgent at school today. It wasnt really a Christmas padgent, it was more for New Year's but Santa a.k.a. one of my 9th graders was there and there was a tree. I gave some presents to my counterparts, director and vice-director thanks to Mom and Elaine who sent them over. I didnt get anything and that was fine with me. Better to give than... well you know. I'm also planning to give my host-family their gifts tomorrow night at dinner. The only thing I'm really looking forward to other than that is diggin' into my stocking that Mom sent me tomorrow morning.


There really isnt anything to tell you on this post. Just thought I would say Merry Christmas and put up two editions of MTV. Hope all of you have a Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Heating 101

In this episode of Muganlo TV...

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend / Biaram

So this was the weekend of killing things and it all started on Thursday; Thanksgiving. I was in charge of capturing and killing the turkey which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Turkeys aren’t the smartest animals so all you really have to do is corner the thing and then grab it by one of its wings. The turkey tried to fight back by slapping me in the face with a wing but I was too smart to take a second “punch” and just held it away from me on the way to the chopping block. A quick axe to the back of the head and all was done. Unfortunately, I was not in charge of cooking the bird. I told my host mom all she had to do was clean it and then pop it in the over for a few hours and we could have baked turkey. This was apparently too much to ask. So when dinner was ready, I noticed that the bird had been chopped up, boiled down and placed in this sauce that looked like watered down mustard. Too bad it didn’t taste like watered down mustard though. Gross! But, it’s the thought that counts right? Riiigghht…

Friday I was off from school since Friday was the start of Biaram. Biaram is a 4-day Muslim holiday amazingly enough quite similar to Thanksgiving. Friday you rest, and then on Saturday and Sunday you eat… sheep of course. But, part of the thing is you have to give at least 10% of your sheep away to those who can’t afford to buy one. Traditionally, you give this meat away to 7 different families so this is how my Saturday morning got started…


Good Morning Muganlo! As soon as I crawled out of bed on Saturday there was my host dad and brother slicing the head off a sheep and requesting my assistance in the butchering. I was more than glad to help, but I would have loved to have had the chance to at least have some coffee first. The butchering took about an hour and a half and my participation was somewhat limited to holding back flesh or holding up limbs while my host dad cut away skin and various parts. My family here decided to give away way more than 10% and I would say that nearly 1/3 of our sheep was cut up and put in seven different piles to be distributed. Half of it was put away for Sunday and the rest we put on skewers for lunch. These were the parts that need to be eaten right away so they don’t go bad. Liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, and yes… testicles. Still no coffee at this point, but I sure was presented with some grilled balls on my plate before noon. (Not as bad as you would think and at least they don’t eat the eyes like in Kazakhstan.)
The rest of Saturday was spent chopping and stacking wood. I thankfully was in charge of stacking since they don’t like how I just hack away at the wood with no regard for uniformity. My idea is if it burns, that’s good enough for me. Unfortunately the power went out for the third time this past week sometime during the night on Saturday so when I woke up Sunday morning I was freezing. The weather has really turned cold this week. Thursday is not supposed to get above freezing here.


A friend of mine came and visited on Sunday and the power was still off till about 4pm Sunday. But, it did come back on and we all had a great feast of… lamb. Again, the power went out in the middle of the night so Monday morning was also very cold. It was about 30 degrees when we got up to get ready to go to school and probably only 40 degrees in my room. My friend went to school with me to observe my classes and check out my school which he agreed was a POS building. He was also impressed that he could see his breath while walking down the hallways. I don’t see too many warm and happy moments coming up this winter that’s for sure. The power did come back on Monday after I got home from work around 5pm and I’m just hoping that it stays on for the whole night tonight.


So that’s it on the update for this week. Lots of funny stories from this week but no time to type them up. Below you’ll find the next episode of Muganlo TV but I warn you, if you don’t want to see sheep guts, just don’t watch it.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Back in Muganlo

This past week was spent at a conference near Tbilisi at a “resort” style hotel on Lake Basaleti. All the volunteers from my group were there from Monday night till Saturday morning taking language and technical classes. The place was nice and it was great to just be away for a while and hang out with all my American friends. The weather was really cold though and we even got a tinny but of snow on the last day.

The snow almost made it to us

I opted to take Azeri language classes rather than Georgian during the conference since that’s what I need the most here. My teacher was awesome and gave me and the one other guy that took Azeri a lot of information over the two days of language classes that I now have to digest and try to start using. One cool thing though, if I can master Azeri there are only a few minor adjustments and I’ll also be able speak Turkish.

Me and Ben at the pool tables


After the two days of language classes, we had some technical sessions and some more information about safety and security. One session was presented by a guy whose company is involved in a huge land mine clearing operation here in Georgia. He was very informative and it was really interesting to learn about the location and density of the mining here in Georgia. (Don’t worry, none of them are near me.)

I taught one of the technical sessions to my fellow volunteers during the last full day of trainings. My topic was: ‘Graduated Learning and How to Teach to Multi-leveled Students in the Same Classroom.’ Something I am well aware of, but still struggle to pull off myself sometimes.
Friday night was awesome. We had our Thanksgiving dinner for all the volunteers and PC Staff. The Radisson in Tbilisi provided the turkeys, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The other volunteers cooked all the side dishes and deserts. It was by far the best meal I’ve had here in Georgia. The green beans, carrots, gravy and real biscuits were just awesome. Apple pie for desert and we even had pumpkin rum! Yum!

The gardens by the lake


Saturday after breakfast we all packed up and went back to our sties. I hung around in Tbilisi for a few hours then made the trip back to Muganlo. When I finally got home I had enough time to set down my bags and head off to a wedding. My host brother was the only one home and he was waiting for me so he could get me there before it started. So from 5pm till about 2am I danced, ate and drank with the family. My cousin came from Baku along with my host-brother’s mother-in-law and brother-in-law so that has our total up to 14 people living here right now. I hadn’t seen my host-cousin for a month so it was cool to hang out with him again at the wedding. And, like all good Azeri weddings, yes there was a fight near the end. It’s crazy. One minute you’ll be dancing and laughing and the next there are fists flying. But, that’s what happens when people drink for hours on end and there’s that one guy who just loves to fight when he gets drunk. Not any different than America in that regard. Here it just usually happens at weddings. Luckily this was the second night and the next day all we had to do was go help clean up a little and then sit down for another huge meal and more drinking. Kind of like an after party but with better food. This one had rabbit as well and it was really good. I think I’d almost put rabbit right up there as my second favorite meat behind pork. Hmmm…

Next week I have another wedding to go to on Tuesday and Wednesday because it’s always a two night affair. Then, I’ll see if I can get my host-dad to kill one of our turkeys for Thursday. I’m sure he’ll be cool with it. We’ll see.

So, have a happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll be here thinking about you. I’m thankful for everyone that reads my blog and especially thankful for those of you that send packages. ;)
Peace!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moooo...

So many of you, I’m sure all of you, have noticed that I’m now on Facebook. Not a fan but it is a good waste of time when all I’ve got is time… sometimes. I still plan to use this as my primary means of getting the word out, but I’m sure I’ll be throwing some pictures up over there from time to time as well. But that’s not what this post is about.

This week was not as stressful as last week. I think mostly because I was counting down the days till Friday was over so I could relax over this weekend and then go to a conference all next week far far away from my school. Then the following Monday is a Georgian holiday so no school that day either. Thats10 days of no school starting tomorrow morning! Hells yeah! Can you tell my 9th graders are getting on my nerves?

This was the week of the cow. We killed an older cow and old cows are apparently the best for your health and you should use all of it. Wednesday was fried cow stomach (pretty good I might add) and cow brains in some kind of stewed fashion. Let’s just say that the Tuesday preparation of the cow was a little intense. My host-dad was sawing away at the cows feet so me can make more xhash (see my post below if you don’t know what that is) while my host-brother was working on the head of the cow to extract all the good bits. I’m going to post a video of this below, but it’s really dark and not all that good. Our dining room has very little light in there once the sun goes down. But, you’ll get the point. Nothing too gross.

The Head and my host-brother with The Head


Wednesday I also did my three hours of hand washing clothes. That was after being at school all day and going back to teach my night class. The cow helped me regain my strength though.

Thursday there was a concert at my school. It was some kind of Azeri historical holiday and the kids read a bunch of prewritten proverbs and information, sang some songs, did a few dances and in general put on a long drawn out program. I didn’t take any pictures because my view was obstructed by a flower arrangement. It wasn’t that exciting anyway. After the show, all the teachers stuck around and had a small dinner. After that the male teachers stuck around and we all had a big vodka fest. It was fun and we all had a good time once the kids were gone. I didn’t drink all that much because I knew I had to walk home afterwards on our less than even road. But, even so one of the teachers insisted on walking me home. It was funny because the whole way we have our arms locked together and I’m holding him up all the way down the hill to my house.

All my teachers say hello by the way


Friday was even better because when I got to school every male teacher except one was obviously hung over. I wasn’t that bad at all because I’m sure I was the only one that stopped drinking once I got home. After school and my Azeri language lesson I walked down to the next town and met another volunteer so we could try out the new café in town. Again, nothing too exciting. But, we did each get a free piece of cake for being American and stopping by. I doubt that’s going to be my deciding factor as to whether I go back or not though.

Anyway, that’s all for this post. Just thought I would catch you up and let you know that the next time you’re in the market for a good meal, don’t forget the cow. Cow; the other brown meat.

Peace!

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Interesting Week

So this past week was quite eventful. There was just a lot going on which is strange for Muganlo. I posted a video earlier so if you want to see that it should be the post right below this one. Not that the video has anything to do with this week, but I did finally get around to doing that.
Most of the week was rainy and cold, but we did have a few days of sun. It didn’t get far above 50 degrees all week and for the most part school was freezing cold. They say that they are going to bring in our wood burning heaters soon, so we’ll see how good of a job they do and how bad the school will smell of smoke as soon as they do.
Anyway, here is a breakdown of this past week:

MONDAY: Had a decent day a school with no major problems other than one teacher throwing a hissy fit about something in front of all the teachers during one of our breaks. I came home, did some lesson planning and then went back to school to teach my afternoon class to the people in the community. Only problem was the school was locked because the old lady that keeps the keys forgot about my class and neglected to show up and unlock the school. So, my students and I decided to call it a day since it was cold and raining and we didn’t feel like trying to go find her. Not a big deal, we’ll just pick up next week. I went home to find my host dad and little brother picking the last of our grapes and moving them to the garage. After I put down my things I decided to help them and we spent the next few hours smashing grapes and putting the juice into big bottles and moving them to the basement. We didn’t have one of the grape smashers, so my little host brother had to do all the work by climbing into a barrel and squashing them with his new pair of boots. It was a lamb dinner then off to bed. Not too eventful of an evening.

TUESDAY: All went well at school despite a major leak in my 8th grade classroom until I got to my 9th grade class. I only have 2 students that care about learning at all in that group so when I try to help them all I ask of the other students is to just not get in the way. This was too much to ask on Tuesday. One of the hooligans in the back decided that this was a good day to eat sunflower seeds in class and at one point tried to throw one and hit the one boy in the class that I was teaching. He missed and hit me square in the chest with it. I was pissed. So, I left the room and returned with the director and the vice director and told them what had happened. They were equally pissed about it and made the students spend the rest of the class cleaning the room. I was not about to waste any more time with them that day anyway. After a chat with the director about possible solutions I went home, changed clothes and started my hour walk to the next town for my weekly Georgian lesson. At about 3:30 I was done and walked the hour back home just in time to meet my middle host brother, have some tea and head off to our cousin’s wedding. The wedding lasted from about 5:30 till 1 a.m. There were at least 300 people there and we were all crowed under this leaky tent that was only doing a somewhat decent job of keeping us dry. The wedding was fun though and there was a lot of dancing, music, wine and like any good Azeri wedding some fighting at the end.

WEDNESDAY: My Peace Corps regional manager and one of the other PC directors came to my school for their annual site visit. I was running on about 5 hours of sleep and only a small hangover but all went well with that. My 5th graders put on a good lesson for them and my director said nothing but good things about me. I didn’t think he would have anything negative to say, but it was still nice to hear it. The one thing that I took out of it was he said, “The level of enthusiasm for learning English has dramatically increased since Andrew has arrived.” That was cool. At least I know I’m making some progress. After school I went home had some lunch and then back to school for my 4:30 English class with the community. Luckily after my talk with the old woman on Tuesday the school was open and I didn’t have any problems. Again I got home afterwards just in time to hitch a ride to wedding night two. Azeri weddings are a two night affair. The first night is at the girl’s home and the second night is at the guy’s home. The second night was cooler since we had better covering from the rain and cold and there weren’t quite as many people there. Same amount of wine though. Also on the second night my host uncle made this really long toast to me in front of everyone and then I had to make a response toast thanking everyone. It was really cool and after that I truly felt welcomed by everyone. People know me, but it’s nice to know that people not only know me but accept me as part of the community now. Night two ended for me around midnight even though I’m sure it went on long after I slipped out and crawled into bed.

THURSDAY: The rain stopped. But the power went out sometime during the night and was out all day. School was ok and I didn’t have any issues from my 9th grade class which was nice for a change. (By the way, the power being out has no effect on school since our lights don’t work anyway.) I ate lunch afterwards and then went back for my after school class, this time with the kids from school who actually have motivation to spend an extra hour once a week to learn some new vocabulary and grammar. After class I went home and spent the afternoon reading while there was still some light out. About an hour into reading my host sister-in-law calls me down stairs yelling something about my cat. (Let me explain, this little kitten showed up at our house the day after I got here and I more or less adopted it since people here don’t really care about pets. Me and him were friends and I fed him and made sure he had water everyday. And, everyday after dinner he would curl up in my lap while I drank tea and fall asleep.) You’ll note all that was in the past tense because on Thursday afternoon the little guy tried to run in the house after my host sister-in-law and she accidentally slammed our steel door on his neck. So when I got downstairs he was still alive but in very bad shape and unable to breathe. I had to (now for the second time in my life with a cat) put him out of his misery. It was really sad, but I picked a good spot in our garden and buried him.

R.I.P. Little Buddy!


FRIDAY: Raining again but the power was back on. Friday is an easy day at school and I was glad to be out of there once my classes were over. I came home to find my dog curled up under the porch in a large bucket of walnuts. For some reason that made me laugh. I relaxed for most of the afternoon and when my host dad got home we did some random projects and then ate dinner. After dinner he killed me in chess 3 games in a row and then I watched a movie and went to bed.


SATURDAY: Got up, messed around the house and then walked down to the next town, caught a ride and went to another town about 25 minutes away to meet some other volunteers for lunch and general sitting around shooting the shit. After a few hours I went back to Tokhliauri to visit my old host family for a Georgian supra. It was a celebration for the first birthday of the little baby that lived there with me during the summer. It was a good party and there was a ton of food. (None of it was lamb by the way) I had a good time seeing some of the people I met over the summer and there were some people I had not met before who were very entertaining. Georgians however make the longest toasts and sometimes you just get bored waiting on them to finish. This supra was no exception and in some cases worse because the guy who was our Tamada (toast master) was a history teacher and every toast ended up being at least 10 minutes. I’m not lying I got up and left at one point when I saw that he was about to make a toast and went to the bathroom, washed my hands, had a smoke and then went back in. He was still talking! But, it was a fun night and I had a good time seeing my old host family and eating some better food.

SUNDAY: Got up and ate a huge breakfast with the family and then came back to Muganlo. Helped my host dad cut up some apples, ate lunch and then took a nap. It’s not raining but it’s cold and cloudy. I’m sure the rain will start back up sometime during the night. After my nap I went downstairs and sat with the family and played another game of chess with my host dad. He made me bet on the game that the loser would drink a horn of wine. (A horn of wine is just what it sounds like. A large horn hollowed out and filled with wine). I lost. I’m getting better, but it kills me because he talks trash while playing and I know he’s way better than me. I think it was Tuesday that he told me he was our region’s champion chess player for four years in a row. Anyway, I’m 1 win and 10 losses against him at this point. We’ll see how next week goes.

Hope all is well with all of you. I’m going to call it a night and hope that this next week is somewhat less eventful. Peace!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

MTV Episode 1

So I'm trying to type up a long post to get everyone up to date on what going on, but due to a few power outages this week I was unable to get that done. I'm off to see my old host family today for a Georgian supra and I should be back tomorrow sometime during the afternoon. I'll try to get the post up then. It's been a crazy week so there is a lot to write about. In the mean time, enjoy the first episode of MTV...

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Top 5

Top 5 weirdest things I’ve seen this week...

#5 Refried sheep’s liver.
#4 Turkeys having sex while being chased by a dog.
#3 A dog being chased off the second floor of the school only to be allowed to hang out on the first floor for the rest of the day.
#2 School ending 2 hours early just because the Director wasn’t there.
#1 A Rudy Giuliani bumper sticker on the back of a Lada.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The weekend that was…

So let me start off with how this weekend was supposed to go. I was supposed to teach my regular classes on Friday, go home, change clothes and then head off to another town for two other volunteer’s birthday party. Saturday all of the volunteers were supposed to go meet up in Tbilisi for one of the city’s largest annual celebrations. Then on Sunday I was supposed to come home and get ready for another week of classes. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong!

About midway through classes on Friday my counterpart teacher told me she was tired and going home, so I would have to teach the remaining two classes of 5th graders by myself. Thanks. So after those two adventures and an Azeri lesson I went to meet with my director about an upcoming site visit from the Peace Corps. After five minutes though all we had decided was that I would leave for my weekend late because I just had to attend a party with him first. Then we heard a loud ruckus from the school yard that should have been quiet since 6th period had started about ten minutes earlier. We rushed downstairs to find our poor PE teacher trying to break up a 45 student brawl involving most of the boys from the 9th to 12th grades. So my director and I did the best we could to help him but the fight went on for about 20-25 minutes before we were able to clam everyone down and send them on their way home. Needless to say going back to class was out of the question at that point. After that I also went home, changed clothes, packed and met my director on the road and got a ride down to his party.

I did manage to make it to the Tbilisi bus station by 5pm in time to meet two other volunteers who were also going for the birthday festivities. We arrived a little before seven and joined the party that would turn out to be the highlight of this weekend. It was full of good times and non-Georgian food thanks to our volunteer host who must have worked his ass off to make all that stuff. This is also the point however where the weekend started to take a turn for the worse.

Rather than crashing there a small group of us decided to go back across town to stay at the other volunteer’s home where we had originally decided to stay. But, once we got there I had problems. The stairwell was dark and I decided that it would be a better idea to eat the stairs rather than try to climb them. Now I’d be lying if I said alcohol wasn’t involved here, but I’d also like to point out that those stairs were really dark and uneven. My stair snack knocked me out and the next thing I remember it was Saturday morning; I was lying on a floor and had a huge bandage on my right eye.

A few of the other volunteers helped me piece together what happened after my head hit the stairs and let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camper. I don’t remember a bit of it though. Still don’t. So, I called our wonderful PC doctor and told her I was coming in and needed to have some head injuries looked at. We arrived at the office around noon or so and she was none to pleased with what she saw on my face and was concerned even more about a large lump on the back of my head not to mention a scraped elbow, banged shoulder and a bruise on a rib. (All on the right side).

After she cleaned me up a bit, we were off to the hospital for a CT scan and some stitches. The doctor was upset that I had waited nearly 12 hours to get to the hospital but I thought I was doing damned good to be there at all at that point. He gave me some local anesthetic and put two stitches over my right eye and then took me to get my scan. No major damage there only what could be called a mild concussion. All good news. Nothing major with my rib either, just some soreness and that was it.

So at this point it was around 4pm and I was ready to call it a weekend and go home. But the doctor made me stay at a hotel for Saturday and Sunday nights so she could take a look at me on Monday morning. She also wanted me to get some rest and stay off my feet for a few days because of the head trauma. No big deal I guess. I did get to eat some good food while I was there including: pizza, Chinese food, McDonald’s (ok, not great food, but not lamb anyway) and I had some good pasta dish too. So it wasn’t a total let down of having to be bored out of my mind for two days. At least I still had a mind after the fall.

Monday all went well with my exam. I’ll have a small scar but nothing major and most of the swelling has gone down. The other doctor told me it wasn’t that bad and “Every man should at least have one scar in his life.” Thanks for the uplifting words Doc. I’m still just a little sore, but nothing too bad. I have to go back on Friday to have the stitches taken out and make sure all is well on the other fronts. I’m sure it’ll work out.

So, what did I learn from this weekend? If you’re somewhere and you’re not 100% sure you can make it some place else; stay there. I learned it is never a good idea to try and take in more than one Georgian party in a day. I learned that while I may have a really high tolerance for alcohol, I don’t need to try and test that limit to try an find its end. And, I learned that while I may have thought I was over my youthful stupidity, sometimes it comes back to bite me in the… well face in this case.

Sorry if this post seems like I’ve lost my mind, but trust me I’ve got a reminder for the next time I have some dumb idea. It’s called a mirror. Hope all is well with everybody out there and avoid the stairs!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Song I'm lovin' right now

Guaranteed
By: Eddie Vedder
On bended knee is no way to be free
Lifting up an empty cup, I ask silently
All my destinations will accept the one that's me
So I can breathe...
Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
Half their lives they say goodnight to wives they'll never know
A mind full of questions, and a teacher in my soul
And so it goes...
Don't come closer or I'll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you...
Everyone I come across, in cages they bought
They think of me and my wandering, but I'm never what they thought
I've got my indignation, but I'm pure in all my thoughts
I'm alive...
Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
Underneath my being is a road that disappeared
Late at night I hear the trees, they're singing with the dead
Overhead...
Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite, forever orbiting
I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me
Guaranteed

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All I wanted was a bagel and cream cheese…

So the day after harvest was Sunday. I knew that we would be going to the bazaar early on Sunday morning and it has become my job to help my host-father move any products that we need to buy for the week. So at about 9am we went to the bazaar and all we needed this week was some chicken feed. Only a 75 pound bag, so not too bad. But as we were going to the bazaar, he told me that we would have a ‘special’ breakfast waiting for us on our return.

When we got back, I found our breakfast to be Xhash. (That’s pronounced: hack a loogie sound, then –ash.) It’s a traditional dish of all the Caucus people meaning Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya. When all I wanted was some coffee and my bread and honey I got Xhash. Xhash is cow’s feet and stomach boiled down into a milky substance served with garlic, lots of salt and bread. I was told that Xhash is only served with the traditional garlic and lavash (bread) and at least three shots of vodka. I made the mistake of asking after the first shot of vodka what Xhash really was. I should know by now to eat first, ask questions later. I also realized after the fifth shot of vodka why vodka is served with this meal; because it can only be enjoyed if you’re drunk. Wow. After all my travels, this has to rank right up there with sheep’s eyes as one of the nastiest things I’ve ever eaten. So, at this point I looked up at the clock and realized that it was only 10:30 in the morning and I was already full on cow’s stomach and feet and half drunk with laundry still to do today as well as adding the home grapes to our harvest from yesterday.


Good morning Muganlo! I’m full on feet and stomach, half drunk and ready to tackle the day. Hope you’re Sunday brunch was better than mine! No mimosas here, just feet, stomach and vodka.

Sagol! (That’s Cheers in Azeri).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vintage Part 2

There are a few things I hate to hear at 8am on a Saturday. One of them is, “Hey, hey wake up hurry hurry we go!” Now I’ve never been a morning person and waking me up early on a Saturday after a crazy week to commands to hurry is not a good way to get a positive response. However, I knew that it was going to be my job to help my host-father go collect grapes today, so up and out I went despite the fact that he had told me the night before we wouldn’t be leaving till 9.

Here we don’t have a vineyard, but rather my family goes to the next district, famous for its grapes, and buys grapes to bring home and make wine. After about a 45 minute drive we got to this vineyard to find three women collecting grapes in buckets and one old man who is a friend of my host-father. So while my host-father and the old man chatted about whatever it is that they chat about, I hauled buckets full of grapes down the rows back to the truck, put them in these large bags and then returned with the empty buckets to the women. This process was repeated for about three and a half hours. Once we had what my host-father considered “enough” the old man brought out a scale. About this time four other guys showed up and all six of them began debating over the scale’s accuracy. Debate finished we weighed the grapes and put them in the back of the truck. All said I moved 825 pounds of grapes this morning. And boy are my arms tired… Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

After the truck was loaded the women prepared some lunch while all seven of us men stood around and talked about a whole lot of nothing. Once we were called over to the large plastic sheet that was laid out for us to eat on we all squatted on empty buckets and tore into some bread and tomatoes. Wine was poured and toasts were said. Then one of the old women came over with this huge bowl of chicken and one of the guys reached up and took it from her. She stared yelling at him in Georgian telling him that I had done the most work that day and therefore deserved to eat first. This sort of made me laugh a little but the guy was visibly embarrassed and immediately handed me the bowl. I wasn’t even all that hungry, but took a few small pieces, plopped them into my little bowl and then passed the dish on. Over lunch all the guys started in on the usual line of question for a foreign guest and between the 7 of us we took down a 2-liter bottle of wine with no problem.

Another 45 minute drive home and then we set up the grinding machine. I was unaware that it would also be my job to grind up and smash all 825 pounds as well. My host-brother was in charge of emptying the bags and then dumping the buckets into the top of the grinder. This whole process only took about an hour but by the end of it I felt like my right arm was about to fall off. The machine was set up in such a way that using my left arm was impossible. I was amazed at how little 825 pounds of grapes becomes after you squish them down. Kind of disappointing. After this we started clipping all the grapes that are growing at our house and I assume that we’ll add those in tomorrow since right now they are all just sitting in these large bowls. Maybe not though, maybe we’ll just eat those.

The rest of the day was basically spent laying around and eating grapes. I feel nasty as hell though right now after sweating for most of the day and bath night is still a good 24 hours away. And, if you’re ready for this, we didn’t have our normal mid-week bath night this week thanks to my host mom using up all the hot water doing laundry for the army that lives here. But was my laundry part of that… Noooo. I have to do mine tomorrow when the hot water gets turned back on. But, at least I’ll have clean clothes and a clean me.

Other than this one exhausting Saturday, there is not much else going on here. Only one piece of the ceiling fell at school this week and I took my first kid to the principles office. It worked well, when I returned to the class it was full of angles and all was quite. That lasted till the next day. My school is chaos from 9am to 4pm every day. I have no way of really describing it.

This week though I do start my full schedule. I’m starting my English classes for the community which I printed up flyers for and hung on all the shops in town (4). I’m doing a beginner’s class on Monday nights and an Intermediate class on Wednesday nights. This is in addition to the Georgian lessons that I take on Tuesdays and my Azeri lessons on Fridays both of which I started this past week. So in spite of all the craziness at my school, there might actually be some learning going on in Muganlo. We’ll see…

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vintage; I’m not just talking about the clothes

So this past weekend was vintage in Tokhliauri. I went to visit with my host family from training on Friday night and prepared to take part in the harvesting of the grapes on Saturday. They had a thousand questions about my site and new village and family. They were so currious as to what I had been up to since I left them a little over a month ago.
I was also surprised to learn that the commercial harvest had happened two weeks ago and over 90% of the grapes had already been picked and sent to the factory for wine production. The only grapes that were left were for their home production which was fine with me since that meant that it would just be me and the family there picking grapes rather than an army of people combing the vineyard.


The vineyard itself is in a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and the leaves were turning thanks to some cold weather last week. We only had to harvest from about 2 acres of the 10 acre vineyard which back during the communist period was one large 1000 acre vineyard. We got out there at about 11am and started picking. It was really warm which was a nice change from last week, but I quickly realized that you can work up a huge sweat bending, clipping and hauling buckets of grapes up and down rows to the large boxes they are transported in.
First you had to find the grapes that my host mother wanted to be picked for her own home wine production.
Then you had to clip them off the tangled vines and put them into buckets. We were picking both Cabernet and Chard grapes.
This is a picture of me in the process...
Then you had to haul these buckets down rows that were 200-300 yards long and put them into giant boxes that could hold 30-40 buckets worth of grapes.

Once the grapes made it into all the boxes, a tractor came and delivered them to our house back in Tokhliauri. We were done for the day however and had a huge lunch and some red wine to go with it. I was tired as I could be and after our lunch took a 2 hour nap. When I woke up the tractor had delivered the wine and I spent the evening relaxing and visiting with my host-fmaily. The next morning my host-sisters loaded buckets of grapes from the boxes and it was my job to haul them across the courtyard to this devise that was maned my my host-mom who was squashing them and letting them fall into the barrels for storage. She was also in charge of quality control sonce some of the grapes were only good for eating and she didnt want them falling into her wine. This caused more than a few visits to my host-sisters with instructions shouted out and my host-mom lending a hand in the bucket packing.

Overall it was a great weekend that was both fun and a lot of work. I was glad I had the chance to go and to see how this age old process is done. Georgia had some of the oldest grape vines in the world, so it was cool to be there in the middle of vineyards that have produced grpaes for thousands of years and will continue to do so for a long long time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Culture is weird

So I’m through two weeks of school now and all is still as good as it can be. My 9th grade class is horrible. A full 50% of them don’t even know the alphabet. So, I decided to have a talk with my director and we decided to abandon the text book and just try to get them to learn something. I started with the question words and moved on to ‘If/Then’ clauses by Friday. If that works out, then we’ll see if I can move on from there or go farther back and start at “This is a book.”

Anyway, school was not the most interesting thing that happened this past week. On Saturday, my two older host brothers and one of their friends over lunch tell me that I’m to accompany them after lunch for a bride napping. I was hesitant at this proposal because that’s not exactly how I had planned on spending my Saturday afternoon. But, when in Rome… I was just hopping that I wouldn’t actually have to take part in this strange cultural tradition.

After lunch all four of us got in the car and headed for the next village over where I was told that the boy and girl were on their way. Much to my relief there were other cars from Muganlo there with us to help “greet” the new couple and help usher them back to their new home. Also this meant that the napping had already taken place and that we were just going to a welcoming party at the groom’s place. While we were waiting, it gave me plenty of time to ask all the questions I should have asked before agreeing to go on such a trip.

In the old days (I’m still not clear on when the old days were but I’m thinking it couldn’t have been more than 20 years ago) people would actually go to homes and kidnap girls and take them off for a few days and force them to marry some boy. This was generally prompted by the village elders and wasn’t very pleasant for the girl or her family. Now however the kidnapping is more ceremonial (most of the time). Basically a guy will see a girl he likes and then test the waters by talking to either her brothers or uncles. If her family is in agreement, then he and a brother or cousin will go and kidnap her one afternoon and take her away to another relative’s home for a few days in another town. The girl is given time to pack a bag sometimes or someone will bring her things later. (I’m not exactly clear on that part, but it’s not important, she gets her stuff somehow). The point is the girl is happy about it and goes and sits in the car herself; she’s not forced.

Anyway, this is where I entered the process. We’re all in these cars and when they come around the corner, we all start honking horns and flashing lights and get in line behind the bride and groom and follow them to his parents’ house. Everyone from the village comes out of their homes to wave and greet the new couple. Once we got there, the bride is greeted by her new family and the groom’s friends. It was only at this point that I realized that I actually knew the guy and the girl is one of my neighbors that I met once. She seemed fairly happy about the whole situation, so I felt certain that this had all been arranged before the actual kidnapping. We all had a big party with lots of food, wine, music and dancing; men and women at different tables on opposite ends of the courtyard of course. This is also where I discovered the significance of all his male friends being there. In the old days they would be there in case the girl’s family tried to come and take her back. I was glad to see that no such party arrived and we weren’t forced to defend what “we” had taken.

I had a chance during the meal to question the groom as to when the wedding would be and he said it won’t take place till her father returns from Moscow in three months. So this party was more or less an engagement party of sorts and the actual wedding won’t be until sometime this winter. Whether she returns to her house or stays with his family I’m not too sure of either yet. And whether the father is at all happy about this I also have no idea. My bet is, he’s aware and has no problem with it.

Anyway, the whole process is very strange to me because there are these happy bride napping occasions and there are still some forced bride napping incidents that take place. But, from what I’ve gathered those are fewer and fewer at least here in Muganlo. This is also one of the cultural ticks that worries me because to the people here it’s just everyday life. My host-brother told me, “Yeah, you see a girl you like, we’ll go get her for you.” I told him I’d take a pass on that one. Since these girls are pretty much locked up at home after age 15, how do these people even know who it is that they’re going to get? They just go purely on what she looks like and her family’s status. Family status is also important. A well off family would never let their daughter be taken by a family with an extremely lower status. But the fact that if someone wants to forcibly take a girl and cart her off for a few days while the families negotiate the marriage is just strange. And, worse it’s not frowned upon. My host-brother was serious and genuine in his offer to me. He even said he has taken part in more than a few including snagging a girl for my cousin that lives in Baku. “Yeah, I was driving the car!” Ahhh Muganlo.

But then on a sadder note, on Tuesday while I was off in another city at a PC meeting when during a class break one of my 11th grade students was bride napped by the brother of my host sister-in-law. This was not one of those happy ones either. Apparently, the negotiations that precede a happy napping did not go in his favor. He was told by the girl’s parents that he would have to wait till she graduated next year. But, even without his own parent’s permission he went ahead and forced this girl into his car and took her off. I don’t know the status beyond that but even his family is helping the police to try and locate the two of them.

The only other news worth reporting is that my two dogs ran away this past week. Nobody even noticed until I brought it to their attention. At that point my host-father and two of my host-brothers looked for them in the yard for about five minutes before deciding that yes in fact they had run away. Now in America if your dog runs away you’d show some kind of remorse or sorrow at their loss. Not here. My host-father said in a very calm dismissive voice, “Eh. They were old dogs. We’ll get new ones. Let’s go eat.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Star Date: School Begins

Well the last week of waiting finally came to an end and school has begun. But before we get there let me catch you up on all the goings on in Muganlo. (By the way I’ve also seen my village spelled Mughanlo, but I’ll stick with the non British version without the H).

I had family in this past week which meant there were 13 people here instead of the normal 8. Two of them have gone back so we’re back down to 11 and I’m thinking that’s going to last for at least a month or so. My host dad was happy to have some people his own age to play with so needless to say the wine raneth over. I avoided a few days at home by making a trip to Tbilisi on Tuesday to get my residency card and then to Bolnisi on Wednesday to visit two other volunteers who live there for the day.
Bolnisi was nice and I wanted to slap one of the volunteers when she showed me her school with its hardwood floors, air-conditioning, 40 computers, actual desks and chairs and clean white walls. The other volunteer is a business volunteer and had some high speed Internet at his office that I used to check the baseball standings. We had a good day just walking around and looking at the town. They have a couple of nice parks there, some cafés, stores and we all had a good laugh while playing on the swings. I couldn’t remember the last time I was actually on a swing set and it made me wonder how I survived elementary school because back then we would get those things as high as we could and then jump out. No way was I willing to try my luck again as an adult, but I had good fun.

I did talk to some people this week and found out that it may be worth my while to drop a little money and get better Internet access. There is a card here now that you can get and it is way faster than the 10 minute load time that you get with my family’s Internet. I’m thinking I’m going to go get it after the first of October. Those who have it have said it’s awesome and they are even able to Skype with it. Too bad I didn’t bring my web cam or else I could get on some video calls with some of you. But, if I do get this at least I can upload some videos and let you guys see what goes on over here.

Speaking of which, I did watch my first full pen to the table sheep slaughter this past Saturday. Wow. I’ll keep the descriptions to myself on that one. But, I may just have to video it and post it up because you really should see how this goes down. Sunday I relaxed and did some laundry (hand-washed), read some, and took a walk. Nothing too exciting.

Also I did make it all the way through Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. (So Patrick I hope you’re reading this) It was a good book; I only wish that I spoke some French so that portions of the dialogue would have made more sense. In fact I wish I’d had that high speed Internet because there is a lot of information in the book that would have made more since with a quick Google search. Lots of history, a little mystery and a great plot. I really enjoyed it.

The Start of School…
Day One: So school did begin on Monday. There was a lot of fanfare and not a lot of work accomplished. I got there a little before 9 and the opening ceremony started around 9:30. There was a speech from the director, some certificates handed out to top students from the previous year and the raising of the flag. I was introduced to the student body during one of the speeches and thankfully didn’t have to make a speech myself like I did in KZ.
After that all the students rushed the door and went to their classes. Why, I have no idea because there were no lessons that day just “homeroom” teachers deciding who had actually shown up and figuring out which students were going to be in which classes. This was helpful I guess to our vice-director who was still making out the class schedule for all the teachers. By the time I left on Monday she was through Wednesday and half of Thursday’s schedule.

Day Two: I observed 5 lessons and decided that I have not been assigned to a school but rather a prison with an education program. The students couldn’t care less about the lessons and teachers struggle to be heard much less actually teach. Students will just talk, curse at one another, beat on each other, get up and walk around or just simply stare off into space while waiting on their next opportunity to disrupt the lesson. During one of the 7th grade classes these two boys never shut up. One of them received a slap across the head on two separate occasions from the teacher for his efforts. It didn’t phase him any. So, towards the end I just stopped the “lesson” (since not a single thing had been accomplished) and said I would pay the two boys $10 each if together they could write on the board 10 words in English. They came up with three. Dog, boy and gel. Gel was supposed to be girl, but I gave them credit. They also had bok, which I guessed was book, but decided not to try and explain it. This wasn’t even the worst group, but depressing none the less. I did watch two 5th grade groups and have pretty much decided that there is where I’ll start since they can at least be entertained and might be able to learn something.
Note: During only one of my five classes did a piece of the ceiling fall and crash to the floor. It wasn’t even a big piece, and I felt better knowing that only 20% of the time that might happen.
My thoughts after the first day of lessons was: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. These kids are forced to sit in the middle of the lake but they would assume die of thirst rather than take a drop.

Day Three: I only observed three classes on Wednesday because the rest were repeats from the day before and I’d seen enough of them to know which groups are going to be worth the effort and which are not. I did observe both the 9th grade groups and one from the 8th grade. The 8th grade group was ok, but only 4 of the 15 total students seemed at all interested in the lesson and their classroom has some major potential for ceiling failure and mold issues. They were also only able to form one correct sentence the whole time and that was, “I drown kittens.” I’m not sure they understood it, but I had to respond with, “That is correct.” (Maybe some of them do drown kittens, who knows?)
The two 9th grade groups were better than expected, but there are still 4 or 5 students in each of those groups who are just a total disruption. In the second group two boys received slaps across the head for the efforts. Again to no effect because they went right back to doing nothing and just talking across the room. I’m just afraid that the material for the 9th grade is just way to over their heads. The first page of their book is asking them to explain compulsory education and the differences between primary and secondary education. Some of them can’t say their names. There are a few in each group that do seem interested though and both the 9th grade groups speak some Russian, so it was easier to explain things to them.

I’d pretty much decided by the end of Wednesday which groups I’m going to work with. I have to teach 15-17 classes a week, so I need to fill that many hours. I figure all three of the 5th grade groups are worth it because they are just starting and can be entertained, somewhat controlled and there isn’t any “catch-up” work to do. That’s 9 hours during the week. Then I figure both the 9th grade groups are a good challenge despite the major discipline issues because there are students in both of those groups that actually want to learn. Maybe only 25% of them want to learn, but hey better than the 7th grade monsters. So that’s 8 hours with the 9th grade for 17 total hours. My math is better than theirs since on Wednesday I saw 7+8=11 carved into the back of one of the chairs in front of me. Really?
So with those 17 hours and my 2 English classes I’m running for the community each week I should have a full plate. Then there are the Azeri and Georgian lessons I have to attend each week starting in October.

Day Four: Not much more to report. I’ve seen it, now I have to figure out how to work with it. I made out may schedule for this year and I made a change from yesterday and will drop one of the 9th grade groups and teach and 8th grade group instead. My 5th graders are funny and they should be more than entertaining throughout the year. For example today they came up with the word chable; that being a combination of chair and table. It’s all repetition with them right now. This is a chair. This is a table. This is a desk. This is a window. This is a door. Try repeating those five sentences over and over for 45 minutes. It gets old and you’re shocked when you get to the last student and he still can’t get it. I felt like yelling “You just heard it from 20 other people and me for the past half hour! How can you not get the first one?” But, my patience is still with me at this point. Only difficulty from today was the fact that it was only about 55 degrees here today and the absence of windows in more than a few areas made it rather chilly and damp in the school.

Day Five: TGIF! I hate that phrase, but it seems appropriate for this first week of what seemed like a crash course in the education system here. Today I only went to one 9th grade class and one 5th grade class and helped out with the 5th graders and their introduction to the letters A-H. Their book had the 1 little 2 little 3 little Indians song in there and I can tell you it’s twice as entertaining in their accent. I got them through 1-10 but when I did the counting backwards 10-1 it was a little much. We’ll start from there on Monday.

Well that’s it. That was my first week of school in Muganlo. I have a huge challenge in front of me, but if I can keep my sanity, then I might just make it through and I might just be able to teach them something.

Peace!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A debate worth writing about

So the other night I was over at the men’s hangout where every night a few village elders, including my host-dad, get together drink wine and tea and talk about whatever. I normally don’t go since most of the time they speak Azeri and I end up just sitting there. But, when I do go they sometimes include me by speaking Russian and asking me a bunch of questions like how much a BMW costs in America and whether or not I like Georgia. This gets old after a while and I find a reason to excuse myself and go home.

But the other night for some reason they decided to have an actual debate with me about the state of the world and America’s involvement in that state. I was with three old Soviets and one guy who’s about 30. Two of the older men and the younger guy are Muslim; the other older guy is Orthodox Christian but not practicing. We’d probably call him Agnostic in the States. And then you have me a Christian which they quickly established on our first meeting a few weeks ago. These aren’t your Arab Muslims these are Muslims who lived under Soviet rule and aren’t that interested in practicing so much as believing. You kind of need to know this information so you can understand where these guys are coming from.

Now, you’ll have to bear with me here because I actually don’t remember how it all got started, but I do remember at one point one of them asking me why we ‘Americans’ stole all the land from the Indians in our drive to the west. I told him I wasn’t really up on the policies of Andrew Jackson, but that it was indeed something we all weren’t that proud of, it just happened through the course of our expansion as a nation. Because my Russian is good but not the best, I simply closed my argument with, “It’s all about the money, only money.” That’s where it all really got started and I opened a door to an hour long debate.

“So that’s why you guys are in Iraq right?” one of them asked me immediately.
You all know my stance on the war and how much I would agree with that statement, so I responded “Well yeah. We’re not fighting terrorism; we’re fighting for control of oil supplies.”
This drew silence from the crowed since I guess they expected me to defend the policies of America to them.
“So that’s Democracy then?” another old Soviet asked me.
“No. That’s Capitalism.” I responded.
Again silence. I was having some fun with this because they did not expect me to agree with their views so quickly. “Look, America is run by corporations and a few small groups of people that have enough money to influence the government. The people of America do the best they can to keep their heads above water. Most of them are hard working and good people, it’s not the people’s fault that the government it faulty. I think you could all agree with that right? You all believed in your system before it collapsed and you didn’t blame the people, you blamed the leaders who mismanaged the system right?” I tried to make some comparison here between America’s Capitalistic drive and a subject I knew would strike a cord with them.
“No!” the agnostic Soviet said with a pound of his fist on the table. “Socialism works and we all had jobs, we all had homes, we all had a good life. If you weren’t working then, a man would come to your home and ask you why. He would then find you work. Everyone was busy and everyone helped out their neighbors. Do you in America help your neighbors if they are in need? Do you stop each other on the street and ask about your days? No. Socialism is a system that works.”
“Socialism sure.” I responded, “But what about Communism? Was that not the mismanagement of your Socialist system and way of life?”

I don’t think he ever really answered my question but he did go on to tell a good story about he and one of Stalin’s brothers growing up together. It really was a good story and believable since Stalin is from a city only a few hours away from here and none of the other men seemed to contradict him. This went on for some time with other side stories about the ‘glory days’ of the old system. At one point one of them demonstrated the draw backs of the American ‘capitalistic’ loan to Georgia because the president here just used the money to pay the army and police instead of giving any of it to the people and social programs. I don’t know enough about that to make an argument, so I simply told him that was the president’s business and ‘we’ only gave what we could because it was asked of us.

A long pause for a long toast and more wine to be brought. I won’t bore you with the details of the next debate we entered into; I’ll simply list its conclusions:
One, there will never be world peace because there is no money in peace. “Pure” Capitalists will never allow it to happen and the common interests of people around the world will never be able to be agreed upon.
Two, there are only two ways to achieve world peace. The first is through a one world Socialist government. (I didn’t agree with this point, based on the previous conclusion that the world population’s interest would never match up, but let it go as a theoretical argument.) The second way is if there was one religion in the world. We all had a good laugh at this since between the five of us there were three very different religions represented. Thankfully the religious debate did not continue very far and we all agreed that talking about it would get us nowhere.

After that there were only a few points of interest and I won’t go into them here. Overall though it was a slightly entertaining evening and I was actually quite impressed with my Russian. I need to work on a little vocabulary though because at times I had to over simplify my arguments to get my point across.
Any American that has spent some time with some former Soviets who truly believed in their system has had a debate similar to this one and I’m sure this won’t be my last. I just enjoy them because it’s different than the normal BMW pricing and how much do tomatoes cost in America conversations.

Yep that’s what I’m up to over here in my free time. Yapping away with a bunch of old guys passing the time waiting for school to start.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wine and Whining

Ok there really isn’t that much whining that’s going to take place, but I thought it was a catchy title. Camp is over and I figured I’d type up a post about what I learned and how everything went. Overall I thought the camp went well. I had a lot of activities planed and I’m glad I over planed because some of them were a failure. Not because the activity was bad but because my student’s English was worse than I expected.

Let me set a little stage for you here first before I go into the details. There are three English teachers at my school that I’ll be working with. The one that has the most hours is the main teacher followed by an Azeri lady who teaches the students that speak no Georgian and a third who only teaches four classes a week but teaches in the next town over as well. The students are mainly taught by the first teacher who, at least in my interactions with her, seems less than interested in teaching and knows little to no English. And, her students were the ones that showed up to my camp. The other two teachers were there to help translate but where was the main teacher? When we called her on the second morning she said she didn’t know the camp was taking place. If that were the case then neither of the other teachers would have been there either since all four of us were together when I explained when the camp would take place, where and what we would be doing. She did make an appearance on the last day but was less than helpful.

Never mind that right now, I’m sure there will be more blogs to come about her and her English teaching. My problem was that I had a room of about 30 kinds (a better turnout than I expected) from the ages of 12 to 15 who didn’t know how to construct the sentence ‘My name is ___, his/her name is ___.’ Needless to say grammar bingo was out of the question. I ended up spending the first two days feeding them sentences to learn and trying to pull some form of creativity out of them. I did get more than a few games to work but explanations took forever and anything that required them to actually read or write something was out of the question. Dialogs didn’t work and it seemed like I spent more time explaining simple grammar points and forcing vocabulary on them than anything. I’m not kidding either. The concept of him vs. her and he vs. she or his vs. hers was mind blowing to them. Now I’m no language master by any means, but if I’d been studying anywhere from 4 to 7 years, I think I would have gotten at least that much down. That doesn’t matter right now though. I’ll start working on those concepts with them once we get to actual classes. What matters is the kids had fun, they got to know me a little bit and they somewhat seemed enthusiastic about being there. Again, that could change once we get to textbook learning.

Classroom management was my other major obstacle with them. The concept of be quiet for two seconds so I can hear myself give this explanation was also a little too much for them. You could get one half of the room quiet and then the other half would start up and the other teachers were of no help there because they’re used to it. What I’m really wondering about is which level of students I should choose to work with. Will it be worth my time to work with the older kids, deal with their noise and lack of motivation or should I just start with the little kids and try to get them off to a good start rather than play catch-up with the middle aged kids? I’ll have a week or two to observe once classes get started and I’ll have to make my choice then. I think I’ll also look for a hard spot on the wall in one of the hallways too so I’ll have a good place to bang my head on.

Another note here: While teaching in my camp I found that Georgian is the language least likely to be used. More students understand Russian (good for me) than do Georgian. Azeri was the main language that the Azeri teacher used to translate my instructions and the only one used by the students. If and when that failed the Georgian teacher would translate into Russian for them. I never heard Georgian and that didn’t dawn on me till the camp was over. I don’t have much to say about that other than making the observation. Good thing I speak Russian and not a good thing that I don’t know any Azeri (thanks to some really poor language training on the Azeri side of things). At least the teachers all know Russian and I can communicate with them. A lot of volunteers are struggling to be understood at their sites; at least I know a functional language and can get my point across in any work related situation. Note to self: find Azeri tutor soon.

Moving on… Tuesday was interesting. My host-father and brother came home from work in quite the merry mood. Apparently it was one of his nephew’s birthdays in Baku. Why would that be a cause to celebrate I have no idea, but family is very important here so celebrate we did. We had dinner out in the courtyard and two pitchers of wine to go with it. Oh, and if you guessed that we had boiled lamb for dinner you would be correct. After dinner we moved in to the family room and two more pitchers of wine appeared and some more bread and lamb because you have to keep eating or else you’ll be messed up from all the sweet wine. Needless to say I was in no mood to get out of bed on Wednesday morning, not because of a hangover but because I didn’t go to bed till well after midnight and wanted to keep sleeping. Neither my alarm clock nor my bladder were in agreement, so I got up anyway. Another drawback to the outdoor toilet came to mind that morning too. I have to get dressed, go across a balcony, down some stairs, down a path, across a garden and then around a turn just to get to the thing. And good morning Muganlo, that smell is enough to shock you awake every time.

The next day was apparently wine turning day. We all noticed a few skin pieces called “fish” in our white wine on Tuesday so according to my host-father the barrels needed to be turned. I thought he meant turned like rotated, but apparently it just means you take it out of one barrel and move it to several smaller ones thus removing the “fish” by leaving them at the bottom of the bigger barrel. You then clean out the big barrel and have it ready for this year’s harvest. Kind of cool actually. I think harvest is in October and I’m hoping to go back to Tokhliauri to help my host-family there one weekend. The family here only has grapes at home so there is no big ‘harvest’ so to speak. The family in Tokhliauri has a huge vineyard and one more hand couldn’t hurt. Plus my host-mom there was really excited for me to see her vineyard and get to witness the harvest.

I did have a funny incident happen the other day. There are two huge dogs here, one of which I’ve made friends with. The other one is old and mean as hell, so I just try to avoid him. So, I was on my trek to the toilet and he came up to me ready to play and be petted and I obliged him with a few scratches on the head and rubbing his belly with my foot. He’s all jumping around fired up ready to play when I opened the gate to the garden where the other dog was. He immediately runs over and jumps on that dog ready to play which got him a quick bite on the leg. No matter, he was still ready to go but noticed that I no longer had any interest in him so he starts chasing this chicken around the garden. I always find it funny watching chickens run and watching this dog mere inches behind it was hilarious. My host-mom hearing the commotion poked her head out a window and starts yelling at the dog who could care less so she throws a shoe at it as it passes the window on its third lap around the garden. Luckily for the chicken that was enough to snap him out of the chase because I think the chicken was running out of energy. Yep, that’s my entertainment here. Guess you probably had to be there.

On to the book review. The Unbelievable Lightness of Being was a better movie than book and I rarely say that. There was too much of the author interjecting himself into the story and breaking from any decent line of narration to put in his own philosophy and classify people into categories. It was a bunch of, ‘there are four types of people in the world… there are three kinds of lovers… there are two types of men…’ It got old quick.
The end was terrible too. You knew how the story ended 100 pages before the book ended. The last was just a bunch of self created loose ends that only got knotted rather than tied up. I’m probably being too harsh because I don’t like love stories too much, but there was one piece that I did like:
“Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him or her demand-free and asking for nothing but their company.”
I thought that was nice.

I’m on to the next book but I realized that it’s time for my annual read of The Sun Also Rises and one of you out there has my copy of it. Give it back! I need my book! So, luckily/unluckily I brought an audio copy of it that I downloaded before I left. I was looking forward to it until I actually heard it. When read by William Hurt it sounds like a bunch of sentences that don’t even go together. I listened to about the first 20 minutes or so then wanted to either shoot him or myself. Why do people feel the need to read Hemingway like they’ve got a glass of Scotch in their hand putting emphasis on all the wrong parts of the sentence and slurring their words during dialogs? Again, I may be being too harsh because it is my favorite book and I guess it is his interpretation of how the book should be read. I bet he doesn’t even like that book and just read it to collect a paycheck.

Ok ok, I guess I should cut this off. It looks like I’ve just been rambling for three pages now.
All is well considering and thanks to those of you that sent e-mails this week. It’s nice to get a laugh from time to time and hear what’s going on with you guys. I miss y’all and hope all of you (all y’all) are well.

Peace!

Monday, August 31, 2009

No News...

No news to report just wanted to get around to posting this picture of the time Ol' Joe got to pose with my killer stache! By the way did I metion that it felt great to git rid of that thing? It did.
I had a chance to send out some e-mails today but only a few because, well the Internet sucks here.

Starting my camp in the morning, so I'll get introduced to my students for the first time. Expect a post sometime this coming weekend about that. Hopefull that everything will go well.

Well I have to run so I can eat (more sheep I'm sure) so I can take my malaria meds.

Peace!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another update…

Ok, so I thought I should quickly get another post up here to give you a more lighthearted update on what’s going on with me. If you don’t want to read about the book I just finished, I suggest you skip down about five paragraphs.

I finished reading Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. I had been meaning to read that book for a long time and was glad I finally did. Agree with him or not it’s a very factual book and should be read by everyone. I enjoyed it even if I did get lost twice as to what he was really talking about. He’s one of those political science authors that starts you off with a question, takes you through about 40 years of history and examples and then gets back around to answering the original question. While informative and very enlightening, it’s hard to follow at times.

One of my favorite passages was during his brief coverage of the 2000 election and it’s relation to the overall “trend” of democracy. He has written another book specifically about that “Wreck on the Highway of Democracy” (to borrow from my own college thesis paper title).

“What remains of democracy is largely the right to choose among commodities. Business leaders have long explained the need to impose on the population a ‘philosophy of futility’ and ‘lack of purpose in life,’ to ‘concentrate human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption.’ Deluged by such propaganda from infancy, people may then accept their meaningless and subordinate lives and forget ridiculous ideas about managing their own affairs. They abandon their fate to corporate managers and the PR industry and, in the political realm, to the self-described ‘intelligent minorities’ who serve and administer power.
From this perspective, conventional in the elite opinion, the November 2000 election did not reveal a flaw of US democracy, but rather its triumph. And, generalizing, it is fair to hail the triumph of democracy throughout the hemisphere, and elsewhere, even though the populations do not see it that way.”

Does that sound familiar to any of you living in the US? I’ve been scared to death of our population’s apathy for years now and it seems to be growing rather than shrinking. However the new administration administers its policies its biggest challenge will be actually attempting to listen to a population that may no longer have the ability to speak for themselves, only consume and then complain. Corporations and corporate interest run America, not the American people. The newest generation is what Chomsky was mostly talking about; mine included. (Propaganda from infancy) They believe that we are a country fighting terrorism and have no idea that we are the largest state sponsor of terrorism in world history. See: Cuba, Nicaragua, West Africa, Bosnia, The Philippines, Panama, Turkey Iraq, Iran, and Israel.

Anyway, I’ll get off that subject before I write my own book of opinions and complaints. The next book I picked up randomly is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (Completely different subject matter but hey, in the Peace Corps you read what you can get your hands on.) I had forgotten that I had actually seen this movie. But, I’m enjoying the book so far at the halfway point. No real lessons to be learned from this one aside from living in sexually liberated Western Europe must be far better than the orgasm free zone of Southeastern Europe. Also the indoor toilets must be nice. I’ve forgotten what a flushing even sounds like already. But I digress again…

Had my first teacher’s meeting on Tuesday. Wow, no wonder the kids don’t sit still in class and listen. You should see what happens when the entire staff of teachers gets together and tries to have a meeting. Three languages of chatting all while the director is trying to explain salary, class schedules and registration issues. But, they all seemed happy to see me. I don’t think anyone explained to them that I was a volunteer and that I would be working there with them for free for two years. They all seemed utterly confused by why I was there. But, the questions followed the logical sequence here:
1. Name?
2. Where are you from?
3. What state? (They ask this because if you’re from NY or CA then it’s good, otherwise, they’ve never heard of it.)
4. How old are you?
5. Are you married?
This is where the questioning stops, because when I respond with no, they immediately start talking to each other about potential matches and come back a few minutes later with, ‘So you may get married here then?’ I hate to disappoint them with my NO response, but they are a persistent bunch. It’s so funny because whenever I meet a group of women here these same five questions pop up within the first five minutes. I need to print up a T-shirt that has all the answers in all three languages and just wear it around all the time. The back could say: ‘If you can read this… No means No.’

Other than that there isn’t much going on. After being busy as hell for 9 weeks during PST I feel like I’m just sitting on my butt doing nothing. It has given me time to read through most of the 10,000 sheets of paper the PC gave me concerning safety and security and now I can fill out all the forms that they need regarding my site. I guess I can hire a carrier pidgin to get them to the office since one of the options of sending it was by fax. Hahahaha. The local hospital here doesn’t even have a phone and there isn’t a landline phone in my village aside from the school’s. No, seriously I’m going into Tbilisi on the 8th of September to pick up my residence card and they said I have 2 packages waiting for me as well. So that’s exciting. I know one is from mom and the other is one that my dad sent me back on July 6th. Two months to get from Atlanta to me. In KZ I could get a package in 10-14 days and it had to make a 2-day train ride from the capital. The Georgian postal system sucks! The explanation I got was, everyone has a cell phone, why would you need to send a letter. Yeah, and everyone eats a ton of oil, so why would you have indoor toilets? Digressing again…

Food is a drop off from PST I can tell you that. Although the other night I did have some fried chicken. The difference here is they just cut it up as well as they can and then fry it all. And by all I mean all. My last piece was the neck. I went through a short internal dialogue before I ate it that went something like this: Ok, neck meat is good when cooking things, fried chicken is good, fried neck meat must be good. It was sort of like an A+B=C situation. It wasn’t that bad actually, but I don’t recommend it if you’re not into working for a little bite of meat. It certainly wasn’t like the reward of crab legs. Mmm… crab. Other than chicken our main source of meat is lamb. Boiled lamb and again every part of said lamb. I went for a walk the other day and rounded the corner just in time to see our local butcher kill a sheep. On my way back the thing was already cut and hanging up for sale. I think you’re process for selecting fresh meat is whether the blood on the ground outside is still fresh. Seems logical to me. I always know what’s for dinner by smell. Or like the other morning when I came down for breakfast and was greeted by three chicken heads laying on the ground on the way to the toilet. Good morning Muganlo! Are you grossed out yet? Don’t be. This is life on the other side of the world. There is always something being washed, burned, cut, killed, harvested or put away for winter.

Oh! I do get satellite TV here as well. Don’t get too pumped though. The satellite is pointed at Azerbaijan so we get those channels. I do get Baghdad TV though and my one English channel is Aljezera International. So I do get to watch the news once a day. At least I won’t be in complete news darkness; however I doubt they’ll be playing Georgia Bulldog football games on there. Thank you to Patrick for sending me baseball updates by the way!

I guess I should wrap this up since the Internet here most likely won’t be able to handle this large post. I’m going to try and post 3 pictures for you. One is of the group of friends here in Muganlo and the other two are eco-friendly ideas for around your house. If you ever need to hang some cable or wire outside why not try sheep horns? Or if you need a good garden border and like to drink wine, try wine bottles. All you need to do is dig a small hole and invert the bottle. For the rednecks out there, please remove the Budweiser label before replicating this with beer bottles.

Peace!