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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!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Heating 101

In this episode of Muganlo TV...

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.

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. ;)

Friday, November 13, 2009


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.


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...

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.

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.


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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Hate Crying

I wish I could give all of you a happy and everything is ok blog post, but that isn’t how this one is going to go.

I got a call on Tuesday afternoon from my mom and the second I picked up the phone, I knew it wasn’t good. My grandfather died on Monday night.

The man lived for 98 long years and I will never forget him as long as I have breath. I can still remember when I was a kid and every afternoon when I got out of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade him being there to pick me up. The man taught me how to write my first sentence, how to spell my own name and how to care for others. I can remember Christmases, church services, summer afternoons and weekends home from college. When I needed him, he was there. That’s about as much as you can say about anybody. He was always there.

I don’t think I ever had a real conversation with my grandfather after I reached my adult years. I didn’t have to; I knew what his answers would be. He lived his life as an open book. There were only a few simple principles to it: God, Family, and anyone in need of a helping hand. I truly think that he was and will continue to be one of the guiding lights in my life. At least I already realize that I’ll never be half the man he was; I don’t have that kind of strength in me. Nobody does. Others may disagree, but to me that’s truth. I’m trying to dedicate my life to service, and in some small way I’m doing this because I know it’s the right thing and all he ever wanted was for my family to be good people, and to try and do the right thing.

He grew up poor, served his country in WWII, worked hard, went to church every Sunday, raised four children and served his community at every opportunity. He read his Bible and was undefeated at Scrabble. I’ve never met in all my travels a man whose principles were held as tightly or who had a mind as sharp as my grandfather’s.

Now I have only tears to shed and a life to remember and look up to. I feel helpless here on the other side of the world. I can’t help my mother mourn or pick up the pieces; I can’t give my grandmother a hug and cry with her. I don’t cry (especially in front of people) but today has been spent in pain and nothing but tears. I went on a long walk by myself this afternoon just to be away from everyone. I looked out over the mountains and cried till it hurt.

I didn’t know what to do so I just picked a red rose and wrote my Granddaddy a letter. I think since here they keep the dead for a week before they stop mourning, I’ll keep the rose and letter hanging for that long before I take them down. It may sound strange, but I seriously don’t know what to do right now other than that.

I wrote you this letter and put it outside my door… I’ll always remember and love you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Walled City and Loose Cannons

So this past weekend was awesome. Me and three other volunteers went on a mini vacation for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon to Sighnaghi. It’s a town from ancient history that I won’t insult by guessing the century. (13th I think). Let me tell you that this is one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever been with some of the best views and some great food.
We arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday and I had to take a shower at the hotel/home that we were staying in since my family here in Tokhliauri had been without water for 5 days and hence I had not had a shower. Shower out of the way, we walked around to get our bearings in the city and then headed for one of the only Mexican restaurants in the whole country. Its authentic Mexican too since apparently one of the women who cooks there spent several years in Mexico, fell in love with their food and came home to cook it. I had a beef and bean burrito and some red rice that was very good. We also had some very strong sangria made from local red wine and fruit. The whole place was decorated like you would imagine any Mexican place to be; sombreros and Mexican blankets on the wall, strings of peppers, and portraits of Mexicans in black and white all over the place. This may seem normal to you, but in Georgia, this is the last thing you expect to see.
After dinner we walked around a bit more and took photos like the tourists we were, had a few beers in the central park and then headed back to the hotel. The hotel was really just a house that this family rented out to people passing through and was sort of like a hostel style. When we got there we found all the other tourists hanging out in the common room and eager to meet and chat with us. There was a Polish couple, a Russian guy, a Frenchman, an Australian woman, and a Turkish woman all there along with our two Georgian hosts. It was awesome! We had a great time hanging out and sharing stories of our travels and life experiences. When we couldn’t use English we just resorted to Russian. Only one of the other Americans with me spoke Russian, but it was easy to translate using both languages.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast there and then went out exploring the city by day. The wall around it is amazing for the time that it was built. There are 12 towers that were used for the 12 villages that surrounded the central city of this kingdom. Whenever it came under attack, each village would come into the city and each would be responsible for defending their tower. The city itself is on the side of a mountain and there is a steep drop-off to the massive valley below. On the other side of the valley are the Caucus Mountains and on the other side of them is… well… Russia/Chechnya. Anyway, it’s easy to see why the city never really fell to anyone since you could see an attacker coming from days away in any direction and you’d really have to want it to make the trip over either set of mountains. We also checkout the local museum which was actually pretty cool and loaded with all kinds of artifacts and history of the region in both Georgian and English. The day in Sighnaghi ended with us at a café where I had some fried cabbage with ham (sub bacon and you got good ol’ Southern fried cabbage) and some pork medallions in an awesome sauce. Yum! But all good things must come to an end and we got on a long marshutka ride back to Tokhliauri where me and one of the other volunteers got off and went home.
And, this is where the weekend went wrong. After unpacking and sharing stories with my host family I sat down to dinner. I thought the soup tasted a little funny and so did the corn that was served later in the meal, but I didn’t really pay that much attention since I was hungry after my trip. I then sat down and did some homework and prepared some other stuff that Peace Corps wanted me to do. Stayed up talking on the phone to my parents and other volunteers for a while and then went to bed around 11.
2 a.m. I wake up with stomach pains. What’s this I wonder? Hmmm… Oh well, I’ll just try to go back to sleep. No deal. I barely made it out the door before I stared throwing up all over the place. This went on for about FOUR HOURS! Not to mention the back-road evacuation (if you catch my drift) that started around 3 a.m. I think I must have passed out around 6:30 or so but I woke up with my alarm a little after 7. I called my doctor to tell her what had happened and that I would not be attending classes on Monday. She agreed and told me what steps to take to re-hydrate and rest. I pretty much didn’t get out of bed on Monday and wasn’t even able to eat anything until 7:30 or 8 on Monday night. My host-family was freaking out! They were so worried about me to the point that I thought they were going to be sick. But, they were relieved that on Tuesday I woke up with no major problems and was able to go to classes. I wasn’t 100%, but I felt well enough to make the effort and at least attend.
I was just drained as hell on Tuesday and barely able to mentally keep up. Georgian class wasn’t that bad, but Azeri class was hell. And, our Azeri teacher didn’t make matters any better. She gave us an activity to do using the material “we” learned on Monday. When I made more than a few mistakes she said in about the snottiest voice I’ve ever heard, “Well if you want, you can just stay after class and I’ll explain it to you.” My response was none too polite when I said, “No I don’t want. In fact I don’t even want to be here right now because I’m ill.” She of course took offense to this which to tell you the truth I could care less. She wanted to speak to me after class about it but I told her I was in no mood and no thanks. I’m sure I’ll hear about it from PC since our training director was there not for the first exchange but for the after class conversation refusal. Whatever. I’ll stick to my guns that her rudeness and my poor mood after my illness was the root of the issue and she should have realized not to push the matter.
After lunch I went to our summer camp that we are running this week which was about all I had left in me for the day. Luckily it’s only four days and I missed the first one on Monday. It’s fun playing games and stuff with the kids, but I don’t think we need to dedicate a whole week to it in PST. It just seems to me like there is a whole lot of information left to cover in the week and a half that we have left before we go to our sites.
Anyway, other than the trip and my brush with food poisoning, there isn’t much to report. The weather is unseasonable cool right now which is weird. It’s really cool and rainy and even the locals think it’s strange for this time of year. I had to break out a sweatshirt on Tuesday it was so chilly. I know those of you in the South would pray for a day like that about now, but I’m not exactly ready for Summer to be over in August.
Only 10 (or less by the time I post this; we swear in on the 21st) more days of training left to go and then I’m off to Muganlo. (Also only a few more days of this damn itchy mustache and then it’s out of here. Don’t worry, I’ll take a final picture with me and the stache before I shave it off)) I will have almost zero access to Internet there, but I’m looking into purchasing a card for my computer that is wireless so I can get it. We’ll see how that goes and whether it even works there. Oh, and don’t even bother trying to find a better address for mail. Just keep sending it to the Peace Corps and I’ll have to go pick it up once a month, if at all possible, since the office is only open M-F and I also have to work those days. I need to ask about that.
All is well otherwise. I hope this blog doesn’t turn into my one and only outlet for venting and such. I know these last two posts have been on the negative side, but… “A great man once said, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a minute.” Ahhhh… Thank you Bull Durham.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Muganlo; The Pit of Despair???

Well in case you were thinking that I’d get a break on my site placement or get a “hookup” since this is my second time doing this, think again. Muganlo is the name and hard times are the game. Wow! I’ve just returned from a three and a half day site visit and let me tell you these are going to be two tough years.

But, let’s start with the good news. The good news is, my host family for the most part is super cool. My host father, Akhib is Azeri and speaks Russian well and even knows some broken English. He also drives the only Chevy pickup truck I’ve seen in this whole country, so bonus points there. My host mom was not there during my visit since she was in Azerbaijan visiting some relatives. There is also a host brother who is 12, a brother who is 25 and his 23-year-old wife and their 7-year-old son. So if you’re counting along, with my arrival that makes 7 people that will be living in this two story home. The place is nice and has a great shower, but the toilet is in the back of the garden and is true outhouse style. Oh well. My room is super small and as of now does not meet Peace Corps’ living standards due to a lack of a dresser or anywhere to store my clothes. My host-father has promised this would be different when I returned, so we’ll have to wait and see. Water is an issue since even they don’t drink it, but my PC issued filter should do the trick.

The whole family speaks Azeri and some of them speak Russian. A few of them speak Georgian when they have to, but Azeri is the home language. Russian is the common language of the village but Azeri is preferred followed by Georgian. Muganlo is made up of 4,500 people and I’d say 80% of them are Azeri.
The town itself is just one road that leads off the main highway about 35 miles outside of Tbilisi. The closest town is at the main highway 2.5 kilometers away. There are no cafes or anything and if you need the police or a hospital, you’re going to the town at the highway, cause Muganlo doesn’t have either.

Ok, negativity aside for a second, this is a huge challenge and if anybody can get up for it it’s me. Right now I’d be surprised myself if I make it; I’m not going to lie or kid myself. But, I’m going to give it my best shot.

I’m just kind of surprised that Peace Corps would place me here since it seems to me that as hard on us as they are about safety and security that I’m in a town with bad water, no police, no hospital, no phones, no transportation options and a school that should be shutdown for repairs (We’ll get to that in a second). I’m serious when I say this school is bad. I’ve seen some bad ones and this one is bad. And it’s not like I don’t have experience. I can do a good job if given an environment willing and motivated to learn and improve. But Muganlo looks like a place where hope is, like my host family, sending your kid to the next town to go to school, not working to improve your own. I was also disappointed after all the education volunteers had our “site debrief” session. Everyone has a better situation than mine. People with air-conditioned schools, swimming pools, cafes and pizza places, tourists visiting their cities, public transportation and Internet. Wow. People that live here don’t even know where Muganlo is. I asked my program director about why Muganlo was chosen as a site simply because after listening to everyone else’s stories I was wondering how I got there. She said that it has a huge need and that a motivated volunteer could make a huge impact there. True. And like I said, if anyone is up for a challenge, it’s me. I wasn’t too impressed though when I asked her if she had even been inside the school and she said no. Yeah, sure it looks ok from the outside, but when you step in it’s a different story. I’m just in a little state of shock right now that’s all. And, Peace Corps is all about stretching yourself. I should be able to integrate into this community and make some kind of difference; I just hope I don’t get stretched too thin.

Here is what I mean: My school is a major downer, but again, let’s start with the positive. My school’s director (Georgi) is also pretty cool. He speaks Russian well and I had no problems communicating with him. Ok, so now that we’ve covered the positive aspects, let’s move on. My Counterpart, the person whom I’m supposed to be working with speaks only Georgian, and some Russian and French. French? Seriously? Yeah. Like that’s going to be helpful in the middle of nowhere. You know which two languages she doesn’t speak? Azeri and English. Ok, I take that back she does speak some English, but I taught students in KZ that would blow her out of the water. Her first statement to me after we exchanged hellos was, “If Director asks, tell I speak English good.” Yeah, I’ll get right on relaying that message hun. She, along with my director doesn’t even live in Munganlo but the next town over. Because it’s like the representative from the Education Ministry said when I met her this weekend, “Why would you want to live in Muganlo?” Nice.

The school itself is like a prison without a budget. It was built in 1976 and hasn’t been remodeled or maintained since. Half the first floor is unusable (seriously, it’s closed off) and I’d say a little less than half of the windows are boarded up due to broken glass. Every floor and every class has water damage and there is a definite mold issue. The “sports hall” is just indescribable and has old dusty mattresses on the floor for gymnastics exercises. I could go on with the description of this place, but I’d rather not. The only thing that concerns me apart from the ceiling falling on my head one day is the toilet situation. There is no running water at the school because they are afraid that the children will drink it. So when they get done using the outdoor toilet where do they wash their hands? They don’t! I asked my director about this and he didn’t seem to have any real solution and came up with about the same answer I got to a lot of questions. “Hey, this is Muganlo.”

The problem is that this community is pretty much self sustaining and has been left to sink or swim. But, they’re just treading water. The first day I met my director and asked him what some major issues were that he wanted me to work on he came up with two. One, the students and the community as a whole don’t care about education as a whole and he wants me to work on motivating the whole community to change this. Two, girls don’t go to school past 8th grade because their families are concerned they’ll get “bride-napped” or they’ll go ahead and marry them off to avoid the whole kidnapping situation. And what married woman needs to go to school when she can be at home looking after her family right? So those are the two major issues I need to work on aside from improving my Counterpart’s English skills so she can leave ol’ Muganlo behind and get a higher paying job working for some company in Tbilisi and move in with her sister’s family.

Oh and did I mention that neither my school director nor my counterpart live in Muganlo? Yeah they live in the next town where all the resources and nice houses are. So do most of the other teachers at my school. Oh well. It’s time to put all this venting behind me and move on. It has felt good just to type it all out and I’m sure I’ve even missed some points.

The only other drawback, aside from the above mentioned, is NO PORK! Azeri equals Muslim in this case. And whether practicing or not, they don’t dig on the pig. Y’all know how much I love me some pork now! They do grill up a lot of lamb, but it’s just not the same.

I’ll have another post below this one if you want to read about my other experience in Muganlo. It’s not as informative but much more of a cultural introduction that I was thrown into. I hope this post hasn’t worried any of you, but I just thought you’d like to know my first impressions of my new home away from home… Muganlo!

The Loss of a Brother

When you live in a small community isolated from your native people and left to live or die on your own, every member of that community is an asset. So when Muganlo lost a brother this past week, then whole community suffered.

I came down from writing some reports and having a rest in the afternoon heat on Friday to a small dinner and an unusually quiet family. After we ate in an awkward silence, my host brother motioned me to follow him to the place where the night before all of the men in the community had sat, drank tea, smoked and discussed the business of the day. I thought we would have a repeat of the activity and was looking forward to learning some new Azeri phrases and meeting some more of the community.

However, we rounded the corner just as a large white van arrived and was quickly surrounded by all of the men in the men in the village. The scene that followed blew my mind and broke my heart. The casket was lifted out of the back of the van by as many hands as could be used and taken to a communal table surrounded my women dressed in black. It was laid down and the top lifted off. This is when it began…

The sound is indescribable. If you can imagine 500 voices beginning to cry at a single moment, then you may have an idea. Those immediate family members were the ones closest to the casket table and the ones who began to tear away the sheet covering the body of their husband, father, brother, uncle, and cousin. They are the ones who had to be restrained and assisted by all the others who were also in tears. Grape vines were torn from over head and waved to try and awaken those who had fainted away and fallen to the floor. Chairs were brought from out of nowhere and limp bodies were lifted onto them. The death sheet was moved away and the body lay as if asleep. The whole of the body was being touched and prayed over. The widow moved around it slowly stopping only to wail, pray and kiss the feet of her dearly departed.

The tears flowed like rivers for what seemed like hours. Women standing by the wall to the side needed it for support and to hide their faces. When they moved away the wall was so wet it looked to have been weeping as well. When handkerchiefs were so full they were of no use, they were hung like flags of sorrow on a line off to the side. The men, usually stoic and hard were all off in the back together so as not to be seen but their tears flowed together in silence with no less force than those of the women.

As the sun went down the ceremony began. And here is where death affects the living. Those who were not immediately related to the deceased moved on and back to their homes. But the widow sat at the head of the casket surrounded by her mother, sisters and daughters. As soon as the natural light began to fade she untied her long naturally black hair streaked with grey and let it fall over her shoulders. She pulled it into her hand and brushed it across her husbands face for the last time then tied it on top of her head. Her mother then brought the black headscarf. The widow bent her head and prayed as her mother tied the scarf into her hair where it will be tied everyday for the rest of her life. She will wear only black, she will eat alone, she will sleep and wake alone, not because she has been left alone, but because of her love for her husband and her respect for his memory.

Now that she was in black and the whole earth had turned black, and electric light was produced and hung above the body. The sudden brightness shocked me awake from my amazement and I became aware that I had not moved in over an hour. I watched as the widow and her family were brought a pitcher of water to drink for the night for they would sit there watching and morning the dead until the sun rose at their backs.

Until the third day they would watch over him and pray for his soul as it made its way to the afterlife. And on that Sunday morning as I prepared to leave I heard the widow speak for the first time since the scarf had been tied to her head. It was a prayer that I did not understand but knew its meaning. She must have prayed for her dead husband and told him how she would respect his memory in this world while he awaited her in the next. And then the casket was closed and the tears of the community flowed once again. As I walked away I heard the tears fall and the voices cry out, but my heart could not break again and my eyes could no longer witness the pain of a lost brother.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

pics i tried to post yesterday

The 4 O'clocks

Me, Jefferson and Krisanne

Me and the VP

Friday, July 24, 2009

The most action I’ve seen in Georgia was being patted down by security to see Joe Biden…

What’s that you say? All of the volunteers got to go to Tbilisi on Thursday to meet Vice President Joe Biden! He was here in Georgia to meet all the politicians and extend the hand of friendship in the Caucuses. Biden has a soft spot in his heart for Georgia because of the Rose Revolution and well just because they are awesome freedom loving people like us. I guess it’s just a coincidence that the war was almost one year ago now and Obama just got done meeting with Russia last week. Biden gave a great speech to all the Embassy Staff and to the Volunteers. It was a great opportunity and I am so thankful to the Peace Corps for setting that up for us. Biden is one of the good guys and it was a great experience meeting him. But, at the end when we all got to greet him and shake his hand, I had no idea what to say other than, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Sir! I’m with the Peace Corps.” He replied with, “It’s nice to meet you son!” and a classic Joe Biden grin. Aside from the security pat down excitement, I equated my meeting with Biden like my first sexual experience. It was quick, I didn’t know what to do, and all I really knew afterwards was that I enjoyed it and had a smile on my face the whole time.

Oh, and we go to go to McDonald’s afterwards. Normally I would puke at the thought of that place, but let me tell you those fries were awesome! I didn’t get a picture of me and Biden, but one of the PC Staff members did and I’ll try to get that posted on here later. If you want, you can go to the Georgian Embassy website and there should be some on there and you can look for me. I’m the guy in the green shirt with the killer mustache! By the way, the mustache is coming along just fine. I’m thinking I have a good shot at wining the contest since I’m also naming mine. I’m calling it ‘The Elvis’ since its so cool it needs its own sideburns. Nice! See the bottom of this post for a shot of it as of 3-weeks growth.

I was vaccinated against Typhoid this past Friday. That was less than fun, but oh well. I love our medical doctor here. She is pretty funny and you can tell she really cares about us which is good to know. She isn’t as funny as my doctor in Kazakhstan, Victor. But, there aren’t many people in the world that are as funny and at the same time serious as Victor is. We also got our water filters so we can stop buying water and start just filtering it at home now that our Hepatitis A vaccinations have had time to kick in. I’m thinking after Peace Corps life I might damn well be able to walk through Chernobyl and be just fine with all these shots I’ve had. The first case of H1N1 or Swine Flu was reported here last week. Our doctors tell us we don’t have much to worry about and to just be more cautious with sanitation and whatnot. I’m not too worried about it.

In other news, I’ve reached what they call Kargi Beegie status here in my village. And for those of you that are wondering what that is, it latterly translates to “good boy.” I would call it just being a good Southerner and saying hello to all the old ladies in the village. But, word of my staying home to study at night and teaching “interesting lessons” during practicum to all the students here has made it far and wide. Well as far and as wide as this little village is anyway.
But, for people here, being a kargie/good boy or girl is very important to your social status. Because you are either good and therefore accepted as someone that adheres to social norms and acts appropriately or you are tsudie/bad. Being labeled as tsudie is bad because it is hard to get away from such a label. It is also bad because you then allow people to think that all Americans are tsudie.

Moving on, I realized that I have reached such a status because now when I greet all the old ladies and people in the village I am treated to some rant that I don’t really understand apart from the smiles and the kargie beegie. I get that all is well since they continue to smile and greet me in return. Well, everyone except the old lady down the road that can’t hear a damn thing. She apparently assumes that I’m as crazy as she is because she’s always yelling at me to put on a coat when it’s windy despite the fact that its 95 degrees outside.
I also improved my standing in the village this past Saturday at a huge Supra, or celebration dinner. There were over 250 people in attendance and I was toasted towards the end of the celebration as a special guest and new member of the village. There was a lot of wine flowing and it was hard to understand exactly when to stand, sit, drink, toast, sit, stand and drink again, but I figured it out by watching the people around me. I was seated next to the Mayor, the school director and one of the fathers of two of my students. We are now, thanks to the wine all very good friends. They were impressed with both my cultural understanding of their Supra and my drinking ability. Being bale to drink and not get too drunk to stand is very important here. Never mind that I probably ate about 2 loaves of bread to make sure I constantly had something on my stomach every time another glass of sweet Georgian wine hit bottom.
There was also some interesting Georgian culture on display. Three tables full of nothing but men drinking and eating and one full of nothing but women and small children. All the other women were in the house preparing food or walking around clearing plates.

Everything else is going just fine. As of this posting I have finished Practicum and am DONE with the practice teaching for the summer aside from a Summer Camp thing that I have to do in late August. I find out my permanent site on Monday and go for a site visit next Thursday-Sunday. So, I’ll plan on posting a blog sometime after that to give you my first impressions on my site and how I’m feeling then. Right now I just feel a lot better because PRACTICUM is OVER!!! It wasn’t that bad, those were just some LONG days and now, I’ll have more time to focus on the three languages I’m trying to learn right now. I had another exam last week, this one on Safety and Security. Again, I scored 100%. I need those to boost my ego since my language is a daily struggle. Anyway, I need to get home and do some homework.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How I found Jesus in less than 10 minutes

For some people it takes a lifetime to find Jesus, For me, less than 10 minutes. Well I guess I had better explain that a little more. I went with my two host sisters to the capital city of Tbilisi this past Sunday and had a great time looking in on a lot of churches and historical landmarks, eating and in general soaking up city life for a day.
We went to Somivara (sp?) the newest and one of the 5 largest churches in the world. There were a mass of people inside attending mass as it was an Orthodox holiday this past Sunday for St. Nino, one of the major Saints here in the Georgian Orthodox faith.
I bought my 3 candles for prayer and went on my way through the church looking for the only icon I felt comfortable praying in front of… Jesus. Paul, no James, no… Some guy I’ve never heard of… no…moving on… eventually I did find Jesus and lit my three candles for my three prayers.
Three by the way is an expectable number or any variation thereof such as 6, 9, 12 and so on. I generally knock out all my requests and whatnot in one, so I thought 3 would be good for me. My sister also took three but one for three different icons. Anyway, after leaving Jesus to stare at my candles, I wandered around some more to look at this amazing church. There are actually two whole levels of the thing below ground that are also open and which put it into the category of world’s top five largest.

After our church excursion, we went to eat and see all the different parks the city has to offer. Awesome, except for the fact that the city was hot hot hot that day. No wind and it had to have been 98 or higher. But, we had fun eating and like I said, just being out of the village for a day. My host sisters insisted on buying me an icon to put in my room from one of the shops, so I am now the owner of an icon to St. Andrew. I figured if I was going to have one, it might as well be my personal Patron Saint.

Practicum is in week two now and all is still going well with that aside from this one local teacher that is just a pain to work with. I don’t have that many problems with her because I just tell her what I’m going to do and if she disagrees, she can just sit in the back and observe. Most of the time she’s onboard with my ideas and I just have to spend time explaining it to her. But, the other volunteers I don’t think have learned how to drop dead weight and move on just yet so they are getting more and more frustrated with her. Oh well, only one more week of this and practicum will be over!

Had a site placement interview on Tuesday and it looks like it’s going to be village life for me for the next two years. The minority communities that speak Azeri and Russian are not in cities or larger towns, so… I can put two and two together on that one. Also got my first technical exam score back this week.100% correct for me! Ha! Aced that one.

We also started learning Azeri and taking Russian refresher courses this week. We now have Georgian for two hours every morning starting at 8:45am then Azeri for two hours on Mon, Tues, Wed, and Friday. Russian on Thurs, and Saturdays during the second two hour block. We asked our Georgian teacher how this would affect our pace in the Georgian book and she said we would keep up with all the other classes and just have to move at a quicker pace. Great! I’m already behind and now the train just started moving double time. Then after lunch we teach for 2 hours, plan for 2 hours then go home to do homework in three languages for another 2-4 hours depending. Long long hot hot days. This is the land of no air-conditioning; anywhere!

Other than the schedule, everything is going well. I’m actually getting accustomed to the pace and at least I’m not dragging my ass up the hill every afternoon now. If I could just speed up time and get PST over with, all would be grand. But, alas, still another 5 weeks to go. Friday marks one month in Georgia! Only 26 more to go. Hahaha, don’t start the countdown just yet.

Hope all is well! Peace!