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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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

pics i tried to post yesterday

The 4 O'clocks

Me, Jefferson and Krisanne

Me and the VP

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fire Drill

So y’all have kept up with my “schedule” so to speak and my complaints about long days and not having all that much time off as is the norm for PST. But, this past Saturday we had to go through a “necessary evil” of having a security drill.
We had our language class on Saturday morning from 9-1 and then I went home to enjoy my one and a half days off. I ate lunch in the heat of the kitchen as normal and then told my host family that I needed to go take a nap as I was exhausted. So, at about 2 or a little after, I laid down and started to doze off while watching a movie on my laptop. I don’t even remember what I was watching because I went to sleep within about 10mins or so. At 2:40 my LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) called and informed me that Peace Corps was performing a security drill and that I needed to pack my emergency bag and report to Sagarejo, our hub-site.
Needless to say I was none too amused as I knew it was a test that was preventing me from taking the one nap a week that I would be able to get. So, I packed my bag, and met up with the other two volunteers from my village and we made the 2-mile hike to the main highway to catch a bus to the hub-site in the mid-afternoon heat. After a 15min. ride, and another 10min cab ride, we arrived to check in. We all made it in just over an hour which is pretty good considering. We were also well ahead of most of the other volunteers. So, all in all it was both a crappy and a good experience. Good that I now know better than to pack so much crap and more essentials for the two mile hike and possible evacuation and bad that I missed out on my nap.
Sunday was a good day though. I slept in till about 9:45 which is awesome and got up and had a good breakfast. After that, I swept up and cleaned my room, pack for the week’s travel (going to visit my permanent site) and then did two “loads” of hand-washing laundry. Then me and Jefferson (another volunteer in my village) went to the school to pick up some books we had left there and then went up to Krisanne’s house (the third volunteer in my village; pictures to follow). We met up with two other volunteers who were visiting and had some watermelon before coming back to my hose to do some Georgian homework. Then we all went back to Jefferson’s for some technical homework and dinner before walking Krisanne home and going our separate ways. I had to come home and get my laundry off the line and in general relax from all the hiking up and down hill all day.
So, overall it was a good weekend.
I know this wasn’t too exciting of a post, but hey… not everyone will be. I’ll be on sometime next week to post up info about my permanent site and show some pictures if I can. Below are some that I took this past week. Hey Mom! Do those flowers look familiar to you? Never thought I’d see some 4 o’clocks on this side of the world!

Um... ok, pictures dont want to load today. Sorry, I'll try to get them up later.

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!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

4th of July Mustache Time!

Grey Warr must have called one of the guys in my group here because as of Saturday the 4th of July all of the guys in our group minus one or two have started a two month long mustache growing contest. There are too many rules to try and cover here, but let’s just say it should get interesting and ugly. We have the training staff in on it too, so the night before we swear in as volunteers in late August, there will be awards for: Best Stash, Hairiest Stash and Ugliest/Creepiest Stash. I personally was against the idea to start with, but any reason to have a competition and I’m in. I think I’ll try to go for the trucker style stash in order to win the hairiest category. Mainly we think it’ll be hilarious to laugh at one another and when they take our group photo at swearing in, all the guys will have ugly mustaches. Then, we can shave them of the next day before we go to our sites as to not scare our host families. You’ll notice in the photos below that I’m clean shaven as that was in the rules for the stash contest kickoff.

That wasn’t the only thing we got into on the 4th though. Peace Corps threw a picnic for all of the volunteers and two members from each host family as well. I brought along two of my host sisters Nino and Marika. We had a great time listening to music and playing games. The staff made us a big cake that had the numbered candles 233 on there. A few of us had to explain that 233 was America’s age this year to some of the locals and our fellow volunteers. And, instead of Happy Birthday, we sang the National Anthem. Kind of overly patriotic, but hey. We had a water balloon toss, 3-legged race (which me and my partner won by the way), jump rope, frisbees, football, and the Georgian version of dodge ball. The Georgians also sang some songs and put on some dances for us. Their feet move extremely fast like Riverdance except the top half of their bodies can move as well.

Me and my language teacher Maka

In the Georgian version of dodge ball, one team is in two lines on either side of the team in the middle. It works like monkey in the middle, except the monkey doesn’t want the ball. You work it down to one person and then that last person has to avoid the ball for as many throws as their age. I was the last person the last round and made it all the way to 20 before I was too tired to run any more. It was a fun game, but the Georgians were kind of confused as to why the Americans threw the ball so hard and as if we were angry the whole time. It was fun trying to explain the psychological damage that takes place with American school children and dodge ball and how we are way too competitive when it comes to pelting people with objects. Needless to say the small Georgian children screamed every time one of the American guys got the ball.

It was a fun day all around and it was good to get together with all the other volunteers and relax for an afternoon. I’m putting some pictures on here of the picnic and this one of the sunset from that day as well.

I start teaching practicum this next week, so I’ve got some long 12-hour days ahead for the next three weeks. We have language class everyday from 9am to 1pm, we teach from 3pm to 5pm then lesson plan with our Georgian counterparts for about 2 hours. It takes that long because we have to plan out 6 lessons between the three volunteers in my group with our two Georgian teachers. After you get home it’s about 7:30 or so, you eat and start doing your language homework and preparing materials for the next day’s classes. By the time you finish with all that it’s 10pm and time for tea a pee and then off to bed to sleep, wake up and do it all over again.

Everything seems to be getting easier despite the hectic schedule. I think staying busy has helped out a lot. No time to stress of the rest when there’s work to be done. Just the way I like it. And, the 1-year-old that was living here is now gone for a month. He and his mother Nino have gone to live with her husband’s parents in their village for the month of July and won’t return here till August. So, I’ll at least have some peace and quiet for the next month while I’m having to do all this work. Well, that is of course if the snakes don’t get too bad. They decided to cut the grass on our “road” Sunday and it scared up two snakes, one of which made its way into our yard and nearly gave my host-sister a heart attack. Here is one of me and the host sisters:
Nothing much else to report as of now…

Hope all is well people and I hope y’all had a great Independence Day!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bats, Bees and Bad Smells; Another Adventure in Outdoor Plumbing

So for all of you that enjoyed my Sub-zero outhouse escapades, here’s another one for you. There’s more following that as well for you.

At the school here there is an outhouse that serves as the bathroom for the entire school. And, as its summer time, the maintenance on it has not been as regular. For the first few days I just tried to avoid it at all cost just based on what it looked like. But, after coffee in the morning and drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated, nature will eventually win out.

Day one, no major problems other than the smell itself. I would try to paint a mental picture for you, but I’ll spare you the details on that. Just think of a dead animal left in the sun for a week or two. The major advantage to being a guy in an outhouse with a loose door is that you don’t have to touch anything; other than yourself and well that’s the cleanest thing in there.

Day two. Again no major issues except for the fact that it was hotter and the smell increases with the heat. However, on day three I had become comfortable with my new routine of visiting this hell hole on my morning break from language class. About mid stream I let out a sigh and was just kind of looking out the little window as nature took its course so to speak. Then, all of a sudden I hear this shrieking sound and a bat flies down in front of me, does a few circles around my head and then flies out the window. Needless to say I missed the hole for the remainder of my urination as I let out more than a few obscenities. Luckily I managed to miss myself during this process.

Day four. I kick the door open and immediately look up to inspect the ceiling for any hanging animals. Thankfully there were none there and I was able to go about my business with just the normal annoyance of the smell.

On day five I decided to skip the experience all together and just hold it till lunch time. Then, we got into the weekend so I had a break from the smell for a few days. On Monday of this week, I again kicked the door open and inspected the ceiling for animals. My hanging friend didn’t take too kindly to this and flew out of the window immediately. We’ve kind of made a pact now, I knock before entering and he doesn’t attack me while I do my business.

However, on Tuesday morning, I was shocked not to find my friend there as I was only greeted by the smell from the bowels of hell itself. So, as I go about my business, I’m looking out the window to try and not look at the hole that serves as the gateway to the smell. All is normal until I hear this low rumbling noise that is growing louder and louder. Normally this is just the flies and not an issue. But this was a different kind of sound. Apparently, some bees had decided to nest right under the lip of the hole and my warm liquid had awoken them from their mid morning hibernation. Now I don’t know if you can imagine trying to dance while urinating, but give it a try some time. Not as fun as it sounds, and it doesn’t sound fun at all. Luckily I managed not to get stung but did bang my am up on the door as I rushed out, still trying to zip up and not touch anything. Because, trust me, the last thing you want to do in there is touch a wall, door, or anything else other than you. And for the love of God, do not lose your balance and fall over. I’d rather be stung by a thousand bees than end up on that floor and have that smell permeate any part of my clothes or me.

So there you are my friends. That’s my morning routine. I try to avoid bats and bees while trying not to inhale more than necessary or pee on myself while being surprised by the next adventure in outdoor plumbing. Next time you get up from your toilet and give it a flush, enjoy and think about how lucky you are.

On Another Note…

I figured I’d post up a few other pictures for you. The first is what I like to call a small victory. It’s my first lesson plan that I had to write and turn in as an assessment of our teaching and planning ability. I think our technical training director’s comments will speak for themselves:

This one is of me on our main road here standing in front of some grape vines and one of the many hills that surround our village. It was early in the morning, so I wasn’t at my best, but hey…

And this last one is the view from our classroom window. Kind of makes it hard to concentrate sometimes, but it’s a great view.

All is well here. We had our first test in Georgian this week. We’ll call that a small defeat. It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t that good either. I’m making some progress, but I don’t know if slow and steady is going to win this race. We have a big celebration planned for Saturday and the 4th of July. It should be fun and I’ll try to get something up here next week to fill you in on how it went. My request for watermelon is supposed to come through, but the volunteer’s request for fireworks was vetoed by the staff. I guess it’s still a little too soon after the war to go shooting off explosives on what the Georgians would perceive as a random Saturday.

We have our first week of teaching practicum starting on Monday. We meet our temporary counterparts on Friday and then we’ll have 2 weeks of teaching in the afternoons after language lessons in the morning. Should make for some long days. Site announcements are scheduled for July 27th and then we’ll meet our permanent counterparts and make a site visit and assessment after that.

Hope all is well with all of you! I miss you all. Peace!