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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

Monday, August 31, 2009

No News...

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

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

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


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another update…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Gem in the Rocks 2nd try at this

Ha Ha!!! I got it to work. Now I just need to see if the photos will load...

Well well well, if there isn’t some Internet in Muganlo. Hot Damn! I would have never thought but apparently hidden in a back corner of my dining room is a computer with some Internet capacity. Some Internet capacity being the key there.

All is well so far. I’ve only been here for three days now and haven’t had to go to school as of yet. I’m supposed to go on Monday to start planning a camp that I’m going to run before school starts. I’m basically going to use the camp as a way to introduce myself to the students and try to establish a mark of where the overall English level is for both my students and my counterpart. That is assuming of course that my school director can track her down and get her to show up for the planning. As of Saturday he wasn’t too sure if he would be able to do so.

So let me get you caught up on the weekend and what I’ve learned so far. Friday we had the swearing-in ceremony and my speech. I thought it was terrible but the Georgians loved it and the other volunteers loved not being the ones up there struggling through it. I guess that’s good. I did get a video of the speech so I can show you when I get home. The best part was my country director introducing me as Andrew Jackson. He quickly corrected himself but we all got a good laugh out of it first. The other volunteers said it wouldn’t have been half as funny if I weren’t from the South. The ceremony overall was awesome and included some traditional Georgian singers and dancers, both of which were very entertaining. Friday night I just unpacked, gave my host family their gifts (which they loved by the way, thanks Mom) and had dinner. I reintroduced myself to the family and finally figured out who all is actually in my family.

I have a mom (44), dad (48), 3 brothers (26, 25, and 12), a sister-in-law (24), and two nephews (7 and 4; the 4-year-old is unable to speak unless he yells what he wants). The oldest brother does not live here but in Baku, Azerbaijan with his wife and 3-week-old son. He was here this weekend but has left to return home. However, he will be returning in 10 days with his wife and new son for a “visit.” Visits here can last for over a month and I’m not quite sure how long they’ll be here. But, I digress.
The most interesting thing is my family speaks 4 languages. The host father and older brother both speak some English but not enough for fluent conversation. Mom, Dad and Sister-in-law and middle brother all speak Russian. Everyone except the two young ones speaks some Georgian and they all speak Azeri. So, while a conversation may start out in Georgian, in mid sentence it can switch to Azeri and no one misses a beat. Well no one except me. My language right now starts off in Georgian with my host mom then moves to Russian when I get past my Georgian understanding. My host-dad and I start in English then move to Russian and for the rest of the family it’s either all Russian or all broken Georgian. I have the hardest time with my 12-year-old brother because he speaks mainly Azeri, doesn’t know Russian and his Georgian is about as good as mine.

Overall it is very entertaining right now. I’m sure as my language improves, it will get more difficult as I try to be understood by everyone. My school director is in the process of finding me a Georgian and Azeri tutor so I can work on both of those languages. My Russian is quickly coming back to me and I don’t really need much work there beyond what I can do myself at home with vocabulary.

Moving on. Saturday was cool. I slept in, had breakfast then went on a 30 minute walk to the next town over to meet the volunteer that lives closest to me. We then met her host family and walked back to Muganlo so she could meet mine and have lunch. It was too funny though because she is our one African American volunteer and the people of Muganlo have never seen a black person except on TV. We had some great looks from the people we passed and she has a great attitude about it, so there weren’t any problems. After I walked her back and then walked back myself (10K with all 4 trips) I was ready to lie down and read/nap. I was down for about 10 minutes when my middle host brother came and got me. He walked in my room and in broken Russian said, “Come we go now.” When faced with my question of where, he simply replied, “wine!”
So off we went. He and I got in some car that was waiting outside of our gate. Apparently the party had already started some time ago and they were just waiting on me to get rid of the female volunteer so I could go too. (I was wondering why they left so quickly after lunch) We ended up driving to the end of our village basically off-roading in a Lada to a picnic spot at the top of this hill. Gorgeous by the way. There I found my older host brother, my host cousin that I had met last time I was here and about 7 other guys all in their mid to late 20s already half drunk and way too excited for me to finally arrive.
My oldest host brother explained to me that they were all his friends and that they are now my friends. This was reiterated to me about 100 times by each of them over the next few hours. Brothers was the term used and to tell you the truth it felt great. I was like, ok these guys are cool and they are all super happy that I’m here and they more than willing to help me out in any way they can. I really felt welcomed and every toast was made to either their land as now my land, their families as mine, their friendships, whatever.
We stayed up there for a few hours and then before it got dark returned to one of my neighbor’s houses and had a few more drinks before the party wrapped up around 9. They had been drinking since about 2 so I was about 3 hours behind. Me and the host brothers returned home and had some more food and tea before we were all ready to pass out around 11 pm.

Cultural note here: Wine is to be slammed out of juice glasses not sipped and enjoyed out of wine glasses. It’s very clean and has a singular taste to it and is not complex at all. Very strong though. Every time a toast is made everyone must drink. If the toast is made to dead relatives, children, family or friends or country, you must drink the whole glass at once. About 75% of toasts are made on one of those topics by the way. When you’ve had enough feel free to say so and try not to drink the whole glass. If it goes unnoticed you’re fine. But, if someone calls you on it… you’re drinking it.

On to Sunday. I woke up around 8:30 in time to say goodbye to my host brother before he left to go back to Azerbaijan, had some breakfast and relaxed a little. I did find out that Sunday is one of our two bath days in the week. (That’s right I said 2 bath days in a week). The other one is Wednesday. So, I’m looking forward to that. The bazaar or public market here is only open on Sunday so I was excited to see that, but by the time my host dad returned home from the train station with my host brother he said it was a little late because it’s better to go in the mornings. He wanted to know what I wanted to buy there or what it was that I needed. He seemed concerned and kept telling me that they have everything I need here at home. I finally got the point across that all I wanted to do was look around because I was interested to see what they had there. Once he realized that I was just interested he seemed cool about it and told me that we would go next week.

Ok, so now you know what I’ve been up to this weekend and that I will have some regular access to the Internet. Who knew? Muganlo is looking better by the day. Well not really better but at least not as bad as first glance. We’ll see how the students are and how the school year starts off and then I’ll have a better idea of how the next two years are going to go. Still not excited about the school itself or the outhouse squatting, but hey when in Muganlo, do as the Azeris do.

I’m also attempting to post some pictures on here. One should be a photo of me and Biden that the Peace Corps got from the Embassy website, one is me and a friend of mine choking our training director at swearing-in, another from swearing-in of me and my village mates with our Georgian teacher.


A Gem in the Rocks

Well I had this long blog typed out to tell everyone that I have Internet in Muganlo and all about my aventures and my family, but for some reson I can't get it to copy over from Word. Hopefully these pictures post... we'll see. Having bad Internet may be as bad as not having it at all. I can't really get my e-mail to load either. Ok... no go on the pictures either. We'll try this again later.
I did get it sent off to a few of you just now, so the first one to call me and have Internet in front of them gets to post it for me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final PST Post

Ok, so I did manage to get by here and post one more before I’m off to Muganlo.

Just a quick post though to give y’all the final updates. I scored Intermediate Low on my language exam which is awesome since I only needed to score a Novice High. I know those terms may not mean much to you but if you think about it on a 10 point scale, I needed a 3 and got a 4.

We have our swearing-in ceremony on Friday morning and then I’m off to my site for the next two years. We had our farewell banquet on Wednesday night and also our moustache judging. I took 3rd place, so not too bad. I think I should have gotten second, but oh well. The guy that won totally deserved it because his moustache was creepy as hell. They also gave out superlative awards and mine was: ‘Most likely to have spent the most time in front of the mirror grooming his moustache.’ Hahahaha. Sounds about right.

We also had a Birthday party for one of the volunteers here in my village on Thursday afternoon as kind of a farewell/Birthday thing. This time there was alcohol involved unlike every Peace Corps event. We made several toasts as is the Georgian tradition and had a great time. Well everybody except the one volunteer who isn’t used to drinking and had to spill her cookies towards the end. Poor girl, she was so embarrassed. Never mind that though. We all had a great time and it was nice to sit down to a good meal together and have one last goodbye before we all head off to our new cities and villages.

No news really other than that. I’m posting a picture here (hopefully) of the 3rd place winner stache for you.

It’s been a hell of a nine weeks and I’m glad it’s over and ready to go take on the challenge of Muganlo. Hope all is well with all of you!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Throw this Dawg a bone

I figured I’d give this blog a College football title since the season is starting soon and I won’t be there for it. :(

I need anyone who is interested to spend some time searching the Internet and find me an organization that is interested in coming to Georgia and rebuilding a school. I don’t care who, as long as they have the capacity and the willingness to send me some people and resources, or just a bunch of money through a grant to get this school in Muganlo up and running. I don’t care if they’re Mormon, Catholic, Baptist, Buddhist, Capitalists or Communist, just as long as they’re willing to do it.

If you find anything please contact them and let them know some details of my situation and then send me an e-mail. Probably best not to respond on here since hopefully someone that reads this blog will find something and be able to let me know some details. Please don’t just send me a link to a website. The Internet here isn’t powerful enough to load most sites and even if I could get to it I would probably just get it half loaded and then the Internet would go out.

Also, if anyone is interested in sending a care package; one know that it’ll take at least a month and two I can only travel to get my mail once a month. But, for those of you that can, go get a flash drive, load it up with some movies (or music) and drop it in the mail. Spend $10 and make my life in Muganlo 10 times better. My DVD player on my computer doesn’t work, so I need them on flash drives. Most of you should have my address and if you don’t contact my mom. She has it and can forward you some shipping labels. Other than that I can’t see anything that I’ll “need” for some time other than maybe the occasional bottle of contact solution and if anyone has a book that they just think I must read then send it on. Don’t spend a lot on shipping though because the Peace Corps library has an ok selection and I can get some stuff there once a month. I’ve already been through a few books so far and reread The Catcher in the Rye for about the 5th time. Right now I’m on a Norm Chomsky book. Oh! And Patrick if your reading this I picked up a copy of that Umberto Eco book you wanted me to read last year that I never did and so I’ll get to that in a few weeks I think.

Alright enough begging… on with the blog!

PST (training) is almost over! It was a long 9 weeks and I’m now mentally, physically, emotionally, technically, linguistically and metaphysically prepared to go to my permanent site. I was totally shocked by my first visit there, but I think I’m now ready to take on the challenge and get to work.

Over the past 9 weeks I’ve learned a lot about Georgia, its people, culture, food and language. Well, not a whole lot about its language, but I digress. It was a good PST and I think the staff here has done a good job of preparing and supporting the volunteers. I’m looking forward to my two years in Muganlo and I’m going into it not with the negative perception that I had a few weeks ago but rather with a desire to do some kind of good there.

Oh, and I do need to clarify a mistake from my previous post about Muganlo. A PC staff member did inspect my school, it just wasn’t my program director. So there was a miscommunication there between the two of us. So, if they say it’s fit for work, then I’m good with that.

This past week we had our final “practicum” of sorts. We ran a summer camp for the kids and played a lot of games and watched Robin Hood (the Disney version where Robin Hood is a fox). I thought about it mid way through the movie and I probably haven’t seen that movie in 20 years, but I still remembered every bit of it. Anyway, we attempted to play kickball on the final day but that was a failure. They had fun but what we ended up playing was some strange version that was nothing like the kickball y’all know and love. Try to imagine a culture where nobody knows how to throw a ball unless its with two hands and over their heads like a soccer throw in. “Just throw it!” is not a good explanation either by the way.

On Friday of this past week, we had our final session with all of the volunteers together. We also had out final two exams and our final evaluations from the staff. My reviews were very good overall. In fact my only negative feed back was that I can be too critical at times (who me???) and that I drop the F-bomb too much when frustrated in class. I figured if that’s all the negative feedback that I got then I must be doing just fine. I mean, what the fuck right? Oops. Sorry.

This last week is two language classes, our final language test (scary), a big dinner and cultural event (also the mustache contest judging. I’m so over this thing and ready to get it off my face!), packing, and then our swearing in ceremony on Friday. We also leave for our sites right after swearing in. Oh, one other note. I’ll be delivering a speech at swearing in. There is one speech from and education volunteer and one from a business volunteer and we have to do them in both English and Georgian in front of all the staff, Georgian government officials, American Embassy people, host families and other volunteers. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but my Georgian version may be an adventure. Don’t worry though, I’m spending some time transliterating it so I can sound super good but just be reading a bunch of English letters strung together to make Georgian words. I’ll try and see if I can get a video of this for you to see when I get back to the States.

Other than all that excitement, there really isn’t much more to report. This may be my final transmission (I’ll try to get on sometime next week and post a blog before I leave for site though) for quite some time since there is no Internet where I’m going and I have no idea when I’ll be able to get to a place where there is Internet. But, you never know, so check back here from time to time and see what’s up on this side of the world. You can always call too! (If you don’t have the number, you’re a bad friend and should contact my mom and get it) I’d love for someone to call and give me some baseball standings and college football updates from time to time. I’m sports starved over here. And no Tebow love either!

Like I said, please somebody find me an organization that wants a good project to do for an Azeri Diaspora living in Georgia. They need it and so do I.

I miss you guys and I hope y’all have a great end to your summer!

P.S. The pictures below go with the blog about my weekend trip. I just didn’t have a chance to post them before. Well at least I hope they post… Oh, and one trivial fact that I learned this week, apparently the wall in Sighnaghi is the second longest in the world behind the Great Wall of China. The More You Know… Bing.

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 cafĂ© 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.