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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, October 29, 2009

A Top 5

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

The weekend that was…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Song I'm lovin' right now

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

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.