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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.

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.