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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, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend / Biaram

So this was the weekend of killing things and it all started on Thursday; Thanksgiving. I was in charge of capturing and killing the turkey which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Turkeys aren’t the smartest animals so all you really have to do is corner the thing and then grab it by one of its wings. The turkey tried to fight back by slapping me in the face with a wing but I was too smart to take a second “punch” and just held it away from me on the way to the chopping block. A quick axe to the back of the head and all was done. Unfortunately, I was not in charge of cooking the bird. I told my host mom all she had to do was clean it and then pop it in the over for a few hours and we could have baked turkey. This was apparently too much to ask. So when dinner was ready, I noticed that the bird had been chopped up, boiled down and placed in this sauce that looked like watered down mustard. Too bad it didn’t taste like watered down mustard though. Gross! But, it’s the thought that counts right? Riiigghht…

Friday I was off from school since Friday was the start of Biaram. Biaram is a 4-day Muslim holiday amazingly enough quite similar to Thanksgiving. Friday you rest, and then on Saturday and Sunday you eat… sheep of course. But, part of the thing is you have to give at least 10% of your sheep away to those who can’t afford to buy one. Traditionally, you give this meat away to 7 different families so this is how my Saturday morning got started…


Good Morning Muganlo! As soon as I crawled out of bed on Saturday there was my host dad and brother slicing the head off a sheep and requesting my assistance in the butchering. I was more than glad to help, but I would have loved to have had the chance to at least have some coffee first. The butchering took about an hour and a half and my participation was somewhat limited to holding back flesh or holding up limbs while my host dad cut away skin and various parts. My family here decided to give away way more than 10% and I would say that nearly 1/3 of our sheep was cut up and put in seven different piles to be distributed. Half of it was put away for Sunday and the rest we put on skewers for lunch. These were the parts that need to be eaten right away so they don’t go bad. Liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, and yes… testicles. Still no coffee at this point, but I sure was presented with some grilled balls on my plate before noon. (Not as bad as you would think and at least they don’t eat the eyes like in Kazakhstan.)
The rest of Saturday was spent chopping and stacking wood. I thankfully was in charge of stacking since they don’t like how I just hack away at the wood with no regard for uniformity. My idea is if it burns, that’s good enough for me. Unfortunately the power went out for the third time this past week sometime during the night on Saturday so when I woke up Sunday morning I was freezing. The weather has really turned cold this week. Thursday is not supposed to get above freezing here.


A friend of mine came and visited on Sunday and the power was still off till about 4pm Sunday. But, it did come back on and we all had a great feast of… lamb. Again, the power went out in the middle of the night so Monday morning was also very cold. It was about 30 degrees when we got up to get ready to go to school and probably only 40 degrees in my room. My friend went to school with me to observe my classes and check out my school which he agreed was a POS building. He was also impressed that he could see his breath while walking down the hallways. I don’t see too many warm and happy moments coming up this winter that’s for sure. The power did come back on Monday after I got home from work around 5pm and I’m just hoping that it stays on for the whole night tonight.


So that’s it on the update for this week. Lots of funny stories from this week but no time to type them up. Below you’ll find the next episode of Muganlo TV but I warn you, if you don’t want to see sheep guts, just don’t watch it.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Back in Muganlo

This past week was spent at a conference near Tbilisi at a “resort” style hotel on Lake Basaleti. All the volunteers from my group were there from Monday night till Saturday morning taking language and technical classes. The place was nice and it was great to just be away for a while and hang out with all my American friends. The weather was really cold though and we even got a tinny but of snow on the last day.

The snow almost made it to us

I opted to take Azeri language classes rather than Georgian during the conference since that’s what I need the most here. My teacher was awesome and gave me and the one other guy that took Azeri a lot of information over the two days of language classes that I now have to digest and try to start using. One cool thing though, if I can master Azeri there are only a few minor adjustments and I’ll also be able speak Turkish.

Me and Ben at the pool tables


After the two days of language classes, we had some technical sessions and some more information about safety and security. One session was presented by a guy whose company is involved in a huge land mine clearing operation here in Georgia. He was very informative and it was really interesting to learn about the location and density of the mining here in Georgia. (Don’t worry, none of them are near me.)

I taught one of the technical sessions to my fellow volunteers during the last full day of trainings. My topic was: ‘Graduated Learning and How to Teach to Multi-leveled Students in the Same Classroom.’ Something I am well aware of, but still struggle to pull off myself sometimes.
Friday night was awesome. We had our Thanksgiving dinner for all the volunteers and PC Staff. The Radisson in Tbilisi provided the turkeys, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The other volunteers cooked all the side dishes and deserts. It was by far the best meal I’ve had here in Georgia. The green beans, carrots, gravy and real biscuits were just awesome. Apple pie for desert and we even had pumpkin rum! Yum!

The gardens by the lake


Saturday after breakfast we all packed up and went back to our sties. I hung around in Tbilisi for a few hours then made the trip back to Muganlo. When I finally got home I had enough time to set down my bags and head off to a wedding. My host brother was the only one home and he was waiting for me so he could get me there before it started. So from 5pm till about 2am I danced, ate and drank with the family. My cousin came from Baku along with my host-brother’s mother-in-law and brother-in-law so that has our total up to 14 people living here right now. I hadn’t seen my host-cousin for a month so it was cool to hang out with him again at the wedding. And, like all good Azeri weddings, yes there was a fight near the end. It’s crazy. One minute you’ll be dancing and laughing and the next there are fists flying. But, that’s what happens when people drink for hours on end and there’s that one guy who just loves to fight when he gets drunk. Not any different than America in that regard. Here it just usually happens at weddings. Luckily this was the second night and the next day all we had to do was go help clean up a little and then sit down for another huge meal and more drinking. Kind of like an after party but with better food. This one had rabbit as well and it was really good. I think I’d almost put rabbit right up there as my second favorite meat behind pork. Hmmm…

Next week I have another wedding to go to on Tuesday and Wednesday because it’s always a two night affair. Then, I’ll see if I can get my host-dad to kill one of our turkeys for Thursday. I’m sure he’ll be cool with it. We’ll see.

So, have a happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll be here thinking about you. I’m thankful for everyone that reads my blog and especially thankful for those of you that send packages. ;)
Peace!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moooo...

So many of you, I’m sure all of you, have noticed that I’m now on Facebook. Not a fan but it is a good waste of time when all I’ve got is time… sometimes. I still plan to use this as my primary means of getting the word out, but I’m sure I’ll be throwing some pictures up over there from time to time as well. But that’s not what this post is about.

This week was not as stressful as last week. I think mostly because I was counting down the days till Friday was over so I could relax over this weekend and then go to a conference all next week far far away from my school. Then the following Monday is a Georgian holiday so no school that day either. Thats10 days of no school starting tomorrow morning! Hells yeah! Can you tell my 9th graders are getting on my nerves?

This was the week of the cow. We killed an older cow and old cows are apparently the best for your health and you should use all of it. Wednesday was fried cow stomach (pretty good I might add) and cow brains in some kind of stewed fashion. Let’s just say that the Tuesday preparation of the cow was a little intense. My host-dad was sawing away at the cows feet so me can make more xhash (see my post below if you don’t know what that is) while my host-brother was working on the head of the cow to extract all the good bits. I’m going to post a video of this below, but it’s really dark and not all that good. Our dining room has very little light in there once the sun goes down. But, you’ll get the point. Nothing too gross.

The Head and my host-brother with The Head


Wednesday I also did my three hours of hand washing clothes. That was after being at school all day and going back to teach my night class. The cow helped me regain my strength though.

Thursday there was a concert at my school. It was some kind of Azeri historical holiday and the kids read a bunch of prewritten proverbs and information, sang some songs, did a few dances and in general put on a long drawn out program. I didn’t take any pictures because my view was obstructed by a flower arrangement. It wasn’t that exciting anyway. After the show, all the teachers stuck around and had a small dinner. After that the male teachers stuck around and we all had a big vodka fest. It was fun and we all had a good time once the kids were gone. I didn’t drink all that much because I knew I had to walk home afterwards on our less than even road. But, even so one of the teachers insisted on walking me home. It was funny because the whole way we have our arms locked together and I’m holding him up all the way down the hill to my house.

All my teachers say hello by the way


Friday was even better because when I got to school every male teacher except one was obviously hung over. I wasn’t that bad at all because I’m sure I was the only one that stopped drinking once I got home. After school and my Azeri language lesson I walked down to the next town and met another volunteer so we could try out the new cafĂ© in town. Again, nothing too exciting. But, we did each get a free piece of cake for being American and stopping by. I doubt that’s going to be my deciding factor as to whether I go back or not though.

Anyway, that’s all for this post. Just thought I would catch you up and let you know that the next time you’re in the market for a good meal, don’t forget the cow. Cow; the other brown meat.

Peace!

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Interesting Week

So this past week was quite eventful. There was just a lot going on which is strange for Muganlo. I posted a video earlier so if you want to see that it should be the post right below this one. Not that the video has anything to do with this week, but I did finally get around to doing that.
Most of the week was rainy and cold, but we did have a few days of sun. It didn’t get far above 50 degrees all week and for the most part school was freezing cold. They say that they are going to bring in our wood burning heaters soon, so we’ll see how good of a job they do and how bad the school will smell of smoke as soon as they do.
Anyway, here is a breakdown of this past week:

MONDAY: Had a decent day a school with no major problems other than one teacher throwing a hissy fit about something in front of all the teachers during one of our breaks. I came home, did some lesson planning and then went back to school to teach my afternoon class to the people in the community. Only problem was the school was locked because the old lady that keeps the keys forgot about my class and neglected to show up and unlock the school. So, my students and I decided to call it a day since it was cold and raining and we didn’t feel like trying to go find her. Not a big deal, we’ll just pick up next week. I went home to find my host dad and little brother picking the last of our grapes and moving them to the garage. After I put down my things I decided to help them and we spent the next few hours smashing grapes and putting the juice into big bottles and moving them to the basement. We didn’t have one of the grape smashers, so my little host brother had to do all the work by climbing into a barrel and squashing them with his new pair of boots. It was a lamb dinner then off to bed. Not too eventful of an evening.

TUESDAY: All went well at school despite a major leak in my 8th grade classroom until I got to my 9th grade class. I only have 2 students that care about learning at all in that group so when I try to help them all I ask of the other students is to just not get in the way. This was too much to ask on Tuesday. One of the hooligans in the back decided that this was a good day to eat sunflower seeds in class and at one point tried to throw one and hit the one boy in the class that I was teaching. He missed and hit me square in the chest with it. I was pissed. So, I left the room and returned with the director and the vice director and told them what had happened. They were equally pissed about it and made the students spend the rest of the class cleaning the room. I was not about to waste any more time with them that day anyway. After a chat with the director about possible solutions I went home, changed clothes and started my hour walk to the next town for my weekly Georgian lesson. At about 3:30 I was done and walked the hour back home just in time to meet my middle host brother, have some tea and head off to our cousin’s wedding. The wedding lasted from about 5:30 till 1 a.m. There were at least 300 people there and we were all crowed under this leaky tent that was only doing a somewhat decent job of keeping us dry. The wedding was fun though and there was a lot of dancing, music, wine and like any good Azeri wedding some fighting at the end.

WEDNESDAY: My Peace Corps regional manager and one of the other PC directors came to my school for their annual site visit. I was running on about 5 hours of sleep and only a small hangover but all went well with that. My 5th graders put on a good lesson for them and my director said nothing but good things about me. I didn’t think he would have anything negative to say, but it was still nice to hear it. The one thing that I took out of it was he said, “The level of enthusiasm for learning English has dramatically increased since Andrew has arrived.” That was cool. At least I know I’m making some progress. After school I went home had some lunch and then back to school for my 4:30 English class with the community. Luckily after my talk with the old woman on Tuesday the school was open and I didn’t have any problems. Again I got home afterwards just in time to hitch a ride to wedding night two. Azeri weddings are a two night affair. The first night is at the girl’s home and the second night is at the guy’s home. The second night was cooler since we had better covering from the rain and cold and there weren’t quite as many people there. Same amount of wine though. Also on the second night my host uncle made this really long toast to me in front of everyone and then I had to make a response toast thanking everyone. It was really cool and after that I truly felt welcomed by everyone. People know me, but it’s nice to know that people not only know me but accept me as part of the community now. Night two ended for me around midnight even though I’m sure it went on long after I slipped out and crawled into bed.

THURSDAY: The rain stopped. But the power went out sometime during the night and was out all day. School was ok and I didn’t have any issues from my 9th grade class which was nice for a change. (By the way, the power being out has no effect on school since our lights don’t work anyway.) I ate lunch afterwards and then went back for my after school class, this time with the kids from school who actually have motivation to spend an extra hour once a week to learn some new vocabulary and grammar. After class I went home and spent the afternoon reading while there was still some light out. About an hour into reading my host sister-in-law calls me down stairs yelling something about my cat. (Let me explain, this little kitten showed up at our house the day after I got here and I more or less adopted it since people here don’t really care about pets. Me and him were friends and I fed him and made sure he had water everyday. And, everyday after dinner he would curl up in my lap while I drank tea and fall asleep.) You’ll note all that was in the past tense because on Thursday afternoon the little guy tried to run in the house after my host sister-in-law and she accidentally slammed our steel door on his neck. So when I got downstairs he was still alive but in very bad shape and unable to breathe. I had to (now for the second time in my life with a cat) put him out of his misery. It was really sad, but I picked a good spot in our garden and buried him.

R.I.P. Little Buddy!


FRIDAY: Raining again but the power was back on. Friday is an easy day at school and I was glad to be out of there once my classes were over. I came home to find my dog curled up under the porch in a large bucket of walnuts. For some reason that made me laugh. I relaxed for most of the afternoon and when my host dad got home we did some random projects and then ate dinner. After dinner he killed me in chess 3 games in a row and then I watched a movie and went to bed.


SATURDAY: Got up, messed around the house and then walked down to the next town, caught a ride and went to another town about 25 minutes away to meet some other volunteers for lunch and general sitting around shooting the shit. After a few hours I went back to Tokhliauri to visit my old host family for a Georgian supra. It was a celebration for the first birthday of the little baby that lived there with me during the summer. It was a good party and there was a ton of food. (None of it was lamb by the way) I had a good time seeing some of the people I met over the summer and there were some people I had not met before who were very entertaining. Georgians however make the longest toasts and sometimes you just get bored waiting on them to finish. This supra was no exception and in some cases worse because the guy who was our Tamada (toast master) was a history teacher and every toast ended up being at least 10 minutes. I’m not lying I got up and left at one point when I saw that he was about to make a toast and went to the bathroom, washed my hands, had a smoke and then went back in. He was still talking! But, it was a fun night and I had a good time seeing my old host family and eating some better food.

SUNDAY: Got up and ate a huge breakfast with the family and then came back to Muganlo. Helped my host dad cut up some apples, ate lunch and then took a nap. It’s not raining but it’s cold and cloudy. I’m sure the rain will start back up sometime during the night. After my nap I went downstairs and sat with the family and played another game of chess with my host dad. He made me bet on the game that the loser would drink a horn of wine. (A horn of wine is just what it sounds like. A large horn hollowed out and filled with wine). I lost. I’m getting better, but it kills me because he talks trash while playing and I know he’s way better than me. I think it was Tuesday that he told me he was our region’s champion chess player for four years in a row. Anyway, I’m 1 win and 10 losses against him at this point. We’ll see how next week goes.

Hope all is well with all of you. I’m going to call it a night and hope that this next week is somewhat less eventful. Peace!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

MTV Episode 1

So I'm trying to type up a long post to get everyone up to date on what going on, but due to a few power outages this week I was unable to get that done. I'm off to see my old host family today for a Georgian supra and I should be back tomorrow sometime during the afternoon. I'll try to get the post up then. It's been a crazy week so there is a lot to write about. In the mean time, enjoy the first episode of MTV...

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