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Charleston, SC, United States
"Fear is a stranger to the ways of love. Identify with fear, and you will be a stranger to yourself." -ACIM

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Wedding; Another Experience

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the blog and don’t know how weddings in my Azeri village work, let me give you a little update. There are a thousand little traditions and steps that need to be taken over the two-night affair. The first night takes place at the girl’s house; the second at the guy’s. The girl’s family hosts the guy’s family and friends the first night and after much music playing, dancing and of course drinking, everyone goes home.

Last night in Muganlo was night two of my host-family’s cousin’s wedding. This guy is pretty cool and has always been a friend to me ever since I got there. So night two was at his house which is right next door to our house and of course I had to be there. And being as where I am considered one of the cousins and being a younger guy, I actually had a role to play in night two.
Here’s how it works. All the males get together at his house at about 3:30 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon and start drinking. Thankfully it’s not that much since everybody knows we have a long night ahead of us. This is what we do to keep ourselves occupied while all the women of the family set up for the huge feast that is to come. Sure, every now and then we move a table or a bench here to there and back again, but for the most part we don’t do too much. That is until 5 o’clock. At five we load up with one last shot and start the procession to the girl’s house to “take” her. This is all traditional at this point and all we’re doing is taking her back to his house for night two of feasting and then she stays there for good.

But, half the fun of this is the procession. It is led by two boys who each carry a sheep around their shoulders. Behind them come all the guy’s male friends and relatives dancing, clapping and yelling. Behind the males is the band consisting of a drummer, accordion player and clarinetist. After the band come the female members of the family carrying gifts for the girl from them as a welcoming to the family. After the women come the cars all honking and flashing their lights. In the front car is the groom, his best-man and either parents or siblings. The cars behind them rank by family status or friendship. For example, one of my host-brothers was driving the second car since he is a cousin and close friend of the groom and he was carrying in his car some older female members of the family who couldn’t make the walk. The other two host-brothers were out in front dancing and marching with me.

Now this dancing procession takes as long as it takes to get from the guy’s to the girl’s house. In last night’s case it was about 30 minutes. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been in one of these, but it was the first time that I’ve ever been in one that has to pass a house that is currently hosting a funeral. Normally the goal of a wedding procession is to make as much noise as possible to draw people out of their homes to see them and congratulate the family. But, as we rounded one corner the groom’s brother yelled out and told the band in not so polite terms to, “shut the hell up!” He then proceeded to run back and yell at the women and then the cars holding his hand in the air.

So, for the next “block” (we don’t really have blocks, but it’s what I would call a section of the street) we all walked in silence. As we passed the home where the funeral was taking place, all the men removed their hats, the women lowered the gifts and the cars turned off their lights. But, as soon as we got off that street, the brother lowered his hand and yelled “Dance!” “Music now!”

After we had a few songs in I noticed he ran up and berated the boys up front with the sheep for taking us down that street. But, none the worse for wear, we made it to the girl’s house. Her father comes out, opens the gate and then the brother of the groom kills the first sheep at the entrance. After the thing is dead, we all go in. Here we (the males and females) must dance some more in the courtyard as if to say ‘we’re here and we’re here to party then take your daughter.’

At this point, as is the case in every culture, we’re just waiting on the girl to get ready. The female members of the male’s family all go upstairs to help get her things together while the men stand around and drink anything that was left over from the night before. This last for about another 30-45 minutes before eventually the groom’s mother or aunt calls down for he and his best man to come and ‘take’ the girl. This is also the cue for the procession to form up again and get ready for the march back.

This time the numbers grow just a bit as we take on more cars for the girl’s close family and a few friends will also join the marchers. This time our leader (the groom’s brother) insists that we take a different route as to not go by the funeral. The boy whose job it is to carry the second sheep back is not too enthused with this as it will add an additional few minutes to the march. But the brother was obviously not moved by his complaints since the boy received a swift kick to the back-side for his whining.

The march back is the same as the one on the way there just more people and cars. But, once we get there the family has strung a giant red ribbon over the entrance blocking our way. The only way to get in is for the bride and groom to walk up to the ribbon and cut it as the new happy couple. But where is the knife you ask? Well it’s here! being used to cut the throat of the second sheep. Here you go brother, use this bloody knife to cut this ribbon. Hurray! goes the crowd.

Once the bride and groom walk in everyone else follows and finds their places at two long tables set up for the feast. Men at one table women at the other of course. Thankfully last night I found a seat next to my host-dad, uncle and one of the male teachers from my school. Once you sit down at one of these things, there is no switching seats so seat selection is key. By this point its near 8 o’clock and time for the feast to begin. The groom’s father makes the first toast welcoming everyone and appointing a toast-master or ‘Tamada.”

Really after this there are no real points of interest. Music plays, the Tamada makes a toast, everybody drinks. Well, everyone except the women of course. They’re out of there after about the 5th or 6th toast in order to clear the table for other guests and to prepare more food. After that it’s loud music, toast, and drink; repeat. There is a whole set of dancing rules and in which order which people dance, but I’ve yet to develop an interest in figuring that one out. I just go when my host-brothers go or when my host-dad tells me to go in his place. It’s not that interesting trust me. And, dancing here is easy. You just move around in a circle with the other people with your arms in the air flicking your wrists back and forth yelling “O-Paa!”

All of this goes on till well after midnight and I really have to hand it to my host-dad because even after these long nights he is up at 7 in the morning and on his way to work. I can’t say the same for my host-brothers since they were still asleep when I left at 9 this morning.

But, that was a brief glance at what it’s like to take part in a wedding in Muganlo. Sorry, no pictures for this since I didn’t take my camera. All the dancing and marching can sometimes get a little rough so I decided to leave it at home. Also, you never know when a cousin from the bride’s family might have a problem with a brother or cousin from the groom’s family and start a fight. I’ve seen plenty of those and been involved in more than one unfortunately. But, when my host-brother start fighting, I’m there with them. Luckily, last night was not one of those type nights. Apparently everybody was friendly and in the New Year’s spirit.

Hope you all have big plans for New Year’s Eve and stay safe out there. I hear its cold in America these days. So far so good here this winter and it hast gotten too bad… yet.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The week leading up to Christmas

I’m getting the best gift for Christmas. No school until January 20th! I’m only bummed that my mom’s packages didn’t get here in time for me to have them for Christmas. I was hoping to have them so that I could give my host-family gifts on Christmas, and so I could have stuff to stuff my stocking with for Christmas morning. But, I got word this morning that they are hung up in customs and I probably won’t be able to get them until next week. No big deal, my family is Muslim, so they’d probably rather have them on New Year’s anyway. That’s the big holiday here and everyone decorates for it like its Christmas anyway.

This week was a fun one. I was not sick for the first time in about two and a half weeks and I decided to forego trying to teach my kids anything since half of them weren’t showing up for the last week of school and my counterparts were more interested in finally getting around to filling out the grade books in order to get the final semester grades in by Friday afternoon. So instead, I just played review games with them and on the last day tried to teach two of my groups Jingle Bells. More on that later.

This past Sunday was interesting. I came home from a weekend away to find that nobody was home. Not one of the 15 people living in my house for the past 3 weeks was there. Never in my 18 months of living there has this happened. So, I call the host-dad. My 15-year-old host-brother answers and said they were all visiting relatives in another village and to “jump” over the fence. Now this is no easy task since that fence is 9 feet tall. But, I managed even with an old lady who was herding her turkeys watching me with a look on her face that said, ‘Crazy American.’ After I climbed over I just hung out in my room for a few hours since the entire house except for the kitchen was locked up. Around 7:30 that evening the host-brother calls back and in broken English tells me, “Car don’t work. We be home late, you need eating. Go chicken and make. We home late.” Now only because I’ve lived with him for this long did I understand that I needed to go to the kitchen and make myself some food since they would be home later that evening.

Problem number one: I never go in the kitchen. That is my host-mom’s territory and she does not let people in there. So, I have no idea where anything is or even how to turn on the stove. Luckily, I’m not a complete moron and was able to figure out how to get the gas balloon to filter gas to the stove and get it lit. The problem was the only available options to me were: re-heat the boiled sheep, re-heat the eggs from that morning, re-heat some cow’s stomach or starve. I thought about skipping the meal altogether. Then, if the situation wasn’t funny enough already, Mom calls from America. While laughing it up with her on my current situation I found some oatmeal in one of the cabinets and opted to eat that. Thankfully, Mom was able to tell me the water to oatmeal ratio for a bowl of warm goodness. I had to eyeball it since there are no measuring cups, but it turned out ok. Mom and I chatted it up while I was waiting on the water to boil and till I made it back to my room and ate. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I finished my bowl of oatmeal, the host-family gets back. They were concerned that I hadn’t eaten, but I showed them that I had and all were satisfied even if my host-mom was slightly skeptical.

Also this week my family decided to bring back the mid-week shower. So on Wednesday we all got a hot shower and cleaned up. When I first got there last year we took showers every Sunday and Wednesday, but that stopped last winter and we were restricted to Sundays only. While I hate the once a week bath, I had forgotten how nice it is to get that mid-week shower and shave. It was awesome! However, I have my doubts as to whether this will continue in future weeks.
So overall the not being sick, having a night to myself and the mid-week shower combined to make this a pretty good week. Well we still have the visiting relative and the 15 people in the house, but whatever.

Like I said, I spent most of Monday through Thursday just playing games with my kids and making up grades with my counterparts. They are so lax about marking down grades during the semester so on the last week they all make this mad rush to calculate up the grades that I’ve written down in the grade books and add in some of their own to make the final score come out the way they want it. “Let’s give her a 10 because she’s a good girl and him an 8 because he’s good and for the kid that never comes, a 6.” They won’t let me fail anyone no matter if the kid hasn’t shown up at all or even bothered to make any effort. I washed my hands of that last year and now I just laugh at them and make sure that my favorite kids who do semi-consistent work get either 9s or 10s.

As a treat, like I said I played games with the kids who showed up and then took class photos. You’ll see in the pictures below my 5th and 6th grade classes. I didn’t bother with my 9th or 10th graders; none of them were there. I also had 15 minutes left in the semester to teach them Jingle Bells. You’ll watch a shortened version of two groups trying it out below. Not bad for just 15-20 minutes, but one group just couldn’t quite get it. I’m also glad that I don’t have classes on Fridays so I got to miss today New Year’s concert at school. Last year’s was a train wreck and nearly blew my eardrums and bored me to death at the same time. Another Christmas gift. No concert for me this year.

Well I’m off to watch some football games I’ve got downloaded and try and get some sleep tonight. This week despite the fun was not a good sleep week. Ugh. Why is 4 a.m. my brain’s preferred wake-up time? And then again at 4:30, 5:15, 5:35,… and so on till I have to get up at 7:30. Send drugs! I’ve had enough!

Never mind that. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’s! I miss you all and hope to hear from you soon.

6G (well, most of them)

6A (half of them)

6B (the only ones that matter anyway)

5B (with my Azeri counter-part)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Week in Review

And what a week it was. I should stop being surprised by things, but its part of the reason I love being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Every day is different and you never know what’s going to happen until you get up and get to it.

This week was one of the three Bayrams of the year. This one was Eid al-Adha or Kurban Bayram. No, this is not the one where we get beaten with sticks and forced to dance in the street; that’s in Spring. This one is known as The Festival of Sacrifice and closely resembles our Thanksgiving in that families who can afford it buy a sheep, kill it and then give half the meat away to families who cannot afford one. They all sit down on the second day and have a feast and in general give thanks for what they have while trying to help those who have not. There is no drinking during this holiday; however families can eat whatever they like. Guess what they like… sheep.

So Monday was a normal school day since the holiday ran from Tuesday to Thursday. Our School Director told us that we could have one of the three days off from school so we actually voted and chose to be off on Tuesday. Not too bad since Monday and Tuesday are my busiest days and I had no problem with missing both my classes and after school classes on Tuesday.

I did run into one funny thing on the way home Monday though. It always strikes me as funny when someone in my village doesn’t know who I am. I was walking home and gave my traditional Salam to one of the old guys who sits on the side of the road everyday watching life go buy. But on Monday there was a guy there with him that I did not recognize. They both returned my Salam and then the conversation in Azeri went something like this:

“Who is that?”
“Oh, that’s the English teacher.”
“Where is he from?”
“He’s from America.”
“He lives here?”
“Yes. He lives with the Mammedovs down the road there.”

And generally that’s where the conversation stops. Or, at least that’s as much of it that I hear since I’m still walking as they chat away. I guess since we have such a transient population of migrant workers that there are people that don’t know me, but I hear that conversation at least once a month. And, 99% of the time its positive, because all the old men know me and always see me walking to work and back chatting with kids and have seen me at weddings and holidays not being all drunk and stupid. Big respect for drinking and not being a drunk who doesn’t go to work I guess.

Tuesday like I said was a day off and I didn’t do too much since my host-dad went to work and it wasn’t all that warm out. However, I did discover Tuesday morning that we were out of water. Nothing like brushing your teeth outside from a bucket of water drawn from the well while its 40 degrees out. Good morning!

Wednesday it was back to school. The kids were having a soccer tournament all day so a lot of the boys weren’t in class. Not a big loss there. However, I did have a great moment when I got to my last class of the day and all the girls were there with one of the boys who wasn’t playing in the tournament. Their classmates were playing at the time and I asked them, “Do you want to have English class or go watch your friends and then go home?” They voted unanimously to have class! I was like, Hot Damn! I gave them the best lesson I could and made sure we played a game before class was over. Love it when stuff like that happens!

My high was knocked down a bit though when I got home and realized I was too late to help in the sheep slaughter. The thing was not only already dead, but Akif (Host-dad) had already hung it up, given half of it away and was about 75% of the way through cutting up all the meat. (Hence, no pictures with this post.) And, there was a policeman at our house! Now, I’ve lived in Muganlo for over a year and have never seen a cop in our village. Not one. They just don’t come up there. He and Akif were having a very serious talk and I had to sit down with them and have tea. They were speaking Georgian, so I had only half an idea of what they were talking about. Once he finally left, I asked Akif what the deal was. He said, “Our region has a new police chief and he’s sending cops around to check people’s gun registrations. All mine are registered so I let him look.” Um. Okay. I then asked about other people in the village. Akif had a laugh and then said,”Don’t worry, everyone knows he’s here and walking around. If they have guns without registration, they’ll either hide them or pretend they aren’t home or not be able to speak Georgian. He won’t find anything.”

I had to laugh about that. Yes, we all have guns. No, you won’t find them if we don’t want you to. Anyway, we had a good dinner that night of boiled sheep and potatoes. I don’t know why I thought our diet would change just because it was a holiday.

Thursday was just a normal day of class and we closed out the holiday with more boiled meat. The only thing that was really bothering me was that we were still out of water and sanitation was starting to worry me. Not only were we all washing our hands out of a bucket, I’m not too sure that everyone was doing that with any regularity. There was a sheep slaughter, food prepared, food served, dished dirtied, the usual stuff; all without any regular water source. This is nothing new. I would say that in any given month we go without water for at least one week consecutively, and a few random days here and there. But, for some reason this week it was on my mind more than usual. I guess it was all the blood all over the place on Wednesday. Oh well. Hopefully we’ll have water back by Sunday for bath night. If not… well let’s just say it’s not going to be good.

Have a great weekend everyone and I hope you all had a good Kurban Bayram whether you knew you were supposed to or not.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday November 12, 2010

Another week down. Yep, it’s only Friday, but my week is over. I love not having class on Friday.

Today I’m off to visit my friend Ben for the night and probably make some good food and watch a football game that I have downloaded. Andrew, what is this post about anyway? Well, I’ll tell you. It is about my day yesterday. On we go…

The day started off ‘normal’ enough. I got up, had some coffee and rushed off to work. I had to answer a thousand questions once I got there about why I had decided not to attend a wedding the night before. I told them I fell asleep while reading a book, but the truth was, I just didn’t want to go. It was one of the teacher’s sons that was getting married. He’s a guy I’ve never met and I’ve only spoken to his mom a handful of times anyway. The only reason I was invited is because they love having a foreigner on video attending their weddings. Like some kind of trophy. No thank you.

All of my classes went surprisingly well and I finished up the day with my little 5th graders. Love those little buggers. So much energy. Too bad not all of it is directed at learning. During one of my class breaks one of the male teachers challenged my to a 3-game set of backgammon. He was talking trash too like he was going, “to teach me how to play.” I beat him 3-0 to the delight of the other two teachers who were watching.

I got stopped on my way home by a drunken uncle asking me to relay a message to my host-dad. The message was, “Let’s drink tonight.” I told my host-dad once he got home, but he laughed it off telling me, “Oh, he’s been drunk for 3 days now. Better to let him sleep it off.” Right.

Besides, my host-dad had a ‘special’ treat prepared. “We’re going to have a great dinner. Nana is in there cooking it now. Go wash up!” Now I never like when he uses the words exotic, special or delicacy. But, I had my hopes up since for the three previous days all we’ve had to eat is bread and a soup that lacked anything anyone would call a flavor. And no, oil is neither a flavor nor a member of any food group. I didn’t smell anything like sheep wafting out of the kitchen so I was doubly happy. Be careful what you wish for when you wish for variety!

What came out was this giant bowl of… something. Grease was the main component I could tell right off the bat but the rest took some investigating. “Wait! NANA! Bring the Cha-Cha!” my host-father screamed. “We need to have a lot of cha-cha for this delicacy.” There was one of those key words again. And cha-cha for those of you that haven’t read about it here before is the home-made vodka. So as we munched on some bread waiting to make the first cha-cha toast my host-dad explained what we were about to eat. “Potatoes, and goat! Very young goat. Very best. Here is all insides. Very good for your health. Very exotic.” Now that he had covered all the key words that translate to gross and we had taken our first shot, it was time to dig in.

Now I hate liver of any kind or source. The taste is bad and I can never wrap my mind around the fact that I’m eating the filter of the animal who was eating God knows what. So naturally I scoop a piece of that on my plate first. To tell you the truth it all looked the same so I wasn’t sure what I was getting at first. There were also pieces of lung, heart and intestine. Lung; chewy but not bad. Heart; not as chewy and pretty tasteless. Intestine; not that bad of a taste but again there is the idea of what its function was. Not that I could have enjoyed it all that much anyway. Everything was coated in grease and the cha-cha has a tendency to overpower everything else anyway. Plus that damned liver taste. Now, was this the worst thing I’ve ever eaten? No. Not by a long shot. But it was bad. Good thing host-dad was in the mood to put back 7 shots of the home brew and have me there with him every step of the way.

Needless to say, we had a few laughs and I made it through the meal without any problems then went off and slept like a rock. However, this morning’s trip to the outhouse was a particularly bad one. I was about the 6th person to drag my hangover in there this morning and everyone had eaten what I had eaten… well we’ll just leave you there.

This morning one of my aunts was on the marshrutka to the capital with me and berated me as soon as I got on. “You look too thin! Are you not eating at home? Do they not feed you? What will your mother say when she sees you? You need to eat more!” I was laughing my ass off because all I could see was goat and home-made vodka and I was thinking, ‘amazing I eat at all.’

Today, like I said I’m going to visit a friend and am in the capital for just a few hours to pick up some documents from the office, take a shower and then head out. Have a good weekend everyone! And, eat something exotic would you?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It’s a Ukraine Thing

I have to admit that this was one of the greatest vacations I’ve ever been on. Ukraine, its people, nature, food and sights are simply amazing. I recommend a trip there to anyone. While trying to separate itself from Russia and its Soviet past, Ukraine and Ukrainians are still very much a part of that history. While this is viewed negatively by a lot of former Soviet Republics, in Ukraine, it’s just part of life. I found that to be very refreshing and a complete 180 from Georgia.
I started my trip on the two year anniversary of the August War between Georgia and Russia (Aug. 8th) and flew out of Tbilisi on an early morning flight. It was nice to be in the air again especially knowing that I was on my way to a place that I’ve always wanted to visit; Kiev.
When I got there my friend Ben (another PC volunteer here in Georgia) was waiting on me at the airport. He had already been in Ukraine for a few days with another friend of his from the States. We took a cab from the airport that was way over priced, but quick and the taxi driver was friendly. I had arranged through my step-mom Elaine to have us stay at a really nice 5-star hotel in the center of Kiev. When traveling away from the village it’s nice to be in complete luxury. The Intercontinental in Kiev was amazing and Ben and I said a little thank you to Elaine everyday for allowing us to use some of her hotel points to stay there. We also had a lot of laughs at how spoiled rich people can be. This hotel was just over the top at times. The place had a spa, pool, workout room, free Internet, a tea hour, a cocktail hour, its own exclusive roof-top bar and a staff that would do anything to make your stay as comfortable as possible. There was a free stocked mini-fridge in the room, but what made Ben and I laugh the most was the pillow menu. Eight different pillows to choose from became a running joke throughout the vacation.

See video below for a look at our room.

We spent 5 days in Kiev exploring all the parks, churches and shops. It was really interesting to go into a shopping mall after being in Georgia for over a year. So that’s what choices look like? Wow. The churches however were the highlight of the trip. I love old churches and European architecture. Just being able to walk around in those old buildings and see all the art work and icons was a once in a lifetime experience. I even got to see the church I’ve been wanting to see my whole life; St. Andrew’s. It may not be the biggest, but it is amazing inside. Doesn’t hurt that it’s named after me either. Oh wait, that other way around. St. Andrew came first. Details. Ben and I must have walked about 10 miles every day in search of new places to explore, like the WWII memorial park, and there was no better way to end the day than to sit on a bench and people watch on Kiev’s main streets. I really need to get back there in a month other than August since from what I heard most people leave the city because of the heat. I was still impressed. Everyone there just seemed so much more relaxed, liberal and happy than do the people in Georgia. They were all so friendly and helpful and being able to speak Russian there just made the experience totally stress free. That is not to say that there were not some miscommunications or funny moments, but overall my interactions with people there were positive.
My average day there was: Get up in the morning, have coffee in my awesome robe, take my private elevator to the spa, go for a swim, hit the sauna, take a shower, go out for the day exploring and walk around, try to convince Ben not to eat at McDonald’s for lunch, sit in a park and relax during the heat of the day, explore some more, go back to the hotel and shower again, then go out for the night to either people watch or hit some bar/pub for dinner. It was a great five days.

But, I couldn’t spend my whole vacation in Kiev and 5-star luxury. So, Ben went to the airport on our last day there and picked up another friend of his from America so that we could all head off to Crimea. (Ben’s other friend by the way was also named Ben and Crimea in on the Southeastern corner of Ukraine, the most Russianized area and is very mountainous and is a peninsula surrounded by the Black Sea. Also, I kept wanting to find another traveling companion whose name started with A so we could make endless ABBA and iambic pentameter jokes. But alas.)
Still with me? Moving on. We took the night train from Kiev to a city in Crimea named Djankoi where a friend of Ben’s from his time at Moscow University is from and lives with his family. He met us early the next morning as we arrived and took us back to his place to rest before showing us his town. There isn’t much to Djankoi, but I can say it’s far more impressive than any of the Georgian towns of comparable size or population. His mom was very nice and loved having us as guests. She loved having some American to speak Russian to and was a great cook to boot. Two days at her place was far from roughing it.
The next day we all took a friend’s car down to the coast (about 3 hours) and visited a few sights along the way. We ended up going through Sevastopol and then hitting the beaches at Balaklava. Balaklava by the way used to be a major submarine port for the Soviet Navy. You could see how too on the boat ride out to the beaches. There were huge caves in the sides of the mountains that could have easily hidden a sub from any satellites passing overhead. We all had an interesting time with our boat captain on the ride out and back too. He was truly a beach character and kept telling dirty jokes in Russian despite the presence of kids and old ladies on the boat. He loved us and kept trying to give us beer and advice on where to find the most beautiful women in Ukraine. His advice: Just look around. He was right too.

The Black Sea was beautiful and despite a little rain that day, we all had a great time.
After another day of relaxing in Djankoi, we all decided to take a night bus to Odessa the major port city in the Southwest. This was (thankfully) the worst part of my trip. I couldn’t sleep at all on the bus and by 7 a.m. I was ready to get off the bus and shoot somebody. Needless to say, coffee was called for. I struggled through the day till about 3 p.m. and then took a quick nap at the hotel. After that I went exploring while Ben and Ben caught an opera at Odessa’s famous opera house. I’ve seen opera and I can appreciate it, but after a hellish bus ride, I wasn’t feeling it that night. So, while they listened, I walked around and saw some more sights. After they got out, we all got a snack and engaged in some people watching and beer drinking at an outdoor café on the central thoroughfare.
The next day I got up early and wondered around some more while Ben and Ben went to the train station to try and get tickets to either Lvov or Kiev. I already had my ticket back to Kiev so that the next day I could go back to Georgia. We ended up meeting for lunch and had some awesome pizza then went to see a few more sights before our night train back to Kiev. Unfortunately, I was in coupe (2nd class) and the Bens were in plats-card (3rd class) so we couldn’t make the trip in the same wagon. But, I slept most of the way anyway so I don’t know that it would have made much difference. I do love trains. They are like a cheap motel that moves you from place to place. The people are generally pleasant and you can see the country go by if you don’t want to sleep. I generally watch the countryside for a while, read then sleep as much as possible.
When we got to Kiev the next morning, we all dropped our bags at the train station then went off for some lunch and souvenir shopping. The Bens were headed for Lvov that night and I was flying out in the evening. So, we just goofed around, bought some stuff and then had a really good lunch before parting ways. I made it back to the airport in plenty of time and had no problems clearing documents and customs. Back in Tbilisi I had to pay for a cab to get me to the Peace Corps hostel that we use, but I was expecting that. So, no major issues in transit.
The next day however I was not happy to be back in Georgia. All the small things that get on my nerves here and that I’ve learned to ignore were brought back to my attention the very next morning. In Ukraine, people stop for you in cross walks, generally form lines, don’t yell for no apparent reason and… ok, I’ll stop there. And they don’t think that bread and cheese is the be all end all of food combinations! Ok, now I’ll stop.
Anyway, Ukraine is awesome! I had an awesome time there and I hope to go back soon. I posted up some pictures on Facebook for people to look at because posting them here takes forever.
Hope all of you are having a great end to your summer. Only 2 weeks till school starts back in Muganlo.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Baku Blog Post

Yeah so I know I got back from Baku on July 15th and it’s now into August and I’m just now getting around to typing a blog about me going to Baku. Oh well. It was a cool trip and I had a lot of fun; kinda different than the vacations I’m used to though. Too much family fun time and not enough out all night doing crazy stuff. But, it was a cheap trip and it was nice to get out of Georgia for a while. The only major downside (aside from being with the family) was that the food was exactly the same as I eat here! Yuck! The next vacation I go on I swear I will not to eat any boiled lamb!

Overall I thought Baku was cool. In another 10 years it’ll be even cooler once they finish all the construction in the mid-town area. But, there is a lot of corruption in Baku and this kind of sticks out with the police and general government operation. Even the taxi drivers were worse than a lot of places I’ve been too and I’ve seen some creepy taxi drivers in my travels.
Here is a general overview of how my vacation went:

Day 1:
Drove 12 hours from Muganlo to Baku. These two places are about as far apart as Atlanta and Charleston, but it takes 12 hours due to the speed limits and corrupt police looking for anyone driving over it. For the 12 hours I figured out that we averaged 45mph. Yeah, it was a long trip. But the host-brother’s little 1-year-old boy was great for most of the trip and only had a few moments of screaming and crying. That was good. The border crossing was uneventful so that was cool too. The only trouble I had was the guy stamping me out of Georgia because he wanted to know why I hadn’t left Georgia in a year. My response: “Beats me man, you’re right I should hurry.”
Once we got into Baku, we stopped off at one of the famous mosques before getting to my host-family’s apartment. There waiting on us were a bunch of the host-aunts and cousins who had prepared a meal and drinks. We sat around all night and ate and drank and I got to see some of the relatives that had visited us here and meet some new ones as well.
Day 2:
Baku is hotter than the sun! So, me and the Aslan (host-brother) and one of our cousins went to the beach. The Caspian is cleaner than I’ve been told it was and the water was very clear. So, swimming was great and the beach was awesome. My host-cousin works for the life guards or Azeri coast guard, so we got to take a private boat tour of the harbor and even dove off in the middle of it to swim around in some of the really cold water. It was awesome! After we had a small lunch, we drove about 20 minutes over to another beach and went swimming there and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sand.
Day 3:
Spent the day with Aslan and one of his friends from University walking around the city center and taking in all the sites. Lots of fountains and shops. Other than that, not too much. That night the whole family went for a walk in the Bulvar Park. This is a park that runs the length of the city’s center right on the Caspian. Really cool, but a lot of walking.
Day 4:
I slept in late, went to the Internet café and then took a shower. We spent the day at Aslan’s wife’s mother’s house sitting under some fruit trees and eating. That night we went back to walk the other half of the Bulvar Park.
Day 5:
Not much happened. Hung out at the house because it was hotter than the sun outside. But, that night I met up with some Peace Corps volunteers from Azerbaijan and they showed me some of their favorite spots in Baku for nightlife. Really fun night and it was a nice break from the family.
Day 6:
After a taste of life in Baku without the family I decided to not go with them to visit more relatives and instead went and toured old-town by myself. It was a really cool day spent exploring and just walking around. Aeries are really polite for the most part and that was refreshing since if you speak Russian in Georgia most people get snooty. In Baku they are more than happy to help you. Hey Georgia, get over yourselves! Anyway, around 6pm I got kinda tired so I decided to sit on a bench in the center and relax and read a book. After about 15 minutes though the PC volunteers that I had spent the previous night with walked by and invited me to hang out with them again. So, I did. Another fun night ensued.
Day 7:
World Cup Final night. Aslan, the host-cousins and I did nothing but sit around and play backgammon all day waiting on the HOT SUN to go down. Once it did we started getting ready for the Final. We showed up to the bar we were going to watch it at 30 minutes late, but no big deal. We were late because one of the friends was across town placing bets on the game. He lost his money after the regular time finished 0-0. Congrats to Spain by the way. I was pulling for the Netherlands, but oh well.
Day 8:
Hangovers are best cured at the beach sitting at nice tables under umbrellas. So, that’s what we did. Too hot? Get in the water. Thirsty? Waiter! Another round please. Nice.
Day 9 and 10:
Spent visiting more relatives. Nothing to report other than I must have about a .615 winning percentage in backgammon. Not too bad.
And on the 11th day I boarded a bus and came back to Georgia. My host-brother was staying for another 2 weeks and I wasn’t going to burn up all my vacation time melting in the Baku sun and playing backgammon while drinking scalding hot tea. The bus ride back was actually a lot nicer than the private car because they don’t have to worry about cops. Only 7-hours for the trip back and no kids.
So that was Baku. I recommend it. I think you could cover all you wanted to see in about 3 or 4 days though. It was nice to get out of Georgia and it was cool to hang out with Aslan away from the family, but this next vacation will be a lot better. Starting on the 8th I’m going to The Ukraine with a friend of mine here and we plan on having a little more fun. Hopefully it won’t take me two weeks after that vacation to sit down and tell you about it. I probably could have done a better job on this one, but the vacation was a little too hot, a little too long and a little too boring… eh.
Go Braves!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A showering of good luck

Well it’s not like this past week was that great, but it was the first full week out of school and an awesome one for sleep. I did manage to sleep rather well this past week but most of that was due to the fact that I stayed at a friend’s house for the early part of the week where it is nice and quiet and there are no animals or host-families making noise at the crack of dawn.

Basically Monday and Tuesday were spent hanging around and doing not a whole lot other than reading and playing cards. Wednesday two other volunteers and I went into Tbilisi to fill out a Peace Corps wide survey on their computers (no need to use up my Internet bandwidth) and then went for lunch and a shower. I went home to find my host-dad ready to drink and then went to bed soon after dinner. Thursday four other volunteers and I went to the Peace Corps office to help clean out and reorganize our garage there. Lots of boxes of books that needed to be sorted through and packed away. A lot of trash then needed to be thrown out. My favorite was one box from some volunteer in 2005 that just packed up all their old manuals and other loose papers and put them in a box for Peace Corps to deal with. I dealt with it by promptly moving it to the trash pile. But, after a few hot hours of moving stuff, I took a shower and headed out for a night with my friends. We watched the Netherlands v. Cameroon match at a bar and had dinner then called it a night. Friday we swung back by the office to use the computers before heading home and I grabbed another quick shower.

Saturday was ‘do nothing day’ for me. I was tired and spent most of the day either napping or just reading in my hammock up on our porch. Nice day. Then the US played Ghana and I stayed up till almost 2am watching them blow it in extratime. Boooooo!!! Oh well, four more years of waiting for a good US team to make a deep run at the World Cup.

Sunday was a different story. As soon as the whole family was up, we started cleaning out our 7x7 “fish pond.” (See MTV below for visuals). Basically the morning started with me and my host-dad setting up the water pump and running 3 or 4 hoses out to the back of our garden. We then started the pumping process and it was my job to help my youngest host-brother scrub the crap off the sides as the water went down. This was not made easy since a frog appeared and my two host-nephews were running around the sides trying to catch it. Eventually I snagged it, threw it out of the water and they ran off to torture the thing. Once the water got low enough, my job was over and my host-brother and nephews had to get down in the sludge to catch the two remaining fish, all the scrap metal, buckets, rods, ropes and all the other crap that had sunk to the bottom. Once they finished pumping out all the water and scrubbing down the bottom, me and my host-dad just set up hoses to start filling it back up again. He says that we’re going to swim in it, but somehow I doubt that since the water we were pumping in wasn’t the cleanest.

After lunch, my real job of the day started. I had 'agreed' to give the dog a bath since he’s gotten fleas and they want him to not be scratching all the time. My family had bought some special shampoo and asked if I knew how to wash dogs. “Of course I know how to wash a dog,” I said. Well I didn’t know that I had agreed to actually do it. It wasn’t too big of a deal since me and the one dog have become buds and he trusts me. Took me about a half an hour and I was glad for the shower afterwards. The other dog though is mean as hell and was having none of my attempts to wash him. Oh well. One flee free dog is good enough I guess.

Today I had to come into Tbilisi to get all my forms and things done so that I can get ready for my trip to Baku next week. I’m off to the capital of Azerbaijan for a week or so with my middle host-brother to see the city and visit some of our relatives there. Since I had to go to the office anyway, I thought I’d take a shower and do some e-mailing. So, if you’re counting, that’s 5 showers in the last 6 days! More than I had for the whole month of December.

Anyway, I have to come back in on Wednesday in order to go to the Azeri embassy and get my $131 visa. (Another shower maybe?) Kind of expensive, but I figure I’m traveling with the host-brother, staying for free and eating a lot at their house, so my expenses for this trip shouldn’t be too much. I’m trying to save so I can have good money for my trip to the Ukraine in August.

So that was the week that was. Enjoy a few short episodes of MTV below and stay save people. Peace!

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Year in Review

Before I get started here let me put a little disclaimer on this post. This review is based purely on MY EXPERIENCES in Georgia and Kazakhstan and are not to be taken as a review of the countries as a whole or the Peace Corps experience as a whole in either country.

With that out of the way… I’ve made it through ONE YEAR in Georgia. And, I don’t know how I really feel about this place yet. I said that I would spend a year here and then decide if I really wanted to finish out the whole 2-year tour. I can say now though that I will be here for the whole service simply because while I’d love to tell some people here ‘best of luck’ and pack my bags, I just think that would be too easy. The two years in Kazakhstan were tough, but I’d have to say that the first year here was tougher than either of my two years there. But again that has to do with my experience there and here. So, let’s get to some scoring and see how they shake out.

I’ll do each category on a 3-point scale with a push giving each country a score of 1.5. Georgia will be GA and Kazakhstan KZ.

FOOD: GA: 1 – KZ: 2
The food in Georgia is bad. They have two or three national dishes and that’s it. Hot smelly cheese in greasy bread (khachapuri) is not the greatest thing on earth and boiled meat in a dumpling (khinkali) isn’t either. Georgians also believe that they invented both of these dishes. It’s laughable at times. Khinkali came from China and the first guy who came up with cheese I’m sure thought to put it in some bread and eat it. They do have something like Italian polenta a.k.a grits (ghomi) but they wait till is gets cool and hardens to serve it. Oh, and they also stuff un-melted salty cheese in there too. Yuck. The cheese here is bad, yogurt is hard to find and the milk… don’t get me started. Georgia scores one point here for their wine but the lack of variety and the fact that in my community, boiled lamb meat is a daily ‘treat’ is not a good thing. The wine here is not as good as advertised, but not bad, so that’s a plus. The home-made vodka (cha-cha) is on a different level than anything you’ll ever drink. This is not to be taken as a ringing endorsement of KZ’s food, but at least there I had access to different things and could be creative.

PEOPLE: GA: 1.5 – KZ: 1.5
I lived with mostly Russians in KZ so I can’t comment on the Kazakhs themselves. My interaction with Kazakhs was limited and not all that positive, so… But, for the most part I had a positive experience there with the local population. In Georgia the same is true, but again, I live with a minority group here. The Azeris are very welcoming and I’ve had no problems. The same is not true for my experience with the very nationalistic Georgians, but again, I’ve had limited interaction with them and the negative experiences stick out more to me than the positive. I have met and work with some very awesome Georgians, but I’ve run across a lot in my travels that I would have rather have not met.
A sub category that I won’t count in the score would be women. GA: 0 – KZ: 3! Wow. There is a whole post on that subject somewhere. And, that score is not just based on looks; there are traditional aspects that keep Georgian women from even scoring 0.5 on this.

PARTYS: GA: 2.5 – KZ: 0.5
I do have to say that the people in Georgia know how to throw a party. They don’t get the full three points here because sometimes their parties just go a little too far. The Georgian supra can go on forever and after a while their toasting just gets annoying. The same is true for the Azeris I live with too. As my host-family would say, “It’s not a good party unless there’s a fight at the end.”

KZ had some cool holidays, but Georgia’s are better. And there are about a million of them. Add on the Muslim holidays from my Azeri community and there is pretty much always something to celebrate. Georgia has about 30 major holidays every year, so pretty cool.

Again, the variety of food hurts Georgia here. But there are a few places in Tbilisi to get a good hamburger and I’ve found one killer Club Sandwich there. I have a favorite coffee shop there too that has a good French press and some good sandwiches too. Clubs and bars on this side of the world are not the greatest, but each country has their ups and downs. Too many drunken Georgians out and about here to make a night out all that fun.

SHOPPING: GA: 1.5 – KZ: 1.5
I have to say that the bazaars in KZ were more fun and had more variety but Georgia’s central bazaar Lillo is a fun place too. Here though you don’t get the food and other things mixed together like you did in KZ. Food is at one market and clothes and other materials are at another. My village’s bazaar was fun the first few times I went, but now after you’ve seen one chicken tied to a string, a turkey in a box and a hanging lamb carcass you’ve seen them all.

I have to say that I love my host-family, but if I had the option, I would not be living with them. In KZ I had the opportunity to have my own apartment and live by myself. Here I don’t have that option and live with 10 other people. In KZ I had an awesome PST host-family, same is true for Georgia. KZ, I lived with one old lady for a few months at site before moving out and she was very nice. Here I live with this huge family and have no escape. There’s never a dull moment I’ll give it that, but some peace and quiet is hard to come by in this house. From all the people, animals, neighbors, neighbor’s animals and guests, it is never quiet.

Between the animals and all the people, getting sleep for a volunteer in Georgia is tough. It’s not just me either. If you live in a city, you have people honking horns and yelling starting at 6 a.m. and if you live in a village you have animals that start at 4 a.m. and people that start at 5 a.m. The lack of heat and A/C hurts too because your either really cold or really hot and that makes it hard to sleep too.

Even during PST in KZ when I lived in a village, we had somewhat reliable power and water. Here, no. From the day I got here it’s always a gamble on which utility you’ll be without that day or week. Raining? No water. Wind blowing? No power. Sunny and calm? No power or water. Deal with it! After a while though it gets old.

Peace Corps gave us cell phones and a calling plan that lets us call all the other volunteers for free. That’s awesome. Having a bad day? Call a friend or turn off your cell and escape. The Internet here, while I like to complain about it, is a lot better than I ever had it in KZ. It’s easier to stay in touch with other volunteers and with family and friends at home. The only thing that KZ was better at was the postal system. The KZ post was in some ways better than in America. Here… wow. What a Cluster F*#@! And I don’t get it either. This place is tiny. How can the postal system be so bad?

There is a lot to say here but, I’ll just say that Georgian transportation is an adventure. I HATE marshrutkas! These little mini-busses that make you want to scream at the people around you and the driver and the road are at times the worst part of my service in Georgia. Again, the system in KZ was just more efficient and the roads were better. I never thought I would describe KZ roads in a positive light but, compared to Georgia, they were awesome.

SANITATION: GA: 0.5 – KZ: 2.5
The joke goes: What’s the National Flower of Georgia? The plastic bag. And, it’s in bloom all year round in every tree in a variety of colors. People here will throw trash any and everywhere. Again, I didn’t expect to portray KZ in a positive light but Georgia is dirty. Not only the trash situation, but toilets. The toilets here are just bad. If you’re lucky enough to find a sit-down style that flushes, mark that as a good day here. Otherwise, there’s a hole; go for it. Need to wash your hands? Sorry no water today. Thank you hand sanitizer. There are a few volunteers here who have flushing toilets and to those people I say: screw you! At least in KZ when I needed to go I knew I could sit down and enjoy it. Here, I dread that experience every time. And, the shower situation here is horrible. Once a week?! Are you kidding me? Thank you Peace Corps for having a shower in the office.

NATURE: GA: 2 – KZ: 1
With the trash situation in mind, once you get out of the populated areas, Georgia is beautiful. Really only the southeast corner of KZ had any decent mountains and most of it was just flat. Here there are mountains everywhere and a lot of pretty views.

MY SCHOOL: GA: 0 – KZ: 3
If you haven’t read my rants about the school here in Muganlo, then where have you been? KZ school was a college with cool kids who wanted to learn, power, water, heat, books and great co-workers. My biggest problem there was cheating. Here, well I’m not going to even bother typing out all the above again because it’s just the opposite.

WEATHER: GA: 2.5 – KZ: 0.5
Got to say: I don’t miss -40 degree winters. It didn’t rain as much in KZ, but then again, I like the rain. Also, too much wind out there on the steppe. I’m giving KZ a 0.5 here because the summer there was nicer.

PEACE CORPS: GA: 1.5 – KZ: 1.5
With Georgia being so small here I have a lot more opportunities to interact with my fellow volunteers and that’s cool. In KZ I hung out with 4-5 people and only rarely. Here I have some good friends who I can see just about every week and that keeps me sane. The Peace Corps staff at both posts are great. Here they are a little too involved in our lives, but I think I’m just spoiled from KZ’s hands off approach. Again, the country is small and there are only 28 volunteers here right now with a group of 30 about to join us. I will take this opportunity to say that the housing coordinator here in Georgia is probably one of the worst Peace Corps staff members I’ve ever seen. For our group he had a 12% success rate of placing volunteers with host-families and that was giving him credit for people like me who had no option to move out. I’ve already heard rumors of unhappy volunteers from the new group as well. These are our lives that we give up time to live in villages in his country and he can’t be bothered to do a thorough job or help volunteers find solutions. I’m also not 100% happy with my program manager, but I don’t have any issues there either. Really it was just the comment of, “Well, no, I’ve never actually been inside your school.” That got to me. Country Directors, doctors and safety coordinators in both posts are awesome though.

FINAL SCORE: Georgia: 21.5 – Kazakhstan: 26.5
So, kind of close on the scoring. Now, if only all those categories were equal. But, on the whole I would have to say that both of my Peace Corps experiences have been positive and I purposively didn’t rank what I thought my impact was simply because that is really hard to tell after only one year. Kazakhstan was a good time and so far Georgia hasn’t been that bad. Again, my site in KZ was awesome and my site here is not the greatest place on earth, but I’m dealing with those challenges every day.

So there it was. That was the first year in Georgia and some of what I thought about it. Peace!

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'm Back!

There is soooo much to catch you up on, and I just don't have the time to type it all out. If you're still waiting on an e-mail from me updating you on whats going on, sorry. You're in a long line and I'm trying not to just type the typical 'all is well' e-mails.

But, for this post I'm going to try and upload a few videos and pictures so that y'all can see the Muslim holiday of Byraham and how that all went down back on the 22nd of March. It was a blast I can tell you and despite being beaten with sticks as a way of forcing me to dance, it was a really fun day. Two of my Peace Corps buddies came over to Muganlo and stayed the night so at least I had some other Americans to offer up to be beaten rather than having to take all the punishment myself.

After the holiday, life pretty much went back to normal. We had a PC conference for a week and that was a nice break from being in Muganlo (hot showers every day) where it has just this week started to warm up. There were several weeks in March and so far in April where we have gone 3-4 days without power and 2-3 days without water. Fun times to be sure. I've also figured out that I will no longer asign quizes or tests to be given to my students on Mondays. I thought that giving it to them on Monday would help since they would have 2 and in some cases 3 days to get ready for it. But, as I've come to figure out it just gives them 2-3 days to either forget that I told them about it or to just forget the information. Go figure. I'm working on writing a grant to remodel one of the classrooms and turn it into an English room. That way next year I'll have my own classroom and be able to stock it with English resources. Priority number one: new windows. I don't know if I can make it another year in freezing cold classrooms. School is the low point of my service here so far.

My birthday on the 29th was uneventful which was fine by me. We went to a cafe and had a huge meal and plenty of wine. You'll see some of that once I get done with all the holiday stuff below.
But, rather than all the boring details, I'll just move on to some picture commentary:
This first one was a weekly Tuesday tradition during the month of March. What you do is: drink some vodka, go find an old tire in the barn, roll some gasoline around in it, stuff it with hay, add some more gas to make sure, then light it on fire. Once the tire either falls or blows over, you jump over it 3 times for good luck in the Spring to come. Let me tell you a whole village burning tires lets off quite the smell and nobody other than me seemed concerned for either the environment or their health. But, hey. Whatcha' gonna do right? Here's to hopping my jumping over flaming toxic fumes pays off this Spring.

And to start off this MTV marathon, I thought I would show you some of the prep work that went into making our holiday feast! I mean, what kind of MTV marathon would it be if I didn't show you something being killed right?

My host-brother with the head of one of 10 chickens killed that night.

And that led us up to the actual day of celebration. Don't be afraid of the men in masks. They're supposed to be beating people with sticks. MTV on the scene:

In this next clip you'll see the Master of the Day up on a platform dressed in white. The area below him is where the men in masks would drag people to dance for him and continue to beat them with sticks until they were either tired or gave them some money. Keep in mind that EVERYONE was out for this celebration. The 'center' of the village was packed.

Now the moment you've all been waiting for... ME getting drug down the street and beaten, kicked and knocked around. Ahhh... Muganlo.

Also, here is a picture of my host-brother, a cousin that was in town from Azerbaijan and I with one of the dancers who was also a cousin of our family here. I was lookin a little rough by this point having been drug down the street several times, beaten and kicked. And, the wine combo was not helping much.

The dancing and festivities in the center ended around 2pm and my two friends and I spent the rest of the day visiting homes of relatives who had made sure that we stopped by for wine and food. We went to one of my student's houses (the one from a previous post about the academic olympics) as well because his dad loves me and is a really nice guy. We wrapped up the day back at my house in time for my two friends to witness my 4-year-old nephew take down a horn of wine and quickly pass out for the rest of the night.

With all that done, we move on to my birthday. All went well. My host-family bought me my very own set of wine drinking horns which I will let anyone in America try once I get back next year. You havent lived till you've taken down a horn of wine. (It is what it sounds like it is). Like I said before the day was uneventful, but I did get two cakes. One from my co-workers and one from the family.

The time at the cafe was fun. A band showed up at some point and played a few traditional songs. Happy Birthday among them. I never thought I would have an acordian, claranet and drum banging away at me on my birthday, but so it was. And, to wrap up this blog, I'm posting one more video for you. Sorry for the bad lighting in advance, but it's more for your ears than eyes. This is a video of one of my school's PE teachers singing a traditional Georgian song for me on my birthday. Sort of like his own special gift to me. Now, it may sound bad, but it really wasnt. And, like all gifts, its the thought that counts.

With all that said, I leave you with the musical stylings of Pata! -Peace!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Here They Come to Snuff the Rooster

I just knew something was going to happen this morning since my host-brother is coming back today from Baku. So we have/had three roosters in our yard. Fighting and a lack of new baby chickens caused my host-mom to decide that the big boy in the yard needed to be changed since he was fighting with the two smaller roosters and dominating the sex market. I think really it was him just getting old and not being able to produce more chickens and not letting the other guys get a shot at all the hot chicks in the yard. Really? Did I just make that joke? Yep.

Anyway… without further delay, here is how it went down. Don’t worry; I cut it off before the blood starts flying. Get it… chicken; flying… yeah I’m not on my game today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When snow melts...

A two for one shot of MTV. Notice that somehow my students try to look busy when a camera is on them but still manage to get nothing done. But, these two shorts are so you can see some of my classroom conditions. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

By Request...

This took over an hour to upload on my slow Internet, but here it is... yet another edition of MTV. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

MTV Frozen Over

Well this was supposed to work...
But, the batteries in my camera died before you could get the full effect. You missed my classic 'chase the birds out of the wood shed' routine. But, none the less here is yet another edition of MTV. Oh and yeah, there has been a lot of snow this week.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Olympic Day

What a day! I dragged myself out of a warm bed into a freezing cold room at 6am and that was just the start. I haven’t gotten up at 6 since August so that alone was an interesting beginning to the day. I got dressed and went out to the bathroom in the dark, went to the other bathroom to brush my teeth, put in my contacts and all… in the dark, then went back to my still cold room to finish getting ready.

By 6:45 I was on the street and waiting for my student to come out so we could walk the 45 minutes down the hill to catch a transport van to the capital. He came out at 7 and we walked down in the dark and bitter cold. When we got to the bottom of the hill the usual van that is waiting there wasn’t there, so we had to stand on the side of the road for 15 minutes waiting on one to go by. Finally, one came and we were on our way to the Academic Olympics. But, like any journey on Georgia, nothing is ever as easy as it’s planned out to be. And, about half way to the capital, my student’s dad called to tell him he had left his ticket to the exam on the kitchen table.
“Mr. Andrew, what are we going to do?” he asked me as I think he was starting to choke up. I’m not sure though because it was still dark.
“We go to the exam man!” was my response. “Look, I’ve talked my way into and out of a lot more trouble than this in my life. I’ll get you into that exam.”

With that out of the way, our van decided to stop before the station since the driver had somewhere else to go and we had to get off and walk to the metro just to take the train one stop farther up the line. Not a big deal and completely common. But, when we got to the station there was no van scheduled to go to the city where the Olympics were to take place. I asked one of the drivers where it was and he said it would be there in 10 minutes. 20 minutes later I asked another driver and he told me that there wouldn’t be one today. He suggested that I take the van going to a nearby city and then a bus to where I wanted to go. Ok, no problem. I got on that van and waited another 10 minutes for it to fill up so we could leave. Now when it comes to these vans there are several different styles of driving. Some drivers put there foot on the floor and get there faster than you’d really like to go. Or there was our driver this morning who decided that he was in no big hurry and went as slow as possible. We were even being passed by Ladas loaded down with 500lbs. of fruit.

When we finally arrived, there was a bus there as promised but again we had to wait for it to leave. Now keep in mind we left at 7am for a trip that should take only two hours so that we could be early for an exam that started at 10am. When the bus pulled out it was 9:50.
Now also not knowing where the school was in a town that neither I nor my student have ever been to we decided to ask a lady on the bus. Her response was, “Sure, School No. 1 is on this rout. You’re going to the Olympics? I’ll tell you when we get there.”
At 10:20 the bus stops and she says, “There it is, School No. 1.”

In our haste to get there, we paid the driver and jumped off the bus. After making our way through rows of cars parked outside, we saw that the front door in fact read: School No. 4. This is the school where the Russian language exam was to take place not the English exams. And, to add insult to injured ego, there stood my school’s Russian teacher and my Azeri tutor along with our village’s cab driver. After explaining to them what had happened with the second van ride and the woman on the bus, (in a very pissed off and loudly spoken Russian) my Azeri tutor took us across the street to get us on another in-town van that would take us to the right school.
“They’ve already started here,” she said “and I doubt they’ll let you in at this point (10:35) especially since he doesn’t have his ticket.”
My response was a simple thanks and I closed the door to the van. I was determined to get this kid into that exam and not let the Georgian transportation system get the best of me.
My student just looked at me and said, “Mr. Andrew I don’t think this is a good day. It’s a bad bad day.”
Now normally I would agree with him, but I told him, “Not yet man. Not yet.”

At 10:45 we walked up to school number one. And, to my delight there was still one thing you could count on in Georgia; everything starts late. I rushed my student through the front door and he was the next to last kid to register for the exam. The question of the ticket only came up briefly because I explained that I was his teacher and that he had left it at home. His name was on the roster, so there was no problem. (I love being able to speak Russian by the way). So, he ran up the stairs and started his exam while I asked the lady at the desk where I could find a cup of coffee.

I found the café not to far away and had a pretty decent cup of coffee and warmed myself in the warm café for about a half an hour. Not knowing how long the exam would last I went back to the school and was told by the door guy that I could wait with the other English teachers in the teacher’s room. That was ‘fun.’ I had to answer the standard Georgian questions:
Where are you from?
Do you like Georgia?
Are you married?
How old are you?
Do you like Georgian food?
Do you like Georgian people?
And that was it. I thought they would want to practice some English or something, but no. They just wanted to ask me the same damn 6 questions every Georgian will ask you. Whatever.

The exam finished up around 12:30 or so and my student told me that he thought the first half of the exam was difficult but that he thought he did really well on the second half. He seemed happy with it so I was happy with it. We then went in search of a ride back to the capital. Luckily all we had to do was stand on the street and wait for an out of town van to come by. That only took about 20 minutes or so.

The ride back to the capital was quick and uneventful. Thankfully. When we got there, I took my student to McDonald’s as a treat for us both making it through the day and him taking the exam. He had only been to McDonald’s once in his life and that was on a family trip to Baku. I don’t think he has been to Tbilisi that many times and today was probably only his second time on a metro. So, we sat in McDonald’s ate our cheese burgers and fries and had a good time. Now, I hate McDonald’s in the States, but here it’s a great change to taste something familiar.
And, my day had a reward when my student said as I was finishing my burger, “Mr. Andrew this has been my best day.”
“Thank you buddy. Thank you,” was all I said in response.

It felt good to have gotten this kid prepared and excited about taking an exam, getting him there and back and buying him a lunch and taking him around Tbilisi which is something that he never gets to experience. It started off as a crappy day, but in the end it was one of those days that reminds me why I do this. There is a kid in Muganlo who will go to bed tonight with a family that is proud of him for taking part in a national exam and who had a day where he got to see and experience new things while improving his English and furthering his education.
I’ll go to bed tonight tired as hell and wanting another hot shower, but alas, I’ll just have to settle with McDonald’s indigestion and a lumpy bed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year in Muganlo

So I would have to put this right up there as one of the weirdest and worst New Year’s Eves of all time for me. Ok, so maybe not the weirdest or worst, but awkward would be a good word for it.

The day itself was weird. My family was all off doing different things and I was just in my room all day watching movies. My host-dad was in bed with a fever, my host-brother was off with his wife and kids at her parent’s house and my other host brother was just farting around shooting off black cats all day in the garden and finding ways to terrorize the chickens. My host-mom of course was preparing a feast for the 8 of us to enjoy at midnight.

At 11pm I decided to go down and see what was happening in the hour leading up to the New Year. My older host-brother was still not back (off drinking with his friends) my host-dad was still in bed and the only activity was the host-family sitting around the TV watching a bunch of singers perform various Georgian and English songs. The best/worst of the bunch was the horrible covers of late 70’s classics from America. Why they were singing disco tunes I still have no idea. Dancing Queen? Really?

At five minutes to midnight my older host-brother got home and we all went up stairs on the balcony to watch the Muganlo fireworks show. There really wasn’t a show, just everyone in Muganlo shooting off fireworks at the same time. (I’m going to try and put a video of this below). It was actually pretty cool to see our village and all the villages up in the hills lit up with fireworks all at the same time. After a snowy and rainy day it had cleared up and the full moon was awesome. But, after my family shot off our three Roman candles, we all just kind of stood there in silence and watched the show. The actual stroke of midnight passed and no one said anything and it was kind of like a non-event. I think I was the only one who actually noticed.

After freezing for a few more minutes, we all went back down stairs and got ready to eat. My host-brother almost took my host-sister-in-law’s head off with a champagne cork. I tried to get him to let me do it, but he was all, “No, no I got it.” My host-mom was laughing at him after most of the bottle foamed all over him and the floor post bad opening job. No real loss in my opinion. The New Year’s toast was with some of the worst champagne I’ve ever tasted. However, the food was good and we all had a decent meal.

I had saved most of my Christmas gifts for the family for New Year’s since they don’t do Christmas and I didn’t want them to try and fake it. I gave the younger kids Pez dispensers and actually had some fun showing them how to pull Batman’s head back to make candy shoot out of his throat. The 4-year-old didn’t really know what to make of that at first but he liked the candy. I did feel kind of bad though since it was past midnight and I just gave two hyper active kids each a roll of flavored sugar. And, yes they both ate all the Pez that was in there. Oh well, not my problem. Everyone liked their gifts.

After the meal was over, it was just really quiet and everyone was just watching the TV. My host-dad is usually the one to organize the family and get everybody doing something and since he was in bed, there really wasn’t anything going on. My older host-brother had left again to go join his friends drinking all night and the kids were going nuts. (Hopped up on sugar no doubt). So, at about 1:30 I called it a night ad went to bed.

New Year’s Day started off nice because everyone was sleeping in and there was absolute silence in the streets. No car honking, no trucks rolling through the mud, nothing. I slept till 11am. Lunch was leftovers from the night before and still better than the usual soup. But, there was a surprise in store for me…

Now keep in mind there is no real “store” in Muganlo. Nowhere to go out and buy anything other than your basic food stuffs and some candy. My youngest host-brother had somehow managed to acquire this little gift for me from somewhere as a New Year’s present in appreciation of all the gifts I had given the family the night before.
Now what I’m going to do with this ceramic swan I have no idea. For now it’s sitting on my window sill with some other trinkets I’ve accumulated here. I thanked them for it and was all smiles when I got it, not because I instantly loved it but because I was trying to fight back laughter. Now as I sit here in my room all I can think of is the line from Billy Madison, “Stop looking at me Swan!” Hey, again, it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway, I wish I had time and the energy to describe all the things that went on last night at that dinner, but it was just weird. Here’s hopping that the last night of 2009 is no indicator of how 2010 is going to be.
In other news we haven’t had water at my house in almost a week now. Bath night is tomorrow and if there isn’t water I may just be making a trip into the office in the capital to take a shower on Monday. It’s worth a four hour round-trip to get a hot shower.

Happy New Year Everyone!