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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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

And the Good Times Just Keep Comin’

Back to school this week and what a typically unpredictable week it was. Monday actually went off without any major problems and of my four classes, two of the groups actually seemed to have retained some knowledge of what I had taught them during the first semester. Amazing! The school however was in typical nonworking condition. The power went out here Sunday night and was still not on Monday morning. That combined with the fact that the school had been closed up for a month made for some cold working conditions. There was actually ice inside my 8th grade classroom. Ice.

I went home as soon as my last class was over and since the power still wasn’t on I played a 4 hour marathon of Uno with my 13 year old host-brother until my host-dad got home. The family and I ate dinner by candle light and just as we finished the power came back on. That however didn’t last very long. It went back out within about 20 minutes. So, I turned in early in hopes that the power would be restored the next morning.

Tuesday morning was less than welcoming. It was about 10 degrees, cloudy and windy. No power, water pipes frozen over and I could see my breath in my own room as I danced around trying to put on as many clothes as possible. I made it to school right on time to find all the teachers in the teacher’s room huddling around the wood heater. No students. Well, I take that back. There were about 15 students that showed up. My first period class was my counterpart, me and one girl. I told her to go home and get warm and I went back to the teacher’s room to try and stay warm. For some reason the teachers are required to stay at school till 2pm everyday whether they have class or not. What to do with no students, no lights, no real heat and 5 hours to kill? Drink! And that’s just what we did. Money was collected and some teachers headed off to the shop to procure what we needed. They returned with several liters of vodka, bread, cakes, and sausage. Needless to say the walk home at 2 was a lot warmer than the walk there at 9.
I took a nap from about 3 to 6 that afternoon and was presently surprised to see that the power was back on when I got up. Still no water, but at least we had power.

Wednesday and Thursday were just cold and colder but despite that the kids showed up and we held classes. If I were one of those kids I would have had zero motivation to show up and sit in that cold school all day. It was bad this week. Freezing cold winds ripped through the school’s lack of windows causing doors to fly open and release any heat that had been built up in the classes. I literally taught classes dressed in four layers, hat and scarf on at all times. I felt like we would have been warmer outside than sitting in that concrete meat locker.

Friday was a bit warmer and some areas actually started to thaw out. This of course meant that the school was just wet and cold rather than an ice block. Luckily, due to a schedule change, I missed my one and only class on Friday. Apparently, the vice-director changed the Friday schedule after I left on Thursday and failed to alert me of that fact. Trust me, my heart was no broken up over it. Since it was the end of the month I just left school and went a few towns over to the closest ATM to get money for my host-family for February. That’s right; the closest ATM to me is a 45 min walk down to the next town, and a half hour ride in a transport van. The only bonus was that it was Friday and I got to see a few friends who were also in town. And, I got a free ride back because I knew the driver from when we had training in that town. I tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t take it and instead invited me to come visit him one weekend.

So despite the bitter cold this week, it wasn’t that bad. I’m off to the next town over today for one of the English teacher’s birthday party. That should be fun since I like working with her and a few of the other teachers and my director will also be there.

Hope all is well in the land of freedom! And, a special note at the end here for MAC who is a follower of this blog. Congrats buddy on the new job! I’m sure that even though you have to live in Dallas you’ll make out just fine. We always do! And, a Happy Birthday to Mrs. MAC who will now have to try and keep her two little boys from developing that God Awful Texas accent. Good Luck you two! I miss ya both!

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 8, 2010

A Second Chance at Christmas?

Not really. Yesterday was the Georgia Christmas and here in the Muslim Muganlo it only meant that everyone had the day off from work. But, I have to say that is was better than the actual Christmas in that I spent time with the host family doing random projects around the house and… there was pork!

My host-dad knows I love pork, but it is not allowed in the diet here. Somehow he managed to pick some up from one of his Georgian friends at work and allowed me to cut it up, put it on some sticks and grill it up. By the end of lunch I was wrist deep in fat grease and about to pass out from pleasures of the mouth. I cut as much of the fat off the meat as I could for my host-mom to use for cooking; because apparently its ok to use the fat but not to actually eat the meat. I’m telling you the contradictions in their diet are amazing. But let me tell you that lunch was awesome and I didn’t care that my heart was screaming for mercy at the end. I was lovin’ it.

So that was the highlight of Georgian Christmas. The rest of this past week has mostly been spent reading and working with a few students from one of my after school groups. I have one kid going next week to some national academic olympics for English. All the subjects are being held, but there is only one kid from my school going for English and he is my ‘star’ student. Hopefully he’ll do well, but I have my doubts because despite working with him over and over again, he’s still having a really hard time with simple prepositions. We’ll see how it goes.

I had to go into Tbilisi this past week as well to get my H1N1 shot. That was fun. The shot itself was nothing and it was a small price to pay to get to hang out in the capital all day. I even got a ride back home from my host-dad since he was also in to see his doctor. He apparently has developed a heart condition and is now forbidden to drink any alcohol. He’s kind of freaked out about it, but I think it’s good that he’s now going to be forced to pay attention to his diet rather than just eating greasy meat, potatoes and vodka. So, hopefully everything works out for him on that end. He’s a pretty tough dude, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.

I did also manage to make it to the central bazaar between here and the capital this week. I was in desperate need of a beard trimmer, which I managed to find and bargain for. The lady wanted 30 lari (local currency) for it but I ended up getting it for 20. She was Azeri so when she found out that I was American and living in an Azeri community and learning Azeri, she was more than happy to drop the price for me. 30 lari wasn’t too much, I just felt like seeing if I could get it for less. And, now I have a nice trimmed down beard rather than the scraggly one that I had earlier in the week. My host family was even starting to make jokes about it calling me an Imam.

Lilo (the central bazaar) is an interesting place and it was fun to wonder around there for a few hours despite the cold. The only thing that struck me as funny is that there is no food section of the bazaar. Half the fun in KZ was wondering around looking for new spices and random meat parts that you would never think to eat in America. Here, nothing. I even asked my host-dad when I got home to see if I had just somehow managed to miss it, but he told me that in fact there is no such section there. There are no shortage of places to by meat, but spices and other random things are hard to find and it would be cool if you could just go to the bazaar and pick them up. But, if you’re in the market for some coats or knock off Adidas shoes; Lilo is the place for you.

That’s pretty much it. This break from school is pretty slow. Nothing really going on and the little work I am doing is easy because I’m just working with students who want to actually show up.

I’m planning a trip to see a friend next week and revisit the site of my scar acquisition. Don’t worry; I’m not in the market for a matching set. This time will me a lot calmer. I also plan to spend another evening in Tbilisi before school starts back so at least I’ll have a little time away from Muganlo before I have to dig into a long semester and the drive towards summer.

In other news, we do have water back. Apparently we are relying on tanks of stored water to get us through, so we are now only showering once a week (Sundays) rather than two times a week. At least it’s not hot and I’m not all sweaty, but by Wednesday I feel gross and by Saturday all I can think of is shower shower shower.

Hope all of you are staying warm. I hear the U.S. is having one hell of a winter. The winter here is so much better than KZ, but it stays in the 30s during the day and it rains every few days. At night it gets to the low 20s and teens, but nothing too bad.

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!