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

Monday, 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!