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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, 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!

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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.”

HOLIDAYS: GA: 2 – KZ: 1
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.

CAFES/CLUBS: GA: 1 – KZ: 2
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.

LIVING SITUATION: GA: 1 – KZ: 2
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.

SLEEPING: GA: 1 – KZ: 2
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.

POWER/WATER/GAS: GA: 0 – KZ: 3
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.

COMMUNICATION: GA: 2.5 – KZ: 0.5
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?

TRANSPORTAION: GA: 1 – KZ: 2
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!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Take me out to the Ballgame

Before I get started, a little heads up on what’s coming here in What’s Next? Next week marks one year in Georgia. So, I thought I would do a year in review type post and then score how my experience here stacks up against Kazakhstan. If there is any category you’d like to see on there post a comment at the bottom of this post. Mostly I’ve come up with topics like: transportation, communication, weather, host-family, and food. Let me know if there is anything in particular you’d like to see next week. Now, on with the baseball.

I never take too much stock in early baseball. The season is just too long and too much can happen after the All-star Break. This year I’ve picked June 10th as the day I would take my first serious look at the early season and make my comments.

So far, this has been one hell of a year. Who would have thought that we would have not one but two perfect games and a no-hitter all before the break? And yes, I know there should be a third perfect game if it weren’t for a terrible call by a first base umpire. Dallas Brayton and Roy Halliday’s perfect games were just awesome and Jiminez’s no-no was just as good if you ask me. I for one hope that there are more no-hitters and more perfect games this year and for years to come. To me it is a good indicator that the steroids era is over and that pitching will once again be dominant. I can only hope that long gone are the days off a guy walking up to the plate all juiced up and wearing body armor ready to hit any pitch into the stands. Good bye Barry Bonds, hello Jason Heyward. Well, at least more guys like Jason Heyward.

But the story of the year so far has been Ken Griffey Jr.’s retirement. Forget the whole sleeping in the clubhouse thing. I for one doubt that it even happened and it’s not what Jr. is going to be remembered for. He’s going to be remembered as a guy that went out and played hard every single day. And, if he hadn’t played so hard, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten injured so much and maybe we’d be talking about a real Homerun King rather than that juicer Bonds. (Ok, I promise no more bitter Bonds talk for the rest of this post). Ken Griffey Jr. is going to be a first ballot hall of famer no doubt about it. And I for one am very sad to see him go especially the way that he went out. Good bye Junior! Baseball will miss you. Career .284 BA, 630 HRs, 2,781 Hits, and 1,836 RBIs.

Who am I kidding? The story of the year really has been the umpires. I cannot remember a time when the umpires have been talked about so much. From Country Joe West and all his talking to the blown call that cost a man a perfect game, the umpires have been all the news so far. This is not a good thing. Umpires should be like good mannered children; seen but not heard. Most of the time they get the call right, but when they don’t it’s obvious and everybody is going to talk about it. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this umpire controversy and no instant replay is not the solution.

With the news out of the way, let’s take a look at the standings starting with the AL:

AL EAST:
Tampa Bay 38-20
New York 36-22 -2
Boston 35-25 -4
Toronto 33-26 -5.5
Baltimore 16-42 -22
Couple of things here from the best division in baseball right now. The Rays got off to a hot start and may very well be able to keep it up. They’ve got the best record in baseball and just look like a team that is ready to go all the way this year. The Yankees aren’t as good as people think they are and could be in a real fight for the wild-card from Boston. Boston, who got off to a horrible start is now starting to put things together and may be able to challenge if they come out on top of their divisional matchups. I still see the wild-card coming out of this division whether it’s the Yanks or the Sox. But, don’t count out the Jays just yet. I don’t see it happening, but it could. If you haven’t written off Baltimore yet, where have you been? Wow, worst record and no signs of even attempting to win some games this year.

AL CENTRAL:
Minnesota 34-24
Detroit 30-27 -3.5
Chicago 24-33 -9.5
Kansas City 24-35 -10.5
Cleveland 21-36 -12.5
Who knew Cleveland would be this bad? Oh, everybody. But I didn’t think that the whole division outside of Minnesota and Detroit would stink it up so bad. I think the Twins have an easy road to the playoffs because they look good and the rest of the division does not. Simple as that.

AL WEST:
Texas 31-27
L.A. Angles 32-29 -0.5
Oakland 31-29 -1
Seattle 23-35 -8
Poor Seattle. I still see the Angels winning this division, but Texas is in control for the moment. But, it is Texas and they are known for making early pushes just to see their playoff hopes melt in the Texas summer heat. And, a .534 winning percentage should not get you a division crown.

NL EAST:
Atlanta 34-25
Philadelphia 31-26 -2
New York 31-27 -2.5
Florida 28-31 -6
Washington 28-31 -6
June is the month where Braves’ seasons go to die. But, it’s always nice to start out the month with a sweep of the Phillies moving us into first place. Will we stay there? Probably not. This division is really a three team race between the Braves, Phillies and Marlins. The saying should be: ‘there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and a Mets’ collapse in late September.’ I’m not worried about them at all. While the Braves did have one of the best Mays in baseball that April was awful. (If I could only erase the memory of that no-hitter and 9-game losing streak. Ugh.) Atlanta has the pitching, Philadelphia has the hitting (although not lately) so we’ll see how this plays out. Strasberg will not save the Nationals. He is one of the most hyped rookies I’ve ever heard of in my life. Maybe not over hyped though. His debut last night was good. 7 innings, 2 earned runs and he struck out 14. That’s good. But, he was pitching against the Pirates.

NL CENTRAL:
St. Louis 33-26
Cincinnati 33-26
Chicago 26-32 -6.5
Milwaukee 24-34 -8.5
Houston 23-36 -10
Reds and Cardinals. That’s it. The rest of this division just out and out sucks. St. Louis’ pitching is good this year but then again, so are the Reds. If I had to put money on it, I’d go with the team that has Albert. That guy is still one of the best in the game.

NL WEST:
LA Dodgers 35-24
San Diego 34-24 -0.5
San Francisco 32-25 -2
Colorado 30-28 -4.5
Arizona 23-36 -12
San Diego. Where it’s always sunny and warm and the team is playing well… better than it has in the past few years anyway. There is just no offense on that team and I doubt that their pitching staff is going to be able to keep this up all year long. I still think San Francisco or the Dodgers will take the West, but again, I could be wrong. Dodgers have the better offense so I guess I’ll stick with them out west. The biggest story though from this division is Colorado. They were picked by a lot of people to win the NL this year. Oops.

Best Pitcher So Far:
Ubaldo Jimenez; Colorado. Hands down. He’s 11-1 with a 0.93 ERA. He’s near the league lead in Ks with 78, he’s walked 29 but has 2 complete game shutouts one of which was his no-hitter against the Braves.

Best Hitter So Far:
I’m going to have to go with Miguel Cabrera for Detroit here. He’s hitting .344 with 17HRs and 52RBIs. Slugging .665 with an OBP of .417. If he can keep himself from getting lazy in the second half, he could get an MVP out of this season.

Best Rookie So Far:
Jason Heyward; Atlanta. But this is close between Heyward, Davis Freese; St. Louis and Austin Jackson for Detroit.
Heyward: 193 At-bats: 10 HRs, 40 RBIs, .269 AVG, .508 SLG, .398 OBP, 37 BBs, 50 Ks and 4 SBs With those numbers Heyward is in the lead right now for Rookie of the Year. He looks good and has helped lead the Braves into first place. His strikeouts are a little high, but that’s to be expected from just about any power hitting rookie.

The Braves so far:
Well there is just too much to type here. Prado and Glaus have been surprises this year. Both are playing a lot better than I expected. Nate McClouth and Melky have been horrible and worse than I expected. That’s saying something too since I didn’t expect much from either of them. Chipper has shown his age so far and is out at least once a week with some kind of injury. Nothing new there. The pitching staff has been ok and the bullpen has been good so far. Medlen is my biggest surprise from the rotation and I hope he stays there and we ship Kawakami back to Japan as soon as Jurrjens gets off the DL. Doubt it though. Medlen is young and they’ll move him back to the bullpen to save his arm. Jason Heyward, Jason Heyward, Jason Heyward. There. Too much to say about the guy and I hope he wins rookie of the year. I also hope he doesn’t go the way of all those rookies who turn in great first seasons and then go nowhere. We shall see.

That’s it and that’s all! I could type 20 more pages about what I think about different players and clubs but I’ll spare you. Peace! And, go catch a ballgame for me.