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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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rugby, turkey and other foot and ball based sports

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving I know I did. This year was so much better than last year simply because I got to spend it in the company of my friends here in Georgia. My toast was, “When you can’t be with your family, friends are the next best thing.” I went a couple of towns over and spent a great evening with 4 other volunteers and had some good food and tequila! Yes, tequila. It was great, but like every tequila night, I ended up with a black eye. Not a big deal, but let’s just say it was entertaining.

So this week is Rivalry Week in college football and you know I can’t keep my two cents out of that. But, on Saturday the U.S. National Rugby Team (#15 in the world) came to Georgia to play the 16th ranked Georgian squad. A friend of mine got us tickets and so we went into a hostile stadium to cheer on the boys in blue. By the time we got in and sat down the US was down 6-0. Not a problem, they ended up taking a 17-12 second half lead into the final minute of the game. Then, on some kind of fumble and miscue, the Georgians were able to pick it up and score to win 19-17. The place went nuts! It was a really cool game and it was fun to watch. The US team missed four kicks though and it got me wondering, with a nation full of High School kickers, we couldn’t find one that could make a 25 yard field goal? Really?

One of my favorite parts was the translation from the female announcer. Whenever Georgia took the lead she was all excited and upbeat in her announcements. Whenever America went up she just sounded all dead pan and depressed. You’ll notice in the videos below. video

Anyway, on to the real foot and ball based sport. College Football’s Rivalry Week! I’m not even going to break it down by games of the week, just show you some scores that I enjoyed.

#2 Auburn over #11 Alabama 28-27
Wow. Alabama was up big early and then Cam Newton despite all the controversy came back and played one hell of a game. But the real story was the often questioned Auburn defense that just shut down Alabama in the second half. What a game. Auburn should be able to cruse next week against South Carolina in the SEC Championship and right into the National Title Game.

#19 Nevada upsets #4 Boise State 34-31 in Overtime
Ahhh. BSU had to play a decent opponent on the road and lost. Anyone surprised by this? Not me. Now, there is no way they should have lost this game and I’m pretty sure their kicker will never be able to live safely in the state of Idaho, but no big loss there in my opinion. Missing two kicks that were virtual chip shots at the end of the game to lose it is bad bad bad. No BCS Bowl for you Boise State. Better luck next year.

Who loves the Boise State loss more? #7 Wisconsin who blew out Northwestern 70-23; #8 Ohio State who beat Michigan 37-7 or maybe #10 Michigan State who beat Penn State 28-22. Certainly not #9 Oklahoma State who lost to #13 Oklahoma 47-41. And Definitely not #5 LSU who got tripped up by #12 Arkansas 31-23.

The point I’m trying to make here is that with the #4 team dropping out the Big-10 has a huge play at grabbing 2 BCS spots. The Big-12 is on the outside looking in and the SEC now only has one major contender since LSU isn’t headed to a BCS Bowl this year. Good for #3 TCU though who beat New Mexico 66-17 and should be headed to a major BCS spot.

Other great rivalries that I think deserve a mention here are:
#16 Virginia Tech over Virginia 37-7 gaining their 10th straight win in the rivalry.
#17 Texas A&M over Texas 24-17. Normally I don’t care about this game because Texas normally wins, but this is their first losing season since 1997. Wow.
#18 South Carolina over Clemson 29-7. Thank God. Clemson fans suck and are so obnoxious and I’d rather hear the redneck fans of USC have bragging rights over the redneck fans of Clemson.
#20 Utah over BYU 17-16. Ahhh Mormons.
#22 Florida State over Florida 31-7. YES! Man I hate Florida and with the win FSU gets to go play for the ACC Championship.
Notre Dame over USC 20-16. It’s the Irish’s first win in the series since 2001 and USC can’t go to a bowl game due to their cheating past.
Georgia over Georgia Tech 42-34. Glory! Glory! to ol’ Georgia! I never thought they’d make bowl eligibility this year after they way they started but low and behold a win over hated GT and we’re in.

Oh football. I love you.
Peace everybody!

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?

Monday, November 8, 2010

November Update

I noticed that I haven’t been writing this blog the way that I’d like to and it’s time to recommit to doing some more writing about my time here in Georgia and posting some more creative stuff as well. Meaning, the college football blog may be no more for this year at least. I have a hard time getting Internet on the weekends a lot of the time and to tell you the truth, I think I already know how it’s all going to play out based off of what we’ve seen this year so far. So, let me get that out of the way first before I move on to an update on what’s going on here in Muganlo and with me in general.

The BCS standing this week are as follows:
1. Oregon .9638
2. Auburn .9611
3. TCU .9259
4. Boise State .8662
5. LSU .8170
6. Stanford .7454
7. Wisconsin .7349
8. Nebraska .7298
9. Ohio State .6613
10. Oklahoma State .6211

Oregon should run the table and play for the National Championship. Auburn will lose a game, either by being upset by Georgia this week (yeah right) at Alabama in two weeks, or in the SEC Championship Game. That will knock them out of the Championship Game because no way does TCU or Boise State get locked out of playing if both are undefeated. LSU or Auburn will go to the Sugar Bowl, while Stanford will go to the Rose Bowl (since Oregon will be in the big game) and play either Wisconsin or Ohio State. Nebraska will end up playing either TCU or Boise State while Oklahoma State will get the loser of the SEC Championship Game (South Carolina or Florida). That’s just how I see it happening and I could be way off, but I just don’t see keeping up with it till Championship weekend cause there are too many possible upsets in the 10-20th ranked teams and the top 10 should remain solid till the Championship Games are played.

Now on with the news of me. This past week was spent at a compound outside of Tbilisi for what Peace Corps calls an All-Volunteer conference. Meaning not only was my group there but also the new group (all the volunteers). It was a good couple of days and we learned a little, laughed a little and had some fun. I taught two classes (one on stress management and one on teaching to multi-level classes) both of which were highly rated by those in attendance. So, that was good. Glad that the other volunteers thought that what I had to say was useful.

I also took an exam in Russian to see how I’m progressing in that. I scored an Advanced Low. That may sound good, but to me it just means that I haven’t gotten any better since I got here. And, while it may be hard to move up once you get into the advanced category, I thought I should have done better. In fact, my examiner said that while my fluency and confidence was way up, my accent was down and I was making a few too many grammatical mistakes. Basically what she said was that I’ve been living in a rural village for over a year and I’m starting to sound like them. What does that mean you ask? It means I’m speaking Redneck Russian! Ugh! So, I spent what Internet time I had this week downloading Russian tapes and dialogues so that I can spend some time this winter listening to real Russians speaking Russian. I’m also going to commit to spending at least 3 hours a week going over grammar and new vocabulary so that I can try to erase 18 months of bad habits.

At the end of the conference we all had a nice Thanksgiving dinner. It was only November 5th, but it was the last time that we would all be together, so why not? The turkeys were great (provided by the Radisson Hotel Group) and a group of volunteers also got together to cook all the side dishes. They worked really hard and it was very appreciated by everyone. I did none of the cooking by the way to make sure I still had the energy to eat my fill of non-boiled sheep based foods.

We also got together every night and played games (flag football, baseball tossing, Frisbee, monopoly, cards and other games). Football was fun and it was nice to have enough people to actually play a decent game. I and a volunteer from the new group won at Monopoly one night so that was fun. I forgot how much trash talking you can do during board games. “Pay up B#@*H!”

After the conference a small group of us went out and played fast-pitch softball with the local Georgian school in Tbilisi. The girls (with our help) are getting a lot better after what was our 5th or 6th game with them. We still won 14-4, but they are getting better. I spent some time with their catcher working on her stance this week so that she can improve her throws and do a better job of blocking balls in the dirt. My friend Ben is working on a grant right now to try and get them some money to improve their field and so we can go for a few weeks in the late Spring to run a camp for them on the fundamentals of the game. That should be a lot of fun and good for the girls to take the next step.

Speaking of grants, I finished writing the grant for my school and we should be getting a little over $2,000 sometime in December. At that point I will be spending a lot of time working with a few teachers to overhaul one of our classrooms and outfit it with new windows, a door, bookshelves, desks, chairs, install a light, paint the walls, patch the roof… Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work. But, the end result will be a better learning environment and a place where I can put all those books that I had sent over. My kids will love it and it’ll be a source of pride for the school.

Speaking of school… There are 7 more weeks till the Winter Break. This conference was the half way point of the semester and a much needed rest. I still feel motivated and ready to go every day, but I’m just having problems motivating my students. It’s so hard and they are so unwilling to do anything outside of class. A lot of that blame goes on their parents, but part of that is my job as their teacher. I’m trying, but man is it tough. For example, one of my 9th grade girls (a 14-year-old) just got engaged this past weekend. She will finish out this year and then stay home getting ready to start a family. Now how am I supposed to motivate her to do a damned thing?
She didn’t even bother bringing a pen to school today much less a notebook or a book. I tried the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ thing as an overall motivational tool but what 6th grader thinks that far ahead? They all want to be soccer players or police men. Hard to be a police man in Georgia when you don’t speak Georgian. I don’t know. Like I said my motivation is still high and it’s year two; the year when you make that push to turn the corner and make a difference in your community.

I doubt I’ll be taking a winter vacation since I need to get this classroom built and I don’t have enough money to take both a winter trip and one for my birthday in March. I think it would be better if I just stayed here, got this project completed and saved my money so I and take a killer trip in the spring. Our COS conference should be in mid-March so I can go to that and then just jet out of here for two weeks. Amsterdam is looking like my destination of choice at this point with Budapest in a close second. I’ll just have to wait and see.

Well that’s all that I can really think of to update you on right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more of this and spend less of my Internet time on football. Congrats to the Giants by the way for winning the World Series and GO FALCONS!!!