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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, October 8, 2011

Shoes, Guns and the French

So I’m going to be super lazy and bullet point a blog post. I’ll even go so far as to not even bother using actual bullet points and just use the dashes. Deal with it dear reader.

- Started making my own sweet tea at home in the apartment this past week. I’m having to make it in a liter and a half bottle so the first couple of batches were a little too sweet. Yeah, I drank it anyway, but I think I’ve got the mix down now.

- Got the Internet up and running at the house so that’s nice.

- Why do they call is breaking in shoes when it should be called breaking in feet? I’ve had this one pair of dress shoes for a few years now and have never really had occasion to use them outside of weddings and funerals and the rare occasion that I wore a suit. With starting the new job I figured, hey, I need to wear these shoes because I’ve been hauling them all over the world and now I have a job where I wear slacks and a tie most days. Well, my feet are none too happy about it. Two of my small toes on my left foot and the heel of my right are blistered and sore. I thought only women had to endure foot pain for the sake of fashion.

- Downloaded and watched a documentary called “African Cats” just because it was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. I thought for sure it would be awesome. It was ok, but I knew it would fall well below expectations when I saw it was produced by Disney. I was so hopping to hear Samuel L. Jackson drop a few F-Bombs while describing a lion chase or something. Oh well.

- My Georgian residency card expired this past week and I learned they want about a hundred bucks for a new one. I don’t need one to be here legally, but it was nice cause all my info was in Georgian on there. I just got my school to translate all the information for me and then photo copied my front passport page to the back of it. All will be well.

- I was walking down the street the other day and saw this guy literally selling an AK-47 out of its case. He had these two other guys around him and they were talking about it. I couldn’t resist. I had to stop and at least try to listen in. Of course they were speaking Georgian and using vocabulary that was way above my level, but I did get a good look at the thing. I was still in my school clothes and I guess looking like I had money because the guy who was selling it turned to me and asked me if I was interested. I was not. I just wanted to get a good look at the thing. It looked awesome and I totally wanted to take it up in the hills and squeeze off about 200 rounds. I just thought that this was a funny example of how even though Georgia has come a long way; it still serves as a giant army surplus store.

- Got my hours reduced at school by two. No big deal. I was pretty loaded down and this at least gives me a break now in what was quickly becoming ‘kill me now’ Thursdays. The Ministry of Education decided that my second graders needed more Georgian Literature so instead of having them every day, I now only have them three days a week. I could see reducing their hours, but for Georgian Literature? I mean how many times can one really read Rustavelli in a lifetime?

- Started teaching private lessons this week. My first student was late for his first lesson. He’s Georgian, I expected that. Surprisingly though he wanted to talk about how Westerners are always on time and how Georgians can work on that aspect of their culture. I wanted to congratulate him on completing the first step ‘admitting you have a problem.’

- Got my first surprise day off from school this week. (There will be many more for random Georgian holidays and events.) French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Tbilisi on Friday and since a lot of the streets would be blocked off, all of the Tbilisi schools decided to take the day off as to not have people showing up three hours late. Love when Georgia does stuff like this. Mind you, Sarkozy spent Friday morning in Azerbaijan and didn’t get to Georgia until the late afternoon to make an outdoor speech at Freedom Square and then take off the same night back to Paris. How this would have affected school traffic I’m not sure. But, I’m not complaining. See article here: (Also: I’m glad he, “felt like” he was in Europe. Wish I could say the same thing.)

- I got a package from home in record time. Mom was the first to mail one off and it got from her post office to my hands in only 10 days!!! Amazing. I now have my winter coat and some awesome kitchen knives. Score!

- I’ve found my favorite brand of orange juice. It tastes the most like real OJ and says its 100% juice. But, and this goes back to my questions about Georgia and their customer service and pricing, the price of the OJ is kind of weird. For 1.5 liters of this OJ it costs you 4.75 Lari (not too bad) but for the 2 liter of the same brand it’s 6.75. What the hell is that? Two extra Lari for another half liter? No way!

- Just noticed that Monday is Columbus Day in America. As much as I like to make fun of random Georgian holidays, Columbus Day has to rank right up there on the list of most useless holidays. I for one think we should change it to Leif Ericson Day, (or [insert first Indian to cross the land bridge’s name here] Day) or just drop it all together. As if we don’t have enough holidays we stick this one in at the beginning of each October to show that we really don’t know who discovered America but that we’d all like a Monday off. And, by all, I mean those with government jobs because everybody else goes to work. I’d like to see us vote to strip the government of all of their holidays until they can prove that they actually do some work on the days when they are supposed to be there. (I’ll stop here because I feel a rant coming on).

Well, that was my week. I’ve got to run some random errands this weekend and then play our last softball game until spring. So sad that we’re preparing in advance for winter by shutting it down this early in October. But, it’ll start raining and getting cool here pretty soon as everyone rushes out to the fields to haul in their grapes.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MuganloTV apartment tour video

Here is the link to the video I tried to get uploaded the other day. I had to go to YouTube to get it done. Thanks to Christina for giving me that idea.

Monday, September 26, 2011

MTV has moved, I'm in The Big City now.

Yes, I know I’ve only managed to write about college football since I’ve been back over here in Georgia. Well that and some other stuff but none of which goes on this blog. Sorry, some things go in private emails and some stuff goes on the blog.

First impressions were weird. It was very very surreal being back here and at first I didn’t know what to make of it at all. There were the minor culture shocks to be sure such as: no TV (read: SportsCenter), having to speak in a foreign language all the time and start thinking in a foreign language again, cooking and cleaning again (where did the army of Azeri women go?), taking public transportation and starting work again after three months off. All of these things started happening all at once and it was a lot to deal with in these first two weeks.

I did go back to Muganlo one night to visit the family and pick up all my things. I think the one dog was the happiest to see me. It was kind of funny too because normally those dogs are up and barking at anyone even walking by our house out there. I came up to the gate, opened it and just walked right in after not being there for six weeks. The dogs didn’t even so much as get up. Once the brown one did decide to get up, he wouldn't leave me alone the whole time and was under my feet begging for belly scratching. Freakin' dog. The family was happy to see me too and we had a good evening talking and of course drinking. I brought them some liquor from the States so we didn’t have to drink the local vodka… until the next morning. (Yes, we did have sheep for dinner but they 'grilled' it since my coming back was a 'special' occasion.) By the time I got back to my apartment the next day I was exhausted and stating to feel hung-over. I kept asking myself, how did I ever survive two years out there? It was SO weird being in Muganlo again. Outhouses, kids, sheep, livestock... wow.

I started playing softball and kickball again at the local field with the girls and other expats. I hit a monster homerun yesterday in softball that felt great! (For those of you that have played at that field, I hit it over the left field wall, not the fence, the wall; and had it bounce up and hit that house out there.) It was a legit homer and a moon-shot. It’s fun to get out there on Sundays and play and it’s also a great way to escape even the idea that you’re in Georgia. Well, except the birzah out in right field.

Everything seems to have settled down for me though and I’m starting to establish a few routines and norms. I should be getting really good Internet next month so I’ll be able to Skype and chat with you all. So, give me some time and I’ll get that done.

Let me show you a video and some pictures of my apartment first and then I’ll get on with my school. So, here are some pictures that I took and a ‘Cribs’ style video tour of the new apartment.

Um... Ok, video upload FAIL! Bummer. So, I'll try to load it up in the next post or just take a lot of pictures and get them up on here. Sorry, the file is really big and it was loading for well over an hour.

Let me say that I really like my apartment and my school continues to blow my mind. The opening ceremony on the 15th alone was enough to let me know that this isn’t your typical Georgian school. To start it was catered by the Marriott Hotel’s food service staff and it started on time. That’s right, I said it, a scheduled event in Georgia started on time. It was nice too. The students and parents toured the new building, there was one (believe it or not) quick speech and then everyone had snacks and drinks. It was amazing.

I got to meet several parents who were interested in talking to me. One was a Georgian diplomat to Denmark who has two children attending the school. She wanted to let me know that her youngest son spoke English better than Georgian because he had lived in Denmark for most of his life. This little guy is in my 2nd grade class and keeps telling me he knows English. I keep telling him I know but that he has to now learn to read and write; neither of which he has a grasp on now. Anyway, I met several parents and then had some cake and went home. We didn’t actually start class till Monday like every other Georgian school the only difference was that my school told the kids not to even bother showing up on Friday and to just come back Monday. Nice.

There is one similarity to the other Georgian schools though; we just got books today. This is not because the students hadn't gone and gotten them, it’s because they hadn't arrived from England yet. Chalk up yet another victory for the Georgian postal system. But, this gives me some time to do some pre-testing and assess my students levels before I have to start launching into curriculum.

One thing you should know is that my school went through a huge expansion this year. We have over three times the number of student they had last year. This is not to say that they are a big school by any means (with class sizes limited to 12) but there are a lot of new students. This means there are several groups that have quite a wide range of English competency. Not a huge deal at this point, but interesting. Also, this school is only about 90% Georgian students. We have kids from China, Iran, Russia, Turkey and a lot of kids who, while Georgian, have lived abroad for a few years. Very interesting and very nice. Everyone at my school speaks Russian and 95% of the staff speaks fluent English. So, I have NO issues with communications. My director and the Dean of Students are awesome and have been very supportive so far.

So here is a breakdown of what I’m teaching this year:

2nd grade; 5 times a week. Meaning, I’m with these guys every day. Normally I would hate being with little ones that much, but damn if this group of kids aren’t the cutest little buggers on the planet. You all know me and know I don’t normally say that about any group of kids, but wow. And they are so much fun. They constantly want to show me what they’ve done and as soon as they finish writing anything down they hold up their notebooks for me to see and squeak out, “Mr. Andrew, I finished!” By Wednesday one little guy had to start each lesson with giving me a hug. (See 7th grade below for why this saved me one day). By Friday we were starting each lesson with ‘class hug.’ They love me! And, I know it’s only week one, but damn it, I love them too.

4th grade; 6 times a week. This is a fairly large group so they are split up into two. I have them all together for back to back lessons on Monday (2 lessons) which is a little bit of a challenge but then split up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So far so good with this grade. They are very bright and we are already flying through verb conjugations. There are a few rowdy ones in this grade, but I’ve got them under control and they actually did a little self policing this week as well which is nice.

5th grade; 4 times a week. This group is a little rowdy but I think we’ll be just fine once we get on to normal assignments and stop playing around so much. Very bright group overall but there are a few fairly new students to the language so I have a bit of a competency split to deal with. There are also two little girls in this group that think they run the school. I’m quickly helping them dispel that rumor. We had a little ‘issue’ with them on Friday when one of the girls wanted to pull that “he’s looking at me,” bit when a boy in the class was messing around in the back. I had to stop class to let them know there were two things I would not tolerate: playing around and interrupting my lessons. These middle grades to me are the toughest because I have both language and behavioral issues to deal with.

6th grade; 2 times a week. I have these kids in a two class block as well so really I only have them once a week but for two classes. There is one kid in this group that lived in America for several years and speaks perfect English. The only problem is that he feels the need to correct his classmates’ mistakes. I cut that off pretty quick. I told him that was my job and just how rude it is to yell out the correct pronunciation of a word while someone is speaking. I think he got it since he has a pretty good grasp of American culture and how serious I was when I said it. Overall though this seems like a pretty tame group.

7th grade; 2 times a week. What a hell of a class this was. Again, I have these kids in a two class block as well. I gave them an assignment to write 50-75 words about their summer break (I know lame) just to get a sense of their writing and reading ability to start. There was this one girl up front who I thought was writing due to her arm wrapped around her paper and pen on the paper, but I wasn’t paying that close of attention. After everyone had finished and when I got around to calling on her she just looked at me and started tearing up. The girl behind her quickly told me that she had never studied English before and didn’t understand. I just looked at this poor little girl and said (first in English then in Georgian), “Don’t worry about it. We’ll work on it. Don’t worry.” I said this in a very calm and slow voice so that hopefully she would understand me. However, apparently she was heartbroken. Her head went down into her arms on the desk and tears were a commin’. Now I’ve been teaching for a while now; I’ve seen children cry, laugh, yell, lose it completely, and outright hate doing assignments and try a mutiny. So normally things like this don’t get to me. But this little girl was just so tense and just so nervous that she had me all kinds of confused as to what to do. Luckily I was saved by the bell not too much longer after this and immediately sought out the Dean of Students.

She informed me that the girl was there on scholarship because she is an orphan who has had a history of epilepsy and in fact, “knows no English.” My first thought was, ‘why the hell didn’t you tell me this before?’ I just asked the Dean to go in there, tell the girl that everything would be just fine and to RELAX! Just RELAX! I asked her to make sure that the girl knew that I was in no way upset that she didn’t do the assignment and that everything would be just fine. So, I stood in the hall while she talked to the girl and during the second class she seemed much more relaxed. Thank God! I just smiled at her every time I looked in her direction and hopefully by next week I will have figured out what to do with her.

8th grade; two times a week. About half of this class is in the ‘too cool for school’ stage. I’ve already spoken to our Dean of Students about this group and she says that they had similar problems last year at the beginning of the year that she got straightened out and that she would speak to them again. I don’t think I’ll have too many issues here but we’ll see.

9th grade; two times a week. Very bright group and very responsive. A couple of goofball boys but hey, it’s 9th grade. There are a few students in this class that are near fluency already and I was nothing but impressed with them after the first week.

10th grade; two times a week. Again this class has a large split in competency. I have two students who are fluent and only have slightly perceptible accents and the rest of them are doing pretty well, just not on par with the two superstars of the class. One poor girl is new to our school and has only been studying English for three years. She has done very well in those three years, but had a lot of catching up to do.

11th grade; once a week. Ha! No issues here. I only have them for one 45 minute class a week. So this week I just told them how class was going to work. Every week they will turn in an assignment, I’ll present new material, we’ll discuss, I’ll give them new assignment and in general we’ll have a relaxed time together. They just need a lot of exam prep, so our class will consist of them reading articles or stories, discussing and then writing about it. Most of my feedback will come in written form on their assignments. Ah the joys of teaching upper level students. Let’s not make this stuffy and boring, let’s just relax and fine tune your language.

So that's it. That's my class schedule and my first impressions of it and the students I teach. And, that's pretty much all I've been up to. I'll try to keep y'all up to date on all the goings on here in Tbilisi as much as I can.


Monday, July 11, 2011

This is a test…

A test of my mental and physical health.

Why oh why did Peace Corps decide to keep us here for well over a month after school was over? I still have two weeks to go and it is killing me! No, seriously. For the past month my house has been packed with visiting relatives and now we have 17 people there ALL THE TIME!!!

Let’s break this host-family situation down: Dad, Mom, 3 host-brothers (28, 26, and 16 yrs old), 2 sister-in-laws (26 and 24), 3 nephews (8, 6, and 2 yrs old), 2 host-aunts (55 and 60), host-cousin, his wife and their 9 year old boy and 4 year old daughter. Oh, and me. That’s 17.

That’s 17 people, one outdoor toilet, one table, one sink to wash out of (we haven’t had water for 6 out of the last 11 days), one heat wave in July and no air conditioning to be found for 30 miles.

What’s a typical day like you ask?

6:30 a.m. host-mom gets up to let all the chickens and turkeys out of the coup and likes to sing to them in the morning. This all happens in the courtyard below my open windows. (They have to be open because it’s too hot to sleep with them closed).

7:00 a.m. host-dad and brothers get up to get ready to go to work. They have no concept of standing near one another to talk in the morning so they like to yell across the complex to have conversations in the morning. This of course is intertwined with their hawking of loogies because they all have sinus problems due to the open window issue.

8:00 a.m. The kids get up to see the men off to work and have a good morning cry. That 2-year-old has one hell of a set of lungs on him.

From 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. it’s like living in a zoo. All the birds (turkeys, chickens, swallows, and finches) all have babies right now and the (human) kids just run wild SCREAMING at the top of their lungs all day. The women are just as bad because they are constantly yelling at the kids and then each other since one or the other will be in the back of the house while the others are in the front. Best way to carry on a conversation? YELL!

The men generally get home from work around 6 so this adds to the volume but seems to quiet the women down a bit. Not the kids though. Or the birds.

We usually eat around 7 or 8 but the food has decreased dramatically with the addition of 6 more people. The quality has stayed the same as well which means that I just eat less of the already small amounts of sheep fat and bread that I have been for the past two years.

With the heat being well over 90 these days everyone generally stays in the courtyard until around 1 a.m. (kids included) because it’s cooler out there than it is inside. Add on my insomnia and I’m getting around 3-4 hours of sleep a night these days.

I have a 15 minute period in the morning when my Internet works so I go down, get my (instant) coffee and go up to my room to drink it and check the baseball scores. (Go Braves!) This is the one time in the morning when the men are having their morning tea and the kids aren’t up yet so it is somewhat quiet. This past Saturday morning I was enjoying my 15 minutes when the 4-year-old girl who sleeps with her family across the balcony from me opens their door, comes out, and then right outside my door, drops her pants and takes a leak right there. It was already over 85 outside, I had not slept well in days and so I went through the roof! I went downstairs and in front of the whole family told her mother what had happened. Needless to say she was embarrassed, but not enough to be apologetic about the fact that the one area of the house that is mine now smelt like piss.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!! (2 weeks man. 2 weeks!)

But, this is not to say all is bad in the world. I got to go with three of my friends to see Mt. Kazbegi this past week for a few days. It was a lot cooler up there and we had a good time. This week I’m going to visit another friend of mine for a few days to get a break from the family and the food so that’ll be good. A few of us went into the capital this weekend to play softball for the last time before we head out. (I went 3 for 3 with 2 singles, a ground rule double and 2 walks) Yeah, we score a lot of runs in the win.

So, I’m finding things to do to get me away from the house as much as possible. But, I can’t be gone everyday and I’m just hopping these last 2 weeks fly by.

Can’t wait to get home and see you all. (Well all of you that I can anyway).

Be well and do me a favor, go inside, turn the AC down an extra degree and enjoy it!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

School... OVER!

So school is over. That’s cool. I wanted to write some profound blog post about how I feel about that but for some reason I am unable to do that. I’m sure this is going to take some time to register and maybe I’ll be able to look back on all my work over the past two years at a later date.

But today is the two year anniversary of me landing in the Republic of Georgia. Looking back, there were times I hated it and times I loved it. I’ve met a lot of great people, became a part of a family and made an impact on the community that I lived in.

Yesterday I celebrated the last day of school in Muganlo by opening a bottle of wine that my training host-family gave me on my first day I arrived at their home. I also lit up the Cuban cigar that I’d been saving for two years. Keeping it wrapped up and dry for two years was a challenge but well worth the wait. With my headphones on and music blaring I ended up sitting on my family’s porch for two and a half hours drinking, smoking and singing. Yes, I did have a smile on my face the whole time. But, rather than looking back, all I could think about was the future.

As many of you who read this blog know by now the title ‘What’s Next?’ is not random. All I could think about while I sat there yesterday was what I want to do this summer while I’m home, what I want to get accomplished next year when I come back at my new school and what I plan on doing after that. Asia? More Europe? More Georgia? Home?

I don’t think I’m doing myself a disservice at all by focusing on the future rather than reflecting on the past. The past is just that. Gone. Nothing I can do about it. The mistakes that were made were made and learned from and the successes built upon. That’s it. I can “reflect” when I’m old and no longer able to travel.

Anyway, after I had lunch and napped off my bottle of wine, I went down to the next town to meet the guy who will be replacing me in Muganlo. He is visiting for 3 days before returning to finish up his last month of training. I gave him my key to the English Room I built and talked with him for a few hours about what to expect. I thought I would come off as slightly negative, but I didn’t. Instead I focused on the opportunities that he has to improve the school and help the students. He has a huge job ahead of him and I feel bad in a way because as he said, “I have huge shoes to fill.” And, I kind of feel weird about that because even as we were sitting there my director kept talking about how popular I am at school and in Muganlo and all the work I’ve done over the past two years. Now I like to have an occasional ego stroke like everyone else, but not in front of the guy who has to come right after me.

Luckily this guy is real young (21) and has a lot of ambition and is really excited about his assignment. I wished him a ton of luck as I left him at this host-family for his first night with them and then walked with my director back to his house. Of course I had to give my director time to talk about his new volunteer with me. He seemed to like him but also seemed reluctant to accept him right away because we are so close and I think he realizes now that I am really leaving and that this new “kid” is the one that will take my place. I think he’ll do fine though and I look forward to checking in with him from time to time next year. I told him to contact me at any time with any questions and I’d be happy to help him out.

So that’s it really for this post. I’ve got an English camp in a few weeks, some travel plans, a final Russian test, some softball and some parties with friends still left on the schedule but other than that it’s just a countdown at this point until Peace Corps service number two is over and done with.

On other notes: I’ve been without water for 13 days now, had a bad case of the stomach flu last week that I’ve finally gotten over, and got to see an awesome 6 year old vs. 8 year old fist fight (between a host-nephew and host-cousin) at dinner the other night. On the subject of lack of water… as most of you know most people in my village only shower once a week. So, without water everyone missed bath night this past week as we conserve water for food preparation. This caused quite the smell in school on the last day. Imagine a hot room full of 30 people all of whom haven’t bathed in about 10 days or so. One of the teachers from the neighboring village asked me, “What’s that smell in here?” I told her, “It’s us!”

And on that note… Peace!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Softball, Oil Rigs and I’m on TV… again.

What a weekend! The weather was great, the food was good (I wasn’t in my site) and I had a lot of fun with some of my good friends.

One of my fellow volunteers took the initiative to work with the local softball federation and write a grant similar to the one that I did in order to build my English Room, but he used his funds to help them rebuild the one and only softball field here in Georgia. He’s also doing another great project at his organization and you can keep up with him at his blog: (

As part of every USAID funded grant that we do through the Peace Corps, there has to be a training element involved. So, I and a few other volunteers agreed to help him this past weekend and we ran a softball clinic for around 30-40 boys and girls in the capital of Tbilisi. We all just had a lot of fun working with the kids and teaching them a game that we all love was just great. The girls here (and this is pretty much the case in just about every aspect of society) just don’t get as many opportunities but at the same time are just so much easier to work with. They were all about trying to learn new things and get better. The boys were more interested in showing you how much they already knew and not listening when you tried to explain things to them. But, overall we had a great time and I think this was a wonderful volunteer led initiative in cooperation with the local softball federation founder Gia Kemoklidze who is a wonderful man to work with and a credit to his country.

Every night after the trainings, we went back to my buddy’s house and cooked our own food and then made breakfast every morning before going back to the capital. We got our hands on some chicken breasts and real bacon, so… YUM!

We still have one more training to do at the end of this week and then the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia will come out to join some Peace Corps Staff members and other volunteers to play a ceremonial game and celebrate not only another great project but the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary. (I know the Peace Corps has been getting some bad press lately, but it’s still a great organization that does some great work around the world and for better or worse, I love it).

After the weekend I had a reporter come out to Muganlo from a Caucasian TV station (televised in Russian for Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) and do a story about my work in an Azeri village and my life with a Muslim family. It was an ok experience and marked my 7th time being on television since I’ve been here. Ho-Hum. Really the story was more about me being an American and spending two years working in a rural village full of minorities that don’t share my same beliefs, culture or culinary habits. I talked about what I liked and disliked (diplomatically) and my host-family talked about what it was like to have me there for two years. I was bored with it for the most part until I heard my host-dad Akif talk about how much he loved having me around and how much he would miss me when I leave. While he was talking and I was preparing my reaction (since all the interviews were in Russian and I didn’t want to make a grammatical mistake on international TV) it really hit me that despite all the problems I have, I’ll really miss my family here once I leave.

Anyway, after the interview was over, Akif had to go back to work. He asked me to come along with him since he would be visiting several oil drilling sites that day and “maybe it’ll be interesting for you.” I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ve got nothing else to do today. And in case you don’t’ know, Akif is the materials manager for a medium sized oil company here in Georgia and is well respected at his company because he’s known as a guy who gets stuff done.

So, first we went to this one rig way up in the mountains about a 45 minute drive from our village that was shut down for the Spring so they could clean it and repaint all the generators and whatnot. I’d never been on an oil rig so for me it was really interesting. One of my fellow volunteers said, “Isn’t that dangerous? I don’t know that I’d go on an oil rig in America. And we have regulations!” Hahahaha. True, but I had a hardhat. On this rig it was kind of funny since the core of the rig goes down 5 kilometers and has produced over $30 million in oil over the past 10 years using a combination of American, Russian and Chinese parts. While I’m standing on this thing all the generators are running as they are being tested and everything creeks and makes so much noise that it’s unbelievable. However, now I understand how Akif can put up with all the noise at home. Eleven people running around seems quiet compared to the rig.

After the visit there, we went to his main office where they separate the gas from the oil and then pump it out to trucks that then haul it off. This was also really cool because I got to see the oil that comes from the rigs get pumped into huge tanks and one tank that was being filled from oil directly from the ground. Akif let me stick my finger down in the oil to smell it and look at its color and tell him what I thought.
“Smells like kerosene,” I said.

“Yes, yes. Everything comes from this. But what about the color?” he asked to test what I had learned from the rig.

“Looks too light maybe? I think it should be darker,” I said.

“Good! This is the oil that we’ve only separated out the gas from. We still need to take out the water and some dirt. Good!” was my reward for paying attention on the rig.

This location is also the place where my oldest host-brother Levan works as a welder. We said hello to him quickly, Akif told him to get back to work and then we went on our way. Next was a trip to the workshop where my middle host-brother Aslan works basically tearing things that are broken apart, fixing them and then putting them back together. I watched him work on some pipe while Akif told him how he was doing it wrong. (Fathers are the same everywhere). Once they got the pipe all broken apart we all went home and had dinner with lots of vodka to celebrate a day of being on TV and me meeting about 100 of Akif’s coworkers. Some of them I had met before at Supras, but a lot of them I was meeting for the first time. Overall it was a fun day and I learned a lot about oil and what Akif really does.

This week I’m in the capital for my final medical exams so lots of poking, prodding and blood drawing. More updates on that and my future plans in next week’s blog post.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moon Shining in Broad Daylight

It’s that time of year; time to make the homemade vodka or ‘ChaCha’ here in Georgia. Now while those of you in America maybe thinking, isn’t making homemade liquor illegal? I say that here it’s not only legal; it’s a source of pride for most families.

I have run across several debates about how ChaCha is to be made. The consensus is that it is to be made from grapes and that only poor families and uneducated people would make it from things like apples and peaches or other fruits. I think it’s more of a pride in the Georgian grapes than anything, but grapes seem to be the preferred method. I tried to convince them to let me make a batch out of corn to show them the Appalachian method, but they weren’t going for it.

Let me walk you through the weekend’s events. On Saturday morning, I arrived at home to see that the still had already been set up. (See photo below). Now, what we needed to do was open the huge barrel that we had left all the grape stems, seeds, and skins in from the fall when we made our wine. My family finished that process in October, so those had been left in there to ferment for about six months. I could describe the smell inside this giant barrel but for fear that you may be having a snack while reading this, I’ll spare you.
Getting the rot from the garage to the back yard was simple enough. We got a shovel, a ladder and some buckets and the process was on. We simply dumped buckets into the cooker until it was just over half way full. Then, it’s build a fire and wait on the alcohol to drip through. Simple as that. Really, after you get the still set up the process isn’t very labor intensive. You really just need to make sure the pipes stay cool in order to help the condensation process. (See my host-dad Akif below).
Now comes the more “scientific” aspect of the job. Ideally, the first 3 liter bottle should come out at about 70% alcohol by volume. We measured this with what I thought was a thermometer at first but then realized was a float that depending on the level of alcohol in the bottle tells you where you’re at. After that your next bottle should be around 40% alcohol and then around 30% before you need to load in more grape sludge. So that’s 9 liters at 70, 40 and 30% or, when all mixed together a batch of around 47% alcohol. Just as a note here, your typical bottle of liquor in the states is around 40%.

At this point you have two options, you can either remove the grape sludge and start a new batch or poor all 9 liters back in and distill it for a second time. You will lose a little alcohol % here but the taste will get better. Or so I’m told. Our first batch came out at a total of 55% so we dumped it back and got a final first batch of 42%. “Very not strong,” said my host-dad. But that first batch still tasted like the grape sludge and burnt like fire so we had no choice.

Like I said this wasn’t too labor intensive, so while we waited for the goodness to drip from the pipes we also took the time to dump last fall’s wine that we had “aged” in plastic bottles into one large glass container as to get some oxygen into it and to balance out the alcohol there as well. The women watched the kids to make sure they didn’t burn themselves, they made lunch and all I really had to do was poor beer and haul wine bottles up from the cellar. Of course there was the testing that happened after ever 3 liter bottle was distilled. (Half shots only cause you never knew what you were going to get). By the end of the day I was not feeling so well and needless to say slept quite late on Sunday.

Sunday was the same process except we had to do everything in the rain. It rained all day and everything just turned to mud. Gross. But, one thing I can say about ChaCha, it’ll keep you warm even when you’re wet. I think we ended up with about 25-27 liters of ChaCha by the end of Sunday but we still have more to go. I hear the best grape sludge (and by best they mean the highest alc. %) is at the bottom of the barrel. So, we’ll see about that.

I’ve been drinking this stuff for about two years now and I can say that every batch and every home is different. Some taste ok. Some taste real bad. Some are high in alcohol. Some are really high in alcohol. I don’t recommend it and I can tell you I’ve never met anyone who has ever said they drink ChaCha for the taste.

I think later this week if we still have wood and the still is still set up, I’ll buy some corn and try to get them to let me make some corn liquor for them. It can’t be any worse and who knows, maybe they’ll like it. They sure loved Jack Daniels when they tried a bottle a few months ago. I was frightened at how quickly they fell in love with Tennessee whiskey. Even my one host-brother who rarely drinks was putting down shots of that.

Until next time, stay safe and avoid the cops if you’re planning a weekend Shine; unless you’re livin’ in The Republic of Georgia, in which case go for it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Peace Corps Project: The Building of an English Room

So here it is. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do but also one of the most rewarding. I'll be posting up pictures of the opening event later but here are just a few of the videos to show you how this all went down. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A 2 for of MTV

A two for on the MTV this week. It was a lot better than last week that’s for sure. Well, a sharp stick to the eye would be better than last week.

I’m also including a picture of me that goes with the last post of me sleeping at 3 a.m. on New Year’s morning. Here it is:

In other news… Auburn won the National Championship last night. Awesome for the SEC who has now won FIVE National Championships in a row. I felt like writing up a whole post on the Bowls and what I thought about them, but then I thought… neh.

Anyway, this is a short post and here are the above promised MTV episodes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Stellar Start to the New Year

3:48 a.m., January 1, 2011, Batumi, Georgia. In Russian: “Hey! Andrew! Wake up! We need to walk across town to where we’re going to sleep.” I snap awake not knowing where I am or how I got there but looking at a face I recognized. Being 3 sheets to the wind only 20 minutes earlier and sitting at a dining room table, I now found myself in a chair in the living room being shouted at in Russian by my host-brother.

Wait wait wait… Let’s back up here because that’s not how this whole story gets started. December 31, 2010 10:00 a.m. my phone rings and it’s my host-dad wondering where I am. Where I was was in another town house sitting for a friend who is in America for the holidays. He wants to know where I am because he doesn’t listen to anything I tell him like when I told him 3 days earlier that I would be home that afternoon to celebrate the New Year with them in Muganlo. Well, he informs me that I need to come quick because we’re going on a trip to visit some friends for the New Year. “Ok Ok! I just need to go to Tbilisi on my way and pick up two boxes my mom sent that are full of gifts for the family for New Year’s,” I tell him. “Ok. Ok. Just hurry up!” he says and hangs up.

So, I pack my things and take the hour and a half trip by mini-bus to the capital to pick up my boxes. They were both huge and there was no way I was going to get them and my bags back to Muganlo by mini-bus after having to take them on the metro across town first. I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a cab to take me back to Muganlo from the Peace Corps office at a 40 Lari price tag. Ouch. But, it could have been worse. The guy wanted to charge me 60, but I was having none of it. As soon as I get in the cab my host-dad calls again to see where I am. “I’m in Tbilisi, I’ll be there in about 45 minutes or so,” I tell him. “OK. OK. Hurry. We go!” is his response. I have no idea what he’s talking about or what the urgency is since it’s only one in the afternoon at this point with a full 11 hours to go till the New Year.

What do I discover when I get home? My host-dad isn’t even there! My host-brother is though and asks me why I’m late. “Where is Akif?” I ask. “He’s still at work, he’s coming soon,” he replies. So how am I late then, I think to myself. No matter, I’m home and all should soon be well. About 20 minutes later my host-dad shows up and is running around like his ass is on fire telling everyone to get ready to go. “Pack a bag, we come back tomorrow!” he tells me. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“Batumi!” Now Batumi is literally on the other side of the country in the semi-autonomous region of Adjara. It’s a favored spot for Georgians to celebrate the New Year and Akif’s friend that he spoke of is one that I met last year and who didn’t leave all that great of an impression on me. Oh, and, taking an overnight trip to the other side of the country without letting Peace Corps know about it is a no no. Problem one: It’s New Year’s Eve and the PC staff is out of the office and with their families. Problem two; my cell phone is dead and we are leaving with no time for me to charge it. Problem three: I can tell this is going to be one long car ride with my host-dad, 15-year-old host-brother, middle host-brother (Aslan), his wife and 18-month-old son and I all in one car.

Editor’s Note: If you are a Peace Corps Staff Member and are reading this; sorry, I didn’t call and report my whereabouts. I take full responsibility for that. And, if you keep reading you’ll probably find that some of the content may be offensive to Georgians. Sorry, it was a weekend from hell and I’ve got to let it out. If you are Georgian and reading this: Stop now! You probably won’t like it. Oh, and if any of you when reading the dialogue seem to find its content funny, it’s because it’s translated from Russian.

Let me start out by saying I did not want to go to Batumi and even told my host-dad as much. But, being where as he doesn’t listen when he has his mind set on something, I was ushered into the car and off we went. 3:00 p.m. December 31, 2010, we leave Muganlo all packed and ready to make the trip.

5:00 p.m. we near the city of Gori made famous because it’s where Stalin was born; and, it starts to rain. This is not a good thing because we are about to enter a very mountainous region and Georgians are some of if not the world’s worst drivers. My host-dad is no exception to this. Two lane roads here quickly turn into what NASCAR fans refer to as ‘4-wide.’ We’re driving up hills and down hills passing on blind curves all the while going 65+ miles an hour in the rain. Now, the roads in western Georgia (i.e. the roads to Batumi) are much better than they are in the east where I live. But still, they aren’t the greatest and while you’re driving around these curves on the side of the mountain there may or may not be a rail there to help stop you should you decided to plummet to your death. All this is going on with me sitting in the front seat trying to make noises to tell my host-dad when a car is coming that I can see from my side, my 15-year-old host-brother is in the back complaining that it’s either too hot or too cold, the middle host-brother is yelling over the god-awful music on the car stereo while talking on the phone but one positive was that somehow the baby managed to sleep through all of this.

6:30 p.m.; sunset; my host-dad makes the statement, “I wish we could have left earlier. I hate driving at night because I can’t see too well.” The car then accelerates towards another car that’s break lights are clearly lit. No problem, we just swerve around it. My grip on the passenger side door tightens to white knuckle capacity.

8:30 p.m.; Kobaleti, Georgia. We finally make a stop at a town about a half an hour’s drive outside of Batumi to buy more candy and some champagne for our hosts. As soon as the car stops, I jump out and light a cigarette and check to make sure I haven’t soiled myself on the trip down from the mountains. I had managed to get my phone somewhat charged in the car, so I called the Peace Corps volunteer that lives in that town to confirm our proximity to Batumi. Sure enough, we’re only a half an hour out. Thank God!

Around 9:15 or so we arrived at D’s house in Batumi. (We’ll call him D here in order to protect the name of the not so innocent.) My nerves are shot and I need a drink at this point. Luckily, I’ve come to the right place for that and we all sit down and start a small supra (Georgian word for table full of food, booze and lots of toasting). The wine is poured and I’ve got to say it was just ok. Not bad, but far from good. The food was not that much better either and consisted of reheated chicken and a lot of salads that were either mayonnaise concentrated or just loaded with oil. Pass the bread please!

After an hour and a half and more than a few toasts, the host-brothers and I with the sister-in-law and baby are ushered out of the apartment by our host’s son to go to the big Batumi New Year’s concert that is shown on TV here every year. Yes, the concert is outside. Yes, it is still raining. Yes, it is cold. We drive over to the venue, park and get out. The concert was supposed to start at 10:40 p.m. and it is now about 10:45 p.m. The line to get in is a mile long and after only a few seconds of contemplation we decide to not wait out in the rain but rather just walk around and see the lights of Batumi. They were actually pretty nice and Batumi is like a smaller version of Odessa, Ukraine.

We walked around for about 45 minutes or so before rushing back for… HAPPY NEW YEAR! Midnight came and was slightly anti-climatic since the host-dad and his friend D had been drinking the whole time, it was, for them, just another toast. But, we did pop a bottle of champagne and everyone had a glass for the New Year. The champagne was of course Georgian and consequently overly sugared and under cultured. Not dry, not wet, not… anything.
After the champagne toast we had to sit around and listen to D make all the long traditional toasts that accompany the New Year while drinking more wine. At least this time it was some of the wine that we had brought from our house which while not the world’s best is still a ton better than what we had been drinking when we first got there. These toast lasted about an hour and then everyone packed up to walk across town to D’s sister’s house. “Of course you have to visit somebody! It’s tradition! Visitors are gifts from God and your first of the New Year is very special,” D shouted as we were leaving to any and everyone within earshot. Of course he shouted everything since he lacks the ability to speak either in a whisper or in anything resembling a normal voice. Let me tell you dear reader, if this 300lbs+ guy showed up at your house, you’d think it was a plague from God and a gift that he should have kept the receipt for.

Once we arrived the hellos were said and the drinking continued. The food was better at the sister’s house but the wine was the worst that I have ever tasted. Imagine if you will Welch’s white grape juice mixed with champagne and normal Georgian wine. That’s what this sludge tasted like. Around 3:30 a.m. I excused myself from the table and headed off to find a spot to sit down and get away from D’s voice and his constant standing and sitting to make toasts that went on and on for 5-10 minutes at a time. I had had enough Georgian ‘culture’ for one night and was missing my village and the Azeris that inhabit it.

This brings us back to the start of my little story. At about 20 till 4 my host-dad, 15-year-old host brother, D, his wife, their son and I start the trek back across town to D’s house. The middle host-brother and his wife and baby stay at the sisters because there isn’t enough room at D’s for all of us. (Remember this for later) Yes, it is still raining and yes it is cold. Once we get there it’s a long toast from D, one shot of vodka and then I’m shown to my bed. Needless to say it takes me all total of 2 seconds to fall asleep. 4:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m. January 1, 2011; D’s house. I wake to the sound of D singing at the top of his lungs in the dining/living room. I lay there for about another half an hour while I listen to my host-dad and everyone else use the bathroom that is the next room over from where I was sleeping. Let’s just say after a long night of drinking and eating, they weren’t the most pleasant of sounds. Once I count up all the trips and realize that everyone has made their trip, I get up and lock myself in the bathroom for a good 15 minutes listening to D sing and make toasts. I get a good face washing in and brush my teeth. Strangely I didn’t hear anyone else do that. Hmmm….

Once I do get out of the bathroom I join everyone else at the table. D immediately hands me a shot of vodka before I can even get my ass in my chair. He says it will help with my hangover. I’m thinking the only thing I really want for my hangover is for him to shut the hell up for 5 seconds! My host-brother and his family show up at around 12 and we all sit down to “breakfast.” Breakfast consisted of the same salads we had been served the night before and the Belarusian vodka that D had been saving for just this occasion. Once D was satisfied that everyone had had enough, even if I hadn’t had my coffee that I asked for as soon as I sat down, we all packed ourselves into the car to go “see” Batumi. Yes it was still raining. No, you couldn’t “see” anything because we were all packed into the car and the windows kept fogging up. Yes, it was cold every time somebody rolled their window down to get a look at some building we passed. Luckily the drive was short lived and we returned to D’s to find him and his wife along with my host-dad ready to go. Thank God! Let’s get in the car and get the hell back to Muganlo. My host-brother told me to make sure to get my bag because we’d be heading home from D’s brother’s house. Wait. What? Yes, we had yet another stop to make before we could go home. Thankfully it was at least on the way out of town.

We arrived at the brother’s sometime around 1:30 p.m. or so to more hellos and congratulations on the New Year and a house full of people. My host-dad, D, my host-brother and I all sat down with our new host and yes started drinking more of the same crappy wine that we had been served the night before. Nothing helps a hangover like more of the same right? Ugh. Meanwhile, the host-sister-in-law, the baby and the 15-year-old host-brother were hanging out with D’s brother’s family and his wife. Being Azeri and from Baku, my host-sister-in-law doesn’t speak a word of Georgian which I noticed drew more than a few nasty looks from the Georgian women, and even some of the men, everywhere we went. But somehow it was ok for me to not be able to speak Georgian. They were more than happy to extend the toasts for a few more minutes to translate them for me. Thanks. One major upside to this visit was the food. The food at the brother’s place was awesome. Some really good beef stew type dish and some really good khachapuri (That’s Georgian cheese bread. Not the greatest thing on Earth as they would have you to believe but good).

At around 3:00 p.m. I start to wonder; shouldn’t we be getting on the road soon? The drinking sure hasn’t slowed down any and D is in full throttle mode at this point. I quietly get Aslan, my middle host-brother, to accompany me outside for a cigarette. “Hey, what’s the deal? Shouldn’t we be headed back soon?” I ask. “Yes. Very soon. We are leaving as soon as the other sister shows up,” Aslan said. Before we even finish our smoke two cars pull up and out pop a whole family full of people. This must be the other sister! And, sure enough it was. So, I headed back inside and we (the Muganlo crew) packed up our things in order to make room for the new arriving guests at the table. We then said our goodbyes, mingled around talking for a few minutes and then got in the car.

Thank God! As soon as the doors were closed I said to Aslan, “To Tbilisi my good man!” He didn’t reply. We drove down the hill to the main highway where we literally faced a sign that said Right to Tbilisi; Left to Batumi. The way that allowed us to turn right was clear of oncoming traffic and I breathed a sigh of relief. But wait. We weren’t turning right the car was going left! “Where are we going,” I half shouted. We’re going to visit Akif’s school friend who lives in Batumi. D is behind us and will come too,” Aslan replied. “But I thought we were going home!?” I said to him. “Tomorrow,” was the only thing he said.

“Oh this is an old friend of mine and D’s,” said my host-dad. “You’ll like him. I haven’t seen him in many years and we must visit him.” The only thing I heard though was the voice in my head screaming, “FFFUUUUUUCK!!!”

4:30 p.m. January 1, 2011; Batumi, Georgia. We arrive at the friend’s house. Let me just skip the run down here and get right to it. We sat down and D insists that I sit next to him. NOOOOOO! But, my host-dad joins in the campaign and I end up sitting right next to Tamada (toast-master) D. He is a very touchy individual. Hand on my shoulder, hand on my leg, leaning on me to make a toast to me. It was more than I could take and was ready to explode after about 5 minutes. The thing about this guy is he thinks he knows everything. “History? Got it. Politics? Right up my alley. Biology? No subject is too tough for D!”

Here is just a little piece of how D handles the table and this is pretty much typical of all of the places that we visited and were forced to listen to this guy who I swear must talk in his sleep because at no point during this trip did I ONCE witness him stay quiet for longer than a minute. At one point this ass asked me where my family was from; meaning my heritage. “Well, my mother’s family was German and my father’s family was Dutch,” I told him. He then proceeded to tell me the entire history of the great Dutch people. “Great adventurers the Dutch. They were the first in America the Dutch. Vikings the Dutch were and such were the first people to go many places. Many great Dutch people,” he went on and on. I was trying not to laugh at all the Dutch “facts” that this guy knew. After that was all over with he somehow managed between toasts to switch the subject to politics. He at one point made the claim that, “Nothing was good about the Soviet Union. Not one thing!” This drew not only an open mouth from me, but even refutations from the other guests. This was also the one and only time anyone had dared to interrupt the Great D when my host-dad made the simple but logical point that in fact there had been a few things about the USSR that were good. (its common knowledge that while bad, the Soviet Union did a lot of good for Georgia and there are still a lot of areas today where Georgia is in fact worse off than it was under the Union). Needless to say this debate went on for a while and evoked a whole new strain of toasts. Oh, the wine was a little better here but still not good but the food was good and I even got to have a few pieces of real ham!

Interesting side note. Our host had received a Red Diploma from Moscow State University in 1986. A Red Diploma meant that you graduated with the equivalent of a 4.0 and were pretty much at the top of your class. He even brought it out and showed it to me. After he graduated he went to work for the government as an engineer. Pretty impressive! His wife was also a senator in the Soviet Duma at one point for about 5 years and even let me see her credentials where on the back was printed her salary and all the benefits that she received as a senator. Really impressive! What do they do now you ask? Oh, he runs a small shop that sells bread; she is a house-wife and of course doesn’t receive a pension from a government that doesn’t exist anymore. Not one thing was good about the Soviet Union huh D?

After about an hour of sitting next to D I had had enough. But Fortuna doth shine every now and then. Since there is so much food to be laid out it took the wife and granny about an hour to set the table and granny popped in just as D was making a toast to our host’s family. He wanted the granny to come stand next to him. I saw Fortuna and struck! “Granny! Come here and take my seat next to the Tamada. I insist! I’ll move over here next to my host-father,” I literally shouted this. I had to in order to be heard over D and to make sure Granny got a move on. Now, giving up your seat is a big plus in the table culture. But, giving up the most treasured seat next to the Tamada is huge! I received many a ‘Good Job!’ from the other guests and was afterwards regarded as both considerate and well cultured. I’d have given my seat to Satan himself had he walked in that room, anything that would have gotten me away from that drunk, smelly and back slapping Georgian. D was literally about one more hand on my leg, one more shoulder grab or one more hug away from get slapped across the head.

So this whole feast goes on till well past 10 p.m. At this point we get ready to go. I have my coat and shoes on and am at the door waiting on the rest of our party to catch up. Aslan, the one person who was allowed not to drink because he was driving comes up to me and says, “You’re staying here.”

Yep. That’s right ladies and gentlemen no pre-warning just a notification that the 15-year-old host-brother and I will be staying at this guys house for the night and that the family would be by in the morning to get us. And off they went. I was pissed but didn’t see how making a scene right there to a bunch of drunks that probably wouldn’t have seen the problem with any of it would make any difference. I didn’t know this guy at all and contrary to the Georgian belief that once you drink together your friends, I do not subscribe to that line of thinking. He was kind of weird and wanted to talk; I just wanted to go to sleep. I thought it would be rude to just ask for a bed and duck out on the guy for the night so I agreed to have tea with him while his wife cleared off the table.

Like I said, I don’t speak Georgian all that well, but I understand a good bit of it. And while this guy took a break from our Russian conversation to make a phone call I understood a few words of it. It went something like this: Congratulations!... no… come… eat… drink… American… come. I looked at my host-brother and then tried to finish my tea as fast as possible. Too late. These three guys, who must have lived in the same building, show up and the guy’s wife starts resetting the table. I look at the clock and note that it is close to midnight.
Now these three guys and our host tried all the typical tricks to get me to sit down and eat and drink with them as they constantly stare at me like I’m some kind of exhibit they paid good money to get a look at. “Oh come join us please. Just one drink. Oh come on, just sit down then…” that’s how they try to suck you in. I politely as possible but probably not that politely declined and asked my host to show me where I would be sleeping. I was tired, annoyed and slightly drunk for the second day in a row. I’d have rather dropped than sit down with another group of drunken Georgians and have to listen to them talk about me in Georgian thinking that I didn’t understand them. So rude on so many levels. Eventually I got to bed and put on my i-pod to block out the sounds of the toasts coming from the next room that went on till sometime after 3 a.m.

9:00 a.m. January 2, 2011; Batumi, Georgia. My phone rings and wakes me up. Surprisingly I slept well. I think it had something to do with getting poor sleep the night before and having been semi-drunk for two straight days. On the phone was Aslan telling me that they would be there to pick us up in 15 minutes and that we would be going home. Sure enough, 15 minutes later the whole crew, D included show up. But, going home is out of the question at least until after we have breakfast and 2 liters of vodka. So, our host gets his wife to lay out the spread and then wakes one of the guys who showed up the night before off the couch so that everyone has a place to sit. He then brings out his home-vodka which is made from honey. I originally thought this would be a good thing since honey vodka is usually tasty. But no. This was made from wood honey which means it was slightly bitter honey to start with and doesn’t make for good drinking vodka. At least there was more ham. I even had a laugh with Aslan over the ham because he ate a piece and commented that it was good (beef) sausage. I told him it was ham and came from a pig. Being the good Muslim that he is (or at least wanting to appear that way), he then passed the rest of his piece over to me. Meanwhile, D, Akif, our host and I are making our way through the honey vodka. I thought we would stop after liter one, but when the host brought out liter two, I excused myself to the balcony under the auspice of taking photos of the mountains. Luckily, I stayed out there in the cold long enough to miss most of the second liter and only had to take a few “thank you” shots at the end.

11:45 a.m. January 2, 2011 Batumi, Georgia. We’re off! Everyone is packed in the car and we are moving. I’ve never been so happy to leave a place in my life. I’m so annoyed, slightly drunk and while I’m sitting in the front next to Aslan my host-dad wants to chat away and sing songs. I swear I just wanted to scream! This goes on for about two hours until we make one stop to get out and use a toilet while the host-sister-in-law also changes the baby’s diaper. After that, I move to the back because even my 15-year-old host-brother was getting annoyed sitting next to Akif in the back. I was more than happy to move to the back so I wouldn’t have him leaning up to the front talking to me. And, this way I could slip on my i-pod, zone out and try to finish sobering up.

2:30 p.m. we stop to buy some roadside souvenirs for the family. Clay pots for the women and… drums for the kids! Yeah! Drums! Akif even let the baby have one in the back with me so he could be entertained for the rest of the ride. I hate my life at this point. Thankfully, we stop not too long after for lunch. Akif insists that he will not sober up and buys another liter of vodka and two beers for he and I to consume with lunch. Since we’re the only two that can drink at this point it’s up to us to polish off all the booze. I was in no mood to drink, but figured if I’m going to make it back I had better do something to calm my nerves. Akif orders a ton of food and we eat and make merry. At this point he makes some concession to me and apologizes for the craziness of the weekend. I think he realized that I was not having a good time and was more than slightly miffed about the whole situation from the night before. I for some reason (I blame the vodka) tell him it was no big deal and thanks for bringing me along.

Editor’s note: I do plan on having quite the serious talk with him this week about letting me know in advance what’s going to happen and where. I don’t do well with going on long trips and being left in the dark about the plans.

Once lunch was over we continued on our way. The weather was awesome and the ride was really pretty. All the mountains had snow on top of them and some of the views were just awesome. We finally made it back to Tbilisi at around 5:30 p.m. after a long long ride and once again made an unannounced stop. This time we were at my host-mother’s sister’s house for yet another feast. And yes, there was more wine to be consumed. I was still slightly drunk and didn’t want to mix the local wine with the vodka that was still swimming in my stomach. But, tradition and ‘culture’ being what it is here, I found myself about six glasses in before I could get away from the table and then another two glasses at the end before we could get out of there.

8:15 p.m. January 2, 2011 Muganlo, Georgia. We’d made it. As soon as we turned on to the road that leads up to our village, my mom called me from America. I barely remember the conversation and just remember being really pissy about a bunch of different things and telling her that I’d have to talk to her later. I was just happy to be home. Once everyone got settled in I gave my host-family their New Year’s gifts that my mom sent them from America. This was a big hit and a positive to end what was a weekend form hell.

Dear reader, if you’ve made it this far, I’m sorry. I know that at times I banged out 5 or 6 paragraphs without taking my hands off the keys and I’m sure that there are sections that seem incoherent and rambling. But, that’s just what this weekend was rambling and incoherent.

Lessons learned: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least type out what I learned from this experience.
1. If I want my host-family to listen to me I’m going to have to be much clearer and less polite. There are times when “cultural sensitivity” is not the best course of action.
2. I’m so glad that, even with all their shortcomings, I live with Azeris and not Georgians. Sorry, but it’s true. Azeris are a lot less pushy and if you have something to say they will not simply dismiss you and then go on to proclaim to everyone the richness of their “culture.” Just because you talk about “culture” all the time doesn’t mean that you have it. I witnessed waaaaay too many Georgianisms (read: rude actions) this weekend to have a positive opinion about them right now.
3. If you’re going to be in a car with 5 other people none of whom brought a tooth brush with them for the weekend, bring gum and be sure to share it.
4. It is always better to know where you are and what the situation is before acting. I’m extremely proud of myself for not blowing up this weekend. I could have let out my frustration and probably made a scene, but what good would it have done other than embarrass my host-dad and make me look like an ass?
5. Drinking is only fun when it’s done with friends and in moderation. When you are forced to drink large amounts of alcohol and forced to endure bad company for long periods of time in the name of “culture” drinking is not fun.

That’s it. I’m spent. Once again let me apologize to anyone who may have read this post and been offended by it. This post and the people who are mentioned in it are not meant to represent all Georgians nor all experiences in Georgia. This was just one American and one weekend in one place with one host that made for one of the worst New Year’s ever.