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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, February 4, 2012

Cold, Dead Body, and Big Shoes.

Well the new semester is now in full swing what with week two in the books. I can’t say I’m really happy about the way it has started out, but then again, I’m not overly pessimistic about it either. While I’m enjoying my classes and getting though some really good material in both History and English, I’m just really bummed that I seem to be babysitting the upper grades. ‘Don’t do that. Put that down. Sit still. Be quiet. Stop throwing things. Well, if you don’t touch him then he won’t touch you.’ Really? Just sit the f@*k down and be still! It’s 45 minutes! If you don’t want to learn anything then that’s on you and the mass sums of money your parents are paying for this school. But, don’t keep the other kids from learning as well. And, I’m not talking about the little kids here. I’m talking about 8-11th grades. Ugh.

However, that is not what this blog post is about. I promised that I would do a better job of updating those of you back in the Land of Freedom about the goings on here in Tbilisi and what I’m up to. So a couple of weeks ago a group of Fulbright girls, and one guy, were in Tbilisi for a holiday and we were hooked up by a girl who had been in PC with me here who knew one of them from America. (Yeah, long strange connection there). Anyway, I agreed to meet them on a Saturday and show them around a few places. You never know who you’re going to run into when you agree to do these types of things, but this group turned out to be completely normal and we had a pretty good day walking around and seeing the sites of Tbilisi. It kind of works out too since I’m planning a trip to Istanbul in April for my Spring Break (my favorite holiday… JOB anyone?) and a few of them agreed that since they are all working somewhat near Istanbul that they would meet me there one day and show me a few of the sites. So, cool. I got a day out of the house and away from lesson planning and maybe a free tour guide when I go to Turkey.

This past Saturday I met up with a guy who is here from the University of South Carolina to start up a journalism school at one of the Universities. He and his wife got here in September and will stay until the summer then other faculty members from USC will come and spend anywhere from a semester or two working to keep the program up and going. We shared a few stories on what it’s like to work in a school with Georgian teachers and administrators and he expressed a few frustrations that I had to laugh at. I’m so glad I’m off the learning curve. Not to say that I know it all by any means, but there are very few things that surprise me anymore when it comes to the working relationships and dynamics of a school here in Georgia. Anyway, we had a good chat for a few hours and then I walked around for a while to stretch my legs and enjoy some pretty decent weather.

That weather was short lived by the way. This past week has been all snow, wind and cold. I saw the sun for the first time in a week yesterday and it’s gone again today behind thick clouds, fog and snow. Brrr… I’ll get back to this in a minute.

That day of fresh air though was much needed since my work load has increased a lot this month. I’ve picked up two more private students and my day now generally runs from 8am to 7pm. By the time I get home from school I have about an hour to rest and grab some food before I spend 2-3 hours with private students in the evening. I have at least one every night (sometimes 2) except Tuesdays. It worked out that way and now I’m holding fast to not scheduling any students or allowing any make up days on that night. I need at least one night to myself and so I can knock out some lesson planning at home rather than sucking up my 30 minute lunch break everyday trying to stay on top of it. I do have a good window in my schedule on Tuesdays at school so I can generally get most of the week’s plans out of the way then as well.
Then, last Sunday morning I was sitting around having a relaxing morning cup of coffee when… AHHHHHHHHHHHH! (A blood curdling scream made me almost throw my coffee across the room). The screams continued for several minutes before I had the courage to open my front door to see just what the hell was going on in the apartment next door. Apparently the mother in the family next door had died during the night and as the family rose (late on a Sunday as normal here) they discovered her death. I quickly went back into my apartment as to not be the neighbor who hangs around during a moment of family grief. I could hear everything though from my living room as other family and friends arrived within the hour. More screams and crying as the medical unit came, I presume to announce the death and take any measures that were needed.

Now, what you need to understand here is that in the Georgian tradition the body is not moved out of the house and the wake lasts for 3-5 days depending. There is no embalming process. The coffin is just brought in and set up and the wake begins. So all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the family’s door was open and people were coming in and out and generally hanging around in the stairway in the evenings. Incense was lit on Monday and for three days the stairway and even my apartment smelt like an Orthodox church. Since I elected to stay in my apartment all day on Sunday I did not have a chance to give my condolences to the father (whom I had only met once and spoken to a grand total of about 3 times since I moved in) until Monday when I came home from school. I had no idea what to say other than ‘sorry for your loss’ and give him a handshake and a knowing look. He seemed to appreciate it, but I have no idea if there was anything else I should have done. I was not about to do the Georgian tradition of entering the home and walking around the body three times. I’ve done that before and let me just tell you that there is something to be said for the work of a good mortician rather than the ‘natural’ look. No thanks. I could see it (the body and coffin) from the stairway and the only thing that told me was that they had set her up along the common wall with my bedroom. So for the next three nights every time I went to bed all I could think was, ‘on the other side of this 6” of wall is a dead body.’ I slept well enough, but it was not something I was overly thrilled about. Thankfully the funeral was Wednesday and all seems to have gone back to normal.

In other news, I thought I would share with you what is starting to become an annoying tradition in my 8th grade class. Each week they (the students) seem to get together and determine some kind of question that they want to ask me that has nothing to do with the topic that we’re discussing. And, they generally wait until the middle of the lesson to ask it. I, for some reason, have humored them for the most part and answered the questions. For example, this past week was on the topic of my wardrobe and produced a pretty funny back and forth. I wear slacks, a shirt and tie and my nice black shoes to school just about every day. One of the girls (after some clarification) wanted to know if when I went ‘out’ in the evenings with friends or whatever if I wore the same clothes. At first I was confused by the question because it struck me as completely off the wall. I told her that of course I didn’t and that I generally wore jeans, a sweater (in winter) and regular shoes or boots if it was really icy. This caused a mini discussion amongst them before the follow up question. “So when you go out, do you still wear such big shoes?” I almost fell out of my chair I wanted to laugh so hard. My shoe size has been a topic of humor among my friends and family ever since I was in 8th grade myself. I’m 5’10” and about 145lbs and wear a size 12 shoe. (This sounds even worse by the European standard since it translates to a size 46). My students honestly wanted to know if I just wore my nice black shoes because they are big and shinny. After I stopped laughing I told them no, that my feet were just big and no matter where I went I was always wearing big shoes.

Not all of their questions catch me in a good mood or at the right time either. For example, this past Monday during 1st period History, they decided to ask me why they should have to study World History. Fair enough, but it was the follow up reasoning that got me a little pissed.

“Why should we have to study other people’s history when we are Georgian and have the longest history? Do other people have to study our history? Why should we have to study theirs if they don’t study ours?”

Now I know that throughout my life I have sometimes said the wrong thing at the wrong time and I try never to do that at school. But at 9am on a Monday after just being interrupted by a girl with a bad attitude who just ruined a legitimate question with self promotion, my guard fell a little bit.

“You have the longest and best history?” I asked.

“Yes. Our history is the longest and best and other people should have to study us!” she replied.

“And let me ask you: just what have you done with your long and storied history? What have you accomplished with it? What have you given the world that would make it so that they would want to study what you’ve done with you looooong and rich history?”

She and the rest of the class had a mini discussion about this and then all sat quietly for a minute. I wasn’t going to let her off though because this one student has made it a point to generally bring her bad attitude to class with her every lesson. So I decided to make her answer my question. She simply responded with, “I guess nothing.”

Now, part of me wanted to feel victorious here and move on. Another part of me felt really bad. I know that Georgia does have a long and very rich history. I also know that they haven’t been able to translate that into much progress and historical “impact.” Not all of that is their fault either, but a lot of it is. This girl was simply a victim of interrupting the wrong teacher at the wrong time. I know when I’m at my best and when I’m not. And I am not my best during 1st period on a Monday. So, while I would like to apologize to that girl, I doubt I will since I’m pretty sure this next week will bring an equally asinine question which this time I will try to respond to in a more diplomatic manner.

So I’m going to make a little mention about the weather. December was great and January started off well enough. However the last week of January turned cold and February has been freezing! The sun is gone and the place is covered in snow. The one day it wasn’t snowing it was so windy that I had flashback to Kazakhstan and walking on the Siberian Steppe.

But, all this cold led me to one of life’s great pleasures. I love when I “discover” something that should have occurred to me years ago that seems so simple that I kick myself for not realizing it earlier. On the really cold days I break out those ‘hot hands’ packets and put them in my coat. Now they will last for about 10 hours. I only really need them between about 8am and 4pm when I get home. They still have hours of good heat left in them especially if you put them on top of the heater at home for about 15 minutes and get them ’charged’ back up. But why would I need them at this point? I’m home and relatively warm. Ah ha! With the new low in temperature during the day and since my floor is no longer getting sun during the day, my floors are really cold. Cue the light bulb over the head. After you recharge the hot hands packs, just stuff them down into the toes of your slippers! Warm feet for hours ahead! Now, as I said that may sound overly simple and obvious, but this week has been awesome walking around the house with toasty warm feet. I’ve even had to take the slippers off a few times to cool my feet off. I know. It’s dumb. But hey…

The only other thing I can think of is a movie update for you. I was super excited to the ‘The Rum Diary’ with Jonny D since it was supposed to be somewhat of a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. I was a little disappointed though since Depp seemed to just act exactly the same as he did in ‘Fear and Loathing’ and the whole story didn’t seem to connect. The whole thing was just watered down in a way and while it did have a few great laughs, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

So, with that said I’ll leave you with a quote from the movie that did have me laughing. The three main journalists are on their way to get their prize roster blessed by a witch so they can win some money in a cock fight to hopefully print one last edition of their newspaper:
“By day she drives a garbage truck. By night she becomes Papaneemu the hermaphroditic Oracle of the Dead.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

An Actual Update From Me

Now that College Football is over I guess I should spend a few minutes typing out an update on all that has happened to me over the past few months. I can’t say that this will be all encompassing but I’ll try to get you up to date with a few stories.

So let’s see, I guess I’ll start back in November. The weather was really cold in November and I was really paranoid that this was going to be a very cold winter. We got a lot of snow during the month and it seemed like the sun was never going to return. Luckily, it did and so far this winter hasn’t been that bad. I am just so thankful to be living in a place with heat and hot water this year. Thanksgiving came and went without any real Thanksgiving feel to it. I did go out and meet up with all the Peace Corps volunteers and staff for their Thanksgiving feast and that was awesome. The volunteers did a great job of getting all the food prepared and it was a great meal.

Did a lot of ‘soul searching’ in November too. Just trying to figure out what it is that I want in life and where it is that I want to go. I feel better after doing that and I’m actually happy with where I am right now with myself and what I’m doing. There are some things I’d like to work on and improve on, but that will be a process that is going to take some time. No decisions on what will happen after the school year as of yet though. I’m leaving my options open and we’ll see what life brings my way.

By early November I was in full swing with my school and really getting to know how things were going to work there and how my students were going to pan out. I’ve got to say that I’m 50/50 on my students at this point. Most of them are great and really motivated to improve and learn. However, there are quite a few that just seem like they could give less than two shits about anything. I get it. I understand that school is not the most exciting thing in the world and a lot of kids have no desire to be there, but I really require the bare minimum from them as far as simple respect for me and their fellow students. I have a few kids who are not only learning nothing but are making it harder for their classmates to learn as well. That shit just pisses me off. When I was out in the village it was a given that every class was going to have a few kids that were going to be a problem. I guess I just expected more from a private school in Tbilisi. It’s not all bad though like I said. I have a lot of fun with some of my students and there are some of them that I feel can really go a long way if they stay motivated and focused.

I was also by this time settling into Tbilisi and getting into my routines. I’ve got to say that while Tbilisi is really nice and a decent place to live, the social scene sucks. A lot of that is just cultural in that people hang out with the people they went to school with or they are married by the time they are 20 and starting families and are not therefore out in the social scene as much. It’s just really hard to go out and meet new people that are interesting and that you’d want to hang out with on a regular basis. I went to this one party that was super cool and met a few people, but other than that it hasn’t been all that exciting. The expat parties suck and hanging around with other Americans here is just strange. A lot of them make a whole lot more money than I do since they work either at the Embassy or with banks and finance companies. And, with that it seems comes a completely alternate reality of what Georgia is. They live, work and shop in one district and have no idea about the realities of Georgia outside of their little bubble. They also have no interest in hearing about it either. And don’t get me started on the fraternity culture of some of the younger expats that are here including a small contingent of US Marines who are at times an embarrassment to their country. Overall, I’ve just been unimpressed with the social scene here; that’s my point.

December was a long month and it felt like school would never end. Luckily I got a nice break in the middle of the month and took a weekend trip to Armenia with a group of Georgians. It was a fun trip and I got to see a lot of really cool old churches and meet a few new and interesting people. I was really lucky to go and while it was a very long and tiring weekend, it was a lot of fun. Yerevan is a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be and it is a really well organized city too. I was really shocked at how easy it was to navigate on foot in a city that I’d never been in before. Armenia is the butt of a lot of jokes here in the region (it’s like the Alabama of the Caucuses) and I give you... Cigarette in a Pipe Man!

Like I said though, there were some awesome churches there...

I’ve got to say I was really impressed and overall I thought it was a really interesting place from what I saw.

My uncle (father’s brother) Richard died and that was some hard news to take for all of my family. He had been battling with cancer for a while and had been doing better but he took a fairly quick and dramatic slide before passing away. I was glad that, from what I heard, he was able to see everyone in the family before passing and get all of his affairs in order. He wasn’t old at all and it’s really sad that he wasn’t able to live a longer life. Also, both of my grandparents are having some medical problems as well and that is also very sad news because having a child die is hard enough without going through your own problems as well at the same time. Hopefully both of them will be able to recover as well as possible and be around for years to come.

But, as the Georgians like to say on the fourth or fifth toast, with death always comes new life. My friends Liz and Rett celebrated the birth of their third child this month. So congrats to them and hopefully Rett will be scheduling his vasectomy sometime soon. Hahaha. Sorry. Also, my cousin Jennifer had her second baby which was adopted by my other cousin Dayonna. Kind of strange but also really cool. But, for those of you that don’t know the Kendrick family, that phrase really sums them up; ‘a little strange, but super cool.’ I’m glad that all are well and healthy and I hope they both have long and wonderful lives.

Christmas was a lot better this year from the previous two here in Georgia. For one I didn’t have to once again explain what Christmas was and why it’s so awesome to my Muslim host-family and I was able to have brunch. I searched all over the city and finally found maple syrup so I made French Toast, sausages and mimosas for myself. I was amazed at how much maple syrup costs though. It’s so cheap in America I guess because we don’t import it but I got a tiny little bottle of it for about the equivalent of $9. Totally worth it though.
Thank you Maple Joe! You made Christmas Brunch awesome! Well, you and my cool gifts from Mom.

Also, at school I was able to do some Christmas projects with my kids for once. I had my 4th graders write Christmas poems since we’d been doing poetry a lot this semester and then make Christmas cards for their parents. It was fun. The younger kids are a lot of fun sometimes because some of the stuff they come up with while learning English is just hilarious. Anyway, here are some pictures of my 4th graders and their cards and one of my favorite card covers.

One of the girls in these pictures is named Nini and one day I was feeling a little low and not all that happy to be at school when she came up to me and gave me a card she had made for me. I'll type it out here exactly as it was written for full effect:

for Mr. andrew (picture of a heart) -Nini: I love you Mr. andrew. you are best ticher is the world. I love your leson. you are tiching wery interesting. I love you and your leson. you are my lovely ticher. (another heart) -x- :) Let's just say my day was a lot better after that. Too cute!

I did make a trip back out to Muganlo for my host-dad Akif’s 50th Birthday! There was boiled sheep to be had, but thankfully there were also other options as it was his birthday and there would be many guests. I think my count (could be unreliable as it did get hazy after midnight) was 25 people there for the festivities. And that is without my host-brother Aslan, his wife and their baby who were in Azerbaijan. Needless to say the night went on till the wee hours of the morning and the next morning picked right back up with my least favorite “breakfast supra” that lasted till after noon. I hate when a long night of drinking Georgian wine is followed up with a long morning of cha-cha and tequila. Oh, yeah. My host-dad decided to break out the bottle of tequila I had given him after we had put down two liters of cha-cha before noon. I warned him, but he didn’t listen. At least it tasted good on the way down. My drunky host-cousin got sick and had to leave after the tequila to the sounds of Akif and I laughing at him. So wrong on so many levels, but we were having a blast at this point. After a few hours I did manage to make my way back to Tbilisi and crash out for about 12 hours. Muganlo is like the Twilight Zone to me now. Every time I go back there my mind is spinning with thoughts of, ‘how in the hell did I live here for two years?’ But at the same time it has that nostalgic element to it as in when I see one of the kids beating on something with a stick I just think, ‘ah that little shit, he’s just the same as he always was; how cute.’ However I was not wax poetic about my trips to the outhouse. If you have the money, why not just build an indoor toilet?

So really I’ve got to say that this winter so far has been fairly uneventful. I did find a bar near my house that has a couple of Belgian beers on tap so that’s cool. Too bad the food there is Georgian. Oh well. I tried to convince the manager to get wi-fi in there but I don’t think he wants to turn it into a cafĂ© style bar but keep it as a restaurant. I can’t blame him I guess because if you’re going to get Georgians in there you have to offer them what they want and that’s more of the same as every other place has. More Georgian food.

A couple of funny stories for you:

So there are people that will wander around the residential districts and sell random things such as fruit and vegetables. They will carry their products or have them in a car and just yell out whatever it is that they’re selling. When I’m out on my balcony I can sometimes here them and I don’t think much of it because it seems completely normal. I can even see that working in America to some extent. Have a mobile farmers market much like the ice-cream trucks come around and sell fresh produce. But the other day I was out in my balcony and I saw this woman down between the buildings with a cart loaded down just yelling out, “Brooms! Brooms! Brooms!” For some reasons I could not stop laughing at this. The absurdity of walking around all day yelling out “Brooms!” was enough but the idea of seeing that in America was something I could not imagine. You have to understand that a lot of Georgians use these crappy straw brooms that wear out in a few months so there is a need for them to be replaced, but all I could think of was seeing this scene in Anywhere, USA. As if I were sitting there one day reading a book or watching TV and hearing a lady yell out, “Brooms!” and immediately jumping up with the thought that, ‘you know what? I really could use a new broom about right now.’

Anyway, I had a stellar string of crap days this past week. One, my door has been broken for a few months now and I’ve repeatedly told my land-lady that it needed repair because the locking mechanism was busted and that the key would eventually break off in there. She is a rich lazy ass woman and never made so much as an attempt to do anything about it. So the other day as I was locking the door, sure enough the key snapped off in the lock preventing me from either latching the door or locking it. I called her and she asked if it could wait till tomorrow. I told her no, since I could not leave my apartment with a door that would not latch or lock. So she sent a man over to look at it. He got here at about 7pm, naturally too late to do anything about it that day. He said he would be back between 1 and 5 the next day. (I’m guessing “locksmiths” in Georgia are like the cable guy in America).

This was how I ended up securing my door while I waited on it to be repaired. Crack security that is.

He did eventually show up and get the door fixed telling me that it would cost 70 GEL ($45). I told him to take that up with my land-lady since it was her door and her problem as I had reported the problem to here over the past few months. He asked me to call her since they were friends and naturally could not discuss such matters of business and money. (???Georgians!!!). I called her and she told me that since I had broken the door, it was my problem. Naturally I paid the man. But, I hope she realizes that whenever I move out of this apartment, that I’ll be taking that lock with me. Why should I pay for an improvement to a place that will stay here after I’m gone? I think that since I paid for it, it’s mine. Now I know that I’ll have no use for that lock, but the satisfaction of throwing it in the dumpster on my way out will be worth the 70GEL.

After the lock fiasco, I was sitting around that night and started feeling really poorly. I don’t know if it was something I ate or what but my stomach was all cramped up and I was not feeling good at all. Needless to say I got zero sleep and was up and down all night visiting the toilet. I eventually just moved to the couch around 4am and laid there till about 9 when everything seemed to be over. Now you know how after you’re sick you just want to change out of your clothes, wash them and just be over the whole incident right? Well that’s what I did. And, after I had made my coffee I felt the need to have a smoke and just stand out on the balcony with my morning cup of Joe. Hold on. Where is my damned lighter? I looked everywhere for it. Couldn’t find it. Then I hear this loud clanking in the washing machine. Oh no!

You can see the lighter there trapped against the door next to where the water drains out getting blasted with warm soapy water for two hours.

But, being a BIC lighter (made in the USA via China) it of course survived a two hour wash cycle and lived on.

So I really can’t think of anything else to update you on at this point dear reader. We’re about to enter that dark period of the year between the Super Bowl in February and Opening Day of Baseball in April where the sports world goes dark. I hate Basketball, so I guess I’ll have to read those two or three books I’ve out off for the past few months. Not such a bad thing I guess.

I’ll try to make a better effort to update you more regularly on what’s going on with me on this side of the world over the next few months. Until then… Peace!