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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eh. Nothing Important

Not much in the way of an update for you since not much has really happened over the past few weeks. Just grinding through school and trying not to freeze to death in what Georgians are calling the “worst winter in 20 years.” I highly doubt that but it has been a little cold that’s for sure. Georgia got so much snow last week that the Minister of Education shut down all the schools in Georgia due to the snow and ice. So, I had a four-day weekend. Not too bad.
This week it did warm up a bit but that in itself presented a different problem. Since it would warm up to the upper 30s during the day, the ice and snow would melt a bit before refreezing at night. And, since people in Tbilisi refuse to scrape the sidewalks, walking to work (or anywhere) was quite an adventure. I don’t know if you all saw my Facebook post about the Tbilisi Mayor coming up with a “brilliant” plan to pay for people’s medical bills that fell on the ice in Tbilisi. I just wanted to shout “Dumbass!” Just pass a law that requires businesses to scrape the ice from in front of their establishment or if you’re so willing to waste the people’s money, then pay the
unemployed to clear the ice off of your city’s streets.

All this thawing and freezing presented quite an interesting death trap out on my balcony as well. Since I’m up on the 10th floor, any icicle that forms has to fall to the ground and potentially injure someone if they are walking down there. One of my gutter spouts produced probably the biggest icicle I’ve ever seen over a three day period and broke off one day while I was at school. I didn’t see any ambulances when I came home so I assume no one was impaled by this 4 foot log of frozen death.

This ice has given me flashbacks to Kazakhstan and forced me to relearn all the ‘walking on ice while on a 40 degree slant with wind pounding into your face’ tricks. Luckily I haven’t fallen and have done well with the shuffle uphill and glide downhill tricks. Never let your feet get to close together or too far apart and as long as you stay light on your toes and never on your heals, you’ll be fine. (I know that is probably of no help to those of you in the South who probably won’t even see ice this year).

Anyway, like I said nothing much outside of the weather has been too exciting. Two weekends ago I went out to my local café for some coffee and to meet a new private student when I got a frantic call from my landlady. She was freaking out and told me to go to my apartment ASAP due to, “Water! Water!” I was nervous as hell because a flood in winter could be potential disaster. Luckily when I got home it was in an apartment on the 9th floor and flooding one on the 8th floor as well. There was a waterfall coming down the side of the building that, of course turned into a pretty cool ice blanket the next day. The guy who had called to report the flood had accidentally called the wrong landlady so there were three of four of us all rushing into the building at the same time asking each other what was going on before we found out that none of our apartments were affected. (My landlady owns a few apartments in my building). So, after we all caught our breath, we had a good laugh about it and chatted in the stairwell. This however did not go over well with the pregnant lady on the 8th floor whose apartment was being flooded from above by a family who could not be reached at the time. So, we all moved on. I think they got it cut off later that night.

After that, my day was shot so my friend on the 9th floor and I wondered over to the new grocery ‘supermarket’ that opened in our neighborhood. It’s pretty cool and I can get pretty much anything I need there for a semi-reasonable price. And, they carry Georgian products which is nice because I try to buy local products as much as possible. I can’t do it for everything, but cleaning products and such can easily be bought local and generally cheaper too.
Oh! As you read in the last post I had shown some people from Turkey around who were here for a visit that happened to know one of the girls that served with me here in Georgia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She, my former fellow volunteer, had said she would send me a thank you package as payment. I thought that was cool but really didn’t expect her to. Anyway, the package got here and was packed with Southern Delights. Oatmeal Cream Pies, Charleston Chews (devoured within 48 hours), Red Hots, Sours, and a smart ass card too. So thanks to Jess for all that! Really this last week was uneventful and classes went pretty well. This weekend I didn’t do much outside of laundry and making some killer awesome soup. Soup that I’ll probably hate come Wednesday when I’m still trying to finish it off. I did go out yesterday to meet a Georgian friend who is trying to go to America next year through the IREX program. We chatted for a few hours about the interview process and then had some Georgian ‘Fast Food.’ However even that wasn’t uneventful since one of the American TLG volunteers happened to be at the café where we were spending the afternoon and felt the need to interject himself into our conversation every 30 seconds. Whatever; TLG kids are weird and it seems like every time I run into one I walk away thinking, ‘wow, what a strange guy.’

That’s it. I’m realizing now that I really have nothing to update you on and I might as well just sit around this afternoon, drink some coffee, watch a movie and then take a shower and get ready for Monday.

Just look at this an laugh instead.

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.”