Friday, July 24, 2009

The Last 5 Weeks

The first post! So this post is a good… five weeks past-due however, will be appropriate in keeping all of you updated from here on out. So I’ll hit you with the highlights. I have been training in Tokhliauri, a suburb (to be used lightly) of the town of Sagarejo, which at first glance looked to me a lot like Sarajevo. Feel free to ask any questions, if you don’t know what something is, or would like further information to clarify any point I make. Also, to be noted in advance, I have not been using up-to-par English language on a regular, and have already begun to catch myself in making linguistic faux paws :).

Now that all that has been said here are the headlines from the past five weeks: I landed in Tbilisi after being essentially strip searched in the Tampa Airport for looking suspicious due to all of my winter wear I wanted to travel in to save myself excess baggage fees or losses of “essentials.” Also to note, inside my coat for most of my journey, was a double-sided mirror, a lamp, candles from my best friend’s aunt (They made it!), gloves, Kleenex, and enough alkaseltzer cold to kill a gaggle of geese. However, upon arrival in Tbilisi, the nightlight lamp I brought shattered upon setting my coat down in heat exhaustion, however I still saved the pieces. Then we had a mild orientation for three days in a town outside of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. There we received round one of vaccinations, mosquito nets, CO alarms, and a “DazerII” a high-tech semi sonic machine that uses sound waves to deter dogs specifically but also works on rats, however I later found does not work on aggressive chickens. After orientation we went to Sagarejo to meet our host families.
We met in a large gym with Georgian host families on one side and American volunteers on the other. It would have been a mean game of volleyball had we been in athletic gear, but instead we stared each other down, wondering which family would get each volunteer. Then my host family was called, and my host mother was the only one there, which was strange as I had been assigned to one of the largest host families in our group. I have currently a great grandfather, grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister and brother, all of whom are amazing and I will truly miss them.

So my host mother and I walk down the hallway awkwardly as I had only been equipped with a handful of phrases to say with my host family, about which after a solid 5 minutes, would have exhausted the extent of my vocabulary. It turned out my host father is waiting outside with the car and motioned that I could put my stuff in the trunk, however I don’t think he realized how much luggage I truly had. After packing in the car and saying goodbye to my newly acquainted fellow volunteers we drive to their house. It was a long, silent car ride, followed by an introduction to my room upon arrival, followed by a long, silent dinner of attempted and failed conversation.
Then my host brother, Koteh, came home and it turned out he is the family’s learned scholar as far as English, however, we still were met with conversational barriers. Then the question was asked, “Do you speak Russian?” I responded with, “Yes?” which was then proceeded with my host father, Gocha, exclaiming repeatedly, “THANKS GOD! THANKS GOD!” We then followed with long conversations up til now in Russian.
So, thus far only 2 volunteers have ET’d(Early Termination) from home sickness. One was right off the plane and the second about 2 days in. Apparently my host family was supposed to get one of the girls, and inquired about her location, seeming somewhat disappointed that they hadn’t gotten a girl, however just last night after 5 weeks I was told by all the women in my host family that I am a good boy (kargi bichi) and a gift from god. This solidifies my integration within my host family and made me very happy.

Georgian social culture revolves around your reputation. You start off as a blank slate and depending on your actions, establish yourself as a kargi (good) or tsudi (bad) bichi (boy) or gogo (girl). I have since then established hearing that I am a kargi bichi at least twice a day on average. It really helps behavior because every action you make can damage that reputation. And trust that you never want to be a tsudi bichi or gogo.

Also, until after Pre-Service Training (PST) and swearing in, you are not referred to as an actual volunteer but rather as a trainee. Each trainee is within a cluster, or small group of 3-6 other trainees in the same village. So our cluster is the smallest cluster having only 3 people, as one who was supposed to be in our cluster ET’d.

So within the clusters we have lunch together Monday through Friday, though in larger clusters it is Monday through Saturday and the host families rotate each day to cook for the other volunteers. This ensures that you can experience a variety of Georgian dishes and living styles. Also, because each family will generally have more or less of certain products, it also allows for a balanced diet.
So in the mornings from 9 til 1 clusters have class in Georgian language the first 3 weeks. In my cluster are Andrew and Krisanne. We were originally supposed to be the minority language TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) community however because Krisanne couldn’t take the Malaria medication long-term needed for the minority communities, she was moved to a different language cluster and then the 2 Business Development minority people (Ben and Shawn) were moved into our language class from weeks 4 to 10 where we have 2 hours of Georgian and the 1.5 hours of Azerbaijani language 4 days a week and Russian 2 days a week, however we have Georgian every day still. We have to pass an LPI (or Language Proficiency Interview) in Georgian at a language level of Novice high for minority communities and Intermediate Low for traditional language clusters. Have you had enough of the acronyms yet? Lol… more to come, hope you are taking notes!

So for the first 2 weeks we had technical training in the afternoons with the wonderful, lovely, and fabulous Manana. She equipped us with the bare essentials ( not the cosmetics) for the TEFL program. Then, the past three weeks, ending today, we have been teaching in our local school. One of the goals of Peace Corps is to meet the demands of the host country in improving the technical quality of whatever program, and within the TEFL program we are trained to train teachers essentially by showing them modern and effective teaching methods and also appropriate methods for effective classroom management. After each lesson plan, we have planned for at first 3-4 hours and down to 1.5 hours the past couple of days. The best lesson I taught, as many volunteers who are close to me know, was the CLUE game I played with the younger class. Our school had two classes, the younger of about 20 students and the older class of about 10-12 students.

This week has been a very busy week, as Joe Biden came to Tbilisi on Wednesday and he invited everyone directly affiliated with the US embassy to come for a meet and greet where he gave a speech and we all got the go up and shake his hand and say hello! It was unreal. I never would have thought that I would be physically standing next to such an influential person, and yet he is still just a person, however is was life changing for me to experience yesterday! Afterwards we went to McDonalds where I dropped 16 GEL (or Lari, roughly 12 USD) for a value meal! But it was def worth it. As soon as I get a chance, I’ll try to post the picture which I took with Joe Biden. He is such a comical and down-to-earth person. Also, he really loves children and just has a roundabout grandpa feel to him.

One of the major forms of transportation in Georgia is called a marshutka, essentially it is a large van with 4 to 5 rows of seats where anyone can travel between and within cities. They have a sign in the front right windshield which says where it will be going and you wave your hand out as it’s approaching to get it to stop anywhere along the road and you hop in, sometimes paying first, sometimes afterwards on to your destination. Marshutkas are very fascinating in the safety aspect that you want to ideally sit towards the front of the marshutka behind the driver or somewhere near someone who could be your grandmother (grandmother in Georgian is bebia), with a family, or another group of women. Theft is the highest occurring crime and Marshutkas make it easy as your space is invaded, it’s very easy for the thief to leave the Marshutka after, and other passengers may not even tell you that you are being robbed from fear of retaliation of the thief. So marshutka’s are necessary and fun, but you must be careful.

Tomorrow I am going to the religious aspect of a wedding ceremony at the local church after class and lunch, and also I have become somewhat of the group’s hair stylist. I bought a pair of hair scissors before I left and have since cut my own hair and after Sunday will have 3 clients. Of course, all my work is pro bono… :)
On Monday we find out our permanent assignment, on Tuesday we take a trip to the capital to take a tour of the Peace Corps office and Wednesday night we are leaving to go to a supervisor’s conference to meet our future bosses and then we stay through Sunday evening at our future permanent site to do community assessments. Next week is going to be the most exciting and different week of PST (Pre-Service Training) and I’m very much looking forward to it! Updates and back-story to follow soon! Hopefully this gave you a taste you’ve been looking for! Also, if you have yet to receive address labels, let me know your email address and I’ll send another round!

Love all of you,