Monday, August 3, 2009

Girls and Chickens on the street

Hello again!
So last we spoke, I was intending on the next day to go to the religious portion of a wedding, however, necessarily we had a drill where all of the volunteers had to gather in Sagarejo at the school (our secondary consolidation point) as apart of the testing for the EAP (Emergency Action Plan). I was mid-hair cut with one of my clients at the time, so I found a stopping point and proceeded to pack my go-bag, which is the bag that has all of your essentials in case you need to jump ship in the case things go down hill.

The consolidation went alright, however people slowly trickled into the room over the course of 2 hours or so. That Tuesday, we had our office visit to Tbilisi, the capital. It was a great break in the usual routine, and so Krisanne, whose name is now Kristy or some variant by the Georgians, Andrew and I trickled down the road at 8:30 in the am to catch a marshutka to the office. We got to the office alright, minus a few snags on the part of bad directions from an old lady, however we were able to locate our lunch site in the process: Pizza, Pasta, Fantastico: a lovely little Italiano Ristorante on Kazbeghi street. The office was really neat and is situated only a few blocks from a Russian government agency, so the safety of the Peace Corps staff is in good hands, as it is doubtful that the Russians would increase any military aggression in this area. The next day, I prepared for the Supervisor’s conference where we were able to meet our directors and also a few counterparts were there for some people.

Now listening to: Esmeralda Suite from Kill Bill Vol. 1.
If you haven’t seen Kill Bill Vol. 1 I highly suggest that you run to your nearest netflix distribution center and steal it from them. I feel like this song really captures how I feel towards Peace Corps and Georgia. “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, O Lord; please don’t let me be misunderstood!” I spent the past 4 days in a completely different community. We found out our sight placements on the hub day last Monday, and I was placed in Gardabani, which is about (according to my map of Georgia, thank you Tengo!) 15 or so km away from the border to Azerbaijan, and as such is an ethnic minority community.

Highlights of my trip include: a rapping grandma, aliens, fortune telling with instant coffee and listening to the homeopathic cures for various ailments at the town women’s birzha. A birzha traditionally is where men squat in somewhat of a circle and talk, generally about money, politics, or business in general. Also, it should be noted that beer is typically incorporated into the birzha, however in the women’s birzha in Gardabani, the beer is replaced with sunflower seeds.

So I was sitting there the first night, eating sunflower seeds, when I realized I hate the ordeal you must go through in order to extract the seed from the seed casing. This was the second time in Georgia where I had been offered sunflower seeds, however the first time I politely declined given the reason mentioned above. So I’m eating these seeds, looking for some logical reason why people eat them in the shell, and might I also mention that in Georgia, the sunflower seeds are tasteless and about half the size of the American variety. So I realized: the seeds give you something to do that isn’t too physically laborious.

My school that I will be teaching in has 36 computers, 700 students and 40 teachers of many nationalities. The school itself is one of 4 schools in the area, and is the only school that is known as the Russian school. Because of the many nationalities amongst faculty, it is just easier to speak Russian, as it was the common language in the Soviet period. This school is all in all, in need of some help, however compared to what schools I have seen so far in Georgia, it is state-of-the-art. One of the other schools near my PST (Pre-Service Training) village smells like gasoline in the classroom and ours that we are currently in is inhabited by birds and has a horse in the school yard. One day for training, Manana, our TEFL training teacher, was going to shut the door so as not to disturb people walking by, however, as she shut the door, she realized there were no panels in the door and it didn’t end up making much of a difference whether or not it was open or closed. Many schools don’t have electricity, most schools don’t have running water, and only a few of them have had maintenance since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The director of my school’s name is Flora. She says that Florida is her state in the US. She’s a sweetheart and I love her to death, and she believes in aliens. This I discovered in Signaghi (an old beautiful city east of Tokhliauri) walking on a tour of the city after the informal dinner for our Supervisor’s conference. She speaks Russian perfectly, is very well educated, is very proactive, and also thinks that before I leave, I should be married. She truly is amazing, and I cannot get over how helpful and welcoming she is. While I was in Gardabani, I met one of the teachers at my school that was at the women’s birzha, as she also lives in the same Soviet bloc apartment complex.

I live on the third floor in my own apartment which my host family owns! It’s amazing and beautiful, it is cool in temperature, has a kitchen and bathroom with a sit-down toilet and a hot water heater! I also have a king size bed which is only slightly shorter at the foot than the American king sizer. I’m very much looking forward to it. It was a bit of a culture shock to go from a Georgian village to a mostly Azeri city isolated from the rest of Georgia.

Also we never really got adequate cross cultural training on the Azeri culture, so we really didn’t have any idea what kind of culture we would be getting into. I talked with Mary today and she suggested that I could help in writing some form of cross cultural memo for minority communities for future volunteers, as the program is still fairly new and that way I can put that I’m published on my resume too lol.

As it was a very new experience, I was very, very glad to return to the greater of the two unfamiliars of Tokhliauri. Another difference is that Georgians eat quite a bit more food on average than Americans, in which I had decided to gain 20 lbs in the effort, however Azeris from what I saw in 3 days eat QUITE a bit less and I was so hungry the whole weekend. I was pretty sure I was going to lose hella weight and return a skeleton, but Mary (our country director’s assistant) mentioned that we get an additional food stipend which I can use for supplementary nourishment, so maybe the 20 lbs is still a go! I hope so at least. So far I have visually felt like I’ve gained weight, however when I weighed myself, it was only a couple of pounds more, but still good. So my weight now is at 170, wish me luck!

So in my new host family, I have 3 people. They are Azeris and consist of: a grandma (Galiya-60), a mom (Elmira-40), and son (Erjan-10). While my new family is much smaller than my current one, they are still very entertaining. My whole family is very stylish. My grandma wears denim blue eyeliner and floral, gauzy moomoos. My host mom wears black eyeliner which is somewhat reminiscent of an ancient Egyptian. She is very stylish and wears only high quality clothing and low-cut flattering tops/dresses. My host mom works out of the home as a sales person and on weekends sometimes will travel to Baku (city in Azerbaijan) where she has a third apartment. Also on the side, she charges 1 or 2 Lari (Georgian currency) for her to tell your fortune reading coffee grounds. It’s very interesting.

With 3 weeks left of PST, things are coming to a quick close. I will miss my current host family and the area very much, but will be back to visit for important holidays. I can’t believe I have been in Georgian for going on 7 weeks! Lol only 107 more to go! Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns and I will write again soon!

Love you all!

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