Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Train to Hell with a Pit Stop in Traumaville

Hello Friends,
Let’s see, where shall I begin!? LOL. Needless to say since my last update, many exciting events have occurred. Let’s start with the good. Warning: This is gonna be a long one…

Well we had our going away dinner which was before our day of saying goodbyes and such on Wednesday. That evening, what I had thought was going to be a somewhat short dinner turned out to be somewhat lengthy, however extremely fun. I love spending time with all of the volunteers. The evening started off with the dinner and then moved onto the main events: cultural presentations, skits and cluster presentations, the moustache contest, followed by dancing and talking.

The cultural presentations were about topics which relate to Georgia such as, matchmaking, religion and churches, Georgian cuisine, Georgian politics and political involvement, Georgian dance, and etc. My topic was easy to give a presentation on, however, it was pretty lame given everyone already knew Georgian cuisine as that’s all we had been eating since we arrived, BUT one awesome volunteer Barbara did an amazing job at trying to make it less boring by making a Power Point presentation using Georgian and English script to create a guessing game using Georgian ingredients with 12 of the most common/typical and authentically Georgian dishes. She worked really hard and I definitely appreciate all of her work, truly.

So then we had skits. Unfortunately, our cluster (Tokhliauri) was not as ambitious in preparing a talent sketch for that night, so the next session was pretty much spent observing, however! we received from the Patara Chailuri cluster superlatives. I was most likely to be a mother hen? Not a good look, however for the purpose of making a joke that only I laugh at, I’ve dropped it occasionally. There was also an inappropriately funny joke at the cost of a volunteer, Trisha, who left Georgia after only 3 days of being in country because she had not yet finished her undergrad and was extremely homesick. Her superlative was most likely to be late for the marshutka. I honestly could not stop laughing it was so funny.

Then there was the moustache contest. I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I had been growing a moustache for the past two months after a bunch of the guys in our group decided to make a competition. Then, shortly following, there was a decision to tack on five Lari (Georgian currency) to seal the deal. As many of you may or may not know, I’m probably one of the cheapest people. In the words of one volunteer, Lauren, “We may be cheap, but we don’t look cheap!’ So needless to say, I was pretty hesitant to throw in the five dollars, however, to avoid outcasting myself from the group I paid in the end. This made the pot an even fifty Lari (aka GEL- “Georgian Lari”). There were three places: third got 5 GEL, second was 15 GEL, and first was 30 GEL. It was good and slightly awkward, but we did a moustache runway walk to show off our staches. I was going for more of a stylish stache, if that’s even possible. The first place winner is the only place I can remember, and it was Tom “Thumb,” who had definitely a creepy stache it was wispy, long, and red; a good look only if you want to be on “To Catch a Predator.”

After the main events, there was a small dance party. Of course, everyone wanted me to dance to show off my skills. Most Georgian music can be danced with Samba, and a really good Samba song came on, and I danced with Lauren. I taught her the basic step and it was great! Then I wanted to teach her another step, which is really fun, and it turned into a tiny group class outside with other volunteers. One of the PST staff’s, Irma, daughter is a professional ballroom dancer (Above Gold level!). We also danced some Cha-Cha-Cha (as it seems to be known internationally). Then shortly after, we departed back to our clusters.

Then we had our day of saying goodbyes which I really didn’t do too much of, however enough to be adequate. Krisanne had her birthday supra. Sidenote: I’m not sure if I’ve explained what a supra is: a supra was originally a Christian dinner in honor of celebrating Christian roots and heritage and those who practice it, however it often nowadays is a drinking contest, lasting about five hours in length and tons of food. Georgians have supras all the time: birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, and sometimes just for the hell of it. If you are in the right company, supras are a ton of fun. I told our LCF (Language and Cross-culture Facilitator) about how in America you know who has the good parties and who has the lame parties, and I asked her if it was like that with supras in Georgia. She did not hesitate to say yes, and I love it. So there was roughly 18 volunteers and 1 Georgian present for Krisanne’s birthday supra, and it was so much fun! I wish more people had come as supras can be as small as 3 or as large as 300. Krisanne’s host-mom makes amazing food, and everything was delicious. As there was wine there…and I think that’s all I have to say, however I was well-behaved.

It was so strange to be at the supra, knowing that the next day we would be leaving, and there was a good possibility many of us would not see each other for a long time, or possibly ever again. Georgian is above the average, because of the beauty, culture, and amazing support staff, but on average with Peace Corps, only about a third of volunteers actually finish their service.

Afterwards, I came home, began packing and ate my last dinner in PST. Krisanne’s host-mom toasted to us and began to cry, however, my host family held their composure pretty well. They gave me two books: a Soviet history of Kakheti and Tbilisi and another book on Georgian Ethnography. They also gave me two pottery bowls. Then I had 3 lucky stones from Maine, which I gave them in return.

The next day, bright and early, I woke up, packed some more, ate breakfast and was picked up by the Peace Corps marshutka at my house. Because the facilities were very small, we were only allowed to bring one person from our host family to be present at the swearing in. My host mom came. She is so sweet. She arrived with all of the other Tokhliauri mamas (mothers). **In Georgian, “mama” means father and “deda” means mother. So this is where is started to go down hill. But, before, a side note on a situation which had been going on since my site visit.

So after my site visit to Gardabani, I realized I had been stressed out while at home, but couldn’t put a finger on it until a few days after. I was talking with some volunteers about it, and we collectively came upon the conclusion I was stressed because I didn’t have my own room or door in which to secure it. Every time before I left my new host grandmother would make sure I had left the keys, in case they needed to get into the room. Then, they use the bathroom for showering and doing wash and they had been using the refrigerator for overflow from the other fridge and also because it keeps the food colder, so they would put meats in it as well. SO, I tried to call the HFC (Host Family Coordinator) Irakli about the situation. I called him on Tuesday and Wednesday several times, however on Wednesday evening his phone was turned off. Then I called him every day for a week, his phone was turned off or out of the area all of that time as well. It’s known that his job position travels all over Georgia because he has to visit sites and host families. I just figured that’s what he was doing. So, one day I mentioned it to my Program manager, Asmat, and she informed me that he had been out of the country on vacation, but he would be back that Monday. Then I called him on Monday, and his phone was still turned off. So I talked to Tengo our PCTD (Peace Corps Training Director) and he said that he was still out of the country and would be back the following Monday for sure, which was last week, four days before the swearing in ceremony. I asked him what I was supposed to do, and he suggested to call Mary, our second in command for PC Georgia. I called Mary, and she has been so helpful, but recommended that because Irakli had rapport with the host family, it would be best if we waited till his return.

When he returned he said that they were working on the situation and he would go out to visit my permanent host family and talk with them. He then told me at swearing in, that they were reluctant to construct a door, but decided it was ok, which was great as placement options in minority communities are limited/non-existent. He and Mary said that there should be a door in my room with a lock before the end of the following week.

So now back to the swearing in ceremony. It was supposed to start at eleven which on international time is close to 11:30. Around that time, a flood of directors, counterparts and permanent/PST host family members begin to flood into the building. I’m looking around and my PST host mom, as mentioned arrived, however neither my host family nor director/counterparts came. I was hella pissed. It’s like I’m coming to your community to work and improve it for two years, and you can’t even take a couple hours out of your day to come and greet your guest? I still don’t know why they didn’t come, but regardless it was disrespectful for not one to come. It’s an expectation of Peace Corps for host family members to come. One of the older volunteers’, David, host brothers came back early from his vacation to meet him. Georgian culture is known for its immense hospitality, so even though my permanent site is a minority (Azeri), we are still in Georgia. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of the next couple of days in terms of this lack-of-hospitality concept.

David’s counterpart who was there was also upset that they didn’t come and demands their phone numbers from me. I’m not going to argue with a Georgian who could clearly take me out if things went for the worse, so I gave him the phone numbers. He talked to my host mom and they were all at home in Gardabani. She said that she would meet us in Rustavi, roughly ten minutes by marshutka away from Gardabani.

We get to Rustavi, where they said they were waiting, and we waited for them to finish their shopping, for them to look at my belongings and say that we need to take a taxi. They then proceeded to say, “I hope you’ve got money.” Granted that Peace Corps gave us a small allowance for travelling to site which covered the taxi, but no Georgian I know would make their guest pay for their own taxi along with my host brother and some woman I didn’t know. I thought this woman was my counterpart, but it turned out it was one of my host mom’s friends? Or at least that was what I got from the translation.

That night, they told me that in the future when I have any problems that I should talk to them before I talk to anyone else, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them about my problems. This would have been nice, if it hadn’t been said with a threatening tone. After this I began to talk with my host brother for the mandated thirty minutes of English a day, per my host family. Then the next morning, after a beautiful spread of three pieces of cheese and some bread, I was laying in bed feeling down, when my host mom came in and told me that the door Peace Corps will reimburse them for is too expensive, she’s not doing it, and that I should just tell them I have a door to make them happy. That dinner I was told that we have separate apartments and as such I have my own bills to pay: water, electric, some gas, and trash. Trash is 1 Lari, water is about 5 Lari, gas for me will be between 10 and 15 Lari, and then whatever electricity I use I have to pay for. They had a volunteer, DJ, live there last year and it’s not a mystery that they receive a living allowance from Peace Corps.

In terms of electricity distribution, if they want to get technical. There is a stairway light, which is connected to my room which they have on every evening for several hours, they shower in my bathroom, which also requires a light, and then after showering they keep all of their hair styling equipment in my room which they do after they shower. So to be so nitty-gritty about paying for every little thing, I feel like this was not considered. They also asked, “You like tea right?” I said, “yes, of course”, in which they replied, ”Well, you know you could go to the store and buy tea and candy to have over in your apartment so you don’t come over here all the time.” Then, they tagged on to appear more polite that,”It’s especially important in the winter time.” There’s maybe 3 feet of stairwell platform I have to walk to get to their apartment. However, they said that I should keep my water filter in their apartment, as there are more people over there, and also because the other volunteer let them use his.

Then yesterday I was going to the bank to get them August’s living allowance, when per usual they asked me where I was going. I replied that I was going to the bank and they lost it. They proceeded to tell me that they want money and even after Irakli talked to them about how Peace Corps would reimburse them they said they didn’t even have money to buy it initially. I was like, “I don’t know, I mean September is pretty close, so you’ll get the allowance for that is well.” Then they said of course I should call PC and see if they would front them September’s allowance so they could pay for the door, as if they paid for the door now, they wouldn’t have any money to put meat on the table. I told them I would call Mary, in which PC should have had a meeting about that early on Monday morning. They told me that also, because my things were there all of August that I should pay for a full month. They said it’s like a hotel, whether you are there or not, you still have to pay. I told them that they do get a partial allowance, but they weren’t satisfied by this. So I gave them both months as Mary suggested, and they seemed somewhat quelled.

Also so today, I had a larger breakfast, as my host mother was not eating. Sidenote: my family usually put the bread slices directly on the table top, which is extremely sanitary of course. Today they put it on a platter and the explanation was that it was because a guest was coming over, and you do such things to make your house look pretty when guests come over. ??? <--that pretty much sums up how I feel. While I feel it is important to integrate into my community, from my perspective I feel like it’s not something you are able to do within a five day period, and that just may be a cultural difference.

On the positive note, I really like Gardabani and believe I am really making the best of everything. Yesterday I went to Rustavi and went through the Bazaar there with Brian and we met up later with Alison and David and went to the famous pizza restaurant, which the pizza was ok, but the atmosphere was what I liked most. It was really cool.

So we have secondary projects which we aren’t supposed to start within our first several months, and one good thing about the business my host mom runs out of her house (selling clothes, perfume, and such/telling instant-coffee fortunes) is that many people come through. I met a lady named Diana today who has been working for six years for this community project which works with Ireland, America, and England to help the community, and I could definitely see myself helping out. I’m going to try to at least get here contact information. Also there is a Professional Teachers Development Center which does trainings for teachers, and I want to be involved in that. We are expected to teach for 15-20 hours per week at our school, and the other 20 hours should be spent planning and doing secondary projects. Peace Corps requires we do two long-term secondary projects within our service; however, I have this itch to be really involved! Lol and that’s not saying that you should worry about me burning myself out. I am able to resist temptation. I am going to start the teacher planning on the first of September and then school starts on the fourteenth. I am going to try, also, to meet with my school director, Flora sometime this week to ask her if all of these hospitality faux pas are cultural or just plain not cool.

Right now, I’m going to go off to figure out how I’m going to get internet. There’s a Magti (Georgian Phone Company) close to my apartment, so I am going to attempt to buy their internet service: only 15 GEL per month for unlimited access! I love you all more than ever and look forward to talking with you soon!


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