Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Breast Milk (yep, you read that right)

During the winter break while I was home I had a request to document my everyday life in Georgia, to provide an insight into what living in the village is like in this little known section of the world.  I’ve made an attempt to do that now, however, instead of just giving you the basic run through of it all I’ve tried to flair it up a bit, sort of harness my ‘inner author’ if you will to hopefully make this a bit more of an interesting and enlightening read.  I haven’t posted a lot lately, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of new developments other than my recent trip to Tbilisi.  Otherwise, village life continues on as to be expected with a few hiccups and interesting moments along the way.  Those I’ll mention later on, but for now, here’s my life on an average day in Georgia.

I wake up most mornings feeling perfectly content and comfortable in my twin sized bed.  My coarse sheets, something standard in Georgia’s bedding, I’ve grown accustomed to as the night has progressed and so by morning they feel as soft and cozy as silk.  I wake up molded into the contours of my bed, which is ever so slightly concave in the middle.  Just as I did back home, I rise early here.  The sun begins peeking out above the hillside which our house rests on and my windows face east, so I’m woken up by the sunshine streaming in along with the heat faintly but steadily rising in my room as the morning progresses.  The first sounds I hear are a mixture of songbirds and the neighborhood roosters calling back and forth to one another, each announcing their presence in those first daylight hours.  Occasionally I’ll also hear a bee’s buzzing, drawn to my room because of the rose bushes planted just outside, subsequently veering off course and ending up in my room through a crack in the window.  Shortly thereafter my less than serene alarm sounds reminding me it’s time to get moving and I start to get ready for the day.  Before my makeup and hair styling begins I’m faced with my first decision of the day - Do I want to hear the news I’ve missed over the past week or perhaps the never-ending problems in US politics?  Maybe I’ll listen to some entertaining stories or interesting historical facts.  A minor, but simultaneously spectacular hobby I’ve acquired living here is that of subscribing to podcasts.  With what little internet time I have each week the last thing I’ve realized I want to do is read the news.  I’ve never been one to read news, preferring to hear or see it and so podcasts are a godsend for me to be able to stay connected to the outside world, and that precious internet time can be devoted to other things (like planning my impending summer adventure).  And believe me, it would be all too easy to be completely disconnected if I wanted it that way.  With the exception of watching a Selena Gomez princess movie dubbed over in Georgian this past weekend I haven’t seen TV in months.  

After making myself somewhat presentable for the day I hear a tap on the door and someone letting me know that breakfast is ready.  I myself am a breakfast person.  When I go to bed at night I’m always excited to wake up in the morning because that means I get to to eat more food.  However, here I look forward to breakfast, but with some trepidation.  I always hope not to see a large bowl covered by a plate on top because that means I’m eating 2 packets of chicken flavored Ramen noodles.  Instead, I hope to find a big stack of triangular cut breads meaning that it’s either lobiani (bean bread) or khachapuri (cheese bread), my favorite.  Three of the five schooldays a week I don't have 1st period so after I finish breakfast I return to my room.  Being without friends nearby and no one to talk to really, my days are filled with few select activities, there isn’t a lot of variation and so introducing new elements and diversions ensures I won’t tire of my usual activities prematurely.  Hence, I’ve filled this 1st period void with morning yoga.  I figure it’s about as good a start to the day as a person can get and the extra endorphins and ‘om’ to boost my mood and keep me calm as I head to school can’t hurt either.  After yoga I get dressed in whatever sort of professional apparel I have, since lets’ face it, I don’t own any real professional clothing to begin with and thankfully here, they don’t seem to notice that deficiency.  I do up my hair however and then head off to school, bag in tow, iPod switched on.  

Most often I listen to podcasts, but on particularly calm and quiet mornings I find myself switching on the ’Provincial Life’ song from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (if you dont know it, look it up on youtube to fully appreciate what I’m about to say).  I find so much humor in it because as far as I can tell, I’m just like Belle as she walks into town singing about her rudimentary lifestyle.  The only difference is that instead of the villagers shouting in greeting ‘Bonjour’ they shout ‘Gamarjoba’ instead.  I stick out in so many ways here and while I’m pretty sure my reputation as a ‘kai gogo’ (good girl) has remained intact, I’m also viewed as peculiar/strange/funny as well.  Each morning I pass the same women tending to their roadside shops, and most days a gentleman will be standing outside his welding shop, a stone’s throw away from my school’s entrance ready to greet me with an enthusiastic ‘Gamarjoba, rogora khar?!’  (Hi, how are you?!)  I reply and he follows with a kiss on the hand, just as you might expect to see an Italian artist doing after creating some magnificent sculpture and crying out ‘magnifico!’.  I won’t get into too much detail of my school day since each one is unique and unknown as to what it will hold.  It’s kind of like sticking your hand into a bag filled with unknown items.  One day you might pull out a soft, cuddly teddy bear, and the next, a snake.  

Either way, I’m usually out by quarter to 2.  I usually walk alone, but occasionally will have the company of some students.  If my last class of the day is grade 4 then I assuredly won’t be going alone.  My student Veronica is always excited when we get to walk together, however about a third of the way home we part ways, her to the left and I continue on straight.  As I side-note, Veronica as well as another student in grade 4, Giorgi both have special learning needs.  This year I’ve worked majority of my time with them trying to build up to reading proficiently.  There may be nothing better in this world than seeing your effort bearing fruit.  Both of them have picked up reading better than I expected and to make it even more wonderful, as soon as I enter their class they’ll pull out their books and enthusiastically begin skimming through, choosing what they want to read for the day.  Now, upon returning home food is immediately prepared for me.  Sometimes I eat alone, sometimes with Lizi and sometimes Givi and Tiko are there as well.  One person I can always count on to be present is bebia (my grandma).  I always hope someone else is there to eat with me solely because when I eat alone I am watched like a hawk.  At least when more people are dining as well all of the attention isn’t focused on me and the quantity of food I’ve consumed.  This watchfulness, despite how much I hate it has oddly enough inspired some beneficial eating habits on my part.  I’ve taken to eating slowly, hoping with occasional success she’ll tire of watching me and divert her attention to other tasks.  Also, despite how much I do adore and love her I always have this urge to undermine and/or spite her, which basically translates into me eating less than she would like me to, and occasionally less than I even would.  The average Georgian’s concept of nutrition is so lacking and so with each insistence I have another piece of whatever I more often than not refuse, not because I don’t want it, but because I get this weird satisfaction from saying an obstinate ‘no’.  That’s another thing I’ve gotten good at since being here, the ease of saying ‘no’.  A perfect example to highlight this struggle would be just the other day when we ate a late breakfast (no school that day) so I skipped their lunch meal saying I wasn’t hungry at the time.  Later on, no one else was home except bebia and she was sleeping on our outdoor bed, which is situated on the porch.  When I was finally ready to eat I tried to collect my food as quietly as possible, not only because I wanted to let her rest, but also because I knew what would occur if she were to awaken.  I tiptoed passed her to the kitchen, opening the door as quietly as I could - no small feat given that my initial gift to the family, wind chimes, now hangs on the door.  (Now that I think about it, that gift has never been utilized in its proper function).  I slipped in successfully without disturbing her, grabbed a bowl and a spoon and dished out some meat and potato stew.  As I debated where to go to eat my hidden treasure I remembered we also still had the most delicious cake stored in our fridge.  The only problem is that our fridge cannot be opened discreetly.  It sticks when it opens or closes, making this bending sound, like if you were to un-dent a car, its that same loud noise.  Here lies my conundrum - go without the cake and get to eat independently, not being stared down, or try for the cake at risk of waking her up.  These are the kinds of tough decisions I’m faced with in Georgia.  (Of course it’s only just now occurred to me I could’ve eaten the stew first alone then after satisfied tried for the cake, but I digress).  Alas, my sweet tooth won me over and I decided to attempt at attaining the cake.  As luck would have it a car was driving by which I had hoped would mute the sound of the fridge...no such luck.  Bebia stirred, came into the kitchen and began fussing about my food.  I made it clear I was fine and taken care of and so she went outside.  I found her, sitting at the table waiting for me to join her.  What ensued was me getting my book to help distract me from that feeling of being watched, which I was almost the entire time I ate.  About halfway through my cake, I was eating it at such a slow pace (something that if you know me back home isn’t really possible), gaining ground in ‘Les Miserables’ that she must’ve finally lost interest and went off to tend to the chickens.  This circumstance isn’t relegated to this one instance, it’s something that occurs regularly with only minor details varying.  It drives me insane, and yet I fully appreciate the humor in my circumstance.  Another thing I’ll take away from this experience is appreciating the humor in uncomfortable situations.  

After lunch my day is to do with as I will.  I’ve mentioned before the noise after school can often be deafening, or at least for me, so I try to stay in my room initially.  I have a very limited amount of TV shows or movies to watch unfortunately since my external hard drive broke about a month ago, and there’s only so many times I can watch the same thing.  I figure this is in a way is for the best since it’s forced me to fill my time with things other than relying on my laptop for entertainment.  I’m attempting to make an elaborate board game before I leave so this has taken up a lot of my time lately.  I’ll also do various forms of exercise most days to take up some time as well.  As the sun begins to descend behind the hills my favorite time of day approaches where I go and sit on our back porch.  I love this porch for multiple reasons.  Despite how much time I already spend alone, I still deeply appreciate this time by myself.  Sometimes I sit and read, sometimes I listen to podcasts, and other times I’ll sing along to my music when there’s little risk of anyone overhearing me.  I’ll also talk to myself on occasion.  And I don’t mean the stranded on a desert island with no one to talk to driven insane kind of thing, but I view it more as journal entries that aren’t written down.  I contemplate all sorts of things: faith, love, the future, the past, tackling all sorts of loaded questions.  My solitude has given way to a lot of great reflection time, and I feel like I know myself better because of it.  There are other times on that porch where I do absolutely nothing, but observe.  I watch the chickens scavenging in the yard.  I pay particular attention to the runt of the group, always hoping it’ll find some food that won’t shortly thereafter be stolen by one of the larger birds.  Bebia brings a bucket filled with food shouting in a shrill voice “tia, tia, tia” and all the chickens flock to her.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard an old woman screaming “tia, tia, tia” in only minorly different shrill notes.  I listen to our baby goat incessantly call for its mother while they have been temporarily separated from each other, and upon reuniting watch it frolic around the yard; at the slightest inclination of uncertainty skirting back between its mother’s legs.  I see cows pass by on the road with the bells around their necks ringing as they bend to eat the grass, and I watch the sun set behind the hills casting the sky in shades of orange and pink.  It’s incredibly peaceful and lovely.  That is something I will without a doubt miss.  I take life slow, in a way, because I must, but also because to move fast would put me off beat with the inherent rhythm of life here, and following in harmony is so much more pleasant, and sounds so much sweeter to the ears.  In this slowness I’ve found innumerable ways to appreciate the little things in life.

Just after I finished writing this I went to play volleyball with Tiko.  Givi and Valeri joined in as well as some neighborhood boys who were passing by.  This has become almost a nightly occurrence.  Unfortunately the ball recently popped but hopefully we’ll have a new one soon to begin playing again.  It’s one thing here I can fully partake in and while I don’t know the exact words they’re saying I understand everything at the same time, I can laugh alongside them all.  It’s nice to have something for us all to enjoy together with the language barrier hardly even being noticed.  Bebia, Iza, and our neighbors will all sit on the bench nearby shouting their encouragement as well.  Becca, whose wedding I attended last fall, is one of the boys we play with regularly.  He’s now also started playing the card game Skip-Bo with us so after volleyball we typically play 2 or 3 rounds of the card game.  Tiko and I are both playing an honest game with one eye on each of the boys since they will do just about anything to get away with some form of cheating.  This has also led to some memorable and funny moments.  It’s these little things in particular that I wish had begun long ago so I had more time to truly appreciate them.  While I’m looking forward to being home again so so much, there’s these bursts of time when I wish I could stay longer and connect more with each of these people who have become so dear to me, they truly have become my second family.  I also took a trip this past weekend into the nearby town to visit another teacher, Leah.  We hiked out to a more hidden spot alongside the river where there was a mini waterfall and we even swam a little bit, it was so much fun, and another thing I wished I’d taken advantage of sooner.  I suppose though I’m grateful to have had these experiences at all.

One last tidbit I couldn’t resist but mention as well -- If you’ll remember there’s a belief here that walking around barefoot is bad for a woman’s ovaries, well my newest bit of Georgian health knowledge is that breast milk is good for your eyes.  Who knew, huh?  I got chalk in my eye the other day at school.  My co-teacher asked what was wrong and I told her.  She said breast milk would help my eyes a lot but I can’t get any of that (too bad).  However, my aunt Nino is going to have a baby in July so I’m not sure if she was implying that maybe at that time I should ask for some for my eyes???

The newest member of the Moyvanidze family

Flowers everywhere!!!

Look closely, do some of the Guess Who characters look familiar to you??

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mixed Emotions

Things I’ve come to know and hate/love sheerly due to their consistency and persistence.  I live in a mixed emotional state here if that wasn’t obvious already:
  • Givi’s petitions every single morning when he gets up to leave for school.  He wants to walk, meet up with his friends and get to school early.  Followed by Iza yelling at him to come inside the house and sit down.  Givi whines, says he  just wants to walk, but no such luck.  Each time he goes to leave the house more yelling ensues, on both sides, with Iza being the final victor, leaving Givi to wait for his ride.
  • My two classes I teach each week with grade 6 could be described as an uncomfortable self esteem booster.  I hear the words ‘you are very beautiful’ or just ‘very beautiful’ by the girls in that class at least 5 times every single class (and no I’m not exaggerating).  I’ve reluctantly come to accept this as kind words for me to just appreciate since let’s face it, I along with most people don’t hear those words told to them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  I don’t really expect to be hearing that when I go home, my ‘foreign look’ here isn’t so foreign there.  
  • I’ve concluded grade 5 must be an extra hormonally charged year for boys.  One of my students is downright inappropriate, something I’ve considered acting on, then decided against it.  I’m still not sure if I’ll take any kind of action before the year ends.  However, the other boys in the class, while difficult to deal with at times, also make me smile.  Omari in particular has taken to telling me ‘I love you, Zauri’ or ‘I love you, Akaki’ meaning Zauri loves me apparently as well as Akaki.  The more animated boys will dance around me as I walk to class, will kneel next to my desk as I work and say things I don’t understand, and even on occasional sing a couple notes.
  • My grandmother is still convinced I don’t eat nearly enough food, asking herself or anyone who will listen in a melancholy tone, ‘why doesn’t she eat more, she only ate this and this...’
  • Emotions run high in this household when the school day is over.  I hate to say it, but I’ve come to that point where I simply can’t be in that room with them all after lunch is eaten and the kids sit down to start their homework.  Arguments always follow, with someone crying or else taking on that high pitched whining tone.  Perhaps I’ve become so accustomed now to quiet living that I’m extra sensitive to noise, or maybe it’s just because here in Georgia your everyday noises, they’re all amplified.  With the exception of time at school there’s not a lot of noise around me on a daily basis.  I hear our pig, the baby goat, songbirds and our rooster about as often I do people.
    • And on a sidenote, I used to be convinced early on (my high school friends can attest to this) that I would end up living on a horse ranch.  Despite only having about 3 experiences riding a horse in my lifetime that’s what I used to say.  Sadly, I don’t think I was right in my prediction, unless the horse ranch also happens to be a stone’s throw away from the ocean, then I’ll make an exception, but that’s besides the point.  Being here, especially spending time on our back porch alone, looking out at the green hillsides, tiny specks of houses here and there, and listening to our animals, watching them graze around the yard, enjoying the peace and quiet -- I definitely see the appeal of farm/ranch life.

In other news, this past week at school was the best I’ve had yet.  Sadly, this was solely due to the absence of one of my co-teachers.  She was in Tbilisi all week so I got to either teach our usual classes alone or with my other co-teacher Marina, who is much easier to work with and I have a better relationship with.  I spent that time playing all the games I’ve wanted to introduce to those kids and thus far have been unable to, it was fantastic!   

Robert and I visited Borjomi and the Vardzia Cave Towns a couple weekends ago.  Borjomi reminded me a lot of a mountain town in Colorado, same kind of vibe.  Sadly I was sick the whole weekend with a bad cold and also a fever, but only for one night thankfully.  We spent our time visiting the Rabat Fortress in Alkhaltsikhe, hiking around and through parts of the cave town, and wandering the streets of Borjomi.  We also spent one afternoon hiking in a national park near Borjomi, which was good, sort of.  A combination of sickness along with limited cardio activity for the past 9 months made the hike really difficult for me given the steep inclines at times (brief flashbacks to my Tough Mudder race).  It did feel great however to actually get in a workout at all.  Something I've come to definitely appreciate here is that the great thing about all these ancient sites in Georgia is they’re for the most part fully accessible to the public.  Similar sites in the US I feel are more often than not full of required paths to follow and areas entirely blocked off from exploration.  Here takes on a more lackadaisical approach of 'explore what you want...but at your own risk.'  

Just last weekend I spent my time in Batumi, which is always a great place to be in my opinion.  Seeing that big body of water (Black Sea) is just the greatest thing.  Unfortunately the weather was cold and on and off rainy, but I still got to eat good food and spend time with other TLGers.  Of course as I was leaving to go back to my village, in somewhat of a hurry because if I miss my last marshutka to my village I have to take a taxi which is more expensive, I was approached by a Georgian man.  These Georgians and their persistence, I tell you what...this guy was friendly enough, a little too friendly and right off the bat he insisted I go for coffee and cake with him which I then explained I couldn’t because I had to get back to my village.  But he really wanted to show me around Batumi, so he took on a new tactic and asked when I’d be back again for him to show me around.  Long story short, I could not get this guy to just walk away without giving him something so I hate to say it but...I gave him a number, not my phone number but a number, along with an email address, not my email address, but an email address.  Finally, after probably 10 minutes I was able to board my marshutka and he went merrily on his way.

Rabat Fortress

Vardzia Cave Town

In Borjomi

Flowers are in full bloom at my house

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring is in the air...and I cursed out some old Georgian women

So I’ve reached a new low point here in Georgia - well not really, but what else can you call cursing out a bunch of old Georgian women on the marshutka?  Don’t worry, I kept it all internal, not that cursing out loud would’ve mattered since not a single soul on that bus spoke any English, but I still held back from voicing it out loud to many a witness.  After all, I didn’t want to thenceforth be labeled a ‘tsudi gogo’ (bad girl), not a reputation you want in a small countryside village.  My frustrations simply reached that point I think we’ve all experienced on occasion in life where no matter who you are or how anti-profane you typically are, nothing quite captures your mood other than dropping the f-bomb several times over.  Cursing a group of old women isn’t something I typically find myself doing vocally or in my head for that matter so let me explain what brought me to this point of sheer frustration.  (As a sidenote, I realize this circumstance isn’t really that big of a deal, and the people in my community are only looking out for what they think of as in my best interest.  This frustration is more-so a compilation of circumstances in this country over a 6 month period).  Since my arrival, there has been a general view in my community held by young and old alike of me as a doe-eyed, helpless American girl who apparently isn’t capable of functioning independently in Georgian society in any facet.  My students are still astonished to find out I know the Georgian alphabet, which I had learned within 2 weeks of being in the village at most.  Neighbors will talk about me to my family at which point they will inform said neighbor I can speak some Georgian and I can also understand a fair bit.  There’s this overwhelming sentiment however that I’m completely helpless in this community, which I don’t know if it’s just because it’s me, and I’m an extremely self-dependent person, I rely on myself and myself only for a lot of things in my life (maybe to a fault), but this common belief drives me crazy!  Is it not a given that someone who travels independently halfway around the world and lives in a country of a different culture and language is probably relatively independent and capable of handling themselves to a certain degree?  But I digress, back to my marshutka ride -- I was heading home from a day at a cafe in Kutaisi, where I go about once a week for internet.  I’ve done this ride numerous times since way back in September and I’m very comfortable doing it.  Usually I get out at the bottom of the hill and walk up the street to my house.  Typically the marshutka continues on down the main road to a designated stop then turns around and drives up my street directly passing my house.  I usually get out earlier and walk because I like the exercise and also walking to my house gets me there a little faster.  Well this particular instance I decided to bypass walking and stay on the marshutka.  Well, it turns out this particular driver wasn’t going that usual route and instead made a right turn.  One of my students on the bus informed me (I wasn’t paying attention, just listening to music) so I told the driver stop.  Every woman on the bus said no, no, and rattled off something in Georgian.  I said it was fine, that I would walk, but they insisted I stay on.  I knew the route we were taking, I knew it would pass the church close by my house, and I assumed all the ladies meant for me to get off there.  For driving this road is atrocious, honestly like most of the roads, you get jostled around a lot.  As we’re driving I’m thinking the whole time how I should’ve just gotten out and walked because I think the time it would’ve taken me to walk from that point would’ve gotten me home in the same time it took to drive to the church.  Meanwhile, I hear all the women talking about me being an American girl not knowing Georgian (which is ironic given that I understood what they were saying) and giggling about my predicament, which had this grinding my teeth in frustration effect.  We reach the church at which point I get up to exit.  All the ladies start saying again no no, while I’m saying yes yes, I’ll walk, it’s fine.  They keep insisting and in hindsight I wish I’d have just said no, I’m getting out, I’m walking, stop the damn bus, but I let these Georgian women dictate my actions so I very reluctantly sat back down.  As all the women continue talking about me and giggling about how I don’t know any better this is the point at which I find myself cursing them all out to the extreme (once again, it’s all in my head).  I couldn’t help it.  I reached a point where I was tired of all these people who didn’t know me at all trying to tell me they know what’s best for me.  We continue on from there up the hill on this same atrocious road until we reach the turning around point.  Now all passengers have exited but me.  We reach the church, again, about 20 minutes later (driving at 3 mph on bad roads doesn’t really get you anywhere very fast after all) at which point he takes the turn leading to my house and a few minutes later I’m home and the most ready I’ve ever been to step off of a marshutka, wanting desperately to just scream out loud, but holding back.  Overall, I believe that what would’ve originally been a 5 minute walk to my house, became a 30 minute jostling marshutka ride all because these Georgian women decided that I wasn’t capable of walking that extra distance home and in their minds it made more sense for me to sit on a marshutka for an additional half hour.  I guess what this all comes down to is I’m so ready to no longer be treated as a child, and that’s what I would chalk all this frustration up to.  I am viewed as a child in Georgian society and I have to say it sucks.  When I leave on the weekends to meet up with friends, that escape feeling I have isn’t because I’m so sick of my family or my village, it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the fact that I’m escaping this view of me as being completely dependent and helpless.  For a brief time I have those adult responsibilities that believe it or not I’ve really come to miss and realize how much I enjoy having them.  So for those of you yearning for those childhood days of having no cares in the world and prefer complete dependency upon others, then I have just the experience for you.

On a happier note, this week at school went very well and now I get to look forward to the weekend.  I hope however I don’t have a repeat of that marshutka ride upon my return tonight to the village.  We’ve had great weather here this past week, I spent part of my afternoons sitting on our back porch in the sun and I also introduced Givi and Tiko to the frisbee.  Right off the bat both of them were better at throwing it than me.  Spring has started cropping up here as well and becomes more and more noticeable with each passing day.  Trees that stood bare all winter are adorned in white flowers, the hillsides are blanketed in lush green hues and yellow and purple flowers seem to be blossoming in yards everywhere.

Through the Looking Glass

(Sorry I ran out of time last week to write an entry so I'm having to put in 2 posts back to back)

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ that’s what Alice said to the white rabbit in Wonderland.  I feel sometimes as if I’m in a wonderland of my own.  Granted, my wonderland lacks life-size pot smoking caterpillars and bizarre tea parties (although a comparison could be drawn to the supras I’ve attended), but it is still a world almost entirely separated from my regular existence.  Alice followed a white rabbit into her dream land while the white rabbit I followed was in the form of approximately the same latitudinal line I live on back home, just circled halfway around the globe.  I believe wonderland could be argued as offering both good and bad characteristics, depending on who you ask, just as I would say the same about here.  Just because something is curious to the outside onlooker doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad or wrong, just different. In my wonderland, curiosities have cropped up in an array of different styles.  

First curiosity would have to be the prevalence and tolerance of noise amongst the people here.  I’ve always been one to enjoy a certain level of calm and quiet in my life, never feeling the need to always fill silences with something and instead just let it be.  During these cold months myself along with my entire family have spent a great deal of time in our living room/dining room where the peshi or stove is located.  There are times it has amazed me the amount of noise going on around me that no one else but me seems to notice or be bothered by.  There’s Tiko glued into one of the many Spanish soap operas being aired on TV, Givi playing 1 of the 15 hip hop songs he has on his cell phone he listens to on repeat, Lizi and her mom going over homework reading different passages out loud, and the rest of the women talking about whatever (I won’t pretend to know what, though I’d say neighborhood gossip is as good a guess as any), and our neighbor’s kids running around/crying/screaming at various times.  You would think all this distraction would annoy them but as far as I can tell it’s commonplace here.  I can’t say I’ve yet grown accustomed to this however.  Depending on how well my day at school was typically dictates how long I can remain in the room.  If I had a good day at school in which lessons went smoothly then the noise doesn’t bother me quite so much, however if it was a bad day, then I’m gone without hesitation, retreating to my sanctuary (aka my room) with a book or movie.  While at times I feel like a mute in this country, since talking in Georgian isn’t exactly my strong point so cuing into conversations going on around me isn’t something I’ve acquired enough skill in, I still find myself surrounded by noise on a pretty regular basis.

A second curiosity to follow would be Georgians’ persistence.  This can be said for all sorts of different activities such as eating, which I’ve already mentioned before the amount of times I hear ‘tchame (eat)’ in the course of a day.  Refusing anything has to be repeated 4 or 5 times before it’s actually acknowledged.  Another example would be neighbors who have showed up at our house looking for whomever when they aren’t in fact home.  I’ll be sitting in my room when someone will pull up in a car or be walking by.  They’ll shout whoever’s name they’re looking for outside of the house, followed by no answer.  They then shout it again, no answer.  Another 10, sometimes 20 times they’ll shout said name with no answer.  At other times I’ll be sitting in my room when a knock will sound and Tiko or someone will tell me about some food that’s available and to come and eat.  I’ll tell them I’ll be there in 5 minutes as I’m finishing up whatever.  Two minutes later Iza will knock to say food, in which I’ll respond ‘I’m coming, one minute’, followed shortly thereafter by my grandmother reminding me to come and eat.  

Third curiosity is the overwhelming number of buildings decaying or else never completed.  In every city, town, and village you come across several buildings of various kind that have clearly not been lived or operated in for a long time.  These buildings were clearly used at some time, while others I wonder if they ever reached a completed stage at all.  This then leads me to wondering when all these numerous buildings were in operation.  Did Georgia experience some golden age in which business activity was more prevalent as compared to now, or is it simply that regulations relating to building disposal have never been in place so when a building is no longer needed or can be used it simply slips into natures very slow pace of its own disposal methods?  Or could this all be a direct or indirect product of war due to on one end of the spectrum artillery blasts or the other a re-direction of funds to war-time related efforts?  I probably will never know.  The prevalent decay, an overwhelming amount of trash everywhere, along with the winter months paints a relatively dreary portrait of the country as a whole.  Robert, a fellow volunteer, and I visited Poti last weekend.  A smaller city on the Black Sea Coast.  We managed to find a cheap hotel that appeared to have once been a location for a summer camp/retreat.  Driving up to the hotel we passed several what look like previous homes, all of which now have vines and even trees growing in what used to be the bedrooms and  living areas of the houses.  There are definitely times I feel like I get an insight into what living in a post-apocalyptic world might be like, that is essentially what living in Georgia in winter is like.  People in general are harder, in their outside demeanor, their dress, and their gait.  You readily get the sense of a harder life than what we as Americans are used to.  The world in general looks dead (it is winter after all).  Most of the color you find is the green of the earth and the pink tones of the plastic bags dotting the landscape.  Just as in a photograph the world seems to be set in grayscale.  Those qualities along with the prevalent roadside decay all contribute to that other-world notion. I find myself wishing I were a better and more dedicated photographer because the material provided in this country for dramatic portraits is numerous.  Despite the dreariness beauty also can be found sporadically through for example dramatic sunsets (as pictured below), or the kind smile of our taxi driver after having a brief conversation with him in Georgian.  

Other curiosities worth noting are the prevalent misperceptions and misunderstandings related to personal health and hygiene.  Slippers are to be worn inside always as the cold floor is bad for your health and especially a woman's since it freezes your ovaries, so watch out (although my family doesn’t believe in this as far as I know I know other volunteer’s families have expressed this concern).  Blood pressure is checked by everyone over the age of 30 daily if not more often.  I suppose this sort of makes sense given that most men and women I interact with over that age are typically bigger in general, however, the constant blood pressure checks don’t appear to alter their diet or exercise regimen (or lack thereof) in any way so I’m not exactly sure what the checking does other than tell them what it is.  The idea of neighborhood takes on a whole new meaning here.  Young and old alike have an incredible ease around each other, always welcoming passers-by into their home for coffee and conversation.  Like anywhere, school is a germs’ dream locale, but here it’s on steroids.  Young children aren’t encouraged to or corrected when they cough into the general atmosphere, another child’s face, whatever the case may be.  There’s no soap provided so hands can’t be washed and every class contains a pitcher of water and one communal glass for all the students and teacher alike to share.  Cemeteries hold close-to life size portraits of the deceased (although I am unsure of whether the portraits capture what they looked like at the time of their death or just at any point in their lives) so you know the faces of everyone whose bones rest in that area.  Adorned on our living room wall is a memorial to the family’s late grandfather, Ts’itsana’s husband - a noticeably old poster you might find in a teenage boy’s room of young woman clad in a bikini.  More curiosities are sure to follow but I felt as though those were worth mentioning now.

Only other new development here worth mentioning is that I’ve attended my now second Georgian wedding.  It wasn’t quite as exciting as the first I think partially due to the fact that all of it was no longer new and unexpected, as well as the lack of good dancing music - what a shame.  I did have one Georgian man profess to me in English he loved me very, very much.  That was a little uncomfortable I have to say, though Valeri played his role well as my protector and when said gentleman requested a second dance Valeri swooped in and stole me away.  Then again Valeri also made sure to mention a friend of his, who I would guess was in his late 30’s maybe or 40’s who was single so naturally when that particular friend asked me to dance Valeri was nothing but encouraging.  Also, an oddity of sorts was in my observation of the bride and groom.  I’m nearly positive that only a few months ago, back in November or so I’m pretty sure the groom was single.  I attended a supra at a fellow volunteers’ host’s home and the groom was there in attendance also.  When Valeri approves of single gentlemen he’s always sure to mention it to me and so at the time I’m pretty sure he was informing Judith and I that he was single.  So at the wedding I spent some time simply watching the bride and groom.  Unlike the first wedding when you could tell the two knew each other well, this couple appeared very awkward around each other.  There was no ease, and each time the groom even touched his bride it was done timidly.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d known each other long, or how it came to be that they now found themselves married to one another.  My friend Robert just informed me that one of his 9th graders just dropped out, married at 14.  I’m glad to say none of my 9th graders have yet to drop out due to marriage, and I really hope that never happens.  Curiouser and curiouser....

Pictures of Poti (the poor man's Golden Gate Bridge) and just beyond we deemed it the poor man's Laguna Beach

Russia shooting off a secret missile??

We pretended to be doing homework for this picture =)

First and hopefully only snowfall

A supra we had honoring deceased family members

2nd Georgian wedding

Lizi and I had some fun before the wedding party arrived