Frosty The Trash Man

I woke up this morning with the expectation of a fresh snowfall and merry children playing in the street adjacent from my apartment complex.
Unfortunately, I heard the drip of water falling from the rooftop hitting my window and screeching tires splashing puddles to the curb. Oh well.
Today is cold and dreary, meaning the school children were clumped inside the school building without any outdoor physical activity--equating to a shitshow of hyperactivity.
If only it had snowed...if only.
But today was not a total wash of negativity. I attended my first "English Club" at the Zestaponi learning center. The club is designed as an afterschool activity where TLG teachers can interact with children through games (such as Jenga and Uno) to help them learn English.
The weather forecast calls for snow tomorrow and Wednesday. We shall see. I told my friend Crystal that if we don't get any of the white stuff this week, I'm resorting to building a snowman out of the stockpiles of trash lining the river bank.
Who knows, maybe I could sell my trashy piece of abstract brilliance?



Still Weird And American

The days really fly by here. I think today was the first time I've laid in bed and slept to try and use up an ample amount of time. Anyway, my point is...I'm sorry for the lack of blogging (for those of you who read this). I will try and get a routine going and at least make up something that sounds relatively interesting to string along some posts.

Me Skola (my school) has been OK thus far. On Thursday, I kicked around the football with some of the kids. It was of course better than sitting in the cold, cement building, hoping to help teach them something and inadvertently allowed me to gain a bit of trust with some of the older ones.

One of my students, Georgi (gor-gi), always approaches me in the hallway now to say hello. He never really pays attention in the classroom or gets any attention from his primary English teacher, so maybe I'll be able to help him at some point down the line.

My deida has been terribly ill the past few days and has not moved much from the living room. According to Goga (my English go-to source for information in the family), the doctor told her she'd be fine in a few days. I'm not sure if she caught some type of 15th-century plague or her immune system is shot, but I'm trying to get my distance.

Yesterday, I went into Kutaisi (K'ut'aisi) since it is just a short marshutka (mini-bus) ride up the highway and promised new sights and sounds outside of my gloomy, trash-laden home of Zestaponi.

I could blab about the cobblestone old town, pristine waterfront and statues of people I've never heard of, but the truth is...I relished in the beauty of its McDonald's.

Yup. McDonald's.

At home I rarely ever eat the fast-food burger chain, but after more weeks of living of non-American food, it looked like a piece of heaven in a piece of cardboard. Cheers to being a fat American!

Speaking of food, tonight I ate some very good bean soup, barley and some type of meat dish. Of course, a side of bread was a must. It was the first time in a few days (outside of my McDonald's stint) that I really was hungry. I guess a 4-mile run around the city (looking like a crazy man) and nabbing only an orange and apple from a street vendor for lunch can build that type of food craze.

I'll blog later this week about my new fruit stand business.

Over and Out,



Zestafoni! Zestafoni!

It took roughly three hours to reach our destination in the flatlands of the Imereti territory of Georgia. Zestafoni (or Zestap'oni) is an old manufacturing city, divided by a river and railway and nestled within a steep mountain range. Because the area is relatively mild and moist, it is fertile ground for wine vineyards and other vegetation.

I had no real expectations of the area—or my host family for that matter—and was completely riding adrenaline induced by anxiety and lack of sleep from the past week in Tbilisi. As we pulled onto a road behind a large, older, apartment building, I began to feel my legs shake (more so than they normally do).

There were chickens and stray dogs running through the muddy potholes surrounding the complex. Kids stood against a wall, lighting Black Cat firecrackers, and a few men worked on starting an older Volkswagen. It was like the movie depictions of Eastern Europe, yet it was now my home. Cool.

My host mother (deida) and father (mama) greeted me at the steps with the casual Gamarjobat (hell0) and a few other basic Georgian words. Once I replied, they began speaking fluently as they thought I knew the language.

It took me less than five minutes to realize they spoke no English whatsoever, which made me want to roll into a ball and hide for a few days until I could reassess the situation. Fortunately, their 16-year-old son Goga appeared soon thereafter. A quick hello and kiss on the cheek and I felt like a new man—or one who could at least sleep that evening.

The mother and grandmother (bebia) had prepared a Suphra (feast) of traditional Georgian food. Unfortunately, our group had stopped on the way over and ate, which made me feel like a total ass. "Chame! Chame!" they would say, so I forced down as much as I could and did roughly five toasts of wine before I just couldn't put anymore in my body without splitting a seam.

The apartment as a whole is quite small, comprised of two bedrooms, a half-kitchen and bath, and a living area. Because I'm the guest, I have one of the bedrooms (which has made me feel like a bigger ass). There is no running water, making the bathroom a tricky situation. There is a drain in the middle of the floor, so you heat your water and just let it rain when you want to shower off. I actually don't really mind it (I've caught myself singing).

The toilet...umm..yeah.

After a great night's sleep on Saturday, I woke up with a strong desire to go for a run. Well, running in Georgia is a lot like playing field hockey in the South—it just doesn't happen. Roughly 20 minutes of explaining my intentions (Google translate is a godsend) and my father finally understood what I wanted to do. He escorted me a few kilometers on a roadside stretch near the river before saying "go...go" and pointed back to home.

Evenings at home consist primarily of TV time, where everyone sits around near a space heater and watches either the news or some type of either American or American-knock-off programming. They do happen to have Telemundo and some other Mexicali programming. I can't remember what show it is that they love, but it some comedy hour skit they can't get enough of.

Yesterday was my TLG group's first day teaching. I happen to have been placed at a small school in the village of Ckhrackaro—about a 20 minute mini-van (packed with teachers) ride up the mountainside—and I couldn't be happier with the selection. Eta is the "direct'or" or principal of the school of roughly 150 kids. The only way I can describe my out-of-place aura at the school is "unicorn-like." The kids stare, point, smile and pretty much want to be around you as much as they can.

I only have 3 classes to teach, leaving plethora of free time to do other stuff (like explore the terrible outhouse, take pictures of kids outside playing dice and make flashcards for other teachers who want to learn English).

Today I'm home sick. I've been fighting a headcold/mild flu virus the last few days and it finally caught up to me enough that my host family (who is unbelievably caring and overly protective) would not let me go to work today. Last night they called a doctor for a house visit once they found out I had a temperature. They really are great people despite throwing scary doctor visits on me.

The grandma, who basically speaks Russian, is the only other person home right now. I think she was a bit leery of me at first since I'm American, but she's really started to try and communicate more and more and has been as nice as can be. She just put a blanket on my back and told me to drink some more ch'ai (tea).

Hopefully I'll be up to par in a few days and can provide some interesting updates on Zestaponi (I love saying that word).



Moving On Up...To The West Side

The long-awaited day is nearly upon us. Tomorrow we embark on our mysterious journeys to locations across the western portions of the country and discover just what it means to live in this culture.

Last night (it's currently Friday, 8:18 a.m.), we were able to visit with current TLG teachers and hear their stories about the host families and the schools in which we'll teach.

Things I've learned thus far about Georgian people as a whole: They like to drink, eat, and be merry at any chance they can. They are a lot like the Turks in that they will always negotiate prices with market and mall vendors; even taxi drivers.

They are also a very proud people, comprised of primarily orthodox religious cultural beliefs and go to church frequently. They believe women should be virgins before marriage (not men...still curious how that works?) and find homosexuality appalling (except in a few progressive pockets of Tbilisi). Although the people are really friendly, they don't smile. Although, I'm told they once did before the economy tanked and the Russians started ruining things again.

On Wednesday, my hotel roommate Logan and I met up with our friend Monica to eat dinner and check out the casino at the 5-star Raddison hotel in Tbilisi's uptown. The food was amazing, particularly the egg pastries and the eggplant and bread we ordered, which I'm still feeling today.
While in the restaurant, a group of Georgian men at a table adjacent to us ordered us a bottle of red wine. It was my first experience with local wine (which is relatively sweet if red) and local hospitality.

After chatting with the gentlemen for a few minutes in broken Georgian, we learned that one of the three had been stationed in North Carolina as a marine. I suppose he immediately recognized we were Americans and since it was a holiday (don't ask me which one) he wanted to make us feel at home..."just because."

"Just because" is kind of the attitude people have here. Why not buy a bottle of wine for someone at a random table or kiss a stranger? Why not celebrate with a Supra (huge party) for a villager's birthday down the road that you don't have any relation with. It's just how things are.

And for the casino....yeah, let's just say that James Bond would have been a bit sketched out by the number of Russian big wigs running the show.



Tired Eyes and An Eager Mind

I touched down in Tbilisi roughly 60 hours ago, yet I'm pretty sure I just mentally landed a few minutes ago. With a 30-hour initial airport trek—including a 13-hour layover in cold and rainy Warsaw—and extensive training sessions the past two days, I've had very little time to grasp the fact that I'm now residing in some distant, foreign land.

Talk about a head rush.

There are about 75 of us in the Teach and Learn in Georgia program being placed next week in various villages and towns across the country. The program is relatively new, initiated last March by the President and overseen by the State's Ministry of Education. In a sense, we are the fourth guinea pig class to come through; evident by the many unknowns (i.e. where I'm teaching at) we've had to endure. But hey, life's an adventure, right?

Most of my group landed Sunday at 5 a.m. We were transported to a pretty posh (for Georgian standards) hotel called the Bazaleti about 10 minutes from downtown Tbilisi. Although the building is relatively old, quite possibly a former Soviet hospital by the look of its layout, renovation has created a western atmosphere that would give any fine Holiday Inn a serious run for its money.

After getting settled in to our rooms, a few of us that bonded during our long day in Poland cabbed down to an area called "Old Town" and ventured the streets before hiking a ridge overlooking the northern fringe of one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe. Towering over our hike was the "Woman of Georgia", a large monument erected as a symbol of strength and compassion of Georgian women. I'm not exactly sure the background of the Woman, but that's just what I was told by a few teachers who read a book or two on the area. (I'll take their word for it, I guess) We ended the outing with some delicious khachapuri and local beer before cabbing back to our week-long home.

Oh, and let me give you a brief synopsis of "cabbing" in this part of the world. Think car chase in Terminator on a crowded street from Grand Theft Auto IV...then add an admission fee. A f&*king unreal adventure worth every lari.

My stay in Tbilisi has mostly been crammed with cultural intercommunication and language classes—hopefully preparing us for what's ahead. Our days have started at 9 a.m. and ended somewhere around 9:30 p.m. Although mentally and physically draining, the classes and perspectives from the up-and-coming teachers from across the world have been very satisfying and a bit of relief to my anxiety.

It's nearly midnight and my head is in a fog-like state. A hotel worker finished his night shift with a few piano ballads on the lobby Grand across from where I type, signifying the release of the last drop of energy in my body. Tomorrow we finish our training session early and I hope to explore the city night life.

Stay tuned for more updates.