Churches, Monasteries and Museums: A Georgian Field Trip

Hello Loyal Readers!
For my American readers, I wish you and yours a happy Father’s Day. My gift from afar to my own father will be to finally update my blog! I started slacking on the blog in the last month or so, mostly because the reality of returning home set in and I was trying to spend as much time with my friends and host family, experiencing as much of Georgia as possible. That is how I ended up saying yes to an invitation on a 3 day excursion to Kakheti, the wine region on the opposite end of Georgia, with my school’s graduating seniors.

Reminder: My village is near Ozurgeti, the drive to Telavi took roughly 7 hours

Reminder: My village is near Ozurgeti, the drive to Telavi, the capital of Kakheti, took roughly 7 hours

The drive was above average, since the marshrutka was hired and therefore actually stopped when passengers had to pee, get something to eat, or saw something that they wanted to take pictures of. And, on top of that, all of the passengers were students and teachers from my school, so when they fall asleep on you it’s not as creepy.

I was told to meet at the school at 10 am, and I don’t know why I bothered showing up on time. At this point, the lack of urgency, planning, and punctuality in Georgia is no longer a surprise to me. I staked out a good seat on the marshrutka, and read my book for 2 hours before the rest of the passengers arrived. Then, it somehow took another hour of buying coca cola, visiting the ATM, and dawdling needlessly before we managed to leave Chokhatauri region. Beyond the slow start, the first day ran pretty smoothly overall, with a reasonable number of bathroom breaks and one long stop for lunch in Surami, a pretty wooded area on the main highway in Georgia.

Lunch appeared out of nowhere, a feast of khachapuri (cheese bread), roast chicken, pizza, and cake.

Lunch appeared out of nowhere, a feast of khachapuri (cheese bread), roast chicken, pizza, and cake.

We arrived in Sighnaghi, known in Georgia as “the love city” and advertised to tourists as the most European city in Georgia around 7 pm. Assuming we had a hotel, guesthouse, or campsite lined up was also a mistake on my part. Instead, we drove into the center of town where a bidding war for our patronage took place. There were 19 of us total, and our best offer was a guesthouse just outside the center for 7 lari a night each, equivalent to about $5 USD.

After choosing beds and setting down our luggage, we yet again produced a mystery meal of boiled eggs and cucumber salad out of nowhere. By 8pm we headed into the city center.

Sighnaghi by night

Sighnaghi by night

I can definitely understand how Sighnaghi got the European label. The entire city rests on a hilltop, with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lit by lanterns. It was quiet and calm after dark, allowing us to wander the streets and enjoy it’s beauty. The kids were all very intrigued by my Nikon, and designated me their photoshoot photographer for the trip, which was fun at first but quickly got on my nerves toward the end, but more on that later.

Eventually, the marshrutka parked near a park, and the kids blasted music from its speakers, doing dance routines from various concerts and performances throughout their high school career. It was one of those moments that felt so very Georgian, because it was.

The new graduates dancing to "Gangnam Style" because, of course

The new graduates dancing to “Gangnam Style,” because, of course

By midnight we returned to the guest house, where I almost immediately hit the sack. I slept for 2 amazing hours before the celebrating children, who had been sipping wine and beer and vodka out on the patio, charged the dorm giggling and chatting. It was 4:3o am before they finally shut up and I was able to go back to sleep. It was a cruel 8 am awakening on day 2.

Day 2 started with coffee, khachapuri, and cake. We packed and said goodbye to our host and loaded up the marshrutka for what would end up being a 13 hour tour of the many churches and monasteries of Kakheti.

kakheti5

Morning view of Sighnaghi while driving away

The day began not 5 kilometers from Sighnaghi, in a monastery complex that included a natural spring which was supposed to bring health and spiritual rebirth. I did not feel like stripping down naked, even if only in the company of a nun, to step into freezing cold water, and the spring didn’t look like much on the outside, so I managed a nap on a shady bench to work off some of the tired from a shitty night of sleep.

After that, we had a bit of a longer drive, so I was able to break free from that feeling I often get in Georgia, where you don’t really feel like you’re getting anywhere. Georgian churches are beautiful, sparse in their decor, lit by memorial candles, etc, but they all sort of look the same after a while. I think we saw 7 or 8 total on day 2.

Well, they definitely have a type

Well, they definitely have a type

Some of the churches stood out more than others, some had frescoes inside, some had monasteries attached, some were surrounded by sweeping views of the unarguably beautiful Kakheti countryside, but I grew fatigued by the sheer volume of churches at a certain point. Georgia is something like 93% Orthodox Christian, which included everyone but me on this excursion. Each stop would have the girls pulling on full length skirts and tying on head scarves, buying and lighting candles, kissing entryways and crossing themselves. I felt, out of place. Georgians see a bit of tourism, evidenced by the wrap skirts provided outside most churches for the under-dressed, but it was still a bit awkward to be the only person in a party of 19 who was not participating in the many rituals of the church.

Toward the end of the day we visited a church that doubled as an archaeological dig site, complete with tarped off areas and scattered tools. I saw many clay pots, pieces of simple metal jewelry, and a human skull!

I kept myself occupied with the creepiness

I kept myself occupied with the creepiness

I don’t know if it was lack of sleep, exhaustion, or what, but throughout the day I could feel myself getting pissy. I tried really hard to fight it, but little things were adding up to make me quite angry. The camera issue is one of them. Ever since the villagers first noticed my Nikon, I have felt kind of used. Every invitation to concerts, picnics, and Birthday parties is attached to the addendum “and you will bring your camera and take pictures.” It’s never a question. On this trip, I was being instructed by the other travelers to “take photo of this hill” or “Kacie, I want a picture in front of this.” As the day progressed, I got more and more annoyed as I was lining up a shot and was interrupted by a request to photograph something else that I don’t even care about.

When we finally got to Telavi, where we would be spending the night, my photographer status was hitting an ultimate high when I was saved by a freak storm, complete with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. We hopped into the marshrutka and searched for a budget hotel.

kakheti8

My final commissioned photo before the storm hit

After 45 minutes of driving in circles in the rain, we found a cheap hotel (again 7 lari each, this time with double rooms so I could actually sleep.) We ate a late dinner where we were joined by a stray Polish traveler who thankfully spoke English. He asked me a lot of questions about Georgia and it was nice to feel like an authority on the matter.

I slept well that night, stirring only when Shorena, my co-teacher, came into the room for her own sleep. We woke at 8:30, had breakfast and coffee, and embarked on what I thought would be the drive home, yet turned into ANOTHER FULL DAY OF SIGHTSEEING. Mostly, it was more churches, monasteries and museums, but the final site of the day, a monastery called Davit Gareji, made the whole journey worthwhile.

kakheti1

A cave monastery surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape in Georgia and beyond

I was entirely aware of the time when we started driving toward Davit Gareji, a much talked about and well known “place to see” for TLG volunteers like myself. It was already 5 pm when we left the main road, still in Kakheti, 7 hours from home. But I no longer cared what time it was on the hour long journey through rough terrain that led us to the monastery.It was beyond gorgeous!

When we arrived, we hiked far above the monastery and easily killed another hour. The scenery was amazing, and it took all of our energy to admit that we should probably head home. We reached the main road as the sun was going down, and I remembered once again how far we were from home. I clocked our ETA at 1:30 am, which wouldn’t be too bad.

kakheti9

Sunset through the obligatory cracked marshrutka windshield

We were right on schedule when we got to Tbilisi around 9 pm, but then I heard a teacher tell the marshrutka driver to go to Sameba. Sameba is the Holy Trinity Church in Tbilisi, and literally everyone has been there. Every student, teacher, and myself on the marshrutka had been there. I asked my co-teacher how long, and she said 30 minutes. I found a bathroom and bought a soda, and stayed in the marsh reading, I was ready to be moving toward my bed.

9:30 quickly became 9:50, and we were finally on our way out of Tbilisi. We made it a few kilometers before the boys complained of hunger and we stopped for some “fast food.” When 7 boys order Shaurma, it is no longer fast food. At 11:00 we were finally on the move, when we got, I kid you not, PULLED OVER. Cops are half myth in Georgia, but I guess in the summer they’re more likely to check for marshrutka driver’s papers. As we pulled away from the policeman after 10 minutes, I saw the “You are now leaving Tbilisi” sign ahead.

We got back to the village at 4:00 am.

A moment of genuine laughter after climbing off a ledge

A moment of genuine laughter after climbing off a ledge

Overall, the excursion was more good than bad. I got to see a lot of Georgian landmarks and scenery that I never would have made it to on my own, spend some time with the students I don’t get to teach, and my co-teacher. My annoyances at time management and being the camera bitch were largely outweighed by the fun times. I might be going on another school excursion later this week, so clearly it didn’t destroy me!

In other news, SCHOOL IS OUT. Now that I’m not teaching, I should be able to catch up on blogging a bit. Coming soon: A post about teaching/my school/students and a post about Georgian food!

Thanks for your patience,

Kacie Riann

Until the Cows Come Home

Sometimes, we use idioms we don’t even understand the origins of. For example, saying “close, but no cigar” comes from an era where cigars were given as prizes for carnival games. Judging by the way tobacco is now demonized in America, it is clear that this phrase is now obsolete, yet it maintains its presence in our vernacular.

The same goes for “let the cat out of the bag,” which references a con used in medieval marketplaces where merchants would claim to sell pigs in a bag, but when opened an overpriced cat would be revealed instead.  We still use this to reprimand people for revealing a secret.

In Georgia, I got to see the origin of an accepted idiom in front of my face: “Until the cows come home.”

The phrase has been used as early as 1829 to mean “for a long but indefinite time.” The first time I noticed the phenomenon was when winter was approaching and the days were getting shorter. I walked from town to my village, chasing the sun so as not to get scolded for walking at night by my worrisome host family, and I realized I was walking with a herd. All of the village cows were mozying toward the village after a long day of grazing. When I got to my gate, my family’s cows were waiting for me to open it for them. The cows had come home.

The village cow migration

The village cow migration

The ironic part, to me, is that the cows come home around dark, which changes with the seasons but is never later than 10 or 11 pm. So when we say, “Let’s party until the cows come home!” we really mean, “Let’s wrap this up before midnight!”

While we’re on the subject of cows, let me share a random anecdote I thought of a few days ago. When I was maybe ten or eleven, my family visited a quaint lodge for a weekend getaway. We purchased massages and creme brulee room service, and culminated our pretend rich people time with a hot air balloon excursion.

On the road from the hotel to the balloon site, we kept our eyes peeled for deer, a constant threat in Washington State for the well-being of our cars. We warned my father of an approaching animal and as we approached we realized it was not a deer, but a cow. My dad hit his brakes, and without words we shared a collective laugh at the pure absurdity of this “wildlife.” I grew up in a small, rural town, but cows were fenced on ranches and farms, not standing nonchalantly in the middle of the street.

If I knew then that cow-in-the-street would one day be more routine to me than car-in-the-street, I wouldn’t have believed it.

–Kacie Riann

A Song of Ice and Fire

Hello all,

My sister got after me a bit on Skype for my lack of new material on the blog lately. The hard truth is, my day to day life is largely the same, and there isn’t much to write about, or maybe there is but I am too entrenched in it to recognize that it might be of interest. I have a few things on the horizon that I anticipate will be blog worthy: a trip to Svaneti, the mountainous region; a visit from an American friend who is living in Paris; Easter in Armenia. Until then, here’s a quick post!

The title of this post is a reference to the book series by George R.R. Martin that inspired the show Game of Thrones. I am obsessed with both the books and the show, and in one week, the show returns for season 3. I have been so excited for it, devouring every preview and behind the scenes video, that I feel kind of pathetic. The thing about living abroad is that sometimes you just need something that reminds you of home, something normal, to get you through the tough parts. TV shows can be that for me: they’re on a consistent schedule, they’re in English, and I can feel like I’m a part of something that my American friends are.

BUT, that’s not the reason I wrote this post. I wrote it because we’ve had ice and fire in the village.

tovs

A mid-March snow was my first in the village. Go figure.

According to sister Salome, “March is always crazy weather. One day sun, next snow.” That has been more than true. Thursday after school I sat on the steps outside my house and read over 100 pages of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” letting my tea go cold and soaking up vitamin D. Friday, my co-teacher texted me not to come because there were no students, it was too cold.

The snow was actually a welcome sight for me, since my pre-Georgia plans included harsh Caucasus winters, blizzards, etc. I have been fortunate to have a fairly mild winter, but I would have been disappointed had I never seen the mountaintops covered in white snow!

But then, there was fire.

Don't I look creepy?

Don’t I look creepy?

Salome is really fun, because she knows enough English that I’m not constantly confused, but she still says things in a funny way, which is always entertaining. Let’s set up the above picture by recounting a conversation we had.

Salome: Kace*, come outside, it’s holiday.

Kacie: Which Holiday?

S: It’s called (long Georgian word), it is Christian.

K: Oh, okay, what are we doing?

S: We have big fire. We burn bad souls.

K: That sounds like voodoo.

S: (blank stare.)

K: Never mind, why are we burning tires?

S: Tires? Oh the wheel, my father is wheel fixer for work, we have a lot old tires.

K: But burning rubber is bad for breathing.

S: But it makes bigger fire, better for bad souls go away.

*In Georgian language, all nouns end it vowels, even names. Because of this many foreigners will Georgianize their names by adding an “i” too the end of it. For example, my friend Josh is called “Joshi.” Despite the constant reminders that my name is in fact Kacie, most Georgian’s think they are being more culturally sensitive by de-Georgianizing my name and calling me Kace.

This weird ritualistic thing almost definitely gave me cancer, but it was really fun in a village way.

Anywho, I promise more exciting posts are coming. In the mean time, I am also writing more professional sounding posts for the Official TLG Blog, if you’re dying to read more!

-Kacie Riann

Middle of Nowhere

Well, readers, I have made it halfway through my total time outside of the U.S.A.

I arrived in Georgia on October 2, and I will return to America toward the end of July. 10 months away from home, and five of them are gone. I alternate on an almost daily basis between “Holy shit, this is never going to end!” and “Vai me! Halfway done already!” Time is a funny thing.

Anyway, I thought I might give some updates on my life at this milestone, now that I have settled into a bit more of a routine and dare I say, adaptation?

Things I am used to:

usedto1

Farm animals in the street (I have gotten really good at “hey cow”)

Condemnable buildings (Such as my school and favorite markets, which would have been demolished years ago if we had building codes like the ones at home)

Getting stared at and blatantly talked about in a language I don’t understand (I am generally loved by my community, so I just have to hope they’re saying good things)

usedto2

Questionable trash disposal practices (usually burning or throwing into the river)

Extremely personal questions about my marital status, salary, and weight (and the inevitable list of eligible Georgian bachelors that I can marry)

Power outages (A nice time to sit by the candlelight with the host family)

usedto3

Grafitti (The blue 41 represents on Georgian political party, the red 5 another)

Political polarity (I moved to Georgia immediately after an election and a majo shift in political power)

Lukewarm showers (It’s better than cold or infrequent showers, or sponge baths or baby wipe showers.)

usedto4

The Georgian alphabet (I can read and write it!)

Carbs and Cheese for most meals (I never feel hungry)

Rarely understanding anything (An opportunity to practice my charades skills)

 

Things I may never get used to:

notusedto1

General lack of care for animal life, even pets (R.I.P. Balma and Josh’s puppy)

The aggressive flirting style of Georgian men (No apparently means maybe)

Constant yelling, even in friendly conversation (It’s really jarring and tense)

notusedto2

My loft style stairs (I fall down them like once a week in the dark)

Being chased by turkeys while I walk to school (What did I ever do to them?)

Bipolar weather (Crazy storms followed by summer sun)

notusedto3

Tarragon flavored everything (Although the radioactive green soda is kind of growing on me)

A lack of fruits and vegetables in the winter (I think I have scurvy)

Mosquito attacks (The only thing that is making me dread the coming spring)

notusedto4

The frequent mood swings of my host brother (He loves me one minute and hates me the next, from hugs to hitting in one fell swoop)

Horrifyingly fast drivers (as the pedestrian it is your responsibility to not get hit)

The lack of planning or schedules (and the lack of communication when changes are made)

 

I think ten months just might not be long enough to get to the “immersion” stage of culture shock. I have already had to get past a lot of things, such as my many food issues, in order to function in Georgian society, but there are certain areas of the culture that I just can’t navigate. A lot of it is gender role related stuff, as Georgia is a very patriarchal culture, and a lot of it is simply my own homesickness creeping in to my every day activities.

So here’s to 5 months down and 5 more to come! I believe I will survive it!

-Kacie Riann

 

Extended Family Time

Hello readers,

This weekend I went to Tbilisi. Normally, I would take the 5 hour marshrutka ride alone, bored out of my mind, and stay at a hostel for the weekend, meeting up with my fellow English teachers and spending most of my monthly stipend in a single weekend on fancy mixed drinks and American food.

This weekend, I rode over with Salome, I stayed with two different extended host family members, I navigated the underground bazaars and spent money only on clothing, because a Georgian will never be the one responsible for letting you go hungry.

And spending time with these little angels was no trouble!

And spending time with these little angels was no trouble!

First, I finally got to meet my little host-cousins, Nini (3) and Anastasia (10 Months). I have seen their photos in my family’s albums and Facebook pages, and now I know why. They’re just so sweet and photogenic! Apparently, I am somewhat of a family celebrity too, because when Salome and I went to Nini’s kindergarten to pick her up, having never met me she screamed “Kacie!” across the room as soon as I walked in the door. It was a nice introduction, though reminiscent of picking my brothers up from daycare, and any memory of them makes me a little sad when I am so far away.

I mean, it's hard not to be reminded of the boys in moments like this...

I mean, it’s hard not to be reminded of the boys in moments like this…

The first night I was feeling a little ill after a particularly nauseating marshrutka ride (though honestly, they’ve all felt that way lately) so we decided to stick close to the apartment. My host-aunt, Tamriko, had some friends down the street who make this amazing round bread and thought I might want to eat some fresh from the “oven.”  I did, and it was even more amazing when it was hot. After giving me a chance to remove the bread from the well-shaped stone oven, a delicate process as it just sticks vertically to the hot walls, they cooked some pork on kebabs and bought a 2 liter Fanta for an impromptu meal. If I ever get rich, I am installing one of these ovens in my home, because not only does it cook bread perfectly, but meat too. I would probably have nightmares about the little girl from The Ring crawling out of it, but it would be worth it.

My sad attempt at being a bread maker... I think i will leave it to the pros.

My sad attempt at being a bread maker… I think i will leave it to the pros.

The next night, after a much needed haircut that only cost me 7 Lari (<$5), it was decided that I needed to do some sightseeing while in Tbilisi. I explained that I had already seen the fortress, but they insisted that everything looked better by night. Now, I am compelled to agree. We started with the infamous fortress, an impossible-to-miss landmark by day when it is not glowing above the city. We rode the gondola to the top, took in a fantastic view of the city lights and the many, many churches of Tbilisi, and walked back down through Old Town. It was very cool at night, partly because I wasn’t absolutely sweating in the sun and fighting the crowds of tourists, but also because of the aesthetic quality.

My tour guides, Aunt Tamriko, Sister Salome, and the Breadman

My tour guides, Aunt Tamriko, Sister Salome, and the Breadman

From the fortress, it’s impossible to miss the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi,  more commonly called “Sameba” which means trinity in Kartuli. I was thrilled when my tour guides decided to take me there as well, as it has been a casualty of time in my previous visits to Tbilisi. Built in 2004 to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ (they were a little tardy due to civil unrest in their nation), Sameba is the third tallest Orthodox cathedral in the world. Day or night, it dominates its surroundings. After a quick cab ride, we were at the gates, which looked decidedly closed. I was disappointed, but after a few words with the guard, one of which was definitely “Amerikeli,” we were granted access. We had the entire complex to ourselves, and were even able to enter the cathedral as several maids mopped the floors of it’s impressive square footage.

I don't think pictures can do justice to how massive this place really is

I don’t think pictures can do justice to how massive this place really is.

We walked back to the city center via the Peace bridge, another light show in the city of Tbilisi, and caught a cab back to Tamriko’s apartment. After a midnight meal of khinkhali, round bread, sausages with mustard (which I almost choked on because it was super hot but I was so excited about mustard that I used way too much), and Coca Cola, we decided to get some sleep for the long journey home the next day.

It was nice to see a different side of Tbilisi with the locals, instead of using the city as an excuse to see other Westerners and eat western food. I’m hoping we will go back for Anastasia’s first Birthday!

-Kacie Riann

Chemi Dabadebis Dghe

Dear readers,

Don’t get too overwhelmed, the title just means “my Birthday.” Yes, today, December 7th, a day that will live in infamy, is my Birthday. I have only a few hours of Birthday left in Sakartvelo, but in America it has barely begun! It’s hard to imagine, because I feel like I have been celebrating nonstop for the last 30 hours!

I had my Birthday party last night because a few of my friends are in Yerevan, Armenia this weekend and I really wanted them to attend. It was perfect.

I am making a stupid face because how can I be bothered to take photos with all of this food on the table?

I am making a stupid face because how can I be bothered to take photos with all of this food on the table?

My host mother really went all out! She made all of my favorite Georgian foods, like vinagreti (which despite the name is really just potato salad) and katleti (a ground meat and onion and garlic and cilantro thing wrapped in flour and cooked) among others. I will try not to go into to much detail because I have a food only post planned for the near future. I just need a few more pictures! But I will tell you this, she made me a pizza with no mayonnaise, which is blasphemy in Georgia, because she knows that I don’t like it. There was also the familar Coca Cola, my Georgian addiction of Nabeghlavi (a mineral water native to my district that I swear cures all ailments), and as usual, wine. The grand finale was an amazing cake that I insisted on eating despite how full I was because it was beyond delicious.

You can tell from my goofy grin that I am super happy. My host family spoiled me beyond what I could have imagined and as is customary at a supra, made a series of toasts to my health, family, time in Georgia, and future. I may not know much Georgian, but I know the smiles and love they give me are genuine. They have been so welcoming and accepting of me, despite the fact that I am completely clueless as to how to function in this country. In addition, I was told by my fellow TLGvs that my host mother made the best food out of all of their families, and reminded me how lucky I am to have such a nice bathroom. Seriously folks, never take for granted your sittable toilet, access to hot water, and shower curtain.

My entire family at my party. Sister Salome, Brother Mirza, Mother Irma, and Father Misha

My entire family at my party. Sister Salome, Brother Mirza, the new daughter, Mother Irma, and Father Misha

The party was a great success. My friends left happy, my belly was full, and my host family felt satisfied  that they managed to fill the void of being away from home on such a day. After doing about 1oo dishes, no joke, and sweeping the floor I was off to bed just in time to watch the clock strike midnight. My real Birthday had only just begun!

This morning, I went to school feeling stressed and overwhelmed after hearing that one of my friends never made it to his host family after my party. His phone was turned off and the entire district was in a panic looking for him. Eventually, I remembered that his Georgian friend, Beka,  knew my co-teacher and that she likely had his phone number. She called to see if Beka had seen him, and sure enough he had found him walking home the night before and brought him to his house. He was supposed to call the host family, but forgot, causing a lot of unnecessary drama, but at least we knew he was okay now!

Once that was sorted, the teachers room wasted no time surprising me!

Once that was sorted, the teachers room wasted no time surprising me!

I honestly did not expect such a production at school. Besides my co-teachers, Shorena (pictured above) and Tsitsi, none of the faculty speaks English and besides the occasional translated question, seemed like they had lost interest in me over a month ago. But they all pitched in and bought me that beautiful cake, along with a tchatcha (moonshine) fountain with matching shotglasses, and a “Me Miqkhvars Sakartvelo” (‘I love Georgia”) coffee mug. They sang the Birthday song to me in both languages, and made me blush the whole time.

The Gut'uri teachers and me, proudly displaying my mug!

The Gut’uri teachers and me, proudly displaying my mug!

After all of the excitement in the teacher’s room, I sort of forgot about the fact that I still had teaching to do! I went to teach my 5th and 6th grade classes, and was sung to two more times, as well as given cards and artwork!

Natia, and the gifted artwork!

One of my 6th graders, Natia, and the gifted artwork!

It was really sweet to realize that my students actually cared about me beyond being a foreign spectacle. Natia drew those for me because I once caught her doodling in class and told her how jealous I was that she could draw so well. When she gave them to me she said, “Happy Birthday, I hope these inspire you to draw.” Um, what? Did I teach her the word inspire? Or even better, did she look it up or ask Shorena because she really wanted to tell me that in English? I was overtaken with cute. Then I went to my 5th grade class and got four handmade cards!

Ok, so I still have some work to do, but at least she spelled my name right!

Ok, so I still have some work to do, but at least she spelled my name right!

It is really humbling to know that in a country where the teachers make unbelievably low salaries, the schools have very limited resources, and the students rarely have school supplies beyond the bare minimum, that gifts and cards for my Birthday were a priority. Georgia is world famous for its hospitality; I read all about it on various blogs and the official TLG website during my application process. Today, as I turned 23, I saw that hospitality in full force.

Me miqkhvars Sakartvelo!

-Kacie Riann

Georgian “Maybe” Time

Hello all!

As of yesterday I crossed a milestone: I have been in Georgia for 2 months now. For the most part, I am still in the honeymoon phase. My students are still cute, my host family is still in awe of me, the weather is still shockingly warm, and the language is still intriguing. However, there is one aspect of Georgian culture that I have found extremely frustrating, especially these last few weeks: Georgian’s don’t make plans, and when they do, they are never communicated to me.

As you may recall from my last post, I was told I would be going to Batumi this weekend with my host family. However, when they weekend arrived it was dubbed “too cold” for that, and despite the fact that I had dropped all of my other plans that weekend in order to go with them, that was the end of the conversation.

Yet here I am, on December 1st, in short sleeves

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a certain amount of spontaneity, especially when traveling, and I ended up having an above average weekend in the village. I even managed to find a pair of jeans, one of my biggest draws to Batumi, at the Sunday Bazaar in town. I even got to try them on! Though my “changing room” was really just my host sister holding up a sweater to hide the lower half of my body as I stripped in the middle of the bazaar. I got to see my host sister and her classmates perform music, dance, and comedy at the local theater on Friday. I visited the river with Salome on Saturday and crossed a super sketchy bridge. Seriously, it had entire chunks missing where you had to just straddle the re-bar on either side to get by.

I mean, that doesn't look safe or inviting a all!

I mean, that doesn’t look safe or inviting at all!

Saturday night, a bunch of the extended host family came over for dinner, including my three Georgian cousins whose ages and demeanors coincide with my brothers back at home. We had a nice meal and they sang Georgian folk songs which I bobbed my head along to. Then, so as not to leave me out, they started singing “Jingle Bells” even though the only words they knew were “jingle” and “bells.”  Sunday was the bazaar, which was, well bizarre. I was so happy to find jeans that fit me, and so shocked that there are more people than I thought in my district. They definitely make it a priority to show up to the Bazaar and stock up on Turkish coffee, bread, and mandarin oranges for the week.

and this is just the produce section!

And this is just the produce section!

So, yes, the Georgian tradition of “maybe” worked out for me in this case, but every other time has been pure frustration. For example, my school has NEVER bothered to tell me when we have a holiday or, like today, when we’re rolling back our entire schedule by half an hour. So, I wake up grumpy, get myself presentable, and show up to an empty school looking like an idiot.

Hello... anybody there?

Hello… anybody there?

Or, there’s the entire 6 weeks that I lived in fear, wondering if my contract would be extended. I allowed for a bit of uncertainty there, because TLG was adjusting to the wishes of a new minister of education, but I was still annoyed and nervous, unable to make plans for my future. Eventually, my request was approved (THANK GOODNESS) and in the email I was told I had less than 24 hours to accept or reject the new contract. Okay, where was that urgency before, when I was stressing myself into thinking I was going home 6 months sooner than I had planned?

Today, though, I got pretty snippy with my co-teacher when my Birthday plans, which I was really excited about, had to be canceled in place of something that she dropped on me. Apparently, we have to give a presentation to the minister of education on Monday showing how we work together and such. While I agree that this is not something I should miss, I was told it would be on Tuesday a few weeks ago, before I made plans to go to Mestia for my Birthday, which would require me to take a holiday on Monday due to the distance and transportation schedule. Most of my friends did not extend their contracts and are leaving the following weekend, and did I mention it’s my Birthday? Needless to say, I was PISSED that I would have to cancel for the ONE PLAN in Georgia that cannot be changed on a whim because I was previously told the incorrect date.

At least I still get a cake... at home in the village...

At least I still get a cake… at home in the village… (this is my friend Daniel’s cake from his Birthday two weeks ago).

Cultural differences can be fun, and I have been blown away by Georgian hospitality, among other areas where I find their way of life enviable. But the complete lack of planning or communicating plans has been very hard to adjust to. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, since I arrived in Georgia only a few weeks after starting the application process. I remember hearing a joke about “GMT” or “Georgian Maybe Time” at orientation, but now I know it was not a joke at all. I will try to remain calm as decisions around me are made and cancelled quickly and without notice.

Now, if only I can manage not to hyperventilate as I wait for my Christmas vacation itinerary. I am supposed to be flying to Europe in less than two weeks, but still, I have no ticket. The TLG last minute saga continues…

-Kacie Riann

Health, Holidays, and Homesickness

Hello Readers,

It’s been over a week since my last post, and in that time not too much has happened. I spent last weekend sick in bed and scrapped my plans to go to Turkey this weekend for a myriad of reasons, so I have been chilling in the village for WAY too long. This coming weekend, I am going to Batumi with my host family, so at least I know escape is imminent.

It’s not that I don’t like the village, but I need a change of scenery because the inevitable has happened: I have begun my first bout of homesickness, and it’s a strong one. Last Friday, my family saw the end of a three year battle when my parents formally adopted my 3 nephews, who I can now call my brothers.

This is my entire family, minus me, on adoption day celebrating

Jesse (right), Hunter (left), and Matty (middle) have been living with my parents for three years, but the interference from the government and the ambiguity of the situation was beyond frustrating. It was really hard to lay in my sick bed and watch the cute Facebook posts and pictures pile up, knowing that I was missing from this very important time in my family history. (You can read more about my family in my other blog, Kacie’s Kinship, which is currently on hiatus.)

As I recovered from my illness I was thankful to have a short week at school, punctuated by the St. George’s Day holiday on Friday. This perfectly coincided with two events: Thanksgiving at home, and my friend Daniel’s Birthday. In Georgia, Birthdays are often celebrated with a “supra,” a grand feast with wine, endless toasts, dancing, and more wine. Daniel’s host family threw him a supra and all of the TLGv’s in our district were able to attend. It was the perfect Thanksgiving substitute!

Here are the lovely folks I have been spending all of my English-speaking hours with… 7 Americans, 1 Englishman, and 1 Irishman

This feast was a BLAST. I was served all of my favorite Georgian dishes at once, and in a country where many meals consist of just cheese and bread, it was a real treat to be fed meat, vegetables, fruit, and dessert. And did I mention the wine? SO MUCH WINE. Everytime we would drain a carafe, Daniel’s host mother would sneakily refill it. Part of the tradition of the supra is to toast many things: peace, the dead, family, Georgia, food, wine, friendship, and of course a toast to the Birthday boy. As the meal was dominated by American’s, we also saw fit to toast the things we are thankful for. As you can imagine, this led us to drink more than enough wine!

Here’s to wine! Here’s to Georgia, the country that “invented wine!”

The supra started at 4 pm, and by 10 pm we figured it was high time to head home. That put me at home right around 11:30 pm, or 11:30 am in Bellingham. Despite the amazing feast I had just had, I nearly cried during a Skype session with my family imagining the meal they were about to have as an official family.

Thanksgiving starts kind of an insane catalyst of Holidays in my family. Jenna’s Birthday is Dec. 3, mine is the 7th, and Jesse’s is the 10th. Then, of course, we have Christmas and New Year’s. This is my first time being away from home for the Holidays and it is really difficult for me, especially with the added “holiday” of the boys adoption.

A super attractive picture of me and my family, spending Thanksgiving together the best way we know how!

Overall, I know I will survive this rough patch, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you’re living through it. If my contract gets extended and I stay in Georgia until July, I will spend Christmas and New Year’s in Western Europe, which is not home, but will be a refreshing vacation. If my contract doesn’t get extended, I will leave Georgia in late January, and will know throughout the Holidays that my time is short, and I will soon be reunited with my amazing family.

For the record, I want my extension to be approved, but TLG seems to be taking their sweet time deciding. We shall see!

Happy Holidays everyone!

-Kacie Riann

101 Ways to Drink Wine

Gamarjoba readers!

This last weekend, me and a few friends went to Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia and about an hours marshrutka ride away from Chokhatauri.
We didn’t have much of a plan, except to get out of our respective villages for a few days and see what the city closest to us had to offer.

Which included my first familiar eatery, good old Mickey D’s. Don’t judge me!

A couple of veteran English teachers suggested we stay at a guesthouse called Suliko’s, run by a cute Georgian couple who for a very decent price included breakfast, dinner, and wine.  Oh, so much wine.

We arrived in Kutaisi around 6:30 pm and were immediately sent to the dinner table and handed a horn of wine. In Georgia, drinking horns are a very traditional way of drinking wine, but the trick is, you have to sort of chug it because there is no possible way to set the horn down until it is empty.

I was given a smaller horn, front and center, but it was refilled several times.

Suliko, who turned 68 during our stay, then proceeded to bring out numerous other contraptions for us to drink from: a bowl, a ceramic shoe, a glass bell that was to be rung upon completion to prove that you finished it, something made out of clay and shaped like a honeypot, and of course our normal glasses were constantly being topped off.  Suliko’s wife, Mediko, also provided us with an amazing feast of a dinner so that we were at least cushioning the intake of all of that wine. Then, Suliko proceeded to show us drinking tricks! He’d drink wine from his palm with the glass suctioned on upside down, he’d go into a full split and drink wine from a jar on the floor, he’d drink wine from two glasses at once!

Suliko performing one of his many drinking tricks.

There is a really strong drinking culture in Georgia, but those who know me know that I don’t often partake, especially not with wine, but there was something about this place and this man that made me want to be a part of it all. However, as you can imagine, it led to a night of poor, restless sleep and a morning of lethargy. After another amazing meal from Mediko, we rustled up a plan to go to Satiplia, a national park that includes fossilized dinosaur footprints, natural cave systems, and sweeping views of Kutaisi.

The park was worth the 6 lari (about $4) admission, we even had an English speaking guide through the caves!

Although my surroundings were beautiful at the park, the lack of sleep I had gotten was really starting to wear on me. I was thrilled when the temperature dropped about 20 degrees inside the caves, as I had packed for a weekend of rain that weather.com had falsely accused Kutaisi of providing.

And it was easy on the eyes, too!

However, when it came time to leave, the only taxi at the park tried to charge us 15 lari to get back into Kutaisi (it cost us only 6 to get to the park). I let the boys argue for a bit, but there was no other transportation option and I was exhausted, so we finally settled for 10. When we got into Kutaisi, the driver suddenly started demanding 15 again, and though I know cabbies like to scam foreigners, this was the first time the previously agreed upon price had been questioned here in Georgia. An argument ensued, the driver attempted to spit on my friend, and eventually we just threw the 10 at him and walked away. He thankfully did not follow us.

At this point, my body was starting to reject the mere idea of standing or walking, and I made my way back to the hostel, exhausted by the cab scam. After a pickpocket attempt by a 4 year old Roma girl, I had had it. I went and watched “The Campaign” on the hostel’s free wifi and went to bed early.

This view was worth the taxi argument, but I was still happy to rest.

On Sunday, we woke a bit earlier, in higher spirits, and after a quick shopping expedition, went to McDonald’s for a familiar meal before catching a marshrutka back to Chokhatauri. I think my friend said it best when he said: “It was a great trip, but it would have only been a good trip had we not stayed at Suliko’s.” Suliko’s is what made it a great weekend. Even on Saturday, when I opted out of the wine drinking, I had a good dinner with my old friends, and some new Japanese/Chinese/Georgian/TLG friends that I made at the guesthouse.

There are many many more things to do in Kutaisi, and I am sure I will be back to visit the churches, the American library, and of course, Suliko’s!

Nakh Vamdis!

Kacie Riann

 

Gizhebi Kartuli

Hello Readers, or should I say:

Gamarjoba Mimdevrebi,

My mind has been operating in anywhere from 2-4 languages (with Spanish and Czech being of almost zero assistance) for over a month now, and Kartuli (or “Georgian” as you probably know it) is not so easily learned.

First of all, my only language training before coming to Georgia was in Spanish and Czech. Now, you may have to add a squiggly line or a hook to those letters, but for the most part the languages look similar to English and nonthreatening. I did you a favor by writing the above Kartuli in the English transcription, but let’s take a look at the actual alphabet, shall we?

Featuring 6 variations of the number 3 and 7 letters that look like a version of the English “m.” This is one of only 14 alphabets currently in use in the world and it is only used in Georgia!

I am proud to announce that I can read and write with the above alphabet with a small margin of error, even recognizing different versions of the script such as the simplified handwriting. I’m even regarded amongst the other teachers in my district as the champion of pronunciation, although there are a few sounds that I physically can’t make.

Kartuli has the French R, ღ, which was also the only sound I couldn’t make in Czech. However, if I make kind of a whispery, throaty g sound I am usually understood. The ყ, which is transcribed in English as “qkh” sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. I try to use a short-winded k sound there, but this simple looking letter is a sound virtually nonexistent outside the Middle East/Caucasian region.

This language map shows how Georgian, in the grey, is all alone in the world. The Caucasian language family is isolated to Georgia, and includes Kartuli, Svan (spoken in the mountainous Svaneti region), and Megrelo (spoken in the Samegrelo region).

There is also an interesting phenomenon in Kartuli to have different versions of a letter based on whether the sound is aspirated or not. My linguist friend explained the difference by using the p sounds in the word “apple” and “pig.” The p in pig is aspirated, meaning you let out air as you say it. There are aspirated and non-aspirated versions of p, k, t, ts, and ch in Kartuli, but I have yet to understand when to use what. That’s where my “margin of error” is in the reading and writing.

Where I am falling short on my language training is definitely the vocab department. I can count to ten, tell my host family that I want or do not want something, and point at pictures of my home family and tell them who they are looking at in Kartuli, but beyond that I am at kind of a standstill.

Chemi da, chem, chemi deda, chemi mama, da chemi sami dzmebi

I did not realize until I was writing that caption that it’s the perfect example of some of the more confusing elements of Kartuli. For one, “da” means both “sister” and “and.” Also, because this is a former Soviet country, they are known to use Russian where da means “yes.” In addition, I did not mix up my parents in that photo. The word for father is “mama” and the word for mother is “deda.” My sister made a good point when she said that babies learn to make “m” and “d” sounds before any others, so in such a far removed language, it makes sense that the words would just be switched, but it still feels very wrong to call my father “mama.”

My goal is to commit to memory three new Georgian words and one grammar rule each day. For example, “sami dzmebi” means “3 brothers.” The word for brother is “dzma” but to make a word plural in Kartuli you add the suffix “ebi” and depending on the ending maybe drop a vowel, such as the “a” in “dzma.”

Now that I’ve filled your head with information that is probably completely useless to you, let me list some of my favorite words in Kartuli!

Gogo- girl (like a go-go dancer!)

Bitchi- boy (pronounced “beachy” but still)

Mastsavlebeli- teacher

Amerikeli – American

Mshvidobisa- peaceful

Sasiamovnoa- nice to meet you

Tualeti- toilet

Vai me! – expression, like “My God!”

Sakartvelo – Georgia (country)

Kartuli- Georgian (language)

Kartveli/Kartvelebi- Georgian/Georgians (people)

Lamazi- beautiful

Tsota- very little (useful for food, alcohol, or describing knowledge of Kartuli)

Dzaghli- dog (I like anything with the “dz” sound in it)

Bednieri- happy

Gamrieli- delicious

I will give more fun facts about Kartuli as I figure it out. The best thing you can take away from this is that if I say Kartuli, I mean Georgian, and if I say Sakartvelo, I mean Georgia. And also, that this language is freaking hard.

Nakh Vamdis! (Goodbye!)

ქეისი რამი (Kacie Rahm)

 

  • Pages

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 835 other followers

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories