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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

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)


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