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

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Slow Living, Fast Drivers

Gamarjoba!

It has been 2 weeks since I moved into my new home in Gut’uri, and I think I’m ready to give you a preliminary tour.

My family:

My family consists of 5 people +me. I have a host mother and father, Irma and Misha, a 16 year old host sister named Salome, and despite the information I was given at orientation, a 10 year old host brother (athough hey, maybe in Georgia ten is “adult”) named Mirza. I also have a host grandmother named Liana who sleeps in the guest house, and a 19 year old host sister named Lanuka who goes to University in Tbilisi.

My host parents! And my first experience with Georgian photobombing

My host mother is a doctor, and my host father does something with tires, though I haven’t been able to gather what that is yet. They have been married 20 years and are very sweet and love to show me off to their friends. My only complaint is that they are clearly trying to make me fat, feeding me at least 7 times a day and mainly providing me with bread and cheese.

Salome warms herself by the fire… which is part one of the moonshine operation. I’m not kidding.

Salome is my closest ally in the house because of her basic knowledge of English. The teachers recommended this family to TLG because she is the star student in their English classes. She is the liaison to the family, explaining my emotions and cultural differences to them, and she’s also pretty fun. She loves to dance, and the other day we bonded over a shared knowledge of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

That’s Mirza on the left with cousin Giorgi on the right, the 35th family member and 24th Giorgi I have met so far!

Mirza is super sweet and totally intrigued by me, but I rarely understand what he is saying. He loves running around the house and pointing at things he knows in English, which makes a lot of our conversations go something like: “Apple! Chair! Eggs! Table!” It makes me miss 2 and a half year old Matty when he was in that same stage. Mostly, Mirza plays Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and whines a lot, but I’m glad he’s not an adult.

My bebia declined to be photographed, but she is every bit the stereotype of a Georgian grandmother: slightly hunched over, hair wrapped in a scarf, ignoring her gout and operating the family farm day in and day out. She also tries to have lengthy conversations with me in Georgian despite my very, very loose grasp on the language.

My House:

Okay, so I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty sure my family is “village rich,” because I have a lot of amenities that the other TLGvs in my area don’t have. For example: a Western toilet, and indoor shower, a water heater, and a washing machine.

There it is ladies and gentleman, the bathroom that inflicts envy on my fellow teachers

But seriously, my house is like a fantasy world. There’s this really old foundation that’s been redone piece by piece on the inside, leaving some rooms looking somewhat decrepit, and some rooms looking majestically beautiful.

I have to climb a pretty janky set of stairs, which is more like a loft ladder, to get upstairs, but my room is immaculate. I have a desk, a mirror, a fireplace, a wardrobe and a double bed.

Can you spot my memorabilia from home?

The best part of the house, though, is probably the outside. Most of the families in the villages have little homesteads and make a lot of their own food. My family has cows, pigs, chickens, persimmons, apples, grapes, pomegranates, pears, mandarin oranges, sweet corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bees. They make their own dairy products (milk, cheese, cream cheese, butter), ketchup, honey, applesauce, red wine, white wine, chacha (moonshine), and more. They also have a giant room dedicated to jarred and pickled foods for the winter.

In case you couldn’t tell, that is a literal vat of white wine, next to a pumpkin and a giant pile of corn.

My School:

My school is pretty small, with only 98 students in grades 1-12. I only teach 1st-6th grade, and I have two co-teachers: Tsitsi and Shorena. So far, I’ve mostly been observing, but next week I will know how to better insert myself into the English lessons.

Gut’uri Public School: established over a century ago

Soon, I will get some photos of my students and co-teachers and will give you a lengthier post about my school. I’m sure it is clear that the building is ancient, and I fear for how cold it is going to be in the winter with it’s barely there walls and half-broken windows. My co-teacher asked me if we had schools this run down in America and I honestly don’t believe we do, even in the inner city. She informed me that the government promised to build them a new school in 2013, but with political powers changing, I’m not so sure that will happen.

My Village:

I thought growing up in Chelan would compare to village life, but boy was I wrong! Chelan was not a village. The other day, I walked the length of the village (roughly 1 mile) and found the “city center.” Here it is:

See that bus stop, that’s actually Guturi’s one store!

Also, you may have noticed that there are cows roaming the streets. This is normal. Also: sheep, chickens, pigs, goats, and horses. If you look closely you can see that the cows are tagged, there isn’t a stray cow crisis, they totally belong to people. The animals openly graze during the day, and then come to their owner’s gates at night and moo/oink loudly until they are let in. It is super bizarre.

The farm animals also add yet another layer to the terrifying driving that goes on, because not only are the cars careening around corners at 120km per hour, but they are dodging farm animals/people/potholes as well. When I am walking into town, I always leap onto the grass when I hear a car coming, because they slow their roll for nothing and nobody.

Drinking beer with the Georgians in the cubicle bar in Chokhatauri

Though my village is limited, I am only a fifteen minute walk from the district center, the “city” of Chokhatauri, which has 3 restaurants, two bars, a Sunday Bazaar, and a gas station. I have been meeting with my fellow Westerners at least once a week to speak English and swap stories. So far, it seems like I have the best deal. I’m fine with that!

So, there you have it folks, my new life in my new environment. I’ll keep you posted!

Kargad!

-Kacie Riann

 

 

Bed: The Final Destination

Hello Readers!

Welcome to Georgia, one free bottle of wine for every stamped passport

It turns out, my hotel in Tbilisi has Wifi, which is a great relief because now I can post pictures/blogs and not get too far behind.Also,  the Internet is the perfect activity to keep me awake a bit longer to adjust to the timezone, without requiring a lot of brainpower.

I am EXHAUSTED. The fact that I am a functional human being, and in addition, capable of writing a blog right now, is nothing short of a miracle. In the last 48 hours, I have slept for roughly 10. I flew for 17 of those hours, spent 18  in airports (with a brief visit into Warsaw), and the other 14 has been a flurry of checking into the hotel, sleeping for a bit, then jumping right into orientation.

This clock in Warsaw was a constant reminder of how long it would be until I would sleep again.

I have to admit that I haven’t gotten much of a chance to explore Tbilisi yet. I arrived at my hotel at 5:40 AM, and after having troubles with my room key didn’t get to sleep until 7:00. I slept until about 12:30, and spent lunch, our 3 hour orientation session, and dinner nodding off. I am nearing 10:00 P.M. local time, which was my goal for staying awake, so I am hoping that tomorrow I will be almost entirely adjusted. I have a full day of orientation, but there should be time in the evening for wandering the city.

If I can find the time between my medical check, orientation session, and meals…

I am excited to continue meeting people, which is crazier than I expected. My volunteer group has 109 people, a TLG record high, so  I am incredibly thankful for the name tags. I am also excited for the training and eventually finding out where I will be living and who my host family is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, I plan to spend 10 hours here

I will try to post pretty frequently since my internet situation is unknown after orientations, until then, good night readers!

-Kacie Riann

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