A smokey night in Kobuleti

•28 November, 2010 • 1 Comment

It has become a habit to go to my couterpart Nato’s flat on Sunday evening. Yes flat, that is what they call apartments in British English. So I headed over after a long weekend of camaraderie with Alissa (PCV in Khutsubani). I was tired and still generally agitated about the state of things. Nothing terribly specific, just the state of things. I arrive to her third floor apartment and she greets me with a smile. She has purchased some instant coffee, candies and cookies for us to share. She was in a good mood having decided that her life was good as compered to the women she has been reading about. The last time I was in Tbilisi, I  brought back some novels from PC office for her to read. She loves romances and the office is lousy with them. Her first selection is by Jude Deveraux entitled The Summerhouse. She has taken it upon herself to make a list of words she doesn’t understand and write a summary of the events in each chapter. We go over the words, me explaining and often pantomiming the ones not found in the dictionary. This makes her laugh as I am often given to theatrics in the explanation. So Nato, realized that compared to the difficulties in the book, her life is fine. We discuss how every family has problems whether you are married or not. True enough.

I share with her some of my concerns in my living situation and she assures me that I have little to worry about. We share a joke about whether I want to eat the cookies she bought or the candy. Georgians will often ask “You don’t want candy?” (ar ginda conpeti?) or “You’re not hungry?” (ar gshia?) to simply ask, would you like some cookies or are you hungry. This confused me greatly early on as I felt put on the defensive after such a question. She explained that this is just the way it is asked and I haven’t given it a second thought other than when she jokes with me.

We go over her self imposed homework correcting her writing and discussing the book in general. A friend of her brother’s came by and we visited a while deciding, again, that I should have a Georgian husband. Nato and I laughed and she explained that this is a common suggestion.

At 9:30 I have to get going. She expresses her gratitude to me and tells me that she would like to help me. I explain that being able to share with her, in confidence, my cultural confusions is a great help to me.

I head down stairs and out into the darkness watching for the little dog that always barks as I round the corner toward my house. I look down the road and there is a thick haze of smoke. Families are using their wood stoves, petchis, to heat their houses.  The lights glow and as I look down a side street to cars passing, I am reminded of that scene in the Exorcist when Father Merrin stands outside of Regan’s house under the street light. It is very romantic and I can’t help but imagine the streets of a gas lit London. I have been reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and tis the season of A Christmas Carol.

A nice scene that I was inspired to share. I am listening to Georgian radio and have plans to study in the morning. Nato inspires me to reassert my language acquisition efforts.

We had water downstairs when I got home, so life is looking up. Teeth brushed, face washed and time for bed.



I got bit by a dog!

•27 November, 2010 • 1 Comment

That’s right. I figured it up, as I had not made note of the date at the occurrence, that it happened on September 16th, 2010. This is, so far, the most detrimental thing to have happened to me in Georgia to date. Ok, that is dramatic. It is probably the most exciting thing though and I dined on it for weeks. Here is how it went down:

It was a Thursday and I was heading back from school. I live behind the school and I can take a shortcut through the yard to get home. Usually there was a young yellow dog there to bark at me as I came and went. I had been making his acquittance for a while at this point so wasn’t disturbed when he started in. It was about 4:15pm and my inaugural English Club had just ended. We had decided the basic aim of the club and I had a chance to see what level of students were going to show up. So the yellow dog is barking and he is immediately joined by Bambucha, a mid sized black dog from the street. He was the baby-daddy of my families’ dog’s puppies. So I knew both of these dogs as well as one knows dogs in Georgia. Because of the hour, no one was around. Usually, there are men loitering behind the school discussing the days business or washing the school vehicles. So I continued to walk my normal rout home when Bambucha moves out of sight. Just as I was wonder where he went, I feel something grab the back of my ankle. I turn, and there he is. At this moment, I find it humorous that my first response was “Oh no you didn’t!” He is barking at me and I pick up a stone and feign throwing. He and the yellow dog run away barking. I am non-plussed and lift the leg of my jeans to see what had happened. A few scrapes but nothing terrible. I walk toward the school and pause again. I check the other side of my ankle and sure enough, one tooth got through.

Let me take a moment to express my gratitude to Levi Strauss & Co. and whatever possessed me to wear jeans on such a warm day. My insistence on propriety in English club, saved me from a much worse injury.

So there it is, a hole and blood. I am annoyed. I am generally put-out when I am injured. Maybe it is a coping mechanism. Jeeze! Now I have to stop the bleeding, clean it out, call the doctor. *sigh* I think it masks my concern. So I make it into th school and see a student from one of my classes, Salome. I ask her for a towel or napkin (both words I know in Georgian) and she asked why. I showed her and she gets excited and disappears. I sit down in the hallway and call the PC doctor. I am explaining what has happened and she is running through some official chart type questions when Salome returns with teachers and no towel. Everyone is loud and more people come to look. I get up and move outside to explain the noise to the doctor. I will call her later. I go back in and ask for a napkin and no one is listening. On teacher tells me “Don’t worry, dog has infection!” She is corrected and laughs “Injection! Dog has injection!” (for the record, the dog did not have injection or infection). Finally, I look one teacher in the eyes and tell her I want a napkin. She responds and I am able to put some pressure on the wound and slow the bleeding. After some brief discussion of where I should go, I decide to walk home. I ask if anyone could drive me, but my Georgian is terrible and they congratulate me on having access to a car. I walk home, trying not to aggravate the injury but it continues to bleed. A few minutes later I am home and per the doctors orders I head towards the bathroom to rinse it. My host father sees me and I ask for soap. He gets excited at the site and tells Marie to get soap. I go upstairs and wash my ankle and rinse it. I talk to the doctor and make arrangements to get to Tbilisi for a rabies shot.

That night, I laid down with a frozen bottle of vodka on my ankle and made phone calls. The first to my parents to inform them before they found out on facebook. The second to Denise to ask about the bet we had made during PST. We all threw in betting on who would get bitten on a dog first. No one bet on me but the money was long spent anyway. I told her she was a terrible bookie. She would later offer to buy me a coke. I declined the gesture.

The next morning I went to Tbilisi and made it to my shot with an hour to spare. I got to stay in Tbilisi through Monday, when I received a second shot and went home. I returned to work and on that Thursday called the doctor and arrangements were made for antibiotics and more thorough cleaning on my part. I took the day off and got the worst case of pink eye I have ever had.

It took two months for the scab to finally fall off. Yeah gross, sorry. So here are the pictures. It is an odd angle so my ankle looks unusual.


Edit ( 28 November 2010) I forgot to add that about a month later, the dog was shot. I was sitting in my room when I heard the first shot. I knew it was a handgun and then I heard the second. I laid down in my bed because I am an alarmist (apparently). The shots were coming from the school yard. Dogs were barking and howling and I knew what was happening. I heard the last shot and immediately wished the shooter had had better aim. I was sad for that dog.

The next day in the cafeteria, the driving instructor, while slurping his soup, grinned and pantomimed a gun as he told me they killed the dog that bit me. I told him that I knew.

Вы можете говорить грузинской?

•2 August, 2010 • 2 Comments

Literal translation: “You can speak Georgian?” or close enough.

Last week went pretty well. I went to the beach on both Sundays. Much to my shock, I discovered I was peeling on my right arm. *grumble* I finished up my summer camp on Wednesday, greeted a group of Armenians on Friday and went hiking with them on Saturday.

The main focus of the summer camp was cultural exchange and “Dealing with complaints”. Nato, my Georgian counterpart, seemed to enjoy herself as well.

The Armenians were in town to sign an agreement between their vocational school and ours. They seemed a jovial lot and a three of them spoke quite a bit of English. I find it interesting that the common language between Georgia and Armenia is Russian.

Russian is spoken all over the Caucuses and up into eastern Europe. People find it odd that I don’t speak Russian even when they know I am American. I have to point out the geographical proximities. In Kobuleti, however, I am a tourist and therefore, speak Russian. When I was buying a beach umbrella I asked how much it was and the woman answered in Russian (at least I know when someone is speaking Russian!). I apologized and said that I didn’t speak Russian, how much is it. She looked at me and repeated the Russian number. I laughed and apologized again and explained that I am American and speak English and Georgian. She was amazed and we continued in Georgian. There was a bystander that,l I guess, thought I was kidding and insisted on speaking to me in Russian. At first I thought she was talking to the clerk but no. I repeated the spiel about not speaking Russian and she got louder and so I finally smiled and spoke to her in English. Maybe she only spoke Russian, who knows. After I switched to English she belly laughed and walked away. Most of the time, people will gladly speak Georgian with me. One older woman was so amazed that we didn’t speak Russian that she pinched us on the arm and called us good girls. I think  Russian is a bit of a mixed blessing in these parts.

It is also confusing when I am trying to speak Georgian and the other person is speaking English. Invariably, the message is lost. I switch to English and they don’t understand or they switch to Georgian and I am lost. The lesson is, order off the menu and don’t try to get fancy. One time I was at McDonalds in Tbilisi trying to order in Georgian. The guy at the register was speaking English. I was determined and continued on in Georgian. I “won” and we concluded the transaction in Georgian. A few minutes later, I decided to use the restroom. I approached the same young man and asked, in Georgian, where the bathroom was. He replied “osdhjfiouhgw paosjnfiashju njlkzjbdcihskhbgvsdc.” (That is not Georgian, that is me typing gobblediguk) I swallowed my pride and asked “Where is the bathroom?” he replied “Upstairs and to the left.” Sooo I try not to get too insistent on the English/Georgian thing (the operative word there is try). Incidentally a similar thing happened to me at a Burger King in Paris. I asked in perfect French what sorts of ice cream they had. The woman at the register pointed to the case right next to me and listed the varieties in English. That was a double whammy because I didn’t see the freezer case. Damn!

Bio Section: If I remember, I am going to try to introduce people to you here.

Nato – 42 and single. She lives with her brother and his family (as far as I can glean). She had hip surgery 2 years ago and still walks with a limp. Her parents died earlier this year and it weighs on her. Her nephew, Irakli, comes to school most days. He likes the Power Rangers and is generally a good kid. She always wears a black dress. She is a bit timid but is open to change. I have high hopes for our work.

a’ brewin for next week: I am completely stressed out about teaching these students from India! Why can’t we have a schedule? Hopefully I will be feeling more confident. I am also going to the mountains next week.

An unmotivated post

•23 July, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well I have been in Kobuleti for 2 weeks. We finished up classes on Monday (I was in Tbilisi) and started a Summer Camp on Wednesday. All is going well.

I was thinking about how it took over a month to feel comfortable in my last host family. I am doing well here but I have become a bit “lazy”. Last week i was jogging at the beach. This week I am hitting the snooze button. I hope it is just an adjustment thing and that I will out and about in no time. So far I have been to the bazaar, the school, the store next to the school and to the sea side for jogging only. Why haven’t I been swimming? A good question. I was just happy to find the store.

In other news, I went to Tbilisi to pick up a box form customs. Evidently if the worth of the package is over 300 lari then it gets stopped. I, and 4 other volunteers, waited for 2 and a half hours. Luckily they used a number system and despite a power failure, we didn’t have to stay in the building. I got a nice meat thing, not unlike a gyro (but not that meat, just chicken on the same type of rotating thing). Tachala let me yammer on and on at her.

My school director went into the hospital yesterday with some heart complaints. It seems he is ok but needs more tests. Since I live with his siter, I get all the info. They are pretty worried about him. He is a good guy.

My internet for skype is giving me trouble. I thought I had it licked by borrowing my host brother’s dsl but, I called my mom and the connection kept dropping.

So, in the spirit of ending on an up note… I do like my family and they like me. My job is good and my counterpart seems to like me. My town is cool (not literally of course) and I look forward to exploring it.

Until next time or next week, whichever comes first,


Sittin’ in the morning sun

•26 June, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Saturday half-day. On one hand, having class on Saturday sucks. Accepting this reality, it is great to have half a day off. We get the same breaks but more variety in the school yard. Lately we have been joined my Mura, a trainee’s host-dog.  The dog just wanders around town getting into trouble.

On a less grumbly note, Alissa is coming over today for the “cluster exchange”. We are heading over to Samantha’s for cookie making, The Princess Bride and spaghetti making. I am excited. I hope it is as relaxing as I anticipate.

A short post for a short day.


No matter what the weather, we always sit on the steps.

•22 June, 2010 • 1 Comment

So I get to school for class at 8:30am. I will note that almost any person I meet on the road to school I greet with either “Gamarjoba(t)” or “Dilamshvidobis”. The first a general greeting (t makes it formal!) and the second is like “Good Morning” just a bit more dramatic and cool. People respond in different ways but it was exciting the first couple of weeks. I was disappointed to discover that you should only “Gamarjoba(t)” someone once a day. Needless to say, I keep a few greetings in my pocket just in case.

When the kids were in school, I would inevitably walk with a few and I exhaust my Georgian in a few feet. They like speaking the little English they can and we both walk away pretty satisfied with the exchange. As I entered school yard, various students would come up and ask “Good morning, how are you?” I reply with an enthusiastic if formulaic “Very well, thank you!” I quickly discovered that the kids expect a British response so I oblige them. This exchange is followed by the very Amercian high-five and I go in for class.

We have a 4 hour block of language in the morning. There have been schedule changes and shifts and accommodations, but the majority of days are like this. We have 2 fifteen-minute breaks at about 10:15 and 11:30. Some mornings can really drag on. There are 5 students in the class and our teacher is Ana. The class is generally pretty well behaved with an undercurrent of sarcastic side comments aimed at each other. The teacher is young and earnest and rarely deserves criticism.

After class, we head to lunch at one of our houses. My house is the least popular due to its proximity or lack there of to the school. One of the trainees (what we are until we are sworn in) attends classes in a different village so he generally joins us late. We have a standard sort of meal which I will try to get pics of. Side note: traveling with rechargeable batteries is absolutely worth it. D’oh!

So that is the afternoon. The kids are out of school now so breaks are pretty boring. Before we would go out and engage groups of children in a string of introductions or high-fives but now, well sometimes I throw rocks. Occasionally one of the trainees will try to catch a chicken or we will walk to the closest makhazia (tiny store)  for snacks.

One correction from the last post: It isn’t ramemshvidobis it is ghamemshvidobis. The gh is like a french r.


So far, so far, so good

•21 June, 2010 • 6 Comments

Morning routine:

Monday through Saturday I get up around 7am, get dressed and head downstairs for breakfast. We have a toilet attached to the house so I take care of business and eat whatever there is. Breakfast is generally small (after much negotiation) consisting of one or two of the following: runny oatmeal (porridge), bread, eggs, khatcho (a fresh cheese), sour cream, jam, honey, peanut butter, and nutella. I will drink some instant coffee and head out the door, up the stairs and out the gate at about 8am. I then walk to school which takes about 20 minutes. Lately it is taking longer due to some major water improvements that require the road to be completely destroyed. I make my way through th gauntlet of mud, wood planks and livestock. There are always cows, pigs and chickens along the way. Dogs are  omnipreasant which is probably why there aren’t many cats.

The food issue is just that, an issue. It is no surprise that one of the first imperatives I learned was “Tchame!” or “Eat!” My host grandmother or bebia, is very concerned with what I eat. I never eat enough and it pains her. I am continually asked “Are you on a diet?” to which I just laugh and say nothing. I used to try to explain one thing or another but it isn’t that important to me anymore. In the last month and a half we have had three serious discussions about what I like to or what I will eat. I am pretty easy to please but the heart of the problem is this: I will not eat as much as she think I should. It does not help that in the beginning I would try to eat a little of everything and not say that I didn’t want anything. I was trying to be polite but now I just say that I don’t want something and let her do her thing. It is really a good exercise in how to stand up for what you want without being offensive but also not trying to control someone else’s response. Yay growth!

I am writing downstairs with my bebia. She is watching TV and has asked the “How much was that?”. The cultural norm for money discussions is a lot different. I told her that I got it (net book) for my birthday and it cost $200. She makes $400 GEL a month with her pension. So yeah. It does nothing for the misconception that all Americans are rich. It isn’t really an issue. She will tell the neighbors and they will think what they will but the Minister of Education in Georgia is trying to give all kids in school laptops so it isn’t a crazy idea that i have one.

In the spirit of saving something to write about tomorrow, I will close.