One month in

ImageIt’s been a bit since I’ve “officially” checked in. Life has been VERY busy. For the past week and a half, we’ve had language classes in the afternoon so that the teaching volunteers could do their teaching practicum at school. It is amazing how tired afternoon language classes make me. Luckily today we switched back to morning language classes and I actually have a little bit of energy tonight.

Spring is in full bloom here in Georgia. ჩემ ეზოში (In my garden) the flowers are blooming. The photo above is of our peonies. And the roses are beginning to bloom. It’s beautiful. In about two weeks, we’ll have massive amounts of cherries from our cherry tree. I can’t wait. Tonight I’m writing from my third story perch where I often sit and privately take in the cacophony that is the Georgian spring. I can here frogs from the river one block over, dogs barking everywhere, and in a few hours the birds that chirp all night long will begin their singing. There is a reason that Peace Corps does training in the spring. The weather has been glorious since we arrived at our training site. It has been as welcoming as the people.

The big event of the past week was our community project. The IOD volunteers worked with community members to execute small community projects. We had less than a week to plan and implement them which seemed like an impossible task until we found an incredible partner in a local school’s civics club. We did the project this past Sunday. The US Embassy did a little facebook feature on our projects. I also posted a number of photos from the day on my own facebook page, if you are interested. Following the project, the students took us on an excursion to Surami, a nearby village which is a tourism hotspot. It was a great day. But exhausting. And we did it on what was supposed to be our one free day for the next few weeks. I could definitely use a day off. But there are none in sight.

On Sunday, I’ll set off to Tkibuli for my jobshadowing trip where Tiffany (fellow trainee) and I will be staying with a current Peace Corps volunteer. We’ll be visiting the organization she works for and there is a rumor we may even get McDonald’s. I will admit I never thought I’d be so excited for McDonalds. But after a full month of Georgian food (which is very good, don’t get me wrong), I’m ready for something of a change in cuisine. And I haven’t had beef in more than a month. Of course, whether one can consider what McDonald’s serves to be beef is debatable. But I’m ready for anything that resembles beef at this point. We’ll be away from our training site until Wednesday. That in itself is pretty exciting. And it will be our first independent outing in Georgia. So, it should be interesting.

Next weekend we get to take another independent trip (our cultural trip) to a site of our choosing. I’m headed to Kutaisi with two friends, Kristen and Melissa. Kutaisi is the second largest city in Georgia, the home of parliament, and has some major historical sites. In addition, it also has some pretty cool caves nearby which we plan on exploring. But I’ll admit my motivation for wanting to go to Kutaisi is the french restaurant I’ve heard tell of. It’s questionable whether or not we’ll have the money for it. But I’m hoping. (Are you picking up on the food theme here?) At any rate, I’m looking forward to exploring some more of Georgia.

We also had our site interviews this week. Site interviews are intended to help the staff determine where would be the best fit for us for our permanent placements. They make this decision based on numerous factors including our skills, the organizations’ needs, our preferences regarding the type of work we’d like to do, etc. I’m pretty open to any sort of placement, but I am hoping to work with an organization that focuses on empowering women and/or democracy building. We’ll find out on June 10, which believe it or not is just around the corner!

The last big event of the last few weeks is language class switch ups. On Monday they shuffled the language classes a bit in order to accomodate different learning speeds. I made the jump from the class which was likely the lowest level class to a mid-level class. So, the damage done by not having my alphabet down when I arrived has now officially been repaired. Language is coming along better than I expected it to although I need to do more speaking to get quicker. It’s all in my head, but it comes out rather slowly. This is where being more of a talker would be helpful. I’m pretty content to sit in relative silence at meals with my host family but that isn’t going to help develop my speaking skills. Eka continually entreats me “sprechen! sprechen!”. Yep, that’s German. German has served as a common language for us as we both know a tiny bit. Never thought my miniscule German knowledge would serve me in any way. I definitely learned more Georgian in one month here than I learned German in four semesters in college. That would be entirely my fault though.

Life is good here. I’ve had my moments of wondering if I’ll survive two years of certain aspects of Georgian culture. But for the most part, I’m very happy here. And I’ve been really impressed with the work that current volunteers are doing with their organizations and in their communities. The impact that they are having is far greater than I expected. So, I’m pretty psyched to get my own assignment and get to work.

Advertisements

Laundry Day!

Image

Yep, that’s my underwear hanging out for the whole neighborhood to see! So, today, finding I had more energy after class than I have of late, I decided it was time to tackle a big chore, my laundry. This is the first time I’ve done laundry since I left for Georgia on April 21st. I’ve been meaning to do it for a few weekends in a row but just haven’t had the time. They keep us pretty busy.

Normally I wouldn’t bother updating you on something so mundane as doing laundry. However, since this is Georgia, a developing country, I thought you might be interested in learning about what laundry means in Georgia. No, I didn’t take it to the river and wash it with stones (although I’ve talked to one PCV who does just that). My family is in the midrange in terms of convenience regarding laundry. Some of my fellow trainees have automats (washing machines) that work much like our own, although I have yet to talk to anyone who has a dryer. My family has a washing tub which you fill with hot water, add detergent, and turn on. It then agitates the water, thus, washing your clothes. After it is done, you wring them out and throw them in a bucket full of clean hot water to rinse them. Wring out again and hang them on the line. Since I hadn’t done laundry in three weeks, this was a bigger task than it should have been. I had a whopping 23 pairs of underwear that all needed to be rinsed, wrung, and hung. It could have been worse. If my family didn’t have a water heater (which many don’t), I would have had to heat the water on the stove before doing any of this. #bethankfulforthelittlethings. 

Although I recognize that in a few months I will likely be weeping for the high-efficiency front loading washer and dryer I sold in my move, at the moment, I’m appreciating the fact that this laundry experience was still much easier than it is/was for many of the people in the world today and certainly in the past. A great opportunity to recognize the privilege that Americans live in (whether rich or poor). And all in all, there was something satisfying about doing my laundry mostly by hand. 

In other news (does doing laundry qualify as news?), language continues to go well although verb conjugation in Georgian is not much fun. Well, it isn’t so much the conjugation as it is the fact that in Georgian the infinitive (ex. to drink) is often unrecognizable in its conjugated forms (ex. I drink, you drink, he drinks, etc). So, when learning a verb, you not only have to learn the conjugation but also the infinitive form which is pretty much an entirely different word. Oy vey! Add to that the fact that this week our language lessons have switched (temporarily) to the afternoon instead of the morning and you get a brain-dead Betsy.

But to make up for it, in our tech classes (now taking place in the morning), we are working on a great community project with a group of really impressive high school students. We’ll be executing the project this Sunday (which WAS our only day off for several weeks!). I’ll be sure to post about it then. And I haven’t forgotten that I also need to write about my Easter weekend which included my first supra. Still to come.

My first birthday in Georgia

My birthday flowers from my host family.

My birthday flowers from my host family.

Written on May 8, 13

So, today was the first of three birthdays I will spend in Peace Corps. And if this birthday is any indication, they should be some great birthdays. The day was filled with small kindnesses and thoughtfulness from many people I didn’t know three weeks ago. It made my day. I woke at 7:00 am to a call from someone pretty special back in the states who wanted to be the first to wish me a happy birthday. It was a nice way to wake up (even if I did go back to sleep). That “morning person” thing certainly didn’t last long. But I guess I wouldn’t really know who I was anymore if I suddenly became a morning person. My host mom made me kashi (cream of wheat) for breakfast because she knows I like it. Normally that is reserved for a weekend breakfast. My language classmates greeted me with birthday wishes and promises of a gift of decaffeinated tea when it could be procured. Georgians don’t really get the point of decaffeinated tea (but then neither do most Americans). In the afternoon, other fellow trainees gifted me with some highly prized gifts including some awesome smoked string cheese they sell here, a giant kinder egg, Fanta (which I love), and some freshly picked flowers. After class, a couple of us then went for ice cream. Georgian ice cream is pretty damn good even if it is prepackaged and on a stick. It’s no Hedonist, but it costs about a 1/10 of the price, so there’s that. When I got home, my host family had left gifts for me on the table outside my room, some beautiful handpicked flowers and some Georgian lotion. So very thoughtful. And this evening my neighbors, who were visiting, surprised me with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.  Add to that the many facebook wishes (which always make me happy) and I had a pretty good birthday, which is nice because last night I was feeling a bit down (it may have been hangover induced, more on that later). 

In addition to a great birthday, I also had a good day in school. My language is coming along quicker than I expected. My fears of being incapable of learning another language have subsided and, while becoming proficient will be challenging, it is comforting to know that I’m where I am supposed to be at the moment.  In the afternoon, the IOD (business) volunteers all went to Gori (birthplace of the still revered Stalin) to interview NGOs as practice for the capacity assessment we will later be doing for the NGOs to which we are ultimately assigned. It was an eye opening experience. NGOs here are largely dependent on international funding as the public does not have the discretionary income to support these organizations and their own government doesn’t have much either. So, foundations like the Open Society are essential here. George Soros is a well-known name here. I’m pretty excited to get to my final site in mid-July and start learning about the organization I will be working with for the next two years. And in the process, I feel like I’m going to develop a lot of very valuable skills that will undoubtedly help me for years to come in my career. 

This past weekend was Orthodox Easter; so, we had a four-day holiday. What I expected to be a relaxing long weekend turned into an extremely busy weekend. But I’ll share more on that later. For now I’ll just say it included an excursion to a local village Surami to visit an ancient castle among other things, another to a beautiful mountain town Borjomi (I’ll definitely be returning there), my first supra (Georgian feast), and a rather drunken picnic in a cemetery.

Has it really only been a few days?

Written on Tuesday, April 30

I’ve been with my host family for three full days and I feel as if I have been here for months. For a Georgian family, my family is very small. Families often have many generations in one house and mine is no different. However, it is a small three-generation family. That suits me perfectly. It is a fairly quiet home but very warm and welcoming. Neighbors stop by frequently and are always welcomed with chai (tea) or k’ava (coffee) and bread or sweets.

I have plenty of motivation to learn the language as I can’t wait to be able to have real conversations with Eka as I’m sure we will be good friends. She strikes me as the kind of person I would make friends with anywhere. She’s been a great teacher quizzing me regularly (and I, in turn, am helping her learn English). At this rate, my vocabulary will far surpass my fellow volunteers. We’ll see how that works out. Probably only twenty percent of it sticks at the moment and I’m a little slow in piecing anything together to make a coherent thought. I have to remember, even though it feels as if it has been months, I’ve only had four language lessons so far. I have to say, the Peace Corps language program is pretty amazing.

This weekend is Easter weekend according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar. So, we have a four-day weekend. We are off Good Friday and the following Monday. On the Monday after Easter, it is traditional to go to the cemetery and have a picnic near your loved one’s graves. I’m not sure what my family has planned for the weekend. I asked Eka if she would go to church on Easter and she said she would go and light a candle. Well, she pantomimed it. So, I’m not sure if that means that is all they do or what. I guess I shall see. I am hoping that we’ll do the Good Friday tradition of coloring eggs. Here they dye eggs red to represent the blood of Christ. No other colors. Their lent lasts 50 days (instead of 40) and they are allowed no fish or meat, much more strict than Catholics in the US. During Holy Week (the week before Easter) they don’t eat dairy or eggs either. Apparently my family isn’t very devout as we have had fish and dairy all this week. I’ve had chicken soup but I’ve not seen them eat it.

Meals here are interesting. I have yet to sit down for a meal with the whole family. There is always at least one person missing and many times it is just Eka and I eating. Georgians do not typically all eat meals at the same time except during a Supra (which I’m sure I’ll have a chance to experience and blog about at some point in the future). They seem to eat smaller meals through out the day. Their last meal is usually at about 10 pm. I’ll admit I have yet to see that meal as I’m usually falling asleep at about that time. Eka stays up until midnight usually, which is pretty normal for Georgians. Why I would become an early to bed, early to rise person upon coming to a late night country, I have no idea! But it doesn’t seem to be shifting. I’m sure when PST is over and I’m not so busy, I’ll shift back to my natural state.

As I’m sure is evident, I’m really enjoying it here so far. The language training, while tough, feels productive. I’m excited for the work I’ll be doing (which I’ll go into more some other time). And I feel super lucky with my host family, particularly Eka. I also really appreciate the pace here and the connection to nature in every day life. No one here lives in a hermetically-sealed plastic bubble. We spend evenings sitting on the front porch looking out at the garden (and the outhouse). My mint tea comes straight from the garden and I can’t wait for cherries from the tree in the garden. Clothes are hung on the line to dry. The doors to the house are left open all day. Of course, it helps that since I got toKhashuri the weather has been perfect. Clear blue skies and mid-70s everyday. Perhaps all of this wouldn’t seem so idyllic with a blanket of snow on the ground and no heat.

The view from my balcony.

The view from my balcony.

PST officially begins

Written on Sunday, April 28

Khashuri, my home for the next three months. A dingy town surrounded by beautiful mountains. But filled with secret gardens.

Khashuri, my home for the next three months. A dingy town surrounded by beautiful mountains. But filled with secret gardens.

So, I’ve officially arrived in Khashuri where I will be doing my pre-service training (PST) for the next 11 weeks. Yesterday afternoon my fellow volunteers and I were dropped at the town square, introduced to our new host families and sent on our way. I’ve been extremely anxious about this for the past few days but was feeling fairly calm when the moment came. Mostly because I was given information on what my household would consist of and I liked it. My host-mother is named Eka. She is one-year older than me. She lives with her mother-in-law, Tsira, 65 and two sons, Giga and Nika, 20 and 18. It is a woman-run household which makes me quite comfortable. Eka’s husband has been working in Ukraine for the past three years. Last night one of the neighbor girls shared that Nika will be moving to Germany for work in a month and a half also. Giga, who is the only one in the household who speaks a little English, is a student and spends Tuesday through Thursday in Tbilisi at school. Eka is a teacher.

The family was very welcoming but didn’t overwhelm me. So far Eka and I have spent a lot of time alternately looking at our phrase books, pointing and naming. “Tree” = “khe”. “mezobeli” = “neighbor”. Neighbors are a big part of the family life. As soon as I arrived, a neighbor came by to meet me. Later she and her teenage daughter arrived which was helpful as the daughter, who is in her first year at University, had studied English for three years and was able to help us communicate. This morning Eka and I took a short walk and she introduced me to many neighbors as we walked up the street. I didn’t understand much of what was said but did hear “cargi gogo” a lot. “Cargi gogo” is a very important concept here. It means “good girl”. Apparently, a woman’s reputation is the most important possession in Georgia. Establishing yourself as a “cargi gogo” as an American is especially important because they’ve seen Jersey Shore. Drinking (too much), smoking, smiling at unknown men, dressing unmodestly (skirt above the knee) would all make you not a good girl. Snooky ar aris cargi gogo! (Snooky is not a good girl!)

I had my first “this is Georgia” moment this morning. While I was sitting in my room waiting for others in the house to wake up,I heard a bell ringing as it moved up the street. Although my room is on the second floor, it has a window that is level with the street behind us. I thought the bell was perhaps a street vendor going by. Nope! It was cows being herded up the street by a man and his young son! At least twenty of them.Keep in mind, I’m in a fairly large town, not a village. Georgia is definitely going to be interesting.

I guess I should say something about my accommodations for the next three months. My room is beautiful. It is probably the largest room I’ve ever had (which isn’t necessarily saying a lot as I’ve never had a large room). It is very comfortable and has plenty of room for all of my clothing. (Side not: When I was unpacking, I was wondering why in the hell I brought so many clothes. I packed very poorly.) I can easily come and go as I please as my bedroom door has easy access to the street behind me. Nice for privacy although I can’t imagine really needing it. The house itself is quite large; it has three floors although the third doesn’t appear to be used. Eka brought me up there to show me the view from the balcony which is beautiful and I’ll be sure to take a photo to share. The ground floor is the living area including the kitchen (samzareulo), living room (misaghebiotakhi), and bathroom (abazana). The bathroom does have running water and hot shower, which makes me pretty privileged. However, in Georgia there is a distinction between abazana and t’ualet’i (sound it out). The t’ualet’I here is an outhouse in the yard with a Turkish toilet (look it up). That will take some getting used to.

Anyway, so far so good. I’ve been feeling more tired since I got here than I have the entire time so far. Turns out, struggling to communicate is exhausting. This afternoon I meet up with my cluster mates (5 of us) to explore the town a bit. Looking forward to that. I’ll take photos.