Saturday, November 26, 2011

Going to the Country, Blank Slates, and Work

Sunset off of Bishte Pauli (Paul's Tail) on the Adriatik

An elder sister came to visit her younger sister in the country. The elder was married to a tradesman in town, the younger to a peasant in the village. As the sisters sat over their tea talking, the elder began to boast of the advantages of town life: saying how comfortably they lived there, how well they dressed, what fine clothes her children wore what good things they ate and drank, and how she went to the theatre, promenades, and entertainments.

The younger sister was piqued, and in turn disparage the life of a tradesman, and stood up for that of a peasant.

'I would not change my way of life for yours,' said she. We may live roughly, but at least we are free from anxiety. You live in better style than we do but though you often earn more than you need, you are very likely to lose all you have. You know the proverb, "Loss and gain are brothers twain." It often happens that people who are wealthy one day are begging their bread the next. Our way is safer. Though a peasant's life is not a fat one, it is a long one. We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.'

The elder sister said sneeringly:

'Enough? Yes, if you like to share with the pigs and the calves! What do you know of elegance or manners! However much your goodman may slave, you will die as you are living -- on a dung heap -- and your children the same.'

'Well, what of that?' replied the younger. 'Of course our work is rough and coarse. But, on the other hand, it is sure; and we need not bow to any one. But you, in your towns, are surrounded by temptations; to-day all may be right, but to-morrow the Evil One may tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to ruin. Don't such things happen often enough?'

(From Leo Tolstoy's short story, How Much Land Does a Man Need?)

'Surrounded by temptations' isn't exactly how I would describe Tirana, but this excerpt from Tolstoy's famous story/parable about greed still relates to my sabbatical from blogging. When I first got to Bandza, there were very few ways to pass the time. I was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farming land, pigs, and cattle. I worked approximately three to five hours in a day (and that was at the beginning when I took matters more seriously). The only way I could pass the time was by running, reading, and writing.

And, man, did I write; I was pumping out three posts a week at times. Now I'm sitting down to write for the first time in three months. What the hell happened? I can't say Georgia got less interesting, because that was never the case (and I still have all those list posts that I had promised, I just need to add content). But as I spent more time in Georgia, I started to spend less time in Bandza (and more time in Martvili, Senaki, and Tbilisi). The time I did spend in Bandza was consumed with tutoring my host-brothers, playing volleyball, basketball, or soccer with my students, and drinking a lot of wine (when the weather gets better, we have a ton of impromptu suphras in Bandza).

My summer inactivity has already been explained, but Tirana was a fresh start. I was planning on a GNJB Renaissance! After finishing up my Georgian thoughts, I would get to breaking down Tirana and Albania. It would be the Autumn of Max!

But then I got here and realized that my first three months here would be nothing like Bandza. Tirana was a city, I lived on my own, I didn't have a social support group like TLG (which meant I had to spend twice as much time cultivating relationships and friends), and I had work...

There's a lot I still want to say about TLG, but this post isn't about that. Either way, my teaching job in Bandza was pretty simple and easy. I taught between 2-4 lessons a day, and towards the end of the year, sometimes I would teach one lesson and then go home. I'm still proud of the work I did, and I know that some students really improved their conversational English during my time there, but at times, my job was a bit of a joke.

My job now is far from a joke. I teach 25 hours a week, run social and sports clubs, and spend most of my other time meeting with students outside of class (something I beg them to do). On top of that, I have lesson plans that must be typed out in advance; an extremely meticulous and bureaucratic task. I also have a student outside of school who I teach once a week, while I have Albanian lessons twice a week.

I'm fuckin' busy, man.

But that doesn't mean I don't miss writing, which is why I'm trying to get back into it. Reading through my last few posts, I have found myself writing just for the sake of excuses. The only way I can stop that is by posting consistently. I'm not going to promise anything, mainly because I'm sick of breaking those promises. But I'm going to Kosovo today for the four day weekend (apparently they celebrate Independence Day harder in Prestina than they do in Tirana), but after I get back, I have three weeks until my winter break. In that time, I'm going to write.

But first I must get away from the city...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Can't Even Blame the Kindle...

Used car shopping in Chicago whilst diving into Lake Michigan

... because I did not read at all while home. And no, it's not because I was watching mindless TV (although my dad did make my sister and I watch the highlights of Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus). I really haven't gotten around to writing anything since I've been home mainly because I've been traveling like a Depression-era carny.

I went to Washington DC (missed the earthquake, though), Frederick, MD, New York City, Toledo, OH, Detroit, Chicago, and Beaver Creek, CO. And for all but Colorado, I was traveling by car or bus. It was my grand tour, except with less culture and more leisure diving (see above picture).

And after five weeks of vacation, I am exhausted and in need of a vacation from my vacation. I could really go for another week in Pittsburgh of doing nothing but hanging out with the family. But alas, alas, the show must go on. So instead of sitting on my couch at home or weeding the front lawn for my father, I'm at the Dulles Airport in DC (no aftershocks) waiting for my flight to Vienna, after which I hop on my flight to Tirana.

I don't really know what to think of my move. Albania, much like Georgia, is a fairly random country that few westerners know about. They're both countries who are still coming to grips with their post-communist identities, but while Georgia has seemingly made giant strides since the Rose Revolution, Albania is still having political problems. But both countries have incredible histories while offering beautiful natural surroundings.

In fact, Albania was named in Lonely Planet's top ten places to visit in 2011, and this little writeup from the New York Times certainly paints their Ionian Sea coast in an appeasing light. At the same time, I've had one Estonian friend who visited Tirana awhile back call Albania, The asshole of Europe, while I had another Georgian friend come back from working two weeks there to call it like Georgia... but ten years ago (just take a look at this picture of the Tirana Airport... yep, I'll be there in less than 17 hours).

But then again, I'll be in the capital and not the rural backwaters (I loved Bandza, but it wasn't exactly a beehive of activity), while I'll be teaching a subject I much rather prefer (TEFL < English Literature and Grammar).

The question I've gotten a lot over the past week is the same question I got before I went to Italy and Georgia, Are you nervous or excited? My answer has always been really lame, Not really. I've never been one of those people who got overly excited before something happens. Every now and then, something might hit me in the moment (my first night in Bandza comes to mind), but for the most part, I just take things in stride as they come. If I was overly nervous about what might meet me in Tirana, it wouldn't help at all. I'm not turning back now, and I wasn't turning back a week ago (or a month ago for that matter). It's just too interesting of an opportunity to pass up at this point in my life.

So here I am, enjoying my last American meal for awhile (Five Guys burger, with fries and a fountain cherry coke... very American), and I'm even keel. As always, no matter what happens, things could be worse. I could be unemployed... or in Libya.

(PS - Those final Georgian posts are still on their way as soon as I have time in Tirana. But I can't promise an approximate date.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I'm Still Alive

A shot of myself looking quite intrepid at Ananuri

Contrary to popular belief, I did not have a heart attack while cleaning out a pigsty, which eventually led to the pigs devouring everything below the belt (true Mingrelian story). Nor did I parish while playing a game of chicken with a cow in the road (after eleven months in rural West Georgia, I can only think of animal related deaths). I've simply been either lazy or busy.

The busy explains itself, as since I last had anything to say, I've: had my sister visit, also had my friend Ian (formerly of Martvili School #1) return for a surprise five-day visit, spent entire days sitting by and swimming in the Abasha River, gone to two village weddings, attended my year twelves' end of the year banquet (only in Georgia do you have a wine-drunken feast with 17/18-year olds to celebrate the end of the school year), been coming to appreciate and enjoy Tbilisi more and more, been saying my goodbyes to fellow TLGers and Georgian friends, and worked at a summer camp in Bakuriani for the past two weeks.

I leave Georgia in the next few days (still not sure of my flight, but I've got a hesitant date of the 21st). I'll be home for one month, after which I unfortunately do not return to Georgia, but instead take my talents to Tirana, Albania, where I'll be teaching English grammar and literature at an International School (private sector sellout move). I'll have more on my move and what it might mean to the blog in the future, that is for those few people who might afford me some loyalty despite my complete abandoning.

While I am home, I won't be working, which will leave me plenty of time to see friends and family (unlike other TLGers who went home for Christmas, I was in SE Asia, so it's been even longer since I was home), eat non-Georgian food, ride my bike if the weather permits, watch Pirates' baseball on my father's TV every night, drink proper coffee, and catch up on my final Georgian thoughts. Posts that I have prepared include: Ten new thoughts that came to me since May; Ten things I will not miss, Five things I regret not doing/taking advantage of; Thirty reasons I know I'm more Georgian (or Mingrelian) that when I came here; and Ten things I will miss.

So my schedule for when I'm home will go like this:

8-9 am - Wake Up
9-10 am - Brew some coffee and do my best at making breakfast after having not prepared anything for myself in the past year
10-2 - Write/read/watch TV that I've been out of the loop on in the past year (The Killing and Boardwalk Empire to be specific)
2-6 - Cycle
6-7 - Shower & eat
7-10 - Bucco Baseball
10 - Whatevs...

So I promise that I'll finish strong here, as I feel kind of bad about the way the blog has gone to the dogs in the past six months. I blame my Kindle.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

At Long Last... Vietnam

Best meal of the trip was street noodles (Pho), although who knows what type of bugs I might have in my stomach right now...

I have had next to no school in the past month. Part of that is my fault (vacation, which, if anybody is wondering, was unpaid), but the other half has been a mixture of vacation and overall apathy. There have been a ton of vacations days, including the four days we get off for Easter and the two days this week for national holidays (WWII Victory Day and St. Andrea’s day). But there have also been a lot of random lacking of students at school.

Look, Vietnam has awesome weirdly shaped fruit as well!

This is a village school, so it never surprises me when I come to school, hang around for an hour, and then get told that most of the students are in church (this was the case for all three days leading up to the Easter holiday, during which I had maybe two lessons), or they were all practicing for upcoming singing/dancing/sporting competitions (as was the case this week). The sporting competition is actually tomorrow in Martvili, which will involve me participating with a bunch of my younger students in carnival games (three legged races, potato-sack races, tug-of-war, etc.). Should be a blast.

This picture reminded me of Georgia... come to think of it, any random farm animal sighting might make me think of Georgia from here on out.

In the meantime, I’m stuck in Bandza on a Friday night, which leaves me two options: cow tipping or blogging. I chose the latter in order to finally catch up on some log-jammed travel thoughts. I think Vietnam is a good place to start, at least before I completely forget everything I remember about the country.

Speaking of similarities between Georgia and Vietnam, the complete absence of such a notion as 'safety.'

One of the reasons I love Georgia is because it’s so unique (they may get old, but it’s true) and I think that was the reason I enjoyed Vietnam so much. After trudging my way up the Southeast Asian peninsula and only encountering the familiar (even if for the most part, it was thoroughly enjoyable); it was nice to come to a place that seemed so different.

This was purty, notice the completely gray but one-dimensional sky in the background that always hung over Ho Chi Minh City.

To be honest, before going to Vietnam, I didn’t know what to think. When I let my family in on the news that I’d be traveling through Asia instead of enjoying the wonders of the rustbelt Christmas, I got an email from my Uncle Mike with words of encouragement. But he also expressed some mixed feelings on viewing Vietnam as a tourist destination, since he was of the time and era when you did not want to go to Vietnam. He had had friends die there, and understandably would always view Vietnam from that perspective.

I had the same apprehensions. On one hand, I could make those Back when I was in ‘Nam jokes I’ve always wanted to drop (hell points!), but on the other hand, this is still a place that has some fairly recent bad history with the States. But I’d also heard only positive things from people who had traveled there. Plus my Mother and I would be meeting up with a family friend who was teaching in Ho Chi Minh City. If Americans taught English there, it couldn’t be that bad?

This is good old Uncle Ho' (as the commies called him) who Old Saigon is currently named after.

I was right. I never felt any sort of hostility during my five days there. Looking back right now, it seems even silly to have even entertained the notion. A few of the museums I went to definitely had an anti-American perspective, but that’s to be expected in any country that was occupied/invaded by another nation. But going to the War Remnants Museum gave me a small notion on what it must be like for a German enter a WWII Museum (in no way am I comparing the War in Vietnam to WWII or the few atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam to the Holocaust; I’m only saying that they produce the same shocking or guilty feeling).

These are the Cu Chi Tunnels on the outskirts of HCMC, which are always a hot topic with locals (they believe the current tourist attraction is fake).

Anyways, it’s been far too long to really summarize anything, so I’ll just hit some highlights.

* I had heard how Bangkok was twenty years ago from certain people and books, and how it’s been ruined by the excess amount of tourists. Well, I would guess the backpacker’s district in HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, which is where we spent all our time) is much like Koh San Road was then. It’s a small eight square-block area that is packed with guest houses/hostels, bars, and small stores selling knock-off anything and everything. They had knock off DVDs, backpacks, and photocopied books. My biggest purchase was a North Face winter ski jacket for $50. It’s bright orange, which would be fine anywhere but Georgia, where everybody wears black and/or grey.

Anyways, there are tons of places that will rip you off, but there are also a few gems, like a couple of spots on the main street that sold beer (and only beer) at one of the cheapest prices you can find anywhere. They had small plastic tables set up outside with even smaller plastic chairs to sit in, which made for some uncomfortable but tipsy evenings. It was a communal drinking atmosphere and you were almost expected to be social if you sat down.

This was a Vietnamese bazaar, which is the same as a Georgian bazaar, except people don't walk through, they ride their motorbikes through.

There were a few locals that would invite you to join and talk your ear off. One of the guys was a university student who only came to the backpacker’s district to work on his English (take note Georgians). But those nights also gave me an opportunity to meet fellow travelers who would tell you where they’d been, where they were going, and any suggestions as for other places in HCMC.

There were also a few sleazy Vietnamese guys who would ask you why you weren’t talking to the beautiful Vietnamese girl sitting next to you. But I knew those tricks.

* Speaking of tricks, the prostitutes would ride up right next to you on a motorbike and solicit themselves. The multi-tasking facet of it was actually quite impressive, if not a bit sad. You could also pick out the bar/brothels by the amount of old Poms (that’s Englishmen for those that don’t know) that had two young Vietnamese girls on each arm. That wasn’t sad, more so disgusting and pathetic.

* And speaking of motorbikes. Good lord. So I am always getting one upped in my search for the place with the craziest traffic and drivers. First it was Italy, then Peru, and then Georgia, but Vietnam (HCMC in particular) has the craziest traffic you will ever come across. There are eight million people who live in HCMC; guess how many motorbikes there are? Five million! That’s fuckin’ crazy! You literally cannot be near a city street at any time of day without there being a thousand motorbikes flying by, and when I say there are no rules, I mean it.

Traffic in HCMC, F'n crazy.

Crossing the street is an art. There are no crosswalks or safe times to do it, you just have to plunge out there like Frogger and pray. The best strategy is to keep at a steady pace that will help the bikers avoid you. If you’re lurching around in a precautious but indecisive matter, you’re more likely to cause an accident. All in all, Vietnam has the craziest drivers I’ve ever come across, although I’ve heard Jakarta is crazier.

* Getting around Vietnam by foot is a pain in the ass, mostly because of the traffic and the fact that everybody parks their motorbikes on the sidewalks. There’s really not too much to see tourist wise in HCMC, so it’s not that big of a deal. But the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get around if you must is on the back of a motorbike. Basically, there are guys sitting on their bikes at every corner that you can hop on the back (they have a helmet for you) and ride you to any destination. I did this once (I was still a bit apprehensive following my motorbike crash in Thailand) and it was quite the perspective, if not a bit heart wrenching.

The new big high rise in HCMC, with a sign in the foreground wishing us all a happy New Year...

* All those motorbikes cause some concerning pollution. Half the days we were there, the city was enveloped in a sort of overcast density that made it feel like the sky just wasn’t there. That had to have been my biggest complaint. Well, that and the fake Cu Chi Tunnels whose only worthwhile attraction was being able fire off a couple rounds from an AK-47 (still waiting on those pictures, Mom).

* One of my favorite aspects of Vietnam was the currency, which was the Dong; yeah, I know, hilarious for those with the minds of fifth graders, myself included. When I was there, the Dong was 30,000 to one Dollar. That meant everything and anything cost some absolutely absurd amount of Dong. Kind of made me feel wealthy. Well, really, it kind of made me feel like I had a wealthy Mother.

Other than the dong, I really appreciated the intense badminton pickup games. Displaying dominance.

* I’m a big fan of coffee, and Vietnam takes pride in their coffee. When I was there, I couldn’t find a street block in the city without some old Vietnamese woman selling street made java. But there’s also a lasting French impression that has led to a nice cafĂ© culture in certain spots. All in all, a good place for coffee.

Another European import was Notre Dame cathedral in the heart of HCMC. Not very SE Asian communist, is it?

* Most major international cities you visit nowadays all look the same, have the same tendencies, and are constantly trying to outdo their local rivals (think Tbilisi/Baku/Yerevan or even Chicago/NYC). And though I got a small whiff of that in HCMC (they did have KFC, while there were just putting the finishing touches on a giant UAE-type skyscraper), the everyday character the city has retained despite the influx of tourism and money made it really stand out to me.

And I have a feeling that when I go back to explore the rest of Vietnam, the entire country will share in the same unique identity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not so much

Mother Georgia, who welcomes you with the fun (a ball of wine in her left hand) or the fury (the sword in her right)

I know in my last post (in which I let some fury fly) I had promised to spend some of my layover time in the Prague airport on some long-awaited posts on areas outside of Georgia, but much like my Mingrelian friends, I was of course only conning you.

Actually what happened was I got into a conversation with some Georgian law students who were heading to Lithuania for a moot-court competition. They were all from Tbilisi, so they had an even higher sense of Georgian-superiority than most, but a few of them knew English quite well and we had a nice little talk, which of course included the mandatory question all Georgians ask foreigners, Do you like Georgian food?

All in all, it was a pretty pleasant talk. The only part that bothered me was one of the students, who when I tried to express my enthusiasm for his trip to Vilnius, the historical capitol of Lithuania, by saying, Lithuania? Cool, man!, he replied by saying very dryly with a small tint of arrogance, Lithuania is not cool... Georgia is cool. This is exactly the type of narrow mind frame that had me jones'n for a vacation.

I know not all Georgians think this way, but there are a ton that do... without ever having been anywhere else! That's so ridiculous and irrational. I don't mind thinking Georgia is amazing, because I share the same notion. It's unique, beautiful, and the people are incredibly hospitable. But saying it's better than another place without ever having been there is outrageously short-sighted.

Anyways, I wasn't really in the mood to type anything up, and considering I was on vacation in Krakow, I didn't really feel like doing anything productive there, either. All of which means that I now have three different places to catch up on (Vietnam, Armenia, and Poland). So please be patient, although apparently there are singing/dancing/sporting competitions the next few days in my district meaning meaning there is no class while I'll have plenty of time to take a bite out of that list.

As for Georgia, the week long vacation may have been just what I needed to come back with a fresh set of eyes. Krakow was amazing, but just within the few days I've been more appreciative and less bitchy (at least in an observational sense). And that's despite a drunken soldier spilling a liter of beer all over me on the night train back from Tbilisi on Monday night (although to be fair, he did offer me some of it beforehand).

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Another old Fort, although these usually don't lose their appeal.

So I just got off a marshrutka in Tbilisi and now I'm waiting around to take a plane to Poland for a week-long vacation, which is coming right on the heels of my Easter trip to Yerevan (I have a seven hour layover in Prague tomorrow morning, during which I expect to write some things on Armenia and the not-forgotten Vietnam post). Why in the world should I be complaining?

Because my marshrutka was the ride from hell: nut job driver who looked exactly like the kind of Georgian man I've come to despise (fat, scowling, and carrying himself with an unwarranted sense of accomplishment); the marshrutka music that blasted the entire four hours (if you've never heard marshrutka music, you're one lucky bastard. It's a 30-year smoker belting out a love song behind digital music) that probably caused haring damage to the five under-four-year-old children sitting in their parents' laps; and then the seven times I saw someone throw an empty Nabeglavi, Fanta, or Coke bottle out of the window onto the side of the road.

I got off that marshrutka thinking, I only just came back to Georgia after a short foreign vacation, so why is it that I can't wait to leave again? What it comes down to is the love/hate feeling I've encountered over the past few months, where there are certain aspects of Georgian society and culture that I still adore, while there are others that I once found novel but now find only aggravating beyond belief.

I've never been in a foreign culture for this long, so I'm not used to the roller coaster ride one's emotions tend to follow. But I was told over and over again (as I mentioned in my last post) about how you'll love it, then grow bored, but as time winds down you'll love it again. For me, it's been a lot more complicated.

I promise not to let anything too harsh come out in these last two months, as I'm still a guest in Georgia. Plus, as mentioned, there are still instances from time to time that remind me of why I still think this place is so unique. I also know that when my sister comes (she is visiting for ten days in late May, super excited about that), her new set of eyes should help me re-realize why I fell in love with Georgia in the first place.

This is a heavy handed topic that I'd rather wait until later to tackle, but I also think it helps explain why I've been having so much trouble consistently posting. For every hilarious observation (the Georgian man squat in which men sit legs crouched with their arms resting on knees and wrists slanting upwards; they can stay in this position for hours) I also want to drive a steak through my skull when I'm waiting in line to use an ATM.

Maybe it was just the marshrutka ride that made me want to vent, but I don't ever want to hold back here, no matter what the readers may want. I still love Georgia and am grateful for their hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to teach, but every now and then I just need to scream what the fuck...

It all comes back to Bandza though, and I do love my village

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Been awhile...

A pretty neat looking picture of the steeple of the Martvili Monestary and an early Moon. As my Pops would say, Trippy Man...

So as you’ve noticed, I stopped making excuses for my truant posting a while back. But that’s not going to stop me right now, as it’s been nearly a month between posts and I feel as if I owe you an explanation. There’s several reasons for the lack of posts, which I’ll try to get through as quickly as possible before I can get on to some real observational thoughts.

It’s amazing how quickly things have gone by, considering where I am. The average person would think that being in rural Western Georgia would cause time to move at a painfully slow pace, and although there have been some sluggish periods, I’d say that overall, time has flown by like a BMW-wielding Georgian.

Before I went abroad, my friend who had taught in Korea for a year told me that your feeling towards time shifts like a bell curve. In the beginning, you’re really excited and everything is a wonder. As I was going over some of my earlier posts this past weekend, my friend’s comment certainly proved prescient. Look back on my September posts and you’ll see how I come off as some wide-eyed newcomer who think they have it all down after a few experiences (I cringed at reading over some of my innocent ignorance).

A random castle (you get a lot of those in Georgia) sitting atop the road from Bandza to Senaki.

But then you hit the dog days, and there’s a lull. My trip to Southeast Asia (in the words of Scarlett O’Hara, As God is my witness, I will get to those Vietnam thoughts before I leave this earth. That’s how it went, right?) helped to stave off any feelings of monotony, but as the winter lagged on, there has definitely been some times during which I’ve thought, Good Lord, can this go any faster? The goofy weather (I thought we turned a corner a few weeks ago, but it’s been rainy and cool for the past week [there’s fresh snow fifteen kilometers up the road from me]) and the frequent electricity disruptions (we had another three day wind storm a few weeks back that cut power to my village for five days) haven’t helped.

Number One Threat to Georgia? Bears! This beast was roaming the inside of it's cage in the Tbilisi Zoo (entrance fee of 50 Tetri [30 US cents], making it easily the cheapest Zoo ever).

But even then, I still had things to keep me busy: my Kindle that is jam-packed with classic literature thanks to Project Guttenberg, increased tutoring of the boys, trying to make sure I don’t add winter weight by running on the weekdays (I don’t really look forward to running, while I enjoy it even less in cold weather), big trips on the weekends (went to the Georgia/Croatia Euro’12 Qualifier in Tbilisi that Georgia won on a ’90 goal, immediately after which I was hugging every random Georgian man I could find in my section), looking for a teaching position for the summer (I will be in Turkey) and this upcoming school year (I will not be in Georgia, a topic for another day), and planning more lessons for my classes at the Bandza school (Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, my skiing trip, and the upcoming Easter holiday have given me ample topics).

So now it’s mid-April, I have two months left, and it’s back to the excitement I felt in the beginning. But that excitement isn’t due to my departure, it’s more of an energy producing excitement that reminds me how I must make sure to take advantage of the little time I have left. Although with that excitement comes a sort of wistful feeling, so instead of observing the new, I’m blinded by nostalgia.

A shot of Senaki and the Samegrelo Valley, probably the only completely flat area in Georgia.

So I probably won’t have too many mind-blowing observations during my time left here, although it’s not like I ever did. But I will still do my best to conjure up some magic and be more cognizant of the fact that with each day that passes, I’ll have one less day to expound on this unique and authentic culture.

But there’s been a lot that’s gone over the past two months that I can probably bumble on about. Here’s a few quick thoughts old school style.

Erti – There have been two deaths in relation to my host family in the past six weeks, the first was rather expected, while the other was far more tragic that occurred only ten days after the first. I’ve already talked about the Georgian grieving process, but I never realized the expectations on the immediate family during the forty days that follow a death. TLG should probably mention this during our orientation, because it sure would have helped me, but basically don’t practice the piano, don’t play music at all, don’t expect any meat at the dinner table, and never, ever smile. That last one’s a bit of hyperbole, but I would say the past month has been the only time I’ve felt uncomfortable with my host-family, if only because I was walking on egg shells with zero direction.

This is my little buddy Luka on his 6th birthday, obviously not old enough to cut his own orange, and therefore getting Gogita (his neighbor) to do it for him. Look at the anticipation in that little guy's eyes.

Ori – I finally decided to help out with some farm work. It was the first official day of work a few Saturday’s back. There were some guys I recognized at the breakfast table, and they were passing out shots of tchatcha. Afterwards they went out to work while I went to my room to read and then went on a run (after the tchatcha buzz faded). When I got back from the run, I decided it was time to man up. So I walked over to the vineyard, grabbed a shovel and started churning some farmland. It was a quite a sight for all of the real men there; they stared as if I had just solved the Riemann Hypothesis (if you don't want your head to hurt, do not click on the link). But I don’t think I did much of a good job, since I haven’t been asked back since. Mission accomplished, I guess?

Sami – On Wednesday after dinner, all the men of the household were intently watching the European Figure Skating Championship. I don’t know if it was for the view or the art, but they all seemed mighty impressed with the double and triple axels these young were pulling off (whole lot of De-da’s and Op-pah’s). But the best was when a black skater from France stepped on the ice. Lasha looked at me and instead of dropping the n-word, said, black. These are the type of small success stories I savor.

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Easter, here is a crooked cross (I can't remeber why so many crosses in Georgia look like this, but it's not really crooked as it's supposed to look like that [Cue random Georgian reader to correct my ignorance]).