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]).