Friday, July 15, 2011

the good, the bad, and SVANETI!

Yes, I know it's been a long time. And after some reminders from family and fellow PCVs I've decided to FINALLY update my blog....

You're all in luck because I've been having some exciting times in this fair country of Georgia. I suppose I'll start from the beginning. With all my neighbors, the G9s, leaving (I'm talking single digit countdown) we all decided to make the most of their last days in Georgia and my beginning of summer by going and seeing as much as possible.

The decision was made to take a 3 day hike up in Lagodekhi park to a lake that's in the mountains. Now those of you that know me, I know you're asking yourself "What the hell is Danie doing going on a 3 day hike?" Well surprise, surprise! Since being in Georgia I've become quite the outdoors-woman. Granted I still have to have people help me carry crap, and I still have to pause for a breathing break every couple of feet (and yes, I still take a couple of hits off the ol' inhaler every once in a while), but other than all of that, I do great!!? Anyways, the hike started at 8 in the morning. Some of my ECOClub kids and me headed to Lagodekhi to the National Park and waited for the other volunteers and TLGs to arrive. Being the well raised lady that I am, I took full advantage of facilities prior to leaving for the excursion. Let's face it. Sit down toilets have been few and far between in my daily life as of late and you're always supposed to take care of business before long travel periods. Anyways....

So off we go, up the mountain. And UP and UP and UP. A hellatious 6 hours later, I start feeling pretty crappy. Actually, I was feeling pretty crappy 2 hours in, but this was more like death. I couldn't tell whether I had a fever or was just sweating and hot from the exercise, but the parasite (which I would later discover I had), that I had apparently digested the night before decided to rear it's ugly head on one of our MANY breaks. Instead of eating delicious trail mix, I started puking my brains out. Our Georgian guide (who we should compare to a Boot Camp Officer) kept rushing us saying that we have to keep going to make it to the campsite on time. So I wash out my mouth and adventure on. Needless to say, by the time we made it to the site, I was exhausted.

I climbed onto one of the mattresses in the cabin and tried my best to pass out. Unfortunately, the scumbag in my stomach decided he wasn't finished with torturing me. I ended up having diarrhea and throwing up everything that I had eaten within the last month. On top of that I was not able to keep any liquids down, so here I am stranded on a mountain, depleted of all sustenance while the rest of the group heads up for the 2nd day hike. Needless to say, by the next day, when we hiked down the mountain, all my electrolytes depleted, stomach completely empty and having starved myself for 2 days, I was done for. After a couple of humiliating pit stops along the way, we finally got back to Lagodekhi and I stayed in Lauren's apartment for the soul purpose of using her toilet (trust me, the use an outhouse when you're sick is pure torture). A few days past and I still wasn't any better.

Dr. Marina to the rescue! Luckily being a PCV we are provided with the best doctors on the planet. She sent a car immediately from Tbilisi to pick me up and I was taken to the hospital (a real American-like one), pumped full of 3 IVs and given lots of meds to restore my strength. Of course it didn't happen that quickly. I had some freak episodes in between where I felt like an elephant was crushing my upper body, 2 other visits to the hospital (these times accompanied by the lovely Dr. Tamriko, my new Georgian mom) and a soviet style endoscopy, incomplete with anesthesia. It was AMAZING! lol. As miserable as I was, I'm so thankful that I had our doctors taking care of me. Everyone knows when I'm sick, I only want my mom, and they did a damn good job trying to fill her shoes. (If the doctors read this, Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart. Ya'll are the best!)

So shortly after being medically released, I had already planned on going to Svaneti with some fellow volunteers and one's family. Obviously the thought of me going up into a mountainous region away from normal, more technologically advanced doctors and hospitals was not something my doctors nor country director was fond of. Nonetheless, my trip was approved and off I went. The train ride was pretty miserable. Complete with a screaming baby and her mother who had a bladder the size of a dime and felt the need to open the compartment door and flood us with light every 10 minutes. Did I mention this was an overnight train (hence the light shower not being welcome). We finally arrived in Zugdidi around 7 in the morning and were welcomed by our marshutka driver that would take us to Mestia.

This guy was unbelievable. Literally! I never thought that I would find a cautious Georgian driver, but my prayers were answered. AND in the perfect situation. Here we are trekking up the mountain in a marsh. taking sharp turns, sliding on the gravel, and where most drivers would be flying, wheels a screeching around corners, this guy is taking his time (THANK GOD!) He was the most chill/relaxed driver in this countries history.

After about 6 hours, we finally get to Mestia and me and Erin end up staying in a separate guesthouse because there were too many Americans that the one lady couldn't house us all. It ended up being for the better because we met 2 fellow travellers from Poland. Long story short (so you can clearly see that's a lie), we ended up getting a free ride/adventure with our new found friends. I'll recap the trip with the Svans:

Day 1: arrive in Mestia, tired, hungry, but overwhelmingly ecstatic because we're surrounded by 360 degree views. We decided to hike to a glacier that's a bit outside of town, so some of us hop in a marsh, driven by my future Svani husband (he was a babe) and head out to conquer the glacier. Long story short, we get there, I get stung by a bee, but the view is amazing, even though the glacier was a lot dirtier than I expected. That night, we climbed these steep ladders 5 stories high, into the famous towers and then onto the roof. I was freaking out, but I survived with everything in tact, surprisingly so since I'm so clumsy.

Day 2: we wake up and leave around 9 for a day trip to Ushguli, the highest inhabited village in all of Europe (does that include Central Asia too, since I'm pretty sure Georgia isn't Europe?). The drive was treacherous and bumpy, but we had some good snacks (trail mix) and good company (the Poles). 5 hours later we arrived, unscathed in Ushguli, greeted by wild boar/pigs. We walked around for a couple of hours and I witnessed one of the most beautiful places I've seen in this country. It was breathtaking. Once we visited all the sites, we decided to head back. La da da, off we go! After our picnic for lunch, we keep driving until the undercarriage of the car scraps against a bad part of road and we start leaking fluid. Turns out it was oil! Luckily, some nice Georgians stopped to help us. They turned out to be engineers working on the new roads that are being paved from Zughdidi through Svaneti. They ended up towing us back to Mestia. BUT WAIT! I can't skip the best part of this story. Halfway through the tow, me and Erin crowned Mr. Svaneti. Picture a man. He's a hardworking man who works so damn hard that his hands are black. He's dressed in the normal hardworking man's uniform of a REALLY warn down sweater and some heavily stained pants, and badass working man boots. Oh and the hat! I can't forget the hat. He was a site. Especially when he came to the rescue by attaching a wire-rope, which he pulled from beneath a haystack in a field and created a makeshift tow line. The engineers were not happy at the unattractiveness of the line, but Mr. Svaneti quickly reminded them that it isn't a beauty competition. It doesn't have to be pretty to work well. WELL SAID MR. SVANETI!

Day 3: the airport. Plane tickets purchased ahead of time in Tbilisi: 70 GEL. Arriving WAY ahead of time to be cautious and make sure the plane doesn't leave without you with some water: 2 GEL. The plane never even showing up to the airport and the flight getting cancelled: Priceless Georgia Moment. Don't want to relive this one, but we got to take a marsh driven by a crazy person (aka normal Georgian male driver) down the edge of the mountain. We were literally driving on the left side because his tire was flat, with pebbles falling into the river below, while the driver was smoking his cigs, talking on his phone. FUN TIMES! We arrived in Zugdidi (6 hours later), got ripped off by the driver, and then immediately boarded another marsh to Tbilisi, arriving 5 hours later, to again get ripped off by a marsh driver.

All in all that's been what's been going on in my life. I'm at the point in my service where it's hard to be positive and see the good aspects. Georgia has become my abusive boyfriend. He treats me to some great times, but then randomly yells at me and gives me a black eye. I just hope that I get some flowers and an apology sometime soon because I don't want to/don't think I could handle sporting another injury. Until next time....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I’m back, for Now…

So I know. I totally suck at keeping up with this thing. I’ll give you guys a quick update of what’s going on with me. I am sitting in a Café in Tbilisi, a café which has become a sanctuary for me. I come here and drink REAL coffee, eat baguette sandwiches, and scour the internet. I almost feel as if I’m in a small café in Paris or something.

So I’ve managed to stay pretty busy. Last weekend, I came into Tbilisi for Tom G’s birthday. It was an event to say the least. A lot of the Teach and Learn Georgia people came out. It was a swarm of English-speaking Volunteers that invaded Old Town. Fun times were had, some people had too much fun. I’ll tell you what TLG kids get down, or fall down rather, and I’ll just leave it at that. lol. I also was able to try Texas Chicken (aka Church’s Chicken). They didn’t have biscuits, but I tore up a spicy breast and leg meal with mashed taters and jalapeno poppers. Amazing!

This weekend Batumi was the destination. I went out there to hang out with Aaron and Laura in Shuakhevi and record the song that me and Aaroni wrote. Jason, a TLG living is Shuakhevi, recorded our “hit” and hopefully I’ll be able to hear the final product soon. We’ll see if I post it or not. It’s ironic, I never did anything musically because I have a horrible case of stage fright and now I’m in the Republic of Georgia, and in a small way, concurring my fears. I recorded a freaking song?!?!

Next weekend, I’m headed to Kazbegi for Lauren’s birthday, so I’ll hopefully have something to say about that…

As far as what’s been going on at site, it same ol’ same ol’. I pretty much have my routine. I get up, go to school, do after school clubs, and then head home, eat, and watch a movie, or TV show, then sleep. Exciting, I know! I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seats, waiting to read what’s next. lol.

Monday, October 25, 2010

so THIS is what Peace Corps is…

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing my best to really keep a positive, open mind to things that have been happening around me. I used to consider myself a very open-minded, non-judgmental person. I fear these couple of months have definitely tested those traits.

So a lot of this started when I went to Tbilisi for a week for a Save the Children Training. It focused on peer education in the fields of HIV/AIDS, Alcohol, and Tobacco. I loved every second of the training. It was a lot of stuff that we’d Americans learned during health classes, but for the Georgians it was a lot of new info. I was really excited for my Counterpart to learn and for us to be able to educate some of the rest of the people in my village.

Turns out she wasn’t really interested in really implementing anything, especially HIV/AIDS education because she mentioned that she wasn’t sure those topics would be socially acceptable in my village.

I completely understand that HIV and AIDS are taboo subjects, even in our culture, but with Georgia having 2540 registered cases and a projected reality of 4000, these things need to be addressed, especially when most men in the villages, town center, city, and whole damn country have visited a prostitute at some point in their life!

Then to test my normally accepting personality it gets pushed a little further. So I’m teaching my 10th graders about family. I have them all draw their family trees and present. So one of my students gets up and starts talking about her dad in his 2 wives. I stopped her and corrected her “My dad has 2 sisters, my aunts” “NO, my dad has 2 wives, my mothers”….WHAT?!?!? I tried my best to keep my surprise hidden, after all she has no choice in the matter. So, a little time passes and then I talk to my friend Jen and she apparently meets a man in Adjara who lives in her village that has 2 wives and wants to take a third! It’s craziness….right? So apparently this happens a lot. I’m in the process of researching the intricacies of these relationships (Are the Orthodox? What do their villages think about it? etc). I still am not sure it even makes sense in Georgia! If this weren’t a second world country and such a “religious” country then maybe I wouldn’t be so bothered by it, but it’s INSANE!

So I guess the thing that I have to realize and remember is that I am in Georgia, not America. Not everything moves as fast. Ideas, People, Service (other than marshutkas, but even those are slow because drivers decide they want to stop for a smoke break or to go shopping or god know what. lol). But, with that all being said, something’s got to give!

I talked to my dad about the Save the Children Training and he wisely said “today, the world is an ever changing place and you have to adapt and move forward if you do not then you get left behind.” Now I do agree for the most part, but trying to put my non-judgmental cap back on, I think it’s a lot easier for Americans to say because we live in a progressive society. A lot of the information we present them is new to them. I have to remember that not too many people accept new ideas right off the bat, but if they at least start thinking about them and talking about them, it is worth it....

Now how to get over this 2 wife thing…

Sunday, September 26, 2010

creepy dream

so beings that I don’t use this blog for anything, I mine as well use it for a dream journal. It’s 5:46 and I just awoke soaked in sweat from this INSANELY CREEPY dream.

Apparently I was dating a guy who thought it would be a good idea to get a pet spider. Now this spider was not of the hairy/fuzzy variety like most pet spiders are. No, No, No... This little bastard (mom, this is a legitimate term beings that spiders don’t have fathers, now do they?) was pin-legged with white and black stripes and a creepy medium-sized black body. Obviously, not something I could grow to love. Who could, is the question. Now, any of you that know me, know I have arachnophobia. I freaking HATE spiders! So here I am, in my “boyfriend’s” (I put this in quotations because I highly doubt the fact that I would have a boyfriend who would buy a pet spider, or rather that I would stay with a boyfriend who got one and kept it.) apartment hanging out whilst he lets this spider crawl all over the place. And not only creepy crawl mind you, this little bastard jumps too! Let me be more specific, apparently this spider has an infinity to black so he jumps on me! Now in the dream, I was wearing black the whole time and regardless of how many times he was plucked off of me, regardless of where or what I was hiding behind, he always managed to find me. I know you’re wondering why he was able to in the first place, but that’s the best part. My gem of a “boyfriend” ((*sarcasm)) didn’t like the idea of caging his spider, so I was stuck with living, sleeping, and eating with a spider crawling around all the time. I’m squirming now even thinking about it . Needless to say this nightmare awoke me from my sleep, literally drenched in sweat, and hitting myself making sure there are no creepy crawlers on me right now, and I have no idea why I’m dreaming of damn spiders…

I know I live in Georgia and I’m pretty much faced with them on a daily basis. I can deal with that. I mean I’m sure there are spiders crawling on me at night, I know they crawl on me when I go to the outhouse, and they’re everywhere. But, having spiders here is entirely different than having spiders in America. I mean yeah there’s Granddaddy Longlegs and other that crawl around, but it’s called spray!!! Hello, why in the hell would I be dating an American with a spider fetish that refused to cage his nasty spider?!?!?

All I know is that if this ever happens and someone doesn’t slap me out of that nightmare, I’ll be a little angry at myself and those of you reading…..

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

my School Adventure begins…

It’s officially that time of year. Children are standing at their respective corners, awaiting the approach of the giant, yellow, school bus. Office Max and Wal-Mart are swarming with families buying new notebooks stamped with whatever superhero is popular at the moment….NOT!

So school started on Wednesday, September 15th, and thus far nothing really has been going on. The first day of school consisted of everyone meeting out in the school yard while my school Director (aka Principle) passed out new computers for the great students, gave out certificates for the good students, and introduced me to the entire student body, teachers, and numerous parents (roughly around 500 people). So I know you’re just waiting for me to divulge my horror story beginning with clammy palms, cotton mouth, and sweat dripping from my forehead, and ending with me hurling all over my director, but surprisingly I did well. The only thing I can claim to be unhappy about was the bad translation, but beings that I can’t speak Georgian fluently, I can’t very well step in and correct, now can I?!?


The rest of last week consisted of me trying to convince my counterpart to switch books because the current books they are using right now, are pretty god awful. SUCCESS! We are now using some bright, fun, and interesting books that I think the kids will actually be excited to learn from.

I also had a meeting with my Director to discuss working with 2 counterparts. They just made the old German teacher an English teacher. She understands very little English, so I'm hoping that I can help her improve her English and help her kids too!


Now onto the troubles. First, I’d like to preface this by saying that I know not all teachers in Georgia are like this. I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced some of the great teachers in this country and those teachers are EXCELLENT, but from conversations I’ve had with my host family, students, and teachers, there are some MAJOR issues with the Education system here. A lot of teachers here don’t really teach what they should or the amount they school in schools in order for the students to pass the national exams when they graduate. Therefore, most students take private tutoring lessons where they are instructed on the topics they should be learning in school. Not only does this leave a lot of students behind (those who don’t have money to pay), but it also wastes everyone’s time at school. I’m not 100% for standardized tests, but I think that perhaps in Georgia’s case, it might help.

The teachers are now being required to pass tests in both their subjects and on their teaching ability. Apparently, if they don’t pass within the next 4 years, they get fired. Good thing?! Perhaps…

Students throw trash out the windows! It’s insane. I can’t believe it when I see it, and every time I see it, I yell! My first project is going to be to add boxes in my classroom, and hopefully throughout the school. We shall see what happens.

That’s all for now!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

my first bitch-fest, I think…

These past couple of days have been a little rough. I just came back from a great trip to the West with my host fam. I was able to hang out with a lot of my friends for a nice little farewell to summer. Of course, leaving sucked because I probably won’t see any of them anytime soon. What made it worse though was that all of Georgia lost power and what should have been a 7 hour train ride turned into 13. Not to mention the whole getting stuck in the car next to screaming, bratty kids.

Now, It seems that I’m sick once again with another stomach bug. I feel as if I’ve been sick off and on with something ever since I arrived in country. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a total baby when I’m sick. I hate going to doctors, taking medicine, being hot, and anyone doting on me, other than my mom. All I want is a nice sit-down flush toilet where I can take a magazine or book and relax without worrying about a spider or roach crawling on or around me. Or in this case go into a bathroom that doesn't make me even more nauseous than I already am.

Then, last night, I awoke to 3 bats flying around in my room. Freaking creeped me out! I have pretty much overcome my fear of spiders and other creepy crawlers. I even killed a scorpion at Laura’s with no hesitation, but a BAT! What the hell do I do with that? Now, I’ll have to sleep with the curtains closed, which keeps out all the air! I completely agree with Ace Ventura. "Damn you devil birds!"

This morning, I went to school for the first time since camp. It’s still under construction and I’m wondering if it will even be ready for when school starts on the 15th. Also, there will be NO toilets, which was probably the thing I was looking forward to the most about the renovations and starting school (shitty and repetitive, I know, but you get excited about using a outhouse all the time). So now, if I want/need to use the facilities when I’m at school, I have the choice of probably one of the most disgusting outhouses that I’ve experienced in country, or walking 20 minutes to my house.

The rest of my day was spent sulking in my room. I’ve put on my game-face for my host family and ate some oatmeal with some brown sugar (from America) and then some soup for lunch. For the remainder of the day I watched the rest of the Glee episodes Jen gave me, ate some sweet-tarts (dreading that they’re almost out), and slept. All I really want is MY bed, with it’s soft sheets and fluffy normal sized pillow, a warm bath in my bathroom with a toilet surrounded by scented candles, a big glass pitcher of sweet tea, some of my dad’s guacamole, some of my mom’s lasagna, a nice night out with friends, and a good cuddle with my doggie.

So it’s not really even that bad. Just a little homesick because I’m sick…(I warned I was a baby). At least school’s starting and I’ll have stuff to do on a daily basis and I won’t be caught up in feeling sorry for myself. So that’s that for now.

my cooking Adventures…

so as of late, I’ve been trying out my skills in the kitchen. Back home I loved cooking and baking, especially when I was stressed. I must say, I have REALLY under estimated the convenience and variety of goods we have in America. If I wanted to scramble up something back home I would just get the recipe, go to the store, and start dirtying up the kitchen. Here, I have to think of something to make off of the top of my head, make 'said' something with the ingredients I am presented with, or can find laying around (or cowering in the cabinets/cellar) and then make sure there is enough gas to cook with or that the electricity is on for the oven, then and only then can I let my creative juices run wild. So far, they haven’t been running too out of control. I’ve managed to:

Bake a Pizza from scratch. (It included made from scratch dough, thanks to my host mom, my homemade tomato sauce, pickled banana peppers, spicy green peppers, cheese (that my host mom makes), and NO MAYO (which Georgians love to put on their pizza)!

Make scrambled eggs and Omelets (with Aaron’s help) accompanied by tomatoes, peppers, some sort of fried bologna meat and cheese.

A disastrous attempt at Peach Crisp. Now normally I’ve got skills when it comes to making Apple Crisp, but the pan for the oven was too massive, there was no brown sugar, so I ended up just mixing whiter sugar, peaches, and oatmeal together on the stove. I liked it, host family didn’t. FAIL!

Some Kick-ass fried rice. This was my first attempt at making fried rice, but I was craving some non-Georgian food, and well I must say it turned out delicious AND BONUS my host family loved it. After they ate it all, I told them it was Chinese food. They were so surprised that I knew how to make something so "exotic" but I explained to them that in America, we have many different types of people and foods that represent America. Chinese food has played just as large a role as Hamburgers have in my life. There is no national food/khinkali-equivalent in America. Diversity and Variety is great! (PC goal #2 accomplished). Now, if only I can get them to absorb the fact that America has no national dance, that would make my life a lot easier, especially at supras.

Tzatziki Sauce. Thanks to Dina Leris, I have been skilled in the art of Greek Cuisine (ok, so only some dishes). It turned out amazing and I nearly ate all of it already. However, my host fam refuses to try it. I did force some pita sauce covered bread down my sis’ throat though. lol. I just came back from a Culinary Festival that Kamran’s NGO put on and some Azeri kids made some unbelievable food. It was a small pita with what tasted like feta, oregano, and onion inside. Went extremely well with my tzatziki sauce.

Spaghetti…our ”American” contribution to the Culinary Festival. I smashed the tomatoes all by myself… lol. It was pretty good and we even had some garlic bread to accompany it. The Azeri kids were good sports and tried it. Some even claimed to liking it. I am hoping that when I make it for my fam, they’ll love it.