Monthly Archives: May 2014

Tbilisi (mis)adventures

It all started so innocently. I was just ambling along my street, on my way home from school, when I saw a smaller dog trotting happily along the road. Not growling, not menacing … just … trotting. I thought nothing of it. There are dogs running all over the streets here, and although I’ve seen photos of giant Georgian mutant dogs with huge muffs, all I see in Khashuri are mutts. So on I go, and suddenly, utterly without warning, I hear a loud yip and feel a bite on the back of my right ankle. Curse that dog! In fact, I sort of did, having involuntarily yelled out “Jesus!” when it happened. As the dog (wisely) ran off down the street, I twisted around trying to see the extent of the damage. Luckily I was wearing socks and pants, so in truth, the damage was very minor.

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The scene of the crime

Meanwhile, a group of about 5 women stood frozen in the street staring at me, wide-eyed. As I hopped around like a dog chasing its tail trying to figure out if I was damaged goods or not, one of them finally came over and spoke to me. By then I could see I wasn’t really hurt, so I told her one of the 3 words I knew at that point – “kargit,” meaning “good,” meaning – or trying to mean – “I’m ok.” (Footnote – now this woman knows me, so when we see each other in the street we actually greet one another and she asks how I am, which is nice!)

I went home and told my family what happened – my “bebia” (grandmother), who is about 6 years older than me, was pretty mad and ran about the house yelling. They rushed me in the bathroom and scrubbed my ankle with hot water and soap, which was in fact exactly the right thing to do. I thought nothing more of it, but after reading in Peace Corps materials that dog bites are an EMERGENCY that REQUIRE an IMMEDIATE telephone call to the doctor, I sent a text saying it was a tiny nip and I put a bandaid on it. Within 5 minutes my cellphone was ringing and I was directed to come to Tbilisi for rabies shots the very next morning. No arguments allowed.

So the next morning, already coping with an, um, shall we say, upset stomach (’nuff said) I gulp the Immodium (hey, it’s an hour and half drive!) and off we go in a taxi. To make a long story short, I had to go into Tbilisi 3 times for shots – I’ll get the fourth one next week in Khashuri since the docs will be here anyway. Trainees are not allowed to go to Tbilisi, so it was a bit of a treat for me, especially given that (a) the shots didn’t hurt, and (b) I’ve been sick for 3 weeks now and this gave me the opportunity to confer with the docs about what to do on the hacking cough/incessantly running nose front. Unfortunately not much improvement so far, but not for lack of trying, that’s for sure. Medical attention in the Peace Corps is top-notch. While there, I was not allowed to leave the PC HQ building, but I did eagerly observe the city through car windows. Tbilisi reminds me of Tel Aviv, to my surprise! Lots of trees, tall, old concrete and brick buildings, laundry hanging from balconies, cobblestone residential streets and wide avenues, lots of small shops with apartments above …

So … the “misadventure” part. After my last trip, I perhaps unwisely decided to try out my infantile Georgian on the taxi driver, having learned the vocabulary for directions that very day. I asked him to take me home instead of the town center, because it was raining and getting dark. I did this by showing him my address (in English) and saying it in Georgian. He said ok, we climbed in the taxi and took off. We took an entirely different route from the prior 2 trips though … and as we began climbing a very long, extremely narrow street in an unfamiliar area, I wondered what the hell was going on. Was he doing a personal errand on the way home? He asked for directions, continued up hill, and finally, after about 15 minutes of driving, I saw a street sign on a building that said … you guessed it. My street name (Goshevilli) in Khashuri! OMG. I started laughing and (maybe just a little) crying at the same time, and yelled out in Georgian, “no! Goshevilli in Khashuri, not Tbilisi!” I’m proud to say my post-position use of “shi,” meaning “in,” was correct, even in extremis. We both laughed, and I have to say I got a good tour of an area of Tbilisi I never would have seen otherwise, And it was really, really nice. Sort of like the Village in NYC, filled with sophisticated-looking older people wearing designer glasses and younger people kissing on the street. Now you don’t see THAT in Khashuri! When we finally got home (and yes, I did have an opportunity to use my Georgian direction words, which I think actually kind of irritated him, given my accent and atrocious grammar), I tried to give him a large tip, having checked by phone with our training leader, the all-knowing Tengo, but he wouldn’t accept it.

I regret I didn’t have my camera with me but given how fast he was driving, I don’t think I would have gotten any good pictures anyway, really. In consolation, here is a photo of a group of trainees having a beer after school one day. That was fun.

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Hey, next week I am 60. Who would ever have dreamed I would turn 60 here in Khashuri, Georgia? I don’t know about dreams coming true, but it’s certainly not what I expected, that’s for sure. Not really even sure how I feel about it, but – time marches on and all that. It’s just inevitable, so I accept it!

That’s it for now, I’m going to try to be a bit more diligent about taking photos and hopefully will have something interesting in the next few weeks. Next week I am visiting an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp to do job shadowing, and a week or two after that will have my permanent site assignment. That’s a very big deal – where I will be living for the next 2 years – so I’ll be sure to post then. Stay tuned!

First impressions of Kashuri

I was very inspired to write a blog entry last night, but unfortunately the internet went down right when I was ready to start writing! Tonight … not so much. However, will seize the opportunity as it’s working now and who knows what the future holds. 🙂

So, I am here in Kashuri and have been for 5 days. Why it feels as if I’ve lived here forever is beyond me. But I really like this town and it feels comfortable and even familiar, while at the same time retaining a certain difference that keeps me constantly aware that I am not, in fact, at home.

I am living in the home of a “host mother” (the quotes being necessary due to the fact that she’s 20 years younger than I am) named Eka, her 2 sons, whom I do not see very often as one is at university in Tbilisi and the other is, shall we say, sowing his wild oats, and her mother-in-law, who works in another town and stays here intermittently. Eka does not speak any English, so our communication has been very, very challenging. Both of us walk around with dictionaries all the time, and often throw up our hands and exclaim how difficult (რთული) English/Georgian is. However, this morning I managed a major victory in that I produced an entire sentence while walking to school and said to her (roughly): “I have only been in Georgia for one week. One!” I did have to look up “week” in the dictionary, but still … What I was trying to convey was that it will get better, my language skills will evolve, and she won’t be stuck with this semi-incoherent person forever. I fervently hope that’s true. My other major victory was last night, when I asked what a word I kept hearing meant – magram (მაგამ), and they could not explain it to me. Apparently it wasn’t something they could just point at. I decided to look it up in the Georgian dictionary, and to my utter amazement and delight, I did. It means … “but.” A good word to know!

Georgian lessons are 4 hours a day, with technical training in the afternoon. My teacher is really great, Nino, she goes at a good pace but not so fast I get lost. My writing and reading skills are pretty good, actually. Several people have commented positively on that. On the other hand, my speaking skills leave a lot to be desired, and unfortunately, the exam we all have to take is verbal. Remembering vocabulary and pronunciation are really challenging. Georgian has 7 cases (and yes, I had to have the meaning of that explained to me). Yesterday we learned the vocative case – used for addressing people, like “doctor, I have sore throat,” or “mother, can I have some more soup?” Mainly it consists of adding or subtracting a vowel sound at the end of words. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Here are the rules: if it’s a foreign proper name, drop the nominative case marker of “i,” but if it’s a Georgian name, it stays the same, EXCEPT if it ends in “i” and has more than 2 vowels, EXCEPT for the names “Giorgi” and “Irakri.” If it’s a noun that ends with the letter “i”, the final vowel becomes “o,” EXCEPT if the word is monosyllabic and does not end in a vowel, then add “o.” Like, the word for brother is “dza,” so it will convert to “dzao,” but the word for “mother” is “deda” (two syllables, does not end in “i”) so it stays the same. Seriously.

OK, well I had always intended that this blog would be filled with stories, and not just a recounting of what I’m up to. The story I’ll end with tonight is a bit of a sad story, unfortunately. We’ve already lost 2 volunteers – one left voluntarily, a girl I liked very much, and the other was our most senior volunteer, Sharon. Sharon was in my cluster group, so I was right there when this happened. We were walking to lunch as a group, when a small child in a go-cart accidentally backed into her (this was a combustion engine go-cart, not some little wheel-powered thing) and knocked her down on the sidewalk, flat-out on her face. She cut her eye and broke her wrist in two places, and a bone splintered, so she will need surgery and months of physical rehabilitation. That’s it – she’s medically separated. It was her life dream to join the Peace Corps, so I am very sad for her. Here’s to Sharon – you gave it your best shot!

Sharon

 

 

Next steps

I’ve been oddly unmotivated to post blog entries or FB status updates during this first phase of training,or even take many photos, though I’ve been following others’ … not sure why, maybe I’ve just been preoccupied with all of the information being crammed into my head all day long for the last 4 days, plus a healthy case of jet lag. To wit – I’ve been up since 4:30 am, so I might as well take this opportunity, probably the last for a while, to chronicle what’s been going on, and what’s to come.

I doubt anyone is interested in the details of my trip here. Suffice it to say it was long … very long … and involved flying to D.C., flying to Munich, spending 9 hours in the Munich airport, flying to Tbilisi, arriving at 3:30 am local time, being greeted by a screaming mob of current Peace Corps volunteers, who seemed unaccountably happy to see us, and then about an hour-long ride through a very dark Tbilisi to our temporary orientation center home – Bazaleti.

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With only a short pause of a couple of hours for napping/unpacking etc, we then plunged into 4 days of orientation. By “we” I mean 56 volunteers. Mostly in their early 20’s, a very young group. There are two women in their 70’s, a guy in his 40’s, a few 30-somethings … but that’s about it. Ethnically, no African-American’s, but every other race is represented. About 50/50 male/female. Not a huge number of people from the South, though a fair number of Floridians, and no one from Chicago. Lots of SoCal volunteers!

Orientation has focused on health and safety issues – food, emergency evacuation contingency plans (extremely thorough), water, vaccinations (I need a lot, apparently – tetnus, hepatitis, rabies, typhus … sigh …) – and language. I’m finding that I understand everything being taught pretty well, not lost in class, able to write the alphabet fine, but, predictably, I’m finding it challenging to speak and remember vocabulary. I hope that with time this will become less of a challenge.

The training center is just like a dorm, and we’ve been ensconced here pretty much 24/7. We did get out for a walk the other night, to a local village store, where I bought some laundry powder and managed to mime washing my face and hands sufficiently to get a bar of soap too.

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This walk was my first real exposure to the Georgian countryside, since we arrived in the dark. To me, it looks exactly as I expected – very Eastern European, somehow, even though a lot of people think of Georgia as being in Asia. It’s really at the crossroads of both regions. The landscape looks a lot like photos I’ve seen of places like Poland and Lithuania.

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The fields stretching out to the mountains can be alluring, and makes me want to see more ….

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Which I will, starting today. We are all packed up and ready to leave the relative luxury of our nest, as we find out our “clusters” ( 5 or 6 volunteers to a study group) and leave for Kashuri to meet our host families and find out where we will be living for the next 10 weeks. Each cluster will be posted to a nearby village, or Kashuri itself (a relatively small town, population 28,500 according to Wikipedia). Kashuri is in Central Georgia, and quite close to the “conflict zone” of South Ossetia (in purple – Kashuri is right below it on the western side). There’s a buffer zone around the area that we are not allowed to enter, let alone South Ossetia itself, and we were warned to carefully check villages where our families might want to take us for a picnic or visit with relatives to be sure it is not located within the buffer. Hmmmmm, interesting.

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One of the more riveting parts of the training was the blow-by-blow accounting of how volunteers were evacuated during the 2008 war. The safety coordinator, an extremely competent young Georgian woman who looks startlingly like Reese Witherspoon, described the events to us, including the bombings, in a lot of detail. In one way it was quite reassuring, as all volunteers (over 100) got out into Armenia in a very organized and well-planned way, but in another it was quite something to realize that peoples’ lives were actually in real danger.

So, I’ve learned a lot, eaten a huge number of carbohydrates, brushed my teeth with bottled water, taken a shower from a showerhead mounted in the middle of the ceiling with no stall, and learned that Georgians like to drink … a lot. This will be a major challenge for some of the men, but it appears women do not drink at the same level and are not expected to do so, for which I am grateful. I’m also grateful to be older, because it seems the younger women are going to be in for some serious sexual harassment. We all received a small card with lots of phrases to use, such as “you are a disgrace to your country,” “take your hands off me,” and “help!” I have a lot of confidence that my fellow female PCV’s, who seem overall to be quite a self-confident and capable bunch of young women, will handle these situations with aplomb.

One last note, it seems that wireless access in Kashuri is up in the air, so to speak. Our host families may have it, or may not. There may be internet cafes, or not. We may have time to post blog entries … or not. We hear that PST, as it’s known (pre-service training) is extremely intense. I am really anticipating getting out into the real Georgia, but I will admit I am also quite apprehensive. It’s been a long, long time since I lived with a large family or in an environment that involves outhouses and limited showering – especially in the summer, which is hot, I could be pretty miserable. I’m hoping I end up in an environment that will acccomodate that, but if not, well I’ll just have to adjust. So, I’ll be reporting on all that at a later date … for now, მშვიდობით (mishvidobit) – goodbye!