Hard to believe it has been a little over a month since I last posted here. A lot has happened, of course, but also things have slowed down in certain ways or maybe a better way to say it is that things are starting to fall into more of a routine. Which I welcome – but it’s strange how in some ways I’m right back where I started. I get up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work, come home in the evening for dinner, reading, watch a bit of tv perhaps … get up the next morning and do it all over again. Sound familiar? There are some pretty big differences between Gori and L.A. though! More on this below, but first I’ll quickly bring everything up to speed.
Well, after my last post, I returned to Khashuri and resumed my training, which included a practicum (I conducted a session on grant writing for several teachers and librarians) and intensive language study as I prepared for the all-important LCE – language competency exam, I think … something like that. I cannot keep up with all these acronyms, but whatever it was called, I knew what I had to do. Failing this exam did not result in expulsion from the Peace Corps, of course – I’d just have to retake it in November. But I really, really didn’t want to do that. So I buckled down and vowed to do my best. The test itself consisted of about 20 minutes of conversation with a trained native Georgian speaker, at a pretty rapid pace. The conversation covered a range of topics, and then there’s a scenario to play out. Mine was an interview with a celebrity in which I was supposed to ask questions that demonstrated what a “family person” this person was – how Georgian. Lucky for me I had a pretty good grasp on this set of vocabulary, and even managed to crack a joke. I asked my tester/celebrity if she had children, and when she said no, I feigned amazement and in a shocked tone shouted “რატომ!?!?” This means “why” (pronounced “ratom”), and is the typical Georgian reaction to any demurral. You aren’t married? რატომ!?!? You aren’t hungry? რატომ!?!? You get the idea. OK, not to prolong the suspense – I passed. By the skin of my teeth. Here’s proof:
So, ok, that was over. We had a really fun, but somewhat bittersweet farewell dinner. Fun because of the great food and talent show, which involved card tricks, singing, and a genuinely hilarious skit wherein several volunteers mimicked each other mercilessly. Bittersweet because, of course, we are now scattered all over the country and saying goodbye to people who have become good friends. Here’s a few pictures from the event:
OK, moving on, the very next day we all piled on marshutkas at a really early hour and drove to Tbilisi for the swearing-in ceremony. It was well over 100°F – seriously – and even hotter inside the auditorium at the medical school where the ceremony was held, with hot lights shining on us and zero ventilation. Brutal. I felt like fainting a few times, and it wasn’t due to emotion. However, putting that aside (though I’ll never forget it), the ceremony was really great. We were sworn in by the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, and it was all very formal, with oath-taking, pinning, and a reception … not at all like the first time around in Yap!
Immediately thereafter, we all left in a chaotic swirl of activity, hardly getting a chance to say goodbye. A few scenes glimpsed as I ran around … a teenage Georgian girl sobbing in a hallway, presumably sad at saying goodbye to her PC sister or brother; PC volunteers of opposite sexes hugging each other long and hard, in total violation of Georgian public protocols; bewildered-looking volunteers pulling luggage down the street with their new families. I’m in a few of these scenes, too.
So, that was July 18th. The next day I went back to Khashuri to get all my luggage and say goodbye to my family there. That was hard. Harder even than I thought it would be. There was crying, and not just me. I really cared for Eka and Tsira, they made me feel part of their family and really welcome in their home. I would have stayed there with them the whole two years if I could have, and I miss them. But, this is the nature of Peace Corps – you make connections, you “integrate,” and then … you leave.
Since then I’ve been in Gori. I’m going to save stories of work for another post, but it’s looking good. The first 2 weeks were a bit light on work, but I kept myself busy researching the organization and potential funding. Now things are picking up, with some major projects in the making. My counterpart, Marta, a lovely woman who speaks pretty good English, will be on vacation for the next two weeks so my Georgian will get a real work-out! More to come ….
My Georgian family here is great, very modern family, lovely house with fantastic water pressure – really an important point. 🙂 There’s a big verandah where I like to sit and read. My room is comfortable and I’m getting to know each family member better as time passes. As with work, more to come on this in a future post – with photos, or as we say here, “potos.”
I’m really liking Gori – a small city, but with some degree of sophistication. Not like Tbilisi, uh, no, but very liveable. And Tbilisi is a 45-minute drive away. I’ve been there twice already, once for fun, and once for meetings. Language is a challenge. Here’s my closing story. I needed to go to the bank to get an internet banking PIN. Marta tried to go with me, but I told her I have to learn to manage these things myself. I rehearsed how to say “Does anyone here speak English?” in case I needed it. I walked over to the bank, and was greeted by a pretty young girl. I immediately defaulted to panic mode, and said in my best Georgian “Does anyone here speak English?” LOL. But what was so disconcerting was that she totally did not understand me, even though I knew I had said it correctly. So I tried saying it another way, and then yet a third way – there’s lots of ways of asking for help, but none of them worked. A small crowd started to gather, to my humiliation, but happily one of them was a bank employee who spoke English, yay! I told him what I wanted and he gave me a number and pointed me toward a line waiting for customer service representatives. Hmmmm, ok, well I started mentally rehearsing my speech …. I only speak a little Georgian, please speak slowly and I will understand, I need a PIN for the internet, can you help me? My number comes up, I say all of that, slowly, to the young woman behind the desk who then says, in perfect English, “so, you want a PIN number?” Arghhhhhh! I took some comfort in the fact that she clearly did understand everything I said, and in fact, we conducted a good part of the whole transaction in Georgian, only resorting to English when I didn’t quite comprehend what she was saying. She complimented my Georgian, which as nice of her – albeit completely untrue. My Georgian is very, very limited and inaccurate. I need to start studying again, and plan to get a tutor. That’s another thing I’ll be working on next week.
So, until the next post … look to Facebook for periodic updates but I’ll be posting a bit more often here now that things have settled down.