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An American Thanksgiving

January 22, 2012

An American Thanksgiving

A tale that could only take place in Georgia

Retold by a Canadian

Disclaimer: Animals were harmed in the making of this story

When I first came to Georgia I spent my first week in a cold ritzy hotel called the Bazaleti that served bad food. I spent this week with about 30 other English-speaking foreigners from all over the world. Their places of origin included America, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Romania and Canada. We spent this week ‘training and preparing’ for the world outside and forming the kind bond that only comes from learning far too much and yet not enough about each other. We were part of a government program to teach the Georgian youth how to speak English. We were group 13.

Georgia’s whimsical grace and charm was not enough to entice all 30 of us foreigners into returning to Georgia for another semester. There are now only 13 of us left (how odd, another 13, it is a little unnerving!) In truth I almost didn’t return, but there was something about this country that drew me back and I am glad I did. There are adventures that I had here I doubt I could have had elsewhere. This is one of them…

Seeing as most of the teachers that stayed here were American, we decided to celebrate American Thanksgiving together! We were dreaming of renting a private cabin in the woods, cuddling by a fire, sipping hot cocoa and cooking a proper Thanksgiving dinner. I mean a real Thanksgiving feast including mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, veronyky (perogies—my addition thanks to my Ukrainian roots, love you Baba!), coconut rice (from Erica’s Latino roots), apple pie, pumpkin pie and but of course a turkey! We looked for a cabin with an oven, stove, pots and pans. We wanted a cabin with enough beds and utensils for 9 people. Initially, six of us met in Tbilisi and took the night train to the village, Zugdidi, where we would await the rest of our friends from our cabin in the woods… however this is Georgia, so of course things aren’t exactly going to go as planned…

We arrived in Zudidi at 6 am and not wanting to wake the Georgian ladies that were graciously renting the cabin to us we walked around random streets outside in the damp, cool air trying to keep warm while a reasonable disturbing hour came. Finally 9 am arrived! We arrived at an ordinary house on an ordinary street in the middle of town. Not exactly a cabin, but it’s a roof over our heads. Unfortunately it turns out that’s all it was, a roof over our heads. We entered the house and realized that there was no heating and it was  late November so it was frigid inside. Instead of getting the privacy that we sought for, the two Georgian ladies renting the house sat in a separate room in the house with the only source of heat, a wood stove. I had prepared the perogies a week before and froze them. The problem was that after 8 hours on a train they had thawed and there was no fridge in the house. In order to keep them cold I put them outside, then I realized it was colder inside so I brought them back in.

Exhausted from the train ride we decided to take a nap. There weren’t enough beds for 9 of us, there were only 4 single beds and a futon. No problem, it was so damn cold that we pushed two beds together and all 6 of us crawled in. Due to lack of space we spooned in hopes that we would gather enough body heat to get some sleep. You know what I said about forming a bond, well that bond just went to the next level.

When we got up, we decided to go eat at a restaurant, then go shopping for the next two days. Our friend Orlando, who was in charge of buying the turkey, met us there. He bought the turkey at a market and showed up to the restaurant with it, in a plastic shopping bag, from some mall. He set the bag down on the ground and we continued our conversation. At some point in the meal someone accidentally nudged the plastic bag and the bag started moving and making muffled sounds. Jessica looked into the bag and said “Oh my god! It’s alive!” Orlando kind of gave a look as if to say, yah it’s alive, I got it at the market!

So here we were, 10 minutes later, walking around downtown Zugdidi with a live Turkey tied up in a plastic shopping bag. When we brought the Turkey back to the house, we had the task of killing our meal. I am sorry to say that there was a failed attempt with an axe. Thankfully Andy put the poor thing out of its misery quickly with a knife seconds afterwards. With a freshly killed bird the next task was to drain it of blood, so we hung it upside down on a clothes line and went shopping. When we returned the boys plucked and gutted the turkey. I may be vegetarian but I can appreciate when someone is self sufficient enough to pluck and gut their own meat. After this long and time-consuming was completed Bethany came outside and said “Umm… don’t be mad but… the gas stove and oven don’t work…”

This is where panic and anger tend to set in.

Thank heavens for a beautiful thing called Georgian hospitality! Fortunately the neighbour came over to visit the ladies and after hearing about our predicament and seeing our Turkey hanging from a clothing line she graciously offered the use of her stove. So we gathered in the woman’s tiny kitchen, and by us I mean all 9 of us! Mostly because it was warmer in there then it was at our ‘cabin’. Problem was the neighbour’s stove didn’t have a thermometer so we had to gauge the temperature of the stove with our faces. I have quite a bit of experience with baking and thus I am well acquainted with the feeling of heat hitting my face when opening an oven door, not the greatest measure, but what else did we have. We needed the oven to be at 350 Fahrenheit, it was maybe 200. So what could have easily taken 2 hours, took 6!

Meanwhile we discovered that there were 5 plates and a handful of fork, knives, spoons and cups. So we had to buy plastic plates, cutlery and cups. After cooking all day the meal was finally finished around 11pm. I can proudly say that we still managed to make mash potatoes, veggie stuffing, meat stuffing, veronyky, coconut rice (I will never quite fathom how we managed to burn it with the limited stove space and lack of heat), gravy, pasta, garlic bread, turkey and apple pie. Take note that Maria had to flatten the dough with a wine bottle; she even braided the top of the pie crust!! I can’t say that all the food was piping hot due to limited stove space and the cold, but it was delicious. The fact that we had ate so little throughout the day may have something to do with it. As I got into bed that night, trying not to shiver from the cold, a brief thought crossed my mind before I drifted into a fitful slumber: “Thank god this is the last time I will ever have to celebrate American Thanksgiving.”

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Instruction manual: How to find a Georgian Post Office

October 10, 2011

~~~ This post is dedicated to my friend, who I will name wiggly-whoop for privacy purposes!~~~

I am not sure if my life is like a comedy of errors. Or if its Georgia’s enduring and comical lack of infrastructure and lack of organization that makes stories like this (honestly I feel there is a kind of charm, honesty, simplicity and humour behind it all) Or, more likely a combination of the two.

Post office you say? Well that should be amongst one of the easiest things to find in a city you say (or for my purposes I am just going to put words in your mouth)! Perhaps not as east to find as parliament or the run of the mill corner store, but surely as easy to find as a mall or a grocery store you say. This is true for most countries. This however is not the case for Georgia. Georgia does not have an organized official national post office, instead there are several different private companies that are responsible for your postage needs and unlike the ones back in our respective countries (again for my purposes I am making a blind assumption that your post offices are like my post offices) the individual branches of each private company are not organized! For example it took me 3 months to find a letter that my friend sent me after it arrived.

Allow me to begin… For the most part last semester I was using the Georgian post office down a creepy ally on the main strip downtown. The address of this post office was 14 Rustaveli Ave. It was easy enough to find because thankfully the numbers of most buildings are clearly marked on this avenue. I had used this post office several times to send mail home. I was told by several other travelers and my host family that if I want to receive mail it was best to have it mailed to a post office because the mail already takes a month to get to the country and could get lost on the way from the post office to my residence. So I did this, my friend wanted to send me a letter and I had her send it to 14 Rustaveli Avenue because I know where it is. That is… so I thought.

Step 1: Retrieve letter

The letter arrived in Tbilisi on June 18, 2011. I left Georgia on June 17th to teach in Turkey at a summer camp for one month. I returned to Georgia on July 18th for one day and one day only before I flew home to Canada for the summer break and I was determined to find this letter before going home. Somewhere in between giving my friend the address and July 17 the Georgian Post on 14 Rustaveli Avenue just disappeared! They packed up, removed the Georgian Post sign from the building, locked the door and left. They left nothing; no polite apology note, no current address and no phone number! I’m an obsessively determined person, when I set out to do something I will do it come hell or high water!

Tbilisi map provided by the not-so-friendly tour guide office that no longer exists!

Step 1

Step 2: Find another post office and retrieve the letter.

Helplessly I asked a guy who worked in the equally shady internet café next door if he happened to have any information on where this post office’s mail disappeared off to. He spoke very little English and my Georgian is still basic, what I got out of it was that there was another Georgian post office by the Rustaveli metro station. So I strode down Rustaveli Avenue keeping my eyes peeled for any Georgian Post sign in the mid-summer heat. I got to the metro and there was no sign, that’s alright I thought, perhaps it’s further down the avenue. I walked past the metro until Rustaveli Avenue was no more and there was still no sign. I sighed, turned on my heel and started walking back.

Step 2

Step 3: Find an actual existing post office and retrieve the letter.

I have found that when you are trying to find a place and you have no access to Google maps* your best bet is to find someone who works in a store approximately close to what you are trying to find. I went into a store, found an English speaker and asked him. He confidently explained that it was at the opposite end of Rustaveli Avenue, at the Tavisuplebis metro station. I made it clear to him that there was one close to where he was indicating that had recently closed. He said that he knew this and that the one he was talking about was closer to the main square. So I took his directions and started walking the way that I had come. I made it to Tavisuplebis metro station, ARA SIGNI! I walked to the main square, still no sign. Grunt! *Note: According to Google, Georgia now officially exists as a country since September, 2011.

Step 3

Step 4: Fuck the letter, find the bloody post office!

So this journey had already taken me two hours and my patience was waning in the 40 Celsius heat. I walked past the tour guide office at the Tavisuplebis square, which by the way is not well labeled as I had walked past it many times and never saw it.** Brilliant I thought! Who better to ask than the tour guide office where this supposed Georgian Post is! I marched into the office went straight up to the counter and asked my question. The man behind the counter was rude, but I didn’t care I was so close to that post office and my letter that I could taste it! That is… so I thought. He said the closest Georgian post was close to the Marjanishvili metro station. My face fell. “Where?!?” trying not to cry out in frustration. The man behind the counter, clearly frustrated with tourists who asked stupid questions to things he had already answered said: “On David Aghmashnebeli avenue, go to Marjanishvili metro, exit and turn left.” **Note: Since a month ago the tour guide office no longer exists and is under construction!

Step 4

Step 5: Arrive at the actual post office, retrieve letter

Too tired to walk to the Marjanishvili metro, I got on the subway at the Tavisuplebis station and got off at the Marjanishvili metro station and walked east. The addresses on David Aghmashnebeli Avenue are not labeled well, but they are sufficient. Fifteen minutes after leaving the metro I came upon a Georgian Post sign. I gaped, I couldn’t believe I was actually looking at it! I walked in, leapt toward the counter, speaking quickly and said “I’m looking for a letter for…” they looked confused, remembering I slowed down “letter”. The girl behind the counter gave me a familiar I-don’t-know-English-face and so I proceeded to draw out a letter for her. “No letter here” she said. “Ra?” I replied. She smiled and pointed next door and said “post opishi” I left the building and embarrassingly found out that I was so excited I walked through the wrong doors. I walked through the correct doors and went up to the counter and spoke slowly this time “letter for…” The girl behind the counter said “no letter here” I stepped back looked at my surroundings. I saw packaging tape, I saw packages, I saw slips of paper that you filled out addresses on and I saw stamps! It was confirmed I was indeed in a post office. I gave her an I-don’t-think-you-know-English face “L-e-t-t-e-r?” I said. “We have only package here” “What?!” “Letter at different post office” “What?!?” She gave me a do-you-speak-English face? “No letter here. Letter at different post office.” I couldn’t believe it, what the hell is the point to having packages at one post office and letters at another! She wrote down the address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. The slip of paper read: 5 Leselidze St. This location by the way is close to Tavisuplebis metro station. Over 4 hours had passed since I set out to ‘retrieve this letter’ and I was spending the night at my co-teachers place and I promised I’d be home before dinner, besides it was approaching 5 and things would start closing soon. The last thing I wanted was to find a Georgian Post closed because I had got there after hours.

Step 5

Step 6: Retrieve letter!!! AGAIN!

Summer came and went. I flew back into Tbilisi on Sept. 10th, 2011. I spent the first few days with the family, but on Sept. 13, 2011 I was determined to make that letter mine! So I set out with the slip of paper that the lady at the ‘package’ post office gave me. 5 Leselidze Street I walked down Leselidze to number 9, then back to 1, then back to 9. NO GOD DAMN Georgian Post sign!!! VOI ME!!! DEEEDDDDAAAA!!! I walked into the office that was labeled 5, but it was a travel agency. I smiled at the woman stupidly “post opishi?” hoping my eyes were deceiving me. She shook her head and said the post office was at 55 Leselidze. I was trying not to glare at her suspiciously I was beginning to feel the whole of Tbilisi got together in a huge joke against me. I suppose in retrospect I should’ve learned my lesson the first 5 times and double checked on the internet. But I suppose I foolishly believed that surely the post office must know where it’s other branches are.

Step 6

Step 7: Retrieve letter? Maybe?

I walked further down Leselidze St. There it was… in the distance, I practically started skipping down the street. I entered the extremely elusive Letter Georgian Post office. This was it, all or nothing. I approached the counter and asked the ladies behind the desk if they might so happen to have a letter for me, I explained that the letter had been sent to another post office 3 months prior. The lady at the end looked through the alarmingly small pile of mail sent to the now non-existent 14 Rustaveli Georgian Post. She shook her head. I bowed my head accepting defeat, I’m stubborn, but this was the end of the line. No more cookie-crumble trail to follow. I turned to leave. “Miss, miss” I turned my head like a sad puppy. One of the ladies was looking through another slightly larger pile. I walked to the counter gloomily not looking forward to facing disappointment again. As the lady flipped through the mail, my eyes were drawn to a bright green envelope with fantastic cartoons drawn across it. I could identify those cartoons from anywhere! “THAT ONE!” I exclaimed nearly climbing over the counter, I was dangerously close to saying “MINE! My one, my own, my preeecccccious!” The poor clerks were alarmed by the crazy girl reaching over the counter desperately trying to grasp at the letter. The lady placed the letter in my hand, hoping it would make me go away. I clutched the letter to my chest and thanked them profusely trying to say they had made my day. Then I ran out and opened the letter on that beautiful September day the moment I left the office.

Step 7

As I opened the envelope the first words I saw were: “HAPPY EASTER!”

My friend's letter! I almost died laughing when I saw "HAPPY EASTER" written on the envelope!

Cultural Difference #5: Dishes ——— In most families in Georgia the mother of the house hold is expected to do all the house work regardless of whether she has a full time job like the husband or not. The Georgian’s are also very proud of their custom of hosting their guests and treating them like kings or queens regardless of how long they stay. In most case they won’t let their guests do any work around the house. I have learned that I can’t wash the dishes whilst my host mother, Inga is in the same room, she will promptly tell me to sit down and tell me that she will do it. So I’ve gotten into the habit of washing the dishes when she is out of ear shot or out of the apartment. Once while I was doing this the host father walked in and said “What are you doing? Sit down… Inga will do them.” I opened my mouth about to go on about how in my country both men and women are expected to participate in the house hold duties. I reconsidered whether I really wanted to get into this conversation right now. Then my father said “When you are married…” I spun around pointing a soupy spoon at him and smiled at him “When I’m married my husband will do the dishes!” We both laughed.

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Gamarjoba!

May 26, 2011

Disclaimer: As a History Major I feel it only right to warn you that I can’t verify the accuracy of the Georgian history I am about to write about.

“Gamarjoba” is Georgian for ‘hello’, which can be literally translated as “victory to you”, which in other words can mean “Fuck you Russia!” It is easy to understand that ‘victory to you’ is their greeting seeing as Georgia has gone through many wars and has exchanged overlords many times, the most recent and possibly the most cruel being Russia. Georgia’s troubled history starts as early as the 5th century when the Byzantine Empire conquered the area and solidified the process of turning Georgia into a Christian state which had begun as early as the early 4th century. Then the Persians came and were briefly driven out, and returned only to be pushed out by the Arabs in 654. Then the Seljuk Turks came in the 11th century. King Davit getting sick and tired of this was like ‘fuck that shit’ and drove them out in 1122. Georgia remained under the rule of this monarchy for 5 generations. King Davit’s great-great granddaughter, Queen Tamar expanded the kingdom, which included the present day Azerbaijan and Armenia and ruled parts of Turkey and southern Russia. After her death in 1213 the kingdom quickly disintegrated. The kingdom fell under the rule of the Mongols in the 1220’s. Georgia was won back just as the Black Death came roaring through. Then the central Asian came and ruled the Caucuses for just over a century. Just when things were becoming quiet the Ottoman Turks and the Persians began warring for possession of the Caucuses. Last but not least the Russians came plundering through in 1770 to liberate western Georgia from the Turks and later established themselves as the rulers over the entire country of Georgia in the 19th century. However whilst the Russians were knee deep in the Russian Revolution, Georgia established itself as an independent state from 1918-1921. Dusting itself off from the revolution and recomposing itself in 1922 Russia basically told Georgia…

“ Dearest Georgia,

Congratulations comrade! You are now part of the glorious USSR! :D!!

Much love!
Russia

P.S. Oh yah! Thanks for the water, wine and Stalin!

Cultural difference #4: Cheating —- The Georgians seem to view tests as more of a collective effort of the class’s knowledge as opposed to a test of an individual’s knowledge. I am not quite sure if there is an actual rule against cheating or that the teachers really don’t care. At this point I am rather convinced that it is the latter as the students make very (and I mean extremely) subtle attempts to disguise their cheatings… well… only sometimes. The students will openly pass cheat sheets to one another or just shout out the answers. Luckily our textbooks have two different versions of the unit tests, this way we can separate students with similar tests, however five minutes into the test the students will start changing seats to sit beside a student who hopefully knows more than they do. It has crossed my mind that I should simply accept this cultural difference however even the thought of it quickly snapped me back into focus. It would then give the slackers in class even more reason to not to try in class, make noise while they get bored and then bother my precious brown nosers. So I have made it perfectly clear that cheating is unacceptable whilst I am in the room. I started taking cheat sheets, separating students and preventing them from shouting answers to each other. While I was in a middle of this my Georgian co-teacher came up to me and asked “What are you doing?” “Stopping the students from cheating.” I replied simply. She looked at me innocently and said “But some of them don’t know the answers.”

In another class I again acted like a tyrant, dictator, or no-cheating-soup-for-you teacher… by kidnapping cheat sheets, cruelly separating likened test papers, shooting test papers dead if they continued to cheat and enacting a sweet, complete and utter silence amongst my subjects. However I did allow the students to quietly raise their hands and ask for clarification on their tests. One of my students called me over and when I got to his desk he pointed to his paper and said “Teacher what does this say?” Problem was the paper he was holding was a paper with the test’s answers crudely scribbled on it. I just stared at him quietly waiting for this information to process. It took a minute but when he realized that he was in fact showing me this cheat sheet it “clicked” I snapped up the paper. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

My host grandmother came to visit for the weekend and I challenged her to game of backgammon. I have played the game a few times before, but have since forgotten the rules so she was teaching me the rules as we played. After a few games I was beginning to catch on to the rules. Then something happened, I rolled a 5 and 3 and while I was trying to figure out the best move she assisted me by moving my piece… only 7 places while leaving the piece alone and vulnerable. On her next turn she took my piece which lead her to an absolute victory. This being about the 5th game she had won… Grandmothers! Can’t trust ‘em!

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Fan Death

May 26, 2011

Whilst a group of us were in Armenia it seems that a few of us caught this horrible sounding cough that has prevented me from drinking, eating sugar, playing sports or doing anything that requires me to breath. Chris, Annette and I all taught in Korea and we discussed the possibility that the Korean’s crazy theory that having a fan on all night could cause sickness or DEATH! We had had the fan on all night, which was blowing cold, recycled air and we all mysteriously had a cough by the end of the trip. So despite my cough I went hiking in the rain in Borjomi the next weekend, drank loads of ‘ludi’ (beer) and ate tons of sugar. In case you were wondering… hiking up a mountain in the rain with one defective lung is not so much fun.

I had seen the doctor the week before, however my cough was now significantly worse. So I returned to the doctor were she had the lab techs take an x-ray of my chest without giving me a led suit to cover the rest of my body. After diagnosing me with lung inflammation she scolded me for not taking better care of myself. Then she called my host family and when I returned home I was scolded again by my host mother as she spoke very quickly to me in Georgian stopping to shake her head and click her tongue every once and a while. She scolded me for not wearing socks that one time 3 weeks ago, for going outside with wet hair that one time 2 months ago, not wearing socks, hiking in the rain (It really didn’t help that I managed to get myself a sunburn while I was at it) and not wearing a sweater and scarf in the plus 10 Celsius weather. Besides the hiking in the rain part the Georgians seem to have a strange perception of what makes you sick. Yet they often leave food on the stove for days at a time and at school they don’t properly wash their dishes or hands…just say’n!

Bless my host mothers heart as she gave me food to help cure my cough which included warm milk with butter (which I am fairly certain will only make my fluid filled lungs get worse) and jam with this disgusting powdery stuff, even the thought of it makes me want to vomit. I was also ordered by the doctor to dress warmly (including wearing a scarf, tights, sweater and SOCKS) in the now hot and summery Georgia.

After being scolded my family and I were sitting down to have a pleasant meal and I was eating my favorite Georgian dish, lobiani (bean pastry)! When one defective piece decided to cause mischief by lodging itself in my throat, which caused me to go into a coughing fit, which dislodged that wayward piece. My rather large host mother tried to come to my rescue by performing the Heimlich remover on me, which only served to push all the air out of my lungs, which resulted in me going into another coughing fit. She violently patted me on the back as I clung onto the kitchen sink for dear life gasping for air in hopes that I could regain enough oxygen to tell her to “STOP!” If only I knew the Georgian word for stop. Shit!

Now that I had convinced my family that I had brought them pestilence, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse to their home (please take note that my host family is a strict Orthodox Christian family with crosses on the every wall and at every door way and window as I suspect to keep out evil spirits) with my horrible cough I had to go ahead and make it worse by having my host family question my intelligence. I was ordered by the doctor to stay home for the next few days. So as I was reheating the food that had been sitting on the stove for the past few days in my absentminded state I had somehow turned off the flame but left the gas on. Understandably after nearly gassing my family, they will no longer let me cook. Later I went back to see the doctor and had left the door and gate unlocked. Now they will walk me to the door, close and lock the door for me and never leave me at home alone. I probably have convinced my family that instead of housing an English teacher that they are now housing a charity case. To further compound my embarrassment, my host sister and I were at the corner store buying some items and she counted out my change for me. I looked at her and said “Nino… I can count…”

Speaking of sickness and fans, apparently fans can cure computer viruses. My host family’s computer was having problems last week, at one point the computer screen froze and after restarting it, it froze again. Seeing this happen many times before I told my host brother that the computer had a virus, however he responded “No, no computer does not have virus, windows no work.” I tried to explain to him that Windows doesn’t just stop working for no reason and that I was sure it was a virus. Despite my efforts he refused to believe me and in frustration I put up my hands and said “Whatever it doesn’t have a virus.” Later that day I was walking past the computer room and my host brother was setting up a fan next to the computer, I just couldn’t resist the urge to ask “Zviadi, what are you doing?” In which he responded confidently “I fix computer!” I stood there in disbelief trying very hard to understand my 26 year old brothers thought process… I failed. The computer hadn’t even overheated, plus it hadn’t been on all day and he was pointing the fan at the monitor, not the tower. I almost died laughing. I returned home later that evening and the computer was working. I thought to myself ‘NO! The fan idea couldn’t have worked!’ I was watching bad Spanish soap operas, poorly dubbed in Georgian with my host family when I asked my host sister why the computer was working she said “It had a virus”. I turned and looked at my host brother “that’s what I thought,” turned back to the TV and continued watching.

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Where there is Christianity there is wine!

May 12, 2011

Georgia prides its self on being the second country to accept Christianity as a state religion, Armenia being the first in 301 A.D. Georgia is also equally proud of being “the cradle of wine”, formerly they claimed to be the “birthplace of wine”, however the oldest brewery in the world was found in Armenia several years ago. Damn Armenia beating Georgia to the punch! So in order to celebrate Armenia’s success I kicked off my Georgian shoes and headed to Armenia for the Easter break. The trip was fantastic! I even dare say that Armenia is possibly my favorite country that I have visited yet. However that mostly has to do with the off beaten adventure I had.

Armenia!

One of the days I decided to head off on my own, as the rest of the group was doing a tour that I couldn’t really afford on my salary and plus I don’t generally like organized bus tours. I much prefer wondering around and finding my way around a place on my own. The two places I wanted to see were too far away to make a single day trip, so I went on the recommendations of the hostel secretary. She gave me directions to get to Noravank. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find the marshutka (a large minivan that can pack about 18 passengers, although I have seen them fit 25 people into a van that size) even though I had to take the metro and walk to the bus station. The marshutka ride was gorgeous! We passed green fields with only a handful of trees decorating the green landscape, while snow-capped mountains provided its backdrop. The landscape often changed as we went up and down the terrain. We passed sheer cliff faces that held a large river, all the while houses lured precariously close to the edge of the drop. It was about a two hour journey, before the marshutka dropped me off 8 km from the church. My lonely planet recommended hitchhiking from that spot. As I attempted to flag down cars, I stopped to look at some of the bat caves that were on the way. Unfortunately you need a tour guide to venture into these places. I finally got a car to stop, there were already 8 people in this 5 seater car so everyone was piling on top of each other so they could fit me in. So here I sat, able to say even less to these people then I could in Georgia, as I don’t even know the Armenian word for “NO!” The whole experience was hilarious. When we emerged to the top of the mountain, we piled or haphazardly fell out of the car. Turns out this family invited cousins, uncles and perhaps their neighbour from 2 doors down as there were two other cars packed to the brim with passengers. The family and I took photos of each other to commemorate the moment. Noravank is absolutely gorgeous the view from the top is amazing!!

The beautiful Noravank! There is a stunning view of the sheer cliff faces and mountains from the top!

The wonderful and kind Armenian family I met on the way up to Noravank!

Christians in this region traditionally light candels upon entering the church

One of the women that I was with called her sister who speaks English. Her sister told me that she would really love to meet me. So I agreed and 10 minutes later the family dropped me off at the University, where the sister came out and told me to follow her. She led me to her university class where they were having an English examination. I sat there wondering how I had escaped from my school in Georgia, only to land myself in a University in Armenia. Not to mention I did attempt to attend a University class in Poland, perhaps something is signaling that I should go back to school…

After this she asked me to have dinner with her. Which I would have loved to but the last bus was heading back to the city soon and my cell phone didn’t work, so there was no way to call the others.

The next day was Easter Sunday as well as the day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. Chris and I headed to Echmiadze, the most important Church in all of Armenia. Apparently they make holy water from hundreds of different flours only every seven years then ship out the supply to the rest of Armenia. Chris and I had met a small group of Armenian University students who gave us a personal tour of the church grounds. We got a chance to see the Easter mass, the small church was packed with people. There were also people even lined up outside, they kept a pathway clear so that the Armenian president, his wife and the rest of the government could exit the church and make it to the priests house only 200m away. At the end of the service the government made it to the house safely, but the moment the priest stepped out of the church people swarmed him, hoping to get a chance to touch his cross that he held in the air for all to see. He ever so slowly edged his way to his house, wearing off the vampire mob with his cross.

Echmiadze church where the Easter sunday service took place.

A group of Christian followers reaching in for their chance to touch the priest's cross. In hopes of getting a blessing.

After this Chris and I attempted to join the march of people walking towards the Genocide museum and monument. We asked a policeman for directions and he stopped a car for us on the way. At first we thought it was a taxi, but when we tried to pay him he refused to take the money. So in thanks Chris accidentally broke his ashtray in the back seat, and tried to hide it. Haha! I’ve done worse! So we joined the march, and there were literally thousands of people marching towards the monument, we joined the crowd and saw people laying flowers down around the fire that was within the monument. The monument has twelve sides of cement leaning in towards each other protecting the small fire within. The twelve pieces are meant to represent the twelve western provinces lost to the Ottoman Turks and they are leaning in as if to bow and honour the dead while a fire burns in the middle to remember their suffering during WWI. There is also a spire that is intentionally split unevenly, the smaller side is meant to represent western Armenia, while the larger one represents Eastern Georgia.

Chris and I got caught up in the current of people and had missed the Genocide Museum that is cleverly hidden underground with no signs to indicate its presence. We attempted to go upstream, but the guards quickly caught on to our plan and stopped us, we attempted to sneak behind them, but the plan failed miserably. So we followed the tide of people down the hill, and poor Chris had to put up with my stubbornness to see Museums and we walked all the way back up the hill, where we met another Armenian University student who told us more about Armenia. The day was extremely powerful and moving, watching people who are very dedicated to their religion while honouring the lost and dead. I am glad that I was able to experience these places on such important days of memorial. At the same time it breaks my heart that all around the world such horrible acts of human cruelty give us reason to remember such days.

The genocide memorial, and the spier to remember their western brothers who suffered greatly during the First World War.

The Cascades in the centre of the downtown in Yerevan

The worst toilet I have seen to date! And it is a western toilet no less!

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Back to Basics

May 12, 2011

I have found that when you are in country with a language foreign from your own it tends to be easier to communicate with the young and the old. With children their language skills are not much better than yours and it is easy to entertain them. Although I can’t say why it is easy to communicate with older folks, it just is.

Also for some reason the children always seem just a little bit cuter and sweeter abroad. Perhaps it has something to do with the North American diet and many kids at home seemed to be pretty spoiled. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t understand the kids when they are complaining in another language, so anything they manage to say in English is precious.

My host family has a cousin who comes over occasionally with his adorable 2 year old son, Georgi (not much of a surprise seeing as about 80% of the children are named after Georgia’s patron saint Lasha Giorgi. 30% are called Lasha and 50% are called Georgi). It seems Georgi still hasn’t quite understood the fact that I don’t understand Georgian at all. Often while I’m playing with him he’ll start talking to me in Georgian and I will stare at him blankly, like some bewildered child. My host sister tried to explain that I don’t understand him, yet he continues to rabble on in Georgian. I had taken it upon myself to look after Georgi, this may have been a mistake because I spent the next half hour telling him “ara” (The Georgian word for “no!”)

Georgi tries to play with the dirty broom. I say: ara!

Georgi tries to eat plastic. I say: Ara!

Georgi gets into his aunts make-up case, joyously getting foundation everywhere. I say: ARA!!

Georgi loves to play with buttons, so he turns the computer on and off repeatedly without letting it boot. I say: ARA ARA!!

Georgi wants to play with my $600 DSLR camera: AAARRRAA!!!

Georgi plays with matches: AAARRRRRAAAA!!!! AARRRAA!!

2 year olds are dangerous things! After those precious 30 minutes where I was attempting to stop the kid from hurting himself or breaking things I think he came to the conclusion that I was no fun and ignored me for the rest of the time.

Introducing the adorable, little trouble maker Giorgi with my host brother

One of my co-teachers has a precious little girl named, Anna. She is 6 years old and full of energy, much to the chagrin of her mother as this often gets her in to trouble. I love this little girl, she truly is a little sweet heart who loves to laugh and is very curious. When I have break and she is finished her classes I often attempt to entertain her, which I think has succeeded thus far. Even though I can say about 10 words in Georgian, we have found a way to communicate through body language. She also took it upon her self to be my personal Georgian tutor. She will tell me to write words down and then she corrects my spelling. It is surprising what you can learn from a six year old.

My host grandmother also came to visit last week, so I challenged her to a game of backgammon. I still don’t quite understand the rules to the game. But I am pretty sure she cheated! I rolled an 8 and she moved my piece to the 7th spot where it was alone, then she proceeded to knock my piece off the board the next turn. Old ladies, can’t trust ‘em!

Cultural difference #3 – Stalin!: Interesting fact Stalin was Georgian! He was born in Gori, Georgia. I discovered this when I was at a Supra, a traditional party where the host and guests drink home-made Georgian wine and toast to God, life, health, marriage, your mother’s mother’s mother, your father’s father’s father, and when you run out of toasts to the spoons on the table. So I nearly spat my homemade everywhere when my host brother made a toast to Stalin and pointed to his father’s shrine to Stalin on the mantle piece. According to him Stalin was overall a bad person, but he likes some of his characteristics. Perhaps Stalin played catch with his kids every once in a while after work.

Possible Georgian tourism advertisement: “Come to Georgia, you too can room in the rubble!”

Georgia’s capital Tbilisi is definitely not the prettiest of cities, most of the buildings lye in ruins or looks like they are about to collapse. My friend, Jessica gets credit for this quote. We were rooming the back streets of the downtown talking about the lack of Georgian infrastructure. We prayed that we wouldn’t need tetanus shots after exploring a vacant building with no doors to the basement, that had rubble lying everywhere and a pristine white bathtub just sitting in the middle of all of it.

Jvari Monastery, where you can see an amazing view of Georgia's ancient capital Mtskheta

Hiking in the rain in Borjomi

When we came down from the mountain in Borjomi we went through a rural town, where the traffic was mainly goats and chickens

Translation #3- We were playing a game in class basically the students had to take a vocabulary word from the board and put the word in to a future continuous sentence. One my student was trying to suck up to me and his sentence was “Teacher, tomorrow I will be buying you violent!” He thought the word was violet.

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Birthday Supra!!

March 27, 2011

Birthday Supra!!!

Supras are traditional Georgian parties where you toast and drink Georgian homemade wine (pretty much every family makes their own wine) and chacha (really, really strong alcohol basically as strong as moonshine). So on Wednesday last week it was Ali’s birthday, one of the other English Mastolevlebeli’s (teacher’s) birthday and she invited us up to her “ghetto” flat. I didn’t quite understand what she meant by “ghetto” until I got there, I only wish I had brought my camera to take pictures of it. First of all I met one of the English teachers at the closest metro stops to Ali’s apartment. Then we had to flag down a taxi in order to get to her apartment. We should have known better than to get into that taxi, when he stopped to pick to pick us up his car stalled. Every time the taxi stopped or went over a bump it would stall and roll backwards. So we were heading up this steep hill and the taxi went over a speed bump and sure enough it stalled and started rolling backwards. So here we are praying the taxi driver can restart the car before we roll off a cliff. Luckily he seems to be quite used to starting the car in dire situations and sure enough we did eventually make it to the top of the hill alive and in one piece. Rhiannon and I got to the building and for the first time I realized what “ghetto” truly meant. The building was not painted at all and looked like a cement block with square holes in it for windows. There were cracks all up the side of the building and there were no doors to the entrances of the apartment buildings. When we got in the hallway there was no lighting to speak of and we used our cellphones as flashlights (turns out that flashlight feature on our phones is quite handy!). The building seriously looked like an ideal location to shoot a horror movie.

We got to the elevator, that could fit a maximum of 4 people, and when the doors opened there were Korean posters on the floor of the elevator. Now tell me, how the HELL do Korean posters get in a Georgian elevator?????  When we got inside the elevator, I noticed that half the buttons for the floors were either burnt, melted or had fallen off and were replaced with gum ball wrappers. We tried to take the elevator to the forth floor but it refused to work. Turns out we were in the wrong building anyway.

We eventually made it to the right building and the right floor. I could just imagine the thoughts that were going through Ali’s head when she first arrived at her host family’s apartment building! We met Ali at her doorway and walking into her apartment from the dingy hallway was like night and day. The apartment had hardwood flooring, chandeliers, and on the table there was fine dining plates and silverware. Her room, although small was beautifully decorated. It wasn’t a huge apartment and now there were 5 people living in it, however it was beautiful and it had all the amenities of home. It was definitely one of the oddest and most hilarious experiences I’ve ever had.

Cultural differences #1: Cell phones with Georgian’s there never seems to be an inappropriate time to answer their cell phones. For example I have been having a lot of difficulty with discipline in my grade 10 class, mostly because I am not allowed to do anything to punish them. I can’t send them out of class or to the back of the room. So I’ve had to resort to threatening my students that I’ll get the vice-director if they don’t be quiet. Sure enough I had to go get the vice-director, she came in and started yelling at the students, and immediately they were quiet (peace at last!) then her cell phone rang. I stood their aghast as she answered it and started chatting to someone. I could see that the effect had totally been lost on the students. She got off her phone yelled at them again and left. This did nothing to improve the behaviour of the students. Sigh!

Cultural differences #2: Nakedness- So in North America we have become very accustomed to having our privacy and changing behind closed doors. Not to say that the Georgian’s walk around naked willy-nilly. My host mother accidentally walked in on me and I was stark naked. I quickly covered myself and the look she gave me was like “… yah I have them too!”

Translations #1: My teacher has a ruler from China that has an interesting English translation on it… “Perpetual surprise. That I exist is a perpetual surprise…”

Translations #2: One of my students came up to me and pointed at their t-shirt with English words on it and he asked me what it meant, it read: “Cute but has killed dummies” I’m not sure where the t-shirt was going with that.