This is the true story of a Puertorican who joined the Peace Corps in June 2006. This blog chronicles my misadventures in the Country of Georgia and in NO way represents the Peace Corps, its mission or its views. It is my personal blog!

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Georgia is everything I expected it to be. How many Peace Corps volunteers can say that about their country? The people here are incredibly friendly and very warm. The landscape here is beautiful. There are mountains and rivers everywhere, which is a welcome change from sea-level Florida. Surprisingly, I've had an opportunity to do a lot of sightseeing here and to gain a better appreciation of Georgian history and culture. Gori for instance-home to Stalin. Everytime I walk into Gori, a massive statue of Stalin greets me in Stalin Square. On my downtime, I've also hung out on the steps of his childhood home, which is perfectly preserved and on display next to his museum.

There are 51 trainees in total, and we've been split up into groups of 5-6, with each group living in different villages. I'm living in Tiniskhidi, a small village outside of Gori where this internet cafe is conviently located. I'm in "Pre-Service Training" (PST) which is an intensive 9 weeklong program where we receive Georgian language training as well as technical training for our TEFL jobs. Intensive is the key word. I'm in school 5 days a week from 9-430 and a halfday on Saturday. Friday is a break from our routine, when all the trainees gather in Gori for Hub sessions, which consists of joint technical, medical, safety and security sessions. In our cluster sites, the last 2 weeks have been dedicated to our practicum- hosting and teaching summer school. We taught students in 6-9th grade. Next week we're hosting a summer camp. Between the 4 of us at our sites we have to plan, design and implement a summer camp for 20+ kids in our village.

Today we just found out where our permanent sites are! I'm moving .4km to Gori! As soon as we swear in as PC Volunteers on August 18, we'll move to our new sites where we'll be for the next two years.


So do I think I can last two years here? I realized within the first 2 weeks in-country that was not a fair question. Between cultural immersion, cultural shock, and a bunch of other issues it became nearly impossible to think that far ahead. I take it day-by-day, week-by-week. It's hard. There have been days where I go 'what was I thinking joining up and moving half way around the world?' There have been some haaaaaaaaaaaard days. But I'm still here a month later. Now my outlook has surpassed meeting the day-by-day and week-by-week quota. Now I'm looking at surviving month to month which looks more and more feasible. Now that I've actually taught at the summer school, I feel like I have a purpose. I know what I'll be doing and I can breathe a little easier.

My Host family consists of 2 kids (6,8), their mother, 2 grandparents, and a great grandfather. It's very typical of Georgian families to have their extended families either living in the same house or at least the same family compound. I live in a large 2 story house with running water and outhouse! My "shower" usually consists of a heated bucket bath, which I've come to love. If the pechi (small wooden stove) is lit, then I can take an actual shower, and even then a shower here is nowhere near what a shower back home is like. Just about everything we eat is freshly grown in the garden. Lots of soup, potatos, fruit, veggies, bread and very little meat. If we need to go shopping for food, usually we go to the bazaar which is always a fun adventure. Though I'll admit my bartering skills are really weak. Every Sunday I doing laundry- handwashing. It takes forever and it's hard, but you come to appreciate the little things you can do for yourself here. Your entire life in PST is so structured and confining that you have very little freedom to do anything on your own. I'm even itching to do some cooking, but it's impossible to do cook American or Spanish dishes because you can't find compatible ingredients here. Even so, the Georgian diet is very very different. They love their condiments- salt, sugar, mayo, butter, etc. Always readily available in massive quantities at meals. Salads and pizza and anything else you can imagine goes quite well with globs of mayo-mini cultural shock. My host family wants me to make a meal from back home, but theoretically the only thing I can do is rice and beans...the very thought of which freaks them out. They've got both, but they are prepared very differently and are never ever served together! I could suggest making fried chicken, but that would mean one less chicken in our chicken coop and I'm not ready for that step just yet. For pets, we've got 3 cows, a dog and lil chicks everywhere.

So what crazy adventures have I found myself in? Plenty. I just chalk it up to another day in Georgia. Everyday on my way back home I feel like the Pied Piper. Village kids follow me home and try to get me to play games, show them pictures, teach them english, etc. So usually I find myself at home giving 7 kids impromptu english lessons. Everyday around 530pm a herd of dairy cows makes its way past my home. Sometimes I come home late after running to the store for a snickers (yes we have snickers and m&ms!) and turn onto the road only to be met with an oncoming herd. Being bumped aside by cows as they trample by can be nervewrecking.

From my bedroom, I can see a church on the mountain opposite my home. It's on a peak and is visible from anywhere in the Gori area. It's Gori Jvari (Gori church). Its patron saint is Saint Giorgi, also the country's namesake. A few weeks ago, a group of us decided to hike up there after Saturday class. It took nearly 1.5hrs to hike up the mountain, but it was so well worth it. The view was amazing. It overlooked several villages and the town below. The church dates back to the 6th century and the artwork inside was very nice. In broken Georgian and Russian I was talking to the curator about it. Here nearly everyone is Georgian Orthodox and I'm really intrigued about their practices. Something else that was quite unexpected were the sheep sacrifical altars we stumbled use. I'll just leave it at that, though pics are available upon request.

I've also visited the Gori Fortress which is in the heart of Gori atop a large hill. The remaining structure dates back to the middle ages and dominates the landscape. Last weekend a group of us went to Borjomi, famous for its mineral water. Its a resort town, which was a favorite vacation spot for leaders during the Soviet era. It was really nice and well developed which was a much needed change from village life. Transition to village life has been a challenge. There is no anonymity. Everyone knows you as the American. No matter where you are, you'll get stares and random shouts of "Amerikeli" or "I love you America." Walking through Gori we actually had a group of boys follow us for 4 blocks yelling "America"and trying to get our attention. There is very little privacy here. At the same time though, I feel incredibly safe in my village. People are very warm and gracious and love when the American speaks Georgian- even if it's only a few words. Give a toast in Georgian and you're set for life here. The kids love to hang out with the Americans and after summer school they wait to get our autographs. Though jogging is really uncommon here and there are no gym facilities, there are plenty of other ways to keep in shape. People are always up for playing football anytime, anyplace and the lack of a car will do you wonders. Just to post this entry took a 50 minute trek.

To travel anywhere in Georgia, the favored mode of transportation are large minivans called Marshutkas...which brings me to the topic of culture shock.

There are 4 stages of culture shock
1. Unconscious incompetence: Honeymoon period (my first 2 weeks here)
2. Conscious incompetence: Coming to the gross realization of how much I stand out and how different our 2 cultures are (current state)
3. Unconscious competence: Start to actually fit in (maybe sometime next yr?)
4. Conscious competence: Total immersion (probably never)

Lessons I've learned along the way...

1. There are no pedestrian rights. There are no driving rules. Look and run with all your might if you don't want to be mowed down.
2. Bridenapping is a real phenomenon. Up until last year, kidnappings were classified as either for ransom or bridenapping. Recently, a new law outlawed bridenappings, but they still occur on a regular basis. I've heard of 2 since I've been here.
3. Environmental neglect. These are the realities of living in a developing nation. People litter everywhere. The amount of trash (streets, rivers, etc) is mindboggling.
4. Animal abuse/neglect- Probably the hardest thing I've had to face here. There are packs of stray dogs everywhere and rabies is very prevalent.
5. Food. Georgian food is extremely different...but usually really good. They use lots of oils here and salad dressing other than mayo is unheard of. Bread is offered at every meal. I've put myself on a no-bread diet along with most of the other trainees because it's too much. "Chame, chame!!" Eat! People shove so much food down your throat it's ridiculous...and that's not even touching the subject of supras.

Supras are Georgian feasts celebrated spur of the moment for any event. It consists of tons of food, lots of wine, toasts and dancing. It lasts for houuuuuuuurs- no exaggeration! It's a really crazy and chaotic celebration. It's a lot of fun though. And its at the supras where I learn traditional Georgian dances.

Though I'm halfway across the world, I'm not entirely cutoff from occasional reminders from home. First off PC has hooked me up with an international cell phone. Secondly, the 'it' tv show in Georgia, referred to by us as the 'Sexy Cowboy Ranch' is a dubbed over spanish novela that was playing back in the states 2 years ago. Everyone loves spanish soaps. The kids have memorized the opening theme and sing it all the time. So in my contribution to cultural exchange I'm teaching my host family spanish while I try to learn georgian. What else is on Georgian tv? Well we've got Georgian Idol and an exact replica of the Apprentice...except the boss has better hair. Other reminders of home include the shopping bags at the bazaar. They're reused bags that have been resold for a cheaper price. So there are plenty of bags from Rave and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Also coca-cola has the market here tied up, meaning my addiction Fanta is readily available. Fanta here though tastes a lot better than back home-tangier making it all the more better. There's also been plenty of 'engrisms' spotted here. My favorite has to be a popular detergent called Barf and its slogan reads: "Barf=snow=white."

Mentally the first 3 weeks were exhausting for my psyche. I had the weirdest, craziest dreams. A lot had to do with finding bits of home here in Georgia and then having a rude awakening. Luckily though, that seems to be a passing phase. I'm in Georgia where there's hardly a dull moment. There are tons of supersitions here. For instance women don't sit on cement because it will make them infertile. No wonder we kept getting strange looks from the villagers when we would sit on the front steps of our school during break. Another is sitting at the corner of the table. It means you will marry late in life. Marriage in Georgia is a whole other topic. Women here get married really young. I'm an old maid compared to some of them. I've had several village women offer to find me a suitable Georgian man. Other superstitions include dropping utensils on the floor- means expect a visitor very soon. If you spill salt on the table, your father is going to get in a fight. To counteract it, you need pour water over the salt. So thus far, I'm an infertile American who will never get married. What are the things that keep me sane here? As long as I have my mp3 player, bottle of water and sunglasses I'll be all set...and a journal to keep track of my daily adventures.

One Month, Five Days In-Country

So I spent last night writing up this awesome blog entry and now that I'm in the internet cafe it's been automatically translated into Georgian....Well good news is that I have less that one month of training left before going to my permanent site. We found out where we would be headed yesterday and I'm moving to Gori- birthplace of Stalin! Funny thing is that Gori is less than a mile from the village I live in now, Tiniskhidi. So life is okay! I'm going to mess around with my blog entry and try to retranslate it...