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!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Adventure Continues


This blog entry has been written over the course of several weeks so please excuse the disconnectedness of my stories.

It's ironic that in many regards Georgia is a 'normal' country and there's not that big of a difference between our two cultures but then I see and hear about things like bridenappings, Stalin worshippers,
people throwing live wires into rivers to 'catch fish' and I realize WHOA I'm in Georgia where anything is possible!

Exhibit A: Bridenappings
Basically if a guy likes you, and he's afraid you'll reject his marriage proposal, he'll bridenap you. He'll get a van and take you up to the mountains. There you'll be locked away long until the community realizes that 'you're in the woods wiith ___.' By the way, "in the woods" tsk tsk tsk means that you're shacking up...a serious no-no for Georgia's traditional culture. Only way to salvage your reputation is to marry the guy or face the fact that since you've been a naughty woman no one will marry you. Nowadays bridenappings are outlawed--doesn't mean that it's NOT occuring on a regular basis though. Georgia is the midst of change and a lot of modernization is occuring. So now if you're bridenapped, it's more of a funny, comical experience. You can still say no afterwards and no one is going to say anything because everyone knows that nothing really happens when you're in the woods...just cleaning house and cooking.

Exibit B: Stalinists are alive and well
So no secret that I live near Stalin's hometown and there are constant reminders everywhere I look. There's a Stalin street, square, park, musuem, several statues, etc. Stalin is Gori's call to fame. Many will refer to his dynamic personality and power. The fact that he slaughtered millions, Georgia wasn't spared from his political purges, just proves that he was human. Fans don't like to focus too much on that aspect though. I decided to pay the 5 lari and check out his musuem which turned out to be a two-story shrine. Everywhere there are portraits and paintings of Stalin with the people, holding and reading to schoolchildren, etc. Aw Stalin the humanist! He had a heart. On display were gifts given to him as well as his personal effects including authentic cigar butts. There's even a thank you note from FDR thanking Stalin and his troops for their gallant work during WWII. Creepiest room though was the death mask room. The last room in the musuem was dedicated to his memory and since his final resting place isn't Gori they substituted it with a death mask. Let me set the scene for you: You walk into this dark room, the carpeting is black but the walls are draped in red velvet. There in the middle is his face staring back at you with soft lighting on it so you can truly appreciate his likeness. As we're heading for the door a visitor from the Ukraine approached us...."Are you a Stalinist? Don't you agree he's a great man? A hero! Oh you're American? Did you know that FDR called Stalin a hero. Is Stalin a hero for Americans too?..." Oh geez. Walk out quickly. Leave the man to his worshipping. Outside the musuem are Stalin's train and home. I was impressed with the train. Though it's over 50 years old, the kitchen and bathroom are more modern than most I've had the pleasure of using here in Georgia. Weird thing though is that it has full length mirrors in every room...even above his bed. Oh Stalin. So yes, Stalin museum was uber-creepy and I felt really dirty knowing that I probably helped with the funding to build their altar to Stalin with my entrance fee.

Exhibit C: Soviet Legacy
A few weeks ago my host family took me to the zoo-park in Tbilisi. It's a small amusement park with carnival rides. My 2 host siblings went nuts in there because of all the rides for little kids. Just as we're about to leave Eka says she wants to go on one of the rides with me. I specifically made a point not to go on any rides because they were all soviet era and well let's face it safety standards were not their priority. Well she insists and insists and finally I agree. We ended up going on the "pirate ship" which rocks back and forth gaining momentum each time but never does a full rotation. Okay no biggy, looks stable enough right? WRONG. We slip into one of the rows near the middle and I'm sitting at the end. So the safety bar has to be manually locked. How does one do that? Easy! Since I'm sitting at the end, I have to force the bar into a hole that has been bored into the side of the ride and turn the latch to lovk it in place. Deep breath Maritza. It'll be allright. Ride starts. Not bad. People in the back row are having fun whooping and hollering. Ouch, Eka has burrowed her head into my side--it's her first carnival ride. Oh wow. Ride is picking up more speed. Damn that unsettling feeling in my stomach is gnawing at me...getting worse as the speed picks up. "Gadcheret! Gadcheret" (Stop!) screams a woman from the back. The two guys opposite me are laughing as she continues to freak out. Oh my. More speed is picking up and my body is being lifted up into the air. Screaming turns from excitement to fear collectively. I hear the ride creaking. Oh crap please let me live. The guys who just a moment ago were laughing are now grimacing and holding on for dear life. Eka's now whimpering and digging her nails into my skin. I have now managed to rig my legs in such a manner that I am barely lifted no more than 2 inches everytime the boat rocks upwards. The guy opposite me has burrowed himself into his seat and has his legs under and over the lap bar trying to brace himself. Oh man. The other guy just vomited. I lower my head now trying to avoid it as we swing towards it. 'GAAAAAAAAAAAADCHERET' people yell in unison. The ride operator finishes smoking his cigarette, throws it on the ground and walks back over to the operational console and stops the ride. People are whimpering as the exit the ride. My nerves were jilted for a good 15 minutes afterwards.
Moral of the story...never ever ever ever ever go on Soviet-era rides....if you value your life that is.


Last week we had a free day in the capital and I did the one thing I told myself I would never do while overseas. I went to McDonald's. But I can explain...Georgian food, though nice is soooooooooo homogenous. It's the same thing day in and day out. Georgian meals always consist of a small plates of tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, bread, Georgian cheese, khasapuri (cheese pie), and other breaded products. Meat is rarely served, unless it's a sausage. I dream every night about sinking my teeth into a juicy t-bone steak only to wakeup and have a rude awakening. Anyways back to McD's. Thanks to the Bird Flu threat McD's no longer serves chicken products. Instead I had fries and a strawberry McFlurry. So good. And let me tell you something, going to McD's is like going to a gourmet deli. No fastfood atmosphere here like in the states. The prices are expensive, but it's the cleanest McD's I've ever been too. And compare it to other Georgian eateries it's heaven. It even comes complete with working, flushing outhouses here ladies and gents! And yes the menu was in Georgian making the experience all the more memorable. "Me minda bigmac-i!"


Now that I know my permanent site what are the chances of me making the whole 2 yrs here? Not one to jinx myself but pretty good provided that I can survive war and Bird Flu. To cue you in on Georgia's political situation, Georgia doesn't have the best relationship with it's neighbor up north (Putin). There are two rogue Georgian provinces on the border (S. Ossetia and Abkhazia) and there's a literal tug-of-war going on between Russia and Georgia over this situation. So much so that the threat of war is a possibility. Of course no one wants war, especially since Georgia is in the midst of rapid modernization. Reason I bring this up is that this past summer I understood the tension experienced by Georgians over this situation. My host family has roots in S. Ossetia and it is only 30min away from here. So if war breaks out most likely I'll be evacuated and shipped back home. But I figure if nothing goes on within the next few weeks it'll be put on hold until the following summer because who really wants to have war in the midst of a brutal Russian winter? Nyet! And so now you can see why this issue has been going on for so many years.

Now let's talk about Bird Flu. Ever wonder what it would have been like to have been in Asia during the SARS scare? Substitute that with Avian Flu and Georgia and you can see how it's going to be for me. Bird Flu is a major threat, especially since we border Turkey. Last year there was a proactive campaign to prevent it and thousands of chickens were slaughtered. It's expected to be the same scenario again this year and the probability of it hitting Georgia is very strong. I am now the proud owner of Tamiflu pills thanks to the US government- thanks Uncle Sam! I have been properly prepped and given materials to teach my students and the community about Bird Flu and what they can do to fight it. October is when it's expected to be the height of the scare so maybe I'll just dress up as a chicken for halloween and scare the locals...but then I might be killed.


Heatwave. Temperatures continue to soar and I continue to imagine my body being wrung over a bucket and being able to fill that bucket with my...glistening. Ick I feel so gross everyday. Thank goodness I brought plenty of deoderant and wipes. Only good thing coming out of it is that I have a nice tan, but I'd gladly trade it in for a nice cold glass of water. Ice cold water. mmm.

Temperature has been so high that the mountains around Gori caught fire. Brushfires lasted fors days and made for an awesome view at night. Now it's just black, scorched land everywhere.


Superstitions and Tales
-So I've got a few more to share with you. Knock on wood...huge here. Maybe it's a universal thing?
-Whistling- If you whistle in the house you're inviting bad luck inside. However if you're a woman and you whistle outside you're announcing that you're a tsudi gogo (bad girl).
-Perhaps the most traumatizing one I've heard is about gum. To deter kids from chewing gum in bed, parents tell them that if they do it, it will kill their mother. How traumatizing is that?!
-When kids lose their teeth, instead of hoping for money from the tooth fairy they pray to the sun to give them gold teeth.
-So the driving situation in Georgian can be labeled as chaotic and petrifying. Most drivers keep pictures of saints somewhere up front with them to protect them. You know you've made a huge mistake when the marshutkha (van) driver has the entire console covered with religious symbols. The more help he needs, the worse his driving is. And trust me, he's not the only one in that van praying for help.


Swearing-In Ceremony

18 August I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I made it through 9 weeks of brutally intensive Pre-service training and I passed the language proficiency exam. The ceremony was held at the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. We had government officials from both the U.S. and Georgia, members of the communities we'll be working with, and host family members (new and old). After we swore-in Georgia's national dances and hymns were performed. Their traditional dancing is amazing...if I ever figure out how to upload video clips online you'll see why it is so cool! After the festivities the volunteers split up and we all went to our new homes in Georgia. Watch out Georgia, you've got 47 new Americans to contend with!

My new home is in Gori, which is extremely close to my training village. I've got a week or so to relax before I have to put together a summer camp for my new school. I'm thinking of doing a combination of English/Art/Sports camp.


The summer here is sweltering. The temperature hovers around 40degreesC....that's friggin HOT! We've got no A/C, the power keeps shutting off and the only way to cool off is to guzzle an ice cream but that requires going outside...and no one is willing to make that sacrifice. Sweltering. But that's not taking the attention away from the impending winter. People are now starting to buy and stockpile firewood while the prices are still cheap. Since purchased wood hasn't been pre-chopped into small pieces, men spend days cutting it up. Literally all the streets are blocked because of stacks of wood waiting to be chopped up.