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!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Press Release for Swearing-In

Peace Corps Georgia Celebrates 6th Group of Volunteers at Swearing-In Ceremony

Friday, August 18, the United States Peace Corps of Georgia swore in 48 new volunteers at the Rustaveli State Academic Theater. U.S. Charge d’Affairs, the Honorable Mark. X. Perry, swore the volunteers in. The swearing-in ceremony is a long-held tradition in the Peace Corps and celebrates the Peace Corps American trainees taking an oath of service and becoming official Peace Corps Volunteers. The ceremony was lead by Peace Corps Country Director Ms. Kathleen Sifer and featured speeches and songs by the new volunteers and performances by professional Georgian folk dancing and singing groups.

The new volunteers were trained in Georgian language and in technical areas while living in small groups in the towns and villages of the Shida Kartli region. They will move to cities and villages in the regions of Ajara, Guria, Imereti, Samegrelo, Kakheti, Kvemo and Shida Kartli and Samtskhe Javakheti to complete two years of service. Fifteen of the 48 new Volunteers will serve in Georgian NGOs. The other 33 Volunteers will teach English language courses: 31 in secondary schools and two at Universities.

Georgia has a 6-year history with the United States Peace Corps, which enjoys the support of the government and the Georgian people. Currently 82 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in Georgia.

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45-year legacy of service at home and abroad, and a 30-year high for volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 182,000 volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 138 countries where volunteers have served. Peace Corps volunteers are U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.


Settling In

How to Attain Celebrity Status Overseas
1. Be American
2. Join the Peace Corps

Follow those simple rules and you will see how in no time you too can become an instant celeb in your country. Being the local "Amerikeli" can do wonders when it comes to publicity.

Exhibit A.
The first week in September I helped host a summer camp with 2 other volunteers in a town about 40min away. The camp was a week long and had about 40 students. Day 1 we had a local (and by local I also mean national) tv crew come to film the camp and interview the volunteers. The same day I found myself being randomly stopped on the streets by people who said they saw me on tv. Some nice international exposure if I say so myself- can I put that on my resume?

Exhibit B.
In July during our training, we hosted a summer school in our training village. Our objective was to tap into our student's creativity through different types of activities. For one of my classes I decided to have a sci-fi themed class and have students design their own aliens. They had to present it and tell the class where their alien came from, what they're called and then how they said hello in their native language (that right there was some craziness!). So in the middle of the presentations, a camera crew comes in and starts filming. Of all the days and classesto film us they choose sci-fi day! What are the locals to think? This crazy American is teaching our kids about space aliens? Weeks later I saw the edited version of the clip...and there I am talking to students with a bright green, 6 eyed, 4 legged alien behind me. Oy!


"Here drink some wine. It'll warm you right up." And with that I greedily accepted a glass of red wine from my host father. In the month that I have been living in Gori the temp has dropped from the 90s down to the low 50s...and then some. Needless to say this is not boding well for apprehension about the upcoming winter. The fact that I am wearing wool socks at night plus my long johns is worrying me a lot! It's been nearly a decade since I've experienced an actual winter! From the town center I can see more and more snow gathering on the Caucusus mountains. Oh bring back my heatwave please! As a joke or maybe it was out of pity my sitemate Mark gave me some footwarmers. Doesn't matter, I was highly appreciative!

So it's been just over a month since I swore in as a volunteer and moved to my permanent site. With a month before classes were set to begin what's a TEFL volunteer to do? Read, read, read! As a Peace Coprs volunteer you literally have all the time in the world to read. All those books I wanted to read but never had a chance to due to school or work, well now I have no excuse. Where would I be without the PC lounge and its library? But then again there's only so much reading one can do to keep from going stir crazy.

I've been teaching english classes at a local youth-oriented NGO (non-governmental organization) where another volunteer works at. I have 4 classes a week for kids aged 9-16. I'll be doing that until my school opens up. Regarding my school, the good news is that they are finally under going long-needed renovations. Its been 50 yrs since the last one. Bad news is that the renovations are taking longer than expected and it won't be open on time. This unfortunately is the situation that many TEFL volunteers have found themselves in. All operational schools began classes on 18 Sept. Currently my director is hoping for an October date.

In the meantime, I'm also working at my host mother's school, which she also founded. My host mother is a go-getter! I'm working there 3 times a week teaching grades 4-9. When I was visiting the 2nd graders they were singing '1 little, 2 little, 3 little Indians...' So cute! It definately feels good to be actually *doing* something now and feeling productive. Everytime I visit a new class the students are always eager to ask questions. It never fails that I get asked if I have a boyfriend--definately a foreign concept because in Georgia if you have a boyfriend he is essentially your fiance and you're expected to marry. Now when posed this question, I can go one of two routes. I can say ''no'' and then be prepared to deflect the immediate offers to introduce me to some kargi bichebi (good boys) or I can say ''yes'' and say that he's either back in America and still face a barrage of questions regarding why I'm not married yet and when do I think I'll have kids? *Sigh* no win-win situation.

Between that, reading and harassing my sitemates, I've also had a chance to acquaint myself with our satellite tv. The majority of channels we get are Arabic. I even get channels from Iraq, Iran and I have the famous Al-Jazeera. Also have access to China's official English channel. Now that's an interesting channel to watch! There's also quite a few German channels. Every wonder where shows go once they get cancelled? Hello overseas audience! I have seen Home Improvement, Beverly Hills 90210, Andromeda, and....ALF! There's also tons of cartoons...remember Talespin? Check. Apprentice- yup Georgians created their own version which is identical to ours except 'Trump' has better hair. Probably what I get a kick out of the most though is the Russian-dubbed Sopranos- now thats kickass.

Friday, September 01, 2006

You know you've been in Georgia....

crazy how much of this is so so true for me now!

This has been cirulating a Yahoo Group message board on Georgia. It offers some insight into the country and the expat community. Plus, it's kind of funny, although I don't know how encouraging some of it is so I'll just have to wait and see!


You know you've been in Georgia too long if . . .

People can tell you live in Vake because of your accent.

You have a favorite khashi place.

You start scanning movie credits for Armenian names.

You remember when the average Georgian under 30 did not have a mobile telephone.

You can distinguish between Kazbegi and Argo in a blind taste test (or between Borjomi and Nabeglavi).

You recoil in horror if somebody punctures a khinkali.

You hand taxi drivers the proper fare for any ride without any negotiation or asking the price.
You find nothing romantic in candle lighting.

You never go anywhere without a small flashlight.

You’re disposed to sit in a taxicab for 45 minutes at your destination without budging if the driver is unwilling to give you the proper change.

You consider amoebic dysentery to be a weight loss strategy.

You actually believe that Borjomi water has curative properties.

You think you can get a cheaper fare if the taxi driver doesn’t notice your accent.

You don't mind eating dinner or showering in complete darkness.

You own a Niva that you bought at the car market for cash, and you think you got ripped off.

You get annoyed if the waiter doesn’t change your plate every 5 minutes.

You get annoyed if the waiter doesn’t take empty bottles off the table within 30 seconds.

You find yourself criticizing Georgians’ khinkali eating technique.

You can’t drink a glass of wine without a toast even when dining alone.

You are not taken aback when a complete stranger at a supra kisses you and professes eternal love.

You find yourself complaining that the tamada’s toasts are too short.

You appoint someone tamada even when dining with foreigners.

A few shots of chacha don't even give you a buzz.

You're at an expensive restaurant and don't even notice the guy at the next table yelling into his cell phone.

You have grown used to the picture quality of pirated DVDs.

You find sit-down toilets uncomfortable.

You think you speak Georgian fluently.

You can't put a proper sentence together in your native language.

You aren't aware that one is supposed to pay for software.

A PhD in Nuclear Physics fluent in 7 languages irons your socks for a pittance.

Walking across the street against the light, in and out of traffic is a piece of cake.

When you go to the toilet you bring your own toilet paper.

The footprints on the toilet seat are your own.

It is no longer surprising that the only decision made at a meeting is the time and venue for the next meeting.

You no longer wonder how someone who earns $400.00 per month can drive a Mercedes.

You find that it saves time to stand and retrieve your hand luggage while the plane is on final approach.

You throw your trash out the window of your apartment, car or bus.

You would rather SMS someone than actually meet to talk 'face to face'.

You honk your horn at people because they are in your way as you drive down the sidewalk.

You have figured out that it is actually the Russians who are running this country.

You get your first case of bronchitis and you have never smoked a cigarette in your life.

You have learned how to detect someone in a hurry behind you, and have the ability to not only walk very slowly but also grow eyes in the back of your head, so when they start to overtake on the right hand side, you automatically cut in and walk very slowly directly in front of them.

You are able to jump the queue because the idiot foreigner left 2 centimeters between himself and the person in front of him.

You don't have to speak to taxi drivers. Every cab in town has taken you home at least once, so they all know where you live.

You buy a round trip air ticket in Georgia.

Other foreigners seem foreign to you.

You consider McDonald's a treat.

You ask how much people are making and expect to hear an answer.

You are the last of your first group of friends still in Georgia.

Your first group of friends in Georgia has already left and come back again three times.

Georgian fashion starts looking hip.

You think Kobuleti is a nice place for a holiday.

The last time you visited your mother, you gave her your business card.

You start to enjoy the taste of chacha.

You go back home for a short visit, get in a car and start giving the driver directions in Georgian.
You have to pause and translate your phone number into English before telling it to someone.

You ask fellow foreigners the all-important question "How long have you been here?" in order to be able to properly categorize them.

You buy the local newspaper because you forget that you can't read Georgian.

You stop enjoying telling newcomers to Georgia "all about Georgia".

Your family stops asking when you'll be coming back.

Smoking is one of the dinner courses.

People who knew you when you first arrived don't recognize you.

Georgians stop you on the street to ask for directions.

People who haven't seen you for months don't ask where you've been.

You get homesick for Georgian food when away from Georgia.

Other foreigners give you a funny look when you tell them how long you've been here.

The word “salad” first brings to mind mayonnaise.

You don't notice your gastrointestinal problems anymore.

Your collection of business cards has outgrown your apartment.

You speak enough Georgian to make your colleagues laugh their heads off (attempts with anyone else still only draw blank stares).

You start recognizing the Russian songs on the radio and sing along to them with the taxi driver.
You give a 10% tip only if the waiter has been really exceptional.

You are relieved when the guy standing next to you on the bus actually uses a handkerchief.

You change into slippers and wash your hands as soon as you walk into your apartment.

You drink the brine from empty pickle jars.

You know more than 20 Tamunas, 30 Ninos and 60 Giorgis.

Your sister writes to you about the best prime rib she’s ever had and you can’t remember what it looks or tastes like.

You catch yourself whistling indoors and feel guilty.

You never smile in public when you’re alone.

You are no longer surprised when your taxi driver tells you that in Soviet times he worked as a rocket scientist.

You can only jaywalk across a busy street without looking exactly in places where there is an underpass.

You think Pele coffee tastes good.

You consider holding a supra to celebrate the purchase of a new TV set.

You know what Chavchavadze's favorite color was.

You are curious as to when they might start exporting Kazbegi beer to your home country.

You speak to other expats in your native language, but forget some of the simplest words and are forced to throw in Georgian/Russian ones instead.

You think that the Trade Center is a real shopping mall.

You specify "no gas" when asking for mineral water.

You think a bus with 200 people on it is "empty".

You walk down the street holding hands with your buddy.

You know all the words to the Georgian National Anthem and enjoy singing it.

You start believing that you can blend into a large crowd of Georgians.

You answer "ho" even when speaking English to non-Georgian friends.

You somehow always have money to go for a drink despite being broke, and think that that's a paradox.

You swear at a taxi driver for stopping at a red light even when there's nobody coming.

You can think of at least fifteen medical conditions that can be cured by chacha (sorting out a blocked ear by pouring chacha into it is my personal favourite).

Back in your home country, you automatically put a candle next to your bed.

You feel more bored than annoyed when some drunken idiot holds a gun to your head at a party.

You start speculating that Georgia might join the EU before the millennium is out.

Your father-in-law is secretly jealous of your mother-in-law's moustache.

You park your car two blocks from the office because you feel ashamed of not having tinted windows.

You have become convinced that Georgian music, poetry or literature has made an immense contribution to world culture.

You finally understand that it's culturally insensitive to come to the office before 11 AM.
You lend your best friend your car keys so he can get home safely when he is too drunk to make it back on foot.

You third daughter is born and you can't think of a name to give her.

You notice that your wallet has been stolen and your first thought is that, come to think of it, the guy behind you on the bus sort of looked Armenian.

Your long-standing girlfriend pecks you on the cheek and you think it's one of those life-defining moments you will never forget.

Your chacha vendor greets you like a long-lost brother and asks, 'How many liters today?'

Your oldest foreign friends stop bothering to pretend that they're not working for the CIA.

Back in your home country, you smugly lecture the policeman on how it only counts as drunk driving if you're actually swigging behind the wheel, before giving him a dollar anyway because he looks like a nice guy.

You take foreign guests around Gori and feel compelled to point out that Stalin really liked small children.

You start learning Georgian because you're anxious that God might not understand your prayers if they're in a foreign language.

You remember the days when the traffic police took bribes.

You can order food at most restaurants in Tbilisi without looking at the menu.

You can navigate five flights of stairs, find the door to your apartment, and fit the key in the lock in complete darkness.

Your taxi driver boasts to you about how badly he would rip you off if you were a foreigner (this happened to John Horan).

Your travel agent asks you if you are 'allowed to go to America,' implying that you need to get a visa first (also, John Horan).

You think most important road rule is where your bumper is in relation to everyone else.

You think Nivas are the all time best SUVs.

You’ve given your Niva a name.

You answer your phone "Allo?" even when outside of Georgia (or ‘gisment’).

You tell others your phone number in two-digit sequences: i.e. ninety-nine, seventeen, forty-three.

You try to bargain over the price of tomatoes while in a grocery store back home.
You’re no longer surprised when a building that looks like a Beirut crackhouse gives way to a sumptuous apartment inside.

You worry about not being able to find or make tqemali when you go back home.

You carry a lighter just in case your flashlight gives out.

You give your mobile phone number half in Georgian, half in Russian.

When lending money, you prefer to dispense large bills rather than small ones.

You feel self-indulgent and pampered checking into a flight during the daytime.

While making a left hand turn, you feel that making a U-turn would put you on firmer ethical ground.

You end English sentences with “ra”.

Your first question on making a new Georgian acquaintance is “How many khinkali can you eat?” (“And is that with or without kebabi and salata?”)

You’ve traveled to Pasanauri for the sole purpose of eating khinkali.

You know that Ajaran khachapuri isn’t necessarily better in Ajara.

You express skepticism by involuntarily muttering “kargi, ra” even when there is no Georgian-speaker around to hear you (and express surprise by shouting “vaimay!”).

There is a brass plaque with your name on it on the bar at Smugglers.

You correct waitresses’ Russian grammar mistakes.

You call random cell phone numbers and demand “romeli khar?!!”

You turn off your car engine at stoplights to save fuel.

You say things like “The city looks so much cleaner now,” confusing the hell out of newly arrived expats.

You have ten different responses to the question, "Do you like Georgia?"

You blame the Russian FSB for unfavorable weather changes.

You’re appalled when a foreigner who has been in Georgia long enough to know better tries to “go dutch” at his/her own birthday supra.

After living in Georgia for X number of years, you've decided it might be a good idea to start learning the Georgian alphabet.

You bump into a newly arrived foreign businessman in the pub and decide it might as well be you who rips him off.

You can't stop staring at that black guy walking down Rustaveli.

You seriously consider founding an NGO yourself because you are fed up with having to work.

Your surviving friends look really worried when you start pouring yourself drinks.

You are unable to explain to your mother what your job actually is.

Your eyes see the strings moving Misha's arms and legs despite the glare of the stage lights.

You know more acronyms than normal words.

The lady in your local corner shop stops asking when you are going to get married.

You can't remember your last weekend in Gudauri that wasn't funded by Soros.

Your wardrobe is shimmering with a million hues of black.

You don’t double up with laughter while reading (or writing) 'good governance' proposals.

You think that commandeering a big white jeep is your birthright.

Your weight has doubled despite the near-disappearance of several internal organs.

The two hardcore communist Peace Corps volunteers you met in your first year here are now heading the World Bank and the IMF.

You spend more time deleting Megobrebs messages than doing your job