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, October 21, 2006

I've been in-country 1/4 of a year!

It has been a bittersweet month for me.
My grandmother recently passed away and although it was expected, it didn't make it any easier to find out. I want to thank all my friends near and far for their support during this difficult time.

Moving along, I finally have an operational school. I never thought I'd be so happy to hear kids screaming "Mas! Mas!" (shortened form for teacher). My school had been undergoing repairs all summer and no one knew when classes would begin. It was literally a week to week guess. So I was told through the Georgian grapevine (the only way info travels) that my school was rumored to be open on 2 October. Really?! So I call my counterpart and she says she heard the rumor too (no direct line of communication ever exists). So I show up early Monday morning at school and see everyone in the schoolyard. One of the teachers sees me, grabs me and takes me up to the front of the stairs where the Director is. It's cold and raining yet the doors are closed and no one is allowed inside. I sigh and pull out my umbrella and wait to see what's going on.

To mark the first day of school, Georgian schools always have some sort of big activity- a ceremony, pep rally, concert, etc. My school put together a mini-concert and students sang, read poetry and played instruments. Then it hit me...oh man I know what's next! They're going to want me to say something..anything. They want to see the American perform! And 15 seconds later my psychic abilities proved ever faithful when I felt a shove from behind and a microphone was thrown in my face. Hehe. "Gamarjobat khakhli..." There were 800+ students, parents, and faculty members tuned in to me. Was I nervous? Nah. The great thing about being a foreigner is that it doesn't really matter what you long as you can speak some Georgian you've earned their love! So I gave a quick speech in my best, yet laughable Georgian. Then the concert wrapped up and the Director mentioned something about seeing everybody next week. Next week? Turned out that the ''official'' first day of classes would be the following Monday. Argh!!!

Though painstakingly slow, 9 October finally rolled around and classes began. And with it came a slew of nonstop adventures. But first let me give you a brief introduction to the Georgian educational system. School hours are usually only 4-5 hours long. Why so short? Because the real learning takes place afterhours during private tutoring sessions. School is treated more like voluntary supplementary learning. Attendance isn't mandatory in schools and that is reflected in their behavior. Typically you'll have a full class yet only 3-5 will partake in the classroom activities. The rest aren't paying attention, refuse to participate or don't show up. It doesn't help much either when the teachers just focus on those star pupils. The rest are ignored and it's just accepted part of the classroom culture. A typical class is noisy with teachers yelling, students carrying on side conversation and walking in and out of class. Also tardiness is normal- be it from the students or teachers. It's definately a challenging atmosphere to work in. The lack of resources doesn't help matters either. Many students don't buy the textbooks, which is a pain for the teacher who usually depends on them to bring it so she can borrow it during class and give the lesson! Also there's always a shortage on chalk...want to know why? Because they're all being horded by the teachers who keep them hidden in their purses! That is until they give it to a student to write the notes on the board as the teacher dictates. Other issues include a constantly changing school schedule with class times being switched or rooms being changed on a daily basis. You can imagine how frustrating it is to show up for you 1130 class only to find out that it was changed to 9am. Doh!

Despite those issues and more, I'm enjoying my work here. I'm forced to grow and develop a thick skin so little things can't irk me anymore...right? Well that's what I'm aiming for!

Earlier this month I went to Kutaisi, the 2nd biggest city, to help with the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walkathon. The walk was 1k and the run was 5k. There was a lot of community support and several government officials came. The run was very successful with the winner being a Georgian wearing knockoff converse sneakers! Unfortunately, the female runners somehow ended up going off course and no one knew where they went. We decided to stop the timer after 50 minutes. Godspeed! After the event finished there was an awards presentation and speeches given by American and Georgian officials, including the First Lady of Georgia. A concert followed afterwards with several groups performing, including a Georgian boy band.

During our freetime we were busy attending supras- always the fashionable thing to do- and sightseeing. There was a small park in the city and at the top of a mountain peak was a tall ferris wheel. To get to it I had to take a trolley car to the top. The door wouldn't shut all the way, but that just helped with the air circulation. To get the ferris wheel I paid my 50tetri and the operator pointed to the ride. Now let me describe this baby for you. As if my last adventure at the "zoo-parki" in Tbilisi wasn't enough, I was about to hop aboard another soviet era ride. It was exceptionally large, rusted out and creaking. Yey we have to go on! I was with 3 other volunteers and we stood at the base of the ride waiting for it to stop. Hah silly us! It doesn't stop, you have to jump on as it comes towards you. Several cabins passby and we wisely choose to wait because they had seats missing or doors barely hanging off the hinges. We hear a grunt from behind us. Ride operator is getting annoyed so we hop onto the next one that comes by. As the cabin reaches the top of the ferris wheel you are treated to an awesome view of the city lying beneath you. Nice photo-up moment. Now if only the metal would stop screeching, but oh well. It's a nice ride!


As I'm writing this entry, I'm wearing my fleece sweats, my trusty hoodie and eyeing my ultra heavy duty sleeping bag. I brokedown on Sunday and pulled it out. It's quite possibly the best piece of equipment PC could have issued...aside from the lovely water filter. I was in class yesterday and happened to take a quick glance out the window. The amount of snow on the mountain compared to a few weeks ago freaked me out. I didn't come to Georgia expecting a warm winter. Nevertheless each day and night I live in trepidation of the imminent winter. Smartest thing I did was have my winter clothes mailed out in the summer to ensure it got here in time. And to the future G7s, yes long johns and wool socks are an absolute necessity.


I spent last weekend in the Capital and explored the nightlife Tbilisi had to offer. Armed with Laris and American accents we braved the night in search of entertainment. We went to a couple clubs and found drinks from ''back home'' like Corona's, Heinekens, Bacardi, Absolut, etc. "They'll be no Kazbegi beers tonight!" After spending 4 months in country, you'll understand why we were so excited. Of course you'll find yourself getting equally excited over familiar foods and condiments too like Oreo cookies, real ketshup, sour gummies, tabasco sauce, etc. Basically anything non-Georgian. So strolling down the streets we were excited because the nightlife was actually ''happening'' and kind of reminded us about back home in the States. When was the last time we could find anyplace open past midnight...okay 8pm at our respective sites? As we're walking, we hear some familiar music...english....and definately not was calling out to us, beckoning. So we went to investigate and there it was bathed in light...."Wild Bill's Saloon."

Did we get caught in some kind of timewarp? Here we are in former Soviet territory, speaking a language only 4 million other people worldwide know, playing Georgian Frogger as we cross/run across the street, passing bebias and gitchi people and yet something so distinctively American is standing before us. So we went in, thrusting the saloon doors wide open as we entered. We were greeted by dancing, live entertainment, cowboy-decked gals, western memorabelia, etc. Incredibly, this place really was happening! We went to a booth and found western foods in the menu...of course chicken sandwich was spelled chechen sadwich but you learn not to nitpick. As I mentioned earlier, there was live music playing with Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin songs. They had some kareoke with a Rod Steward lookalike singing. Only thing was that he kept singing to the drummer rather than the audience. Point is, if you want to experience a piece of Americana pay a visit to Wild Bill's Saloon!


Next week is Halloween and though we may be far away from the nearest Party City or thrift shop, we're going to be hosting a Halloween Party in Gori for all the PCVs. So I had been hoping to go as Stalin, but my quest for a SU uniform has turned up emptyhanded. Damn!