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!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Holidays 2006

Happy holidays to all! Tomorrow I'm leaving for Turkey to spend a much needed vacation with my friends. Will be back 3 Jan just in time to spend Orthodox Christmas with the host family.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Anniversary of Stalin's Birthday

Wow 2 days until Christmas and I haven't even started my Christmas shopping. Well in all fairness I have another 2 weeks to do so since Georgians don't celebrate it until January 7th. This week Gori has had a facelift with lights and decorations put up around Stalin Park. In the town center they'vre erecting a Christmas tree, well actually they're called New Year's tree, that's so tall it almost rivals the jolly green giant himself. Speaking of Stalin, his birthday was on 21 December and have I got a story for you...

So that morning as I'm in my room my Hdad yells at me to look out the window, which overlooks the park. As I look out imagine my absolute shock (and yes some delight!) at seeing WWII vets, grannies and grandpappies, marching in a parade decked out in their uniforms (medals galore) waving USSR flags. They marched to his statue and held a rally. Ah just one of the many perks of living in Gori!

Last Sunday happened to be a huge PC milestone: 6 months in country! Trust me when I say there were many times when I didn't think I'd make it to this point. PC has proven to be one of the most intensive experiences I've had to go through- physically and mentally. But I'm here! I'm 25% done with my service and now that I've been living in my permanent site for 4 months, I feel semi-competent as to what I'm doing. I've completed my first semester teaching in a public school. I've managed to pull off having 3 english clubs a week. I've made some wonderful friends, many who will be life-long. I've had some amazing adventures and plenty of awesome stories to share. Has it been hard? Oh "hard" is an understatement, but I'm happy. I know I made the right decision doing this and I don't regret it.

Now to reward myself, I'm going to Turkey. I'm spending New Years in Istanbul with some friends. My first vacation since I got here and I plan to make the most out of it. You know what'd make me really happy? I'd love to get my hand's on a monkey paw amulet---sheidzleba?!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

David Gareji

A few weeks ago I went to David Gareji, which neighbors Azerbaijan. It's a cave city that dates back hundreds of years and is just another part of Georgia's rich heritage. To get to the site we had to go to Tbilisi and barter with a taxi driver to take us to and from the site. From Tbilisi it took about 90 minutes to reach. David Gareji lies high in the mountains and is a monastary. 4 monks and 6 caretakers live there. One of the monks spoke english and gave us a tour of the monastery. Inside was a small chapel. Although there were interesting paintings and religious artifacts, the most interesting part were the bones of Georgians slayed by Iranians over 400 years ago. These bones are now watched over by the monks.

The view from the monastery was breathtaking. I could see for miles all around. Though the monks lived in small residencies carved into the mountainside, imagine my shock when I saw a tv satellite dish hidden in the brush. I also saw solar panels that powered the facility...or tvs. After the tour, I hiked to the top of the mountain. By the time I reached the top, I had stripped off 3 layers of clothing. That was the most excercise I'd had in months. The higher up I went, the more spectacular the view of the terrain and faraway villages. The mountaintop served as the disputed border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Technically I was in AZ for about an hour. On the otherside of the mountain was a small trail leading down the backside. It was a treacherous trek with loose, sandy trails and lots of snake holes (good thing it was wintertime). Carved into the mountainside were small rooms with frescoes. These frescoes date back hundreds of years. Many were damaged due to graffitti and natural erosion. Despite this I was quite suprised to see the vibrance in their color. It was a beautiful sight. The further I ventured down the path the more rooms I discovered in the mountainside. Each room was bigger than the next with the last being exceptionally large. This room once served as a church. I could see where the altar used to be and found some religious artifacts still in place.

After visiting David Gareji I had one of those moments where I could truly say "Only in the PC could I have experienced this!"

Friday, December 08, 2006

Well it's still cold out....

*Picture is from the newly unveiled 'St. Giorgi, Dragon Slayer' statue in Freedom Square, Tbilisi. Freedom square used to be Lenin Square during the USSR*

Last month was the All Volunteer Conference where we got together for a 2 day conference. The 1st thing I associate PC conferences with are hot showers and a serious scrubdown! That, good food and a comfortable bed. The last night of the conference was a PC sponsored Thanksgiving dinner. They provided the turkeys and volunteers cooked the rest of the dishes. Not a bad start to the holidays.

Thanksgiving day happened to fall on a Georgian holiday, St. George's day. On this day, people took sheep and chickens to the church to sacrifice. To sum it up in 1 word: bloodbath. In Gori, people went to Gori Gvari which is on a mountain that overlooks the town and neighboring villages. This day is the last day the church is open until the 2nd St. George's day in May. Georgians like to have 2 of every holiday. St. George's day was also the 3rd anniversary of the Rose Revolution.

As far as school is concerned, things are...were picking up. Now that winter's approaching and it's getting darker earlier we've switched to winter school hours. That means that my already too short classes of 45min have been shortened to 35min. This sucks since they only meet twice a week. Not a lot of room for meaningful impact and productivity when they have just over an hour of English lessons a week. Luckily, my English clubs have been doing well.

In bigger, better news I finally switched host families. Since moving to Gori in August, there had never been a good fit between myself and the new host family. After getting the greenlight to move last month, my school director located a new family. Last week I moved in and all I can say is that I'm extremely happy. They're awesome people and though I've only been here a week, I've done more bonding with them than in the 3.5 months I lived with my previous host family. On a sidenote to all future PCVs I can't stress the importance of bringing lots of pictures to show from back home. They love seeing them and you'll need for the many rounds of 'show and tell' you'dl have with all the neighbors and relatives that come to see the new American. That and when you're tired of explaining all the pictures over and over, they can take over for you so all you have to do is sit and look American!

Example A: My first week with new HF
Thursday- Move-in day. Supra with the new host-parents. In order to establish myself as the hardy American I agree to drink cha-cha (homemade vodka). I go 1 for 1 with hdad. By 330 I am goooooooooooone.
Friday- School all day. Leave for Tiniskhidi to visit training host family for a birthday supra. Meet some new villagers who toast, toast and toast some more to the American. Gooooooone by 11pm.
Saturday- Eat supra leftovers. Host grand daddy is happily drinking his chacha and wants to talk with me. Forgets I only speak Georgian and proceeds to talk to me in Russian and Ossettian.
Sunday- 1 shot of cha-cha with hostmom over breakfast before I return to Gori. Once back, I drink another shot of cha-cha with new hfamily. Then we visit the neighbors who happen to have 2 boys who are my students. Do a round of show and tell with the pictures. Escape at 1045pm.
Monday- 1 shot of chacha for breakfast. School all day. At night, eat and meet more neighbors.Show and Tell round 2.
Tuesday- Free day!
Wednesday- Repeat of Monday
Thursday- School. 10min after returning home, I go with hmom to crash a wedding supra 2 floors down. No wine! Meet about 20 neighbors and some of my students. Show and Tell round 3.
Friday- No school since it's the last day of the semester and the "real" teachers are tallying up grades. Don't even get me started on the grading policy here *cough*.
Saturday- Escape for the weekend and go to Tbilisi

My new place is located in the center of town in Stalin Park. I live in a flat (yes British english has infiltrated my vocab thanks to teaching here) on the 3rd floor. It's a nice 2room flat with no lift...but who needs a lift when going up 3 flights of stairs is the most excercise I'll get all winter?


Now that winter is approaching and long johns and wool socks are permanently attached to the body, winter culture has set in. Winter culture? Well because there is no such things as central heating here, houses are warmed up by a pechi (small wooden stove). Pechis are usually found in 1 room in the house and that room transforms into a family bedroom, living room and sometimes a kitchen. Multi-purpose! For many homes, especially in the villages, all the beds are moved into the room and the family members all sleep there. That was quite the experience for me when I went to visit my first host family. In one bed it was me, my host siblings and host mom. Across the room were the grandparents and in the corner was the hostgreat grandfather. The symphony of snoring that ensued was almost too much, but I dare not stray outside the room and be greated by brutally cold temperatures. The sacrifices made for body heat.