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, March 27, 2008

Mmm yey spring

So the good news is that spring has arrived. That means that I have all my winter clothes divided into piles labeled: give away or burn. I've been waiting a long long time for this. No more long johns, layers, scarves, etc. Although not quite flip flop season yet (Gori is Georgia's windy city) it means I can get away with a short sleeve t-shirt...and that's huge news.

So with Spring, comes the inevitable question. How long is too long in between taking showers. See with winter you don't sweat. You can easily get away with a week...10days...maaaaybe 12 days without showering. My host mom knows my shower day is Sunday. Each person has a special day. So anyways, now it's been 4 days since I last showered and I'm noticing a faint hint or something. Now, granted it could be my clothes. I was those less often than I wash myself. But I'm thinking it's my "glow" that's emitting that...amorous scent. So now I have a dilemna. Take a bath today and throw my whole shower schedule off, or just be a little more liberal with my scented body lotions (courtesy of a trip back home this past summer). Hmm decisions, decisions. If I take a bath today will I get a weird look when I ask for another in a couple of days. Or am I working myself up over nothing and maybe I should just change my shirt.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Deep Freeze 2008

Trust me when I say that I've been composing this latest blog in my head for a's just taken a while, laziness on my part, to actually write it out. It's cold. I mean cold.

The New Year greeted us with a gift, the "Deep Freeze."

This was the coldest winter Georgia has had in 75 years. My room was literally an ice box. Ice covered both sides of my cracked windows for over 10 days. The thermometer in my room mocked me as it hovered around 20-30s deg. And that was on a good "sunny" hour. Once I accidentally tracked snow into my room, and an hour later it was solid ice. Took a while for me to chip away at it. That's just giving you an idea as to how we rough it in the Caucasus . School was canceled for 2 weeks, meaning all I could do was hover over my heater or huddle under my sleeping bag. What made things so bad was that it wouldn't snow. It was just so very cold. And since there's no system in place to clear streets or de-salt. Ice is everywhere. And it never ever melts.

Then last week in 4 days, we had 3 blizzards and white-out conditions. Walking through town, I saw numerous cars skidding and sliding and taking nearly every pedestrian on the road out with them. But what makes it worse, is that so many people are suffering and dying. There is no insulation to help keep the heat out. People are poor and can't afford gas or enough wood to heat their homes (especially in the villages). Food for sale in the bazaar had actually been frozen solid. The amount of people that I knew in one way or another who have passed away because of these harsh conditions keeps rising. At least once every week, I find out of someone who died (usually the elderly) and get invited to their funeral and the funeral supra. Yeah, I know this isn't one of my more uplifting posts so I apologize. But it is depressing to be living in a developing country, which is difficult enough as it is. And in the Caucasus where winter lasts 6 months, it just makes things grimmer.

But it hasn't all been about the winter.
I didn't move to the Caucasus to escape the sunny Floridian weather. I moved to do...stuff? So here's my "New Year and a bunch of other stuff" post:

New Years 2008
Location: Gori , Georgia

In Georgia , you can hear fireworks going off throughout the month of January. Sold for cheap at the bazaar, boys like to buy them, light and throw them at unsuspecting people. People throwing them from balconies onto the street, opening the door and throwing it in a classroom, in a get the idea?

I spent New Years with my host family. We setup the supra table with special Georgian New Year food which includes treats such as churchela (a dessert made by mixing flour and grape juice together, boiling it and then coating a string of nuts with it), nigozi (honey and nuts), Satsivi (cold chicken with delicious walnut sauce), etc. But the supra doesn't start until midnight. So I went to the concert in Stalin Square . At midnight, there was lots of fireworks, hugging and kissing. Then all the families disappeared into their homes to supra and eagerly await their first visitor known as "First footprint-er." The first visitor is very special and if it's a good hearted person, that means good things await you this New Year. As for the New Year's supra it's a week long event. Literally. You are expected to gorge on food and wine, sleep, repeat until all the food is gone. This usually takes 4-5 days.
Between Jan 1-3, I went to 6 supras. 4 oh which took place when I went to visit my 1st host family in the village. In 36 hours I went to 4 supras. Supra'ed out. (BTW I am hoping that after 20 months you remember what a supra is. Supra= huge feast with lots of wine). I swore off all wine and supras for a good month after that intense experience. At least I tried to get out of as many as possible, which is not easy since January is full of holidays. There's Orthodox Christmas (7 Jan), Orthodox New Years (14 Jan) and Epiphany. Supras included. Your choice of wine, vodka, brandy or Cognac .

And perhaps one of the things I'm still squeamish about after 20 months is drinking with my students. The last week of school in December each grade hosts a Winter Carnival, which consists of singing, dancing, and skits. The students, teachers and parents sit at different tables with traditional Georgian foods and alcohol, and you supra while you watch the festivities. Having my students call me out if I didn't drink enough when a toast was given...well that's just Georgia .

Well I'm getting ahead of myself. I have to give a shout out to my boy, Uncle Joe. December 23rd was Stalin's birthday. So I joined the celebrations at the Stalin Museum . Gathered there were what I assume is left of the WWII veterans in town. There were about 20 veterans battling the cold so that they could talk about the good old days and praise Stalin (Stalini to the Georgians), the "Man of Steel." They had Soviet flags, Stalin portraits and were selling the Georgian Communist Gazette for 10 cents. They also had an anti-NATO banner and were handing out anti-NATO propaganda. The government is pro-Western and pushing for NATO membership. After numerous speeches the group proceeded to parade to Stalin Square and lay wreaths and bouquets at the foot of Stalin's Statue. It was all very touching.

In other news, I had the opportunity to go to the baptism of 2 fellow volunteers who were converting to the Orthodox tradition. The ceremony was held in Sameba, the largest cathedral in the Caucasus . It was done in a small chamber and only the Godparents were allowed to watch. The rest of us waited on the other side of the door. The ceremony varied slightly from the Catholic ritual. The candidates had to be barefoot. They were crossed by the Priest on various parts of the body, they had to walk around the basin 3x, and hair was snipped. I'm sure there was more to it, but like I said I didn't witness the events. Oh right, and instead of pouring water on the foreheads of babies, they were dunked them 3x in the basin and then clothed them in white. And after the ritual, guess what took place. You guessed it, we supra'ed.

But there is other stuff going on besides supras, seriously! After an intense 2 month campaign period, President Mikhael Saakashvili was re-elected President of Georgia in January. And the political situation has calmed down somewhat, though the opposition remains outspoken and contests the results. In May, the parliamentary elections will take place.

And on the Russian and Georgian news channels on a nightly basis is coverage of the US elections. Yes, Clinton, Obama, and McCain are all well known people here. It’s amazing to me how extensive the coverage is of our election process, and quite frankly how intense and long it is. And how confusing it is to foreigners.
On Saturday, I hosted "Writing Olympics," an English creative writing competition for students in 6-11th grade. It's part of a trans-Caucasus project with volunteers and pupils in Armenia and Azerbaijan participating. At the end, there are regional, national and "Best of the Caucasus " winners. There was a good turnout in Gori with over 200 students from the town and nearby villages participating.

The end of my service is quickly approaching. This second year has gone by so much faster than the first. I've already received "Close of Service" documents. Only 5 months left and then I'll be moving on. But to what is still unknown, and isn't that the adventure?