This blog does not represent the position of the United States government or the Peace Corps as to any matter. All expressions of fact or opinion contained herein are solely those of Mark and Lisa Lebowitz and of no one else.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A little of this and a little of that.................................

The traditional Georgian birthday party includes a supra. Recently we were invited to a birthday party for our 10 year old neighbor. Mari is a sweet girl who lives across the street. In many ways the birthday party format here is the same as it is for a 10 year old's birthday party at home---presents, food and fun; but in other ways there are differences. There were 10 children at Mari's party. The party was held at 3:30, after school in the middle of the week. To begin with, everyone sat down to a big supra with all the traditional foods. The foods are always the same and are served in copious amounts including, among other things, lavashi bread, eggplant with walnut sauce, mayonnaise rice salad, salty cheese, a pickle plate, roast chicken legs, grilled pork on skewers, tomatoes, cucumbers, khachapuri, homemade wine and sweet peach, pear or tarragon soda called "lemonati". There is never enough room on the table so the food dishes are typically stacked on top of one another. Keep in mind that all these 10 year olds eat next to nothing, especially the girls. After the beverages were poured each child stood and presented a toast to honor the birthday girl. For 10 year olds, the toasts were quite impressive, many touching upon some of the fine things in Mari's character. After all the the food was served, Mari's mother played traditional Georgian songs on the piano, and Mari danced several traditional dances by herself. She was then joined by a friend who danced with her. Next, the only boy at the party danced the traditional dances with her. After the dancing, Mari opened her presents. Most of them were religious icons of one sort or another. Every Georgian has a collection of religious pictures honoring various saints, Christ and Mary. They are proudly displayed everywhere in their homes, car and school classrooms. Mari was thrilled with her gifts.

Next the boom box was turned on to the local pop station and the kids danced once again. Before long they were all running around in the yard screaming and having fun. We stayed around to talk with the Grandparents for a little while. As we were leaving we tried to find the kids to say goodbye. They were on a second floor porch in the rear of the house. They were taking turns jumping a gap of about 4 feet to the roof of the neighbor's outhouse next door. In America, the parents would have had a heart attack, but in Georgia it was just your typical kid's birthday party!

Another interesting birthday party was one that we witnessed one day in a small restaurant at lunchtime. Next to our table was a long table with about 14 young boys aged 13 or 14. Apparently it was the birthday of one of the boys. Soon the supra food began pouring out of the kitchen along with multiple pitchers of wine. The boys proceeded to toast the guest of honor in the same fashion as men do. Soon the alcohol started to take effect and the crowd became quite loud. We left before the festivities were over and went to the bank next door. We later saw all the boys outside the restaurant, hooting, hollering and carrying on. No fake proof needed here!

In walking around Georgia you always see women (and often men) walking arm in arm. They are very physical with one another. Sometimes my teachers will preen me when I talk with them or put their arm around me as we walk down the hall. In class the girls will often sit two to a chair even when there are enough chairs for everyone to have their own.

Recently we were returning home from Tbilisi after our vacation. After leaving the airport we took a one hour local bus to the center of the city, and at 6 pm we were lucky to find a waiting marshutka (beat up 17 passenger van) heading to Zugdidi. We settled in but had to wait until they filled 1 more seat before the marshutka would go. I was squeezed between Mark and a twentysomething young woman who told the driver she was going to Khobi, about 30 minutes short of Zugdidi. I struck up a conversation with her and explained that our organization had placed two PCVs in Khobi, but she did not know them. Other than that brief exchange, we did not speak, although we did share an orange I had. As the 6 hour ride progressed it began to get dark and sort of cold. The next thing I knew my seat mate grabbed my wrist and snuggled her hand up the inside of my sleeve for warmth and put her head on my shoulder. We were totally cuddled up! I tried to kick Mark so he could get a glimpse of what was happening, but I was afraid I would get my new friend's attention as well. As it turned out Mark was asleep anyway. The woman from Khobi and I continued to ride "snuggled up" for the next 4 hours. Eventually, we reached Khobi at around 11:30 and she said good-bye and left. It was an interesting ride.

Yesterday I worked on a committee with a very pregnant Georgian woman. I asked her how she was feeling and when the baby was due. She informed me it was a boy. I asked what his name will be. She told me that Georgians never name their babies before they are born.

This brings me to something I wanted to share on the blog----typical Georgian names. For girls, the most predominant name is Nino. Somewhere around 30% of all girls are named Nino, after St. Nino. With the name Nino you get two special days a year rather than just one-----your birthday and St. Nino's birthday. Other typical girl names are Salome, Eka, Nana, Mari, Madonna, Tamuna, Khatuna, Natia, Irma, Maia, Asmat, Teo, Sopo, Keti, Rusidan, Tsira, Elena, Gvantsa,Tika, Marika and Medea.

For the boys, Georgi is the equivalent of Nino in terms of popularity. Other popular names include Paata, Beso, Gocha, Kakha, Kakho, Misha, Ansor, Lado, Lasha, Uri, Tengiz, Mamuka, Dato, Todua,Tornike, Zviad, Nodari, Akaki, Irakli, Nato, Dimitri and Levani.

My strength in remembering names is weak to begin with , but once all these names got added to the mix...........let's just say it has been a challenge!

Georgians live together with their extended families. The eldest son will move his wife in with his parents and raise his family there and the house will become his eventually. If his father has any sisters who have never married they will be living there as well. Often the family has other relatives who live in a village outside of town. These relatives often come and stay with the family for short and sometimes extended periods of time for one reason or another. Such is the case in our family. One day an older woman I would guess to be around 75 appeared at our house and did not leave for several weeks. Upon asking, we were told that she is Eka's cousin from the village, but we are not completely sure if that is the actual relationship even to this day. We also have been calling her Keti for several months but just found out her name is actually Kvati! Kvati is the hardest working old person you have ever seen. She mowed our lawn by hand, cutting it with a very small scythe as she bent over while sitting on a foot stool. She has polished every 100 year old pot in the house until it gleams. She also tilled the entire vegetable garden with a hand held hoe. When she is not doing these things she is out sweeping the street. For some unknown reason Georgian brooms are only about 3 feet long, so when you use one you must stoop over which invariably brings on a snowshoveling type of backache in no time.

By now you are probably wondering why this segment is titled "My New Secondary Project". Well, one day I heard Kvati whimpering as though she was in pain. I went over to comfort her with a hug. She fell into my arms and I started to rub her shoulders. I don't know if she ever had her shoulders rubbed before, but she was so audibly overjoyed that I offered to let her lie on my bed for an official backrub. Well, I gave her a 10 minute backrub pretty vigorously, and she loved it. The next day and every day thereafter until she returned to her Village she would meekly knock at my door and look at me with begging eyes and say something in Mengrelian (the local language which she speaks most of the time). It was pretty clear what she wanted, so as my new secondary project I have become Kvati's personal masseuse. Who wooda thunk????????

Here are a few pictures of Kvati---- by the pechi, in the kitchen and cutting the lawn.

Here are some pictures of Mari's birthday party. In the first picture, some of the kids are displaying the presents they brought to her. Her brother is the tall boy in the rear. The second picture shows the two roofs the kids were jumping between (notice the outhouse roof in the rear). The last photo shows Mari demonstrating her Georgian dance, while her mother plays the piano.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Concert.....................................

A couple of weeks ago we had a concert in Zugdidi which was sponsored by the American Embassy. It was a concert put on by an American jazz pianist named Dan Tepfer. This kind of stuff doesn't happen often here, and the concert hall (a/k/a the movie theater) was packed. As Peace Corps volunteers, we were contacted in advance and asked if we wanted to invite any particular people from the community to the concert. I'm proud to say that 53 of the approximately 250 to 300 people in attendance were our invitees. I didn't think we knew that many people! Unfortunately, Lisa had to be out of town on the day of the concert, so she didn't get to go, but I did, and it was very interesting experience from a cultural perspective. First of all, as is the case with every scheduled event in Georgia, it didn't start on time. Georgians are notorious for showing up late, and the concert was no exception. I wasn't keeping my eye on the clock, but it was at least an hour after the scheduled time before the concert actually got underway. Just prior to Mr. Tepfer getting started, there was a brief introduction (in Georgian) by someone from the Embassy. Everyone was reminded to turn their cell phones off or to put them into the "discreet" mode so they wouldn't cause a distraction during the concert. However, telling a Georgian to turn off their cell phone is the same as telling another person to sacrifice their first son. Notwithstanding the very emphatic request which was made, cell phones continued to ring (loudly), AND CONVERSATIONS CONTINUED TO ENSUE, all through the concert. Only in Georgia!

The music itself was a bit too avant garde for me, but I am not really a jazz aficionado, so it may have been perfectly fine for someone who knew what it was they were listening to. In any event, toward the end of the concert Mr. Tepfer asked if anyone had any requests, whereupon a portly woman made her way to the stage and, in Georgian, said that she wanted to play a piece of her own! Somewhat befuddled, Mr. Tepfer found his way to a seat and the portly woman began to play. Surprisingly, she was quite good, and at the end of her number she got a loud round of applause from the audience. I didn't get a chance to speak with Mr. Tepfer after the show, but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that it was the first time in his career when, upon asking if anyone had a request, it was suggested that he sit down and allow someone else to play!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Three Things: Two Good, One Bad..........................

This is a quick update.

On Friday night at about 9:30, our host father knocked at our door and excitedly asked us to come outside. He had just received a call which alerted him to the fact that the city was about to "power up" the streetlights (quechebis naturebi) which have been in the process of being installed over the past month or so (which is a very short time by Georgian standards) along our street (which is normally pitch black at night). We all went out and waited for just a few minutes before the streetlights began to flicker and then to slowly increase in intensity (sodium vapor?) until the street was brightly illuminated. Of course, everyone else came out of their houses also, and before long there was a veritable street party going on. It's great! They are supposed to stay on all night, and now we don't have to fear falling in open manholes on our way home after dark!

A second good thing happened almost at the same time. All of a sudden we began to notice the presence of large silver dumpsters along many of the streets. I don't know why they are there or who they are for, but we have been using them to dispose of our garbage over the past few days, and it seems like everyone else is too (they are always full). Maybe the availability of these dumpsters will cause people to burn less garbage, which always includes millions of plastic bottles and bags and causes a foul smell for blocks in every direction.

The third thing is a bad thing. Over the weekend, someone broke into my office and stole two computers. My office is on the 4th floor (walkup) of a building that has locks on all of the doors and separate locked metal gates on the entrances to each of the floors. In addition, there are always 2 security guards on duty in the building 24 hours a day. All I can think of is that it was either an inside job or it happened while the guards were napping. The locked front door to our office was broken down and the computers were carried down four floors on the way out. I guess this experience also settles an issue that Lisa and I have had. In the summer here it gets beastly hot, and we have no air conditioning. I like to sleep with the windows (first floor) of our room open to get what little air there is, but our host family told us that we should keep the windows shut. With another summer approaching, Lisa has been saying that we really need to keep the windows shut this summer (easy for her to say when its not so hot at the moment), but I have been resisting (knowing what it's like). In view of the recent experience at my office, I guess I will just have to give in on this one.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Celebrating Healthy Women........................

When I interviewed to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, my first choice was to work in health education. Even though my years of experience have been in the elementary classroom I have always felt strongly about health care issues. My primary assignment here in Georgia has been teaching English as a foreign language. We are strongly encouraged to pursue secondary projects as well. In October, a Breast Cancer Awareness walk was held in Kutaisi. As volunteers, we were invited to come and help. Mark was at a different conference that weekend so I went to Kutaisi on my own to help. In the prewalk gathering phase there was a table with breast models for women to feel what a lump might be like. In my personal education about breast health I always felt that these models were helpful. I offered to to help out and saw how hesitant, if not downright terrified, Georgian women were to actually touch the models.

On the way home I got thinking that having a Saturday event at my school to give information on breast health might be a good thing to organize. My school has 1200 students, and accordingly, there are many women teachers there also who could benefit. I talked to my teaching counterpart, and she agreed that it would be a good idea. At the PC Halloween party I had a long conversation with Johanna Holtan, an NGO volunteer from my group, who is working with a women’s health care organization focusing on prenatal parenting education. She said she would love to partner with me to make this happen and that there was an NGO in Kutaisi whom she would ask to come and run the show.

In January, Johanna came to Zugdidi to spend some time to scope out the venue and plan the event. Together we brainstormed how to make the event informative and fun. This kind of presentation would be a new concept here, and we were concerned whether Georgian women would take time for something like this. We were determined to make it happen. We decided to incorporate a breast self exam training as part of the event. The people here are crazy for trainings and certificates. March 3rd is Mothers’ Day and March 7th is International Womens’ Day, both a big deal here. We chose the following weekend, March 15th, for our “Celebrating Healthy Women” event.

There was much to do. Johanna was working on recruiting organizations in Kutaisi to come. I had made friends with the director of an NGO in Zugdidi who does wonderful support work for IDPs (internally displaced people). I asked the director there to partner with me to go to a workshop on HIV/AIDS and to assist us in organizing the event. She is fluent in English and was happy to help. She also offered the aid of an IDP doctor who she had helped and now works in her organization. We also decided that we should incorporate many different aspects of womens’ health and well being into the event, so we reached into every health related direction we could. We knew that prenatal health education was vital, and family planning was needed. There is a high rate of TB here so information on that was important. To present the HIV/AIDS information we needed infectious disease doctors and basic facts. Women need to feel comfortable with gynecologists, so we needed them on board too. Cancer was an issue so we needed an oncologist.

When the Peace Corps heard what we were planning they approached us and encouraged us to apply for a VAST grant. This was exactly the kind of event that Washington was trying to encourage, especially if we included information on HIV/AIDS, which was already in our plan. Johanna’s expertise in grant writing was called into service, and within 2 weeks we found out that we had received $500 in our project budget, which meant we could expand our possibilities. We then had a budget which we could use to advertise, decorate and entice women to attend
with food!

We also decided to go to local businesses to ask them to contribute so we could have some sort of door prizes. My NGO counterpart said that one of the local banks had stated that they might be willing to help organizations in such a fashion. So Eka and I ventured off to the Bank of Georgia to make the pitch. In my days of fund raising for Camp Chingaghgook I learned much from George Painter about how to approach this. I initially spoke briefly in Georgian, and then through Eka as my interepeter, I launched into our request. The answer came quickly. The female bank manager thought it was a great idea which was much needed in Georgia. “500 lari would be no problem.”( 1 lari = $0.66). I immediately texted Johanna, and we were exuberant! Everyone we approached about the project was very positive. Georgia has the fifth highest rate of death from breast cancer in all of Europe. Everyone knows someone who has been afflicted. Women do not go to the doctor here except to have a baby or an abortion. The rate of abortion is 3.7 abortions per woman. There is very little family planning information available to them. It is just not talked about here. On the HIV/AIDS front, the numbers have been dangerously climbing in each of the last four years, and Zugdidi, where we live, has the second highest infection rate in Georgia. What makes this worse is that many men here frequently visit “Female Sex Workers”, and often a blind eye is turned.

We hired a neighbor of my teaching counterpart to prepare refreshments for those attending. Decorations were to be posters designed by the kids at school. We would get flowers at the bazaar which would later be given to the presenters. In speaking with my Georgian friends about door prizes they were confused about the concept. Because the people here are all so poor, there was a concern that if only 20 women left with gifts there might be bad feelings among the others. So,as an alternative, we decided to give each woman a small gift instead, a bottle of nail polish with a tag on a satin ribbon saying “When you use this nail polish remember to examine your breasts once a month. Compliments of Bank of Georgia “. Everyone loved the idea! Johanna arranged for five organizations to attend, dealing with reproductive health, breast health, prenatal care and family planning. She was busy ordering a huge banner, certificates, preparing the program and jumping through the hoops for the grant. I was busy visiting 3 local gynecologists, an oncologist and 2 infectious disease doctors and inviting them to participate and provide handouts. There are no big pharmaceutical companies to give out free information here. I met with kids to make posters. We also decided to introduce the women to low fat dips with fresh vegetables and provide recipes for them to take home. To complicate things, many of the women would be in the middle of their pre-Easter fast, which meant that at least half of the food had to consist of items which had no dairy, meat or egg products. The entire event, including all the signs, had to be in Georgian, so there was much translation help needed. We also invited PC volunteers to come help. We had 8 volunteers helping us. They came from all around Georgia, several
traveling 5 hours to get here!

We also learned that the Director of Peace Corps Georgia and the PC Language Coordinator were coming as well. A comforting thought. We had set a goal of 200 women, but if the word did not get out, it had thepotential to be a pretty bleak occasion, with lots of hoopla and no women. I spent an entire day pounding the pavement asking stores and businesses to post signs. We talked to everyone we knew. I was handing brochures out to other riders on marshutkhas (minibusses) and to waitresses in restaurants, and I even resorted to bribing kids in my classes with stickers if their Moms came. The day arrived. It was cold, rainy and windy. But to our surprise more than 200 women attended! The family planning expert offered confidential family planning information, and 10 women left that day with oral contraceptives. Everyone had a wonderful time and went home with arm loads of information.

Afterwards we had a luncheon for the presenters and volunteers to network and to thank them. At this event my school director was speaking with the local oncologist and gynecologist, and they offered to arrange free breast exams and pap smears for all the teachers in my school. Needless to say, Johanna and I were thrilled. We even have some money left to use to put together an informational kit that other volunteers can use to duplicate the event. Today we are very happy campers (volunteers) !

Here are some pictures (Johanna is standing in front of the school and at the mike with me in the blue scarf) .........................

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Developing Country............................

Just a quick note. Georgia really is making progress as a developing country. During the past week or so, workmen have been busy putting up light poles on our street! Yep, we're gonna have streetlights! Of course, one shouldn't get too excited before it actually happens (as exemplified by the new gas heaters that were installed in Lisa's school....the only problem being that there has been no gas and consequently no heat all winter). We're really excited though because at night here it is pitch black on our street and dangerous to walk home. Also, today was the third day in a row that the power did not go off once !!! Usually we lose power at least once and frequently several times every day. I took my camera with me to work today and here are a few pictures for you.

This is the electrical panel for our building, which is located at the base of the stairs heading to my office (4 floors up). Many days when I arrive at work there is a group of people huddled around the box playing with the wires. We frequently check our power by turning all the power off in the office and see if the meter keeps running (which means that someone has tapped our line!).

This is the wall in the stairwell outside my office on the fourth floor. As you can see, there has been some electrical work done there too (it even looks like they may have had a small fire at one time). The pink piece of paper on the wall is an advertisement for the women's health fair which Lisa is spearheading in Zugdidi this weekend.

Here are the streetlights!! We're excited and they look pretty impressive. I just hope they have electricity hooked up to them soon!!

There are lots of used clothing stores in Georgia. Here is one that is on my way to work.

Here's a place where you can buy shesha (pronounced shay-shah), which is wood for your petchi. Lots of people pick up some for the evening fire on their way home at the end of the day.

Here is another used clothing store and a couple of small stores selling general merchandise. There are many, many of these small stores all around town, all selling the same stuff at the same prices.

Here's a fellow who has a stand on a street corner in town. On the table for sale are two bottles of vodka, a carton and a few stray packs of cigarettes. He even has a cup in which there are a bunch of single cigarettes for sale. If you look closely, you can see that his arm is in a sling, consisting of a loop of string wrapped around his neck and forearm.

Here's a car getting pushed to get started. It's a frequent sight. Notice that the driver is one of the pushers too. You really need to develop your technique in order to push the car fast enough, hop into the driver's seat at just the right time, put the car into gear and pop the clutch!!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Snow in Zugdidi............................................

(written February 21, 2008) Winter reached a crescendo yesterday when Zugdidi got about 15 inches of snow. Although it snows here each winter, the memories of most locals were taxed in trying to remember the last time a single storm deposited more snow than this one. There are no snowplows here and by the looks of things, there are few shovels either. Snow is simply packed down by the few cars venturing out and by pedestrians tromping hither and yon. Very few of the cars here have snow tires. In fact, most of them have tires that display no treads whatsoever! Not many of the cars here would be able to pass the annual inspection required by the motor vehicle department back home. Cars are stuck everywhere and will likely remain just where they are until the snow and ice melts sufficiently for them to get out. The power has been out at our house for the past 24 hours, and of course, that means we have no water either. I have a meeting in Tbilisi tomorrow, and I am on the train at the moment because the marshutkas and buses are not running because of the snow. Unfortunately, the train takes forever (8 1/2 hours on a good day, and today isn't good). Actually, I just received a text message that said my meeting has been canceled because of the weather. Unfortunately, I'm already on my way! At least there’s power in Tbilisi. It was only a few years ago when power outages for months at a time were commonplace throughout Georgia. Everyone here remembers those times, and they are completely non-plussed about the power being off now. Not so me! I can’t imagine what it must be like to live without electricity for any length of time. I’m stressed out now and it’s only been off a day!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Only in Georgia!.............................

(Written January 15, 2008). Some days you just say to yourself, "Only in Georgia!". This is one of those days.

Today was the first day back in school after the holiday vacation. However, yesterday they announced on TV that schools in Georgia would not be starting until the 21st. I thought we were supposed to be going back to school today, so when I learned about the TV announcement, I texted my counterpart to find out what she knew. She said the school director hadn't said anything to her about a change in the plan, so we'd better go. She also told me not to expect many children to be there since it was cold outside (in Georgia that means it's cold inside as well).

Today also happened to be my host sister Nino's 17th birthday. Her Mom takes school pretty seriously, so I knew she'd be ready to go when the time came. We bundled up and started our 20 minute walk, but about 5 minutes into the walk we both started to hear loud music. I remembered blaring music had been playing the first day of the school year so I asked Nino if the music could possibly be coming from the school. The closer we got the louder it became, and sure enough, it was coming from the school. Nino said a famous New Year's song was being played (in Georgia they celebrate the "New" Year on January 1 and the "Old" New Year on January 14th). As predicted, very few students showed up for school (I'm sure the TV announcement didn't help). In one of my classes 2 of 15 kids showed up, so we had 2 students and 2 teachers, which is a pretty good ratio for public school! Unfortunately, someone had broken into the classroom over the vacation and stolen the small electric coil heater that was given to each class before Christmas. They also took some flowers according to my counterpart. Keep in mind that our school has 24/7 security guards!

After my scheduled classes I returned home to help with the festivities for tonight's big birthday supra for Nino. You can always tell it's the day of a big party because our host family always rubs the floor in the front room with a gasoline like substance which gives off noxious fumes throughout the evening's festivities. You would think that they could modify the schedule to do the floor treatment the day before the party, but they don't. The whole extended family is here to help in the afternoon, although the men generally hang around the petchi and smoke and eat, while the women do all the work. When I came in there was also another man in the front room I did
not recognize and we were not introduced. I went into the kitchen where the women were busy preparing a second cake (20" in diameter), several potato/carrot/onion/cabbage/mayonnaise salads and a mushroom dish using about 10 lbs. of mushrooms. I made myself useful by cutting the mushrooms into tiny pieces. Oh, how I long for my Cuisinart! As you may recall from our last post, Beso, our host Dad, and 2 partners have started a mushroom business in a vacant house next door. Needless to say we eat mushrooms at every meal. In the midafternoon some guests arrived from our host mom Eka's office to bring a big teddy bear to Nino and to toast her with shots of cha-cha (moonshine). The petchi in our room adjacent to the kitchen was fired up to cook much of the food in, but the first batch of chickens gave off so much smoke from the fat that our PC smoke detector went off. There I was in the smoky room with 6 adults and 2 kids who had never seen or heard of a smoke detector before. We cleared out the smoke but the room got pretty cold. I went into the front room to warm up (our room and the front room are the only two rooms in the house with petchis for heat) only to find that I was disrupting some sort of a religious ceremony. The man who I did not know was gently swinging a crucifix over a large jar of water while softly chanting prayers. I went back to the ladies in the kitchen to find out what was happening, and I was told that he was here to bless the mushroom house! I still don't know why he came in the middle of the preparations for a birthday supra to perform the ceremony or why the ceremony itself wasn't held in the mushroom house next door. Well, it's not yet 3 pm (6am for you) and there is much more to do before the 20+ guests arrive at 6pm. Some of the men are outside blowtorching the hair off the two piglets that our host family bought at the bazaar this morning and just killed and cleaned. Shortly they will be "doing time" in our petchi. To complicate things, our water pipes are frozen today with no hope of thawing before party time, so we will be drawing water from our neighbor's well for cleanup.

As I said at the outset, "Only in Georgia!"

Here is Beso's sister working on one of the many salads served at the supra.

You can never have too much khachapuri (it's the national dish)

a scene from the kitchen next to our room, just before the smoke detector went off (note the cake in the cabinet)

One of the piglets getting cooked in our petchi. The petchi is about two feet from my side of the bed in our room (we pulled the bed farther away during the supra for better cooking access).

The outside sink where all the dirty supra dishes ended up getting piled (after this picture was taken) while we waited for the water to unfreeze.

The stove top in the family kitchen. Almost everything is cooked on it or in the petchi (the oven doesn't work). Note the propane cylinder on its side. When you are running out of gas that's what you do first to try and get as much gas out of the cylinder as possible. Next you stand the cylinder up in a tub of hot water. When you can't get any more gas out after doing that, you have to get the cylinder refilled.

A picture of the five girls named Nino who attended the birthday supra, including the guest of honor (our host sister Nino) holding the youngest Nino's hands.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Since our last post we have been busy!

Mark's 60th birthday was celebrated by our family
with a huge supra and many toasts. His office
also celebrated all afternoon at work!

Irma, from Mark's office, got married and had a big wedding reception. She is the English speaker in his office, so, of necessity, they have become quite close. The party took place at her husband's family home, where she now lives with her husband in accordance with Georgian

This is the tent in the middle of the street in front of Irma's new house, where the wedding reception was held. There were about 150 people there. Cars had to find an alternate route to wherever they were going as the tent blocked the whole street. There were many toasts, and during the dinner, the head of the cow that was butchered for the meal was presented to the "Tamada" ( toastmaster) by the bride's family as a gift for his services. A great deal of eating, drinking and dancing took place, and when we left about 4 hours after the festivities started, the party was still going strong.

Here are a couple of typical Georgian fellows at the wedding.

Our host father has started a mushroom business with his brother in law in the empty house next to ours. They constructed a hot water heating system to keep a constant temperature in the mushroom rooms and they rigged up lights which shine on the mushrooms 24 hours a day. The mushroom season runs from about late November until May. Every day they harvest the mushrooms that are ready and send them on the night train to Tbilisi. As you can imagine, mushrooms have become a big part of our diet at home too!

Here is Beso stirring the "bamba". The bamba is something like peat moss that gets cooked before being put into clear heavy plastic bags in layers which alternate with layers of mushroom seeds.

The bags are kept in the dark for 14 days at a certain temperature and then slits are cut into the sides and they are hung in a room with lights shining on them. The mushrooms then start growing out the slits and are harvested daily when ready. It only takes a day or two from the time the mushroom can first be seen until it reaches full size and is harvested. Every night the mushrooms are sent on the night train from Zugdidi to Tbilisi, where they are sold at the bazaar the next morning.

We were walking down the street when one of Lisa's students spotted her and rushed up to say hello. Pretty soon the rest of the family showed up (along with a couple of the neighbors) and the parents and kids wanted us to come into the house for a visit. This kind of stuff happens pretty much every day. Here's a picture that we took of the kids. We had prints made up and gave one to each of them.

Our host mother, Eka, has two sisters. They are
a very close family. Each sister has a daughter close to the same age as our sister, Nino. The Moms and Dads spend a lot of time hanging around our house and watching television together. They also help with the mushroom business or the cooking, cleaning or whatever else is going on. This picture shows our host sister Nino and her father Beso in the middle, with Nino's two cousins and their fathers in the family's living room (the only room in the house, other than our room, which is kept heated in winter).

Eka's sisters and a visiting Aunt are gathered around the pechi for warmth while they enjoy a cup of Turquli kava.

We rounded up three Peace Corps Volunteers from the villages in the mountains (they lead a much more difficult existence than we do) to come to our room for a visit over the holidays. One could say that they were stand-ins for our own kids, who are about the same ages as our visitors. Our first thought was to have a big turkey dinner, but the price of turkeys at the bazaar was to the moon (about $50 for a 15 to 20 pounder live weight....and then you had to kill it, pluck it and clean it). Instead, we made eggplant parmesean. Unfortunately, we mistakenly used the family's holy oil to cook with!

We used our pechi (because the kitchen gas canister was empty) and cooked in the dark (because the electricity was out). Notice the headlamps on the cooks in the picture. Surprisingly, everything turned out great, thanks to Christie, Paul and Erik!

This week was the presidential election in Georgia. The current president
Mikheil Saakashvili

seems to have won, getting slightly in excess of 50% of the vote. Shortly before the election he came to Zugdidi and presented the City with a gift of 10 new tractors and 8 new buses, which have been on display in the center of town since his visit. He also gave each family in town (including ours) a 50 kg sack of flour and a voucher to get free firewood in the forest! He got our vote!

Here's a picture of our host father, Beso, with his
Saakashvili poster.

And finally, here's a picture of Lisa doing something in our room, while waiting for the laundry to dry.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Internet and lines................................

We have internet at our house! Actually, I should say we HAD internet at our house. It worked for one day (Thanksgiving Day) and has been on the fritz for the three days since then. Hopefully it is a temporary problem and we will be back up and running soon. At least now I know for sure that it is possible to get a connection here. Our street is about 5 miles long and we are the only connection on it (actually, I suspect that we are the only connection in this part of town). It is a DSL connection, although the speed is about the same as dial-up (I'm not complaining). Getting the internet has been a long involved process. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was told at one point that we could get an internet connection in a week. Subsequently, that estimate was extended to a month, and in actuality, the process ended up taking about 2 1/2 months, which is still well within the "time-estimation parameters" for getting something done in Georgia. In order to make the necessary arrangements, I first had to go to the telephone office, where all the records for Zugdidi are maintained manually, on ledger cards. Arrangements had to be made to change the type of line servicing our house and that required that the phone number be changed also. Then the people in the internet office had to put the order in through the central office in Tbilisi and we began the 2 1/2 month wait. Once I learned last week that the internet office in Zugdidi had gotten whatever they needed from Tbilisi, I stopped over there and they gave me some pieces of paper, which I had to take to a different telephone office than the one I had been to previously. The woman in the new telephone office stamped the pieces of paper with a rubber stamp of some sort and then gave me back all the papers along with a bill, which she also stamped a few times with a different rubber stamp. Then I had to take the paperwork over to the Bank in order to pay the bill. At the bank, bills are first presented to a person at a desk. That person enters something into a computer and waits for their printer to spit out another piece of paper which is then stamped a few times and given back (Georgians love stamping stuff.....I'm convinced that if wax seals were readily available here they would be a big hit too). All the pieces of paper are then taken over to another area of the bank known as the "Cash Desk", where payment (in cash) is made and a receipt is given. All of this would have been fine if it were not for the crush of people seeking service at each step along the way. Unlike America, where people line up and are served when their turn comes, here in Georgia the concept of a line does not exist. At each of the stops which I've noted above there were many other people who also wanted attention for one thing or another. Instead of lining up, everyone stormed the desk of the person providing the service and then wiggled and jockeyed for position in front of everyone else. As a result, things took much longer to accomplish than if everyone simply waited their turn. Also, the whole process here is considerably more stressful, since you invariably become angry at people who have unjustifiably butted in front of you ("line rage"). I had to go to three separate offices and spend over two hours one afternoon in just trying to pay our internet bill. Imagine my surpirse when I learned that this process much be repeated each month. Here, people don't get bills in the mail (there is no home mail delivery). You must go to the telephone office at the correct time each month, make your way to the front of the crush of people there, get your bill, take it to the bank, make your way to the front of the crush of people there, and then again repeat the process when you actually pay the bill at the cash desk in the bank. People must do this to pay their electric bill as well as their phone bill. If you forget to go get the bill and make payment at the proper time of the month, your electricity or telephone is simply turned off. With the exception of the bank, which is located on the first floor of a recently renovated building in town, the locations where these agencies maintain their offices are also eye-opening. For example, the telephone office that I had to go to is located in a very large old Soviet style cement building which is largely abandoned. I had to climb a very narrow staircase until I reached the proper floor and then walk down a narrow hallway which runs the length of the building (two people walking in an opposite direction can barely get by one another without turning sideways). The entire hallway is illuminated by just one or two lightbulbs hanging from the hallway ceiling, which necessarily means that a considerable length of the hall is almost completely dark. On both sides of the hall are many doors, none of which identify the office which lies within (you must have precise directions in order to get to where you want to go). Some of the doors are missing and you can see offices inside that have been abandoned and the entire contents (including the windows) looted. There is no heat and there are piles of trash in the stairwells and hallways, all of which combine to give the building a very haunted house feel. I was happy to get out of there after my business was done. Fortunately, next month it will be Lisa's turn to pay the internet bill !!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Halloween at School.............................

When my counterpart teacher, Nino, learned that there was an American holiday called Halloween coming up she immediately seized the moment and said, "We need to plan a special day for all the classes." We then spent a lot of time prepping the kids on the origins of the holiday and what kinds of costumes we wanted them to create. I confess to being a little skeptical about what they would come up with. Prior to the big day, we had a team of students carve a Jack-o-Lantern (out of a squash of some sort that resembled a pumpkin), and Nino and a friend of hers went crazy trying to "decorate" the room. They brought in little plastic bugs and dinosaurs they thought looked scary. I tried to find black paper in town to make bats or spiders. No go. On the big day, we made 2 big ghosts to hang and had scary music playing. We put the headlamp I use for reading at home inside our pumpkin in the flash mode. The kids were so excited we actually needed someone to guard the door when word got out in the rest of the school that something spooky was going on in our room. Many teachers who did not have classes (many are part time) were in the back of the room watching the goings on. I had on my Marge Simpson costume on with 3' of blue hair and an outrageous necklace. They know "The Simpsonis" here, so the costume was a hit. The kids came to school dressed in many fantastic costumes themselves! They took turns describing their costumes in English and then each came forward one at a time to "Trick or Treat" at the classroom door from the inside out. Nino was poised in the hall outside the door with a big bag of candy, and she dutifully answered the door as each kid knocked in turn. Then I took picture of each student. Next we bobbed for apples... a big hit! There was a lot of water in the tub (at least to start with) and the kids were cheering for each other. We were waiting with towels to rescue them. Everyone then sang that old standard, "If You're Scary and You Know it Clap your Hands". As we reached the stanza, "If you're scary and you know it then your face will reallly show it" everyone made a ghoulish face. You can see my ghoulish face in one of the pictures below. We finished up by first discussing and then writing about the party in English. This week we are preparing a huge display with all the photos that we took and the kids' written reports. They have all been taught British English so many of them agreed that is was a very "jolly" party. I was pooped after holding separate Halloween parties for each of my five classes, but it was worth it! The festivities were apparently such a hit that Nino has just informed me that there will be a Christmas pagent at the end of December, and we need to come up with a big performance to wow the director! I will be waiting for all your recommendations, and I'm counting on all you music teachers out there to come up with something good!

11th Grade Class --class bad boys (tseudi bitchebi) as siamese twins in lower right

Bobbing for apples........

If you're scary and you know it, then your face will surely show it!!!

7 th Grade Class

Achicko as a baby!