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, August 29, 2007

Bebias and Babuas......................

Bebias & Babuas

Grandmothers and Grandfathers in Georgia are given special respect. When we were assigned with our first host family all the trainers commented, "You are so lucky, you have a Bebia!" The family is usually living in the Father's parents' home. The grandparents are closely involved in the lives of their children
and schvili schvili (grandchildren). At our home in Gori the 87 year old Bebia's opinion weighed heavily in all family decision making.

Another observation on senior citizens is that if they have economic hardship they can be seen sweeping the street, peddling gum on the train, hauling styrofoam containers strapped around their necks filled with ice cream bars for sale or sitting on the street corner selling the ever popular unshelled sunflowerseeds wrapped in newspaper cones.

Eric's Bebia is an energenic farm hand. She gave me a lesson on milking the cow. We hiked out to the distant family field to find her in the hot midday sun pulling onions and carrots.

She spends her entire day on chores. On the way home we ran into her friend, hauling huge bundles of dill. Her shoes and socks are caked with mud. She loved joining us in the outdoor kitchen for a ludi (beer) and was giving out the warmest hugs and smiles you've ever seen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Futher observations................

I am convinced that all marshutkas have cracked windshields and are a minimum of fifteen years old.

Many families (at least in Gori) have one or more cows that are kept at their houses at night and turned out in the fields surrounding the town during the day. Every morning and evening there is a parade of cows through the city streets, as their owners herd them to and from the fields.

There are lots of holes in the middle of the streets and sidewalks (where they exist), as well as open 18 inch deep storm gutters on the sides of most of the streets. You have to watch your step at all times because of the holes and also because of the drivers who are attempting to avoid the holes by weaving their vehicles at high rates of speed from one side of the road to the other.

There are "maghazia"'s (stores) everywhere, many so small that only the proprietor himself can fit inside. Sometimes there are five or six situated immediately adjacent to each other, all selling the same stuff at the same prices. These stores are where everyone buys their groceries (unless they venture out to the bazaar, of which there is one in every town or village of any size). You have to wonder how the store owners can make a living from what they sell. I bet that most do not.

It's hot here and there is no air conditioning. Many people have fans that they constantly wave to keep themselves cool.

Everyone kisses (men included) left cheek to left cheek when greeting an acquaintance.

Whatever fruit is in season is served at every meal. It's watermelon (sazamtro) season now.

Many people keep their savings in Rubles, Euros or Dollars, rather than Laris (the national currency).

Banks also act as pawn shops.

Two years ago Russia cut off all imports from Georgia. At the time, Russia was by far the largest market for Georgian goods. Relations between Russia and Georgia have not been good for the last several years, and Russia supports the defacto governments established in two "breakaway" regions of Georgia, one of which is located less than 10 miles from our new home.

Almost everyone in Georgia at least nominally belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church. There are a number of Muslims also, located mostly in the area of the country adjacent to Turkey. There once was a substantial Jewish population as well, but most of the Jews have emigrated to Israel. My observation is that most people don't actually attend church, but many people (seems like more women than men) cross themselves three times in succession every time they pass a church, either on foot or in a vehicle.

Almost no one in Georgia wears glasses, and it's not because they see well, wear contacts or have had laser surgery.

The numbering system here is based on 20, rather than 10. For instance, the number 55 is "two times twenty plus fifteen" (ormotsdatkhutmeti).

The time is stated to be the next upcoming hour, rather than the hour last past. Thus 8:20 is tskhris (the number 9 in the possessive case....if the minute hand is in the first half of the clock the hour is stated in the possessive case and if it's in the second half the number of the hour is stated in the dative case) otsi (20) saatia (o'clock). If the minute hand is in the second half of the clock, you would say tskhras ("9" in the dative case) less the number of minutes until nine. Thus, 9:45 would be tshras uklia tkhutmeti tzuti (nine less 15 minutes). To say the least it is very confusing. I usually just show people my watch when they ask me what time it is.

I think it is always proper (and generally observed) that the last word of every sentence be the verb. Thus, "I newspaper and book read" is a well constucted sentence in Georgian.

Today, our 16 year old host sister Nino spent a good portion of the afternoon cutting a small piece of the overgrown lawn with a pair of scissors.

That's it for now. I am sure I will think of more stuff later.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Our new home..........

August 26th. We are now in Zugdidi, in the northwest part of Georgia (approx. 25 kilometers from the Black Sea). This is to be our home for the next two years. The climate here is more semi-tropical than the climate was in Gori. We even have palm trees! In the one day since our arrival, I have discovered a new all-time favorite fruit......figs! They are in season now and taste delicious. You peel off the outer skin of a green fruit which is the size of a small peach. You then eat the entire fruit (no pit). It is the most succulent, sweetest fruit that I have ever tasted. Lisa thinks that what we know as figs are a dried out version of what I have been eating (with reckless abandon) since we got here, much like a raisin is a dried out version of a grape. All I can say is that they are good....very good, and at our new home we have a fig tree in the yard (along with an apple, cherry, peach and pear tree).
We left Gori early on Friday morning (August 24) with the rest of our group of trainees and traveled to Tbilisi by bus with all of our belongings for the big swearing in ceremony as official Peace Corps volunteers. Enroute, we learned that another two members of our group had decided to pack it in at the last minute and return home, bringing the total to 4 in the last two days. This was very surprising, since we hadn't lost anyone since the very first day of training in Georgia 10 weeks ago, and that was due to a medical issue. The swearing in ceremony was held at a large theater in Tbilisi and was actually quite well done. In addition to the speeches given in Georgian by two members of our group, there was a movie about the Peace Corps mission, remarks by Georgia's Minister of Education and comments by the number two man at the US Embassy here. As a finale, there a very entertaining performance by a professional Georgian folk dance group, which showcased traditional dances and dress particular to the various regions of the country. Following the ceremony, there was a reception held for all those in attendence. Our new host mother and sister came from Zugdidi for the festivities, along with representatives from my new office and from Lisa's school. That is noteworthy, since the trip on the night train from Zugdidi to Tbilisi takes over 8 hours and the return trip by bus (which we all took) was about 7 hours. It made for a long night and day for many of them.
We occupy the former living/dining room of our new home , and ever since our arrival, Lisa has been working hard to configure the space in the best possible way. It is bright and airy and has a nice feel to it. We even have our own woodstove ("pechi") for heat in the winter. Soon we will have to buy our wood, since it gets more expensive the closer to winter that you make the purchase. As best as I can figure at the moment, you must either split the wood yourself or hire out the job to someone else to do for you. Of course, I lean toward the latter alternative, but I don't want to appear like a wimp while our host family is in the process of splitting its own wood. Probably the most culturally appropriate way of handling the situation would be to let Lisa do the splitting, since the women here do everything anyway. I intend to discuss this idea with her shortly.
In the center of Zugdidi, there is a large park within which is situated a large palace and residence which belonged to the Dadiani family, who founded the city and lived here for nine generations. There are lighted walkways and fountains throughout the palace grounds, and each evening during the summer there are hundreds of people out strolling. Last night we walked with our host mother, sister and dog (Shelley) into town (a thirty minute walk each way by itself) and spent an hour or so strolling through the palace grounds and watching all the people. It was something that Lisa and I never do at home, and we had fun (although we were all somewhat tired by the time we got back to the house).
Our internet access here "ain't what it used to be" in Gori, but we will try and get this blog entry posted as soon as we can, and we will also try and put some pictures up to give you a better sense for what things here are like. We are thoroughly enjoying the experience so far, but then again, we haven't yet started our respective jobs either!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Pix......................

This is a random conglomeration of pictures that we have taken. We are still feeling our way in reducing the size of pictures and getting them posted in the proper way to the blog. If the presentation of the pictures seems somewhat disjointed , it's because it is disjointed ! We'll post more later.

Here's a small park near the Bazaar. As you can see, some people are not particularly environmentally conscious. The Peace Corps is involved in a number of projects to raise environmental awareness, particularly among young people.

Here comes the train we are about to board for a day's excursion with our host family to Borjomi. It is about 2 hours to get there by car, but it turned out to take us more than 3 1/2 hours by train. We came back by marshutka and bus.

The train was hot and slow and the seats were hard wooden benches.

This is a church located right in Gori. It takes about an hour and a half to hike up to it. We haven't done it yet, but we hope to get there before our training is over and we leave Gori

This is the family after getting off the gondola in Borjomi park. Borjomi is a travel destination within Georgia and is also the home of Borjomi water, the most sold bottled water in Georgia. With the family is Marina, the person who tutors Miriam, Natia and Ilia in English, along with her children, Luka and Elena.

The gondola during its ascent.

This is a wishing tree. You make a wish and tie it to a branch of the tree.

Lisa had practice school for a couple of weeks during
her TEFL training. These are some of her students.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a conference in Batumi, a beach resort on the Black Sea. No conference would be complete without a supra, and this one was held at a restaurant on a pier extending out into the water. Other than the fact that the temperature was a humid 100 degrees plus, a good time was had by all.

Here's the view out the restaurant window at the bathers on the beach. As you can see, the beach is all stone, rather than sand, as are most beaches in Georgia.

Winding down PST...........

We are still in Pre-Service training (2 weeks to go) and we are being kept very busy by the Peace Corps. As a consequence, we have not been able to post to this blog to provide you with details on the funny, odd and just plain different things which permeate our daily life here in Gori.

Our host family are parents once again. This time to 20 baby chicks. They go along with the 20 chicks that were hatched a couple of weeks ago (actually I think there were originally 25 or so in the original batch, but a stray cat got to a few). We have a constant supply of eggs (K'vertse) which we often cook scrambled or fried. This is a source of great amusement to our family, since Georgians generally take their eggs only one way--hard boiled.

As we noted in previous posts, we have language class 3 1/2 hours each day (a 4 hour class with a 1/2 hour break in the middle), six days a week. We also get lots of homework. It isn't easy (particularly for us older folks). We are taught by an LCF (which I think stands for "language and cross-cultural facilitator") who is assigned to a group of between 4 and 6 people. That means that we have about 9 LCF's for our entire group. The LCF's are all women, in their early to late 20's. Most of them are English teachers in the Georgian school system. The competition to become an LCF for the Peace Corps is intense; there are many more applicants than there are positions to fill. As a consequence, those chosen to be LCF's are GREAT teachers. Not only do they pour their hearts and souls into each day's lesson, they make themselves available for tutoring on an individual basis
whenever and wherever anyone wants additional help. We have taken advantage of the opportunity to receive the additional one on one training on several occasions, but there is only so much language class that one can take in a day! The LCF's work very hard, and they deserve whatever pay and recognition they get for having been chosen as LCFs for the Peace Corps. In little more than a week, we will have our LPI (language proficiency interview), given by an independent tester, to assess our ability to converse in Georgian. If we don't pass, which I think requires a "low intermediate" rating, we will be allowed to continue as Peace Corps volunteers "on probation". That means we will be required to get tutoring in the language at our permanent sites and that we will be tested again in 6 months or so. I don't know (and I don't want to ask) what happens if we don't achieve a low intermediate rating on the follow-up test (we just may be coming home sooner than you think).

We are required by the Peace Corps to be politically and culturally sensitive in our blog postings (the blogs are monitored), so without any editorial comment, I will relate an interesting occurrence we experienced this week. Georgia has just accused Russia of violating Georgian airspace and dropping a bomb near a radar facility located about 15-20 kilometers from where we live in Gori. The bomb did not explode, but it resulted in many accusations and denials which made the international headlines. The day after that happened we were eating dinner with our host family when, all of a sudden, a huge explosion rocked the house and scared the S..T out of everyone. Initially we were told that a bomb had accidentally exploded at an Army base located a few blocks away from our house. However, later we were told that it was the unexploded Russian bomb that the Georgian Army had brought to the facility and detonated. Either way, it made a lasting impression on us.

Ah yes, life here in Georgia is more than somewhat different from life back home. However, the people are great, and we are having the time of our lives so far. Now if we can only get through that LPI next week..........