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.

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!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Quick Observation.......................

In Georgia, all physical maladies can be cured in one of two ways. You need either to eat a certain type of Georgian food or to go to a certain location in Georgia and breathe the air. The foods and locations vary depending on what ails you. In a place with no medical insurance, it's nice to know that there's always a quick fix for any problem that may arise!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The US Peace Corps Director comes to Georgia!

We had an interesting week. Ron Tschetter, the US Director of the Peace Corps, was in Georgia for a visit. Since the Peace Corps is now actively attempting to enlist older volunteers, we were invited to meet and have lunch with him as the local poster children for this new initiative. However, in order for us to do so, we needed to travel to another city in Georgia (Zestafoni) where the luncheon was scheduled to be held. That required that first we go to Kutaisi, where we were to stay overnight at a guest house, and then travel to Zestafoni the following morning in order to arrive in time for lunch. Unfortunately, our get-together was set to occur on the same day as a large rally in opposition to the current government was to take place in Tbilisi, the capital. Small rallies have been held in various regions of the country over the past few weeks and they were set to culminate in a very large rally in Tbilisi to be held on the same day as we were to have lunch. A regional opposition rally that was held in Zugdidi a couple of weeks ago turned violent when persons supporting the current government clashed with opposition supporters, and pictures of the violence in Zugdidi were shown on TV all over the country. When we went to catch a marshutka or bus from Zugdidi to Kutaisi the day before the lunch (and the rally in Tbilisi) we were told that no marshutkas or buses would be operating between Zugdidi and the larger cities to the East until after the rally was over. We could only speculate as to why. We managed to identify and board a rogue marshutka that was traveling in the correct direction (without a destination sign in its window), but we were stopped by the police about 15 miles outside of town. After a great deal of agitated conversation and the arrival of additional police, the passengers on the marshutka were ushered off onto the shoulder of the highway and the marshutka was taken by the police back in the direction of Zugdidi. We latched on to a lady who was a fellow passenger in the marshutka who was also heading to Kutaisi and decided that whatever she did to deal with the situation we were going to do as well! Fortune shined upon us a short time later when we caught a taxi and completed the rest of the trip without incident. We enjoyed a nice dinner at a restaurant with two fellow Peace Corps volunteers and then returned to the guest house where we spent the rest of the evening talking with the owner (who spoke pretty good English) and a young couple from France who were in the last month of a seven month road trip which they started from Beijing. The following morning we caught a marshutka to Zestafoni without any problem, had our lunch with the Director and our Country Director (at a table for 4) and caught a (very) slow train back to Zugdidi. The Director seemed to be a pretty regular guy, who was genuinely interested in our experiences so far and our suggestions as to how the Peace Corps might better achieve its goal of attracting older volunteers. Of course, we had to have a picture taken with him. It appears below.