A Travellerspoint blog

The School Spirit

Suck it up buttercup, as my Dad likes to say...

I've mentioned before that the school was in shambles. Even with its recent refurbishment the school's interior looked like an old dirty barn with new paint, applied by a couple of its second grade dropouts. In the biblioteka, the library, a chain link fence separated the room roughly by half. I assume this was to protect their most significant resource, a small amount of books (also known as their only resource). In my humble opinion, which has been brushed off every time I bothered to utter it, was that to guarantee the safe keeping of the school's books having a window with glass still in it may be a thoughtful way of keeping the sideways monsoon rains off of the bookshelves. Hey, but wha'do I know, right? On the other side of the fencing sat two tables, one on either side of the room and a few roulette chairs – meaning, you were definitely taking a risk by using them. The table to the right was free from debris, but the table on the left had a small burner and supplies to make impossibly tiny cups of high viscous coffee. Three or more two liter bottles of beer were openly strewn about: one filled with water to make the coffee, and the others filled with homemade vodka to make the day.

This was one of three places the P.E. Teacher, or the science teacher, or the Principal or the tiny old lady that wandered the halls took me to have a few pulls of vodka.

'Why?' I'd ask, and they would look at me with confusion.

'New school year,' then 'so-and-so's Birthday,' then 'because it is Wednesday!' I've stopped asking why.

The other two places where I'd be lured to drink (at school, during school) were the teachers cabinet and the Principals office, though the latter was always an uncomfortable series of events where she would pull me into her office, shut and lock the door behind us and tap the sofa beside her to sit while filling two large coffee mugs full of the burning fire water. What they use as coffee cups and what they use to consume straight vodka is backwards for us in the West. An ounce of coffee chased with a mug of booze is the cultural norm here. I'm not one to be ethnocentric if I can avoid it, so I shelve my own cultural mores and participate in the ritual practices with the locals.

I had obvious anxiety coming into school on the first day, about to teach my first-ever class, and this seemed to have been compounded by my surroundings - the condition of the school - but all of my reservations just sort of faded away when I opened the gate to the schoolyard and saw the entire student body staring at me with such intense excitement. The girls huddled in giggling pockets likely picking me apart like the ruthless savages we all know teenage girls to be. The older boys sized me up as typical Georgian males do by locking eyes with me and puffing up their chests. I found though, that a simple nod of the head with an equally stern look seemed to crack the shell of their attempt at an alpha male stare down, relinquishing a sheepish smirk or full-blown grin. The younger kids had no qualms about running up to me with a hand extended offering a delicate handshake and belting out 'Hellooo Teachah!' Everyone was beaming, including myself. What did it matter the squalor we were in or if the teachers toilet consisted of a squatter hole in the ground out back, the outhouse made from scrap pieces of wood with gaps big enough to put a leg through? My questioning of these gaps a week later was an embarrassing exchange with my co-teacher where she simply replied, 'How else to know if it is in use?' I was taken aback and simply fumbled around with my words and after some time, simply gave up and walked away in silence. Is one's surroundings so important or important at all? What mattered was my best effort to teach and their best effort to learn. I was going to teach the shit out of this place! Right!? Ya, and then magical elves were going to present me with a lamp, inside of which lived a Genie who granted me three wishes, the first of which I would use for infinite wishes and the second wish allowed me to eat all the Swedish Fish candies I could ever want and they were good for me.

The first month was great. The kids were attentive to what I was teaching, my local co-teacher would let me take over the class anytime I liked and I felt like kids were actually learning English. They were astonished that games could be played inside of a classroom and still be considered English class instead of the Soviet-styled rigor and monotony of filling endless notebooks with single words and their translations, and reading, oh-so painfully, from a block of text they have zero comprehension with. Additionally, and frustratingly so, I was still waiting for my own set of books. This made preparation for lessons a disorganized and fruitless task. I had to stick to the nation-wide, Georgian-approved, McMillan textbook, which I didn't have. Most kids in my class couldn't afford to get their own either. I had an incomplete set of flashcards, so the grade one kids knew A-G very well, skipped a bunch of letters, but could absolutely nail W, X, Y, Z. They didn't seem to respond to me standing at the front of the class writing the absentee letters on the board though. I had no markers or paper to make my own posters, no access to internet to research ideas on resourceful teaching in resource-less schools and even the simplicity of finding chalk was not an easy task. A whiteboard had been installed for my benefit, but true to Georgian form, no dry-erase markers could be located. The board lasted all of three days before they realized that the board itself didn't possess any magical qualities and that permanent markers wouldn't erase.

I decided to ignore the frustrating lack of material in which to properly teach these children and, perhaps arrogantly, professed myself to be the greatest resource in my arsenal for inspiring their young minds. And so, the frustration subsided and I have accepted the challenge set before me, largely in part after diving into a book one afternoon and coming across an inspiring quote from A. Alvarez in which he wrote;

The more improbable the situation and the greater the demands made on the person, the more sweetly the blood flows later in release from all that tension.

I am indebted to Georgia, I realize, not for the experience of travel and adventure, which it has undoubtedly been so far, but for the hand at my back, or rather the slap across my face in which after a long personal journey, through waves of doubt and tsunamis of frustration, I have finally settled on not only what I will do, but much closer to who I strive to become.

Posted by CRBackman 05:53 Archived in Georgia Tagged children georgia teaching Comments (0)

The Village Entertainment, Ori

What else is there to do?

This is the first back-to-back weekend, since being placed in my village, that I have decided to spend the entire weekend at home. What is there to do?

I have devoted over a week to the smoothed pebble beaches of Batumi on the fringe of the Black Sea of which I split in half by delving into a short and lackluster relationship with Trabzon, Turkey, promising I'd return to her and give that crazy bitch another chance – Istanbul this time. I came home to Samikao for a short while, the logic being to rest, recover and eat a decent meal that didn't make me wish for sudden death, and perhaps even wash my clothes. Alas, cabin fever had set in more quickly then I realized and before I knew it, I was gone again with a brief stop in Tbilisi then succumbing to the call of Yerevan, Armenia. She was simply a beauty. Within this mad rush of travel by train, marshutka, bus, taxi and good old fashioned bipedalism, I managed to also see a great array of Georgian cities beyond just Tbilisi and Batumi including; sphincter Abasha, bazaar-happy Samtredia, refurbished Kutaisi, political Zugdidi, breathtaking Mestia and the lesser known and sparsely visited dollops of civilization that pepper the Georgian countryside. I have found genuine beauty, anxiety, frustration, tranquility, adventure and intoxication within every stop across the Saqartvelo map. Especially intoxication. What else is there to do here but eat, drink and be merry?

I don't rightly know what sobriety feels like anymore, but if I wasn't so drunk, I'd probably miss its bland approach to life. I know what some of you are thinking though, I am a man of at least passable intelligence and autonomy, and I could easily act to end this cross-country wine tasting expedition with a firmly spoken 'No', but to this, all I will express is that you so-clearly have never been to Georgia; under the roofs of these wonderfully gracious hosts and guilt-experts, they gleam with pride, ready and willing to offer up whatever they have and to make you so comfortable, it's uncomfortable. This is concludes not being satisfied until you've sampled their wine 400 times and fill empty bottles as take-home offerings.

SHOPPING:
There is a general store in Samikao village, but this term is used vaguely and only to evoke some sense of meaning, to convey that there is a place in the village selling products for consumption. Chabuki and Teona offered to take me to this store perhaps in thinking I needed something or maybe just to acquaint me with its location and stock. I walked in to find on dusty racks nothing but laundry detergent and bullets. Crisis averted I thought; I need not travel far if I need to replenish my ironically named brand of laundry detergent, Barf, and fuckin' bullets. Aside from supply and demand which I vehemently rejected as a motivation for stock selection, I stood between the goods wondering what connection soap and ammunition could have...

Step 1: Place soiled clothing in wash basin.

Step 2: Fill basin with water.

Step 3: Add in ½ cup of detergent, or as desired.

Step 4: Load clip and fire all ammo into water to agitate.

Step 5: Yo' shit be clean, suckah. Hang to dry.

Caution: Make sure to exhibit, as is the Georgian way, no evidence of satisfaction during any step. Be sure your facial expression does not change from the frozen expression of serious constipation; as if you weren't otherwise having the time of your life.

Note: This drying step should take no time at all, seeing as all garments are now full of bullet holes.


My Scrubs-like daydream is crashed by the horn of the car. We go back home and I scribble down my experience on a pad of paper, saving it for later.

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EATING:
“Modi Coro! T'chamsachameli!” I am interrupted in writing this blog entry by my awe-inspiring host mother.

“Gmadlobt, Deda. Me ar minda sachameli. Tu sheidlzleba!” She looks at me sternly with those black eyes when I say, 'Thank you, Mom. I don't want food,' then her, Bebia and Teona burst out laughing when I say 'Please,' in plea.

After lunch my host sister weighs me on a gigantic and ancient soviet relic of a scale. Within my first few days of arriving here I weighed 76 kilograms. Standing on the opposite side as the scale's numbers, I knew the counterweight sat far in the wrong direction. 81 kilo's. My vain Western ego takes a direct hit.

"Goooood, Coro,” they say, “but eight five, best.” They simply ignore my sharp disagreement that unnecessarily obese is not better and I walk away wondering if there's a prize for the community who manages to grow the fattest TLG volunteer; like pumpkin growers at an Autumn county fair. Tsalenjikha is the clear blue-chip front runner. What is there to do other than eat, drink and feel like a disgusting, gluttonous blob?

---------------------------------

HOUSEWORK:
To keep fractionally active I've participated in activities wherever I could, but even that had its limitations. The women here have impressive work ethics and they take great pride in what they do... which is quite literally everything. I am not allowed to clear my plate, let alone wash dishes, or am I even trusted to clean or tidy my room. The latter will just be done over by her, ensuring in her mind only then has it been done properly. I can't even do my own laundry, and I'll be honest, after some precarious street food, water adjustment periods, or long sweat-filled hikes my boxer-briefs should be deemed as biohazardous waste or at least be burned for the sake of all mankind. It has taken me two months of persistence and covert operations just to pull my laundry off the line myself, fold it and put it all away.

MANUAL LABOR:
I was appreciated when I harvested corn in the final hours of sun early one evening. After a short day at school and a quick afternoon nap waiting for the heat to subside, the family, the farm employees and myself all went out, clad in boots and straw hats. I was working on a decent tan from Batumi that I wanted to keep adding shades to so I worked without a shirt. Apparently I am allergic to dried corn husks, I surmised. The Choroglashvili women were horrified every time I performed a 'farmer's blow' blasting a huge goober of snot toward the Earth (also known as a 'snot rocket', for clarification). The men thought this performance was fantastic and laughed like small children at every show. We finished off the corn harvest in three short hours and I actually felt somewhat accomplished, though when I entered the house, they shrieked at the hives appearing all over my exposed epidermis. In my silly and ignorant Western egotism, I argued extensively that a quick, cold shower (as if I had a choice in temperature) and an allergy pill would settle things down. They argued, without end, non other than three (or more) large pulls of homemade vodka would be the only course of action.

Following the previous days sense of accomplishment, when I was asked if I wanted to wield a machete then shuck corn in the fields again, I agreed, assuming we were helping a neighbor. Nearly ten hours later in another field of Chabuki's, in the direct midday sun which blasted extreme heat through our straw hats, I was toasted, fried, exhausted, done. His second field was massive though managed to finish it at the end of the day by working quickly, determinately. When I declined the next day to again pull manual labor for no money, I was met with harsh disappointment. I felt bad for saying no, but I had a job and I had already given them half of my weekend, so I declined, choosing instead the relaxation of a book and some much needed quiet time. The previous day's ten hours in the sun with the locals had torched my skin and my patience; I could only listen to a gaggle of annoying women and girls tease and giggle at me for so long. Their relentlessness was astounding. At some point at least, I knew the Sun was going to relax and recede behind the horizon, whereas these girls were never going to relax their mouthes.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY:
As mentioned in a previous post, I did have the opportunity to fill my time by petting some of the pigs while fairly inebriated. Actually, just one, who lay outside the iron gate of our compound unable to get up, overloaded with pregnancy and clearly giving no shits, not moving for anyone or anything. We became friends; the pig spoke as much English as anyone else in the village. She was a good listener, and I provided her with a comforting stroke of her prickly hairs and a bit of additional shade which I think she appreciated. A week or so later I was present just after the piglets came flying out. It was after a supra when they showed me, so lots of wine had been drunk. All of them were adorable and beautifully pink except one, the ugly duckling of piglets, who timidly watched as all his siblings suckled away at an exhausted momma. He was a burnt orange in comparison sporting black spots all over his body. I felt bad for this ugly little bastard, so I looked over at Chabuki, pointing to the runt and asked, 'Ramdeni lari?' How much? He laughed then sensing my seriousness, and being a businessman he engaged me in bartering. I had no knowledge of how much a piglets worth was but we went back and forth, punching numbers into our mobiles because my knowledge of kartuli numbers ended at ten. The final result is hazy at best and I'm still not sure if we settled on a price or if money changed hands but in any case I still visit the piglet who I'd named Sir Winston Churchill. The runt has ballooned and has become quite dominant in play among his brothers and sisters. It seems someone has been sneaking into the pen and feeding Winnie a little extra The mystery remains unsolved.

During my second visit to Batumi, a calf was born in our backyard. I missed her birth by only a few days and named her Hannah for no other reason than her huge brown eyes and long eyelashes seemed to warrant the name. I have purposefully detached myself from our new, sweet girl because cows are very stupid and louder than you might think. Also because I had witnessed an employee of the farm, Givi, through the window of my room walk a calf over to the manicured front lawn of the house one morning. After pulling myself out of bed and shuffling over to the hand pump to brush my teeth and splash water on my face, I saw it there, strung upside down from a tree. Quick and painless I thought, how efficient a kill. Only it wasn't dead. At that moment Givi plunged the knife into its esophagus and the previous silent calf screamed a horrid and chilling wail. I was sad and small at this sight. A twenty nine year old little boy. A spoiled Westerner who purchased his choice of neat cuts of meat in grocery stores without ever needing to experience the true consequences of being a meat-eater. This was my motivation to head back to Batumi for the second time, just missing the birth of little Hannah.

VISITORS:
I had a friend hang out in my village one weekend. Derek met the family and it took him no time at all to sandbag me with my hosts, solidifying my name as Coro when they had just started to get it right. Apparently, here, a Coro is a large bird of some kind that swoops in and steals chicks and small chickens from the yard. I hate the nickname a little less now. A supra evolved as soon as he arrived, with endless and all-too-familiar utterances of 'come, sit, eat Dedek, Coro.' He met my friends Givi and Igori who toasted to Georgia, Canada, America, life, death, love, friendship, all members of our host families and our families back home. From the first toast, Derek emptied his glass where I had left some to remain in the bottom, and Igori stoked the embers of an inevitable drinking contest. Samikao versus Tsalenjikha. I was not going to let the little bronze buddha statue win. It was on. After dinner our contest of manhood extended to milking cows. He destroyed me. I shouldn't be surprised that he excelled at stroking the creamy liquid from a phallic piece of meat. Homo milk.

Igori, clearly frustrated at seeing me periodically, at best, squirt milk from the cow grabbed my attention. My arms were covered in milk, the bucket had a few drops somewhere at the bottom, I was sure. He held up a piece of rope that was tied to a post and unused at the other end. All other posts had cows attached to them. The duty to find the missing cow was an instant mission of Derek's despite the falling rain. I was reluctant at first, for about a second and a half, never one to turn down a Zaney Adventure. We suited up in pants, rain shells and headlamps then set off through the gate. Chabuki was ecstatic to have these two morons hunt down his cow in the rain while he supervised from the protection of his old, white, soviet piece, grumbling and choking, bumbling down the road behind us. Four kilometers away the pasture gate was open which allowed all the cows to meander home shortly after six, just as they did every day of their lives. We hiked around the tall wet grass of the communal pasture for a few hours. I was convinced the pregnant cow had lay down and was giving birth. Chabuki looked with us for a while then hopped back in his car and out of the elements. Derek and I became lost for a short time then followed a sound as he pressed impatiently on his car horn.

We wandered the streets of Samikao for a while but then as we entered Maidani, the next village over, we spotted a cow. Chabuki had stopped to chat with some friends a while back, but satisfied we had found our cow, we started to herd the stubborn whore home. She had plans of her own that did not include going home to pack a bag. On one such wrong turn had her bolt down a side street in the wrong direction. Derek, looking like a elfen, overweight Usain Bolt took off like a shot to head her off. Stepping on a shiny flat stone in his well-known Choco sandals and man-capris ensemble, he ate shit. So hard. It looked as though in his drunken stupor he didn't even bother to extend his hands to ease his fall, but evidence to the contrary was the palms of both hands sliced up from landing on the crushed, sharp, stones. I laughed my ass off and ignored the cow who bounded down the dark road.

Also, if you think cows can't haul-ass, you're mistaken, they can also clear a five foot high fence, and if they don't clear it, they simply crush it. We managed to get her back soon enough but by the time Chabuki had caught up with us, several members of the community were in tow. Unsure of which cow was ours, we decided to herd every one we saw meandering the streets; four in all. Men came out of the blackness and into the light of our headlamps thinking we were stealing their livestock. (Knowing Chabuki, he would've been okay with it if we were successful in the heist). Herding four dumb ass cows was fairly easy compared with trying to break off four cows in four entirely separate directions. In short, all hell broke loose. Men barked orders at us in stressed Kartuli from somewhere in the dark, Derek yelled orders at me in English, Chabuki leaned against his car between the headlights and I watched the shit-show unfold laughing hysterically. Somehow the mayhem subsided and the men mumbled things in harsh tones, probably to Derek and I, as they herded their cow back home. Chabuki gave a chuckle to their comments before hopping back in his car. We had no idea where we were now, but he guided the way by driving slowly behind, signaling with the car's flashers when he wanted us to turn. This, on a few occasions, was not as fool proof as you might think as we made a few more wrong turns before finally getting her in for the night. This is active village life as I know it.

MATURE AND DEEP REFLECTION::
Most time spent in the village is done thinking, like a requirement, I sit outside my room on a bench and enjoy the nice manicured front yard of the Chorgolashvili household and quickly find myself wandering the universe of my mind. One's thoughts can be of significant intrapersonal value when given the benefit of time, such as searching through part(s) of yourself you want bettered and working out how you may go about reaching such a lofty goal. I've played with elementary philosophical ideas and have been provoked to think considerably by paragraphs or chapters in the books I read.

Other times, however, even with good intention to think significantly, deeply, I drift off into a realm of thought as if I had nothing remotely intelligent left to ponder. These thoughts are far less complex ideas and tend to be mere simple questions inspired by the things I see around me, like:

Why can a horse run and poop so naturally, yet has to stop to pee?

Why does Georgian conversation, whether discussing the cuteness of puppies, or, caught in a blizzard of bitter dispute, look and sound absolutely identical?

Why is it when everyone else says 'No', it means no, but when I say 'No', it means yes I would love more food and much, much more alcohol?

How big is my bush going to get?

What's a vagina again?

What, kind sir, is the weave of this fine garment you're wearing? Oh, it's your body hair. You must spend a fortune on conditioner.

Do we have to watch another home video of a wedding you attended six years ago and listen to you recite the entirety of every speech with precise inflection and timing?

So it's the wedding videos or this poorly dubbed Spanish soft-core-porn/soap opera, and I have to sit beside grandma?

What else is there to do but eat, drink and question everything?


What is there to do in the village? What else is there to do but eat, drink and accept every opportunity for adventure?

Posted by CRBackman 05:41 Comments (0)

The Force-feeding

T'chame, Coro, modi!

Coro!
(Ugh). Yes?
Modi!

I stand up from the table which is littered with handouts, books, a useless fantasy hockey magazine and the infancy of my first English class preparation; scribbles and subsequent scratches on a hundred pieces of loose paper, front-and-center. I glance at my watch which reads 7:58 a.m. Did I not just eat? My stomach, recognizing the signal for more food, is relaying messages to my brain which is decoding them for me (in a thick English accent).

Ahem! Attention Mr. Backman, but you have been called to the table for more food by your host-Mother Tsitso. Your stomach says it won't go, no-way, no-how. If you make him, he says, he is threatening to explode... and Stomach promises to make it messy.

I can hear my stomach thrash about in protest with groans and impossibly loud gurgles, and I attempt, in some half-ass manner, to soothe it by resting my hands underneath my shirt and exhaling in a controlled way, like an exercise for an overdue pregnancy. My feet haven't even stabilized under my ever-plumping upper body when she starts up again.

Cor! Come! Modi, modi! Dabrzandit! Dajeki, dajeki. T'chame, t'chame, t'chams, t'cham...

Her voice, telling me to come – sit – eat begins at a beckoning scream and even though she recognizes my arrival to the table, she still continues to tell me to come – sit – eat; however she coordinates her volume with my proximity to the table and as I begin my intention to sit on the pleather bench, her repetition has quieted to a dull murmur and quite literally, under her breath.

Modi, Coro, modi. She whispers as I cheekily hover just above the seat without fully sitting down. It's the small victories.

I sit silently on the bench in disbelief, staring at the great spread of food. Come? Am I not already, literally here? I can't be more here! I'm as present at this table as physically possible within my understanding of our universe, yet here you are telling me to come – sit – eat.

Stomach says 'don't do it'. Oh, and he says you're an asshole. I'm sure, he too, will have something complainant to say about all this eating later on, barking his opinion at the worst imaginable times.

K'atami (chicken), Ostri (beef stew in a red sauce with cilantro, peppers onions and spices), assorted freshly baked Puri (bread), Khatchapuri (Georgian cheese bread; if you want calories...), Salat'i (salad consisting of tomatoes cut in quarters, white onion much the same, cucumbers and sometimes a few hot peppers for good measure, all sans sauce), Khinkali (tasty-as-hell Georgian dumplings), Vinagreti (potato salad on 'roids) and so on, not to mention the Georgian necessities for a second breakfast, a tall pitcher full of a light amber-colored ghvino and a syrupy, black ch'ach'a (homemade vodka of varying potencies – depending on the household).

I grab a small leg of k'atami (which I have video evidence of their demise, four assorted coloured hens and a loud mouth rooster running and performing backflips around the yard without heads [there's a 'headless cock' joke in here somewhere]) and scoop some fresh, brightly coloured tomatoes, cucumbers and a small pile of onions on my plate, hopefully to give the illusion that it's a full serving. I'm still rubbing my stomach in an attempt to find some sort of truce between us - this meal will be a light one, I tell myself. I take a reserved bite of the k'atami which has been boiled twice, once to assist in the easy removal of the feathers and the other to cook it. This process almost melts the muscle into one coagulated and rubbery, brown mass when its done, covering it in a gelatinous membrane that sort-of still looks like chicken skin.

The 'cuts' of meat in Georgia are different every meal, in the sense that wherever the hatchet has arbitrarily struck the dead animal is how that meat is cut. Lamb, normally poetry to a meat-eaters palate, will be hacked into absolutely random chunks, boiled, and tossed into a bowl of spiced milk; like when your favorite song comes on the radio and someone decides to sing-a-long, turning such beauty into a horrible and torturous experience, especially if that person is say, your Wife or your Mom or knock-on-wood, both, which means you don't have the heart to stop them... right away.

Seemingly, just as some common ground between stomach and I has been discovered, both Tsitso and my host-sister Teona spring into an assault, grabbing spoon-fulls of salads, beef concoctions, potato dishes and the milk-based cold stew, heaping them into segregated sections on my tiny, struggling plate. (Long ago, although the realization has just recently occurred to me, milk and stomach were inseparable in early morning meetings. Just stomach, milk and a bowl of impossibly sugary cereal, making sure to strategically place the cereal box between myself and my jarhead older brother. He had the same breakfast routine too, but something about his face in the morning begged me to punch it, so this ritual placement of a thin cardboard box spared my mother one small incident in an otherwise morning-full of fisticuffs. Alas, since these early days of sugared cereal, milk and cartoons, milk and stomach have become estranged, if not repulsed enemies.)

I swallow a couple gulps of the spiced milk. There's nothing better to add to milk than spice, am I right?

Your funeral buddy, Stomach says.

I grab a piece of warm bread, maybe minutes out of the oven, tearing off only what I think I need, and not unlike the wonderful world of Indian cuisine, use it as a vessel for soaking up the sauces and chunks of vegetable on my plate. Even as full as I am from the previous meal I can't deny how good everything tastes. The Ostri is fantastic; made up of tender chunks of beef (of which I also watched get slaughtered, hanging from a tree in the front yard one morning while brushing my teeth; Both my stomach and my heart blamed me for this foul mood too – citing, it was I who chose to watch) in an oil and tomato sauce with an anonymous army of herb and spice conspirators, and I find myself even scooping a second helping of Vinagreti which is a great evolution from North American potato salad, but full of many vegetables and even beans, lentils and dill, among other stuff unknown to me.

Ultimately, I feel my stomach concede, my brain likely talking him into it on behalf of all the taste buds. My stomach stretches far here in Georgia, always at the mercy of the taste buds, and will likely never be the same again. Long after I go back home to Canada, the place with no culinary personality of its own, but rather stealing only the best from all over the globe, my stomach will be loose fitting, stretched, unfulfillable like the nipples of an old stray dog who's had litter after litter after litter of unrelenting puppies. I catch myself stuffing food into my mouth at a high rate, forcing my cheeks to begin to bulge a bit. This, at least in my household in Georgia, is not deemed to be rude. Eat your meal as if it could run away at any moment. Get after it! Put in work!

T'chame, Cor, t'chame. Both Tsitso and Teona take turns uttering this for the duration of the meal.

You're joking me, right? As I sit here, face stuffed with food and barely able to contain the contents in my mouth, or my gut for that matter, sucking back food like a starved Neanderthal, you tell me to eat as though it hadn't crossed my mind. Look. Look at my face I beg you. I swear to you I am eating, so can we please go five seconds without ordering me to do so? I'll pay you to stop saying it. Just stop. Please.

Ginda dalie Ghvino, Corey?

Igori, an employee of Chabuki's who is having breakfast with us today – and most days, is holding up the pitcher of wine with raised and hopeful eyebrows. His gaunt face is dark with a heavy tan from working the fields and his jaw is in high contrast, thick with silver whiskers. I shake my head, looking at my watch that reads 8:17 a.m.

Ara, Igori. Ar minda ghvino, gmadlobt. Dzalian adrea! No, Igori, I don't want wine, thank you. It's very early! I uttered, apparently unconvincingly, as he poured a cup of wine anyway placing it in front of me, raised his cup in his right hand and began a long toast to everyone, and presumably, named every living creature on Earth. Georgian toasts simply carry on forever.

Dalie, Corey. Drink.

Igori was the only one who bothered to pronounce my name correctly, and to whom my host-family gave little credit, telling me repeatedly, 'he is only a worker', whatever weight that was supposed to carry with me. Contrary to their opinion of his status, Igori has picked up the most English of anyone, aside from my keen host-sister - the reason for which I am in the Chorgolashvili household and to whom I am obligated to provide private lessons. My deda (mother), to date, can only say 'come, sit, eat', to no surprise and my host father (mama), with such strong opinions of his employees, can only say appoh, as in apple, and emits it proudly everytime he sees me pluck one from the tree for a snack. Bebia, our resident grandmother, is impossible to understand with her invasive Russian accent and that dry, throaty, mumble but somehow she has retained how to count to ten in French from a time I quickly ran through the small set of numbers in English, Spanish, French, Thai and Kartuli in a silly demonstration at dinner one time.

Dalie, Corey. He says again, prompting me by raising his glass a little further into the air.

Igori, like I said, has learned the most – and most useful English, purely through osmosis; he has picked up how to greet me, ask me how I am, and reply to my returned inquiry, and after a supra, even excuses himself with a polite, 'goodnight, Corey' and tip of his head. So for this, I toasted him, 'Gagimarjos, Igori' (Peace to you/may you have long life), and put the cup of wine to my lips, tipped it back, emptying the full cup of ghvino down my throat. We all chatted, as best we could through their minimal English or my minimal Kartuli, plus impressions, flailing arms and an endless and excruciating game of charades. Somehow everyone at the table convinced me that one drink of ghvino is rude, so with great fear in offending my hosts, I tossed another cup-full back. Well, if only one cup was rude, then two became greatly unlucky, so three, you would think, would be regarded as polite and evasive of any bad luck. So, cup three was sent down and the pitcher of wine was refilled. This theme continued for some time, with new reasons or excuses to guilt the Westerner to drink and at some point unknown to me, ghvino had been replaced with ch'ach'a – homemade vodka. With more booze, however, comes more food in veiled attempts to soak some of it up. If I wasn't so drunk I'd swear I was in serious pain now, with my stomach far beyond any reasonable capacity.

All this food wasn't enough, milk based at that, but now you add ghvino and ch'ach'a? Stomach says he is going to make you wish you were never born. And I believe it.

The charades became more elaborate, the polite conversation a little more raucous. An example of which is, they knew I was married and I had shown them pictures from my iPhone which they snatched away from me, brushing the screen with their fingertips.

Lamazia, lamazia! Teona and Tsitso repeated. Beautiful!

I know, right? It's not the newest model, but with the newest update, it's still pretty sweet.

These jokes, like all others before it, rung no chord and fell silent, but like part of my DNA, continued as if I had no choice in the matter. I even searched for someone, anyone, to give me credit besides myself. A chuckle. Anything. I knew, however, that it would be this photo haunting me when I was rushed with homesickness and lonliness; probably soon after this booze wore off.

Wife. Kanadeli. Cor. Lamazia.

Yes. I agree. Didi gmadloba. Thank you very much.

Tsoli, Georgia, ginda?

Ra? What? (a nervous laugh).

Saqartvelo gogo kargia?

Yeah, Georgian girls are good, but...

Ginda? Ori tsolishi? Wife, Cor, Kanadeli, da Georgia tsoli. Twice wife, okay!

No! Ara! I don't want... twice wife. What the f...

Genuine laughter from both sides. I only manage to laugh because a 'twice-wife' story had been told to me by another TLG'er not two days before. Then that trickle of laughter that lingers after the genuine outburst has faded to fill that awkward silence when nobody has anything to say. A look at Chabuki tells me his comment about two wives was as much a legitimate question as it was a joke.

He raises his eyebrows in light question.

I lower mine in swift rejection.

Well, this seems like a good time to read a book, I tell everyone.

I look back at my watch and the hand looks, maybe, like it could be somewhere between nine and eleven, depending on which of the four I choose to focus on. I prepare myself to stand up making sure my legs are in compliance and eventually slide out from the table and stand. The awkward silence has continued and everyone is just staring at me, like my hair is on fire or my wiener has popped out. This staring has become normal to me now though, as every person within gawking range will come to a dead stop of what they're doing to study every square inch of me, and of every move and sound I make. The silence persists as does the staring so I attempt to break it as I turn to walk to my room.

Me var... datrali. I am... drunk, I say, as I take an old English bow.

The table explodes with laughter, Bebia and Deda screeching with hysteria, and even in my room I can hear the laughter clearly, then calm, only for someone to reenact the simple, factual, acknowledgment of my state of being which sends aftershocks of laughter throughout the house. This went on for some time. Specifically how much time, I cannot say, because after spending a few minutes outside petting squeamish pigs, I passed out with my book on the wood bench outside.


Coro, come! Modi! T'chame sach'meli!

Please, no. Tu sheidzleba, Ara.

Posted by CRBackman 05:28 Archived in Georgia Tagged food of come eating georgia republic eat sit Comments (0)

The Village Entertainment

With so much to do, I might die.

There wasn't much to do in my village. I was burning through books like a regular libricide and realized quickly that I needed to pace myself. The river was a nice swimming spot, but within a week of being there last it had almost completely dried up leaving nothing but an infinite amount of perfect skipping stones lining the riverbed, and herds of panicking frogs bounding into disappearing pools. So needless to say, I went back home rather disappointed, and almost unfortunately, finished my third book in a week.

I tried to go running, but the combination of thin, dry and hot oxygen made my lungs scream for mercy. I was sweating so heavily in the forty-four degree heat that it was impossible to stay even remotely hydrated. Aside from that, I didn't quite trust being too far away from home because I was nearing the end of my adjustment period from drinking the well water in the village. It felt like I swallowed a live cat whole and it was clawing its way out the back door. You can get a lot of reading done when suffering from such an ailment. You can also work up to a pretty high score on most games on your phone, especially 'Snake'. TLGV know what I'm talkin' 'bout.

I decided to walk, instead of run, it was still hot enough to feel like I was sprinting a marathon. Just stupid-hot. I explored the village on foot. This means I opened the gate, stepped through the gate, latched the gate behind me, and then walked down the gravel road until I hit the school thirty-five minutes later. The iron gate out front of the school was open so I entered, walked up the path, up the stairs and into the door. The two men who I'd seen on my first day in the village wore the same two shirts, flipped up, exposing their impossibly hairy bellies. I said hello and they seemed not to care that I was intruding; the one guy that speaks very little Kartuli but speaks English instead who dresses, looks and smells different than a Georgian is probably the English teacher that everyone in the village knows about. They smiled huge, ridiculous smiles and extended open palms as if to magically push me through the hallways, encouraging me to look around.

I touched the wall when turning a corner and a piece of plaster crumbled in my hands. 'Bodishi!' I said sheepishly, appologizing to the workers. They just shrugged. Less like the North American mentality, 'Don't worry, I'm paid by the hour,' and more of genuine indifference and acknowledging it's inevitability to deteriorate. All the walls were crumbling, inside and out, sometimes without any obvious physical force - chunks just released from its hold on the wall and smashed onto the floor. New windows had been put in and even a few wood doors had been replaced. A rusted woodstove sat in the teacher's cabinet but evidence of its new installation was proof it was new to the school too. I can imagine that stove, glowing red in the winter, and my dumbass burning a hole in my pants and all the other teachers rolling around with laughter.

A strong stench filled the air as soon as I had stepped into the school, but I hadn't recognized it until now. It's memory was'nt a fond one. Rotting wood; it was inescapable. Everything made of wood was decomposing quite badly: doors, window frames, fixtures, chairs, desks, everything. The floors were being replaced, the men with the hairy bellies were making sure of that, and I assumed that was the main source of the smell. Most classrooms, or 'cabinets' as they are called in Georgia, were padlocked, although the hinges attaching the doors to the frames were loose to the point of being remarkable that they were even standing tall anymore. Out back, two rickety outhouses sat three feet apart, half hidden in tall, dark grass. An old rusted tractor had been stripped years before that offered anything of use and also among the waving grass sat its skeleton; painted with rust, sharp edged and dangerous. The skinny man appeared behind me, and through some great effort on both parts, we confirmed that this was the school playground. Further back from the playground the grass was much shorter; a cow and its new calf stood in a field tied with thin nylon rope to a thick white post. The post was one half of a familar rectangle I'd seen many times before. At the other end of the field were matching posts. 'There are cows grazing in the soccer field. That brings a new element to the game I'm not familiar with.'

Posted by CRBackman 00:39 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

The Trip Home

The rest of my travels to meet my host family...

The ride from Tbilisi to my small village was long and arduous. The marshrutka was mashed with sweating bodies, and every time we stopped along the highway to let people out, the perfect amount of people somehow replaced them, which kept the minibus perpetually crammed the entire way. I still don't know how this works – though it's likely not as complicated as it seems*. I was exhausted from the night before; group 43's orientation-ending night-out nearly put the old guy of the bunch, yours truly, in a coma, though I seemed far better off than a few of the younger guys who still appeared to be well-drunk or painfully hungover.

On the bus, conversation was limited so I flipped through my memory bank and when that failed I opened my phrasebook and sputtered out something like “me davighale” (I'm tired), hinting of my intent to sleep. This was received well enough as the entire marshrutka population had scoffed and conversed about me for an entire hour after I had answered their question; that I was atheist, not at all religious.** A woman up ahead glared and spat at my feet onto the bus' floor. They loved Paul though, he lied and said he was a Christian. Every time I was jerked awake from the chaotic driving or needed to adjust the crick in my neck, some little prick wearing a blue adidas shirt, listening to Lil' Wayne on his phones external speaker was turned almost completely around and giving me the hardest stink-eye he could muster. 'Get over it buddy, and buy some god damn headphones, would you?'

We stopped somewhere at the summit of a small mountain rest stop where we were ushered around the three small buildings. The first building, in reasonable shape, offered a lunch that consisted of salad (onions and tomatoes), katchapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and limonadi (soda pop). The second building, an open shack selling cheap Chinese plastic toys, we ignored, and a third building made of concrete and stone had a ticket window out front where Paul's principal paid for our admission. My reading kartuli is painfully slow and nobody spoke English, so I just decided to happily, politely and ignorantly walk in. Why not? Goti had payed for us so it'd be rude not to. It could be a low-budget yet interesting homemade museum of the region, or a modest, local art gallery, right? No. Inside sat a trough with constantly running water across from three miniature stalls where a terrified teenager in a squat position peered over the eighteen inch stall walls. Upon realizing what he was doing, I whipped my gaze away only really registering his vulnerable expression and a blur of blue fabric. What in the hell, why even bother with the walls? Two people could easily crouch in totally separate stalls, yet hold hands over the top and hum their favorite show tunes while each dropping huge turds through the Turkish toilets which happened to evacuate over an impossibly steep embankment on a mountaintop. Only in Georgia. Then I remembered where I recognized the design of the blue shirt; it's really difficult to look tough while you're nervously taking a dump. Though I too acquired such stage-fright while deciding to take 'cover' in a vacant stall. I had no idea how long I was going to be on this bus for, so at least a pee was essential, so I found myself giving an assertive and serious pep-talk. A glance out of the corner of my eye told me Paul was crammed in the corner of the trough doing his best to cope with the scene. A Georgian man made a very loud entrance, possibly scaring the poop out of blue-shirt because he nearly ran out, then took a look at the socially uncomfortable situation, thought better of it, and quickly bowed-out. Something about his expression makes me think either Paul was pissing where we were supposed to wash our hands or I was standing tall, dick-in-hand, of a squat-only shitter, or both. I was too busy concentrating on forcing the tiniest of tinkles to care. Bloody western morons, I could only imagine the sentiments were.
***
After five more hours of half-consciousness, the marshrutka pulled over somewhere in a tiny town and I forced out some positivity and thought to myself, 'this isn't so bad.' A few stores lined the paved street and a row of palm trees dotted the storefronts. Small kiosks dotted the roadside selling bright fruit and vegetables and a few vans sat with their rear doors open, full to the roof with watermelons near a shady, parched 'moedani' (square). I can do this! It was actually fairly accurate to the 'what to expect/worst case scenario' that we were shown in orientation training; It had a train and marshrutka station, internet cafe (which I later realized to be closed down) and some small stores selling bottled water, local treats and essentials. I was summoned to get off, Paul and his principal were close behind. Some unknown entity threw our bags onto the curb and the marshrutka roared away, stranding us in the small town with only one paved road. My principal, who I would later gather to be named Mari, rushed me into another old soviet beast of a car. She spoke no English, as I said, and tried somewhat to introduce me to the driver with her best attempt at English: 'Iss nam, Chabuki.' He sheepishly shone a yellowing smile and extended his hand for a shake, wearing nice dress pants and a collared shirt that didn't seem to match the car he drove. We mashed my bags into another stubborn trunk and left Paul and his principal at the curb, turned the car around and darted down a perpendicular road to the main stretch we had just arrived on. I managed to barely recognize my first written English words of the day, on a gold-plated plaque fixed to a building with marble columns that read 'Georgia Ministry of Education & Science – Abasha Regional District Office.' This isn't even my village, I realized. This one road, with the extremely light sprinkle of civilization, is the largest town - central to the small villages that surround it. I suppose this is when I really should prepare myself for what's about to appear down the road, I thought to myself. This is going to be an experience!

As we continued to drive, Mari and Chabuki talked constantly as I watched the town of Abasha shrink away in the cracked side mirror. The car soon hit a dip and fell onto gravel just as the landscape drastically changed to farmland and the mirror's image was consumed by dust and no longer interesting to look at. I was very much alone at this point, with nothing familiar around me, I remember thinking at this moment. The scene skipped between forest, small flatlands and houses on stilts with large yards; some homes were made entirely of concrete and some of rotten wood planks at an impossible lean somehow without tipping completely over. All the houses were fenced with what looked like welded scraps of salvaged, rusted metal creating anywhere from basic to a surprisingly decorative design. The car's engine, with no sound barrier - as it had no interior panels, competed with the crushing of the gravel road underneath the bald tires. The two local inhabitants screamed at one another in a high speed version of kartuli to overcome the vehicle noise while I sat in silence, wearing a stupid smile, knowing they were talking about me. This scene continued for twenty more kilometers into the bush, though for a seemingly random stretch with no obvious beginning or end, a crew was working on laying asphalt.

Back onto gravel road the car slowed as Chabuki pointed to admire a brand new white sign reading 'Samikao', as if it were placed there just for my arrival. After a few more minutes the car then sputtered and shook until the engine turned itself off, leaving us in front of a cemetery on one side of the road, and what I assumed to be some ex-soviet arms locker or barracks. The red brick walls were undoubtedly old and missing many sections, especially on corners, as if explosions or poorly driven military vehicles had blasted these portions away. The grass around the structure was long, unkempt and unused, with a typical, small iron fence and gate at the very front leading up to a crumbling set of steps and the front door. The windows, tall with a modest arch at the top, were evenly distributed across the front but had no glass. Two tall, nearly-dead palm trees sat on either side of the walkway, asymmetrically, and a Georgian flag waved proudly to the right. Two men, one tall and skinny with heavily tanned skin and the other obese and pale, both had their shirts flipped up, exposing their sweaty bellies. They drank from a hose gushing water into the ditch and upon noticing me, stared for an extended period, then when presumably bored at my lack of movement started filling buckets from a pile of sand on the walkway and carryied them back into the building.
“Skola,” Chabuki uttered, “Samikoa skola,” he added, frantically pointing at me and then at the dilapidated brick building then back at me.
'School?! I don't see a school here. It must be behind this death trap of a condemned building.' I squinted my eyes and tried to peer beyond, around and even through the open windows to spot another building in the vicinity. Nothing. Silence fell over us for a long moment which allowed me to register my new work environment, the hush only broken by the scream of an ornery, hungry cow crossing inches in front of Chabuki's stopped car.
“Samikoa Skola,” he repeated, “kargia?” I nodded and smiled. The cow turned away from me, stopped, and deposited a massive poo the likes I'd never seen before.
It is what it is, I thought. Limited resources just means I'm going to have to be more creative. Either way, I'm here to teach English, and this is my school.

  • **

I was still captivated by the school when the car engine fired and we continued driving down the pot hole ridden road for a while longer, oddly slowly for a Georgian driver. Even with herds of meandering cows, chickens, ducks and massive pigs, not to mention the innumerable amount of inanimate obstructions, Georgian men bomb around at excessively high speeds flaunting their macho bravado. Yet we just coasted, with Chabuki honking at fellow villagers lining the edge of their fences. In hindsight, it was like they knew I was arriving, and had come out to see just what a real-life foreigner looked like. Unlike the city population, the villagers beamed with smiles and polite waves when we rolled by. On and on, we continued on the dirt road, chabuki honked, people waved. It was the shortest parade that had ever been thrown.

Like at the school, the car slowed to a point and began to gurgle and cough just as a tall green gate opened and we drove through it; but before the engine could choke itself to sleep, Chabuki reached under the wheel and separated three stripped wires that were dangling from somewhere underneath the dashboard. The engine cut out. A squeal erupted from behind the gate. Gravel being crushed under a herd of feet. More squealing but at a much higher pitch now. I expected to see a stampede of wildlife charging the compound but no, their in the front yard, jumping, clapping and ecstatic, was my new host-sister. I felt foolish to be there. I wanted to be received differently. Not as though a villager who is showing off to other villagers his totem of prestige and power, and not as though a Daddy that'd brought home a pony for his daughter.

The family: father, mother, grandmother and daughter showed me around the home and I repeated 'kargi' every time they said 'modi, modi' and 'lamazia!' every time they asked 'kargia?'*** This went on briefly until we entered the kitchen where my first family dinner sat, waiting, intimidating as all-hell.

  • I've come to realize this was pure coincidence and marshrutki will be crammed with an impossible number of bodies if it means making money – there is no system. Looking back, this was one of the more enjoyable marshrutka rides.
  • * Being honest about my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, has provided me with no benefits so far, only scrutiny.
  • **kargi = OK

modi = come
lamazia! = beauiful!
kargia? = good?

Posted by CRBackman 09:25 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

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