Heat Wave

After having pleasant weather for the weekend, July came back with a vengeance. I don’t know how hot it was but trust me, it was hot.

It being two days before I left Oz for good and journeyed back to the States for vacation, I figured I would pack. My things had expanded in the year of living here. More clothes, books, etc. So I knew I would have to expertly pack and put thought into it. I was also debating if I should take some clothes back to the States, as I tend to reuse clothes more often and wear them for multiple days. I decided against it, as I don’t really know if I will have opportunities to return to get them. But I did decide to leave the bulk of things here in Oz and retrieve them when I get back to Georgia. I am only bringing a minimal amount of clothes back, which is a new thing for me. I am a compulsive over packer.

I started packing soon after waking up. It was warm but still bearable. By 1 o’clock, I was in my underwear glistening with sweat.

I had planned on seeing my English club girls one more time today, but we had not set a time. But as fate would have it, Lana called at 1:30 and summoned me to come to town! Ugh. I asked was she crazy. Why not wait until the sun went down? We had to do it then, because Sofo had a thing in the evening. Ugh.

So I put my clothes on, and started walking to town. Before I got halfway there, I was sweating through my hat and shirt. By the time I got to town, I was mad.

I saw them sitting in the park, thankfully under a tree in the shade. Megi was in a funk because she had jus taken her final exam. The other girls were in a good mood. But it was too hot to sit outside. I suggested we go get ice cream. Sofo left early unfortunately to her thing, so Lana, Megi and I went to a local restaurant. I also bought them pizza and cokes. The pizza was the best I have had in Oz. I didn’t even have to tell them not to put on mayonnaise. AND the restaurant was air-conditioned! It was a great time. Hopefully if they do well on their exams, they will go to University in Tbilisi. And if they are in Tbilisi, I will see them often. We were joking that it’s a shorter travel time to travel from Mtskheta to Tbilisi than to walk from my house to town.

The education system works like this: If the student scores well enough, the University is fully paid for. Otherwise, they give you a stipend based on your score. If you don’t do well, you have to pay for the entire tuition. It’s a pretty good system because the village and town educated kids have an opportunity to get a higher education.

Then I had to walk back home in the scorching heat. Natia and Gurami had it worse than me though. They both had to work out in the sun today. Natia at the village and Gurami in the corn fields.

Day two of the heat wave.

Saturday was hot out the gate. Thankfully, Natia was home with us. She knows how to manipulate the house, it’s windows and doors to achieve the maximum cool effect. But that could only hold the heat off for so long.

At mid-day, Gurami burst into the living room and asks if I want to go swimming in the river. I thought he was saying I should go swimming at the river with the kids (Giorgi had already gone). But he said he was going and that they were going to a village.   …Adventure!!!

We packed into the neighbors’ car; Natia, Gurami, Salome (Gurami’s Goddaughter), and myself. We first had to make several stops. First Salome had to go vote. It was election day for a run-off. Then we stopped for a watermelon. We then headed out of town.

We passed some familiar villages along the way. Then, as the air became cooler, we started seeing swarms of people at accessible places at the river. Thankfully we kept motoring past. We finally got to a spot we very few cars. It was in a village called Gomi.

We shimmed down a bank to a pebbled area along side the river. The water was moving pretty fast and there were rocks of various sizes from boulders to medium sized. I had very sensitive feet, so I already knew this wasn’t going to work. But its an adventure, right?

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Salome

Salome

Natia

Natia

We walked along the shore for a little bit to get away from the other people there. Natia and Salome stayed with the stuff, while Gurami, our neighbor, Zuka, and myself went to scope out the river for swimming holes. it was COLD. So cold it made my body numb. We hoped some rocks, waded through some rapids and finally found a semi-calm area. But as I said, it was so cold that we only stayed in for 10 minutes max.

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Salome and me

We made our way back to the ladies and started eating the snacks we had brought. Natia brought some cake that she had baked that morning, then we ate the watermelon. They had placed it in the river to get cold, but we hadn’t been swimming that long, so it was still hot. And Salome brought some Coke to wash it all down.

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Gurami and me

Gurami and me

It was a very nice change from the sweltering heat of town and the house. But it was an untamed riverbank. So there were no convenient places to sit and actually relax. So very shortly, we were all ready to go.

As soon as we got back to town, the heat overcame us again.

***

It’s like a heat wave
Burnin’ in my heart
I can’t keep from cryin’
It’s tearin’ me apart

Heat Wave, The Supremes

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

**This is a long detailed post. Honestly maybe too long and too detailed. And not even all that exciting. You have been warned.**

A TLG friend, Ashley, wanted to go hiking in a Nature Preserve up the street from her village. She is moving to west Georgia next semester and thought it would be a shame to not have journeyed there. Sort of like moving out of a childhood home but never having looked in the cabinet in the basement.

In her defense, she and I both did our research on this place, but as with most destinations in Georgia, the information was very limited. The name of the Preserve is Kintrishi Protected Area. (You can look it up yourself.)

Initial problems before the trip even started:

  1. We were supposed to do this trip the previous weekend, but it rained everyday. The kids I was tutoring at the group home left for the week to go to the beach. That allowed us to reschedule for Wednesday. Speaking of rain, it also poured most of Tuesday morning before we left.
  2. It was originally supposed to be a 2 night camping trip, but because we pushed it to Wednesday, I had to condense it to one night. I had to get back to say my goodbyes in Oz and pack.
  3. Although the Preserve is “just at the end of Ashley’s road”, it is a long ass road. It’s soo long that the public marshrutka stopped at the second to last village. How the other inhabitants who live further got to town or more importantly how we were going to travel the rest of the way to the Preserve was unknown to us. From the last marshrutka stop to the entrance of the Preserve was still 12 km.
  4. Don’t really want to spend a lot of money before my return to the States. Another reason we chose this destination was for the hypothetically low cost.

We meet in Kobuleti. We get some supplies for the trip; hot dogs, khatchapuri, bread, etc. While Ashley was waiting for me, she talked to some taxi drivers to see how much they would charge. They quoted a price of 30 Lari to the entrance of the park.

[A quick aside, in American thinking, 30 Lari for a taxi for an equal length is seemingly a small amount to pay. But in Georgia, it’s quite a lot. And not a lot as in they are ripping us off. The taxi would have subject their cars to potholes from hell, washed out roads, and boulders in the road for a large portion of the journey and fuel is sort of expensive. But for us as volunteers on a limited small income, it amounts to a lot.]

We had to decide if it was worth it. In the mean time, we asked another taxi and he gave us a price of 10 Lari- score! But when we got back to him after gathering our supplies, we realized he had no idea where we were trying to go. When he understood, the quote was 30 lari.

No thanks.

We then decided to get a marshrutka to the last stop and walk the rest of the way. How long could 12 km be?

But we changed our minds again, and got a shared taxi to the last public transportation village for 2 lari. Then negotiated to have him take us to the last village for a total of 15 lari. (Unbeknownst to us, BEST decision of the trip so far.)

We started the hike in earnest- 8 km from the entrance of the park. The site that we wanted to reach was 12 km inside the Preserve. But first things first… get to the Preserve.

Thankfully it was a pleasant day. The sun wasn’t beating down on us and the incline was moderate. The houses got further and further apart. I can’t imagine why (or how) people live up here. I mean its pretty and all, but still. My theory is that their ancestors settled way back when, when invaders would sweep through and kill the villagers and eat all their stuff. They decided that they were safe from crazy killers up there. I wouldn’t waste my time climbing those damn mountains to kill a handful of villagers. …I digress.

The increased infrequency of the houses meant a less chance for us to be picked up by a passing car. But fortunately for us there was construction work being down up the gorge. They were tunneling through the mountain. I think for power purposes. An SUV stopped to pick us up. They were nice guys who spoke a little English. Funniest question, “How is Obama?” They took us an appreciated 3 km!

Four km. out from the Preserve was a restaurant beside an ancient arch stone bridge. There were several stone arch bridges in the park.

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Walking, walking, walking… We finally get to the entrance of the Preserve. The maps here are just as sparse as on the Internet. We have to decide what to do now. We just hiked a long ass way. Ashley had intended to reach lake in the Preserve, but that was totally out of the question. Even the hike to another main attraction was 12km further in; 5 hour hike. Hell no. So we decided to just walk around to some of the other lesser sites and camp at a closer ‘village’. We hiked to a nunnery that was in the park. They had a very comfortable garden area. We had intended to see a waterfall, but as the park was not mapped out well, we did not find it, which was a bummer.

When we got to the ‘village’ it wasn’t really a village at all. It was simply a clearing in the trail beside the river. Across the river was a decrepit bridge that looked like it was going to collapse with a few more uses.

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The sign next sign said, 8 km to Khino. That was one of the two main attrThere was no was in hell I was walking another 12 km that day. And that would have also meant that we would have to walk all that the next day to get out of the camp again. So we decided to pitch our tent here.

Finding wood for the fire was easy enough. We collected some great lengths. Once that was done, we put up the tent and switched out of our sweat soaked clothes.

As we were snacking a little, from down the trail came two dogs. We had seen these dogs back at the nunnery, which was 4 km back! We waited to see if they were with anyone, but no one else came up the trail. The dogs had traveled all the way by themselves. One of the dogs was unafraid of people. Which is rare in Georgia, as they are not vey friendly to stray dogs. The other was VERY wary, but wanted to stick by his friend. We called the first unabashed dog, Bob. After some sniffling around the perimeter of the camp, Bob settled down and sat right beside us, as if he were invited.

It was time to start the fire, which is always my favorite part of camping. But as I tried once, twice, three, four times, it became clear that the wood was too wet to catch fire. And as the sun fell away, everything just got more and more damp. Then the lighter stopped working. Not only were we going to have to eat our hot dogs cold, we were also not going to have a warm fire to hang out by.

I was the saddest boy.

So shortly after eating, as there was nothing to do or see, we simply went into the tent to sleep. As the night went on, it got COLD. The morning couldn’t come fast enough. Not having a campfire that deep in the woods is scary of you think about it too much. There was not another living person within 4 km of us. And our phones didn’t have service.

Late at night, I heard Bob growl and run at something. THAT freaked me out. What the hell could it be? Walking to the site the only animal life we saw were salamanders. But the sign said there were bears and wolves in the park. Bears. And wolves. I was very grateful to have Bob looking after us. He never left us, he was there in the morning even. I was so grateful, I gave him a nice breakfast of hot dog and bread.

We packed up camp and hiked out with Bob leading the way.

I have NEVER walked so much in my life. Ashley calculated that we probably hiked 30 km. overall.

***

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
To be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your door

I Would Walk 500 Miles, The Proclaimers

Because I’m Happy

Here is the video to the song Happy I mentioned earlier. Apparently various regions in Georgia are producing their own versions. But, of course, ours is the best! It’s not the actual song( or a remix). I’m sure it’s because of copyright laws.

I don’t make an appearance until towards the end of the video. As I said in the other post, I freestyle danced for almost two full songs, which is a LOT of dancing. But the part they chose of me to show are Not my best moves.   …oh well.

Also in the video is my friend from Peace Corp here in Oz, Jessica. She is sporting the US soccer jersey.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

***

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Happy, Pharrell Williams

 

 

 

Starships: Senior Banquet Video

The videographer finally finished with the footage from the senior banquet. I’m not gonna lie, he did better than I thought he would with the editing.

*Although Georgia is an impoverished country overall, I still can’t explain the abundance of 3oo Series BMW’s.

 

 

***

Starships were meant to fly
Hands up and touch the sky
Can’t stop ‘cause we’re so high
Let’s do this one more time

Starships, Nicki Minaj

The Spectacle

I saw Sophia while walking into town the other day. She told me that she was coming back from the theatre. As there was a repeat performance the next day, I decided to go. And Sophia loved it so much that she wanted to go again with me and my friend, Ashley.

But because this is Georgia, of course there was miscommunication. It was not a concert. Sophia corrected herself and told me it was a “spectacle”… whatever that means. Lana (who also came with us) further explained and said it was a film.

We met 15 minutes before, and walked to the theatre together. They escorted us through the back way. When we got to the actual seating area, the usher escorted us to the front. That’s when Ashley and I realized that we were going to see a play. Lana and Sophia left us to go see some friends back in town, so we were left to our own devices in terms of deciphering what they were saying. Fortunately they explained the gist of the play and we were able to follow along.

So the story goes: There is a family with one little daughter. She is taken one day by two rouges. Through a series of events, the little girl ends up in the hands of another husband and wife who takes the child and raises her as their own. The girl grows up and learns to love her new family. Well, her real father finds her and brings her back home, but the little girl (now a teenager) doesn’t recognize them. Her parents are obviously heartbroken. But the girl hears a lullaby from her childhood and the memories of her past come flooding back.

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Although we didn’t understand all of the conversation, the acting was sooo good, that we not only got the gist of action, but we also felt the emotion. My only criticism was that the songs were lip-synced. With all the talent in Georgia, they surely could have found some singers. Oh well.

Also, one of my students, Nini, played the teenage abducted girl. She didn’t have a lot of speaking parts, but she was a great dancer and was beautiful actress. And her mom, the dance teacher at my school, Mariko, was the choreographer for the play.

 

Nino

Nini

Marika and Nini

Marika and Nini

 

I am so glad that I went to see it. I need to find out the name of the play and more information about it.

***

“The Stories are centuries old. They shout of discovered love and lost hope, of humor and anguish, of mystery and maidens and tragic farewells. Within three plain walls and a curtain lies a world in which we’ve never lived. A world we think we know. The Performing Arts are beacons of the times. They reflect the best of us and the worst of us. As they tell their tales, on a stage, shining in the light.” – Anonymous

IKEA Kids

Kids here take summer break very seriously. When they break, they BREAK. They do not want to do  anything  school related. I don’t blame them. It starts to heat up around 11 am.

TLG wants us to organize a summer program in order to get paid. But the problem is, again, the kids don’t want to do anything in the summer that even resembles school. So we have to scramble and beg the school administration to brow beat and rustle kids up or try to coerce the kids that love us the most to come to whatever program we have put together, using up valuable goodwill capital doing so.

This summer, I went to an NGO here in town and asked them if they had a willing group of kids in place already that I could hook up with. Fortunately, this NGO is in touch with the populations in Oz that need social services, old folks homes, orphanages, etc. My contact gave me the run down on one of the group homes and scheduled a visit.

I was a little nervous at first, because of the unfortunate stigma of orphanages in the States. But from what I saw here, the government takes great care of their troubled population. (Except for the gypsies. They roam the streets with seemingly no assistance.) The house was situated on a main road right along with the other private residences. Inside was pleasantly and nicely furnished. Actually, their furniture and household things were much better and modern than anything I had seen in other Georgian homes. From the kitchen to living areas to common rooms, it looked straight out of an IKEA catalogue.

I fell in love with the kids immediately. When initially meeting a new group of kids, I always have a phobia that they will ‘see through me’ and reject me. And although they sized me up at first, they took to me quite rapidly by showing me THEIR rooms and drawings. I was put at ease and knew we would work well together.

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Badri, Mariko, Kristina

Badri

Badri

There are 8 kids at the home between ages of 10 and 16. I saw one of my 1st grade students there, but I had erroneously been told she was an orphan, too. Her mom is the caregiver. I decided to split them up into two groups for their lessons, which worked out great according to ability level. (With the exception of one older boy, Ruslan. He doesn’t know any English. So I will tutor him individually.)

 

Kristina

Kristina

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Badri, Mariko, Kristina

 

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Giorgi, Kristina, Mari, Resi

Resi

Resi

It’s a pleasant surprise to have a small group of attentive students all who want to learn. Today Mariko was perturbed that our time was up. I could not have fallen into a better situation.

***

I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See
Their Needs
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere
To Go
That’s Why I Want You To
Know

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror

Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Georgia. This is real; no photoshop.

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credit: Tony Hanmer

 

Marshrutkas. The most common form of public transportation.  They travel between cities, towns and villages picking up people along their route. You can catch them at terminals in the towns/ cities, or flag one down from the side of the road. Some mini vans are comfortable rides with comfortable seats, but most are vehicles that would be condemned in the States, with seats that are barely bolted down. During rush hour, they driver literally packs people on like cattle. People sit on laps and stand belly to backs. If you are already on the marsh, you complain that the driver stopped again. But if you are the one who has been standing on the side of the road in the rain or snow for God knows long, you thank the driver profusely and squeeze into the clown car.

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

 

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Georgians work with what they have.

credit: Joe Bailey

credit: Joe Bailey