In Which Sanchezi Meets His New Family

I had been trying to meet my new host family for several days now. But it was finally set up. I was to be picked up at my school after my camp was done at 5. I asked without thinking, ‘how will they know me’? My co teacher found this to be too funny…and obvious.

I approached the school and there were a lot of adults there, which was unusual. But when I got to the school, I noticed a good-looking kid smiling and walking towards me. He shook my hand and introduced himself as Giorgi and his father (don’t remember his name). Their truck was a two-seater, so Giorgi got in the back. He still was able to speak to his father, though.

Awkwardly, the truck broke down halfway to the house. Not broke down all the way, but it barely got above 15 MPH. …awkward.

As said before, their house was pretty far from school; actually it’s on the outer limits of town. We got to gravel pavement before we stopped. But the house was no less impressive than my current house. Some better things, some not so good things.

The family consists of only a father, mother and son. Both sets of grandparents are deceased. The father has a cement business in town and the mother is a well-respected elementary teacher at my school. The son is going to the 10th grade.

The first thing I observed about them is they don’t ignore each other. The father hears and responds to the son and the son responds to both parents. The second thing I noticed was the mother doesn’t seem to have the propensity to scream at the volume of my current host mom. That’s a good thing.

The living room is not as furnished as the current home. They have one of those double seated garden swings and kitchen table chairs (I think that eat in this room, too. It’s big enough). The television is in a far corner, which is why I think it’s the family area. The floor in this room is cement.

Off the living room is the kitchen. I was highly impressed with this space. It’s an open kitchen, expansive and fully tiled. I even noticed a microwave oven! I could have been mistaken… but I swear it looked like a microwave. The kitchen looked very modern considering. Around the corner was the only bathroom in the house. But I was impressed by it as well. It too, was fully professionally tiled with western toilet. What struck me best about this bathroom, was that it was clean and uncluttered with random items. Everything was as it should be in a bathroom. And clean.

The ‘interior’ stairwell didn’t seem to be completely finished. The bottom level was still gravel and the parameter wall was roughly cemented with cylinder blocks.

The upstairs is constructed of wood. But all the wood is beautifully stained. The area of the house seems to be the same as my current house. But they only have three bedrooms. Past what is to be my bedroom is the upstairs sitting area. All the rooms have door access to the others. So if you were to imagine a walking tour, you would start on the upstairs ‘foyer’, walk into my room, then into the sitting area then on into a long room on the front of the house. Turn left and you reenter the house into the parent’s bedroom. Straight on you go through Giorgi’s bedroom, then out to the ‘foyer’ again.

After the tour, we went downstairs to have a mini supra. Joining us was one of my co English teachers from school. The son could have struggled through as interpreter, but I think she wanted to play that role. The food was all familiar but slightly different, due to the hands that made it. The father does not speak English (and indicated that he didn’t). But was happy enough that I drank wine and Vodka. I think he was also pleased that I was able to share 7 or 8 toasts before I called it quits.

It was decided that I would move most of my things to their home this Sunday. The plan is for me to work at the summer camp for all of July. And perhaps the first two weeks of August. If not, then I will stay with them in August.

It was a pleasant first impression I think for both parties.

The only things that will have to be adjusted and dealt with are the distance from the school, and the lack of a heating system in my room. But if they can do it, so can I.

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Gurian Youth Resource Center Camp

I usually go to the NGO that my Peace Corp friend, Rachael, used to work at several times a week to download movies, television shows and music. Over the course of several months, I got to know the staff. One lady in particular, Maya, I got to know because she instructed an English class daily. She asked if I could assist with facilitating a week long camp on American culture. That’s what I have been doing this past week.

The camp is from 10:30 to 5:00. Which is an extremely long time for kids to spend in a summer school setting (and long compared to my school year schedule). Add to that, there is no air conditioner. Add to that, the materials and structure of the camp was not put together well.

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We have a couple of Native English speakers still in Ozurgeti even with so many leaving. So the NGO decided to use three of us to split the responsibility of the days. I had Tuesday and Thursday.

Monday there were 24 students (that number has slowly decreased as the days increase). I am unsure of the focus of the camp. Whether it’s teaching English or exposing them to American Culture. After the first day, I decided for myself that it was to expose to American culture. Topics include Patriotic songs, history and symbolism of the Flag, American sports, government system, famous landmarks, etc.

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Several things I noticed at the start. 1. People trained to teach are noticeable levels above those who have no training. 2. I am still a pretty good teacher. 3. I have low tolerance for people who shouldn’t be around young people and are impersonating as a teacher.

The students are on a wide spectrum in terms of English proficiency. Some barely speak where others are able to hold a conversation (if they had the confidence). As said before, I chose to focus on exposing them to American culture. That meant using my Georgian counterpart as a translator more then anything. And the discussion questions I generated were meant to be answered in Georgian by the students, and then translated to me.

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The unfortunate part of the week was the videos we expected them to watch. The prime example being, the History Channel series, ‘America– The Story of Us.’ This series is daunting for American native English speakers, much less poor speakers of English. I tried to do my best to stop and translate, but there was so much that escaped them.

An instance that irked me the most though, had to do with another teacher. Working in an educational position in a foreign country is an intrinsically powerful thing. You are the example which they derive their point of reference. And you are the mouthpiece of the country from which you came from. That always needs to be kept in mind as you voice your opinion or try to express generalizations of American culture. For example, the American Flag. Another native English speaker had the assignment of discussing the Flag. She did a great job in telling about the symbolism of the flag. But she veered off course when talking about disposing of it. She went off on an obvious tangent by saying, “…Americans take great offense if the flag is used for anything other than a flag, for example, shorts or a jacket.” Now I understand where she was going with that train of thought. But in my judgment she projected her opinion instead of taking the opportunity to discuss a broader American ideal of ‘freedom of expression/ speech’. She also pushed the envelope with our country in reference to and with the influence of God.  All that to say, those of us living outside the borders of the US have a profound influence regarding how non-Americans understand us.

On a positive note, the kids are great! They are funny, smart, curious, and happy to be alive. They power through the hot, boring spells with wit and a sense of humor.

The highlight of the week for me was when I taught them how to play baseball. I think the dynamic of learning a group sport is underrated and downright complicated. And explaining it in a non- native language is like putting skates on a cow. I first drew up the rules on the board with my counterpart translating. Then we went out to the field. I first gave everyone a chance to try to hit the ball with a bat (whiffle ball set). After they got the hang of that, I divided them into teams and crossed my fingers.

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Comedy ensued.

I was eager to teach them the correct form of this sport…. at first. But after the third student ran the bases with the bat in hand, I relaxed and laughed my ass off. The three things that simply could not be corrected were: running with the bat, running ALL the bases after hitting the ball…no matter what, and slinging the ball in any direction after picking it up like a hot potato.

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We laughed and laughed.

Although there are several other native speakers and two other Georgians involved on a daily basis, I have become the de facto head of the camp. Which wouldn’t bother me so much if I had had more say beforehand in the development of the activities. But all in all, it’s been a great week getting to know more students in my town.

Everything Works Out In The End

I told my co-teachers that my current host family was not hosting me for next year, so I would probably be transferred to Kobuleti. They did not approve of that scenario, so took it upon themselves to find another host family in Ozurgeti.

The next day, we were talking to a teacher that would host me. She agreed to all of the terms and things I needed, but still had to talk to her husband.

The next day, I learned that another teacher was also interested. Which was fortunate, because the first prospect fell through. Elena, my co teacher, was more excited about this opportunity anyway. This teacher , Natia, is a lock. She is even willing to host me for the summer if needed!

***

I thought the summer camp was a lost cause. I had emailed the lady multiple times with no response. I even called her, but the connection would not go through (which never happens). I was getting to harassment level with my communications and decided to just let it go.

But she finally emailed me and gave me details for working with them. I will be working as a counselor at a summer camp at Shekvetili Beach on the Black Sea. The camp is sponsored by the British Connection. (I mentioned  Shekvetili Beach to a native this weekend, and she was extremely impressed.) Google it.

Stress and anxiety are back to normal levels. I had almost forgot that this is Georgia. Everything works out in the end.

***

“Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” – Sonny, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Scary Strangers And Nice Strangers

The night train is always a crapshoot unless you are traveling with another person or 3 other friends. I like to minimalize my chances of crazy, so I prefer to book the two-bed car when traveling alone.

My latest trip back to Oz started getting interesting while I was still in the parking lot. I was almost to the terminal doors, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy walking in a trajectory that would cause us to collide. I didn’t think he saw me at first, so I stopped to let him pass by, which he did. But he stopped two steps away and turned around. It seemed as if he was pondering how he missed bumping into me. (But that would be a ridiculous supposition, right?) He then looked at me out of the corner of his eye and circled back towards me. At this point I just assumed he was simply going to stare at me as most Georgians do.  But he actually then stopped me and asked, in English, if I knew where the Tbilisi Center was. I was bewildered for two reasons. 1. Trying to figure out this guys’ deal, and 2. Amazed that he, a Georgian, asked me for directions in English.

I thought for a second and pointed in the general direction. He stopped to consider this (but thinking back on it, he was just sizing me up to determine the line of conversation he wanted to have). But unfortunately for me only after this time of pondering did I realize he was plastered drunk.

In the two-minute conversation where I tried to distance myself from him, I found out he was Michael (Misha) from Abkhazia. He also wanted my phone number in case I needed him to fight for me. Which was nice. He followed me into the terminal and kept pulling me to continue talking with him. But finally, after asking where the restroom was, he relented.

Once I found out which track I was supposed to board my train, I went up to use the bathroom. In front of the restrooms my newfound friend was arguing with the security guards. I put my head down and scooted by. I think he was protesting having to pay 50 tetri (cents), which philosophically, I was on his side. But now wasn’t the time to start a crusade with drunk. On the way out of the restroom, they had moved the argument to the escalator. Again, I scooted around unnoticed.  I stopped for a quick tea at a café and tried to finish my book.  5 minutes later, I sensed someone hovering…  I knew without looking it was Misha. I didn’t look or let on that I knew he was there. After the longest minute, he left.

A consistent problem I have with train tickets is I can never read them correctly. I try to decipher the numbers and symbols but always fail. I though I had it this time. I made my way to my train on Track 3. I found that easy enough. I found my car easy enough, too. I was a little early, so I unpacked the essential things I needed and made my bed with the linens they provided. After five minutes, two guys came into my compartment. They obviously thought they were in this car as well. The smaller of the two started speaking to my in English- surprise! I told them that I was probably in the wrong car. And after checking with the attendant, I was indeed in the wrong car. I apologized to the guys and went to find the right one. In my correct compartment, I found an old lady in the opposite bunk. This was going to be awkward.

The lady I deciphered, wanted me to switch bunks with her by going down several compartments. Okay.  In that compartment, I thought I was going to have it all to myself. But at the last minute, my neighbor came. He was a young fellow with a 4 year old boy. The only luggage they had was a big grocery bag full of food and another bag concealing what looked like a racket. The little boy was either one of two things the entire journey: either transfixed with me and wanting to talk to me and/or ask his father about me or being fed by his father. Every other word from dad was, ‘eat’ or ‘drink’, which the kid obliged.

Another negative of traveling with strangers (but could also happen with friends) is you don’t know whether they snore or if their feet stink. This guys’ feet stunk.

As I was just about to nod off, the short guy from the first compartment stuck his head in my compartment. He asked if I wanted to talk and eat chips.   …. Okay.

The two guys ended up being brothers from Armenia. They were traveling to the port city of Poti to pick up a car they had ordered online. The bigger of the two brothers was an engineer. He claimed to not speak English, but when asked to translate a word from Armenian to English, he was spot on. The smaller of the two, was the talker. He knew ‘enough’ English to have a labored conversation. He was a University student studying Psychology. He was very anxious to practice his English with someone and was not going to pass on this opportunity. And I was happy to oblige.

We found out that I had visited his home city during my trip to Armenia last fall. And he invited me to come visit him in the near future. Non-touristy Armenia? Yes please!

***

“He’s leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia,
Said he’s going back
To a simpler place and time…”
Midnight Train To Georgia, Gladys Knight

In With The New

The academic year is coming to an end. And that means mass departure for Peace Corps, European Volunteer Service (EVS) and TLG volunteers. Of the 150ish TLG here, 125 are leaving within the next few weeks. Peace Corp is rotating out one of their groups as well. That means its time for another large scale departure of my friends. But this time, pretty much all of them.  Out of the groups mentioned, only two my friends are staying with me.

That’s a sad thought.

No matter how good one is at meeting people, its hard building a community. My network of friends all over Georgia is about to be swept away in one fell swoop.

I just had a final beer with my friend in Oz, Rachael, from Peace Corp. She is leaving Oz in the morning and flying out of Georgia Monday. Once back in the States she will marry a great guy. Rachael was one of the people in Oz who came to Happy Hour Wednesday’s and Movie Night Sunday’s were held at her house.  In talking to her, she was in the state of emotion like I was  right before I left the States- ‘emotionally suspended’. She is concluding a major event in her life in which she committed two years. In a couple of days, she will be rejoining her friends and family back in comfortable surroundings that she is familiar with. But she is also saying goodbye to a community that she has daily interacted with for two years of her life. Although emotional in the inside, we talked about how it’s not manifesting itself like it should (tears, etc.)

When I left the States, I remember having the same feeling. ‘Why if I’m leaving all I know and love, am I not falling apart emotionally?’   Emotional Suspense.

Having this many great people leave at the same time, never to return, basically sucks.

Three new Peace Corp members are coming to Oz tomorrow. And TLG starts intaking new members mid August. Time to make new friends.

***

Cheers to all my Georgian friends who journeyed with me this past year of my life. I wish you all future success and happy memories. Who knows… maybe we’ll see each other around the bend!

***

And airports
See it all the time
Where someone’s last goodbye
Blends in with someone’s sigh
Cause someone’s coming home
In hand a single rose

And that’s the way this wheel keeps working now

You can find me, if you ever want again
I’ll be around the bend
I’ll be around,
And if you never stop when you wave goodbye
You just might find if you give it time
You will wave hello again
You just might wave hello again

Wheel, John Mayer

Strike Two…

I love when life goes great. When all the goals and wishes that you have fretted over go exactly as planned. Life is stress free.

But then there are the opposite, stressful times.

I had planned on transferring to another town on the other side of the country, Mtshketa. But, I was recently told by the program that they could not find me a host home there.  …Okay. No big deal, there is always my current host home.

I’ll just stay in Oz another year. I grew close to the current eleventh graders anyway. It would be cool to see them graduate. And I can help my host sister, Nino, learn more English.

Well I found out that my current host family does not want to host next year. (Which I translate to ‘we don’t want that guy living with us anymore’). Rejection. And to compound the situation, they are/were under the impression that I was to be done with them at the end of the school year- next Friday. My program says they will clarify that contractually I am to stay until the end of the month.

Now the program needs to scramble to find somewhere to put me for a couple of weeks AND find a permanent host family for next year.

And I’m still waiting to hear if I got a summer camp position at the Sea for July and first weeks of August. If that doesn’t work out… bummer.

***

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,
I think I’ll go eat worms!
Big fat juicy ones,
Eensie weensy squeensy ones,
See how they wiggle and squirm!

T-O-M-A-T-O

When I was little, I used to hate tomatoes. I would NOT eat them.  I don’t know when I started eating them.

As an adult and frequent patron of fast food burger places, I remember commenting on the weak look of the tomatoes on sandwiches. They looked… weird. Most times, especially Wendy’s or Subway, they are of a light yellow color bordering on white. White tomatoes? When did that become okay to eat? I learned way back in kindergarten that tomatoes were red. When did the older me abandon the truths of my youth? Why did I discard the irrefutable wisdom of the big picture books for the glossy pictures on the menu behind the counter?

I don’t doubt that Georgia grows lettuce; they just don’t serve it on anything- like salad. But I’m not mad. If we are honest with ourselves, lettuce is a useless, tasteless garnish. But silly me, last summer, I was a little ‘holier than-thou’ because Georgians didn’t serve salads with the leafy stuff.

Since this spring season started bearing fruit, salad has been served with all of our lunches at home. Simple sliced cucumber, tomato and onion sprinkled with salt. No oil. No vinegar. No dressing. So, so good.

I was staring at one of the cut tomatoes on my fork that was just picked from the garden not ten yards from where I sat, thinking…  “This tomato is too red.  This can’t be real.”

***

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