Happy Chicken Day

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It is my second here in Georgia. This year my Oz friends decided to get together at the EVS volunteers’ apartment. The gathering included the EVS peeps, some Peace Corp peeps and myself.

1480778_590048491043647_1922306677_n

We didn’t want to bother with Turkey like last year. I don’t think anyone really wanted to chop a head off, nor did we know how to cook one. So Jessica, Alex and Von had the task of cooking a couple of chickens. Which looking back now, proved possibly more difficult than cooking a turkey. After a six hour delay, the feast was finally ready.

529192_590048961043600_406653294_n

Happy thanksgiving to all my friends and family, no matter where you are on this big, spinning world.

1441553_590049074376922_1505576088_n

***

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand 
Six hundred minutes 
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love
How about love
How about love
Measure in love
Seasons of love”

Seasons of Love, Rent Cast

A Georgian Wedding

I have been here in Georgia for a little while now, but there has been one thing that has eluded me. All my friends took part early and often it seemed. People promised me all the time that I could join them in the next one they attended, but it never panned out. So when my host mother at dinner one night asked, after making sure she said the right day of the week- Tuesday- in English, “My cousin is getting married. Do you want to come?” I literally jumped for joy.

For those of you that know me, you know that there is NOTHING that I enjoy more than a good wedding. And I have heard nothing but epic things about Georgian weddings. Finally I got to go to one.

She politely asked me to dress nice and shave.  No worries, Natia! Weddings for me means, GAME TIME! I brought a suit to Georgia specifically for this purpose and shaved and cut my hair the day before.

The wedding didn’t start until 6 pm. (And is wasn’t actually the wedding we were invited to, but the reception. Which was fine by me.)  But I wouldn’t be able to go home and change right before. My co-teacher, Elene wanted me to assist her with a training presentation. So I had to walk through town with my suit on. It makes me self-conscious for some reason to be the only one dressed up. It just made for one more thing the Georgians stared at me for.

DSCN4738

Got to the venue which was a restaurant near my last host home. And people were milling about. As soon as I got there and saw all the people hanging around outside, I realize what I walked into. The old ‘let them wait outside for hours’ trick.  Ugh.  After an hour or so of standing, Natia decided it was enough and took me inside to sit.  The tables were still being prepared. There were rows and rows of tables. As I walked in, the intense stares continued. Natia introduced me to some of her family members. And we all sat together. Finally the doors were thrown open and the rest of the guests poured into the restaurant. Actually it was more like a banquet hall.

DSCN4741

When it was time to eat, I remembered that although the table was full of food, there would be much, much more coming, so I paced myself. After everyone had enough time to eat a little something, the toasts and drinking started. The tamada was up front on a microphone… which was a little impersonal, but again, there were soo many people.

The food was basic Georgian food, with the exception of a few meat dishes.

In between toast’s, the DJ was hard at work. I had witnessed a famous Georgian dance called –appropriately – ‘the Wedding Dance’ at the dance performances I had attended in town. (I will try to find a video of one). But it took on a whole different context in the correct environment. The dance is such that the bride is dancing around with what looks like quick baby, shuffle steps. When she stops, the groom comes from across the dance floor to get next to her. He is also doing minute quick kicks as he goes. When they are together, they do not dance together or even touch. They don’t touch the entire song. Instead, she shuffles around and across the dance floor and he shuffles and baby kicks behind her as in a chase. After typing this, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually a very beautiful dance. Everyone knows it and have seen it a thousand times. But still, they love it and its tradition to perform it. (I have included a video of the dance at the bottom of this post. Its another wedding however and not the one I am writing about.)

DSCN4752

I could tell that the bride loved to dance. She was trying to get on the dance floor every chance she could. The DJ played a good mix of contemporary and traditional music. And lots of people were ready to dance. My favorite part of the evening is when the DJ played an absolute favorite… a total crowd pleaser. Equivalent to ‘Living on a Prayer” at weddings back in the States. He played an Adjarian song for Adjarian dancing. The bride and groom took to the dance floor first. They both did well. The groom was tall and thin, great body type for this style of dancing. And wedding dresses are perfect as well. But the dance is physically taxing. So all the guests knew they could not sustain for the entire song. And as soon as they walked off the dance floor, the other guests flooded into the open spaces and started dancing so hard I thought someone was going to get hurt. It was soo fun!

DSCN4765

I cant just run onto the dance floor… in most occasions. Like at weddings where I hardly know anyone. But I took a chance after a couple of songs. (Liquid courage).  As soon as I got on the dance floor, the Georgians surrounded me to dance with them. They were in my face and spinning me around to dance with others. It’s as if they were waiting on me to come dance. As soon as that song ended (and other toast ensued), they dragged me off to their table for more drinking. The first time, my host family let it slide and I was able to go off and join them. But the second, third and fourth times, my host dad got up and literally told the other people that I could not go drink with them. After a while he had Giorgi follow me around.

Every dance song they came to get me out of my chair. It was soo much fun!

DSCN4758

DSCN4769

DSCN4766

After a while, it was time to go. We walked home in the drizzling rain. Great wedding!

***

***

“Is it the look in your eyes,
Or is it this dancing juice?
Who cares baby,
I think I wanna marry you.”

Marry You, Bruno Mars

Mid Year Conference

This weekend, TLG had a mid year conference. We all met at a hotel in Kutaisi called Tskaltubo Spa and Resort.  It is said to be a former resort conference center for the high officials of the Soviet Union. Once you got past the awkwardness of the heaviness and stark ‘hardness’ of the architecture, it was actually a pretty good place to reenergize. They call these types of resorts, sanatoriums. Which for me conjures up historical images of out of the way centers of healing, where quack doctors and specialist enticed people to visit, by claiming the newest unorthodox method to heal various ailments.

DSCN4653

Tskaltubo Spa and Resort

DSCN4651

Tskaltubo Spa and Resort

As I mentioned in past posts, TLG shook-up the roster the volunteers here. I call it, “The Purge”. As of September of this school year, in addition to the 25 still here working in the program they added another 60+.  So I went into the conference knowing I wouldn’t know that many people. And I still had negative verve from thinking of the prospect of spending energy on getting to know them, when they, too would soon leave the country.  But my nature won’t allow me to be around new people and NOT  get to know them.

***

Unbeknownst to me, TLG started another program where native Georgians can also volunteer to go into rural schools and teach English. It was so cool and refreshing to see these Georgians telling their stories. It was like seeing a glimpse of the future of the program and  of Georgia.

***

The morning after the first evening at the resort, we were all at breakfast. At a lull in the conversation, someone brought up being happy about taking a shower. We all yelled in agreement! Not just ‘take a shower’, because some of us, me included, have that convenience. But it was the QUALITY of the shower- hot water…high pressure… enclosed tub… clean tub… inside in the heated room… enclosed from the outside weather. Heavenly! It was soo funny that we were all thinking the exact same thing. Some of us purposed to take two a day. My roommate took a bath.   …the little things.

***

Words can not express how impressed and infatuated we are with our staff member, Tamara. She is the orientation coordinator for TLG. So EVERYONE who comes to this county to work with this organization is hand held through the initial shock of Georgia by her. She was obviously there this weekend with us. And she STILL remembers my name! She is simply awesome. On one of the last nights of the conference, she walks by our room as we were drinking and we begged her to stop in for a while….  and she does! And gives us a toast, too!   Classy. It’s like having a celebrity do a shot with you in a local bar. Insane.

In the same vein, I knew there was a DJ in the building we had the presentations. But none of the people that I knew and were hanging out with were going or even mentioning going. So I went over solo just to check it out one night around 1 o’clock. There were a couple of people sitting and hanging out in this lounge where the music was playing. I came in, took a trip around to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.  As I was about to leave, one of the TLG staff called me over. She said, ‘You are SANCHEZ JOHNSON, yes?”  Why, yes I am!  She said that she was impressed with my service here in Georgia and that she wanted to meet me and introduce herself. How fun and humbling is that?

Two more stories in the category of “recognition”: I was hanging out in the infamous room 126. It was packed out. But a conversation was struck up with someone I thus far had yet to meet. She mentioned that she had recognized me by my blog. I love that. Talk about warm fuzzies. The process is so voyeuristic but yet so intimate and personal.

And lastly, the main reason we were there was to make presentations on our various regions. I must confess, I wasn’t too excited about ours. But it ended up being pretty damn good!

SAM_2674

We actually almost won the competition. Go, Guria/Adjara!!!  Because of time my little piece was cut even shorter than what I had prepared for (which was totally fine with me).  Afterward, people commented that I was a great speaker. That’s reaffirming. One Georgian lady even said I should pursue acting.  …okay.

***

We also where treated to an excursion to some nearby caves, Prometheus Cave.

DSCN4710

Prometheus Cave

 

DSCN4721

Prometheus Cave

 

IMG_5671

Prometheus Cave

We had a really, really REALLY great time over the weekend. Most of which I can’t detail here… to protect the innocent. Reminded me of some of the weekends with my #43 crew. Good, fun people!

***

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”– Mark Twain.

The Road Taken

I was walking home today and happened to get behind two high school girls walking in the same direction. I didn’t think I knew them and as I was walking at a faster pace than they were, I was debating switching sides of the road.

Before I could do so, a group of Georgian men standing on the side of the road called me over. The first shook my hand and introduced me to his two friends (non of which spoke English). They then proceeded to try to tell me that somebody had died and they wanted me to come in to drink with them. Now, the girls who were walking ahead of me decided to stop and watch this scenario play out. Well, the main guy called them over to translate. And as luck would have it, one of them spoke ‘enough’ English. She again said that his dad and two sons had died (I don’t think recently) and he wanted me to drink with him and his friends.  …Okay.

He coaxed the girls into the yard, too. If you are going to have an English speaking guy in your house, best to have a translator, too. In the backyard, they had a separate building that served as the kitchen. On the table was a small supra of chicken, fish, lobio (beans) and cheese. I had told them that I was only going to drink one drink, because I had to get home. Or else they potentially could have kept me there all night.  But before I started on my wine, they said I had to eat something first…which makes sense. So I ate some of the chicken. It was really good. A roasted chicken that seemed to be marinated in hot peppers and garlic. Yum.  Then we started toasting and drinking.

The girls went to School #3 in town. But the one did a pretty good job translating for me. It was nice of them to stay through the whole ordeal, because I ended up drinking four glasses of wine because I couldn’t stop at two, because three is symbol of God… okay. And I had to drink one more for leaving… okay.

DSCN4731DSCN4733DSCN4734

But again, it goes to show the hospitality of the Georgians. They said that they had been noticing me walking to school in the mornings, now they said I can stop by their houses anytime.

***

The Road Not Taken (excerpt), Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

Dad

My dad back in the States doesn’t normally cook. Well, he doesn’t normally cook in the kitchen. My mom handled that. He could grill food all day, everyday. But in the kitchen, his repertoire was limited to frying fish, cooking steak… that’s about all.

My host dad here, Gurami, lost his job a couple of weeks ago. He still has a lot to do around the house to keep him busy. And on days when Natia, my host mom is super busy he will cook lunch for the family. It’s always fried potatoes. Delicious fried potatoes.

Gurami is also a very religious man… it seems. I have never seen him go to church. Even on the religious holidays. But he religiously does not eat meat or animal products for three days a week.

***

Yesterday, for lunch they served a dish that looked like the meat in ‘kabduri’. When I said so, they replied, “hmm… no, it’s not that.” As they gave sly looks to each other. Now, it must be said that whil living here, I have tasted and mostly liked a lot of ‘exotic’ foods; cow heart, chicken brain (or vise versa), etc. So they weren’t going to scare me, as I took a bite of the dish just to prove my point.

Natia asked if I liked it or not. I said it was pretty good. They said it wasn’t meat.   …okay.

Giorgi didn’t know the name in English, so he did a round about description of it. Saying its like corn after it has popped… or its more like corn than meat.  But how could this NOT be meat though it looks and tastes like meat….?   TOFU!!!!!!!

I was rocking’ tofu in Georgia.  All because Gurami can’t get meat on Fridays.

***

Spear_3648

My Day…

There is a girl at school who is afraid of me. Like afraid to even look at me. Her friends find it hilarious. So today, I ran up to her and gave her a big long hug. I turned and walked away without seeing the consequences. She could have fainted for all I know. Or started projectile vomiting.

So far, I don’t mind walking to school. The weather is still comfortable. This morning walking to school, a car crept up beside me and offered a ride. In the backseat was a neighbor and her granddaughter. These pseudo hitchhiking rides are pretty much the same. Very seldom does a person speak English well enough for a conversation. But, by God, they try! I’m not complaining. they shave off 15 minutes from my walk.

There are three streets that I walk home by. The one that the school is on is the longest. But sometimes I am the only one walking on it as far down as I can see.  Today in the distance I saw a lady pushing a stroller. I didn’t notice her again until I was almost passing her. (I was lost in thought to my earphones.) Sometimes I find it awkward to pass people on the road. I don’t want to startle them as I pass. but I don’t want to offend them by crossing to walk on the other side of the street. As I approached this lady, I decided to cross the street. As I was passing, I noticed her softly singing to her baby. Georgia loves music and dance. EVERYONE sings and dances. I am not saying they all are great singers, but they sing for the joy of it. They easily and often break into song at supras and parties or even hanging out in the park. And if one person dances, you will quickly find them followed by four or five more.

The song the mom was singing was probably remembered from her childhood and her mom.

I passed a corner house walking home from school. And I noticed what I thought were two dogs playing together. When I got up to them one was mounting the other; aka sex… going to town. But only when I looked through the bushes of the fence (that sounds awkward) did I see that the other animal was not a dog, but a pig. I was confused. I am not used to this ‘rural’ living. That sort of thing might be normal happenings on old McDonald’s farm and the village, but it’s all new to this guy.

On my block, the road changes from smooth pavement to gravel and potholes. I don’t understand why it abruptly changes or stops right before my house– annoying .  Between the intersection and my house, an old lady was piling up leaves and twigs in the middle of the road to burn.

I was finally home from my walk. Gurami was bagging the husks from the last of their HUGE stash of corn…. I mean HUGE! I was walking up to him to say hello, when I hear from off to the right of me, GMARJOBA!!!!!!!  I jumped a good 2 feet. It was our next door neighbor saying hello from her window (that’s how close their house is to ours). Hello, Manana!

I was changing out of my school clothes when I got a whiff of a semi-unfamiliar smell. At least unfamiliar to smell in my room. It smelled…. ‘Georgian’. Kind of like how a movie theater smells like a movie theater, but you wouldn’t expect to smell it in your house. I looked around and smelled various things. Come to find out, it was me!

***

Just wakin up in the mornin gotta thank God
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd
No barkin from the dog, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog
I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out
Finally got a call from a girl I wanna tip out
(Whassup?) Hooked it up for later as I hit the do’
Thinkin will I live, another twenty-fo’
I gotta go cause I got me a drop top
And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop
Had to stop, at a red light
Lookin in my mirror and not a cop in sight
And everything is alright
Called up the homies and I’m askin y’all
Which park, are y’all playin basketball?
Get me on the court and I’m trouble
Last week messed around and got a triple double
Freakin dudes everyway like M.J.
I can’t believe, today was a good day!

It Was A Good Day, Ice Cube

Who’s Boy Are You?

DSCN4636

Had to go to a TLG meeting in Batumi this past weekend. Next weekend we have yet another meeting.  We have to present at the Mid-year conference as a region. Best regional presentation wins… blah, blah blah. (Not a fan of group work especially when it means traveling an hour away to meet. Nor a fan of dog and pony shows.)

The meeting was a hodgepodge of the most random assortment of people ever thrown together. One thing that can not be said about TLG- they do NOT have a ‘type’ of employee. Which makes these types of meetings hell. We were to individually come up with a presentation beforehand, then come together with people we barely know to put together a cohesive presentation.   …Okay.

Being introspective, I don’t NEED to be in charge of other people or situations all the time. I don’t want to be (I don’t  think I am) ‘That Guy’. But don’t get me wrong, I CAN be in charge, be efficient, pull the troops together and get shit done.  This meeting was painful. But again, at risk being seen in a negative light, I just sat through it and counted to ten…. backwards…. slowly…. lots of times.

We finally put together a game plan for next week. Done.

I was primarily excited to go to Batumi, not for the meeting, but to meet a friend, Etuna, again. I haven’t  hung out with mostly Georgians socially… by choice thus far.  I mean– hang out with them not out of obligation or seeking an adventure. So this was to be a new experience for me. After the TLG meeting, I contacted Etuna and we decided to meet in the city.

We went to several restaurant/cafes in the city and meet different friends of hers as the day progressed. She has the best friends! She obviously chooses people with good energy to be around her.  It was planned to end the evening at a restaurant called The White Restaurant. This restaurant had a unique spin in that it appears to be upside down, inside and out. Pretty cool. They, Etuna and her boyfriend, are friends with a popular band in Batumi. They are semifinalist on the show, Georgia’s Got Talent, and they are also the house band in this restaurant.

The White Restaurant

The White Restaurant

white ii

The restaurant is a pretty swank place. It was packed out, as in EVERY table was booked with supras for engagement parties, birthday parties, etc. We had a table reserved for us in a prime location. Coming into the restaurant, I felt like I was in a scene from the movie, The Goodfellas.  At the dinner were, Etuna and her boyfriend, Walter and his girlfriend, Mari and myself.  Walter is former TLG, but works independently now in Batumi and Mari works at Adjara TV where Etuna used to work.

We ordered a great sampling of food. And I had the best homemade wine thus far in Georgia. Most homemade wines (at least on the Western side of the country) are too sweet. The wine and the restaurant was sooo good. Now I know what is meant when people praise Georgian wines.

We danced and eat and had the best time! I took over as tamada and they said I toast like a Georgian.

On the ride to the restaurant, Mari, who’s English is at a low level, turns to me and asks, “Visi bitchi khar shen?” Which literally translates to, “Who’s boy are you?”. But the intent is as I like to ask people, “So, what’s your story?” or tell me about yourself. I thought it was the coolest saying ever!

Good times! I have Georgian friends!

***

Upside down you’re turning me
You’re giving love instinctively
Around and round you’re turning me
I say to thee respectfully

Upside Down, Diana Ross