Easter Pt. II

Easter morning for breakfast, we had the much talked about paska cake for breakfast. We also had regular chocolate cake. Also on the table were the Red Easter eggs! And I guess for kicks and a precursor for the day’s events- red wine. With the eggs, we each held one and tried to break the other. If ours broke we had to give it to the other person and vise versa. Which meant we had boiled eggs, too.

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Wine with breakfast for the win!

The Easter supra was delicious. She had been preparing for this day for a long time. Natia brought out cheese that had been aging since August. We also had a dish tied to Easter called Satcivi, which is chicken in a walnut sauce. Neighbors came and went as the day went on, each offering toasts and being toasted to. Later in the day, it was our turn to go visit the neighbors and give our well wishes.

The day after, we again had more paska. (It’s not tasting any better.)

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My friends wanted to go to a newly built church on the top of a hill across the river. But we had to go through the cemetery to get there. Tradition dictates that on or after Easter families go to the cemetery to visit with their deceased relatives. I don’t know the genius of this tradition, but it has eerie parallels to the heart of the Christian event.

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I didn’t really want to go to the cemetery. I felt as if it was intrusive on the families that were having intimate time with their deceased relatives. We skirted around the cemetery and climbed up to the Church. The church was commissioned by a wealthy Ozurgetian who now lives in the Ukraine. From the hilltop, it commands a beautiful view of the town and river.

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While standing up above the cemetery, a student from my school saw me and scrambled up to say hello. She and her cousins walked with me for a while and then took a photo with me. I was done with the view and decided to leave as I told Natia that I would be back for lunch.

Leaving the cemetery, I saw my host father, Gurami! He was there with his goddaughter, Salome and their friends to visit his deceased grandmother. So he invited me, too. Here I was, prepared to circumvent the cemetery out of respect, and now I’m being invited to participate in the ritual! Ironic.

They shoveled food and wine out of this old falling apart Soviet Era car. We go over to a tiny plot of fenced off ground to pay our respects to his ancestors. There were two women buried in the plot, his grandmother who raised him and his great grandmother. He grandfather was buried in another city where he fought in the war, and his parents were in another gravesite in Oz.

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We toasted several times to the deceased and ate some food; paska and khatchapuri.

My student came back over and asked if I could come to her family’s gravesite, too. I went and paid tribute to her deceased as well.

The ancestors of the Georgians are with them always. They have a supra at the grave one month after one dies, then a year and on holy Days. At every supra there is a toast especially for them.

That night we had paska… again.

***

And you never got the chance to see how good I’ve done
And you never got to see me back at number one
I wish that you were here to celebrate together
I wish that we could spend the holidays together

Bye Bye, Mariah Carey

Shemokmedi Monastery

A while ago, I presented a PowerPoint on ‘Historical Sites in Guria’. In researching, I found out that one of the most important monasteries in Guria was in a village near Ozurgeti. So this weekend, I thought I would take a trip up to see it.

It was indeed a short marshrutka ride to the village, but this village must be popular because the van was slam full of people. I got out at the appropriate village and no one was around except another girl who also got off the van and an old man. I didn’t immediately see the monastery. Every building looked deserted, which being in Georgia was normal. I asked where the monastery was and they both turned around and pointed up to the top of a mini mountain. …Obviously.

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I had read and been told that back in time for centuries the monastery was the most important in the region. It held a vast library and was the burial grounds for the nobility of the region.

 

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It was smaller than I had imagined. But it still held an impressive view of the surrounding villages and countryside.

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When I got back down to the bottom of the mountain I asked a kid where to wait for the Marshrutka. Once I got to the appropriate shade tree, I looked around to gather my bearings. This place seemed familiar. It was the village we came to when I first came to Georgia to hear President Saakashvili speak!

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(In case you guys forgot, there are photos of most of the places I visit in the tab on the right side of blog. Cheers!)

***

‘Cause baby,
There ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you

Aint No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye

Easter

My host father is very religious. He doesn’t go to church very often. But he faithfully observes religious dietary habits and quietly crosses himself at religious times. And he keeps the television on all day on religious days to check up on the Patriarch of Georgian Orthodoxy. This week, he kicked up he fasting to intense levels.

Last night, he watched ‘The Passion of Christ’ on television. Although Georgia tends to censor their programming on television, this movie seemed to be as I remembered, a raw and cringing depiction of the torture of Jesus. I felt sad for him as he watched the sacrifice of his Lord portrayed on the television screen.

Tonight (midnight- Easter eve), he is at the main church in Oz.

Tomorrow he will break fast. And we will celebrate with a grand supra!

Happy Easter!!

 ***

I decided to stay in Oz for Easter. My host family really wanted me to celebrate with them and see their traditions.

My host mom has been cooking for several days now. She started with cooking a traditional cake called ‘paska’. Georgians go crazy over this stuff. I’m trying to come up with a relatable cultural analogy. Something mediocre tied to some great event. Some unexceptional tradition that MUST be done in association with the main celebratory event. When in conversation about Easter with a Georgian, their eyes light up and they command me to try paska. “You must eat pasca!!!” It’s like I get when talking about sushi or great NC barbeque.

Pasca

Paska

So I did. But it’s nothing special. It tastes like a Cinnamon Bun… without the icing or the cinnamon. It’s a dense cake. She slices it into thick pieces, but I can only ever finish half, and that’s with a glass of water or tea. And for the last three days, we have been eating it morning and night. She says that it gets better over time. “After a week, it will be delicious!” How is that possible? I can tell its getting stale already. Maybe it’s an Easter miracle. I will eagerly wait and see. She made 15 of them in various sizes, so I am pretty sure we will have some left a week from now.

Happy Easter!!

***

 There is another tradition in Georgia to paint the eggs red. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the symbolism. They are traditionally dyed with the root of the madder plant and onion peel. Traditionally, they are supposed to be dyed on Good Friday. She showed me the root, but I haven’t seen any red eggs around here.

This week, Natia bought four hens and a rooster. At first I thought she was excited we were going to eat them. Good thing I didn’t speak up. She was excited for the eggs. Silly me.

She took me out to look at them and everything. Yes indeed, there were five chickens!

Today one of them laid the first egg!

Natia and her egg.

Natia and her egg.

Happy Easter!!!!

 

***

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.”  Mark 16:6

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

If you have been following my blog since the beginning, you might remember our orientation meeting place, the Bazaleti Palace Hotel. Being there for the first week with the others of group #43 who were experiencing and learning this country with me left it engraved on my brain with all of the emotions and sensual connections intact. That hotel has a place in my memory similar to going to a haunted house in your youth with a now deceased friend or parent. Once flying out of Tbilisi, I passed it on the bus. Simply being in the vicinity again gave me goose bumps.

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It was announced that we would have another mid year conference. Unlike last year, we were to return to The Bazaleti Palace Hotel. We were supposed to come with our co-teacher, as the focus of the conference was to be on co-teaching. But Elene got sick the morning of. Which was okay. It allowed for me to have more freedom of movement.

The conference was two full days of workshop sessions on co-teaching. Besides the pain of not wanting to be in ‘class’ all day, the workshop was actually fairly legit. TLG contracted an education firm to facilitate the workshops. So the information was relevant and the exercises are immediately applicable. The only two criticisms I have are they need to figure a way to do this in the beginning when volunteers first arrive. Not only have the volunteers been here for months already, the school year almost over making the tools too late. And the other criticism is the instructor taught the class with an assumption that everyone had a background in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

And obviously the best part for me was to meet the new people! Two groups had since arrived since the school year started. And out of the 40+, I had only met 2. I felt like an old man, being around these newbies. So much so that it was a little awkward being the odd man out even though I had been here much longer. But for the most part, they were open and inviting. And alcohol is the great social mixer.

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Rumors run rampant about the future of the TLG program. Usually these rumors are fueled by disgruntled volunteers burnt out or ending their own contracts. The rumors usually end by concluding that the program is ending. Once we arrived, the first thing the director did was to end the rumors by stating that the program is funded for several more years. But one change was announced that saddened us all. The ‘face’ of the organization, Tamara, is leaving TLG to pursue her chosen profession. It’s one of those scenarios where you are sad for yourself, but happy for the other person. Everyone loved her. A friend from the States is joining the TLG program next school year, and I hate that she won’t know the magnetism and comfort that Tamara gave us.

Goodbye Tamara

Goodbye Tamara

***

After the conference decided to stay in Tbilisi for a couple of more days to catch up with friends who live there. In doing so, met some great Peace Corps friends and saw different parts of the city. The thing about Tbilisi that surprises me every time is the amount of people that speak English. Not that that is a threshold for a ‘good’ city, but it’s unexpected. In contrast, I very rarely encounter someone who speaks English where I live or the other cities on my side of Georgia. Case in point, a Georgian friend but me on a bus to get to an unfamiliar part of the city. She instructed the driver to let me off in front of a Chinese Restaurant. When we arrived to the square, several people other than the bus driver offered assistance in English- near fluent English.

Old Town, Tbilisi

Old Town, Tbilisi

A highlight of the weekend entertainment was at a bar called Lab. This is a super cool bar that pours heavy-handed. It has a great patio that overlooks the city and just a great vibe. The only problem was the DJ’s, which in my book is a HUGE problem because I always am in the mood to dance. And they had all of the markings for a great dance situation; great space and willing participants (you could just tell everyone was ready to cut loose). But the DJs never delivered. I was soo disappointed. How could a DJ miss such a great opportunity? While he was grooving obnoxiously to his own sounds, the crowd was even yelling out trying to tell him what to play. [Which reminded me of a movie clip is will post at the end.] His mixes were too slow. They were great beats from the early hip-hop era, but not danceable.

A friend who was just as frustrated as I broke down the problem, which could be taken as a example of all Georgia’s social shortcomings when it comes to being contemporary. He theorized that the DJ (and patrons of the club) has seen western clubs and dancehalls, and very much wants to emulate that. So they have the clothes, the swagger, even the equipment (he was mixing on a Mac pro with appropriate mixing boards). But they don’t know how to create the essence of a western style club. It’s like seeing a look-a-like of a celebrity. Only when they speak do you realize that it’s not the real thing… or not what it claims to be. I am not saying that a club can only be awesome if it is an America club. I have had super fun in Georgian clubs. It’s when they try to be what they are not is when the obvious disconnect comes in.

***

In movies you hear the phrase, “US Embassies are American soil”. Which basically means, rules and laws of the  hosting foreign country does not apply. Being on the property of the Embassy is essentially the same as being in the States. It’s like a bubble. Little did I know the phrase is actually literal.

I had planned to stay at a hostel for the rest of my stay in Tbilisi. But when I met a friend who works for the State Department, he offered to let me crash at his place. This was the first time I had been to his house. I knew he was paid US wages, which meant he could entertain himself on a level I couldn’t even get near. But going to his house was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into another world…back to America.

The house enveloped me immediately in a blanket of comfort. His house was furnished with his furniture, not the bulky soviet style furniture found in every house I have been in here. Both bathrooms were totally inside the house. He had a dryer, a full sized refrigerator, and the beds were legit full sized beds (not full sized by pushing two mattresses together). Hot water all the time. Not only high speed Internet, but a server with a US signal.   …and a dryer. OH! And shower curtains!

So this is what is REALLY meant by US Embassies (and workers) are American soil. I was basically ‘home’ for two days.

 ***

“And so for a time it looked as if all the adventures were coming to an end; but that was not to be.”

– C.S. Lewis

***

From the movie, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Take It From The Top

Several months ago, my director informed us that we would be having what I interpreted as a day where other education officials and teachers from the town can come and observe our classes at our school. At the very same time, he expressed a desire for me to dance in said observation. Now, although I love to dance, I hate doing so upon request. Don’t know why, I’m weird that way. But my director is very persistent and he gave me a student dancer who was to choreograph the dance and privately instruct me. Fine.

Elene was one of the teachers chosen to do a lesson for that day and she was to give a presentation of her last two years of being trained to instruct other teachers on different methods. And because she was chosen that means I, too, was chosen. So for the next several weeks we brainstormed ideas for both.

I remember when I was growing up, watching movies or videos of ‘demonstrations’ in Communist countries; Soviet Union, China. These demonstrations would basically take the form of a huge parade of massive amounts of people in a town square either dancing, singing or marching. I remember thinking then, “They must have practiced for hours to do such synchronized movements…”

When the observation day was announced, one class, my sixth grade, was on a section in the book called, “Old customs in the New World”. And that’s where we stayed for the next several weeks until the observation. The students were drilled back and forth as to how to pronounce and recite several pages of information on Tibetans, Sami peoples, Incas and Bedouins. She expanded the lesson and coached them on how to talk about cultural aspects of Georgia. Now the perplexing part is where one day, she took me aside and said that she HATED when teachers practiced with their kids what to say during an observation. So obviously she saw a difference, but what that difference was is beyond my comprehension.

I started learning the Georgian dance almost immediately. My instructor was a student named Tatia. She was super strict and not friendly AT ALL. Which is good for me, because I just wanted to learn the dance. She had a friend, Ana who came with her, too. Eventually Ana would become my dance partner. We practiced during school, which was weird, but only once a week. Closer to the day of the observations, Tatia started becoming more and more absent. Ana took more and more of a commanding role. Actually we had been practicing without music, but Ana brought in the track we were to dance to. She also changed some of the steps to fit better.

Ana

Ana

 

 

The day before and of the presentations, EVERYONE was cleaning and preparing. Scrubbing the walls, hiding broken equipment, etc. The guests would not arrive until noon, so there was one last dress rehearsal at 10. This is when I found out I would NOT dance with Ana, but with the dance teacher and her daughter. Not only would I dance with new people, but they were going to change the song and choreography. …Okay. So I learned this new choreography as fast as I could, then found out the teacher’s daughter would not dance with us after all, because Ana heard about being cut out and started bawling and she didn’t understand why THIS student could dance with me but she couldn’t. Drama. So it ended up being the dance teacher and myself.

So we performed the open lesson for the other teachers in town, did the presentation of Elene’s experiences then had the mini concert. In addition to my performance there were other singers, dancers and poetry recitals. We have a depth of talent at this school.

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Mariam, prettiest voice in Georgia.

 

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All in all, I would say it was a very successful day. The rehearsing paid off.

 

***

Metamorphosis

When I was growing up, there were certain things I didn’t eat simply on principal. I didn’t eat chicken except for the breast because of fear of biting into a vein or, lord forbid, a fatty gristle. The word gristle still sends cold shivers up my spine. Nor did I eat steak because my father favored the kinds with fat still intact and cooked with the rest of the meat. As I got older my list of acceptable foods expanded. Once in Washington DC, I ate an insect taco. It was delicious and I would do it again.

Here in Georgia, my eating habits are very consistent but can’t be all that healthy. My host mother is very deliberate in making sure I have food on the table. I think she takes slight offense if I eat elsewhere. And for the most part she is a great cook. Unfortunately for us, she has lately started to bake her own bread. It looks and has the consistency of focaccia. But it tastes horrible! I don’t have the heart to tell her, and I think the other family members share my opinion. When she puts the store bought bread on the table in addition to hers, they always take the store bought bread. I think it’s a trick, so I eat two of her pieces of bread for every piece of new bread. But that plan might be backfiring. What if she thinks I LOVE her bread? Otherwise all of her food is great.

But I have learned that ‘good’ isn’t enough to make a meal desirable. She makes a great potato salad. Very comparable to my own mother’s back in the States. My mom is a genuine born and raised southern woman. So saying it’s ‘comparable’ is saying a lot. But the deliciousness evaporates when it’s the ONLY thing served for a meal… with bread… and water. The first helping is great, and I think to myself, ‘you can do this’. Then the monotony overwhelms me and I can’t continue to force myself to overdose on potato salad. I don’t care how good it is.

I have mentioned this next part before, but want to revisit it. Our meals are like clockwork. Within 15 minutes of waking up, breakfast is ready and served. A basket of bread, jam, something that reminds me of cream cheese, and tea. Everyday. But to be fair, occasionally on the weekends, Natia bakes some Khatchapuri or pancake looking things. And once in a while hot cacao.

3 p.m. everyday, we eat lunch regardless of who is home. Even if I am the only one home, I am expected to eat at 3. Natia calls to remind me and give instructions for what to eat specifically. Our lunch meals are fortunately hot most days. But even the cold dishes are appetizing and at least filling.

And at 8 p.m., we eat ‘dinner’. A basket of bread, jam, something that reminds me of cream cheese, and tea. Everyday. But to be fair, occasionally on the weekends, Natia bakes some Khatchapuri or pancake looking things. And once in a while hot cacao. (Notice the repetition there?)

Now-a-days I’m starting to question the impact my eating schedule will have on my overall health. Am I getting all the nutrients I need? Am I eating enough, or slowly starving myself? I try to supplement the rarity of meat by eating lots of it at our weekly happy hour.

Which brings me back to meat with fat.

The other day I was eating lunch at home. Natia had prepared one of my favorites- a meaty stew is the best way to describe it. She doesn’t discriminate with the meat. She cuts it up in descent portions and plunges the pieces into the stew. So it’s basically hit or miss as to what you will retrieve with the ladle. I try to cheat sometimes and go fishing when they aren’t looking, but usually, I have to deal with what I get. This last meal, there seemed to be a shortage of ‘all meat’ pieces. When I dipped the ladle, it was either bones with some meat and fat, or chunks of fat with meat. I chose some of both and surprised even myself. The fatty stuff was…. tasty.

Who am I?

***

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

Metamorphosis, Frank Kafka