Mac ‘n Cheese

We went to the supermarket called Goodwill. It usually has the most variety of things one needs to cook. I knew I wanted to cook macaroni and cheese. My other friends traditionally did not have mac ‘n cheese on Thanksgiving. Which is beyond my understanding and comprehension. No mac ‘n cheese on Thanksgiving? What!?! Well, I was going to fix that.

Fortunately for them, I had perfected my recipe before coming to Georgia. But unfortunately, Georgia does not have all the supplies I need.

And since Turkey is VERY expensive here, we decided to substitute with chicken. The only chickens they had was frozen or cooked. It would have taken forever to thaw, so I begrudgingly bought the cooked chicken. So, I also made chicken and dumplings. We had those dishes and green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, and pumpkin pie.

We spent almost an hour in Goodwill trying to decipher the Russian products looking for baking powder, chicken broth, etc.

A tradition of cooking for Turkey Day is to taste the products. When my friends nibbled on the chicken, it they said it tasted a lot like ham. And when I tasted it, sure enough… it tasted JUST like ham!  We were baffled and confused all through the meal. Why does it taste like ham? Maybe it’s not chicken…. what other fowl tastes like ham?

DSCN6938

Being away from home at such times is difficult for all of us. But being together, sharing a custom that we all know so profoundly was emotional and comforting.

I am thankful for all of my friends and family all over the world.

***

You better watch out 
You better not cry 
You better not pout 
I’m telling you why 
Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

 

Stay Thirsty, My Friends

IMG_0448

Took a quick trip over to Batumi this weekend to show the new EVS volunteers around. Once in Batumi, I remembered again the monument called the Cha Cha Tower. Every visit to Batumi, I mean to find it, see it, or go to it, but was never successful. So this trip, we purposed to see it.

IMG_0453

The Cha Cha tower has four water fountains. But the reason its called Cha Cha tower is that once a week for 10-15 minutes the water is replaced by Cha Cha. Cha Cha is an alcohol that is best described as Georgian moonshine.  Every home in Georgia makes their own wine, and therefore also their own Cha Cha. Although they love it, it tastes like and reminds me of jet fuel.

IMG_0456

***

To the right
To the left
Take it back now y’all
One hop this time, one hop this time
Right foot two stomps
Left foot two stomps
Slide to the left
Slide to the right
Criss cross, criss cross
Cha cha real smooth

Cha Cha Slide, DJ Casper

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

 

 

Batumi, Batumi, Batumi

This weekend was an extended one. And a doozy at that.

Jessica, a Peace Corp friend in Oz, had a visitor come from London- Audrey (originally from France). The first leg of their excursion was Batumi and Mestia.

The fabulous Audrey

The fabulous Audrey

I had never been to Mestia, and really wanted to go. And I needed to expand my circle of exPat friends. This was a perfect opportunity to get to know some more Peace Corp people.

Friday afterschool, I headed down to Batumi. Jessica and her friend Audrey where already there, so I met them at a pretty well know café in Batumi, Press Café. Press Café was started by a former Peace Corp member. The premise was to hire Georgians and assist them in their English skills and service hospitality skills so they can move up in their careers.

There I not only met Audrey, but another Peace Corp volunteer, Kirk, as well. We hung out for a while, and then eventually started walking around Batumi looking for a cool hookah bar. We went down to the pier first, then ended up in the Turkish district. Because Turkey is so close, they have a great thriving district of cafés, restaurants, and hotels. We walked past a hotel with a hookah sign on the front. So we were escorted in and up to the fifth floor. Here there was a restaurant with a beautiful view of the sea on one side the city on the other. And the hookah was delicious!

On a side note, on the way to find the hookah bar, we came across a carnival bungee thing. I always wanted to do back and front flips like the gymnasts. so here was my chance!  …It’s harder than it looks.

IMG_1654

Then we went home and started drinking some more. The beautiful thing about hostels are the random people you meet. That night we met some Ukrainians there on holiday from University. After they went to bed, had a minor dance party, then bed.

The next day, we found out that our hostel was inundated with new TLG members. So many that they didn’t even know they were all coming!  It was exciting to see all of the newbies. But part of me was thinking, “Were we like that?” I was sitting in the kitchen the next morning and one of them passed by and asked, “Are you Georgian Chronicles?”  I said I was a member of it, but couldn’t claim credit for it (because I heard GEORGIAN WANDERS- which is a Facebook group here in Georgia that the exPats are a part of).  After her looking confused and me rethinking what she REALLY said, I said, “Yes… YES! I AM!!!”  She said that she was reading my blog before she came to Georgia. I was (and am) so humbled and honored. People other than my friends who love me—because they have to—read me!

The second day in Batumi, we were met by a relative of Jessica’s host family, Etuna. Etuna was fabulous. She spoke English and French. She worked as a journalist in Batumi. And she offered to show us around the city. Our first stop was a great restaurant that we would have never found. Then to a swank hangout to people watch. Next to the Sea so Aubrey could take a dip.

DSCN4452

Jessica, Etuna, me.

That night, we found a great little upscale coffee shop. Although they didn’t have anything I wanted, the things they did have were gourmet quality.

Next, we went searching for a Karaoke Bar. And on the very next block, as luck would have it, we found a sign for Karaoke! My friend, Vaughn, and I went to investigate. As with most Georgian entertainment establishments, this one was empty of patrons. It was on the 4th floor of a hotel, but it was indeed a karaoke bar. So we went to get the troops (Etuna peaced out),  and descended upon this bar. But….

They then tell us that the DJ didn’t get there until 10 (an hour later). And we had to buy at least $50 dollars in drinks. FIFTY DOLLARS!!??!!!  Surely they were misunderstood. But, no. 50 bucks. My friends didn’t even wait to listen to the rest of the story, they were gone. I didn’t understand, 50 dollars? Would we get it back? No.  …Okay.   Bye.

We made it back to the hostel intending to just relax and drink the night away, but the TLGers were primin to go out. So we, and some more Peace Corps, joined them to go to a dance club. We started off walking following a Georgian. And we walked… and walked… and walked.  We walked in a big circle and my crew couldn’t take it anymore. So we broke off and went to a German restaurant to drink and regroup.

After we relaxed a bit, we decided to go find our own dance club, which we easily did. The cover was… well, there was a cover charge for dudes, which I didn’t mind paying. I wanted to dance. I didn’t care if no one else followed. But the rest of the boys encountered the dilemma all American boys face when confronted with a cover charge to a club and they are unsure if they want to dance, “Is it worth it?”  They thought not. So in the end it was my original friends and the other Peace Corp volunteers. We had the best time!

The next morning we packed up early to catch the marshrutka to Mestia!

DSCN4471

***

Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond

Find light in the beautiful sea
I choose to be happy
You and I, you and I
We’re like diamonds in the sky

Diamonds, Rihanna

Tower of Babel

Plane flights to Batumi from Istanbul can be a tricky thing. You see, there is a Turkish city close by, Hopi, that uses it as their airport, too. But the thing is, Istanbul to Hopi is less expensive than Istanbul to Batumi. Well that sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, not so fast…

I expectantly found myself in Istanbul over Easter break. I thought I was going to take the bus back, but my friend found a ‘deal’ online for a flight to Hopi (Batumi). We were excited because it meant one more day in Turkey and no grueling 22 hour bus ride.

The flight was fine. I highly recommend any Turkish airline to fly.

But here is where things get tricky. If you get a Istanbul to Hopi flight, although you fly into Batumi, Georgia, you will be shuttled back across the border to Hopi, Turkey.

So we land in Batumi. I entertained the thought of just slipping out the exit and getting a marshrutka to Oz. I think others had that idea, too. Because walking off the tarmac, there were two entrances into the airport. One labeled ‘Batumi’ and the other ‘Hopi Waiting Area’. People on my flight were hovering around the Georgia door. But an attendant was there checking ID’s and pointing people to the Hopi entrance.  People were yelling in Georgian, Turkish and I think I heard her reply in English a couple of times.  I abandoned my hope of slipping into Batumi.

In the Hopi waiting area, we were checked off on the list and told to wait. Once we were all filed in and accounted for, the doors were locked. (It wasn’t as scary as it sounds.)  Everybody was pretty chill. We all should have known how this was going to work, seeing as we were not in Turkey. Everybody but the supporting cast of this post. There was an elderly couple dressed in the universal look of elderly couples that travel. I couldn’t tell if they were Turkish or Georgian. I assume Turkish (for reasons to be told later.) As only old people can, they raised holy hell for not being able to simply go to the Georgian side. They argued with the checklist lady, the security guards, the police and even other passengers who tried to explain to them the process. Eventually the lady threw up her hands in defeat, which prompted the man to relent, too.

So once everyone is accounted for, they load us on to a shuttle bus with our luggage. The old couple is the last to get situated.

We drive all of 15 minutes to the border. I guess the airport and the border security have an understanding, because we don’t get off the bus or even stop. We cruise right past everyone and keep driving into Turkey. 15 more minutes we reach the city limits of Hopi. We turn off the main road to a desolate abandoned looking area. At the back of all this is a small building that serves as the Hopi International Terminal. We exit the bus at the back of the building. Inside, we get our passports stamped and out the door we go.

Passport control always makes me nervous. The security guards always take extra time to look through my passport. I think they are just curious… but it still freaks me out. Then I think, “”What if Interpol is looking for me?”

Outside the terminal our luggage was neatly stacked. There was an airport shuttle bus, several taxis and that’s all.

I approached the shuttle bus optimistically thinking they could possibly take me back to the border or Batumi. I asked if he spoke English…

“Yes.”

“You going to Batumi?” (Quickly realizing he didn’t really ‘know’ English)

“Yes.”

“Can I go with you?”

“No.  Taxi. (He points to the five taxis)”

I go over to the taxi drivers knowing ahead of time this will not end well. I ask ‘how much to go to Batumi’ in Georgian. They didn’t understand. So I mimed, pointed and said Batum (Turkish pronunciation of the city) a lot. The first driver said 30 Lira. 30= a lot.

(Oh, did I mention I only had a 10 in Turkish money and a 10 in Georgian money?)

I went back into the terminal to look for an ATM, use the bathroom and collect my thoughts.  No ATM…

When I came back outside, the old couple from earlier was negotiating with a taxi driver. I tried to strike up a conversation with the lady. But she didn’t speak English or Georgian. And the driver told her I didn’t speak Turkish. were loading up the car. I tried to barter with the lady to share a taxi to Batumi, but the old man wasn’t having it. He got the lady into the taxi and bolted.

I finally negotiated with a driver to take me to Batumi for 20 Lira. But first he would take me to the bank. Cool. The first bank didn’t operate properly. Which scared the shit out of me, because if I couldn’t get cash out… well, this would be a totally different post.

The next ATM worked though and off we went. I gathered that he would charge 20 Lira to Batumi and add the meter price for trip to ATM. Okay. But halfway to the border, the meter was still running and up to 40 lira.  I pointed to it and said, it was a lot, he said, “no problem”, and waved me off.  Okay.

We got to the border and he stopped and told me to get out. Mind you, we are nowhere near Batumi. I told him all I had was 40 Lira. He looked at me with astonishment. Then we did the great ‘Taxi Tango”. I gave him the 40, he gave me the stink eye, and we left it at that.

I sauntered over the border to Georgia. Got a Marshrut’ka to Batumi and then another to Oz.

Home sweet home, where I at least know the language that I don’t know.

***

Genesis 11

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

What Did He Mean?

This weekend I got into Game of Thrones again. Love that show! I had planned on sitting in my room all day Sunday with a Coke, chips and some Twix and just veg out.

But Marta wanted to go hiking. I must admit, it was a beautiful day, indeed. Ugh. But maybe I could sidestep it if there were others going….    Everybody else was either out of town or busy. Ugh. Well if I was going to be outside, I was going where I wanted to be… by the Sea. Batumi, it is!

Marta is an avid hitchhiker. Not my goto mode of traveling, but I’m adventurous and plus, it saves a few bucks.

We compromised and decided to travel to Poti because it was still by the Sea and neither of us had spent any significant time there before. But the hitchhiking gods were not on our side. 30 minutes later, we were still sitting by the side of the road in Oz.

Batumi it is!

On the OTHER road, we were picked up by a Georgian who spoke decent Georgian. He was a lawyer by education living in Oz, but because there are no jobs in that field, he is now in the import/ export business. He was traveling to Batumi for the Holiday.  Speaking of…

Sunday was Palm Sunday. They have a tradition in the Georgian Orthodox faith of assembling at the church with branches from a bush, the boxwood, to symbolize one of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.  As you read this, you probably realize that their Easter celebration does not line up with the Catholic celebration of Easter.  But besides the different dates, there are traditions that I think are also different.

I was in one of my kindergarten classes, and I noticed a plate of seeds. I thought it was a science experiment. But instead it was a plate of grass being grown and prepared for a tradition of placing red eggs. My host father tried to explain the symbolism involved. According to him, the eggs represent Peter’s triple denial of Christ.

DSCN3331

Our driver was headed to Batumi to celebrate with his friends and family.

He dropped us off at the boardwalk. But before he left, he offered us a ride back if we were finished around the same time.  Awesome!

Batumi

Batumi

Marta and I quickly loaded up on beer, soda and snacks. Got down to the Sea and commenced relaxing.  The Sea was beautiful and calm that day. More like a big lake. We saw scores of dolphins frolicking around seemingly close enough to play with.

Good times.

Although Spring… still cold

Although Spring… still cold

But alas, it was time to go. We packed up and called our guy. I texted him, “Hello. Wondering how much longer you think before you are ready to head back to Ozurgeti?”

We walked in the direction of where it would be most convenient to meet him or get another ride. Along the way, he responded, “FUCK YOU :))))))))))))))))))”

I’m not making that up.

I was stunned and confused. I didn’t know whether to laugh… or to be mad. I showed Marta, who busted out laughing (she had an odd sense of humor). But what did he mean…?

I couple of guys picked us up to take us as far as Khobuleti.  They didn’t speak any English nor did they try to.

In Khobuleti, we were picked up by a father/ son traveling to Oz. They spoke Russian, so Marta was able to communicate with them. They were thinking of moving to Russia, because he was frustrated there were no jobs in Georgia.

Great day!

***

“Papa was a rolling stone,
Where ever he laid his hat was his home
and when he died, all he left us was alone”

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, The Temptations

Man In The Mirror

I’m usually very aware of those around me, especially in a small group setting. And I get uncomfortable when others in the group get uncomfortable. For example (and I’m sure other professions have similar situations) when socializing with people and the majority if them are teachers, the conversation after a while tends to drift to teacher talk which leaves non-teachers out of the conversation. I really hate to be in situations like that and I hate to put other people in those situations.

This weekend, Caroline and I were invited by a friend to his friend’s birthday party in Batumi. The birthday girl, Jordan, was in his TLG orientation group. She was a super fun girl from Canada. And to add to the festivities, several of her friends from Canada came to visit for her birthday! (ehhmm…friends of mine, take notes!)

We had a BLAST in Batumi. We went to several hot spots that I didn’t get to experience the first time in this sinful city by the sea. But for that… what happens in Batumi, stays in Batumi. What I can share, and the purpose of this post centers on Jordan’s visiting friends.

I have been here for a very short time thus far.  There is so much more I have to learn. And that’s just the things I am aware of that I have to learn. I’m sure there are cultural nuances that I don’t even know exist. Like counterparts to English figures of speech, ‘He’s down to earth’. And of course wrapping my mind around this language still proves to be daunting. Oh, quick side story…

I was at the dinner table tonight, just going over the numbers, and Nino heard me so she started to help me. We got to four, ot’khi, and I just couldn’t pronounce it perfectly enough for her.

me: ot’khi.

nino: OT’KHI. (with accompanying hand gesture)

me: ot’khi.

nino: OT’KHI!!!!!!! (with accompanying double hand gesture)

She ended up throwing her hands up in frustration.

But alas, moments like this weekend makes me realize I am indeed learning this culture, albeit small steps. Sitting at the dinner table, and seeing us in Georgia through their eyes was sobering. They were a perfect mirror for us to take note of how far we have actually come since day one. We had synced perceptions on the cultural components of eating and toasting, we could communicate effectively with wait staff, and bartenders. We knew how to navigate the city and dealt with the cultural differences/inconveniences that would have given us all severe anxiety several months ago.

And we were able to see a glimpse of our former selves in them. Eating khinkali and khach’ap’uri for the first time. Interacting with wait staff, drinking wine and toasting, going with the Georgian flow.

So here’s to Jordan and her friends for a wonderful weekend!

Birthday Girl!

PS. Another Nino story.

So my host father and I were talking about how Georgian is a VERY old language. Lots of Georgians don’t even understand old Georgian. Through the years in the transition, they took out five letters. We were sitting at the kitchen table and yelled to the grandpa who was in the living room for his confirmation on the five missing letters. The grandpa couldn’t quite hear us, but Nino did. And she yelled back, “I DIDN’T TAKE THEM!!!!”

“I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change”

Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson