The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Georgia. This is real; no photoshop.

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credit: Tony Hanmer

 

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

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

credit: Zymante Trakelyte

 

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

credit: Joe Bailey

credit: Joe Bailey

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The Seniors- 2014

As a teacher, I have witnessed a lot of end school year rituals. Obviously, the seniors have extra reason to celebrate. They all scramble to try and hold on to the feeling and memory for as long as they can through symbols and long honored tools to help accomplish this. My favorite, and the one that has the best chance of lasting is the annual (yearbook).

Here is Georgia, they don’t really do the yearbook thing. My first guess is because its cost prohibitive. Instead they do something I remember the ‘counter culture kids doing back in the states, and that is signing white tees. I forgot how the actual procedure goes (as you will notice later). On this last day of school, it was a glaring reminder that this was a special day to celebrate with a universal rite of passage.

Up until this day, the majority of students spent countless, tiring hours going to their tutors preparing for end year exams. Exams were over and recorded. My students were happy for the most part. Now it was time to celebrate with friends.

  1. Senior presentation.

In my time here, I got to know one particular class extremely well. The core members of my English club are in that class. for a couple of months, they have been practicing for their Senior Program. I was invited to come to see it and also go with them on their excursion afterwards.

I got to the school as instructed at 10. But as I should have guessed, they started 2 hours later. The lobby area where they were to perform was packed out. One reason they started late was that their senior teacher had to make an ‘entrance’. She was dressed up beautifully and escorted into their classroom. Then we waited some more.

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The first thing I noticed when I walked up to the school were the boys wearing similar clothes; blue jeans, white shirts and ties (most wore ties). They were outside hanging out and smoking cigarettes. I didn’t see the girls until I went inside. The two words that immediately went into my head consecutively were- “cute”… “scandalous”. Their outfit consisted of black mini skirts with white aprons and black knee length stockings. I think they were shooting for the Britney Spears’ ‘Opps! I Did It Again’ look.

I notice time and time again that the females here often push the line (according to American standards) in terms of scandalous attire. I try to wrap my mind around the whole thing in the context of cultural acceptance of women, i.e., what the line is from appropriate to inappropriate attire in Georgia versus the States and why that is, how Georgian men can so easily make a switch in their minds between ignoring Georgian women in public and eye raping non-Georgian women. Case in point, I was waiting for an early marsh back to Oz in a seaside town. It was early in the morning, so only a couple of taxi drivers were milling about. Out of nowhere, a very fair skinned blonde girl appeared across the street from us to wait on a bus to Batumi. She was dressed like she was going for a hike. There was nothing scandalous or even remotely controversial or ‘inappropriate’ about her attire. But once seen by the Georgian men, they all perked up, even the ones in the shops came out to have a look. And I didn’t understand the Georgian they were muttering, but it was a familiar tone understood by all males. Ten minutes later, same side of the street, a Georgian women walked out to wait for the bus. The first thing I noticed about her was the high-heeled hot pink shoes. She wore sheer hose, and a tight black skirt. She had long curly black hair, matching pink lipstick and black sunglasses. She couldn’t have been considered inappropriate in her dress, but she definitely was very attractive, hard to miss, and demanded attention. Much more so than the blonde haired girl, but the men reacted as if it were another cow wandering for grass or they didn’t react at all. I don’t understand.

A friend here in the Peace Corps theorizes that it has to do with the ingrained level of respect Georgian men have for their women. They are placed on a high, untouchable pedestal. To the point where it doesn’t matter what they wear, slutty or not, they are not objects to be subject to anything less than dolls still in the box. (That is not to be confused with how the women are actually treated.)

But back to my kids.

Their program was really cute and well done. They started with a musical skit that took place in school (hence the outfits). Then they transitioned to a mock award ceremony. Here, when different classmates would ‘win’, they performed various songs or dances.

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This was the first time in my two years here that I was able to see my Sofo dance. I had heard she was good, but I didn’t realize the level of her talent. She performed the ‘Wedding Dance’. The thing about traditional things is they are heavily repeated to the point that you get to distinguish between good, mediocre and bad. Even if you can not do that thing yourself. Take wine. Drink it enough, and it becomes possible for you to distinguish good from bad and what makes it so. What makes the Wedding Dance unique is the way the lady glides effortlessly across the floor away from or toward the male. Sofo was amazing. Her movements were ghostlike. I was so proud.

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Sofo

Then of course they ended it all with ‘We Are the World’.

They signed some more shirts and took photos afterward. Megi, one of my favorite seniors, asked me to sign her shirt. I had signed lots of shirts previous to hers and I signed it similarly- just with my name. Megi, not one for mincing words, immediately called me out on it and said, “Sanchez. What is it!?! NO! You are supposed to write a memorable message!” Dude, now I remembered. It was sooo obvious. The previous kids’ shirts I signed just smiled and went to the next person.

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Sofo, Lana, me, and Megi

  1. Excursion.

When the kids finally finished taking photos and changed clothes, we all went downstairs to prepare to leave. Usually the classes take a regular marsh for their excursions. Outside waiting for us was a coach bus! Ballin’ status!!

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After waiting for several straggling students, we finally left. The parents sat up front, the girls took the back, which left the center for the boys. I don’t know of there was a shortage of seats but the other two male teachers took turns sitting next to me. Both of who spoke limited English, enough to understand each other.

The driver of course didn’t know how to get to our destination, so we took several wrong turns and had to continually stop to ask for directions.

Our destination was the Prometheus Caves in Tsakaltubo near Kutaisi. I had gone to these caves before, but I was still excited to be with the kids. Most of the kids (and adults) I asked had never been to the caves. And again, for that reason alone, I love the concept of excursions. It’s an opportunity for Georgians to see their own country when it is cost prohibitive to do so otherwise.

They loved it.

Another tradition for Georgians is to bring their food when they travel. The first time I came to the caves, we simply got back on the bus and left. This time they unloaded the food in a yard on the side of a market. I had not noticed this area the first time. it had picnic tables and a grill. They moms started spreading out the food and chopping up the vegetables, while the guys started firing up the grill for the mtsvadi.

 

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We started the feast and per usual things were slow. But the music was turned on and the cha-cha was brought out. I hate cha-cha, but this stuff was especially toxic. How is that possible!?! I only took three mini shots. But the boys (and by boys, I mean the ones that just graduated and the male teachers) kept pounding. They offered to buy me a beer just to keep my drinking. The feminist in me was super happy for two different reasons, both due to ‘my’ girls. Megi, with nose turned up, made sure that I understood that I did not have to drink that stuff. She’s protective that Megi. And Sofo, seeing that we had bought beer, too, filled her glass several times.

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Then the dancing started. Sofo and another talented student, Nini, got the party started. And as per usual they all begged and pleaded with me to dance. I hate that. I eventually did dance and their cameras came out like the paparazzi.

 

At dusk, it was time to load up the bus and meander our way back to Oz. But of course we again made several wrong turns. One of which, was down a one-way street in Kutaisi. We were stopped by the police.

While stopped the kids got off to stretch their legs or smoke. One kid crossed the street to take a photo. (I wish I thought of that.) But on the way back to the bus he was apparently heckled or something by some local kids. At first I thought the teachers were just scolding him. But then I saw him walk towards the back of the bus and confront the local kids again. The teachers and other students intervened. I thought it was going to be a brawl. And this might be bravado talking, but if there is a brawl going to happen, I want to be with my team. So I decided to leave the bus, too. But by the time I got to the stairs, they all were being herded back on the bus.

I thought it was over, but the kid involved with the drama started yelling at another kid on the bus. I asked someone what the problem was. Apparently, the kid in the middle of it all had called for backup from his friend and said his friend didn’t come to his aid. But the friend protested and said he came, just the wrong way, which I believe. They argued about that for what seemed like ever. Then the alcohol finally kicked in and they all fell asleep.

Great Excursion!

***

“So what we get drunk?
So what we smoke weed?
We’re just having fun
We don’t care who sees
So what we go out?
That’s how it’s supposed to be
Living young and wild and free”

Young, Wild and Free, Wiz Khalifa

In Which Sanchezi Goes To Visit The Neighbors

I came downstairs yesterday and ran into Giorgi. He was coming to say that they were going to a neighbor’s house for a “small dinner”, aka supra. They asked if I wanted to join.   …Of course!!

Before we could leave though, Gurami had apparently broken the washing machine and needed to find a repairman to come out. Natia was NOT happy. Once that was set up, we walked two houses down.

Standing in the doorway was my favorite Bebia!

*Since I walk to and from school and town, I see a lot of my neighbors out and about. One in particular is very animated in saying hello and kissing me profusely whenever she sees me, “CHEEEMIII SAAAANCCCHEZI!!!’, which only makes me excited to see her! Every time it’s like we haven’t seen each other for years. She speaks to me in rapid Gurian Georgian, and I spit out as many Georgian words as I can. She introduces me to anyone she happens to be walking with. She’s my buddy.

My favorite Bebia!!

My favorite Bebia!!

So I was super excited to find out that this was her house AND her birthday supra!!! She skitted around here and there only as old ladies can do. Finally we sat down to the table. In this house lived the grandma, a husband and wife and their two kids. The mom was away working in Turkey.

Natia joined us later after tutoring her student. Natia and Gurami are soo cute together out in public. She has a sharp wit about her and can make anyone laugh on any occasion, but she also tends to be reserved and ultra polite. Gurami gives off the vibe if a ‘good ol’ boy’. He is funny, too, but in a different way. Out of his crew of friends, he is the quiet one.

After we kicked back a couple of toasts of wine, our hosts demonstrated that they were also singers. They sang some amazing sounding songs with multi part harmonies. Then we found some songs on YouTube and started dancing. Since I have a current Georgian dance routine under my belt, I showed them a thing or two. As soon as I stood up, the video cameras on phones and cameras were whipped out. (No wonder everything is able to be shown on those television shows; earthquakes, people falling down stairs, car crashes,  singing babies, hailstorms, etc.  Little did I know, there are scores of people who are ALWAYS ready to videotape something. They are like gunslingers of the Wild, Wild, West.  One lady was video taping on her phone in one hand and taking pictures from her camera in the other….  a two shooter.)

This house was the first I had been to with an outhouse. Whenever I am at a supra with Gurami, he always escorts me to the bathroom. Which makes it hard for me to ‘puke and rally’. (I think that’s what he is secretly monitoring.) I was at first confused that I was walking soo far in the dark and rain, then it dawned on me. I stepped into the outhouse and took mental notes, “So, this is an outhouse…” It was an wasn’t what I expected. I WAS in that it had the hole in the ground. But the ground was also tiled.  And there was an ash bucket against the back wall. I deduced that this was for bringing in hot coals with you in the winter. That’s what I would do. But thinking on it again, it could be a giant incense jar…

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There are only so many toasts of wine I can do. Even after sipping for a while, I foresaw things going downhill fast for me soon. The tamada was just getting into a rhythm with the toasts, but I had to get home before I started being ‘that guy’. So I gave Gurami the signal and we walked safely home.

***

Now, they’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green, be glad to see you
When you haven’t got a prayer
But boy you got a prayer in Memphis

Walking In Memphis, Marc Cohn

Flash Dance

My school director wants me to dance at a presentation they are putting together in the near future. I hate doing anything performance wise simply because someone asks, but he assigned a student to teach me the choreography.

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My dance partner, Ana.

Tatia is a drill sergeant, which I like and need in a dance teacher.

Tatia

Tatia

Today, I wanted to video tape it, but that quickly descended to a Georgian photo shoot. I had seen evidence of this on Facebook, but had not before been privileged to witness one.

Lots of shoot and delete.

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***

You wanna hot body
You wanna Bugatti
You wanna Maserati
You better work bitch
You wanna Lamborghini
Sip Martinis
Look hot in a bikini
You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy
Live in a big mansion
Party in France

You Better Work Bitch, Britney Spears

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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!

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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

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.

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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,

Can’t Stop The Music

Last Sunday during a supra, I was asked to get up and perform a Georgian dance. I balked and ended up not doing it to the anger of my co teacher. Not because I am shy or don’t like to dance. But because I had forgotten some of the steps. And I was NOT about to get up in front of co workers and other people in the restaurant to make a fool of myself.

If you have been reading, I took dance lessons last year and got to be pretty good. I even did a small performance during my host brother’s graduation party.  But as they say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

I failed to mention that I have expanded my community of exPats here in Oz. I will talk about them in a later post. But during happy hour, I heard that they were taking dance classes. So I decided to brush up on my skills.

Last night I met them in town at 8. We walked together to the destination. Just looking from the outside, I could already tell that this place was WAY better than the last. The other place was in a smelly moldy upstairs loft. This was a legit dance studio. My friends referred to it as the compound. The instructor’s name is Zura. He is a nationally awarded dancer and choreographer and his father is a dance legend in Georgia. His students often graduate to become dancers in the national acclaimed troupe called Sukhishvili.

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dance I

From the beginning I knew this would be a better fit for me. His warm ups were real exercises and they alone made your body feel as if it would revolt and stop working. We had wood floors and mirrors on the walls!  (The small things are important to me.) He has a methodical sequence he is teaching us, it seems. And most importantly, we practiced the entire time. He didn’t stop to goof around or flirt. That is also important. I want to be good and I don’t want to waste time getting there.

But as I write this, I feel the burn in my calves and thighs. No Pain, No Gain!!!

Le’go!!!

***

“Honey, Honey… Come and dance with me.”

#36, Dave Matthews Band