Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Blog

Hello there. If you are still following this blog, I would like to humbly request that you check out my new blog, at, whereupon you will find everything you ever found on this blog and MORE, specifically because I will try not to forget about the new blog for months and months at a time. Thanks!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exile On Not Main Street, Part II. Or: The road less traveled. Also vodka.

Hello, friends. Romania is still Romania, and language class is still language class (For a limited time only, all the suck of PST, crammed into a more portable three weeks! Available for the low low price of oh just kill yourself now!). Thankfully, even our teacher didn't want to teach this afternoon, so we just sat outside drinking coffee and talking about recent Romanian history, which seems to involve a lot of Germans and kings who don't want to be kings and then Stalin. So, since it was topical, I showed her my Stalin Museum pictures. It was nice to be able to contribute to the discourse. Also, I showed the photo of me as Bearinacage from last Halloween, the photo of my winter beard, and the photo from my host brother's wedding where I gave a prepared toast and then downed a huge kh'anzi in front of 300 people. Man, I miss Georgia. I mean, I want to be here, and I'm adjusting, but I don't really know how to balance what seems to be a healthy impulse to fondly remember my time there, and the need to fully adjust my focus to HERE. I'm sort of afraid I'm going to find myself at work two weeks from now, with someone asking me a random work question, only instead of answering it I will find myself bawling and sputtering, "I....remember.....the.....time.....when.....Kelly Uphoff......said......Colonial Williamsburg....." and then I will run out the door and just run and run into the wilderness and nobody will ever see me again. It's a possibility that's on the table, I think.

Anyway, here is part two of my Exile Story. I'm going to visit my new city this weekend, so perhaps I shall have some interesting insights and/or photographs for you to gaze at in wonder, come next week.


I went home and packed a small bag. Under our safety and security rules, when moving volunteers is a possibility, a volunteer is only allowed to pack a small carry-on-size bag to bring with him. That’s basically enough room for a laptop and two or three sets of clothes. I didn’t really consider at the time how much this rule would end up affecting my life. I was also not really considering the possibility that I would never be back to that room, that house, or that city. I went through the motions I was supposed to go through, just in case – I arranged my possessions in groups of importance, in case Peace Corps had to retrieve them and send them to America for me, and when the call came on Saturday morning for me to go to Tbilisi immediately, I said goodbyes to my family. It was an extremely confusing evening and morning of conversations:

Me: “I may have to leave for Tbilisi tomorrow.”
My host family: “Why?”
Me: “Because of the bombings. Peace Corps wants all the volunteers together. We may have to leave the country.”
My host family: “But Rustavi is safe.”
Me: “How do you know?”
My host family: “They won’t bomb Rustavi.”
Me: “They just bombed an airport 20 minutes from here and an army base five kilometers from here.”
My host family: “But not here. You should not leave.”
Me: “I have to. And I might not be able to come back.”
My host family: “But you are leaving for America in two days.”
Me: “Yes, trust me, I am aware of this.”
My host family: “Stop being silly. Put your things back in your room.”

I took a marshutka to Tbilisi. The marshutka to the Peace Corps office, it turns out, was my last marshutka ride in Georgia. I didn’t know it at the time, or perhaps I’d have taken some pictures. Things in Tbilisi seemed pretty normal, which was actually weird, although I don’t know what I was expecting. I met some friends of mine – volunteers who also lived in the east, or who were in the city for other reasons – at the Peace Corps office in the early afternoon. We sat in the volunteer lounge, and since I no longer work for Peace Corps Georgia, I can tell you without fear of reprimand that we started pounding some liquor I had in my cubby. This led to an amusing exchange with our new Country Director, who had just arrived in Georgia two weeks prior. He ordered pizza for us and for the staff, since we weren’t permitted to leave the office, and mused, “I wish we didn’t have that alcohol policy. Now would be a good time for a beer.” I nodded my head in agreement, and took another sip from my coffee mug. Which was full of vodka.

At any rate, we discussed the situation with the CD, while I wondered whether I smelled like the amount of liquor I’d consumed.[15] He told us that all the other volunteers and trainees were gathering in central Georgia, and moving to a safe location in Bakuriani, a ski town in the mountains to the south (here are some mediocre pictures of Bakuriani, circa July 2007). We asked to be taken there as well – at this point, we had no idea what was in store for us, and we didn’t want to wait for what could be a long time, in Tbilisi, without being able to see many of our friends. This seems like an ironic desire now, since we ended up spending nearly a month in closer quarters than change in a coinpurse.[16] The country director agreed, and after waiting for a couple hours we clambered into a Peace Corps SUV to take off into the wilderness, armed only with our emergency bags and, um, another bottle of vodka.[17]

By this point, the main east-west road through Georgia – and, along with it, the usual route to Bakuriani – was closed, due to the bombings and troop movements.[18] This meant we had to take the Other Way. Basically, the Other Way was not so much a “road” as it was “dirt that led in the direction of mountains.” What began as a seemingly exciting road trip into the void (this probably had something to do with the alcohol) turned cramped and boring almost as quickly as, well, an indefinite stay in a hotel in Armenia. Darkness descended upon our vehicle, and with it a heavy fog, and we kept crawling along, stopping every five minutes to ask villagers if we were going the right way. They journey took six or seven hours. Almost all the vehicles we saw were headed in the opposite direction. At one point we were stopped by a military checkpoint, though I don’t know what they were hoping to achieve by setting one up on the Road That Wasn’t A Road. The dirt and the caravans heading the opposite direction and the fog and the checkpoint and everything else made the trip morph quickly from an Adventure to an Oh Fuck What Is Happening To Us. And yet, we played the “Guess What Will End Up Happening” game in the car, and I made a persuasive argument that we’d eventually head back to our sites. I think that most of us who ended up in Armenia believed, at least to some small degree, that we’d end up going back to Georgia – even after we’d been in Armenia for several days. It took a week in Armenia, and a contentious group meeting in which many people cried, for that belief to fade, one bomb and one minute at a time.

NEXT TIME: Dan Forgets How To Leave A Voicemail. Or: The 37 lari bill keeping him from ever returning to Georgia.

[15] He did, at one point, call me a “smartass” after I made a joke about concealing a ballistic missile in my volunteer cubby. I think he meant it admiringly, though. Or, at least, not condescendingly. Perhaps I should ask someone else for a work reference, after I finish my service. “What, that smartass? He’s okay, I guess. Kind of a smartass. Did I mention he’s a smartass? I did? Good. Because he is one.”
[16] GET IT? Quarters ARE change!!!1!!1!!1 This is the worst pun since Tom Schreiber’s immortal “You spin me right round baby right round, like Rick Record baby, right round round round.”
[17] The fact that I don’t think we opened this bottle while driving to Bakuriani is a testament that we really NEEDED that extra year in Georgia, after which we would not only have tipped a few back along the way, but offered the driver himself several shots. Man, I miss Georgia.
[18] Now would be a good time to remind you, loyal readers, that the next time you’re doing some urban planning for an entire country, you should probably have more than one main transport artery. If, for aesthetic purposes, you really feel like you NEED to limit yourself to just one highway, please make sure that no part of it is less than 30 km from a violent, Russia-backed breakaway region. See, nation-building isn't really that complicated. I don't know why it's not working in Iraq. Zing! This would be topical political humor if anyone still cared enough about Iraq to look away from Photoshopped pictures of Sarah Palin for two seconds.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exile On Not Main Street, Part I. Or: How to use the phrase "gold-shitting" in an amusing joke.

Short prelude: today, I attended a press conference to announce the opening of an American Center at a local library, put together by the two volunteers in this city and our language teacher. We went to the local library at the appointed time only to wait around for 20 minutes for no reason. Once it started, it consisted of a man -- in this case, the director of the library, I think -- gesticulating and shouting about Johann Gutenberg, the power and magic of the printed page, Pax Romana, Russian imperialism, and T.S. Eliot. I later told the volunteers here that this experience was EXACTLY what a Georgian toast would be like, if there happened to be a toast about T.S. Eliot. It was comforting. Sometimes, things are NOT different. Anyway.


So I was talking with my parents, at some point during our 27 day exile.[1][2] I was describing some event or other, and either my father or my mother said, “You should write a book about this.” He/she was joking, I think, but I thought about it for a second, and then determined that this would no doubt be the most boring book in the history of letters placed in sequence.[3] Here is how I imagine proposing such a book to a book publisher:

“So, I have this idea for a book. It starts off with a bang – explosions! Bombs
dropping everywhere! Americans fleeing from the menacing advance of the Russian
army! It’s so Cold War, right? Yeah. So our hero takes the first couple of
chapters to escape to safety. Then the whole middle of the book is our hero
sitting in a hotel, doing nothing, thinking about his life and eating a lot of
carbohydrates. I figure that, for an artistic twist, chapters 6 through 37 can
just be full of blank pages. Like hundreds of blank pages, and the reader has to
flip each of them one by one. The reader will want to kill himself by the end of
it, which will make him identify with our hero. Then the book abruptly ends, and
there’s a ticket to Romania you can cut out of the book jacket in the back. It’s
like ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ meets ‘Emma.’ Meets ‘Dracula.’[4] What do you think?”
The publisher’s dilemma would then be whether to (a) stab me, so I wouldn’t be able to inflict my book pitch on the human race ever again, or (b) stab his/her secretary for letting an obviously homeless person into his/her office. So I decided against writing a book about the Exile. But that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about it![5] Accepting the present means acknowledging the past, and likely you are extremely interested in what happened to us [6], and oh who am I kidding just humor me. This may break a new record for post length, so I will break it into manageable bits. Please tell me if it is not interesting. I shall mostly ignore you, but also try to “spice up” the text with “jokes” and “thoughts” and “codes for free money.” So, here we go.

All of us who were in Armenia have been bitching about it as if it was the end of the world from Day One – or acting like it was so important that it deserves, to pull a random example out of a random hat, a fifteen-part blog post. I feel a bit selfish for acting like this thing that happened to us was the Worst Thing To Ever Happen To Anyone Ever You Should Feel Sorry For Us. People thrown into an uncomfortable and unexpected situation tend to overdramatize it to feel better about themselves, and of course we did that. But clearly others got a slightly rawer deal, no matter how hard it is to see past ourselves. The Georgians who were displaced, for instance. Also, the soldiers who died. Also, Aeroflot travel agents in Tbilisi, who will never receive any business again ever.[7] Not to mention the fact that evacuation of Peace Corps posts happens with distressing regularity all over the world.[8] We’re patently unspecial, no matter how we’d prefer to think otherwise.

At the same time, going through an experience like this is something that MOST Americans never go through, so part of me wants to make sure I write it down before I forget it, no matter how uninteresting it turns out to be. I of course wish it had never happened, and that I was still in Georgia doing the work I went there to do, but some part of me is glad to have seen the ass end of an asskicking. I came to Peace Corps to expand my views about the world, and this has certainly done that. I’m glad that I can now understand the personal side to geopolitics and international warfare, and I’m glad that I can now understand the personal side to mass humanitarian crises. Americans never put a face to the things that happen overseas – often we don’t put a face to the things that happen on our own shores. But a city that I’ve lived in was bombed, and people I know and love now live in a place that is potentially devastated – by hopefully short-term humanitarian issues and decidedly long-term newfound economic issues. I don’t claim to be the only one who’s ever seen such things. But I’m the only one I know.[9] So I’m going to talk about it.

As I may or may not have mentioned in my brief summaries [10], I was at work when it happened. This was Friday, August 8th [11], and I was at work in Rustavi like every other day. I started hearing from friends that something bad was happening – I believe the news was that there had been skirmishes in the now-famous breakaway region of South Ossetia [12], with both Ossetia/Russia and Georgia blaming the other side, and that Russia had started bombing Georgian territory.[13] I started texting all my friends, many of whom were with all the new trainees in central Georgia, near the bombings, to see if they had any info, and I also started repeatedly checking a good Georgian-produced news website. I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen – for some reason, tensions over the breakaway regions flare up every summer [14], and for a while it seemed like perhaps this was just an extended flare-up, and that both sides would back away from disaster. But as the news kept getting worse, I realized that this was different, and I started thinking about going home to pack an emergency bag, in case we had to consolidate with all the other volunteers in a safe location.

At this point, it wasn’t clear what was going on. Russia was (to my recollection) merely bombing at this point, and seeming content to extend its arm over the border, cause some mischief, and then puff out its chest to gloat, “See, we could do that ANYTIME WE WANT.” Bombing feels different than a full-scale occupation. It’s more impersonal, and one can retain the illusion that things aren’t going too too badly for your side. As long as you get some shots off yourself, score some points for your team, you can feel reassured, no matter what the damage. The “war” still seemed like a skirmish until Russian troops crossed the border from South Ossetia into Georgia proper. I feel like somehow this is an important geopolitical observation, and yet I’m sure it isn’t. Let’s move on.

NEXT: PART II. Or: The road less traveled. Also vodka.

[1] I can’t pinpoint when, because, frankly, for the most part I can’t differentiate what happened on day one from what happened on day 27. It was like being in prison, carving each passing indistinguishable day into the wall with a sharp mess hall utensil, except of course that prisoners know how long it will be until they get to leave. Ha! Anti-exile humor! Get used to it!
[2] Note to PC/G staff who may again be reading this blog: while the sarcastic streak of your now-former volunteers is without equal, we direct none of it towards you. You guys were awesome. Just so you know. Hi, Tika.
[3] Maybe second-most boring, after “Emma.” God, that book blew.
[4] This could be changed to “Bunnicula,” if it was a children’s book publisher.
[5] Though it should also mean that.
[6] If this is true, I will lose more faith in America than I lost when Fox News claimed that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because “she’s right there next to Russia,” and people believed it. By this standard, the comptroller of Fargo, North Dakota, could be the next secretary-general of the United Nations, because Fargo is “right there next to Canada.” Listen up, America, because I am very serious about this: if you elect Sarah Palin and Whatshisface to be Vice President and Whateverthatotherthingis of those United States, I am never coming back. You have been warned.
[7] Aeroflot is the national Russian airline. This joke is not funny.
[8] For example, some of my refugee friends were planning on transferring to Peace Corps Bolivia this week, only to find out a few days ago that there have been violent riots this week in Bolivia, and that the program there is in danger. They no longer get to go. Sorry, guys.
[9] Well, along with the 80 others of you. Shout out! [clever Armenia reference]!
[10] As always, I’m too lazy to look these things up.
[11] Our training manager claims that the sheer number of 8s involved portended disaster: it was 8/8/08, the 8th week of training for PC/G Group 8, and he had sent 8 mass text messages about the Peace Corps alcohol policy the night before. OK, not that last one. But that group could have USED 8 text messages about the alcohol policy. This is a tangent, but during their orientation some of them decided that it would be fun to FLIP EACH OTHER IN THE AIR. INSIDE. A ceiling mirror was apparently shattered, along with any pretense of that group’s collective intelligence. Ha ha! G8 jokes! We 7s are totally kidding, guys! Please don’t come over to my house, ever! I value my ceiling and my ribs.
[12] If you had bet me a trillion dollars, two months ago, that normal people in America would ever ever ever be able to accurately describe what “South Ossetia” meant, I would have seen your trillion and raised you a magic flying gold-shitting pony. Funny, how things work out.
[13] I might be slightly off about what exactly happened when and in what order, because I’m not connected to the internet as I write this, and because everything happened very fast. But if you’re interested in the specific sequence of events, it’s available on Wikipedia, of all places, and it’s impressively footnoted.
[14] As I have also mentioned before, during the summer of 2007, when I was training in Gori, a Russian jet dropped a bomb that did not explode only a few kilometers from Gori. I got exactly zero inquiries about my safety from America, when it happened. I think it barely registered on the American news. Funny, how things work out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a wireless signal! Or: Ploi-yes we can!

Hello there, friends. I have been able to chat with several of you over the last week that I have been here, but I apologize to those of you I haven't seen online when I've had a chance to use the internet. I hope you're all doing well -- especially you hardy members of the Skeletor crew. Say hello to America for me, and make sure not to trip on all the on-time modernity.

I've been in a SUPERSTUPIDFAST PST for a week now -- learning language at twice the normal Peace Corps speed, and struggling to get my mind all the way here, on my new assignment and my new country, rather than leaving it in pieces in Georgia and Armenia. It's happening, a day at a time, but it hasn't yet become easy and normal to be here. I keep accidentally speaking Georgian in my Romanian classes, for instance, which is infuriatingly annoying. Also, I keep finding myself striding into the street with no regard for street lights, since DRIVERS in georgia pay so little regard to street lights that there's no use in paying attention to them as a pedestrian either. This led to a ROMANIAN PERSON (specifically, my language teacher) chiding me a couple days ago as I stepped into the street despite a "Don't Walk" sign with, "Hey! You aren't in Georgia anymore."

I find myself missing Georgia in weird ways. Romania, at least in the city (I've been told, and really assumed to be true anyway, that the villages are far different, and far more like what I'd be used to from a year in Georgia), is almost obscenely different -- more modern in nearly every way. I find myself getting on buses that leave on time, that don't stop on the street for random people, and I find myself missing marshutkas. I find myself using wireless internet at a restaurant in a mall (like right now, for instance), and I miss having to text people to get information. I find myself with new friends (there are a couple current PCRO volunteers in the city we're training in, and they're great and we hang out a lot), and miss the old friends I was supposed to have one more year with. It's a tough situation, but I signed up for it, and it's better than any other alternative that was available -- not to mention the fact that on a lot of levels I'm really excited to be here and to get to work -- so I get used to it, one day at a time.

It does help that Romania is so modern. Every day I get confronted with things that they tell you, in transition/COS conferences, you will be confronted with when you go back to AMERICA. On Saturday, we went to a supermarket as big as a Wal-Mart, and I nearly fell down. We passed aisle after aisle of variety you couldn't dream of in Georgia, just like most of my friends are doing back in the States right now, and it was difficult for my brain to even handle it. Today, we were at a volunteer's apartment, and they ORDERED PIZZA. And we're NOT IN THE CAPITAL. Not to mention the previously noted wireless internet abilities, or the fact that there are MULTIPLE MALLS in this city. All of this, plus the fact that I am told over and over again that my soon-to-be site, Brasov, is an unbelievable Euro-style city, with skiing resorts all over the place and lots of tourists, and that PCRO volunteers love to go there and are jealous of me for getting sent there (well, almost there -- I'll be working with an NGO in the city, but also with some smaller NGOs in small towns surrounding the city, and living in one of those smaller towns), and I'm dealing with a pretty healthy set of inflated expectations, which any Peace Corps volunteer knows to be a bad thing. It remains to be seen what my actual experience will be like, but the setting and the fact that I'll be living alone (nearly all PCRO volunteers get relatively nice apartments that PC pays for) means that the ceiling of how comfortable I'm likely to be during the next year is pretty high. And yet, as I've said again and again -- enough time spent as a volunteer teaches a person that high expectations inevitably lead to a letdown. So I'm going to try not to let that happen.

In the meantime, I'm just going to try to learn the language as fast as I can -- we finished an entire language manual in just over a week, so perhaps "learn the language" could be better termed "try to keep my head above water" -- and see how the move to site goes. I'll have internet every couple of days for the next two weeks, and then hopefully at my new house, so try to say hi when you can. If you're a fellow refugee, drop me a line and let me know how America is. I miss all of you guys. You Americans, I miss you guys too and I wish I'd been able to get back and see you in August. Romania seems awesome and is way more accessible than Georgia, so you have LESS excuse not to come visit me, haha, but I'll let you know if I can get back to America in the next few months. Until then, see you on these interwebs. I'll be able to post more often once I get to site.

Until next time, friends.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I am in Romania. I have literally like one minute to type a message out before heading off to training, but I wanted to let the negative three people who read these that I am here in one piece, and only mildly freaking out. Thankfully, I remember feeling these same things when I got to Georgia a year ago, so it's easier to handle the second time around.

More in-depth stuff later, but if you have money for international calls just burning a hole in your pocket, my new phone number is +40 756 395 475.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Turning A New Leaf. Or: From Vlad (Putin) to Vlad (the Impaler). Or: 28 Days in Skeletor. Or: Moving into my new apartment in Rustavi! Excited!

Friends, if you are reading this note on Facebook, please click through to my actual blog -- I haven't posted on it for months (if you need catching up: I got too frustrated at my old site, moved to a new site, started a new job, prepared to move into a new apartment, got attacked by Russians, and have spent the last month in a hotel in Armenia. Also, I bought a cool new t-shirt!), preferring in the last couple of weeks to update everyone on my situation simply on Facebook, just because it seemed weird to use the blog. It already seemed like a relic. But life, eventually, moves on, and so I move back to the blog with a new title, a new graphic, and soon enough a new angry email from my new Peace Corps supervisors, who will not be amused at my political commentary.

Yes, friends, new Peace Corps supervisors. If you've been reading my Facebook-only notes recently -- and I really, really appreciate that a lot of people seem to have been doing so -- you read in my last note that I have decided against returning to Georgia, at least in the short-term. It was a wrenching decision -- imagine that you had been living there for 14 months, nearly three of them in Gori, which was hit hardest by the Russians, and then see this, this, and this -- but, in the end, I couldn't confidently assume that I would end up doing any good by going back, nor was I sure what I'd even do once I got there. Many of my friends are going back, and I hope they can help. I wish I was there with them. But the decision just wasn't sitting right, so I had to turn my attention elsewhere. Without job prospects in America, I looked at transferring to another Peace Corps country; there weren't many good options for volunteers who have already served a year, but I seem to have been lucky enough to find the perfect option for me. I'll be leaving for Bucharest sometime around the end of this week, and will be serving out the rest of my Peace Corps service in Romania.

I don't know much about Romania yet. The things that one can learn from the internet never end up being quite how things are once you actually get someplace, so I'm trying to hold off any judgment until I'm in Romania seeing it for myself, but everything I've heard about the country and the Peace Corps program there is good. It seems like what we were all hoping Georgia WOULD be in a few years -- a newly admitted member of the EU, with rapidly improving economic and infrastructure systems. It will even be adopting the Euro in 2012, after which I can't imagine Peace Corps remaining in the country (volunteers would become too depressed after realizing that we get paid the equivalent of 2.37 EUR per month). There are exciting things happening there, and hopefully I can be a part of some of them. I'll be living near (in? not sure yet) the Romanian city of Brașov (pronounced Brashov), working (I think) with an organization that disseminates information about social services. So I've spent the last few days researching the country (from their Peace Corps Welcome Book: "American and local fast food restaurants are available in many parts of the country." Yes!) and attempting to start learning Romanian, which seems to be sort of like Latin with a Slavic accent. I don't know what will come of my decision -- as I've said in this and other spaces before, I've been in Peace Corps long enough to know that it's usually a bad sign to be excited about something -- but I'm at least cautiously optimistic, and I'm ready to get started.

One would think that I'd be a bit reticent to jump right into Romania, with so much emotional energy still invested in Georgia, and I would have been last week or the week before. But today is Day 22 in Skeletor (our intentionally, but not particularly amusingly, mangled pronunciation of the Armenian town our hotel is located in), and we're ready to just Get The Hell Out of here. I am not sure I will ever be comfortable in a hotel again. The next time I go on vacation, I would not be surprised to find myself checking into a hotel, breaking out into a profuse sweat, and then checking out immediately just to make sure that I can. Each of the past 21 days has been nearly identical to the last – we eat the same foods at the same times and do the same things with the same people and eventually we descend into the same fits of madness. Some volunteers have escaped, and those of us who remain can see the end, but it is not yet here. Volunteers who were taking cash-in-lieu (of a Peace Corps-issued plane ticket home to America) began to leave on Friday, and departures continued until yesterday. Most of our friends have left -- everyone who remains here is waiting on a transfer. It's a profoundly unsettling feeling, saying goodbye to friends you didn't expect to say goodbye to for another year, and not even getting the chance to do it all at once. After fleeing Georgia unexpectedly, then receiving the news that we would not be going back, then enduring two weeks of uncertainty about our futures, then leaving each other one by one, we've finally come to the point of complete numbness. You could snap a kitten in half right in front of me at this point, and I wouldn't have the energy to feel anything about it. Perhaps at some point I'll get enough of it back to write something poignant about this experience, but right now I just want to get the f#$% out of here, and start the next phase of my journey in Romania. Check back in this space, and perhaps soon I'll have something better to say.

I'll save the most important thing for last: I've been telling some of you over the last couple of weeks that volunteers have been setting up mechanisms for donating to the rebuilding process in Georgia. As I mentioned above, Georgia was on course to join the rapidly reforming and improving economies of eastern Europe, to join NATO, and to stabilize as a western democracy. The Russian attack (NB: I've heard that public opinion in the west has begun to turn against Georgia and its role in its own demise. I'll be clear in saying that Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president, was drawn into a trap and made a rash decision with devastating consequences. The fault for that decision lies with him. But the Russian response was not only clearly the result of months of planning, but was the equivalent of shooting a ballistic missile at a paraplegic. It was an indefensible overreaction, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the politics. Just to be clear.) set Georgia's progress back many years, ruining five years of growth and foreign investment, and shattering the lives of hundreds of thousands of now-displaced people, not to mention the hundreds of people who were casualties of the bombings and other military action. It is heartbreaking to see the goal that we were all working towards set so far backward so quickly, and the only thing that many of us can do is urge those we know to help the rehabilitation process begin. Thousands of refugees remain in IDP camps, unable to return to destroyed homes, and the necessary aid is just beginning to get to them. We've heard stories of people sleeping on the floor in schools, people without access to food in tent cities, and other inevitable consequences of such a large number of people being displaced so suddenly.

Several mechanisms are in the works for former volunteers in Georgia, their friends, their families, and their communities to donate to the beginning of the relief effort. A US-based organization is being founded that will be able to provide umbrella aid to many different local Georgian NGOs to purchase supplies for IDPs and to start projects that can help get communities back on their feet, but it is not finalized yet. For now, volunteers have identified four organizations, each of which has wire transfer capability, that can be trusted to use donated funds appropriately and to get the money to the right places. We're calling our effort the Megobari Project, after the Georgian word მეგობარი (megobari), which means "friend." Please visit The Megobari Project's website, and forward the information to anyone you know. I'll continue to use this blog to pass along fundraising information, but for now please visit the website and consider how you might be able to help. It would mean a lot not just to me, but to all of us who have worked so hard to help ordinary Georgian people improve their lives and their country.

More to come soon, friends.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How not to build a blog audience. Or: Updates all up in this piece

Here is how not to build a blog audience:

Step one: Start a blog. Name it something catchy and/or amusing, like, “Cavernous Tales of a Spelunking Enthusiast,” or, “Paige’s Page,” or, “Free Pornography Available Here.” Design nifty-looking graphics.
Step two: Post frequently. Fill your posts with amusing anecdotes or perhaps simply entertaining language moist furniture clown pants.
Step three: Wait until you have quite a few devoted blog visitors. Repeatedly promise them future “content.”
Step four: Stop posting for no reason. Ha! That will show them.

Anyway, that was all by way of saying that I am very sorry to have kept you waiting, friends. I have no excuse. Life has been relatively boring and amusing-anecdote-free, and I have completely lost the desire to write about it. In the winter, I spent most of my evenings sitting at my computer, writing something or other. More recently, I have taken to less-productive activities, such as watching “The Wire” and listening to music on my iPod while pretending to find the deep hidden relevance of each song to my life (this activity has led me to the conclusion that grassroots international development is most achievable when one remembers to “get low”). But I am going to try to return to my old ways, friends. For one thing, the future members of G8 who read this and other PCV blogs are beginning the fun, last-month-before-I-leave-America stage where they start hyperventilating every time they pass a Taco Bell, wondering if they’re making the right decision (You’re not! Get out while you still can! I haven’t had a decent burrito in nearly a year! Run! Ha ha ha! Just kidding! Maybe!). And despite the layers and layers of cynicism inherent in me that would require an intense session with one of Bill O’Reilly’s loofahs to scrub out (Friends, remember that I am a humor professional. Do not attempt to utilize such fresh topical humor in your own lives. You might tweak a hammy and pull up lamer than Barbaro. Zing!), I do feel that it’s only fair to be available and informative for those folks, because I want them to bring me gifts.

For another thing, I have recently discovered my grasp of English vocabulary, syntax, and grammar to be slipping at an alarming rate. This is more than a little concerning, considering the fact that I was a total grammar and spelling snob, in America, and the fact that I would still like to at least pretend that I can write at a professional level (Those of you without any exposure to my non-blogging self will have to take my word for it that I could write a mean sentence or two in my day, and that I don’t try very hard on this blog. It is, after all, the internet, which everyone knows is just a passing fad.). So I really should be practicing my composition a little more frequently, not to mention my cursive and my phonics. And blogging is an easy way to do that, which is one of the reasons I started doing it in the first place. I will have to remember that listening to The Shins on repeat does not a professional writer make, and that watching four episodes of "The Wire" in a single night will do nothing to help me move out of the proverbial (wait, literal) mother's basement where I shall surely be living come September 2009.

So, updates. Again, not much ever happens, in my little town on a mountain, so there is not much of interest. Mostly, I just wake up every morning and do the same thing I did the day before, which consists of going to work and interspersing periods of productivity with periods of banging my head against the metaphorical (sometimes literal) wall. I still owe you what I hope will be an interesting piece discussing what it can be like to live with a host family; I'll try to get that written in the next few days. I also may write a post about work; while it is true that not much is actually happening, many things are sort of happening, or about to happen, or hopefully starting soon, or somesuch, and it might make for interesting blog fodder. Basically, I have been engaged, over the last few weeks, in an intense effort to come up with a long-term plan that will allow me to stay at my current organization and my current site. The difficulty and inactivity at work have continued without seeming to improve at a rate that I'd find acceptable over the course of two years' worth of work, and so I have started doing some things that will hopefully determine whether my organization has the desire and ability for the sort of improvement that makes my time here worthwhile enough. I'd explain but it would be boring and take a lot of space, so I'll just make it a standalone post that those of you who prefer toilet anecdotes to musings on grassroots international development (and, thinking about it, I count myself among you) can skip.

But there are some minor (very very minor) tidbits from the last couple of weeks that I can share with you before the meatier stuff to come. I will do this in easy-to-write bullet format:

  • We have a new dog at my house. I will discuss this more in my host-family post, but a week or so ago a one-month old dog showed up in our yard. My host brother said he'd brought it from Tbilisi, but he hadn't been in Tbilisi, and thus, since I was too lazy to ask any more questions about it, the puppy's genesis remains a mystery. That said, it was pretty clearly a conciliatory gesture on his part for the huge fight we'd had a few weeks prior, and I'm glad it's around. It appears to be English Pointer-ish and is about two months old at this point. My family named it either Duda, which has no meaning that I know of, or Duta, which is the name of a Georgian television personality who prances around with puppets on a kids' show called "Duta's Fairy Tales," hosts the Georgian equivalent of "American Idol," and pretends to be John Belushi in "The Blues Brothers" in a popular cell phone commercial. It's hard to tell, and I haven't asked for clarification, because I may be the laziest person on the planet. Duda/Duta has turned into a very energetic puppy. I take complete credit for this, because it seemed pretty melancholy the first few days it was at our house, so I lavished attention upon it, with the hopes that I could train it to obey simple commands that would seem run of the mill in America but that I have never seen any dog in Georgia perform. My hope is that many future interactions will go like this:
Me: Excuse me, sir, have you met my family's English Pointer?
Other Person: Why, no, I haven't! By the way, you speak excellent Georgian!
Me: Who, me? Pshaw. Anyway, watch this! (to the dog) Sit!
Dog sits.
Other Person: (faints)
  • The other recent Exciting Addition to the Jincharadze household is...wait for it...a hammock! Now, for reasons that are completely unexplainable, the only place in Georgia, apparently, where it is possible to buy a good hammock is the town of Khashuri, about three hours east of Chokhatauri. I had already been making plans for the volunteer stationed in Khashuri to purchase me a hammock when my host mother stopped in Khashuri to buy one on her way back from Tbilisi, so I was delighted to see it. Hammocking wasn't really my thing in America, but there's a lot more sitting around to do here, no air conditioning, and someone's always on the couch in the kitchen. I was quite excited to start listening to deeply meaningful Shins songs on repeat in increased comfort, until it started raining a few days ago and hasn't stopped long enough to put up a hammock. Ha ha, Jesus. Ha ha. You can make it stop now.
  • I spent this past Saturday at a sort of "English Activity Day" put on by Julien and Martha, friends of mine in a near-ish town called Terjola. I was supposed to help them supervise some random English-language activities for students in three different language ability groups. I ended up having to do very little, in exchange for which I got a delicious pasta dinner back at their house, but the best part of the day was when I was working with a group of "intermediate" students to create a story from a magazine photo. The students selected a weird photo of a cat on a sofa, and then, by taking turns creating sentences for the story, came up with this jewel that requires and will receive no further comment from me:
"There is a cat in the sofa. It is thinking. Cat thinking about his family. It is very strange. He is alone. It is afraid. It is very lovely. He will go and kill a man. After this somebody will catch him and will take in zoo in cage. And he will kill himself. His grave will be in Terjola. Other cats will visit him, and dogs too. They are crying. One day there will come her lovely cat. This cat miss dead cat and he will kill himself too. About this story will write the Shakespeare."
  • Last week, a friend came up to Chokhatauri during the day to drop something off for me (ok, ok, it was DVDs of "The Wire"). Incidentally, she was the first not-me American to visit Cho in many months. We went to one of the two sort-of restaurant-things in town (the other one was closed). Nobody was inside, but the boys who always stand around on the steps outside this restaurant assured us it was open. So we hunted a woman who worked there down, ordered food, and ate it. It tasted pretty good, and was cheap. When I went back to my office, everyone asked where I'd gone. "To that cafe next door," I said. This prompted raucous laughter. "Nobody ever goes to cafes here," one coworker said, which I already knew, since I've never seen anyone AT this cafe. "People go eat in Ozurgeti if they have money." I protested that my mtzvadi (pork kabob) and two beers cost me six lari, which is not a lot of money. "You must have been eating dog mtzvadi," she replied. She did not elaborate whether this meant mtzvadi FOR dogs, or mtzvadi OF dogs. Neither seems a likely scenario. Much more likely are these two conclusions: one, my coworkers are kind of crazy, and two, putting money into a restaurant in Chokhatauri will likely be a bad investment for some time to come.
  • Yesterday, I spent like 40 minutes figuring out how to install certain drivers on my computer that would allow me to type in Unicode Georgian (basically, to type in Georgian outside of using certain fonts in MS Word). So, now I can do this: გააჩერეთ, რა. This simultaneously delighted me and made me profoundly embarrassed to be making even 100 American dollars a month. Sometimes I really should find some work to do.

And, on that note, I will now find some work to do. From tomorrow until the weekend I will be in Tbilisi, doing work while trying to dodge the incoming Russian missiles being fired from the MiGs that by now blanket the sky like smog. Ha ha! That's just a fun joke for those of you who have heard tell about the recent ratcheting of developments between Georgia and Russia concerning the it's-ours-nu-uh-it's-sovereign-but-basically-ours territory of Abkhazia. I got in a minor amount of trouble the last time I wrote about politics on this blog, so I will leave a summary of these events to my friend Jen, who wrote an extremely amusing one on her own blog. I will try to blog some more while I am there. Do not abandon your fair blogger, friends. I am back for good.


Also, you know what? It was a joke, but I am now seriously considering changing the name of this blog to "Cavernous Tales of a Spelunking Enthusiast."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Puppy punnery, part two. Or: People who throw darts too hard, Memphis, the Finnish, and other things/people that do not please me.

Hello again. If you (a) did not get a chance to read the last post before I removed it, and just as importantly (b) give any sort of rat's ass (I am not assuming this to be true), it is possible you are curious as to (a) why there is an edited post that makes some sort of reference to a dog, and just as importantly (b) what god-given reason could exist that caused me to cryptically remove it. I shall reveal all...right now! Or, at least, after several paragraphs of bloviating.

The post referred to something that happened two Thursdays ago; in short, I came home to discover that my host brother had found newborn puppies under our house. He'd only been able to reach one of them; the other two were too far under the house. The one he'd been able to extract was sitting in a box in our driveway. He and I had a discussion about whether the mother, who was likely a street dog (of which there are many, in Georgia), would come back for them. We agreed (at least, I thought we did) that it was unlikely, and I decided I wanted to try to save the one puppy we'd been able to reach. I took it out of the box, and walked around holding and feeding it for the rest of that evening. The source of the ensuing hilarity (Hollywood term!) was thus: my host brother vehemently disagreed with this course of action. He felt that the puppy had "bacteria" all over it, and that it would make me very sick, and that I should put it back in its box immediately and take a thorough shower. He also thought it might scratch me and give me rabies. I tried to explain that the dirt on its fur was basically harmless, as long as I washed my hands, and that it wasn't possible for the puppy to have rabies yet, since it hadn't eaten anything. I told him that I would call a doctor if it would make him happy. He agreed to this, but remained very angry with me for not doing what he'd asked.

The next day, I took the puppy to work with me, where, after initial discomfort, my coworkers began to take quite a liking to it. I even bought it a blanket and some baby formula. That afternoon, for a work meeting, my host brother showed up at the office, staring daggers at me. According to him, the mother had come back (the truth of this claim was never verified), and I should have left the dog at home, and now it was my fault that it was going to die. Well. I took sharp exception to this, and when I got home from work, we had the Argument In A Non-Native Language to end all Arguments in a Non-Native Language. We basically yelled at each other for a half hour -- him saying that I ask his family for "many things" (which is not true), and that he has never asked anything of me (not true), and that he could never trust me or cooperate with me since I had not done the one thing he'd ever asked me to do (accept that invisible lethal bacteria and rabies covered the fur of a newborn puppy and posed a danger to my very life), while I attempted to explain in a language I am nowhere near mastering that this was an isolated incident, that I respected his home and his family, and that I had simply been doing something I felt to be necessary to save the life of a puppy. At this point, however, I knew I didn't have a choice but to acquiesce to his wishes if I wanted to stay in his home, so I didn't intervene when he grabbed the puppy and flung it back under the house, claiming that he'd known all along that the mother would come back and now the other two would be safe while this one would die because I'd touched it. Amusingly, part of my host brother's argument that I did not respect his family was the fact that I haven't been teaching him English, and thus it is impossible for us to communicate -- an argument that he made to me in Georgian, that I understood in Georgian, and to which I Georgian. To my host family, anything less than fluency on my part means that I know no Georgian and should really be teaching them English. This is brought up every time I don't know a word that is spoken and every time I need to use the dictionary. Anyway.

I was almost literally shaking with anger after this argument; I was furious that he felt this way about me, and that he discounted all of my attempts to fit into his family and to leave as small a footprint as possible simply because I didn't want to do MORE work when I got home from the job I'm HERE to do. I wrote an enormous post about the incident, which both recounted it and discussed the inherent difficulty of, and my highly mixed feelings about, living with a host family in this country. I think it's an interesting topic, especially for those of you who read this blog because you are soon to leave America for a similar situation of your own, whether it be in Georgia or another post, so I'm going to devote an entire post to it, hopefully tomorrow. But, the reason that I took the post down requires me to describe what happened the next Monday, so instead of delving into Better Know a Georgia: Host Families in this post, I'll spend the rest of it recapping a mildly interesting last couple of blog-free weeks.

Two days after Dogapalooza, I headed to Kutaisi to meet some friends for an excursion to a nearby place called Sataplia ("place where the honey is"). I wasn't sure what, exactly, we were going to FIND there; I'd been told that there was "a cave and some dinosaur footprints" there. Hm. Dinosaur footprints. You'd think that dinosaur footprints would be an important archaeological artifact, and that knowledge of such an artifact would be widespread in a country that has such pride in its history. And, perhaps, Georgians DO all know about it. But I hadn't ever heard of it, and neither had the volunteer who proposed the excursion, who said he'd read about it in his tenth-form English textbook. After picking up some supplies for our trip (beer and granola), we hired a couple taxis to take us to Sataplia, from which we planned to hike the few km back to Kutaisi when we were done. The taxis took us just outside of town, where there was a REALLY bad road (even for Georgia) branching into the countryside, at which intersection there was a large, dilapidated sign with "Sataplia" and a drawing of a brontosaurus on it (to be fair, this drawing was probably created under the strict supervision of a credentialed paleontologist, or at least someone who owned a paint set). We followed this road for a few kilometres, our jaws rattling with each enormous pothole and my mind wondering just how much abuse my computer, contained within a backpack on the backseat, could take, until we came upon a forested area that was really quite nice. There was a gate, and a house-like building, and a trail leading down a hill. So. This was Sataplia. The guided tour trams must have been in the shop for repairs. Also, I didn't see any honey, nor anything that could have lent the name "Place where honey is" to this particular place. But it was a very nice forested area, nonetheless.

A man came out of the house and walked towards us. We explained that we were there to see the footprints and the cave, and he offered to take us. Wary of being asked to PAY him, which we did not want to do, we begged out of his offer, and strutted self-importantly down the trail (after, in order to placate the man, we allowed him to show us a large dinosaur diorama inside the house). At the bottom of the trail, we found the entrance to the cave. The cave stretched majestically from the mouth of a large rock down into blackness, and we would have been able to see it and marvel, except for the trifling fact that the entrance was covered with a large iron door and locked. The curator (or whatever he is), being an apparently patient and good-humored man, had followed us down the hill, and offered again to let us in. This time, graciously, and after much conferral, we allowed him to assist us, and he unlocked the door. We entered the cave, ready to gaze upon its wonder and majesty. At which point we noticed that there was no light in the cave. An eagle-eyed member of our party spotted a light fixture in the ceiling of the cave, meaning there WAS or at some point had been electricity, just, you know, not at the moment. So we inched our way down what seemed like a narrow and dangerous path (but which was actually a nicely paved walkway with guardrails), armed only with a flashlight and our cellphones, and we experienced the cave through these narrow bands of light and via the pictures we were taking with our cameras (SNAP - "Oh, look how nice that part of the cave is! I'm glad I randomly pointed my camera at that particular section of what looks to my eyes like inescapable blackness!"). It did, at least from the photos we took, seem like a very nice cave, and the guide bragged that it contains the "largest heart-shaped stalagmite in the world." So it's got that going for it. Which is nice.

After exiting the cave, we took a break to drink beer and eat granola, because that is what Man does in The Nature, before we set off for the Exciting Dinosaur Footprints. It turns out that the beer-drinking part of the expedition was a little more exciting than the part where we saw eons-old preserved footprints. The footprints ended up being indentations in a giant slope of what could have either been eons-old sedimentary rock, or poured Soviet concrete. The only thing keeping the hordes away from these Important Archaeological Discoveries was a fence with a broken gate, so we took the opportunity to go take immature pictures of ourselves on the footprints, knowing full-well that you could never lie on an exhibit at, say, the Chicago Field Museum, while pretending to take your shirt off. We did this while engaging in a spirited discussion about whether these were real dinosaur footprints or a failed Soviet attempt at creating a tourist attraction ("People won't come just for a cave...Hey, I have an idea!"). Then we walked back to Kutaisi, ate, and headed to the nearby village where one of the volunteers with us lives to spend the night.

The next day, I traveled to Tbilisi, since I had a couple of ECO Project meetings on Monday. These meetings were relatively uninteresting (except for the fact that one of them occurred in a compound that, after seven months in a village, might as well have been Buckingham Palace -- we even got laminated Guest passes -- and the other one occurred in a brightly colored office with tastefully arranged workspaces that nearly made one of my companions faint while he sputtered something about how amazing the office was and would anyone be interested in his resume), but we will -- finally -- get back to the topic of the beginning of this post with what happened afterwards. I went back to the Peace Corps office for a meeting with my Program Manager, to discuss the difficulty I was having getting traction with my assignment and ideas for bridging the communication and activity gap in order to get substantive work started. Near the end of the meeting, I got a text message from a coworker. It said that she'd read my post about the puppy on Facebook (where I cross-post these posts for particularly lazy people), and that we should talk about "your problems" when I got back to Cho. This shocked me -- not only had I not realized that she knew how to check Facebook for such things, but I would never have thought her capable of reading one of these posts. Frequent readers of this blog will know that this post, for example, is not an aberration -- I always write like I'm trying to win some sort of prize for most extravagantly convoluted sentence structure and most inelegantly complicated verbiage. I was, in a sense, proud that her English ability had improved so much. I was also mortified that she'd read, and at least partially understood, a post that I'd written in the heat of anger. I texted her back, explaining that I didn't have any problems, that I'd been angry, and that we didn't have anything we needed to talk about. Realizing how bad an idea it had been to post it in the first place, I pulled the post. So. Now you know. By the way, I know that it must seem kind of stupid to talk about this incident again, given that she read about it LAST time, but this post is much more level-headed, and thus more deserving of a permanent space in the internet ether.

Just to round out the events-since-I-last-posted topic: The weekend after this happened, I went back to Tbilisi to watch basketball; UCLA was in the Final Four for the third straight year. I attended the last two Final Fours, only to see UCLA lose in both, and while I was very happy that they were back this year, I was a little depressed that they might win the national title the ONE year (ok, one of the TWO years) that I was out of the country. I went with some friends to an expatriate bar in Tbilisi that Friday night, to ask the owner if she'd stay open until 2am Sunday, when the UCLA game was going to be televised, and let us watch it on the bar's American Forces Network feed. I don't particularly like going to this bar, but the owner is really friendly to us, and we thought she might be willing to stay open. Turns out, she wasn't, but to her immense credit she did offer to tape the game, and to show it to us on Sunday morning if we came for breakfast. We agreed to this arrangement (I begged her to stay open and offered to pay her "as many lari as you want," but nobody else had a vested interest in the game, so I was the only one who wasn't immediately satisfied by her solution), played some darts, and left once some creepy Georgian men horned in on our game, started to hit on the girls, and created several holes in the wall with their full-body dart throwing motion (I don't know how to say "throwing" in Georgian, so I started yelling at them, "You're playing TOO HARD! You're playing TOO HARD!"). This seems irrelevant, but will soon become quite relevant indeed.

Saturday night's festivities whittled the number of people who ACTUALLY ended up wanting to wake up Sunday morning for breakfast and basketball to two, including me. I showed up at the bar to wait for the other person, only to discover that the owner had been unable to find the proper channel the night before to tape the game. I sat down in front of the large-screen TV, dejectedly, and noticed that it was showing a repeat of Sportscenter. I didn't think I'd be able to see the game after all, so I didn't turn away, and I saw that UCLA had lost. Even more dejectedly, I continued to wait for my friend as Sportscenter ended, and the ESPN feed began showing...wait for it...wait for it: a repeat of the UCLA game I had wanted to watch in the first place, except now I knew that UCLA would lose. When my friend got to the bar, he wanted to watch the game without knowing the ending, so I didn't tell him, and we watched it over some delicious but overpriced breakfasts. He figured out after I repeatedly reacted with "meh" to well-played UCLA possessions that I knew UCLA would lose.

This would be a bad enough Sunday morning as is -- the third consecutive year of watching my alma mater lose THISCLOSE to a national championship. But no. While we were watching, the owner of the bar came up to me and told me that my friends and I had walked out on our tab on Friday night. Assuming her to be completely correct, I apologized profusely and expressed my profound embarrassment at the error, explaining that we had been fleeing creepy men and must have forgotten, and I paid the 26 lari tab (the friend I was with that morning hadn't been there, so the repayment was all on me). I called a friend who had been there that night, to relay this information, and she told me that we had 100% without a doubt paid the tab before leaving. Now, I am assuming that the owner of this particular expatriate bar is not a thieving liar, and that she does not have swindling employees. The only conclusion we could come to was that the creepy Georgian men must have stolen the money after we bailed. So, to summarize that Sunday morning for me: (1) finding out that UCLA lost their Final Four game and then having to watch the entire game without saying anything (2) having to pay 26 lari because someone stole our tab two nights before. But wait! It gets better.

I had a giant box full of framed photographs that I'd gotten made that weekend for my documentary club; they were photos that the children in the club had taken, and I was bringing them back to Cho in nice frames to put up on the walls of my organization. This box was very heavy, and I had to get it back to Cho somehow, but I was not headed straight back to site on Sunday afternoon, as is usually the case (reason why forthcoming). So my plan was to send the box by itself on a marshutka, and have someone pick it up when it got to Cho -- this is something people do often (really, other than the fact that there's never enough space to be comfortable in a marshutka, it's a nice system of transportation). I took a cab, with this giant box, to one of the two big marshutka stations in Tbilisi, only to be told that there weren't any marshutkas going to Cho that afternoon from that station (ok, maybe it'd be a better system of transportation if there were regular timetables), so I had to pay the cabdriver more money to take me halfway back across town to the other one. When I got there, there was only one marshutka displaying a "Chokhatauri" sign. I asked the driver when he was leaving. As it turns out, the answer was complicated: he was supposed to leave at 4, but he didn't have enough passengers yet, and if he didn't get "enough" by 4, he was going to just go home, and not make the trip. "But I really have to send this box," I said. "It's for children. It's very important." We discussed the issue back and forth for a few minutes, and he told me that I just had to wait there until 4pm to see if enough people showed up. This wasn't an option -- the reason I wasn't going straight back to site was that I had been invited to my former LCF's birthday supra, in Gori (my training site, near where she lives), and I had to leave Tbilisi to get there on time. I pled with the driver, but he wasn't budging, and I couldn't haul this immensely heavy box to Gori, then to a train, then back to site. So, out of options, I asked the driver how much I'd have to pay him to ensure that he'd actually drive to Cho. He said 100 lari, which was absolutely out of the question, so I asked for 40, and we settled on 50 -- which is a staggering amount of money for a volunteer to pay when he hasn't anticipated such an expense. I made him write a receipt on a crumpled piece of paper, since the photos were for a project that I had a budget for, and I was hoping to be able to put this 50 lari somewhere in there (note to the people who paid for my project, who in fact read this blog: I am sorry. It was for the children. I had no choice). So, with a quizzical look, he wrote "Box sending: 50 lari" in Georgian, and the date. I assured him that this was exactly what I needed, and ran to catch a marshutka to Gori, my pocket feeling vastly lighter than I'd anticipated it would feel when I woke up that morning (Specifically, 76 lari lighter, which is something like 50 dollars, which is an enormous amount of money...wait, hang on, the dollar just fell again. More like six dollars). Oh well. At least the supra was a lot of fun. My birthday gift was a photo from last year's Halloween party, in a nice frame:

[OK, my connection isn't working well enough to load it, but I will do so the next chance I get]

This past weekend was boring, and contained no exciting events to report. Thus, you are now up to date. I am sure this pleases you immeasurably. Perhaps, by tomorrow, you will no longer be up to date, because today is Georgian "Love Day," and I have been invited to a celebratory "discotheque" and/or "concert" tonight (nobody seems exactly sure which it will be). I'm sort of curious, so I agreed to go, which may turn out to have been a perfectly fine decision, or may turn out to have been a Horrible Mistake. Details to come! Raise your hand if you're excited!

Wait, I don't see any hands. Fine. See if I spend 37 pages detailing a couple of modestly exciting weekends for you AGAIN.

By the way, I hadn't wanted to piss off my host brother by looking for the puppies under the house at all, to see if the mother perhaps had come back after all, or if they had died. But a couple of days ago, I was in the first floor of the house -- where I rarely go -- and my host sister said, "Do you smell that?" I didn't, but that didn't mean there wasn't a smell, so I asked her what it was. "The puppies," she said. So.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The dog days of spring. Or: Places where puppy punnery is totally inapuppriate.

[in the process of being edited for some really fun reasons that cannot be explained]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A request. Or: Hey! Hey you!

Apparently, the graphic at the top of my blog and a couple others has not been working because of some weird problem with the host site I use for it. I thought, when occasionally visited this blog myself, that it wasn't loading because of my internet connection. Hey, people -- let me know if sh#$ stops working. I wouldn't want you to think that my blog is SUPPOSED to have a giant gray box at the top. What do I look like to you? A guy who wouldn't care about something as stupid and superficial as the blog banner he has probably spent a cumulative total of at least six thousand hours tinkering with?

In my defense, I have a lot of free time at home to do stupid things like tinker with blog graphics. Don't judge me. Go watch some television, or eat some Arby's. I'm not speaking to you anymore.