Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peace Corps Post #2: Orientation in Tabakhmela and Meeting Our Host Families. Or: Please, Please, Please, Please Don't Give Me Any More Food

First things first – I got the name of the village wrong in my last entry. It was called Tabakhmela, not Tamakhela. I say was instead of is (although its name remains Tabakhmela unless they’ve decided to change it within the last five hours) because I am writing the entry you are reading from a new location – from a town called Gori (one of the larger towns/cities in Georgia, but I believe it still has only 50 or 60,000 residents), in the bedroom of my new temporary host family’s house. I know I should have been writing down what happened during the week of Orientation as it was going on, but this whole week, when I’ve had free time, I’ve only wanted to sleep or socialize with my Trainee group. I really want to sleep now, too, but I know that I shouldn’t, so I am going to try to record some thoughts, even though to adequately describe today would be absolutely impossible (if you are perceptive you are sensing a pattern – thoughts on this later). I could sing, and I have sung, the same song about the entire week and a half of my Peace Corps experience, but I’m going to say it again and it holds just as true today as any other time I’ve said it up until now – this has, without a doubt, been the weirdest day of my life. The most difficult, too, in many ways, though the difficulty has been mental rather than physical or emotional.

We spent nearly a week in Tabakhmela getting to know each other and spending all our time in Peace Corps overview classes. Our hotel compound was in a small village and we were only allowed to leave twice the entire time – once to walk a short distance to a small shop to buy soap and shampoo, and once to take a bus into Tbilisi to attend a dinner reception at the US Ambassador’s house and meet current volunteers. We were going stir crazy pretty quickly. Many of us dealt with it by telling gossip about each other the entire time. We were having a lot of fun with each other, yes, but if you put 46 mostly young people in a hotel for a week without letting them leave, things are going to happen and everyone is going to find out about them. I was doing more gossiping than a twelve year old schoolgirl. I suppose I can only hope that, for karma reasons, just as much gossip was being spread about me. I can tell more stories about Tabakhmela later, hopefully, when I have the time. My apologies, also, for the abrupt ending of my last post; I left it unfinished intending to return to it, and it never happened.

Anyway, Tabakhmela seemed crucially important while it was happening, but, looking back on it, the difference between adjusting to and living in Tabakhmela and adjusting to my new situation seems like the difference between swatting at a crumpled piece of paper with a stick and playing for the New York Yankees. Everyone in Tabakhmela except the cooks – from, obviously, the other members of the group, to the instructors, to the Peace Corps staff – spoke English. My Georgian was being practiced in the laboratory of the classroom. I could control the things I needed to control. But that changed this afternoon. We drove out to Gori and met our host families, and from that moment until now I have been more frustrated than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s not necessarily a bad frustration – that is, it’s understandable and not the result of anyone doing anything wrong – but it’s a frustration. I am able to communicate with my host family in only the most rudimentary of ways. I understand, in a good sentence, one in ten words my host mother says to me. Most of my evening tonight was spent simply staring at her, trying to look understanding, when really I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. Needless to say, my classroom ability to conjugate the Georgian word “to be” has not been as helpful as I’d hoped it would be. I’ve never been in this situation before, and I’ve never been in any situation that I could possibly compare to this situation. I have no playbook. I’m just hoping it works out.

My host family consists of a host mom, Irma, who is a retired music teacher (if I latched properly onto a word I understood – ekvsi – she’s been retired for six years) and whose husband is deceased (um, I think). She has a son, Giorgi, who is in perhaps his late 20s and who is very nice. I was under the impression that he lived here, and he was here most of the evening, but I don’t know where he went off to. There is a 2 year old, also called Irma, and some other vaguely familial persons whose names I only sort of remember and whose connection to everyone else I have completely forgotten already, if I understood it in the first place. A major hurdle for the next couple of days is deciding whether to pretend I know who everyone is or to ask again and risk looking like an idiot who can’t remember anything.

I have to go to bed. I’ve fought it as long as I can. This time, I really hope to continue the tale as soon as I am able. I hope you are looking forward to reading about The Time Dan Thought His Host Mother Was Just Serving Him Tea Before Bed And It Turned Out To Be An Entire Meal Right After He’d Already Eaten One. Because I am looking forward to writing about it.

1 comment:

ruth said...

It's exciting to read about your travels. It sounds like you have a good attitude about everything, and that will serve you very well. I'm taking ESL classes right now and we're talking about "affective filters" -- which means it's harder to learn a language if you're feeling really nervous and self-concious about making mistakes. We also read a study about how a little alcohol can improve your language skills if you have inhibitions, but too much and it gets worse.

Being in a situation where you can't understand what people are saying is very exhausting though. No wonder you're tired. I have found sometimes I have to just let it wash over me and not even try to tease out words I understand. It takes so much concentration. On the Uni German trip we did our family stay the 3rd week, so I thought I was over jet-lag, but I went to bed a 6pm the first night because I was already so exhausted from concentrating.