Thursday, July 5, 2007

Same Old, Same Old. Or: Seriously, Many Hilarious Hijinks Occur Here, They Just Probably Wouldn't Be Funny to Someone Who Has Cable Television

I really need to be writing journal entries more often. The problem, as I’m sure I’ve said many times in this space already, is that we’re just tired all the time. When I am home, I’m usually either fighting to keep from being given too much food or laying on my bed, staring into space and ruing myself for not studying enough. It sounds worse than it is, really; it’s true that the G7s are constantly bitching about life to each other and to the current volunteers we hang out with in the evenings (there are several G6s posted in Gori that we’ve gotten to know pretty well since we’ve been here, and they’re surprisingly and thankfully agreeable with being complained to), but our grievances aren’t so much of the “we don’t like it here” variety as they are of the “we don’t like such and such part of our classes and it’s difficult to be studying all the time” variety. For the most part, in a general sense, we’re really comfortable here already. And, looking back on the process, it’s surprising that it took so little time. But, of course, it hasn’t FELT like so little time.

This is all, really, just a long way of apologizing for not having posted a long entry in over a week. Not much has changed since my last post; this past week has mostly served to get everyone into a steady routine, and time is beginning to speed up. I’ve settled into a daily rhythm, and that more than anything helps a person to acclimate to his surroundings. I wake up most mornings rva saatze (at eight o’clock) to find Irma, maspindzel dedachemi (my host mother), already awake and cooking my breakfast (This morning, though, her clock had apparently stopped for an hour during the night – she was just starting her routine when I came into the kitchen, about to leave for school, and was very confused as to what exactly the hell I was doing awake at 7:30…explaining “no, it’s 8:30, your clock is broken” is very difficult when two people don’t quite speak the same language). I’m not a morning person, and, while I don’t take morning showers here, I have to spend extra time getting dressed because I have to dress professionally while doing Peace Corps activities, so I usually roll into the kitchen about ten minutes before I need to leave. This is a problem, because one of Irma’s main life desires is that I eat more than I am intending to eat at any particular moment. I am always the only person eating breakfast at 8:30, but there is usually about as much food on the table as my entire family would eat for dinner on a given night in America. It is Irma’s goal that I eat all of it. It is my goal to leave for school before causing myself major gastrointestinal damage. It is a game, and Irma usually wins. I have learned the basic phrases for “I don’t want any more food,” and she knows my broken Georgian slash gestures for “I need to leave for school now.” But Irma is a brilliant tactician. “Tchame, tchame. Puri kargia. Erti kidev.” (Eat more, eat more. The bread is good. One more.) If this does not work, she has perfected a glance that can only be described as conveying, “You are causing me extreme emotional pain and anguish. I am very sad for you that you would even consider leaving before having another three pounds of egg salad.” This usually guilts me into saying, “Fine, I’ll have just a little bit more.” Then, she grabs the serving dish before I can decide for myself how much more to consume, and she spoons enough food to maim a bison onto my plate. I, feeling a nagging sense of rudeness at simply saying “no” and refusing to eat more, defeatedly scoop as much food as I can into my mouth, and stagger out the door trying to avoid falling into a hyperglycemic coma. Irma will then shove cookies into my satchel as she unlocks the front door for me.

My walk to school takes about fifteen minutes, through the neighborhood where I live, past the magazia (shop) where men go in the mornings to look for a day’s work, past the Stalin Museum, Stalin’s first home, and Stalin Park, to the nonprofit office where we have four hours of language class a day. Four hours of language class is, to put it mildly, a lot. I am doing pretty well in language class, compared to some others in my small class, and even I am having a lot of difficulty sometimes. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for the people who aren’t picking it up as quickly as some of us are. I usually spend the half-hour break we get at 11am (that would be 2am in the Central Time Zone and midnight in California) online; if any of you need to converse with me in a hurried AIM chat before my language teacher makes me turn my computer off, that’s the time, Monday through Saturday. After language class, we go to a group member’s house, where his/her/their host mom has prepared us lunch. Lunch is usually delicious, and also usually at least 75% refined carbohydrates. This becomes an issue about half an hour into our afternoon technical NGO training, when we all lapse into our second food coma of the day.

After NGO training, we usually go to a bar to hang out, study, drink beer, and talk (the trainees who live in the villages around Gori hate us for this, since they’re not allowed to leave their villages during the week). I really enjoy doing this every day, but it concerns me. I don’t envy the people who are training in villages, because I’m having fun now, but I know that they’re being better prepared for our eventual site assignments in eight weeks. The 15 of us who are living in the city hang out with each other and with several of the volunteers who are stationed in Gori and a year into their service; once we leave for our posts, there won’t be more than one or two people stationed near us, and I expect that the evenings will become pretty lonely for a while. I’m not expecting to enjoy my first couple of weeks at post. But, for now, we’re enjoying ourselves, and being able to rewind during the evenings seems pretty crucial to our sanity at this point (“Bevri vstsavlob. Bevri vkitkhulob. Bevri sashinau davaleba maqvs,” as I might say in broken Georgian to Irma. “I learn very much. I read very much. I have a lot of homework.”). I play backgammon with a guy in my cluster, and we all whine about having to go home. It’s not that we dislike being with our host families (although I am beginning to sense that, for everyone in my host family besides Irma, interest in the American is fading to minor bemusement at the American); one is just always reticent to leave a cocoon of people who are talking about shared experience in a shared language for a group of people who will not understand your concerns about their seatless toilet and to whom you will be unable to explain said concerns. At home, I eat another gargantuan meal (as an added bonus, after I staggered out of the kitchen last night, Irma came into my room with a heaping bowl of fruit, explaining that I needed to eat it because her daughter had picked it that day in her hometown village, with the implication that it would thus be rude of me not to eat it), and I send text-messages while trying to focus on studying until I fall asleep.

On Saturday afternoons and Sundays, we wander around the city, see the sights we haven’t seen, go to the internet café, spend more time at the bars, and visit our friends in the villages. This past Sunday, I visited people in the village of Bebnisi, about 20 minutes outside Gori. We took a bus early Sunday morning to get there; it was pouring and the bus was overcrowded in that special developing-world-way, so I found myself standing in the aisle, forced to lean over a seated woman while trying not to drip water all over her. We had no idea when we were supposed to get off; thankfully, we were on the bus long enough to send a text message to a trainee who lives in the village asking him to meet us at the bus stop so we would know when to disembark. Still, for a while, I was pretty sure we’d end up in Moscow. That would be a fun call to our supervisor. “Tengo? We’re in Moscow. We didn’t know when to get off the bus. We thought maybe the village was pretty far. Is it okay if we get back slightly after curfew?”

In the village, our first stop was at the house of a girl I’ve become close with. Her family’s cow and dog had given birth on the same day the week before, so there was a new calf and two new puppies in the yard. The dog attacked me (affectionately), because, yes, Irma had forced cookies into my pocket before I left that morning. The calf spent the morning charging from one end of the yard to the other and back again in a gangly newborn gait, the hilarity of which is completely and unfortunately indescribable without the aid of video footage. It was raining on and off, and I was standing in a yard in a small village in Georgia, watching a newborn calf charge around the yard like it was auditioning for the rodeo. My list of “things I never expected to be doing” is getting pretty long.

After that, we walked to another friend’s house, where his host dad regaled us with impressions in his broken English and songs on his broken guitar. This man is my new favorite person in this country, and again I cannot describe why without the aid of video footage. We drank coffee and beer (so it wasn’t even noon; what are you trying to say?) and chewed sunflower seeds. Then the girl and I took a bus back to Gori, where we joined many other friends at the apartment of a current Gori-stationed volunteer named Cutino, who we’ve been seeing most evenings. It was a fun evening, but it was back to four hours of language the next morning, made amusing only by the simple text message of a trainee who had gotten too drunk at a Georgian feast on Sunday (“Hurtin for certain” was the entirety of the message). So revolves the cycle.

The cycle is comforting; it’s good to know that I already have a routine, as I said earlier. But it can also be frustrating. It can be frustrating when it seems that we’ve been here for so little time and yet are already often just going through the motions, trying to get to the next day, the next language lesson, the next attempt at communication with a Georgian. It can be frustrating not learning as quickly as I wish I was learning. It can be frustrating not having the cultural tools to step away from the table before guiltily eating my body weight in food (It’s also frustrating that, somehow, even though I stagger from the table after every meal, I’m always starving two hours later. And I think I’m losing a little weight. What in god’s name is going on in my intestines?). But, in the end, I think it’s mostly a good thing that we are becoming more understanding of our eventual roles here every day. Our NGO training can sometimes be painfully long (especially after such a large lunch), but I come away from it every day with a slightly broader realization of what, exactly, I’m supposed to do when I’m eventually dumped into a nonprofit organization here. I think we’ve all internalized our missions here. None of us are blanching at the length of time we’ll be here, or the things we’ll be doing during those two years. Our task has become normal to us. And that is, of course, frightening and comforting at the same time. I doubt that dichotomy will go away for quite a long time, even once I return to the States. Life is like that, brothers and sisters. I have the moral authority to make a sweeping statement like that, because I am in the Peace Corps.

And with that, I leave you to go study Georgian. Did you know that, in Georgian, they count in a base 20 system? The number 50 is ormotsdaati -– two twenties and ten. The number 76 is samotsdatekvsmeti – three twenties and sixteen. Of course you didn’t know that. You’re in freaking America. I just wanted you to be impressed with how hard this is, dammit.

No comments: