Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bonus Post Slash Anecdote. Or: Really, I Do Some Work Around Here.

Perhaps you are thinking that I must not do much work, what with all the blog posting. Well, for one, I write the lengthy blog posts at home, in the evening, when I have nothing to do but write blog posts, listen to podcasts, and watch "Formula For Success" on BBC World 11 or 273 times in a row. Also, I would like to share with you an instance of my productivity so far today:

A man came into the office holding a liquid-filled vial. On this vial were instructions in English. So he and a coworker of mine asked me to translate this vial for him. To translate things like, "For intramuscular use only," and other phrases that I learned in training during our "Georgian pharmacology words" unit, but have unfortunately forgotten. So, together, as a wonderful example of cross-cultural achievement, we went through the dictionary looking for words like "muscle" and "goat" and "sheep" and "horse." Through pantomime, I think I got across everything on the vial that i actually understood.

Then, when the man left, my coworker informed me that this man is the town's veterinarian. Honestly, what would this place do if I was not here? I expect a thank-you bouquet from the man whose cow will be saved by that vial of medicine.

Better Know A Georgia, Part I - Geography. Or: Cauc-Ask-Us About Our Verdant Topography!

They have a story, here in Georgia. It goes like this: When God was handing out all the land on Earth, dividing it up among his peoples, the Georgians were at a supra(1), doing a lot of eating and drinking and toasting and whatnot. After they finished(2), the Georgians approached God and said, “Hey, dude, what happened to the whole giving-of-land business?”(3) And God said, “I have already given out the land. Where were you?” Replied the Georgians, “We were toasting to your name and to the majesty of your creation.” So God said, “That’s super sweet. Here, have the land I was saving for myself.” Thus, the legend goes, the land called Georgia was begat unto the Georgians. Of course, this tale cannot possibly be true, because we know that mankind is descended from monkeys. A prehistoric monkey probably beat up another prehistoric monkey and claimed Georgia as his own, after which he evolved over millennia into the race that is today referred to as “Georgians.” The prehistoric monkey who lost probably spawned Armenia. Take that, Armenia! Of course, this is all guesswork. We cannot know for sure, because of global warming.

Speaking of Armenia, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did he bring up Armenia?” Do not kid this blog; you have no idea where Georgia is, whether or not it is near Armenia, or for that matter where Armenia is. This presents a problem for your continued education.(4) Please look at the map, which displays Georgia’s geographical location, helpfully labeled in War On Terror terminology.(5) As you can see, Georgia is surrounded by Russia/Chechnya to the north, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia to the south, Turkey to the southwest, and the Black Sea to the west. The Caucasus Mountains stretch from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea in this area, and Georgia sits between mountain ranges that run along its northern and southern borders. The entire region is called “the Caucasus,”(6) or “the South Caucasus,”(7) or, perhaps more concisely, “that place that’s not quite Europe and not quite Asia? Or something? Where the hell is that place?”

For such a small country, Georgia has an impressive array of different landscapes. Ranges of the Caucasus Mountains, as mentioned before, lie in the north and south, plains lie in the east, and hilly regions with near tropical climes lie in the west(8). As the hills slope towards the shores of the Black Sea, the geography and climate is almost Mediterranean; there are even beaches(9) along the southern portion of the coast.(10) It can get brutally cold in the East, and especially in the northern mountainous areas(9), but west of “the tunnel”(10) it tends to stay pretty warm. For instance, after my recent doomsday post heralding the onset of winter, it, um, warmed up again, and has been perfectly pleasant recently. But I am going to Gori this weekend, and I am packing my warmest moleskin underwear. However, in the west, especially close to the sea, it can tend to rain all winter.(11) For instance, today [I am writing this on Friday, 26 October] it poured all day in Chokhatauri. I had to carry around my Halloween costume, which is made of cardboard, draped underneath a windbreaker. This confused the hell out of everyone, especially because (as I am sure you will see soon enough) this particular part of my costume consists of bear ears in a box.(12) “Look at that American boy,” everyone was probably snickering. “He probably threw away all the other parts of that bear. Americans are so wasteful.” But I digress.

You are probably becoming bored of this particular post. Hell, I’m getting bored of this particular post. I’m not doing a very good job of describing what is, in fact, a stunningly beautiful country. Where I live, in a village nestled on top of a foothill of the southern mountain range, you can see the snowcaps of higher peaks nearby, you can take a 30 minute drive to a mineral spring that is the source of a Georgian bottled water company’s product(15), and you can even drive up to the top of a nearby mountain in about an hour, to a “resort” there called Baxmaro(16), which is just a gorgeous place to see -- and where the photo to the left was taken. But perhaps I should do some actual research on this issue, to better educate you. And where better to do research than Wikipedia?

From Wikipedia, regarding the mountains of Georgia:
“Mountains are the dominant geographic feature of Georgia. The Likhi Range divides the country into eastern and western halves. Historically, the western portion of Georgia was known as Colchis while the eastern plateau was called Iberia. Due to a complex geographic setting, mountains also isolate the northern region of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia.

The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range separates Georgia from the North Caucasian Republics of Russia. The southern portion of the country is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range is much higher in elevation than the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with the highest peaks rising more than 5,000 meters (16,400ft.) above sea level.

The highest mountain in Georgia is Mount Shkhara at 5,201 meters (17,059 feet), and the second highest is Mount Janga (Jangi-Tau) at 5,051 meters (16,572 feet) above sea level. Other prominent peaks include Kazbegi (Kazbek) at 5,047 meters (16,554 feet), Tetnuldi (4,974m./16,319ft.), Shota Rustaveli (4,960m./16,273ft.), Mt. Ushba (4,710m./15,453ft.), and Ailama (4,525m./14,842ft.). Out of the abovementioned peaks, only Kazbegi is of volcanic origin. The region between Kazbegi and Shkhara (a distance of about 200 km. along the Main Caucasus Range) is dominated by numerous glaciers. Out of the 2,100 glaciers that exist in the Caucasus today, approximately 30% are located within Georgia.”

The mountains of the north, where we went for our Supervisor’s conference in July, are breathtaking, as well as quite cold, even in the summertime. We are told that, on those mountains, one can hire a helicopter for something called “helicopter skiing,” which entails jumping out of a helicopter into untamed mountain wilderness and skiing your way down. Needless to say, this activity sounds completely awesome and is completely verboten for a Peace Corps volunteer. Also, there is a Georgian beer called “Kazbegi.” You can’t get this level of commentary and information from just anywhere.

Wikipedia on the Georgian landscape:

“The landscape within the nation's boundaries is quite varied. Western Georgia's landscape ranges from low-land marsh-forests, swamps, and temperate rain forests to eternal snows and glaciers, while the eastern part of the country even contains a small segment of semi-arid plains characteristic of Central Asia. Forests cover around 40% of Georgia's territory while the alpine/subalpine zone accounts for roughly around 10% of the land.

Much of the natural habitat in the low-lying areas of Western Georgia has disappeared over the last 100 years due to the agricultural development of the land and urbanization. The large majority of the forests that covered the Colchis plain are now virtually non-existent with the exception of the regions that are included in the national parks and reserves (i.e. Paleostomi Lake area). At present, the forest cover generally remains outside of the low-lying areas and is mainly located along the foothills and the mountains.”

I would say that the Wikipedia author’s definition of “urbanization” differs quite greatly from what an American’s would be. There are four cities in this entire country that could be designated as “urban” in the sense of the word that you are probably picturing as you read this. Urbanization, then, in the deforestation-of-Georgia sense probably has to do with (a) villages, (b) crop fields, and (c) creating places where cows can graze. Not so much in the “Las Vegas used to be an actual desert but has experienced some urbanization” sense.

Wikipedia on Georgian fauna:

Due to its high landscape diversity and low latitude Georgia is home to a higher number of animal species, e. g. ca. 1000 species of vertebrates (330 birds, 160 fish, 48 reptiles, 11 amphibians). A number of large carnivores live in the forests, e. g. Persian leopard, Brown bear, wolf, and lynx. The species number of invertebrates is considered to be very high but data is distributed across a high number of publications. The spider checklist of Georgia, for example, includes 501 species.”

I can tell you from personal experience that the entire population of brown bears in this country lives in the highly naturalized habitat of cages at gas stations and/or amusement parks. I can also tell you from personal experience that the entire spider population resides in my bathroom.

Wikipedia on Georgia’s climate:

“The climate of Georgia is extremely diverse, considering the nation's small size. There are two main climatic zones, roughly separating Eastern and Western parts of the country. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range plays an important role in moderating Georgia's climate and protects the nation from the penetration of colder air masses from the north. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains partially protect the region from the influence of dry and hot air masses from the south as well.

Much of western Georgia lies within the northern periphery of the humid subtropical zone with annual precipitation ranging from 1000–4000mm. (39–157 inches). The precipitation tends to be uniformly distributed throughout the year, although the rainfall can be particularly heavy during the Autumn months. The climate of the region varies significantly with elevation and while much of the lowland areas of western Georgia are relatively warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous areas (including both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains) experience cool, wet summers and snowy winters (snow cover often exceeds 2 meters in many regions). Ajaria is the wettest region of the Caucasus, where the Mt. Mtirala rainforest, east of Kobuleti receives around 4500mm (177 inches) of precipitation per year.

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental. The region's weather patterns are influenced both by dry, Central Asian/Caspian air masses from the east and humid, Black Sea air masses from the west. The penetration of humid air masses from the Black Sea is often blocked by several mountain ranges (Likhi and Meskheti) that separate the eastern and western parts of the nation. Annual precipitation is considerably less than that of western Georgia and ranges from 400–1600mm (16–63 inches). The wettest periods generally occur during Spring and Autumn while Winter and the Summer months tend to be the driest. Much of eastern Georgia experiences hot summers (especially in the low-lying areas) and relatively cold winters. As in the western parts of the nation, elevation plays an important role in eastern Georgia as well, and climatic conditions above 1500 metres (4920ft) above sea level are considerably cooler (even colder) than those of the low-lying areas. The regions that lie above 2000 meters (6560ft) above sea level frequently experience frost even during the summer months.”

This is quite a good many numbers, but all I can say is you’ll have to Wait And See regarding the weather, which I still have yet to figure out.

So, as you can see from the first in this series on Georgia, when I need actual facts, I will be using Wikipedia. Meaning you could find out much of this by just going to Wikipedia yourself. But then you’d miss out on my pithy, hilarious comments(17), and the insightful analysis gleaned from months in the field.(18) Until next time, friends.

(1)A supra, if you are new to this blog or if this term hasn’t been used enough yet for you (you should really start taking notes; there will be a test later), is a traditional Georgian feast. Egregiously, I did not create a blog entry category for supras when I constructed my list in the last post. I will add it at some point as a Special Bonus Blog, since I rather like the VIII-VIII symmetry, because the tradition behind supras is the reason why it’s 100% cool to take shots at noon in an elementary school here. It might be the most important information about this country. I’d probably say so, because of the entertainment factor involved in discussing supras, and the Georgians would probably also say so, because they really like their supras.
(2)This is how you know the story is false; Georgian supras do not “end,” they merely slow down for periods of time so people can do things like sleep and go to work.
(3)”Dude” is a vocative term that is, of course, not used here, because even Georgians know that it is no longer 1984. They probably said something like, “Hey, bitcho,” which doesn’t look like a very nice thing to say for those of you who are such simpletons you do not know the Georgian language, but which I can assure you is quite an amusing joke if you do. Looks like the joke is on you.
(4)I plan on being very snotty about things you don’t know and utterly ignoring the fact that I did not, technically, know much about Georgia either, before I came here. True story: when my mother called me after opening the invitation from Peace Corps, she said, “How do you feel about Georgia?” I, confused, answered, “The state?”
(5)I feel confident that maybe two people realized, before reading this footnote, that this map is a recycled joke from a post I wrote months ago. So if you think I have qualms about reusing it, think again. An observation that I gleaned from the first time that still troubles me: my friend Ruth, who is by profession a teacher of children, confessed that this map did not actually help her to locate Georgia, because the surrounding countries are not labeled properly. Hopefully she has found a globe by the time of this writing and discovered the location of the Black Sea.
(6)This is the origin of the term “Caucasian,” because all white people come from here. Really – it’s true! Look it up on Wikipedia, as long as you wait until after I’ve changed it to say that.
(7)I believe the “north” Caucasus is the area of southwestern Russia north of Georgia, but I could be wrong, because I’ve done absolutely no research on this blog post whatsoever.
(8)I live in this hilly, near-tropical region, making it the most important region. Pay attention.
(9)The only sand beach in Georgia, I think, is in a lovely place called Ureki, where the sand is actually black. The other beaches, such as those in the coastal city of Batumi, are rock beaches.
(10)Believe me, there are few times when you feel less like a Peace Corps volunteer than when you’re sitting on the beach, as I have been known to do several times since I’ve been here, since I live within an hour of the coast. I think next time I go to the beach I will drink some local water without filtering it, on the theory that projectile vomiting would balance out the beach-going and bring me back to Peace Corps reality.
(11)There are two volunteers in my group who live in villages up in the mountains several hours north of where I live, and apparently that area can become literally snowed in during the winter, because of the volume of snow and the poor road quality. Apparently they both asked to be placed in remote villages. Both say that they’re not going to come down from the mountain during the winter even if they could. I don’t think I have to tell those of you from the Midwest that one of them is from…..Wisconsin.
(12)”The tunnel” is, well, a tunnel that gives the main highway across the country passage through a hill in roughly the center of the country. It’s the unofficial (among volunteers, at least) demarcation point between east and west. I don’t think I have to tell you that volunteers stationed east of the tunnel are backwater hillbillies who spend their time not transferring knowledge and building sustainability but comparing long-johns and congratulating each other on how well they can withstand the cold. Huzzah for you, easterners, but please keep the back-patting down. Some of us have work to do so we can go to the beach.
(13)I feel I should point out at this point that this is all vicious conjecture and hearsay, seeing as how I have not yet actually lived through a winter here, and have opined not once but twice about the impending melancholy of winter, only to wake up a few days later, realize that I’m uncomfortably warm, and decide that I was a little quick on the wool-coat trigger.
(14)Note: not real bear ears. They’re real panda ears painted to look like regular bear ears.
(15)And you can take a tour of the small, one-room factory where they make this bottled water, where at least ten employees stand around watching machinery do all the work. It’s an inspiring example of productivity in the modern age.
(16)My “site visit” Facebook photos, which are helpfully linked to in the sidebar, are of a trip I took with my coworkers to Baxmaro for an afternoon supra, so you can see more photos of how gorgeous the place is. I do have difficulty understanding how it is a “resort,” as it is claimed to be by Georgians, because when you get up there you mostly just see a village. Everyone in Guria claims to have a house in Baxmaro; as far as I can tell, the only extra houses there are piles of sticks that look like pillaged frames of houses. This must be what people are referring to, but I can’t for the life of me understand why they brag about these homes. These homes, literally, tend to have about half the wood required for floors and actual walls, and nothing else. When we were in Baxmaro, a coworker showed me her family’s “house” there, and we had to climb into it and hang onto a wall stud to avoid falling through the “floor.” It is undoubtedly a beautiful place, but I must be missing something about it. Georgians also think that the air in Baxmaro can cure illnesses because it is a perfect mixture of sea and mountain air.
(17)Like this one.
(18)For instance: Georgia, the country, is not at all the same as Georgia, the state. Did you know that? Its capital isn’t even Atlanta.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Halloween Party. Or: Why standing in the rain for an hour portends other amusing misfortunes for the rest of a given weekend.

I know that many of you(1) have been clamoring for photos of my Halloween costume. And, yea, I shall provideth one right now, before even continuing with the rest of the post:

As you can see from my hand gestures, I went as a member of N.W.A.(2) who has gotten his head stuck in a box. Some fellow Peace Corps members think that I went as Bearinacage, the terribly sad and not at all appropriate to joke about bear who lives in a cage that is about as big as my college dorm room and almost as full of feces. This is not at all true. It's the N.W.A. thing. If you want to get all technical about it, fine, I was Bearinacage, but only because I didn't think of the N.W.A. idea until just now. You can see that my patented Bearinacage costume technology, created specifically for Halloween Gori 2007, consists of a brown shirt, brown pants, brown socks, and brown slippers, along with bear ears that I severed from an actual stuffed animal with a Swiss Army Knife and a box that I used the same Swiss Army Knife to convert into something resembling a cage. That strip of cardboard resting on my head was attached to another bit of cardboard between the bear ears that you can't really see, both serving to keep the box far enough above my head so you could see the bear ears. I spent a whole evening on this. I perhaps could have spent that evening learning Georgian, but that would have provided only trivial benefits compared to the lifelong benefits that will result from me having pictures of this costume.

So, the weekend. I originally intended to leave Chokhatauri for Gori on Friday, because the transit is lengthy and I did not want to be there for a mere 24 hours (since I'd have to leave pretty early on Sunday to get back here). On Friday, it was pouring in Chokhatauri, so I lovingly protected my costume technology from the elements by draping it in my windbreaker. I got to work and proceeded to get zero work done, because a woman had come in from a school in a nearby village to get my assistance in writing an application for her school to receive a new Peace Corps volunteer next year. This woman is the English teacher at her school, but did not, technically, understand all of the questions on the application, which is written in English. For instance, in the blank space under the heading, "Nearest post office/telephone,"(3) she wrote, "Yes." Also, under, "What professional qualifications do you desire in a volunteer?" she wrote, "Woman." So I spent the morning listening to this woman read me the questions on the form, as if I was illiterate, and then read me answers that were completely incorrect before asking if they were spelled right. So I had to try to explain to her, after every question, what the question was actually asking, in words that she understood. I'd like to point out here that my job, to this point in my service, has been quite difficult most days, and many days it is very difficult for me to find motivation to fight through the frustration and do a lot of work. On Friday, I had come into work with a long list of things that I was very motivated to accomplish. I got zero of these things done, because this woman spent the whole morning in my office.

So, after she left, I got as much work done as I could and then got ready to leave before the time at which my coworkers told me the last marshutka to Tbilisi(4) was rumbling along the road near my office.(5) I draped my Halloween contraption in the windbreaker and stood under an overhang by the road. 3pm -- the time I was told to be there -- passed. 3:30 passed. 3:45 passed. At this point, I knew two things: one, that a marshutka was unlikely to be leaving from my region to Tbilisi at that hour, because after the 5.5 hour drive to Tbilisi, it would be quite late, and Georgians don't usually like to travel in the evenings(6), and two, that I didn't want to get on one even if one did come at this point.(7) Still, holding out some slight hope, I waited in the rain until 4:10pm, whence I carried my Halloween contraption back to my office in shame and in rage.

The next morning, I woke up ungodly early so as to catch the first marshutka from the Chokhatauri station to Tbilisi. I walked 20 minutes from my home, only to realize that I did not have my cell phone. I raced back home, past my bewildered host mother(8), and threw stuff all around my room in a panic to find my phone and rush back out the door. I found it under a pillow(9) and ran out the door again(10), certain that I'd missed the marshutka and that I'd be even later arriving at my destination.

I walked to the main road, and to my surprise, the marshutka was just passing, and I was able to flag it down. I am not sure, in hindsight, that this was a blessing, because not catching it at the station meant that I had to sit in the only open seat, which was in the very back, between an old dude and his boxes of produce. The back seat in a marshutka is raised up, with a ledge for your feet, so that there can be trunk space for packages and things under it. So, when you sit in the back, if you have no lateral space, your legs are scrunched up such that your knees are comfortably resting far nearer to your abdomen than God intended. This is how I spent the first two hours of this marshutka ride. Then we stopped at a rest stop.(11) When I got back in the marshutka, the seat in front of me was BACK, like in an airplane.(12) It seems unlikely that this happened by accident or by some force of nature. More likely is the fact that the man in front of me, who not coincidentally had a beard much more sinister-looking than my own, had somehow rigged his seat to lean back even though he knew that there was a 6'2" man behind him who must have ALREADY been uncomfortable BEFORE he did this. Now, I am of the opinion that people who put their seats back on airplanes should be executed without trial. I am capable of an entire post on this. Do not tempt me. So it goes to reason that I should have something much worse in store for this man. I am still trying to think of what this punishment could be. Once I think of it, I will be tracking this man down and subjecting him to it. Forever. This man, who I will never see again, might remain #1 in the list of people I hate most on Earth forever.(13)

However, I was able to survive the rest of the trip relatively intact, and so was my Halloween contraption, which rested for the duration of the journey perilously on top of someone else's box in the aisleway of the marshutka. That is, until I was getting off near Gori, mentally celebrating my and the box's arrival in one piece, when a man put his knee through it. So. I caught a ride with someone into town, with a shattered spirit and a Halloween costume gravely in need of repair.

I arrived at a fellow volunteer's NGO in town, where I was supposed to be helping them celebrate an "American day" for local children. Apparently, "American day" entails handing out stickers with the American flag on them and then doing a bunch of Halloween stuff, because Halloween is all about patriotism.(14) So, while other volunteers helped with a haunted house, I helped kids bob for apples(15) and carve JackOLanterns. That is, if by, "carve JackOLanterns" you mean, "watch Dan and two other volunteers try unsuccessfully to carve JackOLanterns because the pumpkins were hard as rocks, and then watch them resort to using a brick to ram a sharp knife into each pumpkin before 'carving' it in a manner that can only be described as reckless and dangerous." This photo, from the Halloween party later that night, shows off one of the pumpkins that we carved while occasionally yelling at the kids, "NO YOU CANNOT TOUCH THE KNIVES STEP AWAY AND WATCH AND BE EDUCATED ABOUT AMERICA."(16) Really, if you knew how hard it was to ram a knife into the piece of spherical granite that was this pumpkin, you'd really appreciate how modestly it turned out.

After the pumpkin carving, we took the kids to a nearby basketball court to play some ball with a ball that, it turns out, was pretty deflated. Too deflated, in fact, to really dribble.(17) So this game turned into a sort of cross between rugby and basketball in which there was no dribbling but a lot of creative underhand passing. Also there was about as much physical contact as there is in rugby, which does not surprise you if you've read an old post wherein I described how Georgians like to play basketball.(18)

Then, there was an enjoyable afternoon meal with several volunteers, followed by another meal for ECO Project, both of which were enjoyable, uneventful, and thus boring-for-the-purposes-of-this-blog run-ups to the Main Event, which was the Halloween party.

Before the Halloween Party, as I was walking down the stairs in my costume, which included slippers that apparently are aptly named, I slipped and fell on my ass. This lent an added air of authenticity to my role, because Bearinacage would probably limp around if it didn't spend all its time in a corner, yelling at God for causing its life to be like this.(19) This hurt a lot, but not as much as what transpired next: NOBODY DANCED TO THE MUSIC I CREATED. I spent, like, a month's worth of evenings creating the perfect party mix, okay? And then it wasn't very loud because the stereo was mediocre and everyone was distracted by beer pong and people skipped a bunch of songs while they weren't too busy not dancing. I am not bitter about this, because it would be kind of lame of me. Let me just say: nobody has ever created four hours of better music than this for a Peace Corps volunteer party. Nobody. Ever. I will fight you if you disagree with me on this.

On the plus side, I did get acceptably drunk while not making a fool of myself, although I should point out that the girl in this photo is someone's wife.(20) It was a pretty enjoyable evening, and my costume was lauded by all. Except for Ian, who complained that I did not wear the box on my head for a large enough portion of the night. I will be a bigger man and not point out that he was dressed as Steve Urkel, rendering his complaints void since it is no longer 1997.(21)

The next morning, I decided that the best way to deal with a hangover was to go visit my training host family and attempt to speak in a language that I have not yet mastered. So I went over there, bungled my way through some conversation, and was (of course) fed. Also (of course) I was plied with wine even though it was 10 o’clock in the morning. My host mother, who is a master of pantomiming one's way into being understood, sucked in her cheeks and pointed to them, which was her way of telling me I looked gaunt and should have seven or 35 helpings of potatoes. Let me tell you, friends, it has been a long time (specifically, since the last meal I ate at Irma's just over 2 months ago) since I knew what being in a food coma felt like. It was a nice feeling. Like being home again. Also like not being able to lift your arms over your head without burping potatoes.

So that was my weekend. Oddly, returning to Gori after two months did feel strangely like coming home. I enjoyed my time there. And there is, inexplicably, a ton of money being poured into that city. There is a large new chain supermarket going up, and not one but two faux olde English style clocks being erected. It was like coming home after your first semester at college to find, well, two olde English style clocks being erected in town parks. Neither of which, technically, works. But we'll give them credit for trying, friends. Trying to build a faux olde English style clock that doesn't work is better than not trying to build a faux olde English style clock at all. That's what I was brought up to believe, anyway.

Next time: a post wherein I enliven the dull subject of geography with my hearty wit! You will be amazed. Here, one final photo for your enjoyment:(22)

(1)When I say many of you, I usually either mean one of you or several fake people I have been conversing with silently.
(2)The scary thing is that it is almost more likely that a Georgian reading this post would know what N.W.A. is than my actual readership. For instance, one member of my readership is my mother, who definitely doesn't know what N.W.A. is, whereas my host cousin in Gori thinks that he and Tupac were separated at birth, that he can relate in a really deep way to rap music because he's "from the streets," and uses the N-word a lot despite my repeated attempts to get him to stop. Amusingly, the context of his use of the N-word is usually in sentences like, "I really like [N-word]s, because I'm from the streets." This would be really, really funny if it wasn't so, you know, wrong to use that word etc etc. Also, one time he asked me what "25 to life" means. The youth here, they really really really like their American gangsta rap. 50 Cent would easily be elected president here. Oh, and for the readership that includes my mother, N.W.A. is a rap group from the early 90s, Tupac was a good rapper from the mid 90s, and 50 Cent is an absolutely awful rapper at the present time whose music emanates at 374 decibels from every cell phone in this country.
(3)Landline telephone service is intermittent at best in this country, and I still haven't figured it out at all. Apparently, outside the big cities, most places only have one landline telephone from which you can call outside the village/town, and that is at the post office. Other telephones in the village/town can only call within that town. I am pretty sure of this, because, for example, the number for the phone at my office only has four digits. So you call outside the town from the post office, or you would, except that everyone has cell phones for which they've paid something like 300 lari (which is just under 200 dollars, or something). I have no idea where people get the money for these phones, but they all have these ridiculously expensive phones. So, if you measured technological advancement merely by how quickly landline telephone usage is being phased out in a country, Georgia is far beyond America, where our backward, 19th century selves still tend to use landlines at work and such.
(4)I was not going to Tbilisi, but there is only one major highway in this country, and so if you are going somewhere along this highway, you just get on a marshutka going someplace farther than where you are going, and you get off when it passes your destination. You tend not to expect things from the country you're going to, when you become a Peace Corps volunteer -- at least I didn't -- and so a part of me is always surprised that the ragtag public transportation system in this country actually works, and works with surprising efficiency. At least, most of the time, as you are about to see.
(5)Here's another thing about marshutkas: they, of course, leave bigger places more often than they leave smaller places (like where I live, for instance). So, after the morning marshutkas leave the station in my town, you often have no option when needing a marshutka at, say, 2pm other than waiting by the side of the road for a marshutka coming from someplace to another place through the main road of Chokhatauri to pass. Then you have to hail it like a taxi and hope it has a free seat inside. THEN you have to hope that the driver sees you, which sometimes he doesn't because he might be driving 487 km/hour. Again, I am amazed that this system actually works for most people most of the time. I'm always nervous that it won't. And, as you will see, sometimes it does not.
(6)At least, they apparently don't like to travel by marshutka in the evenings. Whenever I am someplace on a weekend, the last marshutka to my town (or going through my town) never leaves after 5:30, despite the fact that this means it will arrive well before it's even dark. Evidently Georgians either don't want to be on public transportation once evening has fallen, or every marshutka driver on the planet needs to be home early so his wife doesn't nag him.
(7)This is because, due to a quirk of urban planning that actually seems to be quite rare in this country, Gori is not situated right on the highway. It is about 3 kilometres away from the highway, in contrast to most cities and towns here, which you pass through, instead of near. This means that, being on a Tbilisi marshutka, I have to get off at the side of the highway where the road leads into Gori, instead of getting off IN Gori. I didn't like my chances on the side of the highway at night, which is what it would have been by the time I got off a marshutka if it was passing through Chokhatauri at 4pm, because I don't know the Georgian for, "Please stop using your chainsaw upon me, sir-in-mask, because I did not know there would be no taxis here at this hour and I would like to start walking the three kilometres towards my destination with only my small, crank-powered flashlight between me and the gaping nothingness of the night."
(8)This was, after all, the second time in twelve hours that I'd come home after intending to leave for the weekend. I hope she doesn't think that I just can't stand being apart from her. Because I can.
(9)Recall, if you will, the post from perhaps a couple weeks ago wherein I mentioned that Georgian pillows are enormous. My pillow could hide a water buffalo. I have no idea how my phone got under the pillow, but once it was there it's a miracle I found it at all.
(10)Running is hard when you're carrying fragile bear ears in a fragile cardboard box. In case you were wondering.
(11)There is a rest stop, near the tunnel that demarcates east and west (which will be mentioned in the post about geography), at which most marshutkas on long journeys stop. It is either a huge relief, if you are stuck in a crappy seat, to get some leg room while the driver orders what always seems to be an eleven course meal at the restaurant there, or an infuriating annoyance if you have been comfortable in your seat and don't want to wait an extra half hour to get where you're going. Thankfully, if you can call it that, this second scenario is rare.
(12)Which is an apt comparison, because seats in a marshutka tend to be, basically, airplane seats. I don't know if they actually came from airplanes or if German-made Ford vans naturally come with airplane-like seats, but they're basically airplane seats. I feel like you need to know these things.
(13)#2 is Steve Bartman, and #3 is whichever of my former roommates is responsible for the photo that exists of me, crushed, curled up asleep in bed after the Cubs loss that was caused by Steve Bartman. That's the most cruel photo ever taken by anyone outside Abu Ghraib prison, and I demand to know who took it. You have one day.
(14)If volunteers are reading this: just kidding, Cuttino! I actually would enjoy doing such a thing at my NGO, except I would probably end up being forced to kiss another young girl on the knee somehow, which is why I have decided not to even speak to any more children for the duration of my service unless there are three adults around. One of whom must be a police officer. From America.
(15)I realized, while I was plunging my face into a bucket of water and trying to get apples into my mouth with my teeth, to show the kids how to do it, that bobbing for apples is super, super unsanitary. Why do we allow children to plunge their gaping mouths into a bucket full of what is eventually, basically, backwash and apples that have partially been in someone else's mouth? Why is that a fun game?
(16)It also shows off the volunteer who works at the NGO in question, who finds it amusing to dress up like a Soviet officer in his free time but is somehow still allowed to volunteer with impressionable children. Also, the photo shows off my iPod, which incidentally is sitting on top of the stereo. In case you were wondering what it looks like. Also, apologies that this photo is sideways. I don't know why it is, or how to fix it.
(17)Also affecting the dribble: the fact that the court was made of uneven gravel and dirt, meaning that the ball could bounce in any of 134 fun directions when making impact with the ground. This adds an appreciated level of difficulty to an already beautiful sport.
(18)The answer is: they like to play it while hacking at your wrists with their hands.
(19)Which is stupid, because everyone knows that God gave man dominion over the beasts of the land, which means that man can catch these beasts and throw sunflower seeds at them while protected by iron bars.
(20)Note to Tom: nothing happened! I swear! But I also swear this to you, sir: I will woo her. Oh, yes. I will. Watch out.
(21)Also, Ian is only half black, whereas Steve Urkel is 100% black, which I know because Jaleel White is a UCLA alum and has courtside seats at Pauley Pavilion, meaning I have been within ten feet of him literally dozens of times. Whereas I am at least 75% bear.
(22)This photo doesn't even require a joke.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A bunch of photos. Or: If you're reading this in Georgia, this post will destroy your internet connection. You're welcome!

Firstly, a few photos from the aforementioned weekend with Lithuanians:

This is a photograph of me contemplating a photograph of a man with a hatchet, which must be a piece of significant historical importance, because it resides in the local "Museum of Local Lore," which is pronounced "lor-ey" when actual locals attempt to pronounce it. I do not pretend to look down my nose at these people for this fact, incidentally. If Georgian had random, silent letters in half its words, I might take this man's hatchet and do terrible things with it.

This is a photo of me with a coworker of mine showing off a sword that was sitting on a table at the old house in the country that I mentioned in that post about the Lithuanian weekend. You can see by my textbook stance that I have samurai training, whereas my coworker is definitely putting too much weight on her back leg, causing her to be in too defensive a position should an attack occur. Also she has made the tactical error of holding a sheath instead of a sword. The sheath part does you no good in battle. I have so much wisdom to impart upon her in a mere two years.

This photo is me striking a cowboy pose -- because cowboys always wear black leather office shoes and wool topcoats -- on top of a statue of a bucking horse that sits near a random bridge over a random stream in a random village near here. Do not ask me why this statue exists. Nobody explained it to me. Perhaps it commemorates the Very First Horse to Exist. You had no idea that all the horses you see are progeny of this horse in a village in Georgia, did you? I'm glad I could be of service.

Secondly, there is no secondly, because I have decided to make Halloween its own post, instead of just posting some photos. Also, I have pretty much finished part one of Better Know A Georgia, so that should be coming down the pipe pretty soon. So much content for you, and all for such a nominal fee! You didn't know that there was a fee, did you? Seriously, I'm tracking all of you, and as soon as I get back to America I will track you down and charge you for every single post you've read. This fee is waived if you send me a package. My address will soon be posted on the sidebar. That is all. For now. I'm watching you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Three items. Or: Hm, really that first part did a pretty good job of explaining the pertinent components of this post.

Item one: I believe that, before now, posting a comment required one to have a Blogger account. This may be the reason that Ruth is the only one who ever comments. A more important reason might be that nobody cares. But I prefer the former reason. And I have fixed it. So, whoever you are in New Zealand, comment away. Reveal yourself, and describe what it's like to talk to a hobbit and all the dirty secrets you know about Australians.

Item two: I have a new task for the loyal readership of this blog, whoever you are. With the aforedescribed dot on my webcounter map in New Zealand, there have now been visitors to this blog from five continents (Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and the Australian continent of which I believe New Zealand is a part, for those of you who were geography majors). That leaves Antarctica and South America. I will temper my grand global ambition enough to admit that the frostbitten scientists at the South Pole probably have better things to do than visit my blog (like set up a website to sell the rare penguinskin coats they delicately sew by hand in their free time), but my new goal is to have someone visit this blog from South America. I don't know anyone in South America, but I am sure you do, friends. Get to it! The first person to woo a South American will get a hearty virtual pat on the back from me. Or, more likely, from some guy I know, because I'm too busy for that sort of thing.

Item three: The larger-than-anticipated readership of this blog does indeed intrigue me for reasons beyond fake embellished-for-humor's-sake narcissism. I may not get Huffington Post numbers, but to be fair I don't write biting political commentary like today's top post, which is entitled, "Why I Hate Animal Lovers." So I've decided it's only fair to provide more actual content if people are legitimately interested in this country and in this experience, in the sincere hope that people will be so moved, informed, and enlightened that they'll tell all their friends to start coming to this blog, so I can turn this blog into an advertising cash flow. Ha ha! Just kidding (you think)!

That said, here are some of the topics on which I will be writing lengthy expositions in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully there will be accompanying pictures when circumstance and internet connection allow:

  • Georgia, the country (part I): Geography (Or: Cauc-Ask-Us About Our Verdant Hills)
  • Georgia, the country (part II): Geopolitics (Or: It's a Russian World, We're Vladimir-ly Living in It)
  • Georgia, the country (part III): Recent History (Or: The Rose Revolution -- Like the American Revolution, But More Colorful)
  • Georgia, the country (part IV): Current Issues (Or: Hero or Saakash-villain?)
  • Georgia, the country (part V): Guria Region (Or: Chokhat-aren't We Awesome?)
  • Georgia, the country (part VI): Food (Or: You'll Never Guess What's For Dinner!)
  • Georgia, the country (part VII): Marshutkas (Or: It's Okay, I Wasn't Using My Thigh. Feel Free to Sit on It for the Next Five Hours.)
  • Georgia, the country (part VIII): Language (Or: You've Got to be F$%^$ing Joking Me.)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part I): The Basics of PC/G (Or: Acronyms Are Fun!)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part II): Money (Or: I Cannot Afford to Pay You The Equivalent of Three Dollars For This Item.)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part III): The Rules (Or: It Is Against the Rules For Me to Tell You About the Rules Unless I Consult With My Program Manager and Sign Six Forms)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part IV): Being an American in a Foreign Land (Or: You Know I Can't Make Money Appear From the Sky, Right?)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part V): Being an American in a Georgian Household (Or: The Benefits for a Male Volunteer of Developing World Gender Norms)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part VI): Georgian NGOs (Or: How to Solve Economic, Educational, Environmental, Cultural, and Democratic Problems With Enough Time Left In the Day to Make Fake "Most Wanted" Posters About Your Coworkers)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part VII): The Hard Parts (Or: You Think You Have It Tough Now, Just Wait for February, Dude)
  • Peace Corps, the life (part VIII): The Benefits (Or: Would You Rather Poop in a Hole or Spend Ten Years Paying Off Student Loans and Working as the Assistant to the Regional Manager in Charge of Font Selection?)
I would like to mention, first, before my Peace Corps superiors have a heart attack, that any segments touching on politics or current events will be told from an entirely third-person perspective, with no personal opinions intervening whatsoever, because this is not allowed (oh, you will enjoy the entry on Peace Corps rules!). I believe that doing it in this way makes it acceptable to present what is going on here for people who might be interested (especially considering that Georgian geopolitics have actually been in the American news cycle briefly on a couple of recent occasions). I would like to mention, second, that if there are things I have forgotten to make into a category and/or that you are particularly interested in, please let me know. I am beginning to take the Peace Corps missive to inform Americans about our host country more seriously, recently, both because I think that more people should at least consider doing this, and because this region is becoming a major player in a rapidly complicating geopolitical situation. So it would be good if people knew more about it than I did before Peace Corps sent me here (to be fair, knowing where Georgia is would be more than I knew about it before I got the invitation). Also, poop.

Whew! I almost went an entire paragraph talking about serious things without saying anything immature! That was a close one, friends. I'll be more careful in the future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

About my weekend(1). Or: This post is going to be really annoying to read. (1) Because of all the footnotes.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The first draft of this blog post(1) had so many things in parentheses that the snotty side comments in said parentheses may have been taking up more space than actual narrative content. And, if I pride myself in anything as an author, it is the intuitive flow of my prose haberdasher coinery wastebasket clown. So, I have decided to place these pithy musings, which do not fit into the regular post narrative about my weekend, into footnotes, Chuck Klosterman style. Fear not, however – I shall otherwise remain completely distinguishable from Chuck Klosterman, who is a fine writer but seems like the sort of guy who gives himself plenty of Alone Time with his own press clippings, if you catch my drift.

SO ANYWAY(2), my weekend. I'm going to count Friday as part of the weekend because I got no work done. This was understandable and forgivable, because we had Very Important Guests here. From Lithuania.(3) These Lithuanians were here as part of a project that my NGO was a part of before I got here called "Strengthening of Economic and Democratic Potential of Guria Region of Georgia."(4) This project entailed sending Gurian businessmen to Lithuania for business training, to see how modern business can work in a post-Soviet country. This was in, I believe, March.(5) So, last week, the Lithuanians came to gauge the progress of the people who had gone to Lithuania for the training, to see if the project should be continued.

Naturally, when a group from a Lithuanian NGO comes to visit your town to gauge economic progress, you can expect that you will end up not only watching dozens of children, in matching blue and white UNICEF t-shirts that they got from god knows where(6), compete in sack races, but also you will start taking shots of something(7) before noon. We spent Friday morning at the local school, where we and our Lithuanian guests(8) were shown around the school like dignitaries. First, we were sung for and danced for. Then, we stepped into various classrooms, where the children stood up for us, and the head of the Lithuanian NGO(9) would ask a question like, "Do you think you're learning a lot in school?" and the children would say, "Yes." It was very informative.

After the classroom-visiting and an hour-long slideshow, it was of course time for a feast, so we went into the school director's office and had little cakes, bananas, and champagne and shots of liquor(10). I fled the room before anybody asked me to do a kegstand, because it is my policy not to consume more than three different alcoholic beverages until it is at least 1:30pm. After the mini-supra, we went to the front yard of the school, where, inexplicably, the children were all waiting for us to emerge. Apparently, they were opening a new mini soccer field that day(11), and so Virginija gave a speech to the children about how strong bodies make a strong Georgia.(12) Then we watched them christen the field with sack races and another dance.

Later on Friday, after being shown around an apparently 200-year-old house out in a village near town(13) and seeing a statue of a horse that has been helpfully placed out in the country near no major roads or places of heavy foot traffic(14), we returned to Cho(15) for a larger, more traditional feast at a local restaurant.(16) This was a normal supra, of which I have had many in the four months I’ve been here, except for the strange twist that I was sitting across from two people who actually speak English. These were two very nice girls who had come over with the Lithuanian contingent. One of them just graduated from Colgate. And they’d both been here twice before with this NGO contingent. So I was completely unsure how to present myself. On the one hand, I know more of the language than they do, I have lived here for four months, and I am an exotic Peace Corps volunteer with highly entertaining stories. On the other hand, those four months notwithstanding, there isn’t a lot of new information I can impart upon people who have actually been here before, and all my exciting stories are disgusting.(17) Also, Lithuanians understand Russian, which means they can communicate with my coworkers far more easily than I can. Which is so unfair it’s not even fair. So, here I was, thinking somehow that I should be functioning as a hilarious cultural safari guide, when really these people can and do interact better in MY (temporary) COUNTRY than I can. It was vastly weird and more than a little discomfiting, so naturally I drowned my unease with drink. This led to a phone conversation with my mother, who – naturally – picked 11pm that evening to call me, in which I believe I mostly said, “Hey, I’ve been drinking and I’m at a big party with Lithuanians and people are dancing. Can you call me back later?” Which, really, is something everyone should say to their mothers sooner or later.

Saturday was much less full but no less weird. The Lithuanians had departed, and I had decided not to leave Cho in order to save money.(18) So I told the people who run the local ECO Club(19) that I’d take part in Saturday’s meeting. I got to the office at 11, when the meeting was to start, and discovered that hundreds, maybe thousands of local youths attend this club. It is heartwarming that so many kids care so deeply about Cho’s environment.(20) This is not hyperbole – there were dozens of kids there. They had a short meeting in the office, which was conducted entirely in Georgian, so I had little choice but to spend it sitting at my computer talking about basketball with Naresh online, while a couple of the kids stared at my Mac.(21)

After the discussion, the group went to a nearby park to play some games. They begged me to come with them, so I did, thinking I’d just watch them play some fun ecological games. Which is what I did, if by “just watch” you mean “be told to give a speech about the Boy Scouts in America and how that relates to a local, completely unrelated ECO Club in the Republic of Georgia.” So I talked about the importance of ecology and, um, camping and stuff, and I’m sure it was about as inspiring as a lackadaisical, unprepared speech can be, especially when it’s given by an unshaven man who is sucking on a popsicle.(22)

Then it got even more fun. We started playing games that relate to the environment, like, “Try to Say Everyone’s Name Quickly,”(23) and, “Slap Your Knees When I Say This But Slap Your Cheeks When I Say That.”(24) But the most funnest game was where everyone stood in a circle – and oh, Dani, you have to play! – and then said something they liked about the person standing next to them. I was standing next to a ten year old girl. I said I liked her jeans because the word for jeans was the only Georgian word I could think of that hadn’t been used by someone else already.(25) But – ha ha ha, this is so funny when you think about it – the twist is that, then, you have to kiss the thing you said on that person! OMG, right? So, in front of about 30 complete strangers, I had to kneel down to kiss the leg of a ten year old girl whose father, for all I know, might be bigger than Randy Savage. Ha ha! I went for the knee. Feel free to discuss, in the comments section, the most appropriate place for a grown man to kiss a ten year old girl’s leg. I value communal discussion on such important matters. This, incidentally, is an example of the benefits of not knowing a language particularly well. I would have complimented the girl’s earrings, if I’d been able to remember the word for them.

So, that was my weekend. After the events of Friday and Saturday, I decided to take a day off, and did not therefore actually get out of bed on Sunday until just after 4pm.(26) So, let’s review. Please use the comments section to tell me which of these you feel to be the most embarrassing:
1) Relying on a foreign tourist to translate what your supervisor is saying to you
2) Kissing a ten year old on the knee in front of thirty other children
3) Not getting out of bed until 4pm

Vote now, vote often! Because, as I teach my Documentary Club, Your Voice Is Important! Make Yourself Heard!(27)

(1)Yes, blog posts sometimes have drafts. I live in a village. There are usually four hours per night for which I must come up with something to do to distract myself from the language study I should be doing instead. My other activity this evening consisted of deciding on the song order for the last CD of a Halloween party playlist for this upcoming Saturday. I vociferously demanded the right to mix the music for this party, because my ability to select music for parties is paralleled, as measured by amount-of-time-I-spend bragging-about-it, only by my unblemished Jeopardy record. I cannot reveal the results of this session in full until after the party, in case a volunteer happens to be reading this, but I can tell you that a Chumbawumba song is followed at some point by a Boyz II Men song. It’s going to be off the hizz-ook.
(2)If you understand this joke, the joke is sadly on you, and you should put down “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” and read a real book, like “Git ‘R Dunne: A History of Literary Dominicks,” by Larry the Cable Guy.
(3)National motto: "No, Estonia Is Over There"
(4)Project Motto: “Our Title Is Almost As Long as the Stupid Footnote Joke Following It”
(6)Probably from UNICEF, smartass.
(7)Probably alcohol, smartass.
(8)I was also sort of a guest during this whole circus; people still treat me like a guest, and I've never been to the school before, but I also actually live here, so I really had no idea how to act. I didn't want to act like I was just as much of a guest as the people who were actually guests, but I also couldn't act like I know everything because I, um, don't. More on this later.
(9)Her name is Virginija. This is amusing because one of the things I do at my NGO is help them when they want to type an e-mail in English. Usually, these e-mails are to Virginija. Until Virginija came to Georgia, I assumed that my coworkers had been misspelling her name, and changed it in each e-mail to “Virginia.” I could have looked on one of the certificates we have from the training in Lithuania, all of which contain her name, but I did not do this. This week I found out that she apparently hates it when her name is misspelled in the manner that I had been misspelling it – and, incidentally, labeling the e-mail as from someone else – for about a month. Oops.
(10)See: post on this blog, every single other, for an index of reasons why it is acceptable in this culture to serve liquor in an elementary school before noon
(11)They have bite-sized caged astroturf soccer fields all over the place in this country, for kids to play in. They’re nice looking, actually, but super tiny. I don’t know how you can play actual soccer in them. These kids in Europe just don’t respect the game.
(12)And how the power is with the proletariat, and how we must love Mother Russia. Soviet speechmaking habits die hard.
(13)The house was pretty cool, actually. It had the most detailed cellar wine-making operation I’ve yet seen up close in this country. I will post the photos when I get a chance.
(14)Although you should not assume that, since it was a random statue of a random horse next to a random bridge in a random village, I did not get my picture taken sitting on it. This photo will also, God willing, be soon forthcoming.
(15)This is the endlessly cute shortened name given to my town by the volunteer who was here before me. I use it not because it’s cute, but because it’s easier to say than “Chokhatauri.” Also, it’s easier to embroider on all of my stuffed animals.
(16)This was one of the major breakthroughs of the weekend. I had, literally, not known of a single restaurant in my town before this. It just doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would have a restaurant in the first place. To my surprise, this resraurant is in the building next to my office, and there’s a sign outside labeled, “Restaurant.” But, in my defense, it’s a faded sign on a dilapidated building underneath another sign for a dentist’s office. And the curtains on the windows are always closed. So I am excused for not noticing it until now. The next day, I saw ANOTHER restaurant, for a current running total of two. I will keep a tally for the readers of this blog that will keep you up to date on the number of restaurants I am currently aware of in my village/town (2) and the number of patrons I have ever seen at either, excluding our large Friday night supra (0).
(17)Conservatively, 97% of them involve talking about squat toilets. The other 3% involve hilarious pantomimes of using squat toilets.
(18)Volunteer money issues may merit its own post, since it’s a subject people tend to wonder about. Suffice it to say, this month, due to the breast cancer walk, I was allowed to stay overnight out of site (Cho) for two extra weekends. Since you spend money much more quickly when you’re out of site with other volunteers, I’ve spent a lot of money this month, so I decided to shut it down this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming weekend’s Halloween party.
(19)I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned/described ECO Project yet. If I haven’t, I will.
(20)It probably has nothing to do with getting the opportunity to go to ECO-sponsored summer camps that you’re only allowed to go to if you regularly attend a club.
(21)If you travel to a developing country and are bringing a laptop, just bring a PC. People don’t know what Macs are here, and my amazing machine is the source of endless annoying fascination.
(22)I was, in fact, sucking on a popsicle that a nice young girl in the club had just given me. Nothing gives speeches an air of authority like a Blow Pop sticking out of your mouth whilst giving them.
(23)This game teaches kids about the importance of water conservation.
(24)This game teaches kids not to poach rare game in the wild.
(25)I know what you’re thinking: what is the word for jeans? It’s pronounced, “jeensi.” Please continue to marvel at the difficulty of the language I am learning. Actually, wait. That word isn’t a very good example. How about the word, “gadavtzxvidav,” which means, “I will decide,” or, “vxvdebi,” meaning, “I meet.” So shut up.
(26)This is true. I woke up at about 1:30 and then watched a movie and an episode of Family Guy in bed without standing up.
(27)Unless you are the leader of a prominent opposition political party and the particular message you’re spreading is that the President ordered someone’s murder. Then you go to jail. Ha ha! Post-Soviet democracy, friends. A subject for another post, to be written when I decide that the most expedient way to finish my Peace Corps service is to get kicked out.

For the family-types. Or: The human family, that is. Don't you dare skip this post.

For all the family-types who read this blog, here is an amusing photograph of a whiteboard I used yesterday during my English lesson at work, which was centered around practicing the discussion of families:
Just so you know how famous you are.....among the four people who attended this lesson. We spent a good hour talking about you. I also realized that I am not, with 100% certainty, sure exactly how many children each of my relatives has. This is a Bad Thing. I must sit at the losers table at the next family reunion.

There may be a more lengthy post about English lessons, which are ridiculous, because I am not qualified whatsoever to teach them. But not right now, because I am about to unload upon you a truly brobdingnagian (props to post that I wrote last night. Are you watching? Watch this. Watch what I do right here. Bam!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Now is the winter of *my* discontent. Or: Really? That's how big the office heater is?

Friends, winter has struck with the grace and delicacy of an overweight transvestite prostitute who used to fight the undercard in the UFC and thinks you haven't paid him/her/it enough (do they ever think you've paid them enough?). Two days ago, it was quite summer-y. I was thinking, cheerily, "Boy, I'll never have to use the electric heater or sleeping bag provided to us by the Peace Corps!", which is good, because to use this electric heater requires a lot of electricity for which you must reimburse your host family by either paying them or installing an Extra-Current-Producing Stationary Bicycle (given the electricity problems this country has experienced -- and I would recommend the excellent documentary "Power Trip" as educational viewing on this subject -- I presume that the only reason such stationary bicycles don't actually exist is because nobody here has thought of using one for this purpose).

I was an idiot.

Two nights ago it rained quite heavily, and when I woke up yesterday whoaaaa was it cold. And raining. And generally miserable. Today it has been the same, as you can see from this illuminating photograph of me at my desk:

While this photograph is mildly exaggerated (I am not that cold right now, but I'm certainly not super-warm), it does show two things:

1) I am wearing a sweatshirt, indicating that I lack warmth
2) I am sporting a beard, indicating that I lack common sense and decency towards my fellow man

I have not decided whether I am going to keep this beard past Halloween, since the reason for its existence is super-secret and Halloween-related (a clue: faithful readers of this blog will understand the joke when it is revealed. The archives must be dissected for clues!). It will depend on whether it seems to be keeping me warmer. I don't know whether beards that are not of a Grizzly Adams variety actually affect warmth, since, the only time I've ever had one of any fullness, I lived in Los Angeles. But the problem of staying warm here is grave enough, according to the tales of older volunteers, that I may want to keep it around to protect me from the bitter chill, and pretty girls. We are told that the problem of warmth is manifested most disgustingly in the arena of bathing. See, (most) Georgian homes do not have central heating. People heat one central room in their homes (usually the kitchen) with a small wood stove, called a petchi. This means that the rest of the home is quite cold. Including the bathroom. You know that feeling you get when you step out of a hot shower, and it's either really cold outside or kind of cold, and you feel as if you are freezing for a few moments until you get clothes on and into a more heated part of your home? Imagine that feeling, except that you are literally freezing, because you are covered in water in a room that may or may not be above the freezing temperature of said substance (water). I have heard stories of volunteers who do not bathe for weeks at a time, because of how uncomfortable it is to do so. I heard a story this weekend from a volunteer who was taking a hot shower in February (apparently the coldest month) and was covered in soapy lather when, suddenly, the hot water went out in his house, and he found himself standing in a torrent of icy death. His choices were:

1) finish rinsing his body off in literally freezing water,
2) turn the water off and stand there freezing until he could put clothes on over the soap that still covered his body,
3) murder a Hoth camel and find warmth in its carcass.

This is not something I look forward to. Luckily, it is not this bad yet, and showers will probably be only mildly uncomfortable for a while. The temperature isn't likely to dip too far this soon, and may hopefully go back up for a while. Or it may plummet. I have no idea. I live in fear of the future. All of the G6 volunteers describe this past February as the time in their lives when they were most capable of murdering another human being. But dread of the future is what keeps us so wonderfully alive, isn't it, friends? It's the intoxicating possibility that you will be miserably unhappy quite soon that makes you so happy to be moderately less unhappy today! Always keep that in mind, friends.

My next missive to you shall be from inside the carcass of a Hoth camel. It's not too nerdy to make that reference, is it? Everyone knows that reference. And it's almost assuredly not the actual name of whatever creature that was. Just to be safe, I think I'll go use some power tools, to even myself out. Until next time, friends.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thanks for your patronage! Or: Wait, is he being patronizing?

Friends, one should never install webcounters on one's blog. Specifically, one should not install a webcounter that shows the geographic location of each hit (Sorry, that term may be a little "inside" the blogging biz for you -- see, the internets are made up of a series of tubes, through which tiny gnomes run, grabbing information and bringing it back to your computer. These gnomes are affectionately called "hits," an ancient term whose meaning is lost to antiquity). These geographic webcounters are geoGRAPHIC, if you'll allow me a capitalization pun. I have been fascinated with mine for several days. Of course, the fascination with the webcounter is no surprise -- my desire for a numerical way to analyze how much you love me is a given. Alas, my fascination, in reality, has been not with the number itself, but with the location of the numbers. There's someone reading this blog who lives in India. There's someone reading this blog who lives in Belgium. I don't know anyone in Belgium. And I know someone in India, but I know that this person is not the source of this blog "hit" because the strange person in India sent me a Gmail message. I was unaware that I have an inexplicable global audience. It is, in a way, heartwarming, because it means that the message of global peace, acceptance, and aid has yet another means of dissemination (cultural acceptance note to my Belgian readership: America isn't so bad. We're a fun people. Some of us like to work in the Peace Corps. And all of us enjoy your waffles. Tell your European friends!). And yet it is terrifying, because I was under the impression that I had maybe three readers of this blog, one of which was my mother (cultural acceptance note to my mother readership: in many cultures, parents send packages to their Peace Corps Volunteer offspring). So now I have to rethink the content of this blog to make it more desirable and entertaining to my worldwide audience. There will, therefore, be several new regular elements to this blog, carefully selected to appeal to the widest possible audience:

Element 1: Pornography
Everyone likes pornography. Here, then, is some hot action:

This is a photograph of my friend Roo with his Georgian counterparts. He sent me this photograph with no explanation of why none of them are wearing shirts, or whether any of them are wearing pants. Knowing Roo, they probably are not. This photograph is reprinted without any permission from the author whatsoever, copyright 2007.

Element 2: Photos of small children or animals wearing cute hats

Everyone also likes cute photographs, like this one:

This is the granddaughter of my Training host mother, wearing one of my hats. I'll pause a minute to let you say "ohmygodthat'sthecutestthingi'veeverseen" to whoever is in the vicinity.
Her name is Irma (it's even cuter than that, actually. Her grandmother, at that time my host mother, is also named Irma, so the girl is referred to as "patara Irma," which means, "little Irma"). This is a good time to mention that host mother Irma, according to my friend whose site is the city where I lived during training, is apparently upset that I have not called her in the almost two months since I left. I have not done this for two reasons: we never use our phones for calling, because it is expensive and we do not get paid money, and I am abjectly terrified of being in phone conversations with Georgians who do not speak English. I have to do it occasionally, but the conversation is always awkward because I don't speak their language well enough to actually have one. So, instead of a conversation, it goes like this (entirely in Georgian):

Irma: "Hello?"
Me: "Hello? I am Dani."
Irma: "Hello, Dani. (something something something something something) Where are you?"
Me: "I am in the park."
Irma: "(Something something something something something something)"
Me: ".......9 o'clock?"
Irma: "(something something something something something)"
Me: "Um. Um. I am in the park. With Georgians. They want us drinking beer with him. They have food, also. He buys me vodka."
Irma: "(something something something something something something)"
Me: "...Yes."
Irma: "(something that may resemble a question about when I will be home, or that might be informing me that the house has caught fire and that I must return immediately)"
Me: "I will be home later. Goodbye."

So, this is why I don't want to call her. I miss her and intend to visit her in two weeks, but I cannot possibly engage in not only a conversation, but a conversation without any sort of available visual clues if I do not understand what she is saying. I will probably call her tonight anyway, spending the remaining amount of money on my phone card to say, "What? What? I do not understand. I am happy and I like work. I will be home later."

Element 3: Specific differences between Georgia and America, so that everyone can learn things about other cultures.

Difference of the day: Georgian pillows are enormous.

So, Georgian pillows are enormous. They're like two American pillows put together, and stuffed with sand. They are not particularly malleable, and they weigh, conservatively, 8,000 kilograms each. You have to be careful not to hurt yourself sleeping on these pillows. Injuries can be of the neck variety, or can also be of the crushed-sternum variety if you (as I do) tend to turn over several times during the night, because it is easy, when you are shifting a pillow across your body, to misjudge how much effort this will take in your half-asleep stupor, and to either smack yourself in the face with it or actually fling yourself off the bed if you use too much arm and don't let go of the pillow as it goes flying towards the wall. This has not happened yet, but it has come close to happening, and it has become a basic inevitability at this point. I hope you've learned something.

Element 4: Actual recording for posterity my actions as a Peace Corps volunteer so people can be more informed about zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This past weekend, I was again in Kutaisi, this time to observe an ECO Project training session and to discuss with a fellow volunteer our plans to create a breast cancer awareness and education video to be used in conjunction with the Breast Cancer Awareness walk that her organization.....organizes. It was much less eventful than last weekend, but it was a good time and quite productive, actually. On Sunday, the group of us went to a cafe (we found out about this cafe last weekend -- it has good pizza and AMAZING Caesar salad. It might be the only place in this country with amazing Caesar salad outside the Marriott in Tbilisi, where a Caesar salad costs $435, depending on that day's exchange rate) and talked about ECO Project, which is probably the biggest volunteer-initiated project in Georgia and consists of ecology clubs for youth in communities around the country, as well as three large camps for the kids in these camps each summer. I also had a long discussion about the breast cancer video. All in all, it was pretty much literally a business lunch, and we talked constructively about a lot of stuff. And it really reinforced how difficult the work I do every day is -- I could never have had that depth of conversation, group-work, and problem-analysis here at my office, because they don't speak English. Translators (who are not always available anyway) make spontaneous conversation impossible, especially when they're not professional translators and often have to struggle with the translation. Blurghh. I am hoping work gets easier, soon.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hand cramps of the rich and famous. Or: seriously, can I get an aspirin or something?

A difference between Georgia and America: in America, my boss used to allow me to drink a beer out of the minifridge in his office on Friday evenings at the end of the work day. In Georgia, it is Monday, and my computer is being threatened with deadly harm if I do not comply with my coworkers' request to pound shots of firewater cognac.

A difference between Georgia and America: in America, you need to either (a) be accomplished in your field and famous for those accomplishments or (b) show your vagina a lot to photographers in order for your signature to be considered of value. In Georgia, you need merely to be American, I guess.

Confused? I was, too. This weekend, I was in Kutaisi (the second largest city in Georgia) along with many other volunteers, helping to run a breast cancer awareness walk that is set up every year by the Peace Corps volunteers who live there. My job was to record the proceedings on my videocamera, for part of a breast cancer informational video that I will hopefully be helping a fellow volunteer to produce over the next several months. So I was standing around before the race, with nothing in particular to record at that moment, when I was approached by three giggling fifteen year old Georgian girls. One of them help up her camera phone and said the Georgian word for "Is it allowed?" (sheidzleba, if you care, which you don't). I assumed that she meant, "Can you take a photo of us?" This, friends, is not what she meant. She wanted to know if I would let a friend of hers take a photo of her with me. I have seen this phenomenon before -- usually in bars, where drunken Georgian men sometimes want to take photos OF us, not usually WITH us -- but the enthusiasm of these girls was perplexing. I told them I would, smiled for the camera, and thought little more of the incident. But then, a short time later, I was approached again by a group of other girls with the same request. This time, after I said yes, I was descended upon by a horde of them, and I spent the next ten minutes with my arms uncomfortably around the shoulders of young girls, smiling for camera phones.

Then it got even better. The horde of youngsters who were milling around the park, waiting for the walk to begin, decided they wanted autographs. Not just from me -- how I wish that I was such a prototypical specimen of Americana that mine would be the most desired signature -- they were asking all the volunteers to sign t-shirts or notebooks. None of us knew whether we were supposed to write anything alongside our names. One volunteer started writing, "Awareness is the key!" next to his name. I wrote, "Thanks for coming!" for the first girl, and then just started signing my name -- on t-shirt after t-shirt after t-shirt. Eventually, another volunteer and I decided it would be fun to turn the request on its head, and we started asking the Georgian kids to sign our shirts. Turns out a LOT of them thought this was a great idea. I now have an official breast cancer walk t-shirt covered in the signatures of barely-pubescent Georgian youth. It may now be my second-most-cherished Georgian item, behind my "friendship match" certificate (see the photo post from several weeks ago).

Apparently, I was also on the news Saturday night, within the footage taken by Georgian journalists of this walk. I may have been captured on camera purely incidentally while I was backpedaling in front of the large banner being carried at the front of the walking horde, filming the First Lady of Georgia talking to another volunteer. Whatevs, you know? Pshhh. It's not the first time I've been on the news in this country. I am not actually certain that I've told this story; we'd only been in-country a week, holed up at a hotel for orientation, and we were finally out in the real world, in a large throng to meet our new host families for the 10 weeks of training. The Georgian media was there, and one channel stuck a camera in my face and asked, through a PCV translator, whether I liked Georgia. I was hot, dressed up, nervous to meet my new host family, and not really thinking. So I said, "Georgia is awesome!" and gave the camera a thumbs up. This was then shown to what I assume to be the entire country on television that night. I got several text messages about it (the host family I met shortly after this encounter does not have television, so I never actually saw it), and I have yet to live it down among my groupmates.

I keep saying it, friends: Peace Corps life is tough. Getting on the news, talking to the First Lady and the American Ambassador, signing can take a huge toll, mentally and physically. My hand is all cramped up, for instance. And my stomach hurt on Saturday night because I ate too much pizza and bean dip at a pre-walk soiree held at the fancifully appointed home of the American head of a large NGO here (where I spent a weird few minutes chatting about baseball with the aforementioned American Ambassador, who is a very nice man from Wisconsin named John Tefft). Please spare me your sympathy, and redirect it instead towards the children. All of them. They require your sympathy. Because they're insufferable buggers. Some things are not different in Georgia. A 2-year-old child yesterday, for instance, threw up in a marshutka on my friend's bag, and didn't even apologize or offer to help clean it up before he started bawling cutely. Jeez. Pull yourself together, kid. It's a hard world out there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

That old post title schtick was stupid. Or: Wait eagerly for the return of the old post title schtick!

Hello there. Just wanted to give a quick update and mention the new feature on the sidebar. This is my sixth week at site. Things are going okay; it's still taking a while to figure out what my role is going to be here. And, for some reason, it's become kind of difficult for me to keep learning the language. I feel as if I've kind of hit a bit of a plateau, which is obviously bad news because very few people around my organization speak much English. Hopefully, if I start getting tutoring with an actual English speaker, as my coworkers have promised to arrange (until now, my tutoring has been with the very nice but not-much-English-speaking accountant here, which makes lessons difficult), that will kick-start my brain again.

The work that I'm doing, since many of you have been asking about it, has been quite variable both in subject and success. I've been building my organization a website ( -- although I haven't finished it yet, so some of the links won't work yet), which took much of my first month here, due to a whole bunch of problems (including but not limited to: my organization really had no idea what goes into building a website, and they STILL haven't gotten me all the information I need for it); that's been a mild success, I suppose. I've also started trying to introduce the idea of time management, which requires having a strategic plan for the organization going forward. Both of these are foreign concepts here (I was met, at what turned out to be quite a raucous meeting I called yesterday, with almost literally blank stares when I started talking about these subjects), and it's going to be difficult to do anything but present the information to them. Whether they decide to form a strategic plan and to start managing their time accordingly would then be up to them.

I am also starting a club called "Document Your World Club," which if it goes as planned will get kids to start thinking about their lives and the problems that they see, and will help them write about those problems and use photos and video to augment that. So I've been spending a lot of time working on that, but it hasn't started yet, so I can't say whether or not it's going to work like I hope it will. The kids I've talked to about it seem excited, so it may end up being a problem of resources -- I'm doing this club at my organization and another organization in a nearby town, which had a previous documentary club, which means that the other organization has a bunch of resources for the club's use, whereas the organization I work at doesn't have any. I haven't figured out a solution to this problem yet. We shall see.

In other news, I've actually gotten to IM with a couple of you in the last couple of days, since the internet connection for my laptop has finally been set up at my office, allowing me to use ichat instead of AIMExpress, which never works here. So that's an excellent development personally, but I'm going to have to limit the time I'm on AIM, since I have, you know, actual work to do for which I am being paid a TREMENDOUS amount by the taxpayers of the United States of America. Haha.

Finally, if you look to the right of this post, you'll see a new icon for a podcast that's being put together by volunteers here about life in Georgia. I'd describe the podcast to you, but I haven't downloaded the first episode yet because my connection is terrible. I am sure that it is terrific and informative and hilarious, however, and I require all of you to download it immediately -- I am contractually obligated to strenuously recommend this, because cultural education of America about Georgia is one part of our job description in Peace Corps. So, do that, and download the future episodes of the podcast as well, because I'm sure the people working on it are working quite hard. That is all.

This post was disjointed, poorly written, and not particularly informative, I think. Next time I'll do better! Life is all about improvement, friends. This is what you learn when you work in development. Case of improvement in point: Illinois football, 4-1. I cannot believe I am excited about Illinois football. They haven't been decent since two years before the last time the Cubs made the playoffs, and now Illinois football is relevant AND the Cubs are in the playoffs, and I'm across the god damned world. I'd say that God hated me, but then the BBC World at my house might go away.