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.

1 comment:

mom said...

thank you for the N.W.A. reference
-the mother