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.

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