Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Puppy punnery, part two. Or: People who throw darts too hard, Memphis, the Finnish, and other things/people that do not please me.

Hello again. If you (a) did not get a chance to read the last post before I removed it, and just as importantly (b) give any sort of rat's ass (I am not assuming this to be true), it is possible you are curious as to (a) why there is an edited post that makes some sort of reference to a dog, and just as importantly (b) what god-given reason could exist that caused me to cryptically remove it. I shall reveal all...right now! Or, at least, after several paragraphs of bloviating.

The post referred to something that happened two Thursdays ago; in short, I came home to discover that my host brother had found newborn puppies under our house. He'd only been able to reach one of them; the other two were too far under the house. The one he'd been able to extract was sitting in a box in our driveway. He and I had a discussion about whether the mother, who was likely a street dog (of which there are many, in Georgia), would come back for them. We agreed (at least, I thought we did) that it was unlikely, and I decided I wanted to try to save the one puppy we'd been able to reach. I took it out of the box, and walked around holding and feeding it for the rest of that evening. The source of the ensuing hilarity (Hollywood term!) was thus: my host brother vehemently disagreed with this course of action. He felt that the puppy had "bacteria" all over it, and that it would make me very sick, and that I should put it back in its box immediately and take a thorough shower. He also thought it might scratch me and give me rabies. I tried to explain that the dirt on its fur was basically harmless, as long as I washed my hands, and that it wasn't possible for the puppy to have rabies yet, since it hadn't eaten anything. I told him that I would call a doctor if it would make him happy. He agreed to this, but remained very angry with me for not doing what he'd asked.

The next day, I took the puppy to work with me, where, after initial discomfort, my coworkers began to take quite a liking to it. I even bought it a blanket and some baby formula. That afternoon, for a work meeting, my host brother showed up at the office, staring daggers at me. According to him, the mother had come back (the truth of this claim was never verified), and I should have left the dog at home, and now it was my fault that it was going to die. Well. I took sharp exception to this, and when I got home from work, we had the Argument In A Non-Native Language to end all Arguments in a Non-Native Language. We basically yelled at each other for a half hour -- him saying that I ask his family for "many things" (which is not true), and that he has never asked anything of me (not true), and that he could never trust me or cooperate with me since I had not done the one thing he'd ever asked me to do (accept that invisible lethal bacteria and rabies covered the fur of a newborn puppy and posed a danger to my very life), while I attempted to explain in a language I am nowhere near mastering that this was an isolated incident, that I respected his home and his family, and that I had simply been doing something I felt to be necessary to save the life of a puppy. At this point, however, I knew I didn't have a choice but to acquiesce to his wishes if I wanted to stay in his home, so I didn't intervene when he grabbed the puppy and flung it back under the house, claiming that he'd known all along that the mother would come back and now the other two would be safe while this one would die because I'd touched it. Amusingly, part of my host brother's argument that I did not respect his family was the fact that I haven't been teaching him English, and thus it is impossible for us to communicate -- an argument that he made to me in Georgian, that I understood in Georgian, and to which I responded...in Georgian. To my host family, anything less than fluency on my part means that I know no Georgian and should really be teaching them English. This is brought up every time I don't know a word that is spoken and every time I need to use the dictionary. Anyway.

I was almost literally shaking with anger after this argument; I was furious that he felt this way about me, and that he discounted all of my attempts to fit into his family and to leave as small a footprint as possible simply because I didn't want to do MORE work when I got home from the job I'm HERE to do. I wrote an enormous post about the incident, which both recounted it and discussed the inherent difficulty of, and my highly mixed feelings about, living with a host family in this country. I think it's an interesting topic, especially for those of you who read this blog because you are soon to leave America for a similar situation of your own, whether it be in Georgia or another post, so I'm going to devote an entire post to it, hopefully tomorrow. But, the reason that I took the post down requires me to describe what happened the next Monday, so instead of delving into Better Know a Georgia: Host Families in this post, I'll spend the rest of it recapping a mildly interesting last couple of blog-free weeks.

Two days after Dogapalooza, I headed to Kutaisi to meet some friends for an excursion to a nearby place called Sataplia ("place where the honey is"). I wasn't sure what, exactly, we were going to FIND there; I'd been told that there was "a cave and some dinosaur footprints" there. Hm. Dinosaur footprints. You'd think that dinosaur footprints would be an important archaeological artifact, and that knowledge of such an artifact would be widespread in a country that has such pride in its history. And, perhaps, Georgians DO all know about it. But I hadn't ever heard of it, and neither had the volunteer who proposed the excursion, who said he'd read about it in his tenth-form English textbook. After picking up some supplies for our trip (beer and granola), we hired a couple taxis to take us to Sataplia, from which we planned to hike the few km back to Kutaisi when we were done. The taxis took us just outside of town, where there was a REALLY bad road (even for Georgia) branching into the countryside, at which intersection there was a large, dilapidated sign with "Sataplia" and a drawing of a brontosaurus on it (to be fair, this drawing was probably created under the strict supervision of a credentialed paleontologist, or at least someone who owned a paint set). We followed this road for a few kilometres, our jaws rattling with each enormous pothole and my mind wondering just how much abuse my computer, contained within a backpack on the backseat, could take, until we came upon a forested area that was really quite nice. There was a gate, and a house-like building, and a trail leading down a hill. So. This was Sataplia. The guided tour trams must have been in the shop for repairs. Also, I didn't see any honey, nor anything that could have lent the name "Place where honey is" to this particular place. But it was a very nice forested area, nonetheless.

A man came out of the house and walked towards us. We explained that we were there to see the footprints and the cave, and he offered to take us. Wary of being asked to PAY him, which we did not want to do, we begged out of his offer, and strutted self-importantly down the trail (after, in order to placate the man, we allowed him to show us a large dinosaur diorama inside the house). At the bottom of the trail, we found the entrance to the cave. The cave stretched majestically from the mouth of a large rock down into blackness, and we would have been able to see it and marvel, except for the trifling fact that the entrance was covered with a large iron door and locked. The curator (or whatever he is), being an apparently patient and good-humored man, had followed us down the hill, and offered again to let us in. This time, graciously, and after much conferral, we allowed him to assist us, and he unlocked the door. We entered the cave, ready to gaze upon its wonder and majesty. At which point we noticed that there was no light in the cave. An eagle-eyed member of our party spotted a light fixture in the ceiling of the cave, meaning there WAS or at some point had been electricity, just, you know, not at the moment. So we inched our way down what seemed like a narrow and dangerous path (but which was actually a nicely paved walkway with guardrails), armed only with a flashlight and our cellphones, and we experienced the cave through these narrow bands of light and via the pictures we were taking with our cameras (SNAP - "Oh, look how nice that part of the cave is! I'm glad I randomly pointed my camera at that particular section of what looks to my eyes like inescapable blackness!"). It did, at least from the photos we took, seem like a very nice cave, and the guide bragged that it contains the "largest heart-shaped stalagmite in the world." So it's got that going for it. Which is nice.

After exiting the cave, we took a break to drink beer and eat granola, because that is what Man does in The Nature, before we set off for the Exciting Dinosaur Footprints. It turns out that the beer-drinking part of the expedition was a little more exciting than the part where we saw eons-old preserved footprints. The footprints ended up being indentations in a giant slope of what could have either been eons-old sedimentary rock, or poured Soviet concrete. The only thing keeping the hordes away from these Important Archaeological Discoveries was a fence with a broken gate, so we took the opportunity to go take immature pictures of ourselves on the footprints, knowing full-well that you could never lie on an exhibit at, say, the Chicago Field Museum, while pretending to take your shirt off. We did this while engaging in a spirited discussion about whether these were real dinosaur footprints or a failed Soviet attempt at creating a tourist attraction ("People won't come just for a cave...Hey, I have an idea!"). Then we walked back to Kutaisi, ate, and headed to the nearby village where one of the volunteers with us lives to spend the night.

The next day, I traveled to Tbilisi, since I had a couple of ECO Project meetings on Monday. These meetings were relatively uninteresting (except for the fact that one of them occurred in a compound that, after seven months in a village, might as well have been Buckingham Palace -- we even got laminated Guest passes -- and the other one occurred in a brightly colored office with tastefully arranged workspaces that nearly made one of my companions faint while he sputtered something about how amazing the office was and would anyone be interested in his resume), but we will -- finally -- get back to the topic of the beginning of this post with what happened afterwards. I went back to the Peace Corps office for a meeting with my Program Manager, to discuss the difficulty I was having getting traction with my assignment and ideas for bridging the communication and activity gap in order to get substantive work started. Near the end of the meeting, I got a text message from a coworker. It said that she'd read my post about the puppy on Facebook (where I cross-post these posts for particularly lazy people), and that we should talk about "your problems" when I got back to Cho. This shocked me -- not only had I not realized that she knew how to check Facebook for such things, but I would never have thought her capable of reading one of these posts. Frequent readers of this blog will know that this post, for example, is not an aberration -- I always write like I'm trying to win some sort of prize for most extravagantly convoluted sentence structure and most inelegantly complicated verbiage. I was, in a sense, proud that her English ability had improved so much. I was also mortified that she'd read, and at least partially understood, a post that I'd written in the heat of anger. I texted her back, explaining that I didn't have any problems, that I'd been angry, and that we didn't have anything we needed to talk about. Realizing how bad an idea it had been to post it in the first place, I pulled the post. So. Now you know. By the way, I know that it must seem kind of stupid to talk about this incident again, given that she read about it LAST time, but this post is much more level-headed, and thus more deserving of a permanent space in the internet ether.

Just to round out the events-since-I-last-posted topic: The weekend after this happened, I went back to Tbilisi to watch basketball; UCLA was in the Final Four for the third straight year. I attended the last two Final Fours, only to see UCLA lose in both, and while I was very happy that they were back this year, I was a little depressed that they might win the national title the ONE year (ok, one of the TWO years) that I was out of the country. I went with some friends to an expatriate bar in Tbilisi that Friday night, to ask the owner if she'd stay open until 2am Sunday, when the UCLA game was going to be televised, and let us watch it on the bar's American Forces Network feed. I don't particularly like going to this bar, but the owner is really friendly to us, and we thought she might be willing to stay open. Turns out, she wasn't, but to her immense credit she did offer to tape the game, and to show it to us on Sunday morning if we came for breakfast. We agreed to this arrangement (I begged her to stay open and offered to pay her "as many lari as you want," but nobody else had a vested interest in the game, so I was the only one who wasn't immediately satisfied by her solution), played some darts, and left once some creepy Georgian men horned in on our game, started to hit on the girls, and created several holes in the wall with their full-body dart throwing motion (I don't know how to say "throwing" in Georgian, so I started yelling at them, "You're playing TOO HARD! You're playing TOO HARD!"). This seems irrelevant, but will soon become quite relevant indeed.

Saturday night's festivities whittled the number of people who ACTUALLY ended up wanting to wake up Sunday morning for breakfast and basketball to two, including me. I showed up at the bar to wait for the other person, only to discover that the owner had been unable to find the proper channel the night before to tape the game. I sat down in front of the large-screen TV, dejectedly, and noticed that it was showing a repeat of Sportscenter. I didn't think I'd be able to see the game after all, so I didn't turn away, and I saw that UCLA had lost. Even more dejectedly, I continued to wait for my friend as Sportscenter ended, and the ESPN feed began showing...wait for it...wait for it: a repeat of the UCLA game I had wanted to watch in the first place, except now I knew that UCLA would lose. When my friend got to the bar, he wanted to watch the game without knowing the ending, so I didn't tell him, and we watched it over some delicious but overpriced breakfasts. He figured out after I repeatedly reacted with "meh" to well-played UCLA possessions that I knew UCLA would lose.

This would be a bad enough Sunday morning as is -- the third consecutive year of watching my alma mater lose THISCLOSE to a national championship. But no. While we were watching, the owner of the bar came up to me and told me that my friends and I had walked out on our tab on Friday night. Assuming her to be completely correct, I apologized profusely and expressed my profound embarrassment at the error, explaining that we had been fleeing creepy men and must have forgotten, and I paid the 26 lari tab (the friend I was with that morning hadn't been there, so the repayment was all on me). I called a friend who had been there that night, to relay this information, and she told me that we had 100% without a doubt paid the tab before leaving. Now, I am assuming that the owner of this particular expatriate bar is not a thieving liar, and that she does not have swindling employees. The only conclusion we could come to was that the creepy Georgian men must have stolen the money after we bailed. So, to summarize that Sunday morning for me: (1) finding out that UCLA lost their Final Four game and then having to watch the entire game without saying anything (2) having to pay 26 lari because someone stole our tab two nights before. But wait! It gets better.

I had a giant box full of framed photographs that I'd gotten made that weekend for my documentary club; they were photos that the children in the club had taken, and I was bringing them back to Cho in nice frames to put up on the walls of my organization. This box was very heavy, and I had to get it back to Cho somehow, but I was not headed straight back to site on Sunday afternoon, as is usually the case (reason why forthcoming). So my plan was to send the box by itself on a marshutka, and have someone pick it up when it got to Cho -- this is something people do often (really, other than the fact that there's never enough space to be comfortable in a marshutka, it's a nice system of transportation). I took a cab, with this giant box, to one of the two big marshutka stations in Tbilisi, only to be told that there weren't any marshutkas going to Cho that afternoon from that station (ok, maybe it'd be a better system of transportation if there were regular timetables), so I had to pay the cabdriver more money to take me halfway back across town to the other one. When I got there, there was only one marshutka displaying a "Chokhatauri" sign. I asked the driver when he was leaving. As it turns out, the answer was complicated: he was supposed to leave at 4, but he didn't have enough passengers yet, and if he didn't get "enough" by 4, he was going to just go home, and not make the trip. "But I really have to send this box," I said. "It's for children. It's very important." We discussed the issue back and forth for a few minutes, and he told me that I just had to wait there until 4pm to see if enough people showed up. This wasn't an option -- the reason I wasn't going straight back to site was that I had been invited to my former LCF's birthday supra, in Gori (my training site, near where she lives), and I had to leave Tbilisi to get there on time. I pled with the driver, but he wasn't budging, and I couldn't haul this immensely heavy box to Gori, then to a train, then back to site. So, out of options, I asked the driver how much I'd have to pay him to ensure that he'd actually drive to Cho. He said 100 lari, which was absolutely out of the question, so I asked for 40, and we settled on 50 -- which is a staggering amount of money for a volunteer to pay when he hasn't anticipated such an expense. I made him write a receipt on a crumpled piece of paper, since the photos were for a project that I had a budget for, and I was hoping to be able to put this 50 lari somewhere in there (note to the people who paid for my project, who in fact read this blog: I am sorry. It was for the children. I had no choice). So, with a quizzical look, he wrote "Box sending: 50 lari" in Georgian, and the date. I assured him that this was exactly what I needed, and ran to catch a marshutka to Gori, my pocket feeling vastly lighter than I'd anticipated it would feel when I woke up that morning (Specifically, 76 lari lighter, which is something like 50 dollars, which is an enormous amount of money...wait, hang on, the dollar just fell again. More like six dollars). Oh well. At least the supra was a lot of fun. My birthday gift was a photo from last year's Halloween party, in a nice frame:

[OK, my connection isn't working well enough to load it, but I will do so the next chance I get]

This past weekend was boring, and contained no exciting events to report. Thus, you are now up to date. I am sure this pleases you immeasurably. Perhaps, by tomorrow, you will no longer be up to date, because today is Georgian "Love Day," and I have been invited to a celebratory "discotheque" and/or "concert" tonight (nobody seems exactly sure which it will be). I'm sort of curious, so I agreed to go, which may turn out to have been a perfectly fine decision, or may turn out to have been a Horrible Mistake. Details to come! Raise your hand if you're excited!

Wait, I don't see any hands. Fine. See if I spend 37 pages detailing a couple of modestly exciting weekends for you AGAIN.

By the way, I hadn't wanted to piss off my host brother by looking for the puppies under the house at all, to see if the mother perhaps had come back after all, or if they had died. But a couple of days ago, I was in the first floor of the house -- where I rarely go -- and my host sister said, "Do you smell that?" I didn't, but that didn't mean there wasn't a smell, so I asked her what it was. "The puppies," she said. So.