Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wonderful Christmas Surprises!

With December upon us, there is definitely a Christmas vibe in the air.  Well, at least for me there is! My itunes is always set on my Christmas playlist...I'm even starting to drive Cici crazy with all of my humming of my favorite ones. The girls and I decided to ring in the Christmas season on December 1st by watching a favorite Christmas movie of mine, Love Actually and drinking hot chocolate.  It was absolutely lovely and a bit of a taste of home. This past weekend was the first weekend where it felt incredibly strange to not be back at good 'ol Luther College, singing in the annual Christmas at Luther show.  

In order to distract myself from the fact that I was wanting to be 'there' and not 'here,' the girls and I took off for a quick trip to Batumi to bid some friends 'adieu.' We had quite the interesting marshutka rides there and back... On our way to Batumi, our crazy driver was going a bit too fast and he ran into another car, completely totaling it.  It was a bit scary and quite dramatic, but thankfully, no one was hurt.  Luckily, we were herded onto another marshutka and then only had to pay 1.50 Lari for our entire trip from Samtredia to Batumi! After a lovely visit full of delicious food, wine and good company, we said good-bye to many friends that will not be returning after Christmas.  It was so sad to leave Katy, my good friend from Orientation, but thank goodness for Skype! As we boarded the marshutka to head back to Samtredia, about half way through the trip, a huge family got on, including a guy carrying a branch full of mandarins, (which he begged us to eat) and a little boy who later ended up getting sick and throwing up berries all over the marshutka floor (just barely missing Tara).  After that happened, Melissa, Michelle, Tara and I just looked at each other and had to laugh because of the craziness that was our marshutka rides.  Did we bring this on ourselves??? Who knows.  
Beautiful sunset over Samtredia when we got back from Batumi

Then on Tuesday, Melissa asked me to go for a walk with her in the afternoon.  We had a lovely walk and made plans to make peanut butter with the girls at my house later that evening.  When we arrived back at my house, I walked into my room and discovered the most wonderful surprise! Michelle, Tara and Nini popped out from behind my room and yelled 'SURPRISE!' As I looked around the room, everything registered.  They had decorated my entire room with Christmas decorations! Cut out trees, snowflakes, paper chains (made out of scrapes of Michelle's classroom activities) cut out presents, real Christmas lights and Christmas chocolates from the states (including red and green m&ms)! Tara had brought several of these items back with her after her sister's wedding and had been keeping it a surprise all this time! It was the happiest surprise I could have had and was so sweet of them to think of! We spent the rest of the evening chatting, eating waaaay too many m&ms - the red and green ones really do taste better - and listening to Christmas music.  
REAL Christmas Lights!!! All thanks to Tara!

I have my own Christmas tree!
Because Georgians don't celebrate Christmas until January 7, it's still a bit early for Christmas to be in full swing here though.  We are excited to head to Tbilisi next weekend and see all the city decorations before our flight to Israel though! Samtredia, being the small town that it is, doesn't really get into the whole 'decorating your town for Christmas thing.' Which is fine because I have lots of Christmas in my room! While this time is hard being away from home, it's been fun chatting with Cici and her family about their Christmas traditions and how they compare to our traditions.  While I'm sad to not be able to celebrate Christmas with her family, or my own family in America, I'm truly looking forward to spending Christmas with the girls in Bethlehem.  If you asked me last Christmas if I thought I'd be in Bethlehem next Christmas, I would have told you that you were crazy.  It's insane how life takes you in directions that you never would have expected! 

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful Christmas season, wherever you might be!

Monday, November 29, 2010

ABC's of the Last Two Weeks

Hello all! Forgive me for not writing for the past several weeks.  I honestly haven't been incredibly busy, but somehow time always seems to get away from me.  In order to properly catch you up, I've come up with the ABC's of my last couple weeks.  I hope you enjoy it! 

A, an, some - grammar lessons! Sadly, it is quite difficult for me to explain grammar to students who don't quite understand English.  Therefore, Nino usually does the boring job of explaining the actual grammar in English and I get to come up with games to reinforce what was just explained.  I like my job... :)

Bazar-ing: I had my own version of Black Friday shopping in the Kutaisi Bazar this past weekend.  On a hunt for slippers, I definitely haggled with retailers, waited in long lines of crowds, got claustrophobic as I waited in small areas, and agonized over which pair of slippers was the cheapest, cutest and therefore the most worthwhile to buy.  I ended up with an adorable pair of comfy Mickey Mouse slippers.  Hearing Lela say 'Mickey Mouse' in her Georgian accent made them all the more worth it.  

Chocolate Chip Cookies: We baked homemade chocolate chip cookies this weekend as well! They were so delicious! They tasted slightly cake-y, and we burnt the first pan, but overall, it was a delicious success! My family is requesting more - and my mom is requesting me to teach her how to make them.  Yay family bonding :) 

Drinking hot drinks from MY mug: You know you're part of a family when you have your own place at the table and your own mug. Cici and I both always use these adorable heart shaped mugs.  Hers is pink, mine is blue.  No one else drinks from these mugs.  Even when friends come over, they know whose mug is whose.  Love it.  

Eggs, eggs and more eggs! Recently Lela made the most delicious banana cake I have EVER tasted.  It was honestly the best thing I've eaten in Georgia - and Michelle can attest to this.  It was moist (hate that word) and creamy and fabulous.  However, I later found out that there were over 15 eggs put in this cake...I was slightly grossed out, but honestly nothing surprises me anymore.  I say, bring on the banana cake!!

Friends Episodes: I found this great online website that has tons and tons of tv shows and movies on it.  For those that know me well, you know I am an avid fan of the 90s tv show Friends.  Luckily for me, this website has all 10 seasons of shows available online. I started with season 1 and have been enjoying one every night before bed.  I haven't seen these episodes for so long and I've found myself laughing out loud at lines I've nearly forgotten.  It's great to smile and laugh before bedtime :) 

Georgian Lessons: This month I started Georgian lessons full on.  It took forever to figure out schedules and who was actually going to be my Georgian teacher, but I'm feeling much more confident with my Georgian and am able to understand a decent amount.  That being said, I have a long way to go! 

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a wonderful Thankgiving! We didn't do much here, nor did it it really feel like Thanksgiving.  Here, they only eat Turkey on Christmas.  We did eat boiled pumpkin and roasted pumpkin seeds (which I have become quite addicted to).  However, I am very thankful for my family, both in America and in Georgia, my friends and this incredible experience and all it has taught me thus far.

Iviko's Birthday Party: My English teacher's son, Iviko, turned 8 this past Friday and I was invited to his birthday party.  It was a very surreal experience accompanied with 20 eight year olds running around, beating each other up (playfully, of course), drinking wine and practicing the traditions of toasting the man (boy) of honor.  Us adults sat upstairs and toasted to Nino for raising such a wonderful boy and then a ridiculous amount of food.  I met Nino's family and quickly connected with her father in law - a geography teacher who loves Google Earth.  We found my house in Iowa City, and then he showed me his house in Samtredia.  What a fun way to bond! 

Jump That Rock! This is an awesome song that always proves to be a great pick-me-up whenever I'm down.  It has prompted many dance parties, whether it's just me dancin like a fool in my room, or several of us dancing around Samtredia.  It's also a great song to run to! I discovered it at Core this summer as it was one of the last tracks in our Body Attack class.  Great. Song. 
Here's a link if you want to listen...

Kutaisi: This last month has been pretty quiet.  We haven't gone a big trip since Borjomi and Bakuriani, but we have spent quite a bit of time in Kutaisi.  We attended a big supra with some Georgian girls (who are studying to be English teachers at Kutaisi University) and their friends.  We've found several great restaurants and coffee shops and have done our fair share of exploring the city, the bazars and other shopping centers.  

Lesson Planning: I've fallen into a nice routine of knowing my students and what activities work best for them and what they like doing in class.  It's been fun to come up with creative ways to teach somewhat boring concepts like whether to say bigger or biggest in a sentence.  I love seeing the kids' smiling faces when I say it's time to play a game or when I have a new song to teach them.  

Megobrebi (friends - both Georgian and American!) It's been great meeting new Georgian friends, especially those that are our age.  Like I mentioned earlier, we went to a supra with lots of Georgian kids our age and it was great to chat with them! However, I am also loving my friends from TLG, especially my Samtredia girls.  Not sure what I'd do without you Tara, Michelle and Melissa!! I think all our families are quite used to us being together lots and I'm so excited to travel together in Israel! 

Nino, Marina and Angela: These three women are all English teachers in my school.  I'm primarily working with Nino right now, but after Christmas break I will work primarily with Marina and maybe a couple classes Nino and Angela.  I'll be sad to leave my kiddos from this semester, but plan on checking in with them often! I'm excited for a change of pace and a new teaching style with Marina, but I hope Nino keeps some of my ideas going.  For example, I started a point system with my 6th and 7th graders to motivate them to do their homework.  There wasn't any sort of incentive to do it before, and nothing happened to them if they didn't do it before.  Well I'm all about positive reinforcement, so when my students do their homework, they get 5 points.  Once they earn 30, they get a prize. I've finally started to see positive effects of the system - in fact ALL of my 6th graders did their homework for today.  I can't tell you how exciting it was! 

Omari, Levani, Imeda... and sometimes Giorgi.  These are my 9th grade boys - and I love them. They are so much fun to work with - when they come to class.  I've been off and on with them the past 6 weeks.  They were coming a lot in the beginning, and then they stopped showing up regularly and I was really discouraged by that.  I think they realized they were actually going to have to start working and learning in English class.  However, I had a breakthrough with them a couple weeks ago and they've been attending every class for the last two weeks.  We've been making so much more progress and it's exciting to seem them working hard! 

Peanut Butter: still obsessed.  We've started making it in bulk and are hoping to begin marketing in Samtredia.  Tara's grandmother got envious a while back and tried competing with us by making Almond butter, but it just wasn't the same :) 

Quick Feet! Samtredia football rocks! We were lucky enough to be able to attend a Samtredia v. Tbilisi football game a couple weeks ago.  It was hilarious watching the fans go CRAZY when Samtredia won 2-0.  Kids were jumping on the fence, yelling, throwing sunflower seeds, you know, the usual.  It was also entertaining to realize that you were one of maybe 10 women in the entire stadium.  We went with a couple of other Georgian girls, but when we looked around, it was mostly men in attendance! More staring ensued...obviously, but it was all very fun! I think my favorite part was participating in the cheers: SAM-TRE-DI-A!!! Gaumar-jos! (Cheers for Samtredia) 

Restaurant Hopping: This past weekend in Kutaisi we were the ultimate restaurant hoppers.  We began in McDonald's with just a quick coffee and muffin.  Stopped in a little shack for an afternoon beer while waiting for other friends to meet us.  Headed to the Kutaisi Brewery for a fancy lunch.  Stopped for some shwarma because our friend Taylor desperately wanted some.  We then ended our restaurant brigade in a little bakery that has a soft serve ice cream machine and enjoyed delicious twist cones for only 60 tetri (about 35 cents).  Needless to say, we were incredibly full, but we enjoyed our food tour of Kutaisi! Made for a great afternoon!

Skype! My lifeline to home.  I'm not sure what I would to without it! It was so lovely to be able to skype with my family while they were all home for Thanksgiving.  Even though I'm 10 hours ahead, I'm so grateful for family and friends that find time to chat and fit me into their busy schedules.  I love hearing about the happenings at home!

Turbo Jam: While I enjoyed running here for a while, it's been nice to change it up with some workout videos that Tara brought back with her when she went home for her sister's wedding.  We've been doing Turbo Jam and plan to start Pilates.  So much fun to jump around in my garage while watching the video on my computer.  We sure are resourceful! I love kickboxing though, there's nothing like punching and kicking to get the energy out of you!

Under my covers is my favorite place to be: It's officially turned chilly.  While it's still somewhat warm in the afternoons, morning and evenings get pretty cold.  We brought in our stove and rearranged the family room to make room for it.  It is sooo warm.  Thankfully, my room is right above it so I'm fairly warm at night.  However, I love being warm and cuddly underneath my 3 or 4 blankets.  It's just the best.  

Vodka shots with Mom and Dad: It's become somewhat of a common occurrence that whenever my Dad is actually home for our big meal in the afternoon, he often wants to do a couple shots with me.  I think it's his way of showing that he likes me.  He always says a sweet toast or calls me 'chemi gogo' (my girl).  Today, Lela broke out the fruity vodka, so we all enjoyed  shots of it together.  Lela then explained to me how they make it so that I would be able to come back to America and make it for my family and friends.  Get excited! 

We WON!!! Volleyball games galore! Along with football games, I also attending a championship volleyball game at Michelle's school.  She's the only one of us with a school that actually has a volleyball team that competes.  It was great to go to her school, meet some of her kids and participate in the cheers.  It was quite surreal seeing several teams that were 'dressed and ready to go' wearing jeans and sweater vests.  Michelle's team was all about it though - uniforms and everthing! 

eXcited for Israel! It's official.  We found out our flight information today! We're leaving December 20th for Israel.  For those of you that were unaware, I will be spending my Christmas break (about a month long) with Michelle, Melissa and Tara traveling around Israel.  We're spending Christmas in Bethlehem, and then spending time in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the North and the Dead Sea.  It should be an amazing experience!

Yes, we are still the English teachers from America... Even after being here for 3 months, we are still getting stopped in the street, the bazar, the bank, everywhere and are asked if we're the teachers from America.  Sometimes I find it sweet, other times I'm annoyed and just want to say, YES WE ARE! You've seen us for the last 3 months, the excitement should have died by now!  Sometimes being a local celebrity has it's perks though - people are incredibly kind and are always excited to show you around and sometimes even give you free things.  A man who works in the market where I like to buy my coffee will sometimes give me free chocolate :) 

Zzzzzz's I've finally grown used to sleeping here.  I've only woken up once feeling really confused about where I was.  Bring on the crazy, loud, angry dogs at night, or the neighbors who like to yell at each other at 7 in the morning, or the OTHER neighbor who likes to bang on some sort of metal at the same time.  I can sleep through anything now! Well...with the help of heavy duty earplugs and the spare set that I keep on my chair in case the first pair falls out... ;) 

Phewf!! That was long.  Thanks for sticking through! Hope you enjoyed it - I had fun writing it!! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Dad is the Coolest

Well, I may have taken my love for coffee a bit too far today.  I zealously decided to drink 4 cups throughout the day and am now paying for it as it's after 11 pm here now and I feel completely wired and ready to go! Good thing I have this blog... 

Mishikl and Cici
I know in my last blog that I mentioned writing about school, but honestly, it hasn't been the greatest this week and I don't feel like writing about it now! What I do feel like telling you about is my Georgian host father.  Chemi mama (my dad) is just an all around pretty awesome guy and this past week has been particularly stellar for him.  Last Thursday, Michelle, Tara, Lela and I were all hanging out in our living room area when Mishikl (side note, this is his nickname, short for Mikheli) called Lela.  He was obviously very excited about something as we could hear him from across the room over the phone.  Next thing I know Lela is coming over to me with the phone, telling me that he wants to talk to me! First thing that crosses my mind is 'Oh crap.  I can hardly understand people on the phone when they're speaking to me in English, let alone when they're speaking Georgian!' Needless to say, I nervously say, Gamarjobat! After a little while of him rattling off something to me, Cici thankfully walks in and explains that he is celebrating with his friends because they caught a bunch of robbers that were planning on stealing 25 computers from a school in Abasha.  It was his turn to toast and he wanted to me to know that he was blessing me and my family in America.  Isn't he sweet?? 

Then, literally the next day he headed out into the forests for a 3 day camping venture to try and catch another group of thieves that have been stealing domestic animals from people's homes and then selling them.  However, he came home after only one night to 3 surprised faces.  We all were so curious what he was doing home so early, and he simply gave us a shrug, a small smile and told us that they caught them all! 

The icing on the cake happened tonight though.  Cici told me that Mishikl had been offered a higher position within the police force.  He would be the police chief of an entire region, instead of just a city.  He would work more closely with the Ministry and would most likely get a pay raise.  However, he would also be working 2-3 hours away from home and wouldn't get to come home very often.  Probably only once a week or so.  For this reason, he decided not to take the higher position and to stay working in Abasha.  He said he didn't want to be away from Lela and Cici and that he likes working in Abasha because the other policemen are also like family to him. He said it was a great honor to get offered the position and was really happy to be considered for it! 

Being around Mishikl has made me much more aware of the police system in Georgia and how much it truly does for the citizens of Georgia.  Not too long ago, the police used to be an incredibly corrupt system, but so much has been done to change that.  Cici has told me stories about how people used to not be able to walk around a night because it was too dangerous, but it is completely the opposite now.  The crime rate has drastically decreased, and I always feel safe walking around at night.  Mishikl works so hard, there are several weeks where I feel like I only see him for several minutes at a time because he's just popping home quick to see us, grab some food, or head out to go hunting.  He is incredibly dedicated to his work, but clearly loves his family.  Whenever he's home, I catch so many adorable moments of him and Lela cuddling on the couch, or of him giving Cici a big kiss on the cheek.  He seems to always win with us girls, whether he's bringing home lavashi (amazing Georgian bread), kiwi, or simply saying 'hello' as he walks through the door.  The mood always is lighter when he's home because everyone is so glad that he's there! 

If you can't tell, I'm pretty thankful that he's my substitute father for the year.  However, here's a quick shout-out to my father back in the states: Thanks for always being there, putting family first and for reading my blogs. I love you!   

Sunday, November 14, 2010

There's Nothing Like a Good Cup of Coffee on a Sunday Morning

Growing up, I always loved Sundays.  Church in the morning, family lunch, lazy afternoons devoted to watching movies, playing games or working outside if the weather was nice.  College ruined Sundays for me because Sundays meant that the fun part of the weekend was over and it was time to do all the homework that I neglected to do on Friday and Saturday.  However, I'm finally back to a time in my life where I love, and I mean, love Sundays.  
Today, I slept in, woke up to the sun shining brightly through the windows and I enjoyed the comforts of my soft and warm blankets as I finished a movie I began the night before.  After a leisurely breakfast with Cici and Lela, Cici and I continued sitting at the table, chatting about boys, music and life in general.  We peeled some kiwi and then decided that another cup of coffee was in order.  While Cici ran to the market, I sat outside on the steps enjoying my 2nd cup of coffee while Lela chopped onions and Mikheli worked in the yard.  As I sat on the steps, I of course offered to help Lela and Mikheli, but both turned me down and said to just relax.  I said ok, but then joked with them saying that if I was home in America, my dad would be putting me to work weeding the yard or my mom would be wanting help cleaning the house.  They both laughed and again told me to relax.  It was here that I truly began to realize that coming back to America in 8 months was going to be quite difficult.  I've become used this slower paced life, a life where waking up, drinking coffee, chatting and sitting in the sun is a perfectly ordinary day.  I shared my thoughts with Cici and she said, yup over in America, there are so many jobs to do, so much to worry about.  Here in Georgia, we don't have that.  People go to work and then they come home to rest and relax.  

A couple months ago, I remember thinking, how in the world am I going to fill my time? I'm going to be so bored! Turns out, I love slower life.  I love being able to sit with Michelle, Melissa and Tara for an entire day and just chat.  I love being able to sneak in a card game with Cici when she's not doing her homework.  I love my afternoon coffee dates with Lela where we laugh about how much sugar we are putting in our coffee.  I love that I have time to paint my toenails with several coats instead of the usual one coat right before I rush out the door.  I love going for long walks in the afternoons.  I love running into my students around town and speaking English to them.  

I'm not sure how I'll adjust to crazy, busy, always running from place to place, life in America.  Good thing that's 8 months away and I won't have to worry about it for a while.  Until then, I'm going to enjoy as many cups of coffee as I can!

***PS: for those of you wondering about school - I promise I am going everyday and teaching many wonderful students! I'll be posting a blog about it later this week! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For the Beauty of the Earth

The theme of this past weekend seemed to be 'seeing beauty in everything.'  Whether it was the snow capped mountains, the green turning yellow trees or the sun shining brightly the entire weekend! Not only did we witness natural beauty, but the people that we met and the many acts of kindness and hospitality they showered us with was also beautiful.  

Just an example of beauty :) 

After two weeks of spending time in Samtredia, Melissa, Michelle and I decided it was time for a change of scenery! As much as we adore our quaint little town (emphasis on the word little) traveling on the weekends is a wonderful getaway time for us; which is exactly what this weekend was.  On Friday afternoon, we hopped on a Marshutka and headed to Borjomi, a town known for it's mineral water springs.  Apparently, this water is extremely good for you and has healing powers, so we of course, wanted to experience it for ourselves.  After arriving in town, we did what we do best, we found a restaurant and divulged our hungry bodies in some delicious Georgian food.  Soon after we arrived, our Chiatura friends, Bran, Tracy and Katy walked through the door and helped us finish the mound of food we had zealously ordered! We then set off to find a place to stay.  

Katy, Michelle, Melissa and I stayed with the most wonderful woman.  She had hosted several peace corp volunteers in the past and happened to have both of her children marry peace corp volunteers.  Her daughter Mako, and her husband Mike (from Virginia) were in town, so we spent the evening swapping volunteer stories, drinking tea and eating the most amazing poppyseed pastries.  I was severely addicted.  At one point, we were all huddled around the fire downstairs to keep warm, eating little chocolates and laughing hysterically.  It was just a great night! 

The breathtaking view from our hotel balcony in Bakuriani
We woke up early the next morning and took off for Bakuriani.  This was by far my favorite day that I've spent in Georgia yet.  We arrived at this adorable little hotel and were greeted by a woman named Dodo.  She quickly took us in, showed us our rooms and said that food would be ready for us in a few minutes.  All of us were cold and hungry, so to be greeted with warm rooms, the possibility of a warm shower and delicious warm food was absolutely wonderful!  

Riding through the forests!
That afternoon we set off for an adventurous horse back ride through the forests and the mountains.  We went with a tour guide named Misha, who was quite the character! An avid horse back rider, going bare back the entire 5 hour trip, and a pro arm wrestler! He managed to show us his skills back at the hotel later that night... I ended up spending most of my time with him during the ride because his horse was my horse's mother, and let me tell you, my horse was a mama's boy.  His name was Tornike and he hated it when anyone came near him or his mother. He'd get crazy eyes and I never was quite sure what was going to happen if the other horse didn't move quickly! That being said, I trusted him with my safety and even let him run up hills, jump over logs and race through the fields.  Having been on horses several times before, I was fairly comfortable, but running was a new experience for me! It was so exhilarating! All you could hear was the wind in your ears and the horses feet against the ground.  

Snow capped mountains are my favorite!
Don't we look professional?
Tornike and I :) 
I truly can't express in words how beautiful and amazing these 5 hours were.  I think if there would have been a video camera filming our expressions, you would have just seen us laughing and smiling for 5 hours straight.  After arriving back at the hotel, we were all incredibly sore and felt as if our bodies had taken a beating! Of course, Dodo was there and ready for us with food on the table and hot tea.  We had a wonderful evening, laughing about the adventures of the day and playing countless rounds of B.S and spoons.  

The next morning we chatted with Dodo and she told us that her husband and her son were both Olympic participants! Her husband was a bobsledder and her son a skier.  They were also friends with the Georgian luge Olympian who died this past February in Canada.  We passed a large memorial for him on our way to the hotel.  Dodo showed us many awards and trophies of her family and it was so wonderful to hear all of her stories! She then helped us find a marshutka back to Borjomi (it literally came to the hotel and picked us up!) The driver then dropped us off at the Mineral Springs Water Park and then offered to come pick us up and take us to the bus station for free, when we were done.  Then, our next Marshutka stopped off and bought us all delicious, warm khatchapuri, took our friends to their city and then hailed us another marshutka to take us back to Kutaisi.  Marshutka drivers here are literally amazing.  i'm not sure what we would do without them during our many travels! 
Katy and I at the Borjomi Mineral Springs Water Park
Playing in Fairyland in the Park!!

Fairyland is not just for kids...
 It was just a great, great weekend.  We're all planning on going back in the winter to ski.  Who knows, maybe Dodo's son will be there and can give us some tips!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

One Arch Trellis to the Famous Golden Arches

The content of this next post is two fold, last weekend I had the privilege of attending a traditional Georgian wedding, but I also experienced my new found sense of comfort within the seats of McDonald's in good ol' Kutaisi.  Trust me, no one was more shocked than myself to find that I truly enjoyed eating and hanging out at McDonald's - I always said I would never be 'that' American that resorted to eating greasy french fries and relishing in the m&m mcflurry in the midst of another culture; a culture in which clearly McDonald's did not belong.  But here's the thing, just when you don't think you're missing home or you need the comforts of home, McDonald's comes a calling.  Eating that ice cream, those french fries, the occasional chicken nugget, it somehow tasted just like home (even though at home I only go to McDonald's for the delicious iced coffee that I got severely addicted to last summer).  

Let me back up a bit and explain why so many TLG, peace corp and other English speakers/backpackers happen to go to McDonald's.  It's literally where the Marshutka/Bus Station is.  When we take a Marshutka from Samtredia, it drops us off smack dab in front of the entrance to McDonalds.  The first time Melissa and I went, we hopped off the Marshutka and headed to the nearest shopping mall (I was on a search for heels for the wedding, Melissa needed a present for Koko, her brother).  However, we had barely made it 20 feet, when a friend from orientation ran and caught up with us.  How did he know we were here? He saw us get off the Marshutka because he and a bunch of other TLG people were hanging out at Mickey D's and taking advantage of the free wireless.  Low and behold, we met and hung out with several good friends, as McDonald's seemed to be the hubbub of free wireless and fries.  Of course we wanted to join in the fun.  As we sat down, 15 minutes turned into several hours because more people just kept coming.  I randomly ran into my roommate from orientation, Katy (my favorite Brit in the world), and other TLGers just kept coming in! We also met a Fulbrighter who gave us tips on traveling to Armenia (a trip we're planning for this month) well as some Polish backpackers, who spoke English and had no idea where they were on the map of Kutaisi.  Finally, I met a Peace Corp guy who just happened to have his Wisconsin sweatshirt on...right after they sadly beat the Hawkeyes.  Yes, that was the first thing he said to me after I told him I was from Iowa... come on Hawks!! 

To sum up, Mickey D's has a new found special place in my heart.  It satisfies both my cravings for delicious ice cream and English speakers different from those that I speak to everyday in Samtredia.  Plus, you NEVER know who you'll meet there :) 

Well, in case any of you were wondering, I did not manage to find any shoes for the wedding in the shopping mall as they were ridiculously priced and often quite hideous... Georgian fashion and Emily are not a good combination.  Luckily, while browsing the market in Samtredia the next day (the day of the wedding) I managed to find some heels that were somewhat bearable.  If you know me, you know that I relish in cute flats, not cute heels.  My feet hate them, and heels seem to hate my feet.  Luckily, for the majority of the wedding party we were sitting, so it all worked out! My Saturday was devoted entirely to the wedding.  I woke up, went to the Bazar to find shoes and run other errands, then spent the afternoon getting ready.  Weddings are a very fancy occasion in Georgia, women break out the beautiful dresses, do their hair in a special updo, put on their best the pressure was on! After showering, drying, straightening my hair (first time in Georgia by the way...) and ironing my dress, I was ready to go! 

I went and met Marina, a fellow English teacher and we went to the wedding together.  Angela, the third English teacher at my school, invited me to her son's wedding, as well as several other teachers at the school and the director.  Sadly, we did not attend the wedding ceremony.  In Georgia, only a small number of guests actually attend the ceremony - usually at the most 20.  That ceremony is relatively short and ends with the bride and groom walking around the church with the priest several times wearing the marriage crowns.  Everyone else joins them for the huge party afterward.  Ours was held at a restaurant and was decorated beautifully.  We sat at 2 LONG tables that took up the entire place.  About 150 people attended, but there can be up to 400 people.  

Sitting with Marina (English teacher next to me), Khatuna (the director, blonde) and Tsitsana
At the party, we all took our seats and waited for the bride and groom and their family to enter.  They entered to great applause and cheering as they made their way to the head table.  After that, the eating begins.  I don't think I can explain to you how much food was on our table.  The plates were literally stacked on top of each other with food and we spent the next 4 hours eating.  Once I realized this was all we were going to be doing, I quickly slowed down and began to pace myself.  I was amazed at the sheer amount of food some of the women around me were able to eat though, I was full after like an hour! Luckily my mom had told me not to eat much during the day so I went there ready for food! 
This was just the beginning of the endless amounts of food from the evening!
While eating we listened to the Tamada (toast master) make many, many toasts.  There was a toast to Georgia, to appreciating women, to the couple's happiness, to love, to loved one's who have died before us, etc.  These toasts often went on for a looooong time, and it surprised me that people would go on about their time during these toasts.  In America, when someone gives a speech, everyone sits back and listens, but here, people just keep chatting.  I suppose that's due to the amount of time that the Tamada speaks.  I honestly found myself tuning him out, partly because I can't understand him, but because he seemed to always be speaking!! After the Tamada finally finished a toast, all the men would stand up and down their glass of wine.  Women, just sip theirs, as it's completely fine for men to get incredibly drunk, but inappropriate for women.  The men also pass along a drinking horn and take turns drinking from it.  At one point they passed it to me to look at, but when I asked if I could drink from it, they gave me a look of horror saying 'It's ONLY for men!!!!' Oh well.  

Students and staff on the dance floor!
After a while, the bride and groom came down for their first dance.  It was quite beautiful and I loved watching them dance away, but suddenly I realized that every woman around me was crying and saying 'lamazia gogo, lamazia gogo' (beautiful girl)  I felt strange that I couldn't start crying along with them, but thought it was sweet that they were so happy for the couple.  Soon, everyone else was joining in the dancing festivities.  Several of my students were there with me, so I had a blast dancing with the English teachers and my students.  I only had one minor creeper who told me that he was in love with me and that he wanted to marry me.  I politely declined, but then laughed when my director heard about this and came to yell over to yell at him basically saying 'What do you think you're doing crazy man? You have a wife, she's sitting at the other end of the table - go tell her you love her, not this poor American girl!!!'  Highlight of my night, right there! 
Some of my adorable students! 
Well, it has been raining for literally 24 hours now and it's cold and windy.  I've been curled up in my bed, relishing in the fact that I can't leave the house and using the time to read, catch up on emails, blogs, posting pictures and of course, watching movies online.  Here are two links to my facebook photo albums, if you haven't seen them already.  

For pictures of my trip to Tbilisi and my time in Samtredia:

For pictures from my trip to Mtskheta and Kakheti:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's all about who you meet!

First off, apologizes for the large gap in blog posts.  Life has been crazy the past 10 days.  We embarked on a 4 day adventure to Kakheti and returned home to a busy week, filled with several day trips to Kutaisi, and fun nights after school that including everything from running, to making peanut butter, watching movies and cooking omelettes.  Blogging just kept getting pushed back and back as I began to crave sleep more than anything else! However, I am back and ready to post more often than once in a blue moon! In an effort to catch you all up, here goes...

Last Wednesday night  (Oct.14), the Samtredia girls departed on yet another adventure, this time to Eastern Georgia for a visit to the Kakheti region, wine country.  We made a pit stop in Mtskheta, a small town outside of Tbilisi that was celebrating its 1000th birthday! There was a huge celebration and we just had to take part in! 

I think that we were all in agreement that this past weekend was completely dependent on who we met along the way, whether it was:
*the kind woman on the overnight train who showed us how to stow away our stuff to prevent it from getting stolen, and who later, at 5:30 am woke us up telling us that we were 5 minutes away from our stop!!! (if only there was a video feed so that you all could witness the frantic scramble of 4 sleepy girls attempting to get all of our things out the door without stepping on each other)
*the helpful manager of our first homestay who told us exactly how to continue along our travels (marshutka to restaurant, cab to cathedral, marshutka to Tbilisi) 
*the wonderful woman who pulled over on the side of the road as we thought we were hailing a marshutka and gave us a ride to Tbilisi from Mtskheta 
*the cab driver who drove us ALL over Tbilisi, trying to find the right bus station with our Marshutka to Telavi (there are 3 stations, in case any of you are wondering, and they are spread all over the city making a 5 Lari taxi ride turn into 15 Lari..) 
*our next Marshutka driver, who when he found out we didn't have a place to stay in Telavi, called his friend who has a homestay business, checked to see if it was available and then drove us straight there!
*our next amazing homestay mother who fed us tea, coffee, crumpets and made us delicious dinners and breakfasts, as well as calling us a personal taxi driver to take us to Signahe, the 'city of love' in Kakheti
*Mamoca, our taxi driver, who played the part of photographer, tour guide, taxi driver and waiter, and host as he brought us to his family vineyard and let us pick grapes in his vineyard

Watching the sunrise over Javari Cathedral in Mtskheta
In Mtskheta, we had a wonderful time strolling through this quaint town, lined with cobblestones.  We oooed and ahhhed over many singing and dancing competitions, watched young and talented men and women sword fight (well, the men sword fight and the women dance around them...) as we prayed pieces of their swords wouldn't fly and hit us in the eye, enjoyed lots of food, and of course, went about our usual sightseeing of old, amazing churches.  The day ended with a delicious meal in a cute cafe where we were able to hear the symphony orchestra/opera concert.  Luckily we made it out of our dinner in time to see the fireworks show that was literally right above our heads.  At the end of it, my neck hurt from looking so far back! 

After viewing the Javari Cathedral in the clouds the next morning and eating delicious lobios (beans), we made our way into Tbilisi and then on to Telavi, Kakheti's largest city.  Luckily we found an amazing homestay where we enjoyed dinner and wine together and then met up with several other TLGers in the area.  

Some talented Georgian dancers - check out the hats! 
Signaghe the next day was absolutely beautiful! As mentioned above, we had our own personal driver for the day, who was such a blessing.  He was so patient, even as we asked him to take picture after picture of us.  We went around touring the city, going in several churches and then eventually walking on the world's second largest wall, next to the Great Wall in China.  After stopping in a couple of cafe's and meeting some of Tara's TLG friends, we headed off to Bodbe Cathedral, where Saint Nino is buried.  We walked around the beautiful church and garden and then saw a sign for 'holy water.'  Do we want to go see the holy water? Of course! Little did we know that we were in for a 45 minute, downhill the mud.  Luckily I had on my trusty hiking boots.  Melissa, who was wearing shoes that were not so mud-friendly opted out.  Had we known what we were in for, I probably would have too.  When Tara, Michelle and I finally made it to the bottom, all of our legs were trembling from the fear of falling on the way down.  Sadly, there was a huge line to go into the holy water, so we were only able to peek inside.  Then we turned around and made the hike back up.  Surprisingly, it only took about 20 minutes...I think that's because Michelle was in front and she high tailed it up! We were all so out of breath, but definitely got our workout in for the day! 

Posing in front of the entrance to Signaghe
The wall around Signaghe - this was taken from one of the Watch Tower's that we climbed up!
We love grapes
Sunday was travel day, but it was also fairly relaxing.  We had a leisurely morning, chatting with other friends who happened to have the same marshutka driver as we did, and dropped them off as well.  We travled to Tbilisi by marshutka, caught a bus from Tbilisi to Kutaisi and then hopped a cab to Samtredia.  If only we would have flown somewhere and we would have covered all forms of transportation that weekend! 

School this week was both good and bad.  My frustration usually stems from my co-teacher being exhausted and taking it out on the kids.  It's understandable, as she works all afternoon and evening, plus all weekend tutoring students privately.  This is how teachers earn money here, because the teaching salaries are so low.  However, I grow tired of her taking it out on the students.  Yes, the students aren't listening or doing their work, but there are other ways of handling it.  I chatted with Nino about ways that we could help each other be less frustrated in the classroom and once she knew I was picking up on her exhaustion, she seemed to realize that her mood was affecting more than just herself.  Things turned around a bit, so I am hopeful for this next week.  

Well, it's Sunday evening, which means I should get lessons ready for the week.  I promise to blog more soon, (this time it's for real) as I feel like there are still many things to say, but little space to say them.  
Until next time...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Picking Grapes and Running from Pigs

This past weekend I was able to get some quality time in with my family as we traveled to the village where my father grew up, outside Chiatura.  We woke up EARLY Saturday morning and got the truck all loaded up.  By 6:30 am, we were on the road - packed tight in the car.  Cici, Lela and I were all in the back, and my father and his co-worker, Gako were sitting up front.  The first hour of the ride was pretty quiet, but as the sun came up and we got further into the mountains, one would hear many ooohs and ahhs as the scenery was just so beautiful.  When we arrived, we were happily greeted by Babua, Cici's grandfather, and her uncle.  Us girls, sat by the stove and nibbled on warm bread while trying to stay warm as the men all gathered supplies for our day of work.  Babua told us that is was incredibly muddy out at the vineyard, so we were all given boots to put on.  I was soooo grateful, because if I had worn my tennis shoes, I think I would have had to leave them there!! However, slopping through the mud, only made the day that more enjoyable! 

When we got to the vineyard, I felt like a kid in a candy store.  The views around us were literally breathtaking in a way that you can't not be happy.  I was so excited to start picking grapes! We were all given buckets, knives and a row to follow.  Black grapes first, then green.  Cici and I sloshed through the mud and started in a row together.  I think for the first half hour I had a smile permanently pasted on my face! Part of me couldn't believe that I was seriously in Georgia, in the country that's known as the birthplace of wine, taking part in such an old tradition.  I was once again reminded of how grateful I am for the opportunity to be taken in by such a wonderful family and share in their many traditions.  Well, maybe I was distracted by thinking about how happy I was, but all of a sudden, the knife slipped and I sliced my finger! I didn't really hurt too badly, but it sure bled a lot... bah! I held up my hand towards my father and he pointed to the truck and told made a running motion - as if to say, get to the truck and fast!! I smiled, to let him know that I was fine, I almost felt like I had to ease his nerves more than mine! However, I will admit that there was a voice in my head saying 'Ah, how am I going to clean this wound, my hands are so dirty, we don't have a lot of water - do we even have bandaids? What if I can't get the bleeding to stop? What if my dirty hands cause some sort of infection?' Luckily, we did have water, and plenty of bandaids - which was good as I bled through 3 of them... All was fine, my finger was still attached and I was ready to go back out and pick.  As I started to head back out, my father motioned as if to say, what do you think you're doing? You don't have to pick any more! I began to plead with him and say 'me minda, me minda!' (I want, I want) Finally, he conceded and let me keep picking.  I was once again a happy camper.  

After picking many, many, many grapes,  Cici and I headed back to relax a bit - which turned into me begging her to show me the village.  We walked all around and witnessed the most incredible views.  We also had a mini senior picture photo session.  Cici insisted on taking my picture in multiple locations and I, in turn, insisted on taking hers.  Our walk was one of my favorite moments from the weekend because we had a lovely time chatting about life, the future and what we both think about our own traditions.  We also, were chased by a pig.  Yes, that is correct, chased by a pig.  Meaning, it sought us out, and ran after us!! Cici saw a pretty forest scene and wanted to take my picture.  So, I hop up the hill and situate myself in a tree.  All of a sudden, I see something running out of the corner of my eye - then I hear Cici yell and take off running! As I realize that a pig is running near us, I figure, it's just a pig, what can it do? But all of a sudden, it picks up speed and starts heading for me! Following Cici's lead, I run down the hill toward a different farm.  Cici and I kept running and laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of this situation.  I mean, it's a pig, right? We found a bench down the hill a ways, and sat down to enjoy the view.  We heard many cars passing by, honking their horns, which meant that someone had just gotten married! We watched the cars for a bit and cheered for the couple.  Then, following the last car was guess who...THE PIG!!! It found us! Not kidding, once it saw us again, it took off running towards us.  We yelped, ran down the hill and the up the other side, hoping to trick it...luckily, we did.  We laughed again and started walking back to where we came from originally, when I realized that this story would for sure be in my blog and I needed a picture to go with it! We crept back to the area where we saw the pig and looked for had of course, disappeared.  We couldn't find it anywhere.  Who knows what happened.  Cici and I took many hits that evening during our feast as her father, grandfather and uncle could not believe we were afraid of a pig.  Oh well.  It made for an excellent story! 

As I just mentioned, we ended our lovely day with a large feast, and lots of ghvino (wine).  There were many toasts made, to past loved ones, to future happiness, Cici's uncle even toasted me telling me that I was beautiful and that he hoped I would find a husband (sooner rather than later) and have lots of beautiful children.  We went around and visited many other relatives and just kept eating and drinking.  By 10:00, Cici and I were pooped and we curled up under the covers for a good night's rest.  

Sunday was spent relaxing, playing lots of card games and eating more food.  I, sadly, sat back and watched Mikheli and the other men make ghvino all day long.  According to tradition, women are not allowed to help make wine because it will taint the wine and it will be a bad batch.  I so badly wanted to hop up there and squish those grapes, but alas, I could not.  I had fun documenting the experience though! 

We had such a wonderful time together!! Definitely good family bonding time! 
After a very short week at school, I am off on a short 4 day venture.  We're heading to Kakheti for a wine festival! First we're stopping in Mtskheta as the city is having it's 1000th birthday TOMORROW!! So we're quite excited to witness this experience.  It will be a long day tomorrow, as we're taking the midnight train and will arrive in the city at 6:00 in the morning - but it will be worth it!! 

muddy, muddy boots! 

LOVE the grapes :)

Taking a break!

Their vineyard

Adorable picture of Cici and her father :)

Babua's cleaning the wine cellar!

Removing the clay sealer so we can sample the wine

Dipping into the cellar!
For some reason - pictures took forever to load, so there's only a few - more will be on facebook soon! Off to go pack for the next adventure! Cheers to you all!