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!