Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Think I'm Riding the Roller Coaster of Emotions

I don't think I've ever felt such different levels of emotions than I have in the past month.  As the final week of my ten months here in Georgia approaches, I'm completely nostalgic for my time here and am just trying to soak everything up, while being incredibly anxious and excited to see and hug my family and friends next weekend.  

A beautiful river up in Mestia
The past month has been full of last minute trips we want to get in before we leave our dear country, spending time with our families, saying goodbye to TLG friends and spending time with each other.  We managed to survive our trip up to Svaneti, one of the most beautiful, mountainous areas I've ever been to.  When I say survive, I mean that literally as the drives both and up and down the mountains in our Marshrutka were absolutely terrifying, ridiculously bumpy and overall just  really not fun.  Tara even had to shut the curtains on the window so she couldn't see how close we were to falling off the cliff to our death.  I also had another brush with death (might be a slight exaggeration...) while we were horseback riding.  Sadly, our experience horseback riding in Mestia wasn't quite as happy as our experience in Bakuriani in the fall.  My horse was older, with bad knees and hips, and was quite unruly and stubborn.  We eventually reached a point in our relationship where he refused to follow the trail I wanted to go on, and in his unruliness, lost his footing, sending us sliding down the mountain! I knew I was going to fall off and just kept praying I didn't break anything, which thankfully, I didn't.  I fell off, rolled down the hill a ways and then right into a thorny bush.  A few scrapes and bruises later, I hopped back up, looked at the horse and decided walking back to the stable through the river was a better idea then jumping back in his saddle.  *Side note: the fall did not make me afraid of horses...just of that particular horse!* 

Eating at our restaurat - Cafe Ushba!
We spent the rest of the weekend hiking to glaciers, exploring the Svan Towers and eating at the same restaurant every evening.  Not because the food was delicious, but because it was the only option! 

Hanging out at Gonio Fortress
Last weekend we headed to one of my favorite places in Georgia, Batumi.  We were got some time in laying on the beach, ate at several yummy restaurants, climbed up to the top of the lighthouse and overlooked the city of Batumi all lit up at night and then hiked around Gonio Fortress.  Then, on Saturday I'm heading to Vardzia with a bunch of TLGers, to explore some underground caves.  I've been wanting to go to Vardzia all year, so the timing is perfect! 

Crossing a scary wall in the fortress
When I'm not off traveling around and actually give myself time to reflect and think, I'm literally so torn as to how I'm feeling about leaving.  To be honest, the last 2 months I have very much been ready to come home.  I love so many aspects of Georgian life, but I have missed life at home dearly and am ready to be surrounded by friends and family.  However, these last couple weeks, the sun has popped out, it's been consistently warm and life here has been so much fun.  Like I mentioned, we've taken fun trips, I've loved taking long walks in the evenings, I even love how much more I sweat when I work out now that it's super hot out.  The food is also better! We've been eating so many yummy fruits and vegetables, some straight from our trees in our garden.  Every time I walk downstairs, I walk right past our cherry tree, so I have been eating my share of cherries! I've also fallen in love with a Georgian fruit called bushmala.  It's so fresh and yummy and I'm going to miss it! 

Yesterday Tara and I went swimming in a river in Kutaisi and had a blast jumping off rocks with some of our other friends from TLG.  We were all chatting about how we're all sadder to leave than we thought we would be just because of how great life has been in these last few weeks.  Georgia is just so different in the winter.  To be honest, it's not fun.  And it was a LONG winter.  Now that it's nice out, life here is so much happier.  I feel like I have just been so all over the place.  One minute, I'm frustrated by something at school and literally cannot wait to jump on the plane, and the next minute something hilarious or adorable happens at home with Cici and I can't imagine the thought of leaving my home here.  One minute I'm playfully arguing with the girls about something silly like which marshutka we should take to Kutaisi and the next I can't imagine the day where instead of being 5 minutes from Michelle, I'll be half way across the country where our relationship will be reduced to Skype and cellphones.  

Enjoying our afternoon at the river!
 I know that this is only the beginning of more mixed emotions as this week ensues, and even throughout my first few weeks at home.  Adjusting to life back in the states terrifies me a tiny bit as I've been living in a culture that is literally the polar opposite of our culture in the states for ten months.  However, I know that along with everything that I'm going to dearly miss in Georgia, I will be greeted by everything that I've dearly missed in America, that for which I am very excited about! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tea for Two and Two for Turkey

Merhaba! (Hello in Turkish - one thing is for sure, with all of my travels this year, I have learned many ways to say hello! 

Overlooking Sunset Valley in Cappadoccia

Tara and I just returned from an amazing spring break in Turkey! In order to avoid a boring retell of our entire trip, I'll attempt to hit some of the highlights.  
Tyrik - Tyrik was our first couchsurfer in Ankara and made our first day in Turkey much less stressful! On this trip, we did a mix of couchsurfing and staying in hostels.  We love couchsurfing and had great experiences being guided around several cities, but we also found that we loved staying in hostels on this trip and meeting fellow backpackers/travelers along the way.  However, our coolest form of housing on this trip was most likely the tree houses that we stayed at in Olympos, a beach city along the southern coast of Turkey.  

Our awesome tree house in Olympos
Transportation - we ended up utilizing MANY forms of transportation on this trip with the exception of a train.  We managed to entertain ourselves for the 18 hour bus ride from Georgia to Ankara at the beginning and master the art of sleeping in cramped up places.  We also took an amazing ferry ride at sunset across the Bosphorus Sea from the European side to the Asian side in Istanbul.  In Cappadoccia, we rented bikes and rode around the beautiful valleys filled with fairy chimneys and caves.  We took advantage of dolumus's (Turkey's version of a marshutka) as we skirted from city to city.  We were also pros at riding the Metro in Istanbul and unfortunately we had to pay for a very expensive cab ride to the airport to fly back across the country on our last day. Oh, and we were driven around Antalya on scooters for a whole day.  That was fun. :) 
Tara and I getting ready for our long bus adventure!

Biking through Love Valley in Cappadoccia

My quad driver, Odem (we're about to go down a really big hill!!

We made it to the top!


Tea - Tara and I quickly discovered that it certainly pays to have tea with Turkish people.  As I mentioned earlier, we rented bikes from this company and when we got back, they offered us their famous Apple Tea (which ironically they only serve to tourists - Turkish people don't like it).  As we were chatting and drinking away, they offered to take us quadding to watch the sunset later that evening.  Of course, we accepted and we had the best time quadding around from valley to valley, taking tons of pictures and learning how to drive ourselves.  As the evening wore on, we discovered one of the guys with us was a balloon pilot and he offered to take us up the next morning for free since there was space in his group.  We had originally been planning to take a night bus that evening to our next destination, but we were of course unable to pass up this incredible opportunity!! So, the next morning, Tara and I had the time of our lives oooing and ahhhing over the 50 some balloons that were flying above one of the most beautiful lands I've ever been in.  I think the best part was the fact that we joined this retired Finnish group, so we clearly looked out of place.  But that didn't make us think twice about coming along!  After our amazing experience in Cappadoccia, whenever someone asked us if we wanted tea, we said YES!


We are so excited to be in the air!

So pretty :) 

Turkish Delights - There were sooooo many yummy treats to eat in Turkey that Tara and I dove head first into our share of Turkish Delights and Baklava.  I had never really been a huge fan of Baklava, but after eating it in Turkey, I am officially addicted.  It was also hilarious because similarly to tea, Turkish people hand out little pieces of Turkish delight everywhere. In the Bazar, shopkeepers often offer small pieces as well as little evil eye pins, in the hope that you might purchase something in their shop.  I didn't complain.  Another delight we discovered in Istanbul was Starbucks.  After 8 months of drinking instant coffee, I'm not ashamed to say that we went to Starbucks every day we were in Istanbul.  I can't tell you how delicious that first sip was.  I felt like I was in heaven! We also enjoyed our fair share of fish and wine dinners as we kept traveling to cities on the coast where the fish was simply divine and too good to pass up.  

I do love Starbucks.  
Tourists - This was definitely the first country we've been in where tourism is a huge money-maker for the country. Everything was very tourist friendly and Tara and I had no problems getting around anywhere.  In the cities we were in, many people spoke at least a little English (at least enough to attempt to sell us something).  Being in Istanbul though was crazy.  There were SO many tourists.  We were of course hitting up all the touristy sites, such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and Isketili Street.  We enjoyed all these places, but being among that many tourists from all over the world definitely took some getting used to.  Isketili Street especially was absolutely crazy.  Apparently over 4 million people walk along this street every day.  It resembled Times Square and was quite overwhelming at first! 

Tara and I in front of the Blue Mosque

Outside of Topkapi Palace, overlooking the Bosphorus

Trena - Remember my friend Trena from Luther who has been volunteering in Israel for the year and who I spent Christmas with in Bethlehem? Well, I realized how small the world has become when we were sitting under a tree outside of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.  As Tara was frantically deleting pictures from her memory card to create space for more, I looked up and I saw Trena walking with several of her friends toward me.  I called out her name in disbelief and we both just laughed for several minutes at the irony of everything.  Neither of us had any idea that the other was traveling in Turkey now and it was completely random that we ran into one another.  Such a fun coincidence!! 

Tara and I with some adorable children in Antalya
Giggling after putting our feet in the freezing cold water!

We look Romanesque, right?
Turkey was such a wonderful country to explore.  There were so many places I would have loved to see, but there was just simply no time.  I highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a great vacation! It was a much needed break from Georgia.  However, now that I'm back here and it's already May 4th, I'm in disbelief that I'll be going home in just 6 short weeks! We have lots to look forward to in that time period, but I'm filled with such strange feelings of being so incredibly excited to go home and see family and friends that I miss dearly, and being so incredibly sad that I'll be leaving Cici, Lela, Mishiko and other good friends I've made here.  I've once again realized the importance of balancing my thoughts and feelings about the future with enjoying my present life in the here and now.  Let's hope I can keep that balance up and enjoy the rest of my time here!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Typical Day...ish...

Samtredia has officially been struck by wind.  The last 3 days, it’s been nonstop, day and night.  This meant a very quiet weekend was had by all.  Heavy wind = shady power and internet, so my time was spent chatting with Cici, Lela and various visitors, planning our spring break trip to Turkey with Tara, making yummy rice pudding, and playing cards by candlelight, late into the evenings. 

School today was quite interesting, though.  With all the wind, I knew attendance would be down, similar to what happened in February with all the snow.  On Mondays, I usually teach 5 classes.  Today, however, I only taught 2! None of my 1st graders came (parents thought they would be scared), two of my 6th graders came, saw they were the only ones and left, and then the same thing happened with the two 9th graders that showed up.  So, that left me with a day consisting of a dazzling lesson with my 11 out of 28 7th graders about the passive voice, a text review with my five 8th graders, a marriage proposal and a threat by a student to release the pigeon he was holding in his hands into my classroom. WHAT????

To be honest, the occurrence of the last two on the list above doesn’t even faze me anymore.  I was chatting with several teachers between classes and news got out that I had made rice pudding this weekend.  This led to many questions, from all the women in the room:
You can cook??  (yes of course I can, I’m 22!)

How did you make it?? (with a recipe…and ingredients! I of course rattled off all the ingredients in Georgian to earn extra bonus points)

Where did you learn how to cook? (my mother, of course!)

What else can you cook? (This turns into a Q&A session where the teachers list Georgian dishes and I tell them if I can make them or not…)

And my favorite quote of all from Lela, the assistant director:
‘Oh well, if you can cook now, that means you’re ready for marriage!  You just come with me to the village. I have a nephew who’s perfect for you, he lives in the mountains.  You’ll just love him!’ 

This isn’t the first time I’ve received offers to marry kin of my teachers.  They always give me such looks of horror when they realize I’m 22, not married and want absolutely nothing to do with marriage right now.  It’s usually a pretty humorous conversation!

Anyway, off I go to 8th grade, to review a text in the book about Art.  We’re playing a game with it later in the week, but they have to know the vocabulary before we can play the game.  Off we go, reviewing away when all of a sudden we hear a knock on the door.  In comes Tamuri, the 11th grade jokester and friend of Cici’s.  He’s earned a rep for being pretty crazy, but genuinely kind and funny.  He walks into the room, asks how I’m doing, completely oblivious to the fact that he’s interrupting a class.  As soon as I’m about to tell him that it’s not a good time to just come in for a chat, he pulls his arm out from behind his back and promptly thrusts a pigeon into my face!! A pigeon!!! I of course let out a yelp and jump back, only to realize he has his hands wrapped firmly around it’s wings so that it can’t fly away.  Chaos erupts, kids are screaming, Marina starts yelling at Tamuri and I’m just laughing at the pure comedy of it all.  Who knows what Tamuri was thinking when he caught the pigeon, and what told him it was a good idea to come searching for the classroom I was in, I don’t know.  But it did prove to be a hilarious 5 minute encounter. 

There’s never a day in Georgia that goes the way it’s originally planned to.  I’m completely used to this, and have come to expect it! I know I haven’t blogged very much about school, and there is a reason why.  Blogging about school always seems to open up a can of worms because while there are good days, there are plenty of bad, frustrating ones and I’m honestly never that motivated to rehash the details of them.  There are so many issues with the Georgian educational system, but I don’t feel like using this blog as a rant about it, so if you’re curious, I’d love to answer any questions via email.  For now, I’ll just continue to update with you little anecdotes and travel stories. 

Fun Fact of the Day: Samtredia means city of pigeons.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mini America

Instead of traveling far this weekend, in an attempt to save some money yet remain to be the social butterflies the four of us have seemed to become this semester, we drove a mere 20 km to Kutaisi to camp out at our friend Chase's house.  And when I say camp out, I mean this in a pretty literal sense.  Chase, a fullbrighter from South Carolina, has somewhat created a Mini-America with his centrally located, 2 bedroom apartment that he has all to his very own self.  The girls and I have taken full advantage of this apartment and have enjoyed many late night parties and relaxing lazy days at his place.  Chase is also very into couchsurfing, which if you've read my blog before, you know that we are very pro-couchsurfing.  This past weekend we met 2 German boys, 2 Swiss girls, 2 Italians and some fellow Americans.  As you can imagine, the place was pretty crowded and we all take the attitude of grabbing a blanket, your jacket as a pillow and attempt to crawl into a bed or find a spot on the floor! Some were TLGers that just happened to be traveling and looking for a place to crash, some backpackers, and even some who had been living out of their car for the past month as they traveled from Germany, through Turkey and now through Georgia.  It's amazing to meet everyone, hear their stories and hear about their lives.  I love that anytime we meet someone couchsurfing, it's a guarantee that we will have two things in common, a love for traveling and a sense of adventure.  It makes for lots to talk about! 

Anyway, back to the weekend.  As entertaining as we all for each other, I think we found the most entertainment in a new addition to our volunteer/couchsurfing clan.  An adorable puppy cleverly named Karl Barx.  When we showed up on Friday, Chase surprised us with Karl and he told us the story of how he found him, approached him and picked him up (while he was all alone) off the street and brought him home.  Of course, I was thinking to myself: Chase, you're crazy! You don't know where this dog has been, he's not at all potty trained, he's going to need lot of attention and what are you going to do with him when you leave??? But all those thoughts left when we all saw how sweet, adorable and happy was.  I'll admit it, I'm not a huge dog person, but Karl Barx is just the cutest puppy EVER! 

So, we spent lots of time playing games, chatting, and cooking various forms of eggs (because it's just so cheap and easy).  We also spent lots of time sitting in the sun in the park and throwing a nerf football around that Taylor happened to bring all the way from Canada.  See what I mean about creating a Mini-America? We spent the weekend, speaking English the ENTIRE time, with other Americans, playing football in the park, playing games, playing with a puppy, cooking cheap food and of course enjoying a few drinks together.  Do I think it's bad that we've created this Mini-America? No. I don't.  I think that after 8 months of being away, it's nice to every once in a while, spend time with others like ourselves and indulge in activities we've been doing our entire life.  I think that sometimes people look down on those who are traveling abroad and create a Mini-America because it implies that they aren't submersing themselves into the culture they're living in.  While I think this is legitimate, every once in a while, it feels great to revert into the culture we grew up in and ignore our present culture.  I love so many aspects of Georgian culture, but there's no denying that I also love the culture I grew up in, the culture I know the best, the culture that feels like home.  Being so far from home right now, I relish in the moments where I do feel home, as those moments are often few and far between.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just a little tidbit...

This weekend I realized how adapted I’ve become to Georgian life and how much I’ll dearly miss it when this fabulous year comes to a close.  As our Samtredia gang headed eastward to Tbilisi to greet exciting visitors from the homeland (aka Melissa’s parents) we went from needing a tour guide to realizing that we were the tour guides.  Granted there’s still a lot that I haven’t seen in Georgia, let alone Tbilisi itself, but for the first time we were responsible for telling foreigners about this place we’ve called home for the past 7 months.  (We also got to enjoy lots of fun presents sent from our families back in the states, and yummy goodies like, oreos, peanut butter and even apples from America!)

We noticed how expert we've become at Georgian life and culture when we went to a restaurant that we had gone to with some Georgians soon after we arrived back in September.  At that point, we had no idea what any of the food was, or how to eat anything, what to order, what to drink, etc.  The Georgians did all the ordering and we went along with it.  This time, we were the ones ordering everything without a menu, explaining how to eat food like kinkali and teaching our American visitors how to say cheers! (gaumarjos!) I realized how much I truly have fallen in love with Georgia, its people, food, music and culture.  I felt proud watching several Georgians rush up to do their favorite Georgian dances while the music literally blares in our ears.  I was happy to rush up myself and join them, although my Georgian dancing is not quite the same as their Georgian dancing! 

It’s interesting to have these moments where I’m aware of how much of an effect Georgia has had on me.  As I’ve passed the 3 month mark to my departure date, I’m filled with feelings of being torn between two worlds that are completely 100% different, but both allowing me to be extremely happy, and I know it’s only going to get worse as that departure date itches closer and closer.  I’m thinking of all the things I’m excited for at home while at the same time realizing how much I’m going to miss my life here.  Good thing there’s still many fun memories to be made in the next three months! A trip to Greece and Turkey, hiking in Kazbegi and Svaneti, visiting a city of Caves, beach trips to Batumi, and of course spending lots of time with my host family and my crazy students.  I have to say, I do love my life :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh the Food We Eat…

I’ve been wanting to update you a bit on what I’m actually eating over here in Georgia.  This is one blog that probably should have occurred closer to the beginning of my stay here, but better late than never, right? Georgian cuisine is quite delicious and I really do enjoy most of the foods here.  I’d say my only complaint is that I miss the variety.  When we go to restaurants, we really don’t even need to look at the menu anymore because we always eat the same thing anytime we go out! I miss food from other cultures, but that’s what Israel and Palestine was for! The break was definitely needed and I ate extremely well while we were traveling.  It’s also hard during the winter because fruits and vegetables are harder to find, and are much more expensive; which makes eating healthy quite difficult.  However, you take what you can get!

Some basic Georgian staples are:
Khatchapuri: cheese pie.  It's delicious :) 
Adjaruli Khatchapuri: A variation of khatchapuri with an egg cracked into the middle that you mix into the cheesy bread.  Also, quite delicious! 
Kinkali, meat, potato or mushroom filled dumplings. You eat them by biting a small hole, sucking out the juice and then finishing off the rest, with the exception of the top.  It's bad luck to eat the top! Kinkali as also NOT to be eaten with a fork or knife! 
Lobio: My personal favorite.  It's often served in a clay pot along with mchadi, a corn based bread.  
Mtsvade: Meat and onions on a stick!
Ojdakhuri: Meat, potatoes and onions in a delicious sauce.  
Cucumber and Tomato Salad: Our veggies for the YEAR. 
 Sokko and Sulguni (mushrooms and cheese): One of my favorite meals.  
Churchkela: Kind of tastes like a fruit roll-up with Nuts inside.  The fruity part is made from grapes so this is a huge hit in the fall during wine season.  

As for what I eat with my host family, we often rotate through about 5 meals.  Sure, there are new things thrown in there every once and a while, but a majority of the time we eat:

*Lobio (a bean soup, which I’m obsessed with)
*Hacho (boiled hen, chicken, or duck in a yummy nut sauce– yes the meat comes from our backyard. They’ve learned to turn up the volume on the TV when it comes time to prepare the meal, if you know what I mean…)
*Meat and Potato Soup
*Borsht (Veggie soup – which I LOVE, but Cici hates – so it’s usually pretty funny when Lela makes it!)
*Stuffed Cabbage – it’s delicious.
*Bread and Honey – we eat this every morning and usually every night.  Sometimes it’s bread and cold meat, or bread and cheese, or bread and peanut butter or jam, but I think you get the gist that a staple of our morning and evening meal is BREAD.

I really can’t complain about the bread during the winter though, because Lela, my amazing host mother makes our bread about every day in our wooden stove.  It was the most pleasant surprise EVER coming back from Israel.  The girls have even come over several times for hot bread and butter, which I think would really only ever happen in Georgia.  I’m used to people coming over for a cup of coffee, but not a piece of hot bread and butter! I’m becoming quite spoiled and accustomed to homemade bread…I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go back!  I’m also addicted to instant coffee.  Never thought that would happen, but I’m going with it.

I do really miss cooking and being able to make yummy meals with new recipes.  It’s just one more thing to look forward to at the end of this journey, but for now I’m trying to get several of these Georgian recipes down pat so that I can come home and share them all with you.  Get excited… 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

To Yerevan and Back

A few days ago, I returned from a 5 day trip to Armenia with several other TLGers.  Taking advantage of 2 holidays and a weekend allowed us to explore the cosmopolitan city of Yerevan and several other surrounding areas.  Our time was filled with delicious food, good conversation, many (many) churches and great people.  
Group shot with our Marshutka driver

We decided to couchsurf again and experienced all the perils that come with this particular endeavor.  Our first couchsurfer was a bit over the top, but welcomed anyone and everyone into his home.  While this meant 3 days of sleeping on the floor using our coats and sweaters as pillows and blankets, it also meant meeting tons of new Peace Corp volunteers, travelers and Armenian University students.  After growing weary of little sleep, a few of us headed to a different couch surfer who gave us a much quieter atmosphere, beds and yummy tea and jam.  One of the reasons I love couch surfing is having the ability to find all the bars where the locals hang out.  Sumit took us to this bar called Calumet where everyone was sitting on the floor on bean bags, drinking the local brew and enjoying each other's company.  I'm not sure we would have found the bar otherwise... 

There were about 7 of us ready to explore outside Yerevan so renting a Marshutka seemed to be the most cost effective decision.  Our driver, Roman, was so wonderful.  He and Michelle totally hit it off (probably because they could actually communicate with each other and carry on a conversation), but they ended up planning our next three day trips.  Roman basically drove us all over Armenia.  We visited many churches, monasteries and even a lake.  Each famous for its own old (literally) reason.  
A beautiful church, that we actually didn't go inside... nor do I remember it's name.
But look how pretty??!! 

Geghard Monastery - A beautiful monastery nestled up in the rock hills
Etchmiadzin - the mother church of Armenia - essential to the history of Christianity 
Look how big Mt. Ararat is! 
While all the churches and monasteries we visited were equally beautiful, I found myself growing tired of going from one church to straight to another.  A few of us spent one day wandering through a couple museums.  We visited the Armenian Genocide Museum and the National Art Gallery.  This was just a heavy day as the genocide museum was just pretty gruesome and nauseating to see pictures of and read about.  Its setting was beautiful with a backdrop of Mt. Ararat (in Turkey) and being able to overlook the city of Yerevan from the top of the hill.  The art museum was nice, but I'm not sure I was able to fully appreciate it after the day we had had at the previous museum.  Luckily we finished the day off on a good night with a lovely iced coffee at a nearby cafe.  It's amazing what a little caffeine can do to brighten a depressing day. 

A few of us outside Novamonk Church - its setting was absolutely breathtaking
Group shot in front of the mountain! 
We really couldn't get enough of the mountain,
we had to sit down and ponder it for a while. 
We also ate lots of delicious and yummy food, ranging from Lebanese, Chinese, American (pizza hut - don't judge - it tasted SO amazing) and of course, Armenian.  After being away for 7 months now, being in a city where there are options and variety when it comes to food is something that I'm just not willing to NOT take advantage of! While I do love Georgian food, (blog post coming soon about that...) I miss eating food from other cultures.  This was one aspect that definitely made Yerevan much more of a cosmopolitan city.  Variety in food, great night life, department stores from all over the world, and a mix of people from different cultures and backgrounds made Yerevan a city where I thoroughly enjoyed my time.  We even managed to mix a little Karaoke in there! 

Ice cream cones for 100 Dram! YES! 
While I enjoyed the trip, I found myself anxious to go back to Georgia.  I was ready to be around familiarity again, where I could read the signs and communicate with the people.  Always a good sign! So here I am, happy to be back in Georgia, where the sun is starting to shine more and more each day, leaves are beginning to sprout and layers of clothing are slowly being shed.  Spring has sprung! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Skiing in Bakuriani is Definitely Different than Skiing in Colorado

First of all, I simply cannot believe that it's March 1st.  Where in the world did February go?? It turned out to be quite the busy month for us girls over here in the land of Samtredia.  Between computer power cord problems and losing internet due to crazy neighbors and malfunctioning cords/satelittes/i don't even know and stopped asking... blogging just hasn't been on top of the priority list!  I did want to get a quick post out though before we take off for our Armenian adventure (more about that later). 

With all the snow in February we decided it was absolutely necessary to go skiing.  The girls and I (minus Tara due to a injured foot), along with some newfound Zestaponi and Kutaisi friends headed back to Bakuriani (where we went horse backing through the mountains last fall) for a weekend of skiing and relaxing at our favorite hotel.  Both times we've visited Bakuriani we have relished in the warm rooms (you should see our faces when we realize we can wear a t-shirt and still feel warm), delicious food and the wonderful staff.  We are so taken care of whenever we visit, so we were definitely looking forward to the weekend getaway! 

We spent most of Saturday out on the slopes, which I was pretty much giddy about.  I've been itching to ski here for a while.  The last time I went skiing was in Colorado, which was clearly a great skiing experience - it's Colorado!! Let's just say that my skiing experience was quite a bit different here in Georgia.  First of all, there isn't a central ski lodge-type area where you go and pay for your ski pass for the day, find your rentals and leave any excess clothes you may have brought with you in case it's too cold or too hot.  This did not bode well for Michelle and I because we were basically dressed for the Arctic tundra! When we reached the bottom of the mountain, we were bombarded with Georgians asking us if we wanted to rent equipment from their stand.  As we looked around, we began to slowly figure things out, we were going to have to rent ski equipment from random Georgians, leave our boots with them (pray they didn't get lost or stolen) and just wear everything we brought! Finally, with the help of an English speaking man from Tbilisi, we were strapped into our new feet for the day and told to come back when we wanted to pay and retrieve our boots.  
Some of us at the top of the mountain, ready for a great run down! 
I think the most noticeable difference between skiing in CO and GE is the way we physically get up the mountain.  In CO, everyone stands in a line, waits their turn and safely gets helped onto a chair lift.  Makes sense, right? Well, in GE, everyone is crowding around the tiny little opening to get to the lift, there are ski's everywhere, people pushing, some falling over, etc. Then, rather than ride in a chair up the mountain, a man hands you a pole, with a circular piece of wood on the bottom,  that's revolving around similarly to a normal chair lift, and you quickly stick it between your legs and hold on for dear life as it drags you up the mountain! I was definitely a bit nervous and managed to only squeak out a small yelp, rather than a gut-renching scream as I struggled to maintain my balance and hold on for dear life.  But after a few times up, and after only one small fall (in which I managed to also wipe out a poor little 6 year old trying to make it up the lift as well) I'd consider myself a pro at the scary ski lift! 

The day was beautiful though, the view from the top was stunning and I loved the feeling of rushing down the mountains.  While I wished the hills would have been longer, I managed to challenge myself with some ski jumps and am proud to say I didn't fall once during the whole day!! 
Beautiful, right? 
Our evenings were spent drinking wine and playing cards, possibly belting a rendition of Elephant Love Medley with my girls and again, eating delicious food.  I really do love my life here.  I certainly can't complain!! 

As if life doesn't get any better though, the same group of us that went to Bakuriani is heading to Armenia tomorrow for a mini vacation.  We happened to have 2 national holidays (Mother's day and Women's day - yes they are holidays where kids don't have to go to school...Georgia LOVES women!!) so we're taking a couple days off of school and heading to Yerevan! We're couch surfing again and are really looking forward to staying with him! I'll be sure to post pictures when we return! Here's to a great trip!! 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who Knew a Comedy Show in Georgian Could be so Comedic??

A couple weeks ago, the girls and I were looking to get out of Samtredia for the day, so we of course, headed over to Kutaisi.  After sitting in McDonald’s for a while trying to decide with some friends what we should do that day, we finally decided to venture over to Satoplia, a park where we can see dinosaur footprints.  Cool, right? We thought so.  Well, after making the drive full of winds and curves up the mountain, we arrived at a closed, locked gate and several guards looking at us very strangely.  We tried our hardest to convince them to let us in, but they wouldn’t have any of it.  ‘Come back April 1st and we’ll let you in,’ was basically the advice we were given.  Ok…now what? We got back into the cabs (thank goodness they hadn’t left) and were left to walk around the center of Kutaisi, hoping to stumble into something. 

Good thing we did! After a quick tour of the brand new Kutaisi opera house (they let us backstage and everything -- and we even got to listen to an audition! The man’s voice made my heart melt, just in case you were wondering).  Anyway, after the tour, we meandered over to the theater, just to make sure we covered all the arts.  Much to our surprise, there was a comedy show, that afternoon! Well, we don’t understand Georgian, but it’s supposed to be a comedy show, so it’ll be funny, right? Again, we thought so. We bought tickets and went off in search of snacks (because who goes to a comedy show without snacks??)

Once the show began, we realized which comedy show we were actually seeing.  We were watching a live version of the cast of the late night famous Georgian comedy crew that plays in our host family’s homes nightly.  I recognized all of the cast members from their tv show.  Imagine getting tickets to the Jay Leno show, without realizing that it was the Jay Leno show.  It was quite hilarious.  The show was about 2 hours long, and while there were some definite slow parts because of the language barrier, overall, it was quite entertaining (well, we were reallllllly bored, so my opinion might be a bit skewed).  They sang a lot of American pop songs, with a Georgian flair, of course, danced a bit and put on several skits. 

I think the best part was being able to come home and tell Cici where I ended up that afternoon and see the look on her face.  It was like telling an American 16 year old I had just been to see Justin Bieber’s concert.  The next day, we happened to turn on the tv and the crew was on there performing a taped version of the exact same show I saw the day before.  I opted not to watch it for a second time, but enjoyed being able to assure Cici, that yes, this was the exact show I saw yesterday.  No, Amico didn’t sing Single Ladies, but he sang Shakira!

Oh, Georgia, how I love thee.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have I really reached the point where I’m frustrated, not elated by snow days??? I think so…

Pretty tree :)

Well, it’s officially winter in Samtredia now.  We managed to last until February 1 without a single snowflake, but now this snow/rain mix they call tovli here, is ever present in our little town.  Like always, I was extremely excited on the first day of snow.  I woke up and felt giddy as I looked out the window (and then really relieved when I heard that Mishiko came home to drive us to school).  The kids were marveling at the snow all day long so we scrapped all lesson plans and just talked about the snow and fun things to do in it (hey, it was all in English, so it counts, right??).  We even got out early and then I had the wettest, coldest snowball fight I’ve ever had with a bunch of my 8th grade boys…all the way home.  However, that excitement has quickly (considering it’s only the 16th) dwindled to pure annoyance. Snow seems to cause this town to come to a complete standstill.  Kids have just stopped coming to school! “It’s too cold out,” “It’s raining/snowing/it looks like it could rain/snow,” are excuses I’ve heard from kids for the past month and as weary as I’ve become of it, I’ve begun to accept that this is how it will be until the snow dissipates.
Students outside school before the bell rings throwing snowballs up at the classroom windows.
Kids over here in Georgia are just as crazy as the kiddos in America! (if not more)
I’m telling you, American children could learn a thing or two from Georgian kids about getting out of school! Some of my older kids will all text each other in the morning and decide whether or not their going to go to school! I don’t think I’ve taught a full set of students for a full week since I got back from Israel.  Let’s just say that it’s been difficult to move forward with lessons.  It’s just frustrating because the teacher’s can’t really do anything about it.  We don’t have control over whether students show up; I accepted that a long, long time ago.  However, the kids that are showing up are getting lots of small group review sessions and help with what they actually need help with.  Plus, we’ve been able to play more games and do fun activities, like make Valentine’s Day cards for each other.  I guess there is a silver lining to every cloud. 
The view of our school yard
We’ve all had lots of extra time on our hands with so much of school being canceled.  You’d think that would have allowed for a lot of blogging, but unfortunately my power cord needed some technical attention and I was without a computer for a week or so.  Luckily, author Stieg Larsson came to the rescue and provided me with great entertainment in the form the three novel saga that follows Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).  As Michelle pointed out to me, I think I read over 2000 pages in about 3 weeks!  They are simply addicting and I highly 
recommend them if you’re looking for a great read.  

With all this snow, I’ve learned how much I appreciate and miss central heating back in the states.  I love our wooden stove downstairs, but my bedroom is mighty cold!  I’ve learned the art of layering, the necessity of warm drinks and the fact that showering when it’s cold out is completely overrated.  On that note, I think I’ll help myself to another cup of tea.  Hope you all are staying warm, wherever you are in the world!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Unforgettable Journey!

Hello to all those who have been following my blog! It's been quite some time since my last entry and not surprisingly, a lot has happened since December 9th! One school semester ended, another began, I wished my Georgian family farewell and then returned to welcoming arms and we held a large supra in honor of Mishiko's 49th birthday.  Most importantly though, I visited the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine and embarked on a 30 day journey backpacking through both beautiful countries, rich with history, culture and pretty amazing people.  
Tara and I eating delicious hummus and pita (a staple of our Israeli diet) in Akko
A beautiful sunset in Tel Aviv
Because I could go on and on writing about my trip, I've decided to revert back to my high school days and play a game called Top 5.  The following are my top 5 favorite (in no particular order) memories, events or places from my trip.  Enjoy!

1. CouchSurfing
Instead of paying for hostels and hotels throughout our trip, we decided to couchsurf our way through Israel and Palestine.  It ended up being the best choice we made our entire trip because of the amazing people we met.  Our first couchsurfer was particularly great because he completely opened up his home to us and after only knowing us for 3 days, offered to let us keep our large bags at his place for the month.  We obviously took him up on his offer and so Jerusalem became our home base for the month.  We went back every few days to exchange for new clothes and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to feel like we had a home in Israel.  We had our fair share of funny stories from later couch surfers, such as the couchsurfer who wouldn’t stop talking, or the one who thought it’d be a good idea to wake us up at 6:30 am to watch the sunrise…but we also had the amazing couchsurfers who cooked us wonderful meals, gave us entire apartments to stay in, and introduced us to other amazing friends.  All in all, couchsurfing definitely made our experience unforgettable and I highly recommend it if you’re going to go backpacking in the near future, or are just looking for a way to meet new people!
Hanging out with our amazing couch surfer, Eran! 
2. Swimming in the Dead Sea and Hiking in Ein Gedi
Swimming in the Dead Sea was quite the experience.  Because there is so much salt in the sea, it’s impossible to do anything, but float on your back or stomach and try to keep your head above water! We only lasted about 20 minutes in the sea because after a while, the salt becomes quite painful and it undoubtedly gets in your eyes and mouth and feels/tastes pretty awful.  
Tara, Michelle and I floating in the Dead Sea! 
We went in unscathed, but came out looking like a group of girls that had just been attacked! Our feet were all bloody from the rocks on the shore, my nose was running because I had gotten salt up there and I was crying because my eyes burnt so much from the salt! It sounds quite terrible, but after a cold shower everything felt much better and we were able to laugh at our ridiculous selves.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the warm sun and taking advantage of the oasis where we were staying. 
A beautiful view of the mountains we hiked in Ein Gedi
Hiking in Ein Gedi the next day was absolutely wonderful! We walked along a path from waterfall to waterfall, took lots of pictures and oohed and ahhed at the various desert animals we saw.  Later, Tara, Michelle and I decided to trek up the mountains a bit more off the paved path.  Along the way we picked up several other loner hikers and turned into quite the eclectic group of people! We hiked for about an hour and made it to the top of a small mountain, but had to turn around and head back so that we could catch the bus back to Jerusalem on time.  It was such a beautiful hike though.

3. Walking around Old City in Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into 4 quarters: the Christian Quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Armenian quarter and the Muslim quarter.  Each quarter contained its own unique history and it was so wonderful to walk around exploring the markets and sights within.  I was fortunate enough to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was supposedly crucified and buried.  It was quite the experience that I can’t exactly put into words.  We also visited the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter several times because it was just such a calming and soothing place to be.  Exploring the markets in each quarter was a blast and we enjoyed lots of different foods including yummy falafel and shwarma in the Muslim quarter. 
Near the entrance to Old City in Jerusalem

Standing in front of the Western Wall
4. Christmas in Bethlehem
It was quite surreal being in Bethlehem for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it was definitely one of my favorite memories.  The town was packed with tourists from all over the world and it was just really exciting to be a part of all of it.  We attended a Christmas Eve service at a Lutheran Church that was conducted in 3 different languages, English, Arabic and German.  At one point, we were all singing Christmas hymns in our own languages, all at the same time! It was so beautiful.  We had a delicious Christmas Eve dinner at a Mexican restaurant with some friends we had met that evening.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with Trena, a friend from college, who was volunteering in Israel/Palestine for the year.  It was so great to catch up with her; plus seeing a friend from home just lovely as home definitely felt far away!
Trena and I after the candle lighting procession
Christmas Day we visited the Church of Nativity, saw (rather quickly) where his manger supposedly was, went to Saint Catherine’s Church, visited Shepherd’s field (where the shepherds saw the star in the East on Christmas morn…) and enjoyed walking around Manger Square.  We also happened to make it on National television! There was a Fox news correspondent right near the entry to the Church of Nativity and he wanted people to say Merry Christmas in their native languages! We wished everyone a Merry Christmas in Georgian!
Posing in the Church of Nativity with our new friends from the Philippines!
(they were on the news too!)
This was taken on Manger Square in Bethlehem.  Notice: balloons, a man dressed
as a bee and a mosque and palm trees in the background.  Too funny!
5. Spending time in Ramallah, Palestine and other Palestinian cities
This part of our trip was a surprise because it was not originally planned, but it was probably my favorite aspect.  Seeing firsthand what is happening between the two countries and the effects of the conflict was a lot to handle, but incredibly eye-opening.  We explored many of the larger cities in Palestine including Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem.  I also attended a demonstration in the small village of Bil’in.  I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful the people in Palestine are.  I met some that I will never, ever forget.  I felt so connected to several people that I had literally met the week before, which was what made it so difficult to leave.  I’ll be the first to admit that I was not terribly informed regarding Middle Eastern politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict itself, but after spending a month directly immersed in it, I have such a craving to know more.  While I have no idea when it is I’ll be back, I do know that I’ll be back there, someday.
A beautiful sunset in Nablus
The four of us in front of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron
Spending time with our couchsurfer/amazing friend Sam!
Ok, I should stop because if I don’t now, I never will! If you have more questions, please feel free to email or comment!