Friday, December 17, 2010

The Vacation Begins!

After 4.5 months in Georgia, tomorrow, well in 12 hours and 2 minutes to be exact, I leave for Tbilisi to start the multi-day travel odyssey that will bring me home. If all goes well I will arrive at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, Monday evening at 9:05 PM CST. Then I still have an hour car ride to my parent's town, with an obligatory stop at Target on the way. My mom already has plans for my on Tuesday, which begin much earlier than I would have liked, but oh well. I just hope my aunt won't be offended if I fall asleep on her insanely comfortable leather sofas. Moreover, considering the amount of time I will be spending at the Tbilisi, Istanbul, and Chicago-O'Hare airports, I will have ample time to write and ponder on the past four months of my life. Thankfully those places have free WiFi! And Istanbul has Burger Kings that open at 7 a.m. I think I will have a milkshake for breakfast.

However, I am curious about what life will be like when I return in a month. Will the taste of America make life in Georgia that much more difficult? My mom and her friends are already discussing this. Among my friends and I this is something we have been discussing since about day 2 of our time here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two Weeks and Counting...

Halloween 2010 with homemade brownies. The cocoa here is really dark, hence, the color.

Two weeks from right now I will be on an airplane somewhere over Europe headed from Istanbul to Chicago, and then on to Minneapolis. I am having a hard time waiting for my departure to arrive, but I have little choice in that regard. As half of my time in Georgia is over and with many of my friends leaving for good after this term, I've been doing a lot of reflecting on the past 4.5 months. There definitely is a lot to think about and to learn from to help make the next 5 months a learning and growing experience.


I think my major regret is that I have not learned more Georgian since I arrived. I understand a lot but trying to put together cohesive sentences or phrases is near impossible. Plus my Georgian comes out with a heavy French accent, so I doubt people understand anything that I am saying. Moreover, part of this I can attribute to the fact that speaking English is better for the host family than Georgian. Them knowing English is much better than me knowing Georgian, as the practical applications of that language in the United States and elsewhere in the world are limited. English, however, always comes in handy.

I also regret bringing my Roman glass necklace I bought in Jerusalem to Tbilisi, as I lost it. I had a feeling I would too.


Many of my friends have had some bad experiences here, such as attacks in stairwells, attempted robberies, actual robberies, no food, no internet (gasp!), weeks without running water, food poisoning, etc. I feel blessed that my time here has been overwhelming positive. While struggles have occurred, namely with my "English" teachers, there has nothing that has totally beat me, though many times I thought that things would beat me. Even that situation is improving. They are actually using English in their English classes! Can you imagine! They are starting to give tests! Huzzah! I now hope that this just continues until the end of the school year.

Furthermore, I think the host family has played a huge part in my happiness here. We have the four things necessary for life here:
  • Food (too much)
  • Water (hot water, sometimes too hot as the water heater seems to have only 3 temperatures: cold, scalding, and nuclear)
  • Electricity (power outages have occurred, but not with any regularity)
  • WiFi (having a WiFi connection here at the house has rocked my world)
The family includes me, but also lets me do my own thing. Considering how I have not lived with this many people in over a decade, allowing me to have my space is great. And then there is Jaba. Jaba is my 4 year old host brother. Recently, my friend commented on how lucky I am to have him. He seriously is a lot of fun, however, I am very tired of watching YouTube videos from Shakira (Waka Waka), Thomas the Tank Engine, and now Elmo Visits Santa. I had never heard the Shakira song before I arrived in Georgia, then again the World Cup is a non-event as far as America is concerned. Once my friend Evan and I were discussing the song, and the obscene number of plays on YouTube it had. (At that point it was about 205 million). He said 200 million of those were by Georgians, to which I added, 50 million of those were by my 4 year-old host brother. However, Jaba's English has really come along since I arrived. If I could only get him to say zee instead of zed for the alphabet, that would be great. He always tells me that I am a "dzalian kai gogo." (A very good girl). Except sometimes I am a "dzalian tsudi gogo" (a very bad girl), usually when I tell him not to touch my computer. Him touching the computer has bad written all over it. Or when I will not let him have chocolate.

Another thing that had made the experience great has been friends. My core group of American friends has been key in making life here good, as we can experience it together, share successes, discuss failures and dislikes, etc. Saying good bye to many of them later this week and next week will be especially hard. For me saying good-bye to Wes will be the worst. From the second I met him at Washington Dulles, I hoped we could be friends, and we were! He is amazing, as are the rest of my friends. We joke about taking a cross-country marshrut'ka trip in a Ford Transit Van with no air-conditioning to see everyone. But having Georgian friends and acquaintances has helped greatly as well. Those people will be key in the having a life department during the long, cold, dark months of February and March. Thanks to my author friend, I have met several interesting people right here in Batumi. However, living in the village (or Villagio as we have begun calling it, as the Bellagio in Las Vegas it is not), makes socializing after 7 p.m. a difficult task due to my reliance on marshrut'kas and being unwilling to pay for taxis too often.

What will the next 5 months in Georgia hold? As this is Georgia, one can only guess. Khatchapuri for sure. I've been asked to assist in program and curriculum development at Batumi State University for their new hospitality management program. Who knows where that will end up going? Plus I will be tutoring the local police officers and host mom Nato in English. That should be fun.

I came to Georgia ultimately as a test to see if I liked teaching as much as I thought I did. It was a big leap of faith with no certain outcomes. I do enjoy teaching very much, and because of the time there I am going to receive my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. With that more options to teach and live elsewhere in the world open up. I cannot wait to see what experiences await me now. I hope to spend a significant time in the Middle East teaching. Why I am so drawn there, I am not sure, but something about Qatar of all places feels right.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The LDS Church in Georgia

As many of my readers are located in Utah, every time I live abroad they seem to be interested in what the LDS Church is like the country where I currently am. Consequently, this post is more for them. Just this morning while chatting with one of them on Facebook, after asking how I was the next question was, "So do you go to Church in Georgia?"

Answer: No.

Before my departure to Georgia, I dutifully checked where the nearest LDS congregation was. According to the Meetinghouse Locator on the nearest congregation was in a different country: Armenia. I was surprised by this in some regards considering the growth rate of the Church in other parts of the former Soviet Union, especially in the Ukraine and Russia. Yet at the same time it sort of made sense considering the long religious history tied to the area. With such a history, people probably would not be very receptive. Consequently, I arrived in Georgia fully thinking I was one of the only, if not the only member, in the entire country.

In October I discovered that there are indeed LDS congregations in Georgia. Two, in fact. There are about 190 members and 12 missionaries. They seemed surprised to find out I was here. I guess someone in the Springdale Ward never bothered to send my records to Armenia and the mission offices there. The congregations are both in Tbilisi, and I am guessing largely comprised of expatriates, diplomats for the US Embassy, much like was the case in Tel Aviv. I am literally the only member for hundreds of kilometers in any direction (more when you head south into Turkey). Because of the distance to Church, I do not go. I am going to try to just before I leave for the United States, just to say that I went while here. While in Israel I had to go halfway across the country to get to Church, now I have to go pretty much across an entire country to get to Church. Before when I thought the nearest congregation was in Yerevan, I was excited at the prospect of being able to tell people back home that "Yeah, I had to get passport stamps and a visa just to go to Church." That would have impressed them greatly.

While in Tbilisi a couple of weeks ago, I actually saw missionaries on Rustaveli Street. It was weird. Earlier that morning I had thought that it was a possibility, but considering the size of Tbilisi and the small number of missionaries, it was extremely unlikely. While sitting in the Marco Polo Restaurant waiting for our lunch, I see them walk by. Of everything to notice first, it was the black and white name tags. Much to my friend's surprise I quickly ran out of the restaurant to talk to them. It was odd that they didn't pick up on the fact that I was LDS when I first said, "I'm from Utah!" They only got it when I said that I went to BYU. (Those four years are a time I am trying hard to forget. As my friend Rob says, "Provo is the Heart of Darkness." It truly is. It's only redeeming quality is that the Provo Bakery is there.) We chatted briefly, and from them I learned that there are at least 4 other teachers in Georgia who are LDS. But I still remain the sole one in the Western half of the entire country.

Georgian Weather

To most people any mention of weather in any part of the former Soviet Union would/still does conjure up images of a bleak, barren, snow-covered Siberian wasteland that exists 365 days a year. While those areas do exist, the Batumi area is not one of least for now. Lately my friends in the US have been asking me about the weather a lot, fully expecting that I will respond with conditions reminiscent of Siberia, and are shocked when I tell them it is the complete opposite. It has been nothing short of amazing for weeks on end, though it is raining at the moment.

Despite being raised in the frozen tundra that is Minnesota, I've become rather soft when it comes to dealing with weather. In high school, walking to school when it was -26 F with a -76 F windchill was no big deal. After years in the desert I've discovered that cold temps (basically anything below 50 F) and I are not friends. It got to the point while living in Southern Utah that I struggled if I even had to scrape ice from the wind shield of my car. For me the hotter, the better. But I will not take hot mixed with humid. When I first arrived in Georgia I thought my death was imminent because of the high temps and higher humidity. During our training in Kutaisi (Georgian for "depressing" and "soul crushing," I believe), the air conditioners could barely keep up the heat and humidity were so bad. But happily I survived...barely.

Curiously, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Batumi are nearly the same distance north of the equator (about 44 degrees versus 41 degrees). However, the weather could not be more different. Presently Minneapolis and a great deal of Minnesota have snow advisories in effect, with temps of 18 F currently according to Here it is in the 60s, and yesterday it was close to 80, if not more. It was AWESOME, and the great weather has been a constant topic of discussion amongst my friends and I. If one had to guess the current weather based on what Georgians are wearing, one would not think of sunshine and balmy temperatures. Georgians all are wearing thick coats, hats, scarfs, gloves, fur-lined boots, and layers of clothing underneath. It is as though they feel we live north of the Arctic Circle! It is no wonder then why I get looks for still wearing Chaco sandals, capri pants, and t-shirts.

Unfortunately, I am not sure how long the great weather will last. Supposedly, it does nothing but rain for the months of January, February, March, and April. Great; I can't wait! Two weeks from today I return to Minnesota, and I am praying for temps to be at least above freezing, which is wishful thinking on my part. My cold weather wardrobe is severely lacking after years in the desert. My only jackets are Marmot and Mammut fleeces from my years at Zion Adventure Company. I have a wool hat here, and I bought gloves in Turkey on Saturday, but it will not be enough to survive Minnesota in December and January. I've also been warned that it is thoroughly in adequate for Chicago in the winter as well, which I will also be visiting. Then again, Chicago is the Windy City.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yes, my hair is blonde. No, you do not need to stare.

My hair is very blonde by Georgian standards, though my sister would say that it is not blonde at all. (It is.) Consequently, it makes me stand out...a lot. It makes my desire to blend into the local community much harder than it would be otherwise. It quickly becomes apparent to people that I am not from around here. But it is curious to hear where they think I am from. Often America is not their first guess. Here I am mistaken for being from continental Europe (Germany is popular) or even more bizarrely from Turkey or Azerbaijan. I have never met anyone form Azerbaijan, but judging from the Azeris I have seen getting out of cars by the Sheraton, they do not seem to have blonde hair or light skin.

The blonde hair and very fair skin contrasts significantly to the dark hair and olive skin that most people possess here. Without fail when I open the door to the marshrut'ka, people stare. It is unsettling and rather annoying. Perhaps they are surprised to see someone with naturally blonde hair, as most of the "blonde" hair here is courtesy of Clairol or Loreal. I have seen a few people with lighter hair than me who were not American. But even those people are rare. What is perhaps the funniest part of this story is that my friend, Chanchal, who is Indian gets mistaken for being Georgian. Her host family saw a picture of her before she arrived and thought how Georgian she looked and how she would blend in well in family pictures. The hair and skin are also dead giveaways to the staff of supermarkets that I am not from around here, and consequently, need to be closely followed throughout the entire store. I want to scream at them, "If you want me to buy something, you need to back off!"

The story was much the same in Israel as well. At least in Georgia being foreign did not result in a myriad of shopkeepers trying to get my business, perhaps because there English was spoken much more often. While there I took to wearing scarves and keeping my blonde hair tucked under a hat. It fooled some, but not many. In Israel as well most people did not think I was American, but French, Australian, German, Canadian or Russian. Once my hair provolked an interesting conversation in Jerusalem. While walking past a barber shop in the Old City, the owner offered to give me a haircut. Though after 2 months I desperately needed it, I did not know if a barber shop was the best place for that to happen. He tried to impress me with the fact that he cut the hair for all the Marines at the nearby American consulate, and that he had previously cut the hair of Colin Powell and Barack Obama. While impressive, those facts scared me because none of those people have much hair at all. I did not want a Marine cut in the least.

Being Friends with a Best Selling Author

Georgia is a small enough country that the odds of running into famous people here are higher than in, say, the United States (unless you live in Los Angeles or New York). I've met the president and have seen him chillaxing in Batumi since that time. He was just sitting next to his LandCruiser by the InTourist Hotel on Rustaveli. In Springdale I encountered a few famous people over the years: Laura Bush (her husband was still President at this time), Aron Ralston (post self-surgery), and Karl Malone (he tips well). I am still upset about not meeting Sonny Trotter when he was in town, and that my friend Calvin got to climb with him. (During graduate school a picture of a shirtless Sonny T from a Patagonia catalog climbing the Cobra Crack in Canada was on the wall next to my desk. I looked at it a lot). In Georgia, I've actually become friends with one.

This friendship came about largely because of a lobiani.

Lobiani is a Georgian dish of beans in a baked dough casing. Usually, I do not like to eat at the Literatuli Cafe in Batumi, but on a Friday in early November, I felt like having a lobiani. While conversing with my friend, Chanchal, about the recent events, frustrations, successes, etc. at our recent schools and with our host families, a man at a neighboring table asked us if we were some of "the teachers." Yes, we responded. This man asked if we knew of a Jimmy, who was teaching in Batumi. I thought I could help the two connect, but unfortunately, Chanchal and I could not make it happen. We began chatting, and eventually invited this guy to join us at our table to continue the conversation.

We soon learn that David (Dato) is a Georgian author with 14 books to his name, had lived in Iowa for awhile, and was in Batumi as the local theater was working on a production of one of his plays. He was really interesting to talk to, and soon invited us to a party he was about to attend. Sure, why not? The random event invitation was not really that surprising as the night had already had some random moments, including the discovery of the new consulate for Iran in Batumi and a Hobbit-sized woman with 2 teeth asking me if I was Turkish. At this point we had no idea how famous by Georgian standards Dato was, or even his last name. I should have known we were associating with someone special with the almost reverence with which people treated him at the gathering. The party was great as Chanchal and I met cool local people, one of whom lived in Utah for awhile. I instantly became his new best friend. We thought we would be at the party for maybe an hour; we stayed five.

The following day we made plans to have lunch with Dato. While at my house I mentioned to my host sister how I was going to have lunch with "some Georgian author named David that I had met last night." She asked, "Dato Turashvili?" with an excited look on her face. I don't know, maybe.

It was Dato Turashvili.

On Saturday Chanchal and I realized that we were dealing with someone very popular in Georgia, and it was then we realized he was a bestselling author here. He is quick to point out, however, that he was bestselling after Harry Potter. But of course. Since our chance meeting in Batumi, we have visited with Dato in Tbilisi as well, going to a radio station and an interview with him at Prospero's Bookstore. While with him we met a famous poet and a radio personality. We often wonder why he is so interested in associating with two teachers from North America, when he has practically all of Georgia to be friends with.

Recently Dato published a fictionalized book about the events surrounding the 1983 hijacking of a plane between Tbilisi and Batumi. The plane was hijacked by university students in an attempt to leave the Soviet Union, and at the time was an event that highly polarized the people in Georgia. It is Flight from USSR, and unfortunately, it is not available on It provides interesting insight into life in the 1980s in Soviet Russia, during the days glasnost and perestroika. I've tried to find more information on the events, but with little luck thus far. The story is very intriguing, and has the potential to be made into a film with its romance, intrigue, and violence.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Village Remedies

It is interesting the line that my host family walks between life in the village (which for us is more like suburban Batumi) and living in the 21st century. Tradition, despite how contrary to modern life, still dictates a lot. I find the meeting of modern medicine and village remedies an interesting case study.

My host mother is a physician, a pediatric neurologist, and our house has plenty of Russian medicine around, but the mercury thermometer continues to unsettle me. While she facility she works in is still lacking by American standards (the Mayo Clinic it is not), she does not hesitate to use modern medicine to treat illnesses. Or to use village remedies as well.

For a long time I've believed that homeopathic remedies do have value and can be mixed with modern medicine to obtain results. However, there are times when homeopathic remedies border on the crazy. I've seen such in Georgia.

In my village it seems that cabbage is the go to for all of one's aches and pains. The first time I saw cabbage work its magic was with my Bebia (grandmother) and her head ache. We were eating lunch and Bebia brings out some cabbage leaves, which I presumed she was eating. No, she began to put them on her head. I turned to my host sister, and before I could say anything, she responds, "Grandma has a headache...the cabbage is to help it." She returned to eating and nothing more was said. She acted as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

Being a Westerner, I was highly skeptical that it would help her at all. The day the cabbage leaves went on her head, making her resemble a Cabbage Patch Kid newly hatched from the cabbage patch, she did not look well. In fact, it looked as though she could go at anytime. The next day the result was astonishing! She looked as though she had years to live, and was joking with the grandchildren as if nothing had been wrong. I thought I would have to look into village remedies some more.

My second encounter with village remedies still unsettles me greatly. It happened last week, and there is no way I will ever do this one. My host brother had been suffering from a low grade fever for several days. On about day 4, we were in the study with one of the host cousins, who by Georgian standards, is very nice to look at. All of the sudden my host brother has his hand down his pants.

"Jaba...ara." He continues despite my protests.

Now the host cousin gets involved, admonishing him in Georgian, yet Jaba does not stop. Soon he pulls something out of his pants and throws it across the room. It was cabbage. At this point I am thoroughly confused. Cabbage...? Pants...? Why...? I thought over and over. Soon my host sister arrived, and I told her what had happened.

"Ummm...Jaba had cabbage in his pants. What is going on?"

Without a hint of irony in her voice she says, "'s for his fever."

"But he had cabbage. In. His. Pants."

And she walks away. More or less immediately I figured it out. I also decided I never want to know the reasoning behind that remedy ever. However, it does make a good story to tell and when my North American friends hear it, the reaction is always the same, sort of "WTF?" My sentiments exactly.

Little Georgian Stories

Today's post is comprised of little bits of Georgian life that 1) do not fit anywhere else 2) parts of previous posts I forgot to mention or 3) stories too short to warrant a whole post to itself. It will likely become a regular component to the blog.

The Second Georgian Wedding: Adventures of the Drunk Uncle
The 2nd Georgian Wedding, and the subject of a post from about 2 weeks ago, involved my host mother's family; her niece to be exact. One of her brothers, Achille, I've sort of gotten to know from visiting the family business. The family owns a construction company, a small one, that just happens to build 16-storey, 90 apartment complexes. Achille speaks a little English, and 30 seconds after I first met him he asked if I was married and upon hearing "no," immediately informed me that he had some one for me. Fortunately, in 3 months this someone has not yet appeared. Back to the wedding...I saw him briefly as he toasted his niece and her new husband. I made a mental note to say hi during my time there. Later I asked my host sister where he was so that I might say hi. Her response was classic, albeit, shocking:
"The hospital."
"Oh, he drank too much."
Based on the tone of her voice, I concluded that this was not the first time such an event had befallen Uncle Achille. Also, it seemed as though such an occurance was not unusual for Georgian weddings. I base this assumption on what I have seen and the stories I've heard about the experiences of my American friends at weddings they have attended.
During the drive home, I asked her if Achille was going to be okay. Her response this time was even more shocking than the first.
"Yes, he's fine. He's out of the hospital. He even came back to the wedding."
I was speechless. Basically, he got plastered, had his stomach pumped, and still came back for more. I wonder what his BAC would have been? Only in Georgia...
Marshrut'kas: Not Only for Humans
Earlier this week I wrote about the wonderful world of the marshrut'ka. I failed to mention how I've also shared them with animals. Not kidding.
This happened in August on the way back from Keda. Keda is about an hour from Batumi, and for Americans the village featured in Borat might help to provide some reference. However, there are villages in Georgia even more Borat-esque. This village does have water and even spotty internet access. During the long, bumpy, and crowded ride back, I related what I had seen on a marshrut'ka during our hell trip to Kutaisi. (100 F, with a 100% humidity, and unreliable air conditioning in a bus of 36 people). We had stopped at a wayside, and there was a group in a marshrut'ka. It was packed with every imaginable item, almost as if the people were moving in it. One old women even had a chicken. Eventually she started carrying it in a plastic bag to avoid it running away. My friends were shocked, and not 2 seconds after I finished, we started hearing chicken noises...on the marshrut'ka. There was a chicken riding too. I wonder how much owners have to pay for their livestock to ride? If it is 1.5 lari for a human, 30 tetri for a chicken, perhaps?
Yesterday while on a marshrut'ka home, I saw a man with a goat at the bus station. I sincerely hope he was not trying to get that on one.
Insight into Village Life
Yesterday I took half of my class I hold after school to Batumi. These are the students with great promise in the English language, so I work with them in a small group. After yesterday I realized just how sheltered life in Georgia really is. To be honestly, I already knew this, but yesterday it was greatly reinforced.
It was apparent quickly that the students in my school do not get out much. The trip to the American Corner at the Public Library was a BIG DEAL. One girl even went home to change into dress-up clothes to go. This is odd to me because I go to Batumi all the time. We can see Batumi from our village, it is just a short marshrut'ka ride away. This further illustrates why the world view of Georgian students is so small: they simply do not get out. The majority of students in the school have not been to Tbilisi, and it is likely I have seen more of their country in the 3.5 months I have been here then they have in their whole lives. But today at school one of the girls could not stop talking about how much yesterday meant to her. As long as they start thinking beyond the borders of Georgia, that is a good thing.
Earlier in the year, I asked the 12th graders if they could go anywhere in the world on a dream trip, where would they go. The few who responded all wanted to go to places in Georgia, Svaneti was the most popular. Really guys? It was disheartening.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Update: The Host Family Winery & Distillery

Last week I wrote about the host family's wine and moonshine production at our home. Since that time I've learned some key information about it. This is now the second weekend of chacha (Georgian moonshine) making.

First, the wine and chacha is a supply for about 2 to 3 years, serving my host family and a couple of extended families as well. It is not, as I originally thought, for this year only.

Second, the chacha is 140 proof! It is about 70% alcohol! How crazy is that?

It's the Final Countdown!

I will be back in the United States in about 5 weeks. Not only does the calendar tell me that, but the discussions with my North American friends do as well. Our discussions seem to revolve a lot around of the American persuasion and when, where, and how much of it we will be eating. Right now much of the conversation seems to focus on what we will be eating first upon our arrival in the US a.k.a. where we will be stopping on the way home from the airport.

This morning I began thinking on this topic and why food is so central to an experience, place, holiday, or a culture, and why we miss the things we do. I will admit I have wrote some in my travel journal about what I miss the most and what I want to eat. Perhaps the topic of food is even more prevalent right now as Thanksgiving is next week in the US. I will be sitting in school thinking of everything my friends in Springdale and family in Minnesota will be consuming. I'll also be thinking about how great Thanksgiving was last year at Frank and Charlie's, how Frank was a little tipsy by the time I arrived from ZAC, Dan's amazing rolls with the pretzel-like crust, Charlie's 5000 calorie mashed potatoes, how popular my caramel pecan cheesecake was, and Thanksgiving II across Juniper Lane with my ZAC friends. Since Thursday is my short day at school, perhaps I will go and get lobios, a bean dish, at my new favorite restaurant as some small compensation. As Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I am probably thinking about it even more than I normally would. It is probably good I will be back for the holidays this year, as Christmas in Israel was a different experience last year. I missed out on so much of the foods specific to this time of year.

Back to our the time for our return nears, the lists seem to get longer and more detailed as the weeks since we have had our favorite foods grows longer and the time until we can have them grows shorter. I have 4 food related lists going in order to maximize my culinary experiences while back in the US for my month-long break.

First is the "Foods at the Airport" list. These are foods that I will consume while waiting for my baggage at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. These are also foods I miss the most, and can easily be consumed while waiting an during the car ride to Owatonna down that delightful stretch of road known as I-35.
  • Hummus

  • Baby carrots

  • Life cereal

  • Dr. Pepper

  • Cadbury Chocolate Eggs, the Christmas Version

Next, is the list of "Holiday Foods and Things to Eat in Owatonna." This list is still relatively short, and will grow considerably in the next 5 weeks.

  • Spritz cookies (a holiday butter cookie, preferably decorated with red hots so that my sister will not eat them)

  • Dutch Babies (a family recipe of a baked pancake)

  • Pizza from the Pizza Ranch

  • Smoothies

  • Culver's for custard

  • Pasties (a common food in Northern Michigan)

  • Brownies

  • Avocados

  • Banana bread

  • Calico beans

  • Chocolate chip cookies

The third list is "Foods on the Road." I'll be doing some travelling while in the US, and I have to make sure that I get these items:

  • Calvin's Banana Pancakes

  • Huevos Rancheros with no sour cream and extra guacamole from Oscar's

  • Moqui Mac from the Hell's Backbone Grill cookbook

  • Hot cocoa with chili powder

Finally, the last list is perhaps the most important. The last list is what I am going to bring back for the 5 remaining months in Georgia. It is rather long, and a visit to a Costco will probably be necessary to help fill it. The foods I will be bringing back are either ones that cannot be found here or that can be found here, but the Georgian equivalent is seriously lacking. Current items include hot chocolate mix, dried cranberries, nuts, and real spices. (In Georgia, they seem to only use dill and coriander to spice foods). Increasingly, I think my focus on food for my return is so great because there is so much I could not have here. My host family does not have an oven, which has severely limited my cooking and baking abilities.

Georgian Public Transportation

I got my first email address in 1997. A Rocketmail account, which ironically I still have 13 years later. In the early days of email and the internet, few of my friends at Owatonna High School in Minnesota seemed to be online. My family had it because of my dad's employer. Consequently, during the early days of email my friends and I would forward eachother anything that seemed remotely cool. My personal favorite was a list entitled, "Ways to Know You Are from Minnesota."

This list was spot on. It included such gems as:
  • You've trick or treated in a snow suit. (Halloween 1992 was a prime example).

  • You know Lake Wobegan is not a real place. (Once I moved to Utah when people asked about Garrison Keillor I would also answer by saying, "You do know Lake Wobegan is not real, right?")

  • You never thought you had an accent until you saw the movie Fargo. (This was very true for me.)

One may wonder what this list has to do with Georgian public transportation. Well, one of the items was:

  • You have no concept of public transportation.

It's true. I didn't. In Owatonna there was the SCAT Bus (Steele County Area Transit), however, if one looked at the routes it became apparent very quickly that it was geared towards senior citizens based on the stops at the Owatonna Clinic, Sterling Drug Store, and Senior Place. My dad always wanted my sister and I to practice using it for the times in the future when we would live in places where real public transportation existed. This is something we never did as my sister argued she would never ride "the poop bus."

My first experience with public transportation was in Utah. I was practically in hysterics during the ride from the BYU campus to the Provo Olive Garden. (Not my finest dining moment I admit). My senior year I became somewhat more comfortable with it as that year the university gave us free passes to use the UTA bus system, however, I took it largely from my apartment to the Wilkinson Center and that was it). But that was a sanitized version of public transportation. As is the shuttle service in Springdale and Zion National Park, Utah. (But in Springdale the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive route does get old fast. I can only take so much of, "That is the sound of the canyon wren. Hello and welcome to Zion National Park!..." My friends and I probably drive tourists crazy by quoting the recording.)

The public transportation in Georgia is a far cry from Utah's. It makes me pine for Utah's. Even Israel's was better, and there I had to share buses and sheruts with IDF soldiers and their (supposedly) loaded M-16s and breakdowns in the middle of the Negev Desert. In Georgia, the majority of transportation is by marshrut'ka. It is a hellish way to travel. I've said it before and I will say it again:

The marshrut'ka is a level of hell that Dante could not have envisioned.

Any description of one is still not enough to full understand what it is. They are by and large filty Ford Transit vans crowed with as many people as humanly possible. Personal space is non-existant, and today I got to sit next to a man who reeked of cat urine. Some of the nicer ones have a handle bar to hold on to for those standing, but few drivers seem to want to make the $5.00 investment for supplies. Some of the nicer ones are Sprinters, and sometimes I wish I lived on the 139 route instead of the 140, because then I could be in a Sprinter. (After Zion Adventure Company I have a soft spot in my heart for them). Oh well. During the hot, dirty, humid Batumi summer, I referred to them as the "Airless Chambers." The windows usually open about 2 inches, making the ride even more unbearable. Sometimes I would see drivers drive with the side sliding door open in an attempt to help cut the stifling heat.

They do have 2 redeeming qualities. First, they are very, very cheap. I can get from my village (which is basically suburban Batumi) to Batumi for a mere 50 tetri, about 25 cents. I can make it all the way to the Turkish border for about 75 cents. Sometimes I wonder how the driver can break even between wages, gas, payments, and upkeep at the prices charged. Second, they do not have set stops. You and get on or off at any part of the route. You just yell at the driver to pull over, and he does. This, however, also is a big drawback to the world of marshrut'kas, as people here do not seem to want to walk anymore than necessary. The marshrut'ka will drop someone off, and drive literally 5 feet and someone else will want to either get off or on. The people are too lazy to walk to the marshrut'ka. Consequently, when a lot of this happens, the ride can easily become even more unbearable.

Turkey has them as well, and riding them is an absolute joy in comparasion. They are clean and not crowded with people. Maybe a person stands, that's all. Once my friend told me how the driver of his Turkish marshrut'ka would not let him get on until, get this, he was done putting CLEAN seat covers on the seats. How awesome is that? Georgians could learn a lot from Turkey's example in this regard. But I will continue to use marshrut'kas because there are no other options as we are forbidden to drive while in Georgia. But when I return to the US next month for my holiday, I will drive like crazy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Host Family Winery & Distillery

In Georgia making homemade wine and spirits is a big deal. I've been told that serving store bought wine to guests is frowned upon. Even people living in apartments will have grape vines surrounding their place so that they can harvest the grapes to make their qkhvino. My family is no exception to this. However, considering the size of the operation, we have to buy our own grapes.

Living in Georgia has been a continual education to drinking and alcohol. Never having touched alcohol and years of living in Utah makes me pretty ignorant of all thing alcohol related. Also, this is the first time I've been around people when they are drunk. Sure, my friends in Utah would drink, but not to the point they were acting ridiculous and making foolish and/or dangerous choices. (I think they drank less because I was there). Many of the Americans here are taking it to the extreme. It bothers me a lot. After some recent events, I really do not want to be around the other Americans when they have been drinking. It can be really embarrassing.

The Host Family Winery

The winery began operating about a month ago. One day I noticed about a dozen 55 gallon barrels arrive in the garage. At first I thought maybe that is what we have to store water in for the winter, which horrified me. The prospect of having no water for the winter was unrealistic I thought. Then I thought, "Perhaps it is paint" as I saw one of the host cousins mixing something. This was possible due to the fact that one of the houses is still under construction. No. The barrels were where the grapes were fermenting for the wine. For quite some time every evening host cousin Zura and host dad Jemal were in the garage crushing grapes and doing what needs to be done to make wine.

Yesterday I saw the results of the dozen barrels of wine. My host family has at least 50 20-liter jugs of wine in storage. Not being a drinker, I'm not sure how much wine comes in a bottle, maybe 500 mL or 16 ounces. (And I worked in a liquor store, albeit it was in Utah). Needless to say, we have a lot of wine for drinking made from 3 varieties of grapes. All this wine is for just two families.

The Host Family Distillery

Yesterday I arrived home to a contraption set up in the driveway. At first I could not tell what was going on. There was a bunch of hoses, a couple of metal things, a lot of water, and an awful smell. I could not contain my curiosity. Being as naive as I am about alcohol, I asked my host dad, "Qkhvino?" "Ara...chacha," he responded.


Chacha is Georgian moonshine, a very potent, high proof vodka. (I'd like to know how high, but I doubt I could convey that question). Many of my friends will not go near it anymore, as it is that potent. For the past two days another host cousin has been dutifully tending the chacha maker. I watch, as it is interesting, but soon the smell gets to me. It is a long process for which the family will only get 40 liters of chacha. But that is still a huge amount of alcohol.

None of this is regulated like it would be in the United States. People here do not have to worry about the ATF coming after them or being in a dry county. I wonder if Georgians have ever heard of Prohibition in the United States. If so, I wonder how they would respond.

The irony of the Host Family Winery and Distillery is that my host family is Muslim. The Koran does not exactly promote alcohol consumption.

(More pics and a video can be found on my Facebook).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lake Powell Canyoneering April 2010

I've posted other trip reports from canyoneering trips I've done in the past; somehow this trip report did not get posted. It's a little long, but a lot happened during the 48 hours on the trip.

Lake Powell 2010 – Team III

Dates: Thursday, April 15th to Saturday, April 17th, 2010
Place: Navajo Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
People: Jonathan, Rick, Calvin, Shelley, Daniel, Ram & Me
The Pre-Departure

Lake Powell 2010 was something I was both dreading and anticipating since Lake Powell 2009 occurred. Seeing my name on the calendar for 2010 while the Powelling 2009 was taking place filled me with dread. At that time I had not even commenced the Charlotte M. Vaillancourt Baby Steps to Canyoneering course, and the prospect of multiple days on the lake in canyons horrified me. However, as the months wore on I became (secretly) much more excited about the prospect of going, and saddened when I received the email notice that I had been removed from my Lake Powell Guide Shift. Oh well, some other time…maybe, I thought.

Then Jonathan’s email arrived.

Lake Powell would happen in 2010. Suddenly, I had to make a decision. I chose to take the path of least resistance so that I would not have to make a choice: I would simply volunteer to work for anyone else who wanted to attend. I believed that was the easiest way to get me out of going, despite how much I wanted to go. I spent a lot of time rationalizing why I should not be there, and largely the one thing that I came back to continually was that I did not want to hinder anyone else’s experience while there.

Eventually (as I expected would happen) Calvin started talking to me about going on this trip. I will not go into the specifics of the often heated discussions about me going, but one line from Calvin that stuck with me was, “Charlotte, you do not need to be a martyr.” Long story short, things worked out that I was able to go. However, I had a new problem to confront: I had to determine whether I was going for myself or simply going to ensure that Calvin would stop talking to me about it. (I viewed it more as lecturing). For a while I thought that I was going for Calvin, but eventually I realized that I was going for me. I cannot remember when exactly this change of heart occurred, simply that it happened. This was something I needed to do, more importantly, I wanted to do. Two things continued to plague me as the departure date approached:

1. The fear of hindering the experience of others
2. If I have yet to be successful in Snake Alley, how could I begin to be successful at Lake Powell?

As the date of the departure approached, I seriously considered offering to Jonathan and Rick that since I was (at that point) the sole member of Team III, there was no reason for them to stay at the Lake just for me: Once again, an attempt to get out of going. Then Shelley and Daniel added on, and it was reassuring to hear from Shelley that she had many of the same fears about her first Powelling as I did. Suddenly, my anticipation for the trip was real. Water and red rocks are two of my favorite things. My view of Lake Powell has always been heavily influenced by Edward Abbey, I must admit. The first book I checked out from the library when I moved to Springdale, ironically, was The Monkey Wrench Gang. I had no idea what it was about; I just found the title curious.

As soon as I was feeling good about the trip something would happen that would destroy any hope I had about the days on the Lake. A major confidence destroyer happened at Lamb’s Knoll four days before the Team III departure. Calvin decided that we would do a reverse Snake Alley by working our way up from the bottom. I was game, feeling confident from the 10 feet I climbed at Snow Canyon on the Breakfast Nook route the day before. As we are all keenly aware, Calvin makes things look disgustingly easy. Moreover, he repeatedly instructed me to put my feet on these small, practically non-existent pieces of rock. Right Calvin, as if that piece of sandstone is really going to help in any capacity. I as struggled to stem along the rock to get past the narrowest point of the slot, the tears began to flow. I fell repeatedly, frustrated greatly with everything, satisfied with nothing. My only success of the venture seemed to be landing on my feet, like a cat as Calvin said.

Calvin’s patience through the event was remarkable, when I can consider it in retrospect. At that time I was furious at him for allowing me to fail, and to fail repeatedly. I hated him at that point, especially since he knows what limited canyoneering abilities I have. Could he not see that once again I was failing at Snake Alley, something he had already witnessed before? Moreover, I was frustrated with myself for failing. My attitude that I brought back from Israel that if I can successfully navigate the bus system in a country where I speak neither of the two primary languages I can do anything was not working. Getting back to the car was a highlight of that Snake Alley (mis)adventure.

D-Day at Stateline Marina
By Thursday I was feeling good about going. I was excited about the prospect of crossing 2 things off of my 30 by 30 list, which is comprised of 30 things to do before I turn 30 in September. I wanted to canyoneer at Lake Powell, and the more unlikely of the two, do a first descent of a canyon. Things were going well until I find out Calvin was coming. It was difficult to try and hide my apprehension over that announcement. I had been excited at the prospect of a Calvin-free trip as he had seen too much of my failures of late: stemming, climbing, pita bread making. I simply could not bear to have him see me fail again. Besides I felt that Calvin set unrealistic expectations for me in a lot of areas, which is hard to do considering how high my expectations are for myself already.

As I nervously sipped my Frosty from the Kanab Wendy’s, I tried to think of anything other than my impending doom. I considered that at that point I still had the ability to return to Springdale with Team II. But would that be the best option? Life sort of became like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books right then, the ones that are so cool in about 3rd grade, but by 4th grade you are sort of ashamed to have read them. I could choose from:

· Page 36: Return to Springdale in a gear-crowded white LandCruiser always wondering what would have happened.
· Page 58: Get on a canyoneering gear laden Tritoon with a boat captain wearing a Reagan Republican t-shirt, which is both a bold political and fashion statement.

Obviously, I choose page 58, not without considerable trepidation, however. As we sped along to base camp, I felt as though I was woefully ill-prepared from a gear standpoint. I second guessed everything I brought. Packing for these 2 days required more from a weight perspective than what I took for 2 months in Israel. Thinking about packing was the only way I could attempt to keep my sanity.

‘Oh no…HELL no!’ I thought to myself loudly as Jonathan discussed Friday’s adventure to us. The announcement that clean canyoneering was done in Glen Canyon was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted bolts to rappel off of, not sand. I did not come here for that or to die for that matter. As I headed to the Groover that night, I was livid. ‘Where is the operational transparency here?!?!? That is something I should have known before I left! I would have not come had I known!’ Jonathan was not my favorite person right then. But it is hard to stay mad for long at someone who takes such pride in wearing women’s sunglasses he found in the ZAC lost and found, ones that make him oddly resemble Bono from a mid-1990s U2 video.

All night I had a song I learned as a young child in Sunday School running through my head. It is based on some verses in Matthew, I think, about two men. One of the men is wise and builds his house on rock for a firm foundation. The other is foolish, and he builds his house on sand, and when the rains came his house washed away. All night the lyrics for me said how wise people rap off of bolted anchors and foolish people rap off of sand. It did not help in the instilling confidence department in the least. Before I left Springdale I thought about my mantras from when I did Pine Creek last November. I wanted them to work at Powell, but that seemed increasingly unlikely. The mantras were:

· I will not let fear and anxiety hinder my progression.
· No tears.

The Canyon Descent
Stepping off of the Canyon Queen on Friday morning made me feel like a lamb going to the slaughter. Moreover, seeing Rick drive away made everything so final. Never had I been so sad to see a Republican Fox News fan leave. From this point forward I was committed. As much as I did not want to do this, I said I had to do at least one canyon while on this trip. My limited canyoneering skills would be stretched to their capacity, as I had never clean canyoneered before, never dealt with potholes, and I had only done canyons that are frequently travelled (i.e. Pine Creek and Keyhole). Only just now have I considered the implications of doing a first descent of a canyon. There is a lot more uncertainty present than I ever thought.
Ram seemed to be cognizant of my discomfort regarding the whole rappelling of sand bag thing more than the others. He attempted to reassure me about the security of sand because of its weight. Little at that point could dissuade me from believing anything except that it was an insanely foolhardy thing to do.

Key moments from the day were:

· Successful rappels: Rappelling, once the major canyoneering nemesis, is no longer! Even having to rappel into a willow tree was no big deal. I did my longest rappel to date of approximately 120 feet, which by ZAC standards is rather small. Perhaps part of the success can be attributed to the fact that I did not use an autoblock, something with which I still struggle.

· First descent, baby!: Black Beauty aka Black Stallion Canyon.

· Sand traps & meat anchors: One of my primary concerns was something that turned out to be no big deal. Having to deal with potholes drew my attention from the fact I was rappelling off of sand or Ram or Daniel. When it is heavy and wet, sand seems to do an awesome job of being an anchor.
· Potholes: I immediately developed an intense hatred for potholes, which is an apt name for them. Needless to say almost immediately my second mantra failed me, and the first one was often not far behind. I was seriously tempted to turn back, hike back down, and wait for Rick’s return. But obviously, I did not, a choice for which I am grateful. Despite my dislike of them I dealt with them, sometimes not with as much grace as I should have. At one point I accused Jonathan of lying to me, for which I apologize. Ultimately, I need to work with them more. Maybe a course just on potholes would be in order in the future.

· Relationships (Ram): Having Ram there was rather intimidating at first; after all he is known in canyoneering circles and wrote the introduction to the seminal work, Zion: Canyoneering. For some reason I oddly felt that him seeing me on this trip would negatively impact his view of Zion Adventure Company, which is not what I wanted to have happen. (I envisioned him thinking of me, ‘Do they hire just anyone off the street now?’). But just as Shelley had said, he is just a big teddy bear. His patience was phenomenal, and his simple explanations aided me greatly, especially since I feel that I must knew the big picture before I feel I can safely proceed, especially with gear and technical equipment.

· Relationships (Calvin): Looking back on Lake Powell now that almost three weeks have passed, despite my initial displeasure and anxiety over his last-minute arrival, there was a lesson there that I may not have learned any other way. While I never liked how Calvin had previously pushed me (thinking that his expectations of me were too high), I realize that he saw my capacity, and attempted to help me see that. I was too blinded by what I perceived to be a negative thing, when it was the complete opposite. He saw something in me I could not see in myself, and I viewed his efforts to help me see that as him as a standard that I needed to meet in order to even be his friend. In reality, everything he did simply came from a place of unconditional love, caring, and compassion.

· Relationships (Daniel): When I first met Daniel in training, I was not exactly sure what to make of him. But I have since learned that he is pretty awesome. It was reassuring to have another canyoneering novice there with me. It was impressive how he approached things with (what appeared to be at least) no hesitation or trepidation.

· Relationships (Shelley): One thing I had hoped would happen is that I would get to know Shelley on a deeper level. Sometimes I think that our relationship is so cursory, and that significant potential and benefit for both of us could be gleaned if we both opened up. While I love talking about our mutual love for Golden Retrievers, I really want to get to know her better. Several times during the Friday night boat discussions, I wanted to say, “Shelley, what do you think or feel about this?” but obviously that did not happen, which I regret. She seems to want such transparency from us in the shop, it would be great to see some of that from her as well. It would simply benefit us all.

· Relationships (Rick): I greatly appreciated that Rick spoke up for me Friday afternoon when the discussion about Saturday’s canyon began. Had he not, I’m sure I would have had to go, and the words “exposed climbing” did nothing to quell my fears about that day. Before he spoke up, I contemplated how un-ZAC it was that the decision about me going was seemingly not my own. I thought, ‘How many points of the We Believe… statement would this violate?’ It was also curious to hear his theory about how much how a person rappels is a representation of who they are. Thinking about it, it really is true. I’m glad that I’m meticulous like an accountant.

· Relationships (Jonathan): Jonathan outside of his world between 111 Juniper Lane and 36 Lion Boulevard is completely different. I began to learn this on the hike out of Pine Creek with Rob last November. A few times, I turned back to Rob my mouth wide open, speechless about what I was hearing Jonathan say. Perhaps the farther he is removed from his insular 5-block world that Jonathan comes out even more. Though sometimes shocking, I like that Jonathan a lot. It’s almost endearing in a way. One of my favorite things he said on the trip in reference to his iPhone was, “Anyone who says this has GPS, is a G-ddamn liar.” I smile every time I think of that. I think a little part of me died, however, when he said to me, “Trust the traction, Charlotte. A man in Southern Utah built his whole business around the traction of these shoes.” Oh Jonathan.

Sunday Morning

Perhaps the most significant lesson I will take away from my days at Lake Powell happened Sunday morning at the shop. Calvin and I brought some gear to the store for cleaning. The gear was rank, and the trunk of my car smelled like something had died in there. After we cleaned it, we sat on one of the benches, and began discussing the prior three days, of which frankly there was a lot to be said. I was probably not as present as I should have been at that point, but one thing that Calvin said pierced me. He said, “Charlotte, what to do you need others to do for you to help the real Charlotte come out? How can we help you be more open? Because when that happens, everyone will benefit.”


The transparency I seek in people is not what I do for myself or them. I’m somewhere between translucent and opaque.

For weeks, I thought about that comment. Calvin and I discussed it a few times since then. For a while I thought that I simply needed to be open on my own terms, but then it became painfully apparent that that has been happening all along, and I was not becoming any more open. Only recently did I realize that I had to answer a different question first in order to begin to respond to the question Calvin posed: Why am I so closed off to people? Answer: I do not want to be hurt (which has happened before), opening up creates vulnerability, and being closed to people something I can control.

While I am still not sure how to proceed to become more open, I am willing to try. I’m unsure how being open will benefit others, however. Perhaps 2010 will be a year of unsurpassed personal growth and development because of just a few sentences from Calvin.

I’m on my way to find out.
(Editor’s note: No Macs were used in the production of this trip report, which was lovingly typed on a laptop PC using Microsoft Word.)

The Unexpected Georgian Diet

A common topic of discussion amongst my North American friends and I is weight loss...the weight loss that has occurred since we arrived in Georgia on July 31st. All of us are curious/shocked/surprised about the weight loss. But I must note, none of us are complaining about it. Many of us comment about needing more holes on belts, clothes that just hang on us, jeans or pants that do not need to be unzipped or unbuttoned to put on, etc. I was not expecting anything like this to happen to me.

Personally, I've lost about 20 pounds since I arrived. I look at pictures taken the 3rd day in the country versus now and the difference is readily apparent. But once again I am not complaining. If the weight loss continues at it's present rate (approximately 1-2 pounds per week), I'll make my overall goal weight before I return to the United States in June. That would be cool. My Eddie Bauer jeans best illustrate how much I've lost, not only in Georgia, but in the last 2 years. In July 2008 I found a pair of Eddie Bauer jeans for about 85% off at the Eddie Bauer store in St. George, UT. They fit barely, but would fit better if 5 more pounds were lost. I washed them and they shrink unbelievably. After washing them, I had 5 inches of space between the button and the button hole. I did not immediately take them to DI to donate. I held on to them. Eventually, I could close them. Now I need a belt to keep them up, and because they are so baggy they look like a pair of Mom Jeans. I cannot wait for the after Christmas sales in the US so that I can buy all new clothes, which will likely be too big before I return to the US in June.

But we are all perplexed by the reasons for such dramatic weight loss. The diet seemingly does not lend itself to such an occurrence being high in fats, carbs, meat, and alcohol. Ultimately, my friends and I have several reasons we think are behind the weight loss.

1. The foods here are largely unprocessed in comparison to American foods.

Grocery stores here carry a few items, but most of the items are ingredients that you must actually cook with. Cooking takes up a considerable amount of time for the Georgian housewife. Even with the large amount of carbs involved, the flour isn't the enriched or bleached kind like in the US. It is simply flour sold in 50 kilo sacks. Also, high fructose corn syrup does not seem to exist.

2. We walk a lot.

Marshrut'kas can only get us so far. Consequently, we walk considerably more than the average American does. But for me I probably walk less then I did in Springdale during my 18 months of trying to avoid using the car. I loved it when shuttle drivers in Springdale would comment on me taking a shuttle, not walking. They were honestly surprised. Also, I got to see Springdale in a way I could not from my trusty Saturn.

3. We all have been violently ill at some point.

This is the sucky part of the Georgian Diet. In September I had a couple of bad, bad weekends from the food poisoning. During the second time, I went about 72 hours without eating much at all. For me it is dairy products which make me sick. Unfortunately, when each of us has been sick it seems to be a guessing game as to what causes it. Moreover, it might not be just the food but the food preparation methods. Basic food handling techniques are not always practiced.

4. The foods are largely preservative free.

This makes sense because the foods are largely unprocessed. Because preservatives are lacking shopping for food is done every 2-3 days. Bread at my house is bought daily I would say. I wish my host family would buy the happy, soft bread not the tough, rough bread. If I only knew where the happy bread came from. The tough and rough bread is frequently bought because the bakery is in some one's garage (I am not making that up) next to the 90-unit apartment complex the family is building. In other words it's very convenient.

Ultimately, this is a diet that Michael Pollan could support. He wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules.

My weight loss has been a source of concern to my host family. On my birthday they first confronted me about it, asking me if the weight loss meant I did not like their cooking. No not at all! Then after I got sick and lost some more weight they said that when my mother sees me at the airport she will think that they did not feed me for four months. I wanted to reply that she would be grateful for the weight loss. Most recently my host mother and other assorted host relatives commented about how much my clothes hang on me. Well, that cannot be avoided. One of my friends keeps giving me her clothes that have become too big for her which are fast becoming too big for me.

I'm curious about whether or not the weight loss will continue. I weigh myself every Thursday, but today I just checked in. It looks like I have lost a pound this week. However, I am also curious as to whether or not the weight will return when I move back to the US. Frankly, I will not let that happen.

Finally, I am also curious how this will positively affect my canyoneering abilities. Lots of weight loss + the beloved 5.10 Canyoneer2 (thank you JDZ) + Zion Adventure Company Kokotat Drysuit = SUCCESS! (I must admit I have thought a lot about what size drysuit I will be when I get back. I still have not decided what size I will fit into. I doubt it will be the XL-Short...too big.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Georgian Weddings 101

When discussing Georgian weddings it is difficult to find a place to begin. Do you start with the drinking part? The eating part? The dancing part? Or the still more drinking part? Simply put: one must experience a Georgian wedding to even begin to understand it.

But before I can even begin to discuss the wedding, it is important to understand what a supra is. Supras are synonymous with Georgia. They are an integral part of the culture, and are giant feasts with copious amounts of food and alcohol. Supras are held for any myriad of reasons: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, passing tests, etc. Since my arrival I've averaged about 1 supra every 7-10 days. Toasts are a huge component of the supra. I've had to give supra toasts myself. I always toast to Saqartvelo da Amerika! It's easy and everyone agrees. They would probably be even happier if George Bush was still president not Barak Obama and I could say something about that in my toast. As for food, there is A LOT of it. To give up an idea, this is what was served at a supra I attended in September:

  • Whole chickens
  • Fruit (bananas, grapes, apples, watermelon)
  • Water (basically I was the only one drinking it
  • The most disgusting soda I have ever had (Never had I had a lemonade that tasted so medicinal)
  • Mashed potatoes
  • A Georgian salad with egg, mayo, peas, and the ever-present dill that seems to be the only spice besides coriander that Georgians know how to cook with
  • Various types of meat
  • Eggplant with walnut paste (I thought this would be a great vegetarian dish, but I cannot stand the sight or taste or it)
  • Corn on the cob (This is something which I cannot eat; growing up in Minnesota you are accustom to a certain level of corn and this is not it. No one understands why I do not like it, and it is less comprehensible that there is corn elsewhere in the world better than Georgia's).
  • Chocolates
  • Chocolate cake
  • Birthday cake (the frosting was more than an inch thick in places).
  • Bread
  • Khachapuri (Nothing says Georgian celebration like that! It is the national dish of Georgia, and involves cheese and bread. Georgians could happily eat this dish 3 times a day for the rest of their lives. My favorite type is the Adjarian version).
  • Homemade wine
  • Some other type of meat
  • Tomatoes and cucumber
  • Pickled cucumbers and peppers
  • Meat fritters (I'm not sure that to call them)
  • Pizza (Pizza here definitely is not like its American counterpart. Mayonnaise is frequently added to it. Gross. Now if it was ranch dressing, that would be a different story. In college I was introduced to that practice by some Californian students.)

Since my arrival I have attended two weddings. The first, October 10th, was a lot to take in. I really was not sure what to expect except that it would be a supra on crack. And it was! There were approximately 450-500 people present. It was a lot to take in to the point it was overwhelming to me. For most of the 4 hours I I had people comment to me about how I did not eat anything, which was not true. I ate, just not the same amount as Georgians. And then there was the bathroom. For a moment I need to rant. For reasons that make no sense to me, for some reason even new buildings in Georgia are built with the dreaded Turkish toilet. The event space was a recent build with this style of toilet. Why Georgia why? Increasingly I think that USAID funds to Georgia should come only if Turkish toilets are completely outlawed. There is no reason for those toilets let alone at a place with weddings.

After Wedding #1, I was anxious for Wedding #2 the next week. I wanted to go, but after the overwhelming experience the week prior, I was not sure if I truly wanted to go. Wedding #2 was a big family event for my family as it was a cousin who was getting married. One of my host sisters came all the way from Tbilisi to attend. While I slaved away at school, the rest of the female family members all went to get their hair done and I met them later in Batumi.

Long story short about Wedding #2: IT ROCKED. I cannot wait for my next Georgian qorts'ili (wedding).

Wedding #2 was much like Wedding #1 in that there was a lot of homemade wine, toasts, 500 guests, Georgian dancing, toasts, and loads of food.

The Food
Wedding food is the same as supra food, but in much greater amounts. For example, I counted no less than 15 different meat dishes alone! One looked suspiciously like what bats would look like if they were barbecued. No one in my family touched it all. It was unsettling. However, the desserts were terrible. It is sad really; the dessert I tried tasted like slightly sweetened cardboard. Desserts here all look good, but taste wretched. In Georgia, the wedding cake is ate on day 2 of the wedding, not at the wedding reception. (I have yet to go to the day 2 festivities of a wedding). One of my favorite parts of the food was the dolphins made out of bananas. They had eyes made out of olives and little cocktail umbrellas. Jaba, my host brother, adored them and carried his around all night.

The Alcohol
American weddings simply have bottles of wine, but Georgian weddings have 2.5 liter pitchers of wine. They do not mess around with that. There were a lot of drunk Georgians there.

The Dancing
The dancing is largely Georgian in nature. Wedding #2 featured traditional dancers. But we also go to dance. It was great. However, seeing the Georgians try to dance to "Cotton Eye Joe" was disheartening. As the only American there, I had to set them straight about how you dance to that song. You do not dance to that song like you would dance to "Waka Waka" by Shakira. By the end of the evening all the drunk uncles wanted to dance to with me. Awkward. But whatever. I went with it.

The Minor Celebrity
Since our arrival in Georgia, being American is like being a celebrity. I've been interviewed for TV, been in commercials, people always want to talk to me, etc. The wedding was no different. People wanted to talk to me. They would pull me over to their table, set a clean plate, fill it would food, and pour me a glass of wine. Then they would begin to talk to me. Me in broken Georgian, them in Georgian I do not understand. We would talk about the wedding, me being from Las Vegas (I say that because it is sort of close to Springdale/Zion and people here have heard of it), and whether or not I enjoy Georgian weddings. Of course!

The Change from Wedding #1 to Wedding #2
Wedding #2 was important for me as part of my entire time in Georgia. It was a great lesson in being present. The wedding came at a time here when I was having difficulty with school, the teachers, etc. At the wedding I knew beforehand that it would be hours long, and it was then I decided I have to focus on where I was. I thought, "This is where I am now; anything before and after does not matter. Just now does." By staying present I could enjoy the wedding more. This exercise has remained with me. I think about it a lot, especially when I things get crazy at school. Amazingly, it calms me and provides perspective. It allows me to focus on the craziness of 7A while I am there and not worry about what will come later in grade 12.

Perhaps my time at Zion Adventure Company would have been different if I had already learned the lesson of presence.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

School, Week #4

School has been in session for 4 weeks and there are several things I just have to accept:
  • The schedule will continue to change despite efforts to the contrary.
  • Georgian students will never learn the idea of raising your hand to talk and that only one person at a time speaks.
  • The school officials think that the Americans are incapable of planning their own free time, hence make us attend mandatory events with 24-48 hours advance notice.
  • The "English" teachers will continue to conduct the English classes using a minimal amount of English and a maximum amount of Georgian.
  • Marshutkas are a level of hell that Dante could not have envisioned.

While the issue of public transportation here does not relate to school, it is something I have to accept. If I want to get anywhere, I have no choice but to take it, as program participants are forbidden from driving. (Georgian drivers are very bad). The next post will feature the hideous world of the marshutka.

There have been some successes at school too, successes which help to spur me on each day.

  • I now teach the 12th graders who care about English solely by myself. There are about 4 of them.
  • Class 7B listens...for the most part.
  • The after school class for students who show promise in the English language is going well, but they still need to learn the difference between preparing for a discussion and writing down exactly what they will say.

Hopefully as the weeks continue there will be more successes to list.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Am I Doing Here?

That is a question I have repeatedly asked myself over the last 24 hours. Basically, there is no hope for the teachers, students or the school I am at. Anything I do to help improve the classroom or to teach English is forgotten about 30 seconds later...if they can even remember it that long. I am so frustrated with everything. Asking politely for information does not work, having chats with the teachers does not work, and I highly doubt that TLG cares about the problems considering how they have responded to other issues, such as the fact one of my friends went over 15 days without a shower because his host family did not have a shower or any running water. But somehow managed to have a flat screen TV.

The "English" teachers I work with have very little comprehension of the English language, and getting basic information from them is hard. They seem to struggle with any question beginning with Who? What? Why? When? Where? How? no matter what the length of the sentence. Also I realized that I can not use synonyms at all in my speech as it confuses them greatly. They learned one way to say everything, and now it is up to me to determine what that is. I guess school life will become like the 1980s/early 1990s video game classic, King's Quest IV for me. In that game unless you typed in the exact phrase that the game required, you could not get Rosella to do anything.

The students are no better. Loud, disruptive, rude, and lazy. The fact they can proceed to the next English class spelling, "My name is..." as "Mai neim iz..." is appalling. The fact that the teachers do not correct these problems is even worse. The students show no accountability for anything, and what is sad is that they do not have to. Students are not punished for lateness or failing to show up to class or not doing their homework. Today after a discussion with the "English" teachers about accountability they let the same behaviors continue. They do not believe in involving all the students in the class in the lesson, just the smart ones. Consequently, only 2 or 3 students do anything in the class. This practice seems to be rampant in Georgia based on conversations with my friends.

I'm frustrated, disheartening, and ready to give up. I come home from that wretched place in tears more days than I care to think about. The class schedule changes daily so I can never plan for anything, and the school district is always telling me at the last minute about these events I have to be at, which are actually very worthless. Yesterday I asked twice if there had been any schedule changes since Friday, and twice I got the answer, "No." There had been. Gee, thanks are so helpful.

My return trip to the United States cannot come fast enough. I'm having a very difficult time trying to remain positive, optimistic, and feeling like I am accomplishing something worthwhile and important while I am here.