Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adventures in Overseas Baking, Part II

When I was in Israel I wrote an article for the St. George Spectrum, entitled "Adventures in Overseas Baking." It was about the struggle to find ingredients that are common place in the United States, trying to bake with a tempermental gas oven, and just trying to succeed in making something decent. By the end of my time there I was an expert at sugar cookies and brownies. Back in the States the brownie recipe was made dozens of times, and I think that my friends would agree, that it was awesome. I now have the recipe memorized. In preparation for my 10 months in Georgia, I purchased a set of American measuring spoons and cups from my beloved Target to ensure baking success. In Israel, there where no measuring cups, so a lot of guessing was involved. Fortunately, most of the coffee cups appeared to be about a cup, so that is what we Americans would when baking. To avoid error here, I brought the set with me.

It is this recipe that I attempted to make today. The recipe is simple and requires just one bowl in which to mix ingredients. My host family had kindly bought me everything I needed to make them. I decided that today would be an excellent day to make them as I finally get to meet the rest of the family. Now I am not sure I want to greet them with what I have created.

The batter was perfect, and considering how Calvin used to clean the bowl out for me, I'm sure he would agree. It was the baking portion where everything went wrong, and the oven situation is a story in itself.

When I first arrived at the house, ironically, the first thing I noticed in the kitchen was the absence of an oven. I soon saw one in the upstairs kitchen, and I figured that is the one that I would bake with. Wrong, so I assumed I could use the oven at the uncle's house. Wrong again. What I find perplexing about the second oven is why it does not work if the house is only 5 months old. If you were building a mansion by Georgian standards it seems that having a working oven might be included. I guess have still have a lot to learn about Georgian culture. So this morning I finally saw the "oven" that I could use to bake in. I think contraption is a better descriptor.

Lola, the English speaking host cousin, has gone to Gori (Stalin's hometown) for the week, so I could not ask her about the contraption. I think it might be Russian and from Soviet times, but beyond that I'm not sure. It is maybe 2 feet in diameter and it sits on a chair in the corner. I had seen it there over the past 2 weeks, but I never questioned what it was for. I figured it was for canning or something, like a pressure cooker. First, the pan I was given to use was too big for the contraption; consequently, we had to search for 9x13 inch pans, which luckily we found. The contraption works almost too well, and brownies that normally take 35 minutes to bake were done in about 15 minutes.

The flakely topped, fudgy brownies that I love so much did not come out of the "oven." Something hideous did instead. I cringe just thinking about the "brownies" downstairs. I was hesitent to try them, but curiosity won over. They taste sort of okay, I guess. But the whole experience was so devasting and frustrating I will not be baking until I return to the United States. I had thought it curious how much food was cooked on the stove; now I know why. However, I did promise Lola that I would make cheese cake for her, something she learned to love while in the US. Now I just need to find a no-bake version to make for her. Ironically, I once swore to myself and never cheat by making a no-bake cheesecake.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Telenovellas...Georgian Style!

In Georgia there seems to be a national obsession with telenovellas, the Spanish soap operas dubbed into Georgian. One station here plays them all the time...literally. And if a a telenovella is not on, the song "Lady in Red" is playing. (The guy who sings that song was in town on Sunday for a concert. I find it curious that I had no idea who sang that song until moving to a former Soviet country. When I met with the President he said he was actually arrested and jailed for listening to one song by this guy.) The female members of my family are all big watchers of these shows. Curiously enough, my family is not alone. It seems as the families of all the TLG participants are big watchers of these shows. Now by default we are watching them too. The other Americans and I often clarify what we think has happened for those who may have missed an episode. My friend Wes' family has satellite and as he has said, have like a billion stations, but the TV is only ever on channel 3 for the soaps.Fortunately, as they are soap operas, they are predictable and formulaic shows, so following along is not difficult. Add bonus: we can work on our Georgian.

The favorite of the female members of my family is one called something like "Aberienze del Fuerte." It features the main character of Juan Pablo, who last night at the end of the show driving a Jeep and the breaks stopped working; they had been cut by another character. Last night there was a funny moment when there was an audible gasp from my host cousin and aunt when one of the characters showed up as a nun. Lola, the cousin, explained to me that the character had disappeared with amnesia no less and for quite some time had not been seen. I said that such a story line seems to be present in every soap opera at some point. The aunt, when Lola translated, found that to be hilarious.

So tonight at 9 p.m. I am headed next door to see what happens to Juan Pablo and crew.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Visit from the President

This afternoon the participants of Teach and Learn with Georgia got a personal visit from Mikhail Sakashivili, the current President of the Republic of Georgia. It was rather exciting, and seeing my friends was excellent as well.

The event was held at a night club on the Black Sea, and began late. In Georgia they operate on GMT, Georgia Maybe Time. It is a laid back culture. Mikhail spoke to us for about 30 minutes on Georgia's rapid growth and development, our role in Georgia's development, and then had to go on to do less enjoyable responsibilities. Several of the Americans commented how in the United States no President would ever do any event in the place we were at. It was not very secure. There were maybe 6 Georgian Secret Service total at the event. It was great. I was expecting a fiasco like when Laura Bush stayed at Zion Lodge and ate at the Switchback or when Dick Cheney gave the commencement address for my sister at BYU in 2007. Not so. was a memorable experience. Mikhail stood about 6 feet from me the entire time, but he only shook hands with my friends sitting on the opposite side from me. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The 2nd Georgian Arrival

The past 10 days in Georgia have been highly structured between language classes, set meal times, teaching methodology classes, and sightseeing activities. The Teach and Learn with Georgia staff were very protective of us, however, this afternoon we met our host families. Now our real Georgian experience begins.

I am in a suburb (for lack of a better term) of Batumi. Our host families met us with much pomp and circumstance at a 1st century castle near the Turkish border. My family was told I was not arriving until the end of August, so they are almost all on vacation. It was only yesterday that they were told that I was arriving this afternoon. Consequently, the English teacher cousin, 1 daughter, and a company employee arrived in the company car to pick me up. The principal of the school I am going to be at also came to get me.

The family is comprised of 7 people: grandmother, parents, and 4 children. 1 daughter is studying to be an architect, and the other 3 children (2 daughters and a son) live here. The other house on the property is owned by an uncle. From what I gathered when they finish constructing my room in the uncle's house I am moving next door. It sounded like the 2 families have been fighting over me. The family owns a construction business and the mother is a neurologist. The family also has the largest dog I have ever seen, Max. His paws are bigger than my hands, but he likes me. Excellent.

The layout of the house is a little odd. I'm in the downstairs with the family room, bathroom, and kitchen. The upstairs also has a kitchen, assorted rooms, and a washing maching...thankfully! I did not want to have to repeat my one washing clothes by hand experience from Israel. However, the washing machine is in Russian. The yard has a wood-fired oven, a random bathroom, and a gazebo.

The views from the yard are 1) Black Sea to the West and 2) mountains to the East. I will try and post pictures soon. The humidity is something to be reckoned with. It has been a very long time since I have had to deal with humidity more than the 40% or so it gets in Springdale. Oh, and there is no central air conditioning. I guess I will just have to deal with being sweaty for the next 10 months. Oh well. It is a minor thing. However, I am wishing I had brought more of my wicking shirts instead of cotton shirts with me.

So far my time in Georgia has been an amazing experience. I've made some excellent friends in the short time I've been here. I'm looking forward to all the moments and experiences the next 10 months will bring.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Internet Access for the Next While

I'm not sure how much internet access I will have for the next while. It is highly likely that my family will have high speed internet, but if not I will have to find other sources. If you do not hear from me, do not worry (especially you Mom). No news is good news, right?

Everyday I kick myself that getting an adapter totally slipped my mind. I was even at Target the day I left!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Host Family

The whole host family thing has had me rather anxious, which is understandable. Yesterday I finally got some honest information about my family and new living situation that begins tomorrow afternoon. My family is very connected politically and more members speak English than I was previously told, which is a great relief. One of the family members is even an English teacher. Unfortunately, I am not on the seashore, but further up in the mountains about 15 minutes from the coast. When I heard mountains I instantly thought, "Oh no...snow." Thankfully I have my red Super-Birki clogs (thank you Simply Birkenstock) to get me through the winter. I might have to buy some real galoshes as well. One of the staff members has actually visited the home, which is a large 2-storey with a Western bathroom (aka no squat toilet).

Finally, I am exceptionally glad that the family has a large dog! Hopefully it looks like a Golden Retriever (how I miss Myles from Zion Adventure Company), but the fact it is a dog is good enough for me. We have been warned about petting dogs here because of the potential for rabies, but looking over our health insurance last night, vaccinations are covered 100%. Perhaps I will just take advantage of that and get the rabies vaccines. Wow...just a couple of months ago I never would have thought that rabies vaccines would ever be something I would have to consider.

Ultimately, only time will how tell what my living situation is like and how real what I was told is. I'm optimistic. As I learned in Israel: If I can successfully navigate the bus system in a country where I speak neither of the 2 main languages, I can do pretty much anything.

Today I was stood-up for a Skype chat. Insert one sad, frowny face here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Georgia: The Second Week Begins

Simply put, I'm struggling...a lot. The language and I are definitely not friends. I dread my language classes everyday. My 3 hours of torture. Often I sit and think, 'Right now I would rather do Heaps Canyon than try to pronounce the word for water, which is ts'qkhaili. That would be easier.' (Heaps is one of the hardest canyons in Zion, and the last rap is a 300' single rope rappel. Most people take 2 days to complete it.) Heck, I would do it with 2 left shoes if I had to. Today I practically had a panic attack from the fear of being called on and mispronouncing yet another word.

Moreover, the food is definitely not geared towards vegetarians, and the couple of times I did eat meat, it ended poorly. There is also an national obsession here with dill. Everything from soups to salads to entrees has it. Also I wish that the washing machines did not take FOREVER to wash a load of clothes. My laundry has been in for 3 hours, and I doubt it is to the spin cycle yet. At least with Israeli washing machines there was a quick wash cycle.

If I am struggling this much now, I'm nervous to find out what life will be like with my host family. We have been warned that their English most likely will be poor to non-existent. Awesome. Thankfully I have 10 other program participants in my city to rely on.

Off to check the laundry again, then 4 hours of teaching methodology classes this afternoon, and a trip to the city center (aka quiet sitting while everyone else drinks).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Map of Georgia

Below is a link to a map of Georgia.,+Georgia&sll=37.926868,-95.712891&sspn=38.830793,89.912109&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Batumi,+Adchara,+Georgia&ll=42.032974,43.439941&spn=2.407226,5.619507&z=8

The First Few Days in Georgia, the Country not the State

After a long absence my blog has returned. I did not expect that 6 months and 1 day after returning from Israel that I would be returning to so near that place. For the next 4.5 months I will be in Georgia, then back to the US for a month, than back to Georgia to finish the school year.

As I write this I am sitting in a real Soviet-era building in a city that looks about as depressed as when the Soviets were here, Kutaisi, Georgia. I get to be here for the next week. So much to look forward to! However, the dorm rooms look like IKEA showroom models, which is a hopeful move towards capitalism. Some aspects of the bathrooms leave a lot to be desired, and may be an ominous warning of things to come. While Western toilets do exist, I've only ever seen the other type once in my life. That was in a sketchy WC outside of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Palestine. I'm trying not to think about them.

Kutaisi is the site of our language, teaching methodologies, safety, etc. training. Because we are the first group of teachers the government is very concerned that we are taken care of. Last night we were informed if a helicopter is needed to get us out because of problems, that will be arranged. Interesting. We are also not allowed to cross the street without one of the Teach and Learn with Georgia staff present. Twice since our arrival we have met with the Minister of Education. Yesterday was the official affair at the Ministry itself. Here in Georgia it is perfectly acceptable to drink wine at 11 a.m., as my cohorts did at the Ministry reception.

Food here is 1) excellent and 2) plentiful. Dinner on Sunday was over 3 hours, and the food never stopped coming. A local speciality is this cheese bread. I was warned of its addicting nature before I arrived, and it is just that. Also, I've now drank more mineral water in the last 2.5 days than I had in my entire life previous to this. Also, drinking Coke made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, is an odd experience as well.

The low point of my time here was the 4 hour bus ride through the Georgian country side late yesterday afternoon. The bus, at least in the back where I was sitting, had air conditioning more in a theoretical sense than in actuality. By the time we arrived, we were a mess. It was curious driving on the main East-West highway through the country that homes were right against the road and cows freely roamed on the road itself. That is not something you would see in the US.

The picture is of me at the Fortress, a Christian Orthodox Church overlooking Tbilisi, the capital. We visited there on Sunday afternoon. While there we saw actual Gypsies who proceeded to harass everyone for money. We also saw how quickly weddings occur. While there no less than 3 separate weddings occurred in the same church. Such speed is rarely seen outside of Las Vegas.

In a week we depart for Batumi and to meet our host families. I may not be in Batumi proper, but a village outside of the town. It is disappointing as I was told that I was going to be in the city, and was greatly looking forward to living seaside. There are rumors that we may even meet the President of Georgia while we are there.

(I know this font does not match the others, but it is called Georgia, and I thought it was appropriate).