The Lows and Highs of Peace Corps Georgia

Marshutka driver gives you the worst seat on the marshutka, between to the bebia carrying a bucket of smelly cheese and the man who hasn’t showered since last June — MarshutkaIMG_0797[1] driver thanks you kindly for smiling at him every day and your ride is free.
No electricity for three days so you stare at a wall and have the same thoughts twice, sometimes three times — No electricity for three days so you have riveting, priceless conversations with your host family/the locals.
So much snow that you can’t remember what grass looks like or what vegetables taste like — so much snow that school is cancelled.  
No plumbing so you use your bathtub to store water, which later has a countless amount of worms growing larger and larger by the minute in it — no plumbing so you learn to live a more simple, easy life.
Locals stare at you everywhere you go, whether you’re walking to school, buying shampoo at a maghazia or just sitting in your yard reading — the locals treat you like a local celebrity, taking photos, asking for your autograph, and giving small gifts as a sign of appreciation.
Men shout obscene things at PC women, making them feel degraded and unsafe — men shout things like “hello, beautiful girl!” at PC women, inflating their egos and making them feel more lovely than they have ever felt in their life.
All students behave like the worst students in America behave, causing their teachers massive headaches and pinched nerves in their necks — students greet PC teachers with hugs, high fives, or kisses on the cheek every time they see them in the hallway.
Food is intolerable at times.  A winter diet consists of canned meat, potatoes, bread, and borscht — food is healthier and much cheaper than in America in summer and fall.  Persimmons, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, nuts, mandarins, oranges, lemons, figs, etc.  IMG_0527[1]
Friends and family at home are missed greatly and there is an empty void without them that is impossible to fill — new friends are made and they become an indispensable part of your life.  You meet people you would have never imagined meeting and form bonds that will last for the rest of your life.
Holidays are spent alone.  No American Christmas, no 4th of July, no Thanksgiving, no St Patrick’s Day or Halloween — you learn about new holidays and get to start new traditions with new friends.  IMG_0669[1]
Boredom becomes your main emotion and you watch the same movies eight times, re-watch Friends and Seinfeld until you can recite each episode line-by-line — you sometimes fill boredom with new and exciting things like going on hikes to deserted old churches, learning a new song on your guitar, writing a short story or poem, baking a new dish with local ingredients, or reorganizing your socks 19 times.

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It’s February Already?

After such a long hiatus from writing on my blog (and writing in general) it is difficult to know where to begin.  I can clearly remember sitting down with my laptop this past October but I can’t remember how to allow my fingers to take reign over the keyboard for a short time to relay a few stories without my right hand jumping up to hit the delete key after every typed word.  So, forgive me foremost for neglecting my blog for so long, but also for the lousy writing that is to follow.

November came and with it COLD WEATHER.  I suffered through it, for I had a fantastic 25th birthday celebration with great friends, too much tequila and dancing in Tbilisi.  I also spent the whole month building myself up to return to my original home, Wisconsin.  December 18th arrived, the day before I was to fly back, and I broke my foot.  Travelling home was made less difficult by a high dose of codeine and an especially kind friend who drove with me to the airport, carried all of my heavy luggage, and made sure that I got on the plane safely.  A special thanks to Koka Kunchulia.

I landed disoriented and exhausted in Chicago where my brother-in-law picked me up to drive me back to my sister’s house.  In the car he had a cooler filled with snacks, among which was Wisconsin cheese.  Could anyone ask for a nicer brother-in-law?  Then I had three weeks filled with family, friends, food, wine, warmth, showers, cookies, and more wine.  I love wine and I love food but spending time with my mom, dad and sister is worth more than all the wine and cheese in the world.  It was hard to return to Georgia after such a wonderful trip home.  I wasn’t expecting to feel immediately better once returning to Ozurgeti, but as soon as I was with Nunu and Boria for ten minutes I felt right back at home, my Georgian home.  Over the next 2 weeks I was confined to the house because of my broken foot, but the time passed quickly because the three of us had a lot to catch up on.  Although there has been a great deal of laughter in our house lately, there have also been several very serious conversations touching on subjects such as the Soviet Union, homosexuality, and the differences between American and Georgian cultures.  I learned so much from Nunu and Boria and, after living here for almost two years, I am still learning more every day.

Three weeks apart from them felt much longer.  How difficult it will be for me to leave Georgia in July.

I finally made it back to school on Monday, but only taught for three days because half a meter of snow fell on Wednesday night.  The kids were, I think, thrilled to have me back.  I was received with hugs, kisses, gifts, and several “I missed you, teacher!”  This semester I am teaching grades 1, 3, 4, 7, 11, and 12.  I love all of the kids, but I have especially enjoyed working with the 12th graders over the last year and a half.  There are a handful of students in that class who really shine because they work so hard and are so gifted with creativity, a trait that I really admire.  But, let me reiterate that I think all of my students are exceptional.

There are two links that I want to share.  The first is a video about my classroom renovation that my friend Patrick Grant put together for me.  The second is an anniversary video for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AjAc1nv7qs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1Tf6lg89ik

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The Beginning of Autumn

Autumn is here in all of its glory.  The sky is filled with colorful leaves falling to the ground and a cool wind that wipes the warmth of the sun from your face and leaves a dustier ground beneath it.  Right now persimmons and grapes are being harvested and many people are busy with the wine-making process.  Even the fruits and vegetables take on autumn’s colors—the deep red pomegranates, the rich golden persimmons, the dark purple figs, the muted yellow cabbage, the earthy potatoes.  It’s really quite beautiful but I can’t help but miss what Autumn in Wisconsin brings—hot apple cider, candles scented with pumpkin and cinnamon, Thanksgiving preparation, raking leaves (they burn them in their yards here in Georgia), apple pie, and much more.

One thing that I do appreciate about Autumn in both cultures is the beginning of a new school year.  It’s nice to start with a fresh slate and make big plans to make it a successful year.  My students are very excited about their new classroom and it really seems to me that everyone is making a stronger effort to learn English.  My schedule this semester is pretty great, which helps me stay motivated.  I teach the first four lessons Monday through Thursday, so I have long afternoons and a three-day weekend.  This past week I was in Tbilisi for several days for mid-service medical checks and a teeth cleaning.  It’s back to the grind tomorrow.

In other news I had the wonderful opportunity to meet the president of Georgia a few weeks ago.  I was out with friends at a bar in Batumi and we ran into him and his entourage.  We had a shot of tequila with him and then the next day we got a call from Peace Corps and they told us that the president invited us to a play with him the following night.  Unfortunately nobody had their camera with them the first night so there is no photographic evidence.  I did have my iPod with me and we tried to take pictures but the person who was responsible for taking the photos had left the iPod on video setting, so there are several short video clips of me with a big cheesy smile on my face standing next to the president.  It’s too dark to decipher anything, but it’s better than nothing.  The night of the play we sat near the president and didn’t have the opportunity to talk or take photos with him after the play because he was busy entertaining the Prince of Monaco.

Time should start flying pretty quickly now—I am looking forward to a conference in Bazaleti which falls right after my birthday so I will get to celebrate the big 25 in Tbilisi with friends, Thanksgiving in Gonio, 15 days of school and then HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!  Then 6 months and I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, but a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!

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Summer’s Melting Pot

I let the entire summer pass without thinking even once about writing on my blog and now it’s payback time.  Perhaps my lack of attention to my writing has caused me few followers, but I shall try to make up for it now.  To get things started I’ll make a list of the summer’s activities and then proceed to give details about the important ones.  I am also using this list-making method as a strategy to avoid writing more than necessary, for I am out of practice and will probably make many mistakes.

Chronologically:

-Youth Resource Summer Camp – 3 days teaching American culture/history to a group of uninterested children.

-Conversation Club – I met weekly with my best 11th graders to discuss topics ranging from emotional health to gender issues (in English, of course)

-Borjomi – I spent a week in Borjomi with my host mom, Lali, Natia, Guka, and Gegi.  We relaxed, enjoyed cool weather, cooked delicious meals, and read lots of books.  I also had the opportunity to hang out with some friends my own age which was really nice.

-English Cabinet – the classroom is almost finished and ready for school to start on Thursday! Ahh!

-SWEDEN!!!  I travelled in Stockholm and stayed in a cabin on an island with my wonderful family for 2 weeks this summer.  This was by far the best part of the summer.  In Stockholm we visited many museums, Skansin (an outdoor park/museum), the VASA ship, among other things.  The island was restful and indulgent—I drank many a glass of wine and watched too much TV.  Also ate some fabulous food.

-Intermittently I was at the beach, going for long walks, going out in Batumi, spending hours on the phone with my PC friends, daydreaming about the summer never ending… (this is definitely the only appropriate use of the ellipsis that I can think of.)

It feels weird to sum up my summer in such a short list, for in reality it felt like a whirlwind of events that took place over the span of 3 weeks, rather than 3 months.  The clock has been ticking and I’m down to only 10 months left in Georgia, only 9 of which I will spend in Georgia.  My very generous sister and brother-in-law are flying me home for Christmas so I get to spend 3 or 4 weeks at home with my family in December/January.  Words cannot express how excited I am.

Coming soon: before/after videos of my classroom.

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Gilotsav Shemokmedis Skola!

Congratulations Shemokmedi School!  I wrote a grant a few months ago because my English classroom is in dire need of a renovation and I found out today that the grant has been approved!  This summer I will be busy repairing walls, painting, buying new materials, installing electricity, and many other fun things.  Hopefully by fall the classroom will be finished so my students can have a safe, comfortable environment to work in.  The room, like almost every other classroom in the school, is really terrible.  The tops of the desks aren’t attached so they aren’t safe to work at, the chairs are missing their backs, the chalkboard is so old and abused that you can hardly write on it, giant chunks of the wall are missing and what remains of it is covered in graffiti, and there is no electricity.  I’m so excited to start working on this project.

Other than the news of my grant being approved not a whole lot has been going on.  This coming weekend I will have two of the new Peace Corps volunteers as guests.  They will arrive on Saturday and stay until Wednesday so they can observe two days of my classes.  After that it’s only four weeks left of school until summer!  I can feel the sand and taste the beer already.

I hope that everyone at home is well—I miss all of you and think of you often.  Sweden in 3 months!

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One Year Anniversary!

A year ago right now I was saying goodbye to friends and family over cabernet sauvignon, doing last minute packing and wondering if I had made the right decision to join the Peace Corps and leave home for 27 months.  It blows my mind that I have lived in Georgia for a year already and that the time has gone by so very quickly.  Only 1 year and 3 months to go, but who’s counting?

I have had the last several days off of school for Spring break.  What could have been a potentially very boring vacation (because I ran out of money this month) turned into a fabulous long weekend (thanks to my US tax return).  I was in Batumi with friend Laura and we met some fabulous Georgians who all lived in America for 5+ years.  They showed us a great time.  We stayed out until 6am (sorry, Mom) chatting, drinking wine and reminiscing about America.  The combination of American culture and Georgian culture made the evening very memorable, as it isn’t often that those two cultures mingle openly.  The following evening Laura and I had dinner with a friend and then we had the unique opportunity of visiting an artist’s studio in downtown Batumi.  The studio was simply exquisite.  Collections of antiques covered all of the walls and practically every square inch of the place.  There were old musical instruments, records galore, many books, teapots and teacups, typewriters, and other Georgian antiques.  We sat and talked with the artist and his friend over too many glasses of wine while listening to Pink Floyd and The Beatles on vinyl.

I returned back to Ozurgeti in good spirits but definitely wishing I could have stayed with Laura longer.  However, it was Easter and there was Easter business to take care of.  Had to Skype the family, of course, and eat Pasca and hard boiled eggs with Nunu and Boria.  Pasca is the traditional Easter cake in Georgia.  I tried three different types over the course of the weekend and it is safe to say that Nunu’s Pasca is the best.  It’s a sort of dry cake made with raisins and it is made only for Easter.  Georgians also dye eggs but their eggs are red.  Every family saves an egg from the previous year and then replaces it with a fresh egg.  Nunu and I took our egg from last year outside to crack open and I was surprised to learn that the egg had the same smell and look of the eggs that we made this year.  It was just sitting in our living room for a year and it never went bad.

Today is the day after Easter and it is when Georgians go to the cemetery to visit their deceased family members and friends.  I went with Boria and his sister and her husband.  Before I walked out the door Nunu handed me two red eggs and two pieces of chocolate to leave on the graves.  Boria’s sister also had with her Pasca, flowers and candles.  When we arrived at the cemetery it looked like a scene from a movie to me.  There were people sitting at almost every gravesite, eating food, drinking wine, and chatting.  I wouldn’t know how to describe the atmosphere—it wasn’t sad but it wasn’t nearly as loud as most Georgian functions.  The whole cemetery smelled like wine and flowers.  I think that this has been my favorite cultural experience so far, as it is so different from how I spent Easter in the United States and it seems, to me at least, to make a lot of sense.

 

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From Spa-full to Sloth-full and Bathtubs to No Tubs

The wonderful Peace Corps took the Education volunteers and their counterparts to the Georgia Palace Hotel last week for a very fancy conference and getaway.  Upon arriving in the five star, luxurious hotel I immediately filled the bathtub with hot water, threw my horrendously smelly clothes on the floor, and soaked for 30 minutes.  Then, garbing the complimentary white robe and slippers, I ventured into the hotel’s spa with friend Danielle.  We both booked massages and then waited in the upstairs bar with a glass of wine until the spa was ready for us.  Following the exquisite massage I went back to my room where two friends awaited me to locate the swimming pool and take a dip.  The week couldn’t have started more beautifully.

The next day we began the conference.  The main focus was grant-writing, so I got a pretty good idea of how to write a grant for my school’s new English classroom.  After eight hours of conferencing with two coffee breaks and a delicious lunch break each day, we were free to enjoy the hotel.  I made one more trip to the spa for a facial later in the week and spent the rest of my time dining and drinking wine with my friends.  Words cannot describe how good it felt to be clean and full once again.  I could go on and on about how much I love my host family and how much I enjoy our house, but there is no denying what kind of attitude adjustment regular showers with warm water make.  Fruits and vegetables are very helpful for one’s overall mood, as well.

Before you go resenting Peace Corps volunteers for living it up in swanky hotels every now and then, allow me to vent a little bit about the situation that my Georgian counterpart, Eka, and I found ourselves in on the last day of the conference.  The intention of the conference was to begin the grant-writing process.  Although I pressured Eka to soak in the information and contribute something (anything) to the project, she neglected to.  By the last day of the conference I was confronted by a Peace Corps staff member who wanted to know why Eka was not contributing anything to our project.  I ventured that maybe it was a very abundant amount of difficult information for my counterpart to digest in three days.  The PC staff member spoke to Eka in Georgian for awhile and I was later informed by the PC staff member that she had told Eka to try to help me out as much as possible, as this project is not solely my responsibility.  After this short meeting Eka refused to speak to me and it wasn’t until today (6 days later) that she gave in and spoke.  My levels of anxiety and stress had been greatly reduced due to the spa, hotel services, and swimming pool, but after Eka’s rude decision to cut off conversation with me the stress and anxiety returned to levels far exceeding what they had previously been.  I imagine you have already gathered this, but I am pissed off.

On Friday I practically had to be dragged out of the hotel at check out time kicking and screaming.  I went into Batumi with a few friends and had a meal and a cup of coffee at a nice internet cafe.  This is where I learned that my computer charger is out of commission, so I quickly walked to a computer store and bought a new charger.  Computer chargers are expensive so I recommend that you make certain yours does not break.  With my new charger in stow I came back to Ozurgeti and quickly remembered what made the hotel so comfortable.  Ah, well, only 15 months until hot showers, central heat and Mexican food.

In the meantime it’s time to start the countdown to my family vacation in SWEDEN!  145 days.

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It’s COLD.

When people think of Russia in a non-political context, they probably think of vodka, an impossibly difficult language, and COLD WEATHER.  Well, being right below Russia, all of the above predispositions remain true for Georgia.  The past several weeks have been almost unbearable, yet I keep waiting for the weather to get worse.  Last week I was in Bazaleti for yet another Peace Corps conference, where I stayed in a well-heated room with hot running water, two-ply toilet paper, and endless amounts of entertainment from Laura and Denise.  On Sunday when we were supposed to go back to our sites, I was somewhat rudely informed that we would not be able to take the marshutkas, for the snow was piling up quickly in the middle of the country causing impossible travelling conditions.  Therefore, we’d have to take the night train (cue scary music now).  For those of you who have not yet had the privilege of hearing me vent about the night train in Georgia, now is your chance.

The night trains in Georgia just suck.  Upon piling myself, my three travelling companions, and an obscene amount of luggage into our six foot by three foot death chamber, we soon realized that the light was not working.  Normally this would not bother me, for I have only one word to describe the horrendous lights in the night train and it is rude.  They are bright, devilish little lights that could quite possibly cause a mental breakdown.  In this case, however, we needed the light’s aid to avoid breaking one or two limbs while trying to desperately climb into our bunks.  After notifying the “lady in charge” at our car’s entrance, I was rudely pushed aside and told to wait while she flipped switch A four or five times, then flipped switch B twice, then switched flip A again.  At this prompt the light obeyed.

The following three hours went undisturbed.  I fell asleep with my iPod in, while my companions either watched TV on their laptops or rested.  At precisely eleven o’clock in the evening we all woke up and immediately began stripping every layer of clothing that we had on.  Mind you, it was in the low 20’s outside, but inside our nifty little train it was sweltering, you think you are in Africa in the middle of a heat wave, temperature.  For the remainder of the night moans and curses could be heard coming from our chamber.

At six thirty in the morning Erin’s alarm went off and we all climbed back into our long underwear and turtlenecks and fleeces and heavy winter jackets.  The train, however, was not ready to let us off at our appointed time.  Because of the weather, the train took 11 hours to roll into Ozurgeti, causing me to miss the Super Bowl entirely.  I called my parents at seven thirty and heard the last 40 seconds of the game over the phone but, as you can imagine, that did not suffice.  I missed the Packers win the Super Bowl.  I missed every second of it.  Talk about making sacrifices for the Peace Corps.

When I arrived home I was dismayed to learn that we had two feet of snow and no power in our home.  The power didn’t come on again for three days.  It was cold.  Now, thankfully, the power is back on and I got to wash my hair yesterday (for the first time in a week).  Our house remains an ice box.  If you have never smoked an imaginary cigarette in your own bed using the cool breath that pours out of your mouth and nose, consider yourself lucky.  I can bundle myself up all I want in layers of clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and slippers, but I won’t be warm again until Spring arrives.

The arrival of seasons are funny subjects in Georgia.  This past Summer I asked when Fall would come, and every Georgian who I asked responded, “August 15th.”  How can they be so sure?  I wondered.  Well, Fall came on August 15th and lasted approximately one and a half days before Summer was back again.  Now I find myself asking Nunu, “when will Summer come?”  “On April 18th,” she promptly informs me.  Georgians have tricky ways of figuring out the weather patterns, you see.  Someone will point to the bright, warm sun in the sky that peeks out of the clouds right after a blizzard and inform me, “that means that it will snow tomorrow.”  Or if a seagull is sighted, everyone eagerly tells me that snow is coming.  Likewise, if the snow falls of the branches of the trees, more snow is coming.  You notice a trend here?  Snow is always coming in Georgian winter.

I am currently teaching my kids about introductions and conclusions in essays, so let me lead by example and wrap up this essay with a blanket statement about the essay’s contents.  It’s cold in Georgia in the wintertime.

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So You Want to Join the Peace Corps?

One of my friends recently found this video and sent it my way.

So you want to join the Peace Corps?

Apart from being hilarious, I think that there is a lot of truth to the video.  I found myself laughing out loud at parts of it and agreeing in my mind, “hey, that’s really true!’”  Did you just get fired from your job?  I graduated from university and then couldn’t FIND a job.  You will struggle to understand the children and they will stare at you.  Yep.  You will be sick most of the time from eating the local foods and you will have constant irritable bowel syndrome and a dry cough that you just can’t seem to kick.  YES.  You will sleep late and read novels that never interested you before to pass the hours.  Some days you will not leave your home because you want to avoid your neighbors.  Unfortunately, this is true.  Peace Corps will train you in so many things that you will leave the training not really knowing how to do anything useful.  True again.  You will leave your site as often as you can.  You will leave and go to the nearest air-conditioned American fast food restaurant.  You will find your ex-pat friends there also avoiding the heat.  We go to McDonald’s at every chance we get for both air conditioning and heat and we enjoy it more than we ever did in the states.  You will bring your laptop and purchase a wi-fi device and spend most of your day checking Facebook.  UH HUH.  You will be assigned to a school with an over-bearing head mistress who will make your life miserable.  Yes, yes, yes.

Now you can wipe that disgusted look off your face and stop wondering why it is that I joined the Peace Corps.  Let’s go back in time two years.  I’m sitting in the living room at my parent’s house, on the verge of graduating from university, drinking a class of cabernet sauvignon, and dinking around on the internet.  I’m looking for jobs in Milwaukee, Madison and Guatemala.  My dream would be to find a salary position with some volunteer organization in Guatemala.  Five applications in, I’ve grown tired and feel as though I’ll never find the job I’m looking for (or any job at all, quite frankly).  My finger slides over the mouse on my laptop and I watch my ten fingers begin to type www.peacecorps.gov into the browser.  This could be my ticket, I think.  I want to do work that is similar to the work I did in Latin America, I want to explore a new turf and I want to do something that I think is admirable.  I turn to my dad and say, “what would you think if I applied to the Peace Corps?”  “Give it a shot,” he tells me.  Two years later and I’m sitting in the Republic of Georgia on a sunny Saturday afternoon listening to the roosters crow outside my bedroom window.  Am I happy that things worked out this way?  Of course.  Although I do find myself escaping into books and the internet frequently, there are many things that I love about my new home.  I have said it before but I’ll say it a million more times, I love my students.  They are my greatest satisfaction here.  I love not paying bills and I love traveling at the drop of a hat whenever I feel like it (and don’t have school).  I love having summers off and a month-long vacation in the middle of winter.  I love my Peace Corps friends.  I love learning new recipes, developing new favorite foods, trying homemade wine and vodka, and eating all natural foods.  I love walking everywhere.  I love how cheap everything is here—yesterday I bought mouthwash, a bar of soap and deodorant and it cost me the equivalent of about five US dollars.  I love my host family and I love all of the free time.  Life is easy here.  No electric bill, no gas bill, no gas, no rent, no car, no car insurance, no obligations other than teaching English to 200 kids.

I am glad that all of this just bubbled out of me because I have been feeling guilty lately for all of my complaining—to my friends, family, Peace Corps friends, host family, anyone who will listen, really—and I want to make amends and say just one thing.  I am happy. 

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Gilotsav Shobas (Merry Christmas) from Georgia!

In America the holiday season is over, the decorations have been put away and the indulgent eating has at last come to an end.  In Georgia, however, we are still waiting for the second celebration of the new year, which will happen on January 14th.  An explanation, in Country Director Rick Record’s words: Why do we celebrate New Year twice – January 1 and January 14? Georgians celebrate New Year twice due to two calendar systems. The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western Calendar, this internationally accepted civil calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in Georgia only after Sovietization. However, the Georgian Orthodox Church has continued to celebrate holidays according to Julian calendar introduced since the fourth century. That’s how Georgians ended up with celebrating holidays twice.  On December 25th there is no celebration, for Georgian Christmas is on January 7th.  Therefore, December 31st, new year’s eve, is the first celebration during the holiday season.  This celebration is more parallel to the way Americans and most of the rest of the world celebrate Christmas.  There is a new year’s tree, people give and receive gifts, there is food aplenty, and many families decorate their homes for the occasion.  Before midnight strikes, bringing with it the new year, the family must be seated around the table.  Adorning the table are plates with meat, rice, vegetables, traditional cakes, bowls of fruit, nuts, and wine.  At midnight many people run into the streets, some with fireworks, others with guns, and the sky is filled with colorful booms and shouts of congratulations for the new year.  My host family came outside at 11:45pm and did some fireworks and sparklers and then they retreated inside the house to finish eating.  I, however, sat outside and watched the fireworks by myself.  I think that this solitude that I experienced during the first few minutes of 2011 will be indicative of the way the rest of the year goes, which I am pleased about.  A peaceful, quiet year it shall be.

On January 7th, two days ago, I celebrated Christmas with my host family and Boria’s sister and her family.  On Christmas morning it is tradition to eat a Christmas pie.  All of my students claim it to be their favorite Georgian food.  Upon receiving the explanation of what it is, I thought it would be my favorite Georgian food too.  They described it as a warm pie filled with cheese and eggs.  I pictured something like a keish.  It was not a keish.  It was a half moon-shaped pie filled with Georgian cheese (duh) and hard boiled eggs.  Georgian cheese is too salty and it tastes and smells like the utters of a cow (to me).  I was mildly disappointed as I had expected the same kind of delicious egg/cheese dish that my mother makes on holidays, but I will withhold the truth from my dear students and tell them that I, too, love the Georgian Christmas pie.  For dinner we indulged ourselves in kebab, roasted chicken, khachipuri, cheese, bread, champagne, and wine.  A more educational look at Christmas in Georgia, again in Mr. Record’s words:  CHRISTMAS, January 7:  Georgians celebrate Christmas (შობა) on January 7.  On the night before, all churches in the country begin the solemn liturgy. In Tbilisi, it is held in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch.  After the service the most interesting and entertaining part begins: festive parade Alilo (a modified pronunciation of Alleluia). Believers and priests walk down the street with church songs, carry icons, crosses and church banners high above their heads. Thus, they carry the good news about the birth of Christ. All who are interested can join the procession. Most members of the Alilo march are children and they are given sweets by the adults; also, gifts and sweets are distributed to orphanages and asylums. The Alilo carols vary across the provinces of Georgia.  On Christmas night, candles are lit in every Georgian house. They are especially placed near the window, so that the light is visible to passers-by. This tradition is observed in memory of events of the Bible, when Joseph and Mary sought shelter for giving birth to their son. Georgian Christmas has also its own culinary traditions. For this holiday Georgian women bake kveri – tasty Christmas cakes.

In between celebrations I have been spending time with Nunu and Boria and their two fabulous daughters, Natia and Lali.  Natia’s husband and son are here as well, and their little boy has provided endless entertainment to me over the past several weeks.

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*Pictures from top left to bottom right: Traditional Georgian Christmas Pie, Traditional Georgian Christmas Cake with Apples, most delicious Georgian sweet I’ve tasted (walnuts in melted honey and sugar), Lomtadze Family New Year Tree, decorations.

More photos to follow on my Picasaweb Albums.

Happy 2011 to my wonderful friends and family!

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