In this picture my darling Claire and I are at the marshutka station in my town. The mountains behind us are the Caucasus Mountains which create a natural and political border border between Russia (or rather the volatile region known as Dagestan) and Georgia. Marshutka rides have gone from being one of the greatest anxiety-inducing experiences in Georgia, to a minor nuisance that I now accept as part of the reality of getting around. I have made friends with the nice lady who sells tickets and the man in charge of corralling passengers. Now, when it is cold she brings me back into her office area to sit by the stove and I get VIP treatment from the man who even tells the drivers to let me sit up front (a coveted seat on most marshutkas in which one must get special permission to sit).
I was awarded for my school a USAID Small Projects Assistance Grant to renovate the restroom facilities. For years the school has been without running water inside. This is not atypical in Georgia, however, the school has had indoor facilities all this time. Just use your imagination to figure out the major issue with having indoor facilities with no running water, manual flushing, and 700 students. Beyond the germ factor, it was less than pleasant aromatically speaking. Unfortunately, schools often times do not receive large enough budgets to achieve the full extent of the repairs necessary for these kinds of renovations. So, with 25% contribution from my school and with the rest coming from the grant, we were able to have 17 toilets either replaced or fully renovated, as well as restore running water capabilities to 8 sinks, 2 of which had to be replaced. Because of the large number of toilets and sinks, we were unable to have a budget large enough to do superficial renovations. Students and teachers were thrilled nonetheless with the makeover!
I did not simply want to do a physical improvement project, but ever in the mindset of youth development, we agreed if we did the renovation that I would be allowed to have health trainings to tie in with the project. I had a training of trainers (ToT) with my wonderful 10th grade students in which we discussed basic hygiene, the spread of germs and disease through unclean hands, how to properly wash one's hands, and the importance of water sanitation. Then, for two days, the students and my counterpart Lina held this training for nearly every class in the school. All in all, close to 650 students participated in the trainings. One of the greatest achievements of the project was that I only facilitated the ToT and from there, they completely took ownership of the project. These are the types of projects that reaffirm the meaning in volunteers' services!
|This is the room in which I have lived and called home for 18 months.|
On the bed is the sleeping bag that I have spent no less than 10 months of my life hunkered in. While this winter is nowhere near the arctic conditions of last winter, when you live in a concrete house, even when it is nice Spring weather outside, it is quite like living inside a refrigerator. On the desk in the corner is a shelving unit which Claire and I constructed out of USPS boxes from my care packages. Although my beds are two twins pushed together, I have spent a year and half sleeping basically in the crack for want of an ability to pick a side. And yes, that is my Titanic towel in the chair, and I am very proud to own it. The rug in the middle of the floor with rectangles is my version of a yoga mat. I was unaware of the one place in the country where the genuine article is sold when I decided to make do. To make do is the necessary Peace Corps Volunteer mantra.
Nearly every item in this cabinet is a vessel from which Georgians drink. The little crystal glasses on the top shelf are from what wine is typically drunk. Typically at supras (Georgian dinner parties), men will drink their entire glass every time the Tamada (toastmaster) makes a toast. Someone will usually exclaim "bolomde", which literally translates to "to the end" - the end being the end of the glass. The bell in the middle of the second shelf, is, in fact, a drinking vessel. The idea of both the bell, and the horns to either side of it being that once one has wine in the vessel, it is impossible to place said vessel back down, so the contents must be consumed. Once the bell is emptied, it is usually rung, while all other vessels are held upside down over the table to prove they are empty. Recently my host dad was having a supra with his friends and tried to hand me the horn. Initially, I thought it would be an affront to not accept it, but there are also always delicate rules which females must navigate. I am part of the family enough that I would not have been at risk of being looked down upon, but I was not particularly interested in chugging a horn's worth of wine. My host mom gave me an amused look letting me know the decision was entirely mine. So, after initially accepting I instantly handed it back to my host father. At which point my host mom told me, "If you don't want it, then don't put out your hand to accept, because technically once you have accepted, the responsibility to empty the vessel and render it able to be set back down is yours." (No I don't know "render" in Georgian, but that was the gist.) In the middle of the bottom shelf there are small terracotta bowls which also serve as drinking containers, but since they can be set down even with liquid inside of them, I do not know what their special purpose is. The final vessel, which is not pictured, is a shingle. Yes, a shingle. As in the terracotta semi-cylindrical objects of which roofs are made. Although I have never personally encountered this practice, many volunteers have participated in the act of placing a shingle to his or her mouth and the wine then being poured into it.
This is the view from my front window. It is gorgeous. No explanation necessary.
In the beginning of tackling the challenge of hanging clothes on the line, I was, in a word, terrible. It usually took me a good half of an hour to hang a load of laundry. Despite how many episodes of "Little House on the Prairie" I watched when I was younger, and other educational period movies, I really did not know what I was doing. Regardless of what you may think, it is not a very intuitive chore. Some things hang by the bottom, others by the top, others are spread out completely. Then there is the sharing of clothes pins that most items require, because there never seem to be enough pins for all of the articles of clothing. On top of all of that, Georgians are particular about the way in which laundry is hung. It is not okay to have pants, and then a shirt, then a long-sleeved shirt, then a skirt. Things must be grouped together and hung in an orderly fashion. It is a sign of being tidy to the neighbors. Well I am proud to report, after nearly two years, I have just about mastered the process! This picture is my recent handy-work. I am also saddened to report a bird mistook one of my articles of clothing for a litter box. I look forward to using a dryer once again soon.
This is my host dad's still in our back yard. Here, chacha (Georgian hard alcohol which can only be made from grapes) is being made. The pot in the bottom of the picture is the final product and ready to be consumed. When a new batch is made, it is not very easy to refuse the proud maker when (s)he offers you a taste of the chach of his/her labor... I only choked a little bit. Another fun fact - my host dad made mtsvadi over the fire while the alcohol was processing. (Is that right word? I'm not realy up on technical alcohol making lingo.) Nevertheless, to make mtsvadi, the meat is cut into roughly 2x2 inch pieces, coated in salt, and cooked on skewers on an open fire.
This kind of decorating, which is commonplace in the States does not really take place here all that often. Last year, my counterpart and I, on multiple occasions, hung things in the hallways only to discover they had been destroyed within a few minutes. This year we tried again, only now we hang everything where only extremely tall students can reach the students' artwork on a chair. It seems the students either really cannot reach what we put on the walls, or they too have come to appreciate the brightening up of the hallway. I always loved holiday artwork when I was in school, and I get a great deal of joy out of passing this on to my students now. This Easter artwork is particularly exciting because Easter eggs in Georgia are traditionally only died red, so it was nice to see the students embracing the American style of decorating their eggs and expressing themselves and being creative.
I know, I'm being such a doting teacher right now, but I am so proud of my little kiddos. Sometimes, as a remnant from the Soviet system of education, it can be a bit of a struggle to draw out students' creativity here. With this activity, the kids just ran with it!
These are piglets at my host family's village house. I have enough farm to table food experience, from living here, that I am well aware that it was a few pigs ago that these little cuties were alive. Now that I have been faced with this fact, I don't see how vegetarianism wasn't a bigger social phenomenon sooner . Full disclosure: I still eat my family's mtsvadi (Georgian pork BBQ). So, I guess I do.
This is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. I went to it this past year on a camping trip with fellow volunteers that one of our staff members coordinated. It is called "The Balcony of the Earth". It is positioned so that one can see the deep valley below and the mountains in the distance for miles - truly breathtaking!
View from the balcony! This group of people is known around here as the Wolf Pack or Mglis Khrova in Georgian. We have been together since the very beginning, when we were in a training group together for our first three months in country. I do not know what my service would have been like without them. Our friendships and what they have contributed to my success as a volunteer cannot be overstated. I love each of them and we will be life long friends! Insert cheesy "aww" here. But seriously, I mean it, I love them.
This is the trek up to Gergeti Trinity church, one of the most notable places to visit in Georgia, which is across the valley from Mount Kazbegi. This is another volunteer and me going directly up the side of the mountain (the hard way) rather than taking the road around. It was quite difficult, but it took considerably less time.
And this is the view from the top! It is absolutely worth the hike. Fun fact about the way I am sitting: here in Georgia this stance is known as a birzha squat. A birzha is typically a group of men who sit in groups talking, playing games, and often drinking some form of alcohol. In lieu of adequate seating, the individuals in these groups will often sit just like this - thus the name. However, one does not have to be in a birzha for it to be absolutely socially acceptable to sit like this. So, when waiting for public transportation, in line, or anywhere really where there isn't seating available and one does not feel like standing for a long time, this is a viable option. I am particularly fond of this given that I practice this in the States. Although there I am often met with strange stares. But not in Georgia! Win for the birzha squat!
Here is the actual church. Half of the reason for the arduous hike is to take in the scenery and the other is to see the church itself. Historical churches are very common in Georgia. Given their thriving Orthodoxy membership, they have done a lot to preserve the many churches throughout the country. The dome in the background is typical for Georgian Orthodox church architecture.
Another view from the top. It never gets old. Georgia truly has beautiful and diverse nature that I am going to miss a great deal when I leave. In two years I have never tired of going down the road and frequently seeing centuries old fortresses or churches nestled in scarcely developed natural surroundings.