Monday, August 30, 2010

My Georgian Life

Gamargoba! Hi! I’m alive. Sorry I have been off the radar for the past week - but I am, actually, off the radar. Google map doesn’t even know where I am.

I have been living the simple life with my new Georgian family – who are awesome by the way – for the past week. We are in a cute little house at the end of an unmarked gravel road and could probably sustain ourselves for over a year without leaving.

For everyone wondering about my placement, here it is: I am in the northwest region called Samegrelo, the nearnest city is Zugdidi, my school is in the village Chitatskaro, and my home is the tinier village next door called Cacxvi.

The family:

First, there is my 83-year-old bebia, Natela. She never moves faster than a shuffle but gets more done per day than everyone else in the family combined. She is up bright and early every morning caring for: paia the cow, jodia the calf, basara the dog, and about half a dozen nameless chickens. She gets a kick out of overstuffing me with food and watching my agony as I force down the last of the khagapuri, very filling Georgian cheese bread. She has a great sense of humor and an amazing laugh that’s more of a combo of a whistle and a wheeze.

Next, there is Marina. She is one of Natela’s daughters and my aunt. She is a 56-year-old Russian language teacher with a wicked sense of humor, even though we are only talking through single words and gestures at this point. Our first meal together she mimed to me she was on a diet and I was way to skinny. I have a feeling I won’t be losing any weight while I’m here. So far I’ve seen Marina dodge cows and oncoming traffic at 90 km/hr, carry a bed up stairs, and make jam out of fresh figs from the garden. This woman is tough.

Finally, my two host brothers – they are Natela’s grandsons and Marina’s nephews - 17-year-old Giorgi and 19-year-old Giga. Giorgi will be in the 12th grade and one of my students. He lives in the village house with us full time. Giga is staying here for the remainder of the summer until school starts. Then he’ll stay as the family’s apartment in the nearby city with his mother and father while he attends University for electrical engineering. These boys are what Georgians like to call my patroni. They will have my back no matter who or what tries to mess with me. So far I haven’t ever felt the need for a patroni but it’s nice to know they are there and looking out for me.

The property:

We are in a two-story house built by the now deceased bebua in the 1930’s. Influenced by years of soviet occupation and struggle the house is very much about function, not fashion. No frills, no d├ęcor, just the bare essentials and it works. You enter the front door into the living area; keep going straight and you enter the cooking area: dirt floor, fireplace, one gas burner, a plastic table and a little tv; to the left is food storage: fruits, veggies, rising dough, fermenting milk, and compost; go back through the cooking area to the left and your in grandma’s bedroom – which you must pass through to get to the ladder - that goes to the second floor - where you’ll find the other three bedrooms - including my own.

Outside we have amazing produce. Right now in season are: figs, apples, grapes and peaches. In the winter we’ll have: tangerine, pomegranate, pears and persimmon. We just put in the garden for some veggies: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc. Paia the cow provides the milk, cheese and yogurt. The chickens provide the eggs and are sacrificed on occasion for the meat. Our jam is made and then preserved. The wine is always local.

Our backyard is filled with green mountains. On a hike the other day with Giorgi we came across about 5 army trenches about a 10-minute walk from the house. They were dug two years ago by the Georgian army who patrolled and waited for and Russian activity. Giorgi tells me that the Russian bombed the telecommunication satellites and antenna at the top of the next mountain. They have since been replaced. One our way back we pass a massive bull with only one horn. “What’s up with this bull?” I ask. “Russian bombs.” Says Giorgi very seriously – then he goes into about a 5 minute laughing fit and blames every sign of destruction we see on Russian bombs. “ Is a joke!” I’m not convinced.

The struggles this family has faced are very real and not so far in the past. But they have come out of it with strong sense of patriotism and an excellent sense of humor.

As I’m writing this now we are all taking our afternoon nap. Giorgi, Giga, and grandma nap together on the bed downstairs by the kitchen, Aunt Marina sleeps on a chair in the living room, and I’m sprawled on the couch next to her. No one goes upstairs during the day; it’s too hot and the ladder is a pain in the ass.

Tonight we’re having a ritual to honor the deceased. They explained to me that it has something to do with Mary Magdalene. I’ll find more out tonight as it all happens. One of the deceased we’ll be honoring was babia Natala’s husband. He built the house we’re living in and was then fatally injured in it by a thief passing through about 5 years ago. They tell me that thieves are now long gone.

I remember the point of being here. Learning, from both sides, is the goal of this program. I have learned so much from this family in the first week of being here. I hope I can contribute some knowledge as well. So far I’ve only been able to show picture of my family and friends, teach my host brothers to dance salsa, how to do basic yoga postures(they insisted after seeing pictures and hearing music), and of course provide daily English practice.

Much love to all of my friends and family! I have been extremely MIA due to not having internet in my village. Spent about 4 hours trying to get a wireless modem and succeeded - at least for now - I'm still in the city. We'll see how it works when I get home. Love you all and hopefully I'll be talking with you on skype and introducing you to my Georgian family :) Can't wait to connect these two wonderful worlds. XO for now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Impressions

Ok, everyone – I’m here, I’m safe, and I’m lovin’ it. Getting here was pretty uneventful. I had some great seating companions on both flights. On the flight to Amsterdam I was sandwiched in between two very talkative Dutch men in there 50’s and then surrounded by about 25 fellow volunteers on the second. Completely exhausted and slightly delirious by the time we arrived but I was lucky enough to be one of the 5 out of 25 whose bags were NOT missing from our flight – thank GAWD!

Now – what to say about Georgia. Every time I arrive in a new country it’s hard not to have expectations. After reading guidebooks and websites and talking to anyone who knows anyone who might have been to that country, I inevitably start to paint of a picture of what it’s going to be like – and it’s usually WAY off. I was way off.

Our group lands in the capital city of Tbilisi and we head straight to the hotel. While driving through the city something seems…off. Is this not the biggest city in the country? Where the heck are all the people? Why do I only see a few random old men roaming the streets with their midsections exposed? Is this the new fashion craze or just how they expect to release all of their body heat in this boiling weather? Their shirts are literally just pulled up and resting on top of their cheese bread filled bellies. This is definitely something I’ll have to get used to.

After only one night in Tbilisi, we are up bright and early Sunday morning to drive all the way to the coastal city of Batumi. Not our original plan but we have an amazing day ahead of us. From Tbilisi we get on the M27 highway – the only main highway that goes from west to east across the entire county – and head west to the Black Sea. The highway is fast and hectic! It is in fact a two lane highway but there seems to be an imaginary middle lane for constant passing of cars going BOTH directions. Imagine people playing chicken in a center lane.

The highway is lined with building from the soviet era. None of them appear to be operating – most of them never fully completed yet still worn and tired looking – but then someone appears. What could they possibly be selling in this completely unmarked cement box? How many customers do you think they get in a day, no, a week?! Where the heck are all the women – seriously?! Finally, there’s one selling bread!

And so the six hour journey goes. I have so many with questions! We end up passing through about three different climate zones. First hot desert, next high up in the cool mountains, and finally we arrive in the subtropical humid coastal town on Batumi! Lush forests, colorful beach houses, and tons of people now surround us. More men walking around with their bare bellies but this time they are accompanied by many friends, wives, children and they are all having a great time at the beach.

Oh, yea – we came all the way here because THE PRESIDENT has requested our company at the opening of a very posh, very white, beach side restaurant. I just drove 6 hours through a bare and seemingly desolate countryside - where it seems NO building has been fully constructed or maintained - and now I’m sitting at a beautiful open-air lounge overlooking the black sea. Misha – as they like to call him – strides in wearing a very casual linen shirt and pants. He’s actually pretty handsome. A handshake here, a charismatic “How’s it goin’?”, “Where ya from?” there. This kind of reminds me of how a late-night talk-show host might enter a room.

Besides the cheesy entrance and PR charades he ended up being totally cool and inspiring. He gave an excellent look into the life of a Georgian over the past years: personal stories of when he was a boy getting thrown in jail for listening to American music, lots of witty stabs at Russia, and he finishes by tells us why we are all here. This project is his own. His Dutch brother-in-law, who has been teaching abroad over the last 20 or so years, inspired him. He knows that language is the key to providing opportunities for his country and this people and he wants us to be the ones to make it happen. Even more, he tells us to share our cultures; our ways of live. “I want them to see that you are all free people with free will and free speech, because now they have that as well.” He opens up the floor for questions, thanks us all, and is off! This day is going to take a bit to sink in.

After a quick dinner we are on the bus AGAIN. Three more hours back east to Kutaisi where we will be staying for the next seven days of intense Georgian language and teacher training. We are also expecting to get some information about our village (yes, their now saying village) of placement and host families.

My first impressions of this country are all over the place. It’s worn but beautiful, its people struggling to rebuild yet generous beyond belief. I feel mostly respect for this country and excitement for the months to come. Mad-lobt, Georgia. Thanks for talking me in.

*See if you can spot me in this video of the pres:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ready, set, go.

This is my very first attempt to blog. HELP! I am by no means a writer, so I don't expect to write lengthy entries every day nor will I hang such an impossible goal over my head. My hope is to simply share some of my experience with you in the most enjoyable and honest way I can. Images, stories, epiphanies, emotional breakdowns... you get the idea.

Just a quick explanation of the name I’ve chosen ‘gyspygolightly’. What a stressful process. This was on par with choosing my first AIM name and my ‘professional’ email account. I just tried to focus on my goal for the blog and what would be featured the most: my life.

I realize that by it's true definition I don't represent a ‘gypsy’ at all. However, my very best friend called me one after hearing about my most recent travel plans and I felt really at home with the word. That’s the only way I can describe it. Of course I was relating to the very American connotations of a gypsy: being free to wander, without burden of' possessions, some times mischievous (this last one is not really me but I like to pretend to be a little bit bad).

‘golightly' just sort of popped in my head with a really good ring to it. It’s a product of my obvious obsession with Audrey Hepburn and her character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, But also, I thought it held a much deeper meaning that balanced out its slightly harsher counterpart.

The next stop for me is the Republic of Georgia. I leave this weekend with very little information about the what’s, where’s and when’s. The program I am going through his called Teach and Learn in Georgia. Feel free to check out the webpage for more info on the goal of the program (

I truly love my current wander-some lifestyle and all the opportunities it has afforded me. In all of my travels I’ve found which is my most valuable quality on the road(come to think of it, pretty much everywhere): light-heartedness.

I’m very excited about this new adventure and even more excited to share it with all of you. You know who you are: family and friends who have been there since the beginning and the very special people I meet along the way who make each experience so much richer.