First, thank you so much to everyone who donated to my fundraiser. I’ve reached my goal of $500 quicker than I could have imagined and will be able to purchase new books for the students at the Tskaltubo Village School. There is still several weeks before the fundraiser ends if anyone would still like to donate. You’re all helping to ensure that the children here have access to a world of knowledge they as of right now don’t know about. I hope that many of them will become lifelong readers and that the new materials available to them will open up a whole host of new opportunities for them. They will have the chance to read books that are popular around the world in their own language and also be able to read books in English, improving their communication skills. So, thank you again!!
The past week I’ve mainly just been hanging out at home. My job teaching in Kutiasi ended on the 13th and I’ve been trying to be as conservative as I can with my money. I’ve had the chance to devour lots of books, I’m up to 15 since arriving, and watch some new movies. Was feeling a bit of cabin fever by the end of the week though and called up a fellow teacher who lives in a somewhat nearby village. Asked him if I could come and hang out and see his digs.
Left Kutaisi on Friday afternoon on a marshrutka headed to Samtredia town. The ride took about 30 minutes. Saw a couple of interesting things on the way. One house we passed by had a giant missile in the front yard. It was painted white and propped up on this tall stand (almost two stories). Really, really random. Kind of wishing that I could get up and straddle the monstrosity Dr. Strangelove style because really when else am I going to find a giant missile in someone’s front yard.
The other thing I noticed was cemeteries. I had yet to come across any since arriving and I need to see if I can find one nearby to walk around in. The graves appeared to be above ground with gardens planted on the top. The headstones were large with people’s pictures painted on them. Was driving by so I didn’t get to see much more than that, but they didn’t look like any cemetery I’ve seen in the US.
From Samtredia I had to get on another marshrutka to Ghaniri (you pronounce this with a French ‘r’ at the beginning). I found that I’ve been slightly spoiled living here in Tskaltubo. There are three marshrutkas that go to Kutaisi and there is always one available from 8:30am – 7:00pm. You might have to sit on one for like 5 minutes before it leaves, but never longer than that. Since I was on my way to a much smaller village I found myself waiting for about 30 minutes before a marshrutka arrived. It was another 15 minutes before getting to Ghaniri.
Now I didn’t really expect there to be much of a difference between my village and Scott’s* as we’re not very far from each other. However, there were a couple of things I noticed right away. Lots of people were riding bikes around the village. I’ve seen a couple of kids with bikes here in Tskaltubo, but never an adult. Ghaniri is very flat and so bikes make an excellent transportation device. Several times I even saw multiple people riding the same bike.
Another difference was the number of horses I saw. Some were drawing buggies or carts, others were just free range. I’ve seen a person riding a horse once in Tskaltubo and while we have lots of cows, pigs, and chickens wandering about there are no horses.
Scott met me in front of his house and we sat on the porch waiting for the father of one of his English students to come pick us up. Scott has a student he’s started giving private lessons to and I accompanied him to this one. The father is the captain of a shipping vessel and spoke very good English. We went to their home where we all sat around a big table. Scott gave his lesson, the father helped translate and chained smoked, and his wife kept the food coming out. We got melon, cornbread, cold vegetable soup, bread, cheese, chicken, and this delicious red fruit which is similar to plums. Of course coffee and Georgian white wine was brought out too. I told them I didn’t drink, but I was still given a glass. I took a sip to be polite, but the father questioned me as to if I was going to drink it. I again told him that I didn’t really drink and he looked at me and said, “But this is Georgian wine, it doesn’t count. We usually drink a liter an hour. One glass is nothing.” Even after Scott finished my glass we were both poured another. This isn’t the first time that this has happened to me. Telling someone no here doesn’t really mean no.
It was nice to speak in English with a Georgian. Haven’t had as many opportunities to do this as I would like. At one point we somehow got onto the subject of race. The father informed us that he didn’t like black people. Or more specifically he didn’t like black people from Africa. He actually compared them to monkeys. This was quite difficult for both Scott and I to digest as we discussed later that evening. Think a lot of this mindset is simple ignorance and lack of exposure. There are really not a lot of black people here in Georgia. While many of the people here are darker, they tend towards a more Middle Eastern complexion. The people I know here who are black get stopped by Georgians to have their picture taken and are stared at even more than I am. This doesn’t really excuse the racism expressed by this man, but I hope as more people visit Georgia this narrow view of the world will start to change. For thousands of years Georgia has been essentially isolated from the rest of the world. It’ll take time before the majority begin accepting those who are different from them. Living within a group of people who are so tolerant of others back home it was uncomfortable to hear racism like this being thrown about so casually.
After the lesson Scott took me around the village. Behind his house there was a large field filled with rubble. Apparently there was once a large auto factory there during the Soviet era. When the Russians left they destroyed the building. This seems to be a common theme in places I’ve been to so far. While there is a ton of new construction happening, there is a lot more buildings in ruins. We walked past the rubble, across a little bridge and to a huge open field where horses and cows can graze. I was pretty elated to see all the horses, including their babies. What can I say; I’m a city girl and get pretty giddy when I see animals that aren’t behind a fence. As we ventured closer to the horses Scott pointed out that the field was lined with blackberry bushes. Oh.My.Gawd! Again, as a city girl I’ve never had the chance to pick wild berries. We grabbed ripe ones off the bushes and just popped them into our watering mouths. Berries seemed to be everywhere and you could just stop and pluck a few off whenever you wanted to. I’m so jealous of his immediate access to the sweet fruit.
We walked around for a little bit and then joined “the corner boys”. Scott has coined this affectionate term for the group of men/boys you see in villages who sit around all day and do nothing. A group of about 10 people were gathered under a tree by a little store. They ranged in age from 16 to probably 50. One of the boys who spoke a decent amount of English asked Scott if he liked chacha. When he said sure the boy left for a few minutes, returning with an unmarked bottle and several plastic cups. He poured the clear liquid into cups; the very intense smell of rubbing alcohol permeated my nostrils.
The smell seemed to fit the surroundings perfectly. The grass had all been killed, from people walking over it for years, leaving a dirt floor to stand on. This floor was covered with trash. These boys sit here all day, every day, dropping their wrappers, bottle, cigarettes, and whatever else on the ground. Scott told me that there is no garbage pickup in his village; instead all the trash has to be burned. If the women don’t pick it up and burn it than it just stays where it is thrown.
As if this wasn’t depressing enough, a filthy dog was laying on the ground eating a plastic sausage wrapper. I guess just the smell of meat was enough for the dog. He looked up at me and there were rings of puss around his eyes. At one point someone tried giving the dog a lit cigarette and Scott and I quite vocally stopped him from doing so. Made me quite sick to my stomach. Scott told me later that when he asked someone about dogs here they told him that they didn’t have souls so you could do whatever you wanted to them and it didn’t matter. His response was, “Well you’ve obviously never loved a dog.”
The pet culture here is really different from back home. A lot of the dogs I see around my village belong to people, but are free to wander around. We have two dogs at my home who I’ve named Munchkin and Prancer. I’m not really sure if they even have names. They live outside, don’t have collars, and I’m 100% sure they’ve never had a bath. I haven’t actually seen anyone pet the dogs, besides an occasional rub with a foot. They’re cared for, but not in the same way most people’s pets are in the US. The great-grandmother has a bamboo cane/stick thing that she likes to chase them off with. They literally run away cowering anytime she comes near them. The dogs are fed table scraps which are thrown out every morning for them to fight over.
Being an animal lover I’ve started to pay attention to my dogs, giving them pets and love. However, since they never get attention like this they are untrained. Been working on teaching them not to jump up on me and behave a bit better. They’ve identified me as a sucker and follow me around, jumping up and getting under my feet at every opportunity. Prancer has decided he’s brave enough to start sneaking inside now too, I sometimes find him lying by the foot of my bed. Of course none of these animals are spayed or neutered and the population of stray animals just keeps increasing. It’s sad. Know there are some organizations in Tbilisi which are trying to educate and help the animals. I’ve seen a couple of pet stores and here and there a dog is on a leash. Think the mindset on pet ownership is slowly changing.
We sat with the corner boys for a bit before they started to disperse. One of them invited us over to his home which was across the street from Scott’s place. He spoke a little bit of English, but not much. We sat at a table in his front yard and were of course given wine right away. A large 2.5 liter beer bottle filled with homemade sweet red wine was brought out and the toasting began. Many hours were spent by both parties trying to figure out what the other was saying. Gender roles have never been more obvious to me. This Georgian man had a wife at home, a new baby, and a little boy about 5 or 6 years old. His wife brought out food for us, took care of the children, and whenever her husband didn’t know something in English he would yell for her to stop what she was doing and translate for him. While I sat next to him for about four hours he only spoke to me once or twice. Instead when he had a question about me he asked Scott.
It seems to me that the male volunteers here probably have a vastly different experience than the women. You don’t ever see groups of “corner girls”. The women are all busy and don’t have time to sit around talking, drinking beer, and smoking all day. Occasionally I’ll see a group of old grandmothers gathered together, but they’re not exactly who I’m dying to spend my time with. The women my age are pretty much all married and taking care of their young children. It’s really not socially acceptable for women to hang out with men. Even when you do it’s been my experience that many subjects are taboo or they just won’t address you at all. It’s frustrating. Back home I often hang out with my boys and they’ll talk to me about anything, not the case here.
Anyway, over the course of the night Scott and his Georgian neighbor managed to knock back a little over 2.5L of wine. The drunker they got the more crazy the toasts became. I believe we determined that his neighbor fought and killed Russians, that he played goalie for a soccer team in Tbilisi, and that he considered Scott to be his brother and would take care of any problem for him. Oh and that he’d slept with like nine Russian women. While it was fun to sit and watch them toast I was glad to leave when we did as the neighbor kept on reaching over to pet my head and kiss my cheek.
I helped Scott stumble back home where he made us a delicious midnight snack of fried chicken. The chicken had been killed a few hours before. Probably the freshest chicken I’ve ever eaten. We sat on the porch talking and then fell asleep nerding it up The Fifth Element. The next day we lazed around, he showed me their baby pigs, and I caught the marshrutka back home. It was a most welcome venture outside of my village. This weekend I’m heading up to Svaneti for the largest religious festival of the year. It’s one of the hardest places to get to in the country and I’m really excited to see it!
*Name has been changed