Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ticking Things Off My Vacation List

First - when did I start talking about "ticking ... off"? That's not an American thing. We check things off a list. No matter.


Massage. Tick.
Facial. Tick.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ethiopia: English Alive Academy

Practicing the "th" sound

Stephanie and Dawit have shared very exciting news - the English Alive Academy is receiving a grant to buy land on which to build a school! 

This is tremendous. They can now build a facility that is purpose-built for a school.

Of course, to actually build the school, they need "bricks." So they will soon launch a buy-a-brick campaign. If you don't want to wait til then, you can donate here.

I've talked about the English Alive Academy before. This is where I volunteer-taught for a couple of weeks in February-March 2011. I was (and continue to be) in awe that Stephanie and Dawit have been able to sustain the operation of a school for almost 200 kids, 20 Ethiopian staff (in a country with rampant unemployment), and the rearing of two young'ns of their own, largely out of their own pockets.

For nail-biting adventures of the school, read the blog here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rain Poncho and Convertible Gloves

Back in July, I made the decision to wear my big ol' clunky workboots (waterproof) on the plane from Missouri to Tbilisi.

I did this based on reports from strangers that Georgia gets really wet and muddy in the winter. On top of that were reports of uneven surfaces in the country, regardless of whether or not you were in a city or in the country. All true. The boots have been perfect for climbing up to and down from scenic ruins and for sloshing through flooded streets of Rustavi.

I'm adding to that list of necessities a good, packable rain poncho; something I can fit over my backpack.

Rain poncho. Credit: Amazon

And convertible gloves that allow me to use them outdoors and indoors.

Alki'i  Wool Thermal Insulation Fingerless Texting Work Gloves. Credit: Amazon


I'm having a merry shopping Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking Beyond Georgia: Plan A

I've completed half my tenure with Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG), and I'm in the midst of the Teach for America (TFA) application process. My final interview for same is on Tuesday, November 29.

If I am invited to join the TFA corps (and if I accept), I'll begin teaching somewhere in the U.S. for the 2012-2013 school year. TFA "corps members" sign on for a two-year commitment to teach in a school that is in a low-income community. Might be rural; might be urban.

If I get in, I'm hoping to teach English language learners (ELL).

And if I get in, I suspect I'll need to brush up on my acronym skills. They're a bit rusty (TABR).

On January 17, I'll find out if I made the cut. If no, it's on to Plans B or C.

Talking about Plans A, B, and C gives me the opportunity to share a great quote from Ashley, a TLG colleague:
... I am a planner. I always have a Plan A, and am rarely caught without a Plan B. I plan for the most minor of externalities. Catch me at any consequential moment and I've usually got two plans and a lie already prepared.
Once I put the interview behind me, I'll be able to focus on a great Georgian party here in Missouri, where I can share the homemade wine, chacha, and churchkhela so generously shared with me. We'll make toasts to the folks back in the Caucasus and to ourselves and our loved ones.

... and a toast to another semester in Georgia!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jet Lag

Arrived in MO from Republic of Georgia at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

To bed at 11:00 p.m.

Up Friday morning at 4:30 a.m.

To a nap at about noon.

Arose at 5:30 p.m. from "nap."

To bed at 10:00 p.m.

Arose Saturday at 4:00 a.m.

2:00 p.m. .... s-l-e-e-p-y .........

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To Home for Winter Vacation

Layover in Ataturk Airport, Turkey

My flight from Georgia to Missouri: Starting and ending on Thanksgiving, November 24. Because of the time difference, this one day is 32 hours long instead of the normal 24.

The first leg of my flight left at 5:20 in the morning; I arrived in St. Louis, MO, at approximately 7:30 p.m. Total trip time =  22 hours. This excludes the drive to the airport and waiting around til first flight left.

Istanbul's Ataturk Airport is a fascinating place to be. It reminds me of one of the original Star Wars movies where our heroes go into a bar that's filled with beings from all over the universe, with huge variances in how they look and behave.

A better descriptor is that the Ataturk Airport is just a modern-day version of a stop on the ancient Silk Road, where Europe, the Asias, and Africa intersected at a daily bazaar of color, language, clothing, food, drink, and custom.

Nothing remarkable happened on my trip home. Except, when one takes the time to think of it, it's pretty remarkable that this gigantically huge and heavy metallic artifact - an airplane - filled with humanity and cargo, is able to stay in the air and get us from Point A to Point B.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rustavi: A Sweet Send-Off

My former hostess, "Nino," and her friends and neighbors gave me a sweet send-off today, in honor of my leaving Georgia on the 24th for my winter vacation.

When I arrived at Nino's place (the "leeftee" was not working, so I trudged up to Nino's sixth floor flat), Mari, visiting from the village, stood by the stove stirring sunflower seeds she was roasting. (The day before, Mari and her sister, Tia, had presented me with a selection of churchkhela made by their parents in their home village, which is near Sighnaghi in Kakheti.)

As I sat on a kitchen stool, Nino corrected the spices on a tomato-based dish she was cooking on the stove. Tia sliced potatoes french-fry style.

Nino added miniature khinkhali (called Russian khinkhali) to boiling, salted water.

Mari set the table, adding some artistic flourish by crafting the paper napkins into decorative shapes on the plates. Tia's young daughter, a tiny tornado, always getting into trouble, always doing things that are on the brink of generating catastrophe, helped.

Presently we sat: Nino, Tia, Mari and I, later joined by Nino's friend, Dodo, and her daughters, Nino and Mari, then by Nana. And Eka, with quiet daughter, Mariami, on her lap.

Mari, a senior in high school, put on some music and performed a couple of folk dances. Mari is a lovely, confident dancer. She is a very feminine girl, adept at the careful hand and arm movements requisite in traditional women's Georgian dance.

We drank wine and sherry (chacha plus fruit juice) from Gurjaani. We toasted to our health, future, and happiness, and that of our families.

I received homemade wine and chacha and more churchkhela to take home with me.

In a beautiful small gesture, knowing how much I like it, Nino even made popcorn for me to take away.

It felt like an afternoon of grace.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rustavi: Rustaveli Street and Rustaveli

It's likely every Georgian city, town, and village has a Rustaveli Street. Here's a sampling of what's on Rustavi's Rustaveli Street:

Rustavi, Georgia

Rustavi, Georgia

Rustavi, Georgia

Georgians might say that Shakespeare was the Rustaveli of England. Rustaveli, a 12th century poet, wrote the Knight in the Panther's Skin, an epic poem that I understand every Georgian can quote an excerpt from. Here is the poem in its entirety, in English.

Shota Rustaveli. Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Portable and Rootless: Trekking Poles

An early Christmas present to myself:

Black Diamond Trekking poles
Black Diamond Trekking poles

Black Diamond Fl Trekking Pole. Selected it because of good user reviews and how compact it is when folded - will fit in my luggage, which is less than 21 inches long.

There's a lot of walking in Georgia on rough terrain, up and down. Can't wait to try the pole out when I return to Georgia from winter vacation in the states. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dmanisi: First Europeans

Zezva and Mzia of Dmanisi. Credit: Multitur

I'm sure that when archaeologists uncovered the hominids in Dmanisi, now called the first Europeans, the Georgians said, "Old news. Of course, we were the first. Everybody knew that."

It was a sunny day, and Sandy, Eberle, and I joined Jennifer in Dmanisi (the town) to visit Dmanisi, the old settlement and home place of these first Europeans, Mzia and Zezva.

The marshrutka to Dmanisi leaves from Samgori each hour. Cost = 5 lari. Like poetry, each of us converged on Samgori, on time (pretty much), from our respective starting points: Rustavi, Gori, and a far-flung Tbilisi neighborhood.

Jennifer had arranged transportation to the archaeological sites for us, with the assistance of her host.

First we checked out the old settlement, circa 8th or 9th century at its founding. The settlement remained active through the 15th century, when it was overwhelmed by the Mongol, Tamerlane (who also decimated Rustavi). The artifacts thus reflect centuries of human activity and occupation.

The stone in this area boasts a tri-color scheme of green, red, and ivory. Beautiful. Ancient human detritus is all over the place in the form of petrified bones, stones, and pottery.

Dmanisi, Georgia

The scientific excavation is very much live.

Here is a beautiful video about the site, produced by Rolex, which honored a Georgian archaeologist with an award for his work. The accompanying article is here.

Some photos from the city below. Some buildings restored, some not. 

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

From the active dig site:

Dmanisi, Georgia

Dmanisi, Georgia

Evidence that Georgians invented bottled water, electricity, and freezers.  Dmanisi, Georgia.

No scale on this photo. Hole large enough for several people to climb into. Dmanisi, Georgia.

After visiting the ancient site on this sunny day, we returned to Jennifer's flat, had some munchies, then got on the last marshrutka to Tbilisi (5:00 p.m.). Jennifer decided to join us, where she'd crash at her favorite hostel for the night, Old Town Hostel.

Heard some decent music on the marshrutka on the way back to Tbilisi.

When we arrived in Tbilisi, we stopped at Old Town Hostel so Jennifer could drop her stuff, then Sandy realized she needed to get a move on if she wanted to catch the last ride to Gori, and Eberle, Jennifer, two hostel folks, and I went to dinner at "that place that overlooks the stage where we saw that dancing at that festival and where one of us got that thing with the runny egg that one time." Our usual place.

We saw some other TLGers there, and we chatted for a bit. After dinner, we went to a cafe (the other "place where we had the runny eggs that time, no not that one where we saw the dancing that one time, the other place " or, alternatively "that place where Sandy got that 7 lari pot of tea (or should we say that pot of hot water with the one tea bag), yeah, that one."

One of our party was a really interesting woman - Gabrielle - who is traveling in search of the perfect kebab. No, really. Her blog is KebabQuest. And, dammit, she has also been to Iran and deems it one of the best places on Earth to visit. (The Iranians told her, "We LOVE Americans! Don't pay any attention to our crazy president! He's crazy! We like Israelis, too. And ... well, OK, we're afraid of Pakistan, but we like everyone else!") I must go to Iran.

Glass bridge, Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia

Had a great Americano and nice conversation with Eberle and Gabrielle while Jennifer and Rob hung out on the enclosed terrace.  I won't see Eberle again on this Georgian adventure - I leave for my winter vacation in just a few days and she leaves for Turkey, then Ghana next month, not to return to Georgia. I look forward to hearing about her new journeys.

I caught the 11:00 marshrutka back to Rustavi. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Georgia: Cold

Last week, the school fired up the radiators in the classrooms. But it's still cold. We wear our coats and hats in class. The other day I spent an hour or so in the school library, which was so cold, I also wore my gloves.

At home, there is heat. Often, the kitchen is cozy. It is warmed by the gas flame on one of the stove's burners.

But outside the kitchen, it's still cold. When I go to bed, I put on a hat. I have two duvets plus a blanket. I wear layers and socks. I've also adopted the custom of filling a plastic bottle with hot water and bringing it to bed with me. With all of this, I do sleep warmly.

I am very fortunate in my home: I can take a hot shower and luxuriate in the heat for awhile. I've also got a small heater-fan that I can plug in when I'm working in my room. I have a bathroom down the hall and not outside the house, through the snow, and to the privy. Despite these amenities, I am cold much of the time.

Feeling cold has become a psychological state of being that is out of proportion, sometimes, with the actual temperature in a room. My muscles feel tense because of this cold.

I crave warmth.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Georgia: Students

One of the things I like about the Georgian students is that they don't hold a grudge.

It doesn't matter how much I step on their toes discipline-wise.

I get a cheerful, enthusiastic "good morning!" before class begins and a cheerful, enthusiastic "good-bye!" when class ends.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tbilisi: 100,000 Holy Martyrs of Tbilisi

Today was the commemoration of the 100,000 Holy Martyrs of Tbilisi.

Eberle and I met at KGB is Still Watching You cafe, then walked over the glass bridge, then to the Metechi Bridge.
Nely had told me the Patriarch and a procession would make their way to the bridge. People would toss flowers into the River Mtkvari in honor of those who died for their Christian faith.

It's a horrific story.

Bitterly cold and windy day for the commemoration. We didn't last long, and left to do some computer work. Four hours later, when we emerged from our meeting, people were only just leaving the bridge.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Awaiting the Patriarch, Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sighnaghi: City of Love 'n Crunch

"Oh, whoops, budishi! Are you, like, getting married right now? I'll just take this little snap and be on my way, then." Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Mission: Visit Georgia's City of Love and eat Mexican food. If necessary, look at a church.

Sandy came in to Rustavi from Gori yesterday to spend the night so we could get an early start from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi. We were to meet Marie and Eberle at the Samgori metro/marshrutka station, where we'd take the 9:00 a.m. marshrutka to Sighnaghi. This was a 1.5 hour trip. Six lari.

I'd learned already that there's a marshrutka from Rustavi to the Samgori station in Tbilisi, and Nely had cautioned me, when we flagged down a driver, to ask, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?" and not just "Samgori?" because there is also a village named Samgori.

So in the dark and rainy dawn of our departure, Sandy and I pulled out some lari from the ATM on the square, then walked toward Rustavi Bazari for the right marshrutka. There's one! It has #15 on it.

We hailed it to a stop, and opened the door. "Tbilisi metro Samgori?" I asked the driver.

"Ki, ki." was the reply. "Yes, yes."

As we got on, I asked again, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?"

"Ki, ki!" was the reply from both the driver and a passenger.

Sandy wondered aloud at my purpose in repeating my question when the answer was so obviously answered affirmatively the first time.

Sidebar: It is a blessing/curse that my brain is a factoid-attractant. Some of my family members, both nuclear and extended, enjoy/suffer the same gift/affliction. (And, as you can see, there is also a need to be precise in one's language.  I happen to think the two are connected as part of a syndrome, perhaps Asperger's Lite.) 

I replied that it had been my observation in life that people's brains operate similarly to the auto-complete computer application. (Which has been confirmed by research.) That is, we think we hear what we expect to hear. So if the driver hears my accented voice, his brain is going to struggle a bit, but catch up in time to hear the last word I say, "Samgori," and maybe conclude, erroneously, that we're looking for the village and not the metro station in Tbilisi. So I just ask twice to give him time to process the entire phrase. And save myself stress.

Sidebar: Another blessing/curse that runs in my family is to give tediously detailed thorough explanations in response to questions. Sometimes, though, based on prior negative thoughtful feedback from more normal people, we catch ourselves in time, and just say, "Umm, I dunno." Which creates other problems, but ... 

So while I'm responding to Sandy's question, I'm not noticing where our marshrutka is heading until I realize, "Hmm, this is a different route than usual through Rustavi .... uh, oh, .....this is feeling like a ride on Marshrutka #22 or, God forbid, #4. ... why are we turning here ... and wait ... are we going over that bridge there?"

And out of my mouth to the driver: "Budishi [excuse me], Tbilisi metro Samgori, yes?"

"Ki, ki." [Yes, yes.] said the driver and two passengers.

OK, then. And I see that we're back on familiar territory, albeit a new route for me via marshrutka. ... and then, we take a turn, heading for not-Tbilisi and not-Rustavi .... whoa. And then we go by the cemetery ... now I'm really getting tense ... and now we've passed the cemetery into new lands that are decidedly rural and going-to-the-village-and-not-Tbilisi-metro-Sambori-like, and....

"Budishi," I say to the driver, "Tbilisi metro Samgori?"

"Ki, ki!," responded the driver and several passengers.

And then we turned left and entered the Azebaijani-Georgian village, whereupon the mashrutka slowed to granny gear to pick up villagers. By this time, I've resigned myself to accept wherever the marshrutka takes us.

I tamped down my concern about getting to Tbilisi by 8:30, using Sandy as my cue. After all, she was calm and apparently unconcerned. .. and then she asked, "What time is it?"

When we looked at the time, we saw we only had 15-20 minutes to not only get to Tbilisi, but get to the metro station. No way was that going to happen; we were still out in the hinterland. And I told Marie that very thing when she called a second later.

But miraculously, the universe tilted in a certain way and we spilled out from the village onto this highway and into Tbilisi and into the metro station only 5 minutes late. Wow.

Fast forward ... Sandy, Marie, Eberle and I are on the marshrutka to Signhaghi. Six lari one way. The Signaghi marshrutka leaves Samgori station every two hours on the odd hour.

En route to Sighnaghi, we whizzed past the monument to the First Tractor in Kakheti, which I only knew about because Nely had pointed it out to me when we went to Kardanakhi a few weeks before. The monument is the actual tractor, ensconced upon a pedestal.

We also, thank God, whipped briefly down and to Bodbe Monastery where St. Nino is buried, thereby technically speaking, complying with Nely's wish that we visit that sacred site. My protestations to her of church overload had fallen on deaf ears.

A hot chocolade

Yes, -lade. Hot, thick, chocolate-y to the max. A pudding, really. A demitasse-sized, sensory experience for the delicious warmth of the cup and the intense chocolate taste. We consumed this in a restaurant/hotel in a courtyard adjacent to Signaghi's cultural museum.

Mexican food

Homemade chips, maybe even fried with lard. In a country with very good food, but a shocking lack of crunch, this was the highlight of the meal. Crunch.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Wait, the second highlight was the spiced coffee - cinnamon, cloves, orange peel. Fabulous.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Beautiful view of the mountainside and faraway valley, framed by a happy orangey wall.

The museum

The museum was nice. I wish I could be more descriptive, but I'm just not a museum person. You'd think I'd learn that by now, and just go have a cup of coffee while companions take all the time they wish looking at important historical stuff in glass cases. Yes, I know this is sacrilegious, but I'm not getting any younger, and I think from now on, I'm going to take a pass on such things. I can count on one hand the museums that made an impression on me.

Terrific, postcard views from one of the windows, though.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.


The church

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Even though all of us were pretty done with churches, Signaghi's old church was compelling. So much so, we walked up the stone steps to check it out. And then, damn, we heard singing emanating from within.
And walked into a wedding.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

As we left the church, another wedding party was arriving.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

The wall

One of the things Sighnaghi is known for is the remains of the 8th century wall that originally surrounded it completely. The photo below is poor quality, but you can make out the wall.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Pheasant's Tears

I'm not going to talk about the taxi ride that ultimately was for a distance about 500 feet but which cost 4 lari. I've released that incident. Pretty much.

Pheasant's Tears winery is brimming with the ambiance of living a good life. Good food, good wine, good friends and family. Traditions held dear. Fire in the fireplace. Brick and stone work. Lovely blue baticky (but not) tablecloths.

Menu read beautifully on the chalkboard on the wall. Still sated from our Mexican (chip) feast, we had coffee and tea. It was a great way to enjoy the pleasing environment without putting too much of a dent in our wallets.

I was hoping to get a photo of the co-founder, John Wurdeman, to take back to Nely, but he was not in town.  

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Pheasant's tears kitchen. Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Pheasant's Tears pantry. Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.

So, summarizing Signaghi. Certainly it's a tourist town, and one could argue that it's been a town Disneyfied. It's also an expensive place to visit, with most eateries and lodging being upscale. Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I saw that still felt "authentic," whatever the heck that means.  It was definitely worth a day.

Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.
Sighnaghi, Georgia. November 2011.