Saturday, June 30, 2012

Istanbul, Day 2: My New Home

Ah, my headache of the day before was gone when I awoke.

Made Nescafe in my room with the little plastic kettle Sandy bequeathed to me.

Eventually walked down and around to the adjacent cafe for breakfast. Frankly, a bit of a ho-hum affair, though I was surprised at the tiny container of .... spreadable chocolate! for one's bread. (Realized later it was probably Nutella.)

Finished off with a cup of tea. Nice that it wasn't presumed I wanted sugar in it.

Actually, what I really finished off with was a squeeze bottle dollop of lemon water for my hands (and face, if I wanted), offered to me by the waiter. What a refreshing practice, especially in such hot weather.

New home. Went upstairs and the co-manager, Mustafa, helped me change rooms. I really like my new room. It's even got a sink in it.

Istanbul - view from room
And I have a view of the street in front of the hotel entrance. Also, the window doesn't face the sun directly. Indeed, the small room is cleanly monastic. Pleasing.

Now I'm set up in my new home for the next three weeks. Feels good.

Lazed about for much of the day.

Timeless. I feel bereft without a portable timekeeper. I don't have my TLG-provided cell phone anymore, my impotent phone from the U.S. refuses to tell me the time here (though it did in Georgia), and I lost my wristwatch in Dubai. I found a mall nearby that seems to specialize in watches and small clocks, finding one or two I liked from a vendor, but we were unable to come to an agreement on the price. He was asking 30 lira; I offered 20; he came to 25. And that's where we stopped. So, in USD, about $3 separates us. Neither of us was a jerk about it, so if I get really desperate, I can go back and pay his price; no face lost.

Meals. Oh. Yes. Guilty pleasure for lunch. Burger King. And a so-so caramel ice cream cone.

Watermelon for dinner, at an absurdly high price. I'm still in my mullet phase, clearly.

Istanbul dogs

Cats and dogs. There are a lot of cats in Istanbul. I didn't see any dogs until dusk, which seems to be when they came out. Maybe they're smart enough to stay in the shade when it's hot.

A slice of evening Sultanahmet life on a corner below. I thought the guy raising his arms was going to do something interesting, but [spoiler alert!] ...  no ... On the other hand, I really do like the muezzin's voice. A far cry (get it?) from the three-headed singer in Dubai.


Turkey is known for its sweets. Some porn below:

Istanbul sweets

Istanbul sweets

Istanbul sweets

Istanbul sweets

I didn't have any. Sugar's generally not my drug of choice. Some people rave about Turkish delight, a fascination that eludes me, as they taste pretty much like gummy bears to me. But then I rave about Georgia's chicken livers, so I'm not a reliable source of what constitutes good taste for most people.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Istanbul: Day 1: Landing

Yeni Hotel, Istanbul.

Yeni Hostel

Snafu at the Ataturk Airport. Didn't get picked up as arranged, so took a taxi to Yeni Hotel, which agreed - without hesitation - to pay the difference between what the taxi charged me and what I would have paid the hotel. I liked that.

The taxi got lost on the way to the hotel, and I'm glad I gave him the phone number before we took off from the airport so he could call the place on occasion. Plus ask various bystanders.

I also liked that the hotel let me check into my room early. I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the hotel's cozy lounge while I waited. 

And I liked that even before I got into said room, the mgt told me they'd be moving me to a different room for the rest of my stay, as there was construction going on outside my room. A new metro station.

Good wifi. 

Yeni Hotel, Istanbul

Pleasant room, lots of light, although that's a mixed blessing in Istanbul's heat. A floor fan. Decent wardrobe and desk. Blinding white sheets and good bath towel. Good-quality sliders (shoes) for room and bath.

Yeni Hotel, Istanbul
Gigantic shower (the size of a room!) with good hot water, plenty of hooks. Toilet is fine. Sink is outside WC. In fact, the WC and sink were just outside my room, so it was almost like having them en suite.

The hotel/hostel - I get confused about which is it - is owned by two brothers and their two sons. The father-son pairs switch off day-to-day operations, each taking several-day shifts. The hotel is over 100 years old.

Yeni Hotel, Istanbul
There's a spiral staircase with marble steps that are worn in the center edges from so much foot traffic.


A dull headache plagued me all day. Bummer.


Before I left Georgia, I contacted my financial institution to notify them I'd be in Turkey and asked that they check things on their end to make sure I wouldn't have any unhappy surprises on my end. I'd read that Turkey has an unfortunate reputation for bank card scams, and U.S. financial institutions get a little nervouse when they see transactions coming out of Turkey.

I went down to an ATM to get some money and damned if I didn't run into a problem. Fortunately, this ATM was just outside its bank, and I went inside and got help from a bank staffer. He made sure I used the machine on the right instead of the left, as apparently the one on the left really didn't like dispensing lira, preferring instead, euros or dollars. Also, it didn't want to give me the amount I requested, so I went for a lower amount. Communication, ATMs, communication, what, do you think we can read your minds when you've got a problem? Just telling me a transaction is not possible "at this time" is unhelpful. Sheesh.

I relieved myself of a hefty wad of Turkish lira for my three-week hotel stay, then after a nap to (hopefully, but unsuccessfully, rid myself of the headache), I ventured out again.

The hotel mgt had already proven itself to me, despite the airport pick-up issue, that it believed it important to keep guests happy, thus I felt relaxed about paying the full amount up front.

Venturing out

Often there's a pull between the "should" of doing something versus the desire to just be in a place. The benefit of being in a place for three weeks is that there's plenty of time for both.

I did go out and poke around. Walked down to the water. Walked through some narrow streets. Had lunch.

Istanbul bride and groom
I saw the same birds one sees in Georgia almost every day: a newly-married couple. In this case, it was a bride and groom at a gas station, and the bride was inserting herself and her immense dress into a small car.


So far, the biggest cool factor for me are the so-called modern trams. It's difficult for me to tell the difference between the funiculars (I find this word so annoying. Shouldn't this be the name for some sort of waffle cone, really?) and a train and a 'modern' tram, but whatever. The cool thing is they're riding on the street just like a train. On narrow streets. With two tracks, one for each way. With lots of people right, right, right next to them.

Istanbul from Red River Restaurant

Transportation song

Istanbul is a people-moving city. Trams, ferries, taxis, cars, buses, subways, trains, and feet. There are 13 million residents of Istanbul - given the number of tourists I've seen in what is the low season, that's a lot of DNA swirling about.

I wonder if in a million years there won't be a layer of mammalian slough-off, just as there's a layer of paleo-soil from way back. Skin, spit, and other bodily effluvia. We will one day be oil.

This video has the sights and sounds of Istanbul traffic. 

I went down to the water - the Bosphorus - and watched the ferry traffic.

Istanbul, Bosphorus

Vendors sold roasted or boiled corn on the cob, roasted nuts, mussels, fish, and other sundries.

Istanbul, mussels and lemons

I had lunch at the Red River restaurant. Go figure.

Not bad. A cheese/basil wrap.


A shower

The shower. There's something about taking a shower in an immense room that is so luxurious. The feeling, not the room. Plenty of hot water. Nice.

A slide show of Day 1 in Istanbul below:

Istanbul, Day 1

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Georgians Have Been Here

Georgians love sunflower seeds.

I could write a post on this, but TLG colleague, Lauren, has already done it so well here.

My fantasy is of a murder mystery, where a savvy detective arrives upon the scene of the crime, looks everything over, then pronounces, "The killer is from Georgia."  When all of her comrades look at her, with mouths open, brows raised, the detective, a woman of few words, points to the ground next to the body and says, "Sunflower seeds."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Georgian Jokes: A Georgian, An American, and ...

The rabbit

The Georgian, American, and Russian militaries got together for a contest to see who could retrieve a rabbit from the forest faster than the others.

The Americans brought in consultants, psychologists, and military advisors, then went into the forest. They talked to the rabbit for two hours and persuaded him to come out.

The Russians brought in helicopters and planes and bombed the forest. An hour later, they carried out a dead rabbit.

The Georgians went into the forest, whereupon everyone heard terrible sounds of pommeling and beating. Ten minutes later, they came out of the forest with a bear, who promptly signed papers confessing he was a rabbit.

Who do you love?

An American man, a French man, and a Georgian man all had wives and mistresses.

When asked who he loved, the American said, "I love my wife."

When asked who he loved, the French man said, "I love my mistress."

When asked who he loved, the Georgian man said, "I love my mother."

Note: I told this joke to my hostess, Nely, who didn't think it was at all funny. After all, Georgian sons should love their mothers best. 

Anything You Wish

A genie escaped from a bottle and he decided he wanted to have sex with three beautiful women: An American, a French woman, and a Georgian woman.

After being with each woman, he granted them one wish.

The American woman said, "I want a mansion on a hill." 

The French woman said, "I want a Porsche."

The Georgian woman said, "Don't let anyone know we had sex."


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Moving On Means Brain-File Deletes

Now that I've left Georgia, a lot of subfolders in my brain's Georgia file will become obsolete.

I no longer need to know:
  • About the precise spots at Station Square, Didube, or the Polytechnic University to get a marshrutka to Rustavi, and til how late at night; 
  • Where the good toilets are at Didube station; 
  • How to turn on Nely's storage tank water when the city water is cut off for the day; 
  • What the appropriate price is for a taxi between Point A and Point B in Tbilisi;
  • Which underground shopping mall has a particular item I seek; 
  • Which market in Rustavi has the coldest Pepsi Maxx; 
  • The exchange rate between USD and GEL;
  • How to load minutes onto my Georgian phone; or
  • The shortcuts to get to various sites in Rustavi or Tbilisi. 

Delete, delete, delete.

Making room in my brain for Istanbul data.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tbilisi: Rustaveli Street

Rustaveli is, arguably, Tbilisi's main drag.

The Parliament meets/used to meet there. An historic church is there. The National Museum is there. The Russians attacked Georgians there.

Expat hangouts, Prospero's and Entree, are there. There's a McDonald's. A theater. A concert hall.

Marriott Hotel is there; Radisson Blu is just off of it.

Gypsy children and women beg on Rustaveli, as do some Georgian men and women, mostly women.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Georgia: Marina's Guesthouse

Marina's Guesthouse. Fruit festival on the balcony.

I wouldn't normally center a post about a place of lodging, but Marina's in Tbilisi is an exception.

When Kate and Pam came to visit, I'd booked them temporarily into a hostel with the plan to find a place for Kate (who'd stay on for three weeks after Pam left) that was in a neighborhood and had the right vibe ... and, oh yeah, was affordable.

Marina's Guesthouse. Courtyard entrance.
Kate and I checked out a few places, none of which did the trick, but when I revisited, I saw a new listing - Marina's. The moment we walked into Marina's courtyard, I knew it was the one. Marina's son, David, had only just got her onto airbnb.

David lives in Olathe, Kansas, which is exactly where one of Kate's daughters lives with her family. An immediate bond.

Marina's dolls.
Marina has a wry sense of humor, often self-deprecating. (She likes to say she is the lone peasant among all of the aristocrats in Georgia.) A former costume designer, Marina now creates dolls, some of which are in Tbilisi's Doll Museum. Marina's husband, Nodar, a retired geologist with a charming smile, spends much of his time in Marneuli tending a vineyard and garden. He makes good wine and chacha.

Marina's guesthouse is in the Marjanishvili neighorhood.

During a recent stay, it was chilly and very windy. It was quite satisfactory to lie on the bed and look at the curtain blow into the room.

On the balcony, looking up at Mtatsminda, all you want to do is drink some coffee or tea, read a good book, and, if you feel energetic enough, chat with Marina or other guests. It is an oasis.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Georgia: Fans

Before I came to Georgia last summer, I thought hand fans were a thing of the past. When I thought about them, I pictured 1960s church revivals, women in hats and sleeveless cotton dresses, men in short-sleeved, pale-checked shirts. Square fans made of cardboard stamped with a local business' logo and tagline.

But in Georgia, women use fans every day in the summer. It's damn hot in the summer. And not only is air-conditioning a rarity, there usually aren't electric fans, either. Ceiling fans? Don't think I've ever seen one in Georgia.

Fans are pretty. Prettier than a piece of paper folded in half.

I now have two. One I bought at the underground mall beneath Pushkin Street in Tbilisi. The other one I received as a gift after I made the mistake of complimenting the owner on it and asking if she'd bought it in Rustavi.

[Short break while I fan myself in this stifling heat.]

My fans are useful now and will be useful in Istanbul. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Georgia: Teaching While Black

"You are being rude to a guest in your country!"


As in the U.S. and every other country on the globe, racism exists in Georgia.

I wish Georgia would simply acknowledge this fact, and own it, but just as we do in America, Georgia discounts and dismisses the existence of racism.

In Georgia, the discounting sounds like this:
  • Georgians are curious
  • Because of long-time Soviet rule, Georgians have 'extreme interest' in people different from themselves
  • Georgian is a difficult language, and one might think a Georgian is being offensive when he really isn't

I accept all of the above.

But black teachers in Georgia sometimes experience things that fall squarely in the racism category, and I believe prospective teachers who are black need to know what to expect so they can make an informed decision about coming here.

The universal experience

If you come to Georgia to teach, and you're black, you'll experience what all teachers experience :
  • Great and beautiful times;
  • Kindness, generosity, and hospitality from Georgians; 
  • Home-stay challenges that all teachers encounter in various shapes and sizes; 
  • Freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer; and
  • Teaching pleasures and frustrations.   

In fact, one black colleague told me, "I have never felt like I was anything other than a beautiful princess." 

The black experience

You will frequently be the subject of: 
  • Staring and heads turning as you go by
  • Laughter - sometimes friendly, sometimes mocking
  • Strangers asking for a photo with them and their friends or family (including babies being placed in your arms)
  • Photos being taken of you without your permission

Generally speaking, my colleagues take the above in stride, depending on the perceived tone and friendliness of the folks doing the staring, etc. But there's a cumulative effect, and it does wear over time.

I'm white, and the closest experience I have of this is when I went to Ethiopia - I sometimes felt that I had to put on the armor before I went out, because I was always the person who looked and sounded different, always prompting attention - and some days I just didn't want to have to do that. It didn't matter that the attention was benign.

Black teachers in Georgia have also experienced the following: 
  • Referred to as 'monkey' or 'gorilla;'
  • Referred to as 'nigger' and 'zangi' (more on these words below)
  • Sexual harassment in public venues and circumstances, e.g. from a pharmacist, in front of other customers, while buying medication. Sexual harassment is not exclusive to black teachers by any means, but it seems to be more public or more aggressive with my black colleagues.
  • Physical intimidation

One white colleague who looked Georgian, but is not, received derisive comments from Georgian men when she walked with a black colleague. The Georgian men presume she is a Georgian woman in a romantic relationship with the black teacher.

Some of my white colleagues have heard their English-speaking, Georgian acquaintances share their prejudices about people who are black.

Some host families specify they don't want black teachers.

The darker a teacher's complexion, the more frequent and intense is the attention from Georgians.

Surprisingly, black teachers tend to experience more intense behaviors in the large cities than the towns and villages. 

'Zangi' and 'nigger'

When I first heard a Georgian (a woman in her 20s) use the word 'nigger' (within 3 weeks of my arrival in Georgia), I was shocked. When I asked her about it, she said it was simply how Georgians pronounce the word for the country of Nigeria, and that they tended to refer to all black people as from Nigeria ... 'nee-gare." Then a week later, when I heard a man in his 20s say the same word when a black university student walked by us on the street, I asked him about it. He said, oh, it's from the Russian word for black. Another person told me it was the Georgian pronunciation/twist on 'negro.' Later, it was explained to me that Georgians use it because of the rap songs they listen to. Note that I didn't initiate any of these conversations - I heard Georgians use this word when referring to black students or tourists.

The word 'zangi' is a puzzle. On one hand, English speakers are told it doesn't mean anything derogatory. On the other hand, we're sometimes told it means 'nigger,' which, if any of the above explanations are true, it isn't a derogatory word.  

Despite the protestations, though, there is something - difficult to put one's finger on, that has to do with the tone of voice, who says it (such as adolescent, smart-ass boys), the circumstances - that smacks of malignancy in 'zangi.'

The common denominator of all of the above is the universal claim there is nothing malicious meant by either of the words.  In a culture where it's OK to refer to students as 'stupid' and 'lazy,' maybe this is true in an inside-out, Daliesque way. 

Not all black teachers will hear both words. For example, one of my colleagues of color never heard the word 'nigger' during her entire year in Georgia, while for a period, it seemed I heard it used every few days. 


Should I come to Georgia if I'm black?

Georgia, at times, is an intense and surprising place for everyone, and stuff related to complexion is just one variable among many.

Only you know if you should come to Georgia.

I recommend that you seek out past and current teachers of color in Georgia and ask them about their experiences.

I think you'll find there's a continuum of negative experiences (from severe to mild) and the way teachers responded to those experiences. Some teachers experience only occasional annoyances while others are the subject of quite troubling incidents.

If you come: Strategies

If you do come - with your eyes open - then I suggest these strategies:

Don't suffer in silence! Let jerks know, in the moment, that you will not tolerate their rude behavior. One of my colleagues asked her hostess to write the note pictured at the top of this post.  Her experience was that when she called people on their behavior (in her case, it was mostly adolescent boys in a group), nearby Georgians supported her, either by chastising the offenders themselves - after she did so - or by letting her know they agreed with her response. Georgians respect strong people.

Report all incidents to TLG even if you don't expect/want TLG to do anything about them. The point is for TLG to get a realistic picture of how often black teachers experience negative, race-related attention. Currently, TLG's official position seems to be that racism does not exist in Georgia. 

If you do expect TLG to do something, be clear about what you want. For the most part, TLG is helpful. But if you think, for example, your regional representative is ineffective, go over her head and talk to "corporate" in Tbilisi. And if that person doesn't take you seriously, go up the line. Be persistent.

Don't isolate yourself - grab on to a buddy to share your experiences with. That person can help you keep things in perspective, to laugh, and also to tell you when to take things seriously and do something about it.

If you decide to come, I hope you have a grand adventure! Georgia has a lot to offer - and most Georgians feel embarrassed when they hear about the bad behaviors of some of their fellow citizens.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Georgia: To Sandy

Today you have flown,
And, bittersweet, I must hit
Nokia delete.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Georgia: A Leaving Ritual

When we arrived in Georgia, TLG gave us Nokia cell phones.

My TLG Nokia phone

Over the past year, I've accumulated a fair number of phone numbers - TLG colleagues, TLG staff, police students, host family members, and neighbors.

As my TLG colleagues leave Georgia, I delete them from my phone's contact list.

It's a tidy little ritual of closure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gori: A School Performance

Sandy invited me to her school in Gori last week.

We watched one of those end-of-year school recitals that has surely been going on for hundreds of years.

Earnest singing with enthusiastic piano pounding. Proud parents. Women fanning themselves. A directress standing up periodically, turning around to face the audience, extending her arm, and hissing the Georgian version of a shhhhhhhhh!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rustavi: Dumbadze Street

Dumbadze Street. Rustavi, Georgia.

Dumbadze is perpendicular to Kostava Street in Old Rustavi. It is parallel to Pirosmani Street to the north.

Dumbadze Street. Rustavi, Georgia.
Dumbadze Street in bloom, June, Rustavi, Georgia.
Dumbadze Street. Rustavi, Georgia.

Dumbadze Street. Rustavi, Georgia.

Dumbadze Street in June, Rustavi, Georgia.

Dumbadze Street, Rustavi, Georgia.

Grapes coming along, June, Dumbadze Street, Rustavi, Georgia.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rustavi: Heaven's Door and Football

Rustavi, Georgia.

Came home one night to Rustavi and saw a soccer game being broadcast on the town square's screen. Tables and chairs were set up in front of the white tent, where people, mostly men, ate and drank.

Loudspeakers projected the program's color commentary.

It was nice. I liked the sense of community.

A week or so ago, I visited the Hollywood bar on the meria with some TLG colleagues. The band played some American classics.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tbilisi: Chardini Street

Flowers and hookah. Chardini Street, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Chardini Street is a tiny, crooked lane off of Gorgasali Square.

Gorgasali Square, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Chardini is upscale. Chic. Cafes. Wine store. Some jewelry stores. An art gallery or two. 

Chardini Street, Tbilisi, Georgia.

A pleasant alley to wind yourself though en route to a less expensive place to eat and drink.

Hookah and flowers. Chardini Street, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Georgia: First Fruits - Alucha

Rustavi, Georgia. Alucha

In the spring, even before the tuta comes the alucha, a green "almost-plum" that is an unripened but edible fruit.

Georgians dip it into salt and eat it.

Rustavi, Georgia. Alucha

It's rather tart, with a hint of celery. As the season progresses, but while it's still green and unripe, a suggestion of plumness emerges.

Rustavi, Georgia. Alucha

Georgians make an almost-tkemali sauce with it, but it won't keep through a winter like the true tkemali sauce does.

Rustavi, Georgia. Alucha

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

5 Secrets of Great Travel Photography

Rustavi, Georgia. Rotting watermelon on landing. 

1.       Take your camera with you at all times, even if you're only walking to the corner market from your base. If you've got a big-buck camera that you hesitate to carry with you everywhere you go, fine, but in that case, also bring along a point-and-shoot that fits into a pocket.

Lost Creek, Missouri.

2.       Have your camera easily accessible. In other words, not at the bottom of your bag, making you think twice about taking an impulse shot.

Rustavi, Georgia. This woman gave me this loaf of bread. Just because.

3.      Have duplicate batteries, chargers, and SD cards in case of theft, loss, or sad demise. Carry an extra battery with you, always. It’s damn frustrating to run out of juice just before some potentially great shots present themselves.

San Francisco, California. Hayes Valley.

4.       Like the big fish that got away, your fantastic travel photographs didn’t happen if you never uploaded them to an external source (i.e., laptop, Ipad, Facebook) before your camera got ripped off, dropped into the pit toilet, or was stepped on by an elephant. Upload photos regularly, by which I mean at least every 2 or 3 days.

Nazret, Ethiopia. English Alive Academy. 

5.       Set the review time for your camera to “off.” You want to be able to take photos as quickly as possible, not wait for interminable seconds before you can catch the next shot.