June 10 — Cultural Trip, etc.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to Skype with my dad. I kept missing him on Skype, and today something happened to the webcam and Skype was temporarily out of service while he called me. I hope to be able to speak with him tomorrow.

The cultural trip last weekend was really great. We did a lot of traveling and just hanging out with friends, which was exactly what I wanted. After Georgian class and lunch Saturday, I caught a marshutka to Khashuri to meet up with the other four volunteers in my group. They had found a minivan willing to take us to Akhaltsikhe for the price of a marshutka, which was awesome—no random Georgians getting all up in my business. It was a pretty scenic, albeit scary as per usual, drive. Colton in particular was really tense because he had been on the car accident marshutka just a week prior. We randomly stopped in Borjomi, and two more people got into the minivan, which initially was awkward—but they turned out to be current volunteers (a married couple, Will and Alicia)! They were strangely nonchalant about having run into a group of trainees, but we talked to them about our permanent site placement thoughts—all anyone is thinking of these days—during the ride.

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The city name means “new castle” for obvious reasons.image

Colton being a statue.Photo credit: Kate Schwenk

Because they actually live in Akhaltsikhe, Will walked us to our hotel and stayed until he was sure we weren’t getting ripped off, which was very nice of him. Surprisingly, even though I got quoted the upsell/foreigner price on the phone, I told them up front that we knew how much the rooms should be and they didn’t put up a fight—so we all paid 13-15 lari each for 2 rooms for the night. Not bad. We were also able to meet up with a few G12s who were also staying in the hotel or live in Akhaltsikhe. 

We then grabbed dinner with the G12s, the other group of trainees who chose Akhaltsikhe as their destination, as well as an expat friend of theirs, Irina, who is doing her PhD in Anthropology at NYU and doing some fieldwork in Georgia. We ordered around 60 khinkali, lobiani, xat’chapuri, and salad, and we had tons of leftovers (that we saved for the night). The food only ended up costing 5 lari a person, which was pretty amazing.

Irina’s apartment just happened to be across the street from our hotel, so she invited us to come over and play a game called Banana (I told my host family this and they looked very confused and said this game doesn’t exist in Georgia), that would ‘change our lives.’ It actually was a very fun card game and I hope to be able to teach others in the future! I also won, barely beating Nash out…which was nice. It was great to meet another American other than the other volunteers—I can definitely see the benefits to hanging out with a bunch of expats, but I also didn’t come to Georgia to only hang out with Americans. If I am placed in an area with a large amount of expats, I’ll have to keep that in mind. Her apartment was also absolutely gorgeous inside—fully furnished, and she even has a car in Georgia!

The fateful game of Banana. Photo credit: Kate Schwenk

After leaving Irina’s, we walked over to the castle—Akhaltsikhe literally means “New Castle” and it was actually quite recently remodeled (the city itself) a few years ago. We knew it would be closed as it was quite late at that point, but after taking photos, we decided to get a bit closer. We took a few wrong turns but ended up at its front entrance. The lone guard there told us we weren’t allowed to roam around, but told us we were allowed to because we were Americans. What a perk. We basically got to explore the castle by ourselves at night, and even climbed into a tower. The view was gorgeous and it felt like a once in a lifetime experience. I can’t even imagine how heavily guarded that castle would have been in the US, let alone how quickly that guard would’ve been fired. Because we missed the actual tours, the only thing we really know about it is that the first part of the castle was 11000 years old! We couldn’t really understand anything else the guard was telling us.

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The next morning, we left for the famous cave city, Vardzia. We were going to take a marshutka there, but a cab driver called us over and said he’d take us there for 5 lari (the marshutka price) and even stop for scenic photos on the way. We were hesitant because it meant we had to squish five people into four seats, but decided it was worth the risk.

Party in the the back! Photo credit: Kate Schwenk

It was the best risk ever taken. Misha, our driver, was extremely kind, did stop at all the scenic points, and even was an extremely safe driver. He even gave us mini-tours with Kate translating (from Russian) for the rest of us.

Sights before we even reached Vardzia. Yeah, this is a beautiful country.

When we arrived at Vardzia, he told us to leave our things in his taxi and he’d wait for us while we explored. I asked how long we should take and he said as long as we wanted! So while we were out in the caves for around 3 hours, he just sat in the taxi and waited—many of us left our bags and wallets in the car, which is definitely a safety hazard, and he didn’t run off with them! What a guy. 

Safely reunited! Photo credit: Kate Schwenk

The cave city itself was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. We climbed into some of the dwellings that didn’t have stairs, and Colton and Nash even got into a three-story cave. We found the church inside the cave, and some random stairs and ladders near it, so decided to explore—and found ourselves in a half hour journey on staircases inside the caves. We had no idea where we would end up at the end, but when we finally emerged, we had reached the top level of all the caves! It was such a cool experience and I’m definitely interested in seeing more cave cities in Georgia in the future. Coming down was a bit of a nightmare because of the tiny, steep steps; the number of people crammed in; and the hot, humid weather, but we survived and lived to tell the tale of how great a cultural trip it was.

Megobrebi (friends) mid-trip

I needed some help on the way up. A friendly Georgian provided. Photo credit: Kate Schwenk

Some Georgians were doing photo shoots in the field after the big finish, so we joined. Photo credit: Colton Heath.

Today our training manager, Tengo, came over to give our mid-training interviews. Lunch was at my house and so he was actually able to eat at my place and meet my host family (again). My host family speaks so often and so fondly of him that I was so glad they were able to host him. My mid-training interview went well; he asked how I felt in general and what my difficulties were, and then told me I was doing fine and to keep it up.

After class and dinner, I thought about going to sleep early, but am so glad I didn’t. I watched a few Russian cartoons on YouTube with my host brother, which I think was important for our bonding time because he is so shy, and then went into the kitchen because he was hungry and my host mom got some food for him. That sparked a 2-3 hour long conversation between my host mom and me. My host dad was on the computer for a bit, but joined in during the last hour. It was the most amount of time we’ve spend just talking in recent days, and now that I have some sort of vocabulary to build off of, we were actually able to cover really interesting topics.

For example, she told me that she knew Tengo because he was present at the first community meeting here in Gomi in which he asked who was interested in volunteers. At that meeting, she was the only person interested—so she was the first host family member to sign up. I asked why others weren’t interested, and she said that there was initially a lot of interest because they assumed the Peace Corps would pay for rent and meals; when they found out that rent/room cost wouldn’t be covered, they were no longer interested. She knows of two families who live near the vodka factory who turned in applications and then backed out when they realized this! It really got me thinking about what is really in it for these host families, hosting a stranger for 3 months without compensation for their time, but I’m sure they are thinking the same thing about me. The conversation also reinforced what I had told Tengo during my interview—I feel so lucky to have been placed with this host family, who actually wanted a volunteer not for the money or for anything else, but because they wanted me.

Apparently, a day or two before I arrived in Gomi, Rusa, our PST host family coordinator, called Teona and told her that she got a girl like she had asked for, and that I had an Asian face. She also said that I ‘didn’t like dogs or cats,’ which is more like I’m allergic to indoor pets, and clarified that they didn’t have any. Teona said that was great and I arrived!

Our conversation then moved to if Teona was going to work as a teacher (like she’d studied in college) once Nika grows up. Her plan is to work as a teacher or anything that she likes once that happens and his grandmother (Mamuka’s mother) returns. She worked in the Gomi vodka factory while she was in university in Gori, and wouldn’t mind returning there. I told her about working as an RA in university and how it meant that I didn’t have to pay for housing or food, and I think they understood the concept, which I’m really proud of.

We then talked about the price of American vs. Georgian colleges; they literally thought I was joking when I told them how expensive USC is! But I was able to explain that many students are on scholarship, financial aid, and loans; and that sometimes it takes 10-15 years to pay off all your loans to the government and banks. We also even talked about how people come to the US on a travel visa, then stay and become undocumented immigrants. I told them that it probably wasn’t a life they wanted because of how hard it was and how little money they stood to make, and they understood! 

It may not seem like much, but I’m so proud of myself and my Georgian in sustaining this conversation without much “ver gavige” or “I don’t understand” from either party. I hope to have many, many more of these conversations with my host family in the future. This is exactly the type of cross-cultural awareness I wanted to participate in, and I’m very glad I asked for Georgian speakers only in my permanent site host family.

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June 5

It’s been roughly three weeks since I last journaled, which I know is awful. I have to actually look at the schedule to look at things I’ve missed.

May 24th, we had an informal assessment of our language. We took an in-class quiz and graded ourselves. Although the Peace Corps didn’t actually collect our tests, I still pressured myself to do as well as I could and it was kind of a nice feeling. I think it’s been a long time since I’ve actually been so self-motivated to do well in a class. I guess throwing myself into a foreign culture and relying on my limited language skills was what I needed all throughout college.

In terms of practicum, class was literally cancelled in all of Georgia due to a viral meningitis outbreak in Batumi, Tbilisi, and Kutaisi for two weeks. It only affected grades 1-6 (really only 2-6 because 1st grade has already ended), but it effectively cancelled our practicum. In my cluster, we only teach one grade above 6th; some other clusters have more practice with older students, but it was a huge blow. Our wonderful training staff had to reshuffle our schedule so many times the past few weeks, and our site announcement day was actually pushed back three days as a result—to June 19. It’s crazy that in just two weeks, I will know where I’ll be placed for two years!!

Today was the first day we actually had practicum since the meningitis outbreak. Every time I teach, I feel more confident about my classroom management and speaking abilities, but also kind of despair when I think about coming up with creative lesson plans for two whole years. I have so much respect for every single teacher I’ve ever had, as well as every other teacher I’ve known. 

For some reason, 1st and 12th grade graduate approximately a month prior to the other grades. Here we are with the graduating 1st grade class.

Last week, we had our site placement interviews with our education program managers, Teo and Asmat. I don’t really have much to say about it now except that, as I had been told before, I won’t be able to be placed in Western Georgia due to my allergies and asthma. They told me that even some parts in Eastern Georgia were deemed to be off limits, which limited my potential placement sites from over 50 to a bit over 20. I kind of wish I had all 50-something to match with just so my interests might be better matched, but it’s definitely best that medical comes first. Apparently someone in the Samegrelo region (north west) actually had to be moved because of allergies problems, so it’s definitely a thing.

The weekend following the site placement interview, we all left for our job shadowing! I really wish our site placement interview could follow the job shadowing, but it is what it is. I was off to Adjara, the southwest region of Georgia to shadow a G13, Sarah Abshire. Sarah lives in Khichauri, a tiny village of 980 up in the Adjaran mountains. All the volunteers leaving for Adjara (7) met up in Khashuri and were able to snag a mini-bus just for us going to Batumi. After a bumpy and absolutely terrifying 4 hour ride (Georgian drivers are really something else), we arrived in Batumi.image

Yeah, Batumi is…pretty nice.

The shadow-er volunteers were there to meet us, and took us briefly around the Batumi boardwalk, a microbrewery where I was able to try Adjaruli Xat’chapuri (the one with an egg floating in it…mm), and finally Press Café, which apparently a PCV started many years ago.

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Heart attack on a plate 

After a bit, Sarah and I took a marshutka up her mountain. There are actually a few volunteers on the same mountain road; Sarah was the 2nd highest up, about an hour and a half from Batumi. Her friend Amanda is lower on the mountain, but has a bit of a hike from the main road that has to be done by foot. Meanwhile, another G12 on the mountain lives in a village of only about 120 people. Wow.

Khichauri was beautiful—the view was all green mountain, stream, and even a small waterfall on the way there. There is actually a small Orthodox university in Khichauri, so in the daytime there are many young students loitering around, but at night most people leave. Sarah’s host family actually owns the village market, and reside in an apartment on the top floor above the market. They are ‘village rich,’ with a Western toilet and shower and all that. I will say that they work hard for their amenities and are hardly ever able to enjoy it—they keep the market open until midnight, and everyone chips in. Because Sarah’s host grandmother was ill in Batumi, manning the market was left to Sarah’s grandfather and her host sister Keti, who is in 9th grade. Keti’s English was impressive, but even more impressive was her extreme hospitality and how maturely she managed to keep the market running, attend school, and have a social life all at once.

On Monday I was able to observe Sarah’s classes—because of the meningitis outbreak, some of her classes had been on hiatus for two weeks. She only had three classes Monday, and started 3rd period (11:40am). Let’s just say it felt great. We then went a bit up the mountain to meet at a restaurant with Amanda and her shadowee, Abby. We ordered 1 lari coffees/tea like the cheap volunteers we are, and then proceeded to miss the last marshutka down the mountain. The hour-long walk back to Khichauri was beautiful, if a bit alarming every time a marshutka sped past us and honked on a blind turn.

I wish I had had more time to hang out with Sarah, who was such a great resource not only as a teacher but as a friend and volunteer who’s been in my shoes for over a year. She answered so many of my questions and even helped me book my hotel for my upcoming cultural trip (details to follow). Before the whole meningitis fiasco, job shadowing was supposed to last an extra day, but alas I had to leave the mountain early the next morning.

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The view from Sarah’s bedroom window.

I met up with some other volunteers and trainees in Batumi, did a bit of sight-seeing, proceeded to use up every lari and tetri I had, and then hopped on a marshutka at 2pm.image

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Kate and I, Chacos always and forever

I thought there wouldn’t be a problem getting back to Gomi by 7pm, but I actually missed the 7pm deadline by a few minutes because we stopped in Surami (another cluster with trainees) for about half an hour. Because I was the last American on the marshutka—I am the furthest east and we had dropped the other 3 off prior—I had a really positive experience with the random Georgians on the marshutka. They all helped me speak to the driver and tell him where to stop in Gomi. So far, so good, people of Georgia! Unfortunately, some trainees coming from Kutaisi came back on a marshutka that was rear-ended and hit another car; they are all okay, but that is definitely a reality check. Something Abby said that really rang true is that we’ve been in other countries where people disregard traffic rules, but generally in those countries the traffic impedes drivers from going quickly. Many times in Georgia, we pass other cars going at 60 mph while another car is coming head-on in that same lane. I prefer not to look.I forgot to mention that on Saturday before job shadowing, we had the whole day off, so Zach, another Gomi trainee, and I took the day and went to Surami for Nick (another trainee…)’s birthday. It was great to see other volunteers there who I feel I haven’t seen since Bazaleti; or if we do see each other, it’s during really serious training sessions. Surami is also quite beautiful—there’s an old castle and two pretty serious churches there. I definitely plan on going back to sightsee, as well as hopefully see more of the other clusters. So far I have Gomi (obviously), Vaka (for Chaz’s birthday), and Surami. Khashuri is kind of a given because it’s the central town, but I really haven’t done much sightseeing in it. 

Birthday boy and Sarah in a hammock

Girls in Vaka! Photo credit: Helen Beckner

Lady and I later at megobari picnic. Photo credit: Lady

I did get to explore a bit of Khashuri that same day because…drum roll…I got my American phone to work!! The Peace Corps really came through and set it up so that the cell phone office in Khashuri would help us get the same number and plan, but on our American smartphones. I even paid 15 lari (like 8 dollars?) for a 1GB internet plan on my phone. It works well in big cities but is pretty slow at home. I still think it’s quite a good deal though. Also, it’s a godsend being able to type normally on my nice phone!

We also had another hub day, a training day in Khashuri in which all the IOD and education volunteers get to meet up and get trained. I don’t have much to say about it other than the fact that I got to meet my ‘megobari,’ Lady! Before we got to Georgia, we were all matched with ‘megobari’s (friend in Georgian), who gave us advice and all that. Lady was present at the hub because she was helping with some of the sessions there, and I was able to give her the gift she asked for—pancake mix and maple syrup. She’s been really great, and has called me to check up as well as to chat about how PST is going. 

Yesterday the education volunteers had our mid-assessment tests on teaching. We’re now just waiting on our results! We need to pass all our assessments (mid and final) with a 90%; we would be allowed to retake if we fail. I also just received confirmation that I passed my mid-safety and security and mid-medical exams, so that’s a relief. The weekend after this one, we have our mid-Language Proficiency Interview (LPI). During our final LPI at the end of PST, we must score an Intermediate Low in oral Georgian. The mid-LPI is just so we and our trainers can gauge how well we are doing. 

This weekend, we have cultural trip! It will be our first opportunity to actually create our own itineraries and be tourists in Georgia. The rules were that we could be in a group of maximum 5 people, and only 2 groups could go to the same location. We were provided a list of potential locations, but were allowed to suggest our own as well. I will be going with Eugene, Nash, Kate, and Colton (which probably means nothing to anyone reading this), but it’s a great group. We’ll be going to the city Akhaltsikhe, which means “new castle.” There are, quite obviously, castles in the city. We are also hoping to go to Vardzia, a city with cave dwellings and monasteries! The groups were all given an option to make it a day trip on Sunday or an overnight trip on Saturday, and my group is going overnight. It was a bit of a struggle finding a hotel and making reservations, but it was finally completed with a bit of help from Peace Corps staff. I’ll be sure to take many photos and write something about the cultural trip once it happens.

Also, I signed up to help out with the annual Fourth of July picnic. Each trainee will be allowed to invite 2 (I think) members of his/her host family. It’ll be a large celebration in Surami, with hot dogs and hamburgers galore. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Because it’s easier to plan in small groups, they limited the planning committee to 2 Education volunteers and 2 IOD volunteers. They drew our names out of a hat and I was picked! I will be working with Carmen (Gomi represent!!) and Alex S and Sarah S, IOD volunteers. I’m excited to start planning.

Planning committee and staff members at our venue visit

One of our permanent staff members, Sue, was telling us that when she first arrived in Georgia, she told herself that she would say “yes” to every opportunity that she had in her first year. As an introvert, she really pushed herself to get out there, IRB (intentional relationship building), and integrate. I have been trying my hardest to do the same—spending time with my host family, doing all the optional trips such as the one to Akhalsitke (I missed Borjomi but my host family took me on a trip!), and now planning the picnic. At first I wasn’t sure if I was up to planning such a large social event, but honestly I think it will be good for me to spend some time doing things other than teaching, learning, and sitting around at home. I like all three of those things, but it will be a nice change of pace—and the lack of independence has really gotten me motivated to plan something for myself (or for the group). Every night I do have a bunch of extra time to sit around and just hang out with the host family, which I know is the Georgian way, but I feel that I do have the time to dedicate to planning the picnic and still hang out with them.

That’s all for now; my host family has recently ‘fixed’ their Skype, and I hope to be able to video chat with my dad sometime in the near future. 

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PST Week 2: May 17

One thing I want to mention is that my host mom and dad asked me the other day if I liked Gomi (a recurring question with only one answer ever), and if I would like to stay for my whole 2 years. They told me they’d write a letter to the Peace Corps asking if I could be allowed to stay in Gomi teaching, and in their house. While I am pretty sure this is impossible as our potential sites are already picked out, I’m really touched by their offer. The other other day, my host parents told me I had to come back to Gomi before I left Georgia in 2 years, and also told me to come on weekends if I was posted elsewhere. Also, just now my host mom asked me to stay in Georgia forever and be her (future) daughter’s godmother.

One of my first ever photos with Teona and Mamuka, probably taken at around the same time this blog post was written!

It seems like it’s been forever since I was dropped off in Khashuri with this family and I had no idea who they are. I was so nervous about being called a ‘tsudi gogo’ due to the bad reputation Asians/Chinese people have here and just making general faux pas—and now here we are. I’ve definitely gotten a lot more comfortable with the family; they’ve seen my Facebook and told me I could wear short dresses/shorts at home with them. This morning I finally came clean about my tattoos and nobody has called me a tsudi gogo yet, so there’s a positive. Many of the neighbors heard the news and came over to gawk, so I have no idea what the rumor mill may say. My 20 year old (female) neighbor, Sopo (Sophia) studying tourism at university in Tbilisi told me that she wants a tattoo too, but her brother thinks they are ‘bad’ and her mother didn’t seem too enthused by the idea. Likewise, my 29 year old host mom wants one, but my host dad—who has his own small tattoo—jokingly but not really jokingly told me that if she got one he’d throw her out. Gender roles are real! Nevertheless, everyone assured me that a lot of people in Georgia have tattoos and it didn’t make me a bad girl.

Last night I finally got to talk on the phone with my dad, which was a very welcome surprise. Apparently he couldn’t figure out how to call internationally, but it’s all good now. My languages are getting all mixed up, so halfway through the call conducted in Shanghainese I suddenly started saying “ara” or “no” in Georgian. I think I covered it up pretty well, but who knows.

Wednesday was my host brother Nika’s 6th birthday. It was a major event. For lunch, my host mom asked that the volunteers’ lunch rotation be at our house, so we all got to be there for Supra Part 1.Nika had a really amazing cake Teona’d bought in Khashuri the day before—he wanted Batman AND Spiderman.

Also there was the most amazing candle… there was a huge flame for a while and then suddenly the candle exploded into smaller candles and the happy birthday tune began.

My host mom, Teona; her mother, Lia; and the birthday boy in question prior to the candle’s exploding

All the volunteers got to toast to Nika, eat some of the cake and massive spread of food, and meet more of my family, which was great.

The lunch spread was a bit more impressive than usual for the birthday, but not by much. We eat well here in Georgia.

My host mom even performed a party trick in which she did the splits (almost) and picked up a shot glass from the floor with her mouth, then drank it without using her hands.

Trying to dance with the birthday boy

Afterwards, I came back to the house to find Supra Part 2: Teona’s dad’s friends’ edition in session. There were a bunch of older, distinguished looking men including her dad—who I recently found out is the director of the railroad here in Gomi—drinking and eating. Soon after I arrived, they left, and Supra Part 3 began. This seemed to be the real deal, with extended family, neighbors, and godmothers present. The men sat on one side of the table and the women on the other, as per tradition, and the men drank a white wine and the women some sort of liqueor. While the toasts were split amongst gender lines, the women were toasting almost as much as the men. I took my cues from my host mother and the older women at the table, and drank as much or less than they did. Eventually the more inebriated began dancing traditional Georgian dance, which is really cool. I wish there was some sort of traditional American dance I could show them, but alas. One of the other volunteers, Kyle, actually got sucked into the supra after using my outhouse, and ended up staying for 2 hours. Georgian hospitality is pretty cool. The ‘final’ supra lasted from about 6pm to 1am, which is ridiculous. I had a seat on the couch and was nodding off towards the end. My host mom had been basically working since the day before to make food for the entire day. What a champion. I tried to do my part and do the dishes afterwards, but it still didn’t feel like enough compared to what she did for the birthday.

Last night I experienced my first village power outage. We had just returned from visiting a neighbors’ house and having dinner #3 (true story…) and I had just gotten my email open when all the power went out. Luckily, we had flashlights, cell phone flashlights, and my headlamp so all was well.

We’ve begun teaching practicum in training. Instead of Georgian classes in the morning and technical training in the afternoon in Khashuri, we are in Gomi all day. Mornings we are with Ana, one of two English teachers in Gomi’s school, and afternoons we have Georgian classes. I believe we only have 3 weeks total of practicum as the students go on summer break soon, so every day counts. Wednesday was our first day of just observation, and we watched Ana’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade classes. They were much better behaved than I expected, and the classes much smaller—about 10-15 kids per class. The students were generally very quet, but engaged, and always raised their hands to speak. Thursday and Friday (yesterday and today) we each did a mini-activity with one of the classes. I had the first class Thursday, 8th grade, and they were quite different from the younger kids. It’s interesting because apparently they only started learning English about a year ago and skipped from Book 1 to Book 6, so they’re quite lost and subsequently rowdier. Today I worked with 3rd grade. When I’m not leading activities, I’m observing my fellow trainees work with different classes; it’s a great group and I’m learning a lot from their teaching styles and activities. It seems that each day, someone from Peace Corps staff shows up for part of a lesson to observe us and give feedback. On Monday, we begin leading classes by ourselves (with one trainee partner), and making legitimate lesson plans. I’m excited but nervous, but observing and working with the classes this week has been great for me to gauge their learning styles, English levels, and responsiveness to us.

4 of us observing Kyle and Zach co-teach

In school, I definitely feel like a celebrity. Near the beginning, I got a lot more stares and people calling “Ni Hao!!” to me, but now that we’ve been there longer and we’ve actually worked with the students, many of them interact with us on our and their breaks. When our Georgian classes first began, many students would wrench our door open to just stare at us, or go into the field to stare from the window. We had to start deadbolting our classroom door as a result. That’s happening less now, and today many students asked me to take a photo with them! For unknown reasons, the 1st grade class and the 12th grade class ‘graduated’ today, but all other classes continue until mid-June. The 12th graders all wore white shirts and brought sharpies, and quite a few asked me to sign their shirts. I got to practice my Georgian and everyone got a laugh out of my handwriting. 

Something I’ve unexpectedly really enjoyed in Georgia is their toasting at supras. A lot of the time I have no idea what’s going on, but usually my host mom or a friend mimes or explains in baby words what the toast is generally about. Specifically, I am impressed by their handling of the fact that my mom passed away a few years ago. One of the first things my host family asked me via Google Translate was about my mom, and when I finally got it across to them that she had passed away, nobody told me that they were sorry, which was a pleasant surprise. Everyone just kind of murmured it to each other, and then whenever I would meet a new neighbor or family friend, it would come up. While it’s a bit different and strange, I highly prefer this to the awkward dance between saying “hello, my name is Angela and my mom died” and avoiding speaking about her altogether for a long period of time. What’s really cool is that at supras or just dinners in general, there is usually a toast to ancestors/dead relatives (I think). Each dead relative is then named, which means that I now know that my host dad’s dad also passed away a few years ago, and a new family friend’s sister passed away in a car accident here in Gomi when she was really young. I think it’s really great that not only does nobody avoid the topic here, it comes up so often in conversation and toasts that I don’t even have to talk about it myself. Everyone understands and everyone participates in toasting to my mom. 

Something terrible happened to both Alan and me the other night that I need to write about before I forget how terrible it was. A few of us went to Kyle’s cousin Sotne’s 18th birthday supra and consumed a bit of wine toasting to his health and all that (the men more so than the women of course). I was, um, using the facilities in the outhouse when Alan texted me about how he’d dropped his cell phone in Kaitlin’s toilet. I laughed and texted back asking how it was still working if he was texting me, and found out that it was his American smartphone that’d fallen in (we are still using Nokia brick phones here). Then I decided between putting my phone back in my baggy cardigan’s pocket and putting it on the toilet paper ledge. I thought the toilet paper ledge was too gross (irony) and made the fatal decision to throw it in the cardigan pocket. I stood up and heard the sound of cell phone plastic on porcelain. I steeled myself to pull it out of the porcelain part of the toilet, then turned around and realized it had fallen all the way into the actual outhouse hole poop. Its luminescent screen was still shining up at me from the waste it’d fallen on. Shamefaced, I returned to the house where my host family was watching TV. I told them what happened and we all had a good laugh; I tried to ask to borrow their phones to call Tamuna, my Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator, to tell her I no longer had my mandatory emergency phone and to probably pay for a replacement. Instead, they all came to the outhouse to gawk at it, and then the impossible happened. Teona bid me to the back of the outhouse and lifted a bunch of boards, revealing a small hole near the back of the outhouse. She used two large metal prongs that appeared out of nowhere as tongs/chopsticks to lever the phone out. It was the most ridiculous image. We then hefted the phone back into the house, where we washed the parts that could be washed and sanitized the others. Mamuka helped out by dismantling the phone part by part to reach all the corners. After a bunch of rounds of soap, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer, we blow dried it and turned it back on… lo and behold, it’s a perfectly functional phone. I still felt weird about it so I stuck it in a Ziploc bag, and Teona taped the bag closer to the phone, and so far so good, strangely enough. We also put about a gallon of perfume on the phone so it has a nice aroma. I think it was a great family bonding experience for us, and of course a great story. I still can’t believe the irony in its happening to me right after I’d heard that it happened to Alan.

Some of the other volunteers bought USB internet modems to use in the villages this week, so I’ve been noticing a deluge of Facebook posts and blog posts. I declined to buy it now for many reasons. The most important is that a G12, or a volunteer who began in 2012 and thus is closing service soon, is passing his used modem to me for free. I should receive it mid-June from a current volunteer. I may have considered buying a new modem anyway if it didn’t cost 120 lari. That’s literally our allowance for the entire month of May (volunteers, remember)? Also, something I have most other volunteers don’t is consistent internet at my house. If I really need to do something emergent or contact someone, I am definitely able to, and if I didn’t have that luxury I’m sure I would’ve splurged on the modem as well.

For now I’m just really enjoying my time with my host family. I spend all my time outside of classes with them in the living room or kitchen, or in other people’s houses. My Georgian is definitely improving rapidly as a result. They have so many friends and family around here that I often come back from class around 6-7pm and am constantly interacting with people somewhere in Gomi that I am unable to sleep until after midnight. This makes for some rough mornings (if you know me, you know mornings are really rough to begin with) but great memories and relationship building with my host family. I feel a lot more comfortable with them. Today my host mom (with about 5 other women observing) raided my closet and picked out 2 outfits I will wear to our trip to Zestaponi tomorrow. I had her try on one of my dresses, and she might wear it tomorrow as well. I’m glad our relationship has progressed to this level, and although the American in me was still a bit uncomfortable when other people went through ALL my clothes, it was a cool moment.

This weekend there were 2 optional Peace Corps activities we could participate in: 1, a cluster exchange weekend, in which we could arrange to see another cluster or host another trainee in our cluster. 2, a day trip to Borjomi (a nearby famous town with hot springs or something) Sunday. I am participating in neither because my host family is taking me on the overnight trip to Zestaponi, I believe to celebrate my host brother’s birthday with extended family. The entire family except my host mom Teona left today or early tomorrow, and Teona is staying behind because I have Georgian class Saturday mornings. I keep finding new things to be grateful for when it comes to Teona. She even asked my LCF Tamuna if I could skip Saturday Georgian class, but the answer was no (as expected). I didn’t tell my host family about the Borjomi trip because the Zestaponi trip had been planned long ago, but my host mom heard from another trainee’s family (word travels fast here) and promised me we’d go to Borjomi another weekend. There will also be a 2nd cluster exchange in the 2nd half of PST, and I definitely hope to participate in that. The trainees have to arrange our own transportation and such for cluster exchanges, so next time I’ll definitely plan ahead and get that sorted out. 

So that’s most of Week 2 of PST; I think it’s been going extremely quickly. I never study Georgian outside of, you know, being immersed in it 24/7 and our daily 4 hours of class just because I don’t even have time. Things are getting harder and the verb conjugations are so strange—there are patterns but almost every verb seems to be irregular in some way. Considering that there are only ~10-11 weeks of PST, I can’t believe things are already 1/5-1/6 of the way there. My Georgian and teaching abilities have a long way to go. At the same time, it feels like I’ve been in Gomi and living the village/class/work lifestyle for over a month. I think this is because the days are so long and packed—especially compared to my couch potato lifestyle in the US. Just my number of waking hours are like double what they were back in the US.

PS: The cemetery here in Gomi is really cool. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the school, and each plot has a small wrought-iron gate in a rectangular shape. All the recent tombstones have etchings of the person who passed away. The trees there aren’t allowed to be cut, so some trees there are 2-3 centuries old. It’s a gorgeous place, and I really like the individuality of all the gates and plots. I haven’t been to many cemeteries in the US, but I imagine most aren’t as beautiful as Gomi’s.

Coming into the cemetery..

A typical grave

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First ‘Real’ Supra— May 9

It’s nearing the end of my first week here in Gomi, and things have only gone better. After we are dropped off from our afternoon sessions in a Peace Corps marshutka (bus type thing), the routine has been that Zach and Carmen, who live next to each other, walk home together, and Kyle, Kaitlin, Alan, and I walk Kaitlin home first and then me. Kyle and Alan are neighbors and occasionally stop by the WiFi center/brothel area near my house on the way back.

Yesterday Alan needed to use my t’ualet’I, or sap’irparesho, as my host family told me was a prettier word. In the space of time he was in my outhouse, my host family had called both Alan and Kyle’s host parents to tell them that Alan and Kyle were at my house and that they would be staying for dinner. It was difficult for them to convey this information to us, and after a lot of confusion and debate, it was settled that they would definitely be staying.

A simple dinner turned into a supra with the three of us moxaliseebi (volunteers), and my host dad, mom, and uncle (mom’s brother). The men drank and gaumarjos-ed a lot as men do, and my host mom and I sipped some liqueur she had mixed and toasted separately. The Peace Corps gave us extensive training (like, really extensive) on the art of refusing alcohol when it’s forced on you and, for women, the art of being seen as a ‘kargi gogo’ which includes not drinking unless the females in your host family are. I definitely followed what they told me and made sure to only drink as much as my host mom. When everyone pushed me to ‘bolomde,’ or drink to the end of the glass, I told them I would only bolomde if she did. And she did…

During the course of dinner, my host family told me that I was their sister, as they are a bit too young to be my parents. My host dad is actually my older sister’s age, and my host mom a bit younger. They also toasted to our host families here in Gomi, our families back in America, and Kyle even requested to make a toast himself (normally the tamada, or toastmaster, in this case my uncle, is the only one allowed to) that Georgians and Americans would be friends for a thousand years…or something like that. My host uncle also began to play Beyonce, Akon, and Jay-Z on YouTube. At one point Kyle and Alan arm wrestled my host dad and uncle, and they (Kyle and Alan) didn’t stand a chance. They were finally able to beat one of my host uncle’s arms with all four of their arms.

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Mamuka, my host dad, v. Kyle

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My host uncle Dato vs. Alan

Anyway, it was a really fun night and I’m very glad they stayed.  My host dad was anxious to meet more volunteers, as he is working when we have lunch rotations. I also think that my host dad only drinks when there are (male) guests over so he was excited for the opportunity. I feel so lucky to have my host family because my Georgian is really improving. They constantly try to teach me new vocabulary words and sometimes even grammar, which is really impressive given their lack of English. They keep telling me I have a good brain, but it’s really their patience and persistence that’s helping me. Also, they have been nothing more than welcoming—even with the initial awkwardness about my Asian-ness—and immediately took Kyle and Alan in as honored guests.

Quick thoughts:

  • This morning I woke up at the time I’d been waking up the past two days, 7:15am, and got ready for school. I left at 7:40am to get to school at 8am. My host mom had always been awake and making breakfast and coffee, and my host dad is usually at the kitchen table finishing up breakfast before work. Today neither was there, but I had been told that today was a Georgian holiday so there was neither school nor work. I assumed that they had decided to have a lie-in because of this, and I really don’t eat much breakfast anyway so I began to walk to school. It was my first walk in Gomi unaccompanied by either fellow volunteers or a member of my host family, and I was so proud of myself when I made it to the school. At 7:45, though, my real alarm rang. I had forgotten that school started at 9am; the previous few days were early days because we had to catch the bus to town. I ended up going to Kaitlin’s house, which is right next to the school, and had her host mom call my family to explain the situation. I’m sure they were worried that I had overslept and/or gone missing, and I bet they had woken up just to make me breakfast. Needless to say, I was mad.
  • Last night, after he got back to his house, Alan was going to his outhouse sans flashlight. Suddenly he tripped and fell off the main road and fell thigh-deep in a pile of poop. He had just pulled on new white Converse, and when he pulled his leg out of it he lost the shoe. He reached in with his arm to pick the shoe out… I laughed and then felt bad because Alan doesn’t have a shower. I told my host family and they laughed until they cried. If anything, we all have a great story to tell back home.

The hole in question..

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გომში (In Gomi)

Written at some point in my first week at my PST site (May 3-9)

After our delicious restaurant feast on the way to Xashuri, our two charter buses pulled up to what I believe is its central park, where we saw a horde of families gathered. The families gathered around one side, and the volunteers on the other. Our training director, Tengo, called out the village cluster that would go, and then the Georgian family name and the volunteer name. Gomi was the first cluster up, and our group nervously stepped up to the plate. I awkwardly stared around the family members there, looking for a young-ish looking person and smiling. I ended up being the last one to be called, and a beautiful young Georgian woman shook my hand, kissed my cheek, and told me she was Teona!

Just to give you a better understanding of the utter chaos involved.

Teona took me around to collect her husband, Mamuka, and Nika. After watching for a few seconds and much hand-wringing on my part due to a lack of Georgian ability, they helped me collect my bags—there are A TON and I’m not sure how I’m going to move it all to permanent site—and bring it to a car. Initially I wasn’t sure if the car was a taxi or not. I wasn’t sure until we arrived at their house and the ‘taxi driver’ came in. At this point, I know that the driver is Teona’s brother Dato.

 My lack of language ability left me utterly bewildered when both Teona and Mamuka left me in the ‘taxi’ with a strange man in the middle of Khashuri. They had gone to the market to buy food and bottled water for me—Peace Corps wants us to drink bottled water and not tap. Nika and I stared at each other a lot and he offered me some gum.

 Finally we made the drive back to Gomi (we’d passed it on the way from Bazalet’i) and arrived at Teona and Mamuka’s house. It’s right off the highway (as is most of Gomi) and right near railroad tracks (as is most of Gomi, but I’m closer than most of the houses).

PC Georgia requires each host family house to have a bedroom with a desk, chair, bed, and locking door; mine excels and I even have a wardrobe and double bed to myself. I have running water (hot whenever I want) and a Western shower as well. I’ve only showered once since I’ve gotten here though because the host family showers infrequently as well, and we were told to observe their customs and follow them. No toilet, but our outhouse is one of the cleanest ones I’ve noticed and quite close to the house. I prefer having a shower to having a toilet in any case! And… dum dum dum… our house has internet. Only on the home computer with Ethernet, so no WiFi on this computer, but it’s the only one in my clusters’ host families with internet. We began Google Translating almost immediately. Thanks Google.

In our backyard, we have 4 hens, a rooster, 2 cows, a baby pig, an outhouse, a shed I haven’t been in, and a small herb garden. Teona milks the cows and walks them out every day, and basically is an all around boss. She went to university in Gomi studying education, but for now spends time at home with Nika and is an Avon saleswoman. She let me help her cooking and with the dishes almost immediately, which seems to be a rare occurrence amongst volunteers. I enjoy it; it makes me feel as if I’m part of the family and not just a guest. Also, I believe that being a child of Chinese immigrants has made me more used to the culture of being pushy and offering food, as well as saying no to others’ helping with chores even though it would actually be very helpful. I just take the dishes from her and start doing them, even though she protests. Within a few minutes, everyone in the house is praising me for being a ‘kargi gogo’ (good girl) or ‘marjue gogo’ (still working on what this means, but I am pretty sure it’s a good thing) so I think I’m doing it ok.

The food here is crazy and amazing. I was hoping to maybe lose weight due to walking, but bread and cheese abound—cheese from the cows in the backyard. The best thing I’ve had so far is ‘bazhe,’ a creamy spiced walnut sauce put on meat that my host mom made the other day. I also really enjoy this garlic-y eggplant dish they have.

A typical daily schedule for me—keep in mind it’s only been ~4 days here in Gomi:

  • Wake up at 7-7:30am, brush teeth, etc. Say hi to host mom as I have to pass kitchen to go to bathroom
  • Host mom asks me what I want for breakfast. I say whatever she’s having. She makes me a cup of coffee with a heaping spoonful of sugar. She says she puts 3 in hers. I normally drink mine black but that might be too crazy.
  • I change, do makeup and things.
  • I come out to a breakfast spread. She has a crepe maker/press thing that grills a cheesy sandwich of deliciousness quickly.
  • I shove food in my mouth and am probably late meeting Kyle and Alan outside my house. I’m not allowed to walk around alone (so far), and I also have no idea where things are because I’m awful with directions. My host mom lets the cows out and walks me to my meeting spot with Kyle and Alan—the community center that has free WiFi at all times! After business hours it closes so we have to squat outside for the WiFi. Also, apparently there is a brothel nearby so the females aren’t allowed to be there alone and/or after 7pm.
  • Kyle, Alan, and I walk to school—about a 15 minute walk from my house. We cross a few train tracks (where my host dad Mamuka works) and enter Gomi Public School, grades K-12.
  • We have language class from 9am-1pm with a half hour break, with our LCF Tamuna. So far my language is…quite lacking, but I feel that living in the host family is helping me quite a lot. Not so much with grammar, but picking up commonly used words and the cadence of the language is always a good thing. Tamuna teaches us legitimate grammar and vocabulary.

  • We rotate lunches amongst our host families, so we are able to see all the other families and the families prepare us one big supra a week for lunch. The first lunch was at my house, then Kyle’s and Zach’s so far. It’s been a lot of fun meeting everyone else’s host families and seeing their places.
  • The Peace Corps marshutka (bus) picks us up from a market at 1:25pm. We are transported, along with volunteers from the village Vaka who were picked up before us, to one of the Khashuri schools for technical training.
  • 2pm-5 or 6pm: English Education training. So far just basics.
  • When the sessions end, the marshutka takes us back to Gomi at the market. Zach walks Carmen home. Alan, Kyle, Kaitlin, and I drop Kaitlin off at her house, and then me off at mine. Occasionally we stop at the brothel/community center for WiFi but it’s a bit inconvenient because I’m the only one who is actually close to that area.
  • I come back to my host family, who are usually just hanging out with the neighbors and other family members. They ask me how I am and how class was. I take out my homework and everyone is really excited to see me writing Georgian. They help me complete it, even if sometimes they shout out the answer before I figure it out myself.
  • I help Teona prepare the food and set the table (although I’m terrible at everything so far). Whoever hasn’t eaten yet eats with us. We clear the table and depending on her mood, Teona lets me do the dishes. Dinner ranges from around 7-9pm.
  • Neighbors, family members, etc hang out and help me finish homework/just chat/try to teach me new words/take advantage of the computer and internet until around 10-11pm. At this point people begin trickling out.
  • I spend a bit more time with just Teona, Mamuka, and Nika before we all turn in. Usually this happens around 11pm-1am.

A few thoughts:

  • A few times a day I’m asked if I have an American boyfriend and if I want a Georgian boyfriend. If my phone ever rings or if I text, I’m asked if it’s my boyfriend.
  • I’m pleasantly surprised by my ability to socialize. It was really hard the first 2 days I was here, and I felt overwhelming hopelessness and despair at leaving my room in the morning for pantomiming and disgruntled looks. The first day we had homework, I began to read in my room (with the door open) but noticed that the rest of the family was hanging out in the living room. I joined them and I’m so glad I did.
    In America I consider myself a huge introvert, and perhaps here as well. I thought it would be impossible for me to spend almost a full week, as I have, with barely any time to myself. I’m not sure if it’ll last, but from the schedule above it’s pretty clear that ‘alone time’ is not really a thing here. Of course the other volunteers are more laid back and I can have a bit of ‘alone time’ on our breaks during classes.
  • But I’m so glad I went out of my comfort zone and hung out with the family, because now I’m actually able to understand a good amount of what they’re saying. Not much, and I’m sure they use toddler vocabulary to speak with me, but it’s gotten so much better. I no longer feel despair leaving my room. I feel comfortable bringing my homework and dictionary out. I know the relationships between the people who are over and my host family. My host brother, who is quite shy, offers me candy at times. Today my host dad and host mom’s dad played dominoes in front of me and I think I learned enough to give it a shot tomorrow. I brought out my Rubik’s cube and have been asked to solve it countless times. I told them I would try to teach them how to do it by the end of summer.
  • On being Asian-American in Georgia—I have so many thoughts on this that I’ll have to make a separate blog post.
  • My curtains seem to be see-through so I change in the dark at night.
  • In the past 2 days, we’ve lost 2 volunteers. One ETed (Early Terminated) and the other was medically evacuated. I don’t know much about the former although we met in LA before we got to Georgia. The latter I talked to quite a bit in Bazalet’i—she was the oldest volunteer in our group. She was placed in an IOD cluster in Khashuri and just yesterday, a child in a go-kart (with a motor and everything) hit her. She fractured her wrist and it requires surgery and rehab in the US. Our group of 56 is now 54. 

The 2nd day of Gomi life, all the volunteers and one host family member each met at the school to get us acquainted with Gomi. We walked to the Gomi vodka factory—that’s what it’s known for—and a beautiful bridge that we dubbed the Gomi Gate Bridge.

Giant Gomi vodka bottle—proved very useful when telling drivers where to drop me off.

Behind the vodka factory, on the way to the Gomi Gate Bridge

Gomi Gate Bridge!

Gratuitous view off the bridge

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First Week in Georgia: Orientation in Bazalet’i

Disclaimer: This post was written a few weeks after orientation actually happened. Also, it’s being posted roughly 3 months after the fact. I’ve found it really interesting to read back on my thoughts, and since this blog has been a graveyard, I hope it’s somewhat interesting to you all too.

During orientation, the entire group of 56 G14s were in health, safety & security, and introductory Georgian lessons from around 9am to 5pm for the few days we were there. It certainly was exhausting, but we had some really great speakers and presenters, and constant coffee breaks (something I crave over here in Gomi). Oh, and daily showers and Western toilets. We were fed all three meals in the training center—a small introduction to Georgian food. The chef definitely tried his hand at Western meals for us though.

In the evenings we had free time, although we weren’t allowed to leave the compound area. I entertained myself with these awesome hammocks set up in the backyard of the training center. There was also a great view of some Georgian mountains and landscapes, and I took advantage of the last good WiFi I’d have in a while and FaceTimed my dad a few times.

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Saturday morning we found out what we’d been waiting for—our cluster announcements. Peace Corps Georgia operates Pre-Service Training (PST) in a community-based training system, so our group of 56 was split into 10 clusters of 5-6 volunteers in 8 villages/towns. The central town of Khashuri and its neighboring village to the north, Surami, both got 2 clusters. The 2 clusters in Khashuri and one of the clusters in Surami were IOD (Individual and Organizational Development) volunteers; the other 7 were all us English Education volunteers.

drum roll … I was placed in Gomi!! I was the last to be announced in my cluster, and luckily I had already been thinking that it was a good group to be in. My clustermates are Kaitlin Hearn, Alan Luan, Kyle Sauri, Carmen Mattox, and Zach Feldman, and our wonderful LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) is Tamuna [link through to all my homies’ blogs]. Gomi is about a 15 minute drive from Khashuri on its east side. I was handed a small piece of paper that had my host family names, ages, and cell #s (Teona, 29; Mamuka, 31; Nika, 5). There was a space for addresses but homes in villages don’t have addresses. That’s all I knew about Gomi before I got there, so I’ll leave y’all readers hanging and update more about what I know about Gomi from the first few days here soon.

Oh yes, on the way to Gomi, Peace Corps treated us to a delicious legitimate Georgian lunch, supra style. I can’t get me enough of that khinkali (like Chinese dumplings but way larger). And xat’chapuri (bread with melted cheese inside). One of our fears back in staging at DC was gaining a lot of weight. It was a legitimate concern.

(the restaurant in question)

One of the handouts we got during orientation language class: literally just “Hello.” “How are you?” “I am fine, you?” “I am also fine.” At the time it was so difficult because we didn’t know the alphabet well enough.

My friend Kate and I clowning around during one of our free evenings. Photo credit to Kaitlin Hearn.

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Sworn in as an official PCV!

So, since arriving in Georgia I haven’t written on this blog at all. I know, I know… I never wanted to be one of those dead blogs, so here I am resurrecting it. PST was intense and amazing and I spent it with the best people and Georgian language and cross-cultural facilitator ever. I’m now at my permanent site, Gardabani, and will endeavor to post the journals that I had saved up for a time I would have constant internet access and a lot of free time.

For now, have some photos of my cluster and I at our Farewell Dinner and Swearing In ceremony! (We got sworn in by US Ambassador Norland, no big deal or anything) Photo credit goes to my friend and Gomi Homie Alan Luan

Thank you to everyone still keeping up with this blog—it’ll get more interesting soon enough!

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Staging Recap & Arrival in Tbilisi

So I didn’t end up updating when I said I would, but I was simply way too exhausted. Staging is no joke!!

We had registration on Saturday—signed some forms and got our fancy government debit card. We were actually given $120 to reimburse our travel to the hotel as well as to cover food and other needs until our arrival in Tbilisi. The broke college student in me thought it was a lot of money.

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We were then able to go out for dinner (I went to a place called Big Buns I think) and had a delicious juicy burger. After heading to a corner store for breakfast incidentals and getting caught in a random rainstorm, we sampled some Georgian wines that some of my generous fellow G14s provided.

Sleep was non-existent that night as I had to wake up very early to get everything airplane-ready the next day. We were in sessions from 8am until 5pm. It was our first time in the same room with the 55 other volunteers with whom we’ll be spending the rest of our 27 months, and it didn’t disappoint. It was actually much more interactive than I expected, and thank goodness! Our trainer, Emily, and country desk officer Bina were both available and great to meet. We even had the unique opportunity—apparently it only happens once or twice a year—to meet our Country Director, Maura, in DC. She happened to be in DC for a conference and came in early to say hi, give a speech, and answer some questions for us.

We were then shipped off to Dulles by ourselves and the help of our volunteer team leaders. It seemed that everyone made it past the weight limits just fine. Then we said goodbye to the US!

After an 8 hour plane ride to Munich, we had an >8 hour layover. Peace Corps staff had told us not to leave the airport, which is really unfortunate because I would have loved to explore Munich. Ah well. We were able to entertain ourselves by the free internet, German food (bratwurst, pancakes, and beer), and of course…napping.

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Above pictured: myself and Rachel bunk bedding in the airport. Photo courtesy of Alex Savelli

We finally were able to board our flight to Tbilisi, also on Air Lufthansa. Most of us made it—three in our group didn’t make the plane and will be here within a few days. Here’s to hoping we have a full group soon enough. After a ~4 hour flight, we made it to Tbilisi’s airport!

imagePhoto courtesy of Kate Schwenk

After grabbing all our luggage, we were greeted by a screaming group of G12s and 13s! I was even able to meet a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Danny, who is also an APO alumni. It seems like a small world, but it actually isn’t that surprising that members of the largest co-ed service fraternity would end up joining the Peace Corps. Danny was super great and even brought me nail polish remover! It’s too bad that he leaves Georgia soon after we officially swear in, but I look forward to seeing him again then. 

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Danny and someone disheveled who’d been traveling for over a day

Some of the Peace Corps staff talked to us for a bit about what to expect, and we then loaded up into two buses on our way to a training compound in Bazaleti, about an hour north of Tbilisi.

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G14s listening in at the airport! Photo courtesy of Danny Burns

Anyway, now we’re in Bazaleti and finishing up our first full day here. It also happens to be my birthday, which I’m stoked to spend with all these people. We’ll be here until Saturday afternoon, at which point we’re driving to Khashuri in central Georgia to meet our PST (pre-service training) host families. I’ll update more about this “Orientation” period then!

I’ll leave you with a sign welcoming us that the G12s/13s made and signed:

TL;DR: I feel really welcomed to Georgia and the G14s are a great, fun group of people. More to come!

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Staging Today!!

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From the countdown timer on my blog. I’m taking a break from re-packing (the first of many adventures in re-packing I’m sure) to blog. The one that really matters will take place tomorrow night/Sunday afternoon, as I try to pack my bags and have them fall within all weight limits. My suitcase was 47 pounds, and my large hiking backpack 43 upon coming to DC—all well within bounds, but my carry-on was definitely more than the 8kg limit that Air Lufthansa enforces, so I’ve been trying to re-shuffle it all.

I’ve really enjoyed my last few days here in DC with my sister, brother-in-law, and dad. We had a bunch of ethnic food I won’t be able to have in Georgia (potentially): Ethiopian, Chinese, French (?), Vietnamese, Mexican (well, Chipotle if that counts), etc. Yay!

I got a bit photo-lazy and decided to just upload a few photos from Instagram. If you follow me on Instagram, sorry ‘bout it.

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Finally trying Serendipity’s frozen hot chocolate, albeit in DC, with my sister. That was a ‘regular’ size. Sup diabetes.image

I actually took two separate trips to the zoo: one with my sister and brother-in-law (the same day there was a shooting in front of it) and one with my dad (pictured above). I have to say that I really enjoyed the ‘free park’ atmosphere at the zoo. Much less sterile than the LA Zoo. And I got to see PANDAS!

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I was even able to meet up with Nash and Cody (click through for links to their blogs), who had also gotten here a few days early, to see a bit of the National Mall and for Thai food.

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As it’s now 1am, this afternoon a cab will pick my dad, my 100 lbs of luggage, and me up for the hotel in Arlington. After I check into the hotel, my dad and I will explore Arlington a bit—is there anything to explore..?—and then it’ll be time to say goodbye to my last tie back home. 

I’m not sure that things have quite hit me yet—that I leave the country in less than 48 hours, that I’ll be meeting the people I’m spending the next 27 months with in less than 24—but I’m sure they will soon enough. Or maybe not.

I’ll attempt to write a staging/orientation blog post most likely while we are at the airport waiting for our flight out of DC. Cheers!!

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Angela Wen of Los Angeles Selected for Peace Corps Education Assignment in Republic of Georgia ↘

I was featured on the West Coast PCV blog! So excited to begin this journey in a few days. I’ve been really enjoying my time in DC with family as well as some of the G14s! Post forthcoming.

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