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