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

Comments
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.

image

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.

Comments
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!

Comments
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.

image

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.

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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!

Comments
Staging Today!!

image

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.

image

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!

image

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.

image

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!!

Comments
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.

Comments
All Packed In!..Kind of

Today and yesterday have been pretty hectic, but I have officially gotten all my stuff in. Are the two checked bags within the dimension and weight limits? Questionable!! But I have contingency plans, and a plan to better distribute the weight once I inevitably unpack and repack it all at my sister’s place in DC.

As promised, I have uploaded my final packing list—click through for link to the page. I was going to take a picture of all my clothes and accessories laid out, but it was so haphazard that I began stuffing things into my luggage. Thank goodness for space bags, even if they are the reason I may go overweight.

Anyway, I was able to take a picture of the completed product:

Now for just a tad of sleep before my flight. I’ll miss you, Los Angeles!!

Comments
Last Minute Woes

So, just over 24 hours until I leave Los Angeles for good. When you subtract time for sleep, that doesn’t leave much time at all.

I made my epic Target run earlier today, and my dad’s credit card is still hurting (thanks dad). I am still missing a few things that I’m going to pick up at CVS and Ralph’s tomorrow, and I just found something broken that I’m going to have to exchange at Target. Yikes. I am having ongoing problems with getting my prescriptions filled 3 months in advance. Right now it looks like I’m going to have to pay out of pocket for 2 of the months.

I may have underestimated just how much volume all the toiletries I’d like to bring will take. I’m really hoping for a miracle with these vacuumed space saver bags. I’m not really sure how I’ll get the stuff back in once I don’t have a vacuum at my disposal, but I’m going to try not to think about that right now…

In other news, I turned my language survey in when it was due. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made progress on the podcasts in a while—BUT I firmly attest that my laptop was in the Apple store for repairs for a full week. It’s just so hard to get things done without my baby! Today marked its triumphant return. 

Anyway, dear followers, you can look forward to an extremely comprehensive packing list I’ll have compiled before Sunday (I mean…I hope). It’s been sitting in my Drafts getting edited and re-edited so I’m excited to complete it. 

Onwards and upwards!

Comments
The Peace Corps was the most democratic experience I have had of my country and the people who inhabit it. We crossed economic class, education level, age; we were an intensive kind of motley crew. We all had that feeling of, What are we doing here? I tried to have thoughtful conversations, tried to be a good guest and do what I was supposed to do as a presence. For me it was liberating to not be so aggressively climbing. I learned how to be alone. But it is true: the people who went with the best of intentions about helping the world were the ones who quit in the first six months. They didn’t make it because there was nothing to sustain that.

There were moments, yes, that were rude awakenings to what being American is. However liberal our sensibilities to our politics we seem maybe not to learn. I think maybe when you are Peace Corps or a teacher or writer, you continue to see yourself as an exception, and suddenly you realize others aren’t seeing that exception.
Comments
10 things you might not know about Georgia ↘

Courtesy of the BBC, and my fellow G14 Carmen (blog link here). 

Comments