Khertvisi Castle, Khertvisi, Georgia

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Our new digs

As promised, here are some pictures of our new house, new family and the new view we have when we wake up each morning. Overall, it's been a very pretty fall, aside from a 2-week spell of very cold, rainy, gross weather at the start of October. Lately we've been having great weather; it's been pretty cold overnight and into the morning, but we've had warm days and lots of sunshine. Perfect weather for the changing leaves!

I still need to get some pictures of our new host dad and host grandmother, but since we've got shots of the kids (and that's mostly what our mothers want to see), I'll post these for now, with more to come later. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Our new house is across this bridge from the main part of town. It is situated right outside the old Russian army base, which is called the gorodok (little city, in Russian) by everyone here in town. This is the view from our back porch, with the bridge and my school in view.

This is the view from out the front door of our house. The wall marks off the start of the gorodok . Inside this wall there are a lot of apartment buildings, which were formerly inhabited by Russian soliders and their families, but are now lived in by other residents of Akhalkalaki. The base itself has just been abandoned, and there are lots of empty buildings, slowly crumbling away. Their windows seem to be favorites for target practice by young boys throwing rocks. Georgian police officers patrol the area to make sure people don't wander into the abandoned Russian military buildings and structures. The road seen in front of the wall is a new highway being under construction that will stretch to the Turkish border (about 30 kilometers away, apparently) and funded largely by U.S. foreign aid.

This is our new room. We have lots of space and it's a really nice, comfortable place to be staying!

Our new host sister, Lilit, is 15 months old and absolutely loves Sam. She loves playing with his glasses and his watch, but most of all, she loves listening to him play his guitar. Whenever he starts to play, she comes a-flying up, as fast as her fastest crawl allows, and either sits and watches him play, "helps" him play or sits and dances.

Here she is "helping" Sam play.

And a video of Sam and Lilit rocking out together.

Our new host mom, Armine, and host sister, Lilit, went out for an evening walk to look at the changing leaves and show me around our new neighborhood. They always really bundle up the little kids whenever they go outside, regardless of the temperature.

Our host brother, Shayan, dressed as his favorite superhero after school the other day to celebrate his receiving a 10 (like an A+ 100% grade) in school on Thursday. As a reward for the perfect grade, he was given a new pair of Spiderman socks, being shown off here.

After relaxing and showing off the socks, though, it was time for Spiderman to get back into action.

Later that day, Spiderman went to the chapel down the hill to light some candles.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Moving house

6 months, 2 continents, 4 languages, and 4 homes. When you say it like that...
We moved last Sunday; our first three months of service were up and with it our initial homestay at our permanent site. We were happy with the family we were staying with, but the heating situation in their home wouldn't allow us to stay there with winter coming on. So we started asking around and found that the aunt and uncle of a good friend of ours here had a room that they'd be willing to let us move into.

We'd met the family before and they struck as extremely kind and welcoming, but that turns out to be an understatement. They're just downright great, and we've really enjoyed getting to know each other better over the past week. Our host mother teaches Russian at Melissa's school. Our host father owns a pharmacy downtown. Our host grandmother is busy around the house and helps watch the two kids (a 7-year old boy and a 1 1/2 year old girl) while the parents are at work. Our host brother is a big Spider-Man fan, which made for some instant bonding.

It was daunting moving on Sunday and getting right back to work on Monday, so it was a relief in some ways to finish 4th period on Monday and return to the teacher's lounge to get the news that the rest of the week's classes would be canceled to allow students to work on the potato harvest.

Meanwhile, Melissa and our friend in town who works at the adult education center were in Tbilisi from Sunday (just after our move) to Saturday for a training on conducting peer health education with a focus on HIV/AIDS. The training was interesting and revealed a lot of the challenges of talking about the subject in this society. It was also a good chance for her to spend time with some other Peace Corps volunteers and their counterparts.

And today, in celebration of Melissa getting back and our really being moved in, we had a deliciously huge khinkali dinner. It's been a great week; we really couldn't be happier with our host family, and we're eager to get back to work tomorrow.

(I'll get a picture up of our new place shortly).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What do you think? Sam's bench?

Happy (belated) Teachers Day!

"We congratulate you, our beloved teachers!"

Tuesday was Teachers Day in Georgia. It seems like this was a very important and much-celebrated holiday in Soviet times and nowadays it is marked in various parts of Georgia with different levels of acknowledgment. Sam's school barely celebrated whereas my school went whole hog.

I think it's largely due to the fact that I'm working at the Russian school in town that I was lucky enough to have such a big, festive holiday. There's more room for carryover from the Soviet Union at a Russian-language school (we had lots of nice posters and banners in Russian, extolling teachers for their dedication). Moreover, there are just a ton of songs in Russian specifically penned about the Teachers Day holiday (we had a lot of songs in Russian about the first day of school, too).

One of the Teachers Day posters note made by students

My school really made the day special. All day Monday, students were extra rowdy, rushing around the halls and making signs and banners and generally decorating the school to prepare for the big day. (The school had a competition to see which class could decorate their classrooms best; I didn't hear if a prize was awarded to the winning class, but since it seems like at least half of each class was allowed to be absent from classes on Monday in order to hang balloons or arrange flowers or whatnot, I think that everyone got a reward.)

Some of the flowers used in decorating the school

On Tuesday, we had a shortened schedule; students only had three classes (instead of the usual 5-8) and these were cut to 25 minutes (from 40) and started an hour later than normal. All the teachers in the school were given flowers--roses, mostly--by their students and each other. The big excitement came at 2pm, though, when we had the Annual Teachers Day Concert.

The concert's emcees kick things off

The show included some prepared speeches by students and the principal, the singing of many of the aforementioned Soviet-era Teachers Day songs, a few skits portraying what students imagine teachers' lives to be like and the recitation of a few poems about teachers. More roses were given to all the teachers and a few brave 12-graders asked the principal and assistant principal to dance during one of the songs. But the very best part of the performance came from two of my 11-graders, who sang a song in English, dedicated especially to me. They did a great job, and though the lyrics might not match up as well as those of the Russian language songs, I was still very touched by the gesture. (And since the only song in English I can think of that's about teachers is "Hot for Teacher," theirs was probably a safer choice.)

The grand finale

No event in our town would be complete, it seems, without a television camera from the local news channel, and without fail, I was interviewed (in Russian) and asked to give my thoughts on the celebration. I was honestly able to say how impressed I was and what a great job the kids did. They seemed very interested to know that we not only do not celebrate the holiday in the same way in America but in fact don't really even have the holiday at all. At any rate, I was glad to make it through my third tv interview in Georgia (three more than I've ever had in America!).