Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grape Harvest in Ateni

Okay, first thing: Sorry about not keeping up with the blog. I actually have a few blogs written, but it takes time to insert pictures and I've been lazy. So, here is another late post from...A month ago? (oops).

Just finished another busy, but awesome weekend/week. I finally started to actually teach classes this week, which was good. I’m working with so many classes and teachers that it’s taken me nearly three weeks to meet all of them. And I still have a few to go. Making a schedule and planning lessons with the teachers has been frustrating but is slowly starting to work out. If my timing is correct, I should have things worked out by…sometime next semester. But that seems to be the case for everyone else, so I’m in good company.

Anyways, most of my kids are great and very eager to have an American in class. Which hopefully means they’ll pay attention – I am not above using my novelty status to knock a little English into their brains. I’m finding out what they want to learn and what types of activities work best for each group, so I am optimistic. Classes are always exhausting, but fun. We’ve had discussions about chewing gum made out of Christmas trees (yes, I’m serious), khinkali, wrestling, and some of my students even danced for me. Which was awesome! I was doing a lesson where the students had to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. One of the guys said he did traditional Georgian dancing. I made an offhanded comment about how much I like their dancing and the next thing I know, they’ve moved all the desks to the back of the room, someone has out their phone with a folk song blaring on it, and two of my students are at the front of the class dancing. Okay, so we didn’t exactly practice English, but it was a lot of fun and it helped everyone relax (they are still nervous to speak in front of a native speaker).

On Friday afternoon, I decided to join some of the other Fulbrighters in crashing a Peace Corps party in Rustavi (a city outside Tbilisi)/celebrating one of our friend’s birthday. I hop a marshrutka and make my way to Tbilisi. After finding Chase – which was an entertaining experience in and of itself – we wait for the other Fulbrighters to join us. After an hour or so, we finally figure out that we are at completely different metro stations. We finally find each other and head off for Rustavi. An hour later, after getting shushed by an old Georgian lady and ending up in the middle of nowhere – we find our way to the center for a makeshift dinner of khachipuri (why with all the khachipuri?!? Why?!?) before heading off to the party. Which was…fun? Interesting? So, as it turns out, Peace Corps parties are essentially the expat community’s equivalent of a frat party. Still, everyone was very nice and it was fun.

After the party, we head back to Tbilisi for the night and early the next morning I head back to Gori for…grape harvesting! Our adopted “family” here in Georgia owns a house in a small village called Ateni outside Gori. Everyone in Georgia – and I mean everyone – makes their own wine. Apparently, it’s almost shameful not to do so. So they have this large plot of land complete with an orchard, nut trees, and grape vines. We spent all of Saturday harvesting the grapes and showing the Georgians that, yes, Americans can work. It was an absolute blast. I haven’t worked with my hands since coming to Georgia and all this brain work gets tiring. The day was beautiful – a little cool but sunny. The village is situated right along the mountains and the view from the top of the grapes vines is stunning. I’ve said it before, but Georgia really is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

With a full day’s work behind us, they prepared a mini-supra complete with wine from last year’s harvest. We went home, exhausted but happy and ready to start the “fun” part of the harvest on Sunday. That morning, we went back to the village and went hunting for walnuts and hazelnuts while they guys finished up the last of the picking. (How cool is it that we can just go outside and pick all these different wild fruits and nuts? I spent the entire day eating persimmons, apples, grapes, pears, and nuts right off the trees and vines. Go Georgia!). There is an old superstition that if a woman stomps the grapes the next year’s harvest will be poor. But, well, there are a lot of superstitions that center on how women ruin everything. Mostly made up, I assume, by all the men smoking on the street corners all day while the women are at work. Plus, this year’s crop was the best they’ve had in years, apparently, and our “brother’s” girlfriend did the stomping last year. Myth debunked.

Anyways, grape stomping is just like how you imagine it. You get a big tub with a small hole in the bottom, throw in the grapes, and start stomping. Then, the leftovers go through a press to get the last of the juice out (which is delicious fresh, by the way). The leftover skins and stems are used to make chacha – Georgia’s version of moonshine, pretty much – a potent liquor which I have made a point to avoid like the plague. But it natural, which means it’s good for you! (At least, that’s what everyone tells me. I still think I’ll stay away, thank you very much.)
We spent most of the day stomping the grapes, with Corrie and I taking turns. It’s a great way to get some exercise and do some healthy anger management while having fun. In the end, we filled up a barrel bigger than me with about a dozen liters left over. We some of the leftovers they made tatara – this dessert made of boiled grape juice. Sooo good. And really easy to make, too. Afterwards, we had another mini-supra with shashliki made over the fire. So, all-in-all, perhaps the best weekend so far in Georgia. Tomorrow, it’s back to work. This Thursday is an annual holiday so we are going on a road trip. And this weekend – off on a excursion to Kutaisi with the chitlins!

Monday, October 25, 2010


Today (October 2nd) was Goroba – Gori’s first annual Gori Day festival! Now, usually Gori is not the most hopping town in Georgia. In fact, most residents (and guidebook writers) consider it depressingly boring. Everything’s still so new and exciting for me, so I don’t find it boring, but I’ll take their word for it. However, today was not a typical Gori day. It was Gori Day! See the difference? A capital letter and an exclamation point can make all the difference…

Now, most people I talked to hadn’t heard about Gori Day; there were rumors of free shashliki and of Saakasvilli visiting. As it turned out, one of those rumors was true. This meant free shashliki for me! Woohoo! Who cares about presidents when you have shashliki? Anyways, I role out of bed at 11:00 and head out of the house to explore the Gori Day festivities. As it happened, most of Stalin Avenue (the main street in Gori) was roped off. And all around the government square were people in costumes, vendors selling everything from homemade woolskin scarves to honey and paintings. There were kids running around in traditional folk dress and students with easels overlooking the mountains. A little farther down were small little huts constructed overnight with people barbequing shashliki and setting up Georgian table. There was folk dancing and singing and karate performances.

A little later on, Corrie and I met up with some of the people she works with and we headed up to Gori Stikhe – the fortress in the middle of town. Along the way were even more of these little shashliki huts with people sitting around and eating and drinking. As everyone knows everyone in Gori, we ran across some people Corrie’s co-workers know and got our free shashliki. Yum. At the top of the fortress was a large stage where performances soon commenced.

If you’ve never seen a Georgian folk dance, I strongly suggest you go to YouTube right now and take a look. Go ahead, we can wait. Traditional Georgian dance is one of the most beautiful and interesting things I have ever seen. The girls wear long flowing dresses and move like they are just gliding over the floor. The boys dress up with daggers and big fur hats and stomp and jump around stage. At one point, they even did a knife dance/faux-fight which was absolute favorite. Two guys have long daggers and face each other before literally attacking the other. They are flying around the stage, sparks flying from the daggers when they clash. It actually looks quite dangerous – turns out, it is. One of the dancers is a friend of a friend and he showed me the massive bruise and cut where his partner slipped and caught him with the dagger. Ouch!

My landlady’s daughters – Anano and Nini – danced in the festival as well. After they were done, we (our landlady, her brother who has become a great friend, and I) headed back down to the center of town. Along the way we saw lots of old pottery and tools the ethnography museum had set up along the back streets for the festival. I wish I had gotten more pictures, but my camera died after all the picture taking of the day. After reaching the center, we meandered around for a bit and met back up with Corrie who had gone off with her co-workers. Eventually, the concert started and this famous folk band started playing. We watched for a while and then our landlady invited us over for dinner.

Then the eating commenced. Georgian food is amazing and the people are known both for their generous hospitality and “Georgian table.” So even though it was just supposed to be a small dinner, the food just kept coming, and coming. And when you thought you were done? More food. Not that I’m complaining, of course. We had roasted chicken and this special cheese, salads, two types of khachipuri, roasted eggplants with hazelnuts, pickled vegetables, delicious bread, and, of course, homemade Georgian wine. I’ve had Georgian wine before, and it is quite delicious, but I had never had homemade Georgian wine. I can understand why people so often get drunk – it is amazing! Next week they are having a winemaking party, which should be a blast!

So we ate, and talked, and toasted, and drank some more, and had more toasts, and then ate some more. Two hours later, it looked like things were finally winding down. And then, dessert! Eight types of cakes and fresh fruit from the garden – 4 or 5 types of apples (which our landlord peeled for us) and grapes. And chai, of course. We looked at some old photos and just enjoyed each others’ company. That is one thing I really appreciate about Georgia. In America, everything is done quickly and on a schedule. When we want entertainment, we go somewhere and pay for someone else to entertain us, whether that be a movie or a sports game. In Georgia, they take time for people; entertainment is being with friends over good food and drink. Time is relaxed; relationships are more important than schedules. If there is one thing I love about Georgia, that’s it. And so, after ringing in the new day, we finally headed home for a much deserved rest. So, now, I will head to bed. Until next time, nakvamdis!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Sometimes Georgia makes me happy – like when I can buy 2 pounds of figs for $.50.

Sometimes Georgia makes me sad – like when I see beautiful mountains and streams littered with trash.

Sometimes Georgia makes me laugh – like when my students finally get that “ah ha!” moment.

Sometimes Georgia makes me angry – when I can’t sit alone in a park without getting stared at and harassed because I’m a woman.

Sometimes Georgia makes me feel humble – like when you finally make it up to the top of that mountain you’ve been climbing and find yourself looking over an awe inspiring landscape.

It’s going through all the stages of culture shock – honeymoon, withdrawal, and adjustment – all in one day. Every day. But, hey, that’s what makes it fun. Right?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gori Jvari or Our Hiking Adventure

Friday (October 1st) after work, Corrie and I were feeling a little stir crazy and decided to see if we could get to one of the mountains around Gori. I didn’t really know how to get their or how far away it actually was, just that we probably wouldn’t get in too much trouble as long as we didn’t turn right. In Gori, you never turn right lest you end up in South Ossetia. (Okay, so it’s not quite that dramatic.)

So, we headed out early afternoon for our little adventure. After walking through a village and getting stared at we, gasp, took a right. While it didn’t take us to South Ossetia, it did put us out on a highway outside of the city. With nothing really to do, we just kept walking. About 15 minutes later, we spied these two old ladies hiking up a hill off the highway. How they managed it, I’ll never know. Georgian babyshki are like Russian babyshki – they’re crazy fierce and you best not mess with them. Figuring that if they could do it, so could we, Corrie and I followed them up. About 10 minutes later, we were at the top, gasping for breath. Like I said, never take on a babyshka…

Anyways, we ended up in this old village at the top of the hill. It appears to have no electricity or running water, with women washing clothes in a big basin in the street. There are haystacks everywhere with donkeys and cows roaming the streets. A massive tank of kvas (a Russian soda) was the only sign of modernity. Of course.

We wandered around the village and found a small path that looked like it led up to this church at the top of the mountain we were trying to get to. We started up the path and spent about an hour hiking to the top. By the end, my legs were shaking and I was out of breath, but it was totally worth the view. Nobody was at the church, so we were able to walk around freely. From the top, we looked out over all of Gori and the surrounding villages, farms, mountains and rivers. What a view. This country is absolutely stunning. We spent about half and hour at the top and vowed to come back with a picnic one day. We set off back down and saw this lovely little road that apparently led down to the highway. 15 minutes later, we were back at the village. I’m still taking the small path next time; it’s part of the experience.

After that, we walked back home, bought some plums from the villagers, and took a much needed 10 hour nap.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Tbilisi and Beyond!

Early Sunday morning (September 19th) Corrie and I met up with Sonya – a German woman Corrie’s been talking with who lives in Gori – to go to Tbilisi. We went to the bazroba and purchased tickets for the bus to the city (the marshrutkas are scary…). It ended up taking just a little over an hour to get into Tbilisi, which is great! I think Tbilisi trips will be quite frequent. We parted ways with Sonya on the metro – oh, metro, how I have missed thee – and meandered down Rustaveli (the main road) until we found an English-language bookshop. Everything was quite expensive, so we left and met up with Chase, who was in town, and two of the newly arrived Fulbrighters – Michaela and Ryan – for lunch. I had some random Georgian dish which ended up being essentially an entire chicken in broth (grease?). It was delicious in small quantities, but kind of overwhelming. We then found Sonya again, who showed all of us Goodwilli – one of the main supermarkets in Tbilisi – where we left the others before heading to an international church. The service was a lot of fun. People had Bibles in English, Georgian, Russian, Persian, and a number of other languages. We met some really great people and chatted for a bit before running to the bus station to catch the last bus back to Gori.

The next morning, I observed some classes at one of my schools before meeting up with some students and teachers to prepare for the Ambassador’s visit on Tuesday. The visit went very well, I believe. The kids were engaging and asked great questions. I was on TV, which was quite uncomfortable but funny, too.

Sophie and Saul, our embassy contacts, came with the ambassador. They brought us peanut butter, fig newtons, and contact solution – all things we had jokingly asked them to find for us. So, much love to them. Next time I am going to come up with some more outlandish request and see if they can get it for me… A turkey for Thanksgiving? A pet pygmy bunny named Waffle?

I spent the rest of the week observing classes and meeting with teachers. And then…our hiking adventure!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old McDonald Had a Farm...

One of my classes is currently enamored with Old McDonald. Of all the children's songs to be excited about, I guess it's not the worst. If you are interested in learning how to say "duck" in English. But I find it quite fitting now. Every morning on my way to work, this old man walks across the main road through town, across the playground in front of my apartment and through the apartment complex with a herd of cows. And every night he heads back the other way with sheep and goats. He has a rucksack on his back and a stick he herds the the animals with. It's quite an unusual sight - an ages-old profession taking place through a busy, metropolitan area - but one which is quite fitting for Gori and Georgia. It's a strange mix of old and new. Old babooshkas peddling homegrown fruit from the village and talking on cell phones. Young people in traditional dress, dancing traditional dances to Lady Gaga and Vanilla Ice. Old men herding cows across the highway. I do like it here. I think Old McDonald's going on my ipod. In the spirit of old and new, of course.