Friday was an interesting day, to say the least. I was up early, ate breakfast at 8am, and waited for a few friends who said they wanted to go into town for one more look. I needed to buy a backpack because I don’t have anything for overnight or weekend excursions. Everyone slept in, and 9:30 rolled around and I didn’t want to wait around so I took a short walk with one friend, and then sat in the lobby with my laptop. After a few minutes, another TLG volunteer walked up to me and said that she was also assigned to a small village near Gori, and we decided to take a taxi into town for a few hours and walk around. I was extremely lucky to find a backpack during this trip to town (I can’t believe I didn’t bring one, and it seemed like my suitcase shrank during the week)! Shopping in Tbilisi is frustrating because all the stores are very small, and there isn’t a lot to choose from, so I feel very lucky to have found what I needed.
We made it back to the hotel in time to meet our host families. The lobby was completely full of TLG volunteers (over 100). Everyone was saying their goodbyes, with hugs and group pictures. All the host families are watching these events, waiting to meet us! When the time came, we stood at opposite ends of the lobby (TLG volunteers on one end, host families on the other) and Tamara called out our names so we could meet in the middle. It was really fun, except that after a while the crowd became very small, and I had to wait to the end (almost)!
I met my “host mother” (Diana), but I suspect she is younger than I am. She was accompanied by one of her daughters (Teola), who I learned was celebrating her 17th birthday that day, and her son Giorgi (7). We drove to a restaurant and ate lunch, then finished the drive home.
We drove through the village which sits on a wide, expansive valley with a spectacular view of the Caucus mountains to the north. The highest peaks look enormous, and quite beautiful, but I sincerely doubt I could take a picture that would provide a good idea of their appearance in real life.
The village looks very poor. The homes are constructed with a variety of materials that are not chosen because they look nice together. It appears that many of the homes are deserted or they have unfinished second stories with families living on the first floor. There are wells in various places, but they aren’t what you’d imagine when using the word “well”. They look more like drain pipes that have a constant flow of water onto a cement trough. There is a lot of activity on a very warm October day (it feels like summertime!). Teola speaks very little English, but she is the most capable, so she points out the window as we drive by the school and says “here is school”. It looks big, but it’s in terrible shape.
We turn off the paved road, into an alley. A frightened hen is running ahead of the car (the term “free range chickens” would not apply to villages in Georgia). We stop in front of a gray-metal gate and it is opened by another daughter, Nezo (15) and we park in the driveway. I meet their grandmother, and she smiles kindly.
I’m ushered into a ground floor apartment (most of the family sleeps upstairs) with two single beds, a small desk, a standing wardrobe, and a television, but I refuse to allow myself to turn this on–ever)! There is another room with a computer desk and a PC with internet located just outside my room. There is a bathroom (yes, there is a toilet) in another small building about 10 meters away (get used to this America–yards and feet are lame).
They are growing grapes all over the front yard, and many other necessities are grown in their back yard (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, lots of different fruit trees and more. Everything is organic, of course. They don’t use pesticides of any kind, I’m pretty sure.
I was introduced to family relatives and friends of the family. I can’t remember all the names and some names were very difficult to pronounce (this distresses me a little). The room is buzzing with talk and laughter, but I can’t understand more than a few words. Everyone is saying my name and “Kaliforni”. And now comes the punchline. The Georgian language adds an “I” to the end of any foreigner’s name, so my name is quite hysterical. I thought my 5th grade trauma of resembling a girl was bad enough, but now everyone is calling me “Carly”, which is also funny in Georgian because they can’t really pronounce their R’s like native English speakers, and the Georgian word for “woman” is (quite unfortunately) “Kali”.
We all sat down for dinner, and wine. These people know how to drink, let me tell you. It’s a little scary, but also lots of fun to listen to them laughing and talking over one another. There were many toasts for me, and I’ve already become quite fond of everyone. I really need to earn my place here. I don’t want to let them down. And this feeling has absolutely nothing to do with being a “good American”, but rather my own desire to be a productive and valuable member of their family and community.
I start my first day of school on Monday at 9. I’m very nervous about teaching, and a little concerned that I only have two pairs of pants to last me until December. You’d think all the time I spent making lists and re-packing everything would have paid off a little better.
I can’t post pictures right now. I’m still working on the situation here, but I’ll have lots to share, very soon, I promise.