Monday, October 18, 2010

Georgian Diagnoses, Riding to School, & Tsudi Studenti

This was the daughter of the woman who ran our guesthouse in Mestia. So cute that I can't even make fun of the ridiculous lipstick she put on to impress me.

You want to know what they do on Saturday in Bandza? They prepare to go to a soccer game at noon—which was a comedy of errors in itself seeing Reziko trying to open the gate with a cat wrapped in a plastic bag in one hand (we were giving away one of our house cats to a friend) and then slowly driving away as Luka ran after (Luka is always lagging behind)—but the game actually didn’t start until two o’clock, so we drove around Bandza for a few minutes until returning home. Then at one forty-five, we found out the game was cancelled due to rain. Oh, Bandza.

Ati – In my last post, I tried to dispel the notion that I was the Georgian equivalent of Boris Yeltsin. In this post, I’d like to start by addressing another somewhat alarming impression I may have made on readers, but hopefully accomplish this with more brevity. I’m not some sickly Tiny Tim or hypochondriac. I have been sick twice in the past month, but both were just 24-hour viruses that I believe stemmed from something I ate. They both had the same symptoms, which I will spare you the details of, but for the most part, I think it’s just an occupational hazard that I’ll get over in good time.

Saw this advertisement for money exchange in Batumi; notice the sole c-note trying to cover up the abundance of $1. It's like out of a budget rap-video.

Otsi – Speaking of symptoms and remedies, Georgians have quite the theories on how to treat illness. The farther you’re outside of civilization, the stranger it gets. I’ve been fed salt-water, pills that I don’t think are approved by any governing body, and forced to eat frog’s leg stew (that last one is a lie). Other popular remedies include drinking Nabeghlavi (the most popular mineral water in Georgia that cures anything from a broken leg to cancer) and drinking tchatcha to settle the stomach (I’ve not had this suggested to me, but other volunteers have).

This was a shot from outside Mestia; notice the outhouse that leads to stream, that leads to the Enguri River, that leads to the Reservoir outside of Zugdidi

Otsdaati - The causes for sickness that Georgians come up with are even more absurd. Having wet hair in the morning can lead to pneumonia according to some (this has caused issues with volunteers whose mothers insist that they don’t wash their hair in the morning, which for some American girls is like telling them not to shave their upper-lip). Catching cold is another sticking point with many Georgians; they’re like a Jewish mother when it comes to bundling up before you go out. My theory on this is two pronged; 1). Most Georgians think that America is some tropical utopia that never gets cold, so our blood is thin and we’re one layer away from whooping cough (in fact, I have a feeling what I’ll go through here will be a bit colder, and longer but with less snow as compared to a typical Pittsburgh winter) and 2). They care deeply about our well-being and think we don’t know any better (this is a good thing).

I found this picture highly amusing; Luka grabbed my camera and took several photos just like this. What a narcissist; like host-brother like guest-brother, I guess

Ormotsi – The only other male-teacher in my school, Soso, insists I’m getting sick because I drink too much coca-cola (I usually go to the market mid-day to buy a snickers and a coke; but it’s not like I’m some caffeine-crazed teenager), so he’s given me a jar of his family’s honey and showed me how to make honey-water. I’m pretty sure that’s what health-freaks and alcoholics drink when trying to cleanse their system, but I’ve followed suit just to please Soso, who is the only man in Georgia I’ve yet to see raise his voice. Super soft spoken, built like a beanpole, and incredibly intelligent (at least it seems that way), Soso takes it upon himself to treat any foreigner as if they’re family, and with good reason. When his sister moved to Greece and her job fell through, she was taken in by a Greek family who set her up and saved her from homelessness. Sort of a pay-it-forward attitude that I admire, and one day hope to do my own part because I certainly owe somebody something.

This was the stove we used at our guesthouse in Mestia. It took a while to warm up, but the food tasted all the much better realizing it was cooked with wood, fire, and iron.

Ormotsdaati – Since we’re near the topic of school, one thing I’ve noticed that I find endearing beyond belief is how the kids get to school. Most walk in groups, but the younger ones (Year I-III) usually walk with their parents (usually their Deda [Mother]), who actually spend the whole day at school waiting in the hallways and attending to their children during the breaks. It’s a bit odd to constantly see parents hanging out in the hallway on the first floor, but maybe it’s just the first month of school type of thing, or perhaps the parents are just really attached to their young ones here in Bandza (most likely scenario).

Trying to climb a fallen tree in the forest near Mestia. Notice the handy walking stick and fleece wrapped around my waist like Zack Morris circa '90

Samotsi – But back to school commuting; sometimes I see a mama (father) riding his daughter to school sitting on the handlebars of his bicycle. Some of you may think that’s a dangerous safety hazard (to which a Georgian might reply, what’s a safety hazard?), but when you see it in person, it’s so damn cute; with the little girl’s legs dangling off the front end while the father slowly but proudly weaves his way through the streets of Bandza. It’s a thing of poetry. I would love to do that with my daughter someday, although I might get arrested for reckless endangerment if I try it in the States.

This is TLG celebrity Raughley "Snoop" Nuzzi and I rocking what we call our Petroni shirts. When we put these on we turn into overbearing (in a good way) Georgian host-brothers. The joke here is that every man in Georgia owns a shirt just like this.

Samotsdaati – There’s a few things I’ve noticed in class that are good to know, especially when I’m left alone to teach my toughest classes (VII-IX). It’s already gotten to the point where they don’t giggle when I sternly say tchuma (which, I think, means quiet), because they react much better to that than if I say quiet or stop talking in English. The other thing I love, which I haven’t used yet but plan on, is when someone is talking or doing something that might disrupt the class, out of nowhere the teacher yells that students name followed by ra ginda? Literally, it only means what do you want, but in translation it sort of means shut up or why are you talking? Again, these are only for my year VII-IX classes, which are filled with kids who’d rather not be there, and show their dissatisfaction by firing spit balls across the room, constantly trying to sneak notes to each other, and doing anything else to draw attention to themselves. But I’d rather not talk about that here, at least not until I find a solid solution (I want to say don’t leave me alone with them, but that seems lame and weak; not a solution but an aversion). But I’d like to bring up a thought I’ve been pondering since about a week ago when a year XII student asked me, “Were you a good student in school?” I’ve discussed it in brief here, but I was not an exemplary student at the Shady Side Academy Senior School. I was an excellent student until I got to about grade seven and my focus shifted to girls, sports, and things that entertained me (The Simpsons, Conan O’Brien, and terrible movies) rather than burdened me (school work).

This kid rode past us on his horse at break-neck speed on the trail up the side of the mountain in Svaneti, which made me and my walking stick feel like giants panzies.

Otkhmotsi – High school was much of the same thing, as I relied on my natural intelligence and did just enough to float by, which at my school put you in the bottom quarter of the class but still got you into a decent college. There were certain teachers and subjects that caught my attention from time to time (Mr. Murphy’s creative writing class was the first time I realized I actually enjoyed writing while I was always enthusiastic about advanced math [a fact that amazes me now]), but to use the common Australian phrase, I couldn’t be fucked with school. Things changed when I got to college and I had much more free time on my hands, did not have athletic obligations every evening, and got to really explore different subjects and departments (Calculus II made me realize I would not be a math major, while Paul Allen’s English 101 class helped me realize what I’d be doing the next four years). But before college, I was definitely more Steve Sanders than Brandon Walsh (90210 reference). 

A view of Mestia from one of the towers in Svaneti. Now you can take touristy photos, but before you could throw rocks at enemey invaders. How quaint...

Otkhmotsdaati – I can blame time restraints, teachers, or outside influences all I want: mainly a single-parent home and a few rather apathetic friends (although all of my remaining friends from high school were excellent students then, and in turn academically accomplished in college and professionally successful now; in fact, I’m at a loss why they’ve stuck with me this long). But I’m now convinced my immaturity was the root of my youthful lethargy. Trying to figure out why I was that way would take a room full of shrinks and not enough time, so I won’t go into it. But I was not a good student in high school.

This was an Abkhaz refugee named Levan who we met on our way back from Mestia. He struck up a conversation as he spoke a little English, then insisted that he buy us all Cokes and Fantas; only in Georgia will a political refugee buy someone else something

Atsi – Which is exactly what I told my student when she asked. But I came up with what I believe to be a pretty accurate theory on how my experience shaped my future endeavors. I told the class that the reason I became a teacher was to try to atone for my previous lassitude. Again, I don’t want to blame my teachers for my scholarly attitude in high school, but I definitely went to a school where the teachers expected the students to come to them, because those are the type of students Shady Side breeds; self-reliant, motivated, future leaders of America. But I wasn’t ready for that. And I’m pretty sure a majority of 15-18 year olds share the same sentiment. So that’s what I’m doing here right now. First I need to find out if I’m cut out for it, and if I am, then I’ll do everything I can to find those students who just need a little push to get going, because I know they’re out there. It takes one to know one, I guess.


  1. Hi Max,

    Thank you for the blog and everything you do for the kids in Georgia! I've been reading through the blogs of some of your colleagues (TLG is it what's it called?) recently and yours really stands out. I admire your attitude and patience. Thank you.

    With my kindest regards,
    Georgian from abroad.

  2. Hey,
    Have just discovered your blog. Welcome to Georgia! Hope you're having a great time here!!

    With my best wishes :)))

  3. It's your 3rd blog I read and I'm happy there are many more that I have to read!

    Keep writing, you definitly have a talant.

    And, thank you very much for everithing you and your coleagues do for my country!!!

  4. max, its friday night here in brooklyn and im spending it laughing uncontrollably at your posts. makes me miss traveling and chucktown. you are a gifted writer.

    also wanted to say that while i was in asia i got a nasty cut/hole in my foot that turned into a festering infection. i took antibiotics and cleaned it thoroughly every day.

    my cambodian coworkers suggested i stop eating beef....their faces were very serious.

    talk soon brother.

  5. Yo, Nick.

    Just wanted to let you know that one of my students is named Nani. And it's a girl.

    Thanks for the kind words...