It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have a bit of a difficulty in dealing with spiders. For reasons I can’t explain, I find them to be the most disgusting and creepy little creatures on this planet. I’d rather swim in a pool of locusts then sit face to face with a big, hairy spider.
Over the past couple years though I’ve come across some scary bugs. I’ve met distant cousins of tarantulas in Nicaragua (thankfully I befriended a Nicaraguan man who ‘spider-scanned’ the shower before I’d venture in there) and I’ve also stumbled upon those crazy, Georgian jumping spiders who always make showering just that bit more eventful.
As the weather is getting warmer, the spiders have really been coming out to say ‘hello’. The other night I saw a huge spider in my room, in fact when I first saw it I mistook it for a crab. Uh yeah, it was that big. I quickly scrambled to get my flip flop to send the crab-spider to meet his other friends in crab-spider heaven (aka my hell) but he got away from me. I stood still for a minute waiting for him to show his face but I believe he was on to me and took cover in my backpack. After I mustered up the courage I shook out my backpack half-hoping slash half-dreading that my new friend would pop on out.
As my paranoia overtook me, I called for Nini to help me find the eight-legged little vagabond playing hide and seek in my room. After five minutes of searching and no signs of the little bugger, Nini decided I would have to sleep in her bed with her because there would be no way I’d be able to sleep with a crab spider roommate.
As we were snuggling and getting ready to sleep, I noticed I had three missed calls and two frantic text messages from Melissa. I called her back and Melissa told me she couldn’t sleep because she found a cockroach in the hallway. I tried to tell her to not be afraid of a little black bug, but of course I realized I was just a pot calling a pan black.
At least Melissa was still in her bedroom; I had to take shelter in my little sister’s bed.
Nini advised Melissa that she should just come on over to our house and the three of us could all just sleep in her bed. Granted, it was 1:30am when Nini advised this- a bit too late to start a twenty minute journey across town to avoid a bug. After I got off the phone with Melissa, Nini asked me what a cockroach was. It took me a second, but the summer before I came to Georgia I completed the Byki Georgian language course (it’s like a free downloadable Rosetta Stone) and remembered that ‘t’arak’ani’ was one of the animals taught in the program.
As soon as I said the word ‘t’arak’ani’ Nini looked at me terrified. All of a sudden she was convinced that a cockroach was somewhere in our room. Until 2 in the morning we were holding hands in bed, convinced our respective scary insect would join us.
The good news is that Nini and I make a good pair. I’m not afraid of cockroaches, and she’s not afraid of spiders. Theoretically, we could be each others’ knights in shining armor.
The same is true for Melissa and me. Like just last week, we were at a friend’s barbeque in Kutaisi when Melissa noticed a cockroach on the wall. Just as I standing on top of the couch ready to clobber the bug, our other friend said, “That’s not a cockroach, it’s a spider.”
Without a word, I climbed down off the couch and Melissa climbed onto it. Upon Melissa’s inspection she noticed it was some type of creepy, flying centipede so she too climbed down and our other friend climbed on top of the couch. Just as he took a whack at the guy, he ended up falling off the couch, landing incredibly awkwardly and hurting himself.
So, how many Americans does it take to kill a mutant centipede-spider-cockroach? Apparently four.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
It’s been a bit of a crazy month. I feel like I celebrated twenty Georgian holidays in the past five weeks (and I was actually in Turkey for two of those weeks!) Throw in like fifteen parties (some birthday and some goodbye); a weekend of being sick in bed and of course, teaching, and that somehow is my excuse for why I haven’t blogged in so long.
To be laconic (I like this word mainly because it rhymes with my last name), it was a wonderful month. It went by both slowly and quickly, was boring yet unforgettable. (And yes I’m aware the past month sounds like a Katy Perry song).
But do not fret ladies and gents- just because I haven’t been blogging on here, does not mean I haven’t been writing meticulous notes so that I can blog all about my adventures well after I’m home in America. After all, it’s not like I have a job set up or anything (eeek) I’ll have plenty of time to post lots and lots of stories (or at least two).
School has actually been extra insane but super hilarious recently. All my co-teachers (except for one) have pretty much thrown in the towel for the rest of the school year and let me do whatever I like with the class. I’ve come up with so many EFL games using a deck of ‘Scrabble Slam’ cards that I almost feel like I should call up Hasbro and ask if they want me to start an initiative for global learning.
While I like to use just the Scrabble Slam cards in class, Taylor recently gave me his Travel Scrabble set when he realized he couldn’t fit in his suitcase to take back to Canada. I thought Scrabble might be something nice for Nona to have in her English tutoring office so I gave her the set right before a lesson we had with the seventh grade.
All the seventh graders looked at the set in awe. They loved the tiny little bag that held all the letters, the shiny, multi-colored game board and they especially loved that the set came with a red pencil. Each student wanted to touch it and run their little fingers over the board.
After a good two minutes of, “Au mas, chven unda it’amashos” (Oh teacher, let’s play), Nona caved and I tried to explain the game as simply as possible. Our seventh grade is split in to two levels (beginner and intermediate) so I simultaneously started to run a game of Scrabble Slam with the beginners, and a game of Scrabble with the intermediates (I’m telling you- I should work for Hasbro).
After figuring out the order of who would go first in Scrabble, Dato- the most eccentric and happy child in the universe- pulled seven letters out of the little letter bag. Now, Dato is a great kid but he’s never been a shining example of someone who studies English and actually does his homework. Thus you can imagine my shock when Dato pulled the letters, N, N, A, A, A, S and B out of the bag, thought for a second, and then put down the word ‘Bananas’ on the board.
Yes that’s right. A child who just started learning English in 2009 managed to get like a 100 letter score on the first word he ever played in Scrabble.
Now, if you’re not a Scrabble player let me explain how exceptional this happens to be. I’ve been playing Scrabble for years (don’t I sound really cool) and I’ve never, ever been able to use all seven of my letters- let alone on a double word score and let alone the first time I ever played Scrabble.
I was so shocked and proud I think I screamed a little. Keep in mind, I was the only person in the classroom who had ever played Scrabble before, so no one saw it absolutely incredible that someone could use all seven of their letters in the first round of the game.
Dato just looked at me after that with the biggest smile on his face and said, “Meeshel, me ‘bananas’ write. Var me kargi bitchi?” (Am I a good boy?)
I only wish I could explain to Dato what a lucky bitchi he is indeed.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
One of my favorite things about couples is hearing the story of how they first met. My own parents’ story is actually my favorite (my mom happened to walk in on my dad doing the most meticulous job cleaning a fish) but, in general, I just love hearing how love stumbled upon people.
In Georgia, I’m now careful not to ask this question. The one and I only time I ever asked it I was told a long and harrowing story about being bride napped.
I have a friend hear in town (we’ll call her Ketino) that I enjoy the company of. We don’t hang out often (she’s always quite busy) but when we do we always end up having a nice long chat over coffee or tea and get to know each other better.
On one particular occasion Ketino was telling me some silly story that involved her husband and that’s when I asked the question, “How did you two meet anyway?”
“Oh, he kidnapped me and I was forced to marry him”.
The casual manner in which Ketino just blurted it out must have alarmed me because I let out a big old, “Are you s***ing me?” (I normally try not to swear in front of Georgians; it makes Americans look a bit classier).
Ketino went into an elaborate explanation of how the whole thing actually happened. Basically, a man approached her one day at a bus station and told her how beautiful she was, begging her to go on a date with him. Ketino refused, and thought nothing of it. The man asked her out again a few days later and one more time Ketino refused. Next, the man figured out where she lived and went to her home to once again plead that she go out with him. After three refusals in one week, Ketino assumed the man had gotten the hint.
Later that week Ketino went out to the market to buy some new shoes for work. As she was walking to a small shop she noticed a car that she thought was her neighbors pull over next to her. Assuming it really was her neighbor, Ketino stopped for a second expecting her neighbor to deliver a message or something. Then ever so quickly, a man stepped out of the passenger door and forced her to get in to the backseat. Ketino noticed that the driver of the car was the same man who she had rejected earlier in the week.
The two men drove her to a small house about thirty minutes outside of Samtredia where three beds were already prepared. Neither man actually touched her; she was not raped or physically assaulted in any way. The man from the bus station fed her fine meals daily, he talked to her, he let her sleep when she wanted to sleep and he told her that they would stay at this house for seven days and at the end of the week they would get married.
Now, you can imagine that I am getting more and more livid as this story progresses. I was trying to suppress it as much as I could, but surely what this man did should be illegal on so many accounts. It’s incredibly strange to hear someone talk about how their rights as a human were taken away from them in such a nonchalant way.
On around day five of her capture, Ketino’s parents were able to find out where she was being kept and came to rescue her. The thing is, Ketino told them to just go home- she would have to marry this man if she were to have any life in Samtredia.
This is where things really got messed up for me. Ketino was now practically forced to marry this man because if she decided not to marry him she would be ostracized as an ‘impure’ or ‘unmarriageable’ woman in town since she spent five days with a strange man. It didn’t matter that nothing actually happened or that the whole thing occurred against Ketino’s will. In her eyes, and what she assumed were the eyes of Samtredia, if she did not marry this man no one would ever marry her. It’s for this same reason Ketino could not tell the police, this would make it town-wide knowledge that she was alone with a man for a week.
So, on day seven the two got married. The wedding photos are difficult for me to look at. Ketino was so stressed during the entire bride napping that she ended up losing about 3 kilos (7 pounds) in a week. She’s insanely thin and weak looking in each photo. The photo of their first kiss looks like a snapshot taken of two high school kids rehearsing a kiss in a play. There’s no romance; it just looks forced.
Ketino’s husband is the same man that offers to drive me home from school when it rains, the same man who offers me cake when I walk by his office- he’s the same man who bride napped one of my good friends. It’s hard for me to look at him in any other way but a negative one whenever I see him.
I hate him for what he did. He saw something he liked and he took it. He did not for one instant think about anyone but himself. It’s disgusting if you ask me. Granted, I know, this is not my culture and I should be accepting and tolerant of alternate ways to court people, but this just seems out of line- a complete violation of human rights.
I asked Ketino if she loves her husband and she hesitated for a second before she said, “Mmm, sometimes. He gave me my children”.
The whole thing is just so sad. It reminds me of an article I read this summer about an eight-year-old Liberian girl who got gang raped and then disowned by her parents for 'shaming their family'. Both stories just resonate events where people are ostracized (or fear being ostracized) for an event they had no control over.
Fortunately, times have changed in Samtredia and events like this are few and far between. Regardless, gender roles are incredibly defined and men continue to have a dominantly 'nobler' status then women. I don't like the inequality but it has given me a greater appreciation for the equality between men and women in the United States. I love Georgia but a bit more equalism couldn't hurt.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
|Eka, Melissa's parents and all of us Samtredia gals!|
A first visit to Georgia wouldn’t be complete without some projectile vomiting off the balcony, now would it? Melissa’s parents were in Georgia for the past week and they certainly got their fair share of exposure to Georgian culture.
The first few days they were here were full of catching up, Georgian restaurants, sightseeing, a hotel that actually had real toilet paper, Oreos with peanut butter, and lots of hugs for Melissa. It was when the Gold’s actually got to Samtredia that the whole trip started to get especially interesting.
Nana, Melissa’s host mom, celebrated her fiftieth birthday on Tuesday and the Gold’s were fortunate enough to be able to participate in a huge Georgian supra. Plus, due to the fact that I serve as a pro-bono Russian translator in my free-time (seriously, I’m ready to translate the Q&A for all the Russian-speaking chicks at the Miss Universe pageant) I got an invite too!
I’ve been to my fair share of supras, but this one was unlike any I’ve ever been to. The Bokelavadze’s set up a huge dining room table in their darbazi (living room) that must have had table settings for at least thirty people. Delicious little salads, fresh breads and cakes, even an entire piglet (complete with teeth) was sprawled out on the table.
I actually really love it when Georgians hold supras inside their home as opposed of going to a restaurant. I like the whole process of watching a place transform from a cozy little home into an event hall for thirty. The Bokelavadze’s house was truly transformed; they even made space for a dance floor!
It was really sweet watching Mr. and Mrs. Gold interact with Melissa’s host family. Despite the evident language barrier, everyone seemed to really show love and appreciation for each other. It was especially touching for me to watch Mr. Gold hug Koka, Melissa’s host dad. You could really see the whole family was bonding.
After a few hours where Mr. and Mrs. Gold were allowed to do nothing but sit on the couch (they were the guests after all) and I helped cut up a full scale pig with pliers (never thought I’d be able to say that-and shalom Rabs if you’re reading) the whole family sat down to enjoy the supra meal.
The first few minutes were a bit awkward as no one knew exactly how to act around an American family but after a few glasses of wine everyone seemed to get along swimmingly. Mr. Gold especially.
Somehow Mr. Gold ending up being the right-hand man of Dato, the tamada (host leader). I don’t think there was a single toast that Mr. Gold didn’t drink to. Needless to say, he became drunk as a skunk within a matter of hours.
Granted, his interpretation of Georgian dancing was hilarious to watch (I have a video that has YouTube written all over it) and his affectionate canoodling with Dato and Koka was endearing, but lord almighty was he drunk. He asked me to translate various toasts for him that I colorfully edited to be less dramatic and more lighthearted (much to Mrs. Gold’s delight).
The pinnacle of the whole evening however was when Mr. Gold nonchalantly told me he’d very much like to throw up and asked if I could open up the back door for him. I fumbled with the key for a minute but as soon as that door opened up Mr. Gold ran over to the balcony and reintroduced all the wine and meat he’d been eating to the drive-way. (It’s a real good thing it rained during the night…) Mrs. Gold even took the liberty of putting a puke bucket by Mr. Gold’s bedside. Mr. Gold did in fact he use the puke bucket, but he also mistakenly spilled all of its contents onto Koko’s bedroom floor. Party fowl?
The whole evening prompted a very important lesson: even if you were in a fraternity in college that does not mean you are ready to drink with the big-wigs in Georgia.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
One of the perks of being a TLGer is getting a free phone from the government. Sure, the phones are old school Nokia blocks (you know- those phones that don’t really have any special features but retain an incredible battery life of five days) but they’re free.
I got bored with my phone last week so I used a set of permanent markers to color all over the keys. Nini fell head over heels in love with my rainbow phone and asked if we could trade. With pleasure I traded my simple Nokia for Nini’s 4G Samsung with a camera, MP3 player and various other functions.
Having the phone was one thing; using it was another story. Even after three days I still couldn’t figure out how to answer a phone call without first hanging up on people twice in a row. Plus, responding to text messages was such a hassle that I basically just stopped talking to people in mid conversation.
The funny thing was that Nini had no problem with my phone. I thought I might have to show her how to turn off T9 word or set an alarm, but no sir. In fact, Nini practically showed me how to use my own phone.
As Nini played with my phone and deleted the Georgian-Ebonics (seriously it might be a new language) text messages from her boyfriend on her own phone, I became amazed at how quickly she could navigate a cell phone in a foreign language. I never realized how important ‘English cell phone’ jargon is to teenagers until I watched Nini plunder through her Samsung and add locks to this, and change the ring tone to that.
All of the cell phones in Georgia are programmed in either Russian or English, so basically in order to operate a cell phone here every person needs to know a bit of a foreign language. Take texting for example: if your phone only comes in English you need to text in Georgian using English letters (or is it more correct to say Latin letters?).
I have a Georgian friend in Tbilisi who doesn’t speak any English and he always sends me these long text messages that are written in Russian using English letters. The only way I can understand what he writes to me is if I read aloud his text messages. Not only does this ensure that I look crazy on the marshutka, but it also takes me twelve years to reply. I can’t imagine having to text like this every time I might want to tell something funny to a friend, yet this is what everyone in Georgia is just used to doing.
Sometimes it feels like every object in my host family's house is in a different language. The washing machine is in Russian (I’m still in awe every time I open the machine door and realize I washed my clothes on the correct setting), the gas lamp knobs in the kitchen are in Farsi (an import from Iran) and the vacuum (or should I say vakuum) is an import from the Deutschland.
It’s a little crazy when you think about, but every other item in the house seems to be from another part of the world. Eka is always very curious and very aware of where all her products come from. She knows which country every plate she has is from (mostly China and the Czech Republic) and the exact city where her dining room table and cupboards were crafted.
I love the amount of pride my family takes in all their multinational goods. Both before I left for Israel and before I left for Armenia, they checked the almanac to see what the countries’ main exports were. So far I’ve always been able to bring back at least one of the exports mentioned in the almanac and those are always the gifts my family seems to be most curious about. In the United States I feel like most people don’t really care where their goods come from; usually whatever is cheapest at the store will do.
It amazes me that while I can barely use a cell phone in my native tongue or fix internet ‘connectivity’ issues on the computer, my fourteen year old sister who doesn’t even know what ‘connectivity’ means has no problem clicking around on the desktop and solving the issue all the while texting in Georgian using an English alphabet.
Monday, March 14, 2011
|Brennen looking at one of the Genocide memorials|
I feel incredibly ignorant saying I didn’t know very many details about the 1915 Armenian Genocide before coming to Yerevan but unfortunately, this is the truth.
In all my years of schooling I don’t ever remember the genocide being brought up. Through all my time researching the Holocaust, I never remember reflecting upon the Armenian genocide. Even while protests over the genocide in Darfur frequented my college campus, I can’t recall ever hearing about the Armenian genocide.
Sure, I suppose it’s possible I read something and simply didn’t process it but it shocked me to my core that this utterly horrible, callous event occurred in history- an event that resulted in the death of 1.7 million Armenians- and practically everything I knew about this genocide was written in a one paragraph blurb in the ‘Lonely Planet Guide to Armenia’.
I cried a lot that day at the museum. I cried because 1.7 million people were killed for having a religion that others weren’t comfortable with. I cried because 1.7 million people were killed for being themselves. I cried for my own ignorance. I cried for the world’s ignorance. I cried because genocides are happening right now, in several countries, and I feel like there is nothing I can do to help.
I cried and I cried. From 11am to about 7pm I was pretty much just crying.
The Holocaust inflicted upon the Jews and all the others who did not fit the mold of Hitler’s “Perfect Race” is a well-known event in world history. There is significant proof it occurred, from photographs and videos to a plethora of still-standing concentration camps that can be visited to this day.
The same cannot be said about the Armenian genocide. “Proof” that it occurred is not as accessible. There are no concentration camps to look at, few photos that lay any blame. There is evidence in the photos of dead starved children rotting on the streets, and in the written accounts of the brutal, sadistic acts inflicted upon the Armenians but somehow this is not enough.
Even now, the genocide is denied by thousands. Forty matching written accounts that say that cattle cars full of women and children were driven into a lake to drown Armenians is apparently not “enough proof”.
Many non-believers attribute the genocide to a simple casualty of war. A war occurred, people died.
Reading about views like this really messed with my head. My entire family was killed as a result of the Holocaust. My grandparents on both sides of my family were basically the sole survivors of their families. The combination of me barely knowing a single fact about the Armenian genocide prior to walking into the museum and the similarities between the Armenian Genocide and that of the Holocaust put something like a real hole into my soul.
The best thing I can think to do is to inform others who similarly feel like they know barely information about the Armenian genocide. There are four people I read about at the museum that I don’t think enough people in the world know anything about. I encourage you to read about these four amazing souls if even for a moment to just say their names out loud and acknowledge them.
- Maria Jacobsen, a Danish Missionary, who kept a detailed accord of the events of the genocide and saved hundreds of Armenian children from extermination
- Armin Theopil Wegner, a human rights activist who took photos (proof) of the horror occurring during the genocide
- Ruben Heryan, responsible for saving hundreds of Armenian orphans while risking his own life