Sunday, October 31, 2010

Question and Answer Session I

One of my blog readers posed a few questions for me regarding my experience here. I actually loved answering these questions (it’s fun to know people are reading my blog and itching for more information about me) and welcome any more from my curious readers. (Just keep in mind I barely have internet so it might take a while to respond to each one).

1)What would you change immediately in the country, in the host family, your students, your teachers; what drives you most crazy?

What drives me the craziest about my students and other teachers is the lack of respect that many of them seem to have. A great number of my students talk all the time, even when me or some of their peers are talking. I find this very rude, but I’ve witnessed that not only do my students this, but their parents do it too.

I went to a play put on by the sixth grade (in honor of the Georgian poet Akaki Tsereteli) and many of the students' parents were in the audience but they talked the entire time. I was kind of in shock. If you won’t stop talking to hear your own children recite their lines in a school play- when will you stop talking? It’s hard to teach children respect when their own parents don’t know what it is.

I also wish that many of my teachers could find a better way to discipline their students for not doing their homework or disrupting the class. None of the students ever get penalized for not doing their homework so there is less of an incentive to do it. What ends up happening is that only a handful of students ever do their homework and it’s challenging to move on to other lessons because students don’t fully understand the past material. So essentially, I wish my students were more self-motivated to learn on their own and that teachers could produce a better incentive to do homework.

Most of my teachers just yell at the students or call them “lazy”, which I think does more harm than good. In America, discipline revolves around positive reinforcement, but this ideology seems foreign in Georgia. I personally hate yelling, and I come off as “a soft teacher” in class for trying to discipline students otherwise.

2) What were the most important things you did not take with you to Georgia that you found out you can’t live without?

Thankfully, I can’t really think of anything that I did not take with me that I desperately need. Most of the items that I did not bring with me I was able to find here. For example, I didn’t realize that once it starts raining in Georgia- it doesn’t stop. The streets end up flooding and the town starts singing a chorus of raindrops with solos of frogs croaking. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that buying a pair of rain boots at the bazaar drastically changed my life.

The best things I brought with me that I didn’t think I’d need were a headlamp and a fancy dress. I use my headlamp practically daily and I’m surprised at how dressed up Georgians get for certain occasions.

The one thing I wish I could have here is a projector for the classroom. I like to do PowerPoint presentations for my students on various topics, but because there is no projector, students have to crowd around my laptop to see anything.

3)What would you advice to people who will be coming on future TLG programs in order to be successful?

I think the main thing that future TLG participants need to have in order to be successful is a strong sense of flexibility, open-mindedness, adventure, creativity but above all, a positive mindset.

It’s impossible to be successful here if you’re not flexible. Expecting anything and being open to ambiguity is a key trait that a participant needs to have. Plans often change and comforts from home may be few and far in between, but a flexible mindset will easily adapt to these absences.

Open-mindedness and adventure are simply necessary traits for any person traveling to a new country. Without open-mindedness it will be hard to meet and accept new people and no sense of adventure speaks for itself. Why would you come to a foreign country and not want to explore every inch of it?

Creativity and a positive mindset are mostly skills that are necessary for the classroom and one’s overall general health. Classroom resources are minimal and the language barrier is challenging- so finding creative ways to teach students and communicate with members of the community will change your entire experience.

Above all though, it’s important to be positive. It’s easy to find the challenge and frustration within any situation but looking at things positively will help a participant find meaning in their work here. Like, if the glass isn’t half full, drop a slice of lemon in it and it’ll at least be a bit closer to halfway.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Blue Gum: Life's Motivator

Some of the most ordinary, simple things for me astound my students. For example, my kids are obsessed with the fact that my chewing gum is blue. When I was in America I can honestly say I never paid attention to the color of chewing gum. All the kevi (chewing gum) here is white though so chewing anything different is apparently really fascinating.

When my students first tried to ask me about my gum by pointing to their mouths and clanking their teeth together, I thought they were implying I had some grotesque amount of food stuck in my teeth.

“No, no! You eat kevi lurgi! Sad aris?” one child clarified. (What she was trying to say: where did you find blue gum?) I explained to them that I brought my gum from America and that is why it’s blue; in America we have gum in all sorts of colors.

Forget freedom, liberalism, and acceptance- my kids like America because food there comes in weird colors. They didn’t even believe me when I told them that we used to have blue ketchup once upon a time. (I should definitely not have told them that; the students still ask me if I can teach them how to grow blue tomatoes…)

I know it would make their day if I brought in a piece of blue gum for each of them but if I give each of the seventh graders a piece, then I’d have to give all of the eighth graders some and the cycle would never end. If you give a mouse a cookie, you’ll somehow end up having to give the school director a car.

I told my curious students that if they study English very hard, one day they will be able to go to America and buy blue gum. Kevi Amerikidan (gum from America) is the latest class motivator.

If President Mishiko (me and Saakashvili are on a nickname basis) promised blue gum to all the top English students in Georgia I’m fairly sure there would be a huge spike in studying.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Georgian Wedding: If you can see the table, there is not enough food

Ia and Nika, the bride and groom
You cannot say you’ve fully experienced Georgian culture until you’ve been to a Georgian wedding. This past weekend I went to a Georgian wedding. I have fully experienced Georgian culture.

Friday afternoon we packed up my host uncle Kote’s car and set off for Gldani. And when I say packed up I mean that in its complete entirety. Kote, Kote’s wife Christy, Kote’s daughter Aniko, Nini, Nona (my other aunt), Giorgi (Nona’s son), Achie (Nona’s baby) and I, all packed into Kote’s small car. (The trunk was so full with bags; we practically had to sit on top of the trunk to make sure it closed). Needless to say the three-and-a-half hour ride was a bit uncomfortable but we made it to Gldani without killing each other.

Gldani is a small town just between Mtskheta and Tbilisi. My host bebia and babua (grandma and grandpa) live there in a cute house with many cows, chickens, all sorts of fruit trees and an outhouse that has seen better days. That weekend we happened to have no running water or electricity so it was a bit of fun to live the ‘rustic village life’ (though I am so thankful that I can wash my hands in Samtredia whenever I want).

As there was no running water or electricity, getting ready for the wedding in the morning was kind of hilarious. On top of that, the window shutters were rusted shut so there was no natural sunlight in the house so all us girls had to do our makeup by candlelight. I was concerned I’d end up looking like Mimi from the ‘Drew Carey Show’ but everyone assured me that I looked ‘dzalian lamazia’ (very beautiful). The gods must have sensed Nini’s distress because for just 25 minutes the electricity came back on which was long enough for Nini to do her hair.

Thus with a happy, beautiful-haired Nini we all set off for our wedding expedition. I’m calling it an expedition because there were so many stops along the way that simply calling it a ‘wedding day’ does not do the day justice.

For your reading convenience, I will break down the day into the various wedding pit stops.

Stop One: The Bride’s House

In Georgian tradition, before going to the church, all the close friends and family of the bride gather at her home and see her unveiling. The bride happened to be Nini’s cousin, Ia, and she wore a super elaborate dress with enough sequins to make ballet costumes for an entire dance school. As soon as she burst through the door everyone began clicking away at their cameras. Not too long after that the groom appeared and even more cameras started clicking away. A few bottles of champagne were popped, some shots of ‘cha cha’ were taken, and then off everyone went to go to stop number two.
The smiling bride about to make her grand entrance!

Stop Two: The Church

The cute little church that the ceremony took place in was just a quick drive from the bride’s home. Again, only the close friends and family of the bride and groom attended the ceremony so the setting was especially intimate. Everyone stood around the happy couple as the priest read off some prayers and coronated the bride and groom with special wedding crowns. After drinking some wine out of a bowl, taking a few laps around the church and kissing a few icons of Jesus and Mary, the couple was officially married. A queue was formed and people waited to kiss the bride and groom and give them their congratulations. The whole shebang took about twenty-five minutes and then we were off once again.
Saying a little prayer during the church ceremony. To the left and right of the bride and groom are the best man and the maid of honor.

Stop Three: The Wedding House

Okay, so here’s the deal. I love Georgian culture, I think all the ceremonial stuff is absolutely beautiful but I cannot understand how going to a Wedding House to officially sign a marriage certificate has manifested its way into Georgian wedding culture. I mean, the church service was beautiful but everything about the Wedding House screamed tackiness!

For one thing, this business establishment is actually called a ‘Wedding House’. I felt like we were going to a Vegas wedding chapel or something. I am still surprised a man dressed up like Elvis (or maybe Chavchavadze) did not greet us at the door. Inside the Wedding House, were two other wedding parties waiting to sign their own marriage certificates. I mean, come on, this day is supposed to make a girl feel like a queen, and yet she has to wait behind two other wedding parties? It was kind of like waiting at the doctor’s office but more awkward because around you people have wedding dresses on.

Once we finally got called in to our room, the DJ played the totally tacky “Here Comes the Bride” song which he accidentally cut short midway through the song. Wonderful. As cheesy 80s love songs began to be played and the bride and groom danced, I could only dream about tearing down all the paper cut out hearts off the wall and turning the entire building into a shelter for abused women and children. (But hey, that might have just been me). After the exchanging of rings and a quick glass of champagne, the marriage certificate was brought out to be signed. A standard, BIC ballpoint pen was the pen of choice for the Wedding House. This entire business establishment makes their money off couples coming here to sign their marriage certificates, and they use BIC pens? At least give the poor couple, a nice smooth writing pen for goodness sake! (Someone could make good money by opening up a non-cheesy, wedding house).

Finally we were out of there but before I could hop in the car, a stranger on the street bought me a red rose. I thanked him but told him I spoke no Georgian. His response was, “Okay, I love you. Goodbye”. Just like that our love affair was over…
Signing the marriage license. (Notice the classy BIC pen and the flower petals).

Stop Four: Mtskheta

I’ll spare you all the details, but we all then drove to Mtskheta intending to do a photo tour of the bride and groom at all the main churches. It started to rain while we were at the church that Saint Gabriel is buried at so we left Mtskheta almost as soon as we got there.

As I was wearing three inch heels, I was quite thankful I wouldn’t have go urban hiking all over town. Mother Nature totally had my back on Saturday.
Nini and I ready for a Georgian wedding party!

Stop Five: Reception (aka Jenga with dishes of food)

The actual wedding reception was everything you’d expect it to be except with more food. If you close your eyes and picture a table filled with food, and then quadruple the amount of food on the table, that is what a Georgian wedding reception table looks like. Plates are stacked on top of plates, which are stacked on top of other plates which are stacked on top of more plates. You can’t even see what’s on the table because there is so much on the table. Eating was a lot like playing Jenga. You’d carefully slide out a dish hoping the other dishes wouldn’t come toppling over.

I strategically sat next to the bucket of caviar and the cucumber roses so I was a very happy camper. (Is there anything more delicious than fresh caviar with cucumbers?) All of us drank wine, ate delicious food, listened to speeches and greeted family and friends. And then came the dancing.

Here’s my thing with dancing. I like to dance, I enjoy dancing, but I don’t think it’s necessary that I dance with every man who asks me to dance. While I was sitting at the table, a man who creeped me out for whatever reason asked me to dance. I politely said no and he walked away. A half second later a woman who happened to be sitting at my table, told me that that boy was her son and that he is a very good boy.

A bit taken aback, I wanted to show this woman that I didn’t say no to him because he was her son, I just didn’t want to dance with him. I decided that if another man asked me to dance I would also turn him down so the woman would see that I simply did not want to dance, and that it had nothing to do with her son. About twenty minutes later, another man asked me to dance and according to the plan I also turned him down, politely so. The woman looked at me and said, “That man is also my son. My older son”.

“Oy vey,” was all I could muster in response. Guess I won’t be marrying into that family anytime soon.

The rest of the night went as you can imagine. Men got drunk and danced on tables, women kept falling on the dance floor because they tried to do Georgian dances in four inch heels. You know, expected wedding behavior. Our cab ride home to Gldani was especially fun because babua serenaded the car with Georgian hymns. (Babua had a little too much vodka at the reception).

Believe it or not, the wedding party actually continued the next day at another restaurant. Many of the party guests gathered at a smaller restaurant to eat all the leftovers from the wedding. It sounds kind of gross, but there were so many leftovers, that even after eating on Sunday, it still looked like none of the food from the wedding had been touched. Finally, after some tunes were played on the accordion and the strings on a balalaika broke, the wedding excursion came to a close.

Forget the fat lady singing, it ain’t over until the balalaika breaks.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Down with textbooks! Up with games!

My adorable school!

I’ve been teaching for about six weeks now and have started to feel like I’m actually connecting with most of my students. It’s been interesting to figure out how each student seems to learn in the best way. My rowdy, too-cool-for-school eighth graders could be mistaken for textbook nerds if we happen to play a competitive game in class. (It’s even funny how much more fun learning seems to become to kids if you attach abstract points to a lesson). I made a lesson today that was loosely based off Jeopardy and the kids were so into it, you’d have thought they were actually playing for money.

I’m a big fan of kinesthetic learning (learning out of your seat) but most of my classes are too rowdy or too big for many of the games I’d like to do. I do however happen to have just nine sixth graders so I'm able to do some really fun activities that involve running around the room. The kids’ mouths dropped when I first told them I actually wanted them to run around as part of the lesson, but so far they seem to learn best when they’re having fun and laughing.

I don’t think school needs to be as serious as it is. After all, I didn’t fly all the way to Georgia to read students English out of their textbooks. I want to have fun just as much as my students do!

Most of my seventh graders have a very, very poor comprehension of English and their textbook is just way too advanced for them. They absolutely adore learning through songs though and constantly run up to me in the hall and sing me a song we learned in class. It’s very cute. While they aren’t very good at English, it’s obvious they’re clever kids. They refer to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” as the “Wash ‘n Go” song. ‘Head and Shoulders’ is a popular shampoo here in Georgia and it says, “Wash ‘n Go” on the bottle. Okay, now how clever is that?

Sometimes us four Samtredia girls even get together to try to come up with new songs and games that we can teach our students. (Tara has used the ‘Happy Days’ theme song to teach the days of the week and I thought that was pretty darn adorable). Almost all the textbooks between us Samtredia girls are identical so it’s been helpful to swap stories of activities that bombed and those that were wildly successful.

I subconsciously think that all the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties and leadership councils I went to throughout middle school and high school have helped me to come up with many of my educational activities. Who knew a variation of the beloved Bar Mitzvah game ‘Coke and Pepsi’ could actually be educational! (Though I'm still trying to figure out how to bring Cotton Eye Joe to the classroom).

It never really gets old to walk into a classroom and see students perk up with delight. One of my boyfriends (remember I have twelve) is eleven-year-old Giorgi who always has a huge smile on his little face whenever I help teach his lesson. (He sometimes even slips me pictures he drew when he hands in his homework).

A mural in the hallway of European (maybe even Georgian) fairy-tales.
I have also started two extracurricular activities that have been going great so far. I have an English discussion club for advanced tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders who want to practice conversational English. At our last meeting two girls even argued (strictly in English) over who was better: Edward or Jacob. Yes, that’s right- the Twilight characters.

My other extracurricular activity is teaching the teachers English. Twice a week, about eleven teachers from my school gather to learn some letters, phrases, vocabulary and basic grammar. I'm teaching English in Russian to Georgian speakers so at times it gets a little messy, but somehow it works. It’s very sweet how excited the teachers get when they can read certain sentences and converse in basic English. My school director is even in the class (and is a wonderful pupil).

While most days are quite fulfilling, there are days that seem more frustrating than anything. I didn’t come to a developing country to teach English expecting it to be piece of cake though. While there are many things I wish were different at school (but that’s an entirely different post) all the kids are just great and make my time here worthwhile. I have loved getting to know my students; even those that marginally weird me out. (I have one boy that plays the Titanic theme song whenever I walk into the room who wrote about how much he loved me in his essay on pollution. Another one of my boys proudly told me how he killed his neighbor’s cat).

Cat killers and stalkers included, I think it’s going to be a great school year. (Oh, and I absolutely told my little cat killer Zico that he should never kill cats for fun).
The ironic thing is I actually can't wear jeans to school.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taxi drivers = instant friends

Mtskheta before the sun rise
 Last Thursday was Saint Nino’s day, which to me meant no school and a four day weekend! Thus, us Samtredia girls decided to make the most out of our weekend by taking the night train into Tbilisi en route to Eastern Georgia.

Buying the tickets was actually quite similar to an Abbott and Costello style “Who’s on First” comedy routine.

Me: “I need tickets for tonight at 12:30”
Booth lady: “12:30 is tomorrow”
Me: “Right, but I need them for tonight”
Booth lady: “Tonight meaning 8pm?”
Me: “No, tonight at 12:30”
Booth lady: “Tomorrow?”
Me: “Uh, technically, yes”
Booth lady: “You want to arrive in the morning or at night?”
Me: “Well, it will be morning, but it will be dark outside”

Finally, after ten minutes of this (except in Russian, so there were scores of grammatical errors) we both established which train I was trying to buy tickets for. However, I forgot my passport at home so I had to go home and relive this conversation twice. Started the weekend off with a bang!

The night train actually ended up being quite comfortable, especially for the mere ten laris (six dollars) we paid. I slept the whole way (though I can sleep anywhere so that’s not really saying much) and was woken up just as we arrived at our destination of Mtskheta (at 6am)!

Ready for sleep on the night train!
Mtskheta is a small, historical town not too far from Tbilisi and on Thursday it was celebrating its 1,000th birthday. This sounded like a party we couldn’t pass up! So after settling into a home-stay and drinking some hot Turkish coffee to fight off the morning chills, we set off for the day’s celebrations.

6am Georgian love for Stew's!

We got to see the sun rise over the Javari Church!
There were hundreds and hundreds of people visiting the famous churches and monasteries of Mtskheta. The Patriarch himself was there (he’s like the Pope of Georgia) and the four of us actually got to see him! Everywhere around us, people were selling candles and churchela (Georgian fruit roll up with walnuts) and would you believe it: yo-yos.
Us Samtredia girls at one of Mtskheta's most famous churches!

There were so many people celebrating Saint Nino's day! The Patriarch is just inside the church.

Enjoying some churchela!

Look at all the Georgian pride in this photo!

Lots of festivities were going on in town. There was a wonderful international dance show, plenty of face painting and there were many hand-made crafts for sale. Not to mention food. (Though really when is there not food). In the late afternoon there was an even concert headlined by famous Georgian singers.
Wonderful Georgian dancers!

Can't mess with Georgian men!

Adorable Azerbaijani dancers! I need one of those hats!
I made a complete fool of myself when I recognized one of the bands. In the middle of the crowd, I screamed out, “OH! IT’S GULI GULI!” (heart heart) after recognizing a song Nini showed me. People in the crowd literally turned around to get a good look at the crazy American screaming. (Thankfully, the concert took place in front of shallow pool, where two men were so drunk they decided to go swimming. That took much of the attention off me).

This drunk man wading in the water was more entertaining than the boy band on stage.
We found some new TLG participants! (Melissa literally walked up to that boy Shawn and asked, "Hi, are you with TLG?")
After a yummy dinner, we ended our night watching the Georgian symphony perform for a crowd of thousands as fireworks lit up the sky. But let me clarify: in America, fireworks are little flowers in the sky, launched off from far away. But in Georgia, the fireworks are set off from the stage. These fireworks engulfed the entire sky, so big and so bright, I could have used sunglasses (and a fire proof suit, just in case). One man saw me quivering as the fireworks exploded and said, “Georgia is full of warriors! Even our fireworks!”

The Georgian symphony!
What I really loved was bumping into some symphony musicians at the local convenience store taking shots of vodka and eating chocolate. All of them in full symphony garb, with their instruments in tow. (Only in Georgia).

After a restful sleep, the four us saw the wonderful Javari church and ate a traditional Mtskhetian meal of lobios (beans) with mchadi and chinkali. We actually ended up getting to Tbilisi by hitchhiking with a woman who picked us up because we “looked like helpless Americans” who actually used to work at a T.J. Maxx department store in Atlanta, Georgia. Small world.
That's me walking up to Javari. Clearly it was a very foggy day.

This is supposed to be a beautiful view of Mtskheta, but instead it's just a background of clouds.
Once in the city, we switched into a cab and intended to find the bus station with marshutkas to Telavi, but we actually ended up touring every single major bus station in Tbilisi (and I mean every single one). After a hilariously frustrating one hour cab ride we finally found the correct station! No one was more excited than our cab driver, who practically felt like an old friend we were with him so long.

Our marshutka ride to Telavi was made complete with a crazy, drunken man who would not stop singing for thirty minutes and a driver who could not find his glasses. Not to mention, the mini-bus was full of heavy construction equipment. In every nook and cranny that could fit an eight foot metal pole of some sort, there would be one. The entire ride felt a bit like a ‘Final Destination’ film. No matter, somehow we made it in one piece to Telavi!
We added a V to the sign ;)

Our time in Telavi was really made special by our home-stay mom who fed us delicious homemade jam and crumpets and asked us to move in to her home. You know, the usual. We spent the night catching up with other TLG participants at a nearby home-stay and woke up excited to head off to Signaghi, the city of love!

Our home-stay mom called us a taxi and off we went. Our taxi driver, whose name was Mamuka, ended up being the most awesome taxi driver ever. He took us all over Signaghi, showing us every noteworthy church and watchtower there was to see, and telling me all about the history of the town.

That's me sitting inside one of the watchtowers at Signaghi!

So hideous, right?

Rocking Svan hats!

Cheesin' with our Signaghi hats! (Don't worry, we didn't actually buy these).

Had to share this gem with the world!
We asked a man if we could crawl into his truck for a photo. He gladly agreed!
The second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China is in Signaghi and it was so cool to see this. It practically felt like we were in China, looking at the Great Wall itself!

I love the one yellow tree in this photo!

We also went to a nearby monastery to see Saint Nino’s grave and attempt to bathe in holy water. While we did see Nino’s grave, the trek down to the holy water turned into a mere forty-five minute hike in the mud. The holy bathe turned out to be fully booked for the day. (It seems easier to get a table at Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse than to wade in the holy bathhouse). And so, dirty and trembling, we hiked right back up to the top of the mountain we came down from before practically collapsing in a nun’s lap. I jokingly asked Mamuka if he would like to do the whole trek again and he could not have answered the Russian equivalent of, “absolutely not” any faster.
At Saint Nino's grave in Bodbe

Our shoes after our hike in the mud. God bless my hiking boots.

All the girls fell asleep as we drove back to Telavi, while Mamuka and I chatted about politics and religion. He asked me if I’d like to come to his home and pick grapes and it seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse. So off we went, detouring to Mamuka’s house where I picked fifteen kilos worth of grapes. Think of all the potential pelamushi (grape and honey porridge)!
Mamuka and I at his orchard!
Showing off the tastiest grapes ever!

After spending the entire day with Mamuka (10am to 10pm) it was hard to say goodbye. Mamuka’s second child on the way though, and while we promised to come and see him when his baby is born, he promised to cook us a big meal of kosher shashliki (marinated beef).

Our long trip back to Samtredia seemed short as we all shared our favorite parts of the weekend and discussed what other places we want to travel to in Georgia. I can’t wait to see more of this country and am so glad I’ll have another nine months to explore it!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mind the wolves

Some berries in the rain
 I know Melissa is a true friend because when I asked her to wake up at 6am while it was pouring rain outside in order to hike up a mountain to go to a church service, she agreed. And that is exactly what we did yesterday!

While the sky was dark, and lightning lit up the sky, Melissa, Eka (my deda) and I set off into town to catch a 6:40am marshutka (mini-bus). This marshutka ride was unlike any I’ve had so far because almost everyone on the bus was a vendor of some sorts, carrying kilo upon kilo of tomatoes, parsley, eggplant and other vegetables to sell at some bazaar outside town. There was actually a wagon attached to the bus where everyone placed their produce, which gave the bus a lovely smell of fresh vegetables. Melissa was also kind enough not to tell me that there was a spider in the hair of the woman sitting in front of us. She is a good friend, I probably would have screamed if I noticed which would have caused our driver to swerve the bus, spilling all the tomatoes.

After about a half hour, the three of us and Irakli, one of my deda’s dental patients, and a sweet, deaf man from Samtredia got off the bus at what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and began to hike up a mountain. I had misunderstood when my deda said the church was a far walk, and forgot to tell Melissa not to where heels. Yes, that’s right; she hiked up a mountain in the pouring rain, wearing heels.
The rain stopped for a bit and we could take a photo. (We climbed all the way to the top of this mountain).

While the walk was beautiful, Irakli, Eka and the nice, deaf man kept warning us about the wolves. I thought they were joking, but they repeatedly told us that when we hear the wolves howl, we should stand still and let the wolves smell us. Irakli often assists the Mamou (the Georgian Orthodox priest, I think) at the monastery we were going to, and he told me that there are almost wolves on the path. I was worried that the deaf man would not know to stop walking when the wolves howled, so I made sure to stand near him to prevent him from being eaten.
The only two living things we passed on our walk up (not counting a snail).

While I was really excited to see some wild wolves, Melissa was not. I almost lost circulation in my hand because she was griping it so hard, anticipating wolves to pop out at any second. Alas, instead of wolves, the only thing that bothered us while we were walking was the rain…

Finally, after about an hour we made it to the monastery! I absolutely cannot remember what it was called, something starting with an S or a J, but it was quite beautiful. Before the service started, we walked around and explored and Irakli told me all about the history of the place.
The church we went to on top of the mountain!
 There was one awkward moment when one of the nuns tried to convince Melissa and me that we should convert to Christianity. She really did not like it when I said that while Christianity is beautiful, we were happy being Jewish. She was trying to prove to me that Christianity is better which made both Melissa and I uncomfortable. The concept of “to each his own” did not seem to translate over well. I don’t like it when people make a fuss about religion. So, you like oranges and I like apples; at the end of the day it’s all fruit.
Don't we look like nice Georgian Orthodox girls?

Any ways, the service was pretty but also uncomfortable. Irakli told me not to touch anything or make any hand motions because I wasn’t Christian, so I wasn’t really sure if I should stand when everybody stood or bow when everyone bowed. I wanted to be respectful but not sacrilegious. There were a few moments when the Mamou blessed everyone for being a good Christian and I did feel like the elephant in the room. Something that I really liked about the service was that all the nuns formed a little chorus and there was beautiful harmonizing throughout the entire service.

Melissa and I decided to leave before everyone was given the communion to eat to avoid further, ‘oh-sorry- we-can’t-eat-that-we’re-Jewish’ awkwardness but we left a little early and ended up huddling like arctic penguins in the rain for twenty minutes. We were really cold, but too worried it would be disrespectful to reenter the service so we wandered around the monastery looking for a little shelter. We came across this beautiful but tiny little house with pretty frescoes within it and took shelter there.
The small room we took shelter in

I’m almost certain we were trespassing into a very holy room that we should not have been in, but we agreed that had we not gone in there it’s possible we’d have to have our feet cut off because of frost bite (and surely then the wolves would want some toe snacks).

Meow, I am a wet cat
Once the service ended, we regrouped with Eka and Irakli and chatted with the Mamou. He really liked Melissa and said that if she converted, he could find her a wonderful husband. He didn’t seem to like me at all, but it may have had to do with the fact that I looked (and felt) like a wet cat. After a bit of chatting, we went inside a small dining hall with three tables for lunch. We were separated by men and woman and sat down to eat. I sat next to a nun who came to Georgia from Ukraine who seemed very curious about what kind of bread I liked (black bread, in case you’re wondering). We were given some much appreciated hot soup, fish, potato salad and wine.
Cuddling in the rain to keep warm!
The wine was quite gross, but my deda told us that it was special wine and very healthy. All of sudden Melissa felt nauseous and desperately needed water but all our glasses were filled to the brim with horrible wine. So what does a friend do? I quickly guzzled down my wine so Melissa could have a glass for water. Yes, it tasted like dirt and leaves but I was no longer cold and Melissa did not end up vomiting on the Mamou.

Our walk back down the mountain was cut short when we hitch-hiked a ride home with a family from Samtredia. Melissa and I squeezed into a car where three adults and three children were already sitting (it was a tight fit to say the least).

Once we were finally home I cannot even explain how wonderful it felt to put on a cozy pair of sweatpants and crawl under the covers of my bed. Pure coziness has got to be one of the most underrated feelings in the world.
Hiking in heels (and some paw prints)

Animals pose for me