Food, Republic of Georgia, Travel, Weather

Escape to Tbilisi

I escaped to Tbilisi on Thursday. It was against the wishes of my host mother, without the knowledge or permission of my school, and slightly against my own better judgment. But it was necessary.

I spent the previous four days being a sick puppy in one of two places. Either a) fetal position in my bed; or b) curled up in an armchair downstairs. It was cold. I was sick. The power kept going out. The wind was forever whistling through the window frames and rustling the curtains. Deprived even of daytime soap operas, I tended to stare straight ahead and pray for the return of electricity.

I went to the hospital finally on Monday. Enough was enough. The cold from hell progressed into week 4 and picked up some new symptoms: fever and a throat so sore every swallow, every sip, every bite of food required fingernail indentations in my hands. So it was time.

My hospital visit featured blood analysis, chest x-rays, and finally an IV. I’ve never had an IV before. I knew nothing of what was going on. I trailed in my host mother’s wake and was just grateful for whatever they could do for me. I don’t even know if the IV was antibiotics or just fluids. I figured either way it was a good thing. No complaints from me. Post-IV we picked up a bag of things from the pharmacy and headed back to the village. Tuesday and Wednesday saw gradual improvement as my drugs took effect.

For weeks, I’d been planning to go to Tbilisi with friends for the coming weekend. I was depressed all week just thinking about having to stay home. Wednesday I was still feverish and my throat was still tender. It seemed a terrible idea to take a trip when I was still recovering. What would my mother say?

But it would be WARM in Tbilisi, there would be electricity, I could cook good food (protein!). I marshaled these arguments for my phone call to my mom. But in a surprising turn of events, my mother was totally in agreement with my pro-Tbilisi position. Go, go, she said. I was shocked, but grateful. This gave me the additional ammo I needed to thwart my host mother and just go without making a big deal of it with my school.

So Thursday I packed my bag with extra socks, lots of hooded sweatshirts, my hot-water bottle (just in case), all my drugs and made my way to town. I felt a little guilty as I left, but knew that it was for my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Plus my mom had my back.

I was still a little feverish Thursday and Friday. But my throat feels almost 100%. I had scrambled eggs for breakfast yesterday, pancakes for breakfast today, and I WILL have scrambled eggs for breakfast tomorrow. On the basis of that alone, coming to Tbilisi was absolutely the right decision.

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Food, Republic of Georgia

Food Update

As suspected, winter is turning out not to be the best time food-wise.

When I arrived in September, the garden out back was still producing loads of tomatoes, onions, and fresh greens. In October and November, grapes, apples, and quince were plentiful. December saw the advent of mandarin season.

February, however, is desolate as far as fruits and vegetables. Mandarins are still available, but they are shrunken and squishy. Some fruits and veggies can be bought in the market, but seemingly at a premium as they are never served at home.

In the absence of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates and starches now account for 99.9% of all food consumed in my house. Oh, make that 90%. Let us not forget the fat.

Fat. Yes, fat. The pig which used to wander the side of the house was slaughtered sometime in January. While I missed out on all the good parts it might have offered, his presence remains in the form of slabs and slabs of frozen fat. Fat, which is making its way into almost every dish served, sometimes as the central ingredient.

I have had eggs fried up with chucks of fat. Soups with fat. There was a stir-fry that was tomato-based with chopped onions, greens, and what I thought were large chunks of potato. Oops, no, fat again. Biting into a big chunk of fat was a low point of that day. And there is always raw fat available. You can pop a nice chunk into your mouth anytime you want. Mmmm. Just what I need.

So it’s bread for breakfast with the possibility of jam or butter. Tea. Lunch is generally some soupy, tomato-y, fatty affair. Dinner is bread or leftovers from lunch. I usually get a cup of black coffee and cookie at school. That’s all folks. Oh, I have some chocolate in my closet for emergencies. And emergencies are seeming more frequent of late.

But the good news is I am much for resigned to it all now. Not sure anything they serve could surprise me at this point. And I am now generally allowed to serve myself. A tremendous victory. So at least I can control my serving of the daily delights.

I cannot say that I look forward to meals a great deal. Unless it happens to be lobio. But on the whole I think it’s a healthy change. Eat to live, yes?

A trip to Tbilisi is planned for next weekend though and top on my list of things to do is cook some familiar food at our hostel. I’m thinking scrambled onion cheese eggs, pasta with meat sauce, and maybe a delectable sandwich or two. Can’t wait.

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Communication, Language, Republic of Georgia, Social Customs

Kai Gogo

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a long time. I thought about writing about the snow. Been there. Or whining about my cold some more. Done that. No, this time I want to talk about something that I’ve found very interesting in Georgia: kai gogo-dom.

Sometime in December I took a dislike to my lackluster blog name and wrote a short entry about it. I asked people to give me ideas for a better blog name. I got some very thoughtful and entertaining suggestions:

–          From Georgia with Love (James Bond tribute)

–          Greetings from the OTHER Georgia

–          An American in Georgia

–          Too Close to Russia for Comfort (a particular favorite)

–          A Year in the Life of an Idiotic Egomaniac (read the post if you’re wondering why)

–          Amy’s Georgian Rants (play on Georgian chants)

All very good suggestions that cheered me immensely. However none quite seemed to fit the ticket. Then I had a flash of inspiration: I should call my blog “kai gogo”! An expression that seemed to encapsulate my experiences to a certain extent. But then I hesitated. Why? It’s complicated.

Kai gogo means “good girl”. Kai is a shortened version of “kargi” which is “good” and gogo is Georgian for girl. “Kai gogo” has been ringing in my ears since I arrived in the village. It’s a compliment, really. I should be proud to be a “good girl”. Certainly in this situation, as a guest teacher, I wouldn’t want to be labeled a “bad girl”.

But there’s just something about it that I don’t like.

Perhaps it has to do with being called a girl. The use of “girl” can be used in a very condescending way in English. A belittling fashion. As in “don’t be such a girl” or “you hit  like a girl”. I’ve sworn off expressions that make negative statements about girls and women.

In Georgian I believe the expression should be taken at face value. There is nothing tricky about it. They are saying that I am a good girl. But maybe I don’t want to be a good girl. Maybe I want to be a good . . . woman?

Being called a woman at least would at least seem to grant higher status. Recognition that I am not a child or an adolescent. But here we could be getting into Georgian culture. When do you become a woman-grown in Georgia? When you marry? When you menstruate? When you have six children? I don’t know.

Aside from the “girl” issue, there remains the “good” part. What does it mean to be “good”? In Georgia, I am a “kai gogo” because I am generally cheerful and kind, I show up to work on time and prepared, I do my best for my students, I attend funerals, weddings, and birthday parties, etc. etc. etc. Nothing wrong with any of that. Those things say to me that I am professional in my work, respectful to my community, and neither a burden nor a bane to those around me. All “good” things.

In English the word “good” seems to me a more loaded term, especially coupled with “girl”. “Good girl” can mean a naïve, doe-eyed innocent. “Good” can be someone who in the eyes of the world is “inexperienced,” “sheltered” or, God-forbid, “chaste”. While Eliza Doolittle bawled “I’m a good girl I am” as she was being hauled off to a bath, in modern day being “good” in that way seems much less desirable that it should be.

So I find kai gogo-dom complicated. I always smile whenever it is again bestowed upon me, but I am forever trying to pinpoint what it is exactly that bothers me about it. My relationship with “kai gogo” is such that I could not in good conscience make it my blog title. Something I realized as soon as I gave it a minute of thought.

So I’m still in need a better blog name. I had a second flash of genius when I was home for Christmas. But I didn’t write it down and now I can’t remember it.

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Food, Republic of Georgia, Village Life

Cold, Round Two

Ughhhhhh.

That was how I felt all day yesterday and the feeling continued through today. My cold, which I smugly thought I had put down with massive vitamin C intake, among other things, took a turn for the worse. From a nasty cough it morphed into a something approaching a sinus infection/strep throat.  Or at least that’s what it feels like.

It crept on rather gradually. So I was dismayed last night when I could suddenly hardly swallow. I thought going to bed was the best thing to do, but it ended up being a horrible sleepless night. What my sinuses were producing in the morning decided me. No school. I texted my English teacher and went downstairs to tell my host family.

I felt sort of bad about not going to school. I could probably power through it. That’s what I would usually do. In the last few years with work and grad school, I’ve attended both in far from peak condition. I just felt exhausted and the idea of standing in front of my classes did nothing to energize me. But today, I decided not to push it. I would stay home, sleep, drink fluids, and take vitamin C. Georgia is not the place to be sick for any extended period of time.

I went back to bed and slept/rested for the morning. Grandma Neli, who’d gone to town, got back around 1 and wanted me to come down to eat. Jame, jame. I told her I’d come down in awhile. Not hungry. I went back to contemplating my ceiling.

Sometime after 2 I crawled downstairs and sat on the outside sofa. It was sunny. Amazing. It’s been snowing or overcast for quite a few days. I’d made a brief appearance in the kitchen before coming out, so Neli knew I was up. I was scolded for sitting outside and told to come eat. I wasn’t ravenous, but I felt I should probably eat something. Apparently there was still borscht left. Not real Russian borscht, Georgian cabbage soup, which they call by the same name. Ugh. But better than cheese soup. Cheese soup the smell of which makes my stomach turn over at the slightest whiff. So I ate my soup and ever-present bread and drank my tea. Then I went upstairs to sleep some more.

I feel like I usually have a cold through most of the winter, even in the States. Kleenex are my constant companions. Georgia does not seem to have changed this. Other than that the severity of the cold has increased unpleasantly. Sure hoping that this one tapers off soon.

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Educational System, Family, Republic of Georgia, Village Life, Weather

Snow Day

It snowed like crazy yesterday. The result being that we woke up to about 4 feet of snow. Pretty fantastic for this California girl. Even babua grudgingly admitted that it was “pretty big snow”. Not sure I want to witness “really big snow”.

The fallout of this was that school was cancelled for the day. I was totally fine with that when I peeked out the gate. I live right next to the school and even for me it would be a knee/thigh deep trip. And there are teachers and students who live at least 30 minutes from the school. Nope, not gonna happen.

So we hung out in the kitchen. I went on a foray into the village to get cigarettes for babua Vakho. We built a tremendous snow bebia, complete with hat and scarf. Snowmen are called “tovli babua” in Georgian, “snow grandfather” but ours was definitely female. That is probably the first real snowman-building experience of my life. Good times.

Not sure what the rest of the day holds. Power was off all last night and this morning, then come on and went off again within a relatively short period of time. It’s a little after 3, so I am getting a little rumbly-in-the-tumbly.

Heard a horrible rumor that school being cancelled means that we have to make it up on Saturday?!? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t they have provision for “acts of God” in the school schedule? Even the Collective Bargaining Agreement at my old job had that!

It all makes me think of Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes fame. How ecstatic he would’ve been to have a snow day. In his honor, I’ll try to do the day right.

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Family, Republic of Georgia, Village Life, Weather

Georgian Winter: First Thoughts

Snow. Lots of snow. Still a novelty for me. But not so cute when it cuts out the power. And I don’t like the accompanying ice. The stairs to my room are now a hazard that I approach with extreme caution. Already slid down several once. Don’t tell my host family. They’d lock me up downstairs.

I do like taking snow walks. And I like putting my snow gear to the test. Happy to report that my snow boots and pants, and all the warm underlayers, are proving their worth.

Overall doing okay with the temperature. Generally hovers around freezing, a little warmer during the day. With my hot water bottles, I do okay at night. By day, I linger downstairs more and more. Right now I am stubbornly hanging out in my room, under all the covers, with hat, scarf, and fleece on. (I’m not going to go into how many layers of clothing I have on. Guess). The privacy of my room is something I am not eager to forfeit. Even for a stove. Upstairs is quiet; downstairs can be a madhouse. The nameless beast lurks there. You know the one I am talking about.

Today the winter looks bearable. Yesterday I was not so sure. What’s the difference? The power is back on today. It was back on this afternoon after having been off for about 36 hours or so. Since Monday night. It’s Wednesday afternoon. No fun. We’ll just have to see how much the winter weather messes with the power supply.

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