Thursday, July 10, 2008

10... 9... 8... 7...

With one week to go I can't even begin to describe what I'm feeling. I'm not a terribly emotional person, but I think departing is going to be an absolute roller coaster of emotions. Saying goodbye to my host family is going to be hard. I've lived with them at their house longer than any place except my parents. Saying goodbye to the close friends who've shared the good times and bad times won't be easy.

On the other hand there is a lot of excitement, not just to be getting home to see everyone, but also it means I don't have to put up with some of the hassles I've had to endure here. I'm looking forward to not standing out in a crowd and being stared at everywhere I go. I can't wait to be anonymous.

So there's only a few more supras to go and then one long mini-bus ride across the country. The puppy needs one more shot and then I think we're set. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will all go smoothly, but that seems to never be the case here. The unexpected always seems to happen.

I don't have any photos to post because my laptop chord broke and the battery is dead. Once I get back to the states I'll load a bunch more on this. I plan also to photograph all the delicious foods I'm going to eat in Seattle and Texas and post them for the PCVs still in Georgia to look at. And then that should be pretty much it for this blog...

See you all soon.

PS: I apologize to Judy for the delay in my posts. For all of you who keep track of Paige through my blog because she NEVER updates hers here's an update: Paige is doing well. She is eating 3 square meals a day and getting plenty of rest. She's been working on her tan at the beach and researching jobs in Seattle. She's been going over family photos with me and quizzing me on every one's identity (I keep getting Hunter and Hudson and Harrison mixed up). We'll be back in Texas in early August just in time for the serious heat. She's looking forward to eating BBQ and Ma Sue and Julie's home cooking as well drinking a margarita and catching up with everyone.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Maka


So it turns out that airlines and airports are all part of a vast conspiracy to keep Paige and I from returning with our puppy. We've spent much of the past two weeks battling with them, making repeated phone calls, trips to airline offices, sending emails and all the rest. It's been an absolute nightmare.


But finally it seems like we might be out of the woods--although with an increased price tag for our tickets. This dog is proving to be expensive. However, since everything has consistently gone wrong with this we aren't prepared to congratulate ourselves just yet. As it stands now, we will by flying home on the 17th with our puppy stored below in the luggage area. She'll have all of her shots and her puppy passport.

In the meantime, I've been busy shuttling her between my village and Tbilisi for her vet appointments. For a small puppy, she behaves really well on the five hour trips to the capital on crowded mini-buses. Mostly she just sleeps, which is a nice vacation from her other hobbies of chewing my pant legs, eating chicken crap in the yard and finding dead chickens and birds to snack on in the vineyard. I think no matter how well we train her, she will always be part street dog.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Maka the Dog


My time is almost up here in old Sakartvelo. In six weeks I’ll be headed home. To be more precise, I will be departing in exactly 886 hours. But who’s counting?

The vast majority of my students have ceased doing their homework or class work, but continue to attend the lessons. Summeritis is upon us all. So school drags on, but the last day of school is fast approaching. Only 8 more school days to go...

While it’s probably a little premature, I recently cleaned out my room, sorting through the heaps of paper and mess strewn about. During the cleaning I came across piles of notebooks from my first six-months in my village. They were filled with the notes of all the projects I’d hoped to work on for my school and community.

Inside were surveys of local needs, strategic plans, project outlines, and notes from meetings with Jeff, the other volunteer in my area. Inside were the details of the Youth Activity Center we’d hoped to start. There was our research on how we could bring an Internet café to the area and for a girls’ basketball league. There were our notes on starting a local NGO and on a regional wine festival. There were lists of after-school activities and clubs, and numerous other ideas that never came to be. And not from a lack of trying.

I think sometime down the road I’ll look back on my time here and I’ll see that I’ve accomplished more than what it seems like now. Still, when you’re tossing out piles of English tests in which many of the students did little more than sign their name in Georgian... well it can feel a little discouraging.

So with all this weighing on my mind, I met up with some fellow volunteers for a BBQ at the river near my house. In addition to grilling up kebabs we also used the open flame to help us make a break with some of the bad memories from our time here. Each of us brought three items to burn. I brought one my student’s tests, some pages for a textbook we tried to write, and a notebook full of Jeff and my plans for improving out community.


The purpose of this pyre was to put these disappointments behind us, but while it felt good to burn them it didn’t necessarily make me feel better about what I’ve accomplished here. So when the BBQ was over and we walked back to Jeff’s house I still felt low. Along the way we came across a street dog nursing it’s three puppies and we stopped to pet it. As the puppies crawled over our feet Paige and I each decided simultaneously we needed to take one back to America.


I know I said “No more dogs in Georgia.” I know that. But we had to take this one. We have no idea what breed she is, but she’s friendly, adventurous, and despite the worms and fleas, she’s a delight to be around.


So this is going to be my legacy. For two years I struggled to improve my school and my community. But the one tangible legacy I’m going to leave behind is that I rescued one dingy puppy from a life on the streets of Bagdati to take back to America and feed it puppy chow and keep it free of fleas and ticks and mange. This is our legacy—Maka the puppy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


By the Georgian calendar, Easter was a few weeks ago. People greet one another by saying “Christ is risen” and reply by saying “It is true.”

In my village, the tradition is to head to the graveyard on Easter, gather with friends and family, and toast to your departed relatives and neighbors. People wander the graveyard, dropping by to visit other graves and toast to those they knew. By the time you turn 60 (like my host father) you tend to have known a lot of people who have died and it takes a lot of wine to toast them all. After numerous toasts the graveyard becomes to difficult to navigate through.

Prior to Easter, many Georgians fasted (no meat or dairy) for 40+ days. So this day is also a celebration of all the foods they missed, as you can see from my host mother relishing her piece of khatchapuri (cheese bread).


A lot of you are probably wondering, “Ryan, you’re a poorly dressed bald guy with limited earning potential and a penchant for tacky art and a shabby collection of kitchen magnets. So how is it you convinced Paige to marry you?”

I’m glad you asked. Marriage is not something to be taken lightly. It takes a lot of thought. For instance, one has to decide if the woman sitting beside him is truly the person he wants to wake him up in the middle of the night for the rest of his life to tell him to stop snoring? Is she uniquely qualified to balance the checking account? Can she do my taxes? Those are all important things to consider.

But so is the issue of children. That’s why before we became engaged, we went out and rented this “starter family.” For the low rate of $10 a day, you can test out your parenting skills with these adorable rental children. Paige proved a capable of diaper changer and was able to distract them with key chains when they started to cry. She's quite a catch.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cultural Exchange Continues

They say that breakfast is the most important meal. A solid breakfast kick starts your metabolism and provides energy for your busy day. But is that still true when breakfast includes three shots of vodka?

Is homemade hooch part of this complete breakfast? It’s hard to say. Luckily, according to tradition in Guria (a region in Georgia), the limit is three shots with breakfast. After all, there’s work to be done that day.

A morning of vodka may sound odd to many of my countrymen, but it’s amazing how easily they can be convinced of the benefits.

Above, my brother questions the logic of combining vodka with his morning toast and jam.

Here Paige explains how the best part of waking up is Folgers AND vodka in your cup.

Stuart accepts this logic as Paige pours him another shot. Stuart mentally prepares his tastebuds and stomach of what's to come.

Having already embraced the vodka breakfast, my dad suddenly feels that he has another toast in him and that he would like to break the Gurian tradition and make it a 4 shot breakfast, after all, he’s on vacation and has no work to do.

And so four shots it was. As you can tell from the photo my mother is kind of laughing, but probably wondering if this is a tradition my father will be bringing back to America with him.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Paige and I are Getting Married

So let me think... what's new? Been eating a lot of khatchapuri... uhm, attending supras... teaching the children... hmmm, oh yeah, and I got engaged to my girlfriend Paige Weldon. Pretty exciting, although it's hard to tell if Paige agrees with that sentiment from the picture.

We'd discussed getting married before, but it really gained steam after we met each others' parents over the past month when they visited Georgia. Both of us felt at ease with the other's family and really enjoyed them. A close family is only one the things that Paige and I have in common. As the months have passed, and our feelings have deepened, we've discovered more and more just how well we compliment one another.

I called Paige's parents before I proposed to ask for their blessings and they agreed--I was much relieved. I regret that I did it over the phone, as it would have been much better to do it in person, but Paige and I were eager to move ahead. Paige's father has assured me that even though he's given his blessings, when I get to Texas we're still going to have THE talk.

Since hardly any of you back home know Paige Weldon let me give you her vitals:

Born: September 19, 1981
Height: 5'4 3/4
Hometown: Longview, TX
Education: BA in Journalism and English from Texas A&M
Current Hobbies: Reading, baking chocolate chip cookies with cornflour, attempting to stay warm in winter, teaching children, talking about Mexican food, photographing large pigs in her village, spending time with her fiance (Me).
Fears: Spiders

Paige is also very kind, generous, caring, fun, and is good with small children and animals, including these abandoned puppies in Batumi.

We met in Peace Corps and have been dating since September of 2006. We've spent practically every weekend and all our vacation days together. She's awesome and I'm completely in love with her. Against all reason and common sense, Paige seems to feel the same for me, thus I did not need to bridenap her and stuff her in the back of a marshutka (see picture), as she happily agreed to get married.

At this point we don't have any specific wedding plans, but we're intent on it costing a fortune, be full of drama, and to be extremely stressful for not only us, but all our friends and family. We both agree that the best way to start a life together is by burning everyone you care about, going into debt, and exhausting every ounce of patience for one another. I hope you're already for 1001 Arabian Nights themed wedding in Cabo San Lucas!

The decision to get married was incredibly easy, not that we didn't give it a lot of thought. Certainly there was some peer-pressure from some of the other volunteers. And my mother did mention a couple hundred times how much she liked Paige and how I "better not screw this up."

I can't wait to bring Paige back to Seattle and introduce her to all of you. I think you'll all really like her. And if you don't then you're a complete jerk. And I can't wait to get down to Texas to meet the rest of Paige's family and friends and everyone there who cares about her like I do. Both Paige and I are really excited about returning to America and starting our lives together. We are really happy.

The Nickums Come to Georgia


My parents and brother just got on a plane to return to America after a couple weeks here in Georgia and I already miss them. Together we saw many historical and interesting sites, but I know what impressed them the most was the people. Between meeting host families, counterparts, fellow volunteers, and Paige, my family walked away from Georgia in high spirits and with a lot of new people to call family.

Throughout their stay they endured supra after supra with impressive stamina. Stuart even heroically put down four horns at one supra, an impressive feat. I think they were overwhelmed by the generosity of my host family and the other locals who took us into our home, toasted our family and ancestors, and fed us ridiculous amounts of food and wine. Georgia won a few more fans in America.

It was especially nice for me to see them after so many months apart. And after having a great time with Paige’s family when they visited, she got to get to know my family as well. Everyone hit it off.

It was a fairly emotional time for me, as everyone went out of their way to make my family feel at home. Numerous toasts at numerous supras revolved around the theme of the importance of family, and the people I know here thanked my parents for raising me right and they in turn thanked all the locals for taking such good care of me.

It was really nice to get to see Georgia through the new eyes of my family and it reminded me of so many of the positives of life here. The last two weeks (along with the time I spent with Paige’s wonderful family) were some of the best times I’ve had here and I will think back on them fondly in the years ahead.

It was a great visit. Thanks Georgia.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

NCAA Tourney

When it comes to keeping up to date on American sports, my location does no favors. My quaint and scenic village is a virtual black hole for sports news. From the few television channels at my house, all I've learned of American sports in the past year is that Shaq was traded.

I watched a DVD of the Super Bowl... a month ago. I'm currently reading an old Sports Illustrated detailing the Jason Kidd trade. I listen to podcasts of sports talk radio from January--"There's no way the Giants can beat the Pats. No way..." I'm simply not very up to date.

And it's been that way for almost two years. I don't recognized half the current Mariner roster. I only recently discovered the Sonics were being taken away to Oklahoma City and thus, have only begun to imagine various scenarios in which David Stern, Howard Schulz, and the new owners meet an unpleasant demise in a manner fitting their treachery. Basically I'm totally out of the sports loop. But despite my total lack of knowledge I STILL WON THE NCAA TOURNAMENT BETTING POOL!

Luther, Fitz, Becca, Sai, Taylor, Lil' Ryan--all of them lost to a guy who can't name a single guy in the tourney. I owe it all to Memphis and also to my intuitive sports skills. Okay, maybe it was just luck. And while I recognize that my victory was hollow (no money on it), I'm looking forward to being back, going to Mariners games, watching Seahawk games at Luther's (Justin needs to give me my seat back) and eventually rooting for the Trailblazers and sending hate mail to David Stern. Paige and I have already negotiated the amount of SportsCenter I can watch and that Sundays are sacred days to watch football and eat pizza.

Two years is way to long to go without televised sports. I'm looking forward to catching up, learning who the new players are, watching the NFL draft with my brother and just generally being a typical American guy. And once I'm caught up, I predict I win the NCAA tournament betting pool next year as well.