Thursday, November 23, 2006


My Dearest friends and family...

I'm sure you all know that I love you all, that I would and will do anything for you. I am always here for you and have done many kind deeds for you in the past. Remember when I may have helped you shuttle your earthly belongings from one crappy apartment to the next. Never forget all I have done for you, and all that I do now for the poor children of Georgia, and their dreams to learn English so they can read People Magazine online. I am truly a humanitarian. A humanitarian who eats a very limited diet and longs for the comforts of home.


Care packages are greatly appreciated. Every week I watch as fellow volunteers open packages from home. Sometimes it is cookies or warm socks or new books and movies. "It must be very nice to receive things from home," I think to myself as I shuttle off empty handed from the Peace Corps mail room, crying softly to myself. Volunteer Thai-Lyn's mother loves her. Volunteer Paige Weldon's friends care enough to send BBQ sauce. And volunteer Tom Schreiber has people who want him happily watching the Arrested Development DVD's.

Perhaps this has struck a nerve? Do not be overwhelmed by guilt. Just keep reading...

Packages can be sent to me at:
Ryan Nickum, PCV
C/O Peace Corps Georgia
110b Burdzgla Street,
Tbilisi, 1094
Republic of Georgia

Things I would be eternally grateful for...

FOOD: Any Asian/Mexican/Indian seasonings (Thai curry paste, Indian seasoning, teriyaki sauce, etc), BBQ SAUCE, taco/fajita seasoning packets, nutter butters, instant hummus, hot sauce, CHIPOTLE SAUCE, red rooster chinese chili sauce, COFFEE, starburst, skittles, hot tamales, INDIAN PICKLE, etc. But I would love to receive anything.

BOOKS: Anything you've recently read you think I might enjoy--Travel books related to my region, any history/travel book about Eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. Any bit of fiction, especially quirky or funny. Also, any books my students might find interesting, particularly Harry Potter, simple biographies about people who beat the odds and achieved success, Where the Wild Things Are, any Roald Dahl or related books. Basically anything one would find on the Island School book shelves.

DVDS: Anything you're tired of watching, particularly comedies, foreign flicks, animated flicks (for my students of course), Peter Pan, etc.

CD'S: Whatever the kids are listening to. I don't want to lose my coolness over here. My students are already in awe of me and my hip American style. I don't want that to wane (actually I'm the clumsy guy with glasses and chalk on his pants who struggles to understand their most basic questions). But keep me up on the latest music. Send me a mix CD. And I think I might even like opera.

Anyone who answers this call to service (just as I heroically answered Peace Corps call) will be blessed with much good karma and I will buy you a beer when I come home.

Trip to Greece?

Fellow Travelers...

These four hour days at school are killing me, not to mention consecutive four day weekends. I need a break, a vacation, time to unwind. I envision myself sitting in a cafe overlooking the Aegean, a plate of fried calamari before me, perhaps some ouzo and olives, maybe a gyro. It sounds like heaven.

My plan for Christmas break is to fly to western Turkey and take a bus up to Istanbul for a few days (including New Years) and then head to the Greek islands for 10 days. The prices are supposedly cheap even if the sun isn't always shining. I'm sure it will seem warm to me, as my room has no heat and the snowlevel is falling. Greece will be a nice reprieve.

My primary problem is that finding information on Greece is fairly hard out here in the village. No bookstores, Internet access, etc. And the residents of my village haven't done much island hopping, although a good many have family members living/working in Greece. My host brother lives in Athens. We have never met.

What I'm hoping is that some of you good people have been to Greece and could offer up some advice. Where are the best spots? How can I figure out the ferry schedule? Who has a wealthy friend living in Lesvos who wishes to wine and dine a couple American visitors? Anything of the sort.

I will not be traveling alone, but will be bringing a companion. We long to eat non-Georgian food, look at the sea, read books and drink coffee, maybe take in a sunset and eat some fresh seafood. I would sell my best kidney for a plate of calamari with aoli sauce.

So any help would be great. Hope all of you are doing well.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Summer camp: Some other volunteers chose to sing Kumbaya at their summer camps, but we did not. The watermelon eating contest was successful, but the kickball game was not. Sometimes the baserunners would pile up at second, sometimes they went from home to third, and other times they would round second and then suddenly switch to defense and try to catch a fly ball. It was discouraging. However, they took to dodgeball like Americans never have.

Kheltubani Adios

This is from one of our last days in Kheltubani. We held a supra in honor of a local dog, Chico. We made toasts to brave Chico and expressed our appreciation to our Language Trainer (Bella, bottom left corner))by serving homemade fajitas and virgin mojitos. We rejoiced. We reveled in tastes of home... and the next day we fell ill and spent an inordinate amount of time in our squat toilets. We don't know how the poisoning happened, but we're pretty sure it had something to do with Heidi stirring the salsa with the knife we'd used to cut the meat with. Or it might have been that the cutting board was rinsed off in cold water. But probably it was something much more sinister, because that sickness turned out to be Giardea. And Giargea sucks.

Nicholas, his host brother Giorgi and myself.

Making fajitas with Heidi's host sister Manana. Real is how we keep it. Obviously.

Every Sunday in Kheltubani (my training village) we had an 11AM supra at Nicholas' host family's house. This started as a meal with many toasts and descended into a wine fueled dance party. Toni Braxton, Jennifer Lopez... all the hits.

This is my host family's storage room, full of wine, preserves and various canned food for winter. Mostly wine though.

My back yard. All vineyard.

Some of the male host family members from my training village.

American Birjha. Me, Jen, Van, Nicholas and Heidi hanging in front of the gate to my old house in Kheltubani.


This is a sad picture as nobody in it except me is still here. Brandon (who I have my arm around) was one my best friends here and a really cool guy from Hawaii. He was one of the most upbeat people I've ever known and always raised your spirits when you were growing discouraged. The couple behind us is Joe and Kate who were two great volunteers who are now back in the states. We miss them.

This is a fresco from a church I've forgotten the name of. Most of these were covered up by the soviets, but there are some really unique ones that have been refurbished.

This is my current host family. They are wonderful people: kind, generous, gracious, funny and very laid back.

The first day I stayed with them we were sitting in the courtyard under the pear tree talking by candlelight. At one point, my host father Omari excused himself, and stepped out of the gate casually. A minute later the street lit up with a flash followed by a loud boom and a dog yelping and staggering into the bushes.

Omari returned holding a rifle. The moral to the story is if you're a stray dog you are not to eat Omari's chickens. I immediately text messaged a bunch of other volunteers with this story and soon my phone was beeping with horrified responses.

"Who is that Ryan?" My host mother asked.

I told her and she just laughed and laughed.

"Ryan, tsudi dzagli." Ryan, bad dog.

The next day our dog went into heat and I helped establish a perimeter to keep the horny male dogs out. I spotted one potential mate sneaking in the gate and chased him out, catching him in the ass with a sweet ricochet shot off the gate with an unripe pear. The dog yelped and took off and my host mother cheered me.

"Kai beechy, Ryan. Kai Beechy." Good boy Ryan. Good boy. Even though I'm 30 I get called good boy all the time.

Village Life

My host father in Kheltubani (training village) standing beside his "antique" automobile. This car is the joke of the house (and village) as it always needs repairs and sounds like a rusty dumpster rolling down a hill. After taking this photo I explained that my friend Sean was curious about Russian cars, then I spent the next 10 minutes explaining that there was no way he wanted to buy this one.

The car consumed much of daily life at my house. Each morning I awoke to metal clanging as Tamazi attempted to fix this and that. Neighbors arrived with cardboard boxes full of loose nuts and spare parts in an attempt to fix it. It took a village, but now it sometimes runs, belches out thick smoke that fills the house and transports the family to their garden to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers. I'm not sure it's doing well now. When I dropped by a few weeks ago they were constructing a donkey cart.

Nicholas tying scraps of fabric to a wishing tree. As volunteers we selflessly just retied the wishes that had fallen off. There is no limit to our giving.

My host mother Lela cooking eggplant sauce for winter canning. She's laughing at the absurdity of taking a photo of someone cooking.

This is my host mother Lela and my host sister's daughter Mariami.