Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Other Washington

Excitement doesn't really describe how I feel about my upcoming return to the land of America. It's bordering on manic excitement. I won't be returning to Seattle, but will instead be in Washington DC visiting my brother, possibly harassing congress to increase our readjustment allowance (we deserve more $ when we get out of PC), exercising, watching SportsCenter, and hopefully stuffing my face with delicious American food at the fine restaurant Kinkead's. Some moronic volunteer actually asked me if I'd be going to the Georgian restaurant in Washington DC. It was all I could do not to punch them in the face.

Georgian food is good. Nearly all 15 dishes Georgians prepare are tasty. I like Georgian food and if one has to eat the food of one country day after day, well you could do a lot worse then Georgia. And Georgians will tell you all the time that they have the best food (as well as the best kings/women/wine/song/dance...). They believe this firmly. They say it all the time. They are convinced of it, especially those who have only had Georgian food and that's practically all of them. Trying to drag a Georgian to a Chinese restaurant is like leading a crazed steer to slaughter.

And with all due respect to Georgian cuisine I must say given the varieties of food available in America, we win the contest hands down. To prove this I will put a comparison between a typical Georgian meal and the one I've already planned to eat at Kinkead's Restaurant in Washington DC, which is possibly the greatest place on earth.

Please take the multiple choice quiz:

A. White bread.
B. Yucatan tuna soup with tomatillos, chilies, lime, sour cream, and tortilla strips.

A. Whole raw radishes and green onions double-dipped in a bowl of salt.
B. Roasted Gorgonzola stuffed Bosch pear with endive, radicchio salad, spiced walnuts, and port vinaigrette.

A. Some kind of Mackerelish fish left in the sun for a couple days and then frozen for a month and later fried in vegetable oil.
B. Pepper-seared tuna with flageolets, grilled portabello mushrooms, and a pinot noir sauce.

A. Chunks of pig foot and face served in frozen gelatin.
B. Grilled Jamison Farms lamb steak with a salad of artichokes, arugula, nicoise olives, parisienne potatoes, served with rosemary garlic confit and merlot sauce.

If you answered B to all of these then you are not Georgian. But wait, maybe I'm being unfair. I mean Kinkead's is a culinary wonderland, a place where everything is infused with butter instead of just covered in grease. And it's not fair to compare it to any country's cuisine, especially when you factor in price, so let me try this again.

A. Macaroni simmered in sugar water then left to chill on the stove top for days.
B. A roommates half eaten spicy Italian sub from Subway restaurant that's been sitting in the crisper drawer for two days.

A. Ground pork and bread mashed into a patty and fried in oil. Leave on a plate at room temperature for six days.
B. A single ahi sushi roll eaten after sitting in a to-go box in the fridge for six days.

A. Boiled potato.
B. Baked potato with butter, chives, sour cream and bacon bits.

America, you are the winner. And I've missed you America. It's been so long. I'm sorry I said all those bad things about you. You know I didn't mean it baby. You know I love you. I just needed some space, you know, to work through some things. I think I'm ready to make it work. Maybe I could drop by for a donut and a cup of fresh brewed coffee. Maybe we could take it from there?

Oh, sorry. Kind of got carried away there. Anyway, I fly out on June 28th and return to The Georgia on July 12th. However, as I've learned from all the most recent Peace Corps volunteers who have returned for the states for brief visits, this most certainly won't be my true itinerary. Of the last three people who visited the states all had their trips completely jacked. Baggage lost on both ends, whole flights canceled, 12 hour layovers spent sleeping on floors at JFK, O'Hare, Heathrow, etc, whole days lost in airport terminals waiting for the next flight, airline officials claiming they couldn't fly to Georgia because they didn't have a return ticket.

Everybody in the past 2 months has been absolutely screwed by an array of airlines, baggage handlers and weather patterns. I'm hoping to be spared this nightmare. But if the Airline Gods insist on stranding me at the some dank airport between Georgia and DC, just let them have a Burger King or a Starbucks. They can have my backpack full of weathered and unstylish clothes. Just give me some fresh brewed coffee and a stale baguette. I'll be cool with that.

See you soon America.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

School's Out 4 Summer

School is finally out for summer, bringing an end to a year of trial and error, frustration and amusement, steps forward and back, little victories and many defeats.

My final days were spent playing school photographer, showing photos of the 10th grade concert on my computer, and burning the pictures onto CDs for the students. This could be my legacy here. "Who was Ryan? Oh, he was that American guy with the camera."

My fellow volunteers and I just celebrated our 1 year anniversary here. We booked the Thai restaurant in Tbilisi, brought jugs of bad wine and had a mock "Peace Corps Prom." Aside from dressing up and voting for prom king and queen I have no idea why it was called prom. Congrats to Jen and Nicholas on their victory as Prom King and Queen. I did not receive a single vote, truly an oversight on the part of the other volunteers.

After a year together as a group we've established some close friendships and become really tight. But after one year of hanging out with and gossiping about the same 40+ volunteers we were more than ready for the next wave of volunteers, who arrived a few days ago. Now we’ve got see some new faces and something new to talk about.

Georgia changes a person. After a year here we're a little bit jaded, a little less polite, louder, and our general appearance has gone completely to hell. Hand washing our worn clothes, infrequent bathing, and language mix ups with the local hairdressers and barbers have cheapened our looks a bit. We are not so shiny and new anymore. So when the new group showed up at the Ambassador's house to meet us they seemed to be positively glowing. With their pressed shirts, recent showers, designer eye ware, and wide-eyed excitement they might well have been UFOs dropping down from the heavens. They looked nothing like us. They looked like we did a year ago. What the hell happened to us?

"They're so clean!" muttered more than one volunteer. After an hour of chatting with them we discovered they're also more experienced and probably a little better educated as well. They arrived with the same fears we had: crime, illness, difficulty of language, etc. We tried to be reassuring, but it was hard.

New Guy: "Is crime a big problem here?
Me: "No. I think that's exaggerated"
New Guy: "Have you ever been the victim of any crime?"
Me: "Well, I was pick-pocketed the other day. And another time I nearly got into a fight with a guy on the bus after he tried to forcibly steal my cell-phone, but no, crime’s not really much of an issue."

New Guy: "How about illness?"
Me: "No. That's exaggerated also. Just try not to drink the water."
New Guy: "Have you ever been sick?"
Me: "Yeah. I just had an allergic reaction that caused my face to swell up and I could barely walk for a few days... and then I had a stomach parasite that was kind of, err... bad."
Heidi: "Bad? You crapped the bed didn't you?"
Me: "Shut up Heidi. It was only a little bit. It's not like I completely crapped myself. And then there was that fever that left me hallucinating and then I had..."
New Guy: "Uhh, but you said illness isn't that common?"
Me: "Uhm, well, just don't worry about it."

I don’t think the New Guy needed to hear that I’d sort of crapped the bed a long time ago. I was certainly kind enough not to mention to the New Guy that Heidi has lice—(that’s Heidi Laki, of Houston Texas, graduate of Pepperdine University—I hope this comes up on a Google search). And I don't mean she had lice, no, wait actually she had lice a few months back, but now she has it again. Lice! Like the bugs in your hair and stuff. I mean yeah, once when I was reeling with severe diarrhea from an unidentified parasite I did inadvertently sort-of-just-a-little-bit-kind-of-crap-the-bed. I can't emphasize enough how little it was. And yes, to hide it from my host family I had to sneak downstairs and wash my sheet in the bathtub while I took a bucket bath, but it was only a little bit. It's not like I completely crapped my pants like some other volunteers here did when their stomach parasites reared their ugly heads. And I certainly never had lice. I mean come on. Who gets lice?

Anyway, we were hoping to be considerate, reassuring, and welcoming to the new volunteers. We were going to not talk about crapping ourselves or anything else of the sort. In fact we were going to skip over the topic of bowel movements altogether, which is surprisingly hard for Peace Corps volunteers because we talk about it a lot. I know that’s sick, but it’s true, and not just for PC volunteers in Georgia but pretty much for PC volunteers everywhere.

We weren’t going to scare the new guys. We were hoping they wouldn't hate us like we hated the group before us when we first arrived, until we grew a little bit jaded like them, and discovered they weren’t condescending and jaded jerks. They were just a little more experienced, in tune with the realities of working and living in Georgia.

We tried to emphasize the upsides, the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, but they just kept asking questions that led to bad answers. And they always asked the wrong people. If the question was about the frequency of men groping girls on the bus, it seemed they always asked the few who had been victims. When they asked questions about the probability of illness they invariably asked the ones who have spent more time in the doctor's office than in their schools.

Some of the volunteers from my group laughed about the questions the new volunteers asked and their somewhat over-active enthusiasm. But they got this thrown back in their face by one of the Peace Corps officials. "You guys were exactly the same when you first came. You guys asked all those same questions. You guys were completely the same." And it’s true. We were.

So hopefully we didn't scare them. Hopefully our answers to their questions were helpful and insightful. And if we might have sort of left out giving them advice on how to not get your hair butchered by the local hairdresser and barbers, well it's only because they're all so damn clean and well-groomed and we'd like to see them as peers and equals, something we simply can't do with them all looking so much better than us.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


As the effects of my bizarre allergic reaction finally declines, I’m starting to feel like a human being again. Prior to this I felt like an 85-year-old man: cranky, achy, tired and in general pain.

I consider myself a generally healthy person, but Georgia has done it’s best to prove otherwise. Between stomach parasites that have left me cowering in outhouse, fevers that have left me hallucinating and thinking the dogs barking outside were actually people in the next room getting it on, and now this allergic reaction that left me looking like a circus freak, I’ve had my share of illness over here. And frankly, I’m sick of it.

I wish there’d been a camera around to record the strange swelling of my face. I was absolutely ridiculous looking. Luckily, since the doctors don’t know what caused the food allergy, and since I’ll be eating all the same things once I get back to site, I’m sure I’ll develop it again. When I do, I’ll have the camera ready and can document the unicorn horn I’ll redevelop. In place of those for now I’ve included a before and after that give you a sense of roughly the change that took place, minus the horn I started growing.


Since arriving in Tbilisi for medical treatment I’ve kept a low profile, hobbling between the hostel and the Peace Corps office, going to numerous doctor’s appointments and catching up on months of articles. I’ve been remarkably uninformed on the latest NFL trades and the draft.

Back at my school, nothing is happening. Students and teachers are simply sitting around waiting for vacation to come. So at least I’m not missing anything. However, my host sister just had a baby and I’m anxious to get back to see the little guy.