Friday, October 12, 2007


I have no classes on Thursdays so I was relaxing in my yard reading an article from a five-year old copy of The New Yorker. Suddenly the afternoon’s calm was broken by loud crackling and popping from somewhere nearby. My host father ran to the road to look. Someone passing by yelled, “Come quick, there’s a barn fire down at the old Kapanadze place,” or something of the sort.

Most everyone in the neighborhood rushed down the road to find a small barn engulfed in flames. With no hose or source of water, we rushed to remove any flammable items near the barn so the fire didn’t spread. We ran to and fro, carrying away heaps of dried corn stalks that had been laid against the fence to dry. Some pulled out the fence posts to make room for the fire truck. Busy as we were, neighbors still stopped to shake hands and greet one another and ask about each other’s families.

The fire department arrived a few minutes later in two fire engines still painted with CCCP on the side. They rushed in and turned the hoses on. Neighbors walked up to the firemen to point out spots they felt the hose should be focused on. Children crawled under the fence to stand beside the firemen as they worked. I jogged home to grab my camera and began taking pictures of their efforts. The villagers found that quite amusing.

My host mother heard from the neighbors that I’d been one of the first to help at the fire and seemed quite pleased. I text-messaged a few other volunteers to tell them about it. One wrote back, “That’s like a story I read about in one of those Peace Corps magazines.”

Actually it wasn’t very dramatic. My efforts were really minor and the danger was nonexistent. But let’s not discount the minor scratches on my arm from the corn stalks or that I’ll have to wash my clothes because they reek of smoke. And I’ll have to wash them by hand. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a very big deal.

But since I won’t be home for another 9+ months, I have lots of time to dream up dramatic details. Don’t be surprised if the next time you hear this story it includes singed hair and clothes, me rushing into the flames to save a litter of puppies, and the locals carrying me home on their shoulders while singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

Which nobody can deny.


Last year’s Breast Health Awareness event in Kutaisi was a big success and this year was no different. Hundreds attended, as well as the first lady of Georgia, the US Ambassador and dozens of Peace Corps volunteers. The event is an awareness campaign to encourage Georgian women to get screened for breast cancer. The attendance of the first lady was especially helpful for drawing media attention to the event. The TV news came in force, but she still had time for a brief interview by a Peace Corps volunteer named Ryan Nickum.

Last year my role was to photograph the event. I was informed by the event’s organizers that what they really wanted were good photos of the 1st lady, so I turned into the paparazzi and took as many photos as I could. More than a couple times I caught her looking at me inquisitively, as if asking herself, “Who is this creep?” Either she didn’t remember me from the previous event or else she has incredible patience. She politely accepted my request to interview her and gave all her answers in English. The interview was difficult, as I had to do it while walking backwards since she was at the front of the walk.

In the end I walked away with some really good quotes, which was especially helpful because I’d failed to turn on my audio recorder when I interviewed the US Ambassador and thus didn’t have any quotes from that. My journalism skills are rusty.

Manana is the hardest working woman in Georgia. She was our technical trainer and is also a teacher in a local school in my area. She’s been incredibly helpful when Jeff (my site-mate) and I try to do any secondary projects. In addition to teaching school, she privately tutors dozens of students after school, plans her lessons at home, and maintains a household. She puts our work ethic to total shame.

In Georgia, women do all the cooking, even on their birthdays. Last year Jeff and I promised to cook her dinner the next year on her birthday. Manana and her family were busy with the grape harvest when Jeff and arrived. Her husband and youngest son gave us a tour of the wine making operation and let us taste the various vintages. Fresh grape juice is delicious, as is the 4 day old white and 2 day old red and the year old white...

Then we started cooking. We don’t know how to make Georgian food so we made scalloped potatoes, garlic cheese bread, tomato and cucumber salad, and chicken in a mushroom cream sauce. We were quite proud of our culinary achievement and Manana was very pleased.

However, most Georgians do not like different food. They’ve developed a cuisine over the years that they are quite fond of and feel no need to supplement it. I once gave my host sister a piece of cheddar cheese and she spit it out in the yard. So our dinner wasn’t exactly scarfed down, but everyone was polite. I hope Manana likes leftovers.

Last year I tried to start a couple of English clubs after school. The plan was to show movies, read magazine articles and have conversations in English about it. It’s been successful at many other schools, but I had no luck. Students did not attend.

This year I tried again. I asked a number of older students if they’d be interested in such a club. They were enthusiastic and promised to come. So at 2:30 on Wednesday I hosted the club in the English classroom. The picture below shows the level of attendance and my success.


Anonymous Heidi said...

Your classroom is beautiful, you ungrateful wench.

6:28 AM  

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