Monday, March 21, 2016

O-man! Poland and Germany!? And COS conference?

I groggily stumble out of my sleeping bag. Stupid Russell has woken up for the 3rd morning in a row to watch the sunrise. I want no part. The first time was amazing, but I am good, I don’t need any more sunrises this week. Fortunately, the combination of the surprisingly hard sand, Russ waking up, and a call from nature, combine and force me to climb out of my sleeping bag and make my way towards the water to take care of business. My eyes are basically half open as I am down by the water - peering around, enjoying the brisk morning ocean air coming off the Gulf of Oman. I look over to my right and about 50 yards down the beach, BAM:

Big sea turtle making its way back into the ocean from it's nest. The picture doesn't show it but it is about 3 feet long. I would call that little bathroom trip unexpected, exciting, and unlike any other. Adjectives that basically sum up our entire trip to Oman. As far as short trips go – I would say it was my favorite ever, and certainly the most foreign place I have ever been in my life. From barbecuing fish in desert sand dunes, to swimming through oases, to fighting off goats on a rock mountain – every day was something entirely new and amazing. The trip would not have been remotely as incredible without our generous guide, host, and friend, Ali. He camped with us 3 of the nights, took us 4 wheeling in the sand dunes, showed us how to eat camel, and taught us so much about his country and culture.

I think Ryan said it best. The trip to Oman felt like a dream. Like we were living someone else’s life. So foreign, so beautiful, and so different from the lives we have known in the US and in Georgia. At the end of the trip I couldn’t really fully express how thankful I was to Ali- how thankful all of us were. All I can say is that if you are considering visiting that part of the world – I would highly recommend Oman!

After Oman, I was back in Georgia for a couple days, including the traditional 1 year supra that followed Otari’s passing. This consisted of visiting the grave to drink and eat, and then coming back to the house for a big (50 people) supra. While certainly sad, I would say the 1 year supra had much more of a story-telling flair, and less intensity than the funeral or funeral supra. Many many stories and memories were shared (during toast after toast), throughout the afternoon and evening.

Of course then it was time for my final out-of-country trip as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and my first trip I have truly done by myself. I spent 2 days in Warsaw, 2 days in Berlin, 3 days near Stuttgart, and 1 day in Munich.  Both countries snowed on me (and now Georgia has too now that I am back) but I also had a good time eating, meeting some new people, checking out museums (including the Porsche museum) and just generally being a tourist. I was lucky enough to meet up with someone in each city (from Georgia connections, or college connections), and stayed with my German friends Ansgar and Alex while in Germany.

After a week of meats and beers, I flew back to Tblilisi straight to…

Our Close of Service Conference! At the Marriot in Tbilisi no less (the pic above was the view from my hotel room). This final training and get together as a group was pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be: a time to start thinking and preparing to leave, while also enjoying everyone’s company. I now have less than 100 days left in Georgia – pretty crazy how time is flying.

Some other notes on life: I will be working at a summer adventure camp as a counselor this summer before I come home (providing my visa and everything goes through…) Very excited to jump go do one last smaller, shorter adventure in Switzerland before I head home.
I realized after getting some feedback, that my last blog about the struggle of sharing the Peace Corps experience could be interpreted as me not wanting to be asked about Peace Corps…. I apologize to anyone that might have interpreted it this way -this is not true at all! Of course I want to be asked about Peace Corps – it’s two years of my life, and like most people I like talking about my life. I see how it may have come off that way, but I wrote that as a reflection for myself and for fellow volunteers. Sharing our stories is something we are thinking about a lot.  How can we do it effectively and how will we feel? But by no means does that mean I don’t want to be asked about Peace Corps….. Just putting that out there, I know a couple of my 8 readers might have interpreted the blog that way. I do want to be asked about Peace Corps. (Otherwise I won’t have much else to talk about right away when I get back). I hope to write one more blog before I leave Georgia - lots and lots to do before I leave, my calendar is pretty full already. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

“Wow, what was that like?!”– Making my way home.

I’m certainly beginning to think about coming home. About what I might do, where I might live. Where I should apply for jobs. But maybe most of all I think about how I will respond when people ask me “what was that like?” The thing about any question I will get about Georgia is that sometimes, the person inquiring probably isn’t actually going to be interested in the answer. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic. Why should they be? But they know they have to ask. I would be the exact same way. I am hypothesizing all of this. But maybe I will usually just get an “oh that’s cool” response.

 If an old friend or old acquaintance told me he/she lived in some foreign country for 2 years, I would certainly have asked the question. Same with a first date, or if I were interviewing someone for a job. It would be rude not to, and it seems like a question that could get an interesting answer. “Wow, what was that like?!”

But now I think that I would hopefully ask something more concrete. Something about the language spoken, political system, religion, or history. Something that can actually be answered. Maybe I would ask which 3 customs were the most different to American culture. The “what was that like?” question is so broad that it is paralyzing. I suppose this is part of the goal for an interview, which is why I will undoubtedly crunch together and polish off some 30 second elevator speech to hand over to anyone asking general questions about Peace Corps when I get back. But any question about the overall experience is just… it’s impossible to answer. Not because the experience is so crazy. Not because the person asking “How was Peace Corps?” is incapable of imagining life in Georgia (well usually not). But mostly because the time it would take to actually share the experience is too much. It’s not some simple story that can be easily wrapped into an elevator speech. It isn’t even a string of stories like a typical 2-week vacation. It is like an enormous thick braided rope that is all tied in knots. It can’t be untangled in 30 seconds.
I hope this doesn’t sound superior. I know that I’m not better than someone who has never been outside of the US, and for 99.9% of conversations, I won’t have some special insight from living abroad. Or at least I better not. That would get annoying.

I know that even when I’m not asked about Georgia, I am going to be constantly comparing in my head, at least at first. I will want to share stories. I have a million funny anecdotes to draw from, but many will not make sense to people who have not spent time in Georgia. I don’t want to be that guy constantly saying: “This one time in Georgia…. blah blah blah.” The thing about “This one time in Georgia” is that like I already said, it can’t be shared succinctly. Despite how incredibly funny or pertinent my story might be, it will always have to get stripped down for an audience that does not have the background knowledge.
At interviews, dates, parties, family get-togethers, and dinners with old friends, I will probably have to deal with this. Just like right now I have to deal with every single person asking me what I will do when I get home. (I don’t know yet, but I will be looking for work in the Seattle-Portland area so put me in contact with people if you know of any good opportunities). I am not at all worried to talk about my experience, but I am slightly confused about sharing it. Obviously the blog was not the most successful way. But part of the reason I stopped writing this blog is because I couldn’t imagine any reader truly sharing the experience, except for maybe when my host father died. But that was such a sharp, deep moment that I had to try and spend some time sharing it. There are a number of volunteer who have kept their blogs up to date, and I give them huge props. It just hasn’t always been the best way for me.

All of this makes me super thankful for all my fellow volunteers, and for the few people that visited me in Georgia. Obviously I am making a big generalization when I say that people will not actually be interested in my Peace Corps experience. My family, and close friends are going to ask about questions and be genuinely interested. I have mostly kept in touch with them via skype or email so it will be easier to answer them anyways. And I have no problem with the general questions. Before I came to Peace Corps, I was asking “How did you like it?” to returned volunteers, and I was genuinely interested in their answers. General questions aren’t disingenuous, and I won’t be remotely upset by the vague inquiries. I am just anticipating they will be very difficult to answer. There is a good chance I am wrong about all of this. Maybe I hear “oh that’s cool” and rarely get questions about what it was like. Either because they recognize that it isn’t a simple question, or because they aren’t interested. So they just avoid it. That’s possible too. I will find out sometime this year.

As far as making my way home is concerned, I am in no big rush to come home. I am making a number of summer travel plans so get in contact with me if you are interested in hearing about those :)

Monday, February 1, 2016


So a while ago, a couple friends made blogs sharing some of the best, strangest, or funniest texts that they have received while in Peace Corps. These are all texts I have received in Peace Corps, but sadly there were many, MANY were that I had to uh, remove from this list to keep it PG-ish. Here we go:

-Yeah it’s a great movie. But if you want I can dismantle it for you to show the horrible message that it sends.
-I have an irrevocable lifetime membership to the kargi bitchi club
-Well just cover her in honey and run. My counterpart actually told me “we don’t go in the mountains, its hot and there are animals”
-Im still very pro water buffalo.
-He claims to be 5’11’’. That can’t be right.
-New word for you: muxtapuri means when you go around and eat for free (supra hop?)
-I love that bowl is the unit of measurement for wine here.
-I mean I have my beard I don’t think they got a good look at me.
-So f*ing good and so f*ing sad and such a f*ing chick flick but boy do I f*ing love it
-I had to play that game but on and off through the entire ride because of the various odors that perfumed the marshutka
-My grandma just walked in on me peeing and we made serious eye contact. Wish I knew Georgian for awkward.
-I really don’t understand how you’re not obese.
-Im already breaking my 1 oreo per day rule.
-God wont b there. Just russman.
-There was just an American on Georgia’s Got Talent whose “talent” was having giant boobs and breaking/holding things with them. The hosts and judges verified they were real by fondling them on national TV. Oh, she also hit the hosts in the face with them.
-Youz a city boy don’t pretend like you know that soflis cxovreba.
-Whoa dude that’s heavy. Yeah if you wanna talk in a few ill be free. Just on the pot right now.
-Yes my daddy is a chicken farmer.
-Marika asked how youre doing and if youre getting fat.
-We are apparently going somewhere and you guys have to come, they called you “angels”
-At my host bros 17th bday. Just me and his buddies. Its like a chuckie cheese supra.
-Favorite part of leadership trainings. When you ask who is a leader. The first response is Stalin. 
-Good lord. Someone mentioned Hitler. One kid then yelled out magari kacia
-Have you ever played clue and though you were about to win only to figure out you're totally wrong about one of the categories? That’s how I feel about his comfort with public undergarments.
-It’s gonna turn you into one of them while you sleep dude.
-INFO: travel to Tbilisi still restricted due to the unaccounted tiger and hyena in the city
-You sure this isn’t an acid flashback?
-Just had a no squat ghost poop. Pretty sweet.
-Or maybe Thompson has one of those nights where he does some meth a half hour before tip off and scores 40 in the third quarter.
-There are two children at the front of this marsh saying “swear to god if you wave this pretzel in my face!” and they’re also parentless… Im freaked out.
-Its terrible weather here… I guess that means youll be back soon then
-Today is Button Up and/or Tie/Blazer Day. Don’t be a **** ***** *** *** ** ***** **** ** ***** and not do it. Mommas proud of you.
-good old Site Rat disease is settling in
-10:30 am Marika gives me coffee and chacha. Happy Saturday cluster mates :)
-The universe has heard my bulking prayers…. funeral supra in Oz
--Yeah man, plus malnourishment and deathly cold gyms don’t help.
-Cow….. Better than brains though. Had that during Pst and I haven’t been the same since.
-Another anti drinking tool discovered – just successfully used some internalized karate kid “wax on/wax off” moves in conjunction with some “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon moves to evade the multiple grasping attempts of a group of insistent alcohol ‘pushers’. No one was injured or hurt – BUT it was a thing of seemingly choreographed beauty (flowing hands, arms & side stepping feet). Smooth yet effective. Too bad it wasn’t filmed.


Fall and Winter

Highlights of Fall included a Halloween party, a Thanksgiving get together at the beach, and most of all, my mom’s visit! As usual, Mom was ridiculously popular. We celebrated my birthday, and she got to meet all 3 host families I have had. It was excellent, and a memory both of us will cherish. Certainly a highlight of my service.
At the end of August, I took an out of country trip to Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, and Vienna with my buddy Ryan. I got to meet up with my grandparents in Budapest, another highlight of my service. They aren’t exactly big world travelers, but they did a pretty good job, I’m glad they came and Budapest is an incredible city. I had a surf and turf dinner at the 5 star Marriot in Budapest among other excellent meals that Grandma and Grandpa treated me to.
At my NGO we also opened “Rvas+1” the cafĂ© that my organization has wanted to open for several years. The opening was very successful although over the winter we have struggled to get consistent guests. We will see, hopefully things turn up as spring comes and we plan more events.

New Years came and went, with mostly just a lot of feasting and parties. Crazy to know I will return home in 2016. I went snowboarding for the first time ever and pretty much spent the entire day on my butt. It was awesome but I am glad I am still young because some of my crashes were pretty violent. No injuries though. I stayed on the easiest slope all day, going up and down it. I certainly made good progress but the next day I was incredibly sore. Crazy that I return to America this year!
Mom with my uncle Edika and grandma 
Budapest with grandparents
Snow Day in early January
Bday party
Mskheta with Mom and coworkers

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Spring and Summer

Way too much to address since my last post. I will quickly say that things have calmed down at home. It was a very sad time throughout much of spring, but everyone is back to work, and enjoying summer. A few quick notes about some other things that have happened:

Alex left. Alex was a 19 year old German volunteer who was working with me for the past year at my NGO. Very sad to see him go, but he needs to go start university, and his volunteer program was only 1 year long. I was really lucky to work with him, and I will see him in Stuttgart one day.

My good friend Mackenzie came to Georgia in June for a week. We mostly stayed in east Georgia, and went to Kazbegi (a big mountain), Uplistsikhe (a cave city), Sighnaghi (little wine tourist town), and a hike in Borjomi National Park.

LIFE Camp. So much time and prep has gone into this camp, and I cant believe it is over. LIFE stands for Leadership, Integration, and Fitness Education. Along with 4 other Peace Corps Volunteers, we conducted 3 small, unfunded day LIFE camps in 3 communities across Georgia. This was followed up with our main 8 day, over night, in tents, LIFE camp in Kakheti. We had over 360 kids apply from each region of Georgia. The camp itself was a blast, with many bumps and obstacles along the way. It was absolutely my favorite project I have gotten to work on in Georgia. The 34 boys and girls (aged 14-16) had a blast. 

LIFE Camp in Khulo

Baseball with LIFE Campers

Hike in Lagodekhi with LIFE!
Thats all for now!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Host Father, Otari

I have written this throughout the past two weeks. Some of it is copied from my journal, and some I have added/edited since. Trying to share these past two weeks through a blog is difficult, but I have done my best. The desire to respect my host family’s privacy, and share my experience is a little conflicting here. I strongly encourage you to check out my friend Sarah’s blog: - more-759. She is a much better writer, and more consistent blogger. She gives an excellent feel for Georgian funerals. I will try also, but it is difficult to capture through writing a blog.

Feb 28th -
I am currently writing this in Microsoft Word from my bedroom. It is 1:30am on February 28th. My host family got home about an hour ago, and I was woken up to cries, screams and sobs. My host dad passed away at the hospital tonight. He has been very very ill for the past two months, and got sent to the hospital 3 days ago. So many tough things about right now. I’m deciding the family needs time to just cry. It just happened, they don’t need to think about me in any way right now. Of course I will be there for them tomorrow and in the coming days/weeks, but right now is just sorrow of 5 or so family members echoing through the house. I think they just need right now to themselves. Right now is the hardest moment I have had in PC so far, and certainly one of the most difficult moments of my host family's life.
            I don’t know exactly what was wrong with Otari. My language skills do not include medical terms. He was 69 years old, and had an operation in December. He had been very ill ever since. I do very, very strongly get the impression that with proper healthcare, this would not have happened. I have been told about “bad hospitals, and bad doctors” and Otari had his medicine switched several times I think. I am thankful for the healthcare we have back home. I am so thankful for my family’s health.
            I never spoke much with Otari. He didn’t speak much (even before his operation) and when he did, he spoke a thick version of the local dialect that was hard for me to understand. That said, he was still my host dad, and he still loved telling people that I was his American, and that I lived with him. The night before he passed away, he was bragging to his nurses about me when I visited him in the hospital. “This boy lives with me. This is my American. See him? He lives with me.”
            Death supersedes culture or language – its universal. It is universally sad and painful. When I finally leave this room, I am not going to have the language skills to respond, other than to say I’m sorry. But who am I kidding, I don’t have the language skills do respond to this situation in English. There is not much that can be said, but so much that is felt.
            I am very nervous.  I don’t know what the implications of this are for me. I don’t know if they will want me to keep living here (I think they will, but not sure). I don’t know exactly what the funeral customs are. I don’t know if there is a certain thing I am supposed to do, or way I am supposed to respond. I will be talking with some Peace Corps staff tomorrow, who will have advice for me. Everything will be alright. I will still be in Georgia, I will still have my projects to work on at my NGO. There will be a heavy, terrible sadness for awhile, but it’s part of life here in Georgia. I signed up to experience life here – all of it. Not just the beautiful mountains and black sea, not just the great food and wine and hospitality. I signed up to experience all of life here, and unfortunately this is part of it.
            I have a new host nephew who was born in December, about the time Otari got his operation. They were sleeping in the one heated room we have in the house for the month of January. It was a strange juxtaposition, new life right next to a life winding down. The new host nephew’s name is “Andrea” (Georgian version of Andrew). They call me his American uncle. He is pretty cute, sometimes I will sing or talk to him – my theory is this will make his English classes easier when he gets older.
            Its nearing 2am here. Still tears throughout the house. Prayers for the family.

Thursday, March 5th-
Otari’s funeral will be today. Death may transcend culture, but the customs following death are certainly different here in Georgia. The night he died, Otari’s body was brought home in a casket, which was put upstairs in the big room. All other furniture was removed, except for chairs lining the wall, surrounding the casket in the middle. For the past 5 days, hundreds of people have visited, and there are more bouquets of flowers than I can count… As the hundreds of people visit, my host mother and sister remain in the room, crying and grieving. The women sit with them awhile, often joining in the wailing. According to my coworkers, this loud grieving process is not a very old Georgian tradition - it just started about 200 years or so ago. In Guria (my region), apparently some families even hired professional wailers to cry at the wakes. My family hasn’t done this, but apparently it still occasionally happens.
The men go in, pay their respects to Otari, and leave the room immediately. One of my two host brothers, or Edward (my host uncle and neighbor) are waiting at the bottom of the outside stairs to shake hands….. There have been some very tough things to handle this week. Watching Otari’s 80-something year old mother climb the stairs to say goodbye to her son was not something I can write in detail about. Hearing about how much Otari liked me, and how he told the nurses I was his 4th child after I visited him at the hospital… We could never communicate very well, but I knew he liked me. Now I understand that I never knew how much. He always liked it when I ate, spoke in Georgian, or danced at a supra. Having visiting family tell me that my host brother Tengo and I are the “Patronis” of my host mother is tough. We will be the only ones in the house now, the 3 of us. I’m told that I must look out for her. (If she needs it I will of course, but usually it is her looking out for me).
They are expecting around 300 people today. At the supra that follows, there will be 240 liters of wine. I have no idea what this will be like – supras are usually so jovial, but I expect a different, more somber atmosphere. The “Mezobeli” (neighbor) supra on Sunday, was attended by only the men composing Otari’s best friends, neighbors and family. It was pretty intense, I was asked to make a toast in Georgian. I tried as best I could, to toast to the kindness and hospitality of a man that was willing to house a foreigner (with minimal language skills) for 2 years, with absolutely no prior knowledge of what I was like, or who I was.

Sunday, March 8th-
I will not write about my host mother’s sorrow, other than to say it has understandably been very very hard for her. It is sad and heartbreaking to see. The funeral is over, there are no more supras in the house, or wakes for neighbors and friends to visit. We are in the 40 days of mourning period now. For the family, this means no shaving, no eating meat or cheese, no music or singing in the house, and no television. After what had to be more people than this house has ever seen, there is now a contrasting emptiness and silence…
The funeral process… Otari was brought down (open casket) the outside stairs by the men of the family, and set on chairs in the front yard. There was silence as people lined the street, and the hearse waited outside the yard. One of his closest friends spoke, and then asked if anyone else had anything to say. From here, his brother, Edward, emerged from the crowd, and broke down, talking about how good a man his brother was. How many people were there to see him. How his entire life, he had been such a good brother. I had not cried in this process until Edward spoke. Couldn’t help but think about Hunter, and how I hope neither of us has to do that for a long, long time. I don’t know what it is like to be married for 50 years, but I do know what it’s like to have a brother.
The hearse carried the body to the cemetery, about 2 km away, as a massive herd of cars and people followed, and watched as Otari was lowered into the ground, and the ceremony was completed. An entire marshutka (minibus, this one with no seats) was stuffed completely full with all the flowers from visitors.


Neighbors have visited over the past days, to check in with my host mother. To visit with her, and make sure she is not alone as the days slowly turn to weeks. To chat and gossip, and slowly move forward in this mourning process. A picture of Otari, all dressed up in a suit, looking healthy and happy sits in the corner of the room as a candle burns next to it. He may have passed away, but the outpouring of love that I saw for him the past 2 weeks was incredible. He was not a man that will be forgotten. Otari is survived by his wife, 2 sons, 1 daughter, and 3 grandchildren. And of course, one very grateful American.   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Travel to Turkey (Winter Break)

I have no excuses for my failure as a blogger. But allow me to share how I ended 2014. Along with 4 other Peace Corps friends, we went to Turkey for 9 days. There also were 10 or so other PCVs there we met up with throughout the trip. The Turkish bath/massage was a highlight that I cant share pictures from but I highly recommend. My trip to Turkey included Istanbul, and Cappadocia. Unfortunately the weather did not allow us to take the famous air balloon ride in Cappadocia. The trip was amazing, below are a number of pictures: 

Bazaar on Asia side of Istanbul

Blue Mosque

Picture from top of Galata Tower

Cappadocia Caves

...I ate well on this trip

When in Turkey, get a shave and leave the 'stache

St. Anthonys Catholic Church - Christmas decorations!


Back home with the host family! (and newest member, Andrea [Andrew])
The trip was amazing, and I have been busy working for my organization (Young Pedagogues Union), working to get ready for LIFE Camp 2015 (Leadership, Integration, and Fitness Education), and working on several Peace Corps committees: GenEq committee, and Safety&Security committee ever since I got back from Turkey. Peace Corps life is keeping me busy!