Friday, October 22, 2010

The Jack-O-Lantern

Manny, Moe, and Jack (-o-Lantern)

 Part of my job as an English teacher is to share American holidays with Georgians and what better holiday than Halloween.  They don't celebrate Halloween here (yet) but they do know of it.  I'm told they have a similar tradition of "trick or treat" at New Year's when boys will ask families for treats and if they (the family) do not have any then they must sell their eldest daughter to them for 50 Tetri (55 cents); a real bargain.  I decided to go all out and make some Jack-o-lanterns to bring to some of my classes.  I did not realize how difficult it is to find pumpkins in this country.  Fortunately, our neighbor across the street, Alex, has a grandmother who works at a bazaar so he offered to take me there on a hunt for pumpkins.

Out three pumpkins ready for action.

When we arrive, his lovely grandmother is more than happy to help me find the perfect pumpkins.  We wander outside for a bit where all we find are green squash/pumpkins the size of softballs.  I load up a photo of a pumpkin on my iPhone (yay wireless Internet!) and show her what I am looking for.  She understands and we go inside.  Most of the vendors here have some pumpkins and squash but they are almost all green/yellow and fairly small.  The chance of finding a orange pumpkin, much less one larger than a soccer ball, is beginning to fade.  After some walking around, she finds a vendor with one pumpkin that fits my criteria - although still a little on the small side.  I buy it for 3 Lari and we move on in search for two more.  In the very back of the bazaar we hit the jackpot - if you can call it that; a stand with a few dozen pumpkins - all orange and of reasonable size.  Alex goes behind the counter and finds a few large ones that I can work with.  I thank Alex's grandmother by buying some flowers from her stand and off we go.

The always-helpful Nina cleaning the seeds!

When I get home, I cut the pumpkins open and start the cleaning.  Nina - always willing to help - takes on the role of cleaning the seeds which will make a tasty treat for my students.  We have many knives in the house but none of them have teeth (I plan to buy a few as Christmas presents; shhhh).  I end up finding a Swiss Army knife with a mini saw that works great for carving.  After finishing the carving, I work on baking the pumpkin seeds.  While they are cooking I thought it would be great to find the story of the Jack-o-Lantern.  After some searching, I found this story.  There are several versions of the story, but all follow the same premise of "Stingy Jack." The one I chose seems more complete and seemed easier to share with my students.

Class 8b with their Jack-o-Lantern.

The students love the Jack-o-Lanterns and the story but not so much the seeds - the teachers have no problem devouring them :-)  The following Monday I am pleasantly surprised to find several students carved their own Jack-o-Lanterns and brought them to school to share.

Happy Halloween!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Barber

It was bound to happen.  I knew coming to Georgia that if I didn't want to go grunge I would need to get a haircut before Christmas break.  Seinfeld fans will appreciate this experience (and the title of this post).  I've always seemed to have bad luck with haircuts - and dentists too but that's different story.  It doesn't help that I am also frugal when it comes to getting my hair done, which usually means I go to the lowest bidder.  For 9 years, while at ASU, I would go to Supercuts across the street.  Turnover being what it is in mass-haircut-land, I saw the same "stylist" maybe three times during this period.  Regardless of who I went to, there was always a 50% chance I would get butchered.

If you spend some time in Georgia, you will notice there are two hair styles for men.  There's the standard "bowl" cut which is just a short hair cut with little attention to styling the hair afterward.  And then there's the bald or shaved cut - depending on how many hair follicles you have left.  One of my hosts brothers - who happens to look like Justin Beiber - has a little style so I asked him where I could go for a haircut and if he would accompany me since they most likely wouldn't speak English.  Instead, he sent the youngest brother with me which happens to speak the least English of the three.  For good measure, I brought a photo of me with my hair styled the way I wanted.  The only problem was the hair was somewhat longer in the photo and I wanted a shorter cut.  I was hoping I could just show the stylist this photo and say "mokle" (short) and we'd be good to go.  I thought wrong.

If you've read my other posts, you'll know that traveling in Georgia is not a point A to point B affair. I knew the approximate location of the stylist but I let Gano lead me.  We ended up getting on a marshutka and taking it almost to the seaport.  After getting off, we headed down the street I assumed the barber was on but Gano didn't seem to find it.  For the next twenty minutes we ended up backtracking half of the marshutka route and found a stylist that he said spoke English.  It was a nice place with a modern look.  And they had an awesome looking gray cat.  Maybe this was a good sign.  There were two stylists working - one older man and a woman.  I tend to prefer women more than men as I believe they have more style and experience.  Haircuts from men tend to be more utilitarian in nature.  My brother handed the photo of me to the woman and asked if she could cut my hair and she said to go to the guy.  Strike one against me :-)

I started to feel a little uneasy about staying here so I went outside to call my brother and ask him if he knew of a different stylist. Before I could ask, the male style came out and called me in.  Gano showed him the photo and after some back and forth with poor English to Georgian translation, he started to cut.  I pointed to the clippers and said "ori" (two) and indicated he should shave the side of my head with them but he didn't respond.  For ten minutes he cut what seemed to be maybe 1/2 inch of hair which was not even close to a short cut then proceeded to wash my hair.  I told him it was not short enough and Gano kept saying "he cut after" the wash (does that sound right?).   Sure enough after the wash, he proceeded to blow dry my hair and style to exactly like the photo I brought in.  To his credit, it looked damn perfect.

At this time, another male stylist was next to us and noticed I was not happy with the cut.  And he spoke some English.  After some back and forth I was eventually able to communicate to the stylist what I wanted and twenty minutes and two shampoos later, I had a perfect haircut complete with styling gel - something rare in Georgia.  Total cost: 20 Lari and one hour.  Cheap to American standards ($11 USD) but expensive to Georgian (7 Lari).  I suspect the cut is normally cheaper but he probably jacked-it up - I don't blame him though.  Now, when I go back in February, will he remember me? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wood is Good!

The 10th grade English textbook my school uses would would have you believe that Georgia is overrun with logging and deforesting companies.  Unfortunately, many of the homes in Georgia are still heated by wood and until central heating (and air conditioning) become the norm, people will still need wood to heat their homes and water.  Having slept most of the day Friday, I woke up Saturday well-rested and to the sound of a chain saw.  After a quick wash and change I head downstairs to see what's up.  In the garage is Genadi moving in huge logs that are being cut up.  Turns out this is our annual wood delivery and we'll spend the weekend cutting and organizing the wood which we'll use over the course of the year.  So far, the primary use has been to heat the hot water for our showers but during winter, we'll use much of it in the fireplace located in the family room.

I didn't measure the wood but by the photos you can see it takes up half of the garage.  Once the truck leaves, I help Nina and Geno clean up the sawdust.  We save everything and the sawdust can be used in place of oil to start fires.  After we bag the sawdust Gio starts to chop up the wood into the smaller logs that we'll use in the boiler and fireplace.  This turns into an event that I couldn't have imagined.  Over the course of two days, friends and neighbors stop by to help cut the wood.  I managed to get a few chops in but Rolandi didn't like that - he probably thought I'd cut my hand off.  :-)

By Sunday morning maybe a third of the wood is cut and we begin a long day of chopping and stacking.  By the end of the day we have about eighty percent of the wood cut which fills both walls of the garage.  The rest of the wood is moved outside where the swing is and will be cut up later as the wood in the garage is used up. 

One thing that continually impresses me about Georgia is neighbors help neighbors and there's always something going on in the neighborhood.  Like the movie "the Burbs," you can sit outside (or lean out the window) and watch all the activity around you and not get bored..  This weekend, not only were we chopping wood, but so was our neighbor across the street.  Two other neighbors were making wine, and on the end of the street they were using a car to haul concrete mix up the third story of the new building.

Stay warm!

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Chicken is Our Friend. Or is It?

Yesterday was Day of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (in Mtskheta), otherwise known as Monastery Day and is a national holiday in Georgia which meant no school.  My family celebrated with a qatami mtsvadi (chicken BBQ) and since I love legs they always cook extra for me.  I can't say for sure if it was the chicken but later that evening I broke a 7-year streak of not vomiting and by 3:00 am I was praying to God to put me out of my misery.  Today, to recover from expelling all of my bodily fluids I decided to take the day off from school.  I can't look at food without feeling queasy but knowing my blood-sugar is low I force-fed myself some toast and 7-Up that my father picked-up before going to work.

Are they conspiring? :-)

This brings up a topic that I see discussed a lot among teachers in Georgia - food safety.  I will not get into a debate on whether or not the food here is safer to eat than in other countries.  I believe that there is adjustment period we all go through when visiting any foreign country and some people take longer to adjust than others.  Have I been sick?  Yes.  But I can honestly say that overall I feel healthier here eating freshly prepared meals than I did in the states eating processed junk.  Don't get me wrong - junk food is catching-on in Georgia, but the majority of Georgian kitchens still lack a microwave and a pantry full of "boxed meals".  I imagine this is how my parents grew up and this is one of the simple things in Georgia that I wish Americans could go back to.

Off to rest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Road Trip: Sighnaghi and Tbilisi

Sighnaghi in Georgia - "City of Love"

The aim of TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) is not only to increase English comprehension in Georgia but for volunteers to experience Georgian culture firsthand - one reason we are placed with host families.  So when I was invited by the 11th grade class on a weekend excursion to Sighnaghi and Georgia's capital - Tbilisi - I  thought "what better way to experience this beautiful country than with my students?"  When I was in school, the only field trips I remember outside of band (yes, I was a band geek) were in primary school and those were usually one-day trips.  Today in America I think field trips are a thing of the past.  In Georgia, most schools take weekend excursions once a year starting in the 6th grade.  This trip was to be three days beginning Friday at midnight.  Yes, midnight.  By travelling at night, we save on lodging and can sleep on the marshutka arriving at our destination refreshed for the long day ahead.  That's the plan at least.

The evening begin with my host father and brother driving me to school at 11:30 pm.  It was Katya's 17th birthday so the trip started a little late due to the obligatory celebration.  And in Georgia, that means cake, cola, katchapuri, ghvino and lots of other Georgian goodies!  After picking up my co-teacher Lea, we started off on our way.  I scored a front seat with plenty of leg room and a great view but the downside is I did not get to watch the great spectacle that was behind me without tweaking my neck.  Imagine a disco on wheels for 8 hours and you'll get an idea of why we weren't going to sleep on this trip.  Irakli kept me company up front and the three diva's Sophie, Tamuka, and Magda provided surround sound singing along to the music.  Madloba gogos!

Disco Marshutka!
By 8:00 am we rolled through Tbilisi with another three hours to Sighnaghi and things were quiet on the marshutka as most everyone was asleep from exhaustion.  We entered the town of Sighnaghi around 11:00 am.  While I have never been there, Sighnaghi looks like you can pick it up and drop it in the Cinque Terre region of Italy and it would fit right in.  It's a beautiful town and one of the smallest in Georgia but with a rich history.  Surrounding it is the second largest wall in the world - behind the Great Wall of China - much of which still stands today.  The town is located in the Kakheti region of Georgia which is known for its rich variety of wine making Sighnaghi a wine-tasting stop-over during the harvest season.  Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, recently named Sighnaghi the "City of Love" and the various guests houses and bed and breakfasts make this a great place for a romantic weekend.

Perfect weather for a lazy nap.

After unloading the marshutka and a quick lunch everyone was off to tour the town.  I needed the exercise so I made an effort to walk every street in town including the smaller side streets.  There are a few churches in the town and the group eventually ended up at one of them for some nice photos; the panoramic views were spectacular!  Making our way back to the town center we picked up a shuttle to Bodbe Monastery, 2km outside of town where St. Nino's remains are enshrined and a holy water spring is named.  St. Nino is credited with introducing Christianity to Georgia making the monastery (and spring) a major pilgrimage for many.  The hike down to the spring is a pilgrimage in itself down a steep set of stairs and then several switchbacks to the bottom of a valley.

St. Nino's Holy Spring
Upon our trek back up to the monastery we discovered our shuttle driver took off without us so we walked the 2km back to Sighnaghi where the men started preparing a mtsvadi (BBQ).  I caved-in to peer pressure and partook in some dinner time drinking of ghvino.  Don't feed the gremlins! :-) I left the cha cha (Georgian vodka) for the more seasoned drinkers.  To work off the great meal the group played tag and hide and seek until it got dark then we took an evening stroll around town which eventually led to the park for more shenanigans.  My patrone, Alex, shared my private room with me and between his friends prank calling him and the marshutka drivers in the next room I got very little sleep that night.

We were on the road to Tbilisi by 8:30 am Sunday and I slept most of the way.  At one of our break stops we managed to leave behind Shota who got off for a smoke break as we were leaving.  The freeway in the outskirts of Tbilisi has few exits so we had to drive 10km before we could turn around and head back.  He was right where we left him and in good spirits but this incident allowed for some great jokes the rest of the trip.

Sameba Cathedral
While in Tbilisi we stopped at no fewer than six churches and monasteries.  Sadly, I failed to write down all of the names (my camera has a dictation mode, why not use it?) but my host family helped me with some of them.  The first stop is Sameba Cathedral - the largest church in Georgia and according to one student, Nino, the 3rd largest Orthodox church in the world.  This church is huge and it seems like you walk a kilometer just to get to the front!  Being a Sunday, mass was taking place inside and I opted to not take photos of the insides of any churches - both out of respect and I was unsure of the protocol;  I'm later told it's OK.  Regardless of how large Sameba is, the inside was packed wall to wall with church-goers and visitors.  I wanted to experience the mass but having so many people packed into the place took away the magic for me.  My Dominican family back home were right though - Orthodox churches have a lot happening.  Even during mass, people are up and walking about.

Kartlis Deda - Mother of Georgia
From outside of Sameba, you can see several churches - the view is breathtaking.  Wikipedia shows 18 churches in Tbilisi but I suspect there are many more.   Next up is Metekhi church where the statue of Vakhtang Gorgasaliis located - a Georgian King who founded the city of Tbilisi.  After Metekhi, we head up the hill to Mtatsminda Park - the tallest point in Tbilisi which prominently houses the television and radio antennas along with a 262 feet Ferris wheel.  My students don't know I have a fear of heights and now is not the time to disappoint them so I decide to take a ride in this thing.  It's unlike any Ferris wheel I have been in (which is not many, btw).  It makes a complete rotation about every 15 minutes which means 15 minutes of shear terror as your cabin-mates joke with you about opening the door!  I enjoyed the ride though and would probably go on it again if I ever visit Mtatsminda Park in the future.

Acrophobiacs need not apply!
After Mtatsminda Park we stop off at a roadside cafe for kinkali.  Some of the students wanted katchapuri and even others wanted McDonald's but Democracy won-out and kinkali was the winner.  That and our marshutka driver was starving and pretty much said we were eating kinkali!  After lunch we stopped at Djvari church and Svetickhoveli monastery before heading back to Batumi.  All of the churches we visited had gypsies and vendors outside which reminded me of Mathew 21:12: "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves."  It's not up to me to say if this is good or bad - many of these vendors and gypsies live off the tourists - but I find it fascinating (and in some ways, sad) nonetheless since this is not a common site in American churches - at least the ones I have visited.

On the way home, as we pass through Kutaisi, the diva's convince the driver to stop at McDonald's.  I've been secretly craving McDonald's since I arrived in the country so I decide to join them.  While in Kutaisi for training, I tried to find this McDonald's but we made it as far as the bazaar and didn't find it.  Turns out it was right there!  Hoping for a milk shake I join the ladies but all I see are McFlurry's and sundaes so I opt for an M&M McFlurry and I buy Chicken McNuggets and fries for the people waiting on the marshutka.  The girls buy hamburgers.  Despite us being the only people here, service is extremely slow and they nickel and dime you for everything.  Want a napkin?  10 Tetri.  Ketchup packet?  15 Tetri.  Dipping sauce for your Chicken McNuggets?  50 Tetri each (you don't even get one for free).  And a *can* of Coke is 3.50 Lari ($1.80 USD). 

Katya and Shota dancing to traditional Georgian music.

Teens will be teens and after some cat fighting on the marshutka the the mood lightens and the disco starts back up. It could be the McDonald's too - fast food tends to do that.  The ride home becomes as lively as the ride there and by 1:00 am Monday we pull into Batumi.  For my first class excursion with my favorite class, this will be a hard one to beat!

Class 11b Urexis School - October 9, 2010

Thanks for the memories!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Wine Making 101 - Georgian Style!

Disclaimer: I am not a wine expert.  As a matter of fact, I don't like the taste of wine (or beer) and in the states I rarely drink.  In Georgia the wine tastes a little sweeter so I enjoy it in moderation.  While my sister and her husband are wine-makers I couldn't tell you the first thing about wine-making.  After today, that still holds true.

I enjoy walking home from school.  I can look back on the day's lessons and begin to mentally prepare for tomorrow.  It also gives me some personal time which I may or may not get when I arrive home.  For you Seinfeld fans, I compare living with a Georgian family to Jerry Seinfeld living next door to Kramer - you never know what crazy scheme he's cooking up.  When I arrive home, lunch is waiting for me.  It's the usual fare - bread (puri), bologna (calbasa), chicken (qatami), potato salad - and a new item: fish!  The good news is I informed my family I didn't like fish so I didn't feel too guilty turning it down.  Living in a coastal town I feel bad that they haven't served fish the first month I have been here.  I know the entire family loves seafood so I told the father the previous night that they should not cook fish on my account.  It did look delicious though and I have to say I have never seen fish cooked whole.

Pan-fried fish - head, bones, and all!

After lunch I went upstairs to lay down and take a nap which turned out to be short-lived.  My host brother Giorgi called me to go to the bazaar with him and his father, Rolandi.  I wanted to buy some more stickers for school so I thought this would be a good trip.  As you will notice from previous posts, driving in Georgia is not a point A to point B process.  It's usually point A to points, F, Z, X, C, and N, and then finally to point B.  Even more bizarre is that while some of these points are in close proximity to each other, you  might drive from one side of town to the other, return to the original spot, only to turn right back around and drive to the far side of town again!  There is no rhyme or reason.

On this trip we head downtown and pick up Nato (mom) from the dentist.  We then drive down to the port and and park for a few minutes while Rolandi (father) runs an errand.  We then proceed to drive to a family friend's (Mindia) house but on the way we pass by the only Catholic church in Batumi.  I didn't have my camera but I did mark the location on my GPS so I can find it again.  After dropping Nato off at Mindia's house, we finally make it to the bazaar - which turns out to be more of a farmer's market.  It is here I learn that we are buying grapes (qkhurdzeni) to make wine.  The first batch of grapes we look at gets a thumbs-down by Rolandi.  We wait about fifteen minutes while he looks around and then we drive further into the market where he finds his grapes of choice.  To me, they all look the same but to an experienced eye, I'm sure there is a difference.  They are mostly green with some red mixed-in.

Bagging the grapes.

While they start filling bags with the grapes I notice a taxi pull up.  Giorgi tells me that the taxi will bring home the grapes.  Only after they filled all fourteen bags did I realize we did not have enough room in our car.  In total we bought 350 kilograms of grapes (772 pounds) for 350 Lari ($190 or 25 cents per pound).  We load up taxi with the grapes and Giorgi accompanies the driver home while Rolandi and I pick up Nato.  At home, we unload the grapes from the car. It's about 5 pm at this point when I think we are done for the day but it appears we are just getting started.  I help Nina (grandma) clean out the huge barrel which will hold the grapes and then we bring out six huge jugs which will hold the wine.  Rolandi and Alex work on setting up the grape press.  After everything is set up, we start loading grapes into the hopper.  Alex does the majority of the pressing while the brothers and I dump the grapes.

Alex, Guarami, and Giorgi.

After about an hour we are done pressing the grapes.  It is here that I learn they plan to fill the jugs with this "first press" of grape juice.  This is the premium wine.  Sugar and water is added to the remaining grape peels which then ferments for a month to produce a lower quality wine.  To celebrate the wine making, we end the day with a mtsvadi (BBQ) supra (party) and tonight it's chicken!  After a quick shower and walk to the market for soda, we move the tables to the upstairs balcony for dinner.  Georgian supras can go on for hours and this one was no exception.  After the first round of food (and maybe a half dozen toasts), Alex's parents stop by and we have a second round of food and maybe a dozen more toasts.  By 10:30 pm, I am exhausted and head to bed just as Peso (Guarami's friend) stops by for more food and drink.


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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Off to Georgia

Fernando and his two sons Omar and Odin.

After a month of anticipation, I received my electronic ticket to Georgia on Thursday evening.  My flight was scheduled for the following Tuesday from LAX.  Oops!  When I applied to the TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) program we were asked to for a secondary airport to fly out of in the event they could not purchase tickets for our first choice.  Having no idea that the city to the south (Tucson, Arizona) had an airport, I put Los Angeles as my secondary choice.  I made three bad assumptions; and you know what you get when you assume.  1.) I didn't think that they would fly me out of LAX; 2.) if they did I thought I would get to spend a few days there with family and friends; and 3.) I thought I would receive my tickets well in advance so that if I did have to fly out of LAX, I would have ample time to prepare a trip there.

Attempts to have TLG change the departure airport from LAX to PHX were fruitless; understandable since this program is new and the government has little money so it is likely they are buying the cheapest possible tickets.  Read: non-refundable group rates.  The good news is this was a great opportunity catch up with my old high school friend Fernando who lives in Buena Park.  He agreed to pick me up from Ontario Airport, let me crash at his house, and drop me off at LAX the following morning at 4 am.  After a night of packing (well, my mother packed and I watched in amazement as she packed so much into two suitcases) my parents dropped me off at the airport and I began my journey to Georgia.  The trip to Ontario was uneventful (thanks Southwest) and Fernando was there waiting for me.  He looked just like he did in high school except for the addition of facial hair.the addition of facial hair.

Portillo's Hot Dogs

After a car tour of Buena Park and Knott's Berry Farm (I was sad to see the Wax Museum closed) Fernando and  the family took me to Portillo's Hot Dogs - a Chicago joint making its way west.  We walked off our meals at Downtown Disney which appears to occupy most of the old Disneyland parking lot.  It's a half mile of restaurants and Disney-themed shops.  It's amazing how much Anaheim has changed since I grew up there. From Interstate 5/Anaheim Blvd., you used to be able to see the Matterhorn but all you see now are trees and huge parking structures.  You need to pay for the privilege now.  The only ride I did see was the Matterhorn which they use to transport guests from the hotels to the various parks.

The next morning Fernando drove me to the airport at 3:30 am.  We first headed to the International terminal which was a graveyard with maybe a dozen people scattered about sleeping on the chairs.  After walking around for fifteen minutes without seeing any airport personnel we decided to try the main United terminal - another fifteen minute walk.  When we did arrive, the place was a zoo; fifty people in line, two people working and ninety minutes until my flight leaves.  Not to mention the longer security line waiting for me after checking my baggage.

I have to apologize to Fernando.  After standing in line for 10 minutes, I noticed this one United employee was waiting on an empty line - the sign read "Checking Baggage Only" which means those people who checked-in online can go through that line to check their bags and be on their way.  I  stepped out of line to ask the United sheep herder this and he confirmed.  So, Fernando and I make our way out of the "loser" line (well, it wasn't a big deal but it felt good) and proceed to the empty line like  VIPs only to find out that we still needed to go through the long line to show my passport.  ^%#*@!!!  Embarrassed, we make out way back to the loser line with people staring at us like we're idiots.  Well, I am the idiots not Fernando.  Thankfully, the people let us back in our original spot.  Five minutes later, two more United employees show up (that's four employees now for those counting).  One of the employees takes charge and finally yells out that anyone with a 6 am flight should head to the front of the line.  That's great but it appears that most people there are on the 6 am flight!  Except for one girl who was on a 10 am flight and chose to get here at 4 am!.  OK.  It's close to 5 am by time I make it to the front of line and I'm soon off to the security checkpoint.  Fernando bids farewell and within ten minutes I am through the checkpoint and off to my gate.

For some reason I think my gate is 75A so I make my way there and sit down to call my parents.  It's about 5:15 now and there is no one here.  By 5:30 there is still no one working the gate and I take a second look at my ticket.  Gate 85A!!!   I start running toward gate 85A which seems to be a mile away.  I flag down a cart and become one of those "cart people" we all despise and fly through the airport to my correct gate. Fortunately, they are late boarding and I end up waiting another ten minutes.  The flight to Chicago is uneventful as is the food.

Welcome to the windy city!

Chicago is United's hub and there are at least fifteen of us waiting here for our flight to Amsterdam.  I meet up with Amy and soon Kim finds us.  We pass the time by walking around and then settle down for some reading.  I find an outlet (a rare find in this airport) and charge my iPhone for the long flight.  An hour before boarding, we make our way to the gate where we meet some other TLG teachers - one of whom is Jason - also a former ASU IT guy.  With thirty minutes to board we learn that our gate has been moved and the departure time pushed back one hour - the root cause of our luggage not making the transfer in Amsterdam (see below).

My first transcontinental flight is great.  I paid $89 to upgrade to "Economy Plus" which gives me five inches of extra legroom - well worth the cost.  The dinner - some sort of overcooked pasta with tomato sauce and fake cheese product - is bland.  The roll is frozen and hard.  Before I fall asleep I watch the new Karate Kid with Will Smith's son.  We land in Amsterdam an hour late leaving no time to explore the airport.  We are rushed off the plane and escorted to the gate for our flight to Georgia.  Airzena (Georgian Airways) has no inside gate at the airport so we are bussed out to the runway where we board our plane.

Airzena - Weekly flights between Tbilisi and Amsterdam
If you thought Southwest was a cattle drive, then you haven't seen anything.  We are herded onto the plane, which has been waiting on the runway for us for over an hour.  The plane is about 60/40 Georgians and TLG teachers.  The overhead bins are all full but I manage to store my carry-on in first class - which is not surprisingly empty.  Other luggage is thrown on seats in the rear.  FAA anyone?  I asked for an aisle seat so I am placed next to a Georgian "dude" and his girlfriend.  The dude is even wearing his sunglasses ON the plane.  This is someone we all get stuck with at the movies.  You know, the person who hogs both armrests and spreads his legs so wide so you are forced so sit knees together.  To make maters worse, your knees are literally in the back of the seat in front of you.  After fifteen uncomfortable minutes the plane eventually takes off and the fasten seat belt sign goes off.  I high-tail it to the lavatory which, surprise, surprise, is void of any toilet paper or paper towels.  Welcome to Georgia!  After using the lavatory I find a new seat in the back of the plane with plenty of room and meet another Georgian who is more social than my last seatmate.  He  speaks English so we have some good conversations during the three-hour flight.  In the seat across the aisle from me is a lawyer from Atlanta, Georgia who is representing companies who wish to open shop in Georgia and his is on his fifth trip to the country.

The flight attendants are stunningly beautiful but clearly do the bare minimum.  They feed us and pass out some drinks but most of the time they are in the front of back of the plane chatting with one another.  At one point, they do manage to place some paper towels in the lavatory but those run out quickly.  The meal consisted of some sort of fatty mystery meat, which we concluded was probably mutton and some pasta in butter.  The vegetables were sliced cucumbers. A few hours later, we land in Tbilisi where we are greeted by the TLG staff and no luggage.  Yep, it didn't make it on the plane.  Good thing I brought a week's worth of clothing in my carry-on.
You're not in Kansas anymore!

We spend the next hour filling in claim forms for our luggage and exchanging dollars for Lari.  While waiting in line, we get our first taste of how Georgians wait in line.  They don't!  There were four of us waiting - which would have been obvious to most people - when a Georgian man walked right up to the window to exchange some money.  We got a good chuckle out of this but didn't complain.  A few minutes later, a little old Georgian lady does the same thing, oblivious that there are others waiting.  Making things worse, she argues with the guy at the window for what seems to be an eternity.  Finally, she turns around to leave when she sees that she cut in line.  She profusely apologizes and walks away.  After exchanging some Euro for Lari (thanks Dad) which was much stronger than the dollar we are loaded onto the bus and head for our hotel.

Welcome to Georgia!

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