A Day in the Life
Some of you have asked what my daily life is like here, so to the extent that anything is routine here goes all the detailed “boring” stuff, dedicated to Audrey. Weekends I’m trying to mix it up and travel.
Work is normally from 10 am to 7 pm in Tbilisi. I set my alarm for 7:30 am, press the snooze for 30 minutes and then get out of bed, sometimes shower (the house has hot water all the time, which is fairly high on my list of good things and helps balance out the language barriers). Sometimes I blow dry my hair with my US hair dryer that only works on the “low level” here (on high it shuts down after three seconds). Drying my hair I loathe in the best of circumstances so mostly I just wear my hair up.
I go downstairs at exactly nine since routine helps in navigating the language barriers. Either the young mother, the grandmother, or the aunt gives me tea and sometimes Turkish coffee. There is always honey and butter and usually fresh Georgian bread in the shape of a long boat. If the aunt doesn’t think I’m eating enough sometimes she puts butter and honey on the bread and tries to stick it in my mouth–just like she does with the five-year old. Sometimes I also get rice porridge or pasta or hard-boiled eggs or fried potatoes. I’m never sure what is coming my way, other than the bread and honey.
They do not let me touch anything or do anything. I am just to sit and be served. If I try to take my empty plate to the sink they wave me away. If I try to open the refrigerator and get water there is great consternation and drama that I would attempt such a task myself. And so I walk in, sit, and wait for the food and drinks to arrive in front of me and then be whisked away when I’m done. If I make the mistake of sitting too long, usually a matter of seconds, a new clean plate will appear before me and more food will be pulled from nooks and crannies—pastries and chocolates and homemade jams and fruits. The grandmother also keeps a supply of chocolates in her purse, which she dispenses when we are out and about. I’m going to be horribly spoiled when I get home.
The kids leave for school around 8:30 so they’re gone by the time I come down. A small TV is usually on in the background above the table. In the mornings it’s the news followed by a Georgian morning show and in the evenings it’s Spanish soaps (The dubbing’s pretty bad and I can hear the Spanish in the background). This morning there was a news story about Obama and the grandmother said, “Obama, I don’t like,” and shook her finger. She can speak a few words in English when she chooses. I’ve heard this from other Georgians, but I’m not sure what’s behind it yet. Perhaps it’s just because George Bush came here for a visit and they named a road after him, or because his name was George, the patron saint of Georgia, or maybe something to do with Georgian/Russian politics? I don’t know yet.
The driver comes in around 9:30 am, usually has breakfast and tea, and then drives first the grandmother and then me to our respective offices. It’s a nice drive along the river to my office passing through the Old Town (which is quite beautiful and I’ll post photos one day soon). The fifteen-minute drive to work is heaven compared to an hour plus on a series of marshukas (mini-buses, similar to what we called boom buses in Suriname) through the not so pretty parts of town. Another reason I like my family.
The Ministry is part of a larger complex of government buildings on the opposite side of town from my host family but within walking distance of Old Town. I share an office with the other PC Response Volunteer and there’s a door that connects to the international department where they all speak English and are nice. The office space is fine (third floor of ten story building, with windows that open, two desks and a small couch) and the building is clean and well maintained. The bathrooms took an adjustment as the toilet is just a hole at floor level but it’s cleaned every day and I’m getting used to it. The Ministry has designated smoking areas near the bathrooms, but everyone smokes in the stairwells and even their offices. I’ve taken up smoking myself because I figure I might as well get the enjoyment if I’m going to get the downside (kidding, Mom, kidding). Coffee is instant (a purge on the planet I tell you, but one must do what one must do for caffeine) and shared with our next door office mates.
Our boss is a deputy director, only 29, and seems great. He’s got a master’s from Harvard, so smart too. There are a lot of young people in high positions here as supposedly they adapt better in the post Soviet era. I’m enjoying work so either my sabbatical really did work and/or I just prefer working overseas. Our primary job is to: 1) design a school-based environmental education program; 2) develop an environmental education strategy for the country; and 3) put together a training for ministry staff and NGOs on designing effective environmental education and outreach programs. The best part is I can just work on the projects and nothing but the projects without a million interruptions or issues dividing my attention. Rare indeed in the US.
I sometimes take lunch, sometimes not. The Georgians probably think that’s quite odd of us, not to leave for lunch or sometimes, gasp, eat at our desks. There’s a cafeteria in the building that has pretty good Georgian food, but usually I like to get outside and walk, so I’ll just stop by a grocery store along the way and buy an apple or yogurt and water. It takes a half-hour to walk to Old Town but the first few times I didn’t like it due to the exhaust, but I’ve learned to walk on side streets, where it’s not so bad. The city is in a valley with surrounding hills but the real problem is that drivers remove their catalytic converters thinking they’ll save fuel and the result is a near constant haze over the city. I’ve actually seen two people wearing face masks while out walking, which is not a bad idea.
After work, the driver picks me up at six or occasionally I take a marshuka to the Peace Corps office to do email and play on the internet. I usually call the son who speaks English when I decide to do something different and he calls his mom and lets her know what time I’ll be home and that I don’t need a ride. I don’t have internet at home but I could easily buy a cell phone based internet connection for my laptop if I wanted, but I figure this is a good chance for me to disconnect my addiction for a few months. We’ll see how long I last.
At home, my family usually feeds me as soon as I walk in the door and will continue feeding me until I physically remove myself from the kitchen, although they’re getting better about this. The food is really good though and mostly they try to keep it vegetarian, although every once in a while they’ll serve me meat and just kind of watch expectantly to see what I’ll do. So far I’ve eaten it, but slowly and not taken any extra so I think they know I don’t want it regularly. I haven’t attempted meat since around the age of fifteen and I’ve reconfirmed, although I never had a doubt, that I haven’t been missing anything. It never tastes good to me in any form but I’ll say that it is easier to eat rolled in a dumpling or cabbage, or even small kebobs like at the Supra. But if there are any bones or identifiable body parts it’s too much.
The kitchen is the center of the house and has a big table and fireplace and the women spend most of their time there, plus there’s always a regular flow of visitors. I try to hang out for a little while after dinner, but there’s always the nonstop food, so eventually I leave. Some evenings I help the kids with their English homework or just hang out with them on the second floor while they’re doing other homework or we play chess. They enjoy teaching me Georgian more than they like me teaching them English and I feel the opposite. So far they’ve had the most fun looking at my pictures of a glacier in Patagonia and playing with my headlamp, which I pulled out one night when the electricity went out.
I usually go up to my room (on the 3rd floor where most of the bedrooms are located) by eight or nine and read, write or exercise. My workout consists of yoga and jumping jacks and/or an eclectic dance mix of my own design (think salsa, ballet, belly dancing, hip-hop, and jazz hands all rolled together) and no doubt my family wonders what the hell is going on inside my room at night. The first week the kids wanted me to come back down to the kitchen again every night at nine to have tea and eat more (usually fried cheese bread and pastries), but I’ve put a stop to that. I think.
I usually go to sleep by eleven but the family doesn’t wind down until well after midnight. Although the temperature is really mild during the day, sunny and mid-60s (I have no idea when winter is actually coming and might have to rename my blog), it’s cold at night and I usually turn on the space heater from Peace Corps. My family has only turned on the heat in the house one day so far and I got a little worried about all the long curtains that hang down over the heaters, but I’ve been told it’s okay and the heating units won’t get hot enough to start a fire. But just in case, Peace Corps also gave me a smoke detector.