Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It’s not teaching kids by the riverside in Teva sandals, but…

… I just had one of those "Peace Corps Moments™." And it, silly as it sounds, it made my day.

A long time ago I asked my mother to ship me a pair of boots, as the snow was clearly getting the upper hand on my poor New Balances I stupidly thought would do the trick. Well, she bought me this wonderful pair of boots that I eagerly opened at the Peace Corps office in Tbilisi, only to discover … two lefties. Something went tragically wrong in the actual boot selection process.

I'd let them sit for months in the office up north unused until my host father mentioned an idea, that he knew someone who'd lost his right foot, in an accident, the 1980s Afghanistan war (this was the USSR's Vietnam, essentially), something. Point is, he could use them. So the next time I went to Tbilisi I brought the boots back with me to Ninotsminda and gave them to this man, decked out in fatigues and crutches, now running a tiny produce market. He was incredibly, incredibly thankful—the boots were of far better quality than anything you can find in these parts, and he'll get to use them for twice as long… once one wears out, he's got another lefty waiting for him. These'll likely go for a good five years on him. He thanked me graciously, and I jokingly responded "ничего... это подарок от американского народа" ("it's a gift from the American people," like the signs on all the well-known USAID-completed things that have been done here (including a park and an open air market). We laughed, shook hands, that was that.

This was several months ago, and today I was passing by his produce shop, and he shouted out at me "Ryder you're totally not allowed to pass by me, come in and say hi!" I was greeted with a warm handshake and a heaping bag of fresh fruit. The value of such a thing cannot be underscored enough—for one, fruit is an incredibly rare part of my diet, as nothing grows here but potatos and garlic so it all has to be shipped from the really fertile parts of the country up north. And thusly, this bag was probably a good ten lari… seven dollars worth of food… several bananas, apples, oranges and even two pomegranates for good measure. Ten lari worth of fresh fruit inventory at the start of the season is a hell of a gift back. As I walked off, I peeled open the first banana I've had in probably a good seven months, and couldn't help but smile like it was going out of style.

Sounds hokey, but I think it's as important to note the good stuff like this as it is to say OH MY GOD I DON'T GET ANY SLEEP IT'S SO COLD I WANT A HAMBURGER RA, so forgive the snippet, but I'm having a great day today, because a one-legged veteran is making use of a stupid mistake a Tucson hiking gear store's manager made in my shipment. As is hung in my mom's kitchen back home, "when life gives you patches, make quilts…"

Ryderito for some, Rodya for others, Radik for yet others, Rubik for the next group, and Muttonpockets to a few of the PCVs (long story).

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I’m killing some time at my internet hookup here in Ninotsminda, after all ten of my kids stood me up for the inaugural RYDER DAVID COBEAN EXTRACURRICULAR ENGLISH ACTIVITY CLUB EXTRAVAGANZAFEST meeting, hopefully they’ll have a good reason for having done so, or I’ll bewitch them all with the evil eye (a phrase I have somehow managed to learn in Armenian).

I’ve been really busy with a bunch of projects, some going well, some… well, bumpy starts, or just a very rocky path toward getting them done. My mother recently reminded me of a quote I had written on my monitor back home, “I love deadlines, especially the sound they make as they whoosh by.” In the next few weeks I’m trying to get a pen pal book of letters, photos, and articles about Ninotsminda, Javakheti and Georgia off to my mom’s students in Tucson, start an English club so it gels by the end of school (I want to keep my kids and myself busy in the summer break, so none of us forget our English), I’m trying to get a book donation finished with my mom’s school, mine, and the necessary OK stamps in Washington, and I’ve got this Linux class I’m trying to plan out that I’m going to teach to school officials in the region, in all of two weeks. Add planning lessons, something I’m trying to do better at lately, and finding girls to successfully apply to this leadership camp in Bakuriani this summer, and well I’m not sleeping too much these days. PS Thanks so much to Michelle and Shara for your advice and help on my attempt at this English classroom… Despite my efforts, there’s just not enough energy in the community to support this at the time, so I’m baby stepping it (trying for the meantime to just commandeer a room for next year, and we’ll go from there with little things I can find locally to spruce it up).

I’m loving the incoming spring… it’s like winter has been waging a war since October with the warmth, and slowly but surely spring is gaining ground here. Every few days a cold snap will come through, but the freeze has lost his soldiers and is on the retreat… I haven’t seen snowfall since mid April. The warmth has meant that water is again flowing, and I couldn’t be happier. With the lack of handwashing I’d been getting sick about once every three weeks here, and it was getting me pretty depressed. Green vegetables are making a slow comeback into my diet, so even on that front things are getting pretty rad.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to sit outside with a cup of coffee in the morning now. I broke down in February and bought an electric grinder and a French press, and I’ve found the one store to buy milk at in Nino, so I’ve been having the best cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee since my 4am DD/IHOP outings a year ago with Goldy, Amjad and Lila. The taste is wonderful, though I wish I could find those three on the shelf at the Tbilisi supermarket.

A year has almost completed and honestly, I’m pretty shocked at how time flies. A year ago I was panicing over final details, trying to close up shop in Tucson, and now I find myself almost on the trailing end of my service, and trust me we all feel like we blinked to this point here. I’m going to do my best to not worry too much about the “what’s next,” as I’ve been proven time and time again lately that this life business has a way of unfolding pretty much on its own, and I’ll figure out the details as they come. Still, I’m going to start studying for the GREs soon, just in case… eek.

I really can’t wait for the summer here though. I want to take time to crack down into my Russian, Georgian and Armenian, enjoy waking up a bit later, and just having free time to work when I need to on what I need to without daily lesson planning. Not to mention R&R. Some of us are going to embark on the grand all-Georgia tour to be known as Villapalooza 08, so look forward to some snippets from visiting other volunteers’ outhouses :-) That, and my greyhound style “adventure” to see the coolest Spanish speaker on the planet since Tito Puentes, but with a hell of a cuter smile.

I don’t know what else I’ve got right now! I should probably just upload some pics from winter and spring; life goes on marvelously, frustratingly, but altogether well. Note: Apparently shouting RA GINDA DZAGHLO (WHAT DO YOU WANT DOG) at street dogs in Tbilisi turns them soft and placid. I witnessed a man birja squatting (I’ll have to upload a graphic to explain this phenomenon) with sunflower seeds avert a shepherd attack with those three words. I must not have the touch, I carry a zapper thing for a mean little gremlin on my street not bigger than a schnauzer…

Later bavshvebo