Archive for October, 2010

Football, Pirates and Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by Paul Knettel

To start things off, here (finally) is a picture of my house in Zeda Etseri in Georgia. See the balcony on the second story on the right hand side? That’s where my room is:

Now then, to tell you about a few of the things that have been happening around here lately.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon, everyone in my school walked north along the main road in our village, to our “football stadium” (pictured below) for the first annual inter-village football tournament, held in honor of the one-year anniversary of the death of a 2nd grade student in our school.

Two other English teachers came with their village schools to watch their own teams compete as well. Tony, who hails from New Jersey, came in support of his village Chkaduashi, and Danny, from Australia, came with the Chkhoria school. All the teams played each other, but some schools (including mine) had an older team and a younger team, and some only had one team. So I don’t quite understand how the rankings were determined, but in any case, my team won! And I even got to hold the trophy! (below) while posing with several teachers from my school:

Ah, the sweetness of victory! The father of the child who died, presenting one my students with our trophy:

And after the tournament, we moseyed back to my school, to the teacher’s room, where this spread (below) was set out, a supra also held in honor of the child and his family.

Among those present for the event were a few teachers and headmasters from the participating schools, the three English teachers and some other random villagers.The food was great, the toasts were heartfelt, and us English teachers were made to give toasts as well on every subject: in memory of the child, in honor of his family, to Zeda Etseri’s school, to all schools and all teachers and all children. I attempted parts of the toasts in Georgian, other parts in English which were translated by Nana, one of the English teachers with whom I co-teach every day.

But that was just the start of the weekend.

The next morning, a group of us hopped onto an overcrowded marshutka bound for Batumi, Georgia’s city by the sea and summer fun zone. Of course, it’s October now so the weather was mostly raining or overcast and the Black Sea turbulent and cold. Still, it was really fun.

Mostly because of this:

 

This is a pirate ship. And our hotel in Batumi. It’s called “Hotel Old Ship”. How legit is that?

Almost as legit as this:

 

That, my friends, is Coolio, of the 1995 hit rap single “Gangster’s Paradise”. Performing in Batumi, Georgia. Quite possibly one of the most random things I have ever done in my life…besides coming to Georgia, of course.

See Here Now

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 7, 2010 by Paul Knettel

Another photo update for you (by the way you can see full-sized versions of the images by clicking on them):

Another photo of the Inguri Dam. This angle better captures the massiveness.

Samegrelo and Svaneti mountains

On our pirate-ship hotel in Batumi. My English teacher friends Paul (from Germany) and Tony (from New Jersey).

Also on the pirate-ship. My English teacher friends Damon (from New Mexico), Tony, Paul and Lukas (from Newcastle in England)

Stormy Batumi

My First Supra

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by Paul Knettel

It was 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I was exhausted after a long day of teaching English at school. I was reading quitely in my room, when I hear a knock on my door. “Paul. Paul,” my host brother Vasiko mumbles through the door.

“Yes?” I answer getting up to open the door.

“We go to Mzia house,” he continues. “Supra.”

And so a few minutes later, the two of us walked two houses down to where Mzia, my school’s headmaster, lives. Upon arrival I sat down under an awning along with the rest of the men, who sat and talked and chain-smoked their cigarettes. Nearby was a wooden “firehouse”, in which a cauldron of ghomi, Georgian cornmeal, cooked over a blazing flame. At the cheerful insistence of Rosa, the art teacher from my school, I helped stir the ghomi for a minute. She then proceeded to tell everyone I knew about this occurence for the next couple of days.

I found out in some broken half-English, half-Georgian communication that the supra was being held in honor of Mzia’s father, who died 40 days earlier. Apparently this is a traditional event in Georgia. And so we all made the trek to the nearby cemetery to visit Mzia’s family plot. The graveyard was quite different than what is typical in the States: instead of neat rows of headstones and well trimmed grass, here were about two dozen family plots, each fenced in separately, each a different shape and size, some raised up on marble platforms, some shaded in by awnings, some well looked after and others overgrown and unkempt. At Mzia’s plot, all the men went one by one up to the graves, where we first each poured a glass of wine into the dirt of the grave, next to flowers and photos and Orthodox icons, then circled back around and each drank a glass in memory of the deceased. There was also a little table of food, bread and khatchapuri, and we were expected to eat a small amount after drinking the wine.

After everyone had finished we returned to Mzia’s house. There all the men lined up to wash their hands, in wine, and then we walked into a smoke-filled room where all the food was laid out on a table. There we each poured another small glass of wine into a bowl in which a piece of bread soaked, the meaning of which was never made clear to me, as well as putting bits of incense rocks into a little tin pail from which the smoke was issuing, which we did to bless the food.

Finally, a few minutes later, we all filed upstairs, to a large outdoor balcony on which stood two long tables, overflowing with the food that had been transferred from the smoky room. The men all sat at one table, while the women took their places at the second. The immediate family, including Mzia and her sons and a few other people, helped serve even more food onto our tables, as well as continually refilling the wine jugs which were placed at intervals along the smorgasbord.

Dishes included:

-Satsivi: a cold dish of fish in a sort of thick walnut sauce

-Ghomi: (yes, the same one I helped stir earlier)

-Khatchapuri: the pervasive Georgian cheese-bread

-Kuchmachi: chopped, seasoned and simmered offal, AKA intestines. Yikes.

-Khortsi: quite tasty beef cutlets served with a mixture of spices

…along with watermelon, salad, cake and probably more which I have forgotten to mention.

Oh and of course the wine. Homemade Georgian wine. Always accompanied by a toast, generally made by the tamada, Georgian for “toastmaster”, the one person who is the leader, proposer and speaker of the majority of the toasts for the supra. Other people made toasts as well, most of which were about the deceased, in memory of him, in honor of his family, his friends, and so on. The toasts, although indecipherable to me, were lengthy and seemed to be heartfelt, a serious affair.

It was everything I expected, and yet somehow indescribable. It’s not something you can really prepare for. A supra is a feast, a celebration, an important reminder of the complexity and insanity of life, combated only by a flexible spirit and an empty stomach. It was an experience I’ll never forget.