This is an account of some things that I have experienced living in a small village while teaching English abroad in the Republic of Georgia (an Eastern European country near Armenia and Turkey). My placement is in West Georgia in the Guria region which is situated near the Black Sea and known for its warm climate. My other group mates that arrived with me were so jealous, and they said it was unfair to put someone from a warm climate in a warm region. This hadn't been the case during my first few weeks here (locals say it was the longest winter in many years)!
Nasakirali is a quaint little community surrounded by evergreen bushy forests and a view of the Bakhmaro Mountains. There is only a school, clinic, and lots of little shops. Most the people do their own farming so there are lots of cows, pigs, and hens roaming the streets. I was shocked to learn that there is a large Muslim community here, but their practices are quite different from what you would think of. There is no Mosque, praying, and women covered up showing only their eyes. Some of the locals even drink wine, so this is definitely a Georgian version of the religion.
Now to my village life experience:
◊ My host family consists of just an elderly couple that teach at my school. This is very small and different since generations of family members usually live in one household in Georgia. They don't speak any English, but are very loving and have truly embraced me as a part of the family. I call my host mother 'deda' and my host father 'mama' which are Georgian words for mother and father. I wish I had started learning more Georgian before my arrival, but since I am surrounded by Georgian I'm picking it up along the way.
◊ I live in a nice two-storey home, which is common in villages compared to cities where people usually live in apartments. Although my room is currently in the library with a double pull-out couch, now that we are in Spring I'll be in moving upstairs to my own private suite with a picturesque view of the village. I'm super excited! There is a wooden stove and no indoor heating, so this was a major adjustment during the cold these past few weeks. Many times I sat huddled by the stove to keep warm even with layers of clothing on so I am happy that Spring is finally here.
My home in the village
◊ My diet consists of mostly starchy foods including bread, potatoes, and cheese, but we eat beans, fish, and chicken as well. Meat is very expensive here. The good thing is that these are organic products since my host family has a garden of vegetables and cows. I do watch my portion sizes and started walking now that the weather has warmed up.
◊ Infrequent hot showers since pipes were frozen during the winter months. This having been a very long winter, I had to adjust to this. Two words WET WIPES!
◊ Neighbors frequently visit my home, and I am invited to their homes often either for 'suphras' (dinner parties) or to simply show me their homes and introduce me to family members. They love to give guests coffee and chocolates. I'm not a fan of coffee but I drink it to be polite.
My 1st suphra!
◊ I usually walk wherever I need to go in the village, which is mainly to and from school. My host parents and I take a short 12-minute trot there. It's great exercise so I don't complain. It was a bit of pain during the cold and snowy days (sometimes we would catch a ride with a passerby) but the Spring weather makes it much better!
◊ To get in and out of the village, I have to take a marshutka (mini-buses that are very popular throughout Georgia). This is a 30-minute ride to the nearest town and I travel either by train or marshutka to my final destination. If I'm running errands or meeting up with other friends in town I walk. I'm still adjusting to this because the bus schedules are very limited so I have to be sure to get to the station on time or I will be stuck in town until the next day. I could take a taxi but they are very expensive and not being a local can mean additional costs. On weekends that I travel outside of my region, I'm usually able to stay at one of the school teacher's house.
◊ After school and on weekends in the village, I mainly read and watch movies on my laptop. Otherwise, I sit and watch tv with my host parents especially Spanish soap operas, Georgian Dancing with the Stars and Georgian Idol (their version of popular American shows), visit with neighbors, and take long naps.
◊ Washing machines here have the modern look but do not work as such. I'd prefer to do laundry weekly, but these machines it takes hours to wash a load of clothes. The first time I did laundry I took a two hour nap and my clothes still were not done so I'm just thankful that my host family has a washing machine. There are no dryers and clothes are hung on the line (even in cold weather), but there's nothing like air drying clothes.
The washing machine
◊ There is no internet access at my house, so I had to go to the nearest town to purchase a USB modem and internet package. Although it's the best internet service is quite and most likely to work in villages, the USB modem is quite expensive and I pay monthly by GB.
◊ Curious stares and pictures are common for people of color so my village is no different, but being here over a month now everyone is getting use to seeing me. The people are friendly and always bid me hello 'Garmajoba.'
It can be boring living such a laid back lifestyle especially with no English speakers around, but I'm making the best of it. Now that I am picking up the language and making friends with neighbors in my age group it's not too bad. Also, I have been traveling around the country on most weekends now that the weather is warming up. It's great to be in a place I don't have to worry about locking doors at night or crime and everyone knows each other. Also, I can always meet up with other English teachers in town or call them for free on my local cellphone as well as travel to other regions on weekends. I'm enjoying the experience of living here so far, and I hope to learn to milk a cow, make homemade dairy products, and plant and harvest vegetables!