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Another year. Another blog.

Hey everybody (or to those who still even check this thing.)

I have decided to switch over and "re-start" my blog on another website, just because it's easier for me, more options for posting cool stuff, and just b/c it's straight up better than livejournal.

The new address is: georgianjohnny.blogspot.com/

Alright! Let's try this again!

Georgia in the News

It seems that recently Georgia keeps popping up in the news. Whether for good or bad it's funny how small a country can constantly gain international attention. Here's some highlights:

news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8559099.stm - The oldest woman in the world is from Georgia. Apparently she is 130 years old and still plays backgammon and drinks cha cha.

news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Georgian-Olympian-Nodar-Kumaritashvili/ss/events/sp/021210olylugecrash#photoViewer=/100301/photos_ca_afp/f0a5872766dfebc9871abd909ff60922 - We have all heard of the Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili. His death I'm sure was not only televised heavily back in the states but especially here in Georgia, where he was mourned throughout the country.

drzhk.instablogs.com/entry/mr-gay-talent-europe/ - Mr. Gay "Russia" (who is actually a Georgian refugee living in Moscow) won the Number 1 Talent contest for Mr. Gay Europe 2009. Georgia, being a very homophobic country and declaring that no gays live here, its interesting to see people's reaction when you ask them about David Baramija.

www.titanicawards.com/2009/06/10/matt-grosss-world-worsts/ - Check out this list of the world's worst, written by a columnist for the New York Times. Pay close attention to the world's worst drivers and toilets.

www.youtube.com/watch - As stated in my previous post, Hollywood has chosen to film a big budget movie here in Georgia based on the 2008 August war, where Andy Garcia will be playing the role of Georgian President Saakashvili.

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news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8566571.stm - Just last night (March 13th) we got a call from our Safety & Security Officer telling us to remain calm because apparently a fake report that was on the local news channel was broadcasting that the President had been killed, Russians were only minutes outside of Tbilisi, people were dying, etc etc etc. It caused widespread panic and anger across Georgia. Absolutely unbelievable.

news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100314/wl_afp/georgiarussiaconflicttelevisionmedia

 

Teach in Georgia for a year!

Last week all the volunteers gathered together for another IST (In-service training). During that time we were fortunate enough for the Georgian Minister of Education come and speak with us about a brand new program that will start in Georgia today. They are looking for English native speakers (from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Ireland) to come and teach in Georgia for a year and are basing a lot of their ideas and operations on what the Peace Corps has done for Georgia since its inception in 2001. It seems like a great opportunity for people who are having a tough time looking for jobs back home and hopefully through my experiences you can see how cool this country is.

Here's the actual article itself:

mes.gov.ge/content.php

And this is the program's website "Teach and Learn with Georgia"

www.tlg.gov.ge/

BEST. VACATION. EVER...EVER.

Disclaimer: Don't read further unless you want to be extremely jealous...especially if you're another volunteer in Georgia.

During the month of January I was lucky/fortunate enough to come back to Florida for 3 weeks to get some much needed R & R. The main purpose of returning was to be a part of the wedding party for one of my best friends but then the thought of being back in the states for an extended period of time lead to some other ideas.

So as I land back in West Palm, my really good friend Joey who did Peace Corps in Nicaragua and the coolest, smartest, loveliest, sweetest, most talented, best looking, best dressed (is that good enough? ;) ) girl in the whole world...my girlfriend, Shannon came to pick me up at the airport. This was the first time I got to see Joey in 2 years, and Shannon in 8 months...so...best welcome home I could ask for. We drove to the store to get some ICEE's...mmm frozen treats, I forgot they existed...and then to a local dive bar to have a couple of beers. All the while I'm just overwhelmed by the amount of cars, lights, paved roads, and people that speak a language that I could understand. Mind bottling. (Yes, I got a little TOO used to Georgian life.)

So the next few days were spent in Fort Lauderdale with Shannon's family, where we had incredible meals that were anything but the normal borsch, potatoes, pig hoof, and vodka. Me and Stokes were able to go to her church, and then later in the evening see the movie Avatar in 3D in the IMAX. And if you haven't seen that movie yet. Stop reading this. Go here www.imax.com/ and buy a ticket. Go...NOW! I'm a huge movie cynic...but this movie blew me away. My mouth was dry at the end because my jaw just wouldn't shut. We both agreed we could see a second viewing right after the credits rolled.

My parents came down from Tallahassee and stayed at the Stokes household as well, so it was so incredibly nice to get everyone together. Mom and Pops took me out for lunch at the Bass Pro Shop and had some delicious fish tacos and then we went to the beach for some drinks. It was so good to spend some quality time with them...especially face to face and not through a Skype screen. Shannon found out that Disney was doing a program called "Give a Day, Get a Free Disney Day".



If you're a Florida resident, you can sign up to volunteer at various organizations for the day, then Disney will later send you a coupon for a free day at one of their parks. So...being in the volunteer mindset we joined. We ended up working at a place called the "Caring Kitchen", in Delray, where they serve food to the local community and less fortunate. Me and Stokes were the dishwashers, and apparently good ones, because we were the only ones to get a standing ovation at the end. Plus they gave us a free meal (Roast veal, with potatoes, beans, and cake......Hrm, I need to go to these Soup Kitchens more often.) Afterwards, we headed into Orlando to stay with my buddy Erick whom I haven't seen in over 2 years either. Snagged some great cuban food and watched Inglorious Basterds.



The next day Shannon and I went to the Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom theme parks. Word of advice...never go to Disney during the summer. You have to go in mid-January. That's an order. The parks were completely empty. For example, we went on the Mount Everest ride in Animal Kingdom which is the most popular rollercoaster there...Im assuming the normal wait would be around 45 minutes to an hour and half. We got to go on it thrice! in 20 minutes. Ridiculous.


So, after some hardcore park rides, picture cameos with Baloo, and watching the fireworks at night burst over Cinderella's castle, we head over to the wedding party's hotel. Before calling it a night, my best friends Dan and Jasmine came down to Orlando and met us in our hotel room to catch up. The next day was spent gorging on Taco Bell, playing Pirate themed minigolf, and seeing all my other friends who came down to visit. We ended up all going out that night, playing beer pong in the hotel room, and almost getting in barfights at local Irish pubs. Welcome back to America eh?

The wedding itself was gorgeous, Great sermon, and two of the craziest families joined together to make for a complete riot at the reception. Hilarious dancing and margarita consumption ensued. Congrats Andy and Julie!!!



The next day, Stokes and I rushed over to Tampa to hop on a Royal Carribbean cruise that would spend the next week in Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. We stayed at her good friend's apartment the night before and saw The Book of Eli**, drank the best chocolate milkshakes**, and ate top of the line sushi**.
**(All on her bill...thanks baby, you're the best suga' mamma ever. MUUUAH!)

To avoid angry and hate filled messages from my PC friends I'll keep the cruise recap short: Perfect, hot and sunny weather, All you can eat buffets, hot tubs, islandy drinks, shuffleboard, hot showers, casinos, and dress up fancy dinners at night. And yes, I used the adjective 'hot' 3 times. It's hard to type that as my fingers are practically freezing to my keyboard right now. Oh well...one day I'll have you again. One day.



Funny side story: in Cozumel, we ate at Senor Frogs for lunch to get some drinks and tortillas when the MC asked us to be in a drinking contest. Well, we get up on stage and he asks us whether were brother and sister or bf and gf or etc...and for some reason I just blurt out "We're honeymooners!" So, the crowd decides to cheer the "honeymooners" on while we were racing to chug our Frozen Strawberry daquiris against our competition. Well, if the Republic of Georgia has taught me anything, it would be the art form of chugging...so naturally I'm the first one to finish, with one of the worst brain freezes of the century. We get an applause and the MC announces that the prize for the winning newlyweds was a shot of tequila. Whew boy... Then out of no where, a drunk guy comes up to us and offers his burrito, which was untouched and enormous, and wishes us a great time on our honeymoon. Granted, I felt bad for tricking everybody but man...how can you say no to all of that. Haha.

So after the perfect week of spending much needed and quality time with Shannon and cruisin around the Gulf, we dock back in Tampa...but not wanting to waste precious time...we speed back to Orlando to do Disney...AGAIN. This time MGM Studios and Epcot. Ridiculous I know. I'm forever spoiled. But as it's said, good things always come to an end. Though my pictures and memories of all my friends and family who came to visit me will constantly remind me of the love I have back home. Thank you all so much for your continued support while I'm here. And especially to my parents and Shannon. I love you guys and miss you dearly.

So...when's the next vacation?

New Peace Corps Address

John McRae, PCV
29A Vazha Pshavela Avenue
PO Box 66
Tbilisi, 0160
Georgia


Back in Ole' Sakartvelo

Well, back from my vacation in America (which I'll write a whole other post on later, JUST because it was so amazing.) Taco Bell, hot showers, whiskey, and best friends. Much needed...all of them. But, back in Georgia and ready to start implementing many of things that were in planning from the Fall. My counterpart and I are creating a Tourism company in which we are making tourism packages for trips around the country, merchandise, trade shows, videos, etc. I'm also doing marketing and advertising campaigns for a leather company, a local folk band, and of course the winery. Then me and some other volunteers are working on a secondary project which I will get into later as well. But to suffice to say...I'm busy.

Also! it finally has snowed in my parts. It's been freezing cold the past few months but now we have snow that absolutely makes the landscape here breathtaking. I instantly thought of one of my favorite Georgian songs when I saw the snow falling. In the song the lyrics say, Sakartvelo...Lamazo, which means Georgia...You're beautiful. And at this moment, it couldn't be more right.




Other than that, there are a couple of changes here. The Peace Corps office has moved and I hope to move to my very own apartment next month. So, very exciting! I'll have new addresses posted soon.

Hope all is well, and I'll get back to posting on this thing. Peace

The Skinny on the Georgian Holidays

This is an excerpt from our Country Director's email that he sent out to all the Volunteers giving us some background on the Georgian holidays. I found it interesting and thought you might too. Enjoy!

New Year and Christmas in Georgia


Because the Georgian Orthodox Church follows the old, Julian calendar, New Year’s Day is celebrated before Christmas in Georgia. New Year is the biggest secular holiday in Georgia, celebrated country-wide. Preparations for the New Year start at least a week before the actual day. The house is decorated with the New Year tree (Georgians call it New Year tree and not a Christmas tree) and other embellishments. One unique decorative element that Georgians are using is called Chichilaki. It is made of nut wood and usually decorated with fruits and candies for New Year. Chichilaki is more common in Western Georgia; it originates from pre-Christian times and is believed to support fertility and happiness

Great time and effort is invested into preparing a New Year Supra. More than 10 different dishes are prepared for New Year’s Eve. There are several must dishes for New Year Supra: Satsivi (which is turkey or chicken in walnut sauce), Gozinak’i (which is nuts baked in honey sauce) and Churchkhela (nuts in grape sauce). The New Year supra is laid late evening on December 31. At midnight, the President and the Patriarch of Georgia wish a happy New Year (broadcast on all TV channels), families toast to New Year and treat each other with honey or Gozinak’i. Starting from the late evening there are fireworks and firecrackers going off all over the country, reaching a peak around midnight. In the regions you may witness the families shooting guns in celebration, as well. Look out for that practice and stay away!

People here believe in the tradition of a first footer, meaning that the first guest in a new year coming to the family can bring happiness or misery. Many families make prior agreement with a neighbor or a relative, who will serve as a first footer to the family. The first footer is supposed to bring a full plate or basket of food and sweets to the family. In general, people always bring candies or chocolate bars to every place they go on a New Year’s Day and even during the first week after New Year. Georgians believe that the day after New Year is a “luck day”, which means that how you spend this day pretty much determines how you spend the whole year.

During the first week of New Year families visit one another and they visit even multiple families during a day. New Year has traditionally been a family-oriented holiday usually spent at home or at friends and relatives’ homes. Recently, a new tradition of greeting New Year in open air had been initiated. For the past few years the Tbilisi city council has organized grand events the people attend open air concerts throughout the night of New Year’s Eve.

Many families around Georgia, especially in the regions, also celebrate the old New Year on January 14. Families prepare Supra for this day, too, but not as big as for the first of January.

Christmas is the biggest religious holiday after the Easter. It is celebrated on January 7th in Georgia. Due to the fact that New Year here is celebrated before Christmas, the latter one has more a spiritual value and no secular importance.

Religious people fast 40 days prior to Christmas, which means that they are fasting during the big Supra times of New Year, too. For the reason people who are fasting until Christmas celebrate the old style New Year on the 14th of January more.

On Christmas Eve there are religious ceremonies in almost all churches. Churches are usually packed with people. The religious ceremony in the church lasts sometime before 5 am and is followed by the traditional “Alilo” in the morning. Alilo is a religious song sung on the Christmas day, so the tradition of Alilo carries the name of the song. Alilo is basically a charity event. Alilo participants go around the community and collect contributions for charity purposes. The tradition of gift-giving during Christmas or New Year is not so common in Georgia unlike America or European countries.

In Soviet times the tradition of Alilo like many other religious rituals was banned. It was restored again in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.


Although the cold here is numbing and bitter, and I can see the snow on the mountains behind my house slowing creeping its way to my town, I can't help but become excited about the holidays. To get myself and whoever else more in the spirit, I created a profile on a music site and loaded a Georgian Christmas CD. I'll also use this site in the future to load more Georgian music (folk, rap, rock, and yes even reggae). But for now, enjoy some classic Georgian holiday cheer. Tovli's Papa (Santa...but translates into "Snow Grandpa") will be glad you did..... Even though I have to wait an extra week for Christmas this year (Georgians celebrate Shoba "Christmas", on the 7th of January). Oh well... Love this time of year!!!

*Link broken*

Georgia for the holidays...anyone...ANYONE???


This is a great video explaining how amazing this country is and my futile attempt to convince you to come here on your holidays and visit little old me. :)

Oba Oba Oba!

Greetings everyone! Well, I'm sitting downstairs next to our newly installed heater, thawing off...and thinking my fingers are once again spry enough to pump out another blog entry. I'll try to briefly catch up on the past month. So, not only does America have a crap load of holidays around this time of year but during the past month I've noticed that there seems to be several special Georgian days always lurking around the corner. But, it's alot of fun to share our holidays with the locals and vice versa (try explaining Halloween when you're cutting out a pumpkin to carve a face...they were more than a little confused). You know it's a Georgian holiday because most likely the day is named after a major city in Georgia (there is a celebration of each city on a certain day of year...such as Tbilisoba, Telavoba, etc.) or it's named after an important historical Georgian figure: but both end in -oba, which means "(insert)'s day".


I was able to visit Tbilisoba this year, which is held on the last Sunday of October every year. Though this year they didn't go all out like they usually do, there was plenty of free food everywhere, smoking Mtzvadi, carnie games, live music, outdoor entertainment, carriage rides, gypsies, etc. I got my face painted with a Georgian flag on one cheek and an American flag on the other, and I guess the Georgians loved it cause I was asked to be in about 10 pictures. But it was alot of fun and a nice walk because most of the festivities were placed alongside the main river and underneath the Presidential Palace where Saakashvili hangs out. I could also start to feel the end of fall and the brisk chilliness of winter setting in. Got me really excited for the holidays.



Then the next weekend was 3 important days back to back to back. On Sunday was the important Georgian holiday of Illiaoba, in my town of Kvareli. Illia Chavchavadze was an extremely important Georgian figure (famous writer, public figure, 1st Georgian banker, humanitarian) from my town and the people here practically worship him. In fact, they do worship him because he was named a Saint. (if you ask someone here who he was, you would either get a stare of disbelief or a 2 hour lecture why he's the greatest man to have ever lived.) Each house here has a portrait of him and my town is riddled with signs full of quotes from him. Regardless, whenever it's Illiaoba, all the Kvarelians flip out. There was a concert full of local music and dancing which was spectacular, the opening of the new exhibit at the Illia museum, and a huge bazaar set up for people to rummage through. Me and all my friends decided to hike up to the Illia Chavchavadze statue which overlooks Kvareli and were stunned by the gorgeous view it provided...also gave us some respite from the holiday before...yes, the one and only McRaeoba. A group of my friends were able to celebrate my birthday with me this year. And we decided to have dinner at a local restaurant with my counterpart, his wife and child, and also my other Georgian friend. My counterpart provided 15 liters of wine...and to save you the drunken gory details...yes we did the limbo, with a scarf, in the middle of the restaurant, with random Georgians. And yes, we did that while listening to Wham - Last Christmas (Which the owner of the restaurant loved so much she felt the need to replay the song 3 times.) But I missed all of you this year on my birthday and thank you so much for sending me carepackages, letters, cards...it really meant alot to me and was nice to have a little piece of home with me.


Last week, we all had our first IST (In-Service Training). Peace Corps rented out a beautiful resort on Bazaleti Lake (about 30 minutes from Tbilisi....absolutely gorgeous...pictures coming soon!) for all the volunteers to stay for a full week where we would review languages, safety and security in Georgia, hear from guest speakers, and have Thanksgiving!!! It was nice to see many of the volunteers whom we haven't seen since PST. All of our old PST teachers came to stay with us and facilitated our language classes that were held in different hotel rooms. It was really nice to reconnect with them, and I think my cluster group from PST will see Tamta (our teacher) in Gori next week! Then we had a representative from the US Halo Trust company come to talk with all of us. They are the biggest organization in the world that deals with the disposal of mines and unexploded ordinances. Very interesting discussion, because he showed us a map of Georgia and locations of where there are threats of these type of things. Obviously their main focus is near Gori and South Ossetia/Abkhazia where last year's war went down. But worldwide, Afghanistan is their biggest problem. Kids are still finding these things on the ground and in the woods, and after his stories...it brought us back out of our bliss from vacation and reminded us that we are still in a very dangerous and unstable place in the world.


Also, Peace Corps was able to get the brand new US Ambassador John Bass( georgia.usembassy.gov/ambbio.html ) to come visit us and introduce himself to us. He gave a great presentation on the realities of Georgia today, what type of things are happening, etc. It was nice to get the honest and complete truth without any BS. I actually felt like a government employee for once! But, an extremely interesting and intelligent guy, and though he's only been in country for a couple of weeks, I have high hopes for the precedent he'll set for the United States here. But besides hanging out with fellow volunteers, playing bootleg beer pong, and watching movies, the best part of the trip was our Thanksgiving! Prior to the trip, all the volunteers went shopping for various foods for dishes that we would prepare later. The hotel let us use their kitchen, and the head chef from the Radisson (who knew past PCV's, and volunteered out of the goodness of his heart) prepared 2 huge turkeys for us. Gadaserevia!


We did the classic tradition where we went around the table saying why we were thankful. And I hope today, on the actual Thanksgiving you all do too. Because if this experience has taught me anything, is to be extremely thankful for my country, our freedom, and all the opportunities we have been given that others in the world aren't able to have. Happy Thanksgiving!