Monday, May 25, 2015

Georgian Names

Georgian names are hard. They're not like names in Western Europe, that are often just different spellings and pronunciations of names we're used to in America. The names here are completely foreign. In fact, it's like when you're learning a new language (because you are), and all the words are so foreign that they're just jumbles of sounds that are very hard to remember.

When I get introduced to new people I hear their name maybe 2 or 3 times, but 30 seconds later – I've totally forgotten it. I thought having been to Georgia before, and having lived in Russia, I would be a little bit ahead of the game, but I was wrong.
my favorite place
There are definitely some Russian names here that I'm familiar with (Misha, Alexander), and there are some Georgian versions of American names (mostly religious names, like Mary--> Meri, George--> Giorgi). But, most names are not familiar to me, and every day I hear several new names. The most common names are VERY common- Nino, Giorgi/Gio/Gia/Goga/Giga/Gigi (still not sure which of those are actual names and which are nicknames of each other...), Daviti/Dato. People in Georgia are creative with naming overall, though- lots of names I've been told are unique or very rare- Mindia, Shalva. I love that Georgians are still named after ancient Queens- Tamar, Ketavan, and kings- Daviti, Vakhtang.

Here are some names I remember from people in my yard: Rusiko, Goga, Zuka, Anni, Malkhaz
Names I remember from people at work: Tamuna, Tamara, Nino, Lika 
Names from Kazbegi: Shalva, Dato, Sopo, Nata, Mito, Tamazi, Mindia, Giorgi, Gia, Zviadi, Bichiko, Nini, Rita, Dodo, Maia, Qeti, etc. 

Also- almost all Georgian names (actually I think all Georgian words in the nominative case) end in a vowel. 

You get the idea. Georgian names are hard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

First Day in Tbilisi

Welcome to Georgia!

Wooooooooo so excitinggggggg

But anyway, someone from my work had agreed to pick me up from the airport at 6 am,  but due to some struggles, I landed at 3 am (the next day) and didn't want her to have to suffer for my mistake so I just told her to come at 6. So I waited 3 hours in the airport, and let me tell you it was not fun. 
she had a fan club. and balloons

That moment when you walk out of customs and those automatic doors slide open and there are like 50 people waiting there with signs and balloons all smiles and hugs, and you know there's no one waiting for you...kind of sucks. And as you walk through the crowd, you keep you eyes down but you know every person waiting is searching you, at least for a brief second, long enough to determine you're not the one they're waiting for. 

After I made my way through that mess, I went and sat down on one of the lovely, ergonomic, traveler-approved, small metal benches! (*sarcasm*) This alerted all the taxi drivers to my alone-ness and every few minutes someone would come up and ask me if I needed a taxi. About 2 and a half hours in, these guys started really bugging me, like "hey, you look so tired (yeah, been traveling for 3 days, no duh), you should rest (I'm  trying, but you won't shut up), I can drive you to a hotel, come on, you need a taxi, there's a good hotel near here, blah blah blah." Finally 6 am arrived and my savior, Nino, appeared backlight by the sunrise like a Georgian angel of sleeeeeep. I was a bit delirious.
the airport had an Oculus virtual reality thing

So Nino and her friend with a car, Luka, took me to my new home. Nino is tall, gorgeous, speaks good English, 23, and hopefully my new best friend...haha I think she's kind of my supervisor, but I'm not really sure yet
Luka drove an old Mercedes, and when I went to buckle up, both of them immediately yelled, "no! no, you don't need that here, only the people in the front have to wear it"
I really wanted to wear it because Georgian drivers are crazy, but they seemed to be offended when I suggested it might be a good idea just for safety (I also suspect the clasp thing was broken).

My house is awesome. Tiny, but awesome. I don't think I'll be doing a lot of entertaining, it's bigger than my dorm but not by much. I have a little baby kitchen, a nice bathroom/laundry room, and an all-purpose room with a loveseat, bed, coffee table, TV, and two huge closets. The house is brand spanking new, no one else has ever lived there! It's kind of weird, because it's on the ground floor of a kind of apartment building, but it's not in the building. I have my own front door (even with a mini stoop and porch light!), so I'm calling it a house, not an apartment. The best thing about it is the location- awesome place in the city center, on a quiet street but just steps away from the main avenue and lots of cool shops and restaurants. My neighbors/landlords/new family are the absolute best. My apartment came with:
view from kitchen window
  • Sick views
  • Bar of soap
  • Bed sheets/duvet/pillow
  • Ash tray and lighter (lol)
  • Curtains on all the windows
  • Toilet paper
  • Couch, bed, TV, coffee table, washing machine
  • Heater (which I'm tempted to turn on, my place is freezing)
  • Fridge/freezer
  • Kitchen stuff
o   Trashcan and trash bags

o   A few tea bags

o   Instant coffee

o   Some utensils

o   Knife block with 6 colorful steak knives

o   Wooden spoon, spatula, slotted spatula, and tongs

o   Two glass tea cups and saucers

o   Salt and sugar

o   Small tuperware

o   11 small porcelain plates, 3 slightly bigger plates, 2 bowls

o   A bunch of other glass cups

o   Turkish coffee maker (I think that's what this thing is?)

o   Small frying pan

o   Pot

o   Sponge

o   Paper towels

o   Dish towel

o   Dish soap

o   “sponge cloth”

o   Clothes pins

o   Metal fruit/bread basket

o   Chainik

My landlords are a couple, I guess in their early 40s, with three kids. Also, the dad is kind of famous, apparently he's the 'voice of Georgia' because he does a lot of dubbing for TV and movies, and he acts on TV and in theater. His oldest daughter is also a budding superstar. I think Ani is a year younger than me, and she was on the Georgian Voice and has just been accepted to X-Factor! Their son, Luka, is maybe 15, shy, and speaks English but got so flustered when he met me, he forgot the word for "mom" haha and their youngest, Natali, is freaking adorable and already loves me (she told me so). 

I learned all this about the family on my first night, when I was unpacking, watching TV,  and around midnight music starts to come from outside. I peeked out my window and saw like 15 people gathered around a little table in the yard, and they had pulled a car up and played the radio loud with the windows down for a sound system. At about 12:30, they sang happy birthday to someone, and then a woman started singing some pop songs in English (I later found out that was Ani). Around 1 am I got a knock on my door. I answer, barefoot, and a man in his mid-40s comes into my house, smiling, introduces himself in English and literally pulls me out the door. He was so excited that he didn't notice I wasn't wearing shoes, and I was trying to tell him but he thought I was just resisting coming to the party, until someone yelled at him in Georgian and he let go of my arm so I could go slip some shoes on haha
This character is Malkhaz. He speaks pretty good English, and is hilarious. He owns some kind of construction company, and has a big 3 story house with a pool in some outskirt of Tbilisi that I got vaguely invited to, and owns two apartments in the building- one in which lives only his pet rottweiler. He also has an adorable little daughter and a son Luka's age who fell off a quad bike a few days ago and basically broke his whole he was wearing a mask like Bane from Batman.
There were lots of other characters, only two of which (Malkhaz, and a cool woman whose name I forget) spoke English, but once I revealed that I spoke Russian, they all go so excited and animated, like, "oh my gosh! how come you didn't tell us? we've been struggling with English this whole time! Russian! My darling, Russian! Of course!" and a bunch of stuff like that. I never like saying "I speak Russian" because I don't want people to think I actually speak fluently and then get disappointed when I can't understand them or forget words or make 10 million grammar mistakes. The man there with the strongest Georgian accent and most broken Russian kept telling me I need to practice my grammar, so that was fun...
But the whole night was honestly awesome. They gave me beer, and toasted to me with some kind of cool Georgian chanting toast. They had apparently made bets as to what I would be like. All they knew is that I was American and working for Parliament, so Malkhaz bet that I would be fat and boring with glasses, Goga (landlord) bet that I would be awesome (he won the bet), the "jokey donkey" (nickname from Malkhaz) from Kakheti bet that I would have long legs (also won), and another guy bet I would be black. hahhahaa 
They said the whole courtyard is like a family, that they have parties like that all the time when the weather is nice, and that I'm always invited! I'm so lucky that I ended up in this cool place, with these people who are so welcoming, funny, and kind.
I can't wait to see what other adventures are in store!

one of the many fancy cars in my yard (Mercedes)

Government building I can see from my window

My yard

My front door is the white one on the left!

my room))

Yard kitten- she let me pet her!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Georgia Summer Packing List

**Posted retrospectively**

So, it's about a week and a half before I leave for my summer internship in Georgia ("the country, not the state!" shouts a chorus of every American who's ever been to Georgia), so I decided to gather some of my belongings to start packing...just kidding, I'm leaving in 5 hours! hahahahahahahahahaaa...tears.

I'm very bad at packing. Very bad.
I thought maybe it would help to share my efforts with you guys, so here's what I'm bringing to Georgia!


This rolling duffel

This emergency last minute first-bag-was-too-heavy suitcase

This 65 L internal frame pack (carry on)

This purse (personal item)

and this daypack for hiking, but I'm packing it in the duffel


17 short sleeve/tank top shirts of varying formality, style, and materials
3 light weight long sleeve button-ups
1 North Face zip up
4 work pants
1.5 pairs of jeans (pair 1 is about to break)
6 skirts of varying formality
4 work dresses
2 long sleeve dresses
5 short sleeve/tank top dresses
3 cardigans
3 (conservative) work-out outfits
2 spring scarves
14 pairs of underwear
8 pairs of socks
3 bras, 1 sports bra


3 flats (tan, black, navy)
2 casual sandals (black, white)
2 pairs of shoes I bought last minute at Potomac Mills because of this (brown high heeled sandals and black closed-toe sandals)
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 pair of beach/shower flip flops
1 other pair of slightly heeled sandals


Ali and Nino in Russian (for practice)
Small notebook for writing down new Russian words
Big fat beautiful leather notebook for research notes
Little travel journal/scrapbook
Georgian phrasebook
A bunch of e-books 
(see? not so many!)


all those chargers
flash drives
external hard drive 
little tape recorder


Some pictures of my friends and family
Hair products
A bunch of American candies (Cow Tails, Tootsie Rolls, Nerds)
Small gifts for my friends in Kazbegi
Nail polish
Hiking day pack

Misadventures of Samantha: Blame it on the T-T-T-T-T-TSA

(please sing the title of this post in the style of "Blame It")

So there was this one time...I had a flight leaving to Tbilisi through Dubai at 955 pm. I had rushed to get everything shoved into two suitcases and a carry on, and given rushed goodbye hugs and kisses to my sister, and my superstar mom rushed me to the airport. More kisses goodbye, check in, send the bags off, and rush to the gate. Just enough time to grab my last American cup of coffee for a while, then I'm in line at the gate, ready to board. I reach into my bag for my passport and boarding pass, but...IT'S NOT THERE.
With 20 minutes until boarding ends and they close the gate, I'm clearly panicking. I knew I had to have had it to get through security, so it was somewhere in this part of the airport. My first thought is that I left it at security (à la Riyana, Miami 2008), and (luckily?) there was a TSA agent standing at the gate, so I asked him to radio the security checkpoint for me, but they said they hadn't found a passport. So I thought it must be at Starbucks- I rushed over there, and nope, they hadn't seen it. So I rushed over to the United Customer Service desk and at first was told the standard "for lost items, please call this number," but after some pleading was met with a little more sympathy. The agent told me that I had already missed my flight, but I might be able to make the 10:30 Lufthansa flight through Munich if I could A) find my passport in the next 20 mins, and B) call United headquarters and get them to approve a ticket re-issuance over the phone while I power walked to find my passport. So I tried that. I retraced my steps, going the wrong way through one-way corridors- of course I was flying out of the furthest concourse and the way back to security included 4 escalators, 2 moving walk ways, like a mile of ramps, and a train. All the while, I was calling United, mostly on hold. When I finally spoke with a person, they told me that since I had booked with a third party (and who doesn't these days?), that party would have to reissue my ticket, not United. So, frustrated and still rushing, I called the company I bought the tickets through, and they told me that once I had checked in United was solely in control of my reservation and they released all liability over it. So basically I was screwed. At this point I had reached security, and panting, back straining (did I mention I was carrying 25 pounds?), and almost in tears I explained my situation. Of course, this was not the checkpoint that I had come through, so they had to radio the other one and, lo and behold, THEY HAD MY PASSPORT THE ENTIRE TIME.

The dog helping me pack
So yes, here is where I blame the freaking TSA for all of my woes. I calmly and kindly explained why I was so frustrated by the lack of communication, the failure to know what they had in their lost and found closet or wherever, the structure of the system clearly not optimized for efficiency, and I was told I could fill out a comment card. A COMMENT CARD. What was I going to write??
"One of your agents either was too lazy to check, is incompetent, or just sucks at looking for stuff, and failed to relay correct information, resulting in me losing $800. I will accept a check by mail."??????????
The airport.

100 little things could have happened differently to prevent this situation: I hadn't been running late, I hadn't stopped for coffee, I had checked for my passport earlier, I hadn't left my passport in the first place, the airport had been smaller, my flight had been delayed, people inside the airport (customer service, gate agents) had been able to communicate with TSA, TSA had relayed corrected information, etc. but none of those things happened, and the situation ended up as it did.

By the time I got my passport back, if I had run to to gate of the Lufthansa flight to Munich, I would probably have made it, but because United hadn't reissued my ticket over the phone, they wouldn't have let me on the plane. So, I dragged myself back to the United Customer Service desk, where the guy helping me earlier literally stopped the person he was working with mid-sentence to check on me haha
But basically, the next available flight to Tbilisi was 24 hours later, on Lufthansa through Munich.
It was a flight I had deliberately not chosen because it involved a 9 hour layover in Munich and arrived in Tbilisi at 3 am, but it was now my only option, so I took it. This part of the saga was nowhere near as straightforward as I've made it sound. It involved a lot of checking, double checking, "maybe"s, begging Ben from downstairs to make an exception and allow my ticket to be reissued instead of having to buy a new one, etc. Keep in mind that throughout all this, I am constantly on the phone with my mom trying to explain the situation, she's turned around on the highway to come back to get me. We tried to contact my aunt who lives in the area, but it was late and we couldn't get in touch. So, the customer service agent helping me was calling hotels. I think she called 10 places, and there was only two vacancies- a smoking room in a motel in Manassas, or a $300 two bedroom suite...

Thankfully, my mother is a super hero and she pushed her way through traffic in both directions to come back and pick me up. We ended up driving out to Woodbridge and found a hotel there, after trying about 20 places in the Northern VA area to no avail. We spent the next day shopping, seeing a movie, and hanging out. It was so great to have an extra mother-daughter day, especially because I was only home for a few days and we didn't get to spend much time together.
at least I got to fly Lufthansa! Such a nice plane <3

I managed to not mess anything up the second time around, and successfully made it to Tbilisi. On the up side, I spent a cool, sunny layover in Munich, so that was cool (although, not anticipating a layover like that when I packed, my backpack was way too heavy and my back is still killing me), I flew Lufthansa which is miles ahead of United, had some success shopping, and I spent an extra day with my mom. On the down side, we had to pay for a night in a hotel, plus the gas from driving in circles so much, I had to travel for 3 days instead of the expected 1.5, I had to wait 3 hours in the Tbilisi airport until I was picked up at 6 am, and I lost a day in Georgia.
Overall, if I were to re-do the situation, I wouldn't have lost my passport, but all in all I would say it turned out alright.

Expect a post soon about my first day in Tbilisi, my house, and all that excitement!
To tide you over, here are some pics of my first day:
girl's gotta eat
the park across from my house

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Russian Superstitions

In the Kitchen
  • People who eat off of or lick knives are evil
  • Laying a knife directly on a table/counter is bad luck
  • If you drop a fork or spoon (both grammatically feminine), a woman will come
  • If you drop a knife (grammatically masculine), a man will come  
  • Young unmarried people should not sit at the corner of a table, or run the risk of never getting married!
  • Don't put empty bottles on the table (move them to the floor if you're eating and finish a bottle), or you will invite money problems to the home; some people also avoid keys or loose change
  • If you spill salt, it leads to a huuuge fight (not physical), so you have to throw it over your left shoulder three times (the spilled salt) and laugh
  • Women should never sit on cold surfaces, it will freeze their ovaries  
  • Cold drinks will make you sick (sore throat, cough, sinus infection)
  •  Wind or cool air blowing on a particular spot (e.g., sitting near an open window) will give you muscle or joint pain there
  • You should always wear shoes (тапочки/tapochki) in the house, lest the cold from the floor seeps up in through your bare feet and makes you sick
  • Going outside with wet hair will make you sick, as will anything cold/wet, really
  • Bruises, sprains, and other minor injuries heal more quickly if you paint a checkerboard pattern of iodine on them
  • An upset stomach needs "activated charcoal" (sold in pills, not straight charcoal exactly) 
**Some of those aren't really superstitions, I know, just general cultural practices, but they're interesting! Russian conceptions of illness in general are very different than western conceptions. In the west, germ theory prevails- the only way you get sick is though bacteria and viruses, with perhaps some psychosomatic possibilities thrown in. In Russia, the natural environment is much more strongly at play- particularly air and cold. My favorite method of dealing with this is trying not to get frustrated and just laugh things off, with the small things, it's easier to adopt the mentality that things simply work differently in Russia!

In and Out
  • If you leave the house, and realize you've forgotten something and need to come back (you should really just suck it up and not go back), you have to look in the mirror in the house and smile or laugh, some people even spit over their shoulder
  • Handshakes/hugs and other greetings and farewells should never be made over the threshold of a door
  • Things should never be passed from one person to another over the threshold of a door
  • (Note: Traditionally, not just in Russia, thresholds like doorways and bridges are transition points, and they are where the barrier between our world and the spirit world are thinner. This thin space makes people vulnerable to attacks and danger, thus the tradition of carrying a bride over the threshold when the couple enters their new home.
  • Don't put money directly into someone's hand. In stores, there's a little plate for you to put money on, cashiers will generally put the money on the plate even if your hand is outstretched. 
  • It's also a good financial omen to find a spider on your clothes, to have a bird poop on you, or to step in dog poop
  • Some gifts need to be "bought" by the recipient. Certain things are considered bad omens as gifts, particularly scarves, timepieces, and knives. If you insist on giving one of those as a gift, the recipient will probably give you a coin in return, to create the illusion of buying it rather than receiving it as a gift an inviting bad luck.

Other Stuff
  • Never give someone the last piece of anything (gum, candy)- even if you just split the last piece and the other person eats their part first
  • If you notice someone is wearing an article of clothing inside out, it means you'll get into a big fight, so the one who notices should punch the other to preempt another, worse fight 
  • If you wear a hat while driving, you're stupid or crazy and that's probably why you're a bad driver
  • You must sit down for 30 seconds, or a minute or so before someone leaves for a trip
  • Never celebrate a birthday (or any milestone event) before the day, jinxing your continued life; many people also don't celebrate the 40th birthday, as 40 is considered a number of death
  • Never, I mean NEVER wash hands together at the same time under the same stream of water in your sink. You will fight

Have I missed any big ones? Do you have any interesting stories about superstitions in Russia or the former Soviet Union? Let me know!