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I apologize for the lateness of this post. A lot has happened since folks last heard from me. Let's try to take this in order.
First of all, we left Bazaleti. The scenery was great, but everyone was going a bit stir crazy. Just before shipping out, we were assigned to our clusters. These are small groups of trainees (from 4 to 7) that will be living in roughly the same area for the rest of training. The cluster members will attend classes and eat lunches together. This isn't to say we won't see everyone else. Afternoon sessions will combine the EE or IoD clusters, plus there is the occasional hub day where we can see everyone. So people can still see their friends. Plus there's a giant list of phone numbers floating around.
More importantly, we were given the names of our host families, plus their genders and ages. As you can imagine, everyone was incredibly excited over getting a new grandmother or younger brother. Some were small families, some were large. I don't remember hearing a single complaint.
On the way to Gori we stopped at a roadside restaurant, which consisted of a kitchen and several buildings with tables and chairs inside. We all piled into different buildings for our long awaited taste of authentic Georgian food. I believe Brandon said it best when he exclaimed "I think I'm going to make it," after his first taste. The food at Bazaleti was a bit hit and miss, but wasn't Georgian food either. After stuffing ourselves and getting a group photo taken, we were on the road again. Next stop Gori.
The next moment would be the most important one for the next three months. We were about to meet our host families for the training period. Few could contain their excitement, even I cracked a smile when my name was called and I met Guram for the first time. I quickly met Nino and Lika. The warmth and acceptance they immediately showed me was nearly overwhelming, and it hasn't diminished yet.
Stepping into their home I felt like I was walking into my grandmother's house, especially when I met my new grandmother, Tina, as well as little Tika, who's about the same age as my nephew, Adam.
I haven't had that much of a chance to get out and explore, but I promise I will scale Gori Castle. I've got a bit of sick (no holding Tika!) and studies are keeping me solidly booked, not to mention the introductions. When people say that friends and neighbors just stop on by, they are absolutely telling the truth. I've already met Guram and Lika's older brother (when they learned I was actually older than them I said that I may be 37, but I am only a one week old Georgian. So I am again the baby of the family), Putkara (Guram's good friend), and Klantsha, Taro, and Nika from Guram's work (I apologize if I misspelled any names). The latter three and Guram also happen to be police officers. So, I feel pretty safe except when they try to get me to drink alcohol ;)
I should probably also mention that Lika speaks very good English (she was an exchange student to Kansas) and spends most of her time at school in Tblisi. Tina is awesome, but I have yet to have time to sit down and play backgammon with her (I'm sure she will kick my butt).
That first night we talked some, and I showed them pictures of Washington state from a book I brought as a gift. Then I got into the pictures on my laptop, including family and our trip to Thailand. We then got to me telling them all about Seattle with pictures via Google search. Since Lika left for Tbilisi, computers have become a regular tool. My limited Georgian only goes so far. For complex subjects Guram or Nino use translate.google.com to translate something from Georgian to English, and I will use the same in reverse.
When you are in another culture, it is easy to look at all the differences, be it food, customs, language, or just interests. Instead we found ourselves bonding over the similarities. Georgia, sitting about 3000ft above sea level, is higher than most of Washington, but they both have many mountains, good wine (we ultimately agreed that Washington had the best wine in America, but Georgia had the best wine in the world), similar climates, good people, and more. Plus, kids are kids everywhere. I'm very much struck over the beauty of the land and how it reminds me of home (at least until it snows come winter).
Anyhow, there's a lot more to tell, but I will wrap up by saying that I very much felt like I won the host family lottery. They have big hearts and big smiles; that's enough for me. Everything else is extra. The truly awesome part is that when I got to talk to other PC trainees, they couldn't stop bragging about their host families! Clearly, we all won.
P.S. I was stopped by the police today. Klantsha quickly hopped out of the car and gave me a hug!
P.P.S. If there is something that you want me to share with my host family about America, email or PM me with a subject and pictures! They are quite eager to learn!