A Typical Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia
American Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia
Volunteering in a developing country for two years is probably exactly what you expect it to be -- a sparse water supply, gravel roads and an inordinate amount of farm animals. Living in Georgia might bring out the inner hitchhiker or even the inner vegetarian in you.
I wake up at six in the morning with the cocks. At every hour of the day the cocks can be heard from any corner of my house, but they grow especially noisy at six in the morning, just when I need to wake up and plug in my electric space heater to defrost the new day’s outfit. After clumsily dressing myself and stretching, I make my way to the bathroom. It is here where I brush my teeth with a bucket filled with water from the bathtub, for water only runs for two hours a day. I note the chicken snoozing in the sink and nod my head hello to her.
After a cup of coffee I leave the house and start the trek to the school where I teach English. Upon opening the front gate, I am immediately confronted with a steaming pile of cow shit. Good morning Georgia, I think. I walk a few paces and take in the sunny morning. The mountains are covered in a blanket of glistening snow and the gravel road is dry and dusty. The only sounds are wakeup calls from the cocks and friendly neighborhood dogs. Wait a minute, I think. That dog doesn’t look so friendly. It is growling at that giant pig. The giant pig seems to be on the verge of attacking the very small dog. Suddenly the small dog dashes and the enormous pig feels my unwanted presence. It looks up at me, we make eye contact, it considers its options and then makes a mad dash towards me. All 400 pounds of the thing chases after me for a good minute and a half until it grows too tired to keep up. I walk the remaining seven minutes to the bus stop sideways, watching behind me for the pink beast. Once I am settled on the bus I am immediately inundated with women who want to know who I am. “Where are you from?” they ask me. “Are you married? No? You know, I have a nephew who lives in the capital.” To my dismay, today is not unlike any other day, for the local women will always know an eligible man for me to marry and have millions of babies with.
My lessons go by quickly, for three of my thirty eleventh graders have done their homework today and it takes each of the three ten minutes to read their homework aloud to the rest of the class. I yell at Giorgi for making too much noise while he’s lighting the wood-burning stove in the corner of the classroom and I scold Nino for playing on her cell phone. The third graders are genuinely amused with my attempt to teach them the “Hokey Pokey” and the seventh graders never tire of smiling at the foreign girl who tries to teach them English grammar and vocabulary. In between classes I am fawned over by the third grade girls, who ask regularly if I am planning on getting married in Georgia and settling down here. “Do you like khatichipuri?” they want to know.
After my last lesson I meander outside and wait for the old, yellow mini bus to pick me up and take me home. As I am the first person to get to the bus stop, I am hopeful that there will be a place for me to sit this time. The minutes pass and more people begin to gather around me and, when the bus finally arrives, I am pushed and shoved out of the way until there is not a single space left on the mini bus. Even a grandma threw a punch at my arm for a spot. I peer inside and wonder if I can fit, but alas, there is not a single square inch of space left. There are people on laps of other people while others are squeezed so tightly in the isle that they can’t even raise a single finger. I close the door of the mini bus and sigh, knowing that I will have to wait another hour for the next bus to arrive. After several minutes a soviet car zooms by and I throw my arm into the air, hoping that the driver will stop for me. He does, so I climb into the backseat and am immediately pummeled by questions. “Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have a husband? Do you want to marry my cousin’s son’s friend? He is very smart and he lives in the capital.”
Upon arriving at the front gate to my house I thank the driver and venture back out into the cold. No sooner than I close the door my neighbor is standing right in front of me with a bottle of olive oil. “What is this?” he demands. “It is oil,” I inform him in my mediocre Georgian. “Oil for a car?” he wants to know. “No,” I say, “it is cooking oil.” This is the third time this week that he has stopped me and demanded an explanation of an object that is foreign to him. First it was a tire pressure gauge, then it was a can of hairspray from the 1980’s, and now olive oil.
When my neighbor is satisfied with this answer, he lets me go and I take off two layers of clothes, for the woodstove is burning and I will finally be warm, and I sit down at the kitchen table. So hungry I could consume our entire cow, I peer into my freshly-poured bowl of soup and see a chicken neck, skin, and other unidentifiable bones floating in a yellow broth. When I have finished the broth my host mom wants to know why I didn’t eat the chicken. “I don’t want any ‘chicken’,” I say. “Why not?!” she roars, “this chicken is from our backyard! We caught her and killed her today.” This statement is complete with hand gestures that indicate that the chicken’s throat was slit. Very graphic.
After dinner I sit by the wood-burning stove and read a book that would have never interested me pre Peace Corps service, A Million Little Pieces. Two hours into reading and I grow tired, so I climb into three more layers of clothing, get into my sleeping bag and zip it up all the way, then pile three wool blankets on top of me and snooze until the cocks wake up.