My first week in Gori was pretty quiet and uneventful. I went to the university for short meetings each day, mostly to be introduced to people and to discuss my potential teaching schedule. I met a few of the teachers and the Rector of the university, but since the fall semester hadn’t begun yet, the campus was relatively empty.
One day, Zura (the department head for World Languages) took me on a walking tour of the town. He showed me the Gori Fortress, the main Orthodox Church, Gori’s Old Town (built in 2007?), the theater, Stalin Square and the Stalin Museum (Stalin was born in Gori), the bus station, the football (soccer) stadium, a bakery where I tried a few sweet rolls (they were delicious), an enormous outdoor market where people were selling fresh fruits and vegetables among other things, another supermarket, and then took me into the same small market where I had gone shopping on my first day in town.
I asked him about the produce– since the names were in Georgian and weren’t labeled with numbers, how did you know which number to type into the scale and which Cyrillic buttons to push? He surveyed the situation and then seemed as surprised and confused as me. (I’m guessing his wife does most of the grocery shopping; Georgia is a pretty traditional and conservative society with well-defined gender roles). He asked one of the girls working at the market, and she explained that it was her job to do it for customers. (I don’t know where the person who had this job was the first time I went to the store).
Later that day I decided to check out the new supermarket Zura had shown me. This experience was less frustrating than my first shopping experience, but interesting in a different way. This time, from the moment I walked into the store until the moment I left, I was followed around the store by the girls working there. I’m still not sure if they were following me in order to help me, or if they were watching me to make sure I didn’t steal anything; it was unclear. It was clear that they were following me. At one point, to see if this was the case, I decided to pace up and down the same aisle four times. The girl following me at this point (it kept changing) paced up and down the aisle four times as well. Finally, armed with my new phrase, “Sorry, I don’t speak Georgian,” I decided to simply have them help me shop. I used my Georgian-English dictionary on my phone to look up the word of the item I was looking for, and then practiced my pronunciation by trying to communicate that item. Typically, after I struggled to pronounce the word several times, I would finally pronounce it accurately enough, and one of the girls would help me find it.
Georgian is difficult. I love languages, but the pronunciation of Georgian words is really challenging for me. I’ll look up a word in the dictionary, only to realize it has too many consonants (some of which are pronounced deep in your throat) for me to say. I should be taking lessons soon (yay!!), but until then, I’ve found that holding up my phone and letting someone read the Georgian word is more effective. I can’t remember which food items I was looking for that were so difficult to pronounce, but here are a few examples of other words:
- წყლის (“tsqlis“): water
- დღეს (“dghes“): today
- გმადლობთ (“gmadlobt’“): thank you
- რა გქვია? (“ra gk’via“): What is your name?
(“gk’v” … ??? … mmhmmm…)
For other language nerds out there, if you’re really interested, this blog post from Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) explains it perfectly: https://teachandlearnwithgeorgia.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/the-georgians-language/ and this article is interesting: http://www.treksplorer.com/4-hardest-foreign-languages/.
Anyway, in the end, this shopping experience was more pleasant than the first. I was excited to find a frozen food section where you could buy several different kinds of khinkali. Between the dictionary, acting, and a few words of English from one of the girls working at the store, I was able to learn how to cook them (simply boil water and then drop the khinkali in for four or five minutes), and I’ve been eating these a lot. (Again, they’re really tasty and fun to eat. I’m sure making them from scratch is complicated, but it’s easy to prepare the frozen ones).
Over the weekend I met Shalva, the son of the owner of the house that I’m renting. It was great to meet him; he has been incredibly helpful. Before coming to Georgia, I heard a lot of wonderful things about the hospitality of Georgians, and Shalva has been a clear example of this. He showed me lots of useful things about the house (like how to operate the TV and how to change the spoken language from Georgian to Russian to English, how to turn the heat on once it’s cold, and how to adjust the water pressure level) and changed a few light bulbs and brought in some extra lamps for my bedroom. He also took me to a third supermarket. This one was a bit bigger than the other two, and with a Georgian with me, the best of my shopping experiences so far. I wasn’t followed by anyone and I was able to find almost everything I was looking for– including the ingredients make chocolate chip cookies. (The only thing I haven’t been able to find is saran wrap or aluminum foil; I’m still not sure what to do with leftovers)!
On Sunday evening I received a phone call from Zura around 8:00. He apologized for the late notice, but had just learned that the Rector had asked for me to speak at Monday morning’s event for the new freshman class at the university (something like convocation)– could I prepare a short speech to congratulate and welcome the freshman and introduce myself? I often work best with short notice and set out to prepare a speech. The next morning I met Zura, we went over the speech together, and then we headed to the main university building. All in all, I think it went well. The picture below is from the university’s website; Google Translate struggled a bit, but there’s also a rough translation of the text:
“მიმდინარე წელს, გორის უნივერსიტეტში, აშშ საელჩოს პროგრამის ფარგლებში ინგლისური ენის მიმართულებით იმუშავებს ვაშინგტონის, მერილენდის უნივერსიტეტის ინგლისური ენის პედაგოგი, ქალბატონი მელანი ბეიქერი, რომელმაც მიმართა სტუდენტებს და უსურვა წარმატებები.”
“This year, Gori University, the US Embassy in the program will work in the English language, English language teacher at the University of Maryland, Ms. Melanie Baker, who addressed the students and wished them success.”
Tuesday (of last week; September 22nd) was placement testing for new students. I wasn’t involved, however, as last Tuesday I set off for a week-long regional orientation and training in Kyiv, Ukraine. More on that trip in my next post!