First Day at a New School

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Sorry that this is late! I wrote this a month ago and then forgot about it! I have other good stories from my trips to Japan and Vietnam that I hope to share soon, but as I am incredibly lazy, I don’t know if that will happen any time soon! Go out and find your adventure today!!

 

-I awoke at 5:45, nervous and excited already. I jumped up and ran to turn the hot water heater on so that I could start my day off right and look presentable for my first day of work. I waited for about 20 minutes as the water began to heat and checked my email and facebook in the meantime. I boiled water for my tea and ended up taking a cold to lukewarm shower. It was a cold morning, about 12 or 14 degrees Celsius so the pipes were too cold to heat that quickly enough. I immediately jumped back into my pj’s and robe after the shower to keep warm. As I realized that I would be late if I didn’t get a fire under my bum I started rushing around the kitchen. This is when the morning started to get bad. I picked up our gallon container of oatmeal and spilled half of it on the floor, as the lid wasn’t properly secured and I lifted it up by the handle on the lid. I began to rush around trying to find our broom. It is amazing that as small as our apartment is things can still get lost! This mishap put me so far behind schedule. I attempted to blow dry my hair while eating my oatmeal, and that resulted in oatmeal all down my robe and a bit in my hair, which is a really nice look on me! I realized as soon as I stepped outside that the extra 10-15 minutes I spent fixing my hair had been a total waste of time as I was now about 10 minutes late leaving for work and due to the RIDICULOUS humidity in Hong Kong even when it is super cold out, my hair immediately grew poofy and started flipping out at all the edges around my shoulders. Not cute.

I had enough foresight that this would be a rough morning so I wore my black flats, while carrying my heels in one of the three bags I had strapped on my shoulders. As I gave myself a once over before I ran out the door I realized that the collared shirt I had purchased the night before but didn’t try on was entirely too tight in certain areas and although I had on a camisole, I was certain that I would bust a button right off in the middle of class. I then had a vision of me blinding a kid with my  button as it came unfastened and shot across the room. As it was too late to make any changes (plus I looked quite smart/professional in my French cut blue striped shirt with black pencil skirt) I ran out the door and down into the MTR. Of course I just missed the train I needed and I “pulled a Marissa” with the doors closing in my face and left me looking and feeling disappointed and agitated. (Pulling a Marissa came from an experience in Georgia where all my friends hopped on the subway and I was left looking forlorn as the doors closed in my face and left me in an obscure subway station in Tbilisi, Georgia).

I had to wait another 5 minutes for the next train to Central to come. At this point, I was certain that I would be late and although I accepted this, I was still freaking out even though nothing in the situation was under my control. I finally got to the MTR stop where I was supposed to meet a representative from my “agency” who was to escort me to my school. I am working for a school, but am hired and paid through a company who rents me out to the school. It is like a classier version of pimp, but probably for less money. Anyways at 7:30, ten minutes later than I was supposed to be, I rushed to meet Leo in a crowd of other Asian men in suits wearing glasses (that was the description he gave me about himself). We met and started off to the school. Or so we thought. It ended up that he was wrong and had gone to the wrong school. This took about 15 minutes of Cantonese negotiating where it was discovered that we weren’t even in the right area. We grabbed a cab and then rushed to another school, which was also wrong. We had to consult the taxi driver, school employees, as well as innocent bystanders on the street (I felt like I was on Cash Cab with my street shout out!) to figure out that we were once again in the wrong place. Before we started running down the street for the 3rd time, I switched from my heels (which I put on when I was alighting the MTR) to my flats. Leo complimented me and told me that I was so clever. This was the first time since I moved to Hong Kong that the word “clever” was used properly. The definition of clever is : superficially skillful, exhibiting quick-wittedness, original  However, because this was a British colony and they have accepted the stupid phrases of the British clever is now synonymous with smart. It drives me nuts! (It is amazing how moving abroad has actually made me MORE proud to be American and set in my ways.)We went to a third school and then were told that we were the closest we had been, but we were still in the wrong place and my school was across the street.

After walking an enormous hill we were finally there! I was introduced to Gigi, the head teacher. I was panting and sweating (wishing I hadn’t given up on my half marathon training) and had given up all hope on my hair at this point. Gigi escorted me to the staff room and showed me that I had my own cubicle and gave me a dragon fruit colored mug with a nice Chinese design that includes lotus flowes! There isn’t a teacher’s room, but one long room with cubicles for each teacher. Here, the children stay in the same class and the teacher’s rotate so they don’t have their own area in each classroom. I was instantly excited to A)sit down B)plan the decoration and organization of my little area. I never thought that I would be so excited for a work space, but I really enjoy having a little corner all to myself. After about a minute of downtime, I was swooshed away to the main assembly where I introduced myself and met all the students. When the assembly finished I was allowed to go back to my desk and settle in as the first class of the day had been cancelled.

I was freezing due to the fact that despite the 12 degree temperature, all the windows in the staff room were open and cold gusts of air were blowing in.  I introduced myself to the other white girl in the room and she ended up being the Native English Teacher (NET) at the school. She was NOT happy to meet me. Apparently, no one knew of me except the principal and Gigi before I showed up and disturbed the schedule. I immediately could tell that we were not going to be friends. She is British. And I mean, REALLY British in the boring, dreary way that I imagine Brits are when they are about 40. Doughty and blah. But she is 22. As I followed Anne to the next class, I tried to figure out what was wrong with her face. I still can’t tell if it is her sallow skin (think ______ from Harry Potter) or her eyes are too far apart. She was nice enough, but not warm or welcoming in any sense. (Here is an example of why I love America/the South. EVERYONE would be welcoming and loving and helpful and supportive and give you a Paula Deen casserole as soon as you walked into a new job!)

During the next two classes I sat to the side and clicked through the Power Point as Anne gave the lesson to the kids. I then had a break for two classes and went back to help with Gigi’s (head teacher) class. This was the first and only time all week that I felt included in the lesson. Gigi is great and really wants to utilize the fact that there are 2 Native English Teachers in her classroom. We had to make an impromptu wildlife show and I decided to choose an anteater to present. Why in the WORLD I thought of an anteater, but because I am clever I was able to pull off some facts and make it sound really interesting. The kids probably think I am crazy, but I was quite proud of myself. This was the point that I realized Anne might be jealous of me/territorial because I was stealing her thunder. During the rest of the class, Gigi encouraged me to interact with the kids and wanted me to circulate around the room. I didn’t need to be told twice. I would much rather be talking with the kids then sitting at a desk and clicking a computer mouse.

Lunch was spent by myself at my desk reading on my NOOK. During their 10 minute recess time I went out to the playground and spoke with the kids running around. I felt like a brand new toy being passed around and admired.

I had all afternoon free and I attempted to lesson plan, but Anne had given me the wrong books, so I just made up my own ideas for activities/games/worksheets. I then went to look at past teacher’s work saved on the computer and realized all my brilliant ideas had already been created and used, making me feel like my intellectual property had been stolen. Nothing like feeling completely unoriginal and mundane to kick off your week! I went back to my desk and pretended to work for the next almost 2 hours while just reading my book. I was reading “Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe” by Bill Bryson and ended up daydreaming about how marvelous Europe is and looking forward to the tentative plans of visiting eastern Europe with a gaggle of friends, including Joanne, Raughley, and Stepa.

I snapped out of my daydreaming around 3 pm presented my lesson plan ideas and received the most lackluster response from Anne. I can’t decipher whether or not she is just a dreary as the British weather, or if she is really upset/threatened by my presence. I was on the verge of trying to get real with her and explain that I am not here to step on her toes or take her glory, but I held my tongue.

At 3:30 I went to an awkward teacher’s meeting. Anne is not my keeper, but I expected her to introduce me or at least tell me the other teacher’s names. Nope. Everyone sat in silence while we waited for the last teacher to enter. I then took the initiative to shake hands and greet everyone. It wasn’t until I left the meeting that I connected that they were the P4 English teachers. I had seen two of them in classes today, but they had stayed in the back of the classroom and just gave a bit of translating help to the kids. I assumed they were supervising teachers, and since everyone here speaks English, I never thought twice about it.

I sat and read until 4:15 and then swiftly walked on out. I was saying bye to everyone I saw, trying to be friendly and make connections.

I then had to take an hour long train/bus ride to tutor and by the time I got there I was exhausted and cold and already a little sniffly from being around the kids.

I crawled into bed early and got ready to start it all again!

Around…

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So, I am going to attempt to give you a bit of insight into the everyday life around here. Let’s hope that it is accurate!

On Monday through Friday I get up around 6:30. Cristen and I had planned on waking ourselves up at 5:45 every day to get in a nice little run before school, but let’s be serious….that happened once. So I get up around 6:30, drink tea (I USE ONE TEA BAG FOR ONE CUP OF TEA AND THEN I THROW IT AWAY!!!! Aunt Kellye and mom, are you proud?!?!) I still feel slightly uncomfortable with being so wasteful, but I make myself walk away quicker now than I used to. For a while I would just stare at the under utilized tea bag and feel so guilty. Not anymore! I now celebrate the glories of consumerism of living in a first world country! I check out CNN.com while sipping my tea and eating instant oatmeal. Get dressed, sometimes brush my hair and put on make up and then roll out to the metro. It takes me between 45 minutes and 1 hour to get from my house to my school. I have to take 3 different metro lines. I am getting more accustomed to the trip, but it doesn’t make it any shorter. Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend, who gave me a Barnes and Noble NOOK as a gift, I spend that time reading. I feel quite productive and it keeps me awake. If anyone has book suggestions, PLEASE let me know! Once I get to work, I clock in and head upstairs.

I am working at an International Kindergarten. I teach and speak only in English and I have a co-teacher who teaches in Mandarin (Putonghua) but speaks Cantonese.  After about 3 weeks of filling in and substituting and trying to figure stuff out, I finally was placed in a Pre Nursery class. I was not crazy about it AT ALL, and really thought about quitting, but I am coming to enjoy it more and more. I just turn off my brain and try not to hit the little ankle bitters. The kids in the class are absurd. They are 2-3 years old and most of them can have conversations and some can even read, yes READ! Not just look at letters and guess, but full on read a sentence and comprehend it. RI-DIC-U-LOUS! It does make it easy to communicate on my part, and even if they can not say exactly what is wrong or what happened, they understand my questions and can say yes or no.  Some, not all, of the kids also know to speak English to me, Mandarin to Miss Daisy (my co teacher) and Cantonese to our helpers around the school-lunch ladies, cleaning ladies, etc.  During English lessons, I am still teaching basic concepts such as letters and numbers and phonics, but some of the kids get so fidgety, and I honestly think it is because they are bored. They can read, why do they care how many red cats are on the page or if the dinosaur in the hoola hoop is big or small?

I teach a morning and an afternoon class, and a playgroup. It is quite a bit, but I like to be busy, it makes the day go by faster.

At school, we get a traditional Chinese lunch every day. It is awesome! Our lunch ladies are super sweet women who don’t speak a lick of English but always smile at me and touch my hair and tell me I am good! (hmm…sounds like Georgia) One told me that she likes me because I smile, I am from America, and I eat all the food. (Also sounds like Georgia). This is not like any Chinese food I have had before. Every day it is something different, and they do things with vegetables I would never dream of. There are sauces, but nothing ever too heavy and it is always amazing. One downside-chopsticks are the only utensils available. Before I came here, I was never a huge fan of Asian cuisine, so I never learned how to use chopsticks. Let me tell you, when you are hungry, you learn really quickly how to use them. The first day was a complete disaster and I felt like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast when he is slobbering up the porridge. Within a week I could at least manage to get some food in my mouth and after 3 weeks I would say I am at an intermediate level. My biggest challenge was rice, but I got that down. We eat out of tiny bowls and they are filled about 3/4 of the way with rice and then we put meat and veggies on top. Everyone holds their bowl in their left hand (or non dominant hand) close to their mouth and then uses the chopsticks with their right hand to shovel the food in. Bones and other unwanted pieces are spit onto the table. Our tables are always covered in a plastic wrap-almost like a big Wal Mart bag and taped down on all the sides. After lunch is over, they just fold it up, throw it away and the kids can have their school table back!

After lunch there is an afternoon class, and on Mondays and Wednesdays I slip out of class to teach a mom and tot playgroup. You should see me-I have so much flipping energy and can sing along to every Barney, Wiggles, and nursery rhyme song. Go Me. I finally accomplished something in life.

After an hour long ride home, Cristen and I make dinner-usually something easy and then we lounge and watch movies.  Me, Cristen, and Swingey made an epic movie list of a ton of movies we have either always wanted to see or are just good classics and are making some headway. Some of the most recent ones are The English Patient and Basic Instinct. We are on a bit of a mid-90’s kick.

I live in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is a neighborhood in Kowloon. Kowloon is the district I live in. Jordan is my metro stop and apparently home to the Triad-the super scary and intense Chinese gang. YAY! I live in a pretty nice area, but there are some rough patches. I don’t know which parts the Triad guys hang around though. There are boutiques and restaurants surrounding our apartment building. Every restaurant is a SEAFOOD place. Yuck! So I walk past styrofoam coolers filled with live fish being delivered to the restaurants on a daily basis. It always smells like something different on my street and it is always an indiscriminate mix of malodorous things.  I do have a pet shop next door to my house, which reeks of cat urine, but I still smile when I walk past it. I have yet to go in there, but I want to make a habit of playing with all the kitties in there! They are locked away in cages and just need to be loved a little!

Our apartment is amazing, for Hong Kong. It is huge, for Hong Kong. We have 3 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms (sort of). One full bathroom with a shower and then Cristen and I have a tiled room with a toilet and a sink and then a shower head, but no drain or door, so I guess those count as half baths?  We have one “big” room that is split into a living room and a breakfast nook. The breakfast table is used by Swigney for studying and Cristen and I for resting our wine glasses on while we are pouring. Our kitchen is great in size, but there is just so little counter space! We have a toaster oven as our only means of baking, but that thing does quite well. Cristen and I made coffee cake from scratch and it cooked it up just like an Easy Bake Oven!!

That is all I can think of now, but I will try to continuously update about the daily activities.

Go out and find YOUR adventure today!

xoxoxo

10,000 Buddhas

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Here are some pictures from a trip yesterday to a temple that houses over 12,800 Buddhas. I guess they added some on recently, because the name is 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. I am constantly amazed at how easily it is to find hiking, vegetation, and naturally beautiful areas on Hong Kong. You just have to know where to look. To get to the Buddhas, you have to take a mini bus from our house, and then hop on the MTR to Sha Tin. From there, it is just a short walk in some back alley ways, accompanied with a feeling that you are doing something wrong and then boom, you are there!

The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery was constructed beginning in 1949.It took eight years to complete all buildings and then another en years to finish the more than 12,000 Buddha’s statues.  The monastery in total has five temples, four pavilions, one veranda, and on pagoda. In each, there are different statues of Buddha, Vitasoda, Kwum Yam, and Arhan. One building, we believed to be a columbarium.

The stair way up to the monastery is lined with gold coated Buddha statues, all in different poses with different expressions. And once you get up to the monastery there are Buddhas placed in the foliage and near waterfalls, to show all different forms of life, work, and worship.

Here are a few pictures for you get a better idea!

 

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A day trip to Macau!

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So I spent a morning picking up my work visa. But because Hong Kongers (yes, that is really what they are called) like hard work and paper work it isn’t that easy to get your visa. You have to leave the country as a visitor and then come back as a resident. It is really awesome that Hong Kong is an island, so there are obviously tons of choices of places for you to visit. Or at least that is what I thought. Macau is an island nearby. Macau is one of China’s administrative regions. It has its own government and all that jazz and is known as the Vegas of the East. The thing I find interesting about Macau is that it was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century until 1999. So, all over Macau you see signs in Portuguese, Cantonese, and English. There are 1 hour long ferry rides between Hong Kong and Macau leaving every 30 minutes so I was planning on just taking a ride there, getting off the boat and then getting on the very next one back. When I told Cristen this plan, she said that there were some ruins that I could go see and that Macau is a nice place to look around. Well, Cristen has school, and Swigney was tutoring and finishing up a school project, so I asked Peter. Monday night I asked him if he could go, and after a little mix up on Tuesday (when I thought we were going) we planned for the next day.

Wednesday morning rolls around and I find my way to the station. I have to say that I am pretty proud of myself and the fact that I have barely gotten lost here. That is mainly because the metro is incredible and it lights up, plus EVERYTHING is in English, so that helps. Anyways, so I get there and am immediately thankful that I am meeting with Peter. There are about 50 stands that are all selling tickets. Tickets for the ferry and for casinos and helicopter rides and all sorts of crazy stuff. I was so overwhelmed. Situations like that happened a few times, while trying to find customs and knowing which was the right line to go through and just a bevy of things that I would have gotten confused if I had to tackle them on my own. Well, we get our tickets and wait in a long line for outgoing visitors. When we finally get up front, they inform Pete that is student visa is expired (1 day expired) and he needs to get an extension. He tried to explain to them that his visa was coming and he should have it on Friday, but they told him that he MUST get this extension. It just boiled down to almost 30 minutes of time, a ton of paper work and some money. (This ordeal followed us back home when we tried to enter the country and they said that he would have to pay/file again. Nonsense.) But while Pete was trying to figure out all the paper work I got to see an Asian-American in a Berkeley tee get stopped for some reason and then yelled at in Chinese. It was pretty funny because everyone was speaking to him in Cantonese and he just kept repeating, “I DO NOT SPEAK CHINESE!”

Everything is so orderly and efficient in China, a little too much so, and especially compared to Georgia. Everyone was standing in line to get a seat number assigned to their ticket and then they would stand in line to wait for the boat, even though we already had the seat number and a few minutes to spare. So we find our seats on the boat and watched a very awkward TV food special showcasing foods around Hong Kong, with wonders such as pizza and cheese fries. We also were privy to the man sitting behind us’ music, which was loud and dumb. To add to the cacophony was someone, who was obviously in a deep sleep, sawing logs a few rows back. The hour long boat ride was finally over, and I didn’t feel too sea-sick, which is always nice.

We had to go through another long line to get through immigration and after that was done grabbed a taxi to the ruins. The ruins were a letdown. It was one remaining wall of what used to be a church. There were some interesting carvings on that wall the infused Roman style as well as Chinese art with some Christian symbols tossed in for good measure.  We didn’t even spend 5 minutes there. While there, we did get to see a boy peeing behind the wall. No respect and just urinating where hundreds of tourists are gathered and taking pictures. Apparently, mainlanders do stuff like that all the time. I have already heard stories and complaints about people from mainland China and the absurd stuff that they do.

We met up with Abdul, Pete’s friend from school and had lunch at a great Macanese restaurant. It was a good fusion of Portugese and Chinese food. We ordered an appetizer which ended up being fried ham and cheese balls (AWESOME-even though it really made me want jalepeno poppers!). We then ordered African Chicken, a Portugese steak that came with an egg on top of it-wonderful!, and some sort of fish that I did not try.

After lunch, we had an hour before our ferry was supposed to leave so we hustled over to a casino. We couldn’t leave the Vegas of the East without entering a casino. We found a cab and told him to gun it to the Sands. We ran inside with about 30 minutes before our ferry was supposed to leave. Within 15 minutes Pete had lost and then gained 1,000 HKD. We were happy with that result and jetted out of the casino. Pete thought that we could make it to the ferry faster running then in a cab. I disagreed, but we started jogging down the street. When the sidewalk ended and we had to run across the street, jump a barrier and then run through 3 more lanes of traffic and still were not ANYWHERE near the pier, he gave in and we flagged down a taxi. Luckily, our ferry was running a few minutes behind so we got there with about 2 minutes to spare. We ordered over-priced Heinekens on the boat ride home to toast to our success.

It was the first of many adventures to come in my new home.

Safe and Sound

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Ok, let us start with the flight. It was long. I traveled (including my one layover in Japan) for almost 24 hours. Basically, just way too long. I took off at 12:40 pm on Tuesday and landed at 10:00 Wednesday night Hong Kong time. Hong Kong is 13 hours ahead of Texas time. Yes, I did say Texas time, not Central Standard, because isn’t Texas the center of everything and should be held for the standard? (minus some of the government leadership happening) I was planning on leaving DFW on a ONE WAY-ONE WAY-ONE WAY TICKET  to Hong Kong. Well, the not so nice man at the ticket counter told me that tey wouldn’t let me in if I didn’t have a return ticket. And that either I had to buy a return ticket or I couldn’t go. I was so upset and this just added insult to injury as I had already been rushing around trying to get everything packed, and was running late that morning (typical). We bought the ticket for 30 days from now, but he semi-assured us that it was a refundable ticket. He also did the oh so generous act of waving the $30 fee that they tack on when you purchase a ticket at the airport counter. Bascially this whole experience ruined my chance of ever rushing to the airport and buying the last ticket they have just to run through security and chase after “the one” right before they slip off to some place exotic. I am NOT going to pay that $30 dollar fee for that.

Anyways, I get settled on to the airplane and somehow managed to shove my oversized carry on bag under the seats in front of me. The woman sitting next to me was a quiet, old Asian woman who didn’t speak much English, so she kept to herself and I got the armrest. Win-Win. The flight was direct to Narita Airport about 30 minutes outside of Japan and was SOOOOOOOOOOOOO long. The problem was that I couldn’t sleep. I dozed off for about 20 minutes but that was it. I watched Water for Elephants (read the book, it is so much better) a few episodes of The Office, and then started and finished a Danielle Steel novel. When we finally landed I was ready to stretch my legs. I took the shuttle and found my new gate, and then I had 2 hours to sit there because I didn’t want to carry my bag that weighed close to 30 lbs and I couldn’t leave it unattended, for fear of someone phoning in my huge pink bag as a bomb or potential terrorist attack. So I awkwardly just stood up for a while willing my phone to get service, or the wifi in the airport, but, alas, no such luck. I then started to read Brave New World. I am still working on that one, and it is creepy but a very interesting spin on what a utopian society is/should be like. We boarded our second plane at the time it was scheduled to take off and I had a flight to Hong Kong lasting about 4 hours. This was the flight that seemed never ending. I was exhausted and hungry and just ready to get there, but oh no. I was too worn out to read, but not sleepy enough to actually nap. So I was in a fitful state for all 4 hours and probably annoyed the man sitting next to me that smelled like vodka and cigarettes.  When we landed, I think my heart actually leaped! I was just so relieved to have the whole ordeal of flying half way around the world over. I was, however, premature in my celebrations.

We had to que up and wait to get off the plane, then make our way through this crazy tunnel to get into the airport, then walk down 3 large corridors and take 2 escalators down to get to immigration/customs. The next feat to overcome-the longest line for immigration you have ever seen. And of course the line for non-residents is the one snaking back 1237364398202347 feet.  I FINALLY got through customs. It has been over an hour since my plane landed. I walk to baggage claim and expect to see Cristen and maybe Peter (the two friends from A&M I know over here) but nothing. After waiting for about 20 minutes for my bags to come round the carousel, I begin to panic a bit. First off, I lost my bags again. At this point, it is an old hat trick for me. I can live off little, however, it is getting like a bad joke that just keeps getting repeated.

The really bad part about this situation is that Cristen is nowhere to be found in baggage claim (that is where you meet your friends at DFW and Tbilisi airports, so I just assumed it is the same everywhere) and I realize that I don’t have her or Peters HK phone numbers, nor did we set up a meeting time and place, nor do I know where they live. Not even a clue.

I am really trying to not freak out, and start to walk toward the baggage claim desk where they bullshit you and jerk you around and tell you that you will have the bag the next day, but REALLY they get uber lost somewhere in Poland and you don’t get them for over a week. (From another airline might I add. How does that happen, you might ask? The world may never know) So I am starting the walk to the desk when I see a girl from my flight with a bag coming in a completely opposite direction of carousel 8, where the bags are supposed to be popping out. Oh no, we were on a different carousel completely! Good thing the posted signs and the flight attendants all said 8, when in fact, my bags were merrily moving along carousel 9. Throughout this whole ordeal, I am still searching for a tiny brunette (like that would be easy to find in this crowd) or potentially a very tall, thin blonde headed man. Finding neither, I shove my bags onto a cart and start to walk forward to customs, I have nothing to declare so keep going, not really sure where this is going to take me. Then I see a sign (more like a light at the end of the tunnel). A sign that is pointing me to an area where you pick up arriving passengers! Hurray! And just my luck, Cristen’s smiling face is waiting for me! At this point, she and Asian genius take over. We go through a few more doors and then have to que up for a taxi. The COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF GEORGIA. I did not have to shove people out of the way or curse at them or get frustrated that we were getting ripped off. We waiting in a civilized line. A man would point us to one of 4 openings, wherever the next cab was to arrive and then we paid a reasonable fair for our ride home. It was wonderful! (oh we also took the metro in one of the steps).

So, I get home close to midnight, meet Swigney, our third roommate and get settled into the couch. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich courtesy of Cristen’s fancy Norwegian cheese and a glass of Merlot. Pete came over for a bit and the four of us just chatted and caught up. Bed time was around 2 am.

That is when I proceeded to sleep from 2 am until 5 pm the next day! What a bum! So Thursday night we all just cooked and then lounged around the apartment. Problem. I couldn’t go to sleep the next night. So I took a little nap from about 1:30 until 4:30 a.m. then got up and read for a while. Cristen and I went for a run at about 6 a.m. when she attempted to show me parts of Kowloon (our neighborhood or borough or section, whatever you like to classify it as) while on a 5 k jog.

Of course I still got super confused and turned around. We got back around 6:30 and I proceeded to lay on the couch super sweaty watching French films with English subtitles until around 9:30, when I decided to go out and explore my new world. I g chatted Peter and told him I was about to go walk around. He asked if I would want to come meet him at his office. I figured that would be good and give me a bit of direction instead of just aimlessly wandering and getting anxious that I don’t know where I am, when in fact I just walked in a huge square.

So, I set off, with a goal (across the harbor!) with a metro stop, a cab, and some walking in store for me. The trip was easy, HK’s MTR is phenomenal! Not only is EVERYTHING in English but they have a nice little light up system and there are pictures and arrows and even friendly people helping you get to whichever line you need to get to. I found the place easily. We walked around a bit, did some work laser cutting cardboard to help make a new project that Peter and his boss are working on and then had a nice lunch.

Ok, so at this point many of you (Danielle) are probably wondering, what is Chinese food like there? Well, I still haven’t had any. Grilled cheese Wednesday night, slept all day Thursday, cooked pasta and steamed veggies for dinner Thursday night, oatmeal at home for Friday breakfast, Grilled chicken and avocado salad for lunch, and then Indian/Thai/Malaysian food Friday night. Oops. I am getting a Chinese meal at lunch every day so I promise to keep you updated! And we are going out tonight so I might have something else to report back.

I will write soon about what I actually saw, smelled, etc. Love you all!

Association ATINATI

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Atinati is a local NGO (non government organization) that works in partnership with Save the Children. I became friends with a Polish girl, Asia (pronounced Asha), who volunteered there from September until now. Well, I had offered my help before, but this semester, I was bound and determined to do something more productive with my time then sit in the cave that is City Bar. I contacted her at the beginning of the semester and told her that I really wanted to get involved. There were some new TLG volunteers who also wanted to get involved and volunteer, so it was perfect timing. We made a little committee that met and spoke about issues in the community. Well, we each had an idea for a program we wanted to implement or improve. I made a detailed outline of the health education classes I wanted teach. This would include an education session, as well as a fitness session. Asia loved the idea and helped me narrow it down and get a good grip on how the logistics would really work. The other girls had great ideas about the upcoming Woman’s Day (March 8th) and the week around it.

We ended up planning two events to celebrate women! The first was a panel of woman leaders from Zugdidi. They were all either independently employed, or high up in a company. We had a dentist, the owner of City Bar, a radio journalist, a lawyer for an NGO, and the founder/CEO of Atinati. It was really incredible, and quite empowering to see all these women up there telling their stories. I was surprised and impressed by the turn out we had for an audience. We had teenage boys and girls sitting next to grown women, all interested in what it meant to be a woman leader in Georgia. It was quite interesting to hear about these women’s struggles to make it to where they are now. All of their stories included the fall of the Soviet Union and how it affected them. For some, after the collapse, they were left with nothing and had to start from scratch. The woman that owns City Bar, holds a degree in engineering, but after she lost her job she had to make some money. She explained how she always liked to bake but never thought much of it. Slowly, she started to make cakes for friends and then she started to sell them, all from her house. As time went on, her business grew. She bought a small room and employed her family. Through hard work, and her business savvy, she now has one of most successful businesses in Zugdidi. Most of the others had similar stories of starting over, or significantly changing their lifestyles after the fall of the Soviet Union.

All of what they had said was being translated to us through a student who had volunteered to help us. After each of the women spoke, the audience was allowed to ask questions and we ended up having a great discussions about a whole range of topics important to women. I felt so proud and happy to be a woman.

 

For the Saturday after Woman’s Day, we organized an art exhibition dedicated specifically to women. We asked children and teenagers to draw pictures of what they thought it meant to be a Georgian woman. We had also planned for a woman sculptor to bring in a few of her pieces and set them out to be seen. Also, one of the other volunteer’s student agreed to do a live paint of what was happening in the room while people milled around and looked at the art. Asia and I decided it would be nice to have some soft background music playing, and decided to ask if Rick and Raughley would play. I was in charge of organizing them and get them prepped for the event. Well, after our last meeting on the Thursday before the event, I confirmed with RickRaughl (as they like to be called) that they were going to sit in the corner and play some soft jazz music. Nothing too overpowering, and they didn’t even have to sing. They said they could manage and even arranged to meet an hour before the event was to start on Saturday to practice. Although, the event went over well, it was so Georgian in the fact that nothing went the way it was planned. We received half as many art submissions as we planned on, the sculptor backed out, the painter just never showed up, and we couldn’t get the sound system to work. This affected the background music and Asia’s Powerpoint presentation.  Also, Rick showed up hungover, and due to marshutka schedules, Raughley couldn’t get there until right when the event was starting. To throw another wrench into the formula, Asia wanted the boys give a full on concert instead of just playing in the background. They scrambled to get together some songs and I apologized profusely.  The boys managed to bang out a few songs that were familiar and then as a result of the crowd’s insistence, they fiddled around and played a few more songs. The Georgians started to get a bit restless and the kids were talking and weren’t really paying attention. This didn’t stop Jo and me from going wild with applause and cheers when they finished each song. We even attempted to start the crowd singing some of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” but since I hate her I didn’t know the words and Joanne’s one lovely, angelic soprano voice couldn’t get the group singing along. After the concert Asia gave a presentation about women throughout the centuries and all their accomplishments. The whole jamboree for Women’s Day was successful and I was proud to be a part of something so meaningful. I hope that education really is power and that Georgians continue to be exposed to how women live and conduct themselves all over the world so that they can see that in many aspects they are very lucky and blessed but that there is still a lot of room for growth and development.

 

When I initially spoke with Asia about volunteering at ATINATI, she asked me if there was something in particular that I wanted to do. I didn’t even have to think before I told her that I was passionate about health. I sat down and brainstormed ideas about lectures, recipe exchanges, and exercise classes.

After meeting again and again and trying to figure out all the details (mainly how to overcome the language barrier) but still relate to and affect refugee women. We decided that the best and easiest way to do this was by holding exercise classes twice a week. I was very excited to speak on different subjects of wellness, specifically nutrition, since it is abysmal in this country, but unfortunately we had to cut that idea. There were just too many logistical problems. Asia and I spoke to employees at ATINATI and secured a time slot in the refugee community center in Bipori, a section of Zugdidi where a large majority of Abkhazian refugees live.

The next step was to get participants. We made signs advertising the club and hung them around Zugdidi, but did a major PR campaign in the university. The university is located in Bipori so we were able to appeal to young women.

We held the first meeting a week after hanging the posters and had 11 university girls come!! I was thrilled. 11 doesn’t sound like many, but Asia explained that when ATINATI targets activities for women only, it is not uncommon for 0-4 people to show up. When I actually held the first fitness class 5 girls were there. I was a little disappointed that not more had shown up, but I went ahead anyways.  I had already spent time planning an entire floor routine and downloading music, and troubled Ben with sending me some step/fast paced music but of course, so I wanted to still put in 100% for those 5 girls. A

s always in Georgia, nothing went to plan. The girls were all very eager, but were dressed completely inappropriately for doing a lot of activity. Sports are not a priority here so any kind of activity is done in jeans. One girl had on cut off shorts and was wearing panty hose on under her shorts and slip on flats. I was prepared to deal with the language barrier, but I completely underestimated how much of novices I was dealing with. The girls tried so hard, but I didn’t realize how hard it is to teach concepts like “don’t let your knee extend past your toe when doing a lunge” or how “ hands and knees should be aligned with your shoulders and hips if you are in table top position.” A flat back and constricted abs were pretty easy to demonstrate so that helped.

The first class was rough to say the least but everyone was laughing. I scratched all my plans within 1 minute of starting to teach. It was an interesting hour but we got through it and everyone showed up again for the next class.  It made me so happy to show them how much fun exercise could be and that even though it is difficult, when you are with your friends, you can have a great time!

I have held classes twice a week for almost  two months now and everything is going really well. I only have 2 of the original girls still regularly attending, but they did a great job of spreading the word and now have a whole range of girls. I have girls come that are 8,9,12, 14, and 20. The young girls can’t quite do everything but they jump and play around and attempt. I just care that they are there and are spending two hours a week being active and not just sitting with their mothers learning how to clean the house and serve men’s every needs. They have a great time and sometimes bring the biggest smiles to my face. Every lesson I have a new face, but have lost another. The most at one time I have had is 8 girls, but I am happy with that. It gives me a chance to really work individually with everyone at one point.

This is something that I will definitely always remember and will draw on if I teach or train in America. I hope that in some way or the other, I am making an impact on these girls too and that they will see the importance of a healthy life for the rest of theirs.

Second half of Turkey

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Wednesday We slept in a while since we had been up so late and finally started moving around 10 or so. While Joanne and I were primping in the bathroom, we met a nice girl from Canada. It is really funny how sometimes complete strangers can really make an impact on your life. Amelia overheard us talking and piped in and as we started talking we found out that she was traveling alone because he boyfriend abandoned her in three different countries. They kept making plans of him to come over and meet her and travel a while and three different times he told her last minute (after buying a plane ticket or getting to the country) that he wasn’t coming. She had broken up with him just a week prior to meeting us and Jo and I immediately went into girl mode bashing this total stranger and telling her she was so much better, etc etc. It was all true and after all was said and done, she said that was the best advice she had received from anyone! I felt that after a deep talk in the girls bathroom of a random hostel we were destined to be friends! We invited her to join us for the day and she accepted. So the 5 of us set off about an hour later to explore the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. When we got to the Blue Mosque, prayer was about to start so we were not allowed to go in. We strolled over to the Hagia Sofia and spent a long time exploring everything it had to offer. To say that it was beautiful or amazing is such an understatement! This and the Blue Mosque really do need to speak for themselves. I will put some pictures up, but if you can, google image these places. The Hagia Sofia was first a church and then later converted into a mosque. Ataturk decided that it would become a museum and should feature both the Christian and Islamic symbols that make it so special so he ordered for the plaster that was covering the Christian symbols to be chipped off. Now you can see large hangings featuring scripture of the Quran next to paintings of the Virgin Mary and her son. It was quite powerful and there was just so much to take in. I wish that it was free because I wanted to go back a second day. After a while I just got so overwhelmed by it all that I had to take a break and sit down. I don’t feel like I got to see everything completely and I want to go back again. After Hagia Sofia we took a nice long walk through a beautiful park as Amelia was leading us up to a café with a great view of the Bosphorus. I felt so bad for Raughley because he was limping the whole time and walking up and down the expansive rolling hills of the park proved especially difficult for him. We all took turns holding back and helping him along. In the park we found a man that had two rabbits and a chicken. On pieces of paper were written fortunes and he would hold a plate with slates in it up to a rabbit’s mouth and whichever paper it picked was your future! I think the initial price was 5 lira but we really didn’t have small change so Raughley offered him a US $1 bill. He took it and Raughley got his fortune (it came true too because he was offered a job he had applied for!) As we walked away I realized that I really wanted a fortune to because I am way to into that kind of stuff and even though I know it was super silly, I wanted to know what my future held. Between the five of us we scrounged up 3 lira and ran over to him and had his rabbit pick out my future! (It was pretty good too and I hope it comes true!) The man then insisted on taking pictures with all of us, shouting “Lady” at Jo and Amelia. When we made it up to the café that Amelia had told us about, we were overwhelmed with the view. It really was beautiful. Unfortunately, you had to pay for that view and Nescafe coffee (1 lari in Georgia) was 6 lira!! We passed, which forced Raughley to walk right back down the steep hills that he had just come up. Amelia wanted to go back to the spice market to buy a lamp and ship it home to Toronto, so we followed along. It was a decent walk but along the way we stopped in for a hot meal for Amelia and tea/beer for us. After our break we wound through the market to get to the light shop. It was incredible. All this multicolored glass strung together and hanging in all different orders and shapes. If it wasn’t so expensive or heavy/expensive to ship, I would have bought one on the spot. However, the man asked where I was from and happily informed me that they have a chain of the shop in Dallas! How crazy! He said that they make everything in Turkey and then send it over to his friend who runs the shop there. I am definitely going to fish out the card when I get back home this summer. We spent a good deal of time in the light shop and they brought out tea for us and we were just chatting. Jo bought a scarf for her host mom and after a while Amelia came down stairs and explained that she had to go to FedEx to haggle the price down for shipping (you can haggle EVERYTHING!) So we left and walked back to our hostel. We took a few little detours to try to find Raughley some loose fitting pants. His jeans were too tight and rubbed on his cut. We initially found a pair of granny Capri pants that were hilarious, but served the purpose. However, long pants were required for mosques and they capris were just hideous. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything suitable that fit and were a decent price. We also made plans to cut a kitty cat shaped patch to put over his torn pants but that never happened. We got back to the hostel and decided to go to the grocery store next door and pick up stuff for dinner. We got oven pizzas that we cooked in the microwave (terrible bologna like meat on them and sprinkled with corn…) and then we made sandwiches. We had all sorts of yummy fixins like pickled red peppers, mustard, fresh cheese, two kinds of pepperoni, mustard, and we put it all on the biggest treat of all-WHEAT BREAD!!! It was so oaty and delicious! The kitchen area was under strict restrictions since the hostel cooked meals for those who wanted it. There were no plates or utensils or anything like that so we had to cut a big 1.5 liter bottle of water in half and filled it with boiled hot water and instant coffee mix. Not the best idea as the bottle started to shrink, burned our hands when we tried to touch it and the coffee was crap, but it was still fun. That night we walked around the city so Pauli and Jo could take some night shots with their fancy cameras. It was super chilly and pretty soon I had wrapped my scarf around my head and neck to try to stay warm. My little Northface fleece is not as warm as I thought it was and the whipping wind was really getting to me. Once back at the hostel we fixed up Raughley’s knee again and then all quickly fell fast asleep. Thursday In the morning we went to the Blue Mosque which is still a functioning mosque so we had to get there early enough to have enough time to view it all. It was one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen. It was so powerful and I was literally on the verge of tears from the beauty. At one point I sat down and tried to meditate/soak it all in but there were too many people walking around and talking so I couldn’t calm down and focus. We walked around and looked at everything and even read a very helpful pamphlet on What Is Islam? That afternoon we walked to Topkapi palace, sat in the park and ate our sandwiches and fed the two big sweet kitties that were lounging in the sun. We wadded through the streams of children to look at all the precious jewels and other unique relics in the palace. There were some pretty amazing pieces of past sultan’s royal jewels and even some historical Christian and Islamic artifacts. As we were leaving the palace we ran into a whole mess of kids. This area of town, so rich in culture and history, attracts children’s groups like moths to a flame. We had been battling with these kids the whole time in the palace, but they quickly melted our hearts. We all voted that they were between the ages of 8 and 10 (the adorable age) and one kid could obviously tell that we were not Turkish (I wonder what gave it away-probably the kid’s Deutsch-dar went off for Pauli) and he said “Hello!” We responded with a nice “hello” as well. Pretty soon, the entire group of close to 50 students were shouting “Hello! How are you?! What is your name?!!!” We even had kids come up and shake our hands! The amazing thing is that when the kids at school do this, it is annoying because those are the only words in English they know (1st through 12th graders) but when strangers do it, it is the most precious sight to see! Their unabashed courage, innocence, and pride in themselves was obvious, and so heartwarming. When we had finished at Topkapi, we decided that we could splurge and went back to the expensive café with the great view that Amelia had shown us the day before. We would have sat there longer, but the sun was quickly being covered by clouds and it was chilly up on the hill. We made our way back to our hostel and grabbed all of our stuff. That evening we had to move to a different hostel as a group of Dutch students had booked up the whole hostel! We walked to the tram which took us to the ferry which would take us across the Dardenelle straights, where we thought we would have to get another bus to get across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. When we consulted our map, we realized that we were not staying on the Asian side, like we initially had thought. It was convenient for us, but a bit of a disappointment because we were looking forward to waking up and exploring all the goods of that side. After winding our way around a new part of the city, and asking for help a few times, we were pointed in the direction of a construction zone. Literally, there was red tape all around and you could hear jackhammers going off. We were quite confused but we looked around for the building number and sure enough found our hostel right next to the building under construction. We had to walk under the restriction tape to get to the hostel. Sign number 1 that it would be a bad experience. Number two was that the door was locked and when we rang the doorbell, a man stuck his head out the window and yelled us asking why we were ringing the bell. When he came down he seemed quite put out. We walked up the narrow winding stairs to what was our room. Sign number 3 He immediately asked us for the payment in full. We set down our bags, declined his offer to join him in the common room upstairs to chat and rushed out to get away. We ate at a nice little diner that we had seen on the way in. Although the menu offered a few different items, when we all ordered, we basically got the same thing. It was a lamb but in different forms. Mine was wrapped in a tortilla/pita thing, Raughley’s was the solo thing on his plate, and Pauli’s came minced on a piece of bread. Jo ordered soup and chicken. When the soup came out, the oos and ahhs coming from her were ridiculous! We all promptly tried her soup and simultaneously made the same sounds. It was delicious-hands down the best soup I have ever had in my life. It was lentil soup with a little drizzle of sauce and a lemon squeezed in. Raughley ordered a bowl, and I vacillated but decided against it since we had ordered a lot of food already. Once we had finished dinner, we strolled around our new area and then ended up back at our hostel to get a good night’s rest. Friday We woke up and got out of our hostel as quickly as possible. The weather was quite nasty, overcast and windy, but we wanted to check and see if there was still a possibility to take a hot air balloon ride, something we had all been looking forward to since we booked our plane tickets months before. Unfortunately, due to the weather, there was no way that we would be able to take the trip. Both Friday and Saturday were bound for bad weather. We turned back, disappointed. At this point, Pauli and Raughley went to find the ticket office for Pauli to find his bus ticket. Joanne and I stayed near the balloon/main part of town to find a bathroom and a hot coffee. Switching different countries, which includes new water and food was taking a toll on both of our digestive systems. No serious problems, just lost of inconveniences. We walked across the street and found a fancy looking little café. At this point we were willing to pay just about any price for a good, clean, western style bathroom. (I mean a room with a toilet you can sit on and not just a hole you squat over.) We were supposed to meet the boys in 30 minutes to go about the rest of the day. Well, we sat down and marveled at the extensive menu presented to us! They have everything you could imagine! Ok not really everything, but after bread and cheese in Georgia, and only allotting ourselves one hot meal a day for the past week, we were both salivating just reading the descriptions of the delicacies available at our fingertips. Jo settled on pasta, and I ordered a plate of assorted stuffed, dried vegetables, drizzled with olive oil. It tasted like pure heaven whenever I put that first bite into my mouth. I almost cried right then and there. I had not tasted something with so much flavor in months! Plus, it was actually a piece of food that had some nutritional value to it, unlike the loads of white bread, stripped of all fiber and helpful natural ingredients that I shovel into my body. We sat there reveling in our gorgeous meals. Once it had been the allotted 30 minutes, we took turns every 8 to 10 minutes running out to the meeting spot we were supposed to find the boys at. Well, it took them over an hour, which worked out for us too because it took a long time to get our food delivered to our table. The four of us met up and were soon in a search to find a hammam, or Turkish bath. Well, we saw a small shack that looked like something resembling a visitors’ center. We walked in and found out that they did not speak an English and it was actually, not a tourist center. However, once again, we were overwhelmed with hospitality. The woman working there grabbed her cell phone, spoke into it and then handed it over to Joanne (in Georgia, we would have been overlooked immediately and the phone would have been handed to Raughley, the male in the building. I just want to reiterate again the amazing differences I saw between the two neighboring countries of Georgia and Turkey). Joanne spoke into the phone, apparently to the woman’s niece, and explained that we were looking for a close hammam. The phone was passed back and the woman answered the question and gave the phone back to Joanne. The niece explained that we were just a few blocks from a hammam! What luck! We thanked the woman profusely, shouting a massacred version of “Tea sugar!” We went out to gather Pauli. The building was small so he had opted to wait outside. While he was outside, he was lured to a stand of woman who offered him food. They were petitioning for equality in the Turkish parliament. So the woman gave us all pins and stickers, shoved food into one hand and a pen to sign the petition in the other. We all happily signed and took a picture to prove that everyone, even westerns believe more women should be in parliament! We took our fresh baklava goodies and followed the directions to the hammam. We were in great luck and found it easily. Plus, it was cheap! 30 lira for all services. These include sitting in the steam room, a full scrub, and a massage. There were separate areas for men and women, including separate entrances from the street, so there could be no mingling between the sexes. As soon as we walked in, we could see why. It was full on female time. There were naked women just hanging out, joined by those half and fully clothed as well. An old Turkish woman met us, handed us “towels” that are made by large machines using both hand and foot pedals and feel more like a rough cotton shirt. They were large and are intended to wrap around you a few times. She also escorted us to a small area with a door. She motioned for us to leave our shoes and clothes there. It is funny that it is supposed to be the private area where you get undressed and yet there is a large window in the middle of the door, so anyone can see anything. I guess that is to slowly get you used to the whole naked in front of others part. Jo and I had both been to the baths in Tbilisi, but had gotten private rooms. We didn’t know if we were supposed to be totally naked or partially covered so we decided it was best to keep on our bathing suit bottoms. Well once we walked into the secluded area that proved to be a bit of a sauna, everyone was totally naked. We sat down next to one of the small semi circles of stone with two faucets hanging over the top. One of the scrubbers showed us that one was for scolding hot water and the other for freezing cold water. She made a nice concoction of both in the small bath and took one of the plastic bowls floating in it and tossed Joanne with water to demonstrate what we were supposed to do. We covered ourselves with the warm water and sat there adjusting to the heat. Also in the room was a young woman sitting by herself and looked like a foreigner, and an old Turkish woman with her daughter who was probably in her mid twenties and about the size of twig. Ok, so naked bodies are a bit like car wrecks. You know that it is inappropriate to look, but you just can’t help it. So initially, Jo and I were talking about how much we hated the gorgeous, young, so thin you could see all her ribs girl who was getting her massage when we walked in. However, soon after trash talking her, our conversation quickly changed into how beautiful bodies are and how they have inspired and torn down everything from men and art to empires. It was a really nice and comforting, honest talk. I also shared a lot from what I read in the book Captivating. If you haven’t read it, please do! It is a great book about how special girls are and how they are created in a unique way to reflect God’s image of beauty. We also struck up a conversation with the foreigner who turned out to be American sitting to our left. She was in Turkey to meet her husband who had been doing research in Africa for 2 months. We were just starting to get into talk about what he was researching when it was her turn to get a scrub and massage. So Jo and I alternated between chatting and just soaking in the silence and relaxation. Jo went first for her massage and then it was my turn. I laid face down on a big cold stone slab in the middle of the room. By this point, the bathing suit bottoms had come off, since we had seen the woman cleaned every part of the others so what was the use. Plus, who need modesty, when being naked is the norm in the room? So the woman threw some warm water over me and started to scrub my body with a rough rag/loofah thing covered in delicious smelling soap. To indicate me to flip over onto my back, she just gave me a little slap on the behind. I flipped and she continued the process on the front. None of it felt embarrassing or strange. She was efficient and just kept scrubbing. It was gross to see all the black thin peels of skin that were rolling off of my body. I know only shower a couple times a week, but I didn’t think I was THAT dirty. It felt so nice to wash off Georgia though. I joked with Joanne that they were scrubbing all the little kids grubby, grimy hands off of us. After an hour and half of relaxing, it was getting a little too hot for both of us. We rinsed off with cool water and then went to sit out in the common area with the naked Turkish women. We changed into our clothes and sat there drinking water and getting our body temperature back to normal. After our relaxing afternoon filled with estrogen, we met back up with the boys. We found out that we had been cheated! The boys got the royal treatment and had an extra massage in a special part of the hammam! We walked back to our hostel and just relaxed for a bit. Jo and I had to get up to get ready for our last night in Turkey, but it was so hard to drag our relaxed bodies up and get in the motions to get pretty. We finally did as the boys went out to get goodies for the night. They came back with wine and beer. We all chatted and drank up and pretty soon had to coach Pauli on how to say phrases with his German accent, which he has significantly lost. There was a nice long 5 minute period focused mainly on “Europe bitches” We left with a group of people from our hostel to go down to the main square which was crawling with people. We separated from the group when we found out they wanted to get a nice cup of tea and chat. The four of us were looking for a bit more adventure that night. We found a club called IQ and went on in. We got settled in and I shouted to Raughley to buy a round of beers on me as Jo and I plowed through people to the dance floor. Well, it ended up that 4 local beers cost about 50 lira!! So the round was on everyone as we had to split the cost. Jo and I were tearing it up on the dance floor and not even caring what we looked like. We were having a blast bouncing around from our table of “complimentary” popcorn, carrots, and celery, and expensive beers to the dance floor. Sometimes we were the only ones dancing, but we didn’t care one bit. It was so much fun! At one point Joanne made friends with the manager/owner or something of that caliber and asked for a bottle of vodka. I know that sounds extravagant, but in Georgia, it is really the way to go. It is much cheaper than beer and goes a lot further. Well, he informed us that they didn’t serve vodka but they would go to the store and get some especially for us! How generous! What we didn’t think about was going out and buying one ourselves instead of them marking it up. So the man came back with a bottle and poured us a bit and then added in water to our glasses. Well, we were all under the impression that it was vodka, and when we all started to take it down as so, we were taken by surprise. It was not vodka at all, but instead a bottle Raki. Raki is a local aniseed liquor that tastes like black liquorish. Well I HATE that taste. It was cloudy in the glass and cloudy in my tummy. Yuck yuck yuck. Unfortunately, we had already paid for it, and it was about 50 lira, so we couldn’t let it all go to waste. Gross!! We sucked it down as best as we could and probably went through 10 bowls of popcorn. Raughley and Pauli decided when it was time to leave, because if it was up to me and Jo, we would have stayed dancing the whole night away. We were walking home as it was raining. I wanted a sandwich, so we all went in, but Jo and Pauli quickly left since Jo really wanted to get back to the hostel. We joined not too long after, soaking wet. Saturday Ok, so preface-Friday was not one of my drunkest nights (sorry Mom and Granddad!) but Saturday was one of my WORST hangovers, EVER! I don’t know what was in that evil Raki, but it tore me up. I was sick all day long and Jo and I didn’t get out of bed until after 4. Pauli had to leave early in the morning to catch his bus back to Batumi, but we stayed in bed. We roused ourselves finally to get to the Grand Bazaar. In the guide book, it told us that we needed to give at least 4 hours, if not more than one day to walk through and see all the sights. Well, we had about an hour and a half. However, due to this pressure, we were extremely efficient. We each knew what the others wanted/needed in the way of gifts so we pushed on through the hoards of people shouting at us. At one point we just didn’t want to respond so we spoke to each other in Georgian, and a man made fun of us making monkey sounds and laughing. I guess he thought that we were making up jibberish words…..(funny, I have been here almost 9 months and Georgian still sounds like that to me too sometimes!) We finished at the bazaar, walked back to our hostel and packed up. We had to take a few different buses and what not to get to the airport, and we were running short on time. By the time we got to the big bus station, where we had been told we could pick up a bus that goes directly to the airport, it was getting late and the bus wasn’t coming. At one point, we started to make contingency plans if we missed our flight. Thank goodness the express bus showed up when it did, and instead of making a ton of stops and taking an hour and a half, we got to the airport in just about 45 minutes. This left us with plenty of time, even though I still was on edge until we actually got through security and had our tickets in our hands. Jo took a Zanax to prepare for the flight and went duty free shopping while Raughley and I ate the most expensive meals in Turkey. I had Burger King (which I don’t even like in America) and Raughley at Sbarro. My total was about 22 lira and his was about 30!!! How crazy is that!?!? We got settled into our seats and Raughley soothed Joanne’s flying worries with historical stories and backrubs. We landed safe and sound at about 2 in the morning Tbilisi time. It was quite disappointing, and oddly comforting to be back in the land of plastic bags, black on black on black, women wearing stripper heels to work, and more importantly where I have called home for the past 9 months of my life. This trip was the best I have ever been on. I had incredible experiences in Europe, both times, and made wonderful memories with great friends, but being able to be in charge of yourself is so nice. I didn’t have to report to anyone, and if we wanted to change our plans, we could! It was so freeing and relaxing! I had great company and was in a marvelous country. I wouldn’t change a bit of it for the world and I am so blessed for having the opportunity to travel and explore in a foreign land.