Adventures of an English Teacher Abroad


I am teaching for a year in Georgia, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you via notes, photos, and possibly even video on this blog. Check back frequently for updates - I will post as often as I can!


The final days… to be continued…

The lesson here seems to be, don’t fall so far behind in writing!  I think I’ll still be catching up while back home, but perhaps I’ll finish while waiting at the airport in Tbilisi.  I’ll do my best.  The countdown is here – two more days of school and ten days until I leave the village for Tbilisi.  I’m going to try to do a quick run-down of what has happened, though I’ll follow up with more details.


I am now the only foreign teacher left here in my area, though there are others in surrounding towns.  I am working on finalizing everything to school, trying to prepare them with lessons, supplies and ideas as much as I can.  This week is final tests for my students, which I spent quite a bit of time writing and editing, two versions for each class (to hinder cheating, a big problem here, from my experience).  The third and fourth graders just took their tests, and I think it went well but will find out when we correct them today.  Neither Ema nor I were there during the test; only the school director and the Georgian teacher, who don’t know enough English to help the kids out with anything.


Last Thursday was the concert that I posted video of just yesterday.  I was told about two weeks prior to that about a concert in Tsalenjikha, and that they wanted me to sing in it.  I was nervous – I’ve never sang in public before other than at church and with the Swedes, and they’re always nice to me, so I don’t mind doing that.  I had a little stage fright, but I was alright once we got going.  What gave me the stage fright was the fact that two days before the concert, they told me that it was a contest, and which place did I think we would get?  In any case, I thought we did alright.  And we ended up with third place!  (Probably because I’m a foreigner – in Georgia that seems to somehow give me preference)


Right after the concert (in a Sound of Music-eque post-concert government command) I was to be transported to Tbilisi, or rather, to meet all other volunteer teachers there.  The ceremony was on Friday, where we received certificates of completion of our program.  The Prime Minister of Georgia and the Minister of Education both spoke, and one teacher from each region spoke about their experience in Georgia.  It was a lot like graduation, the only difference being that we didn’t have to wear caps and gowns.  It was actually quite nice, and it was good to reunite with everyone before we all leave.  Here’s a picture of my certificate, but they are printing me a corrected copy before I leave.





Although I haven’t had time to write lately, I wanted to leave you one more video of Georgian singing – this was for a regional music competition we had last Thursday, and we took third place!

Georgian karaoke


In my last post, I spoke of the graduation supra back in May.  Here is a video taken by one of the teachers, of me singing a Georgian folk song about love, Suliko.  Enjoy!

On Celebration and Mourning (May 16th – 19th)

Graduating seniors










After the trip to Kutaisi and Racha, I went back home and to school.   I found out that a good friend of the family’s had died, and so Thursday (May 17th) of that week was a funeral.  Funerals are really awful here – much more depressing than in America, and they last much longer.  I am glad that I was able to be there for the family, though, as I had gotten to know them fairly well over the course of my stay in Tsalenjikha.  The man had lung cancer, so the death was not unexpected, but of course it was still a terrible loss.

In Georgia, when someone dies, it is tradition to keep the body in the home (fixed up, and in the coffin) for 5-7 days, at which point they have the burial followed by a large supra.  When someone dies, you are supposed to wear black, refrain from dancing, singing, playing music, eating meat for, I think, 30 days.  It might be more than that.  Women who lose a husband wear black headbands and scarves for the rest of their lives, to symbolize the eternity of their marriage.  While the body sits in the living room, the women must sit here with the weeping family, while the men walk through and eat and drink with the other men in the family (I figured this out after watching a bit, as my male friends who teach here have had such different funeral experiences than I).  When this is finished, the body is brought to the cemetery to be buried.  At the burial site, the family says their last goodbyes to the body, the coffin is covered and put in the ground, and each person much take a handful of dirt to put onto the coffin.  After this, there is a supra, which for this funeral was at the restaurant in town.  Unfortunately, my host father’s birthday coincided with his friend’s funeral, so we did not celebrate his birthday.  The best I could do was to wish him a happy birthday that morning and toast to his birthday (5oth!).

The day before the funeral (May 16th) was a birthday party in the village.  Little Akuna turned two years old, and everyone came.  I had a good time playing ball and other games with the kids in the yard, and talked with the parents quite a bit, too.  We had sort of a picnic supra to enjoy the nice weather; they brought the tables outside onto the porch.  This was my first experience drinking out of the traditional bull-horn that they use for special occasions here.  I didn’t, however, finish all of the wine in the horn, because I’m not as seasoned of a wine drinker as the Georgians (you have to drink the whole thing at once, and wine is stronger here).  I enjoyed the company of all of the people there, and it was a perfect evening for a picnic.

Friday, May 18th was the last day of school for the 1st and 12th grade students.  The little ones leave early to enjoy the beginning of summer, and the seniors begin their tests that they need to be admitted into universities here in Georgia.  They test in all subjects: math, biology, chemistry, physics, foreign language (English, Russian, or German), Georgian language and literature, geography, and history.  The exams began on Monday May 21st, but before this, the students went out to celebrate the end of classes.  After school, teachers, parents, and graduating students gathered in the 12th grade classroom for a supra to congratulate the 5 seniors on all of their hard work and to wish them success in the future.  After this supra, the seniors left to celebrate their newfound freedom by driving around in a car for the rest of the evening, waving Georgian flags, and yelling/cheering out the car windows.  All night I heard this from my window – honking, yelling, excited seniors driving back and forth many times.

The following day, Saturday May 19th, was another birthday party!  This time, we celebrated my co-teacher’s husband’s birthday, at their home in the evening.  It was a very nice little party, and I spent some time singing with Ani and playing with Nini.  I also learned more Migrelian.  Overall, it was a fun evening.

Racha trip

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Hello readers!  I have so much to tell you!  I am beginning by including pictures from my trip to Racha, which was on May 13th.  I will tell you about my trip in this post, and will continue writing posts to update you until I fall asleep.  I am able to do this tonight because my village gave me too many cups of coffee.  Very good, because I need to catch you up on lots of stuff.

We left off last with Saba’s karate, the English club play in Tsalenjikha, etc.  After the play on Friday night, Stephen and I went to bed late after cooking and hanging out with my family, and woke up early to go hiking in my village so that we could catch early-afternoon marshutkas from Zugdidi to our destinations (Stephen went home, and I went to Kutaisi).  My marshutka was fairly empty and comfortable most of the way; as comfortable as marshuktas are here, anyway.  It took a bit less than 2 hours to get to Kutaisi, where I found a hotel for the night and bought the first thing at McDonald’s since arriving in Georgia in September (an ice cream cone).  From there, I found a hotel, did some bargaining until I got the price that I wanted, and then settled down for the night.  I met some great Georgian friends in the hotel – the workers – who talked with me for a long while and made me coffee and tea.  Georgians are so friendly to foreigners, especially Americans, and once they find out that you are an American, they sometimes tell all of their friends.  This is how supras have begun in some instances.  In any case, it was a great place to stay for the weekend.

I chose this hotel because it was close to the McDonald’s.  That sounds like something an American would say, right?  Anyhow, McDonald’s happened to be the meeting place for our TLG excursion the next morning (Sunday  May 13th), so I thought it best to be nearby, since I know neither the city nor the public transport system there, and we were to meet at 8 AM.  I woke up in plenty of time, got to McDonald’s where everyone was waiting, and since the drive through was open, I stood in line there and bought a coffee.  There were 25 English teachers there for the excursion, and most of them were living right near or in Kutaisi, but there were several stragglers like myself on the trip, also.  I chose this trip (out of 10 choices for our free excursion) because I would probably not have gone there without a guide, it being so far away and in the mountains.

The mountains in Racha are the highest in Georgia, part of the Caucasus mountain range that I can see from my window in Sakalandio.  Though we didn’t go to the highest of the Racha mountains, they could have fooled most of us, with some of the amazing views we saw from the road.  So as you can imagine, the road up these mountains was a long, steep, and bumpy one; we traveled via the old Soviet roads (read: no longer maintained) that were built for easy access to factories in the mountains, which were primarily mines from what I could tell.  Luckily, our marshutka was the special TLG marshutka, meaning that it was new and very comfortable.  It took about an hour to get all the way up the mountains to the church and then to the lake.

And now, about the photos!  I learned a lot about the history, having an English-speaking tour guide.  If you guys have questions to ask, write them here, as I made sure to get the guide’s email in case of further questions, or if I should forget information.

Nikortsminda church was built in the 11th century, one of many churches commissioned by King Bagrat III.  Each window around the dome has a unique design on its frame – the designs are of different grains grown in Georgia, and very delicately carved into the church.  On the inside of the church are paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, as the cathedral had to be restored by another King Bagrat III, of Imereti (a region of Georgia), this time.  The writing on the walls is all in old Georgian, meaning only historians and church elders can read it, besides the occasional older people in the village who know the old alphabet.  The church, along with others in Georgia, was hit a number of times by wars and earthquakes, but has survived besides the subsequent need for repairs.  Apparently, the Turkish invasion was very present here, which can be seen in some of my pictures where the faces are chiseled out.  Although I knew that the Muslim religion does not allow faces to be shown, and had seen this same lack of faces in other churches in Georgia, I never had made the connection until our tour guide brought it up.  It occurred to me that this was probably the origin of the term “defacing.”

In the church are many scenes from the Bible painted on the walls of course, and one wall that primarily depicted judgement day in a very Dante-esque style (which makes sense, perhaps, considering the period in which the frescoes were painted).  There was also a room that looked much newer, but I am not sure in which year it was built/restored.

While we were there, there were men working to dig up the yard around the church, which happens to be filled with human bones.  There were piles of bones that had been dug up, some of them sitting in old flour sacks along the church yard.  I discovered this as I was following the tour guide and almost tripped over a femur.  I wish that I knew how old the bones were, but I am thinking that we may never find out, because these men seemed to not be a team of archaeologists.

Well, that is most of the history part of the travels to Racha.  The rest of the day was spent picnicking by Lake Shaori, a giant mountain lake in the area.  It was beautiful, and the water was freezing, but in the refreshing sort of way.  Some of us decided to go swimming, against the advice of the Georgians.  None of us got sick as predicted, because it was a warm, sunny day and we dried out quickly.  I had forgotten my swimming suit, but that didn’t stop me from swimming – I just jumped in with my clothes on, and so did a friend of mine.  Once I got knee-deep in the water, I just had to keep going!

On Karate and Puppies and Plays

I know it’s been ages since I’ve last written – so lots to talk about.  First, I’m including pictures from Saba’s karate competition in Tbilisi, and of our puppies at home.  And, a photo of the new fence, as promised.  The next post will have photos of my trip, so I figure I’ll keep those separate since there are quite a few.

This past week (from Wednesday to Friday, first) was filled with school, tutoring, preparing lessons and the like.  Sadly, my host father’s good friend Dato has just passed away from cancer – he had been sick for a long while, ever since I met him.  The funeral will be tomorrow (Thursday), unfortunately enough, also my host father’s 50th birthday.  Hopefully we will be able to celebrate the birthday a day late, or something like that.  On Thursday night, I received word from TLG that I had been signed up for an excursion to the Racha area, which would leave on Sunday morning from Kutaisi to go to the Nikortsminda church and to Lake Shaori.  You can find these places on Google maps, as Google has so nicely added places besides Tbilisi to their map of Georgia since my arrival here in September.

My friend Stephen came on Friday to see the play in Tsalenjikha.  This was, perhaps, the excitement of the week for my family, and they had been talking about Steveni since his last visit.  We planned to cook for my family, since he knew how to make curry, and we just combined this with pasta, which turned out very well together.  My family really liked it, especially my host dad – he loves anything spicy.

Before making curry to add to the supra, Stephen and I went to the play, along with Tatia, Tamuna, and Saba.  It began at 4 PM in the Tsalenjikha Theater, and had a great turnout!  Almost every seat was taken.  The play had some really interesting and neat parts to it, but most of us felt that, overall, it went on for much too long of a time – about 2 1/2 hours.  The original estimate, from my friend Matt, was 45 minutes, but apparently they decided to throw in about 15 extra musical acts at the last minute.  The music was awesome, but the poetry dragged on a bit, which much of the script was comprised of.

I suppose that I had better explain a bit better, what this play was all about.  It is a play written in English, by one of the Georgian English teachers in town, Elene.  She told me that it took her only about one month to write the whole thing, which seems pretty incredible to me, since I think it would have taken me at least three.  She must have worked at it full time.  The play is about the life of a famous poet from Tsalenjikha, Terenti Graneli (  There is a museum in town that my friends and I visited earlier this spring, dedicated to this man.  Many of his writings were banned by the Soviet Union, from what I understand – it was clear why this would happen, after watching some of the more political scenes of the play.  The man ended up in an insane asylum, and killed himself.  Here is a picture of Graneli:

Much of the play consisted of lines from his poems (sometimes difficult to understand, as poetry doesn’t always translate well).  It was very interesting; being in English, I understood most of what was going on, but there were some scenes that were, more than anything else, very confusing interpretive dances.  The students did a very good job in the play, and my three friends (other foreign teachers) stood up at the end to recite each a Graneli poem in Georgian.  Because they all live in town (and I don’t) and because they started rehearsing in the winter months, I was unfortunately left out of the fun, but I enjoyed watching the play so didn’t feel too badly about not having a part.  My village is determined to put me in the spotlight once more before I leave, playing guitar and singing Georgian music.  I look forward to it – I only wish I had more time to practice lately (that’s what I’ll be doing this evening).

My camera does not like the lighting in the theater, but I have a friend whose camera got some very good video footage of the play; when I get that, I will put videos on YouTube and post the links (primarily of the musical numbers).  Some of the music was very Georgian, some very Broadway-esque, and a few that were somewhere in between.

Now I am being whisked away to a birthday party, so I will hopefully get back in time to post about my travels to Racha (one of the most beautiful places I have ever been).




















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Current events update

As my last post was very lengthy, I left out a few important things that have been happening in this part of the world.  First of all, there was an earthquake in Tbilisi a few days ago – a very slight one, so although they felt it there, there was no shock here.  So, I still have never experienced an earthquake, for which I am thankful.  I wanted to make sure to say that it did not hit here, and that I was just fine, in case any of you saw this on the news, though it may not have been newsworthy back home.


Secondly, over the weekend there was an explosion in Yerevan, where I traveled over my Easter vacation.  I was not there for this, of course, but there were many people who were badly burned – saw them on the news being wrapped in bandages and being taken by ambulance to get wound care.  What happened?  There was a political demonstration in the main square.  Someone was giving out balloons, filled with helium, and there was a person who lit his cigarette too close to all of these balloons, which caused the explosion.


Perhaps the most interesting thing to mention, as it is closest to me, is that there was a bomb planted by a government building in Zugdidi (the city that is nearest to me).  The bomb was luckily found and neutralized before it could do any damage, and supposedly they arrested the man who left it there.  This man was an Abkhazian citizen, from the territory that was once a part of Georgia but is now (with the help of Russia) on their own, though their independence is not yet recognized by any country other than Russia.  There is also a conspiracy theory that the Georgian government planted the bomb.


Meanwhile, there is talk about putting missile defenses in Georgia, which the Russians see as a threat, and are trying to get NATO to sign a contract saying that these defenses will not be used to harm Russia.  So politically, things are very interesting here right now.  In the fall, there will be a parliament election, and the following year will be the presidential election.  Most Georgians really like Saakashivili, and the media portrays him as a great guy.  Ivaanashvili is his opposition: the Georgian billionaire who also has French citizenship, which may impede his ability to run in the elections if Saakashvili doesn’t change things.  Ivaanashvili’s son is a pop star, so he  has written some music to support his father’s campaign. Although I am leaving in just over a month to go home, it will be interesting to see how all of this turns out.

Mom for a weekend

Thursday night, Tatia, Saba, and Khatuna (my host mother) left for Tbilisi, not quite sure when they would return – the predicted day was Wednesday.  Before they left, we had a little supra for them, though it wasn’t much fun since they both had stomachaches and did not want to eat anything.  Tatia and Saba really liked the gifts, but I felt badly about them being sick on their birthdays.  Anyhow, they left shortly after the supra to go to Tbilisi – Tamuna and I rode along to the bus station with them.  Thus began our long weekend without a mother in the house. (unfortunately, I have no pictures to add, since I lent my camera to Tatia to take photos and video of Saba’s karate competition)


In the morning of course, we had school, which went quite regularly.  I have the first lesson on Fridays, so it was an early morning, and I was a little sleepy from staying up late the night before to take the travelers to the station.  Khatuna had made quite a bit of food ahead of time that could be reheated and become easy meals for us, but I knew that it wouldn’t last for too long with 4+ men plus Tamuna and I, eating three meals per day, so after school I went to town to buy some groceries.  It was somewhat tricky to think of American foods that I could make from the supplies at our market (not much, since so many ingredients that I am used to using for cooking at home are not sold in Georgia).  I bought potatoes, eggs, apples, meat, tomato paste, pasta, etc., thinking I’d make hashbrown potatoes with scrambled eggs, and some sort of spaghetti with meat sauce, and who knows what else.


In any case, I didn’t need to start cooking until Saturday, which was nice.  However, I still was in charge of cleaning, heating up food, making coffee and fires, taking care of Tamuna, and the like.  Friday night, we had eight of us for dinner, since the neighbors came to visit, too.  As I was working in the kitchen, it occurred to me that they don’t have a single potholder (or anything of the sort) so I crocheted a set for them while I was waiting for the food to heat up.  This is something about Georgia that most of us foreigners notice (maybe it’s just in farm homes?), that Georgian housewives have hands of steel.  They can stick them in boiling water or on searing-hot pans and not wince a bit.  I, on the other hand (the one that doesn’t like to be burnt), am a wimp on so many levels, in comparison to people here.  Perhaps this comes with years of burning themselves – they have lost all senses in their hands.


On Saturday morning I woke up to find everyone already up (and I didn’t wake up late, either).  Anyhow, my host sister made sweet pasta for breakfast, and after I ate, I cleaned up the table.  Since the food that Khatuna had left for us was practically gone, I began thinking about what I would make next.  We had a chicken in the freezer, and I had potatoes: the verdict?  Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy.  It turned out pretty well actually, and my family really liked the whole thing.  There was one bite of potatoes left at the end, and a little bit of gravy.  There were two or three little pieces of chicken to go with this.  I was really glad about this!  We also took out crazy straws to add a bit of fun to the meal, perhaps to the annoyance of the working men who were eating with us, but they were very cool about it and sipped their pepsi from their curly straws.  I decided to make peanut butter cookies after dinner, which Tamuna helped me with – stirring, rolling the dough into balls, and pressing them with a fork.  They turned out really well, and they certainly didn’t last long, either.


I stayed up late cleaning up after all seven of us ate dinner, took some time to talk to my mother on Skype, and went to bed.  I succeeded, this time, in waking up before my family, so I made scrambled eggs and such, which they also seemed to enjoy.  Tamuna and I decided to go into town, to buy groceries and to have some girl time for the day – kind of a “sisters” day.  We did manicures, went to a play rehearsal, bought more groceries, at ice cream and other tasty snacks, talked to friends, and finally went home to find all of the cookies gone and that I noticed that I needed to make more food.  I began the spaghetti sauce task, while roasting another chicken for lunch, and preparing dough for a pie crust.  Meanwhile, the men were working and Tamuna watching TV inside.  Before lunch, I managed to finish the dough, and to sautee the onions and garlic for the sauce.  We had seven again for that meal, and so there were lots of dishes to be done.


After all of this, I began cutting apples for the pie, and combining ingredients for the spaghetti sauce.  I finished everything just in time for dinner, which was another big turnout, of course.  The pie was saved for the next day, as I had promised to bring pie to my school to share with the teachers.  After I cleaned up again, I was able to go up to my room to talk to my family on Skype, and fall fast asleep.  In the morning, I was woken with a surprise – the travelers had returned on the night train from Tbilisi!  Thank goodness – I was pretty worn out from the weekend.  I truly appreciate my host mother and all mothers (especially you, mom and grandma), and as it is that time of year, Happy early Mothers’ Day to all of you out there who are mothers!


Saba won third place in his karate competition!  He did very well, but was beaten by two kids in his age group that were much larger than himself.  He got a nice medal and a certificate – he was so proud.  My host mother bought glasses for the first time (for reading).  Tatia didn’t need new glasses according to the eye doctor, so she came back just the same.


The following post was mostly written on Thursday, May 3rd (posted now, because I have been massively busy, which will be explained in the post after this one):

Today is a big day at our home – the fence is nearly finished, and there are two birthdays!  Tatia is now 13, and Saba is 9 years old.  It’s pretty cool that they have the same birthday, in any case.  There will be a little supra tonight, and I found good presents for them, after some long, hard, thinking.  I made Tatia this purse out of plastic bags (see below), and also gave her a brand new soccer ball, since she loves soccer and different fashion things so much.  For Saba, I found a really cool big remote control car at the market, and he loves it!  I thought for a moment about getting him a skateboard and helmet, but figured that it might be too much of a hazard on the roads here.

Plastic bag crocheting










Tonight (or tomorrow night, no one is quite sure yet), Saba, Tatia, Khatuna, and maybe Beso as well, are going to Tbilisi.  Saba has a Karate competition, and Tatia needs to go to the eye doctor.  That leaves Tamuna and I, maybe uncle Kakha, and my friend Stephen is coming to visit again for the weekend.  Stephen and I are going to do lots of cooking, and we are both looking forward to it.  Living with host families, we find ourselves lacking cooking opportunities.

My fight with food poisoning is over for now, though I’ve heard this is prime food-poisoning season, so I’m not going to be surprised if it happens again.  It’s also prime mosquito season, and TLG emailed us with good advice about avoiding malaria and mosquitos in general.  Like, don’t eat too many salty foods, because that attracts mosquitos (good luck with that one, in this country).  I’ve been getting pretty bit up lately at night, though I’m thinking that’s mainly the spiders that live in the corner of my room.  I catch the mosquitos biting me only in the daytime, of course, but it’s enough to remind me to take my anti-malarial medicine each week.


Lots of stuff is starting to grow.  The trees have figs on them, though they are far from ripe.  The grapes outside my window are beginning to grow (they’re very tiny, but there are little grapes on the vines).  Strawberries are now coming ripe in some people’s yards.  Unfortunately, this lovely weather also brings lots of lovely big bugs.  I’ve had to learn to live with them, but I don’t particularly like it.  For example, they live in the corners in my bedroom, in the bathroom (indoors and out) and everywhere, it seems.  But, there is no keeping them away.  We leave the door and windows open a lot in the warm weather, and there are no screens.  It’s not terrible, just a little itchy when they bite me.


The frogs have quieted down a bit, now that the population has been thinned out by the frogs who try to cross the road.  The ducks don’t seem to like the frogs, either, as I saw one take a frog in its beak and fling it into the grass.  Guess it got in the duck’s water-drinking spot, or something.  There are always frogs and snakes, though.  I’ve seen a few snakes cross in front of me, and some of those dead on the road, too.  Supposedly there might be some poisonous snakes in the area (according to the internet), but the locals say that they’ve never been bitten so they are not sure.  I figure I’ll refrain from playing with the snakes, and I should be okay.



Weekend update

We recently had elections at our school for the Tsalenjikha School Parliament, and so the winner will be going to meetings in town with the winners from the other schools.  This was mostly, I think, a lesson for the students on how elections work in Georgia, and particularly since there is a Parliamentary election coming up this fall (Presidential election will be the following year, in 2013).  It was interesting to me as well, being a foreigner who has really only studied American governmental processes.  The students did very well:  each candidate said a short speech, the voting was very fair, private, and official, and one of the candidates even tried to up his votes by giving candy and flowers to the voters.


My host father is building a new fence for the yard, and I will post pictures once it is finished.  He has been working for 2 days, now, and today it is quite far along.  I imagine that it will be finished in the next day or two.  Tatia, myself, and two of the other American English teachers in the area became sick with some sort of food poisoning last night/this morning, though we can’t quite figure out what it was that caused this.  One of the teachers from the town school had us (except for Tatia) over for dinner, so we were wondering if that may have been what caused the illness in the three of us.  In any case, the food that she made was very delicious, and she worked so hard on the meal that none of us dare tell her that it may have made us sick.  I am feeling much better now than I was this morning, though my stomach is still pretty raw.


Over the weekend I saw some friends of mine who are teachers, but spent most of my time with my family, working on English, playing games around the house and outside, and the like.  I’ve been trying to decide what to get Tatia and Saba for their birthdays, which coincidentally are both on May 3rd.  They may be gone to Tbilisi for that day, though: Saba for karate, and Tatia to go to the eye doctor.  Tamuna and I will be all on our own, so I’m excited to be able to do the cooking.


Sakalandio election

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