Before you read any further, grab a cup of your favorite hot chocolate, coffee or tea. Do you have it? OK. Now read on :0). Hot Chocolate with a Local will be a recurring post where I sit down with a guest and chat about travel over a delicious virtual cup of hot chocolate. I created this series to bring you real advice about travel from around the world. Today we catch up with Franchesca Benzant— also known as Frankie Benz the Fly by Coco Latina— for some hot chocolate in the republic of Georgia!
This was a really special interview for me because Frankie is one of my best friends and just an awesome person! So sit back and enjoy this dope interview!
Imported Chocolate: Hi Frankie!
Imported Chocolate: Thanks for having a virtual cup of hot chocolate with me girl!!!!
Franchesca: Lol! Thank you for having me, although I’m having Cha Cha on this side of the world.
Imported Chocolate: What’s Cha Cha?
Franchesca: Cha Cha is the native alcohol here or jet fuel—worse than vodka and bacardi 151. Lol!
Imported Chocolate: Ick. I’m not a fan of vodka so if Cha Cha is worse I can’t imagine what it tastes like. And did you mean it tastes like jet fuel or is that the nickname for it?
Franchesca: Both in my book. Lol!
Imported Chocolate: Tooo funny!!!
Franchesca: It’s horrible but you get used to it especially when you have to start your mornings with a shot. It’s just culture.
Imported Chocolate: Whoa! That’s gangster! Alcohol in the morning?!
Imported Chocolate: So you’re living the very definition of “off the beaten path” which I love, by the way, but I have to ask— why Georgia?
Franchesca: Frankly, it was my way in to teaching English abroad without having any qualifications with little experience. I joke around with the other teachers here saying Georgia or Saqartvelo is the community college of teaching abroad locations. None the less, I knew I wanted to challenge myself and completely remove myself from out of my comfort zone. Surprisingly, I have adapted well. However, it’s still a challenge from time to time.
Coming to Georgia was like going back 50 years socially. Feminism doesn’t exist here and how dare you speak of homosexuality. The capital is more contemporary and even then you have to be aware.
Imported Chocolate: Wow. That’s intense. Have you experienced misogyny? And what are some of the day to day challenges you face?
Franchesca: Here is the braggart part of Georgia: they speak of tolerance and practice it but refuse open mindedness, even the women adopted this. The younger generation is coming up on their own but it’s still a struggle. Yes. I myself have experienced misogyny— by the women though.
The common misconception is that American women are wild so the men are accepting of this, well rarely. I drink with the guys and I see they push my limits by how much shots I can take and still handle my own. The women do not drink as much or at all in front of men and they monitor me. Lol! It’s funny to see them ask me “Have you had enough?” when their husband is puking in the corner because he had too much wine.
Imported Chocolate: Crazy stuff! So do you mean it’s the women who are more anti feminism than the men?
Franchesca: Yes, towards foreigners. However, this is my experience. Or you have the strict male that won’t allow you to smoke or drink in their neighborhood. Not just the house but the block. True story. Lo!
Imported Chocolate: Daaamn! So what program are you working with to teach English abroad and how did you find out about the opportunity?
Franchesca: I am with Teach and Learn with Georgia, a program funded by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia. A friend did it the year prior and I wanted in. I knew what to expect and I felt safer making this choice as my first country to teach in. However, the program is going through a reformation because of the recent elections. It’s a great program that is fairly new so they need to work out the kinks.
Imported Chocolate: Awesome! What part of Georgia are you in now?
Franchesca: In the Khaketi region facing Russia and Azerbaijan—wine country as it is called. However, I switched host families and schools. I moved from Sighnaghi to Pataradzeuli. Sighnaghi was gorgeous, but Pataradzeuli has it’s history to make up for the bleekness. Lol.
Imported Chocolate: Lol! So when you first arrived you were in Sighnaghi, But now you’re in the Khaketi region in a town called Pataradzeuli, correct?
Franchesca: Both are in the Khaketi Region, sort of like counties but bigger.
Imported Chocolate: Ah, OK. But the first place you arrived to was Sighnaghi, right? Was that the place with the “city of love” nickname or something like that?
Franchesca: Yes it was—for what reason besides weddings? I don’t know. The place blew after 3 hours. Lmao.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw, Really? That sucks. Well, since you have experienced two different parts of the Khaketi Region now, how would you compare Sighnaghi and Pataradzeuli? How are they the same and how are they different?
Franchesca: Sighnaghi was built on a mountain top and Patardzeuli is surrounded by mountains. It’s all Caucasus Mountains which is beautiful and breathtaking. Anaga is where I taught there. Anaga is a village like Patardzeuli. I live with a giant pig, dozens of chickens and random cows that stroll wherever they please, meaning tons of shit everywhere. You learn to dodge with cat like reflexes.
Imported Chocolate: LMAO!!!! What was your first impression of Georgia when you first arrived and what was your first impression of the village Anaga?
Franchesca: “Fuck, why?”
You constantly see the remnants of Soviet Rule and it is kind of intimidating at first. Georgians are pushy, demanding and don’t take no for an answer. I hate this, which is why I can slug 8 shots of cha cha with no problem. My liver hates me.
Imported Chocolate: Lol! You’re killing me! They must be driving you crazy if you’re taking the jet fuel to the head. What was it like meeting your host family for the first time?
Franchesca: I have had two host family experiences and the first one was overwhelming but calm. I lived with a 52 year old and a 92 year old woman. They were awesome and none knew English. It was quiet and eventually they respected my privacy.
Privacy is probably not in the Georgian dictionary. I am trying to break my new family in. I live with a grandmother, mother (who is my age), father and 2 little boys. We have had visitors every night for the past 2 weeks. They want to show off their darky friend. Remember, most Georgians have never seen a black person before so it’s more like a zoo exhibit here.
Imported Chocolate: Oh, wow. That would get really old and annoying for me real quick, especially since I am a private person. Now I see why you are throwing back the cha cha. And speaking of such an experience, what’s it like living as an Afro-Latina in a mostly white community?
Franchesca: There’s some advice that my older brother gave to my younger brother—who was getting ready for basic training for the Airforce—that I was privileged to hear. He said something along the lines that you have to learn how to laugh at your surroundings or you will go insane.
Sometimes I am treated like a celebrity and they want to take photos of me. They call me out saying “Zangi” meaning black person. Or they stare, which happen to all foreigners. However, I make a show out of it, like rapping Kanye West lyrics while walking through out the village. Eventually I was known as the singing teacher.
Imported Chocolate: What you’ve just said is the perfect example of how to adapt to your surroundings! Pure awesomeness! “The singing teacher” is pure gold!!!
Speaking of teaching, what was your first day on the job like?
Franchesca: I was covered with kisses and hugs rainbows and cupcakes, lol!
But really it was overwhelming—lots of gifts, flowers, drawings and some jewelry. It was intense. I heard 250 hellos in one period. They don’t know much English, neither do the teachers, but I became close to the Priest’s children who knew more English than any other student.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaaw! That sounds intense but wonderful! How old were the children you taught?
Franchesca: I taught 1st to 6th graders. They were well behaved, especially when I got animated. Lol! Georgian teachers are lame so I’m a bit refreshing.
Imported Chocolate: Nice! I know you must have been their favorite! I would love to take a class taught by you! I would never be bored. Tell us a little more about Georgian culture. What is a typical day in a Georgian town look like?
Franchesca: It’s all about the family here. They tend to the house, they tend to the animals, then they tend to the children and then tend to the kitchen, everyday for the rest of their lives. Supras are parties that they have randomly without schedule or telling you, which comprises of eating and drinking- non stop.
Imported Chocolate: What is the food like? Have you eaten anything that you’ve fallen in love with? If so, what?
Franchesca: The food is delicious. However, it is not diverse. I eat the same thing at least twice a week. They do not want to try any new food at all. I made a delicious pasta dish and they refused to eat any of it. I love the bread. I can’t lie.
Imported Chocolate: Wow. What are some of the dishes? And what are they made of?
Franchesca: Khinkali is delicious it’s like steamed dumplings. Khachapuri is cheese filled bread. Everything you eat will feel like you are on the verge of diabetes.
Imported Chocolate: Lol, but the Khachapuri sounds soooo good!!!! What was the craziest thing to happen to you since you moved to Georgia?
Franchesca: Pick one! Lol! As boring as I make the village sound, my life here is crazy everyday. I would have to say when I went to the hospital for eating too many pomegranates. I had to get an enema by two laughing nurses and anally fingered with no caress by a doctor that liked to smoke in my face.
Imported Chocolate: The crazy life in Georgia! So would you say that was your biggest culture shock moment too? Or was it something else?
Franchesca: I rarely get culture shock unless I am heading back to the states. But yes, I would have to say that experience was quite intrusive.
Imported Chocolate: Did you spot any hot locals yet?
No man, they start aging at 25 and it’s downhill from there. They don’t take care of themselves: They start drinking as children, smoking is the norm, no exercise and bad eating habits. All of these factors contribute to aging quickly. There are some shot out men here. AND women
Imported Chocolate: Dayuuuum! That sucks. So I guess it’s safe to say dating a local is out?
Franchesca: It’s just not my taste and sexual education is not taught here. Even in college it isn’t taught. The abortion rate is double the birth rate and AIDS education is not taught.
Imported Chocolate: Oh hell, no! Sexual education is one of the most important educations. You make a wise decision. If I wanted to sight see in Anaga where would I go?
Franchesca: Not in Anaga but Sighnaghi. They are right next to each other and you can see the beautiful forts and go to the Bodbe Monastery for the Holy Spring. Legend has it that if you go into the water you come out completely dry.
Imported Chocolate: Awesome! What about Patardzeuli?
Franchesca: There is a museum dedicated to the famous poet Giorgi Leonidze. Other than that it’s desolate.Tbilisi and Batumi are the major attractions.
Imported Chocolate: Are Tbilisi and Batumi neighboring towns?
Franchesca: Tbilisi is 30 minutes away from me, Batumi is 6 hours away. Tbilisi is the capital where I escape to. Lol!
Imported Chocolate: Ah, OK. What’s there to do once you get to Tbilisi?
Franchesca: It’s a typical city, site seeing, clubbing and the bath houses are nice as well. I like to check out the Dry Bridge Market where you can see some antiques from the Soviet Union era.
Franchesca: Lari is the currency.
Imported Chocolate: How expensive is the cost of living? How much do you spend on an average day?
Franchesca: You can live off of 30 Lari a day here. It’s really inexpensive.
Imported Chocolate: Do you find when people move to Georgia 9 times out of 10 it’s in a “teaching English abroad” and live with a host family situation? Or do some people actually move there just to move there and rent apartments?
Franchesca: Most likely teaching. Even with the Peace Corps, they stay with host families.
Imported Chocolate: Winding down now, What are five tips you would give someone who is about to move to Georgia?
1. Bring something you will miss from the states. You will not find it here.
2. Learn to be aggressive and say no.
3. Cultures will always be different; don’t shy away from your own to appease them. They need to learn.
4. Be the first to smile even though they stare at you.
5. Don’t refuse a drink but know your limits. The wine here is no joke.
Imported Chocolate: Great tips! What advice would you give women of color who are hesitant about traveling?
Franchesca: Go with an open mind. Do things without inhibitions and remember— everyone loves chocolate.
Imported Chocolate: Love it! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Franchesca: Thank you so much for this opportunity mama, love ya babe.
Imported Chocolate: I love you too! Thanks so much for sharing your story!