So, now for the second half of the stress marathon. Last post, I described the process of finding out where we will all be living for the next two years, and where we will be working, and who we will be working with. The next part was even crazier!
After spending an evening and the following morning with the Executive Director of CHCA in Bazaleti, after lunch we all went our separate ways via bus, martshuka and cars. Some had a very long drive in front of them, but for me, it was only about a 45-minute drive to Gori in the CHCA car. As we arrived in the city, it was a bit familiar since I had been there on our first field trip as IOD (that’s Individual and Organizational Development; I won’t type that out again) trainees – I visited the Georgian Young Lawyers Association that time around, and the CHCA office is quite close by. Up we went to the office, where several office staff, including my counterpart – the person I’ll be working directly with on a daily basis, Marta – were waiting with champagne, flowers and a large, extremely sweet cake. It was a lovely welcome.
Inquiring minds may want to know – what does CHCA stand for? What do they do? Well, CHCA stands for “Charity Humanitarian Centre Abkhazeti.” Abkhazeti is one of the two occupied and/or semiautonomous regions in Georgia (the nomenclature really depends on who is talking), but in any event, CHCA serves not only IDP’s (internally displaced people from both Abkhazeti and South Ossetia, but other vulnerable populations as well. The focus of the organization is self-reliance, and therefore most of the programs relate to this goal in one way or another, including a robust micro-finance program that’s very interesting, along with a homeowners’ association initiative in IDP camps, a youth program in schools, and several other efforts. Those who are interested can find out more here: http://www.chca.org.ge/itst/. Don’t freak out when you see the elvish writing – there’s an “english” button in the upper right hand corner. And please ignore the extremely unflattering picture of me, yikes! Happily it only appears in the Georgian version, so just switch over quickly. You can also like CHCA’s Facebook page and keep up with organizational happenings … here: https://www.facebook.com/CHCAGeorgia/info. As to what I will be doing for the next two years … well, time will tell. It will take a while for me to learn my way around all of their programs, in the offices and the field, but I do believe I’ll be helping with planning and philanthropic long-term strategies, as well as the usual Peace Corps trainings and projects.
So then we all piled into the car again and drove to my new host family’s house. Here the situation became slightly less idyllic, but really just because it was so awkward. The family is very nice indeed – a mother and father, both of whom work as food inspectors, and two daughters, one 14 (Salome) and one about 10 (Nuca). The mom speaks some English, and Salome is eager to use her advanced language skills with me. However, perhaps due to nervousness, all of us were sort of struck mute on that first night. It was a very strange experience. I literally forgot every word of Georgian I knew. On the plus side, the house is very nice – hot water and everything! Posh Corps, indeed.
The next day things improved somewhat, as my very limited language skills, such as they are, began to return, and we started to get to know each other a little better. In the late afternoon, one of my co-workers (and a friend of the family, Ianze) came over, and we walked into town to meet a friend, see the Stalin Museum garden and then hike up to Gori Castle. I’ve read several accounts of when this castle was built, ranging from the 1st century A.D. to the 13th, but in any event, not much of it is left now. However, it does provide an amazing view of the city.
The next day was spent at the office. I walked to and from – it’s about 2 miles or so, so that will be good exercise! Tuesday morning was the most interesting day. With Russell Pereira, one of my fellow Gori-PCV coming along for the ride, we visited an IDP settlement, Berbuki, where CHCA has several programs. This IDP camp looked as decrepit as the other camps I’ve visited, but the spirit there was significantly higher – I believe in large part because of the micro-lending and homeowners programs that CHCA runs there, which allows many inhabitants to gain a higher level of financial independence. At this camp, people have built communal ovens to bake bread, they a nice small shop, and every house has a beautiful garden with beans, tomatoes and cherry trees. We visited 4 or 5 “beneficiaries” as they are called, and each was so proud of their business, and so grateful to CHCA – it was a very illuminating visit. Here are some pics:
OK, well this post is running way long, and frankly there’s still so much more I could say! It was an exhausting, stressful and exhilarating trip, all in one. I am really anticipating getting back to Gori and getting started with the real work – the reason why I joined the Peace Corps to begin with.
In line with my vow to tell stories (pretty much shredded that one in this post, sorry – but so much to tell!), here’s something that happened at the IDP camp. They say pictures never lie, but sometimes they don’t tell the whole story. When we were with the family drinking wine and toasting, the picture shows us looking so happy. And indeed, we were happy to be with them. But one man’s toast brought us all up short. He toasted to returning to his home. He said that the camp could never be his home, and he wanted to see his home again before he died. Whatever the politics of the situation, it was an unutterably sad moment, because it was so personal and real. We toasted, we drank to his home, and we moved on – but we, meaning both me and Russell, will not forget the look on that man’s face when he made the toast. This was the kind of instruction and knowledge one can only get in the field, and we are starting that process now with a valuable lesson.