Well, I’ve been woefully remiss in posting – it’s been over a month, even counting my re-post of Angela Wen’s provocative piece on being Chinese-American in Georgia. Which I highly recommend reading, much more interesting than my stuff! But still, I feel obligated, I started this blog, after all, so I should put stuff up from time to time. I think what’s happening is that I’m settling in. Gori is becoming my home, just where I live and work. It’s not a new and exciting thing anymore; it’s just … home. And home isn’t all that exciting to write about, and I want my posts to be fun to read. So I’m going to have to make an effort to either (a) post more often, or (b) remember interesting things that happen. Or both!
One thing I remember really enjoying reading when I was perusing other blogs when back in the USA were the “day in the life” posts. I’m going to go for a variation on that here. I’m thinking … my walk to work. On my way to work every day, I see a lot of Gori, the residential, business and civic sectors all make an appearance. It used to take about 40 minutes to walk to work from my host family’s home in the north end of the city. Now that I’ve moved to my own apartment, it’s more like 15 minutes, but on the other hand, I live on the 5th floor and there’s no elevator. So in my opinion, it evens out.
So, to start, my apartment building. Like nearly every apartment building in Gori, it’s a big, crumbling, Soviet-era monstrosity, redeemed by great views and the fact that, well, it’s mine.
The apartment itself is actually pretty nice. A view of the river and hills beyond from the back, and a view of the Caucus mountains and Gori rooftops from the front. A bedroom, a living room, a dining room/extra bedroom (built-in single beds at either end of the room), a tiny kitchen, a slightly bigger bathroom, and an entry hall with a place to hang my multitude of coats. Which I really need, especially considering the first snow of the winter is forecast for the next few days. But I digress. Water comes up by a pump and has to be manually turned on every single time. You get used to it. Here are a few pictures of my new home. I have a lot of decorating ambitions, tempered by the fact that I am no longer making the salary of a Vice President of a statewide organization, but rather am receiving a miniscule stipend as a Peace Corps volunteer. Still, with a bit of creativity, I believe I can make this place into a very comfortable home.
OK, so I get up, I take a shower, very nice when the hot water is working – erratic at best, there have been a few shivering mornings where it turned off mid-shower, leaving me to rinse off with ice water. So fun. Have breakfast (real coffee, ground up daily, yeah, thank you Eli), get dressed (layers), do some stretches and head out the door, down the stairs.
As I emerge out of the building, I step into a mess of weeds, mud, trash and pecking chickens. All apartment buildings are like this here in Georgia. There is no attempt whatsoever to maintain or beautify the common areas of the these buildings, and it shows. I’m told this is a legacy of the Soviet era, when the government was responsible for everything, literally, including apartment building maintenance. Most people here really lavish a lot of care and attention to their apartments and houses, but their efforts are confined to the interior.
Once I get onto the street, things improve. I walk along residential streets filled with houses. Most have gardens and grapevines that spill over to the road. Now, as winter encroaches, it isn’t very green, but in spring it’s verdant and filled with growth. Small shops punctuate the residences, called “maghzias.” They sell basic staples and are very handy for just picking up a little something you need on the way home from work. There are some bigger stores, though nothing even remotely comparing to my local Vons supermarket in L.A., that’s for sure! I walk in the street, as do most people here in Gori. The sidewalks are either nonexistent or in an extreme state of disrepair, though a few homeowners have taken it upon themselves to create nice sidewalks directly in front of their homes. As a result, I have to be very, very careful about cars, which speed along these small residential streets like they are on the autobahn. I am often carrying bags of trash, as there is no trash pick-up for my building and I have to carry it out to a main street where there are cylindrical dumpsters sitting out for this purpose.
The main north/south drag here is called … wait for it … Stalin St, or Stalini Kucha to those in the know. It’s wide avenue with the Stalin Museum at the north end, City Hall in the middle, and the river at the south end. Along the way are stores, a bakery, restaurants, banks, a lot of pay kiosks (an invention that I wish we had in the US, they are really great – you can pay your bills, reload your Metro card, put money on your phone, your internet account – you can even pay for USA2Georgia on a kiosk, the shipping service many PCV’s use), a library, and a sports center featuring huge photos of the very good-looking Lasha Shavdatuashvili, a proud son of Gori and the 2012 London Olympics Gold Medal winner in judo. I cannot resist:
So, about a 15-20 minute walk, depending on my energy level and how many stops at various establishments, and whether I see anyone I know, which requires a stop, a cheek kiss, a greeting, and a brief chat that requires me to gear up my Georgian language skills. Then I arrive at the corner of Stalin and Chachavadze, the other main avenue of Gori. According to Wikipedia, “Prince Ilia Chavchavadze (Georgian: ილია ჭავჭავაძე) (1837–1907) was a Georgian writer, poet, journalist and lawyer who spearheaded the revival of the Georgian national movement in the second half of the 19th century, during the Russian rule of Georgia. Today he is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern Georgia.” Chachavadze is a big shopping street, with some of the nicer stores, Gori Teaching University, Police HQ, and the bus/taxi/marshutka station, surrounded by a bustling bazaar. My office is is right on this corner.
Ahhhhh … I’ve reached my office, and only 1,120 words and 17 pictures (not counting Lasha). Lots of other stuff has happened – a conference in Bakuriani, a beautiful mountain resort, lots of trips to Tbilisi (business and pleasure both), a lovely trip to Khashuri, where I stayed with my host mom Eka, sleeping in my old room and feeling like I had returned to my childhood home, somehow, some wonderful meals at generous Georgians’ homes and at many a restaurant, and slow but steady progress learning Georgian. I’m still very hesitant and as my fellow PCV and practically fluent Georgian speaker friend Russelli (that’s the Georgian version – all Georgian names end in a vowel, so if your name ends in a consonant, an “i” will be added, pronounced as “ee”) says, I just need a little more confidence. Yeah, right! Here’s a few final images to finish off this blog: