Tag Archives: Tbilisi

Moving Forward

Some of my legion of followers may have noticed that I have changed my tagline. I have read this quote of Elie Wiesel many times, and at no time have I ever agreed with it more than now. My blog posts have become infrequent the last few months, for a few different reasons, and I’ve been thinking about how to revitalize things now that I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, but still living overseas. I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on national/international matters a bit more, because right now that is really what I care about the most. I will link to articles that I find particularly insightful or helpful, and cover news and reactions to what’s going on back home from a different perspective, that of an expatriate who still cares and is deeply worried about the direction her country is taking.

I’ll still fill people in on how I’m doing, and I will from time to time return to my original storytelling approach – I mean, there are always good stories to tell! But you can expect less of that, and more of this, as it were. I hope it interests you!

ქართული

That means, Georgian language, and this is planned to be a short blog post about my ongoing struggles and today’s final surrender to the absurdity of it all.

So, as I’ve written here before, my Georgian is not very good. My (former) office mate Nodar has characterized it as babytalk. I can’t really argue with that. Nonetheless, I manage. I actually manage pretty well in day-to-day activities, if I am speaking with someone personally. Telephone conversations are definitely more challenging. As are handwritten menus, taxi drivers speaking Russian, marshutka drivers with heavy regional accents, fancy script and other monkey wrenches thrown in my way.

Today was a pretty good example. I negotiated my way along a new marshutka route (winding through very beautiful areas of Tbilsi btw), talking with a woman waiting with me on the corner (jer ara, not yet, accompanied by a resigned shrug from both of us, and then, finally, modis! it’s coming!), the marshutka driver, whose gravelly voice rivaled Leonard Cohen’s, the one guy left at the printing place I went to get a business card made who was telling they closed 15 minutes ago, and to call on Monday (ok, there was a little English in that conversation), then a conversation at the excellent Turkish restaurant where I went to console myself (in Georgian, not Turkish!), and the cleaning woman in my building who I told, madame, I have your money! To which she replied, your Georgian is getting very good. To which I replied, nah, it isn’t, accompanied by a rueful shake of the head.

And then, the final surrender. Off I go to the vegetable stand on the corner. I saw a woman on the marshutka eating the tiny winter tangerines we call mandarini (მანდარინი – the letter “ი” in Georgian is written as “i” in English characters, but pronounced as “ee”) and I thought, yeah, that looks really good, I’m going to buy some of those. So, in I went, and I asked the friendly guy, in Georgian, do you have mandarinis? Are they sweet? He kind of wagged his hand and said, not really. I chuckled and said – again, in Georgian – not yet, I think! I said, I want a few, and I took four, and a few other things. He rang me up and then said IN ENGLISH, 2 lari. Holding up 2 fingers. Usually this behavior, which is incredibly common, drives me into a rage. I complain about it all the time. I mean – we just had a whole little conversation in Georgian. I used non-tourist words and the future tense. Come on! But I dunno … for some reason it didn’t trigger the usual reaction. Instead, I laughed, I said, in Georgian, yeah, 2 lari, I understand, yeah! He laughed too.

I think it’s finally happened – I’ve finally surrendered to the absurdity of it all. Either people are insisting on speaking Russian to me, or they want to speak English, even when they clearly don’t know how, or – and this totally happens – I’m imploring them to speak English and they refuse, even when they know how. This mainly happens at government offices. I’m not gonna get mad about it anymore. I’m just going to accept it. If this means my Georgian doesn’t improve very much because I don’t get to practice, so be it. I’m tired of getting mad about it.

მე მიყვარს საქართველო. Look it up.

 

 

 

 

 

My weekend

As is my habit, I want to go deeper into one specific topic or story. In this case, it will be my weekend, which was a study in contrasts.

Saturday was the dark side of the picture. A day arrived that I had been dreading for a week, ever since I found out that my CHCA colleague and friend, Nana Sharia, had died unexpectedly last Saturday morning. She was 44 years old. Nana had multiple, serious physical disabilities; I believe she had muscular dystrophy, as she exhibited all the symptoms, but that’s just my non-medical opinion. Whatever it was … she was a tiny dynamo on crutches. She spoke perfect English (and Russian, and of course Georgian), and always greeted me with huge enthusiasm and warmth whenever I was in the Tbilisi office. She had been a Muskie fellow and studied Public Administration at the University of Louisville, where she later worked in the Center for Environmental Policy and Management. When she returned to Georgia, she worked for several major international NGOs, focusing on homeowners and tenant associations, as she did at CHCA.  She was smart as a whip, and I was so looking forward to being her friend here in Tbilisi. We spoke often of meeting at Prospero’s, a local expat bookstore hangout, and I was planning to call her in mid-August when I got back from my visit home to set a weekend brunch date. She even sent me some Skype messages as recently as June 22nd … and then, on July 17th she passed away from a blood infection.

I went to the funeral with all of my former colleagues from CHCA. We stopped on the way to get flowers, and stood around chatting in the hot sun while waiting for others to arrive. When the Gori contingent pulled up, they were really pleased to see me -especially our driver, Tengo. I was really happy to see him, too, but sad it had to be on such a somber occasion. We walked a distance to the flat where Nana lay in her coffin. The Georgian custom is to enter the room, and circle the coffin. We did that, and it was hard for me. I am unaccustomed to open coffins, and in this case, Nana looked so very small that it was heartbreaking. Four elderly ladies sat along one side, weeping and calling out “sad midixar, Nana?” (where did you go, Nana?). About 5 of us stood in a corner afterwards, crying. Eventually I left the room and sat down on some nearby stairs, just to get a breath of air.

We were there about 2 hours. They eventually brought Nana down to the parking lot, where an elderly man – possibly her uncle – started speaking over the coffin, and then weeping. It’s unusual to see a Georgian man crying in public; in fact, I’ve never seen it. But then I haven’t been to a funeral before, either. The whole crowd, maybe about 150 people, followed the pall bearers as they brought her to the hearse. At this point, I had to leave, as the graveyard was very far out of the city, with no public transportation, and I would have no way to get home, since all of my colleagues lived in different directions or out of town. Eka assured me that the important thing was that I went to family home, but I still felt badly. In fact, I was sad all afternoon and just sort of lay around my flat taking short naps and staring out the window. It was a hard day.

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Sunday morning I got up and decided to spend the day shopping for gifts for my upcoming trip to the U.S. I had a leisurely breakfast and then made my way by marshutka to the Freedom Square area of Tbilisi. I wandered about, looking for a tea shop I knew was in the area (it was not, but it was nice walking around), and then met a PCV friend to look a jewelry from the IDP settlement of Tserovani. This was the very settlement where over 2 years ago I left training on my own for the very first time to job shadow a (I now can say it) highly unfriendly PCV, now back in the U.S., who made it clear that I was only there because the PC office had specifically requested it. She did not house me with or near her host family, whom I never met although I had brought chocolates for them; instead, I was put in the house of a friend of her Director. My host was very nice, but she left during the second night for Tbilisi without telling me, so when I woke up in the morning, I was alone in the house, and very confused! The PCV showed up 2 hours late, and then that evening told me I was on my own for dinner in a place where I knew no one, and where there were no restaurants. Hmmmmm … that was not such a good experience. Luckily my host’s neighbors were having a supra for a visiting friend, and invited me to join them. Given that my Georgian at the time was virtually non-existent, it was an awkward evening, but that was my first supra! You can see my judiciously edited blog entry from that visit here: https://saraweaves.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/idp-settlement-visit/.

Though I never did become friendly with that particular PCV, I did become quite friendly with her Director, the lovely Nana Chkareuili. I also become a big admirer of the gorgeous enamel jewelry created by her NGO’s social enterprise, called Ikorta. See here: http://www.ikorta.com.  Here are a few examples of their work:

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A new PCV, by the name of Melody – much friendlier! – came to Tserovani over a year ago, and it was her that I met on Sunday. I picked out some beautiful pieces, and when she proposed that we go see the new Star Trek” movie at the spanking new Eastpoint Mall right outside of town, I jumped at the opportunity. After a quick visit to a very nice shop selling tea, spices and delicious cheese (for anyone who is interested, https://www.reinisfischer.com/aristaeus-boutique-shop-georgian-spices-and-cheese), off we went, via subway and marshutka.

Well, the mall was as snazzy and upscale as any L.A. mall – and nicer than some! The movie was fun, and helped me put aside my sad mood. After the film, we wandered a bit; there was an interesting mix of shops, many extremely upscale and well beyond my price range, but others with a nice array of affordable stuff. Well, affordable now that I actually have a salary, anyway. I’ll go back there one of these days and do a bit of shopping.

So this was a really nice day. I enjoyed seeing Melody, I enjoyed shopping, I enjoyed the movie. I just wish I had the ability to do some of that stuff with Nana. But this is life – and death. It comes to us all, but for some, too soon.

Easter

 

I recently had a wonderful experience that I missed last year, due to being in Batumi exploring botanical gardens at Easter. This year I was here in Gori, and I spent Easter with my Georgian family.

The whole thing started off with a funny, and frankly, slightly embarrassing incident. I was at home, getting ready to go over to my family’s, when I heard kids singing in the stairwell. I could tell, it was like Halloween, they were going door-to-door and doing … something. But what? When the inevitable knock on the door came, I let curiosity get the better of me and recklessly opened it. Six little girls, grinning ear-to-ear and holding baskets filled with red eggs, frantically recited some doggerel and held out the baskets. I was COMPLETELY lost! Like … was I supposed to take an egg? Give them money? Give them an egg? It turns out it was the latter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I explained that I was an American and that I didn’t know what they wanted … they kind of just stared at me in shock and beat a hasty retreat to the neighbor’s door.

Sigh … I felt like an idiot. But ok, I went off to my family’s house, dressed in a skirt and bringing along a scarf to cover my head, as we were going to church. First, though, there was some serious egg-painting, which I enthusiastically joined in with. Here are some of the results – mine is the one with yellow swirls, nice, The thing in the middle is the traditional Easter cake, called paska. It’s pretty good, too. I brought one to my family, who promptly gave me about 20 eggs and another paska to take home. Heated up with a little butter … mmmmmm.

At midnight we piled into the car and drove over to the big church. Parking wasn’t that bad, but the crush of people was unbelievable. I think the whole town was there. It was so intense, and at a certain point, Tamriko (my host mom) pulled us out and said we would go to the smaller church a few blocks away. That was a wise choice!

We walked over, shivering a little in the early spring night air, and entered the courtyard of the church. There were also a lot of people there, but not the crazy scene we had just left. When we arrived, the priests were inside chanting, but after a few minutes, it was time to walk 3 times around the church holding long, thin candles. Holding hands with Nutsa, my younger sister, we started off. The priests and acolytes at the front were holding colorful banners, one of which had been embroidered by Tamriko. Another priest was ringing bells, and everyone was chanting a call and response that sounded ancient, and heartfelt. It really didn’t feel right to be using a flash or taking photos at all, really – but I did record the bells and chanting. So, these are not really videos – they’re really audio recordings. The chanting, in particular, was very beautiful. Although it’s a religion very far from mine, and traditions I am not familiar with, I felt accepted and part of the crowd. I saw people I knew, people greeted me, they let me stand among them without comment (for once) and so I was free to just be in the moment and appreciate the history and feeling.

The inside of the small church was very beautiful. There were whitewashed walls, murals of saints, and of course many icons. We all crowded in, listened for a while, and then Salome said it was time to go home – it was about 2:00 am. Her dad gave us all a ride home, and then he returned Tamriko to the church, where she stayed until morning, as is the custom for religious people here.

So, although I had not really anticipated being moved by the hoiday and its symbolism, I was. That was interesting. It made me want to know more. Wanting to know more – a big part of why I’m not ready to leave yet, and will be staying here, learning, and sharing, because this blog will definitely continue. As I like to say – stay tuned!

This & that …

It’s been a while, and that’s due not to apathy or laziness, but rather being really, really busy. So now, a quick catch-up on a number of rather interesting things that happened in the last 6 weeks or so.

First, I have finally found the text I want for a tattoo that will represent my time in Georgia. I want text, because I love the way Georgian script looks. I want it to contain the letters უ and ლ (pronounced “oo” and “l” respectively) because I love writing them. I just like the way they look. And I want it to be personally meaningful. With thanks to Francisco Resto for bringing this quote to me, from Shota Rustaveli, perhaps the most famous of Georgian poets, from his epic medieval poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, here you have it:

 რასაცა გასცემ შენია, რაც არა დაკარგულია

I’ve seen this translated a few different ways. My go-to translator, Marta Bibilashvili, says it means “whatever you will give to anyone, it is yours, what you do not, that is lost.” I really like this one. Cisco, whose Georgian skills far surpass mine, translated it as “That which we give makes us richer, that which we hoard is lost.” You get the idea, and I feel it represents my experience here quite accurately in many ways. So, sometime in April, my 35-year-old tattoo on my left leg will get a new sibling on the right. No photos will be forthcoming. 🙂

Second, speaking of my Georgian experience, it’s winding down to an end soon – at least the Peace Corps part of it. Just a week or so ago, therefore, we had our “COS Conference” in Tbilisi. “COS” stands for Close of Service. We got a lot of information and even more forms to fill out and appointments to make, all of which I’ll be working on for the next few months.

A highlight of the conference was a trip taken by me and two fellow PCV’s, Catherine and Karen, to see “Swan Lake” at the newly renovated Tbilisi Opera House. Not only was the performance incredible, especially the lead ballerina playing Odette, Ekaterine Surmava (who in spite of her rather Russian-sounding name is definitely Georgian – contrary to the common misunderstanding in the U.S. on this topic, these are TWO DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES), but the completely full to the rafters audience was on very good behavior. I regret that I didn’t take more photos of the Opera House, which was magnificent. Here are some grabbed off the internet, a shot of the actual performance, as well as a few of us girls enjoying ourselves.

Third. Well, the more alert of you may have noticed that above I alluded to the PC experience ending. And it will. But will my residency in Georgia end? It remains to be seen, but I am having some very intriguing discussions which may result in a major pivot. Stay tuned.

Fourth, we had our “Let’s Play Together” event here in Gori in late February. This is the same program that we originally called “Kakheti Special Needs Field Day” (see my post from June of last year). It’s now evolved to a full-on regular program that is held every few months throughout the country. We always planned to have a LPT day for Gori, and after I got back from Vietnam in January, I started working with fellow PCV David Poppick, who is assigned to the Workplace Development Center in Gori. WDC serves disabled children and adults and was a great partner for this project. We had 36 special needs kids attend, an equal number of “youth partners” (teenagers from Gori and around the region), and over 20 PCVs participating. Here is a link to the LPT Facebook page, which has all the photos and videos – it would be great if you would “like” it, because the more, the merrier!

https://www.facebook.com/LPTGeorgia/

We also were honored to have Keti Zazanashvili, professional dancer, who works with partners who are disabled. They put on a fantastic performance; it was truly inspiring to see the rapt attention of the audience, and think about how the disabled kids here in Gori perceived this presentation. Keti generously hosted dance workshops throughout the day. Here is a TED video where she explains the origins and philosophy of “inclusive dancing,” it’s really fascinating. Also, she speaks extremely good English, but with a classic Georgian accent, so if you want to know what that sounds like, here it is:

A video of the performance at LPT/Gori is available on the Facebook page.

We also had the perennial favorite, arm-wrestling, wherein Russell was soundly beaten multiple times, as well as arts & crafts, relay races, dodgeball, “fish,” ping-pong for the seeing-disabled, and much more, including a delicious lunch. Again, lots at the LPT Facebook page, but here are a few highlights:

Last, some other miscellaneous stuff, let’s see … well, ok, my host sister, Salome, was selected as a delegate to the European Youth Parliment. This is a very prestigious event here in Georgia, and very few kids from “the provinces” get the chance to participate. It was a big honor, and she learned a lot – including some lessons about what it’s like to spend time with snotty, rich kids from private schools.  Just yesterday, I was in Tbilisi waiting for a marshutka on a busy street when a pristine, white van, the likes of which I had never, ever seen in Georgia before, pulled up. A few expensively dressed teenagers daintily disembarked, as I openly stared at the white curtains and seats, the red accents, and the generally shockingly fancy vehicle – it was like seeing a Rolls-Royce in a used car lot. And then it made sense – it said “Buckwood School” on the side. Ahhhhhh … one of the schools Salome mentioned. Got it. These are lessons we all have to learn, but my heart still ached for her.  I am proud to report that after some struggles, she has emerged all the stronger for it, and wrote a fantastic essay on lessons learned and resilience gained for an exchange program application. Here she is at the EYP event:

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A great dinner at Marta Bibilashvili’s lovely apartment for all of us Gori PCV’s – no reason, just being nice. She had just returned from a 3-week trip to the U.S., sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and focused on learning about youth and volunteerism. It had been a dream of Marta’s to travel to the States, and I’m so glad she got that opportunity. She was nominated by the PC!

Well, that pretty much covers the last six weeks or so. Not counting extensive work on new CHCA website, writing an EU grant, job hunting adventures, and the last, the VERY LAST, language exam! I am proud to announce, that due to pity, the language teacher awarded me an “intermediate-mid” level, which means I advanced a step. I think I actually have advanced, but I assure you that no one could ever have discerned that from my performance during that test, which included forgetting the word for “picture,” several dead silences while I frantically searched my numb brain for vocabulary, verbs conjugated in the future instead of past tense, and other embarrassing gaffes. Never mind – onward!

A trip to the movies

For the last two weeks, I’ve been hitting the road quite regularly. I went to Tbilisi PC office several times for various things and stayed the night, running errands and attending meetings; went to Kutaisi, Orzugeti and nearby villages (Tskhemliskhidi and Vakijvari) – the latter being in the southwest of Georgia, where generous PCV’s hosted a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner; went to Khashuri for a party and visited my host mother there, the ever-patient Eka who listened to 2-1/2 hours of my Georgian without laughing even once; and helped host a Thanksgiving weekend here in Gori, to boot! All of it … well, most of it … was fun. I’ve got lots of pictures. I’m putting just a few below, because I can’t resist, but this post is going to focus on the story of yesterday – an adventure in movie-going by Sara and Salome.

 

OK, that’s it for Thanksgiving, other than to say – I was indeed thankful to spend time with PC friends, tinged only a little with sadness because it’s the last time and we all knew it.

Upon returning to Gori early Saturday evening, I got a good night’s sleep in my own bed and the next day fulfilled a promise that I’ve been making to my host sister, Salome, for about a year now. When we started reading The Hunger Games, I promised her that we would go see the final installment in the movie series when it came to Georgia. Little did I know how challenging that would be! For one, though the majority of kids here (the main audience of this movie, which probably says something about me but I don’t care) do not speak Russian, including Salome. Those who speak a second language, speak English. In spite of this, the movie was dubbed into Russian and every showing except one was rendered unintelligible to both of us. Moreover, since Gori does not have a functioning theatre, we had to go to Tbilisi to see it. The one English showing was at 6:40 pm, necessitating a prearranged and very expensive taxi ride back to Gori late on a Sunday night, since I had work and Salome had school the next morning. But I did it, because I promised, and because I really wanted to see the film, and I wanted to see it with Salome.

So at 4:00 pm on Sunday afternoon I showed up at her house, having already arranged transportation in a shared taxi, and off we went. The first part of the adventure began. Though I don’t know if having a driver who at times was going 180 km, which is OVER 110 MILES PER HOUR, really counts as adventuresome. More like suicidal. I don’t know what was with this guy, but I just sat frozen in the back seat, sans seat belt, since most cars in Georgia don’t have seat belts in the back, and this was no exception. That crazy driver redeemed himself a little bit by letting us off on the far side of the highway, thereby allowing us to cross only one 5-lane stream of traffic instead of two.

That part was actually kind of fun, though I’ll be damned if I can explain why. We teetered on the edge of the highway, looking for a break in the relentless traffic. There were 4 or 5 young men also waiting to cross right next to us. After about 5 minutes of growing desperation, the guys starting running across the road. I yelled at Salome, “come on!!!!” and off we went. I just figured that even Georgian drivers wouldn’t hit 6 people at once. We literally screamed aloud as we ran, her clutching the sleeve of my coat … I really cannot justify this behavior other than to say, it was Georgian, and I’ve been here a long time now. And it was sort of exhilarating, like an amusement park ride, but with real danger. I mean, 5 lanes in front of a huge shopping center. Like, could there be a light? A crosswalk? An overpass? Haha, what am I thinking.

OK, so we survived, did a little shopping and then saw the movie, which was good. Very good. The best of the series if you ask me. And in 3-D, too. Marred only by the loud, incessant talking of two rows of Indian students in the back of the theater, along with several others who added Georgian and English to the mix. I wanted to smack all of them but again – I’ve been here a long time now, and this is how it is in movie theaters in Georgia. Thankfully the volume was really loud and I could hear the dialogue.

Here are some pictures of us celebrating the joy of Hunger Games movie-viewing:

Ok, now comes the real adventure. Our taxi driver, the ever-accommodating Nika, arrives early, calling us 5 times during the movie (happily I had my phone on vibrate, but ultimately had to talk with him … well, ok, Salome talked with him, because Georgian with this guy on the phone is beyond my capabilities). We leave, pondering the kind of tough message of the film, and off we go. We’re about a third of the way home when … the car stalls. Yes, 10:00 pm, dead on the highway. The Auto Club not being a concept here, I say to Salome, well, let’s not worry – if worst comes to worst, he’ll call a friend or his cousin or something. Here we are while waiting:

In the back of the taxi

In the back of the taxi

 

 

 

 

 

 

He calls a friend. He says the friend will be there in 15 minutes. When I ask is he coming from Gori, and he says yes, my next comment to Salome is yeah, 15 minutes IF HE’S FLYING. In the meantime, Nika amuses us with stories of his outrageous behavior as a high school student. At 11:00 pm, the friend shows up. He takes a cloth strap, ties the two cars together, with me and Salome in the back seat of the front car, and Nika and his friend Soso in the front seat of the back car. Here we are changing taxis:

I really don't know why we are smiling, but it's either laugh or cry at this point. So what the hell. At least it wasn't too cold.

I really don’t know why we are smiling, but it’s either laugh or cry at this point. So what the hell. At least it wasn’t too cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, 49 km (30 miles) to Gori towing an unsecured car behind us. It took about an hour, and I was tense, very, very tense, the whole way. We made it without any major incident, though several times Nika hit the brakes, causing our car to jerk backwards very alarmingly, while the driver muttered “deda, deda” (mother, mother) under his breath.

We cruised right by Salome’s street, and though she wanted to get out and walk, I wouldn’t let her since it was almost midnight. We went to Nika’s, parked the car, and started off to take me and Salome home. And then, the coup de gras – the taxi ran out of gas. Seriously. Nika promptly called yet another friend, who showed up, drove poor Salome home, and then me – 12:15 am. On a work/school night.

Apparently Salome’s family thought this whole story very funny (we called them several times from the taxis so as not to have them worry) – she says. I wasn’t quite as amused, but what the hell. As Salome said, we’ll laugh about it tomorrow. And we already are. But for all my friends who know me in the U.S, I want to be very clear that though I pretty much took this in good humor, do not expect me to be any different when I come back when it comes to this sort of thing. You know what I am saying.

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Georgia Sojourner

My last two blog posts have been all about traveling elsewhere. Today I’m going to focus on traveling in Georgia, which I’ve been doing a lot of over the last few months. After I returned from Yerevan, I went to a conference that we call MST – mid-service training. It was at a really luxurious hotel in Borjomi. There were a lot of classes, a lot of meetings, a lot of lectures, and a lot of eating a drinking. I did have to take the mid-service LPI, um, language proficiency … something. Too many acronyms! Anyway, even though I had not spoken a word of Georgian in about 6 weeks, I achieved my goal, which was – just, please god, please, don’t let me regress. And I did not.  That is all I have to say about that!

We took a few fun photos at Borjomi, which I’ll share here:

 

The view from my hotel room balcony

The view from my hotel room balcony

The 3 Sara(h)'s - Sara Scholtz, Sara Feldman, and Sarah Vanderbok

The 3 Sara(h)’s – Sara Scholtz, Sara Feldman, and Sarah Vanderbok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left Borjomi a little early to trek into Tbilisi to meet my friends visiting from Dhaka, Bangladesh (Malcolm), Tokyo, Japan (Ric) and West Meon, UK (Helena). They all converged at an Airbnb apartment off the main drag in Tbilisi. That night we climbed an unbelievably steep hill and ate at the fancy Funicular Restaurant, where my non-regressed Georgian skills came in very handy. In fact, I spoke a lot of Georgian over the next week. Broken, incorrect, barely intelligible Georgian that was greeted with delight and amazement by nearly everyone I (tried) to communicate with. It was an interesting contrast to Gori, where the same efforts are often greeted with English as broken as my Georgian (or worse), Russian, a blank stare, or, less commonly, straightforward Georgian, with no extravagant praise whatsoever. I really like the last one, btw!

The next week was filled with excursions to Tbilisi (National Museum, Old Tbilisi walking tour, parks, restaurants and shops), Kazbegi, Mtskheta, Gori (Uplisitkhe, Stalin Museum, Gori Castle) Borjomi (again), Akhalsitkhe and Vardzia. Rather than write reams about all these places, I’m going to try and give a contained presentation of the highlights in captioned photos below.

The one place I will write a little about, because it was my favorite, was Vardzia. An interesting history of the site can be found here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/vardzia. Suffice it to say that it is an extraordinary cave city built in the late 1100’s by Queen Tamar (see my earlier post on her bridge). There’s a church with beautiful wall paintings (no photos allowed), windy tunnels, hundreds of uneven stairs cut into the rock, all different size and configuration of caves, and unbelievable views. There’s a feeling there, especially in the church, a feeling of the people who once created and then lived in these caves. They are present, in some way. I’ve experienced this before, once in Japan in a Samurai castle; in India, at a Jain temple … not that I feel there are ghosts, or real spirits, nothing like that. It’s just that some essence of them lingers, somehow. You can imagine them there. These special places are more than historic monuments, as much as I like those. They’re more alive. We spent several highly enjoyable hours there; it was the highlight of the trip for me.

So, here are a few of the photos. Please feel free to click on them to see them full-sized – they are a lot better that way.

There was more, of course – much more – but in the interest of brevity and not overwhelming my myriad of readers, I’ll leave it at this for Mal’s visit.

But wait! There’s more, because just a few weeks ago, I took yet another little excursion, this time to Kakheti and the lovely city of Telavi. The purpose of the trip was to do a tour of the countryside surrounding Telavi, including visiting some wineries, monasteries, churches, fortresses – the usual. 🙂 A good time was had by all.

 

Well, that’s the end of my sojourning in Georgia – for now. I’m back home in Gori, back to work, back in the routine. Next month – Thanksgiving. We have two celebrations planned, one here in Gori, and for one I’ll be traveling west to visit the village of a fellow volunteer. In the meantime, plenty going on at work – redesigning the web page, working on an “evergreen” video, grants, projects and events. CHCA had its 20th Anniversary Celebration bash a few weeks ago, and I’ll leave this post with a few shots from the big night – it was a lot of fun, actually! ‘Till next time …