Tag Archives: Tserovani

Khinkali and politics

I got so many “likes” on my Facebook post about this day that I thought I’d elaborate a bit on my khikali adventures last weekend. It was an interesting day, for more than one reason.

The first reason was that the group of people I was with were highly engaged, political folks, all of them. One, an American former PCV from Azerbajian, now works with a production company here in Tbilisi owned by an expatriate Azeri guy who covers news and stories that are banned in Baku these days. His girlfriend was here visiting from Jerusalem, where she works with refugees. A German guy who is here researching his Ph.D. on Georgian migrants in Siberia, a woman who has worked all over the world in all sorts of interesting jobs … and rounding out the group, our teacher, Nana Chkareuli, the Executive Director of For A Better Future, an NGO and social enterprise working at the IDP settlement Tserovani. I’ve known Nana for about 3 years now, in fact she’s one of the first people I met while in training; it’s always a pleasure to spend time with her.

Our conversation covered a lot of territory. It wasn’t all about politics, but it kind of circled over our heads most of the time. I felt like we were all … worried. Worried about the future and what it holds, not just for ourselves, to varying degrees, but for the constituencies we all serve in one way or another. In spite of this hovering cloud, we had a really good time, proving once again how humans can compartmentalize things!

We met up at Didube, the hub for all routes to the west, and hopped on a marshutka to head to Tserovani. Here I am with one of my fellow khinkali chefs. Right before we took this photo, a Georgian guy approached us and asked, in Georgian, where the Metro entrance was. Well, I understood him, and I knew where it was, and I gave him directions, which impressed my friend no end. But … why did he approach us in the first place? It’s quite obvious we’re not Georgians. I don’t know, but that was interesting. Especially in view of the fact that we were aggressively solicited by at least 8 taxi drivers trying to take us to far-away tourist destinations like Batumi (where, btw, people were rioting that day, supposedly over someone being given a parking ticket – only in Georgia!) or Kazbegi. I never get approached by those guys when I am in Didube alone, which when I was a PCV was a lot, at least every week or two. Never. I think it must be because Michele has blond hair and blue eyes, and I am of Eastern European extraction … but still, a foreigner. Everyone can tell. So, it’s a mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we arrived, we headed to the Hello Cafe, a social enterprise created by Nana and a former PCV. When we arrived, Nana was surprised to see me and greeted me effusively, which was nice. I was glad to see her, too. The ingredients for our culinary adventure were all set out – flour, water and salt, for the dough, and ground beef, spinach, onions, garlic, cheese and cilantro for two different fillings. That’s it – couldn’t be more simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started by making the water a bit salty, adding flour, and then kneading until the dough was quite stiff. This was harder than it looked, but we all finally succeeded!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, while letting our balls of dough rest a little while, we all chopped up all the other ingredients and mixed them together – no recipe, just however we wanted, to taste. The spinach balls had been bought in that form, frozen, and defrosted – no need for fresh spinach, which is not in season right now. It’s all gonna be boiled up at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, we rolled out the dough and, using a small wooden cup with smooth edges, cut out small disks. For some reason, I don’t have a photo of this process, but I definitely have photos of the end result. I was amused to see how the German guy lined all his disks up in a neat line, whereas Nana and I threw ours all over the place. Guess I know where my national inclinations lie, haha.

Georgian style

German style

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we pressed two disks together to make a plump little circle, and then rolled it out to be very thin at the edges and just a bit thicker in the middle. Then, we dropped our filling in the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, for the really challenging part. The crimping. I’d say my skills were about even with my Georgian language abilities – better than some, worse than others! I was able to make the khinkali pretty well, but they were a little … wrinkled, I think I have to say. Here are two samples, guess which one is mine, and which one is Nana’s, haha.

They all tasted good going down, that’s the truth. We made what felt like a hundred khinkali. Spinach (above), the little knob at the top is pushed in; meat, it sticks out. Here’s me giving it my best effort:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, into a huge pot of boiling water. You have to gently shake it while its cooking – no stirring, as that may break the thin dough. The khinkali first puff up, then deflate – and then they’re done, maybe 5 or 6 minutes cooking.

What a feast. Not only did we have our dumplings, which were, honestly, so delicious – nothing like fresh khinkali. And the spinach ones were the BEST EVER. We also had salad, and bread, and wine, and cha-cha from Nana’s mother. Cha-cha is like grappa, made from the skins of grapes after they’ve been crushed for wine. It is wicked strong. I had to take a little nap when I got home.

So, a good time had by all. We made our back to Tbilisi, all full of delicious food and a little quiet on the marshutka. The cloud was hovering a bit lower, for me at least. I was thinking of all the IDPs in the settlement, and how, for all the problems they brought with them, they were welcomed, housed and taken care of by Georgia, one of the poorer developing countries in the world. Some of these refugees weren’t even Georgian – they were, for examples, Ossettians married to Georgians. They were welcome, too. Well … it’s the times. I always feel a bit on the melancholy side, and I know I’m not the only one. Yet, we still have the ability to appreciate something as simple as cooking some khinkali in good company.

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.