23 September 2009


The past few days have been rainy.  Our roof has developed a noticeable leak in our kitchen, making us aware of a faint moldy smell above our ceiling, which we had until now excused as just the background smell of the place.  Our landlord assures us that he is on the leak, but I am now not surprised that I wake up in the morning with coughing fits.  When it rains, it pours, I suppose. 

I have titled this post "buckets" not only because it has been rainy, but because I have had a handful of realizations that have left me sopping with the chilly aftermath of discovery.  In a small way, that is. Below are the aforementioned lessons, questions, and frustrations. 

Gypsy children  
It hurts when I see children as young as five toddling car to car on the squealing metro as lights flicker, singing and begging for loose change--alone.  They are not orphans but slaves to their Roma parents.  I refuse to give money because I know it does not go to them but to their managers.  Filthy children with raggedy clothes who are school-age, must want something, and are denied the first and basic step of elementary education. 

I have come close to striking one of them on the street as they address me with an informal "you" (considered rude to an elder) in Russian (sometimes) and block my path, cornering me with some of their friends.  I wonder where this hatred of mine comes from.  I am not scared of being cornered by three small children; I am scared of their children and what a continuation of this means.  Or is this freedom that they teach to their children?  Independence?  Perhaps they enjoy the pain on my face when they hold up a filthy baby and an empty hand?  Walking on by is a difficult but necessary thing to do.  When I go out in the future I will try to take small portions of fruits and candies along to give instead--I am more comfortable feeding a child than quenching its parents' thirst. 

Plural "you" 
On a lighter note, "Y'all" is a word which has long made me cringe with images of naive, lumbering Texans in Colorado tourist towns.  Though I have spent considerable time abroad, I have never been of such a strong opinion that English needs a plural-form "you."  While "y'all" still makes me tense-up, perhaps this is a natural and needed development in English.

Blast.  Why couldn't it have been a word with the letter "Z." Z-words are so lovely.  Or maybe "Q".  "J"?  We have so few words with such pretty letters and sounds.  Oh well, I suppose we have to give the Texans more than the Alamo, ... y'all. 

Traffic laws and a few antitheses thereof 
I have begun to fear vehicles here more than any other place.  There are the ubiquitous things one expects in a capital city--signal lights, traffic circles, and police waving drivers on--but all this seems like a waste of resources.  Signal lights seem to be for decoration, traffic circles look more like creaky erector sets, and the police have to do something for exercise as they stand in the middle of streets and yell at drivers.

Sidewalks provide no refuge for walkers, as parking is often achieved by plopping the vehicle halfway on the street and halfway on the sidewalk.  Extra points for running over pedestrians in the process.  This secretive point system encourages drivers of more nimble vehicles to go for bonus levels by pulling up right behind bipedal travelers beside busy streets and leaning on the horn so as to 1) make deaf or 2) scare to death.  Both options are not optimal because in the first instance the rash, offending pedestrian cannot hear the subsequent cursing of the driver and in the second, dead pedestrians do not yield desirable parking for low-clearance vehicles. 

President Misha has done well, I hear, eliminating corruption in the police system and increasing the force to suitable levels (there are police posted at all times at the tops and bottoms of all metro stations and nearly every major intersection).  Imagine if this police force were to suddenly and uniformly enforce a few choice traffic laws.  I would choose only three goals at first to ensure the system were not overloaded: enforcing red lights, prohibiting aiming for young mothers and their offspring, and liberating the sidewalks for pedestrians. 

It ain't so bad, y'all
For all my griping here, Georgia has still been the smoothest post-Soviet country I have visited.  Russian language works OK, no visas are needed for Americans, and I am finding that a great deal of people are interested in my research. While my research plan did not include looking at teachers' pay, it may improve the system to pay teachers more then 180 Ge Lari / mo (aprox. US$90 / mo).  Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it could probably snag a few teachers and make sure that they have something to eat. 

More to come...buckets to come. 

21 September 2009

Two Weeks On

After two weeks, I still feel as if I have just arrived.  Much of what Sora and I set out to accomplish in these past two weeks--we have.

Sora is sorting through a handful of teaching offers, we are already juggling regular Georgian lessons, we have joined a Georgian folk choir, I have joined a men's banya group, and our main concern now is finding time for...anything else.  In addition, I have visited with my research organization and begun regular Russian lessons. Before I eleborate on any of this, know that "teaching offers" can evaporate here, the Georgian lessons are beneficial but not magically informative, the choir is an expatriate group which loves wine perhaps too much, and the banya group is simply addictive.  We are now very well settled in. 

This past weekend we took part in a choral performance in Khobi, Samegrelo region.  It is about 5 hours from Tbilisi, on the other side of the country, near the Black Sea.  We stayed in a guest house, attended several (singing) supra parties, and the Patriarch of the Georgian Church attended.  The performance started late, at 21:15 or so, because the Patriarch was late.  It ended at 23:30 and then we still had the supra to attend, so we were up late.  Our group sang with astounding mediocrity.  During the first song everyone started cheering and the Patriarch was pointing at us. We thought because we were doing well, but it was actually because a stray dog had wandered on stage.

Below are a couple videos of our afternoon rehearsal which were broadcast on National TV.  The man being interviewed in the second video is our neighbor and fellow Fulbrighter, Dan, a former Peace Corps volunteer and excellent foreign speaker of Georgian.  I am sitting in the back on the right with the basses and Sora is in front-left. 


There are also some photos from our trip:

All in all, a great weekend. Coming back from Samogrelo, we passed the South Ossetian border on our North.  It was strange feeling so close to "Russia," with their troops still in the hills on our left.  We couldn't be that close, though...things have been...working.  Visas, transport, etc. 

More to come...

07 September 2009

Old Tbilisi

The view from our bedroom window. The fortress is is called Narikala. Fortifications date from the 4th - 17th centuries. We can see no fewer than 12 ancient churches from our windows and balcony, plus the modern national cathedral and the president's house. We are located in Old Tbilisi, just uphill from the ancient sulfur baths/banyas.

As is evident from the photo, we have safely arrived and moved into our new home. A friend; neighbor; and fellow Fulbrighter, Dan; arranged to have us picked up at the airport by our kind landlords, Tamriko and Justani, as well as their children Sophie and Alex. We were wisked away to a restaurant shortly thereafter to enjoy some authentic Georgian-Ossetian food and wine.

Just as my lovely wife, Sora, and I are beginning to recover from our 10-hour jet-lag from Denver, I fall ill. This of course gives me ample opportunity to stay home and catch up on the more computer-intensive things--like writing this first posting. Before falling ill, Sora and I had enough time to run errands and explore just a bit. The fortress which dominates our amazing view was a natural choice for our first adventure (besides securing cell-phones at the city bazaar). The view below is looking from the fortress back on the baths district/old town and our apartment door is visible. I was able to paste a tiny red arrow pointing to our roof which may not be very visible.

The city is beautiful and there is much exploring to be done. However, our tasks for this week are many--finding both Russian and Georgian teachers, teaching job for Sora, registering at the embassy as well as passport renewals there, confirming meetings with my research center, and errands for the house.

Posts to follow will hopefully include more entertaining information and a few silly stories, but for the time being we are working on getting settled. For freinds or family from back home who wish to visit, we assure you that even if you were not planning on visiting us, the trip would be well worth it. Until next time...