My ride home from work.

We have often talked about how we travel around this lovely country but I don’t think we have actually shown you.  This short posting will attempt to do this.

First, what types of public transportation exists in the country of Georgia?  In Georgia you will find all the common modes of public transportation common in America,

taxies,

If you have a Taxi sign you can put it on your car and take passengers.

If you have a Taxi sign you can put it on your car and take passengers.

buses,

Original old bus in use in Batumi, Georgia

Original old bus in use in Batumi, Georgia

and trains.

One of the older overnight/local trains.

One of the older overnight/local trains.

One of the express trains.

One of the express trains.

Sometimes buses can be quite crowded:

This is a new bus but still packed to the gills.  Believe it or not more will be getting on.

This is a new bus but still packed to the gills. Believe it or not more will be getting on.

Lastly we have the minibus or “Marshrutka”:

A typical marshutka "mini-bus".

A typical marshrutka “mini-bus”.

When I travel to work each day I take either the bus or Marshrutka  dependjng on the weather and the time of day.

See this link for more information on Marshrutkas:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka

This post is to give you the experience of me traveling home on one of the Marshrutkas.  The video is about 15 minutes long and feel free to skip through it.  There are a couple of places you should view, they are found at 9:00 and 9:50 minutes into the video.  I hope you enjoy the ride.

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Bits and Pieces

Autumn in Georgia is deceptive.  It can move from being summer-hot and sticky to fall rains and chill.  Even into November we can have mild days but always with the threat of needing a heavy coat in the evening hours. This first picture is a good example of people enjoying the beach in mid-September and many of the concession stands on the “boulevard” still open for business.

The Black Sea beach in Batumi on a beautiful, early September day.

The Black Sea beach in Batumi on a beautiful, early September day.

Time to make some changes in the house!

Putting an extension on to the small kitchen area .

Putting an extension on to the small kitchen area .

The kitchen underwent some expansion starting in September. Two construction workers were employed to break out a wall and add 10 feet to the existing small room.  The turmoil of this project was felt throughout the house (except our room upstairs) as furniture and rugs were moved and who knew where you would be sitting for your next meal?  Luckily, everyone took it in their stride and accepted the upheaval.  The workers were fed generously by our host family and we often sat at table with them.  This  is the “Georgian” way to treat workers in your home (as well as any and all visitors).

Waiting in the morning crowd to pass through customs into Turkey to shop at the Hopa bazaar.  We didn't make it as no one told us we needed a Visa!  We'll try again.

Waiting in the morning crowd to pass through customs into Turkey to shop at the Hopa bazaar. We didn’t make it as no one told us we needed a Visa! We’ll try again.

We finally found a Saturday when we could go to the Hopa bazaar in Turkey with our host ‘son’ Aleko.  We boarded the crowded bus for the 10 minute bus ride to Sarpi, the border city, where we fell into step among this crowd.  After about 20-25 minutes of moving slowly forward we reached a point where we were asked for our Visas!  What???  No one told us we needed a Visa!  At that point, we separated from Aleko to go home while he continued his journey to find his treasured items.  Who knows when we will attempt to go again but now we  have our Visas and are ready when the time comes.

A mighty storm brought this trauma to our house.

Eucalyptus trees devastated by a storm in front of our house and damaging a neighbor's property.

Eucalyptus trees devastated by a storm in front of our house and damaging a neighbor’s property.

Clearing the dirt road in front of our house after the storm which harmed several enormous eucalyptus trees.

Clearing the dirt road in front of our house after the storm which harmed several enormous eucalyptus trees.

We were awakened by a furious storm during the night but not until the morning did we see the destruction outside.  Several of the huge Eucalyptus trees on our host family’s property had lost very large branches which broke part of a neighbors wrought-iron fence and gate.  It also completely blocked the small road which went past the houses to the fields.  Nodar was away on ambulance duty that night and Mari was the first to start clearing the space.  Family visitors from the Ukraine who were visiting rolled up their sleeves as well as a few other workers (like Suzanne).  It took a good two days to clear the road so a car could get through.  The wood was stacked and subsequently cut to be put in the wood shed for the petchi.  (Eucalyptus trees are common here and grow to several hundred feet which these were.  Eucalyptus need a lot of moisture so combined with our sub-tropical climate they grow well here.)

By September, gathering wood for the coming winter is almost too late.  Most folks start that process earlier. However, if you are just going to buy it, instead of doing your own chopping, you can find it in abundance along this street where truckloads are stacked every day.

The gathering of wood for winter heating on a major street in Batumi not far from Tom's workplace. Typical apartment buildings in the background with their wash hung out to dry.

The gathering of wood for winter heating on a major street in Batumi not far from Tom’s workplace.
Typical apartment buildings in the background with their wash hung out to dry.

In the background you also see one of the tall, Russian built apartments so prevalent in Batumi.  And here is another just feet from a very congested intersection with no traffic lights.  Not many play areas for the little ones or the teens.

October storm clouds blocking the sunset over the Black Sea.

October storm clouds blocking the sunset over the Black Sea.

An October sunset over the Black Sea.

An October sunset over the Black Sea.

Sunsets will be one of our fondest memories especially as we viewed them by the Black Sea.  Here is the contrast of a brilliant evening sunset with one that is awesome and threatening a storm.  Walking the rocky beach at night is always a relaxing and reflective time.

Suzanne doing a presentation on the National English Spelling Competition at a school in Kobuleti.

Suzanne doing a presentation on the National English Spelling Competition at a school in Kobuleti.

The NESC (National English Spelling Competition) is in its 2nd year having been started last year by a most clever and original PCV, Adam.  In this picture I am preparing students and teachers at a school in Kobuleti with the rules for this competition. I am the Regional coordinator for the Ajara region schools and this was one of my duties.  The Georgian students LOVE competition of most any kind and spelling is no exception!  We’ve had a big increase in schools that are participating this year.  Round 2 is in December and the final round in March. That will take place in Tbilisi, the capital.

Getting ready for the National English Spelling Competition...first round in the local school.

Getting ready for the National English Spelling Competition…first round in the local school.

This is one group of students in my school getting ready for the first round competition.  One of my counterpart teachers, Neli, is standing in the back of the room.

IMG_2581

A ride on the newly built Gondola in Batumi which allows a full view of the city at the top.

A ride on the newly built Gondola in Batumi which allows a full view of the city at the top.

One of the newest “things to do” in Batumi is a Gondola ride up the mountain for a full view of the city. Tom and I took this ride on a nice sunny day in October. A few weeks later, Tom took our host brother, Aleko, up for a ride. Eliso, our host sister, preferred not to go.

Looking down the street from Heroes Monument toward the snow-capped Caucasus!  Notice the lovely palm tree on the new boulevard.  They grow quickly in this sub-tropical climate.

Looking down the street from Heroes Monument toward the snow-capped Caucasus! Notice the lovely palm tree on the new boulevard. They grow quickly in this sub-tropical climate.

This is a view of the snow-capped Southern Caucasus seen from one of the wide boulevards in Batumi.  An awesome, beautiful site in mid-October.  In contrast  you see me walking to school from our house after a heavy rainfall.  The dirt road has no drainage and you must maneuver carefully to get through with dry feet.  I consider my ‘duck’ shoes as one of the most valuable items I brought with me to Georgia.

Suzanne off to school on the dirt road off the highway.  It had rained as you can see and there is no drainage for the water.

Suzanne off to school on the dirt road off the highway. It had rained as you can see and there is no drainage for the water.

(2603/2608) Halloween isn’t celebrated in Georgia but the more the kids hear about it, the more they want to have fun with it.  So these pictures are from a presentation I did in the Batumi American Corners library to talk about the holiday and have also have some fun.

Salome did a wonderful job decorating the Library for Halloween.

Salome did a wonderful job decorating the Library for Halloween.

Halloween "mummies" at the American Corner's Library!  What a great time they had

Halloween “mummies” at the American Corner’s Library! What a great time they had

When I arrived there was already some serious face painting  going on.  We played some fun games, had them taste some “candy corn” and ended the day with a contest to make mummies with the rough, brown toilet paper used here.  There was unanimous fun that day!

Some costumed girls at the Halloween party for the 11th grade.

Some costumed girls at the Halloween party for the 11th grade.

Halloween with some students and two teachers!

Halloween with some students and two teachers!

More Halloween antics at my school where they had a party that was  mostly girls and didn’t have any food!  Throwing a party needs some work here, I think, but everyone did enjoy some fun!

As you all know by now, Turkey is our southern border (mostly) and as a result there is a percentage of Muslim folks who have flowed over into Georgia and especially into our small village of Gonio.  One day a few weeks back I was told that the Muslim children wouldn’t be in class the next Monday because of the holiday of Eid Al-Adha.  On this day, many families will slaughter a sheep for their celebration. This picture is our neighbors home where they are following this tradition.  Tom took the picture….naturally.

Our neighbors celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha by killng a lamb for the evening feast.

Our neighbors celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha by killng a lamb for the evening feast.

Last but not least,

Tom opens a goodie box from friends in the USA.  Maybe we shared some?

Tom opens a goodie box from friends in the USA. Maybe we shared some?

here is Tom opening and examining a “goodie” box from our dear friends in Aurora, Colorado.  They know us well and included items we like but that are unavailable anywhere in Georgia.  These boxes receive great reverence and the contents are used with some solemnity due to the love that sent them.  We even dubbed them “the love boxes”.

We close this post with a short video where Suzanne is walking from our house out to the main road.  You can see what a mess we have when it rains!

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Mestia: The Jewel of Georgia

The lovely weather of August urged us to make that promised trip into the mountains of Georgia.  Mestia, our destination, is a village in the historic province of Svaneti in northwest Georgia.  Check out this link for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svaneti

Day 1.  We started on Saturday, August 24, leaving early to get a marshutka to Zugdidi, our first stop.  In a few hours we arrived along with the rain. We had arrangements to stay in a Guesthouse that night and our hosts were nice enough to come pick us up.  After settling in the rain had stopped so we ventured our to explore the town.  Our first impression was that it was so clean!  There was one main road through the town and we spent most of the afternoon walking.  We stopped at a local café for a pizza which had, of all things, pickles on it.  There was a Smart store in the town and we headed there for some extra food supplies.  to our amazement, they had some microwave popcorn which we purchased and enjoyed that evening.  A Skype message from Costa Rica caused us to hustle back to our lodging for a visit with Stephen, Dana and the boys.

Not sure the type of tree this is but the shape was really different.

Not sure the type of tree this is but the shape was really different.

Day 2.  It rain through the night and was continuing as we got ready in the early morning.  Again our hosts were very considerate and gave us a ride to the next marshutka stop.  We rode around the small town for about an hour til the marsh was full of passengers and got underway.  Traveling to Svaneti is a most picturesque ride through the Enguri valley following the Enguri river.  Mountain views were very reminiscent of our own state of Colorado but the roads were several centuries older!  We arrived in Mestia in several hours and connected with our guest hostess, Rusiko, who took us to our guest house.  It was up a very steep, cobblestone road and we were grateful to have a car help us.

Suzanne making the long climb to our guest house in Mestia.

Suzanne making the long climb to our guest house in Mestia.

After getting settled in our room we were invited to have lunch which was served outside under a wonderfully cool grape arbor.  Familiar Georgian dishes were served most notably cucumber and tomato salad, eggplant, wonderful freshly baked rolls and delicious homemade jam.  After eating we ventured down the steep road and walked into the main part of town.  Unfortunately the electricity was out so we were unable to visit the Ethnological Museum or even stop for a nice cold drink.  We did meet a young woman who had been on the ride to Mestia with us and spent some time chatting with her.  Svetlana called herself a “citizen of the world” with dual citizenship in Russia and New Zealand.  Currently she is an IT  professional in charge of one of the venues at the Winter Olympics in Soci,  Russia, in 2014.  Walking back up the hill to our guest house took awhile….did I say how steep it really was???  Fellow PCV, Susan, and her Georgian counterpart, Eka, had arrived and we all prepared for dinner together.  Typical of Georgian hospitality, we were awarded with too much food to eat followed by a cup of tea.   After dinner we went to take a closer look at the towers that were positioned nearby many houses.  These “emblems of Svaneti” are defensive in nature and are designed to house villagers at times of invasion and strife.  About 175 of them still survive in Svaneti today.  I managed to climb up to the first level inside but Tom, Eka and Susan were adventurers and made it all the way to the top.  The cool evening signaled the time to return to our guesthouse and settle in for a good night’s rest before our trip on the next day to Ushguli.  See this link for more information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushguli

Day 3.  Destination: Ushguli, 7000+ ft.  Ushguli is comprised of 4 very small villages but they are close enough to walk to all of them.  Ushguli’s claim to fame is a belief that it is the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe.  As we approached the first small village I could see no life and thought it looked like a ghost town.  A little bit down the road we pulled into the 2nd village where there was the obvious movement of people and various animals.  We spent the next 4 hours trekking through the village and meeting its many interesting inhabitants.  First stop, however, was a very small window where some items of food and drink could be bought.  We had some lunch which our hosts had prepared for us so we bought a drink and took in the atmosphere around us.

The most spectacular view was Mt Shkhara which is the highest mountain in Georgia at 17,040 ft. and the 3rd highest in the Caucasus range.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shkhara

It is quite impressive and breath-taking.  Our walk through the village was eventful for the numbers of animals that roam freely including cows, hairy pigs, horses, chickens and sheep.  But more interesting were the people.  Most seemed very old although we know this way of life ages a person more quickly than city living. We chatted with a man who was a woodcarver and  had some of his wares on display along with some items made by his mother (or mother-in-law) that were woven.  We purchased a few things there.  And then as we continued our walk we stopped to chat with a man sitting on his steps and on the door of his house was a sign that read “Museum”.  At his urging we entered and found an upstairs room filled with memorabilia which included all kinds of articles from newspaper clips to full grown stuffed mountain goats.  It seemed something like a personal timeline of his life… homey, quaint, interesting and funny. As we talked, or I should say ‘communicated’, he took a Georgian instrument called a panduri from the wall, sat down and started to play and sing a Georgian folk melody.  It was a most lovely moment both intimate and generous.  We knew we were experiencing a few moments we would never forget.  After that we learned that he was 70 years old and his wife 68.  Gently we parted ways with them and continued our walk up the mountain to see the new little Orthodox church that was under construction.

“The hills are alive with the sound of….” silence mostly, but the beauty of the setting could make you want to sing.  Such a vast expanse of scenic beauty and the pastoral nature of the village left us quiet in thought and memorizing these scenes for the first and probably last time.

Day 4:  Our last day back in Mestia was less ambitious.  We walked the town again and finally did get to visit the beautiful Museum of History and Ethnography.

http://georgiaabout.com/2013/08/09/svaneti-museum-of-history-and-ethnography/

The rich history of the Svans is present in many artifacts that had been stored safely in private homes for hundreds of years.  Among the most impressive for us were the beautifully illuminated gospels dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries as well as golden crosses and icons dating from that same period.  Later we sat in the park in the center of the village and, while Tom napped on a bench, Susan, Eka and I talked about our life in the schools to which we would soon be returning. We also did some souvenir shopping which provided me with a nice jar of local Mestia honey.  Early to bed that night and ready for an early morning departure on the marshutka.

Please enjoy some of the many pictures we took during this trip:

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What happened to July?

It’s hard to believe that July has come and gone.  It felt like only yesterday Tom was in Khashuri, on July 1st, participating in a discussion panel with the new G13s  during their Pre-Service Training.  Then, very quickly we were both in Tbilisi, July 15th, attending their Swearing-In ceremony and wishing them luck in their new assignments. We followed this with a gathering of members of our own G-12 group to celebrate our 1st year of service.  It was a memorable day all around.

Group 13 and their program managers.

Group 13 and their program managers.

Those brave souls who made it to the one year gathering plus Sarah's brother.

Those brave souls who made it to the one year gathering plus Sarah’s brother.

Suzanne and Tom at our one year celebration.

Suzanne and Tom at our one year celebration.

During the first weeks of July, Suzanne had the opportunity to teach English conversation at a private English school in Batumi.  This was a great experience and very different from her normal public school.

One of two summer English classes Suzanne taught in Batumi.

One of two summer English classes Suzanne taught in Batumi.

The second of two English classes Suzanne taught in Batumi.

The second of two English classes Suzanne taught in Batumi.

Well back to our story.  No sooner had we gotten back to Gonio when Tom chipped a front tooth.  He was not sure how serious it was and was going to let it wait for our dental check-ups in September but our Peace Corps doctors insisted he have it taken care of ASAP.  So we were barely home one week when we were off to Tbilisi again.  Good thing too as the tooth needed more than just a polishing.

Tom and his new friend the dentist after she fixed his chipped tooth.

Tom and his new friend the dentist after she fixed his chipped tooth.

Suzanne tagged along for the dental visit, (she really loves the dentist, NOT)!  She came because Stephen, our youngest son, decided he could swing by for a short visit after he finished up some work in Geneva.  This was a nice surprise and we were really looking forward to his visit.

Stephen in Batumi by the Black Sea.

Stephen in Batumi by the Black Sea.

Several years ago Stephen was in Georgia along with Dana and he was looking forward to seeing the Western side of this country.  During his first visit their time was spent in the East in the regions near Tbilisi.  Stephen also wanted to re-connect with several graduate school colleagues he met and befriended when studying at the Central European University in Budapest.  So to say the least his days here would be filled.

We met Stephen at the Tbilisi airport at 3:30 AM on Saturday July 27th, took a cab to the Peace Corps office and stayed there until 6 AM when we left to catch the 7 AM train to Batumi.  We talked a lot and tried to sleep some but the excitement of having him here did not help us to sleep.  These were the first 2 of 4 train rides for us in just 4 days…..a plan we hope not to ever repeat.

We arrived at our village about 1:30, got Stephen settled and had a meal with members of our host family.  Our host dad was off on ambulance duty and could not join us until the next day.  The rest of Saturday was spent walking around our village and our sea-side boulevard.

That night and a good part of Sunday it rained and rained and rained.  This allowed us to have much-needed naps and some quality time with our son.  Stephen was also able to do some of his work.  Later in the day the rained stopped and we took a quick trip to Sarpi at the Georgian border with Turkey and  then visited the Gonio fortress just a short distance from our house.  Here is a link to information about this historic site which you might find interesting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonio

That evening we were on the night train back to the capital.  We had a cabin with 4 berths and the youngest member of the family got the top bunk.  After a very relaxing breakfast at the Holiday Inn (a lovely treat) we were guides showing Stephen some of the fun spots of Tbilisi.  These included the Funicular ride up to the top of the city and a Ferris wheel ride with spectacular sights of the city.  Our next meal was Georgian food across the street from the PC office.  One of our PC staff, Sue Miller, had worked with Stephen many years ago in Washington and this was a reunion of sorts which we were glad to arrange.  Delicious food, good conversation and friendship….you just can’t ask for more.  Then in a short while, Stephen’s friend Otar arrived to take him for the evening to share with mutual friends from their Budapest days.  A quick good-bye and he was gone while we began our trek back to the train station for our trip home.  A surprise awaited us as Tom’s Director, Levan, was sitting right behind us!

Stephen gets the upper berth on the train ride to Tbilisi.

Stephen gets the upper berth on the train ride to Tbilisi.

Suzanne takes the lower berth on the train ride to Tbilisi.

Suzanne takes the lower berth on the train ride to Tbilisi.

On the Ferris Wheel high above Tbilisi.

On the Ferris Wheel high above Tbilisi.

July is birthday month not only for Tom but also our host dad, Nodar.  This was appropriately celebrated with the host family.

Tom's 69th birthday cake.

Tom’s 69th birthday cake.

Tom and host dad Nodar. Nodar's birthday was July 23rd so he and Tom celebrated together.

Tom and host dad Nodar. Nodar’s birthday was July 23rd so he and Tom celebrated together.

July also found the two of use traveling to our PST site, Telavi, and a quick visit with our PST host family.  It was a good and happy visit but all to short.

With our PST host mom, Nana and Bebia Zizi in Telavi, Georgia

With our PST host mom, Nana and Bebia Zizi in Telavi, Georgia

Nana, Nino, Tom and Suzanne in Telavi, Georgia.

Nana, Nino, Tom and Suzanne in Telavi, Georgia.

Our PSG host sister Nino on the right with her sister Sopo and brother Zura in Telavi, Georgia

Our PST host sister Nino on the right with her sister Sopo and brother Zura in Telavi, Georgia

American Corners, a part of the Batumi Library and sponsored by the U.S. Embassy is a place we visit often and occasionally offer insights to American life.  Suzanne gave a presentation about our Independence Day celebrations to a very interested group of Georgian Youth.

Suzanne at American Corner's Library giving a 4th of July presentation.

Suzanne at American Corner’s Library giving a 4th of July presentation.

The month ended with us being a part of  “Culture in the States”, another U. S. Embassy sponsored initiative to share American ways with Georgians.  We opted for an American BBQ and are proud to say it was a great success.  To help us out we got the local McDonalds to donate the hamburger buns and patties while we supplied the fixings.

Summer BBQ at American Corners Library.

Summer BBQ at American Corners Library.

More fun at the summer BBQ.

More fun at the summer BBQ.

We even made it on the local television nightly news!

All in all July was a very busy but fulfilling month and we hope the next 11 will be the same.

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ბების ჭაჭა – Bebia’s Chacha.

In previous posts we have mentioned the Georgian’s love for wine and for their home-made vodka called ChaCha.

Here is a Wikipedia link to learn more about this drink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chacha_(brandy)

The purpose for this post is to give a first hand account of making ჭაჭა. In our little village of Gonio, just 6 km from the resort city of Batumi we live with our host grandmother Margarita Kakhidze, an 84 year old retired Russian language teacher. She is the matriarch of our host family and also the producer and keeper of the ჭაჭა.

This is our Bebi, Margarita.

This is our Bebi, Margarita.

From the Wikipedia article referenced above, you learned that ჭაჭა is produced from a variety of fruits.  Ours comes from Mulberries harvested from the huge mulberry tree at the front of our house.  Throughout Spring when the mulberries began dropping from the tree the family began the arduous task of gathering them all up from the ground.  Some were hand picked but others were caught in large tarps stretched out beneath the tree.  We experienced several days when the weather was really violent with rain and wind.  This played havoc with the tarps, but I don’t believe many mulberries were lost.

The collected mulberries ended up in two  500 liter barrels, that’s about 55 gallons each.  Water and whatever else is needed was added to this mixture and the “mash” was set aside to age.

One of the barrels used to prepare the "Mash"

One of the barrels used to prepare the “Mash”

Last week we were sitting in our room reading or working on the computer when the smell of smoke began coming through the door.  We weren’t concerned about the house being on fire since everything is make of stone.  Our concern was what to do as we did not want to have a smoky room.  As we mentioned in other posts, having open fires is not uncommon here and the sight and smell of smoke can be seen or smelled almost every day, but this was different.   We looked out our window and did not see any smoke, we looked out front but could not find any smoke there. Finally we went to the side of the house and there was smoke.

The source of the smoke, fire under the ჭაჭა still.

The source of the smoke, fire under the ჭაჭა still.

When I first heard the Bebia made the ჭაჭა I wasn’t sure what type of device the family had.  All I could imagine was the still seen in old movies about moonshiners in the hills of Tennessee, something like this:

Picture of a moonshine still

Picture of a moonshine still

I could not imagine the size or bulk of this device.  Now I was told this is not owned by our host family but rather only on loan as it cost about $400.00.  Here is a few more pictures of this process.

With the lid off, you can the "mash" that will become ჭაჭა.

With the lid off, you can see the “mash” that will become ჭაჭა.

All put together and fired up the still is ready to go.

All put together and fired up the still is ready to go.

Our host dad, Nodar, tends the fire.

Our host dad, Nodar, tends the fire.

Tom and Bebia holding a 2 liter jug of ჭაჭა.

Tom and Bebia holding a 2 liter jug of ჭაჭა.

Here we have the 20 liter bottle of ჭაჭა resting with the other canned goods and cheese.

Here we have the 20 liter bottle of ჭაჭა resting with the other canned goods and cheese.

It is my understanding there is still another distilling process that has to happen before the finished product is ready to drink.  I will keep you posted on the final results during a later post.  For now enjoy this short movie.

 

This is a method Georgian’s use to show off  the quality of their ChaCha.  They light it and check the color.

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A family visit!

May had a very good begining. David and Tasha made the long trek from Denver, first to Istanbul, Turkey then to our village of Gonio. They met our host family over a traditional Georgian meal where all had a great time toasting everything under the sun. They arrived on Monday evening, May 6th, the Georgian holiday of St. George. This was a test as they flew from Istanbul to our airport in Batumi. A test because we had heard that sometimes flights here are often canceled for the simplest of reasons but this did not happen. Since they had spent a few days in Turkey they were not as tired as they could have been had they flown straight from the US. Here are some pictures of their visits, come relive it with us.

CLICK ON EACH PICTURE TO GET A LARGER VIEW.

Young kids dressed in regional garb handing out samples of Georgian treats to arriving visitors.

Young kids dressed in regional garb handing out samples of Georgian Baklava to arriving visitors.

Here comes David and Tasha!

David and Tasha arrive safely at Batumi airport! The airport is  very small as you can see from the arrivial area.

Now we have Suzanne with the full host family., Meri, Bebia, Suzanne, Eliso, Aliko and Nodar.

Now we have Suzanne with the full host family., Meri, Bebia, Suzanne, Eliso, Aliko and Nodar.

Another picture of Nodar, Tom, Tasha, David, Aliko, Suzanne and Meri.

Another picture of Nodar, Tom, Tasha, David, Aliko, Suzanne and Meri.

Our host mother, Meri, prepared a wonderful meal for the kids.

Our host mother, Meri, prepared a wonderful Georgian meal for the family guests.

Suzanne, Tasha and David in our room in Gonio.

Suzanne, Tasha and David in our room in Gonio.  In the background on our door you can see some of Kylan’s wonderful artwork.

David taking a picture of one of the many unfinished apartment/condo buildings on the Black Sea beach front.

David taking a picture of one of the many unfinished apartment/condo buildings on the Black Sea beach front.

Lunch and a tast of Adjarian Katchapuri.  This is a very hot bread dish with an egg, butter and cheese in the middle. It is hot enough to cook the egg and melt the rest.

Lunch and a taste of Adjaran Katchapuri. This is a very hot bread dish with an egg, butter and cheese in the middle. It is hot enough to cook the egg and melt the rest.  These are always a treat but sharing one is the only way to go!

A brief vist to Tom's office.

A brief vist to Tom’s office.

Dinner with PCVs Amy Harris and Richard Letrende

Dinner with PCVs Amy Harris and Richard Letrende.  We ate at one of our favorite Adjaran restaurants and the food was delicious and filling.  Amy and Richard had stories to tell and Tasha and David enjoyed the evening.

At one of the many fountains in Batumi.

At one of the many fountains in Batumi as we walk the city.

David trying to take a picture of the wine bottle label on the train ride to Tbilisi.

David trying to take a picture of the wine bottle label on the train ride to Tbilisi.  On this trip we were some of the first people to ride the newest train, a recent arrival from China.

In front of Javri monastery.

In front of the Church of the Holy Cross.  This is one of the most outsstanding monuments of Georgian architecture and a center of pilgrimage for Christian nations of the Caucasus.  This site is awarded the UNESCO site, a World Heritage List confirming its universal cultural value.

Hanging out with our driver/guide.

Hanging out with our driver/guide who took us on a day tour of some important sites in the capital city, Tbilisi.  This is our starting point, Mtskheta, where the first church was built in the beginning of the 4th century.

There is a funny story about this sign which indicates there is a woman's toliet down the stairs.

There is a funny story about this sign which indicates there is a woman’s toliet down the stairs.  Tasha and Suzanne had a good laugh but you’ll have to wait for the long explanation!

One of the many tourist shops in Meskheta.

One of the many tourist shops in Meskheta. Lovely handmade scarves, slippers, bags, etc. are offered at the many tourist shops in this area.  Christmas shopping anyone???

The tour group in Meskheta.

The tour group in Meskheta.  This is the Jarvi Georgian Orthodox Monastery in this same area in Mtskheta.  It is still and active monastery for a small number of Orthodox monks.

One of thesteel gates to the monastery in Meskheta.

One of the steel gates to the monastery in Meskheta.

A view of part of Tbilisi from the Tbilisi fortress.

A view of part of Tbilisi from the Tbilisi fortress overlooking the Kura River.  The Fortress was originally built in the 4th century and expanded in the 10th century by King David the Builder. It lies on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi.

Tom, David and Tasha high up the fortress wall.

Tom, David and Tasha high up the fortress wall. Suzanne was the photographer for this photo as she didn’t feel compelled to do the climb.

High upon the fortress wall in Tbilisi.

High upon the fortress wall in Tbilisi.  In 1827, parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake.

One of the many statues of King George.

One of the many statues of King George.

Another view of the high perch.

Another view of the high perch.

Looking down the row of Turkish baths found in the bath section of Tbilisi.

Looking down the row of Turkish sulfur baths found in Tbilisi below the Fortress.  They are still in use today.

What a lovely couple!

What a lovely couple!

Approaching Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi.  This is to Georgian Orthodox as St. Perer's in Rome is to the Catholics.

Approaching Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. This is to the Georgian Orthodox as St. Peter’s in Rome is to the Catholics Church.

 

For those who would like to do any further reading about these places here are a few links to try:

Mtskheta:             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mtskheta

Jvari (monastery):     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jvari_(monastery)

Tbilisi Sulpher baths:           http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2012/02/04/sulphur-baths-tbilisi/   or check out this youtube site:          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrPbxPHfkWk

Batumi:    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batumi

 

 

 

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Can you believe it has been a year since we left Colorado for the Peace Corps?

Well it’s true. We left our house in Aurora, CO on April 26th 2012 and headed for Philadelphia, PA for visits with family and friends before heading to staging with the other new PC Volunteers. We would soon become known as G12s the newest volunteers for the country of Georgia. Now it is the beginning for a whole new crew who arrived April 23rd and are full of enthusiasm and excitement and questions!

We’ve decided this time to take a look back at our year with pictures we’ve taken, some of which reflect the theme “what you would never see in Aurora”! We hope you enjoy looking at them and reading a bit about our journey in this country.

Sunset over the Black Sea.

Sunset over the Black Sea.

This is the place to be in the evening when the weather is warm and balmy.      It brings peacefulness and splendor to the end of a busy day.    It reminds us of how small we are in this world of many cultures but also presents possibilities of moving across the water to find something, someone new to greet.

The high Caucasus mountains.

The high Caucasus mountains.

From the Black Sea to the majestic Caucasus Mountains…..this view in winter is taken in Telavi where we spent our first 3 months in training.  The grey band in the middle is really a heavy fog bank covering the Telavi valley.  The many small villages normally seen from this location are blocked by the fog while the white caps capture your eyes.

When you want to really fill up, tilt the bus.

When you want to really fill up, tilt the bus.

It is an oddity here in Georgia……  for some reason many vehicles are raised on the gas tank side so that the tank can be filled to the brim.  We have yet to figure out the need for this other than it might be many miles before the same type of service station is available.  What we don’t have pictures for the many times we have seen customers fill all sorts of plastic bottles and jugs with gasoline.

The sign spells out HAMBUGER.

The sign spells out HAMBURGER.

Fast food!  This is one of many Hamburger stands in the local bazaar.  Now the hamburger is really half a loaf of bread pressed between the hot plates of something similar to a George Forman grill.  It is filled with sausage slices, cheese, onions, a cooked egg and, if you want some spices.  Mayo and ketchup are also an option.  The finished product is a sandwich that is about a 1/2 inch thick.

Giant Azalea bush.

Giant Azalea bush.

Yes, this is an amazing Azalea bush in one of the larger parks of Batumi.  We took this in early April.  The weather was still changing from cold to warm but it didn’t seem to bother the many flowering plants.  You find almost every kind of plant life here from tropical palms to holly bushes and trees.  Many of the trees don’t ever lose their leaves even in the coldest winters.

Oh Christmas Tree, Georgian style

Oh Christmas Tree, Georgian style

Chichilaki is the name of these cute little Georgian Christmas trees.  They range in size from 6 inches up to 3 feet.  They are made from walnut branches that are shaved to form the shape.  Just a few decorations are added.  Our familiar Christmas tree is also available both live and fake but most families don’t buy them.  After Christmas these walnut trees are burned in the home fire.

Winter comes and so does the "petchi" stove.

Winter comes and so does the “petchi” stove.

Our host family (Dad, Mom, Grandma) are putting up the petchi stove for the fast approaching winter weather.  The stove is put in the main living room and stays in the house until today (May 4th).  New pipes are installed each year.  It is used to heat part of the house, bake the bread and cook some food.  There is always hot water for tea (chi)!  The room gets a bit crowded when we are all trying to stay warm….7 bodies!

Mr. Ambassador and Nicole serve Thanksgiving dinner.

Mr. Ambassador and Nicole serve Thanksgiving dinner.

The U.S. Ambassador,  along with fellow PCV Nicole, are graciously serving our very own Thanksgiving dinner.  We were well over 100 people gathered and the volunteers did all the cooking except for the actual turkeys which the Peace Corps staff supplied.  We had all the fixin’s’ including pumpkin pie with cream whip (if you were lucky).  This was truly a fun evening of fellowship and conversation along with a good supply of wine!

Georgian barbeque.

Georgian barbecue.

This is our host family member, Aleko, at the barbecue pit.  In Georgia, the word “barbecue”means only the food you eat.  As you can see they set up the cooking elements from cinder blocks and some type of grill pan.  They don’t understand what we call a barbecue grill or that it can be a meal without meat!  So our experience is that we have chicken on a skewer cooked over a wood fire.  No charcoal briquettes here!

Meri picks oranges from the family grove.

Meri picks oranges from the family grove.

Time to pick the lemons, the oranges and the mandarins!  And our host Mom, Meri, is just the lady to do it.  She is a physics teacher,  a gardener , a chef, a farmer who tills the field, plants and harvests, and so many jobs that I can get tired just watching her.

No driers in Georgia.

No driers in Georgia.

When traveling through a village it is usual to see folks’ laundry hanging in the front of their house.  We haven’t seen any clothes driers at all in this country although there probably are some in the big cities. They don’t hang in the back of the house because that area is usually full of large trees.  In the apartment houses, there are many lines stretched out over the parking lots attached to free-standing poles.  No need to be bashful in this country because everyone has seen your underwear!

Cows have the right of way.

Cows have the right of way.

This poor cow is all alone.  This is very  unusual as these beasts mostly travel in herds.  It is a common sight to see them on the road stopping cars and buses….much to the dismay of many drivers.  They are protected, however, by law and hitting one will cost you plenty.  They are considered someone’s livelihood and are given the respect they deserve.  Just always watch where you are stepping!

Now we know where Elvis lives.

Now we know where Elvis lives.

Who knew????  We found this bit of Americana quite by accident when we were traveling around Tbilisi.  They advertise all sorts of goodies familiar to us (hot dogs, fries, shakes, pizza, etc.) but it was still morning so we didn’t partake.  BUT we will go back and check it out when we get really homesick for a good hotdog and shake!

Easter Vigil, 2013 -- Church of the Holy Spirit, Batumi, Georgia.

Easter Vigil, 2013 — Church of the Holy Spirit, Batumi, Georgia.

Christ is Risen!  (That is the translation of the banner held by the angels.)  And how could we not go to the Easter Vigil?  Luckily, Suzanne has most of it memorized as it was all in Georgian language.  2 Adults and 2 children were baptised amid a crushing crowd of relatives, friends and several television cameras.  We made the TV the next day!  Some of you may have seen a picture of the Easter fire which put our churches to shame.  It was a lovely, memorable, grace-filled evening.

We end this post with a series of pictures of other events we have yet to see in Aurora, Colorado.  If anyone has seen these things in recent memory please don’t let us know.  We want to keep our innocence.

****

Construction of the Gonio Boulevard.

Construction of the Gonio Boulevard.

The Black Sea is to the left.  Here I am standing on the “New Boulevard” being built along our beach in Gonio.

Cable car (Funicular) in Tbilisi

Cable car (Funicular) in Tbilisi

In Tbilisi there is this cable car which takes you up the hill to a park and the Georgian Church of Saint David.  Quite a sight and ride.

Public water fountain.

Public water fountain.

Most water public water fountains at home have on-off valves.  In Georgia you will find many fountains just bubbling away waiting for a thirsty soul.

A street during the rainy season.

A street during the rainy season.

Paved streets are only in the big cities.  Here in our village we have to navigate around the many puddles after the rain.

Georgian ჩურჩხელა (churchkhela).

Georgian ჩურჩხელა (churchkhela).

Suzanne helped make the Churchkhela this year.  These are hazelnuts dipped in a thick grape juice mixture.

Shirt Mop on a stick.

Shirt Mop on a stick.

The caption is correct.  You do see regular mops in some of the bigger stores but most often you will see women using this contraption – a T shaped device with a damp old shirt wrapped around it.  Interesting and it works.

Fresh water from the mountain spring.

Fresh water from the mountain spring.

For good clean and cool water we take trips to the local spring to fill up our plastic containers.  We still run ours through our water filters before drinking.

Men straightening out metal rebar.

Men straightening out metal rebar.

Nothing seem to go to waste here except trash and plastic bags.  In this picture men are using sledge hammers to straighten out bent rebar salvaged from a building just demolished.

Georgian wheel chair ramp.

Georgian wheel chair ramp.

We are used to the Americans with Disabilities Act and all the changes made for wheel chairs.  Here in Georgia they are making progress.  Here is an example of wheel chair accessibility on a set of stairs going up to a road cross over bridge.  Just don’t lose your grip on the way down!

This final entry is a short video of something you should not see in Aurora or all of Colorado for that matteer.

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But Tom forgot to say…..

I was unavailable for comment last night so Tom posted without me. So, let me fill in a few blank spots for you.

The writing competition was for “creating” writing. An important distinction as the Georgian students don’t seem to understand this concept. It is a learning experience as well as a competition.
The starters for their essays were according to grade level. For instance: for grade 9 one of the starters was “If clouds were edible what would they taste like”. Another class had “What should be free for everyone in the world”? I liked one of the 12th grade prompts: “If death were a person, what would he/she be like”. I think those of us who proctored went home with a lot of new ideas floating around in our brains. It was very stimulating.

Two important items for us are: 1. a visit from David and Tasha in May, and 2. 4 March birthdays to celebrate. D & T will come east to visit and combine that with some time in Turkey. Do I really need to tell you how excited we are to have them come? (Of course, NOT) The 4 birthdays were our host mother, Meri, who is a leap year baby but she celebrates on March 1st (she is 12 at present), then yours truly (whose age is irrelevant), on the 11th Aleko turned 18 and on the 17th Eliso was 16. Can you even imagine all the cake that was baked? The teens party was a joint affair on St. Patrick’s Day with lots of family and friends coming to eat an incredible amount of home-prepared food.

Since Tom’s theme was the arrival of Spring, I was surprised that he didn’t mention the calla lily plants that are blooming in our front yard. Despite a very cold, humid winter we are in a tropical zone and many plants and trees seem to survive the harsh weather just fine. Daffodils are plentiful in the yards around us and forsythia is blooming. Vegetable gardens are already being prepared by some as we see them turning over the ground in preparation for planting.

A sign of Spring.

A sign of Spring.

Now here is an FYI…teachers take note! There is no such thing as a substitute teacher in our village and I suspect in most of the country. When a teacher must be out for any reason, the class schedule gets changed for that day. Can you imagine what havoc that creates? Teachers are moved to other classes and the schedule gets changed as well as the rooms. I spent more than a few days recently trying to find out where I was supposed to be! It usually means a skipped class for some students as well as an earlier dismissal. When I explain to my counterparts about our “substitute” teachers in the U.S. they are envious.

Finally, some of you may know that besides our primary duties as teacher or business person the Peace Corps encourages us to find way to improve our primary communities. Here in Gonio, we are the 3rd PC volunteers at the school. So my predecessors were able, among other things, to get funding for an English Cabinet. The word ‘cabinet’ in Georgian merely means a room or office, and so an English cabinet is a designated English room at the school. We have our own computer and some other useful resources such as a small library of English books. I hope to be able to expand the availability of some good books for the 10 to 16 age group as these are the ones most needed. However, my major aim for the school is to achieve a Science cabinet. Biology, Chemistry and Physics are taught with very old equipment and minimal supplies. So, once we have a full explanation of what is needed I will be attempting to write a SPA grant to try to fund this adventure. The science teachers are very excited and, of course, this means work for them as they must provide me with lots of information of what they need, the costs of everything, etc. So…that will keep me busy all this spring and probably into the summer. My hope is that we can have completion for the start of next September!

We LOVE hearing from YOU. Keep those cards and letters coming folks (a prize for the person who can remember who said that at the end of every radio/TV show)!

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Spring is in the air.

There is a song entitled “Spring is in the air” which goes like this:

Winter’s gone away,
Spring is in the air!
Winter’s gone away,
Spring is in the air!
Winter’s gone away,
Spring is in the air!
Winter’s gone, let’s go outside, it is spring!

Flowers start to grow,
Spring is in the air!
Flowers start to grow,
Spring is in the air!
Flowers start to grow,
Spring is in the air!
Flowers grow, no more snow, it is spring!

Warm and sunny days,
Spring is in the air!
Warm and sunny days,
Spring is in the air!
Warm and sunny days,
Spring is in the air!
Warm days, sun’s rays, spring is here!

http://listenandlearn.bandcamp.com/track/spring-is-in-the-air-2

And that is what it is like here in the village of Gonio, Adjara, Georgia.

The weather is a mixture of warm and cool days and chilly nights but you can tell that the seasons are a changing.  The days are growing longer and the young frogs in the ponds nearby are growing louder.

Not much has happened since the excitement of Suzanne’s ambulance ride to Tbilisi followed by her appendectomy, I am back at Young Scientists Union “Intellect” and she is back at Batumi School #30.

It’s hard to believe Easter is only 12 days away, where has Lent gone?  Not sure how we will celebrate here, next Sunday we will see about attending Palm Sunday services and get the information about the Easter services.  For Georgians, Easter is May 5th and May 6th, Easter Monday is a holiday.

But this is not to say everything had been quite.  For the English teachers, the regional English writing competition was held.  This was an interesting exercise as kids from grades 9 thru 12 got to participate.  We met at Batumi School #2 and divided the contenders up by class, explained the rules – they had one hour to write their essay – then gave them the topics.   Each class level had two prompts, i.e. a sentence which gave the information on what to write.  Those participating chose one of the two prompts and began their task.  From the regional competition, several will be selected to participate in the country competition.  Good luck to all who came.

After this event we were invited to help moderate the college version of the same competition which was scheduled for the following week.  The same rules applied but the topics were much different.  We will know more about the winners in a few days.

This period also saw the G11s, those volunteers who came the year before us, attend their COS (Close of Service) conference.  It’s at this meeting all the paperwork, yes there is more, that needs to be completed before leaving one’s assignment and heading home is handed out.  Volunteers also get to choose their departure day and when they can get the last medical tests.  Some volunteers go directly home while others make plans to travel as part of their route back to the states.  They also share stories, listen to speeches by various dignitaries and generally have a good time as it is most likely the last time many will see each other for a long time.

What this all means is that in a few short months we will be the “old” group, the seniors.  This also signals that the new group, the G13s, will soon be arriving.  That date is April 23, 2013.  Two of the members of the incoming group are my მეგობარები, that’s friends in Georgian, and  I have been exchanging emails with them answering any questions they might have and sending them information about what to expect when they arrive and for the first 3 months.  All very interesting.   I hope to travel to Tbilisi on the 23rd and meet them at the airport when they arrive.

March is a busy month here for birthdays.  Not only did our host mother celebrate her birthday, but also Suzanne, Aleko and Eliso.  Happy birthday to them all.

Well that about all there is for now so I will end by wishing you all a happy spring and happy Easter.

Best wishes from the lovely country of Georgia.

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Three o’clock in the morning, is there a doctor in the house?

Sunday morning January 27th 2013, 3am.  Suzanne was having difficulty with some pretty serious pain which had started much earlier in the evening.  It was serious enough that we called our PCMO, that is the Peace Corps Medical Officer, and also woke up our host dad who is a doctor.

They conferred and thought it might just be spasms so an antispasmodic medication was given to her.  The hours passed. Things seemed to quieted down, but by 5:30 AM the pain was back with a vengeance.

Another call to the PCMO and it was decided a trip to the hospital was necessary but which one?  Near our site is a well equipped medical center. But in Tbilisi, near the Peace Corps office, is another hospital which is prefered by the PC and which is excellent.  Arguing for the closest site didn’t win.  The PC doctor felt they didn’t have the ability to do some procedures and didn’t want us to lose time there.  As this decision is being made Tom pulls out a suitcase and starts putting clothes in….meanwhile, Suzanne is trying to give him suggestions on what to take while trying to control the pain.

Now here is the good part…. the Peace Corps arranged for an ambulance to come to the house.  Once there they checked Suzanne and cleared her for the trip to Tbilisi.  If they had detected anything to prevent this, the trip would have been to the medical center near our site.  So it was off to Tbilisi on a 5 hour trip with an occasional siren sounding to move us quickly through traffic.  As we are settling into the ambulance, we realize the whole family is now up and very concerned for me.  Our host mother sees only one blanket in the ambulance and runs to the house for another one for Suzanne.  In the pitch dark of early morning we are all settling in and saying goodbye to our host family.

I’m not sure how I managed to stay silent during that ride.  I had been given no meds of any kind.  Tom says I fell asleep but I don’t remember doing so.  We arrived at the hospital ‘Medi-Club Georgia’ and very quickly I was evaluated, given a CT scan and learned I had acute appendicitis.  Since I was stable the decision was to operate the  next morning.  The operation was a laproscopy and went very well.  The rest is pretty boring…a 4 day hospital stay in a very, very nice room with minimal meds and interruptions.  The staff was excellent and the food okay (a soft diet).  The only real issue I had was that I didn’t sleep very well the whole time I was there.  There were very strict visiting rules but Tom managed to circumvent them, clever sleuth that he is, and be with me most of the time.  “No eye contact” was his method!

Finally, I was released but needing to stay in Tbilisi til the stitches came out…about 5 days.  Tom had been staying at a hostel that the PCVs used but said it wasn’t appropriate for recovering so he booked us at the Holiday Inn.  It was wonderful as I slept well and we went out for short walks each day extending them just a bit.  Today the stitches came out and we have tickets on the early train tomorrow for Batumi/Gonio.

One final note…I  have achieved great status among the PCVs as surviving surgery in a foreign country.  Thru no effort of my own.  All the plaudits go to the Peace Corps doctor (Dr. Tamara) who was with me every step of the way as my advocate, my advisor, my friend.  She was tireless especially since our other doctor was on vacation and there were 3 volunteers in the hospital! I am so very grateful for the regulations that are in place for our benefit and for the first rate facilities chosen for our care.  And I am totally confident that every PCV would be offered the same assistance in whatever health situation they may find themselves around the world.

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