Wednesday, June 17, 2009


All our documents are in order. We went to church. We're nervous as hell. We're off tonight to Tbilisi... at 9:30 tomorrow morning, Rezo has his visa interview. Wish us luck!

Friday, June 12, 2009


This funny little fruit is called a mushmula. It is very delicious. I've eaten about 100 of them in the past couple of days.

Now children, play nice...

Our power was off during the day every day for almost three weeks. Finally, on Wednesday, they finished the work, and we had our power back. Yay! Yesterday we had power all day. Then today, around 10.... off it went.

Why? As it turns out, the company that has control over the power switches in the city was miffed that they didn't win the contract to do the work changing the power meters. So to punish the company doing the work, which is still trying to finish everything, and whose workers get paid only when the work is done, and who needed power to do what they were doing today, they just turned off the whole city. Or at least our whole neighborhood.

Um, childish much?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Went swimming this morning for the first time this season. The water was wonderful. I paddled around for about half an hour, swimming out a few meters, then swimming back, over and over. Rezo gets nervous when I go too far out for him to "save" me, should the need arise, since he's not much of a swimmer himself. The Black Sea is full of jellyfish that don't sting, which delights me. They're fun to scoop up. As floaty as they are in the water, they're kind of rubbery in your palm. Then you hurl them back into the water and think, “Wow, I bet that jellyfish never knew it would fly one day...”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Let me tell you a story

They looked at each other over their steins of watered-down local beer. In the distance across the bay a fog obscured the peaks of the mountains. The sea washed silently against the port wall; the impending rain had transformed its hue from blue-green to gray-green. Further out a few freight ships waited their turn to dock and unload, but this close to the bar the only thing in the sea was a solitary orange bobber, which demarcated for those in the know how far out they can swim without being fined. It was a trap for milking tourists.

They looked at each other for a while, then looked out over the port. It was a strange location for a bar, but the view was still breathtaking, as far as the girl was concerned, and it was close to home.

The boy spoke up. "In August, when we were talking online and the lights went out, that was because the Russians were bombing us. They blacked out the whole city. Everyone stood out on the street to watch. We didn't have any bomb shelters, so what did it matter if we sat at home or out on the street? The places they bombed weren't military at all, they were just regular streets with houses, like ours. And they weren't small bombs, either. One bomb fell on a car and didn't explode. It was twice as big as the car, both in length and width. It was just luck that it didn't explode, who knows how much damage a bomb of that size would have caused if it had exploded.

"One time when we went into blackout, they forgot to turn the streetlamps off on our street. Imagine, the entire city is dark except our little street. Of course, we called and they turned our lights off too right away.

"It's funny what a person can get used to. The war only lasted five days, but even within that time, we got used to just waiting. When the lights went out, we just had to wait to see if we'd be next. The waiting is the worst part."

The boy paused and took a swig of his beer. Gazing out over the now-empty port, he continued, "You can't imagine what this port looked like then. Every American military vessel in the Black Sea gathered right here in Batumi. They were ready to jump in and help us if given the signal. Not just little ships either, but huge warships. Imagine what would have happened if some drunken Russian pilot took it into his head to drop a bomb on one of those ships. The Americans would have responded, and there'd have been war between the US and Russia.

"See those silos over there, across the bay? They're filled with oil. If the Russians had bombed them, there'd have been a chain reaction and the whole city would have gone. Thank God the Americans were there, and the Russians didn't dare to bomb us anymore.

"So while Europe did nothing, America really helped us. They were ready to help militarily at any moment, if it came to that. I know you don't like Bush, and maybe he did a lot of bad stuff for you at home, I don't know, I've never been there to see, but he truly saved us from Russia, and I can never think he was a bad person and I will always respect him for that."

The boy fell silent once again. Throughout his monologue, the girls eyes had not fallen from his face even once, though he looked off into the distance as he spoke. Now he looked at her for the first time, and his eyes grew wide when he saw that hers were brimming with tears. "Hey," he said a little roughly, shaking his head. "What is that?"

The girl wiped her eyes quickly and said, "It's just that I didn't know, and I'm imagining everyone I know here standing out on our little street just waiting to be bombed, and it's awful. When you went offline suddenly that day last August, I scoured the internet for information about what was happening here, but there was none. No one knew what was happening, and even now no one there knows what happened. Why would they bomb Batumi? You're not even close to Abhazia or South Ossetia. And why bomb Poti? And Gori? And Kutaisi? There was just no information. But now I know."

And now you know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Two-week Update

Time slips by unnoticed when you don't have work or school to worry about, so I was quite surprised when I realized almost two weeks have passed since I arrived. It has rained a couple times, it got blistering hot for a few days, and for now we've settled into a partly-sunny, cool-in-the-house couple of days. Here, have some vignettes:


The power has been out during the day every day since I got here, including the weekends. They've been replacing the electric meters in the neighborhood, but apparently this whole side of town is on one power switch, so we've all been sitting in relative darkness for two weeks, sometimes till 9 or 10 at night. There's no A/C anyway, but it's also meant no fans, no internet, no TV, no baking (the oven is electric), and food going bad in the fridge. They say today's the last day, but they've said that every day for the past two weeks, so who knows if it's really true or not. [NOTE: By evening they told us four more days. Sigh.]


In culinary adventures, I made tacos for my fam the other day, which were met with rave reviews. There's a sauce here that fairly closely approximates salsa, I brought with me all the spices for the meat, and Armenian lavash is practically the same as tortillas. All in all, a success. We had one rainy day when the electricians didn't work, and I baked banana bread. It was also a hit; next time we have power I'm making a double batch.

On my end, I'm still getting accustomed to all Georgian food, all the time. Inga (future mom-in-law), luckily, understands that I can't handle a lot of really fatty food, and in general doesn't use much salt at all, but nonetheless my diet here is much richer and heavier than at home, with much fewer fruits and vegetables. Sometimes this makes me fell really ill (actually, the last few days I feel ill almost all the time), and the thought of eating more bread and meat and cheese nearly brings me to tears. But mostly I try to keep a good attitude and mix a little of "when in Rome..." with introducing my own, vegetable-rich recipes.

Rezo says that's all well and good, but he has reminded me several times that it's okay both to not eat what they put in front of me if I don't want to, and that it's okay to ask for more veggies and fruits. They're just not used to it, so they forget to buy them. After the latest round of Alli-clearly-has-an-upset-tummy, brought on by a breakfast of meat dumplings, a lunch of fried cornmeal cakes and cheese, and a mid-afternoon snack of khachapuri (more bread and cheese), I gently reminded Inga that not all of us were born with carnivorous intestines, and could I please have something not from an animal? They bought me fruits and veggies. :) Including a DELICIOUS local fruit called a mushmula, which tastes a little like a Sweettart and which I ate about 7 of. Num num.


I've gotten a first-hand look at the Georgian bureaucracy as I've followed Rezo around while he applied for his passport. Things kept coming up which slowed the process. The first day Rezo showed up with too little money; he didn't know how much it was going to cost. The next day he discovered that his ID was expired, and he had to renew it before he could apply for a passport. So we stood in line for about 45 minutes at the civil registry to turn that in. "In line" is a broad term; it was more like standing in a very tight clump of sweaty people who were worried about losing their place, despite the established order (I guess not without reason; there were occasional cutters). I've gotten used to people in this part of the world standing much closer than they do in the US, but when this one woman's ample bosom kept squishing into my arm, I really wanted to say "Geez, lady, we all know you're next. Back off!"

Anyway, the next day we picked up Rezo's new ID, then had to leave and come back to apply for the passport later, because right then the whole place went on break for two hours. When we got back, we got all the way to the front of the line just before closing and realized we'd left a document at home. By this point, I wasn't even frustrated anymore; I just laughed, it had all gotten so absurd. The next day we finally got everything turned in, and on the 10th we can go pick up his new passport. Then we'll jump right on the visa application process.


Reziko and I have been working on his English. We agreed when I arrived that we'd set aside 2 hours a day, from 3 to 5, just for English. He's a good student and is picking things up quickly (though probably not as quickly as he'd like; we're very similar in that regard, we like things to turn out RIGHT AWAY). Hopefully, by the end of the summer he'll be ready to start his "real" English classes at Kirkwood.


An acquaintance of mine, Dave, decided to include Batumi in his summer travels, so we spent a few days showing him around. We walked around the zoo and the Boulevard (by the sea) one day. The next day we drove out to the Green Cape and Botanical Gardens, where the views are absolutely stunning and there are plants and trees from all over the world. Sometime in the 19th century a Frenchman came and planted the gardens; when the Communists arrived in 1921 he headed back to France, but the garden remained and has been growing for 100 years. For Dave's last day in town, Rezo invited him over for a taste of real Georgian hospitality. Inga and Liana cooked up a storm, and over the course of four and a half hours or so we made our way through almost 10 liters of wine. It was nice to not be the guest of honor for a change. While the guys regaled Dave with Georgian history and traditions, I was able to sit back, relax, and have side conversations of my own. I remember wondering back in December and January why people at the table talked while the tamada was giving toasts, bu I've come to realize that you can only listen to the same nine toasts in various permutations so often before finding your own conversation more interesting. After dinner, we packed Dave off in a train to Tbilisi, where he'll spend a few days before continuing his journey around Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

"The Fall"

The other day Rezo and I were hanging out in our room when we heard an awful thud and then cries of pain. A man had fallen from a neighbor's roof. He mangled his leg and spine and received head and eye trauma. It was awful to see. However, twisted as this may sound, it did give me an opportunity to see one of the ways conditions in Georgia have improved during the presidency of Saakashvili (since 2003). For one thing, the ambulance actually showed up within three or four minutes of calling; Rezo tells me that before, you could wait half an hour, and by the time the paramedics arrived, the person in trouble sometimes had died already. Secondly, the ambulance was new and in good condition. It did not have all the fancy equipment you'd see in an ambulance in the US, but it didn't look like it was going to break down on the way to the hospital, as the old ambulances apparently did. So the situation was still terrible, but at least the response was better than it would have been before.


Other than the adventures listed above, I really don't do much here, and for now, that's fantastic. I sleep as much as I want each night. I have time to read and write and cross-stitch to my heart's desire. I spend quite a bit of time chatting with Inga and watching the two kittens grow and play (I'm going to be sad when they're old enough to go to their new homes; kittens are such fun!). Reziko and I go for walks, enjoy evening beers by the sea, and talk talk talk talk. He's teaching me Georgian little by little, and sounds which two weeks ago seemed impossible to me I'm slowly learning to make. Although it's sometimes frustrating when everyone around me is speaking Georgian, and I spend much more time in a listening role than in a speaking role, I'm trying to let the language wash over me and just pick up what I can, when I can. Most of the time I love that I'm here, and I have the feeling this summer is going to go by way too quickly.