Monday, November 16, 2009

Staying Warm in "Winter"

We are lucky in Batumi that winter comes late and is overall pretty mild. The temperature rarely reaches down to freezing, and while we get plenty of rain, there are lots of sunny days, too. Nonetheless, even in this mild climate the house needs to be heated, because walking around in 40s-degree weather is not the same as sitting around in it. Brr!

Here in the older part of town, homes are typically heated by a combination of wood stoves, fireplaces, and electric heaters. Step outside in the evening on our street, and your eyes and lungs are hit by a haze of smoke, which clears once everyone goes to bed and all the fires die down. During the Soviet era everyone's homes were heated by natural gas (or maybe steam, like in Petersburg? Well, anyway, heating was centralized and government controlled). After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the newly-privatized natural gas became too expensive for most families – when there's barely money for bread, gas becomes a true luxury. Thankfully, since then the situation has improved, and more and more people are able to get natural gas hooked up for heating and cooking.

Alas, even in natural gas hookups there's politics. We live in a forgotten part of town. To give the government its due, we do have streetlamps and modern electric meters. But, half our street isn't hooked up to the city sewage system (ours is the last house that squeaked in); they all still have septic tanks. Batumi was recently given 47 million euros (unconfirmed, but that's the number Reziko gave me) by Germany to fix our aging plumbing infrastructure. The money, at least for the most part, is going towards fixing the sewers – but only in the “good” part of town, where much of the sewage system is as new as 30 years old. Where we live, where some people have never had plumbing, there's been no work done whatsoever. The (naive?) hopeful me would like to think that they'll get to us once the rest of the system is in better working order, but history shows that that rarely happens, and that they always have an answer when we cry, “What about us?” In the same vein, the same few, main, “good” streets get repaved just about every other year, but in our quarter, which has never been paved, it will only happen if all the neighbors raise the money to do it themselves. And to get back to gas – people who live in the “good” part of town got gas lines put in for free on their streets, they had to pay only to have a line run into their homes. We have a gas pipe on our street, too, but only on our side of the street, and only because a bunch of neighbors pooled their money and paid to put the pipe in. Should the Gvarjaladze household ever want a gas hook-up, we'd have to buy into the pool (about 500 lari), as well as pay for the line into the home, the furnace, etc.

All injustices aside, what it comes down to is we'll probably be using our wood stove and electric heater for a few years yet. Growing up in Iowa, we always had a wood-burning fireplace, though more for atmosphere than for warmth, and Dad always seemed to know someone who'd give us the wood if Dad would cut down the tree for them. Here, where a significant portion of the population burns wood, firewood selling is a whole industry.

As often seems to happen, Basa waited till a rainy day to order firewood. It was already dark when one of those huge construction trucks used to haul sand and debris came rumbling down our street and halted in front of our house. It was filled with huge logs – entire tree trunks 2-3 feet in diameter and 2-4 feet long. The truck driver tipped the bed up, and all that wood came crashing down into the street. What a racket!

Reziko and Gogi rolled as many of the waterlogged rounds as they could into the courtyard; the rest stayed on the street. After the truck lumbered away, the next industry players showed up: local guys with chainsaws. For a few lari, they cut the larger rounds into more manageable chunks. The next day, two of Basa's workers came by to make some extra money and chopped all that wood into fireplace- and stove-sized pieces. We don't hire out every year; there have been many years when Gogi and Reziko are tasked with chopping all that wood themselves.

After four or five hours of steady chopping, the men finished up. Two mountains of wood now completely filled the courtyard. They stayed that way a couple of days, then, tired of tripping over the wood constantly, I rallied the forces and me, Reziko, and Gogi stacked it all under the stairs. It took three and a half hours and we ended up with three cords as tall as me. A great workout – and now we're set for winter!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Georgian Halloween

We had Halloween! Reziko designed and carved his first pumpkin ever:

Here he is drawing the face he finally decided on, after we cut out the top and scooped out the innards.

And here's the final result, goopy stuff on the table included! Pretty scary, huh? Our camera died before we got a picture with the candle lit, but believe me, Reziko's jack-o-lantern delighted everyone who saw it. Added bonus: they insisted on leaving the lid on when it was lit, so a nice burning pumpkin smell filled the room. :)

On the table you can also see the first plate of about a million pirozhki, or homemade Hot Pockets, that Inga made that day. I helped with some of them - we made them with eggs and onion, potato, hamburger, and cabbage. So yummy!