Supra madnes and Cha Cha memories, or lack there of

So the last events had left us all feeling a little worse for wear, we had drunk an entire day/evening away in a farmhouse near Gori and were now nursing our heads the following morning. For some reason, I am still to understand, I thought it would be a good idea to take Dave to see some of the Tbilisi sights, whilst hanging out of our own other ends. So it was off up to the top of Narikala Fortress which provides a beautiful view of the city from a 4th century walled compound.

Whilst atop said fortress we began challenging ourselves to stand out on ledges and various other death defying heights to try and wake up a bit. Now, I say “death defying” when in fact most of them were probably only “broken ankle” heights. Regardless it was a wake up call and although uncomfortable was good fun. I have this strange thing with heights, I’m not very good with man made structures, like Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, yet I am perfectly ok with natural heights like the top of Petra or anything that is natural. I think it has to do with the fact that I tend to trust things that have existed and been there for thousands of years over our haphazard construction attempts.

Mtskheta

We also ventured around Tbilisi and some of Gori. I have to make sure that you all know these tales are not really in chronological order as it was quite a while ago and I can’t remember specifics. After these short day trips, most evenings, we ended up drinking Cha Cha and beer in various nefarious locations. Dave seemed to like Cha Cha, at least until the morning, proceeded to try and beat me up on one occasion, sang, told everyone how much he loved them (apart from me) and managed to not puke at any time.

Dave, drunk on Cha Cha

We also went to Sighnaghi to stay at the lovely Hostel Tura owned by our friend Andy. Did some bike riding, had a party, got drunk again. It was a good week.

Things then returned to some normality for the next few weeks. Working, hanging out with people and generally getting through the days. It was only a short time after this that me and Suzanne were invited to a Supra in honour of one of Suzannes work colleagues birthdays. We were taken out into the wilderness, to a forest just outside of Tbilisi and to another old, beautiful house.

The house at the super secret supra location

Again there were a lot of dogs (Caucasian Shepherds) which are monster sized dogs and very territorial. We arrived at the site at around 11:30 in the morning/afternoon and began setting up the food and drinks. It was hot, very hot and we were seated under a metal roof covering a long wooden table and were essentially being slow cooked by the oven we were sitting in. The fire was started up and all of the guests began to arrive.

Cooking some meat on a true grill

It was a great day and a fantastic opportunity for me to get to know some of Suzannes colleagues. I was of course made to drink for every toast and became increasingly intoxicated. I attempted to go for a walk at one point to try and sober up, avoiding the dogs, and tried to take a seat on the side of a path. This didn’t work out quite so well for my drunken body and brain and I fell over backwards and rolled a bit. As I lay there giggling for a while in a crumpled pile I tried to reason with myself that I wasn’t that drunk, then something took a hold of me. For some reason I thought that I would catch some frogs down by the creek. Now, if you have ever seen a sober person trying to catch frogs, someone who has no experience, it can be quite laughable in itself as they lean forwards, hands between legs, shuffling after some slippery and surprisingly fast little guys fleeing from your clasps. However, if you have ever seen ME, DRUNK, trying to catch frogs you would question the survival of the fittest theory of evolution. I was a shambles. Our ancestors would have been very upset.

I stumbled back to the party and continued to drink and eat some very good food. VERY GOOD. I am trying to collect recipes for the tasty foods I have had here. The rest of the afternoon, and yes, into the evening, was taken up with drinking, eating, conversation, a band playing and some dancing. A short collection of photos will now follow outlining this series of events:

Drinking

Eating

Conversation?

The Band

Some dancing

That was how the day progressed and didn’t end until 9 o’clock, maybe even later. I was no longer sure of the time. As we were leaving we all felt the effects of the drinking, apart from Marcella who was the designated driver, but some felt it more than others. Rather unsurprisingly the birthday boy felt it the most. We found him like this as we left:

Game OVer

Again this was an excellent experience of true Georgian parties. They really know how to have a good time and how to make sure everyone else does at the same time. I was also requested to play with the band after they found out that I play drums, however I play kit and not a single drum. I also have no idea about Georgian time signatures and beats so was left without being able to do much for them. Regardless I was made to sit with the band, toast with the band and listen to their songs of love for all things Georgian. It was another fantastic day and was filled with great people, great food, great wine and good conversation. These are the things I will miss when I leave here.

Head first into a closed door

There is no real reason for the naming of this post. I wish there was. I wish that something as funny as me eating wood had actually happened. Alas it has not. In fact I cannot even remember the last time I posted an article in here. Things seem to have been whipping by pretty quickly, a flurry of friends and relatives coming out to visit, the constant battle with the ever shitting cat and the day to day work at CHCA.

I will begin where I last left off. Ah yes, the protests. Well that was a farce. I am sure you will all have heard about the subsequent police beatings and the death of a police officer in the early hours of the morning. It would now appear that time has taken it’s toll and everyone has forgotten about it. There was a bit of a mad dash to arrest and interrogate some “spies” that Sakashvili was convinced were working for Russia, just some photo journalists, which was a bit shaky. They kind of disappeared and made the atmosphere a little unnerving.  But to be honest I didn’t really keep up with those events.

The political situation is, as always, a little like some overly melodramatic Spanish romance-cum-soap opera and although it’s good to gossip I don’t feel like there is much truth in anything anyone says. Well, I recant, the NGO community usually have their heads screwed on pretty straight, but, in regards to the rhetoric and  spiel that emanates from all of the ministries and from the parliament, there are half baked truths, some outright lies and some notgivingafuck-edness. I therefore decided to focus on the areas I work in, on the area that Suzanne is working in and take all that I hear from the political institutions with a pinch of salt.

Dave

A few months ago a good friend called Dave came out to visit, in the midst of our house being the refugee camp with up to twelve people in it at a time, and spent a week drinking, sight seeing and generally mooching around. It was good to see him again as it had been a year or so since our last meet in Amsterdam and it was good to take him around the place (not that I did any driving) and show him Georgia. We were also fortunate enough to be driving through the Ateni Valley which is near to Gori, in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia, and ran into a man hitching for a ride back to his house.

Ateni Gorge

Of course this is a remote type area so we obliged with Andy stopping the car, squeezing one more person into an already full 4×4 and then continuing on with a drunk Gerogian. After a short while and him showing us off to his friends by making us drive up and saying something along the lines of “look i’m in a car with Americans” to his friends, we made it to his compound and were all summarily invited in for food and wine.

This experience is more commonly referred to as Supra-Napping. This being that the event to which you are, usually, forced to attend is called a Supra and you are quite literally taken inside (as it is very rude to refuse) and wine and dined by the family.

We entered the compound rather sheepishly, there were dogs running around in their sprawling garden and I could hear various other animals making noises around the area. Our host led us through his garden towards his house where we were greeted by his wife, Nino, and daughter. After the traditional meet and greet we were seated and our hosts family began to gather plates, cheese, bread and other tasty treats for us to consume. Then the wine came out, the moment we had all been expecting and the first toast was poured. It should be noted here that the house was old, slightly rickety, but had that rustic charm you can only find off the beaten path. The garden was stunning, rows of vegetables, fruit trees, grape vines, bee hives and grass set at the lower part of the valley with the towering walls heading up on either side of the property. The sun light streamed in through the cracks in the canopy and no cars or trucks could be heard passing on the road below. Put quite simply it was an amazing place to live and it looked like, although poor in comparison to Tbilisi dwellers and expats and those who judge wealth on financial assets, our hosts had all that they could need and had a seemingly good life.

Supra

Whilst seated at the table our host began toasting, translated wonderfully by Inga (an ex EVS Lithuanian and partner of our American friend Andy) from Russian to English. Now in Georgia, please correct me if i’m wrong on this, there are something like 300 toasts that can be made, there are no set rules about toasting in a set order yet they all seem to follow a similar path. Lots of toasts to love, love of Georgia, your home countries, meeting new people, to love of friends, family and those who are no longer with us. Our host was no exception however he had one quirk that I have not experienced here so far, he was poetic and stoic about his toasts. He mentioned that he had a broad reading of poets from Walt Whitman to Robert Burns and regaled us with how he received his name. Apparently his parents had been fans of some of the west’s classical literature, undoubtedly alongside the Georgian and Russian literature, and had decided that a fitting name for their son would be Darling. Yes, Darling. Many quotes from Blackadder filled my head but I fear they would have been lost and instead opted to hold my tongue. He was a fantastic guy, his family was also amazing and courteous and they were all excellent hosts.

Darling and Nino

Their home made honey was to die for, their cheeses was amazing and the wine, still slightly fizzy due to it’s recent production, was very very drinkable. We ate and toasted our way through 4 large jars of wine and as the day faded into the night we paid our respects and thanks and headed out of the compound. It was a fitting end to a day that had started off raining and cold and ended being sunny, warm and a great experience.

The leaving Photo

Now obviously we were all (apart from Andy) drunk at this stage and piled into the car for the return to Tbilisi. Inga discovered a bottle of Cha Cha in the car and there were some beer bottles we had bought earlier still floating around. So we continued drinking, all the way home.

Drink driving anyone?

It wasn’t until we were just outside of the city that, after too much mixing of drinks, I began to gip. Head out of window at 120 kmh I let my pressure release. I did, however, make one fatal mistake. I forgot that the window behind mine was open and my purple, foamy stomach juice flew a total of 9cm before being sucked back into the rear passenger window and splashing all over Shad. I tired my best to explain it was just foamy backwash but the purple tinge and the smell of digested grapes told a different story. I apologised and continued to drink.

Still a mess

We pulled over to relieve ourselves and I saw things I never want to see again whilst trying to find somewhere to go. Namely other men. That story is best left untold. After much harassing of Andy (for being sober and having to drive our rabble back) we arrived in Tbilisi and back home. To be honest the rest of the evening is a little bit of a blur but I think it ended with sleep.

Drunk people annoying a sober driver

THE CONTINUATION OF DAVE’S TRIP AND THE LAST 4 MONTHS WILL BE COMING OUT OVER THE NEXT WEEK. 

Protests in Tbilisi

This week has been marred with protests against Saakashvili’s government, at the end of last week people poured onto the streets to protest against what they see as an unfair government, elected through the rose revolution, who have not fulfilled the promises made to the people. Some streets were blocked but there was no massive disruption.

Although the Western media seem to be portraying the events of the last 48 hours as signs of another “revolution” it is actually first worth noting some simple facts and figures. From every kind of poll conducted only 1 – 2% of the population support the moves being taken by Nino Burjanadze. Let me also introduce this woman to you, she was fired from parliament (for reasons I have not been able to deduce) in a very polite manner. It was at this time that she swung full pelt into the opposition party and began screaming for Saakashvili to be ousted.

Since then she has forged strong links with Russia and is vehemently opposed to the current government. Fortunately for Georgia 98 – 99% of the people realise how corrupt and manipulable her movement is and also realise that, although he is not the best leader, Saakashvili is the best of a very bad bunch. Most of the countries opposition leaders have either very strong links with the mafia, corruption in business or are ex-soviet party members who lost their status after the rose revolution.

So please, pause for a minute, look at the simple facts and although it is always horrible to hear of people dying for what they believe in realise that they are fighting for something that nobody really wants. I know that is a bit of a contradiction for myself because I usually support popular uprisings and revolutions. But this really isn’t the case here. There is no popular support, getting her party in would return Georgia to the hands of the Russians and would only come about through a seemingly endless cycle of violence and civil war.

In my humble, personal opinion, this is a fight no one should be fighting and no one should win. You have to remember that Sakashvili is also in his last possible term and will have to step down from his position in 2013. So instead of blood letting just for kicks shouldn’t everyone just wait two more years?

This country is not in a similar situation as Libya or Egypt. There is no dictator and there is a lot less corruption than there has ever been here. Like I said, although he’s not the best, Saakashvili has done a hell of a lot for this country since being in power.

Now, back to the protests. I attended the protests on Wednesday to see what the atmosphere was like and to see how many people actually turned out. To begin with there was a maximum of about 500 people, growing to probably 1500 by the end of the day and dying down to 300 people by the time police attempted to remove the protest from outside parliament. So all those images Al Jazeera show you of what looks like a warzone is actually about 300 young men, with sticks and sheilds handed out by Burjanadze’s possy (please see the picture below) fighting for the sake of fighting and not really fighting for any belief.

So they armed the group, spent the whole day whipping up a rage storm (I do have a recording of some of the speeches but the ones made outside parliament were bitter, hate filled and were aimed at inciting violence) and then threw their arms up in the air when low and behold the police arrive to move the people on.

Seriously guys, hand out sticks in the UK and give people shields and you will get a stomping unparalleled to what happened on Wednesday night.

You see, the people attending this protest were elderly, 50+ for the most part. They are angry because they have few job opportunities or have no access to pensions (even though Saakashvili tripled the state pension rate) and feel let down by the current government. They are also those people who had status and privilege during the Soviet era and have had that whipped away from them. It is sad to see that they feel strongly enough about this that they will take the kind of action they have. There are surely other methods and means. I don’t completely understand the situation but I think there are opportunities out there for them they just don’t want to take what is on offer. I also think that the youth involved in this movement are in it purely to fight, I saw no youth there on Wednesday that seemed like they actually supported the doctrine being given to them, instead they were masked all day, carrying their sticks and waiting, with baited breath, to dive in and have a good old knock about. It was very very sad to see.

I also fear that the out of proportion reporting issued by Aljazeera, who seem to be salivating for any possibility of “revolution” that they will report something like this as they have, is only adding fuel to a fire that does not need igniting.

Wait two more years, spend that time gaining popular support and then rightfully, democratically try to gain power. That, everyone seems to forget, is what the COMPLETELY PEACEFUL Rose Revolution was all about, Democracy.

Events in Georgia

Upon my return from the Netherlands, drinking in the sun, eating awesome food, wandering around the packed streets of Amsterdam on Queensday and catching up with friends, I was treated to a wine festival in Tbilisi. It is an annual event held at the ethnographic museum where you can sample wine from all of the regions of Georgia, from monasteries, from young producers and from well known producers. It is typically an event for buyers of wines to come and sample the produce before purchasing. However, it is exploited mainly by people of my generation for free wine tasting, drunken fun and a bit of a cultural experience.

After wandering around all of the stalls twice one becomes suitably drunk, dances a little and pretends to know a lot about wine. A previously unknown skill that only manifests itself after about two bottles of wine. It was an excellent experience, I have no idea how some people manage to do the full 11 – 6 schedule, well, actually, I do, they get very drunk and lose their personal wine glass then spend the other half of the afternoon sleeping and leaning, at a strange tangent, against inanimate objects, staring at the floor and stroking their wine holder as if they are honestly believing the wine glass is just within their grasp, somewhere on the floor, but their brain can’t seem to pick it out from the grass.

There was traditional singing from a Georgian mens choir and somehow I managed to convince a Georgian wine merchant that I was a potential buyer, was asked if I spoke french (I think this is the key here) said un petit peu and was then promptly handed a free bottle of organic wine, which has now been consumed. So overall the experience was great, the weather was lovely and the day was wrapped up with some card games an excellent meal and a board game called Power Grid which is great fun.

So we managed to wrap a trip up in the Netherlands with even more good times, even better weather and some very tasty wine. Alongside all of this has been my recent indulgence with music I haven’t listened to in a long time. It’s something that I miss, turning up my music loud and sitting back in my room on a summers day watching the time pass. You see, I have no stereo here, my baby is back in Amsterdam in boxes, and all we have for music are some cheap little speakers bought out here. I instead spend my time putting music onto my mp3 player and listening to it as I wander about. I have fallen in love, for the second time, with Herman Brood, a Dutch musician that I liken to a Dutch version of Lou Reed. His song “One of A Kind” is 2 minutes of musical brilliance and his song “Saturday Night” does more for me than most of the classics I grew up with. I think it might be my love with the blues and structured lyrics, either way the mans work is a perfect soundtrack for a hot summer.

I also re-kindled a love hate relationship with Billy Bragg, some of his songs are good, emotional and bluntly political. They interest me. They have the odour of dissent that is often missing in music these days. I wouldn’t call the man a genius but he is a one man movement. This has also been followed by some UK hip-hop that I haven’t heard in a long time and lots of metal, a genre that I haven’t kept up to date with the changing times.

Musically I worry I have become one of these people stuck in the bands I used to listen to when I was growing up and am reluctant to move into exploring new styles and bands. I therefore made the decision to download wildly and sample as much as I could from the new artists out there and to delve back into the past and pull out some old classics. Much to my girlfriends dismay I have re-discovered John Zorn and enjoy his playful jazz, I have launched into some metal from the recent years and have also re-opened my mind to various Dutch musicians like Blof and Anouk. I try not to stray too far into the pop world as it scares me, it is hollow and repetitive and I find it incredibly difficult to enjoy it when the lyrics consist of utter shite and, even if the tunes are catchy, synthesized music. I actually want to slaughter Milley Cirus and Justin Beiber, make them watch as a pull their internal organs out and dance a merry dance of blood lust………Sorry, it is something that I really can’t stand.

Back to the present and away from my darker feelings regarding the pop culture that has devoured our own senses of cultural identity, has become the advertisement of what life is like in the west and has caused a horrible fusion between capitalism and culture that has left us with no sense of who or what it means to be us. Man, it actually disturbs me, anti-pop culture vigilante….

Seriously, away from this. This weekend is the Roma festival in Tbilisi which means one of two things; 1) The event will be an expat organised and attended event whereby so called ‘Romas’ display their ‘Culture’ by trying to fleece you out of pocket and spit at you when you don’t give them some change. 2) It will be a cultural event showcasing the Roma’s arrival in Georgia and their strifes, with generous displays of REAL culture and an awareness raising event whereby the average Joe can realise that Romas are people too and deserve equal opportunities wherever they reside.

I certainly hope the latter is true.

Right, I must get on, work is calling, proposals, end of year reports on projects and the initial phases of a new projects implementation require my attention. So, stay tuned, I know it’s not often I post but I will try to keep it to at least one a month.

Until next time, don’t eat yellow snow.

Language

The weekend has been long and quiet, it has been a weekend of lazing around in bed and watching movies, interspersed with cooking food and going out to celebrate people coming and going. The weather was perfect for it, miserable, which completely justifies staying in bed and watching the time tick by. We ran out of power on Sunday, for the whole day, which meant lots of playing cards,   cooking by candle light and conversations about Nationalism and all things existential.

It has been a few months now of being in Georgia, this weekend gave me time to reflect on my experiences, both past and present, and allowed me to just switch off at the same time.  It was nice to feel like I have settled, am comfortable here and am doing well in my job. It was also nice to finally book our flights back to the netherlands for a 12 day escape (I don’t mean that in the GOD GET ME OUT OF HERE sense) from this place, to see friends, get drunk and party for Queesnday. I cannot begin to explain how excited and happy I am that we will get to do this at this point.

It’s not that I don’t like it here, I do, I really do (do I sound like i’m trying to convince myself…) but I do miss The Netherlands which is strange. I didn’t really miss the UK when I left, I missed my friends and family but not the place itself. It’s something completely new for me, this feeling, I mean, I can’t explain it, yet, it’s there and all I can do is get giddy every time I remember the flights are booked. I can’t wait to gorge myself on Dutch food, see my sister, adopted Dutch family and drink some proper beer. I can’t wait to cycle around in the sun, dodge trams in the street and be able to at least partially converse in the nations language with people.

But enough of that, and speaking of languages, I also discovered today that although my Georgian has improved slightly (I can now count a little, ask for things and say sorry, very important for an Englishman) I still spend the majority of my time, especially in Taxis, being talked at. I have no idea what they are saying, I have no comprehension of what they are getting at, I have to mix my Ki and Ara and hope that I get them in the right places, lest I really offend someone.

It’s a funny situation, I can tell they are talking to me either about football or women and yet I have no idea what I’m agreeing to or what I’m denying. For all I know they could be saying, you, you are a stupid foreigner, you come here thinking you have the right ideas and yet you don’t, you play rubbish football and your women smell of cheese, and I would just smile, nod and say Ki. In fact, they are usually, so I’ve been told, telling you how great it is to have foreigners here, how mice your country of origin is, how much money there is in football and there views on the women of your country (usually positive but not necessarily for the right reasons).

Well, not much else to add, brain has gone blank. Will come back to this one.

 

 

The Road to Zugdidi

I was dreaming about something, I can’t quite remember what, having a discussion with people I didn’t recognize, a noise started to fill the air, I couldn’t hear what was being said and the other people seemed oblivious to what was happening. It became a wall of sound, pounding down on my ears. I sat bolt upright in bed, it was still dark and my phone was going off. I reached over and picked it up, Eka, my boss, was calling me. I was confused, then it hit me, what time was it? I answered the phone and Eka asked me where I was, it took me a moment and then the panic hit. I had agreed to meet Gocha, the driver, at T’seriteli metro at 5:30 am, it was now 5:50am. I had slept through my alarm or it hadn’t gone off or somehow, in my sleep, I had managed to turn it off and lie back down.

It was time to get up and get my clothes, socks and shoes on. After many apologies to Eka and some manic flying around the bedroom I was ready to go, laptop in bag, cigarettes in my pocket and some money in my wallet. I flew out of the door and began to run, trying to wave down taxis and trying to head towards the metro stop. I had begun my sprint down a side street when I realized that a dog that had been barking was now hot on my heels and chasing me, my adrenaline surged and I turned around and shouted back at the dog. It’s something I feel bad about now, it was only trying to have some fun and my shouting had obviously upset it as it hung it’s head and walked away. But I was focused, I WOULD be at the metro before Gocha left.

I finally managed to get a taxi after a few failed attempts and the drivers telling me they weren’t going that direction, even for 5 Lari (it is normally a 3 to 4 Lari journey). I was still waking up as the taxi rounded the corner to where Gocha was, I could see him standing beside the car looking a little annoyed. I jumped out, paid my way and began apologizing in my terrible Georgian for being late. Gocha smiled, said what I believe (or like to think) was don’t worry about it, get in and off we went. We picked Eka up slightly later than planned and headed out of Tbilisi. It was still dark, there were hardly any cars on the road and I could see the sun rising in the distance behind the mountains. I was glad that we were finally on our way and that I had only delayed our setting off by about 30 minutes.

All three of us were not very awake and mild conversation flowed around the car, discussions about the road there, the people I was going to meet and the areas we were driving past that hold memories for many people who live here. The first part of the journey is an area that I have become increasingly familiar with, with visits to M’tskheta, Bakuriani and Gori in recent weeks. It’s a nice route, allows you to see some of the Georgian countryside and gives you a taste of Georgian motorway driving, which is probably as, if not a little less, scary as driving in Tbilisi. It’s fast, overtaking is done often into oncoming traffic and signaling is an apparently irrelevant pastime.

Heading further on our journey we were gradually ascending, up into a mountain pass called Rikoti which was absolutely stunning. It had been raining lightly in Tbilisi and we had seemed to have gone, almost instantly, from rainy weather to snow, lots of snow. It was picturesque as we drove through the pass, thick snow, tall trees and the valley walls stretching up into the clouds. The road was still covered with snow as it was still very early and they had not begun salting it. About half way down the pass we met an articulated lorry that had become stuck on the road. It was attempting to go up the hill and its wheels were spinning without getting any traction, a slow trickle of traffic was moving around it and we passed on the left hand side of the road making sure not to stay stationary for too long.

Again, as quickly as the snow had appeared it vanished and gave way to a rainy day in the lowlands. The road to Zugdidi is beautiful and worth the trek, it follows a river for the most part but passes small towns, villages, food stalls and old soviet relics as it wind’s its way westwards. By the time you are in west Georgia you are surrounded by collapsed buildings and concrete rubble, the relics of the Soviet rule that have either not been cleared up or have been used to fashion new buildings or provide scrap material. The houses get a little grander as well, mainly on stilts but larger than those surrounding Tbilisi and often with a plot of land. As we pass them I see things I have never seen before, large metallic shapes on supports coming out the back of the houses, they look like missiles, but they can’t be, can they. I don’t ask, we keep driving and both me and Eka fade in and out of sleep.

We arrive at the Zugdidi office of CHCA at about 10:30 am, we made excellent time even with my late arrival and the thick snow through the Rikoti pass. It was still raining but made no difference as we were glad to be at our destination. We were greeted by some of the staff members who always smile, offer hands to shake and welcome you very openly. Eka, being the director, is well known by everyone and so is Gocha, I am the new meat and try to greet people in Georgian. We go inside and I am given a short tour of the CHCA office itself which is larger than the space here in Tbilisi and has been well renovated. I meet a few additional members of staff and again lay on my terrible Georgian, it really is something I need to improve, and I am introduced to Irakli, the best English speaker in the office. Eka then left to organize her day and finish her business as part of the trip and me and Irakli head down to the Vocational Training and Service Centre located underneath the CHCA offices.

The VTSC is something that I know and understand as one of my first tasks here at CHCA was to write the end of year report for UNHCR. So it was excellent to be able to put pictures to the details I had poured over in the report. I discussed with Irakli the success of the project, the utilization by the IDP community and ask about the issues I had seen facing the VTSC in the report (lack of access to parts for the vehicle repair shop) and I was pleased to hear nearly all issues had been, or were being, resolved. The project itself is split into a few workshops, there is an IT centre, a Mobile Phone repair centre, an Auto shop, a cosmetology area, a beauty salon and a tailors spread amongst the 5 small offices downstairs. It works, is effective and provides people discounted services (or free if they qualify) and also provides trainings, from experts in the respective fields, to IDPs for increased self reliance.

After writing about the project and boasting its successes to UNHCR it was great to be able to see that this is, in fact, true and that people really are benefitting and utilizing the project to its maximum potential. This leaves me with a great sense of pride for the organization I am working for and leaves me feeling amazed at the simplicity yet overall effectiveness of this project.

For the rest of the day there I worked in the office amongst the staff and was treated to a very full spread for lunch, Mtsvadi, Khachapuri, Puri and many other tasty things. It was excellent food and it would appear they cook things slightly differently out west, some more spices maybe, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Either way it was an excellent end to a fantastic day.

We set out from Zugdidi around 5:00 pm and headed back towards Tbilisi, making a stop to drop some things off to family members and pick other things up from the Kutaisi office. All that said we made it back into Tbilisi by 9:30. It was a fantastic day, I learnt  a lot from the experience and it was brilliant being able to see the projects in the flesh and to meet the people who have been putting their heart and soul into their success

Catch Up Time

It’s been a while now since I posted in the blog. A) I’m very bad at keeping things like this going and B) It actually has been quite busy over the last few weeks, possibly a month now.

Well things are going well here, I am feeling properly settled at last which is really nice, I am still missing some of the comforts of living in Holland and I most certainly miss all the awesome people I met in my time there. I have lost even more contact with my family which is rubbish but long distances have never been my forte. Life in the office is good, it’s been especially busy recently. I have helped with writing a few concept notes and a new proposal which has been interesting as always and I am currently on the hunt for new funding opportunities. Which, I must say, is harder than I imagined. Especially when people don’t reply to your e-mails.

Alas tis the nature of the beast me thinks. So I will persevere and continue to send e-mails into the blind ether of the inter web, maybe I should call some of them but I haven’t quite built myself up to getting past the “Hi, I work for CHCA, We are looking for new funding avenues.” part of the conversation. I mean, I’m a good blagger but this is important stuff and I think me blagging would be obvious and give a detrimental view of the organisation.

As for now, we have monthly reports to write which are, fortunately, easy to do. I also have an interesting week ahead, I should be visiting a Greenhouse that has been constructed in Gori and will be attending its opening. I will also be going to a coordination meeting with ACF which I’m a little nervous about. I have only ever been good at networking over beers with people and being serious and trying to hide my roll up stained teeth while I hand out cards is a little daunting for me. I’m sure things will be fine.

On the personal side of things I finally have a bedroom with my lady which is nice, I say that, it’s actually the bed thats nice. The guys at the house are cool, we seem to get along with them. In my usual way I’m never sure how I am going down, especially in a house that has built friendships since before I arrived. Still, things are good and the evenings spent with them have been good fun.

I have also decided that two years in Holland and these last few months in Georgia have not treated my physique well. So it’s time to get fit again, start running and hope I can find some form of martial arts to keep up while i’m here. My body aches from the exercise yesterday but I still plan on going for a run tonight. Still not decided what is the best music to listen to to encourage me. Maybe Flogging Molly, maybe Pantera or maybe some obscure jazz my dad would be proud of.

I plan on getting out of the city tomorrow seeing as it is ANOTHER public holiday. That’s one bonus of being in an orthodox country, religious holidays along with all the others thrown in for good measure. Still need to get out on my longboard and hit some decent runs, skating to the shop and back is just slack. I did manage to find somewhere to play the drums but it’s sketchy at best and I will have to work at it to get any serious time in practicing.

I have also made a resolution to read more this year and have subsequently filled up a large chunk of my hard drive with books to read. Actually looking forwards to it. Haven’t really much else to add to this, oh, getting a tattoo at the weekend which will be awesome and cheap. Seriously looking forwards to going back to The Netherlands and seeing my sister, friends and family (in that abstract sense).

On a political note the middle east seems to have calmed a little, the revolutions have run their course and new governments are being installed. It’s good to see but I worry about the kind of influence foreign powers are having in the selection process. I watched a documentary by John Pilger the other night, there was one part, of the many sections, which disturbed me. It was an interview with a former CIA operative. He talked about “if it’s in the interests of our national security, you’d better watch out, it’s ok to kill if it means we can secure foreign interests” etc. I really don’t think policy has changed that much since he left in the late eighties and as glad as I am to see people kicking the corrupt systems it worries me that it’s only opening the jaws of hell for another CIA backed and funded dictator to get into power off the back of popular revolt.

As for Libya, I can only hope that the bloodshed ends soon and that those in power and the military are called upon to answer for their crimes. Any use of military force against a population is abhorrent, especially when the people want their country back from another CIA backed dictator. Let’s hope Gaddafi get’s tried for his crimes and doesn’t get a nice condo to kick back in in Miami.

These things make me uneasy and I long for the true global revolt where the people finally take the power back and build a better world for everyone. Am I an idealist? Probably, but it’s better to have a good idea than nothing at all.

 

Another Day Another Dollar

Well a few weeks in now at least, I have just about gotten use to and comfortable with the country, the place I am staying and the people I’ve met. It’s a good atmosphere out here and something that I will definitely miss when my time to move comes up. I have spent the last week trying to catch up on essential reading for work, information about fund raising, proposal writing, seeking donor organisations and also on a new aspect of the work, Security.

The more I read into it the more interested I am becoming in focusing on that sector of the humanitarian field. It interests me greatly and I think doing some courses and possibly studying a masters degree back in Amsterdam would be really good. It would mean spending another 16 months of my life in education but after getting some field experience I think it is something that I would really apply myself to. It’s one of those sectors that would be constant, ever changing and exciting to work in. There would be huge responsibilities but I fear there is only so long I could write proposals and edit text. So here’s to that future possibility.

Over the weekend a huge group of us (I say huge, probably about 15) went out to say goodbye to a woman we know who is moving to Abkhazia with her boyfriend to run a new project. The plan was, and it was a great idea, to watch The Big Lebowski and dirnk white russians throughout the film. There is a brilliant concept here in Georgia, far from the long arm of the copyright hounds and outside of EU coverage and even too far for the Americans to bother sticking their neck out. The concept is thus, you call up this place, tell them what film you want to watch, they download it and you turn up with however many people and get your own private room to sit and watch the film in, projected onto a screen and with the ability to smoke and drink inside. Genius.

Now, the only problem was the cost of the drinks at the venue, the room was moderately priced but the drinks were 6 lari a can of beer. Outrageous prices here, considering a 2 litre bottle would cost you about 2 euro. So we smuggled in vodka, milk and Kaluah, waited for the nice lady to set up the film/projector and then began to mix and drink. One thing I only realised afterwards was that a lot of sober people went into the room, purchasing about three beers in total, and a lot of very drunk people stumbled out of the building. Including one person who had to be practically carried out of the door. However, mission accomplished we then decided to go and eat at a 24 hour place to line our stomachs again. Thing with White Russians is that the sugary, milky goodness goes down very well and before you know it you’re steaming. Another friend of mine decided to run across the road with me, dodging traffic and attempting to get to the food restuarant before anyone else. He didn’t see the chain that was stretched from one post to another across the area we were heading through, a short flight of a few meters and hands and face made contact with the stone cobbles. Very funny from my point of view and probably incredibly painful from his. All that said and done and with alcohol still numbing the pain we continued to drink and eat. It was a most excellent night.

Back to work and the week has been kind of quiet, I have re-drafted the end of year report due to additional information coming to light and have spent the rest reading around and learning about the role of Security in humanitarian organisations. Much to my parents dismay this will probably mean working in some pretty hostile environments and requires that I have at least some training with firearms and driving techniques. Courses have been found and plans are afoot to save and start down this career path. I would ideally like to get some experience of it as well but I understand that without former military training or without any kind of hostile environment training my options are pretty limited.

However, I have made plans to get out into the field and interview the IDPs living in shelters and to try and get a scope of the issue. It’s very hard to understand everything in its context sat at a desk, so I will keep the pressure on and aim for a field visit.

I am also looking forwards to a possible weekend of skiing and snowboarding in Gudauri, a mountainous region just north of Tbilisi. I will take many photos as the place is supposed to be stunning and will fill you in on my falls, near misses and success during the week.

I have also been keeping up with the news and it scares me a little bit. We seem to be moving towards almost totalitarianism and are losing a lot of civil liberties everyday, Julian Assange is being pinned to the wall and the international community is making a farce out of every rape victim in the world (read this article for an excellent fresh perspective)  and the world is just watching Egypt descend into chaos. Maybe it’s just that time of year, maybe things really are falling apart. Either way there needs to be some serious reforms in the international system for any of this to change.

More to come!

IDP Evictions Start Again

For those of you who have already read that section about IDPs and understand that evictions will be starting soon I have the following news article for you to read. Very sad and very backwards, this mentality is doing nothing to integrate people and only serves to ostracise the communities even further:

Georgia starts new wave of refugee evictions

Reuters;  20 January 2011 , 04:44 PM

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia on Thursday embarked on a new wave of evictions of hundreds of people displaced by war from state-owned buildings the government hopes to privatize.

The evictions, which started in August, reflect an effort to tackle a massive refugee problem stemming from conflicts in the early 1990s in the rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions and again in 2008 when Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war.

The Georgian government says there are around 1,500 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who need be resettled.

But the IDPs to be evicted reject alternative accommodation in rural areas close to rebel regions, saying that resettlement there would leave them without sources of income and new housing options lack livelihood opportunities.

Police sealed off a temporary refugee shelter in the outskirts of the capital Tbilisi on Thursday and detained several activists who were trying to block the way of trucks and buses taking IDPs to villages.

“Georgia might be the only country in the world that has a ministry for refugees. This ministry has been created to destroy and humiliate the Georgian people,” Malkhaz Kordzaia, a refugee from Abkhazia, told reporters at the scene.

Those from Abkhazia have lived in Tbilisi and its outskirts — many in old hospitals, barracks, institutes and kindergartens — for 17 years after over 200,000 fled the rebel Black Sea region as it threw off Georgian rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There have been a series of small street rallies in the past few weeks protesting against expected evictions.

Some opposition activists arrived at the scene of evictions on Thursday, promising more protests.

“We will fight with every drop of our blood against this government,” opposition activist Kakha Kukava said.

Georgia’s Ministry for IDPs from Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees rejected the criticism.

“These buildings were occupied illegally … All IDPs were warned in advance and will move to new houses,” said ministry chief administrator Valery Kopaleishvili.

According to the ministry, about 10,000 families displaced from Abkhazia in the early 1990s were granted houses in Tbilisi but there were not enough resources in the capital to provide everyone with dwelling space.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed concern last summer that the evictions “have not been undertaken with the necessary transparency or circulation of information,” but said progress was being made to improve procedures.

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With pitiful tokens of monetary assistance offered and with the Government keeping quiet about the exact details of the evictions and with the local media here not covering the evictions at all we are all left blind to the nature and extent of these evictions. If they are to continue in the way previous evictions have happened people will be loaded onto buses, their furniture and belongings loaded onto vans and then they will be driven to their “new” homes.

As I have said these are outside of the population centres, provide no economic opportunities and lack the very basics in resources. The next phase of the Governments plan will be the phasing out of the term IDP. This spells disaster for those already relocated as their rights will be removed. So we are now left with a bitter taste in our mouths and can do nothing to stop these people being removed from their “illegal” housing (that they have lived in for up to 7 years) and moved out of sight and out of mind.

On an additional note and from reading the Human Rights Watch World Report, the following is said in regards to the evictions:

Since June the authorities have evicted hundreds of IDPs from state-owned temporary collective centers in Tbilisi, supposedly to provide them with durable housing solutions. The authorities failed to respect international standards regarding evictions: they did not engage in genuine consultation with IDPs, did not provide reasonable advance notice of eviction, and failed to provide adequate alternatives.  Some IDPs received no alternative housing; others were sent to homes in remote regions, some of which had damaged roofs or lacked electricity or gas. Georgia has some 246,000 IDPs as a legacy of conflicts in the 1990s and in 2008. Over 40 percent live in 1,658 state or private collective centers, 515 of which are in Tbilisi.

In June officials gave IDPs verbal warnings five days prior to eviction.  August 2 amendments to Ministry of Interior Decree No. 747 abolished the five-day warning requirement. Thereafter some IDPs received only a few hours’ warning prior to eviction. The evictions violated Georgia’s Law on the Internally Displaced, which prohibits the removal of IDPs without written consent and the placement in homes inferior to their current residences.

The Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation says it offered those evicted in August either financial compensation or housing in rural areas. Many IDPs refused to relocate to rural areas citing lack of employment opportunities. They received no financial compensation and became homeless after eviction.

Crime and Punishment in a Khinkali Restaurant

In an attempt to get some culture last night I planned to go and watch an environmental art film in a small Cafe off the main strip (Rustaveli, named after THIS man) here. Turns out my legs didn’t want any culture and I ended up in a small Khinkali restaurant drinking wine with some friends. The conversation flowed along with the wine and we ended up discussing crime and punishment (not Fyodor’s book) and whether or not increasing the punishment for crimes would reduce the amount of crimes committed.

Now, as we all know, this is a very loaded topic and you should know that I was playing devils advocate as you can’t really have much of a conversation when everyone agrees with you. Well, you can, but they are fairly dull and consist of “don’t you hate it when” and “do you know what I mean?“‘s. Everyone nods, and the conversation quickly dries up.

Back to the restaurant, so I posed the idea that a severe increase in punishment for crimes committed would lead to a reduction in those crimes as people would begin to fear the consequences. My friends standpoint was that of; crimes are mainly done from impulse and are opportunistic in their nature and that therefore people don’t really think about the consequences when committing a crime. I agreed and proposed that if the punishment was so severe then maybe people would be forced to think about their actions. I offered an example; if you made the punishment for robbing a house severe enough (lashings for the rest of your life everyday, the loss of all 4 limbs, being made blind etc) then you would force a system of serious weighing of the consequences.

Our argument floated around crimes like rape, child sexual abuse, murder which are very black and white crimes in one respect. They are wrong, morally reprehensible and emote strong feelings in everyone. What was more gritty were the crimes of “necessity”, i.e. stealing bread to feed your family, robbing a bank because you have had your home foreclosed on you and things of this ilk. My friend again brought us to this point and suggested that applying severe punishment to all crimes (as I had been arguing) would be counter productive in achieving the deterrent goal at the centre of my devils advocate argument.

I suggested that maybe if the deterrent was strong enough then even these crimes of necessity would  cease and the world would wean out the very thought of using crime as a viable source to provide. That people would fear their reprisal so much that to even think about it would become a crime for that individual.  Thus bringing a Utopian society one step closer whereby the now empty prisons and quick processing powers of the judiciary would free up additional capital to allow us to address every persons basic need (a long shot, I know but it’s hard to argue something you don’t believe for a long period).

As with these kind of arguments, the focus again shifted, and my friend said that the judicial system is no-where near well organised enough or efficient enough to make sure that everyone who commits a crime is definitely guilty or innocent. Mistakes happen and people are wrongfully committed on a fairly regular basis. Again my argument came down to this, if the deterrent is strong enough then less crimes would happen, crimes of necessity would stop happening and you would be left with the 5% of crimes committed that are done out of passion, illness or a misplaced understanding of right and wrong. The serial killers, the sexual sadists and the people who are classed as socio-paths. This would make it a lot easier to convict and ensure that those convicted were actually guilty of these crimes, it would remove the what if factor in every court case.

Of course this argument has a lot of holes but it was fun to discuss this over wine and tasty Georgian dumplings. I’ve always enjoyed the conversations I can have with the people I know and I ‘ve always appreciated every-ones opinions. It made me realise that more open and frank discourse with people, without getting angry and trying to score points, is what’s needed in this modern world.  That in order to progress we need to discuss, we need to embrace alien ideas, play with them and see if we can figure them out. It also left me with a feeling that time is not something that we should pay much attention too, I wasn’t feeling particularly keen on staying out and drinking and I was checking my watch after a long day in the office. Whether it was the wine, the food, the conversation, the company or a combination of all of the above, as soon as I embraced the situation the time flew. We had a good time and continued to talk late into the evening.

These are good times, enjoyable times, challenging times but most of all these are times spent well and shared with good people.