Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ending blog postings

Last Blog (I think)

I am not sure if I am ready to bring this Georgia blog to a close. In fact, I probably am not. There is so much to think about and try to understand. Sarah and I returned to Lincoln, NE on the last day of April. We arrived to a verdant, spring green state with flowers everywhere beneath one of those huge Nebraska skies that in their own way mirror the grandeur of the Caucasus mountains. It was not a bad flight back but the problem is, as is so often the case, Ohare airport in Chicago. Lincoln, served by a small subsidiary of United, is given no priority. So this time we had to wait for over an hour while a third crew member could be located. At any rate, we arrived. Our luggage arrived. And now that we have unpacked and begun to put our house in order we can begin to try to understand this experience in Georgia. Just for example, what is it like to experience what many Georgians did in Soviet times where so much of life was controlled and regulated in a socialist way. I could perhaps become an Ayn Rand fanatic and rail against the system socialist. But, I think I won’t. I will say it is good to be home. I drove a car today for the first time in over four months. It is easy when people stay in line, when governments create rules of the road and enforce these rules, when the rules essentially are about respecting others right to move about with a reasonable level of safety and predictability. And, I saw no graffiti anywhere today. That is interesting.

If you are a blog reader connected with the university, I do not plan to show up until May 15th. I have a considerable amount of work to do to catch up on this Fulbright. I spent a great deal of time doing and now need to spend some time thinking.

So there is much meaning to construct. I will still have Georgian doctoral students at work who will contact me and I look forward to this. Now that I think about it, there is a topic for a blog entry all on its own—the Georgian doctoral student. So I guess this won’t be the last blog. I do have to produce a report for Fulbright and I do have to get a conference proposal together which also may become a blog entry. So, it won’t be the last.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Well, after four months in Georgia with but a brief side trip to Baku, this Fulbright is coming to an end. We have been busy these past few days with goodbyes and with finishing up the seminar I taught. The seminar went well, I think, although I missed some students. Of those who were active, they accomplished quite a bit. I have made some research colleagues with whom I will study and write. So, this anticipated goal has been achieved to some degree. Of course, now I and we have to do the writing. I had actually started on a research proposal this morning but it was upended by the crisis of one of our new friends wanting very much to see us. This necessitated me walking down the hill side to the Magti phone office to put some more time on our cell phone which had been quite depleted. At any rate, now we have five pieces of luggage packed. Our carryon luggage is also ready. We will have dinner and try to sleep fitfully for a few hours. The taxi ( a driver named Gio) comes at 1:30 a.m. to take us to the airport. Then we check in and wait for the flight to Munich. Extra luggage will cost us somewhere between $150 and $200 we think. But, surprises are the stock and trade in this part of the world so who knows. Then it is a long April 30th to Lincoln, NE. Many, many hours on planes and in airports. If all goes as planned, we leave Tbilisi on a cold, rainy night with temps in the 30s and arrive in a relatively warm and humid Lincoln, NE with temps in the 70s and thunderstorms prowling about. We look foward to being home. We will miss some dear Geogian friends.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rules of the Road

Rules and So Forth

As the two younger women crossed the street, heading diagonally for the same patch of territory I was heading for, it occurred to me that one of the troubling things about Georgia is that there are no rules that I understand for how to deal with such simple matters as passing each other on a sidewalk or how to navigate intersections.

I have long been interested in how complex organizations behave when there is no single source of power or authority directing them. Take a flock of blackbirds on a prairie outside Lincoln. They swoop and swerve as a flock. How do individual birds communicate with each other so that they do this in such unison? System theorists like Mitchel Resnick postulate that in such systems there are simple rules like that of copying your neighbor. In human behavior there are rules too. For example, one can observe the crowds of students in front of the UNL student union during the break between classes. They don’t run into each other. There are unarticulated but understood ways of behaving that cause onrushing human bodies to move easily about one another. Systems theorists sometimes refer to these organizational entities as self-organizing systems.

Well, I am here to tell you that in Georgia there is a system of self organization but I don’t understand it. Georgians don’t run into each other any more than Nebraska students do. But the rules are different. She or he who can get to the place of intersection first has first dibs on that place—no matter where she or he originates. That is one rule I think I understand. Except I am uncomfortable being so aggressive. Another rule is that there is no such thing as a right to a pathway. There is no right of way—on the street or on the sidewalk. Thus, every bit of territory is up for grabs.

I’ve been here long enough to accept this and to feel no particular need to challenge others. This means I stop when some woman dressed in black from head to toe dashes out of a store entrance directly in front of me. She can have the right of way. To do otherwise would create a crash. It is similar on the streets. The taxi drivers do yield to other cars but only at the last moment before impact. Close calls are the norm. So perhaps the rule of the road in the Georgian self organizing system is that when the crash is imminent, re-evaluate your situation quickly.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buying a carpet

Buying a Carpet

I had not really thought we would buy a carpet in Georgia. I had been so struck by the beauty of those in Azerbaijan that I thought we would wait until some future time and buy one from an Azeri village (carpets there come from villages, each with distinctive features and designs). But, after we found we could not do a guided hike in the mountains, we had this extra cash in our pockets so with our friend and doc student, Nino Sharvashidze, we went to the carpet store in the old part of the city on a very rainy Friday. It has rained for over a day. Rained hard all the next day too.

We found two beautiful carpets from Tusheti. And after some hesitant bargaining, we bought both. Here is one.

To read and see more about Tusheti, take a look a this well done blog.

Parliament National Library

Parliament Library

Georgia has a complex of national library buildings. We were given whirlwind tour by its director, Boris Gagua. Boris is a remarkable library administrator. He is not a librarian by training yet he is directing the renovation of three huge buildings, former bank buildings in Soviet times, that now serve the nation as a national library. This is a project of huge proportions as the buildings are huge and architecturally significant.

The elaborate decorations in this place were phenomenal.

There many interesting contrasts. For example, stacks are not open. To get a book, one must hunt up the title using an old card catalogue system. We even saw how in one building they used an old conveyer cable to transport a requested book from one building to another. You can see this box like thing suspended from a chain. Books are taken from the stacks to a checkout desk via this conveyance. I remember an old lumber store in Vermont where one would pay for building supplies at one point and have the money transported via a pneumatic tube to an upstairs office. Similar. Cold in January I think.

At the same time, this library has some of the most modern meeting rooms I have seen. I wished I had know about these before as I would far prefer to have met my seminar in a room where the plastic chairs don't collapse and clatter to the untreated parquet floor.

The photo above is of one of these rooms were people were setting up for a conference on children's books. Neat place. Clean. Well lit. Ample space. All kinds of equipment. What every self-respecting university must want.

Monday, April 19, 2010



Kety Rostiashvili hosted us for a visit to her place in Vazisubani, high on a sloping shoulder of the Gorjomi Mountains, a sort of Soviet era mansion. Here are the directions to her place in the Georgian countryside:

Directions for Vazisubani, Gurjaani district.

You have to get to Metro station "Isani" You can get there by Metro taking it on Rustaveli station, which is the nearest from your place, or you can take Metro on "Tavisuplebis Moedani (Liberty Circle)" if you are in the National Art Museum. This is one line which goes directly to Metro "Isani". So, the names of stations to get to Metro "Isani" are: 1."Rustaveli", 2. "Tavisuplebis Moedani (Liberty Circle)", 3. "Avlabari", 4. "Samasi Aragveli (300 Aragveli)", 5. "Isani".
When you are in the station "Isani" there is only one way to come out from the Metro. When you are in the street and the Metro station door is behind you, you have to go left and turn to the nearest street which conjuncts with the main highway, which will be in front of you, whey you come out from the subway. Just there are in this "left street" are standing many taxis, which goes to Telavi. Cost of one passenger is 10 laries, but as you are coming to Vazisubani, which is 35 km. before Telavi you might be charged 7 laries, but it depends. Maximum is 10 laries.
If you keep going to this "left street» and turn the first left again, you will find on your left side minibuses. Just first buses on this left side are going to Vazisubani. You have to just ask them Vazisubani. As soon as the driver confirms this name phone to me to my cell phone (8-99) 901-334 and I will speak with the a driver and explain where in Vazisubani you have to leave the bus. You have to pay 5 laries per person. Each 20 minutes buses are leaving for our village. It will take actually about 1, 5 hours to get to our village, but I will be in touch with you each 20-30 minutes to be sure that you are doing well.
In Vazisubani I will wait for you near our stadium and pick you up there. Hope you will easily found all our main points and easily get to our village.
We have in Vazisubani telephone by which we can speak free of charge with Tbilisi Vake district. Its number is (8-253)25-777. But for constant contact is better to use my cell phone. Just in case, I am giving this other phone number.
Take some worm close with you as in the evening it is colder than during the day time.
I hope you will really enjoying travel and staying in our wonderful Kakheti, Eastern part of Georgia.

Bird songs, small vineyards everywhere, quiet, the pure white peaks of the Caucus Mountains lined up across the eastern horizon, flowers, green, horse and mule drawn wagons, a slow pace of life. How can you go fast if you are sitting on a two wheel cart loaded with fence post wood plodding along behind a mule. Much time to sit and look and think.

Kety is a professor of American Studies at Tbilisi State University. She speaks English well and I helped her with the draft of a paper that she wrote on corruption in higher education in Georgia. She is a fascinating person who leads the dual life as a farm girl in Kakheti and as a university sophisticate in Tbilisi. Her fiancĂ©, Misha, is a native of Vazisubani and is one of those rural engineers who fixes everything, grows the best grapes, makes the best wine, cultivates and preserves the best peaches, buys land whenever he can, has many parts cars for use with his various Lado type Russian vehicles. We can vouch for the wine and the peaches as they gave us an abundance of both which we are now working our way through back in Tbilisi. His Saparavi wine has no hint of tanic acid, pure grape, dark, and I think does not last long once it is open to the air. Thus, one opens a plastic bottle in which it is stored and drinks it. It turns a bit sour quite quickly. The point is that this is the Georgian wine about which we had heard, the homemade wine that is so delicious. I think it is one of those things that has to be enjoyed in the moment and thus defies America’s belief that everything good in life must always have an indeterminate shelf life so it can be enjoyed whenever and where ever one wishes. There is a lot of living in the moment in Vasisubani.

In fact, this is perhaps true of Vazisubani and Kakhete. It is a place in the world to be savored for its beauty. I show some pictures but think none can do justice to the magic of this region.

It was back to Georgian reality when we returned. According to the landlord, workers had cut the cable that brought internet service to our building. Hard to believe. But, we have not had internet for a week now and this means hauling the lap tops to those places around Tbilisi where we can connect. There is a coffee/pastry shop not far where we go. And there is the Betsy’s Hotel where we work out. But, it is far from convenient. So, our managing this blog has suffered. And, my daily need for a news fix has suffered.

And now we are worried about the volcano in Iceland that has brought air travel in Europe to a standstill. It is dawning on us that our flight home though Munich might be a real problem as it is about a week and a half away. I hear that Europeans are hollering across the North Sea that they said to Iceland, “Cash, cash, it was cash we wanted, not ash!”

The peace and serenity of Kakheti diminishes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

English Language Center

Rita Prokopenko and her brother Paata and Nana have been frequent companions on trips and outings. Rita's center brings small groups of students to Lincoln in the fall and spring. Tom Cardwell from Southeast Community College helps her organize these trips and has a formal partnership with Rita's center. Early in my stay here I met a young man who hopes to come to Lincoln this spring, in less than a month. I asked him to write about himself and the center. Nika Akubardia is his name.

It is a remarkable place, full of activity. Most of the students are internally displaced persons or IDPs. Nika is as well. And hence his story reveals much about Georgia and its recent past.

This is what Nika wrote:

My name is Nika Akubardia, I am 23 old.

I am refugee from Abkhazia. Abkhazia is a of part of Georgia. In 1993 was civil war between Georgians and Abkhazians. My family forced to leave our house and leave everything what we had.

In that time in Georgia were very difficult time, my parent has moved to live in Russia to make a business. Me and my brother stayed with our grandparents. In 1994 me and my brother went to school together, I am oldest for 1 year but parents decided that we must studying together, and we were classmates. But after only one year me and brothers joined with parents in Russian. There we continue studying in school but it was a Russian school where studies in Russian, in that time we didn’t speak russian and understood almost nothing.

In shortest time we were one of the best students in class.

IN 1999 we moved once again. In this time we back to Georgia.

In 2004 I finished school and entered to the Sokhumi State University(Sokhumi is capital of Autonomy republic of Abkhazia, after war University moved to Tbilisi) and graduated in 2008. I continue studying and entered to master degree in Sokhumi state. Where I am studying today.

About ELCml I recognized from my friend. I went to the office of ECLml I to got full information.

I wrote a test and according my result I'm continuing studying,I had a test and accordingly to my test result, I took a class at once. ELCml had a some English level courses this is Beginner,Elementary, Pre-Indetmediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advaced. Situaction in center very caml and comfortable. There are work professionals lectors and staff. There are individual and group studying. Refugee from Abkhazia studying in center free.

ELCml corporate with Department of Abkhazia of IDP affairs, Sokhumi State University, Southeast Community College(in Lincoln Nebraska)

Than I heard about exchange program in Nebraska. Where students can see by own eyes everything in education in US. This is great opportunities for everyone who decided to get this chance.