Thursday, April 29, 2010

Endings

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. http://tushetilife.blogspot.com/

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

Vazisubani




Vazisubani

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.




M


Friday, April 9, 2010

Borjomi Denied

Borjomi Denied

Yesterday, April 8th, Georgia really ganged up on these less than inveterate travelers. We were set to head for a national park, Borjomi. Anticipation was high and full of pleasant images. Not to be.
First, it was a cloudy and cold day—not the right kind of weather for a person who suffers circulatory problems. Nonetheless, we were able to get a taxi to take us to the train station. No real problems at this point.
Well, the taxi driver thought it was the train station. We thought it was just a huge Georgian bazaar (open air market) crowded with stalls and vendors everywhere. Set right up in the mud. We had been to this place once with a Fulbrighter and had come on the Metro. But, we had not seen then nor did we see this time any hint that there was a rail station anywhere about. The taxi driver kept insisting that it was over there, down a crowded aisle by the piles of oranges and bananas and sulguni and bags of herbs and nuts. Weaving with our suitcases around the puddles and black garbed shoppers and sellers, we could have been in a short scene from an experimental movie. Black and white.



We found no sign of a train station. The rain had increased in tempo and now a slight wind had come up. We sought a bit of temporary shelter along side the wall of a building which also had a bank office. Sarah went in and finally found a person who spoke some English who could point us to the train station. So, with a very modest degree of renewed hope, we headed for the black cavern that had been indicated as an entrance to the train station.
This black cavern turned out to be just that. It was an opening in the wall of a block like building. Pools of water protected the entrance. It was gloomy and dark inside with no lighting. Water dripped off the ceiling. Once our eyes got used to the light, we noticed people in front of two dimly lit windows to our left. They looked like they could be ticket offices so we went over. These were the ticket offices for the Georgian National Railroad. It took a while to explain to the official that we wanted “ori” tickets to Borjomi. “Ori” = two. But finally she got it. Then using our western logic we decided that the broken cement and stone stairs leading up and out of this cave must be the way to the trains.



Sure enough. Beyond the stairs were two train platforms. A train had pulled into one. And there was the kind of bustle one would see in many parts of the world as people were wheeling carts through the gate and onto the platform—carts full of produce and bags and cases of water bottles.


We didn’t see any chickens or goats but anything could be possible, we think. We learned that the waiting train was one for Kutaisi, one of the country’s larger cities. The Borjomi train was somewhere. There were no signs, no officials, no information booths. Just a cement platform and train tracks and masses of people. So we took it on faith that this train was out there in the country side and would arrive any minute.



By now the rain and wind had increased so we took shelter under the roof over one of the platforms. And waited. Soon a text message came over the mobile phone from Nina the travel agent who had helped us locate a guest house in Borjomi that this train was going to be late and that it would not arrive in Borjomi until after 10 in the evening. This meant that what had been promised to be a two hour trip had become a six hour trip.
We waited indecisively for a bit. But, the more we calculated, the more it seemed that having to spend so much time on a train and so little time at the National Park that we should suppress our anticipation and yield to the difficulties Georgia sometimes presents. We retraced out steps back down the broken stairs, through the dripping black cavern, holding on to each other lest we step in some sort of pothole in the darkness, out to the bazaar.
Then we had to figure out how to return to our apartment on Gogobashvili street. Take a taxi—none visible; take a bus—the bus stop looked like it was way off over a seething mass of vendors and stalls. We remembered the metro and thought, okay, we will do this.
The escalators in Georgia’s metros, as I think I have written, are, to an American eye, exceedingly long and steep. And fast. One stands at the top and looks at this speeding conveyor belt that drops precipitously down a tube into the earth. This produced a moment of frozen panic. But we were able to get on. And we found the right train and took it two stops to the Rustaveli Metro. We had another moment of panic getting onto a similar frightening and fast escalator going up from this stop but finally got that figured out with the help of a courteous young Georgian.
Out on the street with our two pieces of “carry on” luggage, day packs on our backs, we decided we would just walk up to our apartment, wheeling these suitcases over the cobblestone streets and rutted sidwalks.
Our anticipated dinner in a small village in a National Park ended with a couple of paneer meals at an Indian restaurant here in Tbilisi.

This is Sarah being able to interject some reflections. Miles gave an excellent description, but I could ad that I was so psyched to get out of this air polluted, grimey place that I had been in a good mood for two days. When we returned to our place, I again reeked of cigarette smoke, although I had not sat or stood for 6 hours on a dirty, crowded train with flat hard seats and smokers. I was frozen to the bone with blue and white fingers.
I have never seen so many peasants as were at this rail platform. They were right out of eighteenth century small farming villages in long drab skirts, knobby hands, whittling at vegetables to eat while sitting on their plastic bags of vegetables and belongings. Aman in trousers, a peasant cap with three gold teeth sidled up to MIles when he got out his digital camera to snap a few photos. We realized he did not know what this was. MIles took a picture, then showed it to him on the screen. The man smiled and laughed, gesturing to take his picture. Miles obliged, and he was so happy. Through hand signals he told us he is Azerbaijani, and he does not like Tbilisi.


This is the greater part of Tbilisi, not the wide avenue down by Parliament. It all was surrounded by mud, detritus, potholes, and looming nightmares of unfinished multi story Soviet buildings with gaping window openings, roofless.
Ferile dogs are ubiquitous all over the city, and they really pull at my heartstrings as they browse or play with each other. One, whose blond fur was all matted and had a huge wound on it's side and an eye blinded by a huge cataract, smiled at me as we pulled our luggage up the cobblesone hill. I made the mistake of speaking to it and giving it a little petting. This dog glued itself to me and wanted me to play and keep it. I was grateful for a darling sweet dog from our area that appeared to lead my blond buddy into playing.

Plastic bags..I will save this for another telling. They are strewn all over and decorate trees at sacred and profane spots all over. So, I will sign off. Anon

Safety, Security, Russia

Safety, Security, Russia and Politics

The April 9th announcement (below) from the US State Department caught our attention. We read this at the same time we read about the growing belief in some quarters that Russia will seek to blame Georgia for the recent subway bombings in Moscow.


American citizens currently in Georgia are urged to continue to review their personal security situations and to take appropriate action to ensure their safety. Given the recent upheaval in Georgia, American citizens should take precautions in case of an increase in violent crime. Demonstrations can occur without notice and even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. The U.S. Embassy advises all Americans in Georgia to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. American citizens are encouraged to remain in close communication with the American Embassy in Tbilisi for more detailed information.

American citizens should monitor the U.S. Embassy web site, http://georgia.usembassy.gov/, and stay in contact with family and friends in the United States. American citizens in Tbilisi may also tune in to Radio Syndicati at FM 104.3 or throughout Georgia at Radio Green Wave at FM 107.4 for updated U.S. Embassy Warden Message information.

Family members and friends unable to verify the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens in the affected area should call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or from other areas via a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 between 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). U.S. citizens in the area are urged to monitor the local news. Those residing or traveling in Georgia are reminded to register with the U.S. Embassy either online at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ or in person at U.S. Embassy Tbilisi so they can obtain updated information on travel and security. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

There is always talk of Russia invading. And the television hoax of several weeks ago is fresh on the minds of Georgians so levels of paranoia are high. The only violent demonstration I have seen was the one resulting from a fender bender outside our apartment involving dozens of the neighborhoods young bucks. But we are also told that there have been a few political demonstrations outside of Parliament and I suppose these will grow in number as the May elections approach. Life in Tbilisi seems safe to us. It is a European city in many ways although the Borjomi Denied blog may throw that observation into question. The streets seems safe even late at night. We will probably go for a hike today on the ridges above the city and not fear that we will be attacked. And if the Russians do invade, then we have to trust the US Embassy to figure out what to do with us or for us.


Miles

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Graves

Graves (a somewhat somber title)
The day after the Eastern Orthodox Easter is a day when people visit family graves. We are told that on the hillside above our apartment is a large cemetery and that on this day thousands will hike up the road to this cemetery. Perhaps it is one of those unexplained coincidences that this morning, the Monday after the Eastern Orthodox Easter, on a beautifully clear, blue-sky morning with the sparrows warbling beyond our cement balcony, I read a few passages from a book that just came out called Flight From USSR by a David Turashvili.

Sarah met this author at Prospero’s bookstore and had him sign his book. He begins this history of Soviet times talking about blue jeans and graves. Under the Soviets, Georgians could nothing from the West and teens lusted after western blue jeans. It wasn’t only blue jeans. Georgians had little. Georgians could not own much of anything. But, they could and did own graves.

The fact is that a grave was the only property people owned. Such political attitude marked the start of altering Georgian taste for the worse. For centuries, the traditional Georgian graveyards were simple and modest, while in the Soviet times the graves became overly decorated, adorned with marble tables and benches, statues, bikes, and even cars.”

I have seen some of these graves and they are sometimes elaborate. I hope to post some pictures.

The Soviet impact on Georgia continues to be strong even after the wars and revolutions that have ended occupation and dominance. This apartment with its large rooms with high ceilings is in what is called the Literature Building. During Stalin’s time, the Soviets built this apartment building. I am told that novelists and poets were given apartments in this building, hence its name.

At the time of its construction, Stalin must have been an old man. In fact, he may have already died when it was completed. Stalin died in 1954. Then came Kruschev and collectives and these huge apartment bloc buildings that dominate the outer regions of Tbilisi and cities like Rustavi.

At any rate, the Soviet influence remains. There is not a lot of casual talk yet about those days although one of my doctoral students, Nino, does speak of what it was like for her as a young woman. She gives many examples of restrictions and rules that governed behavior. People were watched. People couldn’t leave Georgia for visits, particularly to the West. Coffee houses were secret places and you were put on lists if you were a patron of such suspicious places. Music, particularly rock music, was something you could do as a young person as it was hard for Soviet authorities to prevent people from listening to music.

But I think the lingering cultural forces of Soviet Russia may be more pervasive then the memories of Soviet times. People do use this term, “Soviet times.” Students in my seminar, for example, refer to some professors as “red” professors. They mean that these are people schooled in Russia whose whole pedagogical approach is done in the Soviet way.

I don’t understand what this means but I had an instructive lesson in how dominant the Soviet mind was. I was criticizing a draft she had made of her dissertation prospectus, telling here that her that she didn’t fully develop her thoughts and that she introduced new ideas in a way unconnected with what went previously. There was no transition, no logical sequencing of her thoughts. She got angry with me. She said that the Soviet style was to pour as many ideas as one could into a paragraph, to pack one’s writing with so many complexities that it did become hard to follow. But that was the point, she told me. If it was hard to follow and understand it was not the fault of the writer but the reader. It was too bad if the reader was not smart enough to understand the thinking of the writer. The greater the confusion, the greater the brilliance of its author.

This is an accomplished assistant professor and doctoral student who has been teaching teachers for many years and was invited to teach at ISU because of the quality of her teaching, not because she had been singled out for the privilege of attending a US institution for a master’s degree as had a number of the other young professors. She has this fascinating perspective that I hope I can explicate more fully.

We are leaving for the town of Borjomi tomorrow to do a bit of hiking in Georgia's largest national park. A two hour train ride, a guest house, and what is purported to be a very beautiful and scenic part of the country.


Miles


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pesach

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It would be an exaggeration to claim that our marriage was saved when we finally acquired about four kilos of kosher matzah from a local Chabad rabbi. But it certainly eased a major stress point. Passover in Tbilisi is not an easy matter but it is doable. We participated in a marathon seder with this rabbi last Monday evening. There was a table of English speakers, a table of Hebrew speakers, a table of Russian speakers. Scattered about were Georgian speakers who got by in more than one language. It was chaotic as seders can sometimes be and this one took a tortuous path until about 1 o’clock when we finished.

We’ve been back to School Number 1 and visited with the principal. We now have something of a plan to try to growth a relationship with between this school and both the College of Education and one of the high schools in Lincoln. We shall see where that goes. But there is a strong interest in developing both student and teacher exchanges.

We look forward with some trepidation to tomorrow, Easter Sunday, and the Monday following. There is a large cemetery up the hill from our apartment. We are told that this area will resemble downtown Lincoln on a football Saturday as thousands of people will visit the cemetery. This will probably have no impact on us since we walk most everywhere. But living in Georgia is full of surprises as one’s assumptions about what lies ahead so often turn out to be wrong.