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Georgia

Day ten and eleven

Day ten: Yet another time at the market. This time I brought a camera. Unfortunately it brakes after picture twelve. Anyways, I took pictures of dead pigs, chickens, some cheese and some Georgian specialties. The Market is no place where vegetarians should go?
Afterwards Avtandil and I got to the spa. It is a very ancient spa which was build by the Turcks. Avtandil and I rent a private little spa which is no bigger than a bath tub. The water is HOT. My back hurts and I would kill for a massage but when the massage guy finally comes I realize that this is not about relaxing! He begins to rub my whole body with a very hard piece of cloth. He literally peals my skin of. Then I have a break and go back into the water while it is Avtandil?s turn. The next round begins and I am covered by a load of soapy foam. The massage guy peels my skin with yet another instrument of torture before he finally goes over to the relaxing massage. Relaxing? Massage yes, but that guy is really tough on me (I always thought that anti-cellulitis messages are painful). Ouch, and it?s over to quickly as to properly treat that cramp in my shoulder. At the end he pours a bucket of hot water over me to get rid of all that soap. I take a cold shower and go back into the water. I watch Avtandil. He actually seems to like this kind of ?cleaning? and regards it as a form of deeper cleansing. I don? t know? Maybe I could do this once a year but if you do it more often than that you will be left skinless?..
Time is over and I get out of the water. I am red like a lobster. I take another cold shower but when we are finally dressed and on our way home I am still boiling inside.
That night I am actually sleeping naked even though it is not really, really hot in the apartment.
At three o?clock in the morning Avtandil is leaving to fly back to Germany. I have to stay one more day to go back to Prague and from there to Budapest.

Day eleven: Last day in Tbilisi. Avtandil is gone which means that I am stuck in the apartment. His parents don?t let me go anywhere on my own but luckily Sopo calls and I get to spend lunch at her house and play with he little daughter Nino.
In the evening I just stay at home surfing the net, preparing to get ready to go home to Cluj.

14.10.05 20:33


Day nine

Avtandil, me and my father in law, Omari, are driving to Borjomi. Borjomi used to be one of the most famous resorts of Russia. The last tsar build a summer residence there which is now used as the summer residence of the Georgian president.
On our way driving I am getting aware of how far away I am from Europe (well, Georgians argue that Georgia is part of Europe but geografically I feel like I am at the end of the world). South Ossetia, Baku, Yerevan; all theses cities are very close to Tbilisi. The distance from Tbilisi to Yerevan is no more than the distance Cluj-Budapest but yet Tbilisi and Yerevan seem to be two different worlds to me. Baku is a little further but the break away republic of South Ossetia (No! Beslan is in North Ossetia which is part of Russia) is only 60km from Tbilisi. To me it is such a frightening thought: Living so close to a place you will never be able to visit. South Ossetia is a dangerous place to go to especially for Georgians and it is not even entirely safe for UN or OSCE officials. I realize these things today in a much more realistic way. When I was a kid a never even thought about how close I lived to the other Germany. All I new was that there were two Germanys and it did not matter that the other one was less than 60km away from my home. I simply never thought about it. I remember going to the city of Schwerin in 1989 with my mother. Back then Schwerin was an entirely different world but it certainly did not impress me much. All I remember is that they had weird clothes in the stores and I saw three girls my age on the street who were yelling ?Look! They are selling bananas!?
No, I am not as adventurous as to be willing to go to South Ossetia but the thought just fascinates me: two different worlds divided only by some fences and soldiers.

We drive through Stalin?s hometown of Gori but I am not interested in seeing a museum which shows him as the most glorious person in world history. I had been warned before: ?If you go to Gori, don?t you ever talk badly about Stalin!? Well, maybe today people are more ignorant than fanatic about him but still I don? t feel like going there.
When we arrive in Borjomi we drive to the Park. The Park has recently been reopened by president Saakashvili and his best friend Yushshenko. I still don? t get why they did not get the nobel prize for peace?. Who cares about some atomic agency in Vienna? Who had even heard about it before? Well maybe I am just being to supportive of Saakashvili, but believe me, if you had been in Georgia two years ago you would understand that things could not possibly have gotten worse. Of course a revolution will not change a country including his society over night but I think it is also not fair to expect one single person to change everything.
The first thing we do in the park is to go to the fountain to drink some of the world famous Borjomi water. And of course, it tastes disgusting. It is warm like pee, it is salty and it contains sulfur (have you ever smelled rotten eggs?). I decide that I am already healthy and spit it right out after it enters my mouth. Generations of Georgian kids must have decided to do the same. After going for a walk we take the funicular up the hill to enjoy the view over the city. It is so relaxing. Now that I am getting older (yeah, I am already 25) I start valuing nice views, silence and natural beauty. If you had told me fifteen years ago I would have probably thought that watching tv was more exiting than seeing a mountain. Well actually I don? t know what I would have thought because the first time I saw a mountain was when I was 16 (remember I am from Hamburg!!!).
There are a lot of walnut trees and the park is actually being kept clean by some ?Babe? like pink pigs.
Downhill we decide to take some Borjomi water home. We go to a fountain were the water is cold instead of warm and refill some plastic bottles we brought from home. Even though the water is cold it still tastes nasty and the floor of that fountain is reddish brown because of that sulfur.
The tsar? s summer residence is located in yet another park which has suffered a lot under the soviet regime: there are a couple of block buildings which simply do not fit into the nouvelle ?poque style park. The residence itself is nice and pretty and it makes me understand why the Russian revolution broke out.
Later that night we go for yet another portion of Dumplings and Estragon lemonade.
14.10.05 19:30


Georgia part III

Day six: It is Sunday. Avtandil spends the day at the market trying to sell the car he brought to Georgia. Unfortunately no one wants to buy it. Maybe next sunday?
While Avtandil is at the market I am visiting Sopo. She and her husband Coba were our witnesses at our wedding. Sopo is 24. She gave birth to her second kid last December. She got married when she was 18. Nothing unusual in Georgia. She has friends that got married even earlier and by now none of her high school friends remained unmarried. Sopo and Coba live in a four room apartment with their daughters Ana and Nino. Coba?s parents gave it to them a year ago when they moved into a smaller apartment. ( A tradition just like in Romania?)
Sopo is happy to see me again. She studied German in University but hasn?t spoken it ever since she graduated two years ago. She invited two of her friends over who really want to get to know me. Ketti is also 24 and spend a year in Munich. She just opened a travel agency in the city center with a friend of hers. They offer tourist guides for foreigners in Georgia, but also send Au Pairs to Germany. The other friend is called Ekaterina. She used to be an illegal immigrant in the US but came home after five years because her oldest son was still in Georgia and she was unable to obtain a green card. Now she is back in Georgia and lives together with her husband and the two kids (the younger one was born in the US and is the only family member that has a US citizenship). Unfortunately she is unemployed but at least she was able to bring some money back from the US. We spend the day talking, joking, and eating a lot of sweets.

Day seven: Avtandil and I go ?sightseeing? in Tbilissi. First we visit his old University were he graduated in 1995. It looks very nice from the outside since it has recently been repainted. The inside looks terrible though. Everything is dirty and run down and you can smell the toilets from a ten meter distance. We meet one of his former professors who is happy to see him. He tells him that things are very bad at the university. There is no money for anything and the professors earn only 84 Lari per month (about 40 Euros).
Afterwards we want to eat dumplings and drink some estragon lemonade. We drive to a restaurant located next to a lake. Only when already sitting at a table studying the menu we realize that they have neither dumplings nor Lemonade. Avtandil insists that we have to order something out of courtesy. We order khadjapuri and cola.
We take a taxi to the TV tower next. Tbilissi?s most famous tourist attraction. It is in pretty bad shape and I wonder if it is still functioning. We decide to walk back into town, or better to say, to climb town the mountain. It is pretty steep and there are no good hiking tracks. On our way down I fall quite often but fortunately I do not get hurt. The hill must be a popular training place for soldiers. We find a lot o plastic wrapping for army food plus a miniature bottle of Tabasco. Must have been a gift from the US army because the wrapping says ?This good is property of the United States government?.



Later that night we finally eat dumpling and drink estragon lemonade.





Avtandil and the tabasco bottle

Day eight: Avtandil parents come home from the market. They bought three chickens tied together at their feet. I wonder why they bought chickens that still have feathers and everything. I then realize that they are still alive. Avtandils mother, Msia, puts them in the hallway on a piece of newspaper. About half an hour later the chickens run through the apartment shitting at various places and fleeing from my Msia who wants to make soup out of them. Omari, my father in law, finally catches them while Msia goes into the storage room to get the axe and a wooden block. Five minutes later the chickens are headless and I have to leave to meat with some friends.

I meet with Sopo, Ketty, and another friend of theirs in the city center. We decide to so some sightseeing. First we go to a ?museum? which is located in the catacombs of a former high class shopping center. The walls and stairs are made out of marble but almost all the stores are empty and there is only little light. The museum is owned by a former hunter. I am told that he is a hundred years old but I would say he is no older than 80. The door is locked with a heavy chain and a lock. Ketty yells inside that we would like to visit his place. He turns on the lights and approaches the door very slowly. When we get inside I can see a huge collection of stuffed animals. No not teddy bears, the real, dead ones. The place is very dusty and the air is dry. The guy takes us on a tour. He tells us that he shoot 85% of the animals himself and the rest are either donations or animals that died in zoos. This explains the presence of monkeys and tigers. He hunted in all countries of the former Soviet Union and I guess back then there were no animal protection laws. I somehow feel like being in a storage room for confiscated items of the German airport customs. There is everything. Fur of tigers, wolves and wild cats as well as crocodile and snake skin. There are also birds and squirells and the owner arranged them into certain ways. There is four birds who are celebrating a wedding and a group of squirells having a party. They even hol miniature glasses in their hands. Some of the animals have names. Some are the names of actors, most of them are named after politicians. There is one deer that stands on top a table and watches over all the other animals. His name is Saakashvili.

After visiting the ?museum? we go to the zoo. It is a mixture of a zoo and a fun fair. We look at the animals and than decide to try all of the carrousels. Since my stomac has been upset for the last few days because of the unfamiliar food I cannot really enjoy it?.

When I come back home Avtandil just got back from the ministry of finances. He waited for five ours to pay the taxes for the car but when it was finally his turn he was being told that they are out of paper and that they cannot help him today.

The chickens are boiling on the stove?
12.10.05 21:20


Meeting a former revolutionary

Day Five in Georgia: I meet with Levan Ramishvili of liberty institute, a leading Georgian NGO on the field of human rights and democracy. Levan is the president. During Shevardnadse time he and five of his colleagues were violently attacked in their office because they were promoting religious rights in Georgia. (for details go to http://www.idee.org/nij282-283.html#1.)
I got his address a couple of weeks ago. He wrote a letter to a news group that I am also a member of about two Georgian student activists that had been arrested in Belarus. President Lukashenko is afraid of a revolution in his own country. Luckily his email address included in the letter. I wrote him and he replied within five minutes. We agreed to meet once I am in Georgia. Being a member of the right newsgroup really helps sometimes?.It? s all about having the right persons contact data?

Liberty institute was founded in 1996 with the goal of promoting human rights and democracy. It goes hand in hand with the student movement Kmara which is supposed to have been the main force during the rose revolution. Kmara originally fought internal problems of the university but later on fought also for democracy. It is a very informal organization who does not even have a web page. Levan tells me that most active Kmara members are also employed at the liberty institute.

I ask Levan about the rule of external influences on Kmara, Liberty institute and the rose revolution. A lot of critics argue that the rose revolution only happened because of the support of the United States and that Saakashvili is a puppet of George Bush. Levan declares this ideas to be chauvinism of the West indicating that an eastern country would not be able to fight for democracy on its own. There has been financial support before the revolution especially from USaid (Georgia got the highest per capita rate of aid after Israel) but one should not forget that 99% of this money went to the corrupted government. Furthermore the US government was more afraid of instability in Georgia than it was in favor of a revolution. Therefore it cooperated with the Shevardandse regime instead of openly fighting against it.
In contrast to other former soviet countries Georgia was able to develop a somewhat polycentric political system with a somewhat independent civil society and media. This was possible due to external financing but it does not mean that the opposition was heavily financed from the outside. ?New blood? meaning politicians without a communist past were already introduced at a very early stage which is one reason why the Rose Revolution was much more radical than the Orange Revolution in Ukraine were large parts of today? s elite still have a communist past. There are currently no former communists in the Georgian elite. Even the police was totally changed in September 2004. Within one month 75% of all officers were fired and replaced by newly recruited personnel. A fact which is highly visible since the police is patrolling everywhere and no longer harassing the citizens.
Levan states that it took ten years to prepare the revolution which is why such dramatic chage was possible. From his point of view Georgia?s political elite today is even more eager to turn this country into a functioning democracy than its people. This can be seen by the example of nationalism. The new Georgian nationalism is a highly inclusive one with President Saakashvili making statements even in minority languages. For many people of the general population this is still a new idea that they have to get used to: Georgia being the mother land not of all Georgians but of all people who live on its soil; Georgians, Armenians, Azeri, Russians, Greek and many more. In the years before the revolution nationalism was rather ethnically oriented and it resulted in attacks of Jehovas witnesses and Baptists stating that with their conversion they were denying orthodoxism as the religion of all Georgians therefore denying their traditions etc?.

I ask Levan about the successes of other color revolutions and potential new ones. He states that the problem in Ukraine is still the old elite and that in Kyrgystan nothing changes except the president. Concerning Belarus he finds it hard to make an estimation because of Lukashenko?s repressive regime and the unorganized opposition. Azerbaidjan is ?somewhere in between? he says.
Concerning other countries he says that it happens quite often that opposition groups from all over the world call him and say something like ?We have elections coming up in 50 days. What should we do to in order to provoke a revolution??In his opinion these people will never have a revolution as strong as the one in Georgia.

Levan seems to be very content about the current political situation in Georgia. The regime has completely changed. He does not see a problem in most of the new ministers being very young (one of Saakashvilis policies was to hire very young professionals who got at least parts of their education abroad). He states that those people most capable to turn this country into a functioning democracy are already in the government and that the elite of today?s Gorgia is even more democratic than the people (Which does not mean that he would describes the population as being passive. He just points out that people are not as active as during the revolution anymore).
Of course a revolution cannot change the entire country over night. Unemployment which was already high before went up for one percent but this was partially due to the majority of policemen being fired. There is still a long way to go for Georgia but the bases are being made now. He states that the WorldBank recently released a study comparing the business environment in the reforming countries (legal barriers, hire and fire policies, obtaining credit etc) Georgia made second place after Serbia. For me this is very good news because when I was here two years ago western businessmen were fleeing the country en mass because of the bad conditions and corruption. During the 90s a documentary was made about an American company trying to do business in Georgia and the hardships they were facing.

Upcoming reforms are considering the school and the juridical system. Civil rights and human rights are going to be school subjects. School boards are going to be reelected. The new boards will consist out of equal amounts of teachers and parents plus one student plus a local councilor. This board will elect the schools principal. The goal is to improve the quality of teaching (parents and students having a saying in what is being taught), to prevent corruption, and to spread democratic values. There is not going to be a nation wide curriculum. Schoolboards will be able to decide about what they want to teach.
The jury system is going to be reintroduced in courts just like in the Unites States. It has existed before during Georgia? s first independence between 1920 and 1922.

Georgia is striving for EU accession. This is basically because of the countries historic European identity and for economic reasons. Levan is not to enthusiastic about the EU. He fears too many regulations and unemployment as the result of the common market. Furthermore he states that the EU did not support the Georgians in their fighting for democracy and human rights. All the support the EU gave was concerning technical or beaurocratic aid (Freedom house states that a big mistakes made by western donors in post soviet countries was to strengthen already existing beaurocracies instead of questioning their existence)

- for more information about the situation of democracy and human rights in former communist countries go to Freedom house? s Nations in Transit http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/nattransit.htm
- For more information about the Rose Revolution consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Revolution. You will also find links about the Orange Revolution Ukraine, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgystan, and color or flower revolutions in general.
12.10.05 11:27


First days in Georgia

Day one: I arrive at Tbilisi airport at 5:30pm. My mother in law picks me up. I manage to understand what she is saying since I know about ten words of Georgian. On the way home I realize that the streets are in very good shape and that some houses have been repainted. Changes are visible but once you go off the main roads things are just the way they used to be two years ago.
After getting home I eat and go to the balcony. My in laws live on the eights floor of a typical soviet block and you can see the whole city from there. I can see that there is electricity everywhere and the main tourist attractions are illuminated.
For the rest of the evening I wait for Avtandil who is coming by car (yeah all the way from Germany to Georgia). He arrives at 1 am. He tells me about his journey. Large parts of Turkey had problems with floods and he was able to scare corrupt Turkish policemen off with my German identity card. Even though I was not there! He just told them that I would complain at the German Embassy if he had to pay for a ticket without receiving a proper bill. It always amazes me how well you are treated when you have a German passport?..

Day two: Breakfast is really Georgian: You can find basically everything on the table that you would usually consider lunch.
After breakfast my husband goes to register the car he came with in order to be able to sell it. I stay home relaxing.
In the afternoon we go to the main market, a place I already learned to love two years ago.






It is very dirty and in bad shape but the variety of food you can buy there is great! Georgia has many different climates, mediterrenean at the black sea, mild in the center and quite cold in the mountains. Georgians say that you can go skiing and swim in the sea on the same day. The market really reflects this. You can find soooo many different things and also vegetables and fruits that would already be out of season in October?s Germany. I want to see everything but my father in law is in a hurry and anyways I do not have a camera with me to take pictures. Afterwards Avtandil and me go for a walk in the city center. The streets are new and you can see that the important buildings are under construction. Especially the hotel Iveria is going to be a first class hotel again. It was under soviet times but for the last 15 years it was inhabited by refugees from Abchasia. The Shevardnadse government did not want to provide adequate housing for them because Abchasia is still considered to be a part of Georgia. Therefore refugees were not integrated into society because they were meant to go back some day. Somehow feels like Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon.


The hotel Iveria when it was still a refugee camp

Police cars circle through town to keep public order. I am told that the police men are no longer corrupt and are actually there to help the people. In the city center on Rustaveli Avenue we bump into a friend of us from Germany. She is also Georgian and home for a visit. It really feels strange to meet someone you know at the other end of Europe. We decide to visit her in the evening.
In the late afternoon we pay a visit to the parents of a friend of ours. He is also studying in Germany and gave us some presents for his family. We arrive when they are just about ready to eat dinner and are immediately invited to eat with them. His father tries to fill me up with dry red wine but at some point I protest and hide my glass from him. I eat too much.
After leaving we try to call our friend whom we want to visit. The number turns out to be wrong and my husband has to talk to an unfriendly Georgian women who thinks he is a pervert.
We go home sad that we cannot go for a visit. When we get there my mother in law has already prepared a typical Georgian fish dish. Since I am not hungry I go to bed. Later that evening my husband comes to me and wants to give my a kiss. I almost start puking because that fish dish contains sooooooo much garlic that he stinks like hell. I tell him to let me sleep and breathe into the other direction??.

Day three: A lazy day at home. In the evening we manage to find out the right phone number of hour friend and finally visit her. We spend a nice evening at her place. Some friends and family are also over. People start to talk abut politics. Two of the present women have worked together with president Saakashvili while he was still minister of justice. They do not have any contact with him anymore because he is too busy. No one seems to like him and they call him ?the crazy? one because he is always screaming when he makes a speech and promises a lot of things which do not happen in the end. I try to tell them that a lot of things already changed and that the people also have to be active instead of complaining all the time. ?Yes, but I am not interested in politics!? is the answer??

During the night I am suffering from Jet lag. I cannot sleep. I stay awake until three am surfing the net.

Day four: My mother had told me a couple of month ago that our Lutheran priest from Germany became bishop of Tbilisi. What a coincidence. I decide to visit him even though the last time I saw him was when I was eight and I am not even religious. We spend more than an hour to find the Lutheran church of Tbilisi and when we get there we learn that he left the day before to Oslo. I understand that he is not very happy in Tbilisi and that he tries to get away as often as possible. Hmmmm, maybe 65 is not a good age to start all over again in a foreign country whose language you do not speak.
Afterwards we go into the city center to eat a Georgian specialty "Khadjapuri". That is bread with cheese in the inside. We find a nice restaurant that offers three diferent types of it. We order two. Very tasty. Almost tastes like Pizza.



Avtandil orders yet another specialty green woodruff (Waldmeister) lemonade. It is quite good and not too sweet. reminds me of Kindergarden times.
Correction! Its Estragon and not Woodruff, but it tastes and looks similar


Tarkhuna lemonade it?s the one on the left up front
7.10.05 18:50


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