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Saturday September 13

I arrive at Tbilisi Airport at 5:00 A.M., after a very long flight, and am met by Taimuna Baindurashvili, one of CESO’s people in Georgia.  She drives me to the guesthouse where I will be staying.  I sleep like the dead until 2:30 when Taimuna shows up to take me to a meeting with the client.   Elizbar Darchiashvili is the Director of Training Centre TransManager.  They have a very nice office and seminar room in the Technical University, a short three-minute walk from the guesthouse.  Mr. D. speaks not one word of English, but Taimuna translates very professionally.  The participants in the workshops will only be available from 10:00 to 1:00 each day as they all have full-time jobs.

 

 

Sunday September 14

Brunhilda, Nana, Bob, JimmyToday, I have the day free so I ask, Dea, the proprietor of the guesthouse, if she can arrange for a car and driver to go for an excursion outside the city and see some of the countryside.   Brunhilda, a nice German lady who is also staying at the guesthouse, agrees to come along too.  About 11:00 we are collected by Jimmy and Nana, a charming couple who both speak English and we set out to visit David-Gareja.  This is a Georgian Orthodox Monastery in a dry, hilly and desolate region in the very south of the country.  The monastery was established by St. David, in the sixth century A.D. and the guide book says:  “You are now standing in the easternmost outpost of Christendom”.  It’s probably true, because from the top of the hill you can look down into Moslem Azerbaijan, about four km. away.

 

David-Gareja.Monk at David-GarejaThe monastery is carved into the sandstone cliffs.  The monks lived, in fact, still live, in extremely ascetic conditions, (although on our way back we meet a priest driving towards us in a Mercedes-Benz, so maybe the denial of worldly pleasures isn’t as extreme as it was in the sixth century).    We see little caves where the monks lived and a tiny chapel carved out of the rock.  A guide leads us on a steep climb up to the top of the cliffs and down over the other side to the Easter Church. Here are stables, living quarters, a dining room and a chapel all carved into the side of the cliff.  The Easter Church has been abandoned for centuries, and parts of the cliffs have fallen down but there are original frescoes on the walls and ceilings that in some cases are still brightly Frescoescoloured.  It is disappointing to see the damage wrought by Soviet soldiers who scratched their names and other graffiti into the ancient frescoes and used the walls for target practice.   The Soviet army used the whole complex for artillery practice and that didn’t do it very much good either.  The miracle is that the monks managed to maintain the monastery during the long period of Soviet repression of religion.  Now it is being restored and once again a small group of monks lives there permanently.  The Georgian people have embraced their orthodox religion enthusiastically since the fall of the Soviet Union and this site is very important to them.

 

It is an extremely interesting place to visit and fascinating to see the Georgian countryside.   The infrastructure of the country is in an incredible state of decay.  The roads have not been maintained since 1988.  In places the potholes are so large that it is nearly impossible to get through in our small car.  It has been raining so there is a great deal of mud.  There are no road signs at all and even our guide has a lot of trouble finding his way and he has been to David-Gareja before.  We stop numerous times to ask directions and it seems like a minor Orthodox miracle when we actually arrive.  The trip home is even more Near accident.exciting.  We are driving slowly along a road that once had been concrete but now consists mainly of cracks and chunks of broken cement.  As we pick our way around the Mother of all Potholes, without any warning at all, a three-ton truck is right behind us, going very fast.  He swerves to the right to try and get by us, missing us by inches.  His right front wheel goes over the lip of the deep ditch.  He tries to pull the truck back on the road, but it keeps going into the ditch and rolls over on its side, literally right in front of our car.   We jump out to see if anyone is hurt and help the driver to climb out.  This takes some doing, as the driver is so blind drunk that he can hardly stand.  Fortunately, neither the driver nor the truck seems to be the worse for the experience, nor the ten-year old boy, who is also in the cab.  None of us are able to say the same for our nerves, but we get back in the car and carry on, albeit shakily. 

 

Constantine with his guitarEventually, we arrive back at our guesthouse and Jimmy and Nana join us for dinner.  We find out that Jimmy is Dea’s cousin.  Dea’s brother, Niko and two of her friends, Nino and Constantine, also join us.  Dinner begins with Georgian ‘champagne’ and continues through a number of courses accompanied by a local rose wine and a variety of toasts.  The food is unusual but very tasty and most interesting.  The wine is, well, different!  I propose to delay making a final decision about Georgian wine until I have conducted a great deal more scientific research, but so far I would describe it as “most unusual”.   Fortunately for me, because I have heard about the perils of participating in the series of toasts, which inevitably accompanies any Georgian banquet, there is no vodka involved.  These particular people seem to be very modest drinkers and it isn’t the Georgians who sit at the table after the meal is cleared away and finish off the wine  (I said it was unusual, not undrinkable!).

 

Nino #1The people, in general, are very friendly and welcoming, and most charming.  Jimmy and I spent the entire trip to David-Gareja discussing politics, economics and pretty near any topic we could think of.  I asked him about a hundred questions and he made a valiant attempt to answer them all.  Some of you (who know me well) may be wondering if I have noticed the Georgian women yet and whether I have formed any sort of opinion about them.   Well, as a matter of fact, I have:  Georgians are a handsome people in general and the ladies are very striking.  Dea's friend Nino (right) is a fine example.  They have very black hair, large dark eyes and attractive features.  Most are tall and very slim.  Their faces are heart-shaped with high cheekbones and narrow chins.  They just miss being classically beautiful due to strong noses.  They dress very nicely, in the latest styles and lean toward dark-coloured, especially black, clothing.    A Georgian girl, wearing black slacks and bright red blouse, with her black hair and eyes, can be very attractive indeed!

Monday September 15

Transmanager classToday I go to Training Centre TRANSMANAGER and meet the workshop participants for the first time.  Mostly we spend the time introducing ourselves to each other and talking about what our various expectations are for these sessions.  I describe my background and experience in some detail and there are a couple of questions to the effect of:  “Since you don’t seem to be an engineer, or any kind of an expert, how will you be able to tell us anything?”  As I have asked myself the same question many times, I have a variety of answers ready and they seem content to sit back and see how I do.

 

I brought a lot of pictures of our trucks along and they are quite fascinated by them.   I also show them pictures of the winter roads and try to explain what it involves.  They are very interested and it isn’t totally foreign because there is winter road freight in parts of Russia.  At the end of the session, they seem to agree that my presentations will be worthwhile and promise to come back the next day.

 

After the session, I walk for many blocks along Gamsakhurdia Avenue, just looking at the people and enjoying the city.  I stop for lunch at a very new and modern restaurant called Cafe Nikola.  It is built in the art-deco style – all chrome and glass and marble.  Best of all it is self-serve cafeteria style, so I can just pick out the dishes I want.   A restaurant menu written in Georgian script is a fearsome challenge!   The best part of Georgian cuisine is the soups. I have a gazpacho, a cold, creamy, cucumber-flavoured soup filled with chopped vegetables that are so fresh they are crunchy.  It is wonderful!   Georgians are very proud of their bread, and it is tasty, but you wouldn’t want a piece to fall off the table and land on your foot!   Kasbegi beer is refreshing and is only 3.4% so it is nice and light.

 

'Partridges' in the bookstoreOn the way back, I stop in a bookstore to look for a map of Tbilisi.  Three young girls in the shop chatter around me like partridges.  They all speak English and when I ask for something to help me learn the Georgian alphabet, they are just delighted.  They give me a child’s poster with each letter illustrated by an animal.  It would be more helpful if I knew the Georgian words for the animals.  Some of them are fine:  L is for Lion and ZH is for Zhiraffe, but some others are a bit cryptic:  O is for Spider and I is for Duck.  Then it gets even worse:  TSH is for Ladybug and DZ is for Cow.  There are 33 letters in the Georgian alphabet and every Georgian is delighted to try to explain to you the difference between the sound of the letter:  KH and the sound of the letter: KH’, or the difference between the letter: TSH and the letter: TSH’.  It is very challenging!

 

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