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Tuesday September 16

Today, I learn rather a lot about Georgian customs, particularly their sense of time.   Nino, my translator and I have agreed to meet at the TransManager office at 9:30 so we can go over some material before the session starts at 10:00.  I fuss because I am a few minutes late, arriving at 9:35.  Not to worry!  Katie, the office manager, shows up at 10:05 to unlock the door.  Nino arrives at 10:35 and the participants don’t arrive until 11:15, a couple at 11:45.  Everyone assures me that this is normal and I shouldn’t take it personally.  I start into the first session, called Professionalism in the Trucking Industry and by 1:00 we have covered about a quarter of it. Everyone has lots of questions and lots to say about nearly every topic. 

 

Godesde and BorisThe participants are not actual trainers as I thought they would be.  They seem to be a kind of Advisory Board to TransManager.  They are all working toward improving/creating an international trucking industry.  So it turns out that I am not really doing a Train-The-Trainer project as I had expected, but more of a general overview of the trucking industry in North America.  I think they are more or less looking for ideas as to how things are done so they can begin to develop their own industry.  They seem to be particularly interested in how one acquires a Commercial Driver’s License in Canada and my discussion of the problem of “License Mills” triggeres a lot of interest.  I continue to present the structured workshops that I have prepared but I think the more interesting and useful part will be the discussions that arise. (Godeszde and Dr. Boris. left)

 

TamazThe fellows in the group are very pleasant.  They are well educated and seem to be sincerely interested in learning about the North American trucking industry.  Ghiorghi, Vaso and Godesdze are engineers who work for the Ministry of Transport and are concerned with vehicle design and safety.  DavidTamaz (right) actually works for a trucking company, but unfortunately, he is very shy and my questions about his trucks, their engines, transmissions, suspensions etc, seems mostly to embarrass him.  Dr. Boris.David (left) is a bus driver and his ambition is to drive long-distance tour buses to Europe.  Dr. Boris (right) was educated in the Soviet Union where he earned a PhD in engineering.  During the Soviet era he was the Director of a large military truck-driver-training institute.  He supervised a staff of 150 and they trained over 5,000 drivers a year.  Dr. Boris was obviously a man of considerable importance and prestige.  Today, his institute trains only civilian truck drivers.  He has a staff of eight and they train less than 150 students in a good year.  

 

After another lovely lunch at Cafe Nikola, I walk all the way downtown to the main shopping street called Rustaveli Avenue.  It takes about an hour and a half to walk that far and it is really interesting way to get a feel for the city.  Then I screw up my courage and catch the number 2 minibus back to the guesthouse.  These minibuses are a private enterprise solution to the lack of public transit.  A minibus is a ten- or twelve-passenger van that is privately owned and licensed to carry passengers on a specific route.  There are literally hundreds of them and they are surprisingly efficient.  You rarely wait longer than a few minutes for one to come along and you just flag it down and squeeze aboard.  At your destination you give the driver the fare and jump off.  They are very cheap, 30 or 40 tetri (about 15 cents) and as long as you know which number bus goes where you can travel anywhere in the city.    

 

Coca-Cola signI am slowly beginning to puzzle out the Georgian language.  I can recognize ten or twelve of the letters and on a good day I can count to ten:  erti, ori, sami, otkhi…etc.  I can say important things like:  Itsit Inglisuri?”   Do you speak English?,  Sad aris tualeti?”  Where is toilet?,   Erti botli ludi”  One bottle beer. These are important phrases that one needs to learn as quickly as possible after arriving in a foreign country.  One of the things I like to do to learn a new language is to practice by reading signs.  I am standing in front of a building with my dictionary trying to puzzle out what the Georgian letters on the sign mean.  I recognize the first one as a B.  I look up the second one in my book and it seems to be an A.  In a burst of inspiration, I guess that the third one is probably an R and go inside to see if I am right!  Actually, many, many people speak at least a few words of English.  The second language is definitely Russian, but there is no doubt that English is the language of the future and everyone wants to learn it.  The Russian is actually a help because nearly all signs and street signs are written in Russian as well as Georgian.  Even if I don’t know what the Russian words mean, at least, I can puzzle out the Russian letters easier than the Georgian ones.

 

Guesthouse Dea.Constantine playing the grand piano.The guesthouse where I am staying is a beautiful old apartment on the top floor of a six-story building.  The ceilings are 12 feet high and the apartment itself is probably 2,000 square feet.  It is filled with beautiful heirloom furniture, including a grand piano in the living room.  Dea Antalava, in her mid-thirties, has a graduate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.  When the Soviet era ended, she realized there would be little funding for studies in that field so she is now working on a PhD in eco-tourism.  She lives with her mother who I first mistook for an elderly, housekeeper-sort of person.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Marina is a highly respected Professor of Geography at the State University and a member of several prestigious Geographical Societies.  Dea’s father was a successful eye surgeon and her grandfather was a thoracic surgeon of international renown. Dr. Antalava pioneered many of the techniques, which eventually led to successful heart and lung transplants.  Dea's brother, Nikolas, is also an eye surgeon.  I ask Dea what her great-grandfather did and she said:  “He didn’t have job.  He lived in village in Mingrelia.  He was -- what you call? -- aristocrat.  He owned estates.”  These people are not exactly peasant stock.

 

Wednesday, September 17

The session seems to go well today.  Everyone arrives nearly on time and we finish the Professionalism in Trucking module.  They find many of the topics very interesting and spirited discussions erupt several times.  I try to emphasize the importance of customer service, as the old Soviet bad habits must be overcome if they are going to succeed in developing an international trucking industry.  The old ways won’t get them very far in doing business with Europe.  They seem receptive to the message and agree with my suggestions. 

 

Street marketOn the way back to the guesthouse, I stop and buy a bunch of flowers from a street vendor for three Lari (about $2.00) and bring them to Dea and her mother, Marina.  What a timely impulse! Dea invites me join her and her guests for lunch.  The guests are:   Nino, the radiantly beautiful lady that I met on Sunday evening, and Nino, another radiantly beautiful lady who has been Dea’s friend since childhood!   I hardly remember what I had for lunch!   Nino #1 is a classic Georgian beauty with very black hair and eyebrows, black eyes, a heart-shaped face with high cheekbones and a narrow chin.  She has a “Georgian” nose, full lips and olive skin.  Nino #2, Dea tells meFour lovely Georgian ladies later, is typical of the original Georgian people before they were invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Persians and just about everyone else in this part of the world.  Nino #2 has light brown hair, which was probably blond when she was young and the most incredible eyes I have ever seen.  They are bright blue, shading to turquoise and almost hazel in the centre.  She is a model and fashion designer and has lived and worked in Moscow, London and other cities in Europe
(From left:  Nino #2, Dea, Nino #1, Marina)  

The next day, Dea asks if I would like to go to Nino’s place in the hills outside of Tbilisi to visit her and her husband.  I said I would happily travel to Siberia, if it meant I could see Nino again!  Apart from being gorgeous, these are charming and gracious and very pleasant people.

 

There seems to be only about six girl’s names in Georgia.  At least 65% of the girls are called Nino, after St. Nino of Capodocchio, who brought Christianity to Georgia in 330 A.D.  Most of the rest of them are called Taimuna.  A few are called Marina or Medea and that's about it.

 

Opera HouseIn the evening, Brunhilda and I go to the ballet.  The Georgian National Company is performing in the very beautiful Opera House on Rustaveli Avenue.  I am not really a big ballet fan, but Irma Nioradze, the prima ballerina of Georgia, is dancing. She trained in Moscow and danced with the Bolshoi Ballet.  Dea is able to get tickets for us so it seems too good an opportunity to pass up.  It is spectacular!  The first act is a new ballet called ”Madame Lioneli”.  I usually don’t care for modern dance, but this one is very interesting and extremely well done.  The second act is excerpts from several classical ballets.  The best one is “The Dying Swan” danced by Irma Nioradze.  I have never seen anything so beautiful and moving in my life!  I wonder if we could book the company for the Entertainment Series.

 

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