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Wednesday October 14

Today is a national religious holiday, so the office is closed.  Aleko takes me along to the village of Khvenobani, in the Chokhatauri District, to visit a farmer.  Ghia Kutubidze has some modern fruit drying equipment supplied by the Czech branch of the charity, Caritas.  He is running test batches of fruits through these dryers to see which products might be marketable.  I taste dried blueberries, blackberries, and khurma, a fruit very similar to a persimmon.  I find the khurma dry and chewy without much flavour or sweetness, but we also sample blackberry jam and blackberry juice, both of which are very good!

Ghia and Aleko

Fruits produced on Ghia’s farm

Lunch in the farmhouse


Ghia farms 1.25 hectares (3 acres, more or less), on which he supports eight members of his extended family.  His wife is the director of the local school and Ghia also works off the farm to make ends meet.  Of course, we are invited in for a huge lunch, wine made from his own grapes and a small glass of a clear liquid called chacha.  I am fundamentally suspicious of small glasses of clear liquid, so I take only a sip to be polite.  It is home-distilled from grape skins and pulp left over from wine-making and typically tests about 80% alcohol.  You could run a tractor on it!

Aleko has to drive his mother into Tbilisi for a doctor’s appointment after lunch, so he turns me over to Irina and Manana, the two ladies from the office.  This is not exactly a hardship for me as they are friendly and gracious and both just happen to be very attractive.  They tour me around the town of Ozurgeti to see the sights.  It doesn't take long to see the sights of Ozurgeti, so it is a pretty relaxed afternoon.  One of the highlights is a visit to a school where children are learning traditional Georgian folk dancing.  Irina knows the teacher and we are invited in to watch.  When we enter, the children all clap to welcome us and then again when we leave.

Soviet theatre in Ozurgeti

Georgian folk dancing class


After the ladies return me to the guesthouse, I pay a visit to a tiny beer kiosk across the street.  Both previous CESO volunteers recommended it to me.  It is just a little shack with six bright yellow plastic chairs and two plastic tables -- and a draft beer tap!  Half a litre of excellent beer costs 65 cents.  The two ladies that run it, speak not one word of any recognizable language, but they are warm and friendly Georgians and it is relaxing and fun to sit there with them.  Using my trusty phrase book, we are able to ascertain that:  I come from Canada; Yes, I have a wife; No, I don't have any children; I am biznesmeni.  There is nothing in my phrase book to help me convey “trucking business”, but by steering a large imaginary wheel and honking a virtual air horn, we figure it out, amid gales of laughter.

Beer kiosk

Nice ladies in the beer kiosk


The food at my guesthouse is a bit grim.  Breakfast is bread, butter, jam, a nice mild local cheese and coffee.  Supper is – try to guess!  I had forgotten about Georgian bread.  It has quite a nice flavor but you could use it for a tire in an emergency!  Armed with my phrasebook, I set out to improve my lot.  First, I ask for an egg for breakfast.  Encouraged by that minor victory, I ask for tea at supper, instead of instant coffee and then go for the salad!  Supper, tonight, comes with a plateful of fresh tomatoes and cucumber, sprinkled with sliced onions and cilantro.  Life is greatly improved!


Thursday October 15

To those of my friends, who have been casting aspersions on my work ethic and expressing doubt about my total dedication to helping the farmers of Guria make the transition to a free-market economy, I wish to say that I AM SO working!  And very important work, it is, too!  Aleko says that I am now a key member of the staff of GABC, and as such, it is necessary for me to attend meetings with farmers, participate in luncheon business meetings and travel to nearby cities to retrieve important documents.  Far be it from me, to offend some proud farmer by refusing to partake in the delicious lunch that his good wife has prepared in honour of the visiting dignitary from Canada.  Refusing to taste his excellent wine that he has made from grapes grown on his own small acreage, could set back Georgian-Canadian diplomatic relations for decades.

In fact, my life actually is busier.  GABC plans to participate in the Munich Trade Show in November and so all their brochures must be reprinted.  I offer to proofread the copy and improve the grammar and syntax.  Georgian, like the Slavic languages, has no definite or indefinite articles and this makes writing correctly in English very difficult for even fluent speakers.  They tend to leave articles out when they should put them in and put them in when they should be left out.  Fixing the brochures is easy, but then they ask me to take a look at their background document, which is always submitted along with applications to funding agencies and International aid donors.  This is 6,000 words of nearly incomprehensible prose and I have been slogging through it for hours.  First, I have to figure out what they are trying to say, and then rewrite it, being careful not to change the sense or leave out anything important.  Basically, I am doing a translation from Georgian-English to English-English. 

Yesterday, Irina and Manana took me to visit an art gallery, but it was closed, while the gallery was being prepared for the opening of a new exhibit.  Today, the owner of the gallery comes to the office with an invitation to attend the opening.  After work, the three of us visit the gallery and view the exhibit.  The art is powerful and impressive; I’m not sure I would want it on my living room wall, but then, I am not exactly an art connoisseur, either.

On the way home, I stop at the little beer kiosk for my evening visit with the nice people that run it.  This time, I am invited to sit at the plastic table, usually occupied by their family members.  (It does seem to me that family members are their biggest customers).  Shortly, after I get settled, an elderly man in rough working clothes and wearing the traditional Georgian felt cap comes in.  His name is Iakov and as soon as he hears that I am from Canada, he sits directly in front of me, pulls his chair up so our knees are touching and proceeds to engage me in conversation.  He uses the time-honoured method of communicating with a foreigner:  speak very loudly, so he will be able to understand you.  Iakov is a jolly, good-natured, fellow and we have a wonderful time.  I successfully fend off several determined efforts to get me to drink chacha.

My new friend Iakov

Friday October 16

Today we have a distinguished visitor.  Mr. Korneli Kukulava is the Deputy for Guria in the Georgian National Parliament. He chairs the Agrarian Parliamentary Committee and is also one of the founding board members of Guria Agribusiness Centre.  He is an intelligent and well-educated man and it is interesting to hear his insights on the challenges facing the country.  He tells me about an interesting new experimental crop which could benefit livestock farmers.  It is Rumex spp. and is a member of the sorrel or dock family.  In Georgia, it grows 2.5 meters high and yields four crops per year.  Protein levels are as high as 28% and cattle thrive on it.  If it lives up to its potential, it will be a wonder crop and could revolutionize livestock farming in a country with a shortage of grazing land.  Maybe it will help keep the cows off the roads!


Seven other men are staying in my guesthouse.  They are workmen from Tbilisi, who are employed on the construction project across the street from the GABC office -- a large new commercial building to house the police force.  I see the men briefly in the morning and they usually arrive home just as I am eating my supper.  We exchange dila mshwidobisa!  (good morning!) and saghamo mshwidobisa!  (good evening!), but apart from that I haven’t had any contact with them.  I think they usually eat in a restaurant, but tonight they are having a supra to celebrate Ghivi’s new grandson.  I don’t know where all the food and wine comes from but it certainly wasn’t prepared by our guesthouse.  Of course, nothing will do but I have to join them.  I have been at a supra or banquet, many times by now, but I have never been at one without a translator.  It doesn’t seem to make much difference and I have a terrific time.  Three of the men are technical engineers, one drives a dump truck, one a ready-mix concrete truck and one operates a crane.  Kakho has a Georgian-English phrase book and I have mine.  Ghivi was posted to East Germany during his service in the Russian army and knows a dozen or so words of German.  We manage.


Ghivi makes a toast

One has to observe local customs


Gideon, sitting beside me, is the tamada or toastmaster and I am starting to learn when it is appropriate to drink and when not. For example, if the toast is made to you or to your country, you do not drink when everybody else does.  Then you are expected to make a similar toast in return, after which, you may drink.  I look up the word for “toast” in my phrasebook so I will be ready when my turn comes.  The word is (I am not making this up):  sadghegrdzelo!  I cannot say this word in the clear light of morning, with all my faculties about me, never mind late in the evening, at the end of a long supra!  Georgians’ ability to rhyme off long words with impossible strings of consonants never fails to amaze me.

Once again, I manage to avoid the perils of chacha.  Do you suppose I have actually acquired some common sense in my sixty-odd years?


Sunday October 18

With the office closed, I spend a quiet weekend left to my own devices.  It’s kind of a nice change of pace as I get to eat on my own schedule for a change.  Of course, I do spend many hours, WORKING on my translation project and finish it up on Sunday morning.  This leaves time for long walks and being a tourist.  A pretty river runs through the middle of the town and, with the mountains in the background, makes a very pretty picture.

I spend a lot of time wandering through the old open-air market that looks like it has been here since Marco Polo passed through on his way to China.  The city has built a shiny new market building across the street and some of the vendors have moved in there.  It looks just like a modern supermarket, except that the products are sold by individual stallholders.  But the old market is really fascinating, with narrow alleys, crammed with every conceivable kind of good for sale.  One stall has open sacks of loose tobacco.  Pick out the kind you want and the merchant weighs it on a tiny scale.  In another stall, corn is being ground into meal with an authentic mill stone.  Fresh (unrefrigerated) meat, frozen fish, every kind of spice and herb you can imagine (and quite a few I have never heard of), clothing, used car parts, electrical fixtures, all crowded into a small area of old sheds, plastic tarps, wooden stands and people.



I stop for my daily visit with the people at the beer kiosk and they give me some feikhoa fruit to try.  I have heard of it but this is the first time I get to taste it.  Feikhoa is a small green citrus fruit about the size of a small plum.  It has a soft skin like an orange and the inside is seedy like a kiwi fruit.  The flavour is very pleasant --  sweet with a citrus tang and really very nice.

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