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Monday, October 19

I spend a fruitful day WORKING at GABC.  I go over the changes I made to the GABC Background document that I worked so HARD on over the weekend.  Aleko, Manana and I discuss the design of their booth at the upcoming Munich Trade Show.  They have ideas for posters and brochures and they are interested in my opinions.  Not that I have any particular expertise in this sort of thing, but they know that I have had more exposure to western advertising than they have.  Aleko, Irina and Zaza are travelling to Tbilisi on Thursday to apply for their visas at the German Consulate.  While in the city, they will meet with the firm that designs and prints their brochures and who will create posters for the display booth.  Irina asks me to edit and proofread a letter to the German Consulate.  I explain my changes and help her to understand some of the finer points of English tenses.  I offer to edit any documents they wish to send me after I return home.  I enjoy doing it and it will help them on an ongoing basis.

Temuri, my Georgian friend in Vancouver, promised to connect me with some of his friends who live near Ozurgeti.  After lunch, a lady shows up at the GABC office.  I am invited to their village after work and I am to bring along anyone I wish.  I choose Irina, because I need a translator and Aleko, because he has a car.  After all, one must be practical, and besides, they are both good company. 

We make our way to the village of Dvabzu, down a lane that has not, so far, seen any of President Sakashvili’s new infrastructure funding.  Apparently, the village received its name a century or two ago when some guests from Russia were visiting.  One of them saw two flies landing on a tabletop.  (I am not making this up!)  The Russian word for ‘two’ is dva and the Russian word for ‘fly’ is buzi.  So, here I am in the village of Two Flies, Georgia.

About 5:00 pm, we arrive at the very nice farmhouse of Badri and Mzia Glonti, where they live with their son, Gela, his wife, Tatia, and Grandma and Grandpa.  Neither Aleko nor Irina has ever met these people before so we are all a little uncomfortable at first.  However, traditional Georgian hospitality and enthusiasm for guests means our discomfort lasts only about ten minutes.  We are invited to the table and the supra begins.  I have never seen so much food on any one table.  There are easily 40 different plates of food packed onto every available space.  As the meal progresses, Mzia continues to bring more plates of food, which she piles on top of other plates of food.  Before I know it, I have a glass of cognac and TWO glasses of wine in front of me and the toasting begins.  Badri, of course, is the tamada.  Before long, more people begin arriving until nearly the whole village is in the room.  First, is Ghia, a family friend and the local doctor.  Ghia is a jovial, outgoing fellow and, himself, a very experienced tamada.  After a glass or two of wine, and maybe a little cognac, Ghia and Badri are locked in a power struggle to lead the supra and give the best and most eloquent toasts.  A bit later, Tatia’s parents, Ghogi and his wife, join the table.  They bring their son and two more daughters, one with a husband, and a tiny baby.  Still later the local policeman drops by and sits down at the table.  The toasts grow longer and more eloquent.  The general theme revolves around welcoming me to their country, thanking me for coming to their home and expressing their gratitude at my enthusiasm for all things Georgian.  About this time, Temuri telephones from Vancouver to see how things are going.  I tell him that I am concerned that there might not be enough food for everybody.  There is a moment of stunned silence on the other end of the line and then he roars with laughter.

Farmhouse of Badri and Mzia Glonti

The supra table

Badri and Mzia


Table near the end of the supra

Dr. Ghia and Aleko


I am expected to participate in all toasts and inevitably, to make several of my own.  In one of my more inspired efforts, I say that, of course, I was born in Canada, but I am pretty sure that I must have been a Georgian in a previous lifetime.  This being so, then my real name is surely Robert Skeneshvili.  Everyone roars with approval at this and many glasses of wine are raised.  But, then someone remarks that my name might very well be Skeneshvili when I am in Tbilisi, but since I am so obviously at home here in West Georgia, my true name really has to be: Robert Skenadze, a proper Gurian name!

Ghogi, Ghia and Aleko

The ritual of vakhtanguli

Tamada Badri


Some five hours after we first sit down at the supra table, we finally take our leave.  Saying good-by and thank you takes a long time, many hugs and more than a few kisses – and that is just from the men!  (What can I say – having strange men hug you and kiss you on the cheek is pretty much standard procedure in West Georgia!)  It would be safe to say, if I don’t come back to visit these people in the next year or so – and bring my wife! -- they are going to be seriously offended.

The evening is one of the most remarkable experiences of my life and I really don’t have the words to describe it properly.  The enormous outpouring of goodwill, warmth and hospitality is so typical of Georgian people.    Their transparent joy in hosting a perfect stranger from a foreign country is so far beyond anything we experience in our own culture that it is difficult to know how to respond to it adequately.


Tuesday October 20

After lunch today, Aleko and Zaza drive me out to the edge of town to see the new processing and storage facilities that are under construction.  Zaza is the Director of AgroProduct, a cooperative that provides value-added services to its farmer-members.  They purchased an abandoned and derelict Soviet chicken factory and are in the process of renovating it and installing equipment.

Tea processing plant

I am particularly interested to see the tea processing equipment and to learn something about how tea is dried, processed, graded and packaged for market.  There is also space set aside for fruit sorting, grading and packaging equipment, to be purchased and installed in the near future.  Warehousing space is included and construction is about to begin on a refrigerated storage addition.  The facility should be ready sometime in December, too late for most of this year’s crops, but there will be ample time to test and adjust the equipment and have everything ready to go for the next crop year.

AgroProduct will employ several workers and provide a valuable service to local farmers, without which they have very limited access to markets outside their local community.  The project seems a good example of foreign aid money being invested wisely for the improvement and benefit of the grassroots level of society.

During my evening visit to the beer kiosk, I meet a pleasant fellow who spoke briefly to me a few days ago.  At first he seems to know only a few words of English, but as we talk, it gradually comes back to him.  His name is Valerian and he is a civil servant who works in an office building across the street.  He explains that he learned English in school but hasn’t used it in many years.  We are joined by Gourami, a curious little fellow who speaks to me loudly and enthusiastically and at considerable length, completely undeterred by my total incomprehension.   Valerian says Gourami is “seriously crazy” and explains that he suffered a head injury long ago – some incident involving police.  Nevertheless, Gourami demonstrates a remarkable series of card tricks.  I find out later that he was once on local TV, on a program featuring people with unusual talents.

Valerian, centre

Gourami and his card tricks


Thursday, October 22

Manana and I are alone in the office today as Aleko, Zaza and Irina have gone to Tbilisi to apply for visas.  We work on several tasks during the morning.  Manana has to write a major marketing plan for AgroProduct and I think she is intimidated by the prospect.  We spend some time talking about it and I try to help her get going in the right direction.  I realize that part of her problem is a difference of opinion between her and Aleko.  I can’t solve this problem, other than to give her some support. 

Just before lunch, Manana goes with me to the little art gallery around the corner, where I had picked out a piece of local Gurian art work to bring home to Susan.  While there, we discover a photographic display that was just installed.  It is sponsored by the Georgian Department of Roads and combines beautiful large-format colour prints with old black and white photographs from the 1920’s.  Of course, the photos all feature roads and bridges, but the new ones have breathtaking scenery and the historical ones are fascinating.

Manana received strict instructions from Aleko about lunch, but she has a plan of her own.  Her friends, Erakli and Nona join us at the restaurant and then we go sight-seeing.  Erakli has an ancient and much-loved Russian Lada that is more than a match for the most intimidating of Gurian roads.  So off we go to see some sights.

Our first destination is the village of Shemokhmedi, which lies just at the foot of the low mountains (hills really).  Erakli points the Lada up a narrow, rocky track that climbs and twists until we reach a tiny church at the top.  The view out over Ozurgeti district is stunning and the church is very interesting. Like all Georgian Orthodox churches, this one used to have beautiful frescoes adorning every internal surface but they were all destroyed by Soviet authorities.  Efforts have been made to restore them, but only so much can be done.  Some have been replaced by new ones.


Georgian Orthodox church and bell tower

Frescos inside the church

Next, our faithful Lada takes us into Likhauri district to see another famous church.  This time, we follow a track up a narrow valley with a beautiful clear stream splashing and rippling over rocks and gravel.  Near the top of the valley is the tiny stone chapel of St. George, dating from the fourth century A.D.  It was established by one of the Assyrian Fathers, the first priests who brought Christianity to the country.  It was Manana’s first church when she began openly to practice her religion again after the end of the Soviet period.

Church of St. David  4th century A.D.

Bell tower


A little further up the valley, we come to a gem of a different kind: a little hydro-electric station.  The water comes down from high in the mountains through a 1.5 Km pipe. The station has the capacity to produce one megawatt of electricity.  The machinery is more than 100 years old, but in very good repair.  At the moment, the larger turbine is running but the attendants tell us that there isn’t enough water volume at this time of year to run the smaller one as well.  The installation belongs to a private electrical utility that is actually part of a Czech company.  I try not to appear too obviously more interested in the hydro station than Manana’s church, but I don’t think she is fooled.  Especially, when I tell her the station is also a kind of church – for engineers!  Georgians take their religion VERY seriously!  In fact this is the first country I have ever been in where new churches are being built everywhere.


After Manana and her friends drop me off, I make my way to the beer kiosk to spend one last evening.  While I am enjoying my half-litre mug of Natakhtari, two sturdy fellows take a firm grip on my elbows and escort me to another beer kiosk across the street.  This would be the competition and, though I have never been to it, they obviously want an equal opportunity to show the Canadian visitor some hospitality.  I am presented with a large glass of chacha and told, in no uncertain terms, to drink it!  I take a cautious sip, but this is not what they have in mind.  Looking around for help, I find it in the person of my friend, Iakov, who just happens to show up at that moment.  While he is greeting me effusively and the others are distracted, I slip him the glass of chacha.  His eyes light up, he quickly tosses it off and hands the glass back to me, with no one the wiser.  A win-win solution!


Friday October 23

Aleko, Zaza and Manana take me to the station to catch the 9:30 train to Tbilisi.  Manana gives me a very nice gift to take home to Susan and everyone wishes me well.  These are lovely people and I have enjoyed my time with them tremendously.  I don’t really know if I was able to be of much help to their organization, but I did my best to assist them with whatever they asked.  I think I succeeded in giving Manana some encouragement and I tried to boost her self-confidence a little.  She is a very bright, well-educated lady and has a lot to offer.

Ozurgeti lies at the end of a railway branch line, so the train starts out by going west towards the Black Sea, instead of east towards Tbilisi.  The condition of the track and roadbed is so poor that it takes well over an hour to go the 20 km.  Then they move the engine to the other end of the train, switch over to the mainline and we start to make better time -- and in the right direction.

The scenery is beautiful and very interesting but the train windows are so dirty that it is difficult to see it.  At each station, the carriage gets noisier and more crowded.  Everybody in Georgia uses their cell phone incessantly and every phone has an aggravating ringtone, set at maximum volume.  Everybody has an i-Pod, too, but almost nobody seems to have earphones.  Across the aisle, there is a baby who begins the trip in good humour, but then cries for the last hour or so.  I can’t bring myself to be irritated with his cries, because by this time, I am nearly as cranky as he is.

The train carriage, itself, is comfortable enough, the seats are decent and at every station, little old ladies come through selling soft drinks, fruit and kachapuri.  The toilet – well, let’s just say, I’m glad I’m a boy.

Around 6:00 pm, we pull into Tbilisi station.  Amid the crowds and chaos, I manage to find a taxi, give the driver comprehensible directions and soon I am back in Dea’s flat.

Ozurgeti station

Train to Tbilisi

Scenery along the way

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