Friday, July 8, 2011

Let's give this another go...

I've decided to give blogging another shot.

With the dominance of Facebook, I found it easier to just post short status updates, links, and photos that were readily available to all my "friends." But Facebook also made me lazy, and instead of writing thoughtful and interesting (or I at least hope they are!) pieces about my travels, my life was reduced to one-line statements about my mood/what was on my mind and the occasional photo album that lacked any background story.

So I'm back to blogging. Let's hope that with all the time I wasted on Facebook, I'll be able to churn out blog posts on a regular basis.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back in Georgia!

And I'll be here for a good long time. Once I have a few hours to myself, I'll try to begin writing again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And I'm back... in Tajikistan!

I promise to write a more comprehensive post soon, but this will have to do for now.

I'm currently in Dushanbe, Tajikistan study Persian and Tajik through the CLS Program (Critical Language Scholarship), a State Department funded program. I arrived in Tajikistan on June 14 and will be here through July 29.

I've been quite busy here in Dushanbe (we have 5-6 hours of lessons each day) and even our weekends our scheduled. I do hope to leave the city for the mountains one weekend though.

Again, a brief post, but I promise to write more soon.

Leave comments!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009


Yesterday (July 5), I visited Chargali, the birthplace and home of Vazha-Pshavela, in the Pshavi region of Georgia (~60 kilometers north-north east of Tbilisi).

The trip was organized by my former Georgian teacher, Nana. During my previous stay in Georgia, it was through Nana's trips that I visited Gergeti and Bodbe Monastery. I enjoy going on Nana's trips, not only because they're great opportunities to visit extraordinary parts of Georgia, but because Nana always manages to invite such an interesting and fun-loving group of Georgians.

This time, we were a party of nine: Nana, five middle-aged Georgian women (Nino, Tiniko, another Nana (Tiniko's sister), Gunda, and a half-Russian whose name I've forgotten), Temo (my Georgian host-dad and good friend of Nana), Adam (a PhD student from the States, who is doing research on the Georgian wine industry--lucky fellow--and is also a student of Nana), and myself.

Chargali is a tiny little village tucked away in the green foothills of the Caucasus. The first half of the drive was along the relatively well-maintained Georgian Military Highway, but once we reached the Zhinvali reservoir dam, we went off the highway onto a very poorly maintained road which followed the Aragvi River up to Chargali.

Besides Vazha-Pshavela's two-room house, which is now a museum, and the beautiful surroundings, Chargali is an unremarkable village. Nonetheless, Georgians revere this poet and writer, and still flock to his birthplace. As Temo explained to me, Vazha-Pshavela's (whose real name was Luka Razikashvili) poems while beautiful in their own right, all contain a strong political message: Don't mess with Georgia. Since last August's war, Vazha-Pshavela, not surprisingly, has become rather popular again.

After touring Vazha's bedroom, complete with a butter-churner and 19th century German sewing machine, we piled back into our marshrutka in anticipation of the main event of the day: our supra. We each had brought food for our picnic feast. I provided cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and apricots; Adam, of course, wine. We found a nice shady spot by the river and began to feast. Nana told me earlier that Tiniko was a great singer, and sure enough, after a few glasses of Saperavi, she was belting out Georgian folk songs. A few glasses later, I found myself trying to learn a traditional Georgian dance from the other Nana, and failing miserably.

Just about when we had finished the last of our wine, it began to rain, and so we quickly packed our things and headed back to Tbilisi. We all had such a good time, that we're thinking of where we should go next weekend. Right now, it's looking like Lagodekhi (a state-protected area in eastern Georgia).

Meanwhile, I have Temo's birthday party today to attend... My goodness, I think Georgian hospitality is going to kill me this time around!

Monday, June 22, 2009

In Tbilisi

I'm back in Tbilisi, and it's as if I never left.

My 22-hour journey from DC to Tbilisi, with a 10+ hour layover in Munich, went by without a hitch. During my layover in Munich, I left the airport and went into the city center. I walked around the city and saw a few sites, but just after buying a crepe slathered with nutella (I know, I know, what am I doing eating a crepe in Germany?) the skies opened up and it began to pour rain. I took refuge in a doorway and tried to wait it out, but the rain kept coming and my things were starting to get wet. So I bought an umbrella. For those of you who know me well, I've never owned an umbrella. This one was both crappy and expensive, but it did the job.

Relatively dry, I returned to the airport where I divided the remaining four hours before my flight to Tbilisi between taking naps in the terminal and exploring the half-dozen or so identical duty-free shops. As my departure neared, I realized that I had been sitting at the wrong gate. There had been a change. I knew I had found the right gate when I saw Georgians surrounded by mounds of carry-on luggage. Lufthansa now limits economy class passengers to just one carry-on (plus a "personal item"), but that didn't stop some of the passengers on my flight from bringing four or more large items. One passenger had a half-dozen and was asking those who had only one or two items to take them on board for him.

I arrived in Tbilisi at 3 am, breezed through passport control (I was afraid they would see my Afghan visa and not let me through...), collected my bags, and was met by Levan from the NGO for whom I am working. During the brief 20 minute drive from the airport to my apartment, I could see that Tbilisi had changed quite a bit since I was last here in March of 2008. New buildings line the highway (the "George W. Bush Street"), including a new glass structure that is now home to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Saakashvili has a new residence on a hillside (next to the Mother of Georgia statue) overlooking Old Tbilisi that is also made out of glass. Rumors are that due to harassment by opposition protesters, Saakashvili is spending more of his time at his vacation residence in the West Georgian province of Adjara. Instead of driving the more direct route of going along Rustaveli Avenue to my apartment in Vera, Levan made a detour along the Mtkvari River. Rustaveli Avenue by the Parliament building and Freedom Square has been closed due to ongoing opposition protests. There, the street is occupied with mock cells that were erected when the protests began on April 9.

My apartment in Vera is quite nice, almost too nice. It is a one bedroom apartment with a huge living room, kitchen, and balcony. You can see photos on my flickr page. It's beautifully furnished. My apartment is also conveniently located withing walking distance from the NGO's office. This means that I won't have to take any marshrutkas!! (Read about my marshrutka experiences in Bishkek here.)

Even though I got to my apartment by 4am, I couldn't go to sleep until about 7am, and even then, I only slept for four hours. When I got up, I realized that I had no way of getting in touch with anybody: my cell phone which I used when I was in Tbilisi last year had broken, and I had lost the SIM card along with all the phone numbers stored in it. The first order of business, then, was to get a phone. But I knew I needed some help from a Georgian friend to make sure that I wouldn't be ripped off, so I headed out to Sameba Cathedral where I knew I could count on finding some of my friends. Sure enough, Kuku and Natia were there. They were very happy to see me, and I them.

Once liturgy was over (the Patriarch serves here, so liturgy usually lasts a minimum of 3 1/2 hours), we left for the bazaar where I managed to buy a sweet phone for a good price (by the way, feel free to call me! +995 57 343873). Next, Kuku and Natia took me to another old friend's place nearby, where we celebrated my return Georgian style (chacha...). I and my friends were surprised and happy to see that I had forgotten very little of my Georgian. I was expecting that it would take a couple of weeks at least before I could speak fluently again, but I've been chatting away in Georgian the moment I set foot on Georgian soil (in fact, I didn't speak a word of English on Sunday until my family called me that night).

On Monday, I had my first day at work. I've been asked not to write about my work at this NGO, so unfortunately, I can't go into too much detail. I'll just say that everyone at the office is extremely friendly, and that I'm being challenged in a good way. A large part of my responsibility will be to write beneficiary stories. And since the beneficiaries live in impoverished regions outside of Tbilisi, that's where I'll be spending a day or two every week doing interviews and monitoring the NGO in action.

Today, I will be going to the Shida Kartli region, and will be visiting villages just mere kilometers from the South Ossetian border...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Here I go again...

It has been nearly a year since I last posted. It also happens to be nearly a year since I had an adventure.

But that's about to change.

In just a couple of weeks, I will be arriving in... yup, you guessed it, Tbilisi, Georgia. This time, I will be traveling to Georgia as a summer intern for a humanitarian and developmental aid NGO. I am still somewhat short on details for exactly what I will be doing, but from what I know, some of my responsibilities will include evaluating their programs (which include: A school lunch program, food distribution program for refugees from last year's war, HIV/AIDS awareness, and an agricultural development program, among others) and writing articles for their newsletter.

When I left Georgia at the end of March last year, I didn't think I would be coming back for at least another two years. But even though only 14 1/2 months have passed since I last set foot on Georgia, Georgia has changed a lot. Yes, there was a war last August. But the crisis in Georgia has anything but abated. There have been nonstop street protests in Tbilisi since April 9. The protesters are demanding that President Saakashvili resign. Recently, the protesters have taken to disrupting daily life in any way. A week or so ago, they shut down Tbilisi's train station, and later threatened to shut down the airport... Let's just hope my plane gets to land when I arrive on June 21st!

It looks like I'm going to have an interesting summer!