Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Free Day

Wednesdays and the weekends we have off from Gudushauri so that we don't get burned out at the hospital, can catch up on our language studying, and take day trips with Fr. Theodore. Yesterday, Fr. Theodore had our day planned with several meetings.

Our first meeting was with Mother Mariam (Deda Mariam) at Holy Transfiguration Convent in the Old Town section of Tbilisi. I had read about Mother Mariam before even coming to Tbilisi in the Orthodox Word in a story about an orphanage she created to help the children orphaned by the Abkhazian War. The actual room we met in was part of a Georgian queen's palace in the 17th century. We were greeted in excellent English by Mother Mariam and a German friend of hers, Knut. Upon hearing of our medical work here in Tbilisi, Mother Mariam praised our efforts and commented on the horrible health care system here in Georgia. She herself is trying to make a difference by creating a nursing school that teaches theology and bioethics in addition to standard nursing care in hopes of producing more compassionate and comforting nurses. Another one of her projects has been to help single mothers raise their children in safe and secure environments, as such mothers are often disowned by their families here in Georgia. We also spoke with Knut and learned that he has been in Georgia for several years helping farmers gain better access to European markets.

Second on the agenda was lunch with the Deputy U.S. Ambassador Mark Perry at his residence. We were joined by the Vice Consul, a man named Calvin, who is also responsible for the report on Religious Freedom in Georgia; naturally, he had many questions for Fr. Theodore. Religious freedom in Georgia is an interesting topic because Georgia (Tbilisi in particular) has always been a very tolerant country. In fact, in Old Town, you can find a mosque, synagogue, and church on the same block where they have been functioning for centuries. But Georgia is also overwhelmingly Orthodox (At least 80%), and for some radical priests (ex-priests rather--they have been defrocked), they see no place for Protestant missionaries. They (just a very, very small minority of the Church) have done things such as harass missionaries and burn their books. Patriarch Ilia of course condemned the priests' actions, for these were acts of hate not zeal, and even excommunicated a priest who refused to repent. In matters concerning the Embassy, we learned how difficult it is for Georgians to get visas to come to the US, for so many overstay. It is estimated that there are 40,000 illegal Georgians in America.

Next stop was World Vision Georgia. There we met the Director of WV Georgia, David Womble. He gave us a brief overview of what WV does in Georgia, namely helping the war-torn region of Abkhazia, finding foster homes for orphans, creating a youth bible curriculum, and more recently attending to the HIV/ AIDS problem in Georgia. Knowing that Derek and I are premeds, David introduced us to Gerry, the man in charge of the HIV/AIDS and public health issues. From Gerry we learned that Georgia has a relatively low presence of HIV (only 1300 documented infected), but a growing infection rate, and given the lack of knowledge of HIV in Georgia, there is a risk for a larger epidemic. WV's approach to helping has been to educate Georgians and help prevent infection, and most recently they have begun a care and support system for HIV+ individuals. Public health being Gerry's specialtise, he was quite interested in our activities at the National Medical Center, and said he would like to follow up with us towards the end of our stay.

Our next meeting, a dinner, wasn't for a few hours, so while Fr. Theodore returned to his apartment to do some work, I passed the time at Giorgi Chekhidze's (the one who helped me at the airport) house. The original plan was that Giorgi and I were going to go swimming, but he was late in returning and there wouldn't have been much time anyway. So instead, I had a pleasant time talking to his sister, Tamta and her friends while drinking Turkish coffee. Before long, it was time to go to Lasha's apartment for dinner.

I had met Lasha the iconographer the previous Sunday after church at Sameba Cathedral where he showed me a church fresco (remember, there are 12 churches within the cathedral) in progress he was working on. Lasha's apartment is full with both his works and the works of his students. I cannot describe art very well, so I will not try, but the icons were stunning. After eating a delicious meal of fresh fruit, lobiani (bean stuffed bread), and wine, Lasha showed us some of his civil art on his computer. Again, I can't describe it, but it has a very folksy (naive?) feel to it. We said goodbye and Fr. Theodore took us home.

Ghame Mshvidobisa (Good Night)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ryan,

Just a note to thank you for your fabulous posts. It's a blessing to be able to follow along with your journey in so much detail!

Fr. John

Sally said...

Ha!

What a marvelous thing is the interwebs.

I came across this blog randomly, from a link from Father Stephen I think.

I know Mama Tevdore, although my impression is he knows a lot of people. Please give him my love.

I wish like nothin else that I was spending the summer in Tbilisi...I will definitely keep up in reading this.

k'argad iqavi.

Sally

(My baptized name is Nino and he calls me that.)

Amanda said...

::sigh:: Ok, ok, I'm jealous.

Rodrigo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hey! ^ That's a spam post. You should at least turn on the "CAPTCHA" feature in the comments settings -- just a tip.

Fr. John