Monday, July 9, 2007

Kus Tba, Batumi Students

Last Saturday our hostess, Tsitso, and her grandson, Giorgi, left Tbilisi for a week on vacation, leaving Derek and me alone in the apartment. Before leaving, Tsitso, warned us of the perils of living alone, which included a stern warning against opening the door to anyone we did not know, especially if they're children as they're probably Gypsies who'll storm the place and steal everything. We were also left with this note.

After they left, Derek and I met Giorgi Chkheidze at the foot of a nearby hill/mountain. We hiked up the hill to the Ethnographic Museum. It's an outdoor museum made up of relocated houses or replicas from all regions and periods of Georgia. Unfortunately, because of the Independence Day celebrations set to take place that evening at nearby Kus Tba (Turtle Lake), most all of the buildings were closed. Luckily, Giorgi's friend is a full time blacksmith at the museum--he's there regardless of whether of the museum is open or closed. Metalworking has a long history in Georgia--in fact, it's believed that the Iron age began in Georgia.

Before entering the smithy, Giorgi told us that we could neither put our hands in our pockets nor swear while under the roof. We asked why and were told that in Georgian history (both pagan and Christian), the Blacksmith was the most important man in the village, and was greatly revered for his ability to work with the elements. The profession was (and perhaps still is) almost a religious one, and the best blacksmiths were pious men, for good men make good metal. As such, the smithy is a holy place.

After a quick tour of the smithy (see pictures of it on my flickr page), we went out back to play some pre-historic games: throwing wooden spears at targets. The spear is quite light, so in order to throw it with enough force, a small wooden handle (the "third arm") is used to generate extra leverage. I never quite got the hang of it, but it was fun nonetheless. We returned to the smithy after making our kills and the blacksmith fired up the forge for us. We watched as the fire got hotter and hotter, as the flames slowly changed from bright yellow, to green, to a bluish-purple. The object being forged was a fire starter being made as a gift for an important American who was coming the next day.

We said goodbye and hiked back down the hill to Vake Park (just a couple hundred yards from our apartment) and made our way to the carnival section. For a couple lari, we rode the bumper cars for several minutes. By then, it was almost 4 pm and I had to get ready for the Independence Day party. We said bye and went our separate ways.

All day the weather had been very nice, maybe a bit too warm, but at least sunny. By the time the Independence Day party rolled around, however, the skies darkened and the winds began to pick up. I met Nikoloz at the base of the mountain as we had agreed and we rode up to the lake (Kus Tba) on a chartered Marshrutka. At Kus Tba, I recognized Mark Perry (the deputy Ambassador whom I had eaten a private lunch with), John Tefft (the Ambassador), and met the son of the Vice Consul. Ana was coming later, so Nikoloz and I decided to eat first, before the weather got too bad. The menu was American but that's about it. I swear the hamburger was made of pork, and the cheese was Georgian cheese (delicious with Georgian food, but not so much on a pork burger). The potato salad and cole slaw at least bore enough resemblance to their real counterparts. The weather indeed did get bad and soon we found ourselves huddled under a tent that was selling beer for 2 lari a bottle in support of our troops. Ana called and said that the weather was pretty bad down where she was and asked how it was up here. I lied and said it wasn't so bad and that she should come up anyways. As the weather got worse, I felt guilty about making Ana come. Luckily, the weather lightened up when she arrived, but even so, we left soon after she ate.

Not expecting to be done with the party this soon, we went to Ana's apartment nearby. There we chatted about UChicago (Nikoloz had many questions), music, Georgian music and dance, and Harry Potter. Speaking of the latter, I think I've figured out a way to get my hands on Deathly Hallows: Ana's brother is studying in Germany and will be back in Tbilisi the 24th, hopefully with a copy of DH. We ended up talking for 2+ hours, and finally Nikoloz and I said goodbye.

Today, we went to Ghudushauri as part of our normal routine. We learned when we arrived that general surgery didn't have any operations scheduled. For us, that usually means that we'll have lots of downtime during which we can study Georgian. However, we have guests this week. Five medical students from Batumi University are here this week to do pretty much the same thing that Derek and I are doing. All the students are quite young (around 22), even though they are in their 5th year of med school (college is optional). For some reason (well, probably since we're American), they took great interest in us. And with my poor Georgian and their slightly better English we were able to communicate pretty well. They seemed quite interested in how medical training worked in the US and they were amazed by the number of years of education that US students must go through. Soon, we were dragged off to a photo shoot (main photo)--I've never felt so popular. I'm glad they're around because now I get to practice my Georgian even more...


vaseili said...

Dear Ryan:

Boy am I ever envious of you! For some reason the country of Georgia always has held a special facination for me.

I have read much of the history and current state of Georgian Orthodoxy via The Orthodox Word.

Perhaps, when you and Derek return home, an extended coffee hour could be scheduled at CTS so that you two could regale us with tales of your Georgian adventures.


vaseili doukas

Jenny said...

Hey Ryan,

You are doing a wonderful job with this blog. I'm so impressed. You'll be glad to have a record of all that is happening--both without and within.