On Monday I leave Tbilisi, where I've been since my arrival in Georgia, for the province of Javakheti. While I've greatly enjoyed living in Tbilisi, I'm looking forward to a change of pace. Instead of crowds of people, I'll be met with herds of sheep shepherded by Azeris. I'll also not have access to the internet, so this may be my last post for a while.
The end of our stay at Gudushauri ended uneventfully and it was clear that we left at the right time as there seemed to be less to do. August is the vacation month in Georgia, so by the end of July, most all of the doctors had left except for those required to attend to emergencies. Besides emergency operations, there have been few surgeries in the general surgery department for us to observe this last week. Wanting to see as many operations as possible, we observed surgeries from other departments. The most interesting case was a neurosurgery operation involving a patient who had suffered massive trauma to his head 3 years ago causing part of his skull to go missing and which didn't grow back. The operation was an attempt to "plug the hole" so to speak. After removing pieces of broken skull from the original accident, the neurosurgeon molded what looked like pink silly putty over the hole and let it dry. Once dry, the "silly putty" was white and hard as bone. Finally, the scalp was carefully stitched back together over the patching.
I'll miss Ghudushauri--all its doctors, nurses, and patients, and even the security guards. I'll miss the surprise parties where we found ourselves drinking to the health of a nurse, the half-Georgian, half-English conversations I had with the doctors about everything from Russian literature to soccer, the nights spent on duty with the medical students... the list goes on. I'll especially miss the patients that stayed for several weeks (they had serious problems), for we really brightened their days with our simple conversations and cheerful attitudes. We said good-bye and promised that we would come back one day (a real possibility...).
Friday was also the last day of our language lessons. I've really enjoyed learning Georgian and both my teachers, Inga and Nana, really pushed me hard to learn as much as I could in 4 weeks time. What we covered (i.e. Beginning Georgian) in 4 weeks is usually taught over several months. As a treat (?), Nana showed us the first lesson of the Intermediate Georgian program. It was a bit humbling, to say the least: we were introduced to a new verb system, one completely opposite from the one we had just learned, and infinitely more complicated.
Today (Saturday), our teacher Nana again took Derek and me out for a day trip with her friends. This time, we went to Bodbe monastery and springs. Derek and I had already been to the springs during our first week in Georgia, but not the monastery as we arrived too early then. Thankfully, fewer people went on this trip, so instead of 18 people crammed into the van, we had only 13. We were joined by some new faces this time, too, including a very pleasant woman by the name of Maia. Maia speaks excellent English, the reason for which we soon discovered: she has been living in London for the past 14 years. Maia is quite animated and she made the 1.5 hour marshrutka ride enjoyable with her lively songs and conversations.
Bodbe monastery is a pilgrimage site for St. Nino's tomb resides in one of the churches. I hope to upload pictures of the church soon, which will give you a better idea of what the place looks like. St. Nino's body lies beneath a marble slab (Georgians don't exhume their saints) next to the altar.
Next, we went to the springs. The last time Derek and I were there, it was early in the morning and no one was there. This time, the early afternoon, there were dozens. As we had come like everyone else to the springs to plunge ourselves into the cold water, we had to wait for over an hour before our turn. It was cold as I expected, but very refreshing, especially on such a hot day.
As with our last trip with Nana's party, we stopped at a restaurant on our way back. While waiting for the food to be served, I wandered about to take some pictures. On my way back to the table, however, I was beckoned by three men at another table. Not wishing to refuse Georgian hospitality (though I probably should have...), I joined them and was immediately handed a glass of wine. My Georgian being good enough to make out basic sentences, I answered their questions and explained to them who I was, where I was from, and what I was doing in Georgia. The first toast they made was to the good Americans, and the friendship between the two peoples. They mentioned the fact that Georgia has troops in Iraq as part of the coalition. The second toast (not 2 minutes after the first) was to the hope for good politics between Georgia and America. The third toast (again, not 2 minutes after the second) was to me, for expressing a love for Georgia and for being able to speak the language (as poorly as I did). I thought I was safe because we had drained the pitcher of wine with the third toast, but I should have known better when the ordered another one. Fortunately, Maia realized my absence and came to my rescue just before the next toast. After much sweet-talking, she pulled me away.
I finished dinner with my group, though I passed on more wine. On my way back to the Marshrutka, I was pulled aside by one of the three men I had drank with. He was very proud (and very drunk) of his battered jeep and had me take a picture of him with it and then me with it. We continued to talk and he invited me to come to his village for a supra (Georgian feast), writing his address on a scrap of paper. He said he had a 16 year old son who I would make good friends with. The marshrutka pulling away, I hastily said goodbye, promising to visit him if I ever came to his town...
We made it back to Tbilisi in record time, thanks to our speedy and skilled driver, stopping only to buy some delicious local cheese.