Saturday, July 28, 2007
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.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Just 15 miles outside of
In addition to our usual crew of Fr. Theodore, Derek, and me, we were joined by Loyal and Nino. Nino is a film history student in
The first day I met Loyal he was still very jetlagged (he had quite a rough time getting here; you can read more about it on his blog) and kept dozing off during our brief meeting. But since that first meeting, Loyal has proved himself to be quite active and alive, especially when a camera is in his hands. I’ve never spent time with a photographer before, and I guess what struck me the most was just the sheer number of photographs he takes.
Our first destination was Jvari Monastery (and Church) set upon a hill overlooking the town of
Next, we visited Sveti-Tskhoveli (Church of the life-giving pillar) Cathedral in Mtskheta. The current structure was completed in the early 11th century, but the history of the site dates back to the 1st century. A Georgian Jew from Mtskheta named Elias was in
Our third stop was at yet another ancient church: Samtavro monastery. Like Sveti-Tskhoveli, Samtavro holds great importance in the
We finished the day with a dinner at a restaurant by the Mtkvari river. In addition to our typical Georgian meal, we were treated with barbecued sturgeon and sturgeon caviar. A delicacy, to the least, as it’s illegal to fish sturgeon out of the
Next post coming soon about wrapping up in
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
For the past couple of weeks, Derek and I have been following a pretty routine schedule spending time at the hospital, having language lessons, spending time with friends, and going to church on the weekends. While I don't mind being busy, our schedule has required us to stay in Tbilisi. So, when Nana, one of our Georgian teachers, asked if we would be interested in leaving the city with her on a trip she was organizing with her friends, we replied in the affirmative.
The trip was to be a pilgrimage to Gergeti Sameba Church (Translation: Gergeti (name of nearby town) Trinity Church), a church built in the 14th century high up in the Caucasus, near Mt. Kazbegi, at an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,850 ft). The feast is known as Gergetoba, or the "Day of Gergeti," a sort of homecoming. As it would be the feast day and draw hundreds, if not thousands, of people to the church, Nana personally hired a Marshrutka (van) to leave at around 5 am on Monday to make the 3 hour drive and still give us time to get to the church before the crowds would.
I woke up to my alarm at 4:45 and quickly got dressed and ready, waiting for Nana's call to tell us to wait outside for the marshrutka. She did call us, but it was to tell us that the driver hadn't shown up and that he wasn't answering his phone. She apologized and said that it looked like the trip would have to be canceled. Disappointed, Derek and I began to explore other options of getting to Gergeti, but at 5:45, Nana called again with good news: the driver was here, having apparently overslept. 5 minutes later, the marshrutka stopped in front of our apartment and we climbed aboard. Shortly thereafter, we picked up the rest of our group, for a total of 18 people including the driver crammed into a van that had seats (after modification) for 16.
Tired, I slept for most of the drive until we reached the mountains. What awoke me was the cold. Tbilisi had been quite hot, with highs well into the 80s, yet here we were, less than 100 miles away and it was in the 40s. Snowpacks near the road were melting and feeding roaring creeks. At times the driver had to slow to a crawl because the road had disintegrated or because a herd of cattle was crossing the road (or being driven down the road by an old lady with a switch, in some cases). We briefly stopped in a small town before beginning our final ascent (by marshrutka, anyway) so that the driver could check his engine, and while waiting, I saw a sow roaming the street with one of her piglets.
The marshrutka driver parked at a point where the road became to steep for him to continue driving confidently. From the marshrutka, I could see Gergeti Sameba way up at the top of the ridge--it was going to be a long hike. And it had started to rain. After trekking for an hour up muddy, steep hills and trying to avoid being run over by people who though that their cars could make it up the hill, I finally reached the top of the ridge. I felt as though I had been transported to another world. Up here, I was surrounded by a mist so thick that I could not see where I had come from. In the distance I could see Gergeti Sameba, it too, fading in and out of visibility. As I made my final ascent, I heard the church bells ringing, signaling the beginning of Liturgy.
The church is surrounded by a wall, not that it really needed any defenses being high up in the mountains, which can only be entered through the bell tower. I ducked under the low stone archway and was greeted by a mob of people crowded near the entrance to the church. I'd experienced Georgian mobs before and I knew I was about to experience some uncomfortable squeezing (had the marshrutka driver woken up when he should have...). The flow of people in and out of the church was being controlled by three stocky altar boys who basically played the role of bouncers. We pushed to get in, and they pushed with all their might back, straining against the stone door frame. Whenever a few people left the church, they let a few people in. So, even though I was within 10 feet of the entrance, it took me more than an hour (!!!) to get into the church; the last 10 feet took longer than the hike up the mountain. My Georgian teacher, Nana, despite reaching the church after I did, wedged her way into the church in fewer than 30 minutes--she wasn't afraid to push people out of her way and her smaller size helped.
I was physically drained from both the hike and the pushing by the time I made it into the church. It was no less crowded inside the church than outside, but now we were indoors and the body heat from the hundreds of people made it quite stifling. I admired the frescos as best as I could from the rear of the church and under poor lighting (see pictures). Patriarch Ilia was serving liturgy which meant that the service would last at least 4 hours. After an hour had passed, I began to feel queasy from the heat, exhaustion from the hike and little sleep, and from fasting (I was planning to take communion). Knowing it wiser to leave than risk fainting, or worse, vomiting over all the people crowded around me, I left. Fortunately, getting out is much easier than getting in and soon I was breathing fresh air. It had started to sleet. I found some of Nana's friends and we descended the mountain together.
We shared food (khachapuri, corn bread, cucumber, fruit, cheese, chicken...) while we waited for the rest of the party to make the descent. By the time they arrived, I was already quite full yet our first stop on our way back was a khinkali (dumpling) restaurant. Nana had brought 5 liters of wine and someone else in the group had brought another 2. We sat down at a long table already occupied by 2 men from Hungary who were well on their way to getting drunk with bottles of vodka and beer before them. They asked me if I was from Tajikistan (I've heard many guesses before, but never Tajikistan!), which was probably a good guess considering our location. Our khinkali arrived, but we were seriously disappointed: this region of Georgia is considered the birthplace of khinkali yet what we were served was awful. We said goodbye to the Hungarians, by now almost oblivious to their surroundings, packed our wine, and headed off to a restaurant an hour away that was sure to serve us good khinkali.
And we weren't disappointed this time. We ate and ate and drank and drank for the longest time until I began to feel sick again. But before I did, we had finished the wine (all 7 liters), and with no more wine, there was no more reason to hang about. We all piled back into the marshrutka and merrily continued on our way. We made one stop at a castle and church on the banks of the Ananuri Reservoir. The reservoir was created during the Soviet period to generate electricity and provide a source of drinking water for Tbilisi. Unfortunately, a village was drowned to make this reservoir, and if the water level were at maximum, the castle and church would also have been drowned. You can see pictures of the castle and church as well as all the pictures from this trip at my flickr site (link in side bar).
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I completed my day at the hospital as normally scheduled, leaving the hospital a little before 4 pm for my 4:30-6:30 language lessons. After lessons, I got a quick bite to eat and took the marshrutka back to Ghudushauri, arriving at 8 pm. By then, only the night shift staff were there. They consisted of 3 surgeons, the resident (Nino), 4 or 5 nurses, and us students. Not much was happening, so we students retreated to one of the empty patient rooms where I did my Georgian homework while the Batumi students read my lessons with great interest. By 11:30, still no emergencies requiring the General Surgery department had arrived, so Nino, herself bored, took Roini (one of the students) and me to the Emergency room on the first floor to see what was happening. There was one patient who had injured his legs in a car accident in Turkey (he is from Batumi, a city near the Turkish border), and had been referred to Ghudushauri for treatment (it's the nation's top public hospital). Another patient was a teenager who had dislocated his patella (knee cap). He will most likely require surgery, but it wasn't an emergency so he was discharged.
We returned to our "home" on the sixth floor and had tea. The doctors asked me how many states were in the US, and when I told them 50, they didn't quite believe me. Then they began to name all the states they could recall (which was actually most of them), but when I told them that they had forgotten Washington state, they corrected me, saying that Washington is the capital (in Georgian, dedakalaki, literally "mother city"). I tried my best to explain that there was also a state by the same name, but my Georgian was not good enough. After a few minutes of this, I gave up. Next time I'll bring a map of the US.
By one o'clock, we were making plans to go to sleep, and if any emergency should arise, we would be woken. But just then we got a call that a patient had been admitted with a bullet wound to the abdomen. We all came to life and excitedly rushed downstairs to see the patient. As it turned out, the patient, a man in his 20s, had suffered a knife wound, not a gunshot wound. He immediately recognized that I was foreign (like all the other Georgians--my half-Taiwanese look gives me away), and loudly greeted me and gave me his hand to shake. The patient was also very drunk (which is not unusual for these late night emergencies) and would not cooperate with the nurses or doctors, pushing them away if they tried to examine his wound. Finally he calmed down and our surgeon was able to examine him. The surgeon felt that it was necessary that he be opened up because there was a good chance that his large intestine had been perforated, and he was prepped for surgery. But he refused treatment. Knowing that he was drunk, the surgeon asked his family (who had arrived by then, not looking too happy) for permission. But they too refused permission. All of us medical personnel were quite frustrated with situation because we knew that if his intestines indeed were perforated, he could develop the very dangerous peritonitis. The only reason for denying surgery (and it's a pretty good one) I can think of is that the family is afraid of the cost of surgery (very few people are insured in Georgia), and are hoping that he didn't suffer any internal damage. There being nothing more we could do except monitor him, we moved him up to the 6th floor. I won't be surprised if he'll have to have surgery soon.
By the time we returned to the 6th floor it was already 3 am. Exhausted, I grabbed a blanket and fell asleep in one of the unoccupied hospital beds. I woke up at 8 and groggily walked into the nurses station to find Nino bright and ready as ever--she's a pro at this. As tired as I am now, the experience was thrilling and I'll doubtless spend more nights at Ghudushauri.
Monday, July 9, 2007
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...
Friday, July 6, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Kashveti is a relatively new church, having been built in the early 20th century, but like Sameba Cathedral (built in the last decade and still not complete), it was built in the traditional Georgian style (i.e. cross-cupola). The name Kashveti comes from the words kva (stone) and shva (give birth) in honor of the legend that a pregnant woman who falsely accused St. David of being the father gave birth to a stone when he touched her belly, and it was revealed who the true father was. The interior of Kashveti reminds me of most Orthodox churches I've seen, but everything is made of stone. Even the iconostasis is made of marble. What I find most interesting is the fresco above the altar. It is definitely not Byzantine style, and if it's Georgian, it reminds me a lot of South Asian art. I'll try to take a picture of it and post it. I also found it curious that a copy of DaVinci's last supper is framed above the royal doors.
Vespers begins at 5 pm on Saturdays, and even though we make a point of getting there by 4:45 at the latest, the church is already quite full. I would guess that the floor area is no more than 2,000 square feet, but hundreds of people fill the church, so many that the church is overflowing with people standing outside (maybe this is why Orthodox churches are "standing room only"). More than likely the huge crowd is due to the church's downtown location, but every one of them are serious churchgoers, clearly there for prayer. It is quite encouraging to see that so many of the faces there are young, from infants to young adults.
The Georgian Orthodox Church does not practice frequent communion as the OCA does; therefore, in order to receive communion, you must give confession the evening before--every time. But this hardly means that people rarely take communion; rather, most of the serious Christians simply make a habit of going to confession very regularly. I draw this conclusion partly from the observation that confessions are very short, lasting no more than 2 minutes, and most around the 1 minute range. There may be a practical explanation for short confessions, too--if you have several hundred parishioners and only 3 priests, and a priest might hear dozens of confessions on a Saturday night... I have gone to Kashveti twice now and taken communion both times (the OCA and Georgian Orthodox Church have a warm relationship, so communion is not a problem). Even though it's all in Georgian, the Divine Liturgy is the Divine Liturgy no matter what language, and I can follow along. Besides being crammed next to each other, going up to take communion itself is a bit of a hardship: Georgians don't believe in lines, perhaps this is rebellion against the Soviet Days, but there is simply a mob of people jostling against each other to reach the chalice. Luckily, I stand out as a foreigner, and as Georgians considers guests as "Gifts from God," both times I have been (eventually) ushered to the front of the mob by old ladies.
After Liturgy last Sunday, I went with my friend Giorgi Chekhiedze to Laguna Vere, the swimming pool of Tbilisi. During Soviet times, the pool was the training center for potential Olympic Athletes. Thinking that it would be simply a matter of going to the pool for a swim, I was surprised when Giorgi said that first I would need to have ID photos made. As it turns out, Laguna Vere takes the health of its customers' feet very seriously, and before any new member can swim there, he must first pass a health screening, which consists showing one foot to the nurse. No fungus, no problem. I was promptly issued my Laguna Vere ID and proceeded to the pool.
The pool was your standard outdoor pool with three depths: 6 meters, 2.5 meters, and 1 meter. After swimming a few lengths, Giorgia and I made our way to the water slide. Once tired of that, we joined a couple of kids in a game of pool volleyball. I would have played more if my legs hadn't decided to cramp on me (it always happens to me when I haven't been swimming for a while). After having spent a few hours there, we left and I returned home.
Monday and Tuesday were spent at Gudushauri, as usual. We have settled into a nice routine there and are beginning to really enjoy our time there. The nurses enjoy having us around and are intrigued by our Georgian homework and eager to help us out. On Monday we observed an inguinal hernia repair. I'll spare you the gory details, but I will say that I was fascinated by the manner in which the small intestine was simply shoved back into the abdomen.
Today, our free day, was spent without Fr. Theodore, so we made our own plans. As it was July 4th, Derek and I agreed that the only proper way to celebrate the holiday would be to eat at McDonald's. We invited Ana (a Georgian U of C student whom we had met earlier) and Nikoloz, an incoming U of C student whom we hadn't met yet. We filled Nikoloz in on life at the U of C and I did my best to defend his top choice of dorm (Shoreland), as it is my dorm, too, from the critical comments of Derek and Ana (Shoreland is the best!). The McDonald's was much like your typical European McDonald's: nicely furnished, multiple stories, and (for Georgia) an island of cleanliness. During our meal, the electricity went out a couple of times. No one there was surprised, as power outages were once very common just a few years ago.
Not quite full (McDonald's never fills me up), we left our separate ways. I headed off to meet Giorgi, Derek felt like exploring Old Tbilisi, and Nikoloz and Ana returned to their respective homes. Giorgi and I were off to the American Chamber of Commerce in Tbilisi to buy tickets for the 4th of July celebrations at Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), actually held on July 7th. By now used to impromptu meetings with Giorgi's many friends, I wasn't too surprised when he told me that we would first be going to an Azerbaijani restaurant to eat with some of his friends. The food was delicious and very different from what I had been eating. There were shish-kabobs made from lamb, beef, and turkey, and a repulsive looking soup (it consisted of lamb, fat, and garbanzo beans--supposedly the perfect treatment for a hangover) that actually tasted quite good.
Eventually I made it to AmCham where I bought tickets for myself, Giorgi, Ana, and Nikoloz. Being a hot day, Giorgi and I decided to go to the swimming pool again. We ended up spending 3+ hours there swimming, sliding, and napping. I returned home only to find that the electricity was out, which is why this post is late in being published!