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Letters home from Tbilisi, Georgia by Warren Hedges ’00
Letters home from Tbilisi, Georgia by Warren Hedges ’00
Letters home from Tbilisi, Georgia
by Warren Hedges ’00
Warren Hedges is a Peace Corps volunteer in the town of Sachkhere, which is located about 85 miles northeast of Tbilisi, Georgia.
October 14, 2001
Winter is slowly approaching life in Sachkhere. My host mother, Lia, is going through liters of cooking oil canning cooked cabbage and tomato salad. Driving into Tbilisi this morning I could see the leaves starting to change in the mountains. Our own stack of firewood sits in shed in our yard. Right next to it is the real treat of this season – 200kg of white grapes sitting in a hollowed out log with a hole at one end. We’ll press these today or tomorrow and pour the ‘new wine’ into huge clay pots buried in the ground.
Two weekends ago I went out to the eastern region of Khaheti, considered by Georgians, Russians, and others in the know to have the best grapes in E. Europe. We spent the day in one family’s vineyard picking 700kg of grapes and pressed them that evening. Everything – the juice and the pressings go into the same pot. After a few weeks they strain off the pressings and transfer them to another pot. These ferment for a few more months and the are distilled in a simple still to make the potent “tcha-tcha.” It can be used for cleaning greasy gears, starting fires or getting wasted.
The past week I went to one wake and a separate funeral. The wake was for a 40-something man who was working on a roof when his scaffolding collapsed. His family is now one of many in town who have lost a young father. The most common causes are the rcent (and on-going) war in Abkhazia, accidents, and drugs. The funeral was for the mother-in-law of one of the teachers at school. The family keeps the body at home for 5-7 days. The elder women watch over the body and wail as people walk through to pay their respects.
This is all followed by an enormous supra. And toasts. And wine. Lots of it. The tamada (toastmaster) made a toast to all the victims of the attacks in the US. Shortly afterward the wine must have gotten a little strong ’cause it hit me much harder. My host mother again reminded me “ghvino tsudia” (wine is bad) later that night.
The other major news here deals with Abkhazia – a breakaway region in Georgia’s western territory. Following the downing of a UN helicopter and a so-far mysterious bombing attack on an Abkhazian village, everybody here as been tense. A PCV closer to the border has seen several troop transports heading west. In my own town several of the officers of the National Guard unit have been dispatched. Many of the young officers in the guard unit have been to the US, mostly to Fort Benning in Georgia.
School continues to be a chaotic mass of lour little kids and teachers. But they are learning. I had my first English club on Friday. About 35 kids crowded into a small trailer to learn all about witches, ghosts, pumpkins and trick-or-treating. Halloween is the word of the week. No word yet on the further construction of the school. One of the USAID backed organizations has been dragging its feet with issuing the final contract.
Preparations for winter continue. No idea what canned item will be going on next week. Anything is guaranteed to be good. Last year they went three months without any electricity. But on the bright side, winter also means more meat on the table as slaughter animals that can’t be fed all season long.
February 24, 2002 – Snow Storm and Stalin
A massive snowstorm hit Sachkhere last week, cutting of the roads to Tbilisi and the electricity for 4 days. We almost ran out of water in our basins. That translates into another week Warren goes without doing his laundry. Ah, the wonders of baby powder. The big news at school now is that we have two computers running. They are in a secure room at the post-office where we can use them for two hours a day while the generator is running. I’ve been training teachers how to use them. So far the teachers are almost as impatient as their students. And almost as fun.
The other big news is the continuing hepatitis outbreak at school. The sixth student this year to get the virus is home for about 2 months. We have sterilized the boxcar classrooms twice with some disinfectant; the contamination is most likely from food or water. Having a latrine up hill of school and no washing facilities doesn’t help either.
School continued despite the foot of snow on the ground. No real road crews here so digging out, really is digging out... shovel by shovel. I helped clear the snow from the roof of our wine cellar and corncrib to prevent collapse. Late on the third day we got some running water. Mom, Dad, Jason and others who tried calling, my phone was off once the battery went dead.
This coming week I will be leaving my host family and moving uptown to Stalin Street (the apartments on Lenin Street weren’t that good... I’m serious). After wandering through the smoky rooms and construction sites of the local real estate market, I have found an apartment, now complete with iron bars where I can escape from nagging host mothers (really, I know when I am hungry and when I want to eat), and enjoy living on my own Georgian style. I still need to get a plastic basin to store water in.
In other news, I have no idea what is going on in the world. Of course one in 10 Georgian men approach me and ask me to explain the foreign policy of the US and how exactly we are going to capture bin Laden. This ratio increases to 1 in 5 when there is a supra. So, what ever is going on out there, I hope its going well for you. I’m doing just fine.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.