Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Georgia On My Mind

There always seems to be a point in our transition to a new country where I turn to Steph (or he turns to me) and we say “[Insert name of new country/city], did you ever think we would be living in [Repeat name of country/city]?”   And the answer is always, “Nope--wasn’t even on my radar screen.”  Of course, several of our moves made some sequential sense…going from Mexico, to Peru, to Costa Rica had a certain logical progression and, of course, a common language thread. 
Only a few people looked askance at us when we announced those moves. However, the next round of relocations gave folks some pause…our Egypt/Afghanistan leap of faith had people questioning our sanity and the move to Papua New Guinea confounded many more, if only because they had to admit that they had no idea where it was and, once they Googled it, had only scary information to go on.   The bottom line in the world of international development work is that you go where the jobs are -- that can make sense or not, but you really cannot plot a career path in the same way that other professions are able to achieve.  Not a complaint, mind you, but an observation that if I had been asked 30 years ago when we got married where I thought we would be living at this point in our lives, the Republic of Georgia could not have been further from my mind.
Yet, here we are and I have to say that on many levels, I feel like we won the lottery.  This is particularly true when you look at the countries/locations available for international development jobs and Peace Corps in particular.  We are never going to be located in London, Paris, or Rome, but Tbilisi is getting closer (certainly within striking distance), and it has a history and cultural identity that parallels and intersects that of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  So, I am thrilled with living in Georgia, and in no particular order, here are three initial reasons why:

Georgia is Beautiful
  We arrived in Tbilisi mid-November and, while we were told this was not the best time of year to come, there must have been an unusual stretch of great weather---sunny, relatively warm—perfect for walking around the neighborhood and beyond.    Many of the streets of Tbilisi are wide and tree-lined with outdoor produce and flower vendors galore.  

There are old churches, parks and monuments throughout the city, as well as museums and the newly renovated opera house, which just reopened last week.  Outside of Tbilisi, the farms and open spaces right now are a bit brown and dull looking, but will undoubtedly turn green and lush in the spring.  And the mountains---they are something spectacular in winter—and only a couple of hours away from our apartment.  There is still much for us to explore, including the coast along the Black Sea, but what we have seen so far is stunning.

  Georgia is Inexpensive
It is entirely possible that my perspective on this issue is forever skewed by my having lived in Port Moresby, which was absurdly expensive, but the cost of almost everything here is extremely low by almost any standard.  The Georgian lari (or GEL as it is abbreviated and often called by some expats) currently is floating around 2.47 GEL to 1 USD, which in itself is pretty good.  You and two friends can go out to eat at a great restaurant, have appetizers and entrees with Georgian wine and beer, throw in a dessert if you still have room and pay less than $50…total…and tips are not expected.  Our most recent “big” grocery shopping trip netted a total bill of $74.30.  For me, however, the real kicker was going skiing in Guduari, a resort two hours north of Tbilisi.  All-day lift tickets and full rental equipment for four adult cost about $100—yes, that’s $25 apiece—for skiing in the Caucasus Mountains.  Did I mention that there were almost no lift lines? 
Georgia Has Great Food and Wine
 Just before we came to Tbilisi, we attended a party with a number of Peace Corps staff members who had traveled and/or lived in Georgia.  They were excited for us about our posting and one of them said to me “You’re going to gain 10 pounds living there.”  Truer words were never spoken…well, I’m not quite there yet, but the risk of my developing Type 2 diabetes is certainly on the horizon.  The Georgian cuisine is magnificent, but loaded with bread, cheese, butter, and the ubiquitous Georgian wine.  I will not go into full detail now, as Georgian food and hospitality deserves a blog entry or two on its own, but suffice it to say that I have become addicted to the meat filled dumplings (khinkali) and the cheesiest bread on earth (khachapuri).  And the fact that I can bring my own empty plastic liter bottle to a shop two blocks down the street to have it filled with a decent, drinkable Saparavi wine for 8 lari (about $3.50) is nothing short of dangerous. I have finally conceded that my waistline and chin have expanded beyond reasonable expectations given age, height, gender and genetic predisposition, and have started a more concerted exercise regime.  But I fear this is going to be a battle I will have to wage with constant vigilance as I don’t think the novelty of this delicious food will wear off any time soon. 

 So, if you are looking for a land of hospitality, history, beauty and adventure to visit where your hard earned cash will go far, look no further.   A plate of khinkali and bottle of Saparavi await you --if I don’t get to them first!