Monday, March 29, 2010

Mtshteka, Gori, and Borjumi -30 March

What a day.

Twenty of us took two people carriers for a tour of some local Public Achievement sites.  Unlike the last three days, which we fortunately spent indoors doing the workshop, today was brilliant: clear skies (other than the Tblisi smog), light wind, and a very warm sun - it was maybe 60 degrees most of the day.

Our first stop was in Mtshteka, the ancient capital of Georgia.  There is no PA happening, but there was also no way that our Georgian hosts were going to let us leave Georgia without seeing Mtshteka.  The center of the city, which is beautiful and clean, is the cathedral, built in 600 CE.  It was beautiful, as are all cathedrals, and Mass was happening while we were there.  I bought some gifts (this is very unusual for me, since I am often the one buying gifts at the airport on my way out) at the market in Mtsheteka, but our stay was brief.

We took beautiful backroads to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin.  What a strange place!  There is a massive statue of Stalin in the town's square.  There's a Stalin museum, complete with the house in which he was born, around which has been built a covering portico.  We visited a Public Achievement project there that was fascinating.  Manana is a woman who is the leader of the local IDP community.  After going to Poland for Public Achievement training in 2007, she returned and organized the different IDP settlements using the Public Achievement process, and the results have been really encouraging.  Where once there was no running water, now there s running water; where once children had no schools, they have schools (with computers and Internet connection).  The list is long.  It is almost as if the settlements were waiting for a tool.  They had the skill, the intelligence, the wherewithal, but they didn't know how to act on this.  PA provided an avenue for their talents to travel.  We visited Manana at her headquarters (she had three cellphones - all of them ringing at one time or another during our 15 minute stay - and two computer screens shining brightly), and then we visited a settlement on the edge of Gori.  This settlement used to be a very informal wayside rest with some two-story dwellings.  Since 1993, 25 families from South Ossetia have lived there.  There is no municipal garbage removal, so they have had to figure out what to do with their waste.  There is one running water spigot for all 25 families.  They allow the water to run, this in a country where everyone is predicting a water shortage.  Public Achievement has been an organizing tool for the people of the settlement.  One family's steps - the dwellings are two-story - were so rickety that they had to stop living on the second floor, so they all agreed to fix the steps.  The government supplied the materials, but the people had to provide the L-shaped design, pour the concrete slabs, and build the stairs.  The families wanted a kindergarten, so they used PA to organize the work and how it would be done by the community.  The families wanted a computer classroom, complete with Internet connection, and so they worked with Manana to gather new computers.  How they created their network, I don't know, but it is an impressive room.  The women, after attending a PA training about social entrepreneurship, gathered some money, purchased a loam, and have been weaving wool.  They create beautiful tapestries, which they paint and sell.  They used PA as an organizing tool to plan and implement a room in which the women can do their weaving and sewing.  It's very, very impressive.

After a lunch of Coke and meat-filled dumplings (a ground meat in salty broth wrapped in an egg noodle), we drove from Gori to Borjumi. The last 30 miles, the highway was wedged between a brimming Mktvari River and 1000-foot cliffs and bluffs.  Borjumi was a popular resort village during the Soviet Union era - it is also Georgia's Evian, the site of Borjumi water, which frankly tastes a bit acrid to me, but each to his own:) - and when the displacement of Ossetians occurred in 1993, 400 people were moved into an old 12-story sanatorium.  Julie and Ala were raving about how much nicer it was since their last visit in the fall (new windows, the vast majority of hanging wires clipped), but it was still pretty austere.  The elevators don't work, and there are no lights in the stairwells. Everywhere in the public spaces (hallways, lobbies), there was a breeze.  Aufto is the PA organizer here, and he took us to his fourth floor room.  Each room is 15-feet long and 8-feet wide.  Some families of 4, 5, or 6 live in one room.  Other families, especially extended families, remodel and add doors between rooms so that they might have 2, 3, and on rare occasions 4 rooms.  It's hard to do justice to what Aufto's team has done here.  The building was without water (!) until Aufto's PA team organized an effort to lay pipe from a stream up the mountain.  (I assume that there is no purification plant - they are drinking the water straight from the mountain stream.)  Not only did they provide water for the IDP, but they also shared the water with the rest of Borjomi.  They organized to build storage garages on the grounds behind the building.  They organized to build kitchens in 26 rooms!  (Only then did Aufto have his kitchen built.)  They organized to install toilets.  Often the kitchen and the bathroom was one room, with the sink beside the shower head with a drain in the floor. The rooms we saw had created separate kitchen and bathroom spaces.   People still cook primarily on small four-legged stoves, and the venting is very, very poor.  I asked Aufto where he learned his skills - he really is a jack-of-all-trades - and he told me that he learned them when he was in the Soviet army.  I told him that at least the Soviet army was good for something (it was the Russian army that displaced Aufto in 1993), and he laughed.  He is teaching others on his team to do the work that he learned in the army.  I was deeply moved by my trip to Borjumi, and I told Aufto that the stories that are happening here and need to be told, that I would do my best to tell my version in America.  This is my first effort.

We returned to Tblisi in the early evening, and all twenty of us ate at a Azeri restaurant near Freedom Square.  We started with a bowl of soup with small noodle-wrapped dumplings with small bits of meat and spices in the middle.  The broth was salty with cilantro and chives, and each table had two small shot glasses filled with chopped garlic in oil that we spooned into the soup.  This was served with the local bread, which is delicious.  That was followed by dolomades (at least that is how I know it): stuffed grape leaves with a creamy, garlic-y sauce.  Fabulous.  Then - we danced!  Okay, I tried to dance.  We first danced to Azeri music, and then we danced to the Georgian music.  I felt like I could keep up with the Azeri dances, but the Georgian movements were a bit too quick and intricate.  Kakha and Edgar, two young Georgians, were amazing dancers, as were the Azeri women Vafa, Shahnaz, Gulshon, and Shunafa.  Quiet Elvin, composed Elvin, was the only Azeri male who danced, and he was wonderful.  What an amazing end to a wonderful day that I will never forget.  Tonight, I had to say goodbye to my translator Rodami and to Murinha, who did much of the logistics planning  for my time in Tblisi.  They were so gracious.

Tomorrow, I leave with the Azeris for Ganja, Azerbaijan.  The details of my time in Azerbaijan are still a bit up in the air, but if I am near a computer with Internet, I'll write again tomorrow.


  1. Michael

    What an amaizing day. This is really the kind of experince that is life changing and life informing.

    The work being done using the PA process is significant. Progress is relative and from where many of these communities started, their progress is substantial.

    Keep the stories coming, I'm enjoying all of them.

    Note: What does IDP stand for? In corporate speak that would translate to Individual Development Plan...thinking it means something different in the world of PA:)


  2. Ok - lets try amazing, experience...perhaps some spell ck capability would be helpful!


  3. Hello...Micheal.
    The stories all sound amazing and eye opening! I am having flashbacks of my trip to Costa Rica and premonitions of my trip to Bolivia this summer.

    I am wondering how you see/think of the connections between the PA you see there and the PA you see in the US. Are they the same structure?

    What can we learn from the way that PA is done in other countries that we can apply to PA in the US?

    Thanks for sharing your stories, and I look forward to hearing more.