Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sweating it Out in the Conflict Zone

Well, I picked a pretty rough time to visit Georgia's breakaway region.  As I've told many of you, last week I crossed the border into Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.  I was supposed to go with an Abkhaz citizen studying in Georgia but he flaked out on me.  Reluctantly I decided to go to Abkhazia alone.  

If you've been reading stuff you know that Georgia has been warring with Russia primarily through the breakaway region of South Ossetia.  South Ossetia and Abkhazia have an agreement that if Georgia enters either region, both sides will attack Georgia starting a "second front."

Two days ago I woke up in Abkhazia ready to leave the region after a couple bad nights of getting bit by mosquitos.  As I left the region Russian tanks were mobilizing, getting ready to attack Georgia.  I slipped across the border into Georgia just before the borders closed.

I'm now relatively safe in Tbilisi.  The Russian's have taken back Tskinvali, the South Ossetian Capital, and their tanks and air craft have flooded both breakaway regions.  In my view there isn't any reason for more fighting to take place.  Russia has already asserted control in both of Georgia's breakaway regions, what does it have to gain by destroying another Georgian city.

I don't want to sound like too much of a distant observer here.  My close friends have had their homes and all their possessions destroyed in the fighting.  Many of them don't know if their relatives in Gori are alive.

Below are some pictures from my excursion into Abkhazia:

Riding in the backseat with Abkhaz separatists, I've never been this close to a Kalashnikov rifle.
That's Temo on the left, an Abkhaz militant separatist who took me to Sokhumi—Abkhazia's capital.
In the days of the USSR Abkhazia was the number one resort destination for all the elite Soviet officials and Premieres.
This is my "this country is going to hell, get me out of here" face.  I'm heading back to Tbilisi from Abkhazia.  The radio was blaring the latest news in Georgian as women cried and men looked on distantly in anguish.
I've got to get back to reporting, I'll give an update when I can. I appreciate the words of concern everyone has given me.  I really think the fighting is over now but there's no way to be sure yet.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Few Radio Pieces I've Filed This Summer

The other day I grabbed some of my radio stories from the station's computers.  Here are a few clips. 

This first one follows the story of two teenagers enamored with 2Pac. They, along with many Georgian youth, love Gangsta Rap.

The next story follows Tbilisi's booming car market.  Want to be a car salesman? Just grab some friends, take a road trip to Germany, buy some Beemers and drive them back to Georgia. Fsyo!

If you're interested in why Georgia is on the brink of war with Russia, this piece with Georgia's premiere foreign policy wonk will clear things up.  If you're not interested, this clip will bore you to death.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Weekend's Heart-melting Moment

I'm sitting in a patch of dirt outside Tbilisi's local journalism school.  It's closed today but I can still connect to their wi-fi.

As I'm looking over next week's assignments three curious little 6-year-old girls walk cautiously up to me.  They stop short at about 3 feet and pause.  They are adorable.  As one starts whispering Georgian in her friend's ear, I send them a big goofy "hey kids!" smile.  

With that the kids ambush me—jumping on my shoulders, tickling arm pits and squealing like pigs. I give into their horseplay.

To catch my breath I open the Apple Photo Booth application to avert their attention.  As soon as the girls see their distorted faces on the screen their faces explode in ecstasy.  Below is a little sampling of the fun.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Throwing a Party in the former Soviet Union (VIDEO BELOW)

One day before my first foray into Eurasian party hosting, my Georgian confidante David Chaganova offered some strong concerns about the event's prospects.
"Our culture, it's not like in America," he said. Sitting on my sherbet orange living room couch his countenance suggested an irritated fatigue. "Girls, their parents.  They will be worried about their daughters being out so late.  They stay until 11 at the latest.  And it's not just the time. Parents, if they let their daughters go, will want to come into your apartment and see things. I don't think people will stay for very long."
Shaken by Chaganova's account, I reconsidered all my plans.  But it was too late to stop the party.  When I was inviting people they seemed mostly optimistic.  Was I missing something?   
Regardless of the constraining social norms, I felt that if I could just get my guests to start playing flip cup—loud music and lots of beer would makes things ok. 
Logistically, things fell into place well.  While I couldn't find a bar owner anywhere who could get me a keg, Kezbegi, a local brewery, served beer on the riverside with a big hose.  Customers were invited to bring containers and fill 'er up.  With a carful of 4-liter plastic jugs, I earned the respect and curiosity of many Georgian onlookers as the brewmaster shoved his mighty hose in the numerous receptacles.  
As for constraining social norms—no noticeable impediments.  
Much to my chagrin, I didn't capture any footage of the flip cup playing. Below are some sloppily-taken video clips from the party...

Per Capita Drunkenness: High
Frequency of Strange/Peculiar expressions of enjoyment : High 

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Welcome to the suburban projects of Phonichala (my temporary home for the last week)

For awhile I thought this guy was a cobbler, as one might infer from sign above his trailer/store. As far as I can tell, the trailer is just a place to hang out and smoke cigarettes all day. Him and I couldn't communicate but we enjoyed each other's company at the local bar (the local bar is a small picnic table that serves one kind of beer for 40 Tetri or USD 30 cents GAMARJOBAT!)

.  Carved, scratched and spray-painted onto the walls and doors of nearly every 10 story high-rise in Phonichala are the names of 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, DMX, Eminem, et al.  The only local I've come into contact with who spoke English asked only one thing of me:
"Tell me, please tell me of 2Pac. What do you know of him? Anything of 2Pac? You like? You like?" he pleaded.
At this point, I felt an incredible degree of self-irony as I, one of the least qualified Americans to explain the tale of 2Pac, began to give a brief biography:
"Uh well, you see, there was this East-West rivalry... And... uh it was 2Pac versus Notorious BIG and they really didn't like each other...and...uh....Oh! 2Pac died in 1996 the same year Weezer's Pinkerton came out, do you like Weezer?"

Friday, May 30, 2008

On Internet Addiction and Why it May Lead to the Unintentional Destruction of My Computer

The situation is tense.  I'm surrounded by rolling luggage and men in suits walking briskly through London Heathrow Airport.  My flight to Tbilisi leaves in 8 hours so to kill time I purchased a day's worth of wi-fi access.  Trouble is my battery is down to 30 percent and falling fast.  I found an outlet positioned tragically close to a duty free French Connection boutique, which happens to be filling my side of the airport with this incessant high bass Euro-electric lounge music (the kind of shit you'd expect in France).

Anyway, I'm not consumed with trepidation because of the airport's ambiance, I'm worried about frying my MacBook by plugging it into this 220V outlet.  I've got a converter that can give me a 50 or 1600 Watt conversion but I don't know which to select.  The wrong one could mean the end of my MacBook but inaction means languishing in this airport for 7 more hours sans internet.  I'm pretty sure these laptop power cords have somewhat of a built-in surge protector but I feel like I'm really rolling the di...hold it.... hold it....OK!

Wow thanks to a timely instant message from my soon-to-be-friend in Georgia it seems I don't need a converter at all—just a plug adapter, which I already have.  This is good, things are happening, wheels turning, planets aligning, stay tuned...

Monday, May 5, 2008

On Blogging

The prospect of starting one's own blog in the current tech-infused ethos of 2008 still has some mixed social baggage to be sure.  

Two or three years ago a person who blogged was a bit of an abstract character. Someone distant, barely real and probably, definitely desperately lonely.  Today the social scorn for the practice of blogging is felt less acutely.

For Example:

Last week was the final week of classes for the semester.  Thursday saw the last day of MC271, a course titled "Constitutionalism and Democracy" taught by a mildly complacent, free-marketeer Professor who attached a link to his personal blog on the class syllabus.

Thursday, when my Prof brought the final class to an end I rushed out of the room to urine in the bathroom.  As my pee flowed out with great relief under the yellowy fluorescent lights of the washroom, I became aware of a wistful sense of regret—I didn't leave my professor with a closure comment.  

I don't mean the "have a good summer, Professor" kind of bullshit comment. I felt I owed him something more substantive.  This was the last class I would take with the guy and I had been in touch with him since freshman year using him as a source for articles in the student paper and hearing his lectures in Wilson Hall. 

Lucky for me, all was not lost.  As I entered the last leg of my urinary stretch the Professor marched into the bathroom and waited disinterestedly next to my urinal.  Giving a cautious glance in his direction I looked to verify that it was indeed him.   Sure enough it was.  But what to say?  The etiquette for semester-ending closure comments is different in a bathroom environment.  

Normally I'd say something like "Really enjoyed the class."
He'd say, "Pleasure having you."
And that'd be the end of it.  But could I really pull off "Really enjoyed the class" while shaking off the remaining vestiges of urine from myself? This seemed off.

As alternative conversation pieces raced through my head, I remembered his blog.  Could that work? To think of it, his blog sucked.  He only updated it twice over the semester.  There's no way he expected students to actually look at it.  I myself felt pretty embarrassed that I actually took the time to read it but I suppose we all fall prey to unlikely web destinations from time to time.  Aw, Hell.

"Haven't updated the ol' blog in awhile," I said expectantly.
What an ass I am. As if mentioning his blog wasn't terrible enough, it was "the ol' blog."
"Have you read it?" he sounded surprised.
 "Yeah, some interesting stuff on urban growth, property taxes and [blah, blah, blah]" I said while ripping off a square of paper towel.  
"Didn't have the time to post much on it this year," he said while taking his turn at the urinal.
At this point my hands were dry and I didn't feel like loitering around purposelessly.
"Well... have a good one," I said.
"Take care, John." [Door creaks and slams]

I bring this brief happenstance to light only to support my claim about blogging's mixed acceptance in today's world.  It was painful bringing up his blog but not painful enough to prevent me from doing so. A few years ago I would have never dared to make reference to what used to seem like a man's self-gratifying escape into pointless online nothingness.
Blogs are a bit more credible now, almost cute. Asking someone about their blog is more and more similar to asking them about legitimate things like weekend golf scores and sick family members.

I guess I'm trying to say that I'm aware that with this first post I am opening myself up to being tarred with the same brush as every other blogger.  And I don't know. Maybe you don't even harbor any strong opinions on the matter.  It doesn't really matter.  I just hope you all realize that I am not getting carried away in this narcissistic, voice-of-god, 4 a.m.-posting world of blogging.  I enter this practice a chastened young man.