I didn't realize until I arrived that Georgians are famed for their hospitality and friendliness. I quickly learned that they deserve that reputation.
From the day arrived Georgians went out of their way to be friendly and helpful, even if they couldn't speak any English and I didn't know any Georgian or Russian. My ﬁrst day I was wandering aimlessly looking for the US Embassy which wasn't quite where my map said it should be. I tried to ask directions but didn't know the right words. Finally someone understood and walked with me ﬁve minutes to show me exactly where it was. I assumed he was being so helpful in hopes of getting some money, but he refused my oﬁfer of a few lari.
Khaki, Nona and David Adjiashvili rented their apartment to me, moving upstairs with Khaki's parents to make room for me. I am very grateful for all oftheir help in learning my way - around Georgia. They were always eager to help me in every way I could imagine, whether it was ﬁnding my way around Tbilisi or ﬁxing my car or ﬁguring out how to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving. Both Nona and Khaki's mother oﬁen gave me food -- they are excellent cooks. And Nona invited me to meet her mother (another excellent cook, cakes a specialty) and several other friends. Nona and David even organized a trip to Vardzia. Nona's and David both spoke English well. Khaki had learned English many years ago and forgotten much of it, but he gradually remembered it during the year and a half of my stay. David helped me learn some Georgian by reading words into my computer, but I didn't study hard enough! Khaki showed me two lakes right in Tbilisi, one of them with good swimming.
Nona, Khaki and David Adjiashvili
David with his Cousin Nick Visiting from Moscow
Two boys who lived across the street, Tornike and Irakli, performed traditional Georgian dancing though I mostly saw them playing basketball.
Tornike and Irakli
Other neighbors were also very friendly, but unfortunately I don't have pictures of most of them. Many boys played basketball on the street. The best player was studying art at the university.
Vato —- Basketball Star
I was very fortunate to work with Teimuraz Kopaleishvili, the First Deputy Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee. Besides being an enthusiastic proponent of the Parliament Budget Oﬁice and a skilled and dedicated professional, Mr. Kopaleishvili was also a good friend. Michael Djibouti, the other Deputy Chairman worked just as hard and was very supportive. I was impressed with how well they worked together even though they represented different parties. The committee chairman, Zaza Sioridze and the Chairman ofthe Parliament provided crucial support to make the project succeed.
When I arrived, I was impressed with how clearly his assistant, Aleko Shaluatashvili spoke English. It took me a while to realize that although he could speak very clearly his vocabulary was quite limited. But Aleko was very helpful. Even before the budget ofﬁce was established, Rati Skhirtladze worked hard to ﬁgure out how we should organize the budget ofﬁce and get the necessary approvals.
Neli was my interpreter for the ﬁrst year I was in Georgia until my boss gave her more money to become his interpreter. Her English is excellent and she worked hard to learn the English and Georgian terminology used in budgeting. She was much more than an interpreter -- she was also my guide, helping me learn how to buy food and other necessities and helping me deal with Georgian bureaucrats. She seemed to have cousins everywhere, so that if she didn't know the answer to any question she knew someone who did. She was a good friend.
The Parliament made an excellent choice for head of the Budget Ofﬁce, Roman Gotsiridze. Roman is a PhD economist who had served as deputy prime minister a few years ago. He is bright, hard working and ambitious. His determination to make the budget ofﬁce a success and his ability to meet with reporters and publicize the work of the budget ofﬁce were critical. The Deputy Head ofthe Budget Oﬂice Myron Tugushi did an excellent job of organizing everyone's work. He knew how to work with Parliament to accomplish what we needed. I was also impressed with the other staff of the budget oﬁice. They worked very hard to gather the information they needed and to produce reports on time. They also welcomed me and made me feel like a member of their group instead of just a visitor.
Roman Gotsiridze and Myron Tugushi
They included me in their uniquely Georgian celebrations.They also helped me whenever they realized I needed help, without even waiting for me to ask. Some of the help was related to work, but they went much further, helping me buy and register my car and ﬁnd whatever I needed.
One budget expert, Victor Lordkipanidze, came to Tbilisi from Batumi on the Black Sea. When he heard that I would visit there for a weekend with some American friends, he spent most of that weekend showing us the sites with his daughter and her family.
Michael Shapiro drove me all over Tbilisi and helped me ﬁnd whatever I was looking for. He didn't complain about taking me to the airport at 4 AM or picking me up there at midnight -- he wouldn't think of letting me take a taxi. He invited me to his son's violin recital (he was excellent). It was discouraging to realize that a man with Michael's education and intelligence was making a living by driving foreigners around Tbilisi. Unfortunately I have no picture of him. There are many people who were very kind to me and I don't even remember their names. The lady in the cafe at Parliament always welcomed me, recommended the best food for my lunch and warned me when the pastry was left over from yesterday.
There are many people who were very kind to me and I don't even remember their names. The lady in the cafe at Parliament always welcomed me, recommended the best food for my lunch and warned me when the pastry was left over from yesterday.
My first excursions from Tbilisi were ski trips to Gudauri. Dr. Malkhaz Mizandari and his son Irakli took me there several times. They were very patient with me as I slowly regained what little proficiency I once had. Malkhaz was struggling to establish a neonatal clinic. The government had virtually stopped paying him a salary but he had gotten grants from Soros Foundation and others to get training in the US and the equipment he needed.
Ski companions, Malkhaz and Irakli
David Sainsbury was one of a few foreign advisors interested in exploring the far reaches of Georgia. We had many fine times wandering the countryside.
Often Archi came as our guide. He worked for the tax department but what he really wants to do is guide people for hunting and fishing. Neither David Sainsbury nor I had any interest in hunting or fishing, but Archi wanted to go to out of the way places and he didn't have a car. We were happy to take my car and explore and he was happy for the chance to go. Archi showed us many places that we never could have found on our own. And we weren't brave enough to camp out without someone like Archi to show the way.
|Archi Preparing Shishkebab Dinner|
Everywhere I traveled I met friendly Georgians. Numerous times they invited me to join their picnics or insisted that I have a glass of wine with them. Often they spoke no English and I don't know their names, but they made a fine impression for their country.
Two of my hosts deserve special mention. I spent seven nights in Kutaisi, partly because it was a convenient place to stop on my way to western Georgia, but partly because Lali Jalagania and her family were such fine hosts. They had turned their house into a small hotel but every time I arrived there I felt like I was home again.
|Lali Jalagania with me and her husband|
Twice I visited for a week the Caucasus Mountains in the Svanetti region. Both times Nana Nijaradze and her family made sure that I had a wonderful vacation. Nana arranged all the logistics, including finding a neighbor who repaired a bearing on my car without charge. Her son Giorgi (eleven years old on my first visit) was my guide. With the help of many of his cousins we explored glaciers and old villages. We spent several days in the isolated village of Ushguli where cousins made a difficult living raising cattle and making cheese. The whole family made me feel welcome so that I know I need to return again.
Giorgi (Yankees) with three cousins under some snow in July
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