Working in Georgia is like being on a vacation; I stay in a luxury hotel, with a spa equipped with a pool, hot tub and sauna. It has nice food and my room has a wonderful view over Freedom Square, up the hill to the Citadel and across to the Presidential Palace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. St. George is constantly in the act of slaying a dragon on a pedestal just above eye level right outside my window.
On weekends I get to go to see interesting places; walled cities, monasteries, mountain scenery; and on weekday evenings I walk through a fascinating and lively old town with sidewalk cafes and friendly people.
Now in Sitka I actually have a better view out my window, and in this second career I have lived in equally fascinating cities with active street life. And I could take great weekend trips visiting castles, churches and enjoying folk culture. So why does Georgia seem like such a vacation? I think it is because I am not, ultimately, responsible. I have always sought jobs where I was the boss; I got great satisfaction out of Raven Radio. running the Serbia program, twice, and skippering programs in Slovakia, Montenegro and Kosovo. But there I was responsible for personnel management, budget development, grant writing and the endless reports, escalating by the hour, required by the US government. My travel to Egypt had some of the same aspects I enjoy in Georgia and on my first trips to Albania things seemed so hopeless that anything I could do had to help so I stayed calm. Plus the German Marshall Fund, the Fulbright program and USAID in those early days after the fall of the wall were much looser, more open to experimentation and improvisation than they seem to be now. But in Georgia I work with stations and students, write reports about my part of the project, make public presentations and let Matt and Lika handle the bureaucrats. It is not my project, it’s like a vacation. Perhaps this is what retirement is supposed to be.
Tbilisi is such an active, lively and colorful place that it is hard to believe that it had actually been in the Soviet Union, the evil empire. Bits of Socialist realist art and decoration pop up amid the old town’s balconies. A Hammer and Cycle rosette still decorates railings on a bridge. And of course there are the communist high rises that ring Tbilisi, but they have been painted, and planted, and look European.
I asked several of the young people I work with if they have any memory of the Soviet Union. It collapsed 22 years ago so the students mostly, have only their parent’s stories but I heard two this week.
One woman had been a member of the Octoberist Group as a kid; it was kind of like Brownies, before graduating to the Pioneers and winning the red scarf. For her, being able to wear the red scarf was a big milestone. It happens around New Year in the fourth grade. She had done all her preparation, was ready for the ceremony, and on Dec 25, 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. Her teacher told her she would never get to wear the red scarf. She was devastated at the time but laughs about it now.
Another story was about a little girl in 2nd grade who brought a red Easter Egg for show and tell. Her teacher was mortified. She blocked the girl from the view of the students and marched her to the dumpster and ordered her to throw the egg in. The teacher seemed to fear the egg, she refused even to touch it, even to throw it away. But the egg was red.