Thursday, April 28, 2005

Squatty Potties and other Adventures on the Road to Armenia

Two weeks into our new life in Tbilisi, we pack our suitcases, put our traveling clothes on and hit the road again, this time for a two week trip to Armenia. Dave has work here, and rather than ditching Blaine and I in Tbilisi by ourselves in a half-furnished house with no car, he brought us along. We left Monday morning, Dave, Blaine and I, along with 2 of Dave's co-workers and a driver who would take us as far as the Georgian/Armenian border. After we crossed the border another driver would pick us up and take us the rest of the way to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

The ride to the border was an uneventful hour and a half ride. We spent about a half hour or so getting through the checkpoints and soon we were on the other side. After two hours in a car bumping around on Georgian roads (which, at their best, are not so great) I had to pee. Badly. Very, very badly. While we were transferring luggage and equipment from one vehicle to another, I asked one of Dave's coworkers (the one who had been to Armenia on several occasions) about the availability of bathrooms. He said "There is a bathroom here at the border - just over there through the white door". Yippie! My bladder and I were about to be relieved. Or so I thought.

Now, for those of you who have traveled outside of the U.S., you may have experienced the "Squatty Potty" (much thanks to Ron for teaching me this phrase). A squatty potty is basically a hole in the floor. A hole that you are supposed to pee into. A hole that EVERYONE who has ever peed there MISSES. So, basically, it is a hole in the ground surrounded by puddles of urine. This was the case with the "bathroom" at the border. Before I even made it within 50 feet of the white door, I could smell the horror that awaited me. Bravely, I thought to myself "how bad can it be?" and I went inside anyway. Folks, it was beyond foul. I have smelt barns that were better than this. It was truly horrifying.

I walked back to the car and the men just assumed I had finished what I needed to do. Tentatively I approached the Armenian driver and asked about bathrooms along the way. His only advice? That I should suck it up and go now because this was probably the best bathroom we would find until we reached the Marriott in Yerevan. And Yerevan was about 4 hours away. So, I got Dave, had him stand guard (I didn't mention that the white door did not shut all the way nor did it have anything resembling a lock, did I?) and I used my first, and hopefully last, squatty potty. Dave used the bathroom after I did - men are so squatting involved, praying that you don't fall on your unbalanced ass in a pile of other people's urine - and Dave's only comment on the whole squatty potty was "I wish I would have brought the camera with me - that is truly foul in ways only a picture can describe".

The bathrooms at the Marriott are much nicer.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Georgian Style

I once read somewhere that if you are homesick, you should try to make a favorite dish to make yourself feel more "at home".

Well, we are not really homesick (yet) but Dave and I have both been wanting some chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chips are practically unheard of in Georgia. You can sometimes get them at the commissary, but the last time I was in there they only had white chocolate chips (ick, pooey). Luckily, our airfreight arrived, and tucked in with our clothing, shoes and assorted other "essentials" were 3 Costco-sized bags of chocolate chips. YAY.

But wait, the chocolate chips, baking soda and even a bag of powedered sugar was in the airfreight...but where in the samhill is my brown sugar? My brown sugar obviously did not make it into an airfreight box, so it is sitting on a cargo ship somewhere on it's way to Antwerp. And then from Antwerp to my house. I may not see my brown sugar until the end of June. HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO MAKE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES WITHOUT BROWN SUGAR? (You may have noticed that I really, really, really want them now)

Last week Dave and I head out to Goodwill (the large German-owned supermarket in town) and, be still my heart, they have brown sugar! We snatch up a bag quicker than you can say "cookies!" and cart it home with us. I am giddy with the thought of baking cookies. I love to bake and I can't wait until my house is filled with the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. What a great way to make the house feel like a home.

Oh, but you didn't think it was going to be that easy did you? Oh no no no. As I start assembling the ingredients for the cookies I realize that I don't have (a) vanilla or (b) anything resembling a cookie sheet. Now my need for chocolate chip cookies has eclipsed just "wanting" them. Now the idea of having, nay of making, chocolate chip cookies has reached quest-like proportions.

Tuesday I go shopping with Roland and at the local "Continental" supermarket I ask him to enquire of the staff whether or not they carry vanilla. Oh, yes they do! But not like the vanilla in the pretty brown jar on the shelves in the states. Oh, no. This vanilla is a small packet (which only costs 10 tetri; roughly 5 cents US) of powder. How does one use this? How does the powder translate into the one teaspoon of LIQUID vanilla I need? No one can tell me.

As for the cookie sheet? I have given up searching for one. But, I have not given up on my quest for chocolate chip cookies. Tonight I decided to break out the pyrex casserole dish and make chocolate chip cookie BARS. I carefully gathered up my ingredients: chips, flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, baking soda and I started mixing and combining to the best of my ability (by hand, my much-loved Kitchen Aid mixer is on the slow boat. Probably nestled up next to my brown sugar). Of course, the butter here is sold in bricks - no nicely wrapped sticks that are pre-measured for your convienience. The brown sugar I bought? Well, it was sugar and it was brown, but it wasn't really American-style brown sugar. And the vanilla? I just dumped in a whole package. Oh, and I forgot to mention the flour I bought here! I have no idea what kind of flour I bought. The package was entirely in German, so I have no idea if it was all-purpose, self-rising, bleached, clue.

I made the cookie bars anyway, and they didn't turn out too bad, but they didn't really taste like home.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I Scream, You Scream

We all scream for ice cream!

I forgot to mention that after our trip to Turtle Lake, Roland took Blaine and I through downtown Vake. Vake is the shopping district in Tbilisi, full of little specialty stores, chain stores (yet ANOTHER Nike store) and cafes. Vake connects up with Rustavali, which is another big shopping area. We were driving through downtown and I told Roland that I had heard there was a Baskin-Robbins in Tbilisi. Roland knew just where it was, of course, and we stopped and Blaine had a cup of strawberry ice cream - or as he calls it "pink ice cream".

Really, this city is charming and unique, but it also has just enough touches of home. I really like it here.

Stay tuned, we leave Monday morning for 2 weeks in Yerevan, Armenia. I can't wait!

Turtle Lake

Who would have guessed that in the middle of the urban sprawl that is Tbilisi there exists such a beautiful and peaceful spot like Turtle Lake?

Today we joined other expat moms (and nannies) for playgroup for the first time - usually it is at someone's house and it rotates from person to person, but today, because the weather is so good, it was held at Turtle Lake. I trusted that Roland (our driver) would know where Turtle Lake was, because I certainly had no idea. I was expecting a small pond with a path around it in the middle of some grassy patch (which are few and far between) in the middle of Tbilisi.

Instead, Roland drove us through downtown, past the Vake shopping district and then we started winding our way up the side of a mountain. The view was breathtaking. Everything is in bloom here in Tbilisi, Spring is in full swing. We finally pull into a small parking lot, get out of the car and - surprise surprise - there is Turtle Lake. Literally tucked into the side of the mountain - to the left of the car was an overlook and you could see the whole city, to the right was the lake - it is a large recreation area, with people on the lake in paddle boats, a 2.5 Kilometer track that winds it's way around the lake (including past a gorgeous waterfall that I did not get a photograph of. But I will get one next time). At one end of the lake they have a ski jump, at the other end a bandstand and children's play area. The air was beautiful because the lake is high enough on the mountain that you are out of all of the city smog. The day was beautiful and a good time was had by all. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Rockin' the Bazroba

Dave and I decided to check out the Bazroba - the local market place - today. We called our driver (we had to hire a driver because a.)our car will not arrive here until at least June and b.)taxis are very, very, very scary. Trust me on this). Our driver is Roland, a young Georgian man who speaks Georgian, Russian and English. He is fantastic. He took us to the Bazroba and was our guide, translator and bargainer.

The Bazroba is similar to a huge flea market, but, there are a few key differences between American flea markets and the Bazroba.

1. Oh, the humanity. Flea markets in America may be crowded, but not like the Bazroba. It was like every single person in Tbilisi was there. And the crowding was made worse by
2. The aisles. The aisles at the Bazroba are wide enough for one, maybe two, people to walk down. The pushing and shoving of people trying to get by is amazing. The mad press of bodies seems to go by in waves. David ended up holding Blaine because we were afraid of him getting carried away by the crowd.
3. Unlike American fleamarkets, everything in the Bazroba is new. The quality of some items may be questionable, but it is new. We bought a mop, a broom, a toaster, some power strips. We could have bought almost anything under the sun. You name it, someone at the Bazroba sells it.

I took some pictures, I don't know how well they turned out since I was being jostled as I was snapping away. If any of them turned out ok, I will post them.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Alphabet Soup

My son and I are EFMs in the FS.
We are doing good at post thanks to the CLO, the GSO and the RSO.
I'm thinking about getting a job at some point. Probably with a NGO.
I don't think I will get a job until Blaine starts QSI.
I've met many wonderful FSNs.
I'm glad I took the RAF class before coming to post.
I need to get my hands on a copy of the FAM - just in case.
I don't know much about the FSOs, but I have met the DAO and his wife.
We went to a party for a MSG who is leaving soon and I met the DCM there.
I've met the RSO's OMS and the DCM's OMS.

Crazy, isn't it. That it all makes complete sense to me.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Thomas the Tank Engine - The Steam Train to Satan

Is an evil beast. Really. Seriously. EVIL. We bought Blaine a “Best of Thomas” DVD before we left Florida. We thought a new DVD would really catch his interest on the airplane trip. We got more than we bargained for. He is so enamored of this DVD all I ever hear is “Mommy – watch Thomas Tank?” He doesn’t want to watch Dora or Toy Story or any of the other DVDs we brought with us, only Thomas will do. The only thing in our favor re: the constant loop of Thomas the Tank is that they are narrated by George Carlin. There are some Thomas Tank videos/DVDs that are narrated by Ringo Starr and some that are narrated by one of the Baldwin brothers, but the ones that are narrated by George Carlin are the best, in my opinion. Why is his narration superior? Because in my head I can hear Carlin riffing on the 7 words you can’t say on TV – and that list is pretty much the list of words that run though my head every time I have to put that damn DVD in.

Finally - The Other Georgia!

I’m typing this up on my laptop in my dark living room in our new house in Tbilisi, Georgia. Dave just went to bed – he is still fighting jetlag (We are now 8 hours ahead of EST time). Blaine is on the rug rotting his brain with a Thomas Tank DVD. Today is our second night here and we love it. Of course we have only been in this country a little over 24 hours, but if first impressions count for anything, we are going to really enjoy the next 2 years of our life.

We don’t have internet yet, and may not have it for another week or two – so in the meantime I plan on keeping up my blogging in Word and copying it all over once we are back on –line.

So, what’s Georgia like? My very first thought as we were going from the airport to our house was that Georgia was very similar to Naples, Italy. There is beautiful new construction next to crumbling buildings. Traffic is CRAZY. There seem to be no road rules at all. There are very few streets signs (I have yet to see a single sign, but I have been told there are a few). Even though many Americans tend to hire drivers here, Dave and I plan on driving ourselves. I am going to have to get very good at honking my horn as that seems to be the universal signal for “I’m driving here, this is my lane, get the hell out of my way”.

The people are very friendly. Blaine is a bit spooked by all the people tickling him under his chin or rubbing his head. And, unlike Italy, it is not just the older ladies who do this. Women and men, young and old, they all seem to be attracted to Blaine, maybe because of his strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes, or maybe just because he is the cutest kid in the whole world (in my humble opinion). Today we took a stroll downtown and he was either tickled or patted at least 4 times. At the airport, one of the workers ran up and scooped up Blaine in his arms as we were headed down the stairs from the plane to the tarmac (Blaine promptly freaked out and the nice Georgian gentleman put him down as quickly as he picked him up).

The food and shopping are great – much better than I had been led to believe. During our walk today I picked up some tomatos from a roadside stand and they were to.die.for good. I bought a loaf of bread from a local bakery – it was delicious. Regina (Dave’s boss’s wife) took us to the local supermarket, which is named “Goodwill”. This was a western-style grocery store. It had a coffee place right inside, carts with little plastic cars on the front that Blaine could “drive”, an ATM machine and they took credit cards! Yippie!

I’m off to change Blaine’s diaper (oh, you can buy Pampers here…I wish I had known that before I bought and shipped 8 Costco-sized boxes. I won’t even mention the shampoos, soaps, deodorants etc etc that I shipped that I did not need to.) and head to bed. Tomorrow we may walk down to the bazroba (central market) just a few blocks from here. And then we might stop and eat at the Chinese restaurant. Just like home!