Thursday, September 25, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 5 or "Return Stopover" Part 1/2

I am the sleepy head today. I slept early the night before and woke up around 9am to Gohar reminding me it was my last day so I should get up. To rebel or not to rebel? I rise. Just like batman in that horribly cheesy dungeon scene. Slightly less dramatic (and cheesy), but same idea.

We head to the beach and it is a bit chilly with thick dark clouds but after the dolphin and possibly shark situation yesterday (according to Laura of course) we can't let a little bit of bad weather stop us. Bingo greets us at the entrance of the house and leads the way. He again gets between his friends and us and doesn't let them come near me and I feel bad for the black grandfather-esque one. He had sad eyes and Bingo was not helping. 

We watch the handsome older lifeguard play with his speed boat and make too much noise for such a dead day. Gohar thinks he is a show-off but I am giving him the benefit of the doubt because I have become an optimist. It begins to rain but we stay predicting where the dark clouds are heading. We sounded pretentious but still convinced each other that we "got" the direction the clouds were heading in. We were clearly wrong and it began pouring so we had to head back to our guesthouse. One last look at handsome older lifeguard, of course.
Silver fox.
My sister and I decide to leave earlier since there is no point in staying if we can't enjoy the outside. Until the mashootka time, I decided to write and listen to music (found Queen on Gohar's computer), my sister went through pictures on her phone and Gohar read her iBook. We are the poster group for "electronics prevent conversations", if people said that of course.

We notice the new phenomenon of reverse belly-tops where just the back is lifted up. I'll post a poll soon so my readers can vote on whether they prefer this over the classic belly-top. The world must know.

My sister and I begin our return to Tbilisi on one of the most dramatic mashootka rides I had ever been on. With speeding, the driver not looking where he should be looking and turning around to shake our hands while driving, and then offering us alcohol way too many times, as well as cigarettes with a weird smile, chocolate (yes, thank you), khatchapouri, and much more. He made a final pitstop and bought chocolate and for reasons unknown, two red bulls for my sister and I and would not take no for an answer. We indulged in the chocolate and said we would have the red bull later. I had no intention of putting that stuff in me, but remembered a friend saying it actually was a high dosage of B-vitamins and started considering it since I was feeling quite groggy, but decided against it cause I thought it would be like coffee TO THE MAX, which scared my anxious soul. I had extra chocolate and was satisfied with my decision. Of course all this communication was done with dramatic hand movements as the driver and us spoke no common language, which made the fact that he was driving very fast all the more frightening. 

He got a phone call and after that tried to explain something to us for the next 20 minutes, but this time, hand movements weren't cutting it. We could understand there was a problem but not why and to what extent. He eventually called a friend who spoke English and she told us that since the mashootka wasn't full, he would drop us off at another stop, give the driver the money we paid him, and we could go with them and we would for sure have seats so he didn't want us to worry. We were fine with that and he forced us to take the box of chocolates with us, which looked a bit awkward on a new (and crowded) mashootka. We fed the people.

Our new driver was much less animated and older, and quickly took a liking to my sister. Again, with no common language, he was reduced to using hand movements, but as he was less animated, it wasn't as easy to understand what he was saying. He drove much slicker than our previous driver and the ride was a nice one. We had what we assumed was supposed to be our first (and last) pee stop, but our driver motioned for my sister and I to leave the bathroom line and directed us into a restaurant. He had ordered a massive spread of food, including two types of khorovadz (barbecued meat), eggplant, salads, khatchapouri, and much more. He motioned for us to sit and my sister and I hoped none of the other passengers saw us and we began to feel elite while trying not to let it get to our heads (it kind of did). He then ordered three large beers and while of course a driver drinking is never a good idea, my sister and I, thirsty and tired, gulped down the cold and refreshing beer and enjoyed every sip while we munched on the platters of food. After about 15 minutes, it was time to head back on the mashootka. I still don't know if the dirty looks I felt everyone was giving us were real or due to me being paranoid all the time.
I will have one more of these right now, thank you.
Part 2/2 will be on the same bat day, bat channel and bat time next week (I really identify with batman).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 4 or “Armenia? Ararat!”

I wake up to pee around 7am and Gohar is already up munching on a delicious Georgian nectarine. I do a double take and realize it is really sunny. If this is the morning, we know it will be a good day. Gohar and I head to beach right away with the intention of not getting burned like last year. Even though it is so early I put on some of the natural sunscreen I bought in Canada (zinc-oxide, represent) and we make plans. We will stay under the sun, swim and dry off a bit and then get an umbrella. The umbrella for the day is 2 lari which is great. The man smiles and asks us where we are from and Gohar says Armenia and he smiles and says “Armenia! Ararat!”. The water seems cooler since we are hotter but I like it. There are no jellyfish this time around so Gohar theorizes that it is still too chilly for them to show themselves. A plastic bag brushes Gohar and she screams and of course “shark” is the only thing that pops into both of our minds. We swim again with ulterior motives I won't mention here (tee hee).
Gohar thinks she's all artsy while we avoid the sun.
My sister comes by and at some point calls to us and says in panic she saw a very big fish or shark in the distance, and as she is saying this, she is running away from her spot on the sand closer to us, which makes us think it is coming up to kill us all. Gohar and I kind of think she is making it up or seeing things and before I can even finish thinking that thought, we see two dolphins way too close to the shore swimming up and down out of the water. I had never seen them so close in natural settings so I was very excited and started screaming out of joy and then realized my sister was screaming but more for telling the little kids swimming near the shore to get out of the water because “where there are dolphins, there are sharks”. I don't know if that is legit yet or not or if she was trying to be dramatic. I realize they were very close to where I was swimming and imagined what it would be like to have them brush against me when I was by myself and then I would look down thinking it was just a plastic bag and then see a huge shadow of a large fish and I don't even know what I would do. I started thinking maybe it was never the plastic bag touching Gohar but a dolphin and by the time we looked down we blamed it on the innocent plastic bag. Sneaky dolphins. My sister laughs about how even though she was not in the water she still “ran away” from the dolphins who were in the water.  
The scene of the "dolphin drama"
Two Georgian men from Tbilisi come by and ask us if they can swim since no one else was swimming and we say of course, and then my sister “warns” them of the dolphins and they say they are also fish so it's all good. When they come out they ask us in Russian what our background is and Gohar says Armenian and he says “Armenia! Ararat!". It's cute I think and it seems diasporans everywhere have clearly gotten that message/connection across. They of course ask us if we like to drink and then if we are married. The “do you like to drink” question is asked all too often here and is our red flag. 

Today Bingo was nowhere to be seen :( We begin a new game of “spot the belly top”. I introduced this interesting Georgian fad in lastyear's blog post, and things have not changed in 2014. Mixed feelings about this always and forever. We saw this sign on the way home:
THREE TYPES OF BREAD AND PIG!
We decide to eat a full-on Georgian meal today as we all are craving beans/protein. We pick out a cozy looking place and right away ask if they have pkhali, a delicious greens-dish I have tried many times in Georgian restaurants in Yerevan and had to believe it could only be better in the place from where it came. We ordered 3 assuming they were the small round balls we were accustomed to and ordered eggplant, salad and loubiani. 

While we waited some of the workers blasted some wedding-esque poppy Georgian music and let us know the singer won a contest (euro-vision style?). They switched from Georgian to Russian to English, all club-music themed. The waitress arrived with our food and we were in heaven. The pkhali I am used to in Yervean and even Tiflis are usually served as small round balls and I have always ordered them with a group to share, so I never really felt fully satisfied because I love it so much and am reduced to eating only a portion. This was like no other pkhali – it was flat and oval-shaped and huge. I ate it all and for the first time in my life, I did not crave MORE pkhali. 
I love you.
The eggplant was great, the tomatoes and cucumbers were fresh and perfectly ripe, and the lobiani was just right – a mesh of beans with kidney as the star with just enough spices and very little salt in a crispy bread. 
The eggplant and salad had walnuts as well so I kept thinking “protein combining” in my head all slyly.
It was the perfect meal in a perfect spot in a perfect place. We left full and content and headed home to rest a bit before going for a walk with the sun setting. 

Tomorrow my sister and I head back to Tiflis to stay the night and then back to Yerevan since her flight is the next morning while Gohar does the best thing ever and extends. Wish we could too :(

We take an evening walk and sit by the water, and Gohar decides to go in fully clothed and Bingo finally comes out to play with us. 

Update: Pkhali overload. No survivors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 3 or "Lena as an Embarrassing Parent"


Gohar lies and says it is sunny and I confront her about it. We go for a bike ride with the goal of finding the house and talking with the owner. We are there in about 30 mins and will forever rememeber the address after this: 160. We talk about getting it tattooed and are only 85% joking. We find it and see the sweet woman who remembers us and greets us very warmly and tells us to come stay. Our hearts break a bit realizing we are paying the same price for a lot less. Lessons learned always & forever. 

After the bike ride Gohar and I head to the beach – it is cloudy but warm. We lay down and enjoy the few second intervals the sun shows its sexy face. I look up and see the cutie pie Bingo hanging out with a few other dogs nearby and out of excitement I run over to him and yell his name and I realize I would totally be that embarrassing parent who does stuff like that all the time in front of my annoying kid's annoying friends. Bingo growls at the dogs he was hanging out with when they try to come near me and accepts my petting. After I lay down he starts coming for some more lovin' and is so adorable and rolls over on his back and nudges me to continue whenever I stop. Gohar says we are hair colour twins. A husky comes off leash and starts barking and Bingo stays between us barking and when the husky leaves Bingo does not leave our side. He sleeps by us nudging for love every now and then. I realize he has a bad case of the fleas. 
Gohar decides to go in, my sister follows and I do too. It was refreshing and needed. Gohar realizes she got a little burned on the back of her legs. Those seconds of sun did their deed. 
We decide to buy some veggies for a nice lunch and head to the spice market/shuga. But first we see the best advertisement for Georgian bread ever:
Bread is a very serious matter 'round here.
I buy all of the spices of Georgia as usual and get some for my sister to send to my mom and we meet a woman whose son served in the army in Armenia and died when he was 44. She teared up saying he left her all alone. 
We walked through the shuga and Gohar stopped to buy water where a fiery red-headed older woman asked her my life story ("are BOTH her parents Armenian?!") and then took less money for the water and then returned Gohar's money all together telling me (Gohar translated) that Gohar was a good friend. She tells my sister she looks Georgian-Armenian and tells us about her 5 daughters and how she wanted them to have an education first VS getting married. She then tells us that she wants all women to get educations and jobs so they have independence and that daughters will take care of their mothers forever. She worked non-stop to send her kids to school and didnt sleep. Sons are not the same. She tells us to come back the following day to chat more. 

We see a Georgian folk festival in our area that invites people from different counties and there is traditional dance, music and activities. We watch for a bit and meet some Iranian musicians and see the Armenian flag as one of the participants. 
Armenian flag, represent!
Dance my minions!
Then we see a lot of Armenians who say weird things to us. On the way back we talk to the nene and dede of the house and they ask if we are married and when we say no they say “good”. Very different than Armenia! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Syrian Olives in Artsakh: My Fifth Article for The Armenian Weekly!

You can check out my latest article for The Armenian Weekly, about Syrian-Armenian farmers in Artsakh right here!

Georgian Vacation Round 2: Day 2 or "The Hostel that Got Away"

After a wonderful day and night in Tbilisi, Gohar my sister and I wake up and head straight to the mashootka stop to catch one heading to Kobuleti. We find one that is leaving and get on. This driver only made one pee-stop which we all agreed was quite controversial. We got off in an area that looked familiar to both Gohar and I and my sister realized moments after that she somehow forgot her running shoes on the mashootka. My sister and I talked about running in Armenian and Georgia so much that it only made sense that now we really couldn't do it. Officially. 

With our bags we walked down the main street, with Gohar and I determined to find the wonderful hostel we had stayed at last year, where there were twirly stairs and a praying mantis I still think about. It was such a vivid memory that even though it was a year ago, we knew we would find it. I for sure thought the numbers 2 or 4 or 6 were in the address but Gohar had different numbers in mind. We were not worried though, we remembered the look of it and the gate colour standing out. And that there was a "lavash" (aka Georgian puffy oval bread) shop near by we would definitely recognize. After the long ride and walking for at least an hour in the heat, we could tell that my sister was not really into the "we will know it when we see it" indefinite search Gohar and I were so confident in. We stopped to energize in a cafe and Gohar and I made a deal with my sister that we would just walk a little bit longer and if it wasn't there we would accept defeat. But we would not be happy.

We walked and walked and kept on walking and after my sister pointed out that either Gohar or I would say "OH! This is definitely close, I remember that cement colour/grass patch/tree/view of the sea" every time we thought the hostel was somewhere it wasn't. Gohar and I got to the 100's in street numbers and both of us were so sure it was higher up, so we accepted that we either passed it, it moved/closed, or it never existed at all. We walked back up to another house-hostel we had noticed and I think Gohar and I made a secret-mental pact that we would hate everything because we once knew true love and comfort in our old hostel. About two minutes in, the cutest copper-coloured dog ran to us all and started jumping up and down and licking us and I was almost annoyed at how cute he was because now I couldn't be as filled with hate for the stupid hostel. He looked like a fox and had copper eyelashes and we learned his name was Bingo. Gohar said we were hair twins. 
We unpacked our stuff, Gohar and I complained a little more about the hostel, comparing it to the last one, and then we all decided to get some nectarines, apricots and watermelon. A+ to the first two, and the delicious apricots made me feel sad about that hail-storm that destroyed so many of the apricot trees in Armenia. The watermelon was beautiful but had no taste. Symbolic of the hostel? No it was really not bad at all, just not the one we wanted. While munching away, Gohar and I decided to rent bikes and go down the street again, looking even more carefully and going further down. It was cloudy and windy so swimming was not an option, so what else to do than feed our mini-obsession? We convinced ourselves it would be closure. I could hear my sister's eyes rolling.

We rented our bikes, and there were a few times where Gohar would look at me and I would automatically frown my eyebrows so it looked like I was in serious-search mode, when in reality I was humming a cheesy Paul Baghdadlian song and enjoying the wind. ATTENTION SPAN OF A FRUIT FLY.
♫ ASA ASDVADZ DU MEGHKE MER...INCHOU AYS BES DANJOUM ES MEZ ♫  (different location, same idea)
We biked all the way down the street and thought we found the hostel, but it was too dark to be certain, and we realized it was relatively late and didn't want to knock on the doors and then realize it was a house full of people who slept at socially acceptable times. We memorized the number we had reached which did not have a 2 or a 4 or a 6 in it and headed home. We would find it in the light of day. 

We became restless from this potentially bittersweet discovery and all three of us decided to watch a movie Gohar brought. My sister and Gohar thought it was cute but I was so annoyed by it I began fuming. Every character sucked, there was no development, they threw in one famous comedian to make up for the boring and predictable love-story-cheesefest. Right after I loudly proclaimed my utter hatred of the movie, assuming Gohar and Laura felt the same, and then dealing with the awkward silence that implied they felt otherwise, the characters in the film lip-synched all of 'under pressure' by Queen. I felt there was a lesson to be learned - something about not judging things too early. But the movie still sucked and continued getting worse (spoiler alert: the annoying ones get together DESPITE ALL ODDS). We had sub-titles on since the volume was quite low and I realized how off I was for a lot of the lyrics and was relieved that I hate karaoke.

After a day filled with traveling, searching, disappointment, and a surprisingly high amount of hatred (I am getting annoyed just thinking about the movie now), we decided to call it a night and see what our full day in Kobuleti would bring.