Where: Vartekili, Tblisi Georgia
When: end of August until mid September 2016
What: renovating a house
Workaway in Georgia is not so easy. There are a few hostels, but some do not need help (lots of volunteers, no tourists) and there are no farms or other projects. So when we met the family in Tabatskuri and when they mentioned that they are renovating a house but could not afford hiring workers because they have a tiny budget, Chris offered immediately help. It was a very flexible agreement that when we would be in Tblisi in two weeks, when they were back from there holiday we could give them a call. If not, also okay. However we turned out to be in Tblisi after two weeks and for us it seemed like a nice project to help the family, so we gave them a call. So this work, was actually not through workaway, but just very spontaneous.
The moment we called, they were excited and eager to pick us up. It was great seeing them again, just because Nino and David have such a good air around them. We carried the bags in the car and for Nina it seemed like a fun idea that David jr, her 12 year old son would sit on the back of Chris bike the last kilometers before we got to there home. Not knowing that we had almost no sleep, we already cycled quite a bit and the way was only up. So for Sara it was very hard not to burst out in laughter, seeing Chris his excitement that he would not have to carry the bags, but instead he got a 12 year old in return.
When we got to their house, we met the sweetest 85 year old grandma and Dali, the 14 year old daughter again. Our arrival turned into heavenly moments: we could take a warm shower after months, we could wash all our clothes after months and we got homemade Georgian food. Wauw, what a welcome. We watched some video’s of David jr. an opera singer in becoming. At the age of 7 he started to join opera competitions and his voice is amazing. Dali is a talent in piano, so a gifted family already. After lots of food and talks we went to the other house, also in a Soviet apartment building, 8th floor, where one room was sort of finished and we could sleep on big air mattresses. We slept like babies.
The family has many projects. They are renovating their second apartment in order to rent there first one in order to get some income. David is building a church, they built the walls until 1 meter, but then the project ran out of money, so they have to wait for some new donations. David masters handcrafts, like making his own beautiful knife that could be easily placed in a museum. He makes bracelets, necklaces and metal work. Nino is learning his skills and they want to eventually sell jewelry. Little David already has a website where he sells his bracelets he makes from shoestrings. The family loves nature, and makes many visits in order to collect mushrooms, blackthorn berries, rose hip, and so on in order to make marmalade, tea, and delicious food. Nino, the mother, studied biology plays the piano, she can speak Greek, Russian, Georgian and recently she learned English.
We worked in the afternoon 4/5 hours. Work was namely smashing the cement of the wall in the kitchen area in order to place tiles. Hard but fun work. Also wallpaper needed to be removed of the walls in order to plaster them. In the evening Chris started to feel bad. It started with stomach problems, it went over in shivering and ended up with a fever 40,5 degrees of temperature. The families place was the best place to get sick though. They were very concerned and did everything in there power to make Chris better: herbal teas, getting special medicine and grandma giving extra blankets and cooling down his head.
The next day the fever was still not over, so we went to watch a lot of movies. Sara went to the house and worked for some hours on her own even though the family had forbid it her. The family has pretty good WiFi, so as being part of the old/new generation in the evening we could do all our internet stuff, working on the blog, writing emails, skyping, practical stuff: ordering tires etc etc. But we also continued to watch movies.
The following day Chris still took a day off, because he was a bit weak. However his appetite was back and he was getting back on his feet again. Sara worked again a bit and the following days we worked again with the four of us: smashing walls, making hearts, Nina and David installed electricity and Sara got addicted to remove wallpaper. It was nice when after a few days the wall smashing was over, because we got some blisters and its pretty dusty heavy work. Chris began to plaster walls. And Chris and Sara started to plaster the second bedroom after the electricity had been installed. This was fun work and in three days the room was finished, and it had turned from grey to a more cheerful color, white!
Slowly, slowly, life is hard enough
Nino and David made sure we did not work too hard. We constantly had to take a rest with ice cream, tasty ice coffee, home made food. At a sudden point we ate 4/5 times a day and our cyclists bodies turned into comfortable Georgian Kachapuri bellies. It was also very hard to stop eating with all this delicious homemade food in front of you. Knowing that in a few weeks you are back on the bike again, preparing your basic stuff again. But we managed, just train the brain: you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough..
They took us to the forests, where gathered buckets of blackthorn berries and rosehip for making tea and marmalade at home. Sara doesn’t own a driving license and got some private driving lessons with Dali from Nino. David and Chris prepared BBQ with beer and it was an awesome chill day.
Dali took us up to the fortress in the city and to the mother of Georgia with a sword in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Protecting the people with the sword against enemies and welcoming friends with vino, so Georgian. During the evenings we watched some old classics “some like it hot” and a “roman holiday”, read a book, drank some port with chocolate, or just blackthorn tea. It was very homy and cosy, but also nice to get out, because as independent cyclists it feels great to be taking care of so well, but it also feels a bit unfree when the family life is deciding a lot. However this is no complain, because its very special to have met them and to feel part of the family.
Communication with the family mainly goes through Nino, the mother because she started to learn English in her forties. And talking to us is a good way of practice for her. Dali can speak English very well, but is still a bit shy and David jr has the basics. David sr can speak 6 languages, Armenian, Turkish, Russian, Azerbeidjan, and of course Georgian but unfortunately no English or German so we communicate with him in our basic Turkish. The grandmother Phemea, speak Russian and Georgian and can speak little German, because she has some German roots. David sr. is not the only one with an impressive life story.
The next day early morning we went to the family for amazing breakfast and some chats. They took us to the family grave of David’s sr. sister, father and grandparents. His sister had died this day at the age of 28. David has a heavy life story. His father died when he was 1 year old. Then his twin sister got sick at the age of 22, nobody knew what it was. After visiting all kind of hospitals in Georgia, Russia, selling the house and having three loans at the bank in order to pay for the healing of the sister, tragically she eventually died at 28. It was very special that we could join. The stones at graveyard all have drawings of the faces of the people. Therefore it feels that the dead are more honored. David told us that with the war in 2008 with Russia, vandals stole heavy metal chains of the grave and the stones of his grandpa and grandma. Not very honorable. It is tradition in Georgia to light candle at the grave, bring flowers and then make a cross with wine on the grave and drink the last bit. So we all did this, removed the grass of the grave and ate some Kachapuri. It was a very peaceful afternoon and it was special to have shared this moment with them.
Granny in Siberia
Phemea the granny was send due to the Communist revolution in 1937 to Siberia with her family, because her father had German relatives. Her uncles were shot dead, but her family was being “spared.” They were wealthy, educated and part of the higher classes. They could only take 5 kilograms to Siberia in total so they called all the neighbors to get what they wanted, before the government takes it. In the train people were already dying because they were cramped all together in the wagons and they had no water. The granny was 7 at that time. The family stayed 8 years in Siberia, enduring most hardships. Owning nothing and trying every day to get enough food.
They were for a part lucky, because her father was a doctor and was working for a research team, that gave him food in exchange for work. But after a while the research team left and when they for a while lived with a tiny ransom of food they planned an escape. They were hanging on a train for seven hours on the outside with the whole family in the cold, a woman spotted them but decided not to betray them. For the rest they walked their way to Georgia, because they had family in the mountains near Bakuriani. When they arrived in winter totally devastated the family that was living there did not want to let them in, because they were refugees without permission. Eventually they returned walking back to Borjomi and stayed there with not so close relatives. Phemea met her husband there and they build a family. Her husband also had been send to Siberia and at the age of 50 he decided to began his own “business” a mushroom restaurant.
You could not have a business in the Soviet period, because it was owned by the government, so he needed lots of approvals in different cities in Russia and Georgia. Eventually he could start a mushroom restaurant. But because it was owned by the government he had to sign an agreement that the moment somebody got sick, he was responsible for that and he had to go to jail.
In Siberia he had learned a secret recipe from an old Siberian man how to conserve mushrooms that if you keep them for twenty years you can still serve them as if they came freshly out of the forest this day. Everybody wanted to know the secret, but even Nino his daughter did not know. The mushroom restaurant was the only restaurant of his kind in the Soviet and began to be immensely popular. All the high officials went to Borjomi to eat their mushrooms there. The KGB, secret Soviet police even had undercover cooks, to find out this recipe. However, the father did not allow anyone to come into the room where the mushroom were being conserved.
Nino thinks her mother knows. But because she was also being approached by everybody including the KGB to reveal the secret she knows how to keep her lips closed. Even till today at the age of 85 she says to her daughter that she does not know the recipe, but Nino give us a wink while telling the story. ” I think she knows.”
This fantastic lady is still going strong, getting out of the house 25 times a day to do some groceries, make a little walk, visiting friends, bringing them soup when their children are sick, training her brain with mathematical exercises, sowing her own beautiful kitchen aprons, cooking most fantastic food for the family and take a nap once in a while. Her dream as a little girl was always to play the piano. Nino learned how to play, but Dali is now the real talent. So dreams evolve in generations.
The mid of September we had to leave this great home because we had to pick up our Iran visa in Yerevan. Days before our departure we could not work anymore because we had to “rest” for our bicycle journey. They took us again to the park where we could look down on Tblisi and had a BBQ. Before we went to the market where the market ladies all wanted to be photographed.
We met some nice friends of them the last days, had some amazing dinners and Nino baked our favorite heartshaped cookies. That we enjoyed the following days on the road. With tears in our eyes we said goodbye to the family and we were on the road again.