This blog does not represent the position of the United States government or the Peace Corps as to any matter. All expressions of fact or opinion contained herein are solely those of Mark and Lisa Lebowitz and of no one else.

Monday, October 22, 2007


(written Friday, 10/19/07). Yesterday was a big day. First, when I got to the office and checked my email I found I had email messages from both my son Craig and my daughter Molly which asked that we call them right away concerning an emergency involving our son Drew, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. They had each tried to call us, but neither could get through (no one can). Of course it was the middle of the night for both of them at that point, but I tried unsuccessfully to reach them by phone none-the-less. When they didn't pick up, I left messages for each. The emails which they sent were not particularly enlightening as to the precise nature of Drew's problem, which caused us additional angst. As far as we understood, he was in a hospital with what was thought to be Dengue Fever. Since Drew was just about to get get out of the Peace Corps to begin a two month trip around South America before returning to Panama to serve a 6 month stint in the Crisis Corps (an adjunct organization of the Peace Corps), we didn't know if he was in Panama or in a hospital somewhere else in South America. After a flurry of calls, we finally succeeded in getting in touch with our son Craig who said that he had received a voice mail message from Drew the day before asking him to get in touch with us to let us know. He said that Drew didn't sound good on the message, and that prompted him to "declare an emergency". As it turned out, Drew was scheduled to end his Peace Corps service and fly to Lima, Peru on the first leg of his South American adventure two days after he became ill. He is presently in a hospital in Panama City where he is recovering from Dengue Fever. We were able to get in touch with him by phone and he sounds like he is on the road to recovery. However, because of the nature of the disease, they want to be sure that he is okay before turning him loose. Apparently there are two varieties of illness, one "not so bad" and the other "very bad". They want to be sure that he has the former variety and not the latter. Hopefully, he will be out of the hospital within a week. The Peace Corps has administratively extended his Peace Corps service, and they are supervising (and paying for) his care. I guess if this had to happen, it was better that it happened when it did, rather than few days later when he would have no longer been in the Peace Corps and would have been on his own in Peru.

The second thing of significance that happened yesterday was that I got back my computer that had basically gotten so many viruses that it stopped working. After unsuccessfully trying to deal with the problems myself, I brought the computer in to a computer store in Zugdidi, where they said they would take a look at it and see what they could do. Of course, I did not bring to Georgia any of the original installation disks for the programs I have on the computer, and I was also concerned that something they might do would endanger either the data in those programs or the many pictures which I have taken since our arrival in Georgia back in June. Fortunately, no data was lost and the computer now works again, although I did lose some of my programs. All in all, I feel fortunate. The results could have been much worse.

The final item of particular significance which rounded out the day yesterday was that I received the World Space Satellite Radio that I ordered about 6 weeks ago. It will allow us to receive some English language programming (NPR!!). For reasons that are not worth the telling, the radio was shipped from Dubai to Glens Falls and then to Georgia. The radio arrived a month and a day after it was sent by the USPS express delivery service from GF! I was beginning to think that it it had gotten "misdirected" along the way and that I would never get it. You can imagine my joy when someone delivered a note to my office that said I had a package at the post office. Now I've just got to figure out how to set it up.

Today, a Georgian fellow who I had earlier met took me out to have Khashi for breakfast. Khashi is cow's feet which have been boiled. It is sometimes served in a soup made of broth and milk. You put salt and hot mustard on Khashi before you eat it (probably to help mask the taste), and you either drink beer or vodka when you eat it. There are only a few restaurants in the area that serve Khashi, which is always eaten in the morning (the place we went to served Khashi from 7 am to 10 am). The restaurant was packed with other Khashi eaters when we got there, all of whom were men. Apparently, only men go out to eat Khashi (when I was invited to go, I suggested that maybe Lisa would like to come, and it was explained to me that women generally don't go out to eat Khashi). We had vodka with our Khashi (at 8 am!). Khashi is traditionally eaten by those who have had too much to drink the night before; kind of like a "hair of the dog" approach. Depending on how late the festivities run the night before, revelers can go directly to eat some Khashi before retiring. It is supposed to settle your stomach and counter the ill-effects resulting from the over-consumption of alcohol.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Georgian Food....................

I had no intention of writing a blog entry today. I came home from school at 4pm not having eaten since breakfast, so I naturally stuck my head in the fridge. To my surprise I was greeted by a large bowl of pigs feet, another bowl containing a huge heart, liver and other entrails, and finally, the piece de resistance, a whole (roasted) pig's head. That made me decide it was now time to launch into making that blog entry I have been planning regarding Georgian food.

As it turns out, our neighbor Anzor slaughtered one of his pigs on Sunday. Mark was home to hear the squeals and observe the process. Luckily for me, I was in Tbilisi and didn't return home until the late afternoon. So last night we were treated to a feast of fresh (and I mean fresh!) roast pork with all the fixins. The fixins are pretty much the same as we have at every meal: sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, jalapenos and salt, massive amounts of fresh bread, sliced cheese that is somewhat salty and a meat sauce made from sour plums with some hot spices. Other high frequency foods are natural casing long frankfurters, sliced salami, chicken legs (don't know where the breasts go but I've never seen one here) and 60/40 ground beef. Just about all food preparation is on the cooktop with the exception of cakes. Also, you can pretty much be sure that whatever you are eating has been prepared using lots of cooking oil.

The food section at the bazaar is fabulous. There are bountiful vegis, but you won't find any type of lettuce there (although parsley, cilantro and basil are plentiful). There are lots of apples, peaches, plums, fresh figs (before they are dried) and cherries (in June), and I am told the mandarini (small orange) season is in winter and they are everywhere in massive amounts. They had a surplus last year and apparently dumped tons in the Black Sea! There are also many varieties of nuts. Georgia is especially known for its hazelnuts and walnuts. Recently, I was treated to a tour of the local hazelnut packaging factory, which is one of the main businesses here in the city of Zugdidi. One whole section of the bazaar is devoted to just spices, which are displayed in large sacks. Another huge section is strictly cheeses (most vendors selling exactly the same product as the person next to him). Most of the cheeses are very salty. Cheddar or swiss cheese is nowhere to be found. There is also a big area where various grains are for sale and the vendors are all armed with big scoops and ancient looking weight measuring scales. Perhaps the most striking part of the bazaar though is the area where the fresh meat is sold. There is no refrigeration, of course. The meat hangs from hooks, and the flies appear to be having a field day! Also, if you are one of the "roll your own" crowd, you can pick up just about any kind of tobacco you are looking for from one of the many tobacco vendors stationed at the bazaar. Every city, town or village of any size in Georgia has a bazaar, where almost everything you might need can be found.

The food specialities here are : khachapuri, sort of like a cheese only pizza (served at almost every meal) and khink'ali, a dumpling filled with spicy meat which is boiled and eaten smothered in pepper (and is always served with beer). Also, there are many bean dishes. They also make unsweet pastries filled with mashed potatoes. As you can imagine, Mark's Atkins Diet has fallen by the wayside here in Georgia. They also serve seasoned pork on skewers, which is known as mtsvati.

Our family is always harvesting something, usually various fruits or nuts. The nuts are dried and jam or mouraba is made from the fruit. Mouraba is juicier than jam and is served with homemade yogurt known as matsoni. Dannons will never taste the same to me! Honey is a local product so that is also a popular condiment.

We have introduced the family to popcorn (bati-buti), which is hard to come by here, and they really love it. They couldn't believe that so much popcorn could be produced from what seemed like such a small number of popcorn kernels.

The cakes made here are always from scratch and are huge. Most are at least 16" in diameter and 3 layers tall. Although these huge cakes are heavy, they are very light to the taste and have a not too sweet custard type frosting. Often they are garnished with glazed fruits.

As you can see we are eating well. We like the food, but the only problem is repetition. The same foods are at every meal and each restaurant has identical menus. I never realized how fortunate we are in the United States to have so many ethnic foods to choose from as well as access to just about any food ingredient you can think of. We also have so many food preparation methods with microwaves, gas grills, crock pots and ovens. No one here has any idea what a microwave oven is.

I have had fun trying to cook on occasion. So far I have made applesauce, eggplant parmesean, french onion soup and blackbean soup.

So back to the beginning. After surveying the possibilities in the refrigerator (monsivari), I settled for popcorn for my snack. So be sure to savor whatever delicious American food you may be having tonight! !!!

The Pig's head

The feet

The other stuff

Beso cleaning out our non-frost free refrigerator. It is so rare for a man to do something in the kitchen that we had to take a picture!

Eka (right) and her sister trying to fit the requisite number of candles on my birthday cake

Getting ready for my birthday supra to begin.

A bit of smoke fills the kitchen. The red thing on the floor is what they used to bake my cake. The stove oven doesn't work.

Giving Mom a smooch in the kitchen.

Helping with the canning out back.

Mark stringing up an extra length of clotesline to make room for the nuts drying on the line.

A lady who has a cake shop in a tunnel under the street (used by people to cross the street to minimize the risk of getting knocked off by a passing motorist)

A meat stand set up on the street on the way to school. Notice the ax on the table.

The spot where the meat vendor butchered what ever is was that he was selling.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Youth Bank.......................

I have just returned from a 5 day training at a hotel outside Tbilisi (the capital), which is about 6 hours away from Zugdidi where we live.The training related to a project sponsored by the Eurasia Foundation known as Youth Bank. The concept originated in 1999 in Northern Ireland and now there are Youth Banks which have been set up all over the world. Here in Georgia interested people between the ages of 16 and 24 completed applications, and each applicant was interviewed by representatives of the Eurasia Foundation. Seven people were then chosen from each of five different socio-economically challenged regions of the country, including Samegrelo, where Zugdidi is located. All 35 Youth Bank members then traveled to Tbilisi for the conference, which was held in a hotel/conference center about 10 km outside of town. I'm sure it was the first time some of the kids had ever been to the capital and the first time that others had ever stayed in a hotel. Some were from minority areas of the Country and barely speak Georgian! They speak Armenian or Azeri instead. The six trainers were from Northern Ireland, and the brogue which some of them had made it difficult to understand them as well!! You can imagine the linguistic nightmare that the training presented, but surprisingly, things went fairly well. There were 3 interpreters in attendence at all times, and the training went from 9:30 each morning to 9:30 each evening, with breaks for meals at the hotel. The Youth Bank concept is that the Youth Bank is given a sum of money which it then disburses to fund small community development projects proposed by other youths from the region. I think the Eurasia Foundation intends to provide initial funding of 7,500 GEL to each of the five Youth Banks being established in Georgia. The training related to the methodology which the Bank's members are to use in soliciting and evaluating project proposals, interviewing applicants, selecting projects to be funded, entering into contracts with successful applicants, and finally, monitoring and evaluating funded projects. The training was very professionally done and was specifically oriented toward the 16-24 year old crowd it was aimed at. For instance, at one point, a film clip of a love scene from a movie was shown. The scene was quite graphic, but no sex was actually depicted. The kids then broke into groups and individually wrote down everything they had seen in the film clip. Of course, most of them said that the couple had had sex. The exercise was intended to to make the point that when an interviewer is reporting to the full board on a project proposal, he is to report only that which he actually observes or which he is told. Interviewers are not supposed to interject their own personal thoughts or conclusions regarding project proposals. If the kids did not see the couple having sex they should not have reported that they did! The training is now over and everyone has gone back to their respective homes across the country. In the upcoming months we will see whether or not the concept of a Youth Bank will work here in Georgia.


In Georgia, almost everyone has a cell phone (kids included), and among the kids, the kind of cell phone you have is a status symbol. The more bells and whistles the better. At the conference, one kid even had a video cell phone, where each party to the call could see the other person (or anything else the camera was aimed at) in surprisingly good video (both parties had to have similarly equipped phones of course)!!