Tkibuli, development, hitchhiking, more

August 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm 2 comments

On Wednesday I left Tbilisi, taking a small backpack with one change of clothes and a tooth brush with me. I was headed to Tkibuli, a small town 3.5 hours from Tbilisi where one of my couchsurfing guests Petra works. From Petra’s descriptions of Tkibuli I imagined that it was a nice, untouristy town, where I could go to see the “real” Georgia, the kind unaffected by tourism and commercialism.

On the way I met a Belorussian guy and together we stopped in Mtskheta to see the Svetitshkhoveli cathedral and in Gory (the birthplace of Stalin) to see the Stalin museum, which cost 10 GED and included an entertaining nationalistic tour.

In Gory I split with the Belorussian who returned to Tbilisi, while I hitchhiked alone towards Tkibuli. One of the exciting things about hitchhiking is that you never know what kind of ride you’ll get and how long it will take. I’ve had rides in air-conditioned Mercedes on dusty roads that drove me faster and more comfortably than any bus could, and on the other extreme, I’ve sat in the cargo space of lories and gotten to so dirty from dust that I may as well have rolled in dirt.

The ride I caught outside Gory as a medium size lorry that was the slowest car I’ve ever ridden in. At one point, my driver even turned off the engine and let gravity propel us forward, meaning for nearly 40 km everyone on the road passed us. Since I had told him where I wanted him to drop me off, and since he wasn threatening and had shared the delicious peaches he’d bought on the side of the road with me, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by asking him to let me off sooner on some mountain road to be picked up by another stranger. Plus I was comfortable. Relationships aren’t formed just with friends and lovers. They are entities formed with people you share circumstances with and the relationship formed between me and this driver was a good one.

In Tkibuli, Petra works for the Tkibuli Community District Development as an EVS volunteer and is the only foreigner in the town. I imagined Tkibuli would be a large village with flat homes amidst scenic peaks. But no, industrial high rise apartment blocks obstruct the panoramic view, while the industrial dirty feel of the town is accentuated by the unkept center. The town’s cinema and sports complex have been closed for years, though the swimming pool and hospital remain open. During the Soviet times, Tkibuli was famous for its coal mines and it’s population was relatively well off compared to other Georgian cities. Today all but two of the mines are closed, while the two that work do not run at full capacity. Petra said that most recent statistics claim that 50-60% of the population is unemployed.

Petra’s organization works with people in Tkibuli, Kutaici and several villages in between, helping develop small businesses. Every year they hold a tandem for business proposals. Those who are accepted, receive materials that they need to expand or start their business and pledge to donate half of their proceeds to their community, half in the form of output and half in cash payments that are to be used for financing projects in their community.

On Thursday we visited a farmer in a village, an hour’s distance from Tkibuli, who had been provided with materials to grow tomatoes and stevia. Now that his tomatoes had grown, he was helping finance repairs in the local kindergarten and distributing tomatoes from his harvest to some of the poorest members of his village. When we met him in the village, he was waiting for us with 182 kilos of tomatoes. Petra and I prepared 5 kilo bags of tomatoes for the poorest 50 people in the village and then they started to come, as word in the village spread (no phones were used). Old and middle aged women, men with canes. To distribute the last 10 bags or so we drove to find the people, some of whom lived a distance away. All were happy to receive free tomatoes and nodded happily as they were told about the project. But I wondered still – how effective was it compared with Kiva’s model for business development? This way inspired feelings of gratitude amongst the people who recieved the tomatoes, but it also inspired negative emotions among the few who didn’t and felt they deserved them also. The process by which the poor were selected was pretty arbitrary and at the whim of the village mayor plus the farmer himself who said he knew who was poor and who wasn’t. I wondered whether it wouldn’t have been better for the farmer to pay back in cash which could use to reinvest in more local businesses, rather then through products and services to the community (which sounded good in theory but was actually time consuming and it’s effectiveness on the poverty in the community questionable)?

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Hitchhiking from Baku to Tbilisi Baking khachapuri

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dina  |  August 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Hitchhiking in Georgia! It is ridiculous!

    Reply
  • 2. Dina  |  August 23, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Понравилась цитатка (from Jim):
    The Northerner seemed especially worried about this: That often people in our culture obsessively work their whole lives “planning for old age,” but either die before they get old, or reach old age so wrecked or burned out by their work that they can’t enjoy what they’ve worked so hard to have. Or maybe what they’ve prepared for themselves no longer pleases, or no longer seems necessary. I’ve seen that, but I’ve been on the fringes so long I don’t really know how common it is. I suppose it varies from place to place, and subculture to subculture.

    Reply

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