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Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. I’ll try to focus on things, people, places, and organizations that are brand new, but it’s possible that I’ll be late to the party on something, or there’s something that’s just new-to-me and so amazing that I’ll still choose to include it. There have been lots of new Georgian food products hitting stores this year, and there are constantly new restaurants and cafes opening in Tbilisi, so there’s a bit of a food theme (this time, at least), though I am willing to branch out.

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Clockwise from top left: Bubble Tea, Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor, AlterSocks assortment, Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate

Barambo Export Fig Ice Cream Barambo has been my favorite ice cream brand since my first summer in Georgia, but this year they really upped their game. The fig flavor is simply marvelous. I don’t know how to describe it other than delicious. (Widely available)

Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate “chiri” means dried fruit, and this company is taking traditional Georgian dried fruit (which you can buy pretty much anywhere) to another level. They sell prettily arranged gift packs of dried fruit, and have some chocolate-dipped versions, a tasty innovation that I haven’t seen anyone at the bazaar selling. I spotted the label “Carrots in Chocolate”, and I had to try them. I’m very glad I did! It’s some sweet, dried, carroty-mush on a stick, dipped in chocolate. Maybe it doesn’t sound so good, but it tastes great! They’ve got the texture just right, and it’s sweet but not too. I haven’t seen this brand many places, but there’s usually a wide variety of their offerings at the Smart on Rustaveli (that’s where I got the carrots).

Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor this brand entered the market last year, but this summer they introduced a tarragon flavor, and it’s my favorite! Crispy and salty chips with a bit of sweet and sour tarragon flavor–the combination works perfectly! (They’re also supporting local agriculture, so that’s a win, too.) (Widely available)

RealThai brand products (including noodles, sauces, and coconut milk) have been showing up regularly at my local supermarket, and I’ve even spotted their products at other little marketi in my not-so-posh neighborhood. They’re surprisingly widely available! It’s been a really nice way to expand my cooking repertoire this summer with Thai-style curries and oatmeal soaked in coconut milk.

Bubble Tea Tbilisi  I fell in love with bubble tea as a college student in the Boston area, and haven’t had any since I moved away, so I was delighted when I heard a bubble tea place was opening in Tbilisi. It might not satisfy those from Taiwan, but the tea I ordered hit the spot for me. The menu is extensive (though I stuck to the basics), and the boba was neither too slimy nor too tough. I’ve always loved the chunky, colorful straws that they give you to slurp up the bubbles–they make me smile. Definitely a nice change of pace. (7 Chavchavadze Avenue, Vake; next to the big Biblus)

AlterSocks Georgian-made fun socks! When I heard about these, I immediately went on a quest to find them. I failed finding the Tbilisi Mall location the first time (it’s behind the escalator in the atrium area), so I made a trek to Vake to pick some up in the Pixel Building. They have both Georgian and international designs, but the Georgian ones appealed to me most–khachapuri, khinkali, and a chokha! (And you thought those J. Crew taco socks were cool…) The fabric fells nice and soft, and the size that was supposed to fit me did.  Friends and family back in the US, don’t be surprised if Santa brings you some of these this year. (kiosks at 3 major shopping centers: Tbilisi Mall, Pixel Building Vake, and the shopping center with the Saburtalo Goodwill)

Batumi Dolphinarium  I went for the first time this summer, and the show was just amazing. It made me want to quit my job and become a dolphin trainer. Tickets sell out fast, so you need to buy them the day before, if not earlier. You can give the neighboring aquarium a miss, though. My friend described it, quite accurately, as “some dude’s dirty fish tank collection”. (51 Rustaveli Street, Batumi)

If you have any suggestions for something new and great in Georgia, let me know–I’ll try to check it out, and perhaps it will make a future favorites list.

Some friends and I recently came across some very adorable puppies in the lobby of their building. We thought we should get them vaccinated and fixed, but weren’t sure how to do that or how to get enough money for it. We reached out to Dog Organization of Georgia for advice, and they offered to take care of these pups. The two girls are at the shelter getting vaccinated and fixed now, and they’ll keep an eye on the boy and the mother, and when he’s old enough and she’s calm enough they’ll take care of them, too. I’ve made a donation to help them cover expenses (though I don’t have enough to cover all the care for these dogs), and it would make me really happy if others could pitch in, as well.

One of the lobby puppies, who will get basic veterinary care thanks to DOG.

One of the lobby puppies, who will get basic veterinary care thanks to DOG.

USD Fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/3hr7pk

Georgian Bank Transfer Details:
Account Name: Dog Organization Georgia
Bank Code: TBCGBE22
Account No.: GE 17 TB08 5563 6080 1000 03

One thing about living abroad is dealing with a different basket of available consumer goods. I’ve discovered many new types of fruit here in Georgia, and have really learned to use herbs when I cook. But there are also those things from home that we miss, or can’t live without. I personally bring a lot of “suitcase food”, but sometimes that plan fails. Here’s a list of my recon on some popular items in the expat crowd, and where you can find them. The answer is often, though not always, one of the major chains of grocery stores. However, not all branches will have the same things in stock, so even then it’s a hunt!

Bagels Furshet supermarkets (cheap! more Lender’s-level quality, though), Le Gateau, Dunkin’ Donuts
Brown Sugar if you don’t need the texture, a German brand of dark sugar is commonly sold in the bigger supermarkets and will add that touch of depth to the flavor. If you need that specific texture, there’s a specialty baking supply shop near the corner of Paliashvili Street and Arakishvili Street in Vake. I’ve never heard anyone call it by name, but please fill me in if you have more information!
Chickpeas (dried are more common) Tursa, Furshet, sometimes canned at Goodwill
Cumin Carrefour, Tursa (the Georgian word კვლიავი kvliavi is used for both cumin and caraway, so make sure you check! I’ve sometimes seen it just labelled სუნელი suneli or “spice”)
Dental Floss GPC and PSP pharmacies, Carrefour (becoming more common, but still more expensive than you’d think. Lately, it has been worthwhile for me to get some fancy stuff shipped from the US–prices here are so high, that it’s not so much more expensive, and it’s much more comfortable)
Gluten-Free products Georgita, small section at Smart
Mosquito repellent Supta Sakhli stores carry Off! Brand products, there’s also usually something in didi Carrefour, and seasonally in the larger pharmacies
Quinoa Carrefour
Soy Milk sometimes at Carrefour, but only sporadically in stock
Sunscreen is becoming much easier to find. The “perfumeries” (like Lutecia and Voulez Vous) also carry international brands of make-up and skin care, and usually have some very good, though expensive sunscreens. Navne often has American brands like Neutrogena and Banana Boat, but their stock fluctuates a lot (they’re also basically an overstock place, so make sure you check the expiration dates). Big grocery stores and pharmacies also usually have some, though limited selection and not great prices.
Tortillas Smart (check the bread area on the lower shelves), occasionally Carrefour

Shoes and Clothing are obviously available here, but it’s hard to find good quality, cheap, and in all sizes (apparently my feet are man-sized; I’ve been laughed at when asking for women’s shoes in my size). Tbilisi Mall has a variety of Western brands like Gap, Marks and Spencer and Zara (also on Rustaveli), but even low-priced Western stores are not low-priced here. You can buy anything at Lilo “Mall” though the quality is usually quite low; fortunately, so are prices. I’ve had some luck looking into shops on Pekini Street like KOTON and Promod, and I love Penti for colorful tights (all those stores have multiple branches). If you’re willing to hunt, there are second-hand shops on Pekini Street and surrounding the train station. My friends have had some great finds, but I don’t have the patience or innate sense of style to make it work. It’s worth noting, though, that tailoring is fairly cheap and easy to have done, so you don’t need to find the perfect perfect fit. I often find that I don’t care for the most common styles here (not a fan of either the bright and blingy fashion of many teens or the black and sacklike style favored by older women) and for me cheap online shopping and shipping through a package forwarding service like USA2Georgia has been better. Sierra Trading Post and thredUP have been my go-tos of late (Those are referral links which will give you a discount).

I’ll try to keep this a living document, and you can help by commenting with other places to find things, or asking if I know where to get something.

It’s been a busy few months–a future post will shed some light as to why.  Likewise, July has been a rather eventful month in Georgia’s political arena: Eduard Shevardnadze passed away, Davit Narmania was elected mayor of Tbilisi, and the cabinet was reshuffled.  I’ve also made cameos on a few other blogs–my friend Julia came to Tbilisi, and I chatted with one of my former professors about life in the suburbs.

Tomorrow–Sunday, October 27th–is election day here in Georgia.  This time, Georgia is electing a new President.  The primary candidates are Georgian Dream’s Giorgi Margvelashvili, UNM’s David Bakradze, and perennial political fixture Nino Burjanadze.  Margvelashvili is the favorite in the polls by quite a wide margin, but in order to win outright he will have to receive an absolute majority in tomorrow’s voting.  If that does not happen, a second round will occur between the top-two vote-getters, but Margvelashvili has announced that he will step down if a second round occurs, leaving some uncertainty.  (I would not have advised him to make such a statement, but for some odd reason, no one asked me).  So far, the election has primarily manifested itself with nothing more serious than bad traffic when a politician (or their musical supporter) makes an appearance.  For more detail on the elections and some opinions (I’ve tried to leave mine out of this), see these recent articles (and feel free to post others in the comments):

Bitter Feud Dominates Georgia Election (BBC 10/25/2013)
Saakashvili Era Ends as Georgia Heads for Presidential Poll (Financial Times 10/25/2013)
Loss of Power in Georgia can Bring Trial, or Worse (NYTimes 10/25/2013)
Georgia: Presidential Vote to Usher in New Political Era (EurasiaNet 10/25/2013)
Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win? (Washington Post 10/23/2013)
Georgia’s billionaire PM wants to give up office, but will he relinquish power?  (The Guardian 10/19/2013)
Georgia’s Surprising New Normal (Foreign Policy 10/18/2013)
Margvelashvili’s Free Textbooks (feradi.info 10/4/2013)

Happy Reading!

Many political analyses of Georgia conclude that what Georgia really needs in order to become a consolidated democracy is a boring election.  And so I wish you all a boring Sunday.  (I’m planning for a day of cooking and laundry, and hope that’s the all of it).

May is a month of holidays in Georgia–we started of the month with Orthodox Easter, went back to work for two days, then had a day off for Victory DayIndependence Day is coming soon, and there are some important Saints’ Days as well, which I have not yet determined if I have the day off for yet or not.  Holidays in Georgia are always interesting–some involve big celebrations, and some come as a total surprise (Oh, I have the day off work tomorrow? That’s nice!).  The BBC posted an interesting video piece about Georgian Easter traditions (though oddly no one speaks Georgian in the whole thing–it’s all English or Russian).  Last Easter I stayed in my town and experienced the festivities.  This year I did something entirely different, which I’ll post about as soon as I get my act together after all these holidays.

Many of you might have caught my title reference to Teach and Learn with Georgia, the Georgian government’s program placing English teachers in public schools (and while we’re vaguely on the topic: no, I don’t work for them).  At first I thought this name was rather hokey, but now that I’ve been teaching for longer, I understand it more, though not, I believe, in the way they intended it.  After my recent post on ExPat-ese, tcjbritishvili wrote a post about his take on the language situation for foreigners here in Tbilisi, and I commented that “I find it sad that there are many teachers who aren’t interested in learning…it seems wrong to me”.  Which has made me get all philosophical about what I do, and why I do it, and the meaning of life, and the universe and…well, I digress.  Though teaching is not my “profession” as Georgian-English would call it,  it is my job and I enjoy it.

Part of why I enjoy it is because I’m a nerd, and I love picking up new facts: one of my textbooks just had a lesson on rituals that discussed the significance and cultural variation of handshakes around the world, and one of my favorite units explains how to survive attacks by various wild animals–this information could come in handy sometime!  I think a love of learning is an important trait in a teacher, though, because it will (with luck) be contagious and keep the students interested in class.  As an English teacher abroad, one of the easiest ways to keep learning is to study local languages and do some online classes for “fun”.   I’m now enrolled in a great Georgian class here: come join me!

(Edit March 22, 2014: Unfortunately the teach.ge Georgian program is no longer on the website: I’ve kept the following up for posterity’s sake, and if I hear of the situation changing, I’ll edit this post again)

March 4, 2013:

There’s a relatively new Georgian online language-learning website that I’ve been playing with lately: teach.ge.  They offer English, Russian, Italian, and French instruction for Georgian-speakers, and Georgian instruction for Russian speakers.  I’ve been using their Georgian program, and finding it particularly helpful for distinguishing between tricky Georgian phonics: კ/ქ/ყ, ტ/თ, and პ/ფ as well as for improving my Georgian typing skills (maybe not a major concern for everyone, but I consider it a useful life skill).  Even better–the Georgian programs are currently free!  They plan to develop more levels of the existing programs as demand increases, and a Georgian for English-speakers program is in the works.  I’m spreading the word so that demand for the Georgian programs will increase and I’ll be able to get to some more difficult topics, so please join!  I think that non-Russian speakers with a bit of Georgian would find the program helpful for improving their Georgian and perhaps learning some Russian in addition.  Unfortunately, the website itself  is only in Georgian, so I’ll post directions for getting started below.  I think the website is a great supplement to classroom time or life in the country, because it helps to cement high-frequency words through highly repetitive exercises. It won’t make you a fluent conversationalist (or put me out of a job), but it should help increase your comfort level with the fundamentals.  You also earn points through correct answers, and my competitive side quite enjoys overtaking people with Georgian names in their own language…(cheap thrills!).

Directions for starting a teach.ge program if you don’t speak Georgian:

  1. Go to the teach.ge homepage.
  2. In the top right corner, under the graphic that looks like the battery click “რეგისტრაცი“.
  3. In the first two boxes “ელ-ფოსტა” and “ელ-ფოსტა განმეორებით ” type your e-mail address.
  4. In the next two boxes “პაროლი” and “პაროლი განმეორებით” type the password you would like to use for the site.
  5. The next box is optional, but you can provide your telephone number, if you like.
  6. Next required box is “სახელი”–first name.
  7. Followed by “გვარი”–last name
  8. The drop down boxes are for birthday (optional)
  9. The next boxes are optional, sex and city if you care to answer.
  10. When you’ve completed the form, push the white bottom below that says “შენახვა”
  11. You’ll receive an e-mail at the e-mail address you provided. Click on the link to activate your account.
  12. When you’re ready to investigate the class options, click on the “პროგრამა” tab. Language classes are listed by the country’s flag.
  13. The rounded boxes on the “პროგრამა” tab will give information about the course: duration (xx დღე) and price (xx ლარი or უფასო free).
  14. To start a free class, click on the “დაწყება” button, and click “OK” as necessary. You will eventually be brought to a screen telling you that you need to install the appropriate keyboard for the language you are learning. You can do this independently of them with no trouble at all, but remember to switch your keyboard or all your answers will be wrong.  Then start the class, and mess around until you start to learn the language and the software.
  15. To start a paid class click on the “ყიდვა” button, which will take you to the payment screen. I haven’t done a paid course, so I can’t explain this step-by-step, but I know that you can pay by credit card or paybox

Some advice for using the online program:

You don’t need to type the spaces between words, and doing so will be incorrect (this takes some getting used to!).

There are multiple different types of exercises including dictation, translation, filling in the blanks, writing just the first letters of the word, and correcting orthographic mistakes–often I find that when the program isn’t working, or claims I’m making mistakes when I know I’m right, it’s because I’m not paying attention to the type of exercise that has popped up.

There are still some minor bugs–sometimes the audio doesn’t match what you’ve typed when you typed correctly, or it tells you to translate into English when it means Georgian, but none of them are remotely dealbreakers in my book.

from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard through the grapevine (HAHA) that there’s a Georgian-style winery in California, the Eristavi Winery.  The varietals listed on their website appear to be primarily French, though…. perhaps “Rouge” and “Symphonia” are America-code for some Georgian grapes?  I hope so!  Anyone know anything more?  Or even better–tried their wines?

This video isn’t new, but it’s new to me.  Georgian dance (and other martial dances…I think it’s wushu?) in Cirque du Soleil.  Quite impressive

(Aside: I got to see Cirque du Soleli in London from my friend’s father’s corporate box, and it was pretty amazing!)

My neighbor, Tara, just won a prize for her beautiful essay about her life in Tbilisi.  Though her sense of the city is different than mine, her writing is lovely and evocative–and despite our differences, I can relate to her experience: we share a landlady.  Read it here, and enjoy!

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