Run Like a Cartoon, Scamper Like a Squirrel

I have a lizard friend.  He lives in the corner and eats my mosquitoes.

I’ve taken to leaving the light on at night.  It lures his food to him.

He leaps from wall to wall, snapping up insects.

He’s looking very healthy of late.

I do not fear him–he fears me.

I hope he does not starve while I’m gone.

I’ve lived in a lot of different places around the world, each with its own critters.  Growing up in Maine, we had to watch an educational film in Drivers’ Ed about the hazards of moose on the road.  Man, oh man, can a moose do a number on your car.

When we lived on Brookside Drive, aside the titular brook, we had a small family of woodchucks who lived under our porch.  They drove our dog mad by sunning themselves just outside the glass door where she could see them.  Also by chewing on our house.

I’ve lived in DC with it’s odd black squirrels.  I’ve lived in Baltimore with plentiful rabbits bouncing around.  I’ve lived in Georgia, where I gave poor Achiko the Mouse a heart attach and then threw him in a dumpster.  And now I live in the Virgin Islands.

The main difference I’ve found between St. Thomas and the other places I’ve lived is its curious dearth of mammals.  We don’t seem to have any major rodent problems.  I’ve heard tell of deer hanging around and I’ve met the odd dog and cat here or there. The main critters that hang out, though, are the creepy-crawly type.

This island is full of lizards.  Maybe they just catch my eye because they’re new and different to me.  But I swear, lizards are everywhere.  I see them at work, at home, at the beach, in parking lots, smooshed on the road, and even in my apartment!  There’re big ones, small ones, some as big as your head!

Just look at this little guy, doing his best Pride Rock as he sunbathes by the pier!

Just look at this little guy, doing his best Pride Rock as he sunbathes by the pier!

There’s a lot of Iguanas around.  I’ve come up with an awesome business plan, too.  It’s sustainable, green, and profitable!  I’m going to sell roasted Iguana tails out of, like, a food truck.  It’s sustainable because Iguanas can grow their tails back.  It’s green because Iguanas are green.  It’s profitable because who wouldn’t love unlimited roasted iguana tails?

Okay, this guy wouldn't like it too much, but look at all that tail meat!

Okay, this guy wouldn’t like it too much, but look at all that tail meat!

Iguanas are funny creatures, though.  They seem very slow and lethargic.  They have the faces of old men and the bodies of a small dinosaur, and yet when they need to get moving they can really kick it into overdrive.  The best part?  A running iguana looks like something straight out of an episode of Scooby Doo.

They sort of pinwheel their legs and take off sprinting to get out of your way.  They dart out of the sun and into the shadows as you approach, kicking up sand and leaves as they zoom away.

These guys were chillin' by the pool.  I looked away for one second and they had taken off, nowhere to be seen.

These guys were chillin’ by the pool. I looked away for one second and they had taken off, nowhere to be seen.

One afternoon, in my apartment, I heard a scampering and snapping as something crashed about in the leaves.  I went to my window, imagining that I might see a squirrel at long last.  Nope!  I looked out in time to see an iguana launch himself downward, spread eagle, and catch himself on a leafy branch–barely.  They’re a funny bunch, those iguanas.

This one paid me a visit one fine weekend morning, basking outside my screen door, unable to see me within.

This one paid me a visit one fine weekend morning, basking outside my screen door, unable to see me within.

There are also landcrabs that skulk about, disguising themselves as stones on the path.  More than once I’ve casually kicked at a rock, sending it rolling into the grass only to notice its wriggling legs contract into its shell a moment too late.  I always feel bad and try to put these big hermits back on their feet.

My favorites, though, are the little tiny lizards.  They creep in under my screen door, small enough for their little bodies to just slide right in.  These ones are adorable and cool.  My first few nights/weeks/months living here was a hellish mess of mosquito bites and experimentation with a variety of strategies for repelling the suckers.  Only recently did I discover the best and greatest strategy: Hosting an adorable lizard in my living room.

Where's the reptilian solution?  In the top right!  hiding at the edge of the light, waiting for his moment to strike.

Where’s the reptilian solution? In the top right! hiding at the edge of the light, waiting for his moment to strike.

It’s fun to watch this little lizard as he zips about the wall, running, climbing and leaping.  Making dashes at the bugs that buzz about the lamp.  Sometimes they fly circles around him.  Eventually, though, he hits his mark, snatching a mosquito out of the air or springing upon one that has landed on the wall.  He chews eagerly in little snapping motions.  It will be a good night.

Little Lizard Friend

Little Lizard Friend

There’s a risk and a tragedy involved in farming tiny lizards in my apartment.  If they cannot find their way to the lamp, they have a short and tough existence.  Before I hit upon my lamp strategy, I did my best to shepherd lizards back out the door.  They were too afraid and often retreated deeper into the apartment, hiding under chairs or along window sills.  Daniel and I rescued one by lifting a dining chair and carrying it outside, letting the terrified lizard leap to his freedom.  Others are not so lucky.

A tragic casualty and unexpected hassle of living in the tropics.

A tragic casualty and unexpected hassle of living in the tropics.

But my Lizard Friend thrives and I sleep each night a little more mosquito free than the night before.

It’s a good, strange thing to live among so many lizards.

Posted in Adventures Elsewhere, Raughley Goes to... | Leave a comment

Georgians in America, Part II

A funny thing happens when you spend four and half years living in a foreign country–you start seeing it everywhere you go.  Some instances are deliberate: Scanning the stage of the Miss Universe Pageant to find Miss Georgia (Yes, I watched a few minutes of the Miss Universe Pageant).  Others instances are foisted upon you by others: Every other week I hear from an old friend or acquaintance who is traveling to Georgia and wants tips or my sister posts a new article on my wall from the Washington Post about how Georgian food is the next “it” cuisine.  Yet more circumstances are completely serendipitous: chatting with an academic who attended a conference in Tbilisi over bagels at a small bed and breakfast in Charlotte Amalie.

The thing about all of these happenings is that they draw inevitable comparisons and call backs to life in Georgia.  Some of the comparisons are favorable, others nostalgic, while some remind you why you left Georgia.

When I first returned to New York, I made a point of reaching out to old friends and colleagues I had in the area–obviously.  I met my grad school buddy Ken for pizza one day at lunch and we made plans to visit a Georgian restaurant on the East Side.  A few nights later, I wandered through rainy streets with names like “A” and “B” searching for Oda House.

I arrived, having forgotten the first rule of Georgia already.  I was painfully on time.

I sat down at our table for eight and drank a few glasses of water before anyone else arrived.  Ken’s friends started arriving before him.  He is close with the expat communities in Moscow and New York (Americans and Russians, respectively) and so I started getting to know a handful of interns, students, and exchange workers as the table began to fill with young Russians.

When our fully party had arrived, we were brought menus and the questions flooded in.  “What’s good, Raughley?”

The thing about Oda House is that it is all incredibly good!  They have chicken mtsvade, shotis puri, all manner of khatchapuri, khinkali, badrijani nigvzit and unigvzo, several types of real Georgian wine–it’s as Georgian as can be!  The entire staff is Georgian and the walls are adorned with Georgian graffiti from grateful Georgian Wanderers seeking something familiar in the urban jungles of Manhattan.

The other thing about Oda House is that it is damned expensive!  I’ve been to very few restaurants in New York City, but my downfall was surely comparing the prices to those in Georgia.  The part that boggled my mind, though, was that I was literally getting the exact same foods.  I glanced over the menu with sticker shock at each price I saw.  Thirty dollars for a bottle of saperavi???  I used to get 2 liters for 5 dollars near my house!  Eight dollars for a shotis puri??  That cost 45 cents!

The khinkali was $9.50.  Cautiously optimistic I asked the waiter how many khinkali came in one order.  “Three, sir.”  I choked on my surprise and ordered a twenty-five dollar four-piece chicken mtsvadi.  Boy was my wallet hurting that night.

A few months later, my coworkers and I had all moved down to St. Thomas where Morgan and I decided to go for a stroll.  She was wearing a shirt that she’d gotten printed in Tbilisi.  I forget what the front says, but the back says “მორგანი” Morgan.

We were having a nice walk in the sun down Kondprindsens Gade which is a fancy street chock full of jewelry stores.  DUTY FREE their window displays shout.  Well-dressed salesmen and women stand in the entryways to lure prospective clients to their financial doom.  A large man in fake zebra skins and a enormous headdress shakes a spear at the side street where the Shaka Zulu store awaits.

As we wandered, a voice called out in Russian, “Are you from Georgia?”  We wheeled about and I saw a man in a fishing vest and a bucket hat leaning against the doorframe of one of the jeweler’s.

We struck up a conversation in Russian, “No, we just came back from living there for four years, though.”

“Wow!  I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance.  Do you live here?”

“Yes, we came here a few weeks ago.” My Russian was a little shakey, but I was pleased with my performance.

“Are you Russian?”

“No, American, you?”

“I’m from Pittsburgh!”

“Well!  We might as well speak English then, right?”  Much to Morgan’s relief, we switched into English.  Turns out the gemnologist is an amateur linguist and former air force intelligence agent.  He spent the better part of the 1980s debriefing Soviet emigrants in Brighton Beach.  “Lots of pilots and families who spent time on airbases,” he told us.

Morgan got a nice little pendant as a parting gift and we went back on our merry way, only to encounter the aforementioned academic at breakfast the next morning.

It’s remarkable the way that people, places, and experiences stay with you.  Every day I miss Georgia, look back with relief that I’ve returned to the States, crave Georgian food, and worry that my Georgian is becoming rusty through disuse.

At the end of the day, I like knowing that somewhere inside საქარტველო ჩემთანა.

Posted in Adventures Elsewhere, Adventures in Georgia | Leave a comment