Georgia Year Four: Visiting Some Old Relatives

It has been a rough semester.

For two months my roommate and I were covering for a vacancy at our school, which meant that I had 27 teaching hours a week (not counting lesson planning or commuting times).  It was a huge pain in the butt and an overall unpleasant experience.

Finally, we got a new teacher at our school which has significantly eased the work burden and has allowed me to start enjoying life again!

Case and point: We took an excursion this weekend!

This week I have several days off!  Today, April 7th, is Khareba, an Easter-related holiday and April 9th is a memorial holiday commemorating the massacre in 1989 by the Red Army.  With that in mind, I decided that I needed to take advantage of the extra day to take an excursion to Dmanisi!

I have been all over Georgia, but I haven’t been to two big regions: Kvemo Kartli and Ratcha.  There’re a few other random places around (Hi, Tusheti!), but KK and Ratcha are the big ones.  I have a map in my apartment that is full of push pins and I wanted to add another, so Dmanisi it is!  Dmanisi is famous for its archaeological site where the oldest humanoid remains outside of Africa were found.  Their names are Zezua and Mzia and if I recall they were dragged off and killed by a saber-toothed tiger back in the day (about 1,500,000 years ago).

First order of business, though, was to find the Marshrutka that goes there.  After a shortish adventure, I found the details at Samgori’s “bus” station and arranged to catch the eleven am marshrutka the next day.

Pete and Damian and I met up Sunday morning at the Freedom Square metro and prepared to hop on the Dmanisi Marshrutka.  While we were waiting for 11 to roll around, we bought some bananas from a wandering lady and appreciated the way that the marshrutka drivers were all play-fighting and laughing when the big guy almost wiped out stepping in a pothole.

Finally, we were on our way!

The road to Dmanisi was really nice!  I haven't been south very often, but it isn't bad!
The road to Dmanisi was really nice! I haven’t been south very often, but it isn’t bad!

Two hours later, we landed in Dmanisi!

 

IMG_8120
This is the view looking out over some garbage near the main market in Dmanisi. There were also some fun cows and a dog to hang out with. The sounds were really village-y and nice! Too bad my camera can’t capture sound in photos!

We were pretty hungry, but we wanted to scope out the museum situation before trying to find food.  In the center of Dmanisi is a huge building with the words “Cultural Center” on it.  We figured that was as good a place to start as any!  We went in and found that it was basically vacant and abandoned-looking, but the lights were on and we could hear angry sounding voices floating through the echo-y halls.

We decided to wander in he direction of the voices, naturally, and soon found ourselves climbing a dark staircase into the post apocalypse.  The floor was covered with dust and strewn with debris, but the voices were getting louder.  We turned a corner and found our way barred by a locked gate.  Behind the gate, however, the wooden door was cracked open and we peered in to discover the room where they apparently keep all of the dug-up pottery!

The Chamber of Secret...Pottery
The Chamber of Secret…Pottery

Back in the hall, Pete was busy uncovering the source of the voices.  In a wonderfully spooky turn of events,

he realized that the voices weren’t coming from our wing of the building at all, but rather from an airduct that led elsewhere.  Nothing to do but climb right in!

 

Just kidding.

Instead, we returned to the lobby where we met a dude coming out of an angry-sounding lecture.  He assured us that the museum was closed on Sundays and that we should come back on Monday.  Fat Chance, buddy!

But, we decided to get lunch instead.  We walked down the one street in town to find a restaurant.  A few minutes later, after exploring most of Dmanisi, we found a house with a sign labeled “Restaurant ‘USO'” and went right in!

Uso turned out to be the nickname of the owner, who was more than pleased to shower us with wine and a variety of Georgian foods (metaphorically speaking).

Damian and I taking pictures of each other taking pictures of food.
Damian and I taking pictures of each other taking pictures of food.

When the chef saw me put some cheese and greens in the bread, she laughed herself silly and pointed, shouting “Бутерьброд!” which is Russian for “Sandwich.” A few minutes later, we had a visitor: Jenni!

Jenni had woken up a bit late and missed the 11 am marshrutka but managed to catch the Noon one and was right behind us!  With her help, we polished off lunch and left to head back to the museum.

But not so fast!  We had made friends with the owners and staff of the restaurant and they wanted us to take our leftover wine with us.  Gladly, we did.  Damian had also been chatting it up with one dude in German and he promised us up and down that he could make a call and get us into the museum.  No such luck, as it turned out.  But the real showstealers were the two Azeri guys hanging out in the main part of the restaurant.  They would not let us leave without saying goodbye.  Or, for that matter, without saying hello.

Here's one of them, with Damian and I firmly ensconced on either arm.
Here’s one of them, with Damian and I firmly ensconced on either arm.
And now even more firmly drawn inward.
And now even more firmly drawn inward.  His friend behind Jenni looked like he wanted to cry when we were leaving.
But don't worry!  Pete got some love, too!
But don’t worry! Pete got some love, too!
Two Azeris and two foreigners, all chilling in a restaurant in Dmanisi.
Two Azeris and two foreigners, all chilling in a restaurant in Dmanisi.
Jenni had the "best" luck of all!  Here she is being almost-kissed by the German-speaking dude who was convinced she was from Nigeria and would become his African Queen/Kitchen Wife.  It was a happy day for Jenni!
Jenni had the “best” luck of all! Here she is being almost-kissed by the German-speaking dude who was convinced she was from Nigeria and would become his African Queen/Kitchen Wife. It was a happy day for Jenni!
See her excitement?
See her excitement?

We finally disentangled ourselves from the friendly fellows at Uso’s and found our way back to the Cultural Center.  The security guard woke up and told us again that the museum was closed.  But Pete was not about to be stymied by a little inconvenience like “Working Hours”.

This face waits for no man.
This face waits for no man.

With his best plaintivity on display, he convinced the guard to call the director.  Minutes later, the director of the museum was there, unlocking the door and letting us into the exhibit!  Gotta love Georgia!

The main event!  Zezua (r) and Mzia (l)
The main event! Zezua (r) and Mzia (l)

Mari showed us around and informed us in broken English about the items on display.  She pointed out which skull belonged to Mzia and which to Zezua and told us about the animals there, too!

Uncanny likeness, don't you think?
Uncanny likeness, don’t you think?
For 1.5 million year-old bones, they have held up remarkably well.  Actually, I have students with worse teeth than these!
For 1.5 million year-old bones, they have held up remarkably well. Actually, I have students with worse teeth than these!
This is what Zezua and Mzia would've looked like if they had skin.  I mean, they did, back in the day, but they don't anymore.  Alas!
This is what Zezua and Mzia would’ve looked like if they had skin. I mean, they did, back in the day, but they don’t anymore. Alas!

With our mission accomplished, we said goodbye to Mari, Zezua, Mzia, and Dmanisi and began our trek back to Tbilisi.  It had been a successful adventure and hopefully the first of many more to come now that spring is here!

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