Well, I had the most amazing day with the children and parents from the project, and it was a huge morale boost after all the troubles of late, and wondering what the heck I was really doing here in Georgia.
Annoyingly, I just finished writing this blog, when for some unknown reason, I just lost the internet connection at home, and have gone back to the magti, and am now having the re-write the whole flippin thing from scratch! That will teach me to save my work in future!!
But, back to the day. The children and parents invited me some time ago, to join them on a trip to Mtskheta, one of the oldest churches in Georgia, and which is at the centre of Georgia’s orthodox history and is the spiritual heart of Georgia. I have actually been there a few times, but I always like to take up the opportunities to visit places in Georgia and to get out and about.
Meeting the parents for the first time, was truly lovely, and I felt very honoured to be invited to spend the day with them, and to get to know them better and to find out more about them. They picked me up from my house, and we drove to Mtskheta, passed something I had not noticed before, and which seems to have great historical significance, and needs further investigation on my part….a bridge across the river built by Pompei???
It was a great chance for the children to practice their English, and I am sure they will have been pretty tired after translating for their parents all day, but it was great to see how effective we were in communicating in three languages (Russian, Georgian, and English) as well as hand signals, and I was very impressed at how fluent my students were in English and how mature too. They really were a great credit to their English teachers at school, to their teacher Manana who sadly died, and to Larisa, who will also be working on the oceans project with us. Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to work with this class when I was at school, because I couldn’t work with everyone, for a few months they had no teacher at all, and were a big class. So, it is great to be working with them now, and to see how much they have developed over the summer project and in such a short space of time.
In the end, we didn’t go to Mtskheta, but to another church, that I had never been to before, and which had the most elaborate and beautiful frescoes that I have yet to see in any church in Georgia. Sadly, I have forgotten the name of the church, so I will need to ask again later. The frescoes were of ships in storms at sea, of oceans, and of Christ, and I had to hold back a smile, when one of the children asked me if I knew Jesus Christi, as if he was only famous in Georgia and that other countries don’t have religion. It was hard not to make a joke about not knowing him personally, but I also wanted to be sensitive and to promote the children asking me questions and speaking to me in English, but it reminded me just how much of a responsibility I was undertaking in this oceans project and taking the children on life changing expeditions.
It was a long walk up the hill to the church, in the 37degrees c heat, and all of us in rather inappropriate sandals. But is was an incredible opportunity to remind myself of why I was undertaking this project, and why it was of such importance to Georgia. All around us was nature, more than I have seen in any other country I have visited in the world. On the floor were dead, dried up frogs (not sure why, but it would be interesting to find out), crickets, bees, insects galore, woodpeckers in the trees, lizards, snakes, and over head, eagles and other birds of prey. People here talk about ‘the beautiful nature’, but I really wonder whether they appreciate just how lucky they are, and the reasons for such diversity. Much of the land is uninhabited or unfarmed, no pesticides are used, and many different plants grow. Because of this there are many insects, and because of the insects, there are many lizards, snakes and frogs, and because of this there are many birds, and because of this there are many mammals like lynx, bears, and so on. But Georgians are also awful for leaving rubbish on the ground after their picnics in the ‘beautiful nature’, and if they continue to do this, then there won’t be anything beautiful to see in the future, particularly as Georgia has joined the world of technology and consumerism since leaving the USSR and its soviet past. Now it is looking to American and to Europe, and things are changing incredibly fast.
On the way down from the church, we passed an older and seemingly abandoned church, which was so different to any other church I had seen in Georgia. It was like a labyrinth, and you had to go through one room, into another, and another, and another, until you reached the centre, which was incredibly cool and quiet after the heat and noise of insects outdoors, and which was really atmospheric and mystical. Both had a real Dan Brown feel about them for some reason, and I was reminded about the Tomb Raider film and the Illumiati, as I looked up at the great ‘All Seeing Eye’ (Eye of Providence) in both churches. The second church reminded me of Tuscany, with its red tiled roof and being surrounded by greenery, and though it looked abandoned, it looked to be undergoing external repairs to the collapsed archway door, and around the corner, we came across the monks in their big black robes, hauling bags of cement and mixing up concrete and shovelling sand under the hot sun.
As we walked back to the car, we talked about something funny that I had seen a few days ago whilst walking my dog Isla through the streets of Tbilisi, and on Chavchavadze street. It would have made an excellent video and was quite funny to watch, but also quite a mystery. Chavchavadze is a beautiful street, lined with street cafes, and designer shops, the parliament building, and so me grand statues and trees. And people were walking along jumping all over the place, and squeeling and screaming. The reason for this???? The swarm of large crickets that were EVERYWHERE! Some were dead on the pavement where they had been scrunched underfoot by mistake, some were just sitting and looking a bit confused, as passers by tried to dodge them, and others were jumping and flying across the pavement and towards the road. It was the strangest sight ever, and they were the biggest crickets I have ever seen. They certainly brought to light the Bible stories about plagues of locusts, that is for sure!
When I asked different locals about them, they said that this was unusual for Georgia, some had never seen anything like this before, and some said that it is a phenomenon that happens every 9 years, but that no one knows why. It was the perfect example in my mind, of the importance of our oceans project, and could make a great little case study for the children It would be great to collect some scientific data on this too, and to use it as a tool to feed back to Georgians.
From the church, we drove along the Military Highway towards Ananuri church and the reservoir. I had wanted to stop at the church, everytime I had been to Kazbegi, but this was the first time for me to see it properly, and the weather was perfect. The outside of the church had the best stone carvings I have ever seen on a Georgian church, and around the back were tunnels leading to the water below, and big holes covered by metal grids, but now filled with money. It occurred to me that people all around the world, for centuries, have been putting money into wells, fountains, or holes in the ground, but do we really now why, or how this tradition came about? It can’t be so simple as it is fir luck, because why would other traditions and cultures remain so isolated, I mean, why is it that this particular tradition occurs across the globe? sacrificial offerings yes, but why money? And why do we still do it? Or is it just that we are fascinated with mortality and falling or deep holes? I would love to find out more about this strange human behaviour, and I wonder whether we are the only species on the planet that likes to drop things into holes in the ground?
As we walked around the well, I picked some wild grasses and flowers to take home for my baby tortoise, an animal I had wanted since I first saw my friend’s pet tortoise when I was about 4years old, but had never been able to fulfil as it is illegal to buy them in the UK. However, it is no problem in Georgia, and choosing a reputable pet shop where they are bred in captivity and not stolen from the wild, I decided to fulfil my childhood dream, and now have a very cool and very small little tortoise boy. But walking around the well, it was great to se how excited we all were to see a lizard and a mouse cross our paths, and it was a reminder to me, of just how excited I will be to be on expedition with these children on our Earthwatch expeditions. To be with them on their first aeroplane flight, to take skin samples from dolphins, to uncover Roman relics in England, and to work with sharks, and other creatures, in cultures and places that are so new to them. It will be such an honour to share those first experiences with them, and to be a part of that excitement, to see them come home to Georgia and to tell their friends and family about all that they did and saw. It is an immense feeling to say the least.
Outside of the church, the children used my camera and took some brilliant photos, and it was so lovely to spend the day with them and their families and to learn more about Georgia too. I can’t imagine how cool it is going to be to get to know these families so well over the next ten months, and I am really touched that they want to continue to be involved with the oceans project. That the parents are entrusting me with the education and welfare of their child, and to know that these children will be in receipt of so much support for fundraising and expedition planning from their family and friends. Its amazing to be a part of such a community, where the parents have known each other since their children started school together, and to know how much fun the parents will have in supporting their children too. Some days, the project feels like an impossible task fundraising wise, but knowing how much energy and support is behind the project is massively encouraging.
Next, we went to the reservoir behind the church, and had great fun paddling in the warm and turquoise blue waters. The edges were surrounded by little frogs, and the shore was home to small fry, and then as you got deeper, and deeper, there were bigger and bigger fish. So many fish in one place, and all looking very healthy. It was great to see so many people along the shore line enjoying some time out with their families, swimming in the water, and cooking on bbq’s, but I wondered how many of them would take their rubbish home afterwards? I was actually surprised that there were not more people here, but I suppose that most people go to Tbilisi Sea or to Batumi instead? I started to wonder whether anyone had ever scuba dived here before, as it would be interesting to see what fish were here, and what kind of diversity, and also to see the underwater village, as presumably it was a manmade reservoir.
All around the edge were ruins of old, yet beautiful houses, and I wondered ow I would have felt to have given up such a location for my home, surrounded by mountains, green trees, and a fabulous lake. Why had these people all moved or was it to do with the reservoir flooding?
On the way to the Ananuri restaurant, I couldn’t help but to wonder about the connection that Georgian people have with water. Georgia is virtually landlocked, apart from a small section of coast on the west of the country, to the Black Sea where so many species have been lost through pollution and eutrophication by humans. Georgians love to go to Batumi, and to relax by the sea, but I wonder how many of them look after it, or who contribute to its demise without realising it??
Physically seeing the people enjoying themselves at the reservoir, really brought things home to me. This is where Tbilisi’s drinking water comes from, and what the people here do to water, has a direct impact on what I drink in my apartment, what I shower in, and what I cook in. I might even be eating the fish from that reservoir, and water from that reservoir will be used to grow the watermelons, potatoes, and peaches that I eat in Georgia. If those picnickers are throwing their plastic bottles and waste into my drinking water, then those toxins and debris will end up inside me, and could have harmful consequences to my health in the long term, maybe they will cause me to have cancer for example, especially if I drink a lot of water or eat lots of fish. But, what if I buy bottled water from the springs in Georgia, that is natural, and then I won’t be harmed??? But where do those springs come from, if I really think about it, then they come from the ground or from the river, so any rubbish that is put into the ground or rivers, will also come back into me. My body is made up of about 73% water, so if I don’t have water in my body, then I will die, as I am always sweating or going for a pee, or breathing, so I constantly have to replace that water.
But, water is not just essential for me in this way, water also drives the weather and climate, and most of the world’s oxygen supply comes from water. So life and the Earth is sustained by something as simple as water. Before we had water on this planet, we were like Mars, and no life could exist, and without water, we will again become like mars. I don’t know about you, but I really want to look after the things that I need to keep me alive!!! And I want everyone else to look after the things which keep me alive to. The only way that I can do something about that, is to tell people about it, through my project, and the best way to learn is by doing and seeing, so that you can really understand how we are all connected on this planet.
Really, the world is just one big ocean, and the countries are all just islands in that ocean. If the ocean rises, some countries and islands will be lost, but if we put nasty things in the ocean, then everyone will get sick, and have problems from tsunamis and earthquakes. And if every person makes little changes in their life, then friends and family will also do the same, and if everyone does that, then we can all live a better quality of life.
One of the key moments in my day out was that the parents were talking about things that they saw on the Animal Planet channel, and I was a bit stunned when I was asked, whether the things that they saw on animal planet are really true, are we really losing species, are there really such animals in the world? It was gobsmacking for me, but one of the reasons why a project such as the oceans project is so essential for Georgia, otherwise they will make the same mistakes as other countries have, and will be losing the beautiful nature and diversity that Georgia has. Don’t wait until its too late, do something about it now, whilst people are not familiar with environmental concepts and before they develop too many bad habits. Georgia is already undergoing reform, so why not put Georgia ahead of other countries, by starting off on the right foot?
The people here are really smart, but at the moment they are overwhelmed by post Soviet life and are not yet ready to tackle all of the overwhelming research and programmes that are bombarding them, and sometimes it can hard to grasp the difference between a documentary and a fictional piece of work. The best way to educate them is to give them hands on experiences, that they can bring back to families and friends, they can show them photos of them in the field, working with animals that they have seen on Animal Planet, then they will know that it is true. Help them to identify a good piece of research or methodology and to be able to critically reason and to judge for themselves. We need to invest in the people of Georgia, they are hungry to learn, and they can each make a massive difference to life here, and to the rest of the planet, and could be at the forefront of leading environmental countries.