Bit sneeky today, since I decided to repost the blog I wrote for our ocean rowing site: http://www.fourbirdsaboating.com/ as I wanted to post pretty much the same stuff today. Going a little stir crazy as I just want to be in Latvia, and everyone is taking forever to get back to us with bits and bobs and my PhD in Sweden is still up in the air, so its all a little frustrating, especially with so many thing sto get done. But it is still progressing, and seems to be going in the right direction so that’s a bonus. I’ve managed to make several applicationd for funding, but bit frustrated on the decorating and house front, especially with having to replace the boiler, and not being able to get hold of my landlady, and also not being able to get wifi internet installed, plus its just too hot to do anything, and my computer is slow and keeps cutting out, despite my best efforts. So its a bit limbo right now. But hoping its temporary, and soon I’ll be onto the next chapter. Here’s what I wrote for our ocean row blog, I also took some video footage, which I’ll try to string together once the new laptop arrives, just for video making practice really:
Whilst not conventional team training and bonding, I think this week’s adventures have been pretty ideal for establishing team dynamics and ocean row preparation. Brij has been staying in my dusty, old apartment with me for the duration of her holiday from the hostel where she is working, and around her daily TLG shifts teaching ‘mandatores’ (school resource officers/security staff) and we have been trying to get a lot of odd jobs done for OPG and the row. Each day, I aim to paint one wall of the kitchen I’m decorating, and I’m still waiting on the arrival of the laptop, funded by Lush (stuck in customs) so that I can go off on my own adventures to visit family in the cooler air of Latvia for the summer, where I will be writing our OPG book, ready to be published in September. This means that I’m quite frustrated and stressing about publishing deadlines, and Brij is dealing with her own anger and grief having just lost her grandma and it also being almost one year since she lost her mum. Added to this, it is now 33degrees outside (and rising), which means that it is even hotter inside the house, especially with no air conditioning, and as happens often, our water has been switched off, and its not unknown to lose electricity at certain times as well. Thankfully this is fairly normal for both of us having lived in Georgia for quite a long time, and we just get on with it, as it usually comes back on at some point, and we look at it with a view that it means someone somewhere is fixing some old piping or wires or something, so it must be progress. To make things more frustrating, both of us are also covered in bites from little insects which are never seen. They are flies, but not as present or big as mosquitos, which makes them even more annoying, and they really, really itch, to the point where (added with the humidity in the house, especially at night) you wake up in the morning, only to find you have scratched yourself to death and now have bedding covered in spots of blood, and you look a bit strange when you go out into the public. All very joyous! And we now spend our time covered in antiseptic cream for the mosquito bites, and thanks to support from Ultrasun, we’ve been testing out their sun lotion in preparation for the row and hope to soon test out our new GoPro camera (once it clears customs) at the outdoor swimming pool.
We’ve had some amazing thunder storms this week, vertical and horizontal lightening, with flashes just a second apart, lighting up the Tbilisi skies, and whilst it brings initial comfort of cooler air, it also comes with the knowledge that post storm, everything will become hot and steamy again and the biting insects will return with full vengeance. We’ve also had some really heavy, horizontal rain that comes through the doors and windows, and any cracks, and also adds to the leaky roof of the house, so we are always listening for drips and have buckets at the ready, just in case. As well as containers of water, for when the water gets switched off. I’m a massive fan of thunder storms, but what drives me mad about them in Georgia, is their ability to set off car alarms. Not just any car alarm, but the really, really, annoying ones that have about three parts to their repertoire (on constant repeat), and seem to go on forever, or until someone ventures outside into the downpour in their pyjamas and switches them off. Worse still is the noise that comes from the street on the days when everyone seems to get hot and bothered, and start fighting with each other or screaming at their children, usually around 2am, sometimes later. Living in a city sometimes has its drawbacks! Especially when you are a part of a community and everything is confusing because you are a foreigner, and behaviours can seem more serious than they really are because of cultural differences like shouting loudly or waving arms around when speaking. On the plus side, the hot weather brings with it, large water melons, with refreshing red flesh, available for about 30tetri (less than 50p) and large enough to share with everyone.
Just Get on With Life
Another drawback of storms is that there is always a worry of landslides and about a month ago, we had a bad landslide, a series of earthquakes, and the river Mtkvari burst it’s banks, causing chaos in the city. This even made BBC News. But everyone just got on with it, and it was soon forgotten, Georgia is very resilient, a skill that we are also learning and which will really help us in the row, as we tend to just get on with things rather than waste energy moaning about them.
Adventures with the Team
This week, we had new adventures. Hearing that part of our computer order had now arrived from the USA, we had to go to the inland revenue, get a fiscal number, take it to the customs and excise, and all being well, our parcel would then be delivered to us. So, off we ventured in the 30degree heat, with an address and our minimal Georgian and set about on a navigation exercise, in a country that doesn’t really have meaningful addresses, logic, or maps. After a fair walk, across busy roundabouts, and dodgy pavements, we reached said address, only to discover that the building was….well, still being built. So the Inland Revenue wasn’t where we were told it would be, and onwards we ventured, stopping many Georgians on the way and asking for further instructions. Sweaty and with bites itching, we arrived at a scruffy looking building, with a little sign on the door, and entered into a nice, well equipped room, with air conditioning, and people in crisp white shirts and looking very smart. As is typical of Georgia as buildings can be very deceptive from the outside. The lovely young man even spoke some English, and he ushered us to another nice lady, who to our delight also spoke some English, which made our minimal Georgian unnecessary which made life a whole lot easier. I don’t know about you, but I find tax things to be confusing enough in my own language, let alone in a second one, and in a country where things may be done differently! To our great delight, we found out that because we are a registered charity, we won’t have to pay tax on the computers, but we do need to get a special letter and fiscal number that once we have, we won’t have to go through all this palava again.
I should also add, that on our journey to the Inland Revenue, we had to use several underpasses, dark, dirty places, that are a little scary and smell like stale urine, and which appear to have bunkers and soviet concrete and metal grids in them, and covered in rather cool and sometimes disturbing, sometimes humorous graffiti. So it was a little bit surprising to walk up some steps from the said sewers/underpass to emerge right into the middle of a strange event. As we got to the top of the steps, by the heroes memorial, which always has two soldiers on either side of it, stood entirely still, no matter what the weather, a load of black and shiny cars suddenly seemed to drive up and surround us, and out stepped lots of important people, bodyguards with ear pieces in their black suits and shiny shoes, and a load of soldiers in black tops and white trousers (standing guard with swords), and a band, and a lot of important people in black suits, with black sunglasses and briefcases were quickly guarded and ushered to the front of the memorial where a few songs were played by the band. I think we stood very still, feeling that all eyes might be on us, and surrounded by security guards and military and other official people who looked like body guards or wielded big guns and pistols (Or maybe I imagined that?). It was if we were in some Harry Potter type film and had just apparated into the middle of an audience with the President at a funeral or something. Thankfully we looked like tourists, stood very still and waited until the ceremony was over, before going back down the stairs and continuing on our way, all a bit befuddled. I suspect it was just a memorial service and nothing too sinister, but still we were aware that we looked like a sore thumb and any sudden movements might make the bodyguards think we were up to no good, so we thought it best not to risk looking any more dodgy than we already did, especially since there seemed to be no media covering the event, which usually there are for everything that happens in Georgia. No pretty girls with microphones, just one or two smartly dressed, serious looking photographers including a lady who looked very pregnant and like she really shouldn’t be running so fast to take photos of the event. Not having a tv, also means that we have little awareness of what is going on in Georgia, and not being able to read the Georgian papers very well also means we are not very well informed.
Anyway, the kind lady at the Inland Revenue, directed us to the Tbilisi City Hall, where we needed to get some document. So off we traipsed again in the heat and dust and feeling very hungry and thirsty and having a feeling that we were on some wild goose chase. Soon enough we made our way to the building, went through some security things and up a spiral staircase inside a rather funky looking AIR CONDITIONED building, and were directed to take a number and sit in a seat. We entertained ourselves for a couple of minutes, looking at an unfinished model of Tbilisi, on which I even found my house, and eventually someone moved so we were able to grab comfy seats on some trendy black chairs. And we waited……for about two hours…..looking at numbers on a board, trying to figure out the system, and not believing that we were going to get anywhere. People were snoozing in chairs, fanning themselves with ornate and old looking hand fans, and people were looking thoroughly grumpy and serious, but happier once they found chairs, woe betide anyone who might happen to jump up for even a second! Brigid did her lesson plans, drew some pictures, we had an impromptu project meeting, started writing some of the blogs we have been asked to write for various people, and eventually started to get bored and lacking in any other socially acceptable ways to entertain ourselves any longer. Brigid cracked a code, and worked out which room we might get called into, played dumb and asked them if we were in the right place. No joy. We waited some more, and some more. And then I decided to play dumb, and the lady agreed to see us, so we quickly moved into the room, gave her our magic numbers, figured that for some reason room 9s numbers for not appearing on the board, and quickly afterwards, lots of other people followed suit, noticing that we had broken through and obtained service. At first, it seemed they all spoke Georgian and they pretended they didn’t understand us, even when we spoke Georgian, but once they became less shy, they started speaking in English, and turned out to be very lovely and helpful. Perhaps we had just arrived during their one hour lunch break when the office was closed? Who knows. We went through a lot of documents, and they typed something up and told us to go back to the Inland Revenue.
Brigid had to leave part way through this as she had her TLG lessons with the mandatores, so I waited at the office and enjoyed some people watching, watched some ladies crying and arguing with a very patient looking member of staff, and later had a nice conversation with an employee who was in the toilets making coffee in her little brown coffee pot, using the plug from the hand dryer. She was very happy to practice her English and after a very lovely exchange she gave me good directions on which buses I should take to get me back somewhere near to the Inland Revenue. And out I went, back into the heat, which felt hotter having been in a relatively air conditioned building, and also because it was actually even hotter outside now, some 35degrees. I waited twenty minutes at a hot bus stop for a bus, with a lot of other people, and sure enough, it was the right bus and took me exactly where I had wanted to go. I went back into the Inland Revenue, found the same lady (who had gone off on her lunch break with her friend just after serving us, which didn’t help because I was hot, sweaty, sticking to everything and hungry having not eaten all day). She looked at the documents, and informed me that this was exactly what she had given us, couldn’t understand why they hadn’t given us a different document, and it seemed we were no further than we had been on our morning visit with her. So she showed me the online system (all of which is in Georgian letters, so that is going to be very interesting to complete online once we have all the necessary documents to scan and upload with our application!), we talked about tax in general, and she also found me a general document about tax, written in English which very much made my day, especially as tax restrictions and rules change fairly often and as a foreigner it can be hard to know where to look or to keep up to date with, so that was a great help.
On the second day of our adventures, we walked in the heat to Rustaveli and beyond, looking for a notary and translator, who could translate our documents for us. Apparently, once these documents are translated and notarised, we will be able to upload them onto the Inland Revenue website, wait two days, and if all goes well, our fiscal number (which turns out to be the same as our NGO registration number) will transform from a number that means we have to pay tax to the customs people, to a number that stops us having to pay tax on any purchases or deliveries for educational/NGO/humanitarian purposes. Once we have entered that number, we should be able to clear customs, collect our parcel (by which time I hope the final delivery will have arrived, since apple shipped things separately), and once I have the laptop, I’ll be able to go to Latvia and write our OPG book, since I’m already behind on things now, but its just too hot to try and write or draw here and I also need a computer that works and can deal with all the material to be uploaded for the publisher.
Its all great fun and games, but it has meant that we have had some quality moments together, and seen how we cope when hot, bothered, bored, grumpy, and sleep deprived, and we’ve been absolutely fine, especially sharing a room together and being hot and eaten by mosquito type insects, which is just how I imagine life on the boat will be, only with 4 of us and on a 23foot boat. In less than 19 days, Michelle will be here too, and she’ll really have a shock, coming from rainy Britain to Tbilisi at its hottest and most air deprived time of year.
Its been great to have someone to share ideas with, make decisions with, and things are hopefully starting to come together for the row. We’ve been looking for a boat builder who fits our personalities and needs, and we think we have found our man, and hope that he’ll have time to build our boat before heading off on his own adventures. The plan is to have the boat ready for the Henley Royal Regatta in my home town in the UK, and to put our boat on display at the River and Rowing Museum, which fits perfectly for our environmental education outreach work, and the boat will stay on display there for our launch party and until nearer to the row, which should enable us to take it out onto the River Thames to practice. We’ve also started to receive some followers and messages from Hawaii which is really exciting, and I’m loving emails that begin with the words ‘Aloha’. Less helpful is the fact that I’ve been watching the television series ‘Lost’ and whilst I am loving the fact that it was filmed in Hawaii, I’m hoping that my vivid imagination doesn’t make me have nightmares of monsters, secret shafts, and magic numbers once we arrive! The scenery looks stunning, and I can’t wait to feel those Hawaiian waters and to see some volcanoes. I’m also thinking that my biggest fear on the ocean row, will be swimming under the boat to scrub the bottom each week, as whilst I am a scuba diver, love diving with sharks, and being in the water, I do have a bit of an issue with being at the surface of deep water and imagining what could be in the miles of water below. Not helped by the fact that I was once bitten on the foot by a barracuda in the Mediterranean once whilst swimming at the surface. So I think that will be my biggest issue rowing wise. Brigid on the other hand has a fear of scuba diving and being reliant on air through a mask, but no issues with being on the surface, so I think I’ll be doing her washing up duty in exchange for her doing my swims at the surface!!