Thursday, July 20, 2006

Traveling in Georgia

Unfortunately, I've been too busy on weekdays and weekends to make it out to these places yet, but here's a brief article from the NYTimes describing what I'm missing out on.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Convenient Blogger

Yeah, so I blog when I feel like it. There was a time, a couple of years ago, when to go for a whole week without an entry felt like an offense to all that is sacred and holy in my world of social interactions. I'm just completely letting myself go. Perhaps I should join a support group, or something. A group of consistent bloggers.

Anyway, since I spend a good 10 hours a days in a beautiful exotic foreign land in front of a computer screen, I should probably take the time to jot down a thought or two. Since my last submission, I've found an apartment, and written probably 50 rewrites of that Bangladesh report. That's it. I might be underestimating. Nothing but the best for Bangladesh and the World Bank. But seriously, Southeast Asia seems like a fascinating place. It definitely seems unfair that I spend so much of my waking time writing about the ins and outs of small business lending in such an interesting country, yet I've never seen the place.

Speaking of never seeing places, I've been out to the mountains only once now. I went for a little 10k hike up above Tbilisi with some colleagues from work, finishing at a delightful little spot called Turtle Lake in the hills overlooking the city. I saw enough of the country to decide that I need to take a backpacking trip out to the middle of nowhere.

Oh yeah, so my apartment is pretty nice, but rent costs an arm and a leg. Not literally. But let's just say that my 5 first-born children are going to spend their formative years scrubbing floors for an old Georgian Babushka instead of learning the roman alphabet and the unique American "rrr"s. They say that the housing problem made thieves out of everyone in the old Soviet Union. That'll have to prove true for me to retain my posterity.

In other local knewz, I figure I should resume my commentary on bizarre local political/cultural tidbits. So the Georgian President is in Washington. Yeah, Mr. Bush would've come out here to Georgia but he reportedly
confused Tbilisi with Atlanta and booked a 4th of July family trip to Disneyworld, figuring it was just down the interstate. I don't think I have to say which visit took priority. But Mr. Bush did promise to make up to the Georgian President by flying the Confederate flag over the White House lawn when Dick Cheney barbecues venison and lawyer during the big get-together tomorrow. A human enough mistake.

OK, I'll stop trying to be funny. Anyway, I'm not sure the visit is making all the major headlines in the States right now, but all the Georgians here remind me about it. Apparently, El Presidente Bush and President Saakashvili (the Georgian) are tight. Mr. Bush probably looked into his eye at some point, and saw his soul. (Must.... stop.... Bush.... jokes.) Anyway, the Georgian President has good things to say about the Iraq war. And they say the Press never mentions anything positive about the situation. So as a side curiosity, check out the different major Russian and American media spin on the visit. Curious. The Caucasus border disputes are absolutely fascinating little studies in revisionist history, geopolitical posturing, and convenient nationalism. It's interesting how Armenians, Georgians, and Azeris have all told me that they are the "ancient-est" nations in the world, only to sneeze on the pretenses of the other inferior nations when I bring them up. I will repeat myself: absolutely fascinating.

Finally, I've become somewhat involved in the local LDS church activities out here. I was going to attend a Young Single Adult conference in two weeks down in Yerevan. Unfortunately, the Armenian government decided that they aren't down with LDS youth getting together to mingle and do whatever it is they do. So it was cancelled by official order. Of the Armenian Government. I'm sure they see this as a real hot-button issue. Perhaps they're worried that if too many Mormon youth hang out, they'll stay true to tradition, get married, have lots of kids, and solve the declining population problem with.... Mormons! That is truly a scary thought.

In the meantime, it spoiled my big plans for an Armenian bride. Better for her. Her kids might've grown up Georgians.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The start in Georgia

Okay, now that I've been in Tbilisi for almost a week, I figure I should put something in here. The trouble is, I don't have that much to add yet. This is a beautiful city, and I hear that other parts of the country are absolutely breathtaking. I haven't yet had a chance to see much of it, though. Work keeps me tied up for about 12 hours a day, lately. I anticipate that once we finish our current project I'll get a little bit of down time. I'm actually living in the boss's home for the time being. I figure that's got to be fixed sooner rather than later. Housing in the city isn't too painfully expensive. Most of it looks really ghetto though; apartment buildings and flats look like they've been pieced together from a variety of Georgian, Soviet, and more modern architectural styles. Most of these styles are evident even within one building or flat. The food is just as good as advertised, but it is extremely rich and can start to wear on me after a while. A British guy that I met out here put it aptly when he said that there are only really two types of the famous local cheese: rubbery, and salty... and of course various combinations of the two. My family's concerns that I will die of starvation are no more legitimate out here than they were back in the states. I just won't look to be entering any Charles Atlas competitions any time soon. That'll come later.

For information on what I'm up to, check out the company website at We're currently workig on a bank downscaling project in Bangladesh. Although the microfinance industry essentially began in Bangladesh during the 1970s (making financial services more widely available to the poor in Bangladesh than almost any other country in the world), few financial services are currently targeted at the middle class. Large companies and small microentreprenuers have access to credit, but small and medium enterprises don't fit either model of lending particularly well, so they currently go relatively unserviced. BFC is doing an analysis of the current banking industry, including case studies of local banks, to make recommendations to the large banks to downscale to service the missing middle. We'll make a final report to the World Bank in a few weeks, which will probably be made publicly available later on. Catch it then.

For now, I've got to get back to work.

ps On a completely unrelated note, check out the Hot-Dog eating championship. Finally a "sport" that caters to ordinary Americans.