Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exile On Not Main Street, Part II. Or: The road less traveled. Also vodka.

Hello, friends. Romania is still Romania, and language class is still language class (For a limited time only, all the suck of PST, crammed into a more portable three weeks! Available for the low low price of oh just kill yourself now!). Thankfully, even our teacher didn't want to teach this afternoon, so we just sat outside drinking coffee and talking about recent Romanian history, which seems to involve a lot of Germans and kings who don't want to be kings and then Stalin. So, since it was topical, I showed her my Stalin Museum pictures. It was nice to be able to contribute to the discourse. Also, I showed the photo of me as Bearinacage from last Halloween, the photo of my winter beard, and the photo from my host brother's wedding where I gave a prepared toast and then downed a huge kh'anzi in front of 300 people. Man, I miss Georgia. I mean, I want to be here, and I'm adjusting, but I don't really know how to balance what seems to be a healthy impulse to fondly remember my time there, and the need to fully adjust my focus to HERE. I'm sort of afraid I'm going to find myself at work two weeks from now, with someone asking me a random work question, only instead of answering it I will find myself bawling and sputtering, "I....remember.....the.....time.....when.....Kelly Uphoff......said......Colonial Williamsburg....." and then I will run out the door and just run and run into the wilderness and nobody will ever see me again. It's a possibility that's on the table, I think.

Anyway, here is part two of my Exile Story. I'm going to visit my new city this weekend, so perhaps I shall have some interesting insights and/or photographs for you to gaze at in wonder, come next week.


I went home and packed a small bag. Under our safety and security rules, when moving volunteers is a possibility, a volunteer is only allowed to pack a small carry-on-size bag to bring with him. That’s basically enough room for a laptop and two or three sets of clothes. I didn’t really consider at the time how much this rule would end up affecting my life. I was also not really considering the possibility that I would never be back to that room, that house, or that city. I went through the motions I was supposed to go through, just in case – I arranged my possessions in groups of importance, in case Peace Corps had to retrieve them and send them to America for me, and when the call came on Saturday morning for me to go to Tbilisi immediately, I said goodbyes to my family. It was an extremely confusing evening and morning of conversations:

Me: “I may have to leave for Tbilisi tomorrow.”
My host family: “Why?”
Me: “Because of the bombings. Peace Corps wants all the volunteers together. We may have to leave the country.”
My host family: “But Rustavi is safe.”
Me: “How do you know?”
My host family: “They won’t bomb Rustavi.”
Me: “They just bombed an airport 20 minutes from here and an army base five kilometers from here.”
My host family: “But not here. You should not leave.”
Me: “I have to. And I might not be able to come back.”
My host family: “But you are leaving for America in two days.”
Me: “Yes, trust me, I am aware of this.”
My host family: “Stop being silly. Put your things back in your room.”

I took a marshutka to Tbilisi. The marshutka to the Peace Corps office, it turns out, was my last marshutka ride in Georgia. I didn’t know it at the time, or perhaps I’d have taken some pictures. Things in Tbilisi seemed pretty normal, which was actually weird, although I don’t know what I was expecting. I met some friends of mine – volunteers who also lived in the east, or who were in the city for other reasons – at the Peace Corps office in the early afternoon. We sat in the volunteer lounge, and since I no longer work for Peace Corps Georgia, I can tell you without fear of reprimand that we started pounding some liquor I had in my cubby. This led to an amusing exchange with our new Country Director, who had just arrived in Georgia two weeks prior. He ordered pizza for us and for the staff, since we weren’t permitted to leave the office, and mused, “I wish we didn’t have that alcohol policy. Now would be a good time for a beer.” I nodded my head in agreement, and took another sip from my coffee mug. Which was full of vodka.

At any rate, we discussed the situation with the CD, while I wondered whether I smelled like the amount of liquor I’d consumed.[15] He told us that all the other volunteers and trainees were gathering in central Georgia, and moving to a safe location in Bakuriani, a ski town in the mountains to the south (here are some mediocre pictures of Bakuriani, circa July 2007). We asked to be taken there as well – at this point, we had no idea what was in store for us, and we didn’t want to wait for what could be a long time, in Tbilisi, without being able to see many of our friends. This seems like an ironic desire now, since we ended up spending nearly a month in closer quarters than change in a coinpurse.[16] The country director agreed, and after waiting for a couple hours we clambered into a Peace Corps SUV to take off into the wilderness, armed only with our emergency bags and, um, another bottle of vodka.[17]

By this point, the main east-west road through Georgia – and, along with it, the usual route to Bakuriani – was closed, due to the bombings and troop movements.[18] This meant we had to take the Other Way. Basically, the Other Way was not so much a “road” as it was “dirt that led in the direction of mountains.” What began as a seemingly exciting road trip into the void (this probably had something to do with the alcohol) turned cramped and boring almost as quickly as, well, an indefinite stay in a hotel in Armenia. Darkness descended upon our vehicle, and with it a heavy fog, and we kept crawling along, stopping every five minutes to ask villagers if we were going the right way. They journey took six or seven hours. Almost all the vehicles we saw were headed in the opposite direction. At one point we were stopped by a military checkpoint, though I don’t know what they were hoping to achieve by setting one up on the Road That Wasn’t A Road. The dirt and the caravans heading the opposite direction and the fog and the checkpoint and everything else made the trip morph quickly from an Adventure to an Oh Fuck What Is Happening To Us. And yet, we played the “Guess What Will End Up Happening” game in the car, and I made a persuasive argument that we’d eventually head back to our sites. I think that most of us who ended up in Armenia believed, at least to some small degree, that we’d end up going back to Georgia – even after we’d been in Armenia for several days. It took a week in Armenia, and a contentious group meeting in which many people cried, for that belief to fade, one bomb and one minute at a time.

NEXT TIME: Dan Forgets How To Leave A Voicemail. Or: The 37 lari bill keeping him from ever returning to Georgia.

[15] He did, at one point, call me a “smartass” after I made a joke about concealing a ballistic missile in my volunteer cubby. I think he meant it admiringly, though. Or, at least, not condescendingly. Perhaps I should ask someone else for a work reference, after I finish my service. “What, that smartass? He’s okay, I guess. Kind of a smartass. Did I mention he’s a smartass? I did? Good. Because he is one.”
[16] GET IT? Quarters ARE change!!!1!!1!!1 This is the worst pun since Tom Schreiber’s immortal “You spin me right round baby right round, like Rick Record baby, right round round round.”
[17] The fact that I don’t think we opened this bottle while driving to Bakuriani is a testament that we really NEEDED that extra year in Georgia, after which we would not only have tipped a few back along the way, but offered the driver himself several shots. Man, I miss Georgia.
[18] Now would be a good time to remind you, loyal readers, that the next time you’re doing some urban planning for an entire country, you should probably have more than one main transport artery. If, for aesthetic purposes, you really feel like you NEED to limit yourself to just one highway, please make sure that no part of it is less than 30 km from a violent, Russia-backed breakaway region. See, nation-building isn't really that complicated. I don't know why it's not working in Iraq. Zing! This would be topical political humor if anyone still cared enough about Iraq to look away from Photoshopped pictures of Sarah Palin for two seconds.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exile On Not Main Street, Part I. Or: How to use the phrase "gold-shitting" in an amusing joke.

Short prelude: today, I attended a press conference to announce the opening of an American Center at a local library, put together by the two volunteers in this city and our language teacher. We went to the local library at the appointed time only to wait around for 20 minutes for no reason. Once it started, it consisted of a man -- in this case, the director of the library, I think -- gesticulating and shouting about Johann Gutenberg, the power and magic of the printed page, Pax Romana, Russian imperialism, and T.S. Eliot. I later told the volunteers here that this experience was EXACTLY what a Georgian toast would be like, if there happened to be a toast about T.S. Eliot. It was comforting. Sometimes, things are NOT different. Anyway.


So I was talking with my parents, at some point during our 27 day exile.[1][2] I was describing some event or other, and either my father or my mother said, “You should write a book about this.” He/she was joking, I think, but I thought about it for a second, and then determined that this would no doubt be the most boring book in the history of letters placed in sequence.[3] Here is how I imagine proposing such a book to a book publisher:

“So, I have this idea for a book. It starts off with a bang – explosions! Bombs
dropping everywhere! Americans fleeing from the menacing advance of the Russian
army! It’s so Cold War, right? Yeah. So our hero takes the first couple of
chapters to escape to safety. Then the whole middle of the book is our hero
sitting in a hotel, doing nothing, thinking about his life and eating a lot of
carbohydrates. I figure that, for an artistic twist, chapters 6 through 37 can
just be full of blank pages. Like hundreds of blank pages, and the reader has to
flip each of them one by one. The reader will want to kill himself by the end of
it, which will make him identify with our hero. Then the book abruptly ends, and
there’s a ticket to Romania you can cut out of the book jacket in the back. It’s
like ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ meets ‘Emma.’ Meets ‘Dracula.’[4] What do you think?”
The publisher’s dilemma would then be whether to (a) stab me, so I wouldn’t be able to inflict my book pitch on the human race ever again, or (b) stab his/her secretary for letting an obviously homeless person into his/her office. So I decided against writing a book about the Exile. But that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about it![5] Accepting the present means acknowledging the past, and likely you are extremely interested in what happened to us [6], and oh who am I kidding just humor me. This may break a new record for post length, so I will break it into manageable bits. Please tell me if it is not interesting. I shall mostly ignore you, but also try to “spice up” the text with “jokes” and “thoughts” and “codes for free money.” So, here we go.

All of us who were in Armenia have been bitching about it as if it was the end of the world from Day One – or acting like it was so important that it deserves, to pull a random example out of a random hat, a fifteen-part blog post. I feel a bit selfish for acting like this thing that happened to us was the Worst Thing To Ever Happen To Anyone Ever You Should Feel Sorry For Us. People thrown into an uncomfortable and unexpected situation tend to overdramatize it to feel better about themselves, and of course we did that. But clearly others got a slightly rawer deal, no matter how hard it is to see past ourselves. The Georgians who were displaced, for instance. Also, the soldiers who died. Also, Aeroflot travel agents in Tbilisi, who will never receive any business again ever.[7] Not to mention the fact that evacuation of Peace Corps posts happens with distressing regularity all over the world.[8] We’re patently unspecial, no matter how we’d prefer to think otherwise.

At the same time, going through an experience like this is something that MOST Americans never go through, so part of me wants to make sure I write it down before I forget it, no matter how uninteresting it turns out to be. I of course wish it had never happened, and that I was still in Georgia doing the work I went there to do, but some part of me is glad to have seen the ass end of an asskicking. I came to Peace Corps to expand my views about the world, and this has certainly done that. I’m glad that I can now understand the personal side to geopolitics and international warfare, and I’m glad that I can now understand the personal side to mass humanitarian crises. Americans never put a face to the things that happen overseas – often we don’t put a face to the things that happen on our own shores. But a city that I’ve lived in was bombed, and people I know and love now live in a place that is potentially devastated – by hopefully short-term humanitarian issues and decidedly long-term newfound economic issues. I don’t claim to be the only one who’s ever seen such things. But I’m the only one I know.[9] So I’m going to talk about it.

As I may or may not have mentioned in my brief summaries [10], I was at work when it happened. This was Friday, August 8th [11], and I was at work in Rustavi like every other day. I started hearing from friends that something bad was happening – I believe the news was that there had been skirmishes in the now-famous breakaway region of South Ossetia [12], with both Ossetia/Russia and Georgia blaming the other side, and that Russia had started bombing Georgian territory.[13] I started texting all my friends, many of whom were with all the new trainees in central Georgia, near the bombings, to see if they had any info, and I also started repeatedly checking a good Georgian-produced news website. I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen – for some reason, tensions over the breakaway regions flare up every summer [14], and for a while it seemed like perhaps this was just an extended flare-up, and that both sides would back away from disaster. But as the news kept getting worse, I realized that this was different, and I started thinking about going home to pack an emergency bag, in case we had to consolidate with all the other volunteers in a safe location.

At this point, it wasn’t clear what was going on. Russia was (to my recollection) merely bombing at this point, and seeming content to extend its arm over the border, cause some mischief, and then puff out its chest to gloat, “See, we could do that ANYTIME WE WANT.” Bombing feels different than a full-scale occupation. It’s more impersonal, and one can retain the illusion that things aren’t going too too badly for your side. As long as you get some shots off yourself, score some points for your team, you can feel reassured, no matter what the damage. The “war” still seemed like a skirmish until Russian troops crossed the border from South Ossetia into Georgia proper. I feel like somehow this is an important geopolitical observation, and yet I’m sure it isn’t. Let’s move on.

NEXT: PART II. Or: The road less traveled. Also vodka.

[1] I can’t pinpoint when, because, frankly, for the most part I can’t differentiate what happened on day one from what happened on day 27. It was like being in prison, carving each passing indistinguishable day into the wall with a sharp mess hall utensil, except of course that prisoners know how long it will be until they get to leave. Ha! Anti-exile humor! Get used to it!
[2] Note to PC/G staff who may again be reading this blog: while the sarcastic streak of your now-former volunteers is without equal, we direct none of it towards you. You guys were awesome. Just so you know. Hi, Tika.
[3] Maybe second-most boring, after “Emma.” God, that book blew.
[4] This could be changed to “Bunnicula,” if it was a children’s book publisher.
[5] Though it should also mean that.
[6] If this is true, I will lose more faith in America than I lost when Fox News claimed that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because “she’s right there next to Russia,” and people believed it. By this standard, the comptroller of Fargo, North Dakota, could be the next secretary-general of the United Nations, because Fargo is “right there next to Canada.” Listen up, America, because I am very serious about this: if you elect Sarah Palin and Whatshisface to be Vice President and Whateverthatotherthingis of those United States, I am never coming back. You have been warned.
[7] Aeroflot is the national Russian airline. This joke is not funny.
[8] For example, some of my refugee friends were planning on transferring to Peace Corps Bolivia this week, only to find out a few days ago that there have been violent riots this week in Bolivia, and that the program there is in danger. They no longer get to go. Sorry, guys.
[9] Well, along with the 80 others of you. Shout out! [clever Armenia reference]!
[10] As always, I’m too lazy to look these things up.
[11] Our training manager claims that the sheer number of 8s involved portended disaster: it was 8/8/08, the 8th week of training for PC/G Group 8, and he had sent 8 mass text messages about the Peace Corps alcohol policy the night before. OK, not that last one. But that group could have USED 8 text messages about the alcohol policy. This is a tangent, but during their orientation some of them decided that it would be fun to FLIP EACH OTHER IN THE AIR. INSIDE. A ceiling mirror was apparently shattered, along with any pretense of that group’s collective intelligence. Ha ha! G8 jokes! We 7s are totally kidding, guys! Please don’t come over to my house, ever! I value my ceiling and my ribs.
[12] If you had bet me a trillion dollars, two months ago, that normal people in America would ever ever ever be able to accurately describe what “South Ossetia” meant, I would have seen your trillion and raised you a magic flying gold-shitting pony. Funny, how things work out.
[13] I might be slightly off about what exactly happened when and in what order, because I’m not connected to the internet as I write this, and because everything happened very fast. But if you’re interested in the specific sequence of events, it’s available on Wikipedia, of all places, and it’s impressively footnoted.
[14] As I have also mentioned before, during the summer of 2007, when I was training in Gori, a Russian jet dropped a bomb that did not explode only a few kilometers from Gori. I got exactly zero inquiries about my safety from America, when it happened. I think it barely registered on the American news. Funny, how things work out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a wireless signal! Or: Ploi-yes we can!

Hello there, friends. I have been able to chat with several of you over the last week that I have been here, but I apologize to those of you I haven't seen online when I've had a chance to use the internet. I hope you're all doing well -- especially you hardy members of the Skeletor crew. Say hello to America for me, and make sure not to trip on all the on-time modernity.

I've been in a SUPERSTUPIDFAST PST for a week now -- learning language at twice the normal Peace Corps speed, and struggling to get my mind all the way here, on my new assignment and my new country, rather than leaving it in pieces in Georgia and Armenia. It's happening, a day at a time, but it hasn't yet become easy and normal to be here. I keep accidentally speaking Georgian in my Romanian classes, for instance, which is infuriatingly annoying. Also, I keep finding myself striding into the street with no regard for street lights, since DRIVERS in georgia pay so little regard to street lights that there's no use in paying attention to them as a pedestrian either. This led to a ROMANIAN PERSON (specifically, my language teacher) chiding me a couple days ago as I stepped into the street despite a "Don't Walk" sign with, "Hey! You aren't in Georgia anymore."

I find myself missing Georgia in weird ways. Romania, at least in the city (I've been told, and really assumed to be true anyway, that the villages are far different, and far more like what I'd be used to from a year in Georgia), is almost obscenely different -- more modern in nearly every way. I find myself getting on buses that leave on time, that don't stop on the street for random people, and I find myself missing marshutkas. I find myself using wireless internet at a restaurant in a mall (like right now, for instance), and I miss having to text people to get information. I find myself with new friends (there are a couple current PCRO volunteers in the city we're training in, and they're great and we hang out a lot), and miss the old friends I was supposed to have one more year with. It's a tough situation, but I signed up for it, and it's better than any other alternative that was available -- not to mention the fact that on a lot of levels I'm really excited to be here and to get to work -- so I get used to it, one day at a time.

It does help that Romania is so modern. Every day I get confronted with things that they tell you, in transition/COS conferences, you will be confronted with when you go back to AMERICA. On Saturday, we went to a supermarket as big as a Wal-Mart, and I nearly fell down. We passed aisle after aisle of variety you couldn't dream of in Georgia, just like most of my friends are doing back in the States right now, and it was difficult for my brain to even handle it. Today, we were at a volunteer's apartment, and they ORDERED PIZZA. And we're NOT IN THE CAPITAL. Not to mention the previously noted wireless internet abilities, or the fact that there are MULTIPLE MALLS in this city. All of this, plus the fact that I am told over and over again that my soon-to-be site, Brasov, is an unbelievable Euro-style city, with skiing resorts all over the place and lots of tourists, and that PCRO volunteers love to go there and are jealous of me for getting sent there (well, almost there -- I'll be working with an NGO in the city, but also with some smaller NGOs in small towns surrounding the city, and living in one of those smaller towns), and I'm dealing with a pretty healthy set of inflated expectations, which any Peace Corps volunteer knows to be a bad thing. It remains to be seen what my actual experience will be like, but the setting and the fact that I'll be living alone (nearly all PCRO volunteers get relatively nice apartments that PC pays for) means that the ceiling of how comfortable I'm likely to be during the next year is pretty high. And yet, as I've said again and again -- enough time spent as a volunteer teaches a person that high expectations inevitably lead to a letdown. So I'm going to try not to let that happen.

In the meantime, I'm just going to try to learn the language as fast as I can -- we finished an entire language manual in just over a week, so perhaps "learn the language" could be better termed "try to keep my head above water" -- and see how the move to site goes. I'll have internet every couple of days for the next two weeks, and then hopefully at my new house, so try to say hi when you can. If you're a fellow refugee, drop me a line and let me know how America is. I miss all of you guys. You Americans, I miss you guys too and I wish I'd been able to get back and see you in August. Romania seems awesome and is way more accessible than Georgia, so you have LESS excuse not to come visit me, haha, but I'll let you know if I can get back to America in the next few months. Until then, see you on these interwebs. I'll be able to post more often once I get to site.

Until next time, friends.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I am in Romania. I have literally like one minute to type a message out before heading off to training, but I wanted to let the negative three people who read these that I am here in one piece, and only mildly freaking out. Thankfully, I remember feeling these same things when I got to Georgia a year ago, so it's easier to handle the second time around.

More in-depth stuff later, but if you have money for international calls just burning a hole in your pocket, my new phone number is +40 756 395 475.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Turning A New Leaf. Or: From Vlad (Putin) to Vlad (the Impaler). Or: 28 Days in Skeletor. Or: Moving into my new apartment in Rustavi! Excited!

Friends, if you are reading this note on Facebook, please click through to my actual blog -- I haven't posted on it for months (if you need catching up: I got too frustrated at my old site, moved to a new site, started a new job, prepared to move into a new apartment, got attacked by Russians, and have spent the last month in a hotel in Armenia. Also, I bought a cool new t-shirt!), preferring in the last couple of weeks to update everyone on my situation simply on Facebook, just because it seemed weird to use the blog. It already seemed like a relic. But life, eventually, moves on, and so I move back to the blog with a new title, a new graphic, and soon enough a new angry email from my new Peace Corps supervisors, who will not be amused at my political commentary.

Yes, friends, new Peace Corps supervisors. If you've been reading my Facebook-only notes recently -- and I really, really appreciate that a lot of people seem to have been doing so -- you read in my last note that I have decided against returning to Georgia, at least in the short-term. It was a wrenching decision -- imagine that you had been living there for 14 months, nearly three of them in Gori, which was hit hardest by the Russians, and then see this, this, and this -- but, in the end, I couldn't confidently assume that I would end up doing any good by going back, nor was I sure what I'd even do once I got there. Many of my friends are going back, and I hope they can help. I wish I was there with them. But the decision just wasn't sitting right, so I had to turn my attention elsewhere. Without job prospects in America, I looked at transferring to another Peace Corps country; there weren't many good options for volunteers who have already served a year, but I seem to have been lucky enough to find the perfect option for me. I'll be leaving for Bucharest sometime around the end of this week, and will be serving out the rest of my Peace Corps service in Romania.

I don't know much about Romania yet. The things that one can learn from the internet never end up being quite how things are once you actually get someplace, so I'm trying to hold off any judgment until I'm in Romania seeing it for myself, but everything I've heard about the country and the Peace Corps program there is good. It seems like what we were all hoping Georgia WOULD be in a few years -- a newly admitted member of the EU, with rapidly improving economic and infrastructure systems. It will even be adopting the Euro in 2012, after which I can't imagine Peace Corps remaining in the country (volunteers would become too depressed after realizing that we get paid the equivalent of 2.37 EUR per month). There are exciting things happening there, and hopefully I can be a part of some of them. I'll be living near (in? not sure yet) the Romanian city of Brașov (pronounced Brashov), working (I think) with an organization that disseminates information about social services. So I've spent the last few days researching the country (from their Peace Corps Welcome Book: "American and local fast food restaurants are available in many parts of the country." Yes!) and attempting to start learning Romanian, which seems to be sort of like Latin with a Slavic accent. I don't know what will come of my decision -- as I've said in this and other spaces before, I've been in Peace Corps long enough to know that it's usually a bad sign to be excited about something -- but I'm at least cautiously optimistic, and I'm ready to get started.

One would think that I'd be a bit reticent to jump right into Romania, with so much emotional energy still invested in Georgia, and I would have been last week or the week before. But today is Day 22 in Skeletor (our intentionally, but not particularly amusingly, mangled pronunciation of the Armenian town our hotel is located in), and we're ready to just Get The Hell Out of here. I am not sure I will ever be comfortable in a hotel again. The next time I go on vacation, I would not be surprised to find myself checking into a hotel, breaking out into a profuse sweat, and then checking out immediately just to make sure that I can. Each of the past 21 days has been nearly identical to the last – we eat the same foods at the same times and do the same things with the same people and eventually we descend into the same fits of madness. Some volunteers have escaped, and those of us who remain can see the end, but it is not yet here. Volunteers who were taking cash-in-lieu (of a Peace Corps-issued plane ticket home to America) began to leave on Friday, and departures continued until yesterday. Most of our friends have left -- everyone who remains here is waiting on a transfer. It's a profoundly unsettling feeling, saying goodbye to friends you didn't expect to say goodbye to for another year, and not even getting the chance to do it all at once. After fleeing Georgia unexpectedly, then receiving the news that we would not be going back, then enduring two weeks of uncertainty about our futures, then leaving each other one by one, we've finally come to the point of complete numbness. You could snap a kitten in half right in front of me at this point, and I wouldn't have the energy to feel anything about it. Perhaps at some point I'll get enough of it back to write something poignant about this experience, but right now I just want to get the f#$% out of here, and start the next phase of my journey in Romania. Check back in this space, and perhaps soon I'll have something better to say.

I'll save the most important thing for last: I've been telling some of you over the last couple of weeks that volunteers have been setting up mechanisms for donating to the rebuilding process in Georgia. As I mentioned above, Georgia was on course to join the rapidly reforming and improving economies of eastern Europe, to join NATO, and to stabilize as a western democracy. The Russian attack (NB: I've heard that public opinion in the west has begun to turn against Georgia and its role in its own demise. I'll be clear in saying that Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president, was drawn into a trap and made a rash decision with devastating consequences. The fault for that decision lies with him. But the Russian response was not only clearly the result of months of planning, but was the equivalent of shooting a ballistic missile at a paraplegic. It was an indefensible overreaction, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the politics. Just to be clear.) set Georgia's progress back many years, ruining five years of growth and foreign investment, and shattering the lives of hundreds of thousands of now-displaced people, not to mention the hundreds of people who were casualties of the bombings and other military action. It is heartbreaking to see the goal that we were all working towards set so far backward so quickly, and the only thing that many of us can do is urge those we know to help the rehabilitation process begin. Thousands of refugees remain in IDP camps, unable to return to destroyed homes, and the necessary aid is just beginning to get to them. We've heard stories of people sleeping on the floor in schools, people without access to food in tent cities, and other inevitable consequences of such a large number of people being displaced so suddenly.

Several mechanisms are in the works for former volunteers in Georgia, their friends, their families, and their communities to donate to the beginning of the relief effort. A US-based organization is being founded that will be able to provide umbrella aid to many different local Georgian NGOs to purchase supplies for IDPs and to start projects that can help get communities back on their feet, but it is not finalized yet. For now, volunteers have identified four organizations, each of which has wire transfer capability, that can be trusted to use donated funds appropriately and to get the money to the right places. We're calling our effort the Megobari Project, after the Georgian word მეგობარი (megobari), which means "friend." Please visit The Megobari Project's website, and forward the information to anyone you know. I'll continue to use this blog to pass along fundraising information, but for now please visit the website and consider how you might be able to help. It would mean a lot not just to me, but to all of us who have worked so hard to help ordinary Georgian people improve their lives and their country.

More to come soon, friends.