Our project has money for transportation, expected to be provided as a car and driver. Actually our transport needs are very small. A taxi will take us to any meeting in Tbilisi and also collect any shopping for the office.
Taxis have one draw back in terms of getting your money back from the people who pay our expenses: they don't provide receipts. They don't have meters either and when you ask them how much it depends how you ask. If you ask in English at the beginning of the journey you will get a rather larger show of fingers than if you ask in Russian at the end of the journey. Usually the answer is "kak khatite" -- which can be translated as (literally) "whatever you like", but after the surprise wears off, this converts to a 5 lari note for journeys round town or perhaps 10 to somewhere more distant. Of course you can haggle if you have the charm and the language, and nobody minds except you when you find that neither of you have change for a 20 lari note.
Once a month (or perhaps twice now) we need to visit some small hydro power plant up a mountain or visit a construction site in another town. So we have managed with the car of one of our team members until now while the debates raged about what we really needed and how to get paid for it.
After wasting six months (one third of the contract time) arguing about it the consortium bosses agreed to buy a new car: the safest option on Georgian roads, the least maintenance and hence downtime, and the most comfortable on long distance travel, when we have to take several people. Nevertheless the choice of car has gone through several iterations.
At the beginning of the saga, Georgian roads were an unknown quantity as were sites of hydro stations. So it seemed safest to opt for 4-wheel drive (especially as we had a hard winter in Tbilisi). Later it became clear that this was actually a desire for a SUV and status: if I have one myself surely the boss needs one too. One's status is assessed by the car one arrives in.
I have been through the SUV stage in my life (living up a hill in Brecon with a road like the bed of a stream meant that even the pram had 4-wheel drive*). The final stages of my divorce and property settlement required "valuing my 4-wheel drive vehicles" as an important part of my assets. Sloph and Bee's father and I surveyed the four (yes 4) 4 wheel drive vehicles we owned at the time and had hysterical laughter. We counted like this:
One bright yellow 1953 landrover - active when the battery was fully charged, gear box open to the air for easier gear changes, mostly used for dragging other cars out of mud and snow. Our original means of transport up the hill to our "summer house" for the last 10 years before it was habitable.
One normal green 1956 landrover - infrequently taxed for use on the public road, but fairly reliable and respectable.
One red Suzuki Jeep about two years old and useful as a pram, used all the time by me.
One green left-hand drive LNG fired Lada Niva used by him. It was an early indicator of the quality of his business decisions but we were busy playing happy families so I didn't notice at the time.
In the end we persuaded our farmer neighbour to dig up some stone and a local contractor to take the landrovers in part payment for making a road, and moved on to those nice Citroen BXs with the adjustable hydraulic suspensions for getting up rutted roads.
But back to Georgia and the car decision.
After a few hydro visits, it was agreed that a 4wheel drive was not strictly necessary (though winter tyres might be required, to get there). If the road was bad, even the Greeks were willing to get out and walk to make an inspection. This in itself was a climbdown since the Greeks are the equals of the Georgians any day in believing that walking instead of driving is a sign of low status.
So we homed in on a Toyota Corolla as the best option for reliability, availability of spare parts and service quality in Georgia, and price. Speaking for myself I hate the Toyota Corolla. I was outmanouevred into buying one new in Greece and I have never driven a more boring car. Give me the Mazda 626 (2 in the UK and 1 in Lithuania) any day. But Mazdas do not exist in Georgia (or so I was told). Since I have had no car in Oxford for three years I have rather lost interest in the beasts, just hiring a metal box on wheels when I need it, as long as it is not yellow.
Finally we were ready this month to buy this horrible car. But Toyota chose this month to recover the drop in the value of the dollar and stung us for another 3000 USD. This was too much. Our valiant car status expert decided what was good enough for the Georgian police was good enough for us and so we now have a Skoda Octavia with tinted windows. I listened to the arguments about heat reduction in favour of the tinting (it's hard to argue against energy efficiency arguments when you are an energy efficiency project) while giggling about looking like the Mafia. However to look like the senior police officers with no car markings may prove useful.
Anyway to cut a long story short we now have a car and driver on tap during working hours. Working hours are apparently defined by the driver picking the boss (me) up in the morning and dropping me off in the evening. I demurred. I live 10 minutes from the office on foot from work and apart from a bit of Tai Chi, it's the only exercise and fresh air I get at the moment. Our car status expert retreated but at six o clock produced a master stroke. It was going to rain. The driver's time was up and we both should get driven home. Again I demurred. It was going to rain heavily. It had looked like heavy rain all day but not managed it. It was actually raining. I gave in and I was driven home. Within 5 minutes there was a deluge worthy of Noah, (Ararat is not far away) which has lasted for two and a half hours and counting.
Main reason for car (even in summer) established: protection from rain. Note to self: take an umbrella everyday in Georgia.
*One day I will unpack and scan the photos of this wonderful home and the adventures we all had in it.
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