Suddenly got an urge to blog again when I read this, cut and pasted into a newsletter, but originally posted here
In the evening, Tom took me into those hills, to a hotel bar where his fellow aid workers and expats hung out. They seemed a lost collection of latter-day Graham Greene characters, floating around the world, two years here, five years there, dispensers of aid while living off aid themselves, heavy drinkers and psychologically scorched, relieved to be posted in a relatively safe country for the time being.
We sat at an outdoor table near a tiny swimming pool and were immediately joined by a succession of diplomats and human rights watchers, as well as a middle-aged Dutch backpacker who had become romantically involved with a woman working for a British NGO. Weathered and ingratiating, the backpacker had difficulty finding listeners for his travel strories. He grew sullen and withdrawn; this crowd had seen more than he had, and from the inside. His girlfriend patted his hand reassuringly. A rotund midwesterner staggered over, exaggerating his drunkenness, I thought, granting himself the license of inebriation. Apparently, he had recently been in Darfur. He had just come from one of the low-rent casinos that dotted Tbilisi like strip joints. Throwing five hundred bucks on the table, he said, "If you match this I'll take all my clothes off and pound on the door of the French ambassador's house down the street." He tore off his shirt. "How about now?" The backpacker took the money. "You're on." The midwesterner grabbed it back from him, shouting at the top of his voice that he had been robbed. Chris, the owner of the hotel, came over to calm him. No one acted as if this were anything other than a nightly occurrence. Conversation rambled on. Chris sat down at our table. A pleasant, sleepy-looking man from Provo, Utah, he had fallen for a Georgian girl twelve years ago and stayed on. I asked him how Georgia continued to remain afloat. "Donor countries," he said. "The IMF, the EU, the US, the World Bank." He explained that he paid 20 percent on his loans, not because of inflation but because the government had borrowed the money first. "You have to pay their interest, then the bank's interest, then the profit. The vig on instability."
See what I've become after 3 years in Tbilisi. Time to be moving on, probably.