Treat yourself! Dazzling Tutarchela-IWA choir performs June 14th, 7pm, Goethe Institute

Tutarchela-International choir will perform 19 songs from 10 countries at the “Musical Bridges” concert on June 14th; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Tamar Buadze; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012

Tamar Buadze conducting the Tutarchela-International women’s choir with members of IWA Georgia; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Story by Susanna Melo

First, Tamar Buadze began conducting the only Georgian women’s choir, Tutarchela, at the Folklore School of Music #2 in Rustavi. Next, IWA Cultural Chair Nana Kalandadze, who believes that music has always been “the most understandable language and bridge between people,” had an idea. Then Maya Frank-Hennig, wife of the German Ambassador to Georgia, sought the Tutarchela choir to form a joint venture of Georgian and international women singing together. Finally, IWA member Gabi Schoch branded the upcoming performance “Musical Bridges!”

Powerful ideas, powerful women, powerful voices formed this dazzling women’s choir which sings both Georgian and international songs. Keith and I had the pleasure today to attend a rehearsal of this joint group effort.  We will not miss their performance at the Goethe Institute Tbilisi, Sandukeli 16, on June 14th,  at 7 p.m.

Tamuna Gogatishvili and Maya Frank-Hennig; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Bass player; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Flutist Tamari; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Pianist Lela; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.


Tutarchela International Choir

Click here to hear the Tutarchela International Choir

IWA supports Georgia Race for the Cure 2012

 Photo shows some of the events’ organizers. Holly Bass, wife of the American ambassador, was not able to attend. Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

In support for Georgia Race for the Cure 2012, IWA women wore something pink to the end-of-year luncheon, where newcomers were welcomed and farewells were bid to the women who were leaving. Everyone is welcome to participate in the race on June 10 at Turtle Lake. Registration for the race opens at 5:00pm. Race begins at 6pm; walk begins at 6:30; and a concert featuring Niaz Diasamidze, 33a begins at 7pm. For more information, visit Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

An International Women’s Association exchange begins

Mieke Langenberg welcomes members from IWA in Georgia and Armenia; copyright Keith Kenney,2012.

Story by Susanna Melo

Two very different IWA organizations came together for the first time in Mieke and Peter Langenberg’s home in order to get to know and learn from one another. IWA Yerevan is smaller than IWA Georgia, which has more than 200 members, so some of the topics of conversation were “How do you put together your newsletter?” or “What kinds of services do you provide your community?”

Pamela Karg receives a gift of a Tbileasy book from Mieke Langenberg; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

The evening began in the lovely garden-patio of the Dutch ambassador’s home. Individuals intermingled easily while enjoying the potluck dinner prepared by IWAG members. Mieke (IWAG president) introduced Pamela Karg (president of IWA Yerevan) and gifted her with a “Tbileasy Guidebook,” an invaluable resource produced by some very hardworking IWAG women in order to make the transition of an expat moving to Tbilisi easier (thus the title: TbilEASY!).

In turn, Pamela Karg and the ladies from Yerevan gifted us with high quality Armenian cognac, produced by the Proshyan Brandy Factory; a handicraft basket with pomegranate flowers (the symbol of Armenia); beautiful edible flowers, and dried fruit covered in chocolate, a delicious Armenian specialty!

Keith and I had fun talking to the Armenian ladies and men and found that we had many common interests. For example: Keith spoke to a young, female journalist from Germany who had lived in Georgia during the Rose Revolution. They exchanged conversation on the day’s big event of public demonstrations taking place in downtown Tbilisi. I learned from Wilma (Puerto Rico) that her son works for the World Health Organization as an infectious disease specialist in Salvador, Bahia (Brazil—where I am from!). Armine and I found our commonality as lovers of art: now she paints on silk but earlier she earned a law degree, whereas I am pursuing ceramics after retiring from teaching. Pamela and I are both United Methodists, and so on…

I feel certain that this little seed of initiative and friendship that was planted by the two Caucasus IWA groups will grow. There are plans in the making for the IWAG group to visit their “sisters” in Yerevan in the autumn. Who knows what else will stem from this relationship?

Members of IWA Georgia and IWA Yerevan pose for a photo in the backyard of Mieke Langenberg’s home; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Spanish: the common denominator; Feijoada: the unifying element

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Written by Susanna Melo

What do Brazilians, Americans, Ukrainians, Russians, Azeris, Spanish, Germans, Colombians, Venezuelans, El Salvadorians, Peruvians, Chileans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, etc. all have in common? Yes! The response is, “Spanish!”

And most of the women from the countries listed above who speak Spanish in Tbilisi gathered around our dining room table to savor a Brazilian “feijoada,” which only a few had ever eaten before.

Needless to say, the black beans and “farinha de mandioca” (manioc flower) for the “farofa” were brought from Brazil, as we have not been able to find either in Georgia.  The only element truly missing was the “couve,” (collard greens) which we cannot get here, at all, but I substituted fresh, grated cabbage with garnishes of red pepper to add as a vegetable dish.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Making the “feijoada” here in Tbilisi was trying since the meat cuts are different and so is the packaging.  To top things off, you have to be creative when it comes to substituting one ingredient for another.  So, I ventured to buy different kinds of pork meat and sausages that I thought looked fitting to add to the beans.  Even the German bacon for the “farofa” looked different from what we are used to buying in the United States.

For dessert, I made a “pudim de leite condensado,” (flan) and prepared some “Romeo e Julietas”(slices of “goiabada” (guava paste) on slices of Georgian “sulguni” cheese).  A friend brought a delicious cake, another made home-baked pastries, and still another brought along a box of chocolate.  To top off the meal, my neighbor Sandra, from Paraguay/Peru, prepared some delicious black coffee.

All in all, the final result turned out close to what is expected and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  Best of all was the camaraderie amongst us Spanish-speaking folk.

It’s more about friendship than sales

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

My art collecting partner, Susanna Melo, wrote this blog entry.

Saturday Keith and I took our time looking at the beautiful items on display at the International Women Association’s Christmas Expo, where we also volunteered to work at the “Book Corner” selling used books for IWA’s fundraiser. There were hundreds of stands, but the ones that caught our fancy were the Georgian arts and crafts’ tables.

I had already seen a couple of Levan Mosiashvili’s paintings at a friend’s home, but never thought that we could possibly afford to own one. We inquired about the artist’s prices and we found them reasonable. Then we looked for a painting that we were both attracted to. We found one, but before we could decide, a woman snatched it up. We left Levan’s stand, but the striking colors and compositions of his paintings continued to linger with us.

Keith and I talked. Then I went back to Levan’s stand. I learned that he would be traveling to France the next day, but he offered to meet us in the morning at McDonald’s to show us two paintings that were similar to the one we had liked. We loved both! We also liked him, so we invited Levan to come to our apartment of bare walls to continue our conversation.

Over coffee, we learned that Levan is 40, and has commuted between Georgia and France for the past 12 years. His elderly parents, wife and two children live here while he mostly works in France. He is a proud Georgian and has many friends and connections here. At the same time, he feels saddened by the conditions in which most Georgians live and feels discouraged with the politics of this country.  He’s seen it all and is the product of all the changes that have taken place in Georgia over these last couple of decades. We found Levan to be friendly, transparent, sincere, kind-hearted, and generous and we hope that this initial friendship will grow. We may go trout fishing in July!

From our apartment, Levan took us to his studio because some clients from Armenia had an appointment to see his works. We were mesmerized by his ingenuity! Like the changes that have taken place in Georgia, he, too, has gone through several distinctive painting styles (primitivism, Georgian figures, still life, landscape, cubism, French figurative, cosmic eye and abstract). Although well-known painters have criticized him for trying different styles, I applaud him for taking the risk to redirect his creativity and reinvent himself as an artist.

We ended up buying the landscape on the left as well as a cubist painting of his wife and son. Then Levan surprised us by giving us an early Christmas gift—a humorous Georgian figurative painting! We protested, but he said, “It’s more about friendship than sales.”

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Resourceful women

By Susanna Melo

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Men working for NGOs, embassies, and other such organizations in Georgia enter into an already-made network of support. Women, on the other hand, must start from scratch. Through the International Women’s Association (IWA), we have met many wives of expats who have had to reinvent themselves in their new homeland. For example, Sandra Baretto, our Paraguayan neighbor, is an economist. Because she has not been able to find a job in her field, she has just started her own business. From her home, she sells beautifully handmade lace items from Paraguay. “Nanduti” lace, which in the Guarani Indian language means “spider web,” is woven into a web-like shape.  Another type of lace is the Encaje Ju, famous in the Paraguayan towns of Yataity, Carapegua and Altos.  Patterns for this lace include flowers, birds, plants and geometric designs. Many items such as clothes, bedspreads, runners, and tablecloths are graced by this delicate handiwork, which can be seen in the photos.

Another resourceful female friend has learned the art of making and selling her own jewelry.  One started a pre-school.  Another is opening a cocktail lounge. Others are using their time to learn new skills such as belly dancing, ceramics, or learning additional languages. Starting from a blank slate takes courage and it is an admirable quality!

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Sandra Roelofs, Georgia’s First Lady

(My smart, sensitive wife, Susanna Melo, wrote this story)

The interest in Sandra Roelofs’ book, The Story of an Idealist, raised the number of International Women’s Association’s book club members from 8 to 80! In the home of Mieke Langenberg, IWA’s president and wife of the Dutch Ambassador to Georgia, the author started the meeting by sharing that Dutch publishers approached her to write her story because it was “fairy tale-like” and would appeal to many: “Provincial Dutch girl falls in love with Prince Charming and becomes First Lady of Georgia.”  She agreed to write the book, but only if she could describe the process that she, her beloved Misha, and Georgia had gone through up to the Rose Revolution. Today her book has been translated in about 5 languages and the latest editions have an additional chapter about the first four years in government as well as an epilogue about the war of August 2008.

For those that are following Keith’s blog, I would like to point out that I am not a journalist as he, nor do I keep up too much with politics.  My interest lies in human behavior so I will share some of my impressions of Sandra Roelofs rather than discuss the First Lady’s and her husband’s influences upon Georgia’s political transformations.

I went to the book club meeting with a keen interest in hearing from a woman with whom I felt a bond, for some of her life experiences reminded me of my own: she came from a very loving family; she seized opportunities to study and travel abroad at a young age, and she enjoyed studying foreign languages.  As a young adult, she developed an interest in social and developmental issues.  While attending the Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, she met her “Georgian prince,” Mikheil Saakashvili, and followed him to New York City for a period of graduate studies.  Her account of living on a very small budget reminded me of when my previous husband and I left Brazil for graduate studies in the U.S. right after we got married and had not a cent to our name!

Intriguing, as well, was Sandra Roelofs’ account of adapting to still another culture when she moved to Georgia after living in the United States.  There were interesting accounts of meeting her husband’s family members for the first time; experiencing cultural differences and expectations, especially while raising her first born son; learning the Georgian language, history, geography, culture and traditions, all of this happening at the same time that she was looking for ways to grow professionally and continue developing her personal interests. For years, she was the breadwinner of the family, working for the Red Cross and the Dutch Embassy; she even started her own NGO, the SOCO foundation.  To top things off, living in Georgia initially was not so easy due to crime, periods of water and power shortage, political unrest, and so on.

Copyright Mila Holloway, 2011

Given these facts, one has to admire Sandra Roelofs for being so resilient, so resourceful, and so willing to leave behind a sense of security to adventure into a new world of an unfolding stream of unexpected events!

My admiration grew for the First Lady of Georgia by the time I completed her book, but meeting her in person just confirmed my first impressions of her.  She is a beautiful woman inside and out.  She is a compassionate and caring person; one sees this through her work and services that she provides to those in need.  She is energetic; one senses this through her involvement with her family, friends, work, travel, and duties as First Lady.  She is intelligent; she speaks several languages, sings, has worked in many institutions, earned a nursing degree not too long ago and continues to seek opportunities to learn and grow in a variety of areas.  She is natural and beautiful; one observes that she needs no make-up or jewelry to enhance her looks.

On several occasions throughout the book, the author describes herself as a “down to earth Dutch girl” and how her upbringing and all of her life experiences have helped shape her into the woman she is today.  I must say that Georgia’s First Lady is a woman of character who has not let power, prestige or beauty get in the way.  Her actions speak for themselves. This is the legacy she leaves for Georgia, her adopted country.