Imagination unbound

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Susanna and I, as well as two co-workers and three girls under the age of 5, went to see The Nutcracker. It seemed as if I could read hundreds of people’s minds. The girls in the theater were thinking, “I’d like to become a ballerina.” The women were thinking, “In the past, I had wanted to become a ballerina.”  But, of course, I don’t know what Natia Metreveli’s niece, or Sopho Altunashvili’s two daughters were thinking. I’d like to know because it takes imagination to follow a story told through dance. TV and movie stories are more realistic than puppet theater, ballet, or many playground activities. How does children’s imagination work? What stories are they imagining? All I know is that they have great fun “dancing” along with the ballerinas on stage.

It’s always the same old story . . .

Sopho Altunashvili

In academia, it’s the staff who do the most work, for the least recognition. At CSJMM, the burden falls on Sopho Altunashvili, Natia Metreveli, and Tamuna Kakulia, who I’ll write about later.

I sit next to Sopho, so everyday I see her as she pleasantly and efficiently deals with any and every problem or complaint by all of CSJMM’s journalism and mass communication students. Since the faculty do not yet maintain office hours, Sopho will likely field students’ questions about coursework. If someone wants to talk with an administrator,  Sopho will try to make him or her happy. If the printer doesn’t work, or someone can’t find a gown for graduation, then Sopho comes to the rescue. But I’m not the only one who notices such things. Nor am I the only one who appreciates her contributions to the school. Read on for some direct quotes from colleagues.

“Sopo is one of our best graduates, whom we are very proud of.  She is among our top achievers in professional media.  We were very happy when she agreed to work for CSJMM, and embraced her into GIPA family. Sopo is smart, motivated, capable of independent decisions and well organized, which helps her a lot in her administrative duties.  I have big hopes for her joining the ranks of faculty soonest, which, I am sure, will be her next achievement.  My love goes to Sopo and her family.”                                                                                                                                  –Maia Mikashavidze

She is an exceptional for her calming tone of voice. It makes me happy to see the peacefulness she creates around herself and the manner she deals with the problems around. I am very new there to elaborate more, but to have such a staff member is very promising:)                                                                                                                                               –Nino O Orjonikidze

Due to the nature of my work, I meet and work with different people on planning and organizing the study process. Rarely you can meet a person who is both competent in the work she does and passionate about it. Sopho is very organized, punctual, always has answers and is always there when you need her assistance. She is a very positive and lively personality and it is easy to communicate with her. Sopho is one of the people I most enjoy working with. Thank you very much, Sopho!                                                                                                                                                       –Nina Shoshitaishvili

It has been a year Sopho became our coordinator. Till today I don’t remember the day she refused to answer our questions; we are always informed about our schedule or any changes in it in advance. She always tries to take our complaints into consideration and always ready to co-ordinate. Sopho is friendly; well-organized and self-disciplined. She never misses chance to invite good lecturers in GIPA in order to have interesting classes.                  –Mariam Jachvadze, second year student of GIPA.

Need to figure out what’s wrong with the projector? Need to find a pair of boots to get around Tbilisi in the snow? Need to create an exercise for your class?Need a co-teacher to edit stories? Just ask Sopho. She can, and will, do anything, and in the most cheerful way possible. She’s a dream come true.                                                                             –Margie Freaney

I may not be very creative, but here are my immediate thoughts: it’s not only that Sopho always has answers to thousands of questions we have all the time, but she always does it in an extremely positive manner, with smile, with genuine readiness to help.                                                                                                                                                               –Tina Zurabishvili

Sopho always performs her duties. She is very reliable, if she says she will do something, means, it will be done!  I love her entering the faculty room: she brings in fresh energy, competence and good mood.                                              –Tiko Tsomaia

I also believe that Sopho is a great person and she really deserves much love and respect from all of us.                         –Sandro Baramidze

When you appreciate person too much it’s very difficult to keep balance while writing about her :). It’s already second year I’m a member of GIPA’s family.  I was on my first course when our coordinator became Sopo Altunashvili. First expression I had towards her was that she is so friendly. Bright face with lovely smile and colored clothe are things that makes Sopo different from others. She is always ready and steady to help. If you will ask me who is Sopo for me I would answer that she is the one who made my studying on MA more easy and pleasant. Person who always stands on students’ side and never ever shows that she is one you represents GIPA and keeps its interests, because she is doing this two thing together. She loves her job and makes it lovely for others also. Sopo has two daughters, husband, works at GPB, works at GIPA and always finds time to smile and make me motivated to meet new challenges bravely.                                                                                                                          — Sophio Mgaloblishvili

So about Sofo. I saw her first in TV show. Than I  saw  her in GIPA and was surprised. First time she looked confused, there were a lot of new things for here. Time after time everything normalized.  But now she looks tired. It seems these big changes which take a place in GIPA everything mainly on her. She has two wonderful doters with whom I nearly made friends once.                                                                                                                                                       –Sandro Asatiani

So if you see Sopho, or anyone else who helps you, please take a moment and let the person know that you appreciate him or her.

What would you do?

Keith Kenney and Sopho Altunashvili on the set of "Life is Beautiful"

You live in Georgia. You’re enjoying a vacation in Poti with your one-and-a-half year old daughter. Suddenly your country is at war with Russia. It’s 3:00 a.m. and bombs are exploding in your area. You try to shield your child by covering her with your body. It seems that Georgia is about to lose everything. A few days later, the war ends and you return home. Then what do you do?

Nino Kajaia did something unusual. She thought of the movie, Life is Beautiful, by Roberto Benigni ( She understands there are problems—the news media are always reporting crimes and disasters—but we are alive, and we have our children, and . . . life is beautiful. Because of Nino’s experience in the war, and her memory of Benigni’s movie, she suggested that Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB) create a talk show about the positive things in life. No politicians. Guests would only come from the cultural and entertainment fields. And the name of the show would be Life is Beautiful.

I met Nino in a GPB studio and we talked before taping for two new shows. Sopho Altunashvili, coordinator of an MA program in the Caucasus School of  Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM), is the show’s producer. She invited the first-year students of this program to see how a talk show is planned and recorded. CSJMM students stayed on and became the show’s audience. For the first segment of the first show, they saw 10 Georgian singers who have become celebrities because they are working with 10 Armenian singers for performances and recordings. There was not enough seating space for the 10 guests and host because the set includes an armchair for Nino, and a couch and a loveseat. Suddenly—bang!—one of the singers fell off the back of the loveseat and everyone roared with laughter. I asked Sopho how she would edit that mishap; she said it was funny, so she’d leave it in if she had good video of the incident. I’m sure she’ll have good video because the director uses six cameras to film the show.

The talk show has lived up to its name—it has made some lives more “beautiful.” One girl, for example, lost her hearing at age 11 and would soon lose her ability to speak unless a special operation was performed. The operation was expensive—40,000 GEL ($24,000). In the spring, Nino appealed to her audience for help and she launched a fundraising campaign. That summer a famous doctor promised to attempt the operation. During the fall season, the girl was the first guest on Life is Beautiful. When she could hear and respond to Nino’s questions, it was a special, emotional moment.