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.

It’s great to have a “better half”

Whenever I’ve arrived in a new place, meeting people and making friends has been a priority, and Tbilisi is no exception. Fortunately, we’ve had great luck so far. When we arrived at the airport and needed a place to stay, Tiko Tsomaia kindly offered her home to us. Not only did she “force” us to sleep in her bed, and use her Internet connections, but she also provided meals and a very warm welcome. She also introduced us to her mother, Manana, an English teacher, who kindly spent many hours talking with us about anything and everything. We also had the pleasure of talking with 3 of Tiko’s children. Another early connection, in addition to people associated with CSJMM, is Sandra Baretto, who lives above us with her husband and baby. One of the reasons we selected our apartment is that Sandro and her husband are from Latin America, and Susanna instantly knew that we’d get along super well. Susanna quickly makes friends with everyone, but if it’s a Latina, then the connection is even faster and stronger.

Sandra is the treasurer for the International Women’s Association (IWA) in Tbilisi, and she invited Susanna to the organization’s monthly meeting on Wednesday. Susanna went and was able to meet about 80 women who come from numerous countries. The IWA is very active. It has a book club, that Susanna joined. In October they will read the autobiography of Georgia’s First Lady, who will join the book discussion meetings. The IWA will also put on a play—Snow White—and Susanna will audition for a role. The organization also has a cooking group, sewing group, French discussion group, Russian-speaking group, and many others.

One of IWA’s products is a book called Tbileasy, which has the same sound as Tbilisi, but substitutes “easy” for “isi.” The book is full of information useful to newcomers such as banking, cars and driving, public transport, health, vets and pets, shopping, children activities and clothes, sightseeing, and so on.

By the way, I’m blogging from a park near our apartment because we cannot yet receive the Internet at home. This park offers free Wi-fi. In the mornings, about a dozen mothers and grandmothers bring their children to enjoy the playground equipment. In the evenings, teenagers and 20-somethings hangout. Throughout the day, Susanna and I check our email messages and we speak English and Portuguese loudly into the computer (Skype) to keep in touch with friends.

We also took care of some mundane matters. For example, I bathed! The water supply had been off and on, and there had been no hot water. Since I’m “allergic” to bathing in cold water, I simply wore my hat and changed clothes each day.

Due to the kindness of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management, who lent us one of the school’s drivers, Sergo Akopov, we made a trip to the supermarket and to a store for kitchen and bath items. Between the two stores we found everything we needed and more, except for one item–sheets. I mean, soft sheets. Not 300-count Egyptian cotton, just untextured relatively soft sheets that are large enough to tuck under a mattress. Susanna had said we should take sheets, but I had argued that we didn’t know which size bed we’d have and that surely we could buy sheets in Tbilisi. For anyone keeping score, it is now Susanna right 443, 978 times; Keith right 3 times. I think I’m falling further behind.

This park near our apartment has free Wi-Fi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.