Happy birthday and anniversary, as well as a welcome and goodbye party

We had so many reasons to celebrate. Let’s begin from the left. We welcomed Stewart Lindsay, our neighbor in Columbia, South Carolina, who traveled to Georgia and Azerbaijan for a vacation. Susanna Melo and I celebrated our 8th anniversary and have been grateful for the ten years we’ve known each other. In addition, we celebrated Susanna’s and Anderson’s July birthdays. We bid farewell to Anderson de Jesus Lopes and William Santos, our two Brazilian “sons.” Two hours after our dinner, they returned to Brazil  for a well deserved vacation after dancing through Japan for a month. Our Georgian “daughter,” Tamuna Gabelia, who is a good friend of Anderson and William, helped make the party soooooo lively. The Brazilian ambassador to Georgia, Carlos Alberto Asfora, honored us by joining this festive occasion. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Georgia’s Independence Day

Many people had their pictures taken at Alice’s tea party in Wonderland; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

I like the ways that Americans celebrate their Independence Day every July 4th. I like grilling hamburgers and ribs outdoors and eating watermelon. If someone invites us to spend the day with them on a lake or a river, that’s fun. Watching small-town parades with politicians waving from their convertible cars brings on a wave of nostalgia. Homemade peach ice cream tastes wonderful on a hot day! Seeing many red-white-and-blue flags boosts my patriotic spirit. If you’re watching with children, then fireworks displays are exciting. One of my most fun times, however, was when my son Ethan and I made a potato gun and then launched potatoes high into the air over a lake.

My first Independence Day in Georgia, however, was as much fun as any Fourth of July. Rustaveli Avenue, the main street through Tbilisi, was closed to traffic and lined with tents. Tens of thousands of people looked inside these tents to see all of the products produced in Georgia—everything from chocolate to shoes to furniture to subway cars to bricks to cheese to tanks. To entertain the crowd, dancers danced, singers sang, and musicians made music. Kids had lots of fun. They had their faces painted and played a variety of games. Of course, politicians were present. President Saakashvili attracted his own crowd as he walked through the larger mass of people. Creating this event was a smart idea and it was well executed. Georgia can be proud of its economic development in the 20 years since it broke away from the Soviet Union.

Tens of thousand of people strolled down Rustaveli Avenue on May 26, Georgia’s Independence Day, including one man on stilts; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Traditional dances were performed near Freedom Square; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Adults pulled the block to their end, and kids competed with each other to seek who could reel in their block the fastest. This happened over and over again throughout the day. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Four people with great voices sang from the balcony above the theater on Rustaveli Avenue; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Anderson de Jesus Lopes, William Santos and Susanna Melo shared cotton candy; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Our “sons” dance in Don Quixote

William Santos was a principal dance in the Don Quixote ballet; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Anderson de Jesus Lopes dances in Don Quixote; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

“Wow, he’s amazing.” Susanna was like a teenager as she texted the principal dancer in a performance of Don Quixote. And believe it or not, he replied during one of the ballet’s intermissions. Of course, “he” is William Santos, one of our Brazilian sons dancing in Tbilisi this year. Our other Brazilian son, Anderson de Jesus Lopes also danced in the ballet. They both danced extremely well, of course, and Susanna and I are very proud of them.

During the two intermissions, I really enjoyed seeing all of the young girls (and some boys) running up and down the central aisle, holding onto the stage, dancing, jumping, and scampering around the entire theater. Their activity made it obvious that the ballet is a family affair in Tbilisi. It is not “high art,” where people should be reverent. It is fun.

After the performance, William, Anderson, Susanna and I ate a nice meal at at Georgian restaurant we like near Freedom Square. It was a special treat to be able to talk to William immediately following his performance. I think it may have been his first time as a principal dancer, and he was very emotional. When we first met outside the theater, he was relieved that it was over. Then at the restaurant he became sad because he thought about all the little things that he could have done better (but no one else would be able to notice any of these things). Then, particularly since it is Mother’s Day, he thought of his mother, whom he misses, of course. Then he said that all of his hard work has finally paid off. And it has.

Susanna and I love living outside the United States. We love learning about new cultures, including their foods, arts, and religions. But the best part of traveling, by far, is making genuine connections with new people. We are soooooooooo happy to have met our six “children” in Tbilisi. They are making our time here special.


Un-Orthodox Easter dinner

Easter dinner at a Georgian restaurant; Nana Mghebrishvili; Mari Papidze; Susanna Melo; Anderson de Jesus Lopes (dancer from Brazil), Tamuna Gabelia, and William Santos (dancer from Brazil); copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

We had a 3-language Easter dinner. Anderson spoke Portuguese but very little English or Georgian. William spoke Portuguese and a little more English. I only speak English. Mari, Nana, and Tamuna speak English and Georgian fluently, but not Portuguese. Susanna was the translator and hub of the conversation.

If Susanna and I were at home in Columbia, South Carolina, we’d probably eat ham, scalloped potatoes, peas, and bread for dinner, and we’d enjoy a glass of red wine. Tonight we had four types of pizza, mushroom dumplings, mushrooms, french fries, Cokes, and beer. Our adopted children brought boxes of chocolate. And . . . yes; it was delicious!

But best of all, Susanna and I had a really wonderful time visiting our friends. Thank you.

Swan Lake deserves the lonnnnngggg standing ovation it received

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012

William Santos in Swan Lake; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Brazilian talent in Tbilisi

William Santos and Susanna Melo

William Santos (center) dancing in the Nutcracker; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Story by Susanna Melo

Keith and I have “adopted’ four very talented, sweet and joyful young Georgian women as our “daughters.” One of them, Tamuna, whom we met at the Populi supermarket and who has always been very attentive and helpful when we shop there, connected us to William Santos.

William Santos is from Sao Paulo and has been living in Tbilisi for as long as we have been here (nearly 6 months). He is 23 years old and this is the first time he has left Brazil. He came to Georgia to follow his dreams.

At age 15, unbeknownst to his parents, he began taking ballet classes secretly. He knew they would have disapproved had they found out. At age 18, William’s parents insisted that he needed to get a real job to help out his family. He found ways to circumvent their wishes to drop ballet altogether. He began teaching dance; although the salary was insufficient to help his family, he was able to pay for his personal expenses. Such was his passion for dancing, he struggled against all odds to get to where he is today: dancing for the very famous Nina Ananiashvili Ballet Company!

William is quite a striking and talented young man! He is also humble and attributes his good fortune to Daniella and Giselle Pavarini, who own the Centro de Artes Pavarini in Sao Paulo. His teacher and mentor at this art center helped ensure that William would be able to leave Brazil to have better opportunities abroad. As the result of a competition in Sao Paulo, William was selected to join Nina’s ballet company in Tbilisi.

We thoroughly enjoyed watching William dance with such gusto in the Nutcracker! We met him behind stage after the performance and then invited him to our apartment for a simple Brazilian meal of rice and beans, etc. While conversing, we put William to talk via phone to Bruno Schmidt, another young Brazilian man we have yet to meet personally. After he hung up, he told us that he had sat right next to Bruno on the plane coming to Tbilisi 6 months ago, but that they had not exchanged contact information.

So, this Thursday, William and I will meet Bruno for the first time. William will be taking Anderson, another Brazilian dancer that joined the Ballet Company 2 weeks ago. Now it seems that Keith and I will expand our family to add our three “adopted Brazilian sons!”