Life in Georgia is curious and interesting. Life in Kvareli is even more so. From an outsider's perspective, it probably looks like nothing has changed in this town for several decades. But as an insider, I know nothing could be further from the truth. In less than a year that I've lived in Kvareli, I've seen an ordinary lake turn into a fully-developed recreational site with cafes, tennis courts and rental boats. I've seen what appeared to be pile of dirt and metal turn into a sophisticated medical center (never mind the doctors standing outside smoking all day). I've seen gravel roads being paved, hotels being constructed and several businesses opening their doors. And believe it or not, I've even seen Starbucks! (Okay, so it's not fresh-brewed coffee; it's the refrigerated lattes and cappuccinos, but still… it's Starbucks!)
Back in the day, Georgia was the most affluent region in the USSR. Everyone had jobs, money and big homes. Life was good. Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it all fell apart. Countless people lost their jobs, nobody had money to maintain their homes and many people were hungry. But Georgians are strong and determined, and over the years, they have picked themselves up and worked to rebuild their lives. They learned new trades, opened new businesses and started learning English. My organization alone has been awarded countless grants for projects that improved the lives of citizens: installing wells to access potable water, building bridges, roads and schools, training police officers, and even providing Christmas presents for low-income and orphaned children. In addition to the hard work of the local people, the government has also targeted Kvareli as the next big tourist destination in Georgia, which means they are dumping tons of money (and jobs!) into this town with the dream that Kvareli will someday be a booming tourist center.
Knowing how far they have come and how hard they are working just makes me love these people even more. Sure, they still have their issues and many people still struggle day to day – but a lot of them are trying, and that's all that matters to me.
Here are a few photos of the latest developments in Kvareli:
Brand new medical facility
Fancy new gas station with an even fancier convenience store (where I spotted Starbucks!)
Gravel roads waiting to be paved!
Kvareli Lake Resort with its amazing views (also known as President Saakashvili's home away from home)
Ilia's Lake, a new recreation area with a mountaintop restaurant, lakeside cafes and amazing views (I was actually taking a picture of Kvareli, not the lake, but you can see the new developed area in the bottom left corner)
Newly opened Khareba winery, located inside a 2km-long tunnel (the second longest in the world!)
Khareba's mountainside restaurant (you can even take an ELEVATOR from the winery to the restaurant… talk about fancy!)
Oh, and that… yes, that's the new Holiday Inn, which is being built for the influx of tourists coming to Kvareli!
This just goes to prove how hard Georgians are working to make their world a better place. And while my role here may be small, it's still an incredible feeling to be a part of it. With all of the changes I've seen in just the last 10 months, I can't wait to see how this town looks in 10 years!