36 Bullets

On the first day of May everything seemed to contribute to my bad mood: non-stopping rain, sleep deprivation (I had to take my friend to the airport early in the morning) and the fact that I wasn’t happy with some of my projects. So when this paper arrived, I thought that it’s a logical continuation of my bad patch. The paper said that I was called for a 18-day-long military reserve service. That was a serious interference with my schedule, but after some time of cursing I tried to look at it from the positive perspective: it was only 18 days; it was not the busiest time for me; it was the best time weather-wise since it was not hot yet; I would get some good sleep and exercise.

The only thing was that I could not take my camera to take pictures there. I heard that there was the 500 lari (~$300) fine for taking pictures on the territory of the base. So after some hesitation I decided to leave camera at home, in order not to get tempted to take it out and start shooting.

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Georgian Army. Reservists are trained to help them in hard times. Well, at least that’s in an ideal situation. © Temo Bardzimashvili, 2007

Instead, I decided to take a notebook to describe in words all interesting scenes I would have taken pictures of if I had camera there. So here they are:

Shot #1: All reservists were called to gather at a certain place in Tbilisi, from where we would be taken to the Vaziani base. At the base we would be tested medically and then transported to a training camp. About seven buses were lined up nearby. On the side of the closest one I noticed a cross and an inscription saying:

God, have mercy on us. Tel: (888) 123456.

I decided that it was the right bus to take.

Shot #2: As we were waiting for the buses to take us to the base, a drunk guy showed up (even though it was 9 in the morning). He was called for the service and was very eager to go there. However, a Military Police officer noticed his condition and stopped him as the guy was trying to get on the bus. He was told, that he can’t come to the base drunk and will have to wait for a month for the next group. However, the guy looked very motivated and even quarreled with the military police officer that he really wanted to go for this training. After 30 or so minutes of brawl the drunk guy made his way to the bus and came with the rest of us to the Vaziani base.

At the base, however, the guy got a little soberer and start asking to let him go home. Since everybody was already sick of him, and he was still pretty drunk, they eventually let him go till the next month’s call.

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Real soldiers at the Vaziani base. 2010

Shot #3: In Vaziani we were finally told where our training camp was. Algeti, a desert place in the south of Georgia. My co-worker happened to be there a couple of months before me and he returned with not the nicest impression: life in tents, stinky wood toilets, no showers. When I arrived there all of it turned out to be true except for the showers. During the two months they brought two cargo containers and inside of them they mounted shower sets. Plus my platoon was manned from more or less tolerable guys. At least it could be worse: at some point I spotted a guy in other platoons making the whole troop say the Our Father prayer before the meal.

In general there was some touch of religiousness everywhere on the camp: icon-equipped worshipping place in the canteen, a cross-formed flowerbed in front of one tent etc. I saw one interesting artifact there: a two-foot tall stack of construction blocks. People there called it a “church,” but it resembled of similar structures in Georgian mountains. Those stone stacks are usually located in sacred places, having roots in pagan times, but now used for Christian worshipping. Nobody in the camp knew who built it. I assumed that it was made by someone coming from the mountain region.

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A sacred place in Lashari, a mountain village in Georgia, resembles of the construction in my training camp, however the latter was smaller and built of modern materials: construction blocks and iron roof. Photo courtesy of pshavi.ge.

Shot #4: Our classes were held the field. There was no tree we could hide under and we had to sit under the direct sun. And instead of teaching us basics of war tactics the instructors would let us just sit doing nothing. The most important thing was the higher ranks not seeing us slacking. So the sergeants would take us over a hill, from where the camp headquarters wouldn’t be seen.

Meanwhile we were not the only ones there. The cattle from the villages grazed right next to our camp. Only during shootings shepherds would keep cows off the firing ground.

So, from time to time we saw those cows with car tires hooked on their horns, that eventually would slip down to their neck. Poor things would roam around the field, shaking their heads, trying to get rid of annoying burden. Pretty big amusement for 1,000 bored reservists.

Shot #5: On the camp they took our cellphones away. I was warned by my friend that they would do it, but he also told me that they would give hand them in for an hour each day. So, I was a little surprised when after taking our cellphones away, our sergeant told us that it was not certain how often we would be able to make calls. Finally, after five days of being there, phones were finally given to us and 1,000 guys spread all over the field trying to make calls. The camp was surrounded by hills and the connection was poor, plus, the nearest cell antenna was probably about to explode from the number of simultaneous connections. But eventually most of us managed to call. Nearby me one guy was already arguing loudly with somebody (allegedly his wife) over the phone: “but I’m telling you I just couldn’t call these, can’t you just believe me! They took my phone away! Oh, f### it!”

I walked up the hill for better connection and when I looked back I saw 1,000 guys spread all over the field pushing their right (or sometimes left) arms to their ears, walking nervously in circles and talking. On the background there were tents, military cars and four cannons. The whole scene was flooded by the setting sun. In the absence of my camera I tried to fix it in my memory with a blink of an eye.

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A military parade in Tbilisi. 2011

Shot #6: Boredom was the real scourge from God. We really did nothing. I expected at least some physical preparation to get in shape, but it turned out to be very, very basic. It was partly understandable. The age range for the reservists was from 27 to 40, and it is well-known fact that an average respectable Georgian guy over his 25 should have a beer (or rather wine) belly. Now you can imagine how those bellied guys (who were the majority of reservists) would make physical exercises.

Anyway, I farsightedly took a book there and took advantage of idling. A few guys around quickly appreciated it and approached me asking whether I had more books with me to lend them. After refusal they would sadly retire. Some of them would join into groups to chitchat. Their conversations would vary from regular discussions of football games to weird (to me!) talks about religion. For instance in one conversation I overheard the phrase “Catholics carry out human experiments.” SmileHowever, the most awesome pearl of wisdom was the following parable I heard from yet another speaker:

“In one village the only water spring dried out. Everyone was dying of thirst. But after a few days a dirty stray dog appeared and died right in the center of the village. As soon soon as it died a clear water spring gushed from its mouth and saved the villagers. So, the priests are the same: however sinful and rotten they may be, you should listen to what they tell you.”

You are to judge the logic here.

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A priest blessing Georgian soldiers. 2010

Shot #7: I repeat, there was really not much to do in the camp. After three days of being there it felt like I’ve been here for a month. Two more weeks looked like eternity. I already mentioned that field classes were only the idle occupation of designated time. During them all of us would either talk, or smoke, or talk and smoke. There was nothing really else to do there.

However, during one of such classes I spotted a group of reservists in distance very enthusiastically pottering in soil. At the same time I heard some of people nearby mumbling: “they got a scorpion.” That sounded interesting, I went closer to the group and saw that they truly had a scorpion caught in a glass jar. By the time I approached them they have already played with poor creature to their heart’s content and were thinking what to do with it next. One of the guys spotted an ant colony nearby and the solution was born. They dug the colony a little disturbing ants and making them run around. Then they dropped already half-dead scorpion right in the center of this mess and started watching hoping that ants would attack their prey. However ants didn’t care much. Only one of them tried to bite scorpion’s tail, but after a while it lost any interest. Guys started getting bored again and after a while one of them just cursed and cut the scorpion into two with some metal plate. After that ants started dragging still trembling, much smaller pieces into holes.

Meanwhile other group of bored reservists spotted a field mouse gazing at them from one of the numerous holes in the ground. As soon as the mouse disappeared they uttered a clarion call and started digging the soil around in hope of reaching the mouse. What was more interesting in this utterly pointless scene, was that bored sergeants standing around suddenly livened up and started helping their charges by advice or even digging. Truly, one mouse has managed to erase the rank difference.

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A military parade in Tbilisi. 2011

Shot #9: The only action was really the shooting exercises. At the first such exercise we were supposed to shoot nine bullets. On the second – 27 ones. And the third would be 50 or so. We never did complete the course. All of us did the first 9-bullet exercise. The second exercise was held a few days after the first one. Our platoon was always somewhere at the end of any line: be it a line to the canteen or a shooting exercise. By the time it was our turn to shoot a huge black cloud spread across the whole sky. Understanding that the pouring rain is coming the sergeants started hurrying us. As I pulled the trigger the rain started. I heard my supervising sergeant screaming “do it quickly!” at me. So the rest 26 bullets I shot without even aiming. By the time I was done the rain was pouring at its utmost and my back was all wet. We ran to the truck to submit our Kalashnikovs, and then fully soaked rushed to the tents. So, some guys have never shot those 27 bullets. Even though we got wet, the day was fun, as it was some contrast with the usual hot sunny idleness.

The next day, on May 22, I woke up thinking what to occupy my 12th day on the camp with. It was Sunday and we were supposed to have a day off, rather ironic statement considering that each day was such. It was six days left the designated day of the end of training, which still looked ages away. However things developed in a very unpredictable way. First we were told to prepare all our military belongings for a 10-kilometer-long quick march. Not understanding the reason of such sudden change in headquarters’ mood we started cleaning our mess-tins and packing. Later the rumors came that some reservist have cursed the canteen staff for the lunch he didn’t like. So, as the result the guy was dismissed and sent back home and other reservists were supposed to be punished for that. However, when we drew up, suddenly a state defense minister Bacho Akhalaia himself showed up in the camp and told us we could go home! It was a shock, and initially nobody could believed it. However 30 minutes later our sergeants called on us and ordered to change into civilian clothes and get ready to leave the camp for the city. Which we gladly did.

OK, I hope it is enough to get the picture of reservists’ training in Georgia. I could have added more details of my time there, I have plenty of them, partly in my head, partly in my notebook. However, I think that the post is way too long already, so I’d better stop here. Next time I’ll post more photos and less text. Smile

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