The Mundane Mafioso

Did I make it an entire month without posting? Why yes, I did. My excuse is that February is a short month.

The water in my apartment building has been corrupted. Rumor is that it’s due to a new motor… I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of of that rumor, but I guess it has something to do with the mechanism that pumps water up into the sixteen-story building I live in. In any case, for just over a week there has been considerable sediment coming in with the water. It’s been clogging up the pipes, wrecking peoples’ appliances, and generally causing somewhat more inconvenience than what we’re used to here in K-town. I won’t bore you with details of plumbing but let’s just say we’ve had to devote extra time every day to dealing with the situation, which by all accounts makes us the lucky ones – some people have had their water heaters or washing machines – equivalent in cost to a month’s salary or more for many Georgians – ruined by this issue.

The amusing larger anecdote that leads out of this story is that initially people thought it was retaliation. “Retaliation,” you ask? “Whatever for?” Well it seems that just two days before the “new motor” was “put in” or whatever it is that happened to our water happened, a segment appeared on Georgian TV news about the fact that in 2013 Kutaisi still has water for only about four and a half hours a day. That’s quite embarrassing what with the Parliament here and all. It seems the natural conclusion that many people in my apartment building reached was that all Kutaisians were being punished by the water mafia for daring to speak up about the fact that our water situation is sub-par even by Georgian standards.

I’m not even kidding. I hadn’t really encountered this in Tbilisi – Tbilisians mostly seem to fear the government. In Kutaisi, however, everything is mafia. This is not unreasonable, as Kutaisi was incredibly mobbed-up until Misha came in and broke the “thieves-in-law”, as they’re called here. The city was completely run by Georgian organized crime, and now Kutaisians seem to view (or at least refer to) every instance of petty corruption or institutional incompetence as “mafia”.

Another “mafia” I’ve encountered lately is the infant massage mafia. If I’d said that with no context you would have thought it completely absurd. Water mafia? “Okay.” Infant massage mafia? “Surely you must be kidding.” But while the water mafia theory didn’t pan out, the infant massage mafia theory is still plausible.

Tea came home from some routine checkup with Giga, and told me that the doctor said he had “dysplasia” and prescribed 15 massage therapy sessions with a local infant massage specialist. Tea was concerned because these sessions would cost in the neighborhood of 12 lari per hour, and I was concerned because when I looked up “dysplasia” I found out that it’s a quite serious condition and that massage is not indicated as a treatment for it. Tea and I had one of our “internet vs. doctor” arguments and went off into separate rooms, where I complained about the situation on facebook and Tea called her friends and neighbors to get their opinions. It’s interesting how we essentially have the exact same reaction, just mediated through different technologies… anyway, amusingly, we both got roughly the same answer.

One of my friends who was born in the Soviet Union suggested that if you give the doctor a hefty tip, the doctor will suddenly become the most “ethical and concerned and reliable doctor you’ve ever worked with”. One of Tea’s neighbors said that that particular doctor was known to be in cahoots (my word, not hers… does Georgian have a word for “cahoots”?) with the local infant massage specialist, and that she got some sort of kickbacks for scaring parents into paying for unnecessary massage treatments. So yes. Infant massage mafia is the going theory.

By the way, my son does not have hip dysplasia. We got a second opinion from an uncahooted doctor.

The more mundane explanation is that this is just a manifestation of the Georgian tendency to overmedicate everything. If you visit a doctor you should expect to walk away with four to six prescriptions, even if it’s for a condition that will go away on its own. Because of my contract, if I take more than two days off from work, I’m required to see a doctor. That means that if I get a really bad cold or flu I have to go to the doctor, not to get medication, but to get a note that says that I really do have a really bad cold or flu. Insurance pays, so whatever.

In any case, I generally throw away the resulting prescriptions (antibiotics for a cold? really?) and I’m finding that I have to do the same for Giga. When he was a month old some quack prescribed him a cocktail of sedatives for “colic”, which he doesn’t have, because apparently in Georgia people think that newborns are supposed to sleep through the night when in fact it is normal for them to wake up every few hours to be fed. Ironically, the vial of poison the doctors recommended is called “NormoKid”, and when I googled the ingredients I got a bunch of newspaper articles about kids being hospitalized for taking them. I poured it down the drain.

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I guess if I were to summarize this whole mafia situation I would say that folks in Kutaisi are quick to attribute to mafia what can be explained by simple human stupidity. Which is not to say that corruption and collusion don’t exist in Georgia (as they do everywhere), but personally, when I am faced with two competing explanations for a phenomenon, my money’s on the one that requires less competence and planning. Still, I sort of like the idea of “mafia” as a shorthand for the perpetuation of institutions despite their failure to provide basic services reliably and competently. It gives the issue a certain moral clarity that Americans lack sometimes when we consider the reasons for the failure of our own institutions.

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Easily the best song ever written about the Mafia:


[Video: Smash Mouth – “Padrino”]

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2 Responses to The Mundane Mafioso

  1. DemetreGV. says:

    Just discovered this amazing blog. Great job! Gradually I will read all the posts and try to contribute whatever I’ll be capable of. It is truly wonderful that you’re so committed and dedicated in the exploitation of Georgia and Georgian people since they are one of those “forgotten” or even “unnoticed” nation which has been around for quite a long time.

  2. Pingback: Worries | Georgia On My Mind

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