BATUMI, GEORGIA: Oleg, early 20s, was hanging out at an outdoor market in Batumi when I noticed the tattoo on his neck. It read: "Life goes on" with a heartbeat line beneath the words. He said he was born in Moldova, but moved to Batumi as a boy. He said his Russian father then died, his mom began to drink and mismanaged their money. Thus, he left school to pick tea leaves in nearby Turkey sometime around age 14. He said the other Georgian men whom he traveled with in those days protected him. A divorced father with a small knife scar on his stomach, Oleg said he still travels to Turkey to pick tea. He said the tattoo reflects he isn't giving up despite the tough life. 'God put me here on this earth after all for some reason.'
YEREVAN, ARMENIA: Astxik, 28, was running an errand in the center of Yerevan when I noticed her t-shirt that read '1915 A Failed Genocide.' A waitress at a Pizzeria, Astxik said the shirt is part of their work uniform for a month to commerate the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottomans, something that Turkey denies. Astxik said she is half Russian and that many relatives, including her parents, live in Russia. She would like to move to Russia as she said its tough to earn a good living in Armenia.
MOSCOW: It will be hard to find someone to tell you more about the history of bodybuilding in Russia than Valery, who has been working as a trainer for about 25 years. "Before 1993, there wasn't one fitness club in Moscow, just basement gyms" said Valery, who added he was among the first graduates of a 6-month state bodybuilding training course in 1988 that was titled 'athletic gymnastics.' Valery started working then in a so-called 'basement gym,' which resembled gyms in the documentary movie "Pumping Iron." 'Fanatics' mainly visited such gyms in those days, he said. Valery recalled how he and others would ask friends to bring back bodybuilding magazines from the US in those days. They would spend time trying to translate them. The modern 'fitness' gyms like Gold's Gym that started opening in 1993 were initially ''very expensive'' for the average person, he said. He said the people coming to his gym began to change around 2000 as women, students & regular guys signed up amid a change in attitudes toward health. Basement gyms were no longer the provinces of the fanatics. During the difficult days of the early 1990s, Valery - like many others - said he sometimes flew to Turkey to buy goods for resale in Moscow. The history of Valery's family is no less interesting. An Assyrian, his ancestors arrived in Russia 100 years ago with Czarist soldiers as they fled genocide by Ottoman forces.