On the morning of Aug. 5, skirmishes between the Eastern European country of Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia escalated into a full-scale war. A massive Russian counterattack into Georgia followed, and five days of bloody fighting ensued before Russia enforced a preliminary cease-fire, ousting Georgian forces from the contested province.
Among those evacuated from Georgia because of political unrest was Allison Moses, 22, of Roaring Spring - one of many dozen Peace Corps volunteers attempting to help the country move to greater economic and social success by educating them on how to start their own businesses.
"She was sad and angry at the same time," said Debbie Moses, Allison's aunt who maintained contact with her during her 15-month tenure in Georgia, which began in June 2007.
Allison Moses, 22, of Roaring Spring was a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia in August. With her is her host father, Badri Kokaladze of Gori.
"Her life was really in a state of flux, trying to decide what the next step in her life would be. She was sad to leave behind the friends and clients she made in Georgia and very angry at the Russians for bombing it."
Allison, a Penn State graduate who studied marketing and human resource management, decided to join the Peace Corps after a post-college stint working with a housebuilding company in Pittsburgh.
Though she was making what she called "decent" money, the job wasn't where her heart was at. Recalling the anecdotes of two of her former college professors who volunteered for the Corps - and loved it - it occurred to her that international work just might be her meal ticket, too.
"They would tell us about all the cultural experiences they had," she said. "One of them said he actually learned more during his two years in the Peace Corps than he had his entire life. That really intrigued me. I researched it, and it seemed like something that would be a good fit for me."
And a good fit it was. Despite living in an unheated house throughout the winter and earning a paltry stipend (about 500 gel per month, or $250 in U.S. currency - half of which went to the five-member Georgian family she lived with), she loved the "picturesque" country of Georgia and its "hospitable" inhabitants. After all, the point of being there was to live on the same level as the residents, she said, while helping them to better their lives.
"You complain about it every day, but (living in meager conditions) is part of why you join the Peace Corps - to see if you can withstand the challenge," she said. "You were never warm, but you had to learn to adapt - wearing layers and layers of clothing to bed. You could see your breath - it was a love-hate type of thing."
During her stay, Allison lived in the village of Gori, near Tbilisa, the capital of Georgia, which borders Turkey and is "right in the Black Sea area," she said.
She described Georgia as being about the size of South Carolina, with a population of around five million people.
"It's so small, but beautiful," she said. "In one day, you could go from one side of the country to the other and see desert, high mountains and sea. The infrastructure is still very undeveloped, though. Roads are still kind of rocky and muddy, so travel can take awhile."
She likened the country's weather patterns to those of Pennsylvania.
"You have all four seasons," she said. "The problem is, you just never have any heat in your home."
But there would soon be more to worry about than the weather. In August, Allison Moses and her team of roughly 80 Corps volunteers had their humanitarian objectives cut short when they were evacuated by Russian forces to Armenia, a mountainous country about six hours south of Gori between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.
"After we were evacuated, we had to spend one month in a hotel up in the (Armenian) mountains," she said. "It wasn't the most enjoyable experience."
The hardest part of all, however, was the fact that she and her team would never get to say goodbye to the Georgian families and friends who had become such an intrinsic part of their everyday lives.
"For the first two weeks in Armenia, it was like an emotional roller coaster ride," she said. "When the bombings stopped, the anger went away, but the sadness was still there."
Despite setbacks, she still remains hopeful for Georgia's future as a developing country.
"There's been so many positive changes there," she said. "The problem is, every time (Georgia) makes advancement, Russia does something to put a stop to it. Anytime Georgia gets too close to NATO, Russia uses the conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their own advantage."
Though dismayed by the evacuation, Allison said she "was happier in Georgia" than in America - if only because the Peace Corps granted her "full autonomy" over any work she chose to do, she said. On Sept. 18, she's off to Bolivia to help women artisans develop the business skills they need to sell their wares.
For the time being, though, she's just enjoying being back home.
"It's been 15 months since I've seen her," said Allison's mother, Cathy Odroneic, 55, of Roaring Spring. "She's got a lot of friends and relatives to visit, so I'm just taking in every moment I can."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.