Monthly Archives: June 2012
Sunday brought me back to Kutaisi where I was to meet a Dutch ex-pat, Pat*. He recently graduated from college in the US and is now living and working in Kutaisi. We met at the big golden calf fountain and headed over to a restaurant to grab a bite to eat. Browsing the menu one item popped out at me, roasted quail. Having never eaten quail before I decided to give it a go. A beautiful flayed bird, golden, with crackling skin was brought out to me on a bed of lettuce. Did not have a whole lot of flavor or meat, but was still pretty tasty. A bit more gamey than chicken. After sucking all the meat off my little quail’s bones we grabbed a taxi. The plan was to head over to Pat’s co-worker’s house where he would then take us to Sataplia.
Our taxi driver seemed to know the general location of our destination, but wasn’t sure of the exact spot. So, he did what I’ve seen countless other drivers do, pull over to the nearest car and ask. One thing is for sure, the men in this country do not have any problem asking for directions. In fact if they’re not positive where something is they might go ask several people to make sure they all say the same thing. Such a novel concept! The people our cab driver asked also did not seem to know the location and so we got the co-worker on the phone to guide the driver.
We arrived at a home not too dissimilar from my own and were greeted by a big, boisterous, young, singing, topless Georgian man and his parents. Mike* ran inside to throw on a top and we headed over to his slick new BMW. Apparently right after purchasing this lovely car he lost his license. Now, I’ve got to say my first response when I heard this was, “They have driver’s licenses here?” because really, I’d have never guessed. I was pretty surprised to find out not only do they have driver’s licenses, but they’re difficult to obtain and one can actually lose them for speeding. Have to wonder though how many people on the road actually have a license and what kind of test you have to take in order to get one. Does the test include how to overpower a marshrutka by driving on the wrong side of the road around a blind curve? Or maybe they learn driving laws and they test them on creative ways to break these laws. Not really sure. Anyway, since he lost his license the keys were handed over to the Pat.
Mike acted as the most intense backseat driver I’ve ever seen. You could tell this car was his baby and he hated having anyone else drive it. Pat got the pleasure of driving us out of town, but once we got to the turn off for Sataplia, Mike decided it was time for him to drive. It’s really no surprise that he had his license taken away for speeding. I buckled my seatbelt and took a deep breath, ready to start this crazy ride. I’m here for adventure, right? We zipped around corners, blaring gangster rap, and occasionally coming to a hard stop to let a cow or pig pass by. We arrived at Sataplia without incident and got ready for dinosaur hunting.
Sataplia is famous for a couple of things. First is the dinosaur footprints, second is the cave. We walked up to a large fence with dinosaurs displayed in gold and made our way inside for the tour. The first stop was to see the footprints. At one time this must have been a dino party because there are tracks from a lot of different species all in one location. They’re not in the best shape and the room is decorated with cheesy dinosaur murals, but think it’s the first time I’ve seen real tracks before. My imagination ran wild thinking about the T-Rex standing in the very spot I was in now millions of years ago.
I didn’t have to use my imagination for long though, because after the footprint room we came across real dinosaurs… Well, okay they were painted rubber, but they moved and roared and everything. I felt like a kid again, running up to get my photo taken with these oh so realistic dinos. The path from the robot dinosaurs to the cave was beautiful. One viewpoint led us to a spot where we could see Kutaisi and the Gelati Monastery. Trees gave a welcome relief from the heat and filled the air with their fresh scent. The temperature continued to drop as we entered into the cave.
Sataplia cave was not as mind-blowing as Prometheus. It was, well a cave. A large one, but it seemed a little lack luster after having been exposed to the grandeur of Prometheus. Wish I would have hit up Sataplia first, I mean it was totally better last year 😉 As we neared the exit the hot humid air rushed in to meet us and my glasses were an instant victim. They fogged completely and I had to stop and wait for them to clear up so that I could actually see again. Part of me wanted to run back into the cave, lapping up its delicious cool air. Alas, we could not and it was time to head back to the car.
Arriving at Mike’s BMW, Pat asked him if he wouldn’t mind driving me home. I lived in the opposite direction and as such, not on their way home. So I offered Mike a couple of lari for his inconvenience. He just stared at me for a minute and said, “You’ll learn”. I asked him what is was exactly that I’d be learning and he explained again about Georgian hospitality. Have to remember that here people don’t mind going out of their way to do someone a favor, in fact it seems that they relish the chance to do so, no compensation necessary. In this case though I think Mike was looking forward to opening up his car on the straight stretch of road in between Sataplia and Tskaltubo; and open it up he did.
Music blaring, windows down, seatbelts fastened, Mike took to the highway. The speed of the car increased rapidly and before I knew it the speedometer read 220kph or roughly 140mph. My adrenaline was pumping as the wind rushed like sandpaper across my cheeks. Pretty sure I was laughing like a madwoman, though no one could possibly hear me over the tunes and wind. We didn’t maintain that speed for long, but it sure was fun to go that fast for a short burst. Guess fast cars are like any other dangerous activity, you get a rush from that adrenaline shot and with the threat of death you actually feel alive. Safety third! Had been feeling kind of sorry for myself earlier in the day and this trip out was just what I needed. Good to laugh and be carefree for an afternoon.
In other news, I should have a job for a couple of weeks at the beginning of July. Will give me a little extra pocket money and something to occupy my time. I will be working at the Georgian American school, Progress, in Kutaisi. Planning on going to see an opera tonight and hopefully Batumi this weekend. Posts about this stuff after it happens… would write before it happens, but my time machine seems to be on the fritz.
*Not his real name
Finally was feeling well enough yesterday to find my way down to Kutaisi. I trudged along the road from my house to the bazaar where all the marshrutkas gather, found one that I knew for sure went to Kutaisi, and climbed aboard. Stopping at McDonalds I called up the fellow teacher I had gone to the caves with last weekend. He was gracious enough to play tour guide for me showing me around the city.
One of our first stops was a large market area. The first room was stuffed with fruit stalls selling cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, berries, and more. That delicious sweet fruit smell filled the air, so thick you could taste it. Fruit stalls made way to meat booths. My eyes glistened as I saw the most incredible sight, pieces of freshly butchered animals hanging from hooks. What had been a delightful fruit smell was now a more pungent fragrance. Whole backsides of cows were stripped of their hides and strung up for sale. Chickens with their heads still attached lay in piles staring up with their vacant eyes. Even saw a whole pig which had been skinned, flayed, and was hanging upside down with a bag around its head catching the dripping blood. Men used large hatchets to cut the meat into desirable cuts. No piece was left out and all was for sale.
Needless to say this place would never pass USDA regulations. There was no refrigeration or much in the way of sanitation. However, you knew that these animals were not mass produced or raised in horrible conditions eating corn. Instead they were freshly killed and had most likely been out wandering the streets of some village eating grass earlier that morning. A beautiful sight to behold. Didn’t spend too much time there, but will be going back to take a closer look at all they have to offer.
One thing that I have found here is that people are much more laid back about food safety. My family might make a stew or beans or potatoes and it will sit covered on the stove in the pot it was made in for days on end. When someone is hungry they turn on a burner and heat up the leftovers. I would have never done that back home; people would think I was crazy. Yet, I’ve eaten three day old stews which tasted just as good as they did on day one. Cheese is left out on the table, bread is just put into a big plastic bin, and veggies sit in containers on the counter. Makes you think about our obsession with refrigeration, expiration dates, and just our food habits in general. Think I’ll be coming back much more relaxed about all that.
Speaking of food, I’ve noticed the lack of outside influence in this country is very evident in the food that they eat. Back in the states I might have Thai one day, Italian the next, then Mexican another night. Every day of the week I could be eating something which hails from a different part of the world. Here I eat Georgian food. Every day, Georgian food. Never really gave much thought to the diversity in the United States until now. Think I’m going to do a little grocery shopping on my own and at least try to make a meal here and there that isn’t Georgian. My taste buds are yelling at me to switch things up a bit.
Okay, so back to Kutaisi. We also made our way to Bagrati Cathedral. The Cathedral sits on Uk’imerioni Hill and was built in the early 11th Century. It was pretty much destroyed by the Ottoman troops in 1692. Three hundred years later and the Cathedral is finally being rebuilt. We climbed roughly 200 steps to reach the top of Uk’imerioni Hll and what is probably the best view in all of Kutaisi. Standing on the ruins of the outer wall we could see city shimmering below. As we wandered around through overgrown paths we ran into a group of four teenagers. Two of the boys decided to play tour guide with us and show us some hidden paths. Our first stop was a stone outcropping where the boys told us King Bagrat III would come to sit and have a palaver. Or at least this is what we understood to be the story. We were then lead down some quite treacherous paths to a view of the river. Then again down some more narrow paths, through a tunnel, and finally to a natural spring. It was hot out and I quickly filled up my water bottle and splashed the cold water on my face. The boys helped us back up to the Cathedral telling us about their favorite actor, Johnny Depp, and about playing video games like Call of Duty. Their little guided trip speaks a lot to the generous nature of Georgians. Many people I’ve met are fully willing to drop whatever they’re in the middle of doing to have a conversation or show you around.
Today I went to see about a job at a Georgian-American School called Progress here in Kutaisi. However my regional rep informed me that I wasn’t allowed to accept it. Apparently I have to be approved through TLG in order to take the position. Might still have a chance to get a few weeks of work there in at the beginning of July, but not sure yet. Otherwise looks like I’ll be without anything to do till school starts in September. Hate not having some kind of purpose, but will try and stay as busy as possible!
On Friday I decided to venture further from my house and try to find the center of town. My house is in a village area, but I’d driven by a large park and more commercial area which I wanted to find. Setting out I had a vague idea of where I needed to go and just hoped that my feet would find their way there. About thirty minutes after leaving home I found myself in a busy bazaar area. Marshrutkas and taxis crowded an inner circle with shops all around. It had all the hustle and bustle of a large city. People carried bags full of meats, cheeses, and fresh vegetables; they waited in the hot sticky air for their rides to who knows where.
My first goal of the day was to find someone who sold Internet refill cards so I could put some money on my USB modem so as to get a faster connection to Skype with people back home. Wandering quite aimlessly looking for some clue as to where I might find such a store I heard my name. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but repeatedly I heard “ERIN-e” (Georgian words all end in vowels, as such my name here is said with a long e at the end). Finally turning around I saw my host grandmother waving frantically at me. She kept saying “modi, modi” (come) and motioned me to follow her. I walked to her and it turns out she was at work. She proudly pointed around the store telling me that it was all hers. It’s a very nice little market with all your basic needs. Pulling out a stool for me she insisted that I take off my Camelbak and have a seat. I plopped down, thankful for the respite from the heat and was quickly presented with an ice cream.
Devouring my sweet treat I did my best to ask about the USB modem. This really basically involved me taking it out, pointing to it, and making lots of hand gestures. It was like playing charades as the whole store gathered around attempting to figure out what I was trying to ask. Eventually we got it and they pointed me towards where the Magti office was. I slung my Camelbak on, thanked everyone, and took off once again.
The Magti store was easy to find and the woman at the counter spoke enough English for me to accomplish my goal. Feeling quite satisfied I decided to continue exploring. Across the street from the office is the big Tskaltubo park. Hearing Georgian folk music blaring I thought I must be in for a treat and would get to see a live performance, perhaps even dancing. Saying a quick prayer I ran across the bloated intersection, thankful to still be alive on the other side. Crossing any street in Georgia is always an exercise in faith lol. I was greeted by several enormous fountains spewing forth delightfully cool water. Children were running in and out of the fountains, squealing with delight, and chasing each other with bottles full of water. On a hot day it seemed this was the cool place to be.
I still heard music blaring but could not determine its source. No live band seemed to be around. Walking around the fountains the music got louder and louder. Remembering to look up I found myself staring at a light pole that had two speakers attached to it. An eclectic mix of music trumpeted through with everything from “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas to Lil Wayne to traditional folk music. Not really feeling like having my eardrums destroyed, I continued on, picking a direction and just walking.
Following an overgrown path away from the people I found myself surrounded by greenery. Birds sung their summertime melodies and soon I could no longer hear the music at the main square. This is when I came to the first bathhouse. As I believe I mentioned before, Tskaltubo used to be a resort spa town during the Soviet era. Thousands of people would come here to soak in the radio-carbon water. Even Stalin was a frequent visitor. I’m not sure, but think there is currently only one bathhouse still in operation. All the rest have been abandoned and are now decimated beyond belief. All around me I could see signs of what was once a grand park and spa area. Sidewalks with ornate designs, fountains, statues, and charming seating areas where posh socialites of the time would have laughed, drank, and relaxed. Looking up at this skeleton of a building I stepped inside.
I was greeted by a long hallway, with cells on either side. A musky smell hit me; a combination of dirt, mold, wet plaster, and urine. Have to say I was a little nervous. While it was the middle of the day, it was much darker inside than out. The birds seemed to be far away and all the horror movies I’ve watched suddenly flashed back into my mind. If anyone is looking for a place to shoot their next post-apocalyptic zombie movie, I know the perfect spot! Clutching my camera firmly I took another step and started peeking into the different rooms.
Stepping through broken glass, crumbling walls, and dirt I saw into one of the rooms. Deep marble tubs were in each of the cells; each with steps for visitors to climb down for their soak. I stood in the main hallway and looked around. Suddenly I could see the place come back to life. My mind’s eye pieced the tubs back together, splashed paint on the walls, and swept the floor. I saw distinguished men with towels around their waists walking on either side of me and heard their Russian conversations. For a moment it was as if I was really there. Then reality thrust herself back into the front of my mind and there I was standing in the rubble. How could a place get like this? Is this just what happens to a building when left alone? Seems as if someone came in with a sledge hammer and took out all their aggression on what was once such a beautiful place.
Leaving this bathhouse I came to an open area only to be greeted by another building in shambles. Walking into this one I again found myself looking down a long hallway of rooms on either side. This bathhouse was not quite as grand as the first, but in a similar state of disrepair. After a bit of poking around here I returned to the nature part of the park and began following a trail. I saw remnants of the park’s former glory everywhere. Some buildings had almost been entirely eaten up by the surrounding greenery. Others were in similar states as the bathhouses. Many of these buildings were unreachable as the paths had long since stopped being maintained and were now full of thorny bushes (as I quite unpleasantly discovered). The main path I followed took me through a beautiful forest and ran next to a stream. Men were fishing and taking quick dips in the cool water. Overall though, I saw very few other people.
As the path ended, another grand fountain was staring at me. This one had a sculpture of a man fighting lions (perhaps Samson) in the middle and roaring lion heads all around the base. I’m sure when fully operational each of the lion heads would have had water gushing from their gaping mouths. The statue looked over what I think is the one operational bathhouse in town. A Romanesque building with large white columns stood behind the fountain. Relief carvings adorned its top and inside it seemed very fancy. I only took a quick peek inside, deciding my sweaty self was not appropriately adorned for the grandeur of such a place. Instead I took another path away from the palace and back towards another small building.
The building I came across looked like some dinky little place, small and unassuming. I walked in and my jaw literally dropped and I gasped. Not sure that this has ever happened to me before. I was so surprised by what I found inside. This was no small bathhouse. Instead, I had just walked into an enormous bathing area with a domed roof. The ceiling had a hole cut out of the middle of it where the sun shone down onto a tree which had begun to grow in what was once probably a fountain. All around this circular building were tubs separated by walls with ornate carvings. My words and pictures will do no justice how spectacular this place was. Even in ruins it was beautiful. As I’m looking around in awe I notice a man on the other side of the building. Squinting my eyes a bit I realize he’s pulling up his pants. Yup. Here I am oohing and aahing and there is a guy in the corner taking a dump. Awesome. Taking that as my cue I exited the building and made my way back home.
On Saturday I met another TLG teacher at the bazaar in Tskaltubo. He’s currently living in Kutaisi and we both wanted to see the Prometheus Cave which is right outside of town. While waiting for his marshrutka to arrive it became painfully obvious just how much of an outsider I really am. I sat on a small wall just watching all the people and boy were they watching me too. A marshrutka would drive by and everyone would turn to stare at me. As they drove by people would turn back in their seats to look behind them so as to see me for as long as possible. Now I’m not too unfamiliar with being stared at. Let’s face it I usually have a brightly colored mohawk, lots of tattoos, and piercings. However, I don’t think I’ve ever had whole busloads of people staring me down. It’s a little uncomfortable, but know most of them have probably never seen a foreigner before. In the US we think of staring as rude. Don’t think that’s the intention here, rather people are just curious.
So, I’m sitting there waiting, being stared at, and watching people get onto their respective marshrutkas. I see this woman with a bunch of plastic shopping bags. She’s obviously had a busy morning at the market. One of her bags is on the ground and all of a sudden I see it flop around and make some absurd noise. I do a double take. Concentrating on the bag it seems to be still. Alright, so obviously I must be hallucinating. Plastic bags don’t just move on their own. I told myself she must have kicked it or some other rational explanation. I kept watching and nothing. The lady was getting onto her marshrutka and I’m sitting there hoping for it to move again so as to affirm that I’m not going crazy when all of a sudden it wiggled and squawked again. By Jove it’s a chicken in that bag! A sigh of relief escaped my lips. But wait. A chicken in a plastic shopping bag, wtf? Couldn’t help by laughing a bit; for sure not in the US anymore. Apparently, not only can you buy live chickens at the market here, but they’ll bind their feet and toss them in a plastic bag for you. Rock on.
After all that excitement my fellow teacher arrived and we started our quest to find the marshrutka which goes to the cave. Luckily he’s been in the country since February and his Georgian is coming along much better than mine. He called the TLG hotline number (our kind of 24/7 lifeline) and asked how to say Prometheus Cave in Georgian. The translation was texted to him and we started asking around. We were directed to another marshrutka pickup area in the back of the bazaar. Heading over there we again asked about the ride up there only to find out that the first one of the day had already left and there wouldn’t be another one coming for three hours. So, I took him on a little tour of the parks and the abandoned bathhouses I saw on Friday. They were much less spooky having another person around. We grabbed a bite to eat and finally headed back over to the pickup spot.
We arrived at the cave around 2:30 and it was hot and muggy out. Going into a dark, moist, cool cave is the perfect warm weather activity. I was excited to have this be my replacement for missing the movie Prometheus back home. So, a little about Prometheus Cave; it was discovered in June of 1984. So far they have found 17 rooms and there is a spring which flows through it and into a lake at the end. You can take a boat ride on the lake, but we opted not to on this visit. The cave’s total length is 20,000 meters.
While we were waiting for the tour to begin a group of school children surrounded us. They were all about 10 years old and could speak a little of English. Everyone was excited at the chance to try and converse with us. Felt a little bit like being a rock star. We asked them questions, gave them high fives, and just joked around. The teachers gathered all the students around us at one point and had pictures taken. Then as if it couldn’t get any more adorable, the students began putting on a little show for us, reciting memorized Georgian verses. Very cool.
The cave was indescribable in its beauty. Stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere. We walked into cathedral size rooms, grand beyond belief. Water dripped on me from the ceiling and drenched the floors. Don’t know that I’ve ever been in a cave that large before. Did wish that the tour was slower though as we seemed to be rushed through; could have spent hours in there meditating and just trying to take it all in. Wondered what it would have been like to have been the first one inside. What it would have looked like before there was a sidewalk, stairs, and pretty colored lights. A sight to behold for sure.
Was supposed to go to Kutaisi on Sunday and meet with a Dutch ex-pat, but alas I came down with a nasty bug and had to cancel. Plus it’s been raining cats and dogs here and didn’t feel like making a 30 minute walk in the rain while sick. Hope to be feeling better soon and take the trip this week. Still haven’t heard anything about work this summer which is quite discouraging. Time moves really slowly when there isn’t anything to keep yourself occupied with. Had my co-teacher lend me her English textbooks and will do some lesson planning, work on my Georgian, and also see if I can get something together for the library at school. Reading, working out, and watching Battlestar Galactica have been filling up most of my day so far. Motivation is a little hard to come by sometimes.
Am glad I’m here, but also feeling the pangs of homesickness. Hard to go from having such a full social calendar to virtually speaking to no one all day long. Giving me lots of time to talk to myself, which is sometimes very positive and other times not so much. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was some kind of a manual for life, with an answer key in the back? Nah. That would take the fun out of it I suppose. Never know which path we take will be the correct one or where it will lead us in the end. Even if something turns out to not be what we expected you have to reflect and see what lessons can be learned from it. Can often be hard to remember when you’re in the moment.
Right now my mind keeps on being drawn back to libraries. I miss working at the Atascadero branch a great deal and often wish I was back there working as a full time librarian… or really at any library. Part of me wants to return to the US after this contract is up and try again to find that dream library job. Part of me wonders if that is just fear talking. Traveling around the world, having no home, nothing tying me down seems exciting in one light and frightening in another. Not sure what life is supposed to be about. Should it be about adventure, challenges, seeing the sights and developing as a person? Should it be about making strong friendships, having a family, and creating a stable career? Maybe it’s about finding a balance. About finding a way to do all of those things. I don’t have the answers, that’s one thing I know for sure. Don’t think that anyone ever does. We just have to keep doing the things that feel right, keep taking chances and seeing where that leads us.
I know right now that I’m really lonely and I knew coming over here that would be the biggest challenge for me. It’s not the food, the weather, or the cultural differences, but the lack of close friends; the inability to be near to those that I love. Trying to keep an open mind and heart and I know that I’m sure to make friends the longer I’m here, but not sure if that will stop me from missing those back home any less. On a more positive note it does seem that I am able to hold Skype conversations with people. Internet is still too slow to do video, but voice seems to work well. My mom and I actually got to talk for about 40minutes in the morning before I had any connection problems. It’s small, but just being able to hear someone’s voice and have an actual conversation in real time is reassuring. I’m still in the boonies and the connection needs to be reset from time to time, but much better than nothing at all!
Miss you guys back home a lot, but know that I’m doing okay. Going to come back to you all a stronger, even more awesome person. Much love.
For a chatterbox such as myself, the last week has been quite challenging. Mayhap twenty words a day have graced my lips, most of them in Georgian. I’ve been able to express my basic needs for the most part, but anything more than that is neigh impossible. People come over to say hello, ask how I am doing, what my name is, and where I’m from. To all of that I can respond in Georgian. Then the brakes slam on the conversation and I’m left surrounded by people speaking a language I can’t understand. It’s hard to be motivated to stay engaged when you only pick up a word here or there. Your mind drifts, “are they talking about me?” it asks. Key words will pop into the dialogue and you’re sure they are. Paranoia flares its nostrils. Really, they’re probably not saying anything but niceties, but it’s still slightly disconcerting. I’m already salivating at the idea of having a long conversation with a native English speaker and I haven’t even been at my new home for a week.
It’s at moments like this where my negative Nancy starts yelling in the back of my head. She has a cruel, sardonic voice which likes to try and kick me when I’m down. Vile words spew forth, “What are you doing here? Why did you come? You know you want to go home!” and other phrases meant to take me on a downward spiral. I combat her with friendly responses, but it is hard. My company has really only been myself the last week and believe me, I talk as much in my head as I do aloud back at home. This has led to many an existential conversation with myself, trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Don’t know that I have the answer yet…
Think the main problem has been that I still don’t have a purpose here, no sense of direction. After graduation back home I was at least looking for work and while not doing that I had my friends to keep me busy. This past weekend there was nothing really. I went on some long walks around the village, but otherwise just sat around the house reading The Dark Tower series. Have no idea how to get anywhere besides walking, but that’s on my agenda to fix this week. I will not spend another weekend sitting idly by. I’ve also tried to start a basic routine for myself to give my day a little structure. I get up in the morning, do some yoga, sit-ups, push-ups, and then hoop for a bit. Got to work off all the food they’re giving me and it gives me a bit of time to center myself.
Still haven’t heard anything about summer work and it’s driving me a wee bit batty. Know I have school this week, but it’s mainly just final exams and not much for me to do. After that, your guess is as good as mine. So, I’ve decided to set up some of my own summer plans in anticipation of having little or no work. First, is beginning to fix up the small library here at my school. I took a look at it on Monday and while it was surprisingly larger than I expected it was indeed filled with musty old Soviet era books. Not one new item. Would ideally love to get everything replaced with new books, but would even settle for a small English language section. I already began emailing some contacts and gathering websites for organizations which donate to international libraries in need. Not 100% sure that I can make it happen, but figure it’s worth a shot. Everyone at the school seems excited by the idea as well, so we’ll see.
Besides that, I’m doing a bit of research for travel plans for Pierre and I. He’ll be coming out at the end of August and leaving right as school begins. Going to travel around Georgia and then into Armenia and/or Azerbaijan. Travel can be a bit interesting in this country as it’s not really a tourist destination yet, so it’ll be quite the adventure I’m sure! Really stoked about having a good friend with me for a few weeks and it’s nice to have something to look forward to.
Speaking of friends, I still haven’t gotten my Internet figured out yet. For some reason my USB modem doesn’t want to work at my house. Thought I got lucky the other day and that it would work right out front of the house, but when I went out there to try again yesterday it didn’t. Then it did. Then it didn’t. It’s such a tease. My family has been very generous and allows me to use their computer, though I don’t really want to Skype with friends and family in their living room. So, another goal for this week is to go down to one of the other stores and
buy a different modem. Was going to try and just deal with it, but really really really really want to chat with people back home. Email just isn’t going to cut it. Will let you know when I’ve got it figured out!
As you can see by the photos here, my village is stunning. Left SLO right as it was turning brown to come here where I get to enjoy many more months of green. I’m also totally enamored with the fact that there is livestock just wandering around all over the place. You can tell I’m a city girl, taking pictures of pigs and cows every chance I get. I’m feeling ready to do some more exploring though. Seeing as all of you back home get to watch Prometheus, I’m going to do the next best thing and go to the Prometheus caves which are apparently very close to here. My co-teacher told me she used to be a guide there so I’m going to try and get the 411 from her. Also might try and make a trip to Kutaisi this weekend as I saw an ice skating rink there. Plus I just made contact with a recent Dutch man who just graduated from college in the US and is living in Kutaisi. Hopefully he and I can meet up this weekend and I can have a full conversation with someone in English!
I’ll leave you with a funny/awkward story about my time here. As I’ve told you, I live in an upstairs bedroom. To get outside I must walk down a little hallway, which has a bed in it now, and then through a door. Well I get up early in the morning and go to head downstairs. The door is locked. However, there is a key in it and so I twist the key, nothing. I turn it the other direction, nothing. Not wanting to wake my host sister up I go back to my room and try to open the windows leaving to the balcony. I can’t get the frickin’ windows open! Finally after tugging and pulling on one of the window locks I get one side open and carefully crawl through the window making my way downstairs. I end up having to do this in-and-out routine several times before everyone wakes up and discovers I’ve been exiting through the window. Ummm fire hazard anyone? The other morning it happened to me again, only this time I had to go to the bathroom. I tried the door again in vain and giving up I crawled back out my window and went downstairs. The bathroom was locked. Tears started welling up in my eyes as I searched frantically for the key. Looking around at the yard I began to scope out where I might fertilize the plants. I decided instead to head back upstairs, sneak back in through my window and wake up my host grandma. She showed me how to open the door, which seemed to have some magical shimmy shake, thrust your hip against it, voodoo action to get it unlocked and then took me to where the bathroom key was hidden. I’m not sure I understand why the bathroom is locked at night, or why anything is locked here at night. Hell, we don’t even lock anything in SLO, why you would do it here is beyond me. Ah, the little nuances of living someplace unfamiliar lol.
Well, I made it to my new home safe and sound, though the journey was fraught with a bit of peril. I’m currently writing this sitting on an old blue bench whose paint has worn with weather and age. Above me is a canopy of grape vines spread out on a wrought iron gazebo. Next to me is a small well where I can get cold water, lots of flowers and various plants, and a couple of mangy dogs which live outside. It’s been rather warm and humid, but a cool breeze is rustling the leaves. Birds are singing, children are playing, it really couldn’t be any more picturesque.
My home is wonderful. It is two stories, with a grand twisting staircase leading to my bedroom on the second floor. There is a large deck in front of my room and I could grab a chair and sit outside, or even on my windowsill. Upstairs there are two bedrooms, a sort of walkway which has been turned into another bedroom and a more formal dining room. My bedroom is quite large, the biggest in the house I’m sure. Another bedroom is next door to mine and unfortunately it seems that my room is used as the entrance to that bedroom. There is another door through the back, so if it really starts to bother me I’ll see if they can use that instead. While my bed is not the most comfortable thing in the world it is spacious and I have plenty of closet and dresser space.
There is a small peculiarity which I’ve been told is a problem with Georgian homes. That is the size of the outlet plugs. I only have one outlet in my room and when I went to plug in my adapter I found that the holes were too small. I was a bit dumbfounded seeing as it worked perfectly fine at the hotel. Today I had my principal and co-teacher take me to the store so I could buy (well my principal bought it) a new adapter to plug into the other one.
Downstairs there is a large kitchen with a breakfast table and another dining room. It is very modern and fashionable with a red and black color scheme. There is a huge living room and office area with a television and another bed. The bathroom is located downstairs as well with an entrance from the outside. It is about three times the size of the bathroom in my last condo. There is a western toilet, a washing machine, and a bath/shower. I’ve never seen a tub quite like this. It is very deep and has a seat at the top. There is a shower nozzle that you can pull out and move, however, no curtain of any kind. There is a gas water heater and a big panel on the wall with a digital display to adjust the temperature.
TLG prepared me for the worst, but I’m living quite the cushy life here. Saw another volunteer today during our co-teacher introduction meeting and he does not have it nearly as good as I do. I’m counting myself lucky and hope that I get to stay here for my entire time in Georgia. It is still the country though and there are signs everywhere. Cows idly chew on grass all over the place, there were two pigs rooting around in front of the school today, and at night you can hear frogs, crickets, and who the hell knows what else. I never knew it could be so loud in the country! Heck this morning I was awoken by roosters… it was still dark. They tend to just crow all day. It’s nice to have the creature comforts, but also to be removed from the city.
Now, about my journey here. Yesterday afternoon all of the volunteers and host families met in the lobby of the hotel. You could feel the anxiety in the room. Everyone was nervous. Host families stood on one side of the room, volunteers on the other. Our names were read out, along with theirs and we met in the middle. My grandmother was there to greet me. When I came forward she wrapped me in her arms, kissing my cheek, and beaming. While we waited for the rest of the names to be called she stood with her arm around my waist, patting my hands. Georgians are very close physically and it is not uncommon to see two women or two men walking down the street holding hands, linking arms, or otherwise being affectionate with one another. It’s oddly uncomfortable as an American for a stranger to be so warm or to get that close right away. I realize this and am trying to grow, even though it does make me feel a little weird. Sure it will be perfectly normal in no time.
After everyone had met with their respective host families it was time to get going. A neighbor who speaks English had accompanied my host grandmother so I was able to communicate a little bit. Without her help the afternoon would have been even more challenging. We hopped into a taxi which took us to a sort of marshrutka bus terminal type thing. Basically a lot of old marshrutkas, none of those fancy yellow ones I spoke about last time, which take people to all parts of the country. Drivers go up and down the street yelling their destinations and hustling people over to their vehicles. We found transportation and loaded up my bags. I was then told we would go get something to eat. It was disconcerting to leave all my belongings in some strange vehicle with people I didn’t know, trusting everything would still be there when we returned. Alas, without any options I left.
We grabbed some khachapuri and browsed the shopping bazaar a bit before heading back to the marshutka. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. It was sweltering outside and even hotter in the bus. Apparently they were not going to leave until the bus was completely full. Even when we finally got going it turned out to just be a tease. We drove up and down a horrible dirt road packed with taxis and other marshutkas, the driver leaning out yelling “Kutaisi! Kutaisi!”. We drove up and down and then parked again! Finally we were on our way… or not. I’ve noticed a trend here, which is to get gas before going anywhere. I’ve been in taxis, personal cars, and marshutkas which all do this. I think people only put in a very small amount of gas at a time, filling as they get more money.
At last we were actually on the way to what was the most terrifying driving experience I’ve ever had. I’m not sure that there are actually any traffic laws in Georgia. People completely ignore the painted lines on the road, most of the time just choosing to drive in the middle somewhere. This also goes for solid lines. That means lots of driving on the wrong side of the road. Add to this pedestrians and cows and you’ve got some really twisted version of Frogger. Our driver was apparently even crazier than normal. He would start talking on cell phone and seemingly forget that he was driving. At one point he was talking on his phone, driving on the wrong side of the road and going twice the speed limit around a blind curve up a hill. We narrowly avoided careening head on into an oncoming van. People in the marshrutka started yelling at him to slow down and get off the phone. With all of this crazy driving and lack of seatbelts I at least know that if I die in Georgia, it will be because of a car accident. I thought people might be exaggerating a bit when reading about the driving before I left, but no. It is really scary and you have to be extremely careful, especially as a pedestrian. Cars WILL NOT stop for you.
I did however arrive at home in one piece and was greeted by neighbors and shy boys curious to see who the new guest was. They made me a big meal, laying out more food than anyone could ever possibly eat. It seems that display is key here, with lots and lots of food on the table. Whatever isn’t eaten is stored until the next meal. A little intimidating especially when the 84 year old great-grandma is yelling at you in Georgian to “eat! eat!”. Trying my best to avoid putting on 800 pounds while here! It’ll be quite the challenge though; lots of good food and such warm people who want to make sure you’re taken care.
Every single person I’ve met so far has been so nice and has treated me like family. Not sure what I was worried about. They even think my tattoos are beautiful. I’ve been told that I’m a good girl, very beautiful, and smart. So while next to no one speaks English I’m managing to get by and hopefully will pick up some more Georgian as time goes on. My co-teachers have offered to help me with my Georgian if I help them with their English. Will for sure be taking them up on this as it can be frustrating to not understand anything anyone is saying.
Went by the school today to meet the teachers and again, all of them were amazing and nice. Only the English teachers speak any English, but many other teachers expressed an interest to learn. They seemed quite eager to get started and wanted to know when I would give them lessons. One of the first questions all the women asked me was if I was married or if I have boyfriend and if not they could find me a good Georgian husband. We were actually advised about this in training as matchmaking can be a favorite pastime activity for women. Not really interested in getting set up on dates, I’ve just responded that I’m dating someone which has pretty much stopped the line of questioning. In training it was even suggested to buy a cheap fake wedding ring. Sexual assault towards foreign women is unfortunately not horribly uncommon and dating customs are very different than in the United States. A single foreign
woman is often looked at as an open invitation. Or at least that is what we were warned about multiple times by our Georgian trainers. Just going out for a coffee with someone of the opposite sex can be seen as more than just friendship and villagers might start talking about when the wedding is. Just figured it would be best to avoid all of that.
The last thing I’ll tell you about is the cell phone culture here as it is going to take some getting used to. People will never turn their phones on silent and will answer them anytime. Today we had a meeting with our school directors, co-teachers, and regional representative. I saw at least four people answer their phones and talk during the presentation, some of them answering multiple times. Only once did the person leave the room to take the call. Even the presenter answered her phone. One reason for this may be that Georgian cell phones do not have voice mail. It just seems so rude to me! Just another one of those cultural differences that I’ll have to try and get used to.
Going to do my best to continue posting as often as I can, but I’m having problems with my USB modem. Worked fine before I left, but now doesn’t seem to want to connect. My family has a shared computer with Internet so I’ll use that until I can figure something else out. Cheers!
On my second day in Tbilisi I was feeling overly confident about my ability to stay awake and not suffer from jetlag. I was awake and energized, able to sleep, waking up ready to tackle the day. However, right after thinking this I found the grump in me rearing its horns. Exhaustion washed over me and I wanted nothing else besides to curl up in bed and sleep. Wanting to get adjusted to the time here meant that I at least needed to stay up till a reasonable bedtime though. That second night all of the rest of the teachers decided to go into the city and explore. Knowing my body’s cues I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep.
While it has been important for me to see what I can of Tbilisi while here and get to know my co-teachers it is not my top priority. We’ve been instructed not to drink and to return to the hotel by midnight. Not sure why these rules are so difficult for some of my co-teachers to follow. To be fair, it is quite difficult not to drink around other Georgians. Each time we’ve encountered a group in the city they’ve invited us to eat and drink with them. Their hospitality is incredible and it is hard to say no when they are so very insistent. I’ve just taken sips of the liquor offered; being polite but not getting intoxicated. Perhaps it is easier for me to abstain since I don’t get drunk at home. Many of my co-teachers are younger as well, fresh out of their undergrad years (or still enrolled). They want to hit up the bars, music festivals, and night clubs with little consideration of the need to be fresh the next day or of what impression they are leaving with the community in Tbilisi. Our training is quite intensive lasting from 9am till 7pm every day. Without a goodnight’s sleep there is no way to absorb all the information being dumped into our heads; I‘ve seen several of my co-teachers nodding off during classes. To each their own, but personally I take this training seriously, wanting to get the most out of it as possible.
It’s been a bit difficult for me to relate to some of the other teachers here. For the first time in years I’m not surrounded by burners. I don’t have my best friends around me to laugh, play, or have deep existential conversations with; no one to hug, be close to, or lean on in times of need. It is an odd feeling after being in such a tightknit group. While most of the other teachers are very friendly and serious about learning, I haven’t made a deep connection with anyone here. Yet, I’ve come to a kind of peace about that. I’m here to make friends with Georgians and to go on a journey of the self. Think once I am with my host family the feeling of loneliness will dissipate some. Perhaps I will make friends with other volunteers who are in the country or develop stronger ties with these teachers in the months to come.
Despite not drinking or staying out terribly late, I’ve had some amazing experiences already. On my third day here a small group of us decided to head up to Narikala fortress. Instead of taking a taxi there, which has been our usual method of transportation, we decided to take a marshrutka. Marshrutkas are a unique form of transportation here in Georgia. Mainly sleek yellow minibuses, marshutkas can be seen rushing all about Tbilisi. They are a cross between a bus and a taxi. People cram in tightly, many standing in the narrow aisles during rush hour. While they do follow set routes, you can pick them up or be let off at any place. One only has to yell “aq gamicheret!” (stop here) and the Big Bird yellow minibus will careen over to the side of the road. The ones that I have been on were very nice inside, modern and clean; surprisingly not one person smoking on them either.
Narikala fortress overlooks the city. It was originally built in the 4th century, but has undergone many expansions, demolitions, and rebuilds over the years. Now in ruins the fortress seems to be a tourist destination and also the local date spot. We saw many young couples all around, girls sitting on boy’s laps, quickly breaking away when we approached. Walking around the fortress was mystical. I imagined what it must have been like thousands of years before. What type of people walked through these courtyards and up the steps? Were battles fought, arrows shot, people killed? My hands brushed against the old brick walls absorbing the history.
The walls had crumbled creating awkward steps for which I was thankful to have my good new hiking boots. Climbing up the fortress walls I was greeted with a breathtaking view of Tbilisi. You could see the sparkling golden dome of the Sameba Cathedral, the Peace Bridge spanning across the Mt’k’vari river, the Saint George statue in Freedom square, and peer down upon all the city. We kept climbing higher, discovering tunnels and seemingly secret paths leading to unexplored areas. The weather was tumultuous, getting more morose the higher we climbed. Clouds rolled in and lightening began to spider its way through the sky. As we reached the highest point, a large wooden cross, we were getting blown around by wind and rain was slapping us in the face at an extreme angle. Making it carefully back down from our lookout we sought shelter from the shower. After a short while the rain let up and half the group decided to return to the hotel. Two other teachers and I decided to take a walk around the area instead.
At the base of the fortress is the “hip, young professional” area of Tbilisi with lots of restaurants and night clubs. Continuing our stroll we saw a sign for an art gallery. My ears perked straight up and I insisted that we check it out. Walking into a courtyard we were greeted with a sort of grungy looking building. Inside every available surface was covered with paintings. The smell of paint filled the air, brushes and easels strewn about. Many different artists’ works graced the walls, all unlabeled and haphazardly put up wherever there was room. Add a barista and this place would have fit right in in San Francisco. Moving into the second room a man approached us with a gigantic piece of piping hot bread offering us all a piece. We thanked him and took a small bite. It melted in my mouth; hot and fresh. One other tourist was there, a man from SF who has been teaching business English in Istanbul for the last two years, he was in Georgia on holiday.
As we munched and took in the amazing art work we began speaking to the man who gave us the bread. He explained that he was an artist and pointed out his paintings. We were then introduced to his two friends who also had paintings hung in the gallery. This small conversation got the ball rolling and he pulled out Polish vodka and a gigantic beer (like over a liter). Rickety chairs and splintered benches were grabbed from around the room and we were encouraged to sit down, eat, and drink with them. All of us eagerly grabbed a seat, the artist spreading a newspaper on the ground for himself to sit upon.
Luckily all of the artists there spoke amazing English. They had all been to college and were highly intelligent. Our quick stop to the gallery ended up becoming a three and a half hour discussion. We talked about politics, life in Georgia, life in the United States, education, art, everything. It was a phenomenal opportunity to hear from people who live here, and get a take on their view of the country. So far I’d really only been able to hear from fellow TLG volunteers in blog posts and media reports (which we all know are oh so trustworthy). I learned a great deal and feel truly blessed to have gotten this opportunity. We finally had to excuse ourselves at it approached midnight, all of us literally jumping up and down with excitement as we left the building.
Now I haven’t been spending all of my time gallivanting around Tbilisi. Most of my time here has been spent in training. A typical day of training here starts at 8am with breakfast. This has consisted of semi-stale bread, salty cheese, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and occasionally some delicious creamy yogurt. The first class began at 9am and covered a variety of topics including safety, living with our host families, and academics. We then had two hours of Georgian language classes, lunch, then several hours of either intercultural training or methodology. Other classes included banking, meeting with other volunteers who have already been teaching for a bit, and other assorted classes. Our training day came to a close with dinner at 7pm. Needless to say, it’s a full day. There are breaks every hour, but it’s a lot of information to process in a short amount of time.
I’ve generally enjoyed the classes and learned a great deal. When I arrived I was able to say hello in Georgian, but that was about it. Now I am able to hold a small conversation with people and negotiate price for a taxi. I’m afraid that a lot of the language I learned is going to fly out of my head the second I get to my village, but hopefully with the help of my phrase book and some charades I’ll be able to get my point across. This is the first time I’ve actually learned another language and been forced to communicate with it. It has been exciting to hear people talk, be able to understand them, and then to respond in their language.
On the last day of training we were all taken on a shopping trip. Our first stop was Goodwill. For those of you in the United States, you know this is also the name of a thrift store chain. This place is nothing like that. As our bus approached I saw a monolithic green and yellow building. It was the size of two Costcos butted together. I was instantly overwhelmed upon entering the store. Apparently Goodwill is the place where a lot of foreigners, tourists, and ex-pats shop. This means that the goods came from a variety of places and in an assortment of languages; almost none of which were English.
First entering the toiletry section I came across a wall full of shaving creams, maybe 20 different kinds. Then, a whole aisle of toothpaste. Seriously. There were more toothpaste choices than I have ever seen in my life. Again with the shampoos, perhaps 100 different varieties. Some containers in French, Russian, Georgian, whatever. I now have French shampoo, Russian toothpaste, German chocolate, and many other random products. There were too many choices for everything and when most of it is in a language you can’t understand it makes shopping a bit challenging. Honestly, this was one of the more stressful, albeit interesting, experiences so far. Oh, and I should mention for my fellow sweets lovers out there, there was four aisles of chocolates, candies, cookies, etc. This isn’t including the seemingly endless number of end-caps loaded down with chocolate bars. Think I spent 30 minutes just trying to decide what to pick. I’d grab something and put it in my cart, then venture to the next aisle only to find something better, then go back to the previous aisle to put back the item I had grabbed and see something I missed the first time. A vicious cycle I tell you!
Somehow I managed to find pretty much everything I wanted and get out of the store. Our next stop was to the bazaar for a completely different experience. The shopping bazaar was similar to an American flea market, though with primarily new items instead of second hand. Part of it was just covered with tarps, while other parts had an old concrete roof. One could very easily get lost in the twisted maze of stalls. Pretty much everything you could imagine was being sold here. It was crowded and terribly humid due to all the people sweating inside. Also, you could forget about having any kind of personal space as the aisles were tiny and crammed full of people bartering for the lowest price. I heard not one word of English spoken, expect from my fellow teachers. It was AWESOME! So vibrant and full of life. I could have spent hours there getting lost and trying to find my way out again.
After leaving the bazaar we headed next door to the mall. So indicative of what I’ve seen of Georgia so far; something very old right next to something brand new. The mall was not overly exciting. Just a clean, bright shopping mall, not so much unlike those in the US. The group was split though with some people preferring the mall to the old bazaar. I’d love to come back to this area again sometime as there is apparently also a food market and many other shopping areas to explore.
In a few hours I’ll be leaving be leaving Tbilisi, headed to my new home. So far I know that I will be in the village of Tskaltubo which is in the Imereti region, about three hours west of Tbilisi. It is around 20 minutes from Georgia’s second largest city, Kutaisi. Tskaltubo used to be a hot tourist destination and was known for its radon-carbonate mineral springs. During the Soviet era it attracted around 125,000 people a year, including Stalin. Today there are not many visitors and a lot of buildings have fallen into disrepair. The region looks beautiful though, with large caves nearby and a nature reserve.
Do not know too much about my host family yet. The only information that I’ve received is that the family consists of great-grandparents, grandparents, a 12 year old boy, and a 17 year old girl. The parents are currently working abroad. I also know they have Internet access and an indoor bathroom/toilet. Am hoping they won’t be shocked by my appearance and will accept me into their family. Will try and update everyone and show you pictures of my new digs soon!
My first glimpses of Georgia are from my plane window. A deep orange sun rose over the mountaintops. As it ascended, rays of light shot forth casting shadows into the cloudy sky. Layers of different cloud types shone with a heaven like quality. My eyes wandered down from the blissful sky onto the pale green countryside. Rolling hills of never-ending green were only interrupted by bright blue lakes and rivers. The land looked as if it had been sprinkled with a fine green powder, surreal to behold. Untouched, it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever witnessed. Approaching the airport I began to see small villages. They seemed unconnected, without highways or any kind of paved roads. Two villages that appeared near one another from the sky could very well be unreachable by conventional methods. Instantly my mind reminded me that I may very well be living in one of these isolated, but picturesque villages next week.
We landed safely in Tbilisi and began our taxi to the gate. When I stepped off the plane into the walkway leading to our gate I was instantly hit with the smell of tobacco. Smoking is extremely common here and so far I’ve only seen one no smoking sign. It’s been many years since I’ve smelt that stale tobacco smell inside.
My luggage came out swiftly, careening down the twisting metal river. Using my best butterfly stroke I parted the crowd and swooped up my backpack, relieved that it had made it all this way. After hearing of all Rob’s baggage troubles within the states I was a tad bit nervous that it wouldn’t make it. Heaving the heavy pack onto my back and negotiating the placement of my other items I went forth to find the TLG representative who was supposed to meet me at the airport. Scanning the crowd of people holding signs with roughly written names I saw nothing. So my wandering began. Walked a little up this way, then over that way, and then right before heading outside to check there a man walked up to me in red track pants and said “You teacher?”. I nodded. He pointed to chairs and directed me to sit. My mind flashed to all the traveler safety tips I’ve learned and I decide to make sure to get some kind of identification from this man before getting into any vehicle. After a few minutes he spotted another teacher who was on my flight, showed us the TLG sign both of us somehow missed when we first came out, and led us off to a car that also had the TLG logo on it. Deciding this is indeed an employee we loaded up our luggage and started off to the hotel.
Our driver’s name was Giorgi. He didn’t speak much, but turned on the radio blasting Pink Floyd. It was around 6:00am and I should have been exhausted, but the excitement injected itself into my hypothalamus. I was wide awake ready to go exploring this totally foreign city. While Tbilisi is the largest and most populated city in Georgia I was initially struck by a small town feeling. This was further enhanced as I looked out my window and saw a white horse standing in the middle of the road. I pointed out the window calmly stating “horse”. Quickly we are greeted by another horse in the middle of the road, this one being coaxed back somewhere by an older gentleman. “Another horse” I giggled with delight.
Finally arriving at the hotel we were greeted by an enormous building, the Bazaleti Palace Hotel. We walked into the dimly lit building heading up to the counter to get checked into our rooms. Keys were handed out and I got ready to grab my luggage and find my room. The other gentleman who is with me had much more stuff and struggled to grab all his. However, no help is given to him and instead the hotel clerk grabbed one my bags and room keys, ignoring my fellow teacher entirely. Ah patriarchal societies. Not feeling like rocking the boat I went with the flow and was directed to my room.
My home for the next week is also dimly lit with two small twin beds. I have all the amenities though including a fridge, bath/shower, and even AC. Part of the training package here ensures we also get four bottles of water a day and three meals. I’m soaking in all the creature comforts while I can as my host family’s setup will probably not be this ‘luxurious’. My roommate had not yet arrived when I got to my room and I took a quick account of things before heading up to breakfast.
A meal of sliced meats, cheese, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, a plate full of sweets, and various cereals awaited me at the upstairs restaurant. Have I mentioned already this hotel his huge? It’s also eerily empty. A fully stocked bar playing music for no one reminds me of The Shining every time I pass by. Food is decent enough, though everything is very salty. At breakfast I met three other teachers who had arrived the day before. One of them is from the United States, another from Australia, and one from New Zealand. Part of me was nervous that all the teachers would be from the United States, but that’s not the case. We also have teachers from Canada and South Africa in addition to the Aussie and Kiwi.
After inhaling our salty breakfast we decided to give the finger to jetlag and go exploring the city. We got some currency exchanged and then stumbled out into the already warm summer sun. The hotel desk clerk had informed us that we needed to find a taxi, so the five of us waved down one of the many outside the hotel and tried our hand at communicating. With guidebook open to a map of Tbilisi we were pointing and gesturing, not really having a set destination in mind. Finally arriving at some sort of agreement on place and price we crammed ourselves into the taxi. Four grownups in the backseat of a standard car is quite the site. Needless to say if we had gotten into an accident none of us would have moved we were jammed in so tight. Talk about getting to know people personally right away.
We got dropped off in the Kala district, at least that’s what we think, picked a direction and started walking. Now I’m not going to describe every single aspect of my outings as that would end up becoming book length, but will give you a general rundown of what happened and my take on Georgia during these first couple of days.
First of all, the sound of the city is not like anywhere I’ve ever been. We’d been informed before leaving about how precarious the traffic can be here, especially for pedestrians. There are no pedestrian right of way laws and people will not stop for you. What I didn’t realize is how loud all the traffic would be. I’m still not sure what the reason is behind this. There really aren’t any more cars out on the road than in any other city of this size (around 1.5 million). Yet, the sound of rushing traffic envelops you. It’s a humming that vibrates your eardrums and dampens any attempt at conversation with those around you. It might be the pavement or perhaps the city is built in a way that enhances the sound, just not sure.
Taking a look around the city one things stands out, construction. In my first post I wrote about how one of the TLG program’s goals is to revamp the education system aligning it with Western values. During the Soviet occupation Georgia was cut off from the rest of the world. Infrastructure of all kind was left to fend for itself and as such is in a state of disrepair. At least on a cosmetic level this appears to be changing. Everywhere I went in the city I saw construction. Scaffoldings filled the air with the scent of freshly cut wood, workers dug up streets, fixed roofs, and laid pipe. There is a lot of talk in the political world regarding fixes to the actual government. From an outsider’s perspective, and pretending I know nothing about politics here, it seems like at least Tbilisi is making huge progress in becoming a more modern well-kept city. Since I am new to this country I’m going to leave political discussion out of the blog, at least for the time being, and/or until I become more informed. For friends who like to discuss politics with me I’d be happy to do so, just shoot me an email for a private chat 🙂
During this first adventure out into the city we stumbled upon a Farmers market. Well, being a huge Farmer’s market lover I had to check it out. It was small with just a couple of booths set up. In one area a group of Georgians were gathered around a table with food. They beckoned us to join them and began pouring shots of chacha (grape vodka) from an unmarked bottle into various size glasses. Motioning for us to join in their drinking I took a sip of the very strong liquor and passed my glass off to one of the other teachers. We were then offered meats, bread, cheese and Tarhun to wash our chacha down with. Tarhun was a very interesting tarragon flavored soda. It’s bright green with a refreshing taste. The group of people did not speak any English besides one man who knew “I love you so much”, but we managed okay with our phrase book. After turning down many more offers to drink with them, it was only 11am after all, we parted ways. I’d read countless times when doing research about Georgia about the hospitality of the people here and this encounter was a testament to that. While unable to even speak the same language they invited us to join their inner circle laughing and sharing everything in front of them.
The next day I traveled out into the city once more, this time joined by my roommate who is from Canada and one of the teachers from South Africa. We took a taxi to Freedom Square and walked down Rustaveli Avenue where there are many museums, theatres, art schools, and a large park. This seemed to be a much more modern part of the city with lots of retail activity. I got to check out a supermarket, buying some Georgian chocolate, browsing the gigantic vodka selection, and witnessing the biggest bottle of beer I’ve ever seen.
My training started yesterday and will be spending most of my time learning Georgian, teaching methodologies, and cultural information. The days are quite long going from 9am to 6pm, but am looking forward to getting this show on the road. Hope to know where I will be placed in the country soon so I can start preparing. Plan is to write another update at the end of training next week, before leaving to my host family. Already have many more stories to tell you all!