Ok, everyone – I’m here, I’m safe, and I’m lovin’ it. Getting here was pretty uneventful. I had some great seating companions on both flights. On the flight to Amsterdam I was sandwiched in between two very talkative Dutch men in there 50’s and then surrounded by about 25 fellow volunteers on the second. Completely exhausted and slightly delirious by the time we arrived but I was lucky enough to be one of the 5 out of 25 whose bags were NOT missing from our flight – thank GAWD!
Now – what to say about Georgia. Every time I arrive in a new country it’s hard not to have expectations. After reading guidebooks and websites and talking to anyone who knows anyone who might have been to that country, I inevitably start to paint of a picture of what it’s going to be like – and it’s usually WAY off. I was way off.
Our group lands in the capital city of Tbilisi and we head straight to the hotel. While driving through the city something seems…off. Is this not the biggest city in the country? Where the heck are all the people? Why do I only see a few random old men roaming the streets with their midsections exposed? Is this the new fashion craze or just how they expect to release all of their body heat in this boiling weather? Their shirts are literally just pulled up and resting on top of their cheese bread filled bellies. This is definitely something I’ll have to get used to.
After only one night in Tbilisi, we are up bright and early Sunday morning to drive all the way to the coastal city of Batumi. Not our original plan but we have an amazing day ahead of us. From Tbilisi we get on the M27 highway – the only main highway that goes from west to east across the entire county – and head west to the Black Sea. The highway is fast and hectic! It is in fact a two lane highway but there seems to be an imaginary middle lane for constant passing of cars going BOTH directions. Imagine people playing chicken in a center lane.
The highway is lined with building from the soviet era. None of them appear to be operating – most of them never fully completed yet still worn and tired looking – but then someone appears. What could they possibly be selling in this completely unmarked cement box? How many customers do you think they get in a day, no, a week?! Where the heck are all the women – seriously?! Finally, there’s one selling bread!
And so the six hour journey goes. I have so many with questions! We end up passing through about three different climate zones. First hot desert, next high up in the cool mountains, and finally we arrive in the subtropical humid coastal town on Batumi! Lush forests, colorful beach houses, and tons of people now surround us. More men walking around with their bare bellies but this time they are accompanied by many friends, wives, children and they are all having a great time at the beach.
Oh, yea – we came all the way here because THE PRESIDENT has requested our company at the opening of a very posh, very white, beach side restaurant. I just drove 6 hours through a bare and seemingly desolate countryside - where it seems NO building has been fully constructed or maintained - and now I’m sitting at a beautiful open-air lounge overlooking the black sea. Misha – as they like to call him – strides in wearing a very casual linen shirt and pants. He’s actually pretty handsome. A handshake here, a charismatic “How’s it goin’?”, “Where ya from?” there. This kind of reminds me of how a late-night talk-show host might enter a room.
Besides the cheesy entrance and PR charades he ended up being totally cool and inspiring. He gave an excellent look into the life of a Georgian over the past years: personal stories of when he was a boy getting thrown in jail for listening to American music, lots of witty stabs at Russia, and he finishes by tells us why we are all here. This project is his own. His Dutch brother-in-law, who has been teaching abroad over the last 20 or so years, inspired him. He knows that language is the key to providing opportunities for his country and this people and he wants us to be the ones to make it happen. Even more, he tells us to share our cultures; our ways of live. “I want them to see that you are all free people with free will and free speech, because now they have that as well.” He opens up the floor for questions, thanks us all, and is off! This day is going to take a bit to sink in.
After a quick dinner we are on the bus AGAIN. Three more hours back east to Kutaisi where we will be staying for the next seven days of intense Georgian language and teacher training. We are also expecting to get some information about our village (yes, their now saying village) of placement and host families.
My first impressions of this country are all over the place. It’s worn but beautiful, its people struggling to rebuild yet generous beyond belief. I feel mostly respect for this country and excitement for the months to come. Mad-lobt, Georgia. Thanks for talking me in.
*See if you can spot me in this video of the pres: