I’ve been in Georgia (Orthodox, not Baptist) for just under a week now. I have been doing a week of various orientation and training sessions before departing for x town in Georgia where I will be teaching in x school living with host family x. There are lots of variables in the journey I’m on right now; I feel like I’ve just jumped in the deep end of the pool. It’s been a really strange week.
The flight was uneventful. Things were on time for the most part, and I didn’t miss any connections. I did have a classic Howard moment in the Chicago airport, though, on my way to the international terminal. I pulled out my passport to try to check in with one of the screen check in machines, but I wasn’t at the right airline, so I kept going. I realized about a minute later that I didn’t have my passport; I must have left it at the little stand! I got nervous. Running around in my coat with my bags, frantically searching my pockets and scanning the floors. I asked an airport official if he could help me out, and he made some snarky comment, and I kept running around frantically. After about 5 minutes, though, he came up to me and verified my identity with my passport. Some cleaning lady had found it. It must be the start of another Howard adventure – mishaps from the moment I start.
Six hours of a layover in Warsaw was enough time to explore the city a little bit. I met some fellow English teachers in the airport, and since I had come prepared with a map of Warsaw and a few things to do, I became tour guide Sven for a few hours. Not much time in the city, but enough time to wander around the old town and snap a few pictures before heading back to the airport.
Arrived in Tbilisi around 5am, and there was a great meeting of all the volunteers at the airport. I was told by one volunteer that I stuck out from the start. Everyone was standing in a crowd talking before getting on the bus, and I was in the middle of everyone with my hands in my pockets, hood up, staring at the ground. Not too surprising I guess.
We got to the hotel around 6am. It was at this point that limbo began. One week in a hotel on a chaotic road in central Tbilisi, a week of orientation, and anticipation of what would happen after this week. The hotel was strange. It’s basically a high class hotel for businesses or conferences is my best guess. Lots of conference rooms and we were given three meals a day. The showers were awesome. Nothing fancy, but I’ve been told to enjoy the hot water while I can.
Day one was basically a free day, since I had done my medical check at home. Breakfast was at 8, so I did some emails before heading up to breakfast. It was a silly sight. A bunch of jet-lagged, sleep deprived volunteers just arrived in Georgia. Fueled by Nescafe and sausages, I departed the hotel to go explore Tbilisi. Day one was basically the only day we were given free time to explore the city. It’s a funny little place. Crumbling old churches, chaotic driving (apparently there are traffic laws in Georgia, but nobody follows them.) I ended up wandering around for about 10 hours straight on Monday.
The hotel had a recreation room, so the evening finished up around the ping pong table. After a few rounds with some of the teachers, other hotel guests joined in. The only other party at the hotel was the U23 Georgian national rugby team. I ended up playing ping pong with three Georgian rugby players. That evening it was nice to actually get some sleep after being up for about two days, as well as a good 10 hours of hiking, and furious games of table tennis.
Tuesday morning marked the start of orientation, which lasted until Sunday evening. Georgia is quite a bit different from the Eastern European countries I’ve been to, and for the volunteers, this is a new experience. We had four hours of Georgian lessons per day, as well as lessons on teaching methodology and a brief overview of Georgian culture.
During the orientation hours we had “coffee” breaks throughout, as well as three meals throughout the day. A nine hour time change is enough to make you feel it a little bit. I was fueled by Nescafe for most of the week. It was rough. There were little coffee stands with a bowl of Nescafe, and then you mix it in hot water yourself. I don’t know anyone else who complained, but I wasn’t taking to it very well. It’s one thing to rely on Nescafe when you’re backpacking and don’t really know good cafes or don’t have enough of a schedule to have regular cups of coffee, but when there are regular coffee drinking sessions, Nescafe just doesn’t cut it. I made it to Friday, I believe, before I cracked. I couldn’t take it anymore. No more Nescafe. I brought with me some of the Turkish coffee I bought in Istanbul, and so I developed a new coffee routine. I took a mug from the coffee area, hurried to my room (skipping and giggling with excitement), scooped a bit of Turkish coffee into my mug, calmed myself as I went back to the break room, and mixed in the hot water. I then sat smugly and gloated. Not real Turkish coffee – more like instant Turkish coffee, but it was much better.
The orientation period had a number of interesting topics. One of my favorites was a discussion of symptoms and ways to avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea. Also known as the Sarajevo Surges or the Turkey Trots. I’m not sure what the Georgian equivalent is yet, but I eagerly anticipate finding out what it will be. I got a nice little handout with the symptoms and ways to avoid it. Most cases begin abruptly, and result in increased frequency, volume and weight of stool. Handy bits of information.
Another great topic was a discussion of the four phases of adapting to a new culture. It’s nice to know that all of these things I go through traveling and returning home, being homesick, stressed out, frustrated, isolated, uprooted, etc. all fit into a four phase process! It’s all so simple! Phase three is the best phase to be in.
Other than these topics, orientation didn’t have too many silly things for me to laugh about. We had orientation sessions for about 12 hours each day, all in the hotel. So everyone had cabin fever by the end of the trip. On top of the cabin fever, nobody knew where we were going, so it was all a weird sort of limbo. We weren’t really in Georgia yet, we were a bunch of internationals staying in a hotel, hanging out together, waiting to be whisked off to some random corner of Georgia in the blink of an eye. Everyone was stressed, waiting for the time bomb to go off.