First Night

Slept in the new host home last night. Their rooms are on the back side of the apartment facing the courtyard. Mine is on the street side.

It’s been a long time since I slept in a city. It’s totally different than Ozurgeti, of course. There I am jarred awake by roosters,  dogs in the middle of the night, or the occasional scamper of a rat in the crawl space. Here, its car speakers, squealing tires, or the loud laughing of pedestrians walking past.

But eventually even the city sleeps.

***

Friday evening, we’ve been drinking
2 AM, I swear I might propose
but we close the tab
split a cab
and call each other up when we get home
falling asleep to the sound
of sirens

City Love, John Mayer

City Love

TLG made a policy that we could not be hosted in the cities of Tbilisi or Batumi. The demand was too great and they wanted to spread us throughout the country.

Mtskheta

Mtskheta

Mtshketa

Mtshketa

But they decided to make an exception in my case. (My host family in Mtskheta bailed on my, for goodness sakes!) I still would rather teach and live in Mtskheta, but with that said…

I went to look at the home in Tbilisi and it was a no brainer.

25 percent of the 4 million people in Georgia live in Tbilisi. Where the majority of Georgia is predominantly agricultural and rural, Tbilisi is sometimes called the Paris of the East. After two years of seeing poverty and rural life up close, there are aspects of Tbilisi to make all that seem literally, like a foreign country.

I had to take a bus to meet the father, Zura. (The family consists of a husband and wife, Mari. Mari’s mother, Lali and their 7 year old daughter, Anna.) We met on the corner of a busy one way street, Kazbegi Ave. He’s a very young guy to my surprise.

We started walking to his flat. The first thing I noticed was it was a gated community with a guardhouse and needed a swipe key to get into the building. They live on the 1st floor (technically 3rd as there is a two story store directly underneath.) The apartment was spacious and modern. The furniture was not the typical style of most Georgian homes I had seen. This furniture looked IKEA inspired. In sweeping the living room, my eye caught a flat screen television, surround sound speakers, and comfortable wrap around comfortable couches. I noticed a Mac on the coffee table and an IPad on the side table.

Living Room

Living Room

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Kitchen

The kitchen had a full sized refrigerator AND a dishwasher. Better yet, it was a full sized fully functioning kitchen. I had never even seen a dishwasher in Georgia!

They had three indoor, enclosed bathrooms. One has a Jacuzzi bath, the other a glass enclosed shower door.

Super fast Internet. (Videos came up immediately!!!)

So basically, it was a done deal.

Zura drove me back to the hostel to pick up the rest of my things from the hostel. They are a two-car family and although the apartment has an underground garage, he has the only private single car garage of the building.

As we are driving back to the hostel, he is pointing out the major roads and intersections so I can get my bearings. Little by little, he clues me into what he does for a living. He owns a variety of businesses and properties. As we passed different streets and neighborhoods he would say nonchalantly, “I own a flat behind that building”, or “I own that store over there.”

Both of them speak English very well. HE trips on his grammar structure occasionally, and she forgets a translation occasionally, but I don’t have to slow down at all for them. They want me to stay with them primarily to teach English to Anna. She is in the second grade in a supposedly good British/Georgian private school, but knows little to no English.

Challenge Accepted.

Oh, oh oh… I almost forgot- heat radiators in ALL the rooms.

Tbilisi

Tbilisi

***

Some have told me the city will ruin me
Some said the city is an ugly place
The city has marred better men than me
I let the city have my heart.

I thought the city gave me hers.
This love was not meant to last.

I Still Love The City, But The City Doesn’t Love Me, Alex Gomez

In Which Sanchezi Returns To Sakartvelo

Flights were fine and painless.

Waiting for my flight to Istanbul in JFK, I overheard people speaking Georgian. It was a funny feeling. I had not heard it spoken for 2 months.

I gorged myself on in-flight movies and Turkish wine.

To add insult to injury, up until the morning of my flight, I had no idea as to where I was going once landing in Georgia. I knew I had a new host family in Mtskheta, but I had no idea how to contact or get to them. My fall back plan was to just go to a hostel and wait for further instructions.

Fortunately, they told me the plan to get to my new family.

BUUUTTT once I landed, the new plan was to go to the hostel for the night and they would get me to my host family the next day. Fine.

I came out of the airport to the familiar dance of taxi drivers trying to financially rape me. 35 Lari taxi ride or .50 Tetri bus ride? Hmmm…. Thanks, but no thanks.

Although I packed light for the trip to the States, I returned to Georgia with all of my camping stuff. So I wasn’t as mobile as I would have liked, but it wasn’t that bad.

On the way to the hostel I met a girl from Israel, Britt. She was traveling alone to Georgia for 2 and a half weeks. She had planned on going to a hostel named Friends, but as mine, Old Town Hostel, was closer. So we walked to it together.

Then I showed her some of the highlights around Old Town, got some food and headed back.

The next day I waited for the text that they, TLG, were coming to get me. And I waited and I waited…

Later in the day, they said that they were having problems with the host family. Stay at the hostel another night and sit tight.   …Okay.

Then I got the phone call from my former regional representative that the family no longer wanted to host me. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Nothing was working out.

HOWEVER…

She talked to a friend who lives in Tbilisi that was willing to host someone. The bedroom that I would be staying was not prepared yet. (It was currently an office, and they had to acquire the bed, wardrobe, etc.) and I would have to sleep on the sofa for approx. 2 weeks. I could go to look at the place and decide.

***

So hurry up and wait 
but what’s worth waiting for? 
So join the queue me and you 
wait in line it takes our 
time to be satisfied,

Hurry Up And Wait, Stereophonics

What Had Happened Was (or better know as) The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

So I had to stay in the States for an additional 33 days. And that’s not an easy thing to do on the salary of a Georgian teacher. Thankfully I had the support of family and friends.

My original goal was to work the first part of the summer in Ozurgeti, come to the States for at most 4 weeks, then return to Georgia and work the rest of the summer until school started. I had also left Ozurgeti with plans of moving to Mtskheta, the first capital of Georgia and move in with a new host family.

Well that plan was shot to hell.

The first news was good, a host family and a school was found for me in Mtskheta! The family consisted of a mother and her grown son who also worked in the school. Great!

But then I was asked when I would return to Georgia. (I thought all that was worked out.) I was told that my new family would not be returning to Mtskheta until September, so it would be best if I stayed in the States until then.   …Okay.

Closer to September I kept asking for return tickets to Georgia. At the same time, other friends in the program were asking me if I knew anything about the new Visa Laws. I didn’t hear back about either.

Then I received news that my host family would not return to Mtskheta until the 9th of September. Ugh. Okay.

When I still didn’t hear about flight information by the beginning of September, I started to get annoyed. Why are they putting so much unnecessary stress on me by waiting until the last minute? I was about to send an email saying as such, but they emailed me first. That’s when the bottom fell out.

Part of the reason was poor communication. Yeah, let’s just say that. But the second reason was due to not anticipating the changes and ramification of changes to the Visa laws by my organization here in Georgia.

Whatever the reason, I was placed in a difficult position. My options were (there were two other options, but as they don’t apply to me, I will leave them out):

  1. Return to Georgia on a 90-day visa. With this option, I could return to Georgia on a free visa at the border. But after 90 days, I would have to leave for another 90 days before returning again.
  2. Apply for a one-year visa. They said I had to do this outside of the borders of Georgia. And it would take up to 30 days to process. I didn’t want to lose the time of not returning to Georgia, but I wanted to stay for longer than 90 days.

I decided to apply for the year-long visa. And delay my return even longer.

It was such a depressing decision. We all wished we had been told sooner so we could have been more proactive. Ugh.

Then after applying and waiting, I learned that in addition to a 50 dollar (non returnable) fee, we also had to provide a slew of documents that were difficult to acquire from the States AND I had to go to Washington DC for an interview!

Too much. Simply too much.

I decided to do the 90-day visa. And plan for other contingencies accordingly.

Booked my flight out of the States for September 15th.

***

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that’s alright because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

I Love The Way You Lie, Eminem ft. Rihanna

Time In

I only blog about experiences outside of the States. But I just wanted to say, I had the best time with friends and family. They are so supportive and fabulous to me. Sometimes I stand amazed and perplexed about how I came to be so fortunate and why they still chose to have me in their lives. I love you all dearly.

Until next time.

***

I love you always forever
Near and far, closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you
I love you always forever
Near and far, closer together
Everywhere I will be with you
Everything I will do for you

I Love You Always and Forever, Donna Lewis

Heat Wave

After having pleasant weather for the weekend, July came back with a vengeance. I don’t know how hot it was but trust me, it was hot.

It being two days before I left Oz for good and journeyed back to the States for vacation, I figured I would pack. My things had expanded in the year of living here. More clothes, books, etc. So I knew I would have to expertly pack and put thought into it. I was also debating if I should take some clothes back to the States, as I tend to reuse clothes more often and wear them for multiple days. I decided against it, as I don’t really know if I will have opportunities to return to get them. But I did decide to leave the bulk of things here in Oz and retrieve them when I get back to Georgia. I am only bringing a minimal amount of clothes back, which is a new thing for me. I am a compulsive over packer.

I started packing soon after waking up. It was warm but still bearable. By 1 o’clock, I was in my underwear glistening with sweat.

I had planned on seeing my English club girls one more time today, but we had not set a time. But as fate would have it, Lana called at 1:30 and summoned me to come to town! Ugh. I asked was she crazy. Why not wait until the sun went down? We had to do it then, because Sofo had a thing in the evening. Ugh.

So I put my clothes on, and started walking to town. Before I got halfway there, I was sweating through my hat and shirt. By the time I got to town, I was mad.

I saw them sitting in the park, thankfully under a tree in the shade. Megi was in a funk because she had jus taken her final exam. The other girls were in a good mood. But it was too hot to sit outside. I suggested we go get ice cream. Sofo left early unfortunately to her thing, so Lana, Megi and I went to a local restaurant. I also bought them pizza and cokes. The pizza was the best I have had in Oz. I didn’t even have to tell them not to put on mayonnaise. AND the restaurant was air-conditioned! It was a great time. Hopefully if they do well on their exams, they will go to University in Tbilisi. And if they are in Tbilisi, I will see them often. We were joking that it’s a shorter travel time to travel from Mtskheta to Tbilisi than to walk from my house to town.

The education system works like this: If the student scores well enough, the University is fully paid for. Otherwise, they give you a stipend based on your score. If you don’t do well, you have to pay for the entire tuition. It’s a pretty good system because the village and town educated kids have an opportunity to get a higher education.

Then I had to walk back home in the scorching heat. Natia and Gurami had it worse than me though. They both had to work out in the sun today. Natia at the village and Gurami in the corn fields.

Day two of the heat wave.

Saturday was hot out the gate. Thankfully, Natia was home with us. She knows how to manipulate the house, it’s windows and doors to achieve the maximum cool effect. But that could only hold the heat off for so long.

At mid-day, Gurami burst into the living room and asks if I want to go swimming in the river. I thought he was saying I should go swimming at the river with the kids (Giorgi had already gone). But he said he was going and that they were going to a village.   …Adventure!!!

We packed into the neighbors’ car; Natia, Gurami, Salome (Gurami’s Goddaughter), and myself. We first had to make several stops. First Salome had to go vote. It was election day for a run-off. Then we stopped for a watermelon. We then headed out of town.

We passed some familiar villages along the way. Then, as the air became cooler, we started seeing swarms of people at accessible places at the river. Thankfully we kept motoring past. We finally got to a spot we very few cars. It was in a village called Gomi.

We shimmed down a bank to a pebbled area along side the river. The water was moving pretty fast and there were rocks of various sizes from boulders to medium sized. I had very sensitive feet, so I already knew this wasn’t going to work. But its an adventure, right?

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Salome

Salome

Natia

Natia

We walked along the shore for a little bit to get away from the other people there. Natia and Salome stayed with the stuff, while Gurami, our neighbor, Zuka, and myself went to scope out the river for swimming holes. it was COLD. So cold it made my body numb. We hoped some rocks, waded through some rapids and finally found a semi-calm area. But as I said, it was so cold that we only stayed in for 10 minutes max.

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Salome and me

We made our way back to the ladies and started eating the snacks we had brought. Natia brought some cake that she had baked that morning, then we ate the watermelon. They had placed it in the river to get cold, but we hadn’t been swimming that long, so it was still hot. And Salome brought some Coke to wash it all down.

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Gurami and me

Gurami and me

It was a very nice change from the sweltering heat of town and the house. But it was an untamed riverbank. So there were no convenient places to sit and actually relax. So very shortly, we were all ready to go.

As soon as we got back to town, the heat overcame us again.

***

It’s like a heat wave
Burnin’ in my heart
I can’t keep from cryin’
It’s tearin’ me apart

Heat Wave, The Supremes

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

**This is a long detailed post. Honestly maybe too long and too detailed. And not even all that exciting. You have been warned.**

A TLG friend, Ashley, wanted to go hiking in a Nature Preserve up the street from her village. She is moving to west Georgia next semester and thought it would be a shame to not have journeyed there. Sort of like moving out of a childhood home but never having looked in the cabinet in the basement.

In her defense, she and I both did our research on this place, but as with most destinations in Georgia, the information was very limited. The name of the Preserve is Kintrishi Protected Area. (You can look it up yourself.)

Initial problems before the trip even started:

  1. We were supposed to do this trip the previous weekend, but it rained everyday. The kids I was tutoring at the group home left for the week to go to the beach. That allowed us to reschedule for Wednesday. Speaking of rain, it also poured most of Tuesday morning before we left.
  2. It was originally supposed to be a 2 night camping trip, but because we pushed it to Wednesday, I had to condense it to one night. I had to get back to say my goodbyes in Oz and pack.
  3. Although the Preserve is “just at the end of Ashley’s road”, it is a long ass road. It’s soo long that the public marshrutka stopped at the second to last village. How the other inhabitants who live further got to town or more importantly how we were going to travel the rest of the way to the Preserve was unknown to us. From the last marshrutka stop to the entrance of the Preserve was still 12 km.
  4. Don’t really want to spend a lot of money before my return to the States. Another reason we chose this destination was for the hypothetically low cost.

We meet in Kobuleti. We get some supplies for the trip; hot dogs, khatchapuri, bread, etc. While Ashley was waiting for me, she talked to some taxi drivers to see how much they would charge. They quoted a price of 30 Lari to the entrance of the park.

[A quick aside, in American thinking, 30 Lari for a taxi for an equal length is seemingly a small amount to pay. But in Georgia, it’s quite a lot. And not a lot as in they are ripping us off. The taxi would have subject their cars to potholes from hell, washed out roads, and boulders in the road for a large portion of the journey and fuel is sort of expensive. But for us as volunteers on a limited small income, it amounts to a lot.]

We had to decide if it was worth it. In the mean time, we asked another taxi and he gave us a price of 10 Lari- score! But when we got back to him after gathering our supplies, we realized he had no idea where we were trying to go. When he understood, the quote was 30 lari.

No thanks.

We then decided to get a marshrutka to the last stop and walk the rest of the way. How long could 12 km be?

But we changed our minds again, and got a shared taxi to the last public transportation village for 2 lari. Then negotiated to have him take us to the last village for a total of 15 lari. (Unbeknownst to us, BEST decision of the trip so far.)

We started the hike in earnest- 8 km from the entrance of the park. The site that we wanted to reach was 12 km inside the Preserve. But first things first… get to the Preserve.

Thankfully it was a pleasant day. The sun wasn’t beating down on us and the incline was moderate. The houses got further and further apart. I can’t imagine why (or how) people live up here. I mean its pretty and all, but still. My theory is that their ancestors settled way back when, when invaders would sweep through and kill the villagers and eat all their stuff. They decided that they were safe from crazy killers up there. I wouldn’t waste my time climbing those damn mountains to kill a handful of villagers. …I digress.

The increased infrequency of the houses meant a less chance for us to be picked up by a passing car. But fortunately for us there was construction work being down up the gorge. They were tunneling through the mountain. I think for power purposes. An SUV stopped to pick us up. They were nice guys who spoke a little English. Funniest question, “How is Obama?” They took us an appreciated 3 km!

Four km. out from the Preserve was a restaurant beside an ancient arch stone bridge. There were several stone arch bridges in the park.

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Walking, walking, walking… We finally get to the entrance of the Preserve. The maps here are just as sparse as on the Internet. We have to decide what to do now. We just hiked a long ass way. Ashley had intended to reach lake in the Preserve, but that was totally out of the question. Even the hike to another main attraction was 12km further in; 5 hour hike. Hell no. So we decided to just walk around to some of the other lesser sites and camp at a closer ‘village’. We hiked to a nunnery that was in the park. They had a very comfortable garden area. We had intended to see a waterfall, but as the park was not mapped out well, we did not find it, which was a bummer.

When we got to the ‘village’ it wasn’t really a village at all. It was simply a clearing in the trail beside the river. Across the river was a decrepit bridge that looked like it was going to collapse with a few more uses.

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The sign next sign said, 8 km to Khino. That was one of the two main attrThere was no was in hell I was walking another 12 km that day. And that would have also meant that we would have to walk all that the next day to get out of the camp again. So we decided to pitch our tent here.

Finding wood for the fire was easy enough. We collected some great lengths. Once that was done, we put up the tent and switched out of our sweat soaked clothes.

As we were snacking a little, from down the trail came two dogs. We had seen these dogs back at the nunnery, which was 4 km back! We waited to see if they were with anyone, but no one else came up the trail. The dogs had traveled all the way by themselves. One of the dogs was unafraid of people. Which is rare in Georgia, as they are not vey friendly to stray dogs. The other was VERY wary, but wanted to stick by his friend. We called the first unabashed dog, Bob. After some sniffling around the perimeter of the camp, Bob settled down and sat right beside us, as if he were invited.

It was time to start the fire, which is always my favorite part of camping. But as I tried once, twice, three, four times, it became clear that the wood was too wet to catch fire. And as the sun fell away, everything just got more and more damp. Then the lighter stopped working. Not only were we going to have to eat our hot dogs cold, we were also not going to have a warm fire to hang out by.

I was the saddest boy.

So shortly after eating, as there was nothing to do or see, we simply went into the tent to sleep. As the night went on, it got COLD. The morning couldn’t come fast enough. Not having a campfire that deep in the woods is scary of you think about it too much. There was not another living person within 4 km of us. And our phones didn’t have service.

Late at night, I heard Bob growl and run at something. THAT freaked me out. What the hell could it be? Walking to the site the only animal life we saw were salamanders. But the sign said there were bears and wolves in the park. Bears. And wolves. I was very grateful to have Bob looking after us. He never left us, he was there in the morning even. I was so grateful, I gave him a nice breakfast of hot dog and bread.

We packed up camp and hiked out with Bob leading the way.

I have NEVER walked so much in my life. Ashley calculated that we probably hiked 30 km. overall.

***

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
To be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your door

I Would Walk 500 Miles, The Proclaimers