If you have been following my blog since the beginning, you might remember our orientation meeting place, the Bazaleti Palace Hotel. Being there for the first week with the others of group #43 who were experiencing and learning this country with me left it engraved on my brain with all of the emotions and sensual connections intact. That hotel has a place in my memory similar to going to a haunted house in your youth with a now deceased friend or parent. Once flying out of Tbilisi, I passed it on the bus. Simply being in the vicinity again gave me goose bumps.
It was announced that we would have another mid year conference. Unlike last year, we were to return to The Bazaleti Palace Hotel. We were supposed to come with our co-teacher, as the focus of the conference was to be on co-teaching. But Elene got sick the morning of. Which was okay. It allowed for me to have more freedom of movement.
The conference was two full days of workshop sessions on co-teaching. Besides the pain of not wanting to be in ‘class’ all day, the workshop was actually fairly legit. TLG contracted an education firm to facilitate the workshops. So the information was relevant and the exercises are immediately applicable. The only two criticisms I have are they need to figure a way to do this in the beginning when volunteers first arrive. Not only have the volunteers been here for months already, the school year almost over making the tools too late. And the other criticism is the instructor taught the class with an assumption that everyone had a background in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).
And obviously the best part for me was to meet the new people! Two groups had since arrived since the school year started. And out of the 40+, I had only met 2. I felt like an old man, being around these newbies. So much so that it was a little awkward being the odd man out even though I had been here much longer. But for the most part, they were open and inviting. And alcohol is the great social mixer.
Rumors run rampant about the future of the TLG program. Usually these rumors are fueled by disgruntled volunteers burnt out or ending their own contracts. The rumors usually end by concluding that the program is ending. Once we arrived, the first thing the director did was to end the rumors by stating that the program is funded for several more years. But one change was announced that saddened us all. The ‘face’ of the organization, Tamara, is leaving TLG to pursue her chosen profession. It’s one of those scenarios where you are sad for yourself, but happy for the other person. Everyone loved her. A friend from the States is joining the TLG program next school year, and I hate that she won’t know the magnetism and comfort that Tamara gave us.
After the conference decided to stay in Tbilisi for a couple of more days to catch up with friends who live there. In doing so, met some great Peace Corps friends and saw different parts of the city. The thing about Tbilisi that surprises me every time is the amount of people that speak English. Not that that is a threshold for a ‘good’ city, but it’s unexpected. In contrast, I very rarely encounter someone who speaks English where I live or the other cities on my side of Georgia. Case in point, a Georgian friend but me on a bus to get to an unfamiliar part of the city. She instructed the driver to let me off in front of a Chinese Restaurant. When we arrived to the square, several people other than the bus driver offered assistance in English- near fluent English.
A highlight of the weekend entertainment was at a bar called Lab. This is a super cool bar that pours heavy-handed. It has a great patio that overlooks the city and just a great vibe. The only problem was the DJ’s, which in my book is a HUGE problem because I always am in the mood to dance. And they had all of the markings for a great dance situation; great space and willing participants (you could just tell everyone was ready to cut loose). But the DJs never delivered. I was soo disappointed. How could a DJ miss such a great opportunity? While he was grooving obnoxiously to his own sounds, the crowd was even yelling out trying to tell him what to play. [Which reminded me of a movie clip is will post at the end.] His mixes were too slow. They were great beats from the early hip-hop era, but not danceable.
A friend who was just as frustrated as I broke down the problem, which could be taken as a example of all Georgia’s social shortcomings when it comes to being contemporary. He theorized that the DJ (and patrons of the club) has seen western clubs and dancehalls, and very much wants to emulate that. So they have the clothes, the swagger, even the equipment (he was mixing on a Mac pro with appropriate mixing boards). But they don’t know how to create the essence of a western style club. It’s like seeing a look-a-like of a celebrity. Only when they speak do you realize that it’s not the real thing… or not what it claims to be. I am not saying that a club can only be awesome if it is an America club. I have had super fun in Georgian clubs. It’s when they try to be what they are not is when the obvious disconnect comes in.
In movies you hear the phrase, “US Embassies are American soil”. Which basically means, rules and laws of the hosting foreign country does not apply. Being on the property of the Embassy is essentially the same as being in the States. It’s like a bubble. Little did I know the phrase is actually literal.
I had planned to stay at a hostel for the rest of my stay in Tbilisi. But when I met a friend who works for the State Department, he offered to let me crash at his place. This was the first time I had been to his house. I knew he was paid US wages, which meant he could entertain himself on a level I couldn’t even get near. But going to his house was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into another world…back to America.
The house enveloped me immediately in a blanket of comfort. His house was furnished with his furniture, not the bulky soviet style furniture found in every house I have been in here. Both bathrooms were totally inside the house. He had a dryer, a full sized refrigerator, and the beds were legit full sized beds (not full sized by pushing two mattresses together). Hot water all the time. Not only high speed Internet, but a server with a US signal. …and a dryer. OH! And shower curtains!
So this is what is REALLY meant by US Embassies (and workers) are American soil. I was basically ‘home’ for two days.
“And so for a time it looked as if all the adventures were coming to an end; but that was not to be.”
– C.S. Lewis
From the movie, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard