We had spent an entire week together in the cavernous Bazaleti Hotel on the fringe of Tbilisi, doing our training during the day and some sightseeing in the evening. Just as we, group 43, began to really grow as friends it was all over, the week had ended and it was time to be dispersed to all corners of Georgia.
I had gone out the night before with a small group, had some thick Turkish coffee on the patio of a pedestrian cobblestone street near the Peace Bridge - doing its best impression of a maxi-pad, and decided to meet up with more people from our group who were a few blocks away at a divey ex-pat bar located underneath an overpass. Dignified, casual and responsible drinking ensued, though someone in our group fell ill sometime during the night, my best guess is sudden onset liquid food poisoning, after grinding with a Hungarian girl for three straight hours and ultimately vomited all over a back room in the bar. It was a real pleasure carrying him across Tbilisi, back to our hotel. After we had all awoke at the hotel the next morning, stories from the night before swept across the dining room which was uncharacteristically vacant of English teachers, likely all coming down with similar stomach issues. The two gentlemen sharing the room next to me had quite the story to tell, though it wouldn't be appropriate of me to discuss here. I will only say it was set in a gentleman's club with two of the quietest members of our group; it involved bouncers, hand guns, extortion, and someone evacuating their bowels in bed. I shit you not.
We gathered downstairs and piled our bags in clumps around the lobby, segregated from the local host families who were here to pick us up and take us away: it was the closest I would ever get to feeling like I was a part of a slave trade, my heavy bags hanging off me like shackles, parading around the lobby waiting for the bidding to start. I however, had conditions, I didn't want to be the very first name called to meet in the middle room with everyone watching because I wanted to see how everyone else greeted their new families and I preferred I didn't have the crossed eyed guy that looked as though his nose had been broken the previous night by size thirteen boot. As we gathered around, the group awarded Tamara, our training coordinator and hostess, a bottle of wine (who was a local celebrity for winning the first and last Georgian Survivor set in Malaysia) and my name was instantly called. Like a bolt of lightning, I was in the middle of the room meeting my new principal and just as quickly was gone again managing only a quick wave to my new friends. I was in a haze, everyone clapped vigorously as I left and I broke my sunglasses struggling with my heap of bags, we burst through the lobby doors into the bright sunlight toward a cab. I didn't fully grasp until then that Paul, another teacher from the group, was crawling into the same cab, as his principal from a nearby village to mine had picked him up too. Neither principal spoke a word of English.
My bags had been torn out of my hand just before Paul and I got into the taxi, and I could only assume they were put into the trunk as shaking hands were thrown in my face and a wave of kartuli flooded my ear canals every time I tried to check that my bags were in-fact coming with me. The beaten soviet car shook like mad in protest, the well-old shocks screeched as I sensed my belongings being smashed with every ounce of energy the two principals had to make it all fit into the trunk until the hatch finally closed and the screaming car settled down again. Then a backpack came flying through the doorway onto my lap accompanied by more hand waving and kartuli. We had just exited the Bazaleti Hotel, everything was pure chaos and nothing felt familiar anymore, I was in a strange new land now that the protection of western amenities and English speaking locals had vanished. I was in the shit. On the main streets of Tbilisi we followed the grey waters of the Mtkvari River and it was the assumed goal of our taxi driver to give his all in an attempt to break the land-speed record in a tattered soviet shit box held together by nothing but scrap metal and pure ingenuity. He swerved through traffic imitating the climax of a Hollywood action movie, banging the horn without a pattern, and scared Paul and I to death. I looked over to my principal who sat beside me and she looked as though she was fighting just to stay awake. Oh ya right, what a bore, I thought. We drove to the opposite end of the long, narrow capital city to what had the potential to be a refugee camp, but was apparently the city's bus station. The male principal - Paul's, jumped out of the cab, threw some money on the seat he just vacated, argued or had a jovial conversation (not sure which) with the driver for a moment before we repeated the madness of entering the taxi to now entering a marshrutka, or mini-bus. I hopped out of the car and was instantly hit in the face with an overwhelming waft of wet, hot fart. My time in Bangkok years before trained me well for such an experience and I even slightly relished in its wretchedness. My bags were already gone. I looked at the trunk and positioned my arms in a V shape with palms facing the sky, cocked my head slightly to the side and looked confused. Cue the waving hands and rush of kartuli. This was the point I just gave up; my freedom was gone. On the marshrutka, Paul and I did our best to communicate with our respective principals, but needed a wider range of motion to gesture and flap our hands than the very back of an overstuffed marshrutka. I looked over at Paul and blurted, “It feels like we were just kidnapped.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”