A Travellerspoint blog

The Last Night

...in Tbilisi

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, β€œIt feels like we were just kidnapped.”
β€œI was just thinking the same thing.”

Posted by CRBackman 06:41 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

The First Taste

Intitial thoughts on Tbilisi

sunny 40 °C

Georgia is definitely a country in transition. This metamorphosis is most obvious through its architecture, from soviet or even post-soviet apartment complexes (that the locals jokingly and almost bitterly refer to as "Commie Flats") which sit directly beside a hyper-modern glass and steel government building (to metaphor the transparency of the police/judicial system). Thinking about it, it's very exciting being apart of such massive and swift socio-economic and cultural change; as if we're really helping to redirect an entire nation seeking to legitimize itself as a productive and cooperative European state.

The travel experience, like the locals, is genuine. There are glaring cultural differences, but if this is something that disappoints you, you're not a traveler and most certainly ethnocentric and shouldn't be globetrotting. Another juxtaposition, like Georgia's eagerness to place new buildings beside ancient structures, is the contrast between their unbelievably warm embrace of visitors, and the cultural norm to just not warmly smile at strangers in public, even in reciprocation. Georgians, despite their gruff appearance, consider a guest as a gift from god. Before any intercultural orientation classes, I spent two days walking around Tbilisi, excitedly, positively and confidently smiling at the hordes of local men who were stuck staring at the gang of foreign English teachers. My best guess is, their jobs entail them to crouch curbside, eat sunflower seeds and play backgammon for hours at a time under the shade of a tortured citrus tree. This is a common occurrence on many street corners. Women are not invited to play 17 hour games of backgammon during the work week. Smiling, I found out later, shows your sexual interest to members of the opposite sex. This would mean I had spent two entire days metaphorically/cross-culturally dry humping everyone from the ages of seventeen to nearly dead. I also came to understand that this blatant act of public sexiness is very much frowned upon by the unmarried girls "natghia" or godfather, who is inclined to assemble the troops, hunt you down, and give you a vigorous Turkish massage, inciting unstoppable tears, until you die of dehydration. Which is difficult because you're in a bathhouse, which is full of water. I did, upon retrospect, get some pretty sheepish and toothless smiles returned to me.

While out and about, hitting on the elderly of Tbilisi, I managed to see some of the sights of this amazing city. Sulfur baths dotted the road on the way to Old town, where they've placed a cable car from the ground to the clifftop near an old fortress, where the original city centre of Georgia was established. I took the stairs like an idiot, told after that it cost a measly one lari, less than one dollar. At the top stands a busty silver painted Mother Georgia statue who also neglects to smile, with one hand holding a cup of wine to greet her guests, and in the other hand, extending across her belly, is a sword to greet her enemies. I guess she was hungover and sleeping-in when Russia so rudely annexed the city. Construction is ev erywhere to recreate the same architecture of Old town but with new brick and mortar construction. It's simply a fantastic privilege to wander the narrow streets of such a storied city. I will always treasure the picture of a rudimentary fountain and a stray dog to remind me of the city. I'll have to go back with a charged camera soon. What's better than walking for three hours in forty degrees? Doing it all over again.

damshvidobeba!

Posted by CRBackman 13:35 Archived in Georgia Comments (2)

The Application

How it all happened.

storm 22 °C

I finished only my second year of a degree in Education that, hopefully upon completion, will get me to teach overseas as an English and/or Physical Education teacher. My wife took a position (a great step up the corporate ladder) in the city and we were living apart until I was finished exams and moved our apartment over to meet her five months later. Living apart wasn't optimal, but we managed just fine; I learned how to take care of myself like a real adult and she relished in the quiet of a husbandless lifestyle. I also got to eat breakfast for dinner, hang my towel on the floor and wear pants as little as possible, with or without guests present.

When hearing we were having to live apart due to Jennie's new job, the reaction from people exclusively focused on the negative. It wasn't easy, but there weren't any difficulties that didn't provide positive results in the end. An example of this would be: I was essentially a single father of a bratty two year old Rhodesian Ridgeback/German Shepherd cross when Jennie left for work, but what came from being the only caretaker and disciplinarian of a difficult mutt was a wonderful bond between a guy and his dog, the likes of which you see in the movies, and the mutual understanding that some habits would not be broken - she would continure being a shithead, and I would learn to deal, probably without pants on.

IMG_0423.jpg

When Cairo and I did meet up with Jennie in the city, our rent had doubled and the size of our place quartered. Essentially it was (and unsurprisingly still is) a kitchenette hotel room, but instead of a weekend bag filling the space, we brought every f*@#ing thing we owned. C'est la vie. That's life in the city anyways.

Finding summer employment, which had never really been that difficult, proved to be more of a challenge. I cast out hundreds of resumes in various capacities and mediums only to get nibbles from greasy Persians in mostly empty warehouse offices save for a single leather couch and a floor lamp that sat in the middle of the room. I started to think maybe there was Craigslist slang I didn't know about or understand, and when I thought I was applying for manual labour positions maybe I was really applying for low budget porn. It would've made for a great phone call to check my references though.
"Hard worker but tends to go soft near the end of his shift."
I didn't get any call-backs.

While I was searching for local work, I spent some time researching my new school and my potential career path when I stumbled across a position in the Republic of Georgia that at least seemed plausible enough to get acceptance - with my current credentials. I was having no luck finding regular work at this point and figured signing up for Georgia wouldn't hurt anything, besides, I wasn't confident I had any luck on my side for this to work out. I sent in the application and was a bit surprised when I received an email for a phone interview. After the interview, however, I had great confidence it was all going to happen. This is, of course, when I happened to find some solid employment. I didn't hear anything about Georgia for a few weeks, and although it was always in the back of my mind, I was beginning to forget about it as a real possibility, but while I was visiting my parents on a string of days off my phone buzzed alerting me of an email. I recognized the address as the recruiting agency and the subject line simply read "Congratulations!".

Wow, this is actually going to happen. I was stunned with both equal parts excitement and anxiety.

How the f@*$ does one teach English? Stop swearing would be a good start.

Posted by CRBackman 18:46 Archived in Canada Tagged georgia teaching georgian work_and_travel esl republic_of_georgia Comments (1)

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