I’ve been oddly unmotivated to post blog entries or FB status updates during this first phase of training,or even take many photos, though I’ve been following others’ … not sure why, maybe I’ve just been preoccupied with all of the information being crammed into my head all day long for the last 4 days, plus a healthy case of jet lag. To wit – I’ve been up since 4:30 am, so I might as well take this opportunity, probably the last for a while, to chronicle what’s been going on, and what’s to come.
I doubt anyone is interested in the details of my trip here. Suffice it to say it was long … very long … and involved flying to D.C., flying to Munich, spending 9 hours in the Munich airport, flying to Tbilisi, arriving at 3:30 am local time, being greeted by a screaming mob of current Peace Corps volunteers, who seemed unaccountably happy to see us, and then about an hour-long ride through a very dark Tbilisi to our temporary orientation center home – Bazaleti.
With only a short pause of a couple of hours for napping/unpacking etc, we then plunged into 4 days of orientation. By “we” I mean 56 volunteers. Mostly in their early 20’s, a very young group. There are two women in their 70’s, a guy in his 40’s, a few 30-somethings … but that’s about it. Ethnically, no African-American’s, but every other race is represented. About 50/50 male/female. Not a huge number of people from the South, though a fair number of Floridians, and no one from Chicago. Lots of SoCal volunteers!
Orientation has focused on health and safety issues – food, emergency evacuation contingency plans (extremely thorough), water, vaccinations (I need a lot, apparently – tetnus, hepatitis, rabies, typhus … sigh …) – and language. I’m finding that I understand everything being taught pretty well, not lost in class, able to write the alphabet fine, but, predictably, I’m finding it challenging to speak and remember vocabulary. I hope that with time this will become less of a challenge.
The training center is just like a dorm, and we’ve been ensconced here pretty much 24/7. We did get out for a walk the other night, to a local village store, where I bought some laundry powder and managed to mime washing my face and hands sufficiently to get a bar of soap too.
This walk was my first real exposure to the Georgian countryside, since we arrived in the dark. To me, it looks exactly as I expected – very Eastern European, somehow, even though a lot of people think of Georgia as being in Asia. It’s really at the crossroads of both regions. The landscape looks a lot like photos I’ve seen of places like Poland and Lithuania.
The fields stretching out to the mountains can be alluring, and makes me want to see more ….
Which I will, starting today. We are all packed up and ready to leave the relative luxury of our nest, as we find out our “clusters” ( 5 or 6 volunteers to a study group) and leave for Kashuri to meet our host families and find out where we will be living for the next 10 weeks. Each cluster will be posted to a nearby village, or Kashuri itself (a relatively small town, population 28,500 according to Wikipedia). Kashuri is in Central Georgia, and quite close to the “conflict zone” of South Ossetia (in purple – Kashuri is right below it on the western side). There’s a buffer zone around the area that we are not allowed to enter, let alone South Ossetia itself, and we were warned to carefully check villages where our families might want to take us for a picnic or visit with relatives to be sure it is not located within the buffer. Hmmmmm, interesting.
One of the more riveting parts of the training was the blow-by-blow accounting of how volunteers were evacuated during the 2008 war. The safety coordinator, an extremely competent young Georgian woman who looks startlingly like Reese Witherspoon, described the events to us, including the bombings, in a lot of detail. In one way it was quite reassuring, as all volunteers (over 100) got out into Armenia in a very organized and well-planned way, but in another it was quite something to realize that peoples’ lives were actually in real danger.
So, I’ve learned a lot, eaten a huge number of carbohydrates, brushed my teeth with bottled water, taken a shower from a showerhead mounted in the middle of the ceiling with no stall, and learned that Georgians like to drink … a lot. This will be a major challenge for some of the men, but it appears women do not drink at the same level and are not expected to do so, for which I am grateful. I’m also grateful to be older, because it seems the younger women are going to be in for some serious sexual harassment. We all received a small card with lots of phrases to use, such as “you are a disgrace to your country,” “take your hands off me,” and “help!” I have a lot of confidence that my fellow female PCV’s, who seem overall to be quite a self-confident and capable bunch of young women, will handle these situations with aplomb.
One last note, it seems that wireless access in Kashuri is up in the air, so to speak. Our host families may have it, or may not. There may be internet cafes, or not. We may have time to post blog entries … or not. We hear that PST, as it’s known (pre-service training) is extremely intense. I am really anticipating getting out into the real Georgia, but I will admit I am also quite apprehensive. It’s been a long, long time since I lived with a large family or in an environment that involves outhouses and limited showering – especially in the summer, which is hot, I could be pretty miserable. I’m hoping I end up in an environment that will acccomodate that, but if not, well I’ll just have to adjust. So, I’ll be reporting on all that at a later date … for now, მშვიდობით (mishvidobit) – goodbye!