The Big Day(s), aka “I am completely overwhelmed”

As the big day approached, my level of anxiety approached stratospheric levels. On one day I would receive (a) my mid-training language score, (b) my permanent work assignment, (c) my permanent host family assignment, and (d) figure out where I would be going, and with whom, to Tbilisi next week. The last one paled against the rest, particularly (b) and (c)! OK – as most of you dedicated blog followers (all 11 of you) know, having seen my FB posts, I received an excellent assignment, and did not utterly humiliate myself language-wise. I will write more about this in another post. For today, I’m just going to tell the story of how the Peace Corps Georgia made all these announcements.

Language test first. The test was about 20 minutes of conversation with a native Georgian, speaking at normal conversational speed. In other words, close to incomprehensible. Nonetheless, I tested at “beginner intermediate plus.” The highest anyone went on this test (that I heard about) was “beginner advanced plus,” with most people testing at my level or “beginner advanced.” So while I didn’t do as well as I would have wished, I did ok – considering my advanced age – I guess. They gave us our scores in envelopes with comments from our tester. Mine mainly said I need to speak in more complete sentences, and pointed out two occasions where I used the wrong verb, and I mean really, really wrong. When I read what I said I was dumbstruck. I mean, why would I use the word for “to live” instead of “to read?” They don’t even sound anything alike! Arghhhhhh!

OK, ok … onward. Next stressful experience. We all troop downstairs to the playground (read asphalt jungle), where PC staff has laid out a roped outline of Georgia, with all the assignment sites in their approximate place on slips of paper held down with rocks. We all stood in a circle around the map and were handed envelopes containing another volunteer’s information. One person volunteered to start and read … my name! I was the very first to be called. When the word Gori was called, I nearly wept with relief and happiness. Gori is a pretty cool city, about 50,000, close to dead center of the country – yes, birthplace of Stalin for those of you prone to google things, save yourself the time. I’ll be working with a great organization called “Charity Humanitarian Centre Abkahazeti” or CHCA. Their mission is as follows: “Charity Humanitarian Center Abkhazeti, established in 1995, is a Georgian, non-governmental, non-profit organization. Our mission is to increase the role of individuals and communities in building civil society and strengthening democracy and to improve the social and economic conditions of internally displaced and other vulnerable populations through building capacity and increasing self-reliance.”

Then I read my envelope, which was for my fellow clustermate Patrick, sadly he was in Tbilisi due to an illness (since fully recovered), so our Deputy Director stood in for him and he listened on someone’s cellphone. This process went on and on, and I ran around taking photos to send to everyone later until I was warned that I was leaving my site without permission, ha-ha. In the end, four people were selected to work in Gori – 1 teacher, and 3 nonprofit organizational volunteers. These are great people and I’m very happy to be serving in the same city with them.

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Holding my assignment envelope and grinning widely

The Mighty Gori 4 = l-r, Kate Schwenk, Rachel Blair, Russell Pereira and me

The Mighty Gori 4 = l-r, Kate Schwenk, Rachel Blair, Russell Pereira and me

So I felt like I lost 20 pounds when this was all finished, sadly that was purely metaphorical, but still ….

The very next day we all climbed into martshukas and drove about an hour to Bazaleti, the same place we were for orientation 7 weeks ago. This time, though, we were at a very nice hotel, where we all took hot showers at once as soon as we checked in. Then – stressful event #3 – we were “introduced” to our new supervisors. I put “introduce” in quotes because I wouldn’t really describe it exactly that way. What happened was that all the new supervisors were lined up along a long walkway, and we were lined up opposite them. Names were called by region. Each party came forward, and in front of all 300+ people, greeted each other and met for the first time. This is how we were introduced to our host families when we arrived in Khashuri. We were warned back then to “go right” to perform the traditional cheek kissing demanded of all Georgians at every single greeting (especially men – very interesting), but of course there were multiple collisions. This time I’d say we were all a lot more accomplished and no head stitches were needed.

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OK, you get the picture, literally. Lots of kissing and hugging between strangers with hundreds of people looking on. Oh, that’s not stressful at all!

I was one of the very last this time. My heart was beating so fast I was worried about passing out, but out steps this elegant, beautiful young woman, who speaks to me in impeccable English and gives me a heartfelt smile. Another 20 metaphorical pounds lost. Eka and I spent the entire evening talking. We were the very last to leave the dining room, hours after everyone else, as she went over the organization’s history, mission, programs, and challenges. I’ll write more about this later, suffice it to say I was completely captivated.

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At the end of the evening, I returned to my hotel room, head spinning with all the information I was assimilating, and was greeted by a scene of excited PC volunteers partying, playing pool, and generally having fun. I’ll end this overly long post with an image that I think says it all, in an odd way. Make of it what you will, just remember – it was a very stressful couple of days! Next post will be about my trip to Gori,meeting my new host family, working with my new co-workers, and visiting an IDP camp where CHCA runs some really innovative programs.

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