I was just reflecting on the two polar opposite days I had. The best and worst of working at an NGO in Georgia. Here’s how it went down.
Got up early, wasn’t even too tired. Had a nice little breakfast of a hardboiled egg on bread and a tangerine, and good coffee with milk and sugar, just the way I like it. Called a shared taxi to go to Tbilisi, speaking Georgian of course, and did not struggle with the woman who answered the phone. I understood her, and she understood me, and the cab came in just the right amount of time. When I went outside, it was not too cold and the sky was a beautiful, pale blue. I climbed in the taxi and to what I can only characterize as my utter amazement and disbelief, Nina Simone was playing on the radio. Not throbbing Europop, not hoarse Russian rock, not Georgian folk songs – Nina. Singing “It’s a New Day.” So, well, that was nice. I listened to that until the song was over. Then a Russian rock band began to shriek and the world returned to its usual shape. I popped my iPod in to block the bellowing and arrived in Tbilisi on time, and the taxi driver didn’t even go over 140 km/hr.
When I arrived at the office, I had another conversation in Georgian about an upcoming training with a program manager, pretty halting on my part, but I was so amused when I turned to the Irish volunteer who works at the next desk and asked if he wanted to come too. He said “Come where? I couldn’t understand your conversation, it was in Georgian.” Oh, haha, I actually was perceived as speaking Georgian, though not by my Georgian colleague I am sure.
Off to a meeting with Jumpstart, a really interesting NGO – here’s their mission statement:
JumpStart Georgia is a registered non-governmental organization which applies open-source technologies to open up public data and shed light on issues of social importance.
JumpStart Georgia seeks to translate complex issues into a language a wider audience can understand and use to participate in fact-based discussions and ultimately make more informed decisions.
If anyone is interested, here’s their english website: http://www.jumpstart.ge/en. So, Jumpstart did some work for CHCA, and we were there to discuss revisions, uses for the piece, fundraising logistics/planning, etc. Good stuff. Then on to lunch with Eka, the Executive Director of CHCA. As always, we had a good conversation – honest, incisive, and informative. After lunch, we went back to the office where we met with Sophiko, our communications person, to discuss the final production of the annual report. She will be coordinating the photography and logistics on the ground in Tbilisi, and I am so grateful to be working with her! We went over all the stories, the photos, what’s needed and what has been secured … excellent meeting.
I walked back down the long hill to the Metro stop, past bakeries, vegetable stands, small flower shops, toy shops, stationary shops, pharmacies … everything all on the one street, interspersed with large banks, offices and schools, all at street level with tall apartments above, balconies hung with laundry. I made my way back to Didube, the central marshutka/bus/taxi station for all points west. The metro was incredibly crowded, everyone pushed and elbowed, but somehow I’ve gotten used to it. I watched a deaf couple laughing and signing to each other, shoved so close that their forearms were perpendicular to their upper arms the whole time, yet somehow they managed to be pretty expressive. Found a taxi and snoozed all the way back home … and the taxi driver, who was very polite, drove me right to my door, and moreover, understood every word I said and did not even ask if anyone else in the car spoke English. Nor did he speak Russian to me. We just had a normal conversational exchange. Of course, I’ve gotten pretty good at speaking Georgian (a) in taxis, (b) at the store/buying food at the bazaar, and (c) talking about the weather. Everything else is a stretch, but still … I enjoy those small moments.
Woke up tired. Ran out of milk for my coffee. It was pretty cold outside, and cloudy. None of this was enough to really depress my mood as I strolled to work, but I was beginning to feel the pressure of having a lot of work and not too much time. I am working on a giant grant, potentially worth as much as a quarter of a million dollars, and because I found out about it quite late, I’m really under the gun. The grant is due on the same day as a day-long photography workshop for Gori NGO’s. I thought of this idea in response to the photos that were submitted to me for our annual report – I could see that some training would be very helpful. I called a fellow PCV, Alan Luan, who is a supremely talented photographer, and asked if he’d like to partner on the project. He immediately and enthusiastically agreed (and also agreed to help take some new photos for our annual report, thank you Alan!). At the time, I didn’t know that these two deadlines would collide on February 17th.
When I got to work, some of my worst fears were realized. Without going into any detail, suffice it to say that it may be that, even with a lot of weekend work, it’s possible I will not be able to finish this grant application in time due to circumstances completely outside of my control. Naturally, I find this situation extremely frustrating. It’s a really great project, it’s really a lot of money, and I really want to do a good job on it. But time is running out, and communication is challenging. Here’s where life in L.A. and Gori really diverge. In L.A, situations like this did occur sometimes. But when they did, I hired temps, I pulled help from our San Francisco office, I called in favors, I accessed relationships … I did what I had to do, and things got done, always. I had to work long hours and felt a lot of stress, yes, but I was almost never on my own. Here, it’s a whole different story. I don’t speak the language fluently, I don’t know the culture intimately, I don’t have relationships to call on, and I am the low woman on the totem pole. It’s an adjustment.
After work, still not knowing whether the situation would be resolved or not (note: since it’s now the day after the deadline, I can report that it did get resolved, the grant got submitted, and the photography workshop went well – more on this in another post), I walked home through a very cold rain, getting soaked in the process since I had forgotten to bring my umbrella. After climbing 5 flights up in the dark, I was so grateful to be home. I changed into dry clothes, set up my laptop, turned on some music … and the electricity went out. This is not that unusual, and it’s usually back on within 15 or 20 minutes, but this night … no. It was off the rest of the night. That meant no heat (the gas heater lights on a spark, and I had not turned it on yet), no water (runs on an electric pump), no internet, no music, no lights … sigh … I considered trying to knit by candlelight, abandoned that idea, and went to bed where I was reasonably warm and read my Kindle, until it ran out of power. Which was about an hour. So, at 8:30 pm, I went to sleep. Guess I needed it, because I slept straight through to the next morning, when I got up and did it all over again. At least the power was back on. 🙂
I feel a little guilty for not providing any photos in this post – so here’s the flyer, in Georgian, for the photography workshop we put on. Photo by Alan, of course – click on it to see better.
So this was just a description of how things can go, 2 days, 2 very different experiences, both very much part of life here. I savor the good moments and just get through the bad. In that way, not so different from home.