Sunday, October 2, 2011

TLG Orientation Day 1

 Our hotel and home during orientation

This is my first week in Georgia, and we have a one week orientation before we are sent to a school to teach. We got to our hotel in Tbilisi last night around 5 pm and I was able to call home and tell everyone I had arrived safely. Just 2 hours later we had our first orientation meeting. We were late, too, because we had no idea what time it was and we thought we were an hour behind the actual time.

At our first orientation meeting we learned all about transportation and safety here. We’ve been told to beware of driving in taxis alone, crossing streets, stray dogs and gypsies. Overall, though, they tell us that the crime rate is not very high here and it’s fairly safe to go around town. Today we went out for a few hours, my roommate at the hotel and I, and we certainly noticed police and security everywhere around the city. We also found that there are many underground passes to cross the streets since it seems a little suicidal to cross the streets in some places.

TLG (Teach and Learn Georgia, the program I’m with) takes in volunteers every two weeks but this group starting with me is the biggest they’ve had yet, 102 of us. It’s a little hard to get to know 102 people. We’re all here alone and want to meet friends, but it’s hard to get to know people when there’s so many of us. Fortunately, on our flight there were only 6 of us and we’ve more or less been sticking together.

First thing was our medical check. This was super easy. Despite the austere appearance of the clinic on the first floor of an old apartment building, it still had little touches of modernity/ cleanliness that I did not have for my medical checks in Korea. Like covers for the urine sample and a real toilet instead of a squat toilet… Though the vials of blood taken didn’t have covers on them. I guess they’re not exactly going to get contaminated with HIV or Hep from the air… Just would hate to be the one who drops that test tube rack by accident…

Freedom Square

Then, after we got back from the clinic, two of us went out to explore the town for a few hours. First we decided to walk, but after a while we realized that the sidewalk sort of disappeared and the street looked more and more highway like. So, all we could do was to get into a taxi. But, though we had decided we were going to Freedom Square (the only landmark we had heard of) we had no idea what this was in Georgian. Serendipitously, on a street sign just in front of us, there was a sign, written in both English and Georgian that pointed the way to the square. I tried my best to copy it as it looked on to paper before getting into a cab. We got into the cab and showed him the paper… the taxi driver scratched his head a bit and asked… “airport?”. Oh boy, looking at it again, I realized that I had miscopied the first letter since the sign had been far away. I fixed the letter and he said.. “ahh! Hfjojveoxozdjo” or something else we couldn’t understand, but we figured that was probably better than the airport, so we said yes, and all of a sudden he drove off. We almost took off before asking the price, but we remembered and I busted out the only Georgian I learned before leaving “sami?” (three). And he kind of laughed and took off. I assumed that meant OK.

We got there in one piece, driving in Georgia is a bit interesting, since things like lanes and rules and respect for other drivers don’t seem too important. We were also looking for a speed limit sign, but couldn’t find one of those either. They must have a speed limit.. right?

Singers at the festival

Once in the square, we didn’t really know what we were going to do. But after walking around for a few minutes, we found a crowd of people and went over to check out what was going on. Apparently it was some kind of music performance. We stuck around for a few songs and we were impressed with the singers and it was interesting to get a taste of Georgian music… or at least what we assume is Georgian music.

Beautiful, crumbling house
From there we walked around and saw a bakery where we proceeded to pick up a few snacks. One baklava and one cream puff later, we continued on our aimless journey and found a church, a park and eventually an outdoor flea market.

Cream Puff and Baklava from local bakery

 Statue in the park

The flea market was tons of fun. For those of you who read the blog, you must know I’m a sucker for markets and old things. Everything from dishes, cameras, war metals, Persian rugs, and swords were there on sale, and the market just continued from one road down the next on both sides of the street. Then when we thought we had found the end of the market, we discovered that the park on the other side had been converted into a giant art market and we went out and checked out all the beautiful art for sale as well. I'll make a separate post with photos for this, since I took quite a few.

Flea Market

After that it was time to head back to the hotel for lunch. The meal times are rather interesting. Breakfast is served at our hotel from 8-11, then lunch from 3-5 then dinner from 8-10. I’m not sure yet if this is just a hotel thing or a Georgian thing but I guess we’ll find out. Every meal so far has included bread and cheese along with another dish. We’ve had pasta three times now in four meals, including for breakfast. They also offered breakfast cereals with dinner, but not with lunch. It’s hard to say if these are normal yet, or if they are trying to be accommodating for us westerners or what, but they are certainly interesting. 

Finally it was time for our evening meeting. We learned a bit more about the program and we got our cell phones, which are provided by TLG and are free to use if you're calling someone else from TLG. We're now all sporting Nokia 1280s which are basically a newer model of the super basic Nokias everyone used to walk around with in 2000. I even had to manually set the time and date.

Nokia 1280, our phone

Tomorrow, the real orientation begins, first with an info session for an hour in the morning, followed by 2 hours of a Georgian language class followed by lunch then intercultural training and finally dinner at 8:00 in the evening. Not much time for play and we've been banned from drinking for the entire orientation week (seemingly because of people who have caused problems in the past). Not that they can really enforce this rule, but we aren't quite ready to test them yet.

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