Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Days of Being Independent in Batumi

City names hold magic for me. So do non-urban areas of course - the Amazon, the Andes, Yosemite.... but maybe because I chose to go to school in Washington, DC instead of at a tiny hippie school on an organic farm (which did accept me, I'd like to add), I've become a city girl. A city girl who still needs her daily dose of nature and spends a lot of time in gardens. Maybe if I had worked on that farm I would be a granola/nature girl who now and then needs a dose of city.

One of my long time goals was to hang out in foreign cities in adorable cafes, with people from all over the world, and speak on intellectual and artistic subjects. Prospero's Books in Tbilisi helped me accomplish this, although we mostly talked about how much sugar is in their milkshakes. 

The city names that entice me lately are Tbilisi, Istanbul, Yerevan and Batumi. (The Caucasus Mountains also entice, of course!)  I made it to Batumi, a city along the Black Sea and near the Turkish border, this past weekend and it was a wonderful and much needed little holiday.  Batumi is adorable, with old pastel-painted homes that have laundry hanging on their balconies and new, elegant architecture projects around every corner. Of course, some parts are kitschy and touristy, but not nearly as bad as beach towns in the US. The air is humid and salty, ice cream plentiful, and all of your fellow tourists are ready to have a good time. 

And it looks like Disney World

Oh hey there, Turkey!

I was obsessed with all the little balconies

I kind of love hostels. I probably won't when I'm a few years older/a few hostels deepr. 

I swam in the Black Sea and made rock gardens (no sand, so this was our alternative to sand castles) and didn't sleep nearly enough. But the two most refreshing things was having a few days being an adult and being with "my people".

By my people I don't mean the fellow teachers from my program, although it was lovely to see all of them. And I don't mean Americans, especially since our group was primarily from the UK, South Africa, Canada and other parts of the Anglo-sphere. I mean people who come from the same context. They share some similar experiences and mindset and you feel completely comfortable with them. They don't have to be from the same place, or even speak the same language (I've found some of "my people" in Peru!), although here in Georgia, it is lovely to hear English! The people I found in Batumi were fellow travelers. Other teachers, Fulbright researchers, students, or long-term adventurers. We ran into some Estonians at a bar and they became our people too - we swapped funny phrases and national anthems late into the night. Since I now live in a town where very few (if any) people have left the country, and find it strange to travel without your family, and find me strange for coming here alone, it was fantastic to meet a woman on her fifth month of a solo ten months around-the-world trip. It was great to share funny host family and travel stories, hear about people's research and encourage each other through the awkward times.

(Break: a turkey just ran by with an entire khinkali (meat dumpling) in its mouth, chased by a bunch of chickens. Who shall survive the blood bath of the kitchen scraps!?)

And being an adult was nice too. I am always treated kindly and respectfully in my town, but I'm also kind of a 5 year old. I don't speak the language, no one really speaks English, and there's no public transportation for me to get around on my own. Also, old ladies pinch my cheeks. In Batumi, it being a go-to vacation spot, there was enough English for us to get by. The city is walkable and we grabbed marshutkas for long distances. My friend and I went to a fancy Italian restaurant, had salad (salad!) "the best pizza in Georgia" according to a long-term expat, and a bottle of wine. No one told me to eat more. No one rubbed my face or tried to help me pay. For three days I was independent, and after two weeks of living on other people's schedules, it was amazing.

Of course, I could not have actually arrived in Batumi, or returned home, without the help of fellow travelers and kind Georgians. I had to explain to my host mom that I was going with a friend, meeting friends in Tbilisi and yet more friends in Batumi before she stopped looking so concerned.

My host dad dropped me and a friend off at the marshutka stop and sternly told the young Georgian couple in front of us to make sure we got on the metro to get where we needed to be. My dad is very large and pretty terrifying looking and the poor, frightened Georgians hurriedly complied. Some English speaking tourists also jumped on our marshutka. I have never seen another foreigner in Sagarejo and we all had a pleasant surprise after some startled staring at each other. In Tbilisi the Georgians kindly led us to the metro stop, the fellow tourists showed us how to get a metro card, and we survived our first Georgian metro ride. It has extremely fast escalators, like in Kiev, which I enjoyed.

My Tbilisi friends wined and dined with us and then taxied us right to our train station. In our cabin (overnight train) was a Kazakhstani girl who interned for the US Embassy in Tbilisi and spoke English! The coincidence!

On the way home, kind marshutka people explained how much to pay, made the marshutka wait when I ran to the bathroom, and helped me get a taxi when I missed my stop. (That was the school director of a village not far from mine. Of course, very soon my friend's host mom knew, and then my host mom knew, and now probably everyone knows I don't know how to ride a marshutka. What can you do?)
It was all a good reminder that my stay here depends a lot on the kindness and welcoming arms of others.

After a full day of uncomfortable marshutka riding, it was lovely to get home. My younger host brothers attacked me with hugs, I think trying to outdo each other with the strength (and violence) of their affection, and my jaw still hurts from where one practically head butted me.

I'm ready to start teaching, but the Batumi trip also fired up my travel bug again. Where to next? Kazbegi, Svaneti, somewhere in the mountains I'm thinking. Georgia has so many nooks and crannies to discover it's almost driving me to distraction. Caucuses, here I come!

1 comment:

  1. It is wonderful how the traveling came together with help from various folks along the way. It is nice to hear that your host dad is large and intimidating! haha