Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is Jamie Phillips. I'll be posting a new ESL-related article on my blog at the start of every month, and the carnival is always published on the 5th by that month's host. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will let you know how you can start participating!
Friendships on the road are interesting things. Everything is moving quickly, and the person who was a stranger one second survives a careening bus nearly slamming into your shared taxi the next and you are suddenly best friends! But these friendships can sometimes fade away just as quickly, when after a night of wine and deep conversation in the hostel your new friend leaves for Istanbul in the morning and you head to Yerevan. Longer term stays abroad give you more time for building friendships. They also give you more time to build up immunity to blatant staring, mistranslations, and exciting animal parts for breakfast.
My best friend when I lived in the country of Georgia is someone I'll call James. Her name isn't actually James (and she is actually a female) but the Georgians called her something like that, so we'll go with it. James and I roomed together during our teacher training, were assigned to villages not far apart, and used our little Nokia phones to talk every single day. You would think we didn't have enough news to talk every single day, but we did. Chickens fought, teachers tried to marry us off to their sons, confusion arose. She came over to my host family's house for my 23rd birthday, when we had only arrived a week before, barely spoke Georgian and had no idea how to act. We were awkward together. We went to Batumi, the city on the Black Sea coast and got hopelessly lost and still managed to have a lovely time.
James is from a small town in the northern mid-west and she's traveled almost every where. She saved cats in Guatemala and studied hallucinogenic drugs in Peru and went to math class in Germany. At least, that's how I remember the stories. James didn't take crap from nobody, and that's the kind of person you want to travel with.
We exchanged ridiculous text messages to get us through hour long supras (the toasting feasts of abundant alcohol). She took it in stride when shirtless Russian men approached us, or when she had to travel solo to meet us far in the mountains. James was a mastermind behind the great Mattress Carrying Caper. James stayed calm at all kinds of border crossings. James rejected the hands of Georgian suitors.
During my time in Georgia, I also fell head over heels for a foreign mountain man and spent the majority of my time traveling with him and James. He and I were one of those obnoxious couples, but James was always chill about it. James gave us our space without rolling her eyes and cut our hair in a hostel in Armenia. The three of us did Christmas together in Istanbul and then just James and I went on to Greece, while Mountain Man returned to wandering mountains.
We grabbed a bus into Athens and then found ourselves outside the bus stop, no Euros in our pocket and no place to exchange our money anywhere in sight. We were in the gray, asphalt wastelands of what I term the Athens Bus Desert, a place that chills the most Greek-loving soul. James remained calm and some kindly Greek people helped us.
We took photos of each other at the Parthenon and made our way to Santorini, one of the Greek Islands. We took a hundred photos from the ferry and had a small giggling, squeal fest when we were actually on the shuttle up the cliffside. And we aren't the giggly types. We reveled in our inexpensive, gloriously clean hotel room and the views of the ocean. The next day we were stranded by the unreliable island bus system, and left to walk for hours along the road until we were picked up by a nice man who spoke to us about rabbit hunting. We ate octopus by the sea. We saw waterspouts weaving through the ocean. I remember Santorini for its strange off-season abandoned feeling, the smell of the sea, and the beauty so striking it stung.
It rained during one of our walks around the island, but James was prepared with an umbrella.
James may get upset with Georgian manners and capricious children, but the only time I saw her truly angry was New Years Eve, which we celebrated in an Irish Pub in Athens with a bunch of Canadians. We followed the Canadians to a club and it was a terrible, crowded expensive place and James was angry. Rightly so, James.
We had to say goodbye the next day, I feeling sickly and exhausted, heart aching from loss of the Mountain Man, boarded a long bus to Istanbul and then Tbilisi. James prepared to travel solo to Thessaloniki where she met a Peruvian man and they got married. That last part isn't true, but I would have been only slightly shocked.
There are some people that come to define a time in your life. James was my person for my four months in the Caucuses. We drank wine in chilly nights in the mountains, stayed in countless hostels together, and forgave each other for lack of showering. James rapped Kanye's "Gold Digger" in the streets of Yerevan around midnight. It was oddly inspiring.
Mountain Man came and went in my life, but it's James who I still send weird articles to about Georgia. And when I think of those months in the villages, I see myself walking down my town's main road, kicking up leaves and hoping a dog doesn't chase me, talking on my little Nokia phone to James. We were probably discussing our scores on the Snake game or planning our next trip. We were also likely complaining about strange food, cold bedrooms, and tummy troubles. I miss those days.