So I’ve never written a blog before, but I’m hoping that won’t be an impediment to my doing so now.
I’m not sure exactly where to start on this one, so I’ll begin by saying that I’ve been interested in the Caucasus, and especially Georgia, for some years now. I suppose this all stemmed from my interest in Stalin–terrible man that he is. Gradually I began to take a greater interest in Georgia and the Caucasus. As an undergraduate at Georgetown I wrote a pseudo-thesis on the Iranian Crisis of 1946 wherein Iranian Azeris were encouraged to break away from Iran by Stalin and the Red Army. My Masters thesis analyzed the Armenian Question after World War One and why American considered and rejected taking a League of Nations Mandate over Armenia. Too esoteric? Let’s try a new approach shall we?
This spring, I decided to go to Georgia for Spring Break–a classic destination, I know. I booked tickets and began asking my friends if they’d like to travel with me. A common response was, “Sure, but why Georgia?” I’d go on a rant like the paragraph above and inevitably they’d bow out once the realized I was not referring to the Peach State. Kudos to Jay Troop for diving right in anyway and joining my on a ten-day jaunt through the Republic of Georgia in March!
Upon returning, my professors at Stanford all began forwarding me information about this language-teaching program in Georgia: Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG). Apparently it was run by the Georgian government. Now, my dad being the worrisome lawyer that he is, questioned the program’s legitimacy. He made sure I asked other professors and contacts about it and none seemed to have heard of it. I showed dad the website, and he was mildly reassured by the .gov.ge domain and the official look of it, but he still seemed dubious.
As the summer progressed, I became unsure of it myself. I sent in my forms and my drug/disease tests (Pleased to announce I passed them all!) but remained wary as communication from the program remained scanty. One day, I received a phone call from “David and Maia at the Georgian Ministry of Education,” which sounded very official. I began to trust them!
After my invitation to participate in the program I heard nothing from them again for a month. Upon request they told me they would buy my plane ticket for my arrival on the 15th of August. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give me flight information until the 11th, they said.
Days went by and I worried some more. My dad worried some more. Friends and I swapped worries. I wondered how easy it would be to pass as a ministry official over the phone. Pretty easy, I concluded. Finally, at 1 am on Wednesday, August 11, I received a flight itinerary which had me flying out of Dulles Airport in Washington, DC on Friday the 13th. Auspicious date.
I packed my bags and booked a one-way flight to Washington. That Friday, after fretting on the phone and forcing friends to promise to rescue me when I got kidnapped in Georgia, I boarded a flight to Amsterdam. I found myself sitting next to another TLG volunteer. This was rather encouraging, however two people could just as easily be kidnapped as one!
The closer we got to Georgia the more fellow-volunteers we encountered and my confidence rose. There was always still the risk, however, that we were all being scammed. At a hotel in Tbilisi, after we’d all been picked up from the airport, however, we were given our first orientation speech over dinner in which the program directors introduced themselves and gave us our schedules for the following day. Right there, smack in the middle of the schedule was the most confidence-inspiring bit of information I had yet encountered: Meeting with the President.
Our first full day in Georgia was spent entirely on a bus as we drove across the whole country from Tbilisi to Batumi in order to meet President Saakashvili at a “Grand Opening” on the Black Sea Coast. It turns out he was there for the opening of a swanky new shoreline night club. I must admit I cannot imagine Obama heading down to the Jersey Shore to inaugurate a club there, but to each his own!
He spoke for about fifteen minutes about Georgia’s path forward and the importance of our mission here. (http://www.armenians.net/news/view/article/13497/English-should-become-second-language-for-Georgian-children/1) Off he went on to bigger, more important, “but less savory,” things with his entourage of Georgian reporters, body guards, and his robocop-esque PR Secretary in tow.
Having met the President of the Republic of Georgia, I felt much more secure in my choice to come here. After all, how much more legitimate can it get than having the president’s endorsement? I suppose he could just be the lead kidnapper….