Swimming Time

So, I’ve been wanting to swim for quite some time now, and wasn’t able to before because there was no pool near me. Now I have moved, swimming is again back on the agenda, and I am absolutely loving it. Things are far more complicated in Georgia than in the UK though, so like most things here, it was a bit of an adventure! The pool is not too far away from the Bazaleti Hotel in Tbilisi and is an Olympic pool, looks pretty modern, and is of a far higher standard than anything I have ever seen in the UK. It probably should be pretty high standards because its around $40 a month just for swimming!!

Oddly enough, – and possibly a good idea- it is necessary to have a medical done before you are even allowed in the pool. This is standard practice throughout Georgia, post Soviet Union, or so I am told. So, I paid my 10GEL (Lari) and saw the lady doctor. First she listened to my lungs, and then she checked the web spaces between my toes (but not the soles of my feet). That was it!! Hardly worth 10GEL, and she also wasn’t listening in the right place for my lungs, but it ticked a box, and went pretty smoothly. She asked if I had any allergies and I said no, and then she asked about asthma. I have an inhaler, and have had asthma since childhood, but don’t usually get problems, and it has never been an issue swimming wise. She was worried because they had just changed the pool water that day, and even the professional swimmers had been advised not to swim, in case they might have some kind of allergic reaction to the chemicals in the water. I said that I would rather swim anyway, and if I had any problems then I would obviously get out of the pool. She reluctantly agreed and I signed a disclaimer. I felt fine in myself, and besides, I had already paid. If I had a problem, I could just get out of the pool anyway. The pool access, as it turned out, was actually really, really good, and far better than what I am used to. The pool was also much, much cleaner than in the UK.

Next, I had to go to another room and desk and sign up to swim. The doctor appeared again, this time with one of the lifeguards, a tall chap, and they again advised me not to swim, but I remained stubborn, and they allowed me to swim as long as they could watch me from the side of the pool. I agreed, and was impressed at how persistent they were, but it was also pretty strange for me. I then had to pay another 10GEL for a swimming hat,because I wouldn’t be allowed in without a hat, and once I had the special plastic swipe thing, I was able to go through the turn style, past the security guard, and into the pool.

The changing rooms were pretty nice, and I was surprised to see 4 ladies sat at a table chatting. Their job was to be on hand in case any of the guests needed anything, and they lent me some plastic shoes and showed me where to go, and where everything went, where to hang my towel, and where the showers were. When they realised I didn’t really speak Georgian, then spoke to me in Russian, and when I still didn’t understand, they talked to me in Russian, just louder this time, before eventually giving up. It was pretty funny, like something from a sketch show about foreigners or something. But they were very kind and helpful. The only thing that I find strange about being a foreigner is that people like to stare at you..a lot! Because they are curious. Usually this isn’t a problem, but at this exact moment, I was a little uncomfortable as I realised that I had not seen a razor in a long time, that my costume might not fit anymore, and that I was covered in lots of little scrapes and bruises from play fighting with the kids…..plus the four changing room ladies were all staring intently at me, whilst I was in the buff! I’m a lot more relaxed since I came to Georgia, and am ok with how tactile people are here, but staring at me in the nude and changing in front of others, is still something I am a little shy about, especially since we generally change in cubicles at pools in England, and people on the whole do not stare, especially when you are changing!

Then came the communication and translation for how to use the lockers. In the UK, you generally put money or some kind of token into a little slot in the locker, and lock it, then place the key and armband around your wrist during your swim. But the lockers here were far more sophisticated, like something from the set of a James Bond film. All seemed to work (unusual in the UK, and you only find a working locker on your second or third attempt), and were big, colourful, and well designed, with different compartments inside to separate your shoes from your other things. So, I stashed away my stuff, and then had to type in a pin number of my choice to lock the door. Very cool! Although I probably should have taken more notice as to which number the locker was that I was using, because I didn’t remember when I came out from the pool! Quick enough, I was ready for my swim, with my new swim cap that was a little tight, and looking very well insulated from my lack of a good shave since about October, and with my fatty bits all bulging out.

The pool itself was very clean, and did not smell of anything. I had expected it to be high in chlorine concentration, especially given the doctor’s concerns that I might be allergic and stop breathing or something, but after Coventry pool is was very nice indeed, with no smell to it. I proceeded to swim my normal 25m under water on one breathe, and was pleased that I hadn’t become quite as unfit as I had expected, with having no exercise at all since my arrival in Georgia in October last year. The doctor was sat by the side of the pool, and the lifeguard was in the lane next next to me, swimming up and down. Every five or ten minutes, the doctor would come over and ask me if I was alright, and the lifeguard did the same, nodding at me every so often, and giving me the thumbs up, but I felt as if I was probably in better shape than they to be honest. I think my last swim was in the Baltic Sea, and there was big waves and it was fairly cold. It was so lovely to be back in the water after so long. I had an excellent vantage point for the men around the side of the pool, and began to wish that the doctor and lifeguard would pay a little more attention to the middle aged men on the side of the pool who were running or jumping into the water, since I felt that if I anyone would get sick or injured, it was more likely to be them, especially since the pool was not so deep, and they could easily slip over. Running and jumping are frowned upon in UK pools, and it was strange not to hear any whistles being blown to mark the broken rule.

Georgian men (at least the ones at the pool) look so funny in their trunks. They are really, really skinny and tall, but then have these overwhelmingly massive bellies, probably acquired from attending supra’s and eating khajapuri and khingali. There was a lot of room in the pool, and it was a luxury to have a lane to myself. I think there are three pools here in total, and my little host brother must have been in another pool, because I did not see him until we were finished later on. He has lessons here every week.

So, I enjoyed my swim and got some lengths in, which was great. Then I went to get changed, slipped a little in my borrowed sandals, and which point I received requests from the ladies of ‘nela, nela’ (careful/slowly), got into my locker with no problem, had a wee (I was desperate after soaking up so much of the water), and got myself dressed. I then needed another pee, so I went to the toilets. For about 2 minutes I was feeling quite red as I had become stuck in the toilet with a faulty lock, and the ladies would be judging all foreigners on my seeming inability to perform even the simplest of tasks without mishap!!. Now, you would think that someone would help me to try and escape this little cell, but it was not the case, and I could hear them discussing this. I wouldn’t have minded so much, if the cleaner who was close by me at the time, could at least attempt to get me out of the toilet, but she didn’t sadly, and hurredly ran off to seek advice from the other ladies who all sounded a little nervous at the prospect of speaking to the clumsy foreigner. Eventually I managed to get the lock to work, almost slipped over again, and then made my way to meet my host family in the lobby. It was all good fun though.

We dropped the kids off at a restaurant, and then took a hummer back home (with a body guard), and it was at this point that I decided that my next vehicle will definitely be a hummer!!! It was so comfortable, with heated seats, and very practical. I was dreaming about going to the mountains of Svaneti in one of these, and up to the town of Ushguli, the highest permanent settlement in all of Europe at 2,300m. I was reminded of the last time I was in a hummer!! A few years ago, when I was in Navuk, at the top most point of America, within the arctic circle, some 1,122 nautical miles away from the North Pole (71°23′20″N 156°28′45″W). I had been with an Inuit on the ice, and we were watching a polar bear as it travelled from a pin point on the horizon to close to us, within a matter of minutes. Yellow and furry, and immense. My wanderlust never fails to motivate me.

Today, the weather has been a bit cooler still, 7degrees c. In the morning, the mountains were still snow covered, and several cars were driving about with thick snow on their roofs. I think this is probably the normal weather for this time of year, and the 26degrees c of last week, was probably not so normal. But, if Georgia is anything like the UK, then I am sure it will rain over the Easter weekend! Its traditional of public holidays in blighty!

School was equally awesome today, and my classes with the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film project went really well. I love break times, when the children run wild in the corridors and no one tells them off. Then I get to spend quality English teaching time with them, yesterday playing with a bouncy ball, and today having races with paper aeroplanes, and praticing numbers such as who came first, second, or third. Today is the first time in a while that I haven’t drawn any pictures on the board, but we were watching clips from you tube and talking instead, so it was even better. I feel so privileged to be a part of their lives, and I really, really hope that I get to stay for another year. My co-teachers are also great, and every day I spend with them, I feel like I learn something new, and there is nothing better than having coffee with my teachers at the end of the day and talking about how the day has gone.

Tomorrow, I will introduce the third graders to ‘Bob The Builder’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IWKhYQarJU), not quite as cool as the Georgian King ‘David the Builder’, but at least the theme tune is catchy, and we can practice using our new word ‘can’! 11th graders are learning about marriage, 12th graders will just turn up if they are having a good day, and 9th graders are learning about Guy Fawkes. I almost feel as if I am learning as much about my own country as I am about Georgia! Although I feel as if most of my lessons end up revolving around discussions of torture and murder and how English kill people for religious or other reasons…..surely there is more to British history than that????

Tourism wise, my next challenge is to create an itinerary for the volunteer teachers for the Easter break, but I fear it is a little late in the day now, but will go ahead anyway.

Sarah Outen has been off road biking in France, and Roz Savage has now left Australia and even made it into the BBC news (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13059207). Good luck to you both, and please stay safe. I know Roz’s greatest threat during her across the Indian Ocean row is pirates and being taken hostage, and she had great trouble getting insured for this expedition. Check out her first day here http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=michaelhaluwana#grid/uploads

Enough for now…on with some work:)


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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