Georgian Valentines’s Day and the Liberty Saga Continues….

Today was pretty cool today, nothing out of the ordinary really. The kids were really upset that I didn’t have my laptop with me today, because they seem to love my mac more than they they love me, and they were also wanting to watch the film ‘The Borrowers’ which they have been studying in their English text books for some time. For the past two weeks they have been begging me to let them watch the film on the computer, and so they were evidently disappointed today when they discovered that my laptop had died. I have been looking at getting a new charger shipped to Georgia, but it is all just so complicated and shipping is expensive. I can’t not have my laptop, as I have tow rite reports for the Ministry and have lessons to plan. But equally, its ridiculously expensive to buy the new cable. So, I realistically have nooption but to track down the missing money from my grandmother and to pay for the charger, because everyday I am getting behind on my chores, and its a long term investment. So, I decided that after schhol today I would be brave and try and take the bus to this unknown place, and to see if I could get things sorted out. But first to school….

My first lesson was free, and having not seen my Principal for a few days, it was nice to see her and we exchanged our usual conversation of: Principal: Sarah, rogor xhart? Sarah: Kargad, shen? Principal: Metz kargad. That is the limit of our language abilities, but we do at least try! Today she was unusually excited, and took me to find the Mandator (security guard/resource officer – they work in schools to help with discipline and any behavioural problems, rather like school police. They were originally established to deal with knife crime in schools, which thankfully is no longer an issue). We have three mandatores inmy school and they are really nice, and are currently learning English, so we practice a little each day. Two of the mandatores speak German really well, so its great for me to be able to communicate with someone at school, as even my English teachers sometimes don’t understand everything, but German we all have at a good level, so its a great relief to communicate things. Anyway, my Principal has recently discovered that myself and one particular mandatore both speak well in German, andshe seems delighted because we can now talk to each other via the mandatore (who just so happens to be in my Mandatore English classes!). So, my Director was really excited and I was told that she had a present for me…I was very curious, but a little disappointed when it turned out to be just a leaflet….no matter how good the language, things always get lost in translation! Anyway, the Principal also informed me that the Minister of Education would be coming to school on Monday, so that was definitely useful information, and nice to know in advance too.

Recently, one of the few male teachers has been very excited to discover that I am English and not American or aother English speaking native. It turns out that he is themusic teacher and a trained conductor. He plays guitar, piano, and football! He is probably mid to late 40s, speaks Georgian very fast, and has a dialect but I don’t know where it is from, I just knowthat he sounds different. It turns out that he is a massive fan of Liverpool football club, and so everytimehe sees me he tries to have a conversation about football now! Which would all be fine, if a) I had an interest or some basic knowledge of football, b) had some interest inLiverpool, and c) spoke Georgian, and I have no idea what he says most of the time, and I suspect that the children and teachers also struggle to keep up with the speed of his conversation!! He seems like a jolly nice chap though, and I have now been invited to his lesson on Tuesday, where we will be conducting a lesson in Georgian all about The Beatles. I am really looking forward to this, as I have never been to a music lesson in Georgia, and I am interested to see what will happen. Should be great fun either way.

The weather was much warmer today, 21degrees c and sunny. No snow on the local mountains today, and meant that lots of Georgians were sat outside drinking coffee and relaxing. A great day for photography, particularly in the afternoon when there was a really small shower and a couple of rainbows. It really feels like Spring, or almost summer again after the past few days of cool weather and snow. The children in my 7thgrade were quite funny, and put popcorn kernels covered in sugar on the window sills of their classroom. I guess the idea is that the heat will make the popcorn pop, but I am not convinced it will work??? I love my class though and I love how they experiement and are creative and resourceful. I really hope to see them grow for another year, but it all depends on whether or not the Ministry renew contracts at the moment.

After school, I was busting for a wee, and I refuse to use the squat toilets at school (no-one uses them!). So, I decided to go for a coffee and club sandwhich at my favourite local haunt, Coffee.ge. Its western in style, quite expensive, the food is not really great value, but it offers variety and is a really nice place to chill out, with good music and a great atmosphere. PLus the toilets are really trendy and clean, and they have nice soap! Its a place worth visiting if you want to relax, has wifi, and the staff are friendly. Itwas actually introduced to me by the Film Director Nikoloz Khomasuridze on our second business meeting, and has been used in some of his film work. Its also a good place to meet other expats, and the menu in Georgian and in English, and they have nice fresh juices and iced coffees. (http://coffee.ge/intro.php). I plan to write a guide to Tbilisi at some point and I will definitely be putting Coffee.ge in my book. I especially like to hang out here when I am having a bad day as its really energising and a little escape from everyday life.

Feeling much more refreshed, and having taken several pees, I found the bus stop, waited fourty minutes, and finally caught the number 21 yellow bus to Didube. It was jam packed and pretty dangerous, and there was no way that I could get to the machine to swipe my card to pay for a ticket, so I didn’t bother. At each stop, more people squashed in through the doors, with exclamations of ‘whymededa’ every time the doors opened and nearly took their arms off. It was pretty comical, since the bus was throwing people about all over the place, and I had to hang on for dear life as we skirted around oncoming traffic and avoided potholes. Its a very funny thing that Georgians do, every time they pass a church. They cross themselves several times, and witha church every hundred metres or so, this is an awful lot of crossing. I am almost amazed that there are not more accidents and car crashes really, since people take their hands of the wheel when driving, to cross themselves. Now, when you have a bus full of people holding on for dear life, who let go of the handrails each time they pass a church to cross themselves….you can image the chaos this causes with people wobbling all over the show!!

Unfortunately, I had my first bad experience in Georgia, having been here since October last year. I have heard stories from others, but today was the first time to experience this first hand, and I think it would be fair to say that this is not common behaviour in Georgia thankfully, and probably occurs in almost every country you visit, from a small minority of people. A bald guy, wearing sunglasses, in his early fourties got on the bus along Rustaveli Avenue in the centre of Tbilisi and stood behind me in the doorway. He was pretty pushy, but no one could move anywhere because the bus was so full. At first I thought he was just leaning against me because the bus was so crowded and he was also holding on to the side of the bus. I had my padded gilet on, and so I didn’t realise his movements at first, until I suddenly realised he was holding my breast quite deliberately. So I took his hand and pushed it away very obviously. Some more people got on the bus, and one or two got off, and so everybody altered positions. This meant that I was able to have my back to him. Again, I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he started leaning against me, but then he somehow managed to lock his leg around mine, and shortly afterwards began gyrating a little and pressing against me more, I was getting really pissed off at this point, and when he started to breathe heavily, other passengers noticed and tried to move to stop him, but it was not possible because the bus was just so crowded. This time, I made it more obvious with a stern ‘bodishit’ and a push, and at the next stop, a nice young gentleman asked him to leave the bus. All a bit of a shock really, and has really put me off taking a bus in future, especially when it is so crowded, but I really hope this is a one off. I know other volunteers have had similar experiences, but we oput this down to their ethnicity and that people were generally more fascinated by them, and because of their being foreign and therefore ‘easy’. The adrenalin was still pumping and I was a little shaky by the time I got off th bus, partly because of this experience, but also from being in a new area that I was not familiar with at all, and that I didn’t really like, as it seemed to be full of rough looking people who would just walk into me instead of walking around me. I mean its not as if I am hard to see, and people were bumping into me by accident!

I was not really in the best of moods by this time, but luckily I had received really good directions on which bus to take and where to stop, and I found the branch of the Liberty Bank really easily. It was packed full of people and I had two hours before closing time! I stood in one queue, got pissy because people kept walking in front of me, and I eventually went to another queue and managed to find someone who could speak a little English. I wasn’t able to communicate my issue (that I needed to sign a form so that money could be transferred into my account!), so I had to call someone from thebank who could speak English and who looks after volunteer’s banking needs, as the Ministry of Education and Science sets up our bank accounts for us. To be honest, I hadn’t found the service very helpful up to this point, because they couldn’t tell me where this branch was or how to get there and were not interested in helping at all. They had told me to go to this branch because it was the only one where I could get this form signed. Its a good thing I actually live in the city now, because it would have been even more of a task had I been living in the village in south Georgia still, and would have taken aboyut 4 hours to get to the branch and four hours to get home.

It turned out that the branch did not have this form and they told me to go to another branch. I walked for miles, and it was hot, and my feet hurt. I looked everywhere but could not find this bank. So I walked back to Liberty Bank where they informed me that it was not a branch of Liberty Bank but a branch of TBC bank that I was supposed to find. BUt I had not seen this bank on my travels anyway, and I was feeling pretty fed up. The lady was very helpful though and managed to get the forms emailed to her, printed, and so I could sign them. I waited about 40minutes for this whole process, they took a copy of my passport, several people jumped in for service whilst I was being served (seems to be the Georgian thing to do…no such thing as privacy or personal space!), and eventually I was told that the money would be in my account by 6pm today (although it would not include the three weeks of interest that Liberty Bank acquired whilst my money was just ‘resting in their account’!!). I thanked the lady, walked along the street and eventually found the bus stop, and after 30minutes a number 21 bus came…again it was crowded!!!

It was another bizarre bus journey. No one swiped their cards to pay for their fare, because it was impossible to move. There were more exclamations of ‘whymededa’ and lots more crossing when we passed churches. The bus stop also happened to be outside the church, so I was a little worried when I saw the driver was crossing himself and not actually paying attention to the road or to driving! There was a guy fixing a beaten up car, and lots of people selling plants and flowers. Today was valentine’s day it seemed, which I had not realised all day, but was then a little disapointed about since none of the children gave me flowers today (although they did on 14th February). And, I also cannot complain because every lesson they give me little cards and pictures and sweets, but I still don’t really know why, but I like it all the same, and it makes teaching and the tough days really worth while. Maybe the amorous man on the bus was just behaving in such a way because it was Valentine’s …but I think not!

It wasn’t until we all changed places on the bus, that I suddenly noticed the lady sitting close to where I was standing. She was probably in her late fifties, was wearing a wooly hat (like many Georgians, even though it is warm enough to be an English summer), and she had a large black handbag on her lap and was chatting away merrly to her neighbour. I realised after a few seconds (probably because I was feeling very sleepy) that her handbag was moving, and two little heads were looking around. It was a cock and a hen, and they were in a blue plastic bag, and zippedinto her handbag, with just their necks showing. They just looked like they were chatting to each other and were looking around as if they take a bus journey every day. No one on the bus looked at all curious about the chickens in the handbag,, as if it were such a normal occurance! Maybe it was a normal thing on buses in the Capital city, but it was quite bizarre to me. I had been wondering recently about whether I would be allowed to take my small dog on the bus, but I guess that if chickens are allowed, then my little dog shouldn’t be too much of a problem!!

The bus only goes as far as Vake, and doesn’t go back along Rustaveli Avenue because it is one way, so I decided to get off in Vake and wait until 6pm when my money should clear, and then I could go to the Apple Store in Vake and buy my charger for my laptop. I had about 30mins to kill, so I decided to visit a coffee house that I had meaning to try since I lived across the road from January. The restauarnt is called Segafredo, is on Chavchavadze Avenue, and is an Italian type place with pizzas, pasta, and different coffees. I knew it would be fairly pricey by Georgian standards, but I was hoping that the quality and variety of food would make up for it.

The variety was actually excellent, although I don’t know how much of the published menu was available to order. There was a really good salad selection, lots of seafood, including eel, octopus, and mussels, and a selection of french foods like frogs legs and snails. The coffee selection was pretty impressive too, as was the desert range. I decided to try the lasagne and also a cold coffee and chocolate drink called fredo, fredo mocha. The food was ok, good by Georgian standards, but nothing special, and overpriced in my opinion. The lasagne pasta was quite crispy, and the portion size was very small for the money with no side dishes. Coffee was 6GEL, cola 2GEL, fresh grapefruit juice was 6GEL, and lasagne was 12GEL, just to give you some idea. The surroundings were ok, but not as nice as coffee.ge and I think the value of food is much better at the Elvis Cafe, especially their suchi, and they also do a reaonable spaghetti bolognaise. But I am always up for a bit or research..especially where food is involved!

There was an interesting channel on the tv in Segefredos, called Luxe.TV. I have never heard of this channel before, and most of it was about Fashion Week in Delhi, India. But there was an interesting piece about a new skyscraper in London, with an interview with some locals, including Matt and Jane! It was weird to see London on the televison,a nd to be unaware of any new developments that were happening. It was also strange to see just how squished together the buildings are, and to remember that I have been teaching my students this week that there are 9million peopleliving in London! It really got me thinking, particularly about personal space and living on top of each other. And it was quite ironic to realise that Georgians have little concept of personal space, wheras Brits are not close at all and are not very tactile. Yet London buildings are far closer together than any Georgian building. Even yesyerday when I went to the Liberty Bank cashpoint on Rustaveli Avenue, there was a man standing right behind me and peering over my shoulder when I was typing in my pin numbers into the ATM. And he even had the cheek to want to push in front of me when I was mid transaction. It definiteoy seems to be a Georgian guy thing, as I have noticed that they push in on queues a lot, and stand and tut and complain when they don’t get served. This makes me pretty angry really, because on the whole I find Georgian men to be very lazy, and have far less responsibilities to deal with than the women, yet they are arrogant and think they should be served first, even if others are already waiting. Its not just the men, but old women too, and seems really rude to me as a westerner.

So, I was enjoying my meal anyway, when I received a call from the Ministry of Educationa nd Science to inform me that I now have a meeting with the Minister of education on Monday. I have no idea why, or what has prompted this, but knowing me it will because I am in trouble or have done something stupid!!! Talk about a cliff hanger though, now I have to wait until Monday to find out what it is about. But it goes to show how random my days are in Georgia!! Oh, and I waited until 7.30pm, checked my bank balance, and surprise, surprise…no money has been transferred into my account, so I still couldn’t buy the charger after all that!!! I just hope that I don’t have to go back to the bank in Didube again!!

I had hoped that I would never have to venture into the scary area which is Didube ever again, but alas it is not meant to be. Instead, I came home to find tickets to ‘The Caucusus International Tourism Fair’ which is taking place tomorrow in Didube. I am really excited to be going,a nd hopefully it will be a good opportunity to check out the competition and to spark off some ideas, and I will be even more excited if they have some freebies, like pens or sweets for me! I am such a sucker for that stuff, especially with so many of my 12th grade students failing to bring a pen to class!

But that is really all of my news today. Sarah Outen (http://www.sarahouten.co.uk) is now mountain biking across Germany after her kayaking section of the expedition. She had a flat tyre today, is now travelling solo, had a radio interview with BBC RadioMidlands today, and is now having a little alcoholic beverage/nightcap, and I don’t blame her one bit!! Roz Savage (http://www.rozsavage.com/2011/04/14/day-2-so-far-uneventful/) is already sporting some wicked blisters on her hands, from day 2 of her row across teh Indian Ocean, and has finishedreading her first book of the trip, and reached 5 knots today. Well done girls, I am very, very proud of you, and I hope that other people will start to follow their efforts too and to support them in whatever way they can. I was also very excited to see that Charlie from BSES (British Schools Expedition Society) also read my blog this week, so thanks for that Charlie. I should give the BSES a shout out here, because I really support their work and all they are doing for future generations of Brits. Last year I was selected by them to work as Assistant Scientific Officer on an expedition in the Himalayas and to work in an altitude medicine basecamp conducting physiological research and leading mountain routes. They offer expeditions especially for British school children and support them in so many ways. If you know a teenager in Britain, then I would definitely recommend sending them on an expedition, maybe for a birthday present or for passing exams, or any other excuse you can find. It will change their outlook on life and give them so many skills to succeed in life and to be confident in themselves. Check out their website here: http://www.bses.org.uk/get-involved/Jobs+at+BSES/index.htm

Until tomorrow….night all xx

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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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