A Wonderful, but Very Wet Weekend.

Seems that my luck with the Georgian weather finally expired, but it was still a brilliant weekend all the same, even if it was on Georgian time and the original plans changed continuously and without being fully communicated. I have certainly developed a new level of tolerance since being in Georgia, and sometimes it actually gets frustrating to be around westerners who are still on western time and haven’t yet adapted to this unique way of living!

But the weekend, basically began with catching up with friends, and eating a kilo of fresh and tasty strawberries! Those of you who know me, will understand just how exciting this was, and know how much I love strawberries! In England, a kilo of strawberries on special offer at Tesco will today cost you £6.64/kg (http://www.tesco.com/groceries/Product/Details/?id=267716931). Hence they were rarely within my food budget and had to be eaten sparingly, and would usually go bad in just a few hours. But this weekend I was a total glutton, and the strawberries were devoured by the four of us within 30minutes at most!! I certainly will not be leaving Georgia in a hurry now that strawberries are on the menu:) And for those of you in blighty, here are some pictures to make you a bit jealous, and to get you in the mood for the Wimbledon season:)

It was a bit of a gluttonous day to be honest, as I also visited the fairly nice Whitards Tea House next to my school after lessons finished (because I had guests with me you understand), and they just happen to do the best chocolate brownie and ice cream in Georgia, if not the world. Bit pricey at 6GEL, but soooo worth it!

So, we had a really relaxed evening, stuffing our faces and enjoying some chat and banter, before heading off to Batumi by car, and ended up in a not so nice guest house (complete with mouldy walls,and a dirty toilet), and ate at The Captain Restaurant in Batumi which was nothing to write home about, and a little expensive for what it was. It was advertised as a fish restaurant, but it was basically the standard Georgian fare of khajapuri, khinkali, and not much in the way of fish, so a big disappointment. But I did learn a new word this weekend ‘schwimms’…..which rather appropriately, means ‘rain’, and we were pretty much swimming in it too!

The aquarium made me very sad. Built in 1968 and looking really old and shabby, with some fish too big for their tanks, and lacking the colour that I am used to seeing when I see them on my scuba diving trips. But the people were really nice, and I believe that things are in the process of change, so I have high hopes for the future of marine science and Batumi in the future. The Director of the Aquarium was a typical business woman, busy and rushing around, but spoke English, as did the very helpful aquarium care taker, who was very knowledgable. This made me really positive, and I think that this could become a fabulous place if conservationists and experts in this field take the time to work alongside the aquarium, Ministry, and Tourism Board. With a little financial investment, this could be a fantastic place, akin to an aquarium in America or the UK. But still a great opportunity for children to see species of fish from the Black Sea, from the Amazon, and from around the world, which they would not otherwise have the chance to do. It is also free of charge, but I am sure that if visitors gave a donation at each visit, the moeny collected could soon be used to revamp the place.

The Director is in charge of 6 places in Batumi, including the zoo, and brand new Dolphinarium. A lot of work has already gone into educational tours for school children, and it was fantastic to see the contrast between old and new, i.e. the aquarium and the dolphinarium. We were given a private tour of the dolphinarium, and time before the first tour of excited school children entered, to see the dolphins. The Dolphinarium is well laid out, and the dolphins looked really calm and happy, and had plenty of stimulation, the opening of the Dolphinarium was delayed slightly to give the dolphins a chance to settle in from their move here, and this was also really positive in my opinion. There are very characterful and fun loving seals here, and terrific views across Batumi, and my first time seeing dolphins in captivity in a long time. The last time, I saw dolphins and seals was when I was out snorkelling in Scotland. There is really nothing better than snorkelling or scuba diving with a seal playing hide and seek and nibbling on your fins! I have lost track of the number of seal encounters I have had whilst snorkelling…in Scotland…in the Galapagos…in the UK. Being in Batumi by the sea, and in the rain, actually made me quite homesick for the British coast this weekend. Plus, being in Georgia means that I am missing Paul Rose’s new BBC series Britain’s Secret Seas, but here is a clip anyway (I guess I just have to wait for the DVD to come out or for Paul to visit!):

So, this weekend was quite a contrast really. From playing with dolphins in Batumi, to riots in Tbilisi, which even made it on to the news in America and the UK, and unfortunately has led to several tourists cancelling their holiday for fear of war and troubles. This really saddens me, and is one reason why I often hate the media and its portrayal of only the bad in life. As a child/teenager, I really wanted to be a journalist, and I undertook some work experience at my local newspaper ‘The Evening Echo’. I quickly realised that it was not the job I had thought it was, and was horrified at the gossiping attitude of the journalists and how much they loved a story about someone else’s misfortune and sadness.

It just happened to coincide, with the death of my form tutor’s husband, who was stabbed to death in his home, and found by his son, who was in the year below me at school. My friend and his dad had just got home from swimming on the weekend, and managed to disturb a teenage drug addict who was robbing their house to fund his next fix. My tutor’s husband was also a teacher at school, and was stabbed in the stomach, so died fairly quickly in the arms of his young son. The troubled teenager was the brother of one of my friends, and he had been in care for some time. As a journalist, I was expected to interview everyone, and to follow the case through to the court case and conviction, but I refused to do so. I had actually decided just before this that Journalism was not for me as it twisted facts and was just about selling other people’s misfortunes, and not actually about reporting facts or useful information. One day, we were called to the church next to Poole Hospital (where my brother coincidently was born!), and I was issued with a stab jacket. A husband had taken his wife hostage in the church, because she wanted a divorce, and he had a gun to her back, and reported that he was going to kill both her and himself. The whole street was closed off, but luckily the police resolved things and no one was hurt…..which was of much disappointment to the journalists I was with! Likewise, when I see television footage of places I have visited from around the world, I am always surprised at how things are portrayed, just as I was to see how Georgia was portrayed on the television.

So, I told you a few days ago, that there was trouble brewing in Tbilisi from the opposition party who want the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakasvhili to stand down. This is interesting for me as a foreigner. Firstly, because only the American volunteers had any warning about this, and were sent text messages from the American Embassy to tell them to avoid Freedom Square on Saturday because there would be demonstrations taking place. And I believe that the Ministry also contacted the American volunteers to forward the message from the American Embassy. Yet, as a British citizen, I knew nothing of this from the British Embassy or from The Ministry, and only knew something was going on because I happened to see a load of tanks driving down the main street the other evening, and mentioned this to some Georgian friends, who then found out what was planned. I don’t see much television, and I can’t read Georgian well enough to read a newspaper yet.

I am not worried about the situation (although I know a lot of Georgian people who are), and I am not especially afraid for my safety. Yet, the situation does really affect me and make me potentially very vulnerable. The project I am working on, is Mikheil Saakasvhili’s baby, and he is the boss of the Minister of Education who is my boss, and therefore by association, I am a part of the change that the opposition party are against. If I wanted to cause trouble for him, then attacking volunteers would be a sure fire way of disrupting his plans, and of involving other countries! Not that I want to give anyone any ideas, nor do I wish to cause any trouble, its just an observation, and is something that perhaps needs to be taken into consideration, especially for new teachers arriving on the project, or who are living in Tbilisi. Its also the fault of the British Embassy for not informing people living in Georgia, but also indicates that they are not concerned about the current situation, as there is nothing on their website (or wasn’t when I checked). There are a lot of tourists arriving in Georgia now, and many of them will be staying and visiting locations close to where the demonstrations took place, and had I not been away, then I was planning on visiting old town over the weekend, so would have been caught up in this area of town.

But, as I said, I am not afraid. I trust that the government knows what it is doing, and I have seen all the precautions which were put into place for the weekend demonstrations. What will be interesting, is the Independence Day Celebrations which will take place on Thursday this week! Most Georgians I have spoken to, love the President and support what he is doing and love this project. Its the same story in every country, including the UK, where we often have protests, probably worse than this in terms of violence, and I believe that a lot of the fear, stems from the recent protests in Egypt and other countries. The opposition are amongst a minority of people, and are perhaps not representative of the general consensus of Georgia, but their voices should also be heard, all the same. I still love Georgia and life in Georgia, and it will take a lot of force for me to leave the country. In fact, if it came to it, I would probably rather die in Georgia, than go back to Britain to live, and I have achieved everything I have wanted in my life so far, and so I would die happy, and with no regrets.

There is only one thing that I still have to achieve in my life, and that is to walk to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, which no one has ever walked to as yet. This has been my lifelong dream, but I don’ have long to achieve this as I am getting physically older, and less fit, and it will take a great deal of training and money. But I still hope to do this one day, either on my own, or in a team.

But, I will let you make up your own minds in terms of the riots, and I really don’t think you should be put off avoiding Georgia because of the troubles on Saturday. Its a beautiful country, with the warmest and kindest people in the world….and I wouldn’t give it up for anything right now!

I love how the Telegraph reports that the violence ‘spread to Georgia’…..from where I wonder?????

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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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