The Smoke Monster
In all my imaging of problems I might encounter, from the stress of living with an unknown family, to the difficulties of working within a former Soviet bureaucracy, I never once considered cigarette smoke. It permeates everything here and seems inescapable, from the hotel where we stayed the first few days, to the Ministry where I’ll be working, which is supposedly smoke free, but isn’t, to my host family, where everyone over the age of fifteen smokes.
We arrived on Monday night. I say we, as I’ll be working with another American. Tues-Thurs. we stayed at a hotel and had language and cultural training at the Peace Corps office during the day. The language training and cultural training was limited, but I’m rapidly learning, now that I’ve moved in with my very nice Georgian host family.
I was worried about living with a host family as I’ve experienced the process a couple times before and it’s not particularly easy no matter how nice they are—and they’ve always been nice. But previously the families either spoke some English or I spoke some Spanish. Yesterday I was dropped into the middle of a large, multigenerational family that speaks NO English. And I speak NO Georgian.
They do have a son who speaks English, he’s just not always here to interpret, but we’re getting by with much pointing and shaking of heads. Peace Corps has offered to find another family because of the language problem, but they’re nice so I plan to stay.
Tbilisi has its charms. I haven’t had time to explore much on my own yet, but it seems like any large city you might find in the less developed parts of Europe or even South America. It’s hilly with a fair amount of trees and lots of ramshackle apartment buildings. While my host family’s house is nice, it’s not close to either my work or the Peace Corps office. The family did take me out for a tour of Tbilisi last night, which was really beautiful with all the ancient churches and fortresses lit up in the hills and winding streets of the old town. We ended up at the Sameba church (see picture below), which is the main Georgian Orthodox cathedral in Tbiilisi. We (the mother, aunt, driver and three kids) went inside and lit candles and did some sort of rosary in front of about fifty different pictures of various saints. There was much genuflection and kissing of walls and statues and I quite enjoyed it all.
On Friday, we also took a tour of the Ministry but we don’t officially start work until Monday when we’ll be meeting the Deputy Ministry. He’s the reason we’re here (to develop an environmental education strategy for the country), so we’ll see how that goes.