Settling in Again
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my return to Georgia. Not because I didn’t enjoy my time here over the winter, but because once I knew I had a “definite” job I thought it would be nice to enjoy a lazy Northwest summer filled with hiking, camping, and rafting trips—with lots of writing and playing with my nephew in-between. But that said, it feels really nice to be back. Tbilisi is attractive in winter, but beautiful in summer. The trees and flowers are in bloom and tufts of cotton drift freely on the wind. The hills are green and the car exhaust has dispersed under the clear blue skies. And, yes, the river is brown but still dramatically beautiful with its plunging cliffs and desperately clinging buildings atop.
Training this time around was easy as I spent most of it looking for an apartment. Knowing how to get around the city and already having friends helped too. And I now have some Peace Corps Response Volunteer friends working in Tusheti National Park, which is a spectacular mountain region on the border with Chechnya and Dagestan, so I won’t have to miss out on the hiking. And the stories will no doubt be better, especially if I twist an ankle due to my lack of hiking boots (some of my luggage from winter, including my hiking boots, having disappeared into the great blue beyond).
It was a little hard to find anyone willing to rent me an apartment for only three months, but at the last minute I found a perfect little studio in a very central location about ten minutes uphill from the Rustaveli metro station. Named after a 12th century Georgian poet, Rustaveli is the grand avenue through Tbilisi, with parliament and assorted government buildings, museums, the opera house and several theaters—and of course let’s not forget the McDonalds and Elvis Café with a life-size replica of said musician. What more does one need in life?
My new apartment is shabby chic, with more of an emphasis on shabby, but nothing a few plants, candles and rugs can’t fix. The floors are ancient but wooden and my tiny third-floor balcony has a nice, minor, view of the city. Plus there’s a fantastic breeze. My neighbors, all woman of a certain age (which I’m sure is not my age, although I could be in denial), use their balconies for smoking, but I’ll try to avoid that lure. The cobbled intersection below has three small corner markets, so it’s easy to run down for fresh baked bread or wine or veggies and fruit (the strawberries and cherries are in season, so yummy).
I paid for the three months upfront so my landlord could buy me a refrigerator and washing machine, two things I definitely didn’t expect to have. She doesn’t speak English, but is very nice (or so I’ve been told by everyone who’s been kind enough to translate for me) and helpful and by now I’m quite versed in using hand gestures. For those of you wondering, I haven’t called my host family yet, but plan to do that this weekend— before they catch me wandering the streets of Tbilisi. And I pledge to keep studying Georgian this time around, so I’m not too much of an ugly American.
Things are different at the Ministry of Environment too, but still good. There have been some rearrangements of departments and workspace but the core people are all still here. It looks like we may be partnering with Care International to pilot-test the environmental education program I was working on as they have environmental education funding as part of a global watershed project funded by USAID and created by none other than Dr. Michael McClain of the Department of Earth and the Environment (a combined version of the previous biology, geology and environmental studies departments) at Florida International University, my alma mater.
Yes, small world.