Well, the title of this blog is “All the Gori Details,” but so far I’ve told you nothing about Gori. (It took, what, a week to get behind)? It already seems like a long time ago now, (and everything is kind of blurring together at this point), but I’ll try. Let’s go back to September 15th…
So, you saw the picture of the vehicle that brought me to Gori, along with my Embassy contact Lika and Fulbright ETA Jess. Before coming to Georgia, I had read that the roads and drivers could be a bit crazy to the uninitiated American. Our driver was excellent, but the experience really was a bit unnerving 🙂 .
When we first got in the car, Jess offered me some Dramamine. I didn’t take any, as I never get carsick, but by the end of the ride, I kind of wished I had. (I’ve since taken three taxis on the stretch of highway between Tbilisi and Gori, and I’m getting used to it. My current mantra is simply, “Just don’t watch”).
The best I can explain it is to say that it seems like the constant goal of every driver is simply to pass the driver in front of them. Once that is achieved, the new aim is to pass the new car in front of them. To pass the car in front of you, you can use any means necessary– left lane, right lane, oncoming traffic lane, squeeze between two vehicles by driving in the middle of the lane with the dotted line going down the middle of your car; whatever—just pass them. The question I keep asking myself though is, “Who are these drivers that are being passed?” Because it really seems like everyone is trying to pass everyone else. Anyway, as explained during our “safety talk” at the Embassy, it’s just a different way of driving with different rules of the road. I haven’t seen any car accidents. Georgians drive by their system, with everyone following the same system, and it works just fine. (The trouble comes, as it was explained, when Americans or other foreigners try to drive using the rules that they are used to; the two different systems of driving and unspoken rules don’t merge together well).
Regardless, we arrived in Gori safely (and quickly!) and set out on our first task for the day– find a place for me to live.
Lika (and perhaps someone from my university?) had already scoped out several places and narrowed it down to three: a house and two apartments. It was fun to see all of the different places and the different parts of town. After seeing each spot we went for lunch to talk about the options and make a decision. (Never make important decisions when you’re hungry, right)? Lika ordered a variety of food for us all to share. I really need to learn more of the names of different Georgian foods; I’ve had so many good things that I can’t order again because I don’t remember what they’re called!
After lunch, after discussing the pros and cons of each place, I made my final decision (the house!) and we went back to work out the details with the owner and to drop off my (many) bags. Then, we dropped by the university for a few minutes. I met the director of the World Languages department and set up a meeting for the next day. After that, we went to a store where I could get a phone to use until I get my iPhone unlocked. (Sadly, I’ve been here almost three weeks and still haven’t succeeded on that one. Fingers crossed for tomorrow). That was the last thing on our agenda for the day, and Lika and Jess dropped me off at the supermarket on their way out of town. (They were headed on to Jess’s city so she could do the same).
I had a little bit of culture shock at the grocery store. I had spent the summer learning the Georgian alphabet so I could at least read things, but, much to my surprise, most of the packaged food in the supermarket was in Russian. There are a lot of cognates between Russian and Slovak, which has been helpful, but Slovak does not use the Cyrillic alphabet, so I’ve never learned it. Not being able to read was frustrating! (Is this sour cream, cottage cheese, or plain yogurt?? I have no idea; they all look the same to me). I thought about asking for help, and then I realized that I hadn’t learned any useful Georgian phrases. Yes, I could count to three, say “mother,” “father,” “language,” and “thank you,” but none of that is useful for getting help at the supermarket. I got a few annoying glances (I was moving extremely slowly and was mostly in everyone’s way), and I realized I couldn’t even say, “Sorry, I don’t speak Georgian.”
I went to the produce section (at least these items are recognizable without words) and encountered a new problem. As in many countries, here you need to weigh the produce on the scale and print a sticker label before putting it in your basket. Though I’m familiar with this process, the problem was that the words on the signs by the produce were the Georgian words for “apples,” “bananas,” “potatoes,” “tomatoes,” and so on, but the scale machine was all in Cyrillic.
In the end, I gave up completely and made it home with what transitioned from the initial “healthier” items of olive oil, tomatoes, oranges, butter, milk, granola, and pasta (with something more like ketchup than sauce) to the “I give up” items of Pringles, a chocolate bar, cookies, wine, and beer. On a complete whim, while standing in line at the register, I, for who knows what reason, impulsively bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. (I don’t know why; I don’t smoke— but perhaps the word “Camel” in English looked familiar and comforting—at least I could pronounce it and knew what it was. Also, they were only 84 cents). I haven’t opened the pack of cigarettes and probably never will (though maybe I’ll give them to my taxi driver as a gift— more on that later), but that actually ended up being the best purchase of the night. Read on.
I had been home, my first night in Gori, alone in an unfamiliar house, dining on a dinner of potato chips, chocolate, and a Czech beer, watching an old episode of Scrubs when, just after it got dark, the power suddenly went out!
I was afraid that perhaps I had somehow tripped the circuit breaker (by charging my computer and phone at the same time or something) and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I wanted to call Lika, but realized I couldn’t get her phone number out of my email without electricity. (No electricity = no wifi = no Internet). Since I can’t unlock my iPhone, I haven’t been able to put a Georgian SIM card inside, which, once I can do, will give me Internet access whether I have access to wifi or not. You can see how this will be really nice to have, but I didn’t, so that idea was out. I was really thankful that I had just gotten a Georgian phone earlier that afternoon so I could at least make a call, but since I had just bought it, the battery was super low and it was about to die, and I hadn’t put anyone’s number into the phone yet. Sitting there in the dark, having no idea why the electricity was off, when it would come back on, or what to do, I felt very much alone. This is what I had signed up for, I guess, but I wasn’t really ready for it on my first night alone.
Finally, I realized—Good news! I had a lighter! I had noticed a candle on the table in the kitchen, but hadn’t seen any matches anywhere. Then I remembered the lighter I had bought for the cigarettes and realized I could, in fact, light this candle. (I guess this is why I had uncharacteristically grabbed that pack of cigarettes at the store)!
Then, I remembered that the Embassy had given us a folder that had a list of names and contact numbers inside. I found that paper with my candle and gave Lika a call. She connected me with the house’s owner’s son, who speaks excellent English. He lives in Tbilisi, so he called his cousins in Gori to see whether or not they had power. They did not. He explained that there was a black out in Gori for some reason, and assured me that this was extremely rare. He said that if the power didn’t come back on soon, he’d get me in touch with his cousins and they could help me get more candles.
Luckily, the power came back on after only 30 or 40 minutes or so. Even though it wasn’t out for very long, it felt like much longer, especially since, at the time, I did not know that it would be back on in less than an hour.
I ended up just going to bed early. I was a little discouraged, but also a little bit proud. I decided that if I could survive my first night alone in Gori with just a lighter and a candle and no electricity and no wifi (even though it was really just for a short time) then things could only get easier. Also, I’m happy to report that the electricity has not gone out again, and I have had excellent wifi ever since.