I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer

So, It’s official. After 11 long weeks of training, I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer. The swearing in ceremony was last Friday. A very official event with embassy staff and Georgian government officials. But the highlight by far was an incredible all female traditional Georgian music group based at Tbilisi State University called Gordela. Here’s a video from a performance they did at a Ted Talk a while back. They are worth checking out. The other highlight was the actual oath I had to take. I’m not very patriotic. But it was kind of cool to swear to defend the Constitution of the United States. I’m pretty sure that means that I need to lead some sort of coup d’etat to wrest our government back from the corporations and the military industrial complex. But I guess that will have to wait until I’m done serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. 😉

So, I’ve been in my new site since last Friday evening. You may remember that when last I wrote, I had no clue where I would be living. Well, my faith in the Peace Corps was well placed. At the swearing in ceremony, I met two out of three members of my new host family, my host mom Cici (pronounced Tsitsi) and my host brother Giorgi (of course!). Giorgi is a student in Tbilisi and so is only home for the summer. Cici is a professor of medicine at Kutaisi State University. Her husband Dato is a painter and spends the majority of his time in his studio which is I don’t know where. We live in an apartment very close to the city center. It is a 15 minute walk to work which I love. My room is very nice with plenty of room to do yoga (should I finally motivate myself to get up in the morning and do that!). I’m truly in the posh corps. My family has a washer, wifi, a car, very modern bathroom, and AIR CONDITIONING! The air conditioning is in the main room. So, because I keep my bedroom door closed most of the time, I don’t benefit from it much. But when it gets truly hot (which luckily it hasn’t been this week) I can leave my door open and reap the benefits. So, for all of you who thought I’d be roughing it for the next two years, I hope you aren’t too disappointed.

That’s not to say that this week hasn’t had challenges. For the first time in Georgia, I am on my own. I do have a site mate Ann who lives about a 30 minute walk from me. We hung out on Saturday and then had lunch on Tuesday with some other volunteers who came into the city. But for the most part, I’m on my own here. And my language skills are not so great. In fact, now that I don’t have class everyday, I feel like I’ve regressed, mostly because I’m content to just remain quiet rather than force someone to wait for me to spit out whatever basic Georgian I can manage. If I’m going to improve (which I must), I have to start using it. I also realized that Eka (my former host mom) and I had developed a pretty good way of communicating with each other using a combination of Georgian, English, German, and body language. It had become so natural that I didn’t realize how much of a crutch it was. We tried to speak on the phone earlier this week and it was kind of sad.

So that brings me to work. I work in a fairly large organization. I’ll get into the details of what we do at some later date. For now though, I’m doing a lot of looking through old (English) grant applications, old files, etc to try to get a sense of what is going on here and where they could use my help. I have my first meeting with my Executive Director at 7:00 pm tonight. She is actually working for the Ministry of Refugees now and so is only available in the evenings and on weekends. I have a very long list of questions for her and hope to get some direction on what they hope I can offer them. There are about 12 people in our office. Only four of them speak any English and there is a range of skill among those who do. So, I spend a good deal of my time, sitting here, being somewhat invisible. I’ve always found the first week on any job to be incredibly awkward. Add the inability to even participate in customary niceties and small talk and shit gets really awkward. But I’m getting more accustomed to it as the week wears on. And eventually, as my language skills improve, I’ll stop being invisible. 

I’ve struggled this week with a few other things as well. Being on my own here and actually having free time for the first time since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot more time to think about what/who I’m missing at home. I’ve been a little overwhelmed by it. I keep trying to remind myself that two years really does go by quickly. But sometimes two years feels like an eternity, particularly when there is someone at home with whom you’d like to be spending your time. And last, I had an experience the other night that really showed me how helpless I am here. Around midnight I heard a puppy crying outside of my window. I won’t go into the details of what was wrong, but I will say he was suffering. And no one helped. I wanted to help, I tried to do the only thing I knew to do to help, but there wasn’t anything I could do (at least that I was capable of). And that’s just one of the realities of living here. In the states, I would have known who to call and what to do. Here there is no one to call. And no one cares. In a country where many people are hungry (particularly in the winter), the fate of animals doesn’t really rank high on the list of priorities. And that’s very difficult for me. It has stayed with me all week. And I’m not sure when it will go away. It’s difficult to suddenly be helpless when you are accustomed to being capable. 

But this is only my first week at site. It will get better. And really, in concrete terms, my situation here is pretty good. I just have to get into a better mental state.


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