Before I left for Georgia, I went to Philadelphia to meet up with all of the other volunteers that were headed to Georgia. There was already a Facebook group with everybody so I had an idea of what everybody looked like before I actually arrived in Philadelphia. I still was very nervous about meeting everyone. Admittedly, I’m not the most outgoing person so the idea of being surrounded by strangers was a bit intimidating. I also was a bit concerned that I was going to be the only black person. In the Facebook group, I was one of few volunteers of color but the only black volunteer. Well there wasn’t anything I could do about that so I tried not to think about it. The first person I met was also from California but we couldn’t have been more different. I assume PC was trying to cut costs so volunteers had to share rooms in Philadelphia. She was nice but we didn’t have much in common. The next few days I met other volunteers and even managed to make a few friends. Well the day before we left, I was waiting for the elevator and lo and behold I see another black girl who was obviously also here for pre-departure training. I could not have been happier. I know this may seem like a trivial thing but there’s something about seeing someone who looks like you that is comforting when you’re surrounded by people who do not. Turns out she was from Texas, also had natural hair like me and was also a Christian. We hit it off from the beginning.
The training in Philadelphia was basically a way for us to get to know one another. This was also a time when we made sure that all of our paperwork was up to date and just to tie up any loose ends. We also were informed about what to expect in the upcoming weeks once we arrived in country. Neither of our trainers had been to Georgia so they couldn’t give us any specific info about Georgia. We spent 3 days in Philadelphia before taking off for Georgia. We actually flew out of NYC. We would be flying from NYC to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Tbilisi, Georgia. On the way to the airport, there were a lot of thoughts going on in my head. At the time, I was in a serious relationship so I was really dreading the idea of being separated from my boyfriend for such a long time. I also was thinking about how much I was going to miss my family and friends. However, I was also very excited about leaving. I knew virtually nothing about Georgia so I really didn’t have any expectations.To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a country named Georgia until a few years prior in 2008 when I was watching the news that was discussing the war between Georgia and Russia. So the journey began.
The flight to Turkey was about 12 hours. Then we had about a 5 hour layover in Istanbul. We were told ahead of time that we should probably change clothes in Istanbul because local media in Georgia would be awaiting our arrival. It was a very long day of traveling so I was pretty tired after it was all said and done. When we arrived in Georgia, I felt relieved but also still very nervous about what was awaiting me on the other side. As we left baggage claim, you would have thought that Beyonce had just arrived. There were cameras everywhere. A few volunteers were even interviewed on camera. After all the hoopla, we all went to a local restaurant and had our first taste of Georgian food. We were also joined by PC staff so it was nice to be able to meet them as well. I was super impressed with the food. There was one thing that I immediately fell in love with and that was Khachapuri. Words can’t describe the deliciousness that is Khachapuri but I will do my best. In a nut shell, Khachapuri is cheesy bread. It’s baked bread that has cheese on the inside or sometimes on the inside and outside. It is all that and more. The rest of the food was a blur but Khachapuri was everything. The first week in Georgia we all stayed in a hotel where we had daily language classes, classes about Georgian culture and sessions to address our health concerns. We also heard from current volunteers who shared with us their personal experiences. At the conclusion of orientation volunteers are split up into groups, referred to as clusters, and are told which training village they will be living in for the next 3 months. I was sent to Kvishkheti with 4 other volunteers.Check out my next post to read about Pre-Service training.