In preparing to come to Georgia, I had the illusion I would Skype with friends and family once a week, I could look up lesson plan ideas whenever necessary, and I could keep in touch with the outside world via Facebook and news websites. When I think back on those times, I just laugh.
My family does not have internet, but my school has a computer lab, which I thought I could use occasionally. After a month I realized the school’s internet would not be a viable option as it isn’t open most of the day, and I didn’t want to send emails amidst a class of my students. I had gone to an internet café in Gurjaani – a 15 minute taxi ride – but it wasn’t my favorite option. I eventually went into the Geocell office and asked them about their internet modem. My first clue it wouldn’t work should’ve been when they gave me the modem (taking only my phone number as identification) to try and bring back in a few days if it didn’t work.
I walked around the house with my computer, the connected modem, and my Georgian parents waiting for the little light to turn green. I quickly discovered the only place in the house where it would work was outside, in front of the house, sitting on the big pipes in the yard. Although this wasn’t a problem at the time, I knew I would never send emails in the winter if I had to go outside to do so. I took the modem back the next day.
My family has tried the various available modems, and Beeline is the only one that seems to work, although it has to be strung outside on the balcony, and for decent service should be used between the hours of 2am – 8am. Instead, I have contented myself with making a weekly, and sometimes bi-weekly, trip to the internet café.
In my six months of going to the internet café, I have learned a lot, and I feel others may benefit from this knowledge. Therefore, I have compiled a list of suggestions for those of you who do, or will have to, use an internet café while in Georgia.
1. Learn which computers are the best. Some are in Russian, some do not have working USB ports, some only have Word 2003, some keyboards are stiff and perhaps slightly frozen in the winter. For example, I know that #4 has a good keyboard, keeps websites in English, has a good USB port, and allows me to download my Word 2007 documents.
2. Know when children get out of school. Get there early to stake your claim on the good computers. After 2:30, the internet café is flooded with 6th grade boys playing games on the internet, and it’s impossible to get a computer without having the man in charge kick one of the poker-playing kids off. In fact, as I post this, I am surrounded by four boys under the age of 12 and three men over the age of 25. The three computers next to me are occupied by Counter Strike, a game which occasionally starts up while I am sending emails. On the other side, a man is playing poker online. The child next to me continues to look around the divider to see what I’m doing; I think he’s bored with the amount of English on the screen. I should get on Facebook so that he has something more interesting to browse.
3. Write all your emails prior to your regular internet usage. This limits the amount of time you have to spend, and it also gives you an opportunity to write better emails. I write my family a weekly update and then attach it to their email. Because I’ve written it over the course of a week, I don’t forget to include anything.
4. Save your attachments in a general Word format – Word 97-2003 – because some of the computers may not have a later version, which means you won’t be able to send anything and your family gets worried because they haven’t heard from you in a week and won’t hear anything for another week.
5. Check the timer to know how much you owe. This is especially important at first because you may not know numbers in Georgian, and it will help if you have some idea before going up to pay. Usually, it’s about 1 lari per hour.
6. Make a list of things you want to do on the internet: send emails, look up an idea for teaching the alphabet, find a picture of a teacup pig for your family because they can’t comprehend the concept of a pig you don’t eat (that was on my list this week), check the news, go through all the TLG emails you get in a week, and download 200 Sudoku puzzles to keep you busy through the winter.
In all reality, I have discovered I can get by without daily internet access; I don’t always like it, but I can survive. Granted, when I was on holiday vacation and had WiFi, I was delighted and took full advantage of the opportunity, and when I go to Tbilisi and have internet access at my hostel, I Skype with everyone and download articles to keep me occupied in the village. I’m under no illusion this change in internet dependency will last more than three days when I get back to the States, but, for now, I’ll live with Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.