I’ve always found packing to be incredibly surreal. I’ve done it a lot over the last few years and might argue that I’ve become a relatively skilled packer. Rolling my clothes saves valuable space and I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of fitting everything in my suitcase like they’re pieces to a puzzle. Nonetheless, packing always strikes me as one of the weirder activities one can partake in. I find it humbling to condense all of my possessions into piles and then into bags, even though packing generally reminds me that I have too many things – too many clothes, too many shoes and too many pictures. Mostly I find packing surreal because it is a clear marker of both an ending and a beginning. Whether it’s for vacation or a more permanent move, the tedious process of compiling all of your things, making them as small as possible and placing them in bags is always done with the knowledge that this same process will have to be repeated again, in reverse, in a new place. This process is completed with the knowledge that some portion of your life is coming to an end, even temporarily, so you can partake in a new, unknown, adventure. Perhaps it is the knowledge that by packing, I’m actively leaving the familiar for the unknown, but I can’t complete the packing process without reflecting upon the time since I last unpacked; the beginning of that adventure.
I’ll never forget the rollercoaster of emotions of the day I moved in with my host family – the adrenaline rush to repack all of my clothes into my suitcase; the fidgety anxiety as I gathered in the lobby of the Bazaleti hotel with my fellow volunteers so we could meet our families; the thrill and shock as names were called and suitcases disappeared with their owners from the lobby and into the Georgian winter; the excitement and relief at meeting my family and discovering that they not only spoke English but also were just as warm and hospitable as I’d been told Georgians would be; and, finally, the panic, just after unpacking and before going to bed in a cold and unfamiliar room that maybe, just maybe, volunteering to live with a family I didn’t know in a country halfway around the world was actually as ridiculous as people told me it would be.
Through seemingly endless snowstorms and one of the coldest winters in recent Georgian histroy, I settled in and adjusted to life with my family. February turned to March and then to April and then to May and then to June. Winter melted into spring and then into summer. And, along the way, I conquered the art of making marshutkas stop and perfected my family’s procedures for taking a shower. I grew comfortable with holding my host mother’s seven-month old baby and excitedly watched as he learns the art of walking. I learned to ignore the chaos of my students running wildly through the halls on breaks and how to reason with them for misbehaving in class. I gave up trying to find western coffee, embraced Georgian tea then switched to a blend of Turkish and instant coffee. I enthusiastically started trying to calm the chaos of my classes – I took pencils, cell phones and doodling pads; I made students share books, and lectured them on the importance of being quiet. To my ears, Georgian transitioned from being a nonsensical jumble of sound to a language that allows me to communicate. I developed deep respect for the women in my host family and a delicate relationship with my host-mother and co-teacher. I took trips to visit my friends and developed lasting friendships with people I barely spoke to during training. We ate, drank and danced at supras and spent far too many hours talking on the phone, trading stories, frustrations and tidbits about our Georgian lives. As I packed my bags this last time, mental images of each of these events kept flashing through my memory – the highs, lows, joys, frustrations and people that have made for an incredible four months in Georgia.
I haven’t been here as long as some of my fellow bloggers, but I know that Georgia has helped me to become a better version of myself. When I first stepped off the plane in Tbilisi, I was both slowly recovering from a long and humbling year in South Korea that, more than anything, gave me a crash course in the power and depth of true loneliness, and I was trying to reconcile the lessons of that year with the exhilarating freedom of completing a solo vacation through northern Vietnam and Laos. I was neither the person I had been in South Korea nor the person I was on vacation, but some blend of the two. My Georgian family, acquaintances, co-teachers, students and TLG friends have helped me to find this balance. While winter was melting into spring, I was becoming a more independent, genuine, passionate and confident person. Although I have moved out of my host family’s house, my Georgian adventure is far from complete. In the fall, I will move to Tbilisi, adjust to life with a new family and transition from the classroom to the TLG offices, doing my best to expand the participation in the TLG Program. My former students, hopefully, will have another TLG teacher, one who will continue to fight the battles I started. Right now, I am both sad to leave my current life and unbelievably excited to start my new one. I know that in this new one, I will make new friends and visit old ones. I’ll develop different routines and learn new skills. I’ll have adventures that I could never dream of and days that I’ll dream about forgetting. I’ll say too many hellos and, unfortunately, too many goodbyes. But, along the way, I’ll continue both packing and unpacking my bags, knowing that they’re necessary parts of every adventure.