May 6th was Police Day in Georgia. Seeing that I work for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and teach Georgian Police Officers English, I was excited about the idea of attending the ceremony and parade in Batumi. My roommate and I were invited by the Security Police to accompany them from Tbilisi on the Thursday before the event.
We arrived at the Security Police building at about 5:00 PM and left soon after with two Security Police officers. Although they spoke very little English and my Georgian is no where near where it should be after four months in this country, we were able to communicate pretty well with each other. The drive was beautiful, despite the on-and-off rain. It took us a little over five hours to get there – the driver, like most Georgians, was aggressive and I was thankful to reach the hotel unharmed.
Hotel Neptune is where we stayed – about 12 km south of Batumi. It is a fairly new hotel and quite nice. Our room overlooked the Black Sea with a balcony. If it had not rained the entire time we were there we might have spent some time out there! I went to bed that night listening to the crashing waves!
The morning of the ceremony and parade arrived and it was still raining. We went down to breakfast – a nice buffet with typical Georgian breakfast foods, noodles, hard boiled eggs, cheese and bread – only to find out that the events for Police Day had been cancelled. Or so we thought. Because we were not sure what to do, we went back upstairs to our room. Around noon we decided to try and find a way into Batumi to see some of the city. As we got off the elevator, the TV in the lobby was on with a live feed from the Police Day ceremony in Batumi! We could not believe it! How had we missed going? We were told it was cancelled! My thought at this point was to get into town and see the end of it. Easier said than done.
The hotel clerk spoke English and she was able to tell us what number marshutka to take and it was driving by just as we got to the road. Good timing. It took about 20 minutes to get to Batumi and because we were not sure exactly where the festivities where, we ended up getting off too late. It was so cold and raining pretty hard by this point and we ended up walking for about a half an hour before seeing all of the military tanks and Police cars leaving. It was over! We missed the entire thing!
It was the first time in Georgia that I was really frustrated. I had been given the wrong information and because of it, I missed out on something I was really looking forward to. Other volunteers have told me many stories like this about their time in Georgia, but I had yet to experience it. Hopefully I won’t again. It was lucky for me my roommate was there then. She took over and got us a cab to a nice dry café. I was able to sit and try and figure out what had just happened. Although I could not understand how the miscommunication happened, I did feel better after eating something and getting dry. We decided to walk down to the main marshutka station and catch one back to the hotel. It was easy to find and we were soon back at the Neptune.
At 8:00 PM that night we met the rest of the people in the lobby and were bussed to a restaurant in Batumi for a “supra” like no other! The word “supra”, although it literally means “tablecloth”, is a party. And no one parties like the Georgians! There was food and drink on the table when we got there and they continued to bring it out for hours afterwards. The wine and vodka was flowing freely. What was most interesting to me was the way the room was set up – men were on one side and women on the other. When someone would make a toast all the men would stand, but not the women. There were no pitchers of wine on the tables where the women were sitting. All of the women were dressed in ball gowns and many of the men had jeans on. It was such an interesting display of culture.
After not too long, the dancing started. Oh do the Georgians like to dance! There was some traditional Georgian dance, but also a lot of modern hip-hop dancing. Some of the people there were professionally trained dancers and it was fun to watch them perform. My roommate and I held out as long as we could, but eventually we had to get out there and dance. It was really fun. Most of the music was sung in Georgian and was new to me.
At about 2:00 AM, my roommate and I were done. We wanted to be back at the hotel and asleep. I asked someone if we could get a ride back and he told us the party lasted until 5:00 AM! There was no way we were going to make it, so they got us a driver and we were able to get back. I was very thankful for that. After a few hours of sleep we met with the rest of the group and waited around for a couple of hours until lunch. The concept of efficiency was really lacking on the entire trip. Most of the people were hung over from the night before, but they were surprisingly all in good spirits. One of the men we rode to Batumi with had not been drinking and he luckily was the one driving us back to Tbilisi.
There are a few things I learned from this trip. One is that I will be very reluctant to travel with multiple Georgians when I have no control over the planning of the schedule. Another is that I will make sure to clarify everything and assume nothing when communicating. I also realized that I need to improve my Georgian language skills.