Monday, August 16, 2010
Kutaisi: The Detroit of Georgia (UPDATE: Pictures)
So yesterday we spent almost the entire day on a bus, first travelling to Batumi, and then backtracking to Kutaisi, which is where I am right now. We did stop about halfway between Tbilisi and Batumi to eat at a neat outdoor restaurant. The best part: on the premises, they had a bear in a small cage. Bears! Number one threat to America according to Stephen Colbert, but I guess in Georgia they just keep them locked up in cages for shits n' gigs. I kind of felt bad for the bear, he just kept walking around in circles (he was not an ambi-turner). But then I remembered what had happened to this guy and had to restrain myself from kicking that bear's ass. Hopefully, I'll have some pictures up shortly.
But it took almost 7 hours by bus to get to Batumi. The roads got worse the farther away we got from Tbilisi (although apparently, five years ago they were barely paved and had pot holes the size of man holes), and the people drive like absolute madmen in Georgia (including our bus driver). I've been to Peru and Italy, where the drivers could be classified as insane, but here, they make Evil Knievel look like a school-boy bitch (might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but they're crazy nonetheless). Most of the highway was only two lanes, but everyone uses the passing lane at will and some use it as a cruising lane. It's insane; I couldn't even pay attention in fear of a head-on collision. Needless to say, if anyone is planning on visiting me, I would advise against renting a car unless you're up for a panic attack.
We got to Batumi, which looked lovely the closer you got to the old town (even farther out it looked amazing, like something out of South America). I really wish I could have been stationed closer to there, but I feel as if I'll have plenty of time to check it out over the next ten months. There is a ton of development going on in Batumi and they are really trying to spiff up the beach front.
Anyway, we were running late so we got a police escort the last 20 kilometers (although it's not like it mattered since there are zero rules on the road; in the words of George Costanza, "It's like Thunderdome out there!"). And we arrived at the venue where the President would address us.
I thought it would be a parliamentary building of some sort, or a giant venue packed to the brim with people. Nope. It was a beach side club that resembled something out of South Beach: lots of white upholstery, billowing sheets, DJ, chaise lounge chairs on the deck, and table service (don't get ahead of yourself, sparkling water and that was it). The only people in attendance were a few government workers, the TLG people, and all the teachers (which is my group and the other teachers that got here on August 1st; total of about 100).
President Saakashvili came in dressed in casual clothing, shaking hands (no, I did not get the honor), and basically enveloping the room with his charm. His speech focused on the progress Georgia has made in the last seven years (conveniently, the time he has been in power; although to be fair, the country has made leaps and bounds since he took over) citing certain polls that show Georgia to be low on corruption and crime, while one of the top places in the world to do business. And basically that is kind of what Saakashvili's Georgia has been; progressive reforms in government corruption and education, while creating a free market economy that makes it attractive to foreign and local investment.
It was a short but pertinent speech and he even took a few questions from us teachers (while dancing around a nifty question about environmental control). He was pretty much what I expected him to be; charming, confident bordering on arrogant, funny, informal, and very much a 21st century politician.
Here's a link to one of the English news reports on the "press conference." I have to hurry off to dinner, but all-in-all, it was a pretty ridiculous affair; as one of the other teachers said to me as we were walking up to the venue, "This is like if Obama held a press conference at the Jersey Shore."
More later on the bus ride back, my first day of training, and the wondeful town of Kutaisi: The Detroit of Georgia.