My first taste of Georgia. Finally after days of travel, I have arrived in Georgia for orientation. A group of us volunteers found each other in the Istanbul airport looking American, alone and slightly confused. At the gate waiting for our flight out of Istanbul, our suspicions were confirmed as to who else was going to Georgia through the program and instant bonds were built. After a 3 am arrival, staff and a small camera crew from the program met us and herded to a hotel in Tbilisi. It is quite a nice hotel and meals are included. Yum! There is even wifi!

The first Georgian meal for me was lunch, since I hadn’t fallen asleep until 7am, I slept through breakfast. Unfortunately, I do not know what any of what I ate was called, but it was good. There was a beef, onion and potato saute which tasted exactly how it sounded, hearty, a bit oily, but a nice fresh meaty flavor. There was also fried fish, fried chicken, boiled potatoes, fruit, vegetables and bread. All tasty, but not extraordinary. What I liked most was a cilantro chicken soup, mostly because the cilantro aroma is so appealing to me, as is its flavor. The most surprising item was a Georgian potato salad. This might be because I haven’t ever associated a potato salad with Georgia. The countries I usually associate with fantastic potato salad are Germany and the Czech republic, both of which have very distinct potato salads. The most noticeable difference was a strong flavor of dill in the Georgian salad and the lack of eggs. This could very well just be this hotels recipe, I will have to further investigate potato salads in Georgia. I am also not necessarily a connoisseur of potato salads.

After this filling lunch a group of us went on a walk through the neighborhood behind the hotel. So beautiful. It is like a little village in the center of a large city. Every house has grapevines, most have figs, and some have pomegranates and plums. We walked past a few little stores that sold gum, water and laundry detergent. Kids would run across the alley and wave or sheepishly poke their heads out of gates and say a timid hello.

At one of these little sundry stores a man got out of his car gestured us to form a group so he could take a picture with his phone. After the photo shoot, he said “Modi, modi” (come, come) and as a unit we followed him down a side street, more like a dirt road, as he mumbled in Georgian with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. We made it to a gate that he led us through into his backyard that just happened to be right behind our hotel. He then proceeded to pick figs from the tree and hand them to us. I don’t particularly like figs, but I ate one anyway because none of us knew how to say, “Thanks, we are full” and he kept on handing them to us. So we stuffed them in pockets, purses and our bellies. Mostly other volunteers’ bellies.

The strays, adorable kittens, cats, puppies and dogs were pretty much everywhere. Most were reasonably friendly seeming, although we all wanted to pet the cute puppy that was wagging its tail, we did not. It turned out to be a good thing, because at a brief meeting with the staff, volunteers past have been bitten by the strays and then taken to the hospital for rabies shots…fun! Of course the staff member telling us this also explained that the volunteers were grabbing the dogs to pet them and putting their faces in the animals face for a friendly lick…smart. It does amuse me what some people need to be specifically warned against.

I can only hope that tonight’s adventure into the city will be as full of friendly, welcoming and interesting people, food and adventures! I really hope we will get to eat kachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) for dinner!