Mr. President Visits Kutaisi

For a few weeks, there had been talk of President Saakashvili coming to Kutaisi for a visit. He was purportedly coming to check on the professional education centers. One of which I work in (the vocational school,) and one of which I live in (the dormitory that is a language training center for ethnic minorities in Georgia.) I had been told that he would visit April 22, and to my disappointment I would be gone. That was during my Easter holiday trip! But then it was delayed, until April 29, also during my holiday.

I was a bit disappointed that I’d be missing a Presidential visit, and was a bit afraid that my absence might get me in trouble. Surely the President would want to meet the foreign teachers working and living in these places he was checking on! The school and dorm staff will surely be very embarrassed when Saakashvili asks to be introduced to the charming American volunteer he keeps hearing so many great things about, only to have to inform him that, sorry, he’s away in the Balkans this week. But then again, I had my fingers crossed that, since this is Georgia after all, it may get canceled and rescheduled yet again.

When I returned, I asked the Expert about the visit. He said he hadn’t met the President, so I figured I wouldn’t get in trouble. But then a few days ago, I got word that he would be here on Monday, May 9! Apparently it had gotten canceled and pushed back at the last moment, and rescheduled again at the last moment. I thought it was hilarious. Nothing runs on a schedule, not even visits from the President! Maybe he was at a surprise supra the other times and couldn’t make it. I thought it was equally hilarious about the lack of information about the visit. Apparently he’d be at both the school and the dormitory, but neither place knew exactly when. The lack of security of the event was funny for me as well. How different this was than, say, a visit from President Obama! All I had to do was give the dorm director my name, and that was all security needed.

But then Monday around 10am, I had a knock on the door. I was partially clothed and in my slippers (and writing my last blog post) when I answered. It was the dorm key man, opening the doors for M-4 wielding security officers who were checking all of the rooms. He motioned for me to put on a shirt and go downstairs. So I hurriedly threw on a shirt, grabbed my jacket, and the chess board (if we were to be stuck outside for a while, we may as well work on the King’s Gambit!), and went outside. I rang the Expert up on my way out to alert him that M-4 wielding Georgians would be kicking his door down any second and he should meet me outside.

We met the Azerbaijanis outside, where everyone was wearing suits and ties and quite excited. Oh dear, I thought to myself, I hope I can make it back to my room to change before he arrives, I don’t want to greet him in a T-shirt and my rain jacket! The Expert was similarly dressed. We were outside for a good long while, about two hours. We didn’t break out the chess set, instead we decided we’d shake it up a bit. We played Monopoly on the Expert’s Ipod. A few people wondered what the game was. Oh, it’s basically a game about capitalism. It’s not surprising you lot don’t know about it, but we grew up with it. was the Expert’s response. It was clear that I would have to go to my lessons soon, and not make it back to my room. Apparently I needed to have my passport to get back in the building too. So I hurried off to class around noon, planning to be back after my lessons around 2, when Saakashvili was supposed to arrive. Maybe I’d have time to run up to my room, put on a nice shirt and tie, my blazer, and grab my camera. I doubt that I’d have time to look up the Georgian translation for “I voted for the other guy.”

I found the same scene at the school. Everyone was dressed in their best, eager to meet the President, milling around outside, as heavily armed security cleared the building. Nobody really knew when he’d be arriving either, or where we were supposed to be to meet him. The teachers were eventually let in, and after a while of twiddling our thumbs in the hallway, we were told we had to all go to our classrooms. Security guards with assault rifles were stationed in various corners of the school, some on the roof, or just wandering around aimlessly, holding rifles, looking important. The lessons went longer than normal, as we kept sitting around wondering where he was. We didn’t want to leave until after he came to our lessons! Every once in a while excited girls would giggle and scream and we’d think he was coming so we’d look busy when he would inevitably pop his head in the door. But later, from the students roaming the halls, we got word later that he had only stayed for a short bit, had cut a ribbon at the groundbreaking of the building of some new facility, and had moved on! Everyone who had been in the school, so finely dressed and excited, was greatly disappointed that they had missed their chance. Cameras borrowed from friends for the occasion went unused for the day. The Expert had seen him from the window. He told me I wasn’t to worry about my dress, it was similar to the President’s attire.

With nothing to do at the school anymore and no hopes of seeing the President, we headed back to the dormitory hoping we’d at least catch him there. Surely he was expecting to greet the two foreign volunteer teachers who were living and teaching at the two places he was visiting that day! He was most certainly waiting for us back at the dorm, and we’d have a small supra, a press conference, and maybe I’d challenge Saakashvili to a game of chess. Perhaps even discuss Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon.

We got back to the dormitory, and didn’t need passports or anything to get back in. I hurried to the director’s office, and explained with a laugh that we missed him at the school, and how silly it was that we had missed him here, too. The news was on the television, and we were in time to see coverage of the President at our school, interviewing one of the Expert’s students, then at our dorm, giving a presentation in front of all of the dormitory staff.

I found a news clip of his visit here. The news coverage is great. The first half is him speaking at the school, the second half is him at our dormitory. So he did come into the building, but only visited the rooms on the first floor I guess! Never mind the foreign English teachers on the second floor! If you pay close attention, you can catch the absence of the two foreign volunteers in the video footage.

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