"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tbilisi Files -- Day One

I arrived in Tbilisi at 7:30 on Monday morning, having gotten on the train in Poti at 2:25 AM.  I had been warned the Night Train was a hellish experience; in fact, it was surprisingly pleasant and I realized about an hour in that, despite the truly wracking pain that had put me on this train in the first place, that I had that pleasant little thrill inside that I only get when traveling.

I was on the train because earlier in the afternoon I'd reached a breaking point with the amount of pain I was in.  It honestly felt like I had shattered ribs on both sides of my chest.  It hurt to breathe, it hurt to move, it hurt to lay down.  And it really, really hurt whenever I coughed -- which I was still doing with disturbing frequency.  My latest plea for help to Poti's doctor's had netted me some pills for allergies, and Noshpa-forte, which apparently is most often prescribed for kidney stones and to ease the pain of cervical spasming during childbirth.

So, on Sunday afternoon I called one of the higher-ups in my Program.  I literally told him that "I'm calling you because you actually seem to have your act together, and I need something to move on this."  I went through my whole depressing history of the past month -- the multiple fruitless doctor visits and 12 ineffective medications.  He called me back in less than half an hour and told me that if I could get myself to Tbilisi, I could see a doctor there first thing Monday morning.  Well.

I do need to say right off the bat that my Program really did go above and beyond to help me through this.  At the Tbilisi station, K from my Program met me with a driver, and we went straight to the doctor as promised.  I had a new blood test and a new chest x-ray... but the doctor herself did not actually seem to be very vested in finding out what was wrong with me.  I expressed my concerns to K after the appointment was over, and she agreed that we would see a different doctor the next day.

Then they drove me to my hostel.  I'd never stayed in a hostel before so was a little nervous about sharing a room with strangers and all.  But these people were great.  Old Town Tbilisi Hostel -- 100% Mary Recommended.  Staff were incredibly friendly, the place was very clean, and the location couldn't be beat -- maybe a ten-minute walk from Freedom Square and even closer to Chardin Street, a windy pedestrian walk lined on either side with truly excellent restaurants and cafes.

I checked in and realized -- it was 12:30 in the afternoon and I had nowhere to be, no one to account myself to, until 9:45 the next morning.  The rush of freedom was almost intoxicating.  So despite the heat, despite the fact that I was still in quite a bit of pain, I packed my backpack for a day trip and headed out.  I passed Art Gallery Line, a small contemporary gallery, and spent the best 30 minutes walking around at my own pace through the air conditioning.

I rode the high of my unexpected freedom right into an adorable outdoor cafe on Chardin Street called Casablanca.  I ordered a glass of chardonnay (first non-Georgian wine since I got here!), and a salad nicoise.

Okay, it wasn't exactly a salad nicoise, but the grilled tuna was warm and nicely seasoned and the dressing was tasty.  Plus it was Western!  I like Georgian food just fine, but after almost three months in Poti, I'd been getting pretty freaking tired of khachapuri and kinkhali.  I decided I would try to not eat any Georgian food my entire time in Tbilisi (which at this point I expected to be maybe 36 hours at most).

It was just so damn good to be out on my own, to be walking in a beautiful city, to be sipping chardonnay that I could tell really was chardonnay.  If I sat very still and remembered to breathe shallowly, I could almost have moments that were nearly pain-free. :)  I wrote in my journal and watched the parade of tourists.  Tourists!  People not from Georgia!  It was amazing! :)

I hadn't bought my Georgian guidebook, because somehow I just didn't see myself having this kind of freedom.  So after lunch, I just ended up walking around Old Tbilisi for a while.  I really, really fell in love with this city.

Gorgeous Tbilisi in hazy summer.

Unfortunately, walking around is not the same thing as sitting quietly in a cafe, not to mention I'd had about an hour of sleep on the Night Train.  Defeated by pain and heat, I retreated back to my hostel and crashed like a stone for about three hours.  You know how sometimes you have a pain or an illness, and it hangs around until exactly the time when you finally see a doctor, at which time it disappears.   Yeah, that wasn't a problem I was having.  Every cough or unexpected movement brought tears to my eyes.  It was getting really freaking old, and I was pretty intent on getting it fixed.

I woke up at around 7:00, feeling about as okay as it was possible for me to feel, given the circumstances.  I did what no proper traveler should ever do, and I did it without shame or hesitation.  I walked up the road to the Courtyard Marriott on Freedom Square, and I went into their lovely, tasteful, modern, western restaurant.  I was approached by one of their staff, and I did what I usually do, which is gesture to a table and say "Sheidzleba?", which is "May I?"  She answered "of course" in impeccable English, and that was when I realized I wasn't in Poti anymore.

"What can I get for you?"
(Hardly daring to hope) "Can you do a gin 'n tonic?
(Looking surprised) "Yes, of course."
"... With ice, and lime?"
(Smiling now)  "Yes, of course."
"Bless you."

Welp, it turned out to be a lemon slice instead of a lime.  Whatever.  I still finally had my second-favorite summer cocktail in hand, and was staring at a menu that was like to make me cry.  I mean, should I get the chicken fingers?  The quesadilla?  The bacon cheeseburger?  The buffalo wings???  It was a sad irony that one of the side effects of my illness was that my appetite had utterly crashed.  Here I was, presented with all the American comfort food a girl could want, and I wasn't hungry for any of it.  Eventually I got the hummus... and it was amazing.  I love hummus -- I mean that I really love hummus, and this was perfect, with toasted pita and carrots and cucumbers.

So I fail at gritty ex-pating, but as I wrote in my Journal, this trip simply could not have come at a better time for me.  Obviously my health issues were not going to go away on their own, and were beyond the expertise of Poti's medical.  But I also needed the break emotionally -- needed the touch of a few things familiar, things that I loved and had left behind to pursue this adventure.  Barring the touch of a friend or my Mom's special, all-body hug, hummus and an excellent gin n' tonic was going to have to do.

And I sucked it up like oxygen.

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