Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's official!

I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer. I don't think it's hit me yet that this dream I've had for 10+ years has finally come true… that after 2 years of applying, waiting, accepting, packing and going through training… I am finally a Volunteer! In the Peace Corps!  It's surreal, exciting and unbelievably satisfying, to say the least.  

This past Friday, July 15, 42 Trainees took the oath (the same oath that the President takes!) and became official Peace Corps Volunteers! I thought I would be so excited when that day came, but it was actually a little bittersweet. I adored my host family and wasn't ready to say goodbye to them, and I certainly wasn't ready to say goodbye to my roommate, who has become my closest friend here. To go from being with someone 24/7 (literally) to not seeing her at all, and not knowing the next time I will get to see her, is really hard. I think this is why the Peace Corps doesn't let Trainees live together… you form this instant, abnormal, possibly unhealthy attachment to someone – and then they rip you apart! I already miss her. So much. 

Tears aside, the swearing-in ceremony went well. We all said our farewells and then our new directors and/or host families drove everyone to their permanent sites. Luckily my director was able to drive his car there, otherwise I wasn't sure how I was going to get all NINE bags across the country (not all of it was mine, and most of it I have acquired since I got here… sleeping bags, water filters, mosquito nets, don't judge!). 

I have just finished unpacking in my new home, and am feeling pretty good about everything. For the most part though, I'm just happy PST (pre-service training) is over. That was the most intense, stressful, exhausting 11 weeks of my life and I'm not sure I could have done it much longer. Every day was spent learning the language, preparing for and conducting community projects and trainings, working on reports, studying for tests, finishing homework, and trying to spend time with our host families. There was never a dull moment, that's for sure, and a few times I wasn't even sure how we would get it all done. But, we did get it done, I passed my language requirement – and now the fun starts!

For those who don't know… I got the job and site that I wanted! I now live in Kvareli in the Kakheti region (Eastern Georgia), which is a small town in a quaint little valley, tucked into the Caucasus Mountains. The mountains are so beautiful, the lakes are amazing (and the President likes to vacation at one of the lakes all the time; in fact, his helicopter just flew over my house an hour ago), the vineyards are endless, and we have the best weather… it snows in the winter (but not too much), it's hot and dry in the summer, and the fall is incredible. We also have the best fruits and veggies, and it's only 2 hours from Tbilisi, which is where all the fun happens on the weekends!

So the reason I came here… to work… I will be working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on tourism, specifically wine tourism. I'll mostly be working in a winery, helping them with marketing, exporting, and grant writing (and, you know, conducting a few wine tours and tastings). I'm really excited about my job, and can't wait to become a Georgian sommelier!

For the next two years, I'll be living in this fabulous house with my host grandmother who is 64. She's so wonderful and also happens to be a fabulous cook. It's just the two of us in this big house, so I'm enjoying some much-needed peace and quiet (never mind the roosters in the front yard who seem to be in competition with each other 24 hours a day). I have a great view of the mountains, and several apple and plum trees in my yard. And yes, I have a shower with hot water, and a flushable toilet! It's a really good situation and I'm excited to see where the next two years takes me!

As for what's next… well, your guess is as good as mine. I think I start work tomorrow. I think I have to conduct a few trainings next month. I think I have a Georgian tutor lined up. I think I’m going to Batumi on the Black Sea in August for a few days. I think I’m going to Turkey in November. Truth is, I really have no idea what's going on or what's being said 95% of the time. I just smile, nod my head and hope for the best. That's life in the Peace Corps and I couldn't be happier!