This past weekend, it became apparent where I got my adventurous side. Apparently, I have a genetic disposition for travel and adventure. A lot of people were curious how my parents and extended family reacted when I told them I quit my job and joined the Peace Corps. If you were curious, they were not surprised at all and were extremely supportive. It is probably because they have all done something similar in their lives (the packing up their current lives and doing something very different elsewhere). The adventurous gene runs deep in so many family members. Take for instance what happened this weekend when my great-uncle made a spontaneous decision to come and visit me.
My maternal grandmother called me last week and informed me that my great-uncle (her brother-in-law) was coming to Georgia. When do you ask? Just a few days later. She called me on Monday night to inform me that he is arriving that Thursday night. My great-uncle is 81 years old and he decided to take a spontaneous trip to see me. He does not use Facebook or the internet much in general. He also speaks little English. The only thing he told my Grama was that he will be arriving Thursday and leaving Sunday in and out from Tbilisi. I literally had no idea if he was traveling alone or not, the hotel he was staying in, the time of arrival/departure ….practical
ly nothing. I also had no idea how I would contact him once he arrived in-country.
Luckily, I was going to Tbilisi that weekend anyway. I’m on the Small Project Assistance (SPA) committee, where 5 other PCVs and I review and recommend Peace Corps grants for funding from USAID. Our SPA meeting was on Friday morning, so I was going to travel to Tbilisi from my site on Thursday morning. I had a presentation to give on Saturday morning with other volunteers, but my friends were very understanding when I canceled to spend time with my uncle instead. I was so excited to show him around town and simply spend time with family. I had given my grandmother my phone number to give to him, so I was hoping he could reach me easily that way.
However, life had another plan. On Friday morning, before my SPA meeting, my uncle gives me a call. He is a man of few words when it comes to the phone. He told me that he was in Batumi and not in Tbilisi! Confused, I had no idea why he was in Batumi. All I know is that he took a cab to get to the hotel. Mind you, Batumi is a 7-hour bus (marshutka) ride and a 5-hour fast train ride from Tbilisi. I just kept on thinking why would he do that??? And it must have cost an arm and a leg to get there by private cab!
I asked if he could come to Tbilisi on Saturday and he said no. He said, “So I guess we can’t see each other?” And I responded, “No, uncle, I will figure out a way. I can take the fast train to Batumi because I want to see you.” Instead of being simply excited, I was now excited and worried. How did he take a cab? How is he managing? He speaks little English and can’t walk well. Luckily enough, he told me the hotel he was staying at in Batumi.
I was with a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers Thursday and Friday night, so the topic of my uncle’s visit became was a great topic of discussion thanks to me. I told them that I was confused how he ended up in Batumi when I was told he would be in Tbilisi. We were joking how rare it is to have family visit you…and on top of that, chase them halfway across the country! Nevertheless, I was worried that the train tickets were also sold out. I really didn’t want to be on marshutka for nearly 7 or 8 hours.
Some of my friends kept on joking that by the time I’d reach Batumi, he would be back in Tbilisi. Gratefully, I was able to buy a train ticket online. After I bought the ticket, I called him to let him know. He didn’t pick up his cell phone. So hours later, I called him back and was able to get a hold of him. The phone cut out after I told him that I would arrive at 1:00 p.m. At least he knew what time I was arriving?!
I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and was in a taxi by 6:45 to the train station the next morning. Once I arrived in Batumi at 1 p.m., I took a cab to the hotel he was staying at. I saw my great-uncle sitting in a chair in the lobby waiting for me. We greeted each other happily. He told me that he was so scared of not hearing the phone ring, that he sat in the lobby for a while holding his cell phone in his hand to make sure I’d arrive okay. Literally, sweetest old man alive. Justin was not with me in Tbilisi, so he was coming from our site a few hours away by marshutka.
While we were waiting for Justin, he explained to me that he never actually arrived in Tbilisi. Apparently, the Georgian tourist board and the tourist board in his country struck a deal together. It was a free flight and a cheap deal at the hotel if you fly in to gamble. He heard about the cheap deal and booked himself on the plane. He didn’t really pay attention to the details at all. He just heard of this deal, knew I lived in Georgia, and hopped on a plane.
So that abovementioned cab ride he took, was from the Batumi airport with the rest of tourist group. So even though he didn’t travel with anyone specifically, he wasn’t alone. I was so relieved to hear that he was taken care of. Georgia is not an easy country to navigate on your own as a tourist if you don’t speak Russian or Georgian. Also, everything else started making sense as to why he is in Batumi.
When Justin arrived, we enjoyed lunch together. We went back to the hotel/casino after lunch and watched my uncle play Roulette for a while. Then we grabbed dinner at an amazing seafood restaurant. I would speak to my uncle in our native language, Justin in English, and the waitress in Georgian. I’m not going to lie to you, speaking three languages at the same time made my head spin. But it was so much fun showing my uncle my Georgian skills. My uncle ordered so much food, so typical of my family to stuff ourselves. The food was really delicious and I really enjoyed having dinner as a family for the first time in nearly a year.
The spoiling didn’t stop, he got Justin and me a room at the hotel. He didn’t want to trouble us to grab a marshutka late at night to make it back to site. My uncle was so generous and so sweet. So we had breakfast the next morning together, gambled with him some more, and then parted ways. It was difficult for me to say goodbye. I don’t think I realized at that moment how much I missed being around family. I’ve lived away from home for so many years, but I’ve always made visits. These 10 months has been the longest that I haven’t seen a single blood family relative.
There aren’t many times in life you can appreciate the moment you live in, but I was cherishing every moment with my uncle while it was happening. Now it is just a once-in-a-lifetime memory. I also hope that when I’m 81, I can still be as adventurous as my uncle.