‘Catch the bird before you build a cage’ - Georgian proverb
Gamarjobat! So week one draws to a close... Alistair and I have been settling in to life here in Tbilisi and getting the Project Georgia 2014 underway. Fuelled by plenty khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and Georgian-style coffee (black with lots of sugar seems to be the way the locals like it!) we feel we have managed to do some really good groundwork despite the uncertainties the project has faced this past week. There have been bouts of torrential rain offset by glorious sunny skies, rattly bus rides juxtaposing the serene strolls we have taken along the resplendent Rustaveli Avenue, and many moments of warmth and laughter shared with the students and staff we have met along the way.
We were greeted at the airport in the early hours of last Saturday morning by our host, Irakli, who gave us a whistle-stop tour of central Tbilisi in the taxi on the way back to the apartment, pointing out some of the important landmarks brightly illuminated in the dark of the night. We were lucky to have the first weekend to recover from the journey, to get our bearings and acclimatize to our new surroundings, and to get hold of some basic supplies ahead of our first day at special school 198 on Monday. I should mention that Alistair has visited Tbilisi three times before which means he already knows his way around reasonably well and has some useful Georgian words and phrases up his sleeve. This has helped to make my first ever visit to the city significantly easier.
The staff gave us a very warm welcome to the school on Monday afternoon, presenting us with a creamy walnut cake, khachapuri, fruit and coffee. Their excitement and enthusiasm about the project was palpable. The group comprised ten or so teachers who introduced themselves to us and told us a bit more about the school. We, in turn, introduced ourselves and told the teachers more about the project, explaining the underlying philosophy of Music as Therapy’s work and discussing together how the project might be shaped. Communicating with the group proved slightly tricky as although several of the teachers have a reasonable grasp of English we fear that some of the nuances were lost. Nonetheless it was a promising first meeting and it was good to feel we were getting the ball rolling.
The apartment we are staying in is a 40-minute walk away from the school and we have found walking to the school in the morning useful for spurring both the body and brain into action, although the route does take us frighteningly close to Tbilisi zoo’s lions and bears enclosures! We have spent the mornings building relationships with the staff and students, absorbing the culture of the school, and observing some of the existing music lessons. The students have been selected for the music therapy groups and a provisional timetable for the sessions has been designed in collaboration with the staff. We have had a lot of fun trying to learn a couple of Georgian songs and have been touched and inspired by the energy of the staff and students.
In the afternoons we have been travelling in the minibus alongside some of the older students from the school to the Parent’s Bridge Centre, located in a different neighbourhood of Tbilisi on the other side of the Mtkvari river. Set up several years ago by Teona, the director of special school 198, the Parent’s Bridge is one of few day centres in Georgia for young people and adults with learning disabilities. We enjoyed being taken on a tour of the building on our first afternoon there, in particular being shown the beautiful carvings produced by some of the members of the group. Joining in with some of the games and activities over the past few days has been a great way for us to get to know everyone. Alistair even introduced a Israeli circle dance to the group, which seemed to go down very well! It feels like a very special community, with an atmosphere which is warm and supportive, dynamic and creative. We feel lucky to have the opportunity to work in this environment and to help to foster a culture of music therapy to enhance their existing programme.
We were very pleased to receive the good news yesterday that Jenny, the lead music therapist on the project, is able to join us in Tbilisi and will be arriving at the airport even earlier than we did on Monday morning. We were also relieved to hear that the instruments sent from the UK for the project finally made it through customs yesterday and are now at the school ready to be used in the sessions next week.
Jenny and I are looking forward to getting the sessions at the school and the Parent’s Bridge Centre underway next week while Alistair returns to Guldani to follow-up on the work he began in a children’s residential school with Sarah, a fellow music therapist, a few years ago. The raw ingredients are very much here and we are feeling really positive about the project. Look forward to keeping you updated with our progress over the next few weeks…