‘Catch the bird before you build a cage’ – Georgian

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

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