Well, as of yesterday morning I am officially
one week into my time here in Georgia – and what a week it’s
been! I feel like I have had a crash course in Georgian culture,
attempting to ‘catch up’ with Isabel who had already been here
for nine days when I arrived. Perhaps the easiest thing to adapt to
has been the cuisine. Georgians seem to share my penchant for good
cake and Turkish style coffee. I also seem to be becoming partial
to two local specialties in particular – lobiana and churchkhela. Lobiana is baked bread with a
spiced kidney bean filling, and is fast becoming our staple lunch
choice from the bakers across the road from the school. Churchkhela are strings of walnuts
covered in several layers of solidified grape juice – they look a
bit like knobbly brown candles, but thankfully taste much better
than they look. I spent my first weekend here in Tbilisi exploring
the city, and visiting the market was a particular delight for the
senses; abundant neatly arranged piles of tomatoes, pomegranates
and peaches, surrounded by aromatic spices, fresh herbs and huge
rounds of salty cheese. Not quite so pleasant an experience has
been getting used to the huge volume of traffic in Tbilisi – a
cacophony of car horns provides an almost constant soundtrack to
the city, and crossing the road is always a nerve-wracking and time
consuming affair, thanks to the somewhat wild and unpredictable
nature of the driving tactics.

The biggest challenge thus far, however, has
definitely been the Georgian language. The combination of a unique
33-letter alphabet, additional sounds to those utilised in the
English language and a perhaps unparalleled fondness for consonants
results in what is definitely the most difficult language barrier
to manoeuvre that I have encountered thus far in life! Despite
this, Isabel and I do seem to be managing to communicate
successfully with the staff on this project. This is largely due to
the help of those who are able to translate for us, and the
patience of those who wait while we look up words in our
Georgian-English dictionaries. We held our first staff workshop on
Friday, with a translator, and the response was very positive –
everyone seemed excited and keen to get stuck in and learn more,
and I was impressed by the sensitivity, enthusiasm and
intuitiveness of the staff group as a whole in their approach to
this new style of working.

We have also now began running a number of
different music as therapy groups taking place at both the day
centre and at the school. These seem to all be going down well with
both staff and students. Working cross-culturally as a music
therapist in settings such as this brings a whole extra set of
considerations to the sessions – what roles of music are
recognised within our respective cultures, and how might these
roles affect the work? This is a question I have been considering
since before beginning the project, and one I am still learning how
to answer. However, I was offered an interesting insight into the
role of music in Georgian culture upon our visit this weekend to
the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Instruments. The guide
showed me a book of Georgian folklore, in which each story features
music being used to cure various anthropomorphised diseases,
perhaps suggesting inherent healing qualities in this context. I
will leave you with a quote from the book, whereby the Small Pox
disease is banished from a village;

“In the room where Small Pox was having a
rest, a young lady surrounded by small kids was singing a song.
When she finished singing, she started to retell some story, and
afterwards the kids resumed singing. What did they sing! Small Pox
was delighted to hear a song in his honour again:
Lullaby, lullaby,
Batonebi have arrived,
You are welcome, batonebo, lullaby,
Leave us, may your path be blessed,
Leave us peacefully, lullaby.”

Small Pox had never heard children sing in his
honour. He was moved to tears. “My little ones, you are so good
to me, you have sung wonderfully! I don’t need anything, I’ll
just take the song with me”.
Small Pox kissed each child with love and gratitude and flew back
to his kingdom happily.”

Until next time,