About two years ago I got off my ship in Poti, Georgia and, it was an experience that changed how I viewed the world around me. More importantly, it changed how I see things when I travel. Sure, it's easy to look around my apartment and think, 'gosh, I'm really lucky to be surrounded by all this cool shit...' it's another thing to look around someone else's apartment and think, 'I've never met a human with a more giving spirit'.
I tried to blog about my time in Poti but, ultimately I never wrote about my experience there. I wrote about day one and then kept the rest of the experience and pictures to myself. Because, Georgia seared itself to my traveling spirit.
Here's what I now know to be true.
Travel isn't about the place. It's about the people.
I spent three days in Georgia and I was really nervous. I felt like a fish out of water. I was nervous to get outside and take pictures. I thought about staying in my hotel all day. I didn't know if I should eat at the hotel or try to venture out. Luckily, I was given a 'keeper' for that time - he was an employee of the shipping agency - I've never been given more consideration during a transit between ship and airport. He truly changed my experience in Georgia.
This gentleman lived in a studio apartment with seven family members. His wife was a teacher who made 200 dollars a month. On our way to Batumi where I'd be flying out of he took me the 'scenic route' over the mountains through the snow. He stopped on the side of the road and bought me a bag of oranges.
Here I was. Sitting in a car with two men who barely spoke english. I had a pocketful of cash. They were driving through ravaged streets proudly pointing out scenic points. Spending money they could definitely have used to buy me some oranges because it was orange season.
It's about the people. Because, people will surprise you - if you let them.
I've been watching the tweets coming out of Sochi and quite frankly, they break my heart. I just can't help but feel that Sochi is being unjustly portrayed on social media.
Here's the tweet that initially got my attention:
Travel can be exhausting, it can be daunting, it can be invigorating. It requires an open mind!
Any seasoned traveller knows that paying for toilet paper and putting it in a bucket next to the John is not a big deal - consider it normal in many, many, many regions in the world. Let me be clear - if you've got a john you're lucky - I grew up peeing outside and can squat like it's nobody's business - which has served me well in many, many, many regions of the world.
There is only one way to survive a new, albeit foreign, experience. You absolutely have to keep an open mind. That barbecued eel in South Korea that looks like a very, very bad idea? It deserves to have one bite taken. Just open your mind and give it a try you might be pleasantly surprised - and if you aren't - remember your manners!
Friends, you are currently in a region of the world who has been through a lot. Politics aside you're currently shoulder to shoulder with community members, families, and children who have seen and survived more than most of us can imagine.
While I agree that Sochi wasn't 100% prepared for the population influx that the Olympics would bring I'll remind you that Vancouver's Olympic Village struggled to be completed on time and that there were lasting consequences to hosting such a large scale event.
Every now and then in my home town of Hilo, Hawaii I play tour guide to out of town guests. I take them to my favorite dining locations, beaches, shops, parks, etc. Do they leave thinking, 'how can she love it here? all that peeling paint...termite infested buildings...no jobs....lots of homeless...'. Maybe. Hopefully though, they leave thinking, 'I never would have seen all that if I hadn't met Megan!'. People are proud of where they're from - no matter what the surface looks like. They want you to meet their friends, their favorite shop owners, the town kook - they love those people and want you to also.
There are people in Sochi who live in houses that are less posh than some of our chicken coops here in the States - and while I wish I was just being snide, I'm not. Regardless, I put money on the fact that they're proud to be hosting the Olympics. I put money on the fact that they want you to enjoy yourself while you're there.
If you want to get the most out of your time in Sochi, chat up some locals. Ask them where they like to eat - if they say at home ask them if you can join them - and offer them a trade!
Have some compassion for Sochi. It wasn't easy to get where they are today - I get it they weren't prepared - have some compassion anyway. Be humble, be gracious, be open.
Tweet about the people you meet. Tweet about the beer / vodka you enjoyed. Tweet about snow and sun. Tweet about how hard the locals are working to pull this off. Tweet about the athletes and how privileged they feel to be there incomplete housing and all. Tweet about the good. Tweet about the school aged kids and how they'll remember this for the rest of their lives. Tweet about how lucky you are to be there live tweeting the freakin' olympics!
Roadside oranges in Poti, Georgia changed me. I bet despite broken lights, door handles, off colored water, Sochi will welcome you with open arms if you let them. It's about the people.