Wow. It’s been a crazy month!
To start, my fellow teachers (newbies like me and veterans too!), and Georgian co-teachers were all herded to Tbilisi to take part in four days of training to learn how to teach effectively. Besides the odd timing (is the middle of the semester the best time to learn how to teach?) and the wonderful bout of food poisoning I was blessed with, it was a good time to enjoy free Wi-Fi and text to my hearts content and see all my glorious friends and drink
too much a reasonable amount with dinner. There was also something in there about learning and seminars, but that was not nearly as fun.
After training, a bunch of us spent the weekend in Tbilisi, and then on Sunday went in search of our various adventures for…Spring Break! I went with Matthieu, Canada Matt, and Lincoln to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Y’all. I went on an 8 day adventure, with no set plans, and I had to actually use a backpack because of the walking and not staying in hotels and moving every two days. To put it mildly, I was out of my element. To be truthful, I (and many of my friends) were convinced I was going to kill my traveling companions and end up in Armenia prison. Much to everyones relief, that didn’t happen. It was surprisingly one of the best Spring Break trips I’ve ever taken!
We took marshrutkas/buses from Tbilisi to Yerevan, and then first thing the next morning from Yerevan to Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabakh. Firstly, let me explain why no one has heard of this country. Nagorno-Karabakh isn’t a real country. It is a self-declared republic that is, for all intents and purposes part of Azerbaijan. However, they don’t want to be part of Azerbaijan, because the population is ethnically Armenia, so they have declared themselves a republic and are technically at war with Azerbaijan. Upon entering the ‘country’ you get a visa, and that visa means you can’t ever actually enter Azerbaijan, since you technically entered illegally when you entered Nagorno-Karabakh. Was that confusing enough for you?
The views were gorgeous on the eight hour bus ride to Stepanakert, and that city is amazing. Clean and neat and Wi-Fi in the public parks and the best Italian food east of Italy. Really. Also, it’s insanely cheap. More than Tbilisi, I am smitten with Stepanakert. However, there is another city, Agdam, that is bombed out and technically illegal to go to. Of course, our first stop after registering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Agdam. We took a taxi tour through, and then stopped to explore some on foot. We ran into some soldiers, but they were nice and never told us to leave. Snapped some cool pictures of the bombed out city and the blue mosque, and then we were on our way! Initially, I was nervous because it was illegal and I wasn’t too keen on breaking rules. But after talking with the soldiers, I was feeling fine! …and then we were stopped in the next town by the State Police, taken to the station, and questioned for two hours about our intents and purposes in Agdam. And then I was not so keen on the going-to-the-illegal-city. Because I did not care for the “are you Muslim?” “are you Azeri?” “are you in the military?” “why were you there?” “did you take pictures?” line of questioning. Also, we had to delete our pictures, and lets be honest. Going to an illegal city in an unheard of republic is a thousand times cooler when you have the pictures to prove it.
We left the next day, spent some time in Yerevan (Mexican food!!!, Cascade Steps, Republic Square) and then headed back to Tbilisi! I still have the remnants of blisters on my feet *when walking most places for a week straight, pack good shoes!* but it was fun! And if you ever go to Agdam and make it out with your pictures, send me a few. I need to replace mine.