Tako and Gigi met us at our hotel to go over our itinerary for the week. Tako, local staff at the U.S. Embassy, has been my primary contact, and organized all of our events and local travel. She knows so much about Georgia, it’s incredible. Gigi is a whip-smart, one-of-a-kind, funny guy with so much heart, who was our interpreter. I liked them both immediately.
We had a very warm reception at our first event: a daytime concert for students at Tbilisi State Medical University. It was apparent that the students appreciated a break from their studies because they were electric! They danced, sang, and waved their phone flashlights in the air. The concert culminated with a huge group dancing with us on stage.
From there, we played at the local Youth Palace (a cultural hangout center for teens and young adults) on the closing night of a film festival. They, too, were so much fun. After our set, they crowded up around us to greet us, and request more songs. “Play Nirvana!” “Do you know any Queen!?” We obliged, and the singalong that ensued will be a great memory.
One thing I love about these tours is the broad spectrum of work we get to do. The next day was equally great, and 180 degrees different from the first.
We started the day with a meeting with local Non-Government-Organization (NGO) leaders, and activists in the disability/different abilities community. Over coffee, I was asked to lead a discussion about the work that they do, the issues that they’re facing, and to share my own experience, life story, and facilitate a Q&A session.
One man said “15 years ago, if you had a different ability, you could get around as long as someone could carry you, and then in many cases, when you were too heavy to carry you entered the bed you’d stay in the rest of your life.”
They’re working on updating infrastructure: ramps on stairs and sidewalks (which are rare, or ineffective), accessible doorways, bathrooms and buildings, and working to overcome discriminatory hiring practices. I was touched when they said my visit was especially meaningful because they also want people to see and meet leaders who are different.
In the afternoon, we played at a neurodevelopment center. The room was packed, standing room only with kids who had various cognitive and emotional differences, and their families. We had no PA system, so we just shouted out our songs, and strummed our guitars hard. We also had help from some less-shy youth who’d crowd around and stomp on Alex’s drum pedal, and pluck our guitar strings.