Saturday, December 15, 2007

I almost don't remember what it's like to be up at this hour. Or: It's a happy meal indeed.

Hello. I am typing this entry on a computer at the Tbilisi Peace Corps office, and it is 9 o'clock in the morning. I am not used to being up at this hour; generally, I wake up at about 9:30 so as to get into work at about 10:30. I only wake up earlier when I have to travel. Which, not coincidentally, is why I am awake today, as well. I am in Tbilisi for a series of meetings; a sufficient number of meetings, in fact, that it would have been impossible for me to get here in time had I left Chokhatauri this morning. So, instead, I took the night train with three friends from the west. And, since I have nothing else to do at this hour, I thought I might share some brief thoughts about said night train.

The night train is one of the available methods of transport when you are traveling from the far west to Tbilisi or from Tbilisi back whence you came. What happens is, you get on the train at about 9 or 10pm, and then you arrive in Tbilisi (or back in the west) at 6 or 7am. This sounds fine and convenient, in theory, until you realize that you're supposed to be trying to sleep on what amounts to a short, poorly padded couch, which is what is provided in your sleeping compartment. Compartments on the night train come in two varieties: there is the four person cabin, with two sets of bunk-ish couch-like uncomfortable elements, and the two person cabin, where there are merely two of the same couch-like uncomfortable elements. These couch-like elements sometimes come with a sheet and blanket, although often you have to ask the train attendant for a set. The first time I took the night train, I didn't know that you COULD ask for sheets, so I just writhed openly on the couch-like element for several hours. Sleep does not come easily, on the night train, not just because of the fact that you're on a half-bed, but because they crank up the heat and the windows don't open, so by 1 or 2am it is often stiflingly hot. The goal is to fall asleep before it gets too hot. This is very difficult. It usually requires alcoholic assistance, and even then is an iffy proposition.

So what ends up happening is, you chat with your friends for the first couple hours (you COULD go solo, and end up in a compartment with one or several strange Georgians, but this scenario is not preferable for oh so many reasons, and volunteers avoid doing it) and then attempt to "go to bed," which basically means taking your shoes off and writhing around on your couch-like element for a while. You will not fall asleep. You will also, especially if it is your first time on the night train, start to notice how slow the train is moving, and how often it is stopping. This is because the journey from west to east doesn't actually take THAT long if you are moving at a reasonable speed. But you would neither want to get on a train at midnight, nor arrive in Tbilisi at 3am. So you leave late in the evening, and saunter eastward at the pace of a three-legged arthritic dog, and you stop roughly 3,745 times. When the heat starts getting to you at 2am, this becomes annoying. "WHAT THE F#%@ ARE WE STOPPING AGAIN FOR?" you will exclaim. No one will heed your cries.

At about 5:30am, about an hour after you will have drifted into a completely unrecuperative and fitful state of almost-sleep, the train attendant will start coming around and banging on everyone's cabin door. "WE'RE HERE," he will shout, in Georgian. This is a lie. You will be about an hour from the final stop in Tbilisi. Apparently, Georgian people require an hour's notice to put their shoes on and retrieve their bags, which might be stowed upwards of five feet away. If you mutter something at the train attendant and slam the door to your compartment, intending to get as much sleep as possible in that next hour, he will start coming to your door every five minutes to bang on it and announce more things that are not true. "THE SOVIETS ARE BACK." "YOU LEFT YOUR WALLET IN CHOKHATAURI." "WE'RE HERE AGAIN." Finally, you will realize that you are ACTUALLY at your destination via impressive sleuthwork: the train will stop, and you'll hear people getting off. You will get off the train at the central Tbilisi train station. It will be between 6 and 7am. Nothing will be open in Tbilisi for at least two hours. Georgia is not a morning person. So you wander towards the subway - it is mildly surprising that the subway is even open before 10 - and come to the Peace Corps office, where you bide your time by writing a blog entry like this one, or sleeping on a couch, or thumbing through a romance novel from the volunteer library.

Sound like fun? Oh, it is. But it is a sometimes necessary evil. And I'd often rather endure it than not get into Tbilisi until 4 or 5pm. Also, this morning we made a breakthrough that will render future night train trips vastly more palatable: the Tbilisi McDonald's walk-up window is open 24 hours a day! We decided, this morning, in our foggy mental haze, to investigate whether the McDonald's might be open. Good money said that no, it would not be. And, in fact, the restaurant part does indeed not open until 8am. But there is a walk-up window! And it's open all the time! And you only have to wait like half an hour for your Big Mac and Shitty Coffee! Perhaps the walk-up window person has to go cook the Big Mac for you herself, at that hour. But it doesn't matter. It will be delicious at 7am on three mediocre hours of sleep. And gulping the Shitty Coffee will wake you right up. And the world will be a nicer place. And you will feel so terrific about this discovery that you will blog about it.

Then you'll think, "Hm. I could go get some work done before the people at the Nika wake up." So you'll go do that, and your kind-of-retarded second-person blog post will come to an end. Don't not sleep and post, friends. It's dangerous. Someone could get hurt.

Until next time.

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