A Warning for US Citizens Travelling in Georgia

I woke up this morning to the news that you-know-who had finally bit the dust (the story broke at about 6:30 am Tbilisi time). I can’t say that I really care – it doesn’t affect my quality of life in any measurable way – although inasmuch as it helps Obama’s reelection prospects I’m all for it. I like the guy (and if Mitt Romney ever becomes president I will promptly renounce my citizenship) and I’m glad he’s the one who got the Osama kill under his belt.

So later I was at school, and I was just going on about my daily routine and minding my own business when the US embassy in Georgia sent me a text message telling me that a warning had been issued and that I should go online and look at it.

I am not prone to panic – in fact I’m generally one of the most blasé folks around in the face of vague warnings, to the point where I actually get impatient with people who get highly excited by tiny tidbits of probably not-very-important news – but this is the first time I’ve heard from the embassy since I’ve been here, and they felt it was important enough to text me, and we’ve all cracked the occasional nervous joke about Georgia’s stability in light of the separatist region situation – and so for a very brief moment my mind began to explore all the possible disasters that might have befallen the region to prompt the US embassy to release such a warning.

My thought process went approximately like this: “Shit, are the Russians invading? Or was it a natural disaster? Are they going to try to evacuate us? Fuck that, I’m not going anywhere. It’s a beautiful day and I’ve got shit to do.” Then I paused to listen for sirens – I figured if something was going down, police would be being deployed – and in that moment of reflection I realized that the “warning” was probably just an utterly pointless message about the Osama killing.

It was. Or, at least, it was about “ recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.” Like, seriously, they felt the need to use doublespeak for *that*? Give me a break.

Now, in principle I’m not against the US government letting its citizens around the world know that bin Laden’s just been killed and that backlash is possible. And many citizens abroad don’t have regular internet access, and while you’d have to be living in a cave not to hear about bin Laden today, there probably are Americans literally living in a cave somewhere who haven’t heard about bin Laden yet. We get around.

But still…what are the chances of this event being relevant in Georgia? There are like six Muslims in the whole country and I’m pretty sure none of them are even Al Qaeda sympathizers, let alone so extreme that they’d resort to violence in this situation. Georgia isn’t exactly a place people think of as having a lot of Americans, and the Americans that are here aren’t exactly important strategically. (I know the US considers Georgia at least somewhat strategically important, but I don’t think that extends to terrorists thinking that the Americans in Georgia are strategically important. Spreading terror in Georgia might make random people marginally less likely to go to Georgia but since Georgia isn’t on the average American’s list of vacation spots the terror won’t spread back to America in the same way it would if Americans were attacked in somewhere like London or Paris – some place that Americans have heard of and think of as safe.)

The truth is, I feel much safer in Georgia than I did in New York. I never really talked about it or let it bother me, but I always knew in the back of my mind that at any moment my city could be vaporized in a nuclear holocaust and that there were people in the world actually working to make that happen. And of course the irrational response to 9/11 – putting fucking commandos in Grand Central Terminal – contributed to the general idea that living in New York was living on the edge. Not to mention the crime in New York was way worse than it is in Tbilisi. Neighborhoods felt more dangerous, people were wary of each other, and there were just general bad vibes rolling around the place.

And yet the US State department tells people that crime is still a problem in Georgia. There are literally military personnel here who are told not to use marshutkas, buses, or trains because of the danger of petty crime. Like, I’m only slightly less flabby than you’d expect of a guy who spends six to ten hours a day on the internet, and I’m taking public transportation that fucking active-duty Marines are being warned off of? Are you kidding me?

I’m not trying to rag on our embassy staff. I know that their job is to keep us safe, and they take their job seriously. But seriously? US policy-makers as a group seem to consistently overestimate threats to US citizens, and that’s why we get porn-scanned at the airport, that’s why our phones are tapped, that’s why Brad Manning is in a deep dark hole somewhere, and that’s why we’re currently involved in some indeterminate number of police and military actions around the world including hunting down a terrorist leader at his million-dollar fucking retirement villa in Pakistan.

And when Americans go to other countries – I’ve seen this firsthand in Georgia, and heard that it basically happens everywhere – they tend to create these expat bubbles and just stay in them. People who work at the US embassy in Georgia seem to all live, work, shop, and socialize within this expat bubble, going from the embassy to the supermarkets with special diplomat-only lanes to their houses, never going far from their SUVs and never daring to hop on a dangerous Georgian marshutka. It’s ridiculous.

And I think that more than tourists, and more than a bunch of 20-something TLG kids (whatever our flaws), it’s these embassy people, these expat bubble people, who contribute to the idea that Americans are sheltered and arrogant and think they’re better than everyone else and know nothing about other cultures. TLGers live with local families, take local transportation, and at least attempt to learn the local language. It seems like most of the embassy folk will leave having never experienced the real Georgia. And if I were a Georgian, I’d be kind of insulted by that.

And apparently, Americans are doing this all over the world. I would think that one of the jobs of someone who worked at an embassy would be to try to integrate at least a little bit with the local population. But apparently I would be wrong.

So my “warning” for a US citizen travelling in Georgia would be to ignore the State Department and their ridiculous alerts and don’t bother signing up for the embassy’s “warden messages.” There are better, more reliable, more accurate, and more informed sources of information than this nonsense and if you have enough sense to do some independent research on a place before you go to it you’ll be absolutely fine here in Georgia, and if you don’t, well, there’s really nowhere you can go where you can escape from your own stupidity, now is there?

*************************************

Here’s a list of things you *should* be worried about. Did you realize people still die from the fucking measles? Maybe we should hunt down and kill this guy next (that was a joke; I’m not advocating killing anyone).

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18 Responses to A Warning for US Citizens Travelling in Georgia

  1. I went to work in Djibouti (a Muslim country) today and not a word was mentioned about the killing. I chose not to bring up the subject!

  2. Gio says:

    There are like six Muslims in the whole country and I’m pretty sure none of them are even Al Qaeda sympathizers, let alone so extreme that they’d resort to violence in this situation.

    Actually there are many Muslims in Adjara. Most of them are not religious at all, due to 70 years of Soviet rule, and they are certainly not Al Qaeda symphathizers. Although who knows, if you would switch your news diet to Russia Today Georgia might seem like a safe harbor for terrorists of all kinds.

  3. Alexander says:

    Yeah, it always felt like Georgia was generally safe. Not much worse than US or big EU countries… but some people don’t believe me. :)

    • --> says:

      > Yeah, it always felt like Georgia was generally safe

      Well some ladies commenting in this blog would say that this is true only of you are a male.

      • Rezo says:

        actually Georgia became one of the safest country in the world..

        Georgian Crime and Security Survey
        “Georgia has metamorphosed from a high crime into a low crime country in just a few years. Tbilisi appears now to be one of the safest capitals in the Western world” – Jan Van Dijk, Professor of Victimology and Human Security, Tilburg University, The Netherlands.

        http://justice.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=314

        • --> says:

          The safety risks for Asians, particularly females, are very high. Some Georgians may believe Asian-American females to be prostitutes; therefore, Asian-American females are discouraged from traveling or being outside alone at night.

          http://www.peacecorps.gov/welcomebooks/gewb242.pdf

          Page 41.

        • Gio says:

          The usual US government fear machine, see the poignant blog post above. It is rather insulting that for many Americans any place outside the US is first and foremost associated with danger. Terrorists, women-hating rapists and robbers everywhere. Beware, do not travel anyhwere outside the US except on a cruise or maybe to Canada or Euro Disneyland

        • Eric says:

          I have to say, as an Asian male, I do feel threatened by the haggling I receive when I visit Tbilisi.

        • --> says:

          Oh yaah, Americans have never being on moon and Bin Laden is alive.

          Right?

  4. Irina says:

    Many TLGers live in a similar bubble. Maybe they don’t drive around in their SUVs or shop at the big Goodwill, but they definitely stick together. I see them at cliche expat hide outs (kala, prosperos) and have run into groups of loud and obnoxious tlgers many a time. At least these embassy people are not as publicly annoying.

    • panoptical says:

      It’s obviously not the same. Hanging out with other expats in public places in their spare time doesn’t put them in the same bubble at all, because TLGers interact with Georgians at work and at home, in other words, almost all day, every day. And I’ve heard Americans described as loud and obnoxious before – and in general, I agree – but in terms of sheer volume I know very, very few Americans who can compete with a table of Georgian men. Not that there’s anything wrong with being loud in public places where alcohol is served, that’s kind of the point of them.

    • Alexander says:

      As a Georgian, I find it hard to believe that anybody can be more annoying in Georgia than Georgians themselves…

  5. info@lindarosendahl.com says:

    Another survey for you….
    Mercer’s annual survey on quality of living ranks Tbilisi, Georgia # 214 out of 221. At the bottom of the list along with Iraq, Sudan, & Central African Republic. Tbilisi’s ranking is based on “security, access to goods, and standard of infrastructure.”

    http://www.globaltvbc.com/contests/Vancouver+ranks+world+quality+life/3073254/story.html

    Here’s the local response in Investor. ge

    http://www.investor.ge/issues/2011_2/23.htm

    Regarding the sms sent out by the embassy. According to CNN, this travel warning was sent to all expats registered at embassies overseas, not exclusive to Georgia. You should always register with your local embassy. It’s the smart thing to do. Period.

    • Alexander says:

      Quality of life in Tbilisi… as in a whole of Georgia is not high… however I find it laughable to think that it is as low as that ranking, i’s simply not true. (Unless Russian army standing in 30km from Tbilisi is like minus -100 to the ranking number.)

  6. Rezo says:

    I hope you see defference between list of 200 countries made by commercial magazin(just to get idea of survey resource per country) and concretic scintific survey, concetreted on one contry..

  7. Anonymous says:

    Rezo, I didn’t write whether I agree or disagree with the survey. I too was surprised to find how low Tbilisi was ranked in the survey, as was the writer for Investor.ge and other expats who contributed to the article. It really took me back, as I have been living here for almost a year and am shocked to see this country as comparable to the other countries ranked at the bottom of the list. Do I personally feel safe in this country? Yes. I feel safer here than Miami or many of the other cities I’ve lived in. That survey isn’t based primarily on security, but it is a factor.
    I like the research done by Tilburg University. Hopefully they can contribute their findings to Mercer’s survey for next year because Mercer is considered a valid source used by top companies all over the world for human resources, tourism, media, banks, and so on.
    That aside, I disagree with Neil’s view on the lack of importance with registering with the US Embassy. Maybe that sms seemed silly a couple weeks ago, but there are other reasons for an expat, regardless of where from or where living, should register with their local embassy. How do you think expats considered as ‘missing’ from the earthquake in Japan where considered so?

  8. Travel Warning: Georgia Tells its Citizens NOT to Travel to Russi

    http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23606

    The Georgian Foreign Ministry recommended its citizens on June 10 “to refrain from traveling to the Russian Federation” because of safety concerns.

    Travel of Georgian citizens in Russia “is not safe,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.

    The statement was made in connection to death of a 48-year old Georgian citizen, Gela Bliadze, who, the ministry said, “was beaten to death because of his ethnicity” in Moscow on June 5.

    ===============================

    Well, just who is to blame for that? Surely not Saakashvili, and his eccentric zany ideas about foreign policy – drumming up racial and political tension between the Russians and the Georgians. The guy is seriously “asking for it”, if you ask me.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to read of his assassination one day, in some foreign sponsored hit on his glass dome in enforcing some UN no-fly dome. However, for now he should fear are those who are closest to him, or apparently so, and they are looking for their own secure futures, and want to distance themselves from the recent wave of murders and disappearances now taking place in Georgia.

    In all reality, however, the Russians may be behind it all, as a carefully crafted ploy to take the president out, destroying his reputation with the West, destroying EU and NATO aspirations (as if they have not already been destroyed), and all this was planned ahead of time between them and Russian intelligence.

    Does anyone in a right mind believe that anything now will change to the better; one only has to ask who is responsible for the brutal dispersal of the people on 7 November, and then again and again? It was the same government … but after a while they will win the elections again
    ….. Do you believe that now that anything will change? They will be in power for as long as the mighty of the world will not take another decision on who is on the front in Georgia. No responsible, “buck stops here” – only the people are punished as a part of this never-ending “dirty game”. Each ruler and his team make hay while the sun shines and fills up their pockets for themselves and their future offspring.

  9. nlublovary says:

    I got robbed in Paris, robbed in Munich (top 8 on Mercer’s list), robbed and car hijacked in Budapest, they even broke into my car in Luxembourg (top 19 on Mercer’s list) and stole the stupid cheap stereo. Thank god, none of these happened in Georgia. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

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