Life used to be lifelike
Now it’s more like show biz
I wake up in the night and I
don’t know where the bathroom is
and I don’t know what town I’m in
or what sky I am under
I wake up in the dark and I
don’t have the will anymore to wonder…

– Ani

An update about my personal status and state of mind.

I had a tiny bit of stomach ick this morning – nothing serious, just that I was sitting at breakfast and suddenly I *really* needed to go to the bathroom.  Afterwards I felt a bit tired and weak for the rest of the day.  For breakfast we had eggs over-easy, although I managed to find the over-hard ones since I don’t like runny yolks, so essentially what I ate was hard-boiled eggs that were flat rather than round.  Lunch was awesome – some kind of beef and potato soup, with big meaty beef chunks.  I also ate three or four slices of whole wheat bread with butter and salt (I know, salt on bread, what?  but they only have unsalted butter here, so I have to improvise.)

I don’t know who spread the rumor that Georgian food was all super-salty, because that’s a damned lie.  Or else New York food is also super-salty, which may well be the case.  Anyway, I was just glad to have beef chunks because I was getting tired of ground meat.  Dinner was “pizza,” although being from New York, I have a different idea of what pizza is than the rest of the world, so I opted to have some puri (bread) and Nableghlavi (a brand of mineral water) in my room while facebook-surfing instead.

But while we’re on the topic of stomach issues (and if stomach issues gross you out, this will be TMI, so skip this paragraph) – I have gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder, more commonly known as Acid Reflux.  I also suspect that I have something like irritable bowel syndrome, because if I eat certain foods without a large intake of fiber, I get bad stomach cramps and diarrhea.  In any case, back in the States, it was common for me to have some kind of stomach distress on a regular basis.  If I went a week without stomach problems I was happy, and if I went a month without stomach problems it was a minor miracle.

The point is, my stomach has been between normal and extra good since I’ve been here.  There was one day when my reflux was really bad, because I forgot my morning prilosec, then ate extra-spicy, extra-greasy onion meatwads for lunch, then sat in a meeting for two hours with no Tums available.  But I haven’t been such a dufus since that day, and my reflux has thus been fine.  Similarly aside from the nausea from drinking too much Georgian coke, I haven’t had any significant stomach episodes either.  I know it’s only been like a week, but still – I’d say the profile of foods here agrees with me somewhat more than my diet at home.

On to my state of mind.  I am getting really tired of orientation week.  This morning in my Georgian class, some kids were talking to the Georgian instructor about how in North American universities, it is perfectly acceptable to eat food in class, drink beverages in class, or even play video games on your computer in class.  They explicitly explained that since they were paying for university, they had the right to go to class, or sleep through class, or show up in class and do whatever they want.

Forgive me, but I do not understand this attitude.  For me, if I am paying for something, I do my best to get my money’s worth.  I can play video games at home without dropping thousands of dollars a year on higher education.  And for me, showing up in class only to pop open a bag of Doritos – which are smelly and distracting to other students – and go on facebook, or play a video game, which is distracting to the people behind you – is an extremely disrespectful and counterproductive way to conduct one’s self.  How do you think a teacher feels when they put their best effort into planning and delivering a lesson only to be received with indifference, to stand up there and try to impart knowledge and to be ignored?

It just makes me angry.  After Georgian class I tried Intercultural Learning again.  This time we had to prepare and present a skit on how we would react if a certain situation came up during our year teaching.  My group’s situation was that there was a spontaneous birthday party for a member of the host-family and our family expected us to participate, but we had an important school project to do with a strict deadline.

One person suggested that we refuse, but refuse jokingly so as not to cause offense.  Now, we’ve had, at this point, two different panels of TLG teachers who have come to tell us how to get by in Georgia.  Both panels were crystal clear that if you need to refuse something or someone in Georgia, the only way to do it is to be stern and serious and unequivocal.  According to these panels, if you try to refuse something but smile or laugh, the Georgians will not take your refusal seriously.  This can send mixed messages and has the potential to cause offense to your hosts or, in some cases, to put you in danger.  For instance, if a Georgian man is trying to kick it to a Western woman, the Western woman cannot smile, laugh, and refuse, because that does not mean no in Georgia, and to me, the subtext of this – which no one is talking about, but which I am keenly aware of – is that if a woman does not refuse emphatically enough, she may well be stalked, raped, or otherwise assaulted.  And if that shocks you, take a class on gender issues in American law, because insufficient refusal or mixed signals was a perfectly valid legal defense to rape in the US until surprisingly recently, and variations of it are still being used both in and out of the courtroom.

Anyway, I have not experienced Georgia firsthand, so I don’t know how seriously these warnings should be taken.  I know that a lot of the dangers and differences about Georgia have been exaggerated by people over here, and this might be another example of that.  However, it doesn’t make sense to me to ignore advice that we’ve been given by both Georgians and previous TLG groups and just do things the way we would do them in whatever places we come from.  It seems to me that the whole purpose of “intercultural learning” classes would be to tell us how to respond in these situations.  It seems to me that for us to sit and speculate – and worse, to come up with an answer that seems to contradict everything we’ve been told so far about Georgian society – is not only a waste of time, but is actively counterproductive.

So anyway, I got really frustrated, again, and after class I stewed for a little bit and took a very long nap, and when I woke up we went to Gelati monastery, but it was wicked dark and we couldn’t really see all that much.  Inside the monastery – which is apparently like 800 years old – there was a really cool chant going on by candlelight.  I got some neat pictures of the inside.

When we got back, I stood outside the training compound and reflected a bit on my circumstances.  I started to miss my friends.  I’ve met a lot of nice people here – and even a few that I think I could actually be friends with outside the context of being the only English speakers in a thousand miles – but there’s only so much of a bond you can form in a week, and I’m just not going to be close to anyone here in this span of time, and I’ve started to feel really alone in the crowd and really drained.  I kind of feel like I’m drinking social seawater – it tastes like water, and there’s a lot of it, but all it’s doing is dehydrating me even more.  Usually social interactions are what I use to validate myself, my thoughts, my concerns, etc, and I’m just not getting enough of that here.  Well, at least I have you, Blog.

I don’t know if it’s me, if it’s the environment – I mean, the high-school like environment of all of us going to classes, then meals at the same time, etc – or if it’s just that 92 people is too many.  Some people are forming cliques already, which I guess is cool for them, if it helps.

I do know that I feel particularly isolated because of the cigarette smoke.  I’ve repeatedly been told that everybody smokes in Georgia, but that’s actually not true, and although many of the Georgians I have encountered do smoke – and smoke indoors, and whenever they want to – it’s been relatively easy for me to avoid smoke coming from Georgians, and when I’ve encountered Georgians, it is actually pretty rare for them to be smoking.  On the other hand, basically every time I’ve hung out with a group of more than four TLG teachers, someone has lit up and I’ve had to either suck it up and deal, or leave.  For a while I was coping – when we were at the hotel, and it was only maybe forty people, and there was a lot of room to get away from the smoke.  But now I essentially cannot socialize with eighty to ninety percent of my fellow TLG teachers because they are either smokers or they habitually hang out with smokers or in a place where people are smoking.  People who I was becoming friends with at the hotel in Tbilisi have commented that they have not seen much of me since we came to Kutaisi.  Well, that’s the reason.

I’ve tried to make the most of this situation, but it’s really hitting me hard.  Pretty much everyone hangs out at one of the local bars here after dinner, but I can’t go because of the smoke.  For those who don’t know me, I absolutely love drinking, and bars, and beer, and drinking beer at bars.  For me to just not go to a bar – to not show up at a bar at all, even when my friends are all going, even when it is across the street, even when tap beers cost less than a dollar – that’s pretty much antithetical to my whole existence for the past decade.  So I’m actually pretty bummed out about that, and I think that’s manifesting itself in some feelings of negativity and resentment toward the people who do get to go have fun at the bar.  And I’ve been told that “it’s not that smoky,” but actually it is.  I mean, I went once, and I sat outside because the inside was too smoky, and there were people smoking outside – not Georgians, Americans – and I decided to just leave rather than try to find a place where I could hover upwind and still be socially engaged.  As I was bringing my beer glass back to the bar, the room was so smoky that I could smell the smoke on my hair and clothes even when I got back to my room.

So yeah.  I have to admit I’m feeling pretty down right now, and I’m not really looking forward to suffering through the next three days, but I am really looking forward to meeting my homestay family and my Georgian colleagues, and having my first supra, and actually doing what I came here to do, which is to teach English.  And I should also say that the TLG staff has been incredibly helpful and super considerate and are generally great people who I will miss a great deal when we go our separate ways.

…I wake up in the night
in some big hotel bed
my hands grope for the light
my hands grope for my head
and the world is my oyster
you know the road is my home
and I know that I’m better
I’m better
I’m better off

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3 Responses to Dilate

  1. Amanda says:

    I would have liked to hear what the instructor had to say in response to that skit. Hopefully the group was given advice on a better way to handle that situation… they might have learned something at the end. Sometimes people need to get the wrong answer in order to learn the right one.


  2. Alexandria says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Neal. I feel I could relate to several things you mentioned in the blog. So, at least now I can mentally prepare myself, though I hope my group will be a less smokey ;/…Hang in there and look forward to hearing the host family situation.


  3. Connie says:

    Well, your comments are very honest and you are doing your best to absorb it all in a positive manner. My congrats on handling everything so well.
    A couple of comments:
    First about safety: I have traveled all over Eastern Europe and Turkey as a solo woman and I felt MUCH more safe in Georgia than in say, Romania. Although people stare (they do that everywhere) I never felt threatened or unsafe, anywhere or at anytime. Use some common sense and discretion and I truly beleive any single woman would be fine. What you said about the traffic is true too-it’s scary! And the pedestrians are also insane.

    Second-about the smoke: you are right, it is disgusting and pervasive. It ruins many potentially fun social situations. I couldn’t stand it either. That and the car exhaust. I about choked and could hardly breathe anywhere in the capital because of these pollutants.

    Third-about the gossipers. It’s totally true. It’s like living in a small town in the US (I grew up on Vashon Island, WA so everyone knew everything about everyone else) and some people just have nothing better to do.

    As my mother used to say:
    High class people talk about ideas,
    Mid class people talk about events,
    Low class people talk about other people.

    Here’s another gem from her:
    “Someone has to serve as a bad example. Make sure it’s not you”.

    Keep the blogs coming, they are great.


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