Experiences have been piling up so much lately that I fear I’ve fallen woefully behind on reporting them. I feel like there are things I am forgetting already that I wanted to record.
But let me talk about a theme. I am beginning to adopt a lot of Georgianness.
A few weeks ago I went to meet one of my Georgian friends downtown. I was waiting for her in the courtyard outside the Rustaveli Metro, and when she came over to me, the first thing she said – even before “Hello” – was “Why do you look like a Georgian man?!” She almost seemed appalled that she could not pick the lone foreigner out of a crowd of Georgians. I don’t look particularly Georgian, but I also don’t look particularly un-Georgian, I guess.
Last week I met up with a girl from a later group, who told me after about an hour of conversation that Georgia was my country. She said that it wasn’t just that I like it here, but that I wanted to live here and solve problems here and basically just do things here.
Yesterday I went to a gathering at the US embassy in Didi Dighomi. There was food being served, and people started to form a line. I remarked on the strangeness of this – seeing a line in Georgia – and my friend replied “but we’re Americans.” I guess we are, but apparently I’ve already assimilated so much about Georgia that I’m getting reverse culture shock from being in a large crowd of Americans.
Going to the embassy was interesting. I kind of wished that I had set up my Twitter account with my phone here so I could tweet “I’m in America!” since embassies are like, sovereign US territory or something. It actually felt good to be in the American embassy because somehow it actually did feel like being in America, and for some strange reason I felt freer there, as if being in a foreign culture for so long had been weighing on me in ways I hadn’t even realized.
And so I think that in some ways that’s actually the way I experience culture shock. It’s subtle – it’s not that there’s anything I can put my finger on; instead, it’s more like there’s a certain amount of extra mental processing power that it takes to interact with a foreign culture – I’m always aware of differences, always analyzing every interaction to try to understand things better, always translating language, body language, and other forms of communication into a language and worldview that I understand – and it’s not that I have trouble with it, or dislike it, but rather that it’s just exercising a part of my mind that hasn’t ever been exercised this much for this long, and it can be just a little bit fatiguing. And so being at the embassy meant that I could drop that layer of observation and hyperawareness and extra processing, and just be. After two and a half months of being in Georgia, it was nice to have a tiny, two-hour-long break where I could be somewhere more familiar.
That being said, I’m really starting to get used to Gldani. The main street that I walk to get to the Metro – a street that I once found interesting and new – is now just an everyday occurrence. The filthy gravel road that I walk down on the way to work doesn’t faze me even the slightest bit, and I’ve long since stopped wondering why there are always two giant puddles of fetid, stagnant water at the end of it even when it hasn’t rained in weeks. I know where everything is and feel comfortable walking around by myself, even at night.
After midnight, though, the street dogs come out in a big way. During the day they usually kind of lay around, or wander and forage – but at night, they run and bark and gather and make a nuisance of themselves. I had to chase three of them away with some rocks to get home two nights ago. And yet, I’m pretty blasé about the dogs – I don’t really get jumpy or nervous, I just kind of coexist with them.
In one of my English classes the other day, the students had a lesson about foods, and some international foods were mentioned. I found myself describing kimchi to the class, which made me crave kimchi, which I am not confident is available in Georgia at all, and which also made me wonder what it would be like to grow up without any foreign food at all, to not know what kimchi and tortillas and burritos were. Of course, I did grow up like that – I had my first tortilla less than ten years ago, and my first kimchi about four months ago; as a child, I basically ate like six things and that was it. But anyway, I also described a burrito, and when everyone looked a little confused, I told the class that there was a burrito place near Politeknikuri, and the Georgian teacher laughed and told the class that I was now going to tell them what they have in Tbilisi. I think she was proud that I know the city so well, but of course it is in my nature to seek out all the international restaurants in Tbilisi because I can’t just eat one kind of food every day or I get very, very bored.
What else is there? I didn’t take a shower today, or yesterday, and I don’t even feel gross. I would never go for three days without a shower in the US, but in Georgia it’s kind of okay. And unlike many of my fellow volunteers, I actually have a fully functioning shower with reliable cold and hot running water 24/7. I’m not not showering because I can’t shower, or because showering is a challenge – I’m just not showering because I’ve gotten out of the habit of showering every day, because that’s what’s normal here. I’ll certainly shower within the next 24 hours – possibly twice, since I have tentative plans for some Bikram tomorrow, which pretty much demands at least a rinse afterwards – but for now, I’m a little bit oily and pretty unconcerned.
And of course there’s the inevitable Georgian that now lightly peppers my speech. The most common is “არა,” which of course means “no,” which I now say instead of “no” even when the person I am responding to is an English speaker. And I’ve taken to sarcastically referring to myself as a “ცუდი ბიჭი,” or “bad boy,” whenever I say or do something that is considered perfectly normal or acceptable in America but taboo or inappropriate in Georgia. Which seems to happen a lot… I guess I just like to transgress social boundaries.
Okay, last anecdote. I picked up some ძირა (dzira) from the supermarket. According to my English club, ძირა is a Georgian herb that is used ONLY in ხინკალი (khinkali). I, however, being the international scofflaw that I am, decided to ignore this rule and throw some ძირა into a curry just for the fuck of it. Well, that, and because it smelled and tasted suspiciously like another herb that I am accustomed to putting into curries in America. Lo and behold, this special Georgian herb found only in ხინკალი goes by another name in the rest of the world: cumin. It went extremely well in the curry because it is one of curry’s basic ingredients, and I had been wondering why I was having so much trouble finding it here. Anyway, when I told my English club that I had put ძირა into a curry, it was like their minds were literally blown. They were skeptical and called me “original” which I think might have been a praiseworthily canny use of an English-language euphemism. But really, Georgians don’t use cumin in *anything* other than ხინკალი? I find that hard to believe. As a side note, all of the ხინკალი recipes I can find on the internet call for caraway, not cumin, but whatever.
I promise I’ll post my curry recipes soon. I made a kick-ass potato curry on Saturday and served an interesting, filling, all-vegetarian meal to a group of friends, which I regard as quite an accomplishment. The point of this story? Cooking in Georgia is also becoming more of a normal, everyday thing, and I’m adapting to and learning about the local ingredients and local names for things. Still haven’t found any კოჭა, though…