I’ve hit a rut

Today, the stress just sort of piled up too high and I ended up having an extended bitch session with one of my neighbors and fellow TLG volunteers.

There are several broad categories of problems that TLGers are having here in Georgia, and fortunately I am exempt from many of them. For instance, I don’t have problems with Food and Drink, Village Life, Host Family, Being Female, or Being an Obvious Foreigner. This fortunate circumstance has kept me mostly happy about life here in Georgia, which in turn seems to irritate some of my friends who have to tutor host siblings for fifteen hours a week or travel four hours to make relatively simple purchases or who get stared at literally everywhere they go or spend most of their waking hours craving just a single morsel of non-Georgian food.

However, there are a few things that do get to me, and today I basically vented about all of them. At the risk of sounding overly negative, I’m going to recap some of that venting here.

First of all, there’s the Money in Georgia situation. I promise to write a comprehensive post about this issue, but for now I will say that I am extremely short of money. My expectation when I came here was that I would be in some isolated village in which meals were provided by a host family and there wouldn’t be very much to spend money on. I hoped I’d be able to save up some money for travel, or address some of my debts back in the US. Instead I am in Tbilisi, which is expensive; I have no host family, which is expensive; and I have a highly complex and active social life with Georgians and with TLGers, which is expensive. My Georgian health insurance does not cover my asthma medication, because it is a preexisting condition, which means I have to buy all my own medication, which is expensive. Not as expensive as in the US, which is run by a cabal of politicians and corporate executives who have created a state-sponsored drug cartel that magnifies drug prices by a factor of five or ten or twenty for the purpose of lining their bastard pockets and I hope they all burn in hell, the pricks… anyway.

So being the positive-thinking go-getter that I am, I decided to address this situation by applying for a part-time job here in Tbilisi. TLG told us about some positions at other ministries teaching English to various officials. I had an interview on Friday. From what I understand, there were eleven candidates, at least two of which did not interview on Friday, and there were three positions to fill. I was told that the positions would be filled early this week; however, one of the candidates has already been called and offered a position – five hours after her interview.

What does this mean? I’ve been stressing about this for two days. Have all of the positions been filled? I personally know several of the applicants, but not all of them, and I guess it’s conceivable that they hired everyone already and the other two hires were people I didn’t know. But why did they tell us we’d get called this week, and then call (at least) one person on Friday?

Anyway, I’m okay with waiting and not knowing, but this is worse than not knowing. I now know that my odds have gone down – perhaps significantly down – and that there are things going on that are unexplained and mysterious. Frankly it’s driving me a little crazy. I guess I’ll know by tomorrow, but still.

And the reason I mention this at all is that I can’t help but lump this incident in with all the other incidents of something happening in Georgia that I don’t quite understand, and trying to find some kind of pattern. Like, does this fit into a more general trend of people here telling me some kind of plan, and then just throwing out that plan a few minutes later? Because that seems to happen a lot in Georgia. Or is it another instance of the Georgians See The World Differently issue (that I will talk about below)?

Aside from that, there’s also the Sex in Georgia issue. This is a problem that I have discussed before, to great fanfare, but as my understanding of the issue grows, I like it less and less.

As I learned after my Sex in Georgia post, there’s a certain level of taboo associated with sex talk in Georgia, and the topic generates a great deal of heated emotion and controversy. Unfortunately, the effect of this cultural response to sex talk seems to be a stunning amount of ignorance with regard to sexual issues.

Some of the manifestations of this ignorance tend toward the absurd or ridiculous – for example, the vast number of Georgian men who expect to go from making out to having sex, or having a conversation to having sex, or seeing a woman on the street to having sex, without any kind of lead-up or foreplay – and my reaction to these people is “wow, do you really think that’s the way it’s supposed to work” or “wow, is that actually the way you do sex here in Georgia?”

But there’s also a scary manifestation to the sexual taboo and sexual ignorance. People here don’t seem to know about STDs. People here don’t seem to use condoms as much as they should – judging by the abortion rate, for instance – and I’m told that many Georgian men frequent prostitutes even when in relationships. Studies have been done about sexual health awareness, and it seems that many or most Georgians think that only prostitutes and homosexuals can get STDs.

And so when you combine the culture of infidelity that allows/encourages Georgian men to cheat on their wives with the institution of virginity that encourages Georgian women who have had sex to lie about their sex lives (to the point of getting hymen restoration surgery!) with the general social tendencies against talking or knowing about sex, you get an extremely dangerous environment where you can literally never trust that the person that you are with doesn’t have an STD, even if they claim to have never even had sex.

And I’m not saying that all Georgians lie about who they have had sex with – I’m just saying that there are cultural reasons here to lie about your sexual history that don’t exist in the US (at least, the parts I’m from – I make no promises about the Bible Belt), and that concerns me and some of the other TLG volunteers that I’ve spoken to. And I’m not sure, but in a culture so unconcerned with safety that putting a seatbelt on in a taxi is considered an insult to the driver, I’m guessing that asking a Georgian person to get an STD test before having sex with them would go beyond insulting and into some realm of dishonor that I can’t even possibly imagine.

Different TLG members handle this differently. Some TLG men go to prostitutes here, which I think is just colossally stupid given the risk of HIV or hepatitis, for example. A tiny number of TLG women have found the constant advances of Georgian men flattering rather than repulsive and I’ve heard that at least one was so promiscuous that she was asked by TLG to submit to a second STD test – which is ridiculous, because HIV, if she had it, wouldn’t even show up on such a test for months, which is another example of Georgians having a complete lack of practical knowledge about sexual health. As for me and most of my friends, we continue to limit our dating pool to other TLG volunteers, which has worked out… let’s just say, better for some than for others.

And finally, the third frustration I’ve been dealing with is more of a subtle and hard to describe problem, but I tentatively call it Georgians See The World Differently. This is tentative because I’m not sure if it’s an accurate description of the problem. The problem is more that if you ask two Georgians the same question, you are likely to get at least three different and contradictory answers. I can’t figure out if this is because of a diversity of opinions and approaches and experiences in Georgia or because of a general lack of coherency in the Georgian worldview, and I wonder if I’ll ever get a satisfactory answer. I don’t want to generalize unfairly, but this is the frustration that bothers me the most because it makes me feel like I can never trust anything a Georgian person tells me without putting it through some kind of cultural filter that I completely lack.

I’ll give you an example. One of my students asked me where I live. I told her that I live on Razmadze qucha in Gldani. She was thrilled and told me that her cousin lives there too. Later, I got in a taxi and asked the driver to take me to Razmadze qucha, and he took me directly to my house with no further questions. Wednesday, I was trying to organize a trip from the US Embassy in Didi Dighomi – about a seven minute drive from my house – to my house, by cab. I told the first driver to take the first group to Razmadze qucha in Gldani. He looked at me like I was a total nutcase, and insisted that Razmadze qucha is in Vake. There is indeed an A. Razmadze qucha in Vake, because for some reason Georgians have run out of street names or something and there’s a Gorgasali qucha and a V. Gorgasali qucha right next to each other in Ortachala, and other such nonsense which is nothing new to me because there are like six 14th Streets and several Fulton Streets and whatnot in New York City and so I’m used to specifying the particular neighborhood I want to go to so I don’t end up in Union Square when I want to be in Astoria. But anyway, on Friday night my friend wanted to come over to my house and got a driver who worked for TLG to bring her here, and when I told him to come to Razmadze qucha in Gldani he ended up totally and completely lost for like a half hour before I finally put him on the phone with my landlady, who screamed at him for literally like two minutes before he finally understood where he was supposed to go.

So look, I get it. Some Georgian drivers know Tbilisi better than others. But what I don’t get is that the ones who don’t know insist that they do know, and end up getting it totally wrong, and then are usually pissed off about it. On top of that is the Georgian belief that if something in Tbilisi involves a fifteen minute walk, it’s so far away that you can’t even get there from here coupled with the fact that in the countryside Georgians will gladly take you on a half hour or hour long walk into the middle of nowhere completely without warning and act like that’s an everyday activity.

I don’t know – maybe that was a bad example, but I’ve talked to other TLG people and they all seem to know exactly what I mean. We just have trouble putting our fingers on it. Actually, the responses to the Sex in Georgia post are probably the best example – there are some Georgians who agree completely and others who tell me that I am completely full of crap, and I can’t figure out why some people see what I see and others see something totally different. Worse, there are some Georgians who will claim, with a straight face, that harassment or discrimination never happens to women here, and it makes me wonder if they are living on the same planet as I am, let alone in the same country. But there are also people in the US who hold irrational or baseless beliefs about our basic reality in the face of clear, compelling, obvious, and overwhelming evidence that they are completely full of shit, so again, I can’t say for certain that this is a Georgia thing in particular and not just something that I’m noticing more because I’m new around here.

And again, I don’t want to generalize unfairly. It could be that some people are credible and some people are not, and we, being new here, just lack the social tools to know who to talk to or how to differentiate the “I actually know what I’m talking about” cues from the “I’m feeding you a fat heap of bullshit” cues. I really am trying to figure out why I and so many other TLGers have trouble getting a straight and accurate answer out of Georgians on such a regular basis and I’m trying not to blame Georgians for it. It’s just frustrating to wonder if the language barrier can ever be completely surmounted or if I will just always have some fundamental lack of understanding of Georgia because I wasn’t born and raised here.

Anyway, it’s funny how stress intrudes and sneaks up on you, because on Friday after my interview I was incredibly happy with my life, and today I basically just complained for like six hours. I’m still happy with my life, and I haven’t given up hope of improving my situation with regards to the three broad categories of problems that I’ve mentioned having here, and I imagine tomorrow I’ll be back to something like normal, but for today, I think I’m just going to go to sleep early because I’m tired of being annoyed at things. Also I imagine I’ll have to field several hundred outraged comments to this entry because I dared to be unhappy for a small portion of a single day here in God’s Chosen Land where there are no problems except those brought in or invented by deviant immoral sectarian foreigners with deep psychological issues, and I want to be well-rested for the ensuing histrionics. In other words, keep it classy, Georgia.

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9 Responses to I’ve hit a rut

  1. Meg says:

    I too recently had an interesting 2 hour conversation with a Georgian young guy about the general lack of sex education in this country. He’s sort of like my informant, if I were conducting an actual anthropological study (which I neither have the time nor the proper education to do so). Anyway, next time I see you I’ll let you know all about it.

  2. geoskeptic says:

    How well I understand your frustration.
    I also encounter people who will tell you straight in your face that everything is perfect and there is no discrimination, gender problems or you name it. All who dare say the contrary are ungrateful whiny ass idiots.

    Yes, there are reliable and not reliable sources of information. There are naive and realistic. Rational and completely ir-f*cking-rational to the point of despair. (my own experience)

    Whenever asking an important question also ask what the answer is based on to be sure. “have you seen/heard this yourself?”, “did you read some statistics or is it based on rumors?”, etc. Probably this’ll ensure your on a safer side.

    Just like good old Hitchens said – whatever can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence 😉

  3. ---> says:

    > Anyway, I’m okay with waiting and not knowing, but this is worse than not knowing.
    Have you ever gone interview process in big-medium size American corporation? Here is States there is a difference between “we will call you” and “we will call you by …”. Former usually means ‘goodbye, try your luck somewhere else’. Latter means that they have not decided yet, but if you have not got promised call before the date/time it also means – ‘try your luck somewhere else’.

    Also here if someone is not selected for the job usually HR does not bother to notify them at all. In my 12 years living in States I can remember only one case when someone called me and told me ‘sorry, we decided to pick other candidate’.

    Wilderness of the situation in Georgia is that if someone IS picked up for the job it not necessarily mean he/she will get that call – follow up on a timely manner (as you’ve already witnessed) it is not the case there. So I’d a little bit proactive and give a call to find out what is going on.

    > The problem is more that if you ask two Georgians the same question, you are likely
    > to get at least three different and contradictory answers.
    Jewish people have the same expression.

    > Worse, there are some Georgians who will claim, with a straight face, that
    > harassment or discrimination never happens to women here, and it makes me
    > wonder if they are living on the same planet as I am, let alone in the same country.

    This is the case of ‘loosing face’ phenomenon. BTW, I’ve seen this with Japanese too.

    Is short – in Georgia it is not OK to be wrong on _anything_. If you point and prove (especially if that happened in public) with an evidence to a person that he/she is wrong on that particular subject you will become their mortal enemy. Thus it is not OK to discuss one’s problem (and society’s problem) in public, this is the reason why there are no AA or any other 12 step programs in Georgia. Admitting that you have a problem is a shame and there is one proverb in Georgia directly expressing this – ‘გარედან მტერს უბრმავებს თვალს და შიგნიდან – მოყვარესო’ (loosely translated as ‘ (an action of) blinding enemy from the outside and friends – from inside (of a house)’). At the same time the society enjoys spreading rumors and discussing someone else problems holding coffee cup and/or cigarette.

    So when you hear a statement from Georgians about something you know it is not the case or have not much information, the question to them should always be ‘why do you think so?’ or ‘how do you know – it your personal experience?’ The thing is that such kind of (wrong) opinions are based on rumors and on ‘I’ve being told by the reliably source’. And in a society which seriously lacks critical thinking it is much easier to relay on someone else opinion or what you’ve being told is true as an argument rather then developing your own judgment based on reasoning.

    Moreover telling and proving to such people that they are wrong will have an opposite effect – that person will be even more convinced that he/she is right and the whole universe is wrong. It is pretty much the same way if you try to convince a religious person that virgin Mary they saw on a sandwich is just a burnt bread from a toaster…

  4. ViK says:

    I think all your mentioned problems is mainly connected to education. People are brought up in schools without developing basic skills of critical thinking. And what makes things worse – they are fed with narcissist feelings towards their own nation. Add willfulness of a Caucasian man and you have a person showing ignorance, confidence in baseless beliefs and unwillingness to accept criticism or go about things other way.

    However, you can see people who protest against these things in society. But you can notice exaggeration and high-confidence on that side too, as there are barely anyone walking on the edge of rationalism who can offer them better forms of coexistence with ones they protest against.

    So there is mainstream culture and there are people who in protest of it have run from it for too far and ended up in nowhere, continuing cursing the mainstream. This is a junior process and as many people will leave this sphere of inertial culture from Soviets, as fast we will reach equilibrium.

  5. Tamunaki says:

    Your and your friend’s frustration is the state that most of the foreigners coming to Georgia experience. The difference though is that you all go through some cultural orientation trainings, where supposedly you should be told about the situation on the ground, but more I read blogs of different people more I think that those trainings do not really address the right issues.

    First and most important thing you should be told is that Georgian society isn’t homogeneous. You can’t say that in Georgia things functions this or that curtain way, because there are million ways and you discover this on everyday basis. This doesn’t happen because people lie to you, not at all, each and everybody is telling the truth, the only difference is that that’s their perspective what the truth is. The whole situation naturally reflects the actual state of the country- Georgia is developing country, call it transition. Well, we all know the point from where we started transition but I have a feeling not everybody has the understanding what is our end state and what kind of country we want to build. I don’t mean officially declared Euro-Atlantic orientation; I mean how much it is already rooted in mentality and mindset.

    People might argue that it’s already 20 yeas since we got our independence back and that should be enough for establishing strong and new civil society, with clear values and beliefs. But in reality it is not enough, and at the same time we never actually had those peaceful 20 years where and when people would have time to reflect who they were and what kind of society they would want to create and live in. You all know that we had 2 conflicts + civil war + very hard economic situation when there was no food, no electricity , no heating for months etc…and vary bad criminal situation….It’s only couple of years since we’ve started to be back on track, although having two breakaway regions+ thousands of IDPs and… again we had war with all the consequences…. I don’t know if any Georgian happen to mention this to you all, but the hardest thing to realize after war was that things would never be oki in the country and we would always live in the fear that no matter how hard you try to make your life and country better.. it will always fall apart because of …

    And to go back to my initial point, yes you will meet many people saying completely different things and they all will be correct, yes many traditions, behaviors and attitudes will contradict… We often don’t know what is Georgian Tradition, is that what we inherited from soviet system or even from being under Russian ruling for 200 years, or is that what we managed to keep apart from them and maintain our own identity.. This is very complex… and it will take years to settle…

    My personal advise to you would be, and I give this to all my foreign friends who come here, don’t take things for granted, don’t expect that things will function here the way it does in your own countries, stay as open minded as you are in your own realities as this always gives lots of encouragement to people here… and please don’t look down at people for them not being the way you are or for not having the opportunities you might have and for not living up to your expectations…. This doesn’t necessarily go personally to the author of this blog, but I have felt this attitude in many blogs ….

    • ---> says:

      > This doesn’t necessarily go personally to the author of this blog,
      > but I have felt this attitude in many blogs ….

      I would not say that I’ve seen ‘look down’ but I’ve red that a lot of people say ‘I don’t get it!’. Do you have examples of ‘looking down’ in blogs? Interesting would be to read.

      > and please don’t look down at people for them not being the way you are or
      > for not having the opportunities you might have

      (my point) Foreigners need to understand that today’s Georgian society is pretty much an emotional, testosterone driven teenager which has gone and still going thru very difficult growing process. That teenager was truly deprived most needs, still does not understand how adult society is functioning and what he wants to become.

      Looking down on him and talking with him that way will generate disrespectful and hostile reaction from him because he simple in a lot of cases is not aware about concepts of many things or simple looks on these things completely different way due the lack of exposure to the outside word and proper education. The right way to deal with this kind of teens is to use education, positive reinforcement and encourage their thinking and engagement in discussions. Trying to tell him how he is suppose to behave or try to keep on leash… well good luck doing that with teenage boys.

  6. Ilyk Eyaj says:

    Hi Neal,

    I think that many TLGers are feeling the strain of the semester and it is time to be feeling this way. I know that for many people there would have been a break, vacation, holiday between October and November depending on which Anglophile country they come from. For Canadians, Thanksgiving was in October and for Americans, Thanksgiving would be this week of November. For the British there would be a one week break around the middle of October, at least this is what the British TLGers have told me. I don’t know about Australia and New Zealand, but my point has been made. There would have been some kind of break or vacation during the semester before upcoming Christmas vacation. Speaking for myself, I think that this is part of the problem for the sense of being ‘worn out.’

    I have traveled abroad and lived abroad a lot and it is always psychologically straining. For some it is exhausting and for others it isn’t as much.
    Fortunately, I do not live with a Georgian family and I am so very grateful for that. I like living in an apartment unencumbered with the social space and cultural rules of living with a non-Western family. For me the money situation is an issue because the TLG salary is low and I pay rent. So I sympathize and empathize with you about that.

    My frustration about the gender roles was reaching a climax a few weeks ago. You know all about this because I have shared it with you on numerous ocassions. I’m including it in my response so that other people who read your blog can read it. I had twist-dreads in my hair and apparently that is such a unique hairstyle in Georgia that I was receiving a lot of negative unwanted attention and sexual advances from the Georgian men, to the point where there was some violence involved. Since I’ve changed my hair to a more ‘euro-centric’ hairstyle that will placate the Georgians (much to my chagrin because I do not have the straight, Type1a – Type3a and flat ironing my Type 3b Type 4a hair is time consuming and not at all practical) the sexual harassment and inevitable violence has dramatically reduced.

    You mentioned something about “Georgians see the world differently” in your post. I couldn’t agree with you more. Especially since I am a woman and a person of color in a country that is rife with nationalism and has been isolated from the rest of the world due to the former U.S.S.R. I do not love or hate Georgia. I have had some unpleasant experiences here, BUT, they could have happened anywhere in the world. My problem is the lack of sympathy or empathy from Georgians. This is always a problem in non-Western countries because I am a Western female. When you tell a person a story about something bad that happens to you there is a desire for some emotional reciprocity. I think all human beings have this need. I cannot tell Georgians about any of the bad experiences I have had in this country due to the staunch nationalism and the need to be indenial that nothing bad could ever happen here. I have met a few Georgians who do NOT cling to nationalism and narcissism and they are jewels and I enjoy my time with them. Interestingly, those specific and rare Georgians whom I have befriended; have lived in other countries, are educated, and do not have a myopic view of their country.

    I think my biggest issue about living here has and always will be the following; 1. A rampant lack of critical thinking skils that is disturbing, 2. Staunch Nationalism, 3. Sexism and male chauvinism that is nurtured by the women and men in this country.

    Anyway Neal, your blog is great. I am glad that you are shaking things up. People need to always question everything and learn that there is more than one way to see the world. Keep it up!

    • ---> says:

      > due to the staunch nationalism and the need to be in denial
      > that nothing bad could ever happen here.

      How would you define ‘staunch nationalism’? Could you provide some examples?

      > A rampant lack of critical thinking skills that is disturbing

      In most of places TLGers are first alive foreigners local people are seeing. As I said and you’ve already mentioned it too – it is the result of isolation from the rest of the world first being part of Russian Empire and later – USSR.

      This is why debate and critical thinking should be taught in a school.

  7. pasumonok says:

    this post scared me. but then, i thought of all the crap i pour in my blog and how it becomes an outlet where i show my complaining side and i thought, maybe he’s not in deep depression and maybe he just needs to get it out.
    listen, i know what u’re going thru. i’ve been thru that, only i was a georgian in states. the difference is that i was 17 and very flexible. it would be infinitely harder for me to do that now.
    of cors different people tell u different stuff! imagine going to states and asking people what america is. i’ve been getting different answers 4 years now, but finally, i found a demographic that i like and shared their view. may i add, that demographic is not very popular in states.
    i wish i had a power to organize a workshop or something, an orientation, like the ones we do for the geo exchange students. i kn0w 4 fact that those work.
    this is what helped me have the best year in my life in states, i hope it’ll help u here:
    1. stop looking 4 reasons why, observe the actions and don’t analyze.
    2. our exchange motto was: not better, not worse, just different. it works really well when u’re 17. try 2 let go of ur beliefs, judgments, morals even. stay true 2 ur core self, but other than that, different cultures are just different. i don’t believe in moral relativism, but it helps stay sane.
    3. think of a bigger picture. lots of people have been in ur situation, they’ve survived and in the end, took a bit of georgia home. some even stayed here 4ever.
    this is normal, and as much as it hurts such an individualistic and opinionated (i mean that in a good way) person, u are going thru a stage that many have passed and left feeling stronger. chances are, if they’ve survived, so will u.
    4. try being/thinking simpler. that sounds awful 🙂 i believe ur intelligence is ur disadvantage now. take 1 day @ a time and don’t worry about changing georgia or stuff like that. u’ll have plenty of time 2 analyze these events later. just go with the flow now.
    5. money issues? during my exchange year i was given 125$ per month. that was supposed to cover my: hygiene, school lunch, social life, clothing, school supplies and anything else. and i was a girl. and i was super active and never wanted to miss out a chance to have an ice-cream with my friends. and an average prom dress is 100$. and i only had a year in states, with all the opportunities. i am very sorry but u have 2 get used 2 not having money. stop buying ur products in populi and get used to bazroba.
    6. sex issues? i was a georgian virgin in american high school. wait. that’s not all. i was in utah. do u know how many dating rules are in utah? i had my 1st crush there, and i spent 6 months staring at this one boy Robert. by the end of my exchange year, i got my 1st kiss, my 1st boyfriend and my 1st break up. only not with Robert. with somebody else. and hot. evil grin.
    i hope i didn’t sound lecturing, i just know how u feel and u have 2 hold on, otherwise we’ll loose the humor we like in ur blogs! stop making us sad 🙂

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