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.