Not in Georgia

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t even be writing on here when i’m not in Georgia. On the other hand, I suppose Georgia withdrawal is somewhat relevant to the experience, so here goes…

First of all, I was reading an article about reverse culture shock somewhere, and one of the most interesting things that article said was that you would be surprised at how many people were completely uninterested in hearing about your experience in another country.

This is particularly startling to me because this blog is moderately popular which suggests that some people – like, at least 20 – actually like reading about the experience of living in another country. I would have assumed that my friends and family would bombard me with questions. For the most part, they don’t.

I guess I’m okay with that. I mean, for some reason I thought that traveling would make me a more interesting person by default, but apparently I was already as interesting as I was going to get. I’ve had far-ranging discussions since returning on topics as diverse as Justice Sotomayor’s command of English to the nature and origin of consciousness itself, and I’m glad people are interested in what I have to say about these things, but when it comes to trite, quotidian observations about the subtle differences between Tbilisi and New York, people don’t seem to engage.

I guess I can relate to that. When other people start talking about the places they’ve been to, sometimes I’m interested and sometimes I just tune out.

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Second, when I was in Tbilisi I found myself craving various American foodstuffs all the time. I wanted Mexican food, I wanted a sandwich made with cold cuts, I wanted Wendy’s, etc. Now that I’m here, I don’t want any of that stuff. I haven’t had a single fast food meal or gone to a single restaurant since I’ve been here. People have remembered things that I like, and given them to me, and I’ve been appreciative – things like cold cuts, bagels, chicken cutlets, meatballs – but they haven’t increased my overall happiness in life. I haven’t even really craved pizza all that much. I feel like eating these things that I used to eat isn’t so much a satisfaction of a genuine urge for nourishment as it is a ritual that I perform to make being in New York feel like it’s really happening, to pretend that my life now can in some way resemble my life before.

However, the truth is, my life is completely disconnected from where it was four months ago. I have spent the last season eating mostly food that I cooked myself. Mostly food that was grown and made within a few miles of my home. In Georgia I eat when I am hungry. I generally eat at least one nutritious meal a day for the sake of health – usually this involves vegetables – and at least one filling meal a day for the sake of feeling satisfied – usually this involves meat and/or bread and/or potatoes. Since coming back to New York, I eat out of boredom, or I eat because the food is there and I don’t want it to go bad, or I eat because it’s what I would have done before.

My relationship to food, in other words, has changed. In Georgia I have a more organic relationship to food. I have more energy, am somewhat leaner, and have much better overall stomach health in Georgia. And all this comes not because I make an effort to be healthy, but because I make an effort to eat cheaply and efficiently.

So I think I’ve probably gained ten pounds this week. I’ve eaten enough junk food to last a whole year. In addition there’s the jet lag, and I have had considerable discomfort when trying to sleep because my eating and sleeping patterns are tied in to each other and when one is disordered, both are disordered.

Maybe I’m also having some Nabeghlavi withdrawal. I brought two bottles with me but have been reluctant to open them until the cravings get bad. And that’s the other interesting thing – when I first got here, I found myself wanting khatchapuri, of all things – that stuff really is addictive – but now I’m not really craving anything.

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I occasionally see videos shot in Tbilisi – yes, I have been keeping up with Georgia from NYC – and what strikes me is that they feel so familiar already, and yet the slightest bit lonely/scary. I recognize Tbilisi landmarks – Heroes’ Square, Chavchavadze Street, the National Stadium, Rustaveli – and the recognition feels good, like the way I feel when I see a video shot in New York. But I also see the mountains, the high-rise apartment buildings with their two-toned tan and green or tan and orange themes, and for some reason they make me feel like I have gone somewhere very far away, like I’m making some kind of decision that I can never take back.

And of course, Georgia is literally very far away. And in terms of things like hospitals and medical treatments, driving, trash disposal, and democratic institutions, Georgia is definitely on the frontier. But I think my feelings have more to do with a metaphorical distance. I mean, when I’m in Georgia I certainly don’t feel far away, I don’t feel lonely or isolated or stranded. I think instead there’s a part of my mind that is slowly leaving America for real. There’s something about myself that is changing, and I will never be able to look at life in New York the same way.

That’s what I wanted, of course. It’s just strange to actually be in the midst of experiencing it. It’s like a weird growing pain. And frankly it makes me the littlest bit apprehensive because I really have no idea how it is going to turn out.

I just know that I’ll never look at life quite the same way again. It gives me a lot to think about because I’m reevaluating all of the other Big Questions in my life in light of my new experiences, opportunities, and outlook. I keep asking myself what I want to do in life, what my career will be like, what my relationships will be like, where I will live, whether and when I will reproduce – and these answers keep shifting with each new circumstance, and being in Georgia has sent them all into a state of flux again. I feel so happy and comfortable in my house in Gldani but at the same time part of me feels like I have even less of an answer than ever to the question of what I should make of my life.

In short, this voyage of self-discovery has turned out somewhat ironically, so far. It’s like the more I learn, the less I know.

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7 Responses to Not in Georgia

  1. Sibila says:

    Hi, Neal, greetings from Georgia! I like this post – the last for now. I have many foreign friends and they often share their feelings and attitudes to Georgia and Georgians. I have read many of your posts and your feelings and ideas are familiar and associated with what my friends shared…. Yes, I agree that there are many things about Georgia and life here that make people coming from the USA or the west Europe surprised and even astonished..:)) However, all those must be reviewed and seen and discussed in the context of socio-historical developments in the country which has ultimately shaped all these inconsistencies … We are standing now on the transitory stage with full sense (social, political, economical, psychological) of this word. And this is a very hard though historically very interesting times for us…

    Anyway, justed wanted to comment on your article – and tell you: you`re never gonna be the same again after visiting and having spent months in Georgia because this country has something (maybe not noticable at once) affordable to change life whatever meaining you grant to this “change”..:)

    Thanks for very interesting sharings through your posts – believe, it interesting to Georgians, too..

    Happy New Year and wish you all the best !!!

    Kind wishes and respects,

    Sibila

    • Mark says:

      Hi Neal –
      I’ve been reading your blog for some time with keen interest – got my acceptance for TLG and will be shipping out on Jan 15th. Although I can’t claim to be a “true” New Yorker I’ve been living in the x-burbs for the past 11 months and am curious regarding your thoughts on the Holiday Snowmageddon in NYC – I’m assuming you and your family in Queens have been affected. Thoughts? How has NYC responded? I offer this as an opportunity / springboard for cross-cultural exchange – would the city of Tbilisi have done better? If so why? If not – why not? Are you even more “homesick” for Georgia? *Note* Nog fueled musings and questions……

      • Mark says:

        More nog fueled chuckles – is the Onion trite / passé? ( Showing my age)

        Not NY but applicable

        http://www.theonion.com/video_embed/?id=18705Snowy Conditions Proving Hazardous For Nation’s Idiots

      • panoptical says:

        NY responded really poorly this time around – usually an army of snowplows and salt trucks come out and make everything passable again within hours. This time – due to budget cuts, I believe – only major streets were plowed, many not very thoroughly. The MTA understated the extent of the problems on its website, often claiming buses and trains were in service when they in fact were not.

        I imagine we’ll see some snow in Tbilisi over the next few months, so we’ll see how people respond there. The city is a different shape than New York, many of the streets are paved differently, and I suspect certain things will be easier and others will be harder, just as with everything else. In New York one of the main problems with snow is that there’s nowhere for the snow to go – everything is relatively paved and relatively flat, so the snow just sits there and causes ice and slush to exist for weeks on end. In my neighborhood (Gldani) there are hills for snowmelt to flow down, so I imagine there will be less residual trouble. I imagine also that the major roads in my hood will be plowed relatively quickly, and so I suspect I will never have as much trouble getting around Gldani as I had getting around New York this week – but we’ll see.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your blog; not only your relation of life in Georgia which sounds very exciting to me right now, but also the way you are able to write about your feelings of the experience. I fear that one thing I will never be is succinct. Also I wanted to say I totally understand your feelings about reverse culture shock. When I came home to Australia from my very first trip overseas- a six week volunteer program in Kenya- I had been warned by my team leader about it and also about how to try to combat it, but nothing worked. I mean, I was sooo excited both to go and then to come home- I had just been to Africa for god’s sake, and it was exciting! But people who had awaited my photos and stories so eagerly quickly grew tired of my constant “when I was in Kenya” conversations, and even grew jealous of the intense friendships that had sprung up with people who had been total strangers before we all spent a month and a half living on top of one another in a small house. Lucky for you, you’re going back right now but I have to say, it’s likely to be even worse when you come home for good. Nothing really cured me of it except for traveling, and not necessarily to Kenya again but to anywhere. I think it’s something people either understand or they don’t, and if they don’t then they’re not interested!

    Anyway that has ended up being long and pointless, sorry! But keep the posts coming. I love your blog and can’t wait to finish my last year of uni and hopefully go teach in Georgia!

    • panoptical says:

      Well, I have doubts as to whether I’ll ever return to New York “for good” – my lifestyle there was pretty harsh, my health wasn’t great, and I think that overall I’d be happier in many, many other places, as long as I got to visit once in a while.

      Thanks for your kind words about the blog. I’m glad to be able to reach people.

  3. Giorgi says:

    Hi Neal.. I am a Georgian living in and out of Georgia for a while. Now out in one of the Southern states. I enjoyed reading your blog.. I was especially curious about how others are viewing Georgians.. Most of your observations were close to the point, and that’s pretty amazing for just 4 months of staying there. I myself hardly understand Georgians at all.. Good work and keep it on..

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