I woke up this morning to the news that you-know-who had finally bit the dust (the story broke at about 6:30 am Tbilisi time). I can’t say that I really care – it doesn’t affect my quality of life in any measurable way – although inasmuch as it helps Obama’s reelection prospects I’m all for it. I like the guy (and if Mitt Romney ever becomes president I will promptly renounce my citizenship) and I’m glad he’s the one who got the Osama kill under his belt.
So later I was at school, and I was just going on about my daily routine and minding my own business when the US embassy in Georgia sent me a text message telling me that a warning had been issued and that I should go online and look at it.
I am not prone to panic – in fact I’m generally one of the most blasé folks around in the face of vague warnings, to the point where I actually get impatient with people who get highly excited by tiny tidbits of probably not-very-important news – but this is the first time I’ve heard from the embassy since I’ve been here, and they felt it was important enough to text me, and we’ve all cracked the occasional nervous joke about Georgia’s stability in light of the separatist region situation – and so for a very brief moment my mind began to explore all the possible disasters that might have befallen the region to prompt the US embassy to release such a warning.
My thought process went approximately like this: “Shit, are the Russians invading? Or was it a natural disaster? Are they going to try to evacuate us? Fuck that, I’m not going anywhere. It’s a beautiful day and I’ve got shit to do.” Then I paused to listen for sirens – I figured if something was going down, police would be being deployed – and in that moment of reflection I realized that the “warning” was probably just an utterly pointless message about the Osama killing.
It was. Or, at least, it was about “ recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.” Like, seriously, they felt the need to use doublespeak for *that*? Give me a break.
Now, in principle I’m not against the US government letting its citizens around the world know that bin Laden’s just been killed and that backlash is possible. And many citizens abroad don’t have regular internet access, and while you’d have to be living in a cave not to hear about bin Laden today, there probably are Americans literally living in a cave somewhere who haven’t heard about bin Laden yet. We get around.
But still…what are the chances of this event being relevant in Georgia? There are like six Muslims in the whole country and I’m pretty sure none of them are even Al Qaeda sympathizers, let alone so extreme that they’d resort to violence in this situation. Georgia isn’t exactly a place people think of as having a lot of Americans, and the Americans that are here aren’t exactly important strategically. (I know the US considers Georgia at least somewhat strategically important, but I don’t think that extends to terrorists thinking that the Americans in Georgia are strategically important. Spreading terror in Georgia might make random people marginally less likely to go to Georgia but since Georgia isn’t on the average American’s list of vacation spots the terror won’t spread back to America in the same way it would if Americans were attacked in somewhere like London or Paris – some place that Americans have heard of and think of as safe.)
The truth is, I feel much safer in Georgia than I did in New York. I never really talked about it or let it bother me, but I always knew in the back of my mind that at any moment my city could be vaporized in a nuclear holocaust and that there were people in the world actually working to make that happen. And of course the irrational response to 9/11 – putting fucking commandos in Grand Central Terminal – contributed to the general idea that living in New York was living on the edge. Not to mention the crime in New York was way worse than it is in Tbilisi. Neighborhoods felt more dangerous, people were wary of each other, and there were just general bad vibes rolling around the place.
And yet the US State department tells people that crime is still a problem in Georgia. There are literally military personnel here who are told not to use marshutkas, buses, or trains because of the danger of petty crime. Like, I’m only slightly less flabby than you’d expect of a guy who spends six to ten hours a day on the internet, and I’m taking public transportation that fucking active-duty Marines are being warned off of? Are you kidding me?
I’m not trying to rag on our embassy staff. I know that their job is to keep us safe, and they take their job seriously. But seriously? US policy-makers as a group seem to consistently overestimate threats to US citizens, and that’s why we get porn-scanned at the airport, that’s why our phones are tapped, that’s why Brad Manning is in a deep dark hole somewhere, and that’s why we’re currently involved in some indeterminate number of police and military actions around the world including hunting down a terrorist leader at his million-dollar fucking retirement villa in Pakistan.
And when Americans go to other countries – I’ve seen this firsthand in Georgia, and heard that it basically happens everywhere – they tend to create these expat bubbles and just stay in them. People who work at the US embassy in Georgia seem to all live, work, shop, and socialize within this expat bubble, going from the embassy to the supermarkets with special diplomat-only lanes to their houses, never going far from their SUVs and never daring to hop on a dangerous Georgian marshutka. It’s ridiculous.
And I think that more than tourists, and more than a bunch of 20-something TLG kids (whatever our flaws), it’s these embassy people, these expat bubble people, who contribute to the idea that Americans are sheltered and arrogant and think they’re better than everyone else and know nothing about other cultures. TLGers live with local families, take local transportation, and at least attempt to learn the local language. It seems like most of the embassy folk will leave having never experienced the real Georgia. And if I were a Georgian, I’d be kind of insulted by that.
And apparently, Americans are doing this all over the world. I would think that one of the jobs of someone who worked at an embassy would be to try to integrate at least a little bit with the local population. But apparently I would be wrong.
So my “warning” for a US citizen travelling in Georgia would be to ignore the State Department and their ridiculous alerts and don’t bother signing up for the embassy’s “warden messages.” There are better, more reliable, more accurate, and more informed sources of information than this nonsense and if you have enough sense to do some independent research on a place before you go to it you’ll be absolutely fine here in Georgia, and if you don’t, well, there’s really nowhere you can go where you can escape from your own stupidity, now is there?
Here’s a list of things you *should* be worried about. Did you realize people still die from the fucking measles? Maybe we should hunt down and kill this guy next (that was a joke; I’m not advocating killing anyone).