Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly

Well, it’s finally gotten to me. It took well over a year but as of today I am officially stressed out to the point where it’s interfering with my ability to be a useful and productive person. So I’m sorry if I’m blowing up your spot, but I’m going to talk about why I’m stressed now in hopes that sharing will aid in coping.

If I’m being honest, I think my current level of stress is mainly because I’ve stopped being really candid on my blog. Last year at this time I was able to write about problems and issues I had fairly openly because I had an extremely small and personal audience. Then the whole “Sex in Georgia” thing went down, and suddenly I had demands on me. Suddenly the Police Academy found reason to care what I had to say, and a few months later I found myself being asked to leave the Academy quietly, without being given any reason whatsoever related to my work performance. I was asked not to air specific details of what was said – not difficult, because what was said was a whole lot of verbose nothingness – and so I put on a smile, called it a “horizontal promotion,” and went my merry way. After all, the head of TLG stuck up for me, and more than that, I was being put in a flagship school, so what did I really have to complain about? After all, my manager at the Academy was a complete space cadet and the English language program was a neglected afterthought and I was constantly broke because I didn’t have a host family and had to pay for all my own utilities and food, and all of those problems went away when I transferred to School 51, which is an excellent school that is run quite well overall.

Except that not talking about what went down at the Academy did something to me, maybe. I was a little irritated at the time, but I probably could have talked about it in a way that was honest but also did not involve picking a fight with the whole of the Georgian police force. I mean, I honestly love the police in Georgia, and I really liked my students and my coteachers and almost everyone else I met, and the problems I had with the way the English program was run were very specific and mostly related to one particular individual who just happened to be well-meaning but an incredibly awful communicator. But instead I did the politic thing and, in a very small way, betrayed myself and my readers.

Now I’m faced with several situations that are causing me stress, and I’m basically afraid to talk about every last one of them. I departed from Buckswood a week early, but I never talked about why or what the circumstances were, and although the situation was resolved to my satisfaction, for the purposes of this blog it’s like it never happened. It’s actually an interesting story and it paints TLG in a very good light and the Director of Buckswood apologized for what happened – to be honest, of all the parties involved I probably come out looking the worst – but everyone involved thought it would be better if none of us said anything about the events, and so I haven’t, and I just let it pass and maybe that was for the best, or maybe it’s been weighing on me and maybe it’s helped to set a precedent where I never talk about anything negative on this blog anymore, and that’s not good because if I stop talking about the bad as well as the good I turn into a sanitized The Family Channel version of Georgia On My Mind, and then what good am I to anyone?

In this light even minor frustrations become magnified because I’m afraid that I can’t talk about them without offending someone who I have to depend on for something. I’ve been with my host family for three weeks – and they’re a great family, they’re really accommodating, and they make great Atchma – but in three weeks I still haven’t managed to get a constant and reliable internet connection yet. I’ve Skyped with my parents like three times in the last three months. I’ve fallen behind on getting new bloggers to sign on to the TLG Blog. I’ve fallen behind on regular updates to this blog. All of these things are frustrating, and the reason why I don’t have internet is quintessentially Georgian, or should I say is perfectly representative of the difficulties Westerners have in navigating the tricky process of accomplishing anything in Georgia: I still haven’t mastered the subtle art of communicating necessity and urgency to Georgians in a way that results in things not taking a month to happen. It’s not that I have trouble asking for what I want – it’s just that I think that the way to get things done quickly probably involves some degree of yelling or what I would consider rude or overly assertive behavior and I’m not willing to go that route. I think that the ways I approach these things and the ways Georgians approach them are very different, in an interesting way, and probably merit their own post. If only I had time, a constant internet connection in a space conducive to getting work done, and a guarantee that I wouldn’t inadvertantly offend my host family by honestly describing one of the challenges that I am facing in my new situation. I mean, they seem cool, they’d probably understand, but I’m now in the habit of being timid and cautious. So instead the stress just piles up.

I’ve been at my school for a week and I don’t have a final schedule. I got a new version today – actually, two new versions, because my head teacher gave me a schedule with classrooms that don’t match the classrooms my other coteacher told me we’d be in, which means that I’m going to have to go on yet another scavenger hunt to reconcile where I’m supposed to be at what time. I spent last week going from room to room looking for my coteachers but schedules and room assignments kept changing and people kept not notifying me and I ended up teaching exactly three lessons the whole week. I spoke to TLG about it last week and today it got back to me that my school administration is aware that I am “complaining” to TLG, and yet apparently nothing is fixed since I’m supposed to be in two different rooms at the same time tomorrow morning, which is exactly the set of outcomes that I least wanted, and now I’m worried that the people that I have to work with on a day to day basis think that I’m going behind their backs or over their heads and making them look bad. So not only can I not feel okay blogging about this stuff, but I even have to worry about talking to TLG about it. The thing is, I know that my school is extremely well-organized – or, at least, it was last year – it just apparently takes a few weeks for that organization to take. That’s not a big problem, so why should I be afraid to talk about it?

And then there was the observation today. We had some representatives from a recruiting company come observe one of my lessons today. When I found out on Friday that I was going to be observed on Monday, I sort of panicked because as of Friday I still had no schedule, no textbooks, and had only met three classes. TLG called my school director and he said they’d schedule me for a class. I got a call from my coteacher telling me that she was concerned that we had no lesson plan. I was concerned too. We met this morning and went over her lesson plan and agreed that I’d do a few particular exercises with the kids and then she’d start them on the new textbooks, which I saw for the first time at 9:15 am this morning. When we got to the class I started doing the exercise that we talked about but apparently my coteacher had something else in mind because she cut me off midway through the exercise and made us move on to the next one – one which she also cut off before I was done. I guess we should have talked more specifically about time allotment for each exercise, and in the end I ended up standing around for more than half the class and one of the observers told my coteacher that I needed to be more active in the lesson.

Ultimately that’s not a big deal – those kinds of things like classroom time management and lesson planning take time to iron out, which is why getting observed right in the beginning of the year is so nervewracking, especially when it’s with a class you’ve never met before at a level you’ve never worked with before using books that you haven’t gotten yet. I understood immediately on Friday that this was going to be a, shall we say, less than ideal time to have a lesson observed, and resigned myself to just giving the best lesson I could with what I had on hand. I also know that for many TLG volunteers, it’s a lot worse in terms of materials, planning, and coteacher cooperation. We gave the observers a fairly accurate – possibly even flattering – image of what a typical lesson would be like. We didn’t do so badly, especially for all the stress I’d initially had about having this sprung on me when I had no schedule or books or preparation. I was calm and complacent on the outside and I think my coteacher is angry with me for being somewhat resigned about the whole thing, but really, the situation was basically a shit sandwich and we did our best and there’s no point getting worked up about it.

By the way, I couldn’t sleep last night. Serious insomnia. No idea why. If it happens again tonight I’ll take a pill – I have some Valerian root from one of my coteachers, it really helps.

And then there’s my new relationship. If you’ve paid attention to my facebook, you might have noticed that I’m in a relationship. I am actually in what I would term a serious relationship – it’s one that I think, and hope, has a long future – with a Georgian woman. It impacts my daily life significantly. At this point – actually, for at least the past month – there’s no way that I can honestly describe my experience in Georgia without talking about my girlfriend and how she fits into that experience. And yet she is concerned – or maybe I should say terrified – about the reaction that her friends and family and work contacts will have to knowing that she is in a relationship with a foreigner. She is concerned that anything that I say on my blog – even if it’s not about her in particular – will impact her reputation. This is because, as everybody knows, Georgian society is almost completely dysfunctional when it comes to interpersonal relationships. There is so much lying and hypocrisy and shaming and silencing that it makes my fucking head spin.

I’ve been sitting on a post – actually, a third Sex in Georgia post – for a little while now. I’m not posting it right now because my girlfriend thinks that if I post it people will draw conclusions about me or about her her or about our relationship that she does not want them to draw. I do not share this concern because I know that the post is not about her, but is instead the culmination of over a year’s worth of observations and experiences in Georgia and 28 years worth of observations and experiences in America, and because (as is my wont) I speak in generalities about Americans in general and Georgians in general, and because most of what I say is public knowledge anyway, for people who have the wherewithal to go and find that knowledge (in other words, not most Georgians, but most everyone else). Also I say that if people wish to speculate and draw conclusions, they’ll do it no matter what I write here. The way I see it, to the kind of people who my girlfriend is worried about, I’m an amoral foreigner regardless of the extent to which I admit it on the internet. Also it’s not like I’ve told you her name or anything about her, so if you don’t already know us you have no way of knowing who she is. And yet I have not published the post yet. And I am feeling increasingly anxious about it.

(Edit: I want to be sure to say that I don’t blame her for having these concerns. I blame Georgian society for instilling in her the need for concern and in others the need to shame people for behaving like normal human beings. And I will say what needs to be said, as soon as we’re both comfortable with and on the same page about the implications. I hate that the first thing I’ve said about her on here isn’t about how amazing and awesome she is – but she is amazing and awesome – but I’ll have to work out what I can say on here, and when, and how.)


The problem with this – with all of this, and probably more that I’m forgetting – is that for me to allow myself to be silenced runs directly counter to the person I want to be, to how I want to see myself. I stand for communication and openness and honesty and transparency. If I don’t stand for those things when it is difficult – I, who can take my American passport and go nearly anywhere in the world with it, I, who have education and experience and eloquence on my side, I, a person with myriad options and not a whole lot to lose – if I don’t stand for these things, then how can I ask others to do the same? How can I ask people who are stuck here to speak out for what they believe in if I won’t do it and I can leave whenever I want?

But there’s something more simple, more fundamental, more visceral. I can’t not be who I am. Not posting all these things is taking a toll on me. I couldn’t sleep last night. The stress is starting to detract from my daily life. Blogging isn’t just a hobby for me – I’ve been blogging or journaling for over half my life. Writing – and sharing that writing with the world – is how I solve problems, how I express myself, how I learn about myself and others and the world. It’s how I think. I’m capable of compromise – in the short term – but ultimately if people can’t take me for who I am, I just have to move on. Fish gotta swim.


Video: Tom Lehrer, Pollution

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21 Responses to Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly

  1. katarzynawid says:

    Funny how Georgians, and really people, behave when someone is watching. It’s hard to be as honest when you have more people watching you, and even some relying on you not divulging, or alluding certain things. I enjoy your honest posts, I think most people who read this site do. It’s exactly what makes it worth reading. I’m not sure myself, or others, would have come to Georgia without reading what we felt were truthful words, reactions and situations.


  2. athena425 says:

    Any slight feelings of regret or second thoughts I had about not teaching English have effectively evaporated after reading this post. I thank you for that. As far as the internet situation. If you can get the house you are living at wired for sound- I bought a wireless modem for all of 60 GEL and then fairly fast internet package through Caucasus Online is 15 GEL per month with no MB limit.

    Ps- I would love for you to write about another hot topic that has me boiling hot: how Americans (TLG) behave in public in Tbilisi. I will not mention any names but I actually left the group of people I was with (ditched them) this past weekend after one of them casually- albeit drunkenly- threw an empty liter beer bottle against a random apartment wall as we walked through the city center recently. My point is, I don’t give a crap how people from the UK act or anyone else, but if you are an American- act like you have been there before. Some of us actually live here and aren’t going home in 3-6 month’s time and your behavior reflects on all of us. I was equally one part humiliated and one part exasperated by this. Rant complete.


    • ishtari says:

      @ athena425

      “Ps- I would love for you to write about another hot topic that has me boiling hot: how Americans (TLG) behave in public in Tbilisi. I will not mention any names but I actually left the group of people I was with (ditched them) this past weekend after one of them casually- albeit drunkenly- threw an empty liter beer bottle against a random apartment wall as we walked through the city center recently.”

      *Stands up and claps* Athena, I don’t know you but I wholeheartedly agree with what you’ve stated. I was in Group 3 with TLG last year and quite frankly I had a shit list of people I couldn’t stand to be around for more than 30 seconds because of the type of behavior you just described. I hate to break it to you, but ‘ugly americans’ are everywhere. I live in Sicily and the Americans that come rolling through here make my skin crawl. Fortunately for me, most of the world mistakenly believes that the United States is a monolithic country of WASPS (white anglo saxon protestants) and since I’m not one, I don’t get lumped into the ‘ugly american’ category and neither am I seen as a U.S. citizen since many people don’t realize that America is a diverse place. I use their ignorance about the diversity of our country, to my advantage and I’m a happier expat because of it. They usually assume I’m from somewhere in the global south. When I run into fellow Americans, while I’m travelling, I can usually get away with not acknowledging them or speaking to them because they’ll also assume that I’m not a U.S. citizen either. This strategy only works for me, if the U.S. citizens in question are White and/or of European ancestry. If they’re Black or Brown, then they know immediately that I’m American and try to force some kind of bond or comraderie that really isn’t there based on citizenship, expat life, and ‘the struggle’. I usually cringe through the whole thing. I feel your pain though.

      On the flip side of all this, it would be nice if people used critical thinking skills and realized that not all Americans are cast from the same mold. Oh well.


      • athena425 says:

        It’s a lonely existence at times, but to be quite honest, I cannot stand 99% of the immature douches in TLG. There are a handful— rather a thimble full of teachers that are tolerable but that’s about it. I place the blame chiefly on the TLG staff for this phenomenon. Clearly, they need to be a little bit more discriminatory during their recruiting process. At the end of the day, as an American, you represent us as a whole- despite the fact that the US is not a homogeneous country like most Europeans would have you believe. But behavior like the above-mentioned only adds fuel to this myth as you eloquently have pointed out. And yes, I too run the other way when i hear Americans coming. It’s a shame too, because I really do love my country.


  3. raughley says:

    Hi Neal,

    I just wanted to clarify one part you mentioned regarding the observation in your classroom. The two men from the recruiting agency LOVED your class. They thought you did a great job and were thoroughly impressed with the kids. They even caught themselves humming or singing “Say Hello!” throughout the rest of the day. The two of us from TLG could see that your co-teacher was stepping on your toes and thought it was all about her (It was not. It was about the both of you as a team.). This was not something that either us TLG staff members or the recruiters thought was a negative reflection on you. I personally understood that whenever something official happens at school it can become a chance for the co-teacher to show off how great of a teacher they are. I’ve seen this happen a half-dozen times before. Though you felt overshadowed by your co-teacher, rest assured that the recruiters did not voice a single complaint to us about their observation of your classroom.

    Yours was not the only school we took them to, but just one of several examples of volunteers’ lives (both professional and domestic) in Georgia. We were lucky enough to show them a few different relationships and it helped them see that no two experiences in Georgia are exactly the same. I know how it can feel from the inside to know all the little things that are going wrong and to notice every single mistake. The audience almost never notices and even less frequently cares. So, just to reiterate, the recruiters greatly enjoyed your class and had nothing negative to say about their experience (except maybe that we made them eat too much!).



  4. geoskeptic says:

    You’re just facing the same problems open-minded and liberal Georgian men and women living in Georgia have been facing for a long time.
    Hypocrisy, unprofessionalism, conservatism, religion and nationalism-induced narrow-mindedness, irrationality, fear of change, plain laziness and much more are causes of arguably all problems in the Georgian society. Those who realize this are in overwhelming minority and some of them watch silently in frustration while others choose to do the least they can and speak out loud about problems.
    I hope you’re the latter kind. Keep being critical and free to express your concerns and screw those who’re trying to censor you.
    Men alone can and will not fix women’s problems in Georgia. What needs to be done is that women themselves need to speak out with united voice against man-chauvinism and discrimination of women in Georgian society. They will immediately enjoy support from the liberal-thinking men and together they’ll be a small but strong force. But they HAVE TO dare to take the first steps : ) change requires courage and determination.


  5. ishtari says:

    Hmmm, I don’t envy your position at all. When my ‘airport incident’ happened to me, I didn’t talk about it on Facebook, ever. I just posted it on my blog a few weeks ago and that was months after it happened.

    Best of luck with everything!


  6. says:

    Are you dating a Georgian woman? That would be very surprising. From reading your blog I would think that a “typical” Georgian woman would be opposite of everything you like. You dating a Geo woman would be mighty hypocritical.


    • panoptical says:

      Could you back that statement up with some actual text, or are you just making unfounded assumptions because you’re too stupid and lazy to form a coherent argument?


      • pasumonok says:

        “You dating a Geo woman would be mighty hypocritical”—-because all Georgian women are bunch of mindless, kitchen-loving, long-skirt-wearing, church-going housewives that are against everything you stand for….:-) 🙂
        How dare you date Georgian woman? Don’t you know that we all think that foreigners like you are evil?!
        Oh, I know, that is your strategy to infiltrate Georgian society and install your values in Geo females’ heads


  7. Troy says:

    Steve and the girls at the academy told me you were sacked by the Ministry of Internal Affairs because you were “too difficult to work with”.


    • panoptical says:

      Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard that particular story from anyone… and I doubt the people who have actually worked with me (ie my coteachers, for example) would back it up… but no worries. I’ll give it exactly as much credence as I give the thirty other so-called reasons I’ve heard. Thanks for the heads up, though.


      • Anonymous says:

        Hey, TLGer here. I wouldn’t give a damn about what “Steve and the girls” think about you, because I know what it’s like dealing with them. I taught police officers during the past few months, and I cannot believe the crap I had to deal with when communicating with the MIA Academy. You should be glad you left that Mickey Mouse outfit.


        • panoptical says:

          Just to clarify, I consider Steve a good friend and I value his opinion and perspective, even (actually, especially) in cases where it’s critical of my flaws. The MIA was really hard for me, especially as a first ESL teaching experience, because there was no communication and no instruction from the administration, and Steve, with his years of teaching abroad experience, knew how to operate within that environment, and his advice proved very useful and accurate (when I was smart enough to follow it).

          I am most certainly glad that I left the MIA because as you say, dealing with the administration there was like pulling teeth and herding cats all rolled into one annoying ball of bullshit – but working with Steve was pretty much the high point of my experience there.


    • “Steve and the girls”?



  8. Tom says:

    Just be lucky you are allowed to write about your real feelings and frustrations. No matter how much crap people may give you I think it’s well worth it. I may not agree with it totally, but it’s still worth it. Publish that third post.


  9. pasumonok says:

    i was always wondering if u felt like this…even asked about it several times in comments-u left them without answers. i know the feeling very well. u either betray urself or end up damaging ur relations, maybe even ur career. choose ur battles.
    as for the dating part…when i feel my blog posts might offend my husband, i ask him. harmonious relationship is a priority for me, i value it more than my blog (that and he has never disagreed with my posts, so no conflicts there). so in the end, even if we fight about it, i will give it up. but i won’t give up other things.
    when in relationship, we have to sacrifice stuff. The thing is, what is sacrifice-worthy for you? what are the things you would never give up, because they are more important for you, than keeping peace with your gf? There will always be such situations, blog or no blog, so if u try to sort it out and come to terms with general life principles (for example, i am willing to care about how others perceive me to keep up my image for her), this principle will get reflected in everything you do– what you write, what you wear, how you behave.


  10. --> says:

    > I still haven’t mastered the subtle art of communicating
    > necessity and urgency to Georgians in a way that results
    > in things not taking a month to happen.

    Here is the story – my aunt and brother need to certify some papers with public notary and they need my presence over skype during the process. Believe or not, one can do legal things like this over Skype, even state Civil Registry allows to do this.


    It has being THREE WEEKS to make event happen – all tree times what I was told that we will have this skype call (take into consideration 11 hour difference) the notary had more important things then to do the job he is paid for. And last time (last Thursday night) I was sitting in front of the computer till 3AM waiting for the call, which never happened and I went to bed. And nobody actually bothered even to notify me. Remember – THEY need to certify those letters, not me.

    When I had enough and expressed my frustration my relatives did not quite understand why such a big fuss about this. And I speak the same language they do.

    So… not really envy you in situations like this.


  11. Steven Diamond says:

    Shacking up with you, not the brightest girl in the world, eh? No seriously, all the best.

    Poor communicator isn’t true. Homeboy was on it.

    Vent away, the world awaits your entries.


  12. Pingback: Coteaching: A Success Story « ბაყაყი წყალში ყიყინებს

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