The interesting thing about a second year in Georgia is that I can now explicitly compare things that happen this year with things that happened last year at the same time – things like holidays, seasons, and other yearly events. Yesterday I attended my second US Citizens’ Information night since coming to Georgia.
Last year, I wrote about feeling relief at being within the bounds of American sovereignty for a few hours. This year, I didn’t get that at all. I would never have realized this without the comparison, but I guess Georgia is starting to feel a lot more like home. The idea of feeling more at ease around a bunch of Americans now seems strange to me. In other words, I am now really quite used to Georgia.
Anywho, I think the event was better this year. Maybe it’s because I know more about what’s going on in Georgia these days, or because I decided to use the event to actually talk to people at tables rather than just socialize with other TLGers, or because there was more substantial and interesting information available, but I feel that I got a lot more out of it than I expected. One thing that was definitely an added bonus is that I got to meet and shake hands with the Ambassador, who actually seems like a cool guy – perhaps now I will be less inclined to gently mock the embassy and their frequent safety recommendations and reminders.
So this event greatly exceeded expectations. Essentially, what I had expected was to get free American food – Texas Fried Chicken and McDonald’s – and free Georgian wine. Both of those things did happen. Last year they actually had a bunch of other food, too – hors d’ovres, deserts – and a much bigger wine selection. This year they had Georgian beer. I think the beer makes up for the lack of variety in the other departments.
But also, I got a bunch of really good info. Here are some tidbits:
– People who go to Georgia through the US State Department’s Foreign Service corps get extra money because Georgia is considered “high hardship.” I don’t think of living in Tbilisi as particularly full of hardship, unless you’re like, addicted to Cheerios or kimchee or one of the other (relatively few) things that aren’t available here. Most people seem to agree, meaning that Georgia is apparently in high demand among foreign service folks because it’s near Europe, you make barrels of money and living here is dirty dirty dirt cheap (unless you’re importing Cheerios or kimchee or something…)
– USAID does not fund TLG. This has been a persistent rumor owing to its overall credibility and lack of outlandishness, up until recently I never really bothered looking into it to figure out whether it was true or just truthy. I was surprised to learn a few weeks ago that USAID was not funding TLG, but at this point I’ve spoken to people in at least three different agencies about the matter and they’ve all said the same thing: TLG is not a USAID project nor is it funded by USAID money. USAID funds various projects in Georgia, which, according to their rep at the embassy, include training Georgians in teaching methodology, civics, and other fields and then funding projects to improve Georgia based on these trainings. (USAID apparently does a ton of stuff, but I was focused on things relating to education.) Anyway, the guy strongly implied that TLG was exclusively a Georgian government program and was not being given any aid or support by the US State Department or any NGOs, which gels with what little I’ve been told by TLG staff about the matter. TLG, of course, is reluctant to talk about where their money comes from, for political reasons, but what they will say is that they are funded by the Ministry which is funded by the Georgian government, and so I think that TLG just straightforwardly comes out of Georgia’s overall education budget.
– Finally, and most important: there is apparently an Austrian deli named “Schonhofer” on Tsereteli Avenue, and a German restaurant named Reiner’s somewhere in Vera. Apparently German sausages – including bratwurst – are available; some are imported, others are made locally in the German style. I can’t be more excited about this because I keep shooting off my mouth about how I can’t stand Georgian sausages (or Russian/Ukrainian/whatever the crap they have in the stores here is) and now I’ll finally get to present people with an example of what it is that I expect from a sausage. German sausage is like the gold standard of sausage as far as I’m concerned (although chorizo and sucuk both deserve honorable mention, and the polish swojska can be pretty good) and knowing it’s available in Tbilisi (even if it does mean a trip to didube) makes me a very happy camper indeed. Anyhow, I will report more on this when I confirm with an actual visit. I might even do a German theme post with Kaiserbrau, Hofbrauhaus, the new German menu at Elvis, and these new acquisitions.
Finally, it bears mentioning that several people were turned away at the door for not RSVPing on time, so for next year, make sure to do that.