Two Years in Georgia

As I’m writing this, I’ve already passed the two-year mark – by about 8 hours – but a dude’s gotta sleep. Two years, eight hours ago, I arrived at the Tbilisi airport.

I didn’t write much at the time about my excitement in coming to Georgia. I would say perhaps that my initial blog posts were emotionally unavailable, as I was trying to focus on providing as much actual information as possible to other people who would be newly arriving in Georgia someday, and “OMG! Wow!” didn’t seem to cut it. Also, I have to admit I was very self-conscious about being a fairly new international traveler – having previously only gone to Canada – and I didn’t want to seem callow.

Maybe I was doing readers a disservice. I still remember the excitement I felt as I looked at the lights of Tbilisi for the first time, as we drove from the airport to Ortachala, and as I looked out the window of my hotel room to see the brilliant flashing lights of the Mtatsminda radio tower. It felt strange and normal at the same time.

Georgia has always felt strange and normal to me. I’d be walking around some neighborhood in Tbilisi or Kutaisi, and I’d think that it didn’t feel like being in a foreign country. The signs were in a different language, but the smells were the same. The cracked paint and rusted gates and dirty streets aren’t much different than something you’d find in Brooklyn or Queens.

What I like most about Tbilisi is how the city lights up at night. In the winter, when you drive down Rustaveli or Chavchavadze, there are white lights like giant chandeliers hanging from the sky. Year-round there’s the Hero’s Square flashlight, the lights along the river road, the Peace Bridge, and of course that radio tower at the very top of the city. Somehow the night lights of Tbilisi make me feel more alive.

It didn’t take long for Georgia to start to feel like home. I have always been quick to take to new places, and I have a strong mind for geography, cataloging places, and acquiring local knowledge. It wasn’t long before I had my favorite shopping and eating and relaxing locations in Tbilisi, and I’m already well on my way to doing the same in Kutaisi. Every time I leave Georgia I miss it, and every time I come back I get a thrill to see the familiar sights again.

There are things I miss about New York – my friends and family, the easy access to lots of really good food, the relative efficiency and convenience of many day-to-day activities – but I’ve always wanted to get out of New York. After two years, the things I miss have faded in my mind. My first year I thought about all my favorite bars and burger joints, my favorite fast food restaurants, my favorite sugary beverages, and I kept thinking about them and I made lists so when I came home I could eat and drink all the things I couldn’t get in Georgia. Now, not so much. After two years, I’m used to eating only things I can make myself. Eating at a foreign restaurant is a luxury rather than a day-to-day activity.

The tastes and smells and feelings of home fade, and you soon you only miss them on special occasions.

Sometimes I think about leaving Georgia. That started only in the last few months. I know myself well enough to know that I have a 2-4 year attention span during which new situations are novel and interesting enough to keep me challenged and engaged, and after that the boredom sets in. After that I wonder what else there is, what I’m missing, what else life has to show me. Every school, job, neighborhood, and hobby I’ve had follows the same trajectory. I think Georgia may have enough to offer to keep me here longer – Tbilisi for two years, Kutaisi for another two, then maybe another move? Tbilisi again? The future is uncertain, but full of potential. I know I’d like to buy a nice house somewhere in the mountains, a place to call my own, where I could plan to eventually settle down. A place I could use as a home base while I explore the world.

I think about other teaching assignments. After this year, I’ll have three years TEFL teaching experience, plus my certificate. I think about going somewhere where I could make more money. I don’t really want to, though. I feel very invested in what I am building here in Georgia – a network of friends, contacts, a new family, an online presence – and it makes me want to stay. My wife has suggested that we go to Turkey next year. I’m thinking about it.

I’m really excited about the future of Georgia. I’m excited to see how the country develops, and to be at least a small part of that development. I’d like to open an English school. Teach during the year, vacation in my mountain house during the summer. The perfect life.

So many friends have come and gone. So many people have a fleeting experience with Georgia – some good, some bad – and then they’re off back to their lives. For a few of us, though, our lives merge with Georgia.

I don’t know where I’ll be in a year, or two, or ten, but I can say this: right here, right now, this is where I belong, and I’m glad to be here.


[Video – Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now”]

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4 Responses to Two Years in Georgia

  1. Russ says:

    I’m really happy to hear you’ve decided to stay. I left T’bilisi in ’09 and have always wanted to return. Unfortunately, my job want allow it at the moment and has me currently placed in Taiwan for a six-month assignment. Taiwan’s great but it’s not Georgia.

  2. Katie says:

    πŸ™‚

  3. Sasha says:

    Hi Neal,
    My fiancee and I have been reading your blog for a while in preparation for our trip to Georgia with TLG. We have a couple questions about the availability of things. Do you know how easy it is to get guitars in Tbilisi? Also, as someone living in a rented apartment, do you recommend bringing pots and pans or buying them in Georgia? Thanks.

    • panoptical says:

      There are a number of music stores in Tbilisi, from bigger shops to little market stands near the central bazaar. I would recommend buying cookery in Georgia unless you want to pay the baggage fees and carry them back and forth! Decent cookware and housewares are inexpensive here.

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