It's a little nippy here at night. I'm writing to you prime time from Georgia. The days have been flying by. I can't say I'm not tired, but things are going well over all. I have been using the few pieces of gym equipment at my SM's youth center I'm also teaching at, which is helping to relieve stress and feel good. I can say without a doubt that compared to this time last year, I'm doing a thousand times better.
In my free time, I've been watching some really good anime's I got from another volunteer. (arigato gozaimas!) The bad thing about getting addicted to a tv show that you like a lot and have every episode of, is that you tend to want to watch every episode and burn through the series. This has led to some sleep-deprived nights for sure.
This past weekend, I was working with some other volunteers on a teacher training sponsored and organized by IREX. It was for teachers of the TEA program (Teaching Excellence and Achievement) aka Georgian teachers who went to America for a short period of time. It's always a great opportunity to work with motivated teachers. I also was able to submit my essays for the state department.
My goal before January is to finish the book I'm reading, so I can start reading some materials to prepare me for a possible interview.
Earlier today, my land lady came over, but I was sleeping. I wasn't going to answer the door, but then she called out. I open the door and see her and another group of people. They were from the water company to verify that I live alone. My town doesn't have running water and people don't pay for water or sewage. The flow of water is also something that isn't controlled. Sometimes I'll walk by and people leave the water running and it will overflow onto/down the street, just being wasted. The neighbors that live above me will leave their pump on, it flows into my apartment and because I don't have a place to collect it, just goes down the drain. It's such a waste. So the city is trying a new program to make people pay. There was a suspicious man who came a couple of months ago, threatening me if I didn't pay him an exorbitant amount of money. Note: he wasn't wearing or carrying anything official that showed he was from the water company. He had jeweled rings on his fingers and had long pinky nails. He said, "I'll turn off your water!" and "You'll be sorry in the end!" So I kicked him out of my apartment. Well, it turns out that he changed the reported number of people living in my apartment from 2 (but really only me) to 5 people. This meant I would be charged even more. The procedure in my town for changing the recorded number in the household has to be done with the water company. They have to come out, then 3 witnesses have to present their passports and sign for it. The only catch is that they don't announce when they are going to come. They came unannounced and expected me to find 3 other people to sign. No one was home, as there wasn't a plan.
Also, it should be noted these women from the water company were quite hostile. They were Georgian and didn't like having to deal with the likes of the minority population here. I said that I would go get one of my friends, and one lady said "She's Georgian, Right?" hoping not to speak with another Azeri. Unfortunately the Georgians I knew weren't home. The 2 women also asked me about where I work, etc. They talked to me in Russian, not Georgian. So then they asked how long I've lived in Georgia. I said for a year and a half. Then, they asked surprised, "And you don't know any Georgian!!?" with looks of disgust on their faces. Of course I know Georgian! I talked to them the rest of the time in Georgian. They thought I was working with another program here, had never heard of Peace Corps, but had made all these assumptions about me. I wish that racial conflict and nationalism in this country wasn't as bad as it is. I have learned the Georgian language and culture to impress other Georgians and because I want to learn it. I am living in Georgia, and I have many Georgian friends. It would be so much easier if I didn't continually get flack for incorrect assumptions. I don't say this as a hasty generalization, and I will say these occurrences are quite minimal compared to my positive experiences here, but they stand out so much more.
I have seen Georgian marshrutka drivers ask Azeri men and women to move to uncomfortable seats on marshrutkas to make room for other Georgians. I have seen the drivers of public transportation ignore Azeris requests to stop the bus or marshrutka even if they ask in Georgian language. I have heard so many people say cruel things about Azeris: they smell, they're lazy, they're stupid, they're only good for cheap labor, etc. They call them Tatars and say that there is nothing wrong with it. Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group that inhabit Eastern Europe and across Asia. Most people aren't educated to know what the actual ethnicity is. There are only 30,000 Tatars living in Azerbaijan (population of 9 million) and only 3,500 in Georgia (Azeri population estimated around 286,000). You can't say they are all Tatars. It's a misunderstanding of cultures, and it's offensive. Would I say that anyone who is East Asian is Chinese? No. This is another common misunderstanding. I realize that I'm being sensitive about this issue, but no group of people likes to be marginalized. Ignorance and racism are huge global problems, but I feel like such a small voice in saying that it's wrong to say something bad about another group or misname them, whereas in the United States, being so culturally diverse, other people would share your opinion. It's really difficult for me to see this. Georgia's motto is "Strength in Unity." What is the implication there?
Of course, there are other Georgians who mostly live in Tbilisi or have left the country before that will agree with me that this is a problem. I don't discount that, but unfortunately this group does not represent the majority of the people I encounter. I realize that this small group of amazing people represent seeds of hope all around the country. Nela nela, Georgia! I still believe change is possible.
So now, after terribly inconveniencing the representatives from the water company, I am registered as one person in this apartment.
I know I have so many other things I should be doing, but I decided to give you a bit of substance.
Weird/Bad habits I've picked up in Georgia:
1. Unbuttoning a button on my shirt and just leaving it there.
2. Sleeping in full outfits/coats (it's cold ya'll)
3. Locking myself in at night (I have metal bars on my door)
4. Swearing. I'm not really as angry as I sound sometimes.
5. Rarely showering (there's not running water in my town).
6. Enjoying being alone. It's all about me.
7. Along with 6, avoiding people walking across town. Never before have a ipod and sunglasses come in more handy.
8. Not answering the door when someone comes knocking. It's probably a bill collector or someone wanting to cause drama. (I pay my bills) Call me!
9. Obsessively checking websites. I mean, maybe I got an email 2 seconds ago? Can't hurt to refresh right?
10. I ignore people when they shout at me on the street. "Hey you! Hey! Foreigner!"
11. I cross 4-lane streets with traffic running full speed on the daily. Frogger FTW.
12. Scowling. It keeps you in control of your social interactions.
13. Wearing slippers inside the house. This is gonna be a hard one to break, but I don't want to catch cold!
14. Wearing a scarf when my throat hurts. I've never done this before Georgia.
15. Analyzing the insect population in my house and the spider-fly-cockroach ratio before I kill them. It's a delicate balance.
16. Putting together hideous color and style combinations for outfits. You have to wear what's clean and you only have 5 outfits, so you gotta keep it interesting.
17. Using a chair seat regularly as a table. When in short supply, make it work!
18. Hoarding plastic bags and usually carrying 1-2 on you at all times. You never know when you might need them/run out!
19. Getting legitimately upset when I see a student text messaging in class. What's the big deal anyways?14-year olds have lives too...
20. Skype. It's great in small doses... but don't overdo it.
If you have done a majority to all of these things you too are assimilated! Congratulations! I realize that if you've never met me, you're picturing this bristling hermit. PS- we got the results back to our language test.
When I came to Georgia 1.5 years ago:
Georgian- Advanced-Low (I do talk!)
I bought a wool-cashmere coat at the Bazaar I'm loving. I am finishing up my essays for State Department (I passed the Foreign Service Exam!!) My project at my SM's youth center is going well. One of my students asked, "They say love is a game. What do you think?" I responded that in the beginning love is a game, but later it isn't any more. From what I've heard, the game goes away when you get older. My students at the center are awesome. It's great to teach kids that actually want to learn.
I have some good students at school of course, but there are students that you put yourself out there for them, and they shut you down or make you feel small. Generally my reaction is like, "...uhh, ummm, yeah!!! Just kidding! I was totally just kidding! ha...ha.??"
Another volunteer I have yet to mention, but I will call him the Brown Recluse, told his personal philosophy on hanging out with other Americans out of your site: It's just a false sense of happiness. "Once you go back to your site, the happiness goes away. In order to stop yourself from feeling that emptiness, you should just stay put." There were definitely some eyebrow raises, shrugs and ho-humms, but it's food for thought.
Another generalized realization I've come to is that many Georgians (who have not travelled outside of their city or country) have a really difficult time making friends. Everyone who is their friend, they have known since they were in the womb. When someone new comes along (such as my handsome self), they don't know how to function. It is my opinion that some Georgians will imagine that you are a member of their family, so that the complexities of processing the stages of friendship are simplified and you are elevated to top status, however, I believe that without that strong foundation, the friendship is a false one, and I'm often left in superficiality. It's something I've been pondering about for a while. Living all over the US, I have been able to make friends in almost any setting. Here, however, few Georgians under the conditions previously stated have such a skill. I can say I have really great friendships with Georgians who have travelled around, but they mostly live in Tbilisi, and I can't see them on a daily basis, as much as I'd like to. Food for thought....
The winter slowly grabs hold of the little town in Georgia, chilling its denizens on the streets. The need for a refrigerator becomes practically and temporarily obsolete. The days grow shorter as weariness takes its toll. Men who themselves can’t put food on the table arm themselves to take out the starving dogs in the night. The leaves on the trees begin to change colors and fall below to the women sweeping the streets, leaving patterns swept in the dust. Some trees far away are butchered to form the pile of now decaying wood in the school yard, wet with sap and mildewing from the last rain. The grey sky obscures the mountains in the distance, peeking through the old Soviet buildings. A loaf of bread goes stale as it lies on the paint-chipped window sill with mold growing underneath from moisture and poor construction. Spiders claim space around the apartment, permanently fixing themselves in positions like spindly decorations as they too die from lack of sustenance. The fumes from cheap cigarettes waft in through the cracks in the window, delicately clinging to the walls, adding an extra layer of grunge. Near the door rest one pair of mud-spackled shoes, caked with exhaustion from a long, yet unfruitful trek through the open-air market. The woman in the next room shuts the aging curtains, blocking out the street views and light distorted through the layer of dusty glass, to lie down in her bed, close her eyes, and long for an end.
The floor of the room is surrounded by iridescent faint blue walls. The clay brown planks of slightly marred wood breathe by means of open cracks every few inches. On the floor in the middle of the room stand two aging four-legged chairs, each covered in identical faded sepia floral prints, ripping slightly away from the bottom of the seat. One chair stands sturdily behind the other. All of its facets and grooves remain practical and intact. Its partner is positioned parallel in the foreground at the same unbalanced angle against the floorboards. They are both nestled together by a blanket wrapped around them, damp from a rinse in the murky water inside the wash basin. On the curtain rod hangs a man’s dress shirt, peeking jealousy in the chairs’ direction. On the balcony, a wind chime sings with delight, unaware. Lonely house slippers line the darkened hallway, next to the tired boots, with no hope of company in sight.