Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cold Harsh Reality and Water for One

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.


  1. Thank you Jeff for posting this. I absolutely love reading everything you write. You're so talented. It's so easy to get caught up in my little microcosm of small town America, but your posts inspire me to open my mind in so many ways. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for reading and your compliments! It truly brightens my day to hear from you. I'm glad we are keeping in touch. :)