Monday, March 14, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom and Women's Woes


I just had a really great conversation with my mom about relationships between other people (coworkers, friends, supervisors, mentor-mentee relationships, etc). It was really refreshing, and definitely made me feel good about the decisions that I have made in my life. In regards to behavioral change and personal growth, my mom said, "You know, growing hurts sometimes and isn't always easy." I could only think about the countless number of times where I have made mistakes, said the wrong thing, or just flat-out failed at something. They've all been learning experiences for me, and so I can't regret them. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and, in the case of a relationship, the mistakes you make weren't meant to work out with those individuals in particular, but rather to prepare you for some relationship down the road. Also, I feel like (once again for those who believe in it) a higher power, albeit God/god(s), will show you these paths and give you these opportunities to make mistakes, and it's up to you to make them. I constantly am telling my students with English that if they don't make mistakes now, how can they become better?

In short, conversations/encounters I have been dwelling on in things I shouldn't have said, actions I shouldn't have done, and/or just wondering why for SOME reason people drift apart under certain circumstances have all already happened. There's no sense dwelling or regretting on them, but instead how will those encounters influence who you will become tomorrow? When someone does you wrong, an option is to shut down that vulnerable part of yourself so that it will never happen in the future. My mom said, "There's no point in living if you shut yourself down to the world." Instead, a heightened awareness of self and others enables you to see events unfolding and playing the cards of wrongdoing are foreseen rather than by surprise, but the most important thing is to also identify those relationships which can be healthy and connect with these people with similar/harmonious motives/views. These are the people that matter.


As mentioned, I have been doing site visits to advertise and connect with minority schools in my region for placement of the next group of Peace Corps volunteers (G11's,you can thank me later :)) So far, with assistance from some local community members, I have been able to generate 2 school applications. It's not a lot, but I've still got some other irons in fire. In my meetings with the English teachers and directors, we have had some interesting conversations with women, in which I will also regale you with some other stories I have heard in my time in Georgia.

One teacher asks me the usual questions: Do you like Georgia? Do you like Georgian food? Are you married? How much money do you make? How much do you pay for rent? etc. In response to the question about marriage, I replied that I am still on the market *wink, wink* She insisted that I'm such a good boy, that I should stay in Georgia. I asked why, and she responded that it was due to the high rate of divorce in America. If I were to stay in Georgia, logically, I would be able to have a happy, longterm marriage. Several teachers join in this conversation to ask me about divorce rates in America, especially, why are they so high? I responded probably due to the individualism of the culture. I wanted to add that also probably most people's basic needs are met and in striving to meet their other needs, they become overly critical of those they date/marry on their way to self-actualization, however, I was interrupted with the most important reason- "It is because in America, women think they are head of the household. This is the real reason. In Georgia, men are the head of the house. They make all decisions. Our marriages are like stable, well-running governments." "Like unmovable mountains!" chimed in another teacher. "In Georgia, divorce is so rare, and you can say it almost never happens." Not entirely convinced, I smiled and chuckled along, perhaps a little nervous about what to say next. **Note: I have been around the block in Georgia a couple of times, I know that overall in most of the regions, this statement is true. There are of course exceptions, probably most married Georgian women with internet access able to read this. Divorce is quite rare, and most men run the households.

The interesting thing is that (as has been pointed out by many), the women in this country do a large majority of the work. Many men/husbands, unwilling to accept a job not respected for men, will sit at home smoking cigarettes, getting drunk with friends, and/or watching TV while the women do all of the housework while having a full-time job. I admire Georgian women so much for their courage, strength, and drive to keep going. I have shadowed a Georgian woman who is a teacher in another region for one week, and I was exhausted. This is how she and so many other women in this country live their lives.

Another regional/village mentality, most likely mentioned in an earlier post is that many women desire these male chauvinists and see them as ideal husbands. "We don't want momma's boys! We want REAL men!"

Another trouble faced by both men and women in Georgia is access to educational materials about reproductive health and birth control. (Not only in Georgia but in many other parts of the world) Women who use birth control are considered loose women. In an HIV/AIDS health training I participated in, one man said, "Women who want an HIV/AIDS test are not loyal to their husbands. If they only have relations with one man, why do they need it?" ***Note: Pregnant women or people about to undergo major surgeries are required by law to have HIV tests to determine measures to take afterwards. All blood donated in Georgia is also tested before transfusions are given. However, it is common practice for men to go to prostitutes on a regular basis for services that "good women/wives" are not expected/socially permitted to perform. In Georgia, the HIV/AIDS epidemic's most at risk group is IV drug users, however, according to research from the Georgia HIV/AIDS institute, this is shifting to cover larger populations. Most people have never had an HIV/AIDS test so it's unclear in projecting infection rates/numbers.

Something else that is misinformation is that people also believe women who buy/use tampons are also loose or that tampons may take your virginity. In several recent surveys, 70% of the Georgian men tested said they would not marry someone who is not a virgin. I'm regurgitating a lot of information from other articles, but this "sexual asymmetry" or perception of is created as a result. There are ads in newspapers for cosmetic surgeries for women to have their virginity restored. It's true that reputation is everything is Georgia.

A friend of mine was teaching a graduate level course at a well-known university in Tbilisi. One day for their assignment, somehow the students got on the topic of the reproductive system. My friend was shocked to discover that, for example, the women (graduate students) could not explain ovulation, fertilization or any processes related to giving birth connected to reproductive organs. My friend brought in diagrams for the students the next class to teach full-grown adults, for the first time, about their bodies.

In doing a teacher training in the fall of 2010, I taught a session on incorporating health topics in the classroom. I mentioned that at first, it's good to start off with light topics like the damage/dangers of smoking and move across a wide-range of topics, incorporating parents and school administrators for support. I mentioned that one of the benefits of talking about health issues is that it makes the teacher someone the students can talk to that they might feel ashamed to talk about with their parents. As the session went on, and we talked about reproductive health in the classroom. ***Note: Currently health classes are not a part of the education curriculum in Georgia. There have been some pilot programs, but nothing has really gone full-scale.

We debated whose responsibility it is in discussing this topic: parents? teachers? both? doctors? who? Then, I threw out something controversial- I asked, "What would you do/say if your student came to you, as another female, and said she was pregnant and wanted your advice?" The response: outrage. Comments like, "You cannot understand our country!" "This never happens in Georgia!" "This is not America!" etc.etc. The teachers took complete offense. Well, I have another story for you.

This may be rare, but here goes. One of the other volunteers had a 13-year-old student give birth to a child in the school bathroom. Her parents didn't notice, apparently. I have to say this is a failure on the part of the parents and the school. The school should be a comfortable place for the students. Can you imagine how scared this poor girl must have been, giving birth on the bathroom floor? or what it must've felt like to hide this from everyone? She went through this whole thing most likely alone, or at least not of anyone who could've been emotionally supportive to her needs. The volunteer asks the co-teachers who were at the training, "So now, what would you do if she had come to you for support?" Response: they would have taken her to and told her parents. That is exactly why she didn't. If I've heard about it once in two years, it means it does happen. **Note: Georgian media has discussed this as well as various NGOs. Abortion is Georgia's most common method of birth control. I'm pro-choice personally, but careless abortions like this make me sick to think about.

So the argument is: if you teach it in schools, the schools could be responsible for increased sex among the student body. For a culture centered around religion, the church is not for this. However, I think it's clear that sex is happening in these schools already, and students should know the myths and truths about what will happen to keep them from making bad decisions down the road.


  1. Hi, Jefferson,
    I am happy that you took those problems into consideration.
    I heard on TV last month that 19-20 years old guy killed pregnant girlfriend only because that his parents wouldn't let him merry on "not pure" girl and the poor girl couldn't tell her parents about her problem too. I was shocked that in the 21st century the virginity may be the reason of death of 16 years old girl. It is not a problem of those certain people but this is the problem of our entire society.
    I really liked your letter about such problems and it will be very good if Georgians will write about this theirselves. (sorry for my poor English, I hope you could understand me)
    Thank you, Jefferson!
    Keti Tabatadze

  2. Dear Keti,
    That's terrible to hear! I'm glad to bring these issues to light. You know English well! Thank you so much for reading. :) You are most welcome.

  3. Hi, Jefferson,
    I also want to say that, in my opinion, the main problem is that people are not informed properly. Especially in villages and countryside, people think that aids is shameful disease, they do not realize that everyone may be the victim of those diseases and that this happens not because of inappropriate behavior.
    Gender discrimination is another terrible problem. A lot of women endure violence and they do not divorce because it is not accepted by culture, even the relatives may loss divorced lady. So, the woman, if she is not at least financially independent, she may meet more problems in case of divorce. In violent families, the people who suffer the most are children, they are having mental and psychological problems that are realized at the time when it is very late, when they harm other people.
    I hope that in the future not only Georgians, but people all over the world, will realize that we should take care of each other, it is time to understand that the gender, ethnicity or religion should not the reason of some kind of discrimination and violence. All the people should have the same rights and responsibilities towards each other.
    Thanks again.
    Keti Tabatadze

  4. Our conversation was very special to me. Thank you for sharing this. I am so proud of you and honored to have you as my son. You are a very bright star in the galaxy of life. Your desire to understand and help mankind is testimony to this. I love you.

  5. why get merried anyway, this social norm has no sense to me, why formalizing relations and puting it to somekind of frame?
    there is no legal needs, you can deal with child brith out of marrige easly today...well, maybe for someone it's a way settle her/hes future:))