I’ve been working on this post off and on for a long time. It’s been a hard one to write. I’ll probably come back to this blog and tell some more anecdotes later, but I feel like some of this has to be said. Last spring I applied for a whole bunch of stuff: jobs, internships, scholarships, fellowships. I didn’t get a lot of call backs. Let’s get real, I got three, one in Florida for two years, one to teach at a couple hours outside of Istanbul, and one to come to Georgia. Lots of things made me decide to take Georgia. Not money obviously, since I’m poor as a church mouse after earning less and less every month (thanks international currency market, nothing like a falling lari). Not prestige. Nobody has heard of Georgia, much less of the program that I joined. I wanted an adventure, as far away from the world I was living in, with its competition and often mixed up priorities and materialism and lack of ability to compromise and work together on the smallest little thing. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. I didn’t even know where I was going to be sent in the country. I got a whole lot more adventure than I had bargained for.
|I walked to Mulakhi one day. The sunburn was 100% worth it|
I read a book recently about my generation—the oft despised Millenials. It said that we can’t focus on anything, that we flit from thing to thing, never settling down, never actually getting stuff down, waiting for signs from ‘the universe’ about what we should do with our lives. Let’s just say that the author didn’t have a terribly high opinion of us. You could almost hear this middle aged man spitting out the words at a meeting of the old-and-crotchety-before-their-time club, where everyone bitches about the kid they still have living in their basement.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of kids in my generation who are lost and who are just frittering away their lives doing essentially nothing. I don’t think mine is the first generation who has done this though. We grow up deeply disillusioned with the world we live in, the order which we must uphold. We grew up through 9/11 and the idea that the ‘bad guy’ could be anyone on the street, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with ISIS. We grew to maturity in a world filled with natural disasters, school shooting and terror attacks becoming so common that they are commonplace, normal, nothing to get upset about. Or if you do you share a hastag until the next tragedy comes along. And nothing changes. Violence and poverty and disease and abject horror and desperation flit past our eyes every day and we flip through the television channels and many simply sink into the unreality of reality television. The rest of us are at a loss of how to make something, anything about this world better with our time and lives and energy. We seek that way but it isn’t always obvious, and so we are accused of being unable to settle ourselves. The frustration grows. We don’t aim to be lazy adult-children who live with no purpose, indeed it is the exact opposite, purpose in this often purposeless world that we wish for like a staving man looks at food. We have been told for so long that we need to go out and change the world that we berate and secretly hate ourselves when we can’t.
|Nika toasting me with wine on my birthday while the adult men laugh hysterically. Nika is an excellent tamada|
I took a year off between undergrad and grad because I needed to get away from academe, and the world that I know for a bit, and to reaffirm what it is that I really want to do with my life.
So, why was moving to Georgia the best thing that I could have done? Because living abroad strips you of most everything. Your family, friends, community, comfort, safety net, safety blanket, pounds, illusions, pretensions, self-respect, baggage. You are cold and alone and frightened, a beast let loose in an unknown place. Sink or swim no longer seems like a glib motto, but a rallying cry, a piece of driftwood in a sea of sharks. It is in this vulnerable state that you can come to know yourself better. You find what remains is your truest self, because that doesn’t come off, slip away. You see the good the bad and the ugly. How little you actually you care for life as you stop batting an eyelid as animals are slaughtered in front of your eyes. How selfish you can be as you seek solace, alone time and get annoyed when host siblings break into your stash of nice makeup and girl scout cookies. You see who really matters in your life, when you get 3 hours of skype time a month and you see who makes the cut (ie Mom and Dad). Who you are willing to splurge time and energy on finding the postman and buying stamps so that you can write to them. What parts of life seem the most important to you—your social life? Family? Friends? Duty? Job? Relationships? Your own pleasure?
|My birthday cake was delicious. Ask Ani|
I’ve discovered some very ugly things about myself. I don’t flinch anymore when the teachers here pull students ears or hair. I myself have never done it, but I will be honest, there have been tempting moments. I have yelled at students, I have gotten in their faces and raised my voice, in English, Georgian, Svan and whatever language will get them to quiet down. I have dreaded going to certain classes. I haven’t loved all my students equally. I have been selfish with my time and resources. I’ve been jealous of the skills and lives of others. I’ve wanted things I don’t need, or shouldn’t have. Essentially, look at the 10 commandments and I’ve found it within myself. This is disturbing, but it’s also good to realize that so much of what keeps us in check is the pressure of society, community, ‘fitting in’, and knowing what people we know would say. I’m perfectly aware of that now, and I’ve realized that I need to find more of the self-control within myself and not from without.
I’ve found some good stuff in there too, thank God. I’ve discovered that I love teaching and sharing information with others. Not every day, every hour, but that moment when your kid finally gets it, that’s amazing, one of the best feelings in the world. When your students start to love you, that amazing. When they ask you to go on a field trip with them, or want you to come home, or to their birthday, or ask you to never leave. It’s amazing to know that you’re having an impact on young minds and hearts. I've discovered that I want family. That family is incredibly important to me and that I want my own someday. Now, I don’t want to promise myself anything that it turns out I can’t have, but I want to make family and relationships a bigger priority in my life. I’m not going to give up on my professional aspirations and ambitions, but it won’t hurt to make space for other things in my life. There are other things worth pursuing, and I don’t want to find myself in a place where it is too late for something that I really truly want. I’m willing to admit that I want children. Not just one, several. Our culture has reached a place where for a young intelligent woman to say she wants children is faux pas, an admission likely to bring silent judgement for being ‘old-fashioned’. Bite me, is my response. Being here, now that I’ve found out my need to please others (in order to be a ‘kargi gogo’), is teaching me to let judgement roll off my back. I’m also getting much better at letting my emotions hang out. When I’m pissed, people are beginning to be able to tell.
|I walked to the Cross with the kids one day. Obligatory selfie|
Moving to Georgia when I was 22 was the best possible thing I could have done with my life because without it I wouldn’t be sure moving forward. I learned what kind of work I enjoy, the things that make me tick and get me excited to get up in the morning, it reaffirmed how much I care about public health, about women’s issues, about a region that nobody has heard of, much less visited, much less lived in learned the language the culture the people and grown to adore. Georgia taught me to enjoy the little things, to stop and think and listen for a moment (or an hour and a half if your marshrutka is running late), to toast with panache, to hike up a mountain without killing yourself, to be a big sister, to lead by example, to slaughter a calf, to hitchhike, to prioritize friends and family—the human connection. To write letters, to dance like nobody’s watching, to wish upon the stars, to conjugate in the optative tense, to light candles in a church without lighting yourself on fire, and how to chase with beer. I learned to be comfortable with silence and uncertainty and to go with the flow. And I learned that I’m going back to Georgia at some point some how. Georgia infiltrates you, like strong liquor does, it’s not always pleasant, but you do have some awesome adventures, make some great friends and walk away a little wiser from each encounter. And so my friends, may we raise a glass, საქართველოს გაუმარჯოს! Victory to Georgia!