Monday, September 10, 2012

The Challenges of Adapting

It has been almost a month since I arrived in Georgia, and two weeks since I arrived in the village.  I have been pondering this post for a couple of days, and I still haven’t come to a conclusion as to whether or not life in Georgia is becoming easier to navigate. 

The biggest challenge by far, especially living outside the major cities, is the language barrier. Initially, I assumed I could effortlessly live in Georgia with my knowledge of Russian and English; however, in my experience, this isn’t the case. First off, there is a group of people mid to early 20s that don’t know either English or Russian (these people would be considered potential friends and young taxi drivers). Additionally, for those who may know English, confidence issues and vocabulary limitations inhibit our ability to communicate. In regards to Russian, I have no more confidence issues, if something needs to be said I will try, but then again my vocabulary limitations hinder those conversations. All in all, I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to learn Georgian. For some reason, I have really resisted, but sitting around the house and hanging out with my family’s friends with a blank stare on my face while everyone else is laughing or deep in thought is really quite depressing. 

The second issue is not sharing the common knowledge that everyone (aka all the Georgians) inherently understands. This problem is most prominent when it comes to transportation. Fares are hardly posted, except for a few marshutkas, and the prices change depending on the time of day. Of course, Georgians know how to navigate the seemingly unregulated transportation system, but it isn’t until you are shouting in English/Russian at a taxi driver about the fairness of their prices that you realize you might be missing something that everyone else knows. Another bit of common knowledge I seem to be missing is table etiquette. Apparently, one should always set the table for everyone, even if you are the only one eating. Also, I’ve noticed that all the food placed on the table isn’t meant to be eaten- the abundance is just meant for show and being able to resist eating all the food is a source of personal pride. Additionally, it is seen to be rude/odd if you just sip your wine when no one is toasting (but in my defense, the tamada takes way too long to toast especially if he is in a drunken stupor) and god forbid if your wine glass goes empty during a supra (which can be a fun/sad expat game to see how many times you can empty your glass before people realize). Clearly, the only answer to this problem is to make mistakes and ask questions. 

Finally, the physical adjustment of my body getting used to Georgian food and water has taken a long time.  Having been sick twice already, I would just like to be able to eat and drink without contemplating the health risks (which would be many by American standards) of my meals. On the other hand, I must admit my experiences at the medical clinics (in Tbilisi) have been really positive. 

Clearly, adapting just takes time and patience, but coming from a culture of instant gratification, I would really like to finish adapting to the culture right now.

Batumi and Back

Last week several volunteers from my region and I traveled to Batumi. We took 7hr marshutkas (public minivan) to and from Tbilisi and taxis from our region to Tbilisi. We stayed in a hostel located in the center of the city. 

The main attraction of Batumi is the boardwalk and the pebbly (the pebbles are an inch or bigger) beaches of the Black Sea.  But for me, Batumi had something else better than a potential tan. I spent most of my time walking from one café to the next sampling Batumi’s lattes. “What a peculiar activity? “ you may ask, but when the nearest espresso drink is an hour and a half away from your home-sipping espresso everyday then becomes an activity of luxury only to be experienced on vacation.  

One café called the Boulangerie was a stellar commercialized (at least it seemed so) café that was the closest to an American café. To be honest, it is actually a bakery that just happens to sell lattes and European hot chocolate (the kind that resembles a thick pudding rather than a liquid). Obviously, I frequented it daily.

The cafés of Batumi not only fed my addiction to caffeine but it also quelled my craving for internet (at least for a few days). Living without wifi has definitely been the biggest challenge since entering the village. Back home in the US, I could instantly wiki an answer to a question, or constantly know what all my friends are up to via Facebook, but here, I have to wait and make a daily list of things that I want to search on the internet.

Overall, the most enjoyable part of the trip was being able to communicate in English with people who shared the same cultural literacy as me; therefore, our conversations were colored with jokes and familiar references that communication in the village is often lacking.