Experience Georgia

Posted on March 26, 2012 by


When Raughley emailed me asking What I Wish I’d Known I admit I was totally stumped. (In fact, if not for my being stumped you probably would have seen that post in February rather than last week – I was by far the last person to get my answer in.) There were definitely ups and downs along the way, but I’m so happy with my life in Georgia that I can’t really think of anything that I would want to have done differently. It’s also getting on two years since I’ve been here, and I’ve been back to New York three times, so it’s not like I’m really fiending for dental floss or anything – on my last trip back I brought a bunch of cumin and various other stuff I really couldn’t get in Georgia, so in a sense I’m past the “what I wish I’d known” stage.

But cumin and dental floss aren’t the secret to my happiness (although they might be the secret to how MacGyver fixes his car). In fact, you could argue that the opposite is true. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the more specific-purpose or consumable or perishable items you bring, the more space you will have wasted in your suitcase. And furthermore, the more you focus on trying to make your life in Georgia identical to your life at home, the more miserable and disappointed you are going to be.

So yes, the opposite is true – the reason I’m so satisfied with life in Georgia is because Georgia has taught me how not to worry about the small stuff, about minor material conveniences. Sure, I like minor material conveniences – but when you start to view them as a luxury that you have to plan for, rather than something you need, or something you deserve, they become so much more gratifying.

I would go so far as to say that at least 90% of the things in Georgia that are more difficult are also more rewarding.

I acknowledge that my circumstances are not your circumstances. When I decided to come to Georgia, I was of the opinion that the modern conveniences that our lives in the Western world rely on actually end up making us miserable and unhappy – not necessarily because they are inherently bad, but because we did not evolve alongside them and thus our bodies and minds are not yet sufficiently adapted to their use.

Between the modern American diet (consisting mostly of corn and petroleum byproducts) and the sedentary lifestyle (he says, sitting at a computer and typing) and the stress of daily life in an unhealthily population-dense urban area with not nearly enough greenery, my life in New York was a perfect recipe for mental and physical illness. I was unhappy and unhealthy, and I felt that if I did not make a change, I would become dangerously so.

Not all of you were, or are, deeply unhappy with your lives at home. Not all of you did, or do, directly connect that unhappiness to the elements of modern life. Not all of you had the vague hope that by moving to a developing country you could escape your first world problems and find genuine satisfaction eking out a living in some unspoiled rural Eden.

Still, you all have reasons for coming to Georgia. If you are seriously thinking about coming here, or if you are here, then you probably want to experience something different. You probably want to challenge yourself as a person. You probably aren’t trying to take the easy way out. You’re probably open to new experiences.

If those things describe you, then you already have most of what you’ll need to be happy in Georgia. You’ll need to embrace those attitudes wholeheartedly. You’ll have to always be ready for something different, always be up for a challenge, avoid trying to take the easy way out, and be open to new experiences.

After that, there’s just one more piece of advice I can give you. It was my mantra when packing for Georgia, when researching Georgia, when preparing for Georgia. It was this: If it’s good enough for Georgians, it will be good enough for me.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people who go abroad tend to put themselves above the locals they meet in various ways, conscious and unconscious, and this trend is probably much more marked when it’s people traveling from rich countries to poor countries. This is the wrong strategy to approach Georgia with.

When I was getting ready to come to Georgia, I would often have some doubt about my ability to cope with some aspect of (what I imagined to be) Georgian life. I feared animals, strange insects, strange foods, strange smells. I feared not being able to wash my hands before every meal. I feared not having light at night, and I packed a high-powered LED flashlight as well as a booklight. (I have never once used that booklight.) I dismissed these fears only by reminding myself that my conditions in Georgia would be on par with, if not better than, the conditions of the average Georgian. I asked myself, “Neal: what have you ever done in your life, aside from just having the good fortune be born in New York City, to deserve to live in conditions that are better than those of four million Georgians? Not to mention billions of other people in the world who are even poorer than Georgians?”

And the funny thing is, I actually ended up finding conditions in Georgia better than conditions in New York City. I actually liked having chickens in my yard (especially since they were super lazy and slept until like 9:30 am). Having intermittent electricity wasn’t really an issue.

I’m not going to tell you not to worry about what to pack. I brought an Ace bandage, in case I sprained an ankle; I have done so twice in 19 months. I brought other first aid items. I brought prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, which I ended up not needing – medicine in Georgia is five to ten times cheaper than in the US and most drugs are available without prescriptions here. I brought flashlights and an extra laptop battery. I brought dental floss and earplugs and a sleeping mask. I brought a Swiss Army Knife which has been unbelievably useful – I’ve used it to open cans, peel fruit, fix things around the house, open wine bottles, and show off to friends. I brought a few books and a few toiletries.

Overall, as I said, the things I am happiest with are the general-purpose and multi-use items – things like the flashlight and the Swiss Army Knife and the Ace Bandage. On the other hand, I haven’t even read most of the books I brought or taken most of the medications I brought. Long-sleeve undershirts are incredibly useful since they can layer in almost every season.

However, the most valuable thing by far that you can bring to Georgia is a willingness to embrace Georgian life – to live like a Georgian, to dive into the community, to really experience the culture – and to have an honest appreciation of its relative merits and flaws compared to your life back home. If all you try to do is surround yourself with the comforts of your old life, you’ll fail – but not only that; you’ll also miss out on all the great things Georgia has to offer.