Living in Georgia amplifies the strangeness of time… endless village afternoons playing nardi at the birzha have a twilight effect and suddenly you’re looking back wondering what in hell fire that whirlwind of soupras and marshrutkas was all about. These first 18 months were like the first 18 years of life on crack. God bless the host family who took me into their lives; nursed me like a chick when I broke my arm that first month. My first partner who patiently chanted erti, ori, sami, otkhi while I practiced Acharuli for the senior banquet. My second family who turned out not to be just my house but the entire village teaching me everything from Georgian language to making tqkhemali sauce. My police students who all became more like brothers with squirt guns. My second, third, and fourth schools. All my other family and friends.
We TLGers have certainly developed a lot of theories and lingo over the- albeit short- history of this program. As much as foreigners jest about the inquisitive nature of Georgians, one question we all share is, “What brought you here?” Whether you’re getting acquainted with your fellow volunteers during training, meeting a veteran volunteer, or encountering a Georgian in any circumstance, you’ll find this question within the polite sizing-up you’re bound to receive. But I’m not convinced any of us really even has an answer. In the league of questions which are impossible to answer- a category as long as it can be irritating, “You’re not married yet… what’s wrong, you don’t like Georgian men?!” there are a range of non-answers my Imeruli raising has taught me well.
As I might have mentioned before, it can be hard to avoid talking about politics. Even a short taxi ride can end up being a heated debate about the putsches of the 90s. Everyone wants to know what you think about Misha. “Oh! Amerika, Amerika!… Misha magaria?” That unavoidable question becomes a fast-track roller-coaster through unknown friends and enemies in a crash course of Caucasus history reaching further back than King Tamar. After a year and a half I’m both exhausted and more intrigued by this conversation. My improving linguistic prowess has certainly opened up a world of different perspectives to understand but it goes without saying after this much time, “romeli jobia” becomes something like a Chinese water torture. Is Misha cool? In all honesty that’s an appraisal I’m not prepared to make yet but what I can- and do- say is that without him I never would have come here.
Looking back on these 18 months- preparing to take that crazy leap out from under the safe wings of the Ministry- it’s difficult not to simply idealize the whole experience. I did after all decide to stay here forever. TLG gave me the occasion to fall in love with Georgia; not just to get acquainted but to become established. Everything from the pride and joy of seeing my seniors pass the first certificate exams to meeting and talking with the President. Harvesting corn in the fields and feeding chickens, surprise polyphonic concerts in mountain forests, hitchhiking to unmarked caves, singing Cat Steven’s Moon Shadow so many times with my fourth graders I sang it in my sleep… I couldn’t leave this place even if I wanted to.
When thinking about the past we really need to go back and start from the top. I came here for a lot of reasons- some personal some practical. Working for TLG in Georgia was the perfect mix of my two former lives, merging a degree in Eurasian studies with my teaching career. I came here to figure things out. Figuring things out isn’t always what you think it is. There’s a component of human condition that gets put off to the side when considering options. Happiness never makes its way on to the to do lists. Maybe this land was calling me all along. Maybe I came here for reasons I didn’t even know. Overall, mission accomplished.