I fell in love with Georgia during my first semester teaching. I got lucky with a great training group, a loving host-family, and a welcoming school. I went to supras, I clumsily danced, I trimmed grape leaves, and I taught a batch of second graders the difference between their head, shoulders, knees, and toes.
Some of the excitement has worn off from this crazy inter-cultural experience. My family no longer gasps when I walk around barefoot. My host mother now rarely refers to me as her guest but more often as “her girl.” My host family and neighbors are used to seeing me come and go and there is much less fanfare when I do. Only a third of my original training group remains in Georgia. Evening phone calls (made possible by Nokia and Geocelli) recounting daily whacky events are already fewer.
Things seem less whacky in the first place—my Georgian life seems normal. I left my village school to teach the Kutaisi Police. I now commute to Kutaisi where I work in an office building that would be inconspicuous in Western Europe. As I walked through the halls on my first day, Arrested Development was playing on a TV in a break room (The Bluths! In Georgia!). Outside the break room, there’s a bureaucratic buzz in the air. The normalcy of it all is almost sad; I relished the anything-can-happen rhythm of village work and life.
Georgia has always surprised me, but the little signs of development and familiarity are especially striking. Internet and wi-fi really aren’t as elusive as they once seemed. Most Georgians I now meet have already met an American. This more complete picture of Georgia I’m developing has forced me to ask—do I actually like Georgia? Without the distractions and novelty, do I like teaching in Georgia? Am I actually a fan of the development that I, as a part of TLG, am working towards?
Georgians understandably ask TLGers why we come to Georgia. I always used to answer with “Why not?” which would usually trigger a laugh at my no-worries, American attitude. It seemed easier to laugh with my neighbors about the silliness of my moving to a Georgian village than to explain that I, in part, wanted a simpler life. Now I’m realizing my pretension in assuming that life in Georgia would be simpler, more back-to-basics. In some ways, it is, but in many ways, life in Georgia is more complicated. Balancing Georgian traditions and way of life while modernizing Georgian institutions. The difference between young Georgians’ lives today versus their parents’ youths. Transitioning from a national protectiveness to a cultural openness.
As I understand these layers and juxtapositions of Georgian life, I can more readily answer my question that, yes, I do like Georgia, even after the novelty has worn off.