Most of you know by now, just how much I feel at home in Georgia, but I wanted to share with you some of the darker parts of everyday life. Not because they are bad, but because, like every country in the world, there are always two sides to life.
Georgian people really don’t like to get sick, maybe because of the cost of health care, or because of the impact illness can have on one’s ability to work and live?? The general cure all is ‘cha cha’, (like Vodka), and is used to disinfect your hands, to cure stomach problems, and for the common cold. People NEVER put their bags on the ground, and on the whole people do not sit on the floor, because it is considered dirty. People do not like to pet cats or dogs because they are considered dirty and people think they will get sick from them. Even the children in school, never put their bags on the floor, instead, they hang them on the back of their chair, or they sit on the edge of their chair with their bag on the seat too. If I go to put my bag on the window sill, the children will all leap up to stop me, and if I have chalk on me from the blackboard, the children worry about my being dirty.
Everyone ALWAYS has clean shoes, and even the poorest or busiest people make an effort to polish them, and to clean their trainers, because it is seen as bad to have dirty shoes, it is shameful. If there are colds or flu viruses going around, then people will wear face masks to prevent themselves getting sick, and pregnant women often walk around in masks. People are often sweeping the streets, and despite the struggling infrastructure, Tbilisi is really a very clean and tidy city. I have never ever seen a rat on the underground system, which by London standards, is pretty unusual to me.
But, there is one Georgian behaviour, which really, really annoys me, and is generally the filthy habit of the men. SPITTING!!!! They seem to take great pleasure in taking aim, and projecting a mouthful of spittle as far as they possibly can. Anywhere, any time, and any place!!! Its a constant hazard, and I seem to spend my life walking around puddles of fresh spittle on the floor, and when walking around people, I always have to time my passing right, in case I happen to walk directly into a path of flying spittle. Its so disgusting, and a really effective way of spreading diseases and bugs, so it is really surprising that so many people do this in the street. I have come across this in many countries in my life, but no where is there such a problem as in Georgia. I don’t even know how one person could even produce so much fluid from one small mouth, especially given how little people actually drink in the daytime. Dear Georgians, please start to address this issue, because its really off putting, especially when combined with the nose clearing, phlegm producing spits!
There is Definitely Something Going On….
For the past week, there has been a slightly different vibe around the streets of Tbilisi, and whilst I still feel very safe and have no concerns, I wonder what the influx of new tourists to Georgia must think about what they see. There have been lines of lorries parked up, lots of soldiers around town, and lots of police lined up. The reason for this?? The opposition party have been demonstrating, and to be on the safe side, the Georgian government have stepped up security. But, so far, everything seems to be very peaceful, and its more of a precaution than a genuine threat I think, and nice to see some thought has gone into the preparations and that security is clearly working well, with little effect on the rest of the population who still seem pretty relaxed. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Georgia had troubles until relatively recently, and that many people lived through those times, and the threat of war. I wonder how many people were affected by this, and who still can’t help but remember these times in their day to day life.
The Wearing of Black….
This is one of the reasons for Georgian people often wearing black, because the country went through a period of depression after all the struggles, and things are now slowly changing. But, when a person dies, the family will often wear black for one year after the person’s death, and will not participate in anything that is ‘fun’, such as going to the theatre or to the cinema. There is one year of mourning.
But, one thing I find really special and warming in Georgia is the behaviour of those around the grieving person. It is not uncommon for colleagues at work to attend the funeral, in order to support their friend, and they will often travel three or four hours to attend the funeral and supra, and to offer support. This is unheard of in Britain, and is a stark contrast to my experiences of death and funerals. I remember at medical school, I had to send in a request for a leave of absence and then go to a panel meeting in order to miss my classes in my grandfathers last weeks of life. I was given a stern warning about missing lectures and they made me feel really guilty and not committed to my studies because I wanted to put my grandfather first. Likewise when I requested time to go to his funeral, it was such an ordeal to get time off. So sad, and one of the things that I really hate about Britain. That we have lost that sense of humanness, and of empathy and understanding, and instead we focus on how much time you work, and how much you earn, or who gets the best grades. I always felt that I was the odd one out because I always wanted to put my friends and family first. If I requested to take time off work for Christmas or because I had family visiting from abroad, it was always a fight, and this Christmas was the first time that I had not been working on Christmas Day in over 17 years! Somehow, in Georgia I feel emotionally free and able to be a human being again, its really refreshing, and a lot less pressure from my 60 hour week of the last few years! Its one of the things that I don’t want to change as Georgia gains closer links to the western world.