And I’m Back!

wow, where has the time gone recently? I had so many plans and ideas and things I wanted to write about, but the reality is, that when I have the most important and life changing stuff going on in my life, I just don’t have the time, energy or inclination to write about any of it, which is pretty pants really. I need to fix that, as that is the time when I should probably be blogging the most.

    Green Pea Soup

Today, is going to end up as a bit of a mushy pea soup as I try and process and tell you about all the changes that have occurred over what is really only a few weeks, but seems more like years. Not entirely sure where to begin, so I guess I will just go chronologically with my hind sight glasses on.

My week in Latvia flew by, but was not really a holiday, and was a pretty emotional experience with lots of self reflection, and anxiety about my plans to move my life permanently to Georgia, a decision which has been sitting uneasy with me ever since I got back, but which I put down to reverse culture shock and lots of things going on, but which now I am unsure about. Leaving was very emotional, but so was coming back, and it didn’t go as planned and I was thrown into utter chaos from the moment I arrived back.

At around 6am in the morning, I managed to get the three girls into their respected crates, one cat for the cabin, one cat for the hold of the aeroplane, and one dog for the hold. All within approved aircraft crates, of the exact measurements and weights, and all went fairly well. Next we drove to Lithuania, and at the airport in Palanga, I checked in my luggage (a little over weight, but no big deal as I could take some things out and put them in my backpack instead). But the lady at the desk informed me that both cats would need to go in the hold, and that my dog Isla would need to squeeze into the smallest of the crates so that she could come in the cabin with me. Better travel companion wise and in terms of cat stress, but fitting Isla into the regulation sized cabin crate was not ideal, though it worked out ok and she was too busy being excited about watching what was going on to care. I am definitely blessed to have the most relaxed and laid back dog in the world! Plus the fact that she loves flying and has been to far more countries and places than I have been, right from day 1. She was in fact, born in Georgia in the USA, before moving to the Caribbean, then to the USA, and to England and Scotland, then Lithuania and Latvia, and now to the country of Georgia.

So, I said goodbye to the cats and my baggage, said a quick goodbye to my father, and went through the airport security, unpacking Isla again, as well as my laptop, going through the x-ray machine, and then re-packing everything again. We boarded the flight, a small plane, with me sadly sat next to a very large guy who had clearly been drinking so much vodka that the fumes were being emitted from his skin (he was not even Latvian!) and with legs so widely spread, that I almost had to sit in the aisle itself, as he snored away happily throughout the 45 minute flight to Riga.

At Riga, I carried my heavy laptop and crate with Isla, and asked at the Air Baltic desk (after a very long wait in line) if there was anywhere that I was allowed o let Isla out, since I had a 13 hour layover at the airport. She told me to go to the lost and found office outside of the airport, to ask, which I did but to no avail, so in the end I gave up. If I had been sensible and also had spare money, then what I should have done, is to take the bus into Riga and meet up with friends living there who also have Italian Greyhounds like mine, and who I plan to breed Isla with at some stage. Instead, I went through customs and into the arrivals lounge and outside where I could let Madame Isla out. We sat on the grass for a long time and I fell asleep and got me some sunburn, which was not the plan at all. I ate my sandwiches brought with me from my father’s house, gave a little bit to Isla pants, and managed to pass away a few hours. Once I was bored enough, and after walking about a bit more, I went through the check in and through customs again, but kept Isla out of her crate since I knew they would ask me to take her out of the box anyway. The man at the first desk told me that I needed some kind of form to bring her through, but when I explained that I was already booked on the flight and she already had gone through all of this there was no need. So he left it at that, asked no more questions and let us through. In fact I think I was probably hoping that he would send us back to Lithuania since the prospect of going back to Georgia was a daunting one and I wasn’t sure whether I was making a huge mistake or not in moving my life there.

    My Biggest Mistake!

The reason that moving to Georgia was such a big deal, is because once I was here, there would be no option for me to go back to my home country, the UK. Firstly I would never save up enough money on my salary, secondly, my cats were really old and would likely not survive another big move, and thirdly because to go back to the UK, means putting my girls into quarantine for 6months and paying large kennel fees and for their upkeep. So it really was an all or nothing affair, and to move from Latvia back to the UK would be less of a problem, but from Georgia, would mean realistically a journey of no return. Georgia is not a particularly pet friendly country, my dog will never be allowed off her lead or have space to run around as a fast as she can, and she will likely be attacked by another dog or catch a disease from one of the many strays here. Never again will I be able to take her for walks on the beach in Scotland, and she will never see my family again. In short, her quality of life will never be what it was before, but it won’t be the worst either..just different. In Latvia, she had 100hectares of open spaces and the beach to run around on, anytime she wanted, so it was sad for me that she would no longer have this life.

    Dr Death Strikes Again!

It was also weird being back in Latvia, and I feel that I only bring death upon the house,as every time I visit there is a death. First it was Dexter, the old giant snauzer cross something else. The next visit I was helping with Ginny the old giant schnauzer, and this time, the 2 year old family cat died of a systemic infection from some cat bites. So, I was a bit heavy hearted at taking the girls away after their 6months in Latvia, leaving just Ranny the blue eyed Siberian Husky who treats Isla like his mum. But at the same time, I knew that the girls (cats at least) had not been happy at all, and it would be great to have my life back with them after really missing them all of this time.

So, we went through the check in and back into the departure lounge, Isla still out of her box because I figured that if someone had a problem they could just flippin well tell me as I was fed up of asking people and no one knowing. We went to the departure gate and sat down waiting for the next four hours trying to pass the time.

    The Loss of a Great Friend

It was a surreal and really sad moment and I was almost teary eyed, as I popped onto facebook and saw some messages from my friend, who I hadn’t seen or spoken to since she got married out of the blue right before I left. The messages made me cry, and I really felt crappy about coming back to Georgia. We had previously been great friends, talking on the phone everyday and hanging out together, then just like that, I was dumped, as now she is married she is seemingly not allowed to have friends and is too busy to speak. It was like loosing my best friend, mum and sister over night, and I felt like I was grieving my loss, as I knew full well that things would never be the same again. Marriage is just so complicated in Georgia, and its hard for me as a westerner to get my head around. In my country, you marry because you love someone and when they propose to you, its an instant feeling of yes or no, not 9 months of fretting and panic attacks (unless you are planning a wedding of course).

It had been tough before I left, as I heard some rumours that meant that someone I trusted had breeched my confidence, and it was like I was the last to know, just as I was the last to know about my friend getting married. I had spent two weeks worrying about her and thinking that I had done something to upset her, when actually she was having a ball at her wedding with her real friends and her new husband. I honestly felt like I had been stabbed in the back, and it was so confusing to know why. Friendships with Georgians are just like being in love really. They sweep you off your feet, and then, when the honeymoon period ends and they have got what they want from you, they just spit you out and move on to the next best person in their life. Friendship in Georgia has not been one of my strong points, and is just so complicated, that I often wonder if I have aspbergers or something, because I just can’t make head nor tail of them and the usual rules do not apply, so you are left guessing.

Anyway, I was really hurt about my so called best friend not bothering to tell me that she just got married, and I had started to get my head around things and life was ok because I hadn’t seen her. Then another friend came to stay, but her flights were messed up by the Ministry and she ended up staying with my host family even though I was not there. She wanted to say goodbye to everyone before she left Georgia, and so I ended up having to see my previous best friend. It was really hard, and totally messed me up emotionally again, but was also good because I didn’t want to leave Georgia without saying goodbye, as part of me felt like I may not be coming back. Then we had no contact again until I was at the airport on my way back, and again, it totally did my head in as our relationship of late has been either hot or cold, intense or wanting to be left in peace, and ridiculously hard to fathom out. Nothing was getting processed,and since then it has been like one layer of hurt just gets replaced by another and another, and now it is too late to resolve anything, and I am mourning what has been lost.

    This Sex Stuff is all just So Confusing

I haven’t spoken about it before, but now in retrospect, and with distance between the situation, and nothing to loose, it seems ok to talk about it here. I really wonder how many other people have had this cultural confusion since being in Georgia??

Basically, when I was really sick in December from a parasite I picked up from drinking contaminated water, I had a real struggle as to whether to come back to Georgia or not. There was no good reason to come back, in any shape or form. But I really missed my new best friend, and life without her just seemed empty. I have only ever felt so strongly about one other person in my life, and I guess that is why this situation was so awful as I knew what was at stake, but also what was to be gained in giving the friendship a chance to develop. It is so rare to meet someone that you don’t know from Adam, but that you instantly feel connected to, as if they are your soul mate. Somehow, they just get you, they can read you like a book, and you feel so at ease talking to them about anything. For no reason at all, you can’t help but trust them, and you unconditionally and uncontrollably, just let them into your life, with a full access pass and no expectations. It was great, because we seemed to have so much in common, and our lives had followed a similar course, and we seemed to understand each other. Emotionally it was tough for me to invest in the relationship, because, having been here once before, I knew that if it came to the point where I lost her as a friend, life would just be painful, and it would be hard to come back from, just like the last time.

Things were made really complicated by the cultural differences and language barriers, and these really tied me up in knots. Why?? Because I thought that maybe she was gay, that she was trying to come out of the closet, but was scared because this being Georgia, it would be unacceptable, and because I didn’t want to lose her as a friend. I wanted to be supportive, to let her know that it was ok with me if she were gay, as I have lots of gay friends, but at the same time I was afraid that maybe she thought I was gay. At one point, I was even questioning my own sexuality because I have never felt so close to anyone before, but at the end of the day, I knew that if she made a move, it would actually really freak me out as I just didn’t think about women in that way. If she made a pass, and I freaked out, she would feel bad and I didn’t want that, nor did I want to encourage her, and dealing with my own sexuality was another stress that I just wasn’t expecting. But, I am definitely straight, and I know the reason that I feel so close to her.

It is culturally much harder to deal with such issues in Georgia, because everything is different here, the rules are different, and as a Brit, that can be a confusing mindfield of mixed signals and emotions, again, like having aspbergers or something similar. Women walk along the street hand in hand, or linking arms, people kiss and touch you all the time, and its not uncommon for people to have their hand on your thigh. People are always telling me that they love me, and people are always saying ‘I kiss you’. But, as a Brit, I am used to personal space, no one touching me, and no one ever expressing any kind of sentiments. So the meaning of those things is not flippant for me, its a big deal with big implications. I am not used to people cuddling up to me, or playing with my hair, but its normal amongst Georgians. And the reason I was getting so confused about my sexuality, was because I actually love people being tactile with me or showing me affection, and it is something I have always craved, because it makes me feel human, and connected to other people, rather than feeling like some kind of freak. I never once received a kiss or a hug from my own mother, and at best my family only receive a quick handshake, even after months of being apart. I am afraid of people being tactile or saying nice things, because I feel ashamed, or I don’t deserve it, or because I don’t know how to deal with it. It freaks me out, but that doesn’t mean I want people to stop just because I am feeling awkward. Its like being in a rehab project, and if I am to survive in Georgia, then I have to get used to touch and losing my personal space.

Its taken a long time for me to become such an open and honest person, to express or show my feelings, and when my grandfather was dying, my grandmother told me that under no circumstances was I to cry or to be upset, its as if emotion was seen as a weakness in my family, even if you were throwing up, it was your job to clean it up and take responsibility, to ‘man up’ and not be a loser. So, Georgia has been a tough lesson so far, and adaptation is hard work. This means that I stick my neck on the block, far more here than I would in my own country, as I haven’t yet found the balance between what is normal for me, and what is normal for society around me.

Needless to say, Georgian friendships have been a really tough experience, and with my best friend, even more so, as there were a lot of things not talked about, that probably would have made communication much simpler, had we spoke about things. Ironically, her friends thought that she was having an affair with me, she likely thought that I was gay, but didn’t want to ask outright, and I thought that she was gay and afraid about the implications for her as a Georgian. Several of my female friends here, have gone through exactly the same situations here, with Co-teachers, and other Georgians they have met, many have even had Georgians make passes at them, and its something that we have talked about a lot as we have all been tangled up in knots over this topic and how to handle it the best. It is something that is not taught in the cultural training when you arrive in Georgia, and I even wonder if anyone on the training programme is aware of it as a cultural difference.

So many Georgians consider females to be gay, just because they are a certain age and not married, and many of the females who are western think that Georgian women who are not in love, just get married to stop rumours that maybe they are gay, or are having an affair, or that the only reason they got married in a secret wedding is because they were actually bride knapped but were too afraid to say something. It all comes down to that massive difference between westerners like myself, and Georgians, and our attitudes towards being ‘alone’. For me, I see no prospects in marrying someone just so that I won’t be on my own. I value my independence more than anything, and the thought of being tied down, and having someone dictate my life to me is an awful one, that makes me shudder. I can’t think of anything worse, than just making do with someone, and for me, I would seriously have to be in love with them in orde to sacrifice and compromise with them. But, for Georgians, they don’t understand the concept of being alone, and to them it is the worst state in the world, and marrying any old person will always be better than being alone. Culturally, our interests our so different. For me, I want to see the world, travel, and focus on learning as much as I can,but for Georgians, its all about marriage, babies, and death. In my culture, my friends would be very disappointed if I got married and ‘gave up my life’ and my dreams to be tied down to a man. Yet here, marriage is the man aim of every female. Its not about love, or the planning, or sharing your special day with others. Probably because its all about the sex.

In my country, you can have sex with anyone you like, without the need to be in a relationship. In Georgia, the whole reason for marriage is to have legitimate sex. In my country, you would get the shit beaten out of you at school for still being a virgin, but in Georgia, you are a virgin and its normal and to not be a virgin is a big disgrace.

    No sex please, we’re British

I always felt that British people were fairly open about sex, but I have found myself slightly uncomfortable in Georgia on more than one occasion, as sex is something that Georgians talk about a lot, but in a different context and in a very matter of fact way. For example, I recently arrived at a kitchen table to be greeted by a newly married couple, the mother in law and some friends and family. I knew they had been to the church, and understood that the husband had taken some kind of a test at the church and that there had been a special ceremony. In Britain, talking about church services is pretty safe territory, and so I was surprised to find myself in a tricky situation after I made the mistake of asking how the church service was and the test. And to my horror, I was gobsmacked to hear that the church service was a special ceremony because even though they had been married and on honeymoon several weeks ago, the wife had last night lost her virginity! There she was, the mother in law, and the bride’s mother, beaming away with smiles and looking incredibly proud that the kids had finally ‘had it off’. What made things weirder, was that the young children around the table had also been to this church service and were part of the celebrations. In Britain, we know that people have sex on their wedding night, but we never openly mention it, and there was something rather uncomfortable to me about something so personal and special and intimate being shared so openly and discussed with all and sundry over a cup of Turkish coffee and a piece of lobiani!

And to make things worse, I really find it hard to get my head around the fact that these bright and business minded and successful women, can go from being independent to suddenly getting married and having their husbands suddenly make all the decisions for them, on what they are allowed to wear, who they speak to and when, and suddenly taking on the responsibility of iron the lazy fecker’s undies or whatever, because according to him, that is the woman’s job!!! As a foreigner, that is incredibly hard for me to understand, and is one of the reasons that I am so devastated to lose my best friend to marriage to a man that I don’t even know if she loves.

It saddens me, that she had so many plans in life, was learning English, wanted to travel, etc, etc, and now has moved house, is about to give up her job to stay at home and look after him, and will now be pressured into having kids because he wants them even though she wants to wait. All her plans and her life now revolve around him, a man that she is not even madly in love with. I started to wonder if my anger was down to jealousy, but then I realised that it is purely because to me this is not acceptable, that no one should feel pressured by society in this way. In England, the wedding is a celebration of love, or showing others how happy you are, and I know, that if I knew she was happy and in love, then I wouldn’t feel so bad for her. This makes me a really shitty friend now, because she knows how I feel, that she let me down by not telling me that she got married, and because no matter how much of a nice guy he is, things will just not be the same anymore. As a friend, I just want her to be as happy as possible, and I really hope that she can make this work for her. But, it makes me feel bad as a friend, because maybe I never really understood what she really wanted from life, maybe she never really shared her true dreams with me, maybe I misjudged the situation, and what I took for strong and unconditional friendship, was actually no more than a Georgian flash in the pan, and maybe friendship with me was just a means of practising English and was nothing more than that? Georgian friendships are so confusing, and I wish someone would give me the rules card.

    Losing Anne again.

Anyway, losing my best friend like that was heart breaking, and its only recently that I realised why I was so fond of her and why there was such a connection. Its simple really, she reminds me of an aunt, and of my friend Anne, who used to look after me at the hospital when I was younger and who I became really good friends with over several years and who really replaced the mum that I never had. We spent so much time together and she had a massive impact on my life, really helping me to believe in myself, and when I lost her it was the worst time in my life, and I will never get over that loss. Suddenly, here in Georgia, I met someone who was the absolute embodiment of Anne, had the same mannerisms, humour, direct way of talking, and was the loveliest and kindest person in the world. For those of you who used to watch the BBC series ‘Casualty’ back in the early days, Ann was really like Nurse Meghan. And now, having gone through the same emotions of loss, life in Georgia is no longer the same, and I really am starting to wish that I had never come back now. But wishing won’t get me anywhere, as the reality is, I am stuck here now, and need to somehow rebuild my life here in more ways than one.

    Arriving at Tbilisi Airport

As it turned out, I had no difficulty arriving at the airport, and getting through customs with the animals was fine. Disappointingly, the friends who were supposed to be meeting me at the airport at 3am, were not there and had sent a taxi instead. I was pretty stressed out as I had no idea where I would be living, as the place that I was supposed to move into, fell through when the husband of the owner got rushed into hospital. So, here I was now in Tbilisi, with three pets, tired, hungry, and nowhere to live! My friend has messaged me on the flight back, to say that the Real Estate people had finally found me a place to live, and I was pretty surprised to find that I would be taken straight to the new place. The price was over my budget, and since TLG had mucked up my salary for June, I hadn’t a penny and was really feeling the pressure, but had no idea what the deal was with the new place.

So the taxi took me there, and I crashed as soon as I arrived, nothing to eat, no shower, no clean clothes, three tired animals, nothing! The next day I went to meet my friend, to find out what the deal was with the new place, she was two hours later than we had planned to meet, and the day was spent hanging around waiting and not knowing what was going on. My friend came to see the new place with me, and whilst we were there, the real estate guy and the lady who owned the apartment showed up, and were expecting me to sign the contract and to pay the rent and a month’s deposit there and then. I didn’t have it as I had no idea what was going on, and it turned out that the lady wanted even more money for the place, and also didn’t want me to have pets there. The real estate guy left, and we waited for my friend to come and speak to the lady and to tell me what the situation was. In the process, the owner lady decided that I should move out there and then and that I should pay 300gel for having slept there for the ‘night’. I said that I wouldn’t be paying 300gel as that was rather excessive, and she soon became pretty nasty, telling me that I was filthy and a liar and that I had no intention of paying her any rent. She threw me, my friend, and my animals, and all my stuff into the corridor, where we at on the dirty steps waiting for my friend to arrive and to drive us to her place to figure out what to do next. I was now on two days with no sleep, no food, and feeling pretty pissed off, especially with all of the unnecessary stress on the animals in keep moving, and going from 11degrees in Latvia to 34degrees in Tbilisi, having no food as yet as I still needed to buy some.

Several hours later, and many tears and angry words, my friend had managed to saved the day by phoning our new boss at the private school, and she kindly agreed to put both of us up for the foreseeable. My friend was thrown out of the house by his TLG host family as they had decided to rent out his room over summer, so our new boss really was an angel that week and has been incredible ever since!

    Manana Saves the Day!

Since then, we have been living in her house, and though it needs a lot of work, it is amazing to have some normality again, some independence and peace, and in September there will be the three of us from our orientation group living here.

So, things got back on track for a little bit, and I had two totally and utterly amazing weeks on my summer school project, decorating my school classrooms with the children, parents, and teachers, and giving English lessons to the teachers and parents every afternoon. Things felt perfect, and I was really starting to bond with everyone at school, and the oceans project was really looking hot….

Until….having coffee one day with my school Director, I was shocked to discover that a lady turned up at the school and announced that she was the new Director, that she wanted all new teachers, and that our school was no more. Talk about gutted! especially having just announced the whole project to everyone and spent all my energy on designing the website. Now my teachers have lost their jobs, and many children have left school. We had to stop decorating and the Ministry told me that they would not be able to pay me for my summer project now that the situation had changed. However, they could offer me a post teaching at the Police Academy everyday.

Ordinarily, I would have jumped at the chance to teach the police officers, however, I was aware from other people, that the hours were long, classes were hard work, and they were travelling sometimes an hour to get to their police officers. I needed the money, especially having had my pay messed up in June, but I also knew that I had to preserve my energy and that teaching police officers daily, would mean I would burn out, before school started in September, as I would have been teaching non stop since October, and would have no holiday at all.

    No More School 56

I visited school to try and find out what was going on, and didn’t like what I saw, or the prospect of returning in September to teach a school that no longer felt like the school I had come to love, and which was the basis of my decision to renew my contract and to undertake such a huge project here. It was another kick in the teeth from Georgia, on top of the fact, that this lack of money means that I am still not able to see a dentist and to get my teeth fixed, which is bad news longer term. Plus, 6 weeks with no washing machine, in the heat, eaten by mosquitos, no income, and living on hopes and promises, things were not so nice anymore. To top it off, my cat Uisce became really unwell and lost a lot of weight. I thought she would die at any moment because she was already old, and moving here, and then moving four times in two days was all unnecessary stress for her. But I hope she is starting topick up again, but I know its only for a short time as she is so old. I am just pleased that she seems happy in herself, and I hope that if I can get her through summer, then she will have a much better time of it in the winter as it will be less difficult on her physically.

Uisce being on the verge of death was awful, and I feel a massive sense of responsibility having put her through, first the move to Latvia, and leaving her there for 6 months whilst I decided if I liked it here or not, and not even having money to take her to the vet. Worse still, was the thought that when she dies, I have no idea what to do with her. In England or in Latvia, it would be easy as I could bury her in the garden, but there is no garden here, and there is only a rubbish skip. Hardly the way to say goodbye to a charismatic creature that has given you 14 years of comfort and love! For now, I don’t want to think about it, but I know that on a practical level, I will need to at some point, but I hope it won’t be for a very long time.

    Leaving TLG

However, the combination of factors has all been a lot to take on board, and I can’t help but feel angry at TLG or the MInistry for letting me down. I only signed up for another year’s contract, on the basis that I could continue at school 56, but now that has gone, along withm my best friend, and I am left wondering what the hell I am doing here! I could have stayed at the school when it starts life in September as a Ukranian school, or I could move to another school with the Ministry. However, the whole situation, with school and the project, and with the pay mess up, and flights fiasco, and a couple of other things, has led to my decision to leave TLG.

I didn’t want to leave TLG, and I still really love the project, however, it will be hard for me to bounce back and to trust the Ministry again. I understand the reasons for the change and that it is all part of the reform of the education system here. But the thing which really upset me, was the treatment of the staff, in particular the school Director, and that is something that I don’t want to be a part of. Sometimes, when lots of change takes place, it is better to cut one’s losses and to start a fresh, rather than thinking things won’t change, when already they have. I don’t have the energy to start at a new school, to build up rapport with the teachers and students, just for the Ministry to change things again. This is already my second school, and I know what it is like to be in a school where the only reason you are tolerated,is because the Ministry told the school that they had no choice.

Instead, I think things will work out in a different, but far better way for me now, and in a way which enables me to have the best of both worlds. I am too hot and being bitten by mosquitos to write more now, but I will continue this tomorrow. In the meantime,

night night xx

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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