I’ve had two amazing birthdays in my 36 years of life. Both of them since I moved to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Last birthday, I was with my host family in Vale in the tiny village of the very unpronounceable Samtskikhe –Javakheti. I never thought that any birthday could be topped by the unconditional warmth and love that I felt and received last year. But I was wrong!! Again, I was made to feel so special and loved, and it was not about having presents or parties or anything material like that. More the kind words, hugs and kisses of every single person I met throughout the day, who all remembered that I had a birthday, despite being busy enough with their own lives. I hadn’t told anyone it was my birthday, yet everyone seemed to know, including the moustached old ladies who are always so kindly whenever I see them in the street (I have the formidable Georgian grapevine to thank for that!). And the best present by far was the wish that my life would be a healthy and happy one. What more could any person ask for than that. Especially when such best wishes are delivered with such sincerity.
I arrived at school to cards and cuddles, and on entering classes or bumping into kids in the corridor from 3rd grade upwards, I was greeted with a verse of ‘happy birthday’ (delivered in English, Georgian, and Russian no less) followed by a series of ‘hip hip hoorays’. My fifth grade even drew me a cake on the whiteboard, with candles which I was encouraged to blow out and make a wish on!
We didn’t get the decision on sponsorship from the Bank of Georgia for our trip, in time for London. But my School Director somehow managed to find us the money to go to London for the Oceans Project that very evening. I was gobsmacked that anyone would go to so much trouble to follow something that was my dream and that was so special to me, and to put themselves so much out of their way for me and my baby….the Oceans Project. And I think that just reminds me of why I originally fell in love with Georgia and the warmth of Georgian people. I love that, and that if someone is in ‘need’ in any way, everyone will rally around, and if they can do anything to help, then they will. And that kindness is then hopefully reciprocated when another person has a need and that person is then in a position to help. You could call it ‘Karma’ I suppose. Very different from the ‘well, you made your bed, so you’ll lie in it’ attitude that I have grown up with in Britain. Or only giving help in tandem with conditions or words of negativity attached.
The morning was a funny one. I’d actually forgotten it was my birthday at first, and it wasn’t until my house mate reminded me, that I remembered it was my earth day. Funnier still, was the fact that I was actually 36, because I’d just spent most of the previous year thinking I was already 36, so here I was, being 36 again!!! The second time in my life that I have done that!
Two hours after my School Director announced that we could indeed make it to London, I was home….packing! We left just a few hours later, still not really believing that we were finally on our way to London!
I have to admit that I was probably more in fear of going back to Britain than I was happy or excited. I hadn’t been home for almost a year, and I was worried! Worried because I knew that I had changed, and that my values, experiences, and expectations were now very different to the culture I had been brought up in. And I didn’t want to go back to that. To that atmosphere of always feeling like a failure, that there were no prospects for me, no sense of purpose, and where, in short, I just felt I had no opportunity in life, no way to make my mark, and no way to feel connected to other human beings. Even at the height of my profession as a Cognitive Neuropsychologist, living in a swanky pad in London, and buying clothes from Selfridges with a personal shopper, I was never happy. There was always something more important that was missing. I wasn’t miserable, but I was never as happy as I have been since leaving the NHS and coming to Georgia. And now, I knew that I wouldn’t want to go back and settle into my own community again, and my not wishing to fit back into my social box would probably get me into trouble or make life doubly hard, especially with my granny, who might not understand why I had given up a more stable life, pension, mortgage, own home, etc.
It was funny to be back in Britain. Even on arriving at the airport, waiting for our bags, I was laughing at the irony of being back and thinking about my life in Georgia. I wondered how much money had been spent on large red suitcases or how much had been paid to a designer or employee to come up with the idea of placing large red suitcases on the island in the middle of the luggage carousel with a notice to remind travellers to make sure to check that the bag they collected was theirs, because sometimes bags look similar!! Surely that should be common sense???? And then there were warnings, reminding passengers to be careful when lifting their luggage, and to make sure that their children did not climb on the carousel. And I wondered whether this was really because they thought passengers were stupid, or needed warning, or whether it was the result of a society where people can sue because their was no warning in place??? Do we really need babysitting as a society? Like the woman who sued McDonalds because she burnt herself on a cup of coffee because she didn’t realise that the contents would be hot! Like the warnings on packets of salted peanuts to remind the owner that the packet might just contain nuts, and could seriously harm those with a nut allergy!
It was funny to be on the escalator headed to the airport exit. People stood on the right, but walking on the left, and a sign to remind them how they should be walking! Definitely back in regimented Britain, where people queue and take turns and everything is straight and neat and tidy. And funnier still was seeing everybody rushing around and being grumpy, or complaining because they were busy and had things to rush around for. Even flying into London, everything looked all tidy, neat and ordered, perhaps not because of the way that Brits are so OCD, but perhaps more because there are just so many people living in London and squashed into a small space, that they have to just build where they can and fill every single space?
Clear Blue Skies
It was actually the first time that I have ever flown into the UK, where we didn’t descend through grey and rainy clouds and into poor visibility. Instead, it was beautiful blue skies, and we flew right over London, so clear that you could see every icon and monument, and there was no mistaking the fact that we were right in the heart of London. The River looked fantastic, rippled and dark blue-grey cleanly lined by yellowish buildings, curving around each bend. Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament, the ‘gherkin’, my friend Bron’s apartment next to Tower Bridge, it was good to be back in my old stomping ground, but also weird after living in Tbilisi so long. Suddenly Georgia seemed so incredibly small, and not surprising given that the whole of Georgia has a population of around 3.4million, but the Capital of London alone has about 12 million people. We quickly flew over the heart of London, over the glamour and money part of the Capital, and then over the poorer looking suburbs with their grey, cold, and damp looking buildings. Amazing to see the social divide standing there so evident in just the style of architecture. I wonder what foreigners make of this flight in. Do they notice the difference, or does the beauty of central London mask all other experiences and sights? Do people think that we all live like that? I wonder.
So, one car hired, and all luggage swiftly collected, we were on our way. Next stop Henley-On-Thames and my granny!
Funny to be back, and even funnier to be in Britain with my School Director, who ironically knew her way around my country far better than I did, and turned from a Georgian driver into a British driver, and adapted to everything in Britain far better than I did, with my reverse culture shock. Everything was very alien to me, but also familiar, but I didn’t feel British anymore, and British folk seemed really bizarre after my life in Georgia. Strangers made jokes and were sarcastic, people chatted about the weather and the state of the toilets in their home town, whilst waiting in line for a coffee shop toilet, why would you do that with a complete stranger? I missed that about British people, I miss that sarcasm. But I also love my new life in Georgia and the closeness I have with the people in my life. The genuine and unconditional friendships I have and a different level of interactions than I have in Britain. On the one hand I’m excited to be back in Britain, mainly to be surrounded by the material things and comfort that I am used to, but on the other hand, all of that really feels insignificant given that my life is now far richer in Georgia in terms of human interactions. And being back in Britain, with all its negativity and feelings of failure seems to be less important having a little piece of Georgia with me, like having immunity somehow. Like a life ring. I actually and bizarrely feel more Georgian than I do British now. And its funny to feel that I am now more distant to my grandmother, even though I still love her and we are tied in blood. That somehow things that matter so much to Brits, are just trivialities to Georgians. Very strange indeed, and I know that readjusting will be slow.
It is funny because my School Director has been in Britain far more than me, and it’s a year since I was last here, and when I was here last time, I was really miserable and longed to be back in Georgia. Strange!
But, I don’t wish to knock the opportunity of being back. I am having an amazing time, and its nice to get an escape from my life in Georgia, and respite is great. And I plan to enjoy every moment of it. Simple things like having a proper shower or bath, being able to buy food that my body is used to and familiar with, and having excess of everything around me. We are so privileged to have so much available to us, and I wonder whether we really appreciate the availability of everything? I can buy any food that I like in London, from ANY country in the world. Being in the supermarket is just overwhelming. Three or four rows of different fruit and vegetables, and all in abundance. So many different colours. A whole aisle of potatoes, hundreds of different varieties, and from all over the world. Everything shipped here on an aeroplane, available to eat all year round. I can buy anything I want here. Yet in Georgia, we only have locally produced things, and only when they are in season. But, in Britain, fruit and veg is a luxury. Expensive. In Georgia, fruit and veg, whilst not in season year round, is considered a staple. Just as it was in Britain pre war times. And actually, whilst Georgia may not be considered the most environmentally country in the world, it does have several things going for it, on the global and environmental conservation stakes. People do grow locally and in season. Fuel is not wasted in bringing goods from abroad, and food is not wasted in the same way, and heating and false conditions are not used to force grow things that are not in season.
Royal Geographical Society
The environment has been a key feature this weekend, and I have to say, that it was amazing to be back at the Royal Geographical Society and with my School Director from Georgia. I was proud to be representing Georgia in some small way, hopefully changing people’s view or stereotypes of Georgia, and I hope, putting Georgia on the map somehow. One of my dreams with the Oceans Project is to put Georgia on the map in a positive way, and I think we really did that this weekend, both literally and metaphorically.
We stood at the society, next to a cabinet containing artefacts retrieved from the body of Stanley I think it was, about seventy years after he died climbing Everest. A pocket knife in its leather pouch, and a brightly coloured scarf. Along with a letter written by himself and his doctor back in 1926. And I chuckled to see that the typical British thing of understating or underplaying things was ever present. In his letter he talked about being ready ‘to go out’ again, like he was planning to pop out for a pint of milk from the corner shop or something, when actually he was ‘going out’ to climb Everest, the highest mountain in the world, for the very first time. And not wearing posh and technical gear or having amazing equipment, but back in the 1920s with almost knitted socks kept up around ankles with pieces of string, corduroy trousers, and knitted jumpers, and ropes tied around the waist to prevent people from falling off the mountain. And then, there we were, my School Director and I, stood by this wooden case, numbered drawing pin in hand, and searching the map for this tiny little country called Georgia, and putting the pin in Tbilisi for all to see. So that any explorer who now visits the RGS can email us and look us up and so that we can help them with any plans they have to visit Georgia.
Around the World By Horseback, now Via Georgia!
Stood next to this map, we got talking to a young lady, who was wondering where she should stick her pin. Not because she was stupid or lost or anything, but because she was about to travel around the world on horse back, and wouldn’t be based in just one place. She had a decision to make too. Would she take the low road or the high road? We encouraged her to take the high road, for no other reason, than it would mean her travelling through Georgia, and she had been worried whether it would be safe to come through the Caucasus or not. I hope that we convinced her otherwise, and it would be lovely to receive a call in several months time to see that she has found herself in Tbilisi.
Meeting Tom Allen
Within two hours of arriving at the RGS, we happened to sit next to another young man. A quiet and mysterious guy going by the name of Tom Allen. It was a rather funny moment, and probably one that will stay with me forever. I had been in discussion with the very famous and very kind traveller, of Monty Python fame, Michael Palin. We were talking about his adventures and he was curious about the Caucasus and Georgia and was saying that he had wanted to visit there, but hadn’t managed it yet. He was currently filming a new travel series for the BBC, and I was telling him about the Oceans Project and life in Georgia. And next to me sat Nigel Winser, CEO of Earthwatch Institute beaming away and seemingly very excited about the Oceans Project, having given me the biggest and most welcoming aftershaved and bristly hug of my life, a firm confirmation that he liked and approved of my crazy project, if ever I’d doubted it. I had a captive audience, and was a little taken by surprise to say the least. Nigel was asking me who my favourite and most admired explorer was and who I would most like to meet, talk to, or share a tent with. The answer was fairly easy really, Paul Rose. The man whose path I had crossed many times in the last ten or fifteen years, and who had inspired me to start up Oceans Project Georgia. Paul was also sat very close by, and I’d already spoken to him several times within the past 12 hours, making the most of every opportunity as he was heading off to Antarctica the next day, Nigel was off to work with the Prince of Oman, and Michael Palin was off on expedition as part of the new television series. It was Paul’s BBC Oceans series which had captured my imagination and who I had met here several times since making the series back in 2007. It was a brilliant moment, surrounded by three of the people I admire the most in the world.
And then there was Tom. This quiet young man, in his mid twenties. Brown eyes and shaved head, and fairly skinny. He had a look about him of someone who doesn’t have need to speak or grab attention, because he knows he has everything in life, is content, and can now just sit and study others. He has the look of one who has probably been to hell and back, and in that process has come to know themselves inside and out and is now just at peace with themself. That was Tom. And there was my School Director chatting to him. He asked where she was from, to which she answered Georgia, and he to our surprise replied with ‘gamarjobat’. Not the answer we had expected at all! Had word really gotten out about Georgia being the world’s best kept secret???? We didn’t get chance to pursue much conversation with him, but it all became clear later on, when we went to a private screening of a new film called ‘Janapar’ or less formerly perhaps ‘Tom’s Bike Trip’, which turned out to be Tom’s film about his adventures. Quiet Tom who had sat next to us all morning. It turned out that Tom really had been to hell and back, and that now he had found peace in his life. Tom had started out with two of his friends on a bike ride from the UK. Unhappy in his day to day duldrum of making websites for people and a 9 to 5 life and no sense of purpose. So he had bought a bike and had planned to cycle around the world with his two best friends. But, like all expeditions, it didn’t really go to plan! He had rows with his two friends, and they went their separate ways, but Tom decided to go on in true explorer fassion, and with sheer bloody-minded determination firing him up. He arrived in Tbilisi at the worst point in his expedition and to be fair, probably didn’t have the greatest experience here. Having just fallen out with his friend, in the depths of winter, and now with the big and heart wrenching decision to carry on around the world entirely alone. I live in Tbilisi and I doubt you would ever get me onto a bike in Georgia, and I love mountain biking! But you wouldn’t get me cycling with my entire house and kitchen on the back of my bike, and cycling through ice and snow and up big mountains. So I instantly had respect for Tom and massive admiration. Cycling in the warmth is one thing, but cycling across Georgia in the height of the winter, really deserves credit.
But I also felt a real connection to Tom. He met a girl whilst travelling though Armenia, and he instantly knew he was in love, and though he tried to leave, he knew that he just had to come back and see her again. So he did, and he stayed for many months, until she agreed to cycle with him, having managed to purchase a bike and learnt to ride it. He was totally smitten, and it was clear that he loved Armenian people. What was interesting, was that everything he said, was exactly as I feel about Georgia. That he felt that Brits had lost that human connection, and that here he had found a warm and unconditional people who would give you everything but expect noting in return. I totally got that. He had tried to leave, and even after cycling 170km, he just knew that he had to go back and see what would happen with this girl he had only known for two weeks. He hated that it was out of his control, and I totally related to that back in December, when I came back to the UK with a kidney problem after picking up parasites from our local drinking water, and being really sick for a long time. We had no electricity, no running water, little heat, and an awful diet of really just stale bread. But I loved my host family, and I really missed them and was home sick for the first time in my life whilst I was in Britain. I guess I was worried that this might happen on this trip too, but the difference this time, was that I had my little piece of Georgia with me, and that made it all fine. But I know that it would have been awful had I not maintained my connection with Georgia 24 hours a day. So, I felt for Tom. My heart understood him entirely. It was a brilliant film, and I really hope it does well at the film festivals. I really encourage you to watch it if you have time: http://janapar.com/
Georgians generally don’t like Armenians. Or perhaps dislike is a bit strong, but there is generally a lot of competition between the two countries, and at my public schools, there were always explanations for children, always under bated breath. ‘oh, they have some emotional problems’ or ‘oh, they are Armenian’. A little like the relationship between the English and the French!! I have never really understood this, especially as Georgians are a peaceful nation on the whole. But I wonder if it’s a kind of jealousy sometimes. I had always expected, for no reason at all really, that Georgia would be a richer country than Armenia. But, from friends’ reports of their visits, they always say that Armenians are even more hospitable and warm and friendly than Georgians, and that you can buy so many different things there and that it was in general more advanced, especially in infrastructure, than Georgia. But aside from this, historically there has always been a link between Georgia and Armenia. So I really wonder where this animosity has come from. But, I’ve also heard that Armenians who are living in Georgia are very different to the Armenians living in Armenia, and that seems to be the consensus for whatever reason.
I haven’t had a lot of contact with Armenia, but most of the Armenians I met were very fun and loving people and there didn’t seem to me to be much difference to Georgians. Although the Armenians always seemed to laugh and smile much more than Georgians.
Vale’s Infamous Nadari
In Vale there was one well know Armenia, by the name of Nadari. A Sailor, who was always drunk, and often sat on the road outside my host family’s house, waiting for my host father to agree to go for a drink with him or to invite him in. He turned up to our house on my birthday last year, with chocolates for me and vodka for my host father, even though I had never met him before. He was the tallest chap in the village, and had a mouth full of gold teeth, and a very smelly black leather jacket. He always seemed to be a bit drunk, and always had the same conversations with me if he ever caught sight of me on the bus home. My host family were very different to most Georgian families too. They were Roman Catholic, something that they didn’t publicise to other Georgians who were orthodox and wouldn’t approve of. And they also spoke Armenian and had Armenian friends. Most of the people in my village spoke Armenian, and for a while I too was learning Armenian without even realising it, because I thought they were teaching me Georgian!! Nadari was well travelled too, and always regaled about his rather colourful life, with much fun and enthusiasm, even if he did sometimes appear completely bonkers. But he was always drunk, that was for sure, and he would often hang out with the men of the village who would daily stand on the street corner and chatter or play board games and smoke.
But I could understand Tom, and I understood how strong he felt about meeting the love of his life and feeling connected to another individual for the first time. She got him totally, and she was just happy to be herself, and had obviously had a massive impact on him from the word go. And what better gesture, than to cycle more than 170km in awful weather with all your kit, just to tell someone you just met that you are in love with them! Especially with the social and cultural complexities which come with a cross cultural relationship, and within a fairly traditional society.
Sadly, her parents would not allow her to cycle with him, but they still married later on, and he completed his expedition to cycle around the world. It was a brilliant film. Full of laughter, sadness, and lots of funny moments that I totally connected with. But I wonder how I would have felt, had I been viewing the film without my Georgian eyes, would I have understood everything so fully?? Its certainly a privilege to have lived in another culture for so long and to have shed many of my British ways.
My Country Georgia?
There was one very ambivalent moment in the film for me. A moment when I was both really proud and happy, but also really sad. I was happy to see my Tbilisi and a bit of Georgia on the screen and to know that Tom had also been there and would understand a little about Georgian culture. But I was also a little sad because I knew that this had been one of the worst times for Tom, that it was winter, he was on his own for the first time ever, and had fallen out with his best friend. Not the greatest time to find yourself in a totally alien environment.
Tbilisi on the Big Screen
It was great to see Tbilisi there on the large screen in front of us, and sub consciously probably set in stone the Oceans Project, because suddenly this unknown place became a hot topic and suddenly people had a connection with it, and were asking us lots of questions.
There is soon to be an episode on the Travel Channel about Georgia, to be aired on the 4th December I think. And I have vowed to make Georgia the top destination and must see for the year 2012. I hadn’t realised how proud I was to be in Georgia, and I hadn’t realised how much people’s attitudes or misconceptions really upset me these days, and its time for all that to change, slowly and surely.
A Tough Day
Its been an emotionally hard and challenging day today. I knew when I went to Georgia, that I would be putting my relationships in jeopardy, but I also knew deep down, that only those relationships which were worth investing in and which were genuine, would endure the test of time. I used to work hard with my relationships, more out of duty than desire if I am honest. But that was definitely confirmed today, hard as it was.
I used to diligently call my nan and her sister, my great aunt, every week, every birthday, and every Christmas, no matter where I was, even though they would never make any effort to contact me. When I went to Georgia, I explained that I would no longer be able to write because the postal system was poor and would take months, plus I had no idea where I would be living or what my address might be, and I knew that phoning would be expensive and the time difference would make it difficult to call at a socially acceptable time for them. But I bought presents and tried to visit whenever I could, and sent messages via others. I hoped that they would understand this, especially my great aunt who is almost 100 years old, given that she had previously married her husband so that she could go and work with children in Saudi Arabia in a time when people rarely did such things. But she didn’t understand, or perhaps didn’t want to understand, and as it was, I was already the only person in the family of all the cousins and younger generation to put up with her constant complaints and nasty attitude every time I got in touch. She was always like this, but never as much as she has been as she gets older.
So, when visiting my Nan, she happened to phone and my Nan gave me the phone. It was awful. She told me that she didn’t want to speak to me or see me ever again. It was horrid and worst still, was perhaps the sadness in knowing that I am the last of my generation to give her any time and that she will now continue to lead a sad and lonely existence, probably dying on her own. And I was sadder still, at that loss of connection with my already diminished connection to any sort of a ‘family’, and in the actual relief that, you know what, screw you, I refuse to put up with that kind of treatment anymore, and I’m done with always ending up feeling lousy and guilty for not being able to keep in touch since I’ve been away.
I know why she will have been upset, and it is partly because I was at my Nan’s house and that she didn’t know I was back in the country. But, then she never made it easy to visit, even when I was living in the UK. She is the same with everyone, not just me, and after always making an effort with her my entire life, I know that there is no longer any relationship there, it’s the loss of a blood line, and that is her decision. I previously made allowance after allowance for her, and especially more recently because of her age, but how long should you tolerate such attitudes, especially when the only reason you tolerate them is out of duty? This time she took a step too far, and it marked the end of our relationship.
Its been strange on the whole to be back in the UK, and emotionally tough in terms of relationships with all my family members. I don’t feel connected to them and I miss that warmth of my relationships in Georgia. Its not that it’s a problem with my family members, more that Brits are just very different in relationships, and a lot more reserved and guarded. We can sit in the same room as another person for days and not make any meaningful conversation. Yes, we as Brits are great at small talk, but its all just surface stuff, about the weather, politics, or gossip. Why do we find it so difficult to talk about things that really matter to us, and even if we can see someone has a pain or need or whatever, why can’t we take the initiative to help, without fear of reprimand. In Britain, I don’t like it when people open doors for me, but in Georgia I love it and it feels right and normal. And the reason is, that it’s the hidden meaning behind it, and the kind of heart that is put into it. In Britain, its generally done as a status thing, or because people see you as the weaker person, or because the door opener is just from a more traditional and educated background. In Britain, if I accepted that, its like saying I’m easy and that I am happy to be submissive or to be indebted to someone, and to do that takes a lot of pride on my part. Yet in Georgia, its just the way things are done and it’s the same treatment for everyone, there is no hidden meaning.
And I think, its perhaps a reflection of why Brits have such a hard time in relationships, as everything is about that hidden meaning, and its tiring to have to analyse every bit of a person’s behaviour and decide what the intention was. But, perhaps that is because we are good at superficial things, but that we keep the important things very guarded??? In Georgia, things are more open and out there, and intention is more obvious. If a person thinks or feels something, then they generally just put it out there. There is less analysis needed, its just honest and genuine. Which is crucial given that everyone knows everyone, and its hard to go through every day life without bumping into people afterwards. In Britain, if I fall out with someone, then I decide to never see them again, and can probably go through life avoiding them, but not so in Georgia.
So, its been challenging on that front, and probably more so because of that realisation that I feel more drawn to Georgia than I do to my British heritage. I’m never going to have that same level of intimacy in Britain.
Its funny too, and I really know that I have changed because I realised this past week, that I no longer feel guilty all the time, and I no longer go on the defensive for every little criticism. Brits are renowned for their sarcasm, and listen to people talking in the street, café, or wherever has been very funny. We rarely give compliments, but we spend the majority of our time miserable, criticising our boss or others, or complaining about the hardships we face. Which is ironic, given that we have so much, especially materially. Everywhere I looked people were just moaning about something, no more so than in the dentist, where I saw the dental hygienist come down to the reception desk and give a blow by blow account to the receptionist of every little fault of every patient she had just seen. And then that patient would walk through the reception and they would be all lovely and smiling and they took that patient’s money. Its typical British behaviour. But why do we do it?? Because we hate our job, because we are bored, or because its habit?? Why do Brits spend so much of their life complaining and finding fault in others?? Maybe Brits are only happy when they have something to complain about? Maybe its their purpose in life? Have Brits really lost their contact with others and appreciation of the simple things in life? Maybe we just have too much, that we no longer appreciate anything? Maybe that is why Brits are renowned for being eccentric or for going on expeditions to remote or dangerous places? Maybe exploration is a drug for the soul in order to make us feel alive?
The lady in the dental surgery got me to fill out a form, to cover them on insurance in case I sued, just medical history and stuff, and I fill in one every time I visit. When I went in to see my dentist, he asked for the form, and over the next thirty minutes she created a big fuss saying that she had given this form back to me. She was so defensive. No one seemed remotely bothered, and I had no problem with completing another form, and ticking the four boxes that needed to be ticked. Yet she was just defensive. I would have been the same a year ago, as if my life had depended on whether or not I had made a mistake, because I didn’t want to be judged on that one tiny mistake. Who knows whether she did or didn’t give me that form back, who cares, but why such a drama about it. And I think, that is a change that Georgia has made in me, and its something I used to notice often in Georgia. If a tin of beans fell over in the shop in Georgia, people would just pick them up and that would be it, but in Britain, everyone would run as far away as possible from the collapsed tins, just in case somebody might think it was their fault and blame them. And then we would give death stares or frowns or comments to whoever ended up standing near the collapsed beans, in order to shown them up as at fault, whilst we remained faultless. It’s a fear of being wrongly accused. Yet, we have no history in Britain of being punished for such matters, but Georgia does in other ways, especially from Soviet times, so why are Georgians more likely to find a solution and help, rather than go on the defensive??
Simple Things in Life
I don’t miss that aspect of Britain, and its probably one of the reasons I find Georgia to be relatively stress free ad a happier place to spend my life, and being back in Britain has really reminded me how much I have changed. Its like Georgians just accept that no one is perfect, and take the rough with the smooth, in a transient way, rather than one tiny mistake tarring you with an oily brush for the rest of your days. I find it so refreshing, and I love the fact that I can just be me, and that no one is expecting me to be perfect.
Its been strange too, having my School Director here with me in the UK. And it definitely feels like I have an immunity cloak, as I still have a piece of Georgia here with me, and something to remind me that I have a better life somewhere else, and that I don’t have to belong to this world of criticism and negativity anymore.
And its been challenging to open up and trust people since I moved to Georgia, but in doing so, I feel like a huge void has been filled, and I at last feel like a human being and connected to a society. Opening up and getting to know my School Director has been one of those big challenges, but also a really amazing experience so far. And also interesting to be able to talk about cultural differences and quirks that we have both observed about Britain and Georgia, and of being a foreigner in each others’ countries.
A New Friend
Its been a great adventure so far, and I have to say that the journey so far has really brought us together. Over the week I have come to find a person who is similar to me in so many ways, but is also unique and individual. I’ve found a person who is so kind, and warm, and funny, but who is also deep and considerate, and who always seems to put my needs before her own and take my future moves into consideration. Someone who is a great listener, but who is also not afraid to put her neck on the line or to tell me when I need telling. I’ve come to discover a pianist, someone who shares my tastes in music, and someone who is deep down an environmentalist and educator, with many of the same views and values as myself. But being British, I’ll never tell her these things openly to her face, instead I’ll make small talk and chat about the weather. But, I’m excited to see our shared experiences at the Royal Geographical Society and all those experiences and opportunities of meeting some of the most amazing people in the world, have had such a profound effect on both of us, in a way that, when we return to Georgia, life is always going to be different now. I’ve no idea how, but in some way, the people we have met on this week long adventure have left a mark on us, and on returning to Georgia we will be taking this little bit of magic back with us.
It’s a strange feeling, and amazing to think that just spending time with a person on any kind of expedition or adventure or journey, will always bind you together somehow. No one else has shared those things that we have shared, and those moments will never be replicated. They were there and then they were gone, but in the process they have changed us and joined our destinies together somehow.
My School Director has always been supportive of the Oceans Project, and I think we both knew, at that very first meeting in Coffee.Ge about 8months ago that our paths would cross again and somehow be connected, even if we had no idea that we would end up working together on this particular project. We had no idea how or when, but we just knew. And now here we are, me working in her school, and her working on my project. We have sat in meetings together this week, being interviewed for articles and applying for funds for the project, and we have been sharing with others, our experiences, hopes, and dreams for Georgia. We have talked about why the project is important for Georgia, and why we love Georgian children. I never would have imagined sitting in an office in London with her being interviewed about plastic bags in Georgia, if you had asked me over that very first cup of coffee at that first meeting in Tbilisi.
I never would have imagined, being sat together at the Royal Geographical Society, talking to Michael Palin about why we love Georgia so much. Or that we would be watching the premier of a film that featured Tbilisi! Life really is a funny thing sometimes, challenging and difficult at times, but always interesting. And more than anything, the experience has led me to find not just a great friend, but also a surrogate mum, confidant, a great colleague, and the most amazing School Director. Things that I could never have envisaged happening when I first thought about coming to Georgia, and when everyone told me I would get killed because Georgia was a volatile place and full of war.
Visiting Old Friends
Its been odd to visit friends this week, people that I once spent a lot of time with, through work, study, or whatever. Its great to see them, but I can’t help noticing how much less I have in common with them now, but I can’t explain why. Georgia has just changed me in so many different ways, and talking about my life in Georgia seems incomprehensible from here, just talking about supra is hard. On the face of it, you just get a bunch of people together, eat, drink and make toasts to everything possibly conceivable, including dead people. But how do you put that sense of supra into words and pictures for someone who has never experienced what it feels like to be brought to tears by a toast for you and a sharing of compliments and love for each other. You can’t fully understand it, until you’ve been there really. When I try to sum up why I love life in Georgia, it makes me sound vain. I love life in Georgia because people appreciate me, tell me that I’m great, and take time out in their lives to ensure that my stay is a pleasant one. I’m learning to reciprocate that, slowly but surely, but its still hard as a Brit to tell people that I love them and that they look nice today, or to say lots of nice things to them. I wasn’t brought up to give compliments, let alone to receive them, and its taken a lot of practice.
I used to find it really hard not having my space, but now I find that I don’t like it when I’m sat having coffee on my own, and that I much prefer to always have my new friends around me. That would have done my head in when I first arrived and I longed for my personal space and down time. And if I’m honest, I think I would feel really lonely in Britain now, if my School Director wasn’t here with me to keep me bolstered up, and for company Georgian style. She is typical of Georgians, in that she can pre-empt my needs, even before I can. If she gets a drink, she gets one for me too, if she needs something then the likelihood is that I do to. I’m getting better at taking another person into account, but I still find it hard to predict and think about those things, and if I ever behaved in the same way to my British friends, the irony is, that they would probably slap me for intruding into their independence and individual life. But I’m not about just me anymore, I’m a social being. And somehow, having that constant support and care and consideration from everyone around me, regardless of whether I know them or not, just frees up a portion of me, that now has the capacity to do goods things for others too, and to be able to focus on others for once. I love this new me, and if you offered me a million pounds right now, I would not give up Georgia or come back to Britain, or to my old ‘life’. I’m so much happier these days, and I’m actually ‘living’ for the first time in my life, and I really couldn’t care less for the material things anymore. I’m a part of a bigger thing now, a community, and its that which makes me happy and fulfilled, and feeling like a whole person whose life has some meaning now, as cheesy as that sounds.
Its been an incredible week, we have travelled all over the place being interviewed for the Oceans Project, made some great networks, and started to bring Georgia into people’s consciousness. I don’t know what the future holds, but right now, life is perfect in all the ways that matter the most, and I’m looking forward to a bright future.