Realities of being Back in Georgia: aka Culture Shock!

I thought I was doing pretty well with being back in Georgia, and on the whole I am happy to be back, but the suddenly reality of being somewhere so not British really kicked in on my way home from school yesterday.

Not for the first time, I ended up jammed into a bus on my way home, trapped in the corner by the door.  Only this time, not because the bus was so ridiculously busy, but because a scruffy looking, vodka smelling blonde man with blue eyes, decided he would grope me.  I got the distinct impression that he had tried this on the girl who had been in that position by the door, right before I got on the bus and she moved very quickly, and now it was my turn.  In Britain this would have been even more obvious because of the concept of a personal space, even when the place is busy.  But this guy seemed adept at making the most of such an opportunity.  Luckily I wasn’t as upset and shaken as the last time this happened on a bus, probably because I knew he was drunk, not that this excuses the behaviour in any way.

This really pissed me off, to put it mildly.  And I wonder whether this is a common experience for all women in Georgia, or whether it happens just to foreigners?  I know several other volunteers and foreigners in Georgia that this has happened to, and I wonder if it takes place more or less than previously?? Does it happen more now because there are more foreigners in Georgia, and we have a reputation of being easy? Is it happening with more and more males on buses, or is it just that one guy happens to be travelling on the bus a lot?  The same guy was on my bus home again tonight, but obviously remembered me, and luckily I was travelling with a guy tonight.  He was more drunk than yesterday, and I noticed that he again had a girl pinned in the corner, but more obvious today, given that there was space in the bus. I hope it is not a symptom of something more sinister in terms of relationships with women.

Yesterday, I decided to shame him a little, and politely and loudly said excuse me (I’m clearly still a Brit), and pushed him away quite hard on two occasions.  At the point there were other women around me who saw what happened and he became aware that they were now all watching him, so he moved back a little, though the first time seemed to only encourage him.  But I’ve a good mind, to start carrying a very sharp object in my pocket for the next time that something like this happens, so that they remember when they lean in very hard!!  Perhaps that might be the only way to get the message across that this kind of behaviour is just not acceptable.

I’m still hopeful that this is not typical Georgian male behaviour, and I know many very decent Georgian men who would also not find this kind of behaviour appropriate.  But the thing that upset me most of all, was the fact that this kind of behaviour, particularly if only directed at foreigners, will be really bad for the reputation and future of Georgia and of Georgian people.  If that happened to a tourist, that would likely be the only thing that they would remember and retell their friends when returning home.  And that really upsets me.

I don’t know what the solution is, or how widespread this problem is, but given how many people I have spoken to since first arriving in Georgia and who have had the same experience, I fear that it is becoming a common problem.  Would a Georgian female tollerate such behaviour I wonder? And what would a Georgian do in this situation?

So, that really ruined my excitement and happiness at being back.  Combined with the electrics not working in the house, and that we had a powercut, perhaps due to the workmen fixing our road still.  So that has meant that it has been impossible to get anything done after school, and I really don’t have time to be pissing about right now.  Having a shower was impossible, and the pressure is so ridiculous and the ‘bathroom’ so cold at the moment, that washing is already a nightmare, and not having any light at all in my room is not great in terms of marking school work or creating lesson plans.  No electricity means no internet, and life is just back in chaos and wasted time.

To add to this further, we have had lots of snow, so its been colder, and the house is filthy, and I’m back in a bed that is really uncomfortable with springs that are dislodged and dig into me.  Ironically, I could probably have tolerated all of this, had it not been for being upset by the man on the bus, or the lights not working in my room.  But added to the five hour adjustment between UK and Georgian time, and having been in a house that functioned for a week, as well as having heating, and a bath, its all making me a bit miserable right now and missing my previously normal home comforts.  The trip around Ikea probably also didn’t help!  All those lovely rooms, and the funniest thing is how much I miss having a carpeted floor, even though I know it would be unbearable in Georgia during the summer.

Both of my cats have been really sick, and thankfully Izzy seems to be pulling through with her pneumonia, but she is still a bit wheezy and the vet says that she has to be really careful.  She lost so much weight, and now she has to stay warm and eat lots and rest.

My other cat Uisce, has sadly really deteriorated, and lost 2kg in the space of about a week.  She looks emaciated, and is wobbly on her back legs.  The vet is not sure whether she has picked up a virus, whether its a fur ball that is stuck in her intestines, or something else.  But he is amazed how much weight she lost in a short time.  The irony is that she has been overweight all her life, despite being on diet food and few treats.  Now, I just want my happy and fat cat back.

Taking her in her basket through the snow, along dodgy pavements and walking around cars parked on the pavements each day, has not been fun.  She has had about 8 injections each time, and had her leg shaved and a drip inserted.  Though she is weak and not fighting, its been awful to see her legs tied up and her tied to the table during this process, and although the vet has been amazing and is clearly very compassionate and loving towards the animals in his care, the fact of being in Georgia and things being different, is still a huge shock.

Having friends who are vets and vet students, and having had house mates as vets, its even worse to know that things are so different here, and I feel really bad that I brought them to Georgia as I know they wouldn’t have these problems if we had stayed in the UK. I feel guilty that they live in a non functioning house, and I feel quite powerless to do anything to help them, and on top of that, I am out at school all day, and was away for a week in the UK.

They seem content in themselves, but I feel like an irresponsible owner, and I’m annoyed that after some 16 health problem free years, Uisce may spend her last moments living in this awful way.  Tucked under the radiator desperately trying to keep warm.  This is not what I wanted for them.

The vet’s surgery is very different to anything I have seen in the UK.  Its in a pet shop, and people can walk right in when he is in the middle of operating.  He has a grim looking metal table, a little rusted, and with iodine stains, and some strips of manky looking material which he uses to tie his patients down with when necessary.  He has a cupboard full of different medicines with Russian labels on them, and he is good at creating special devices and improvising where necessary, even breaking and melting down syringes so that they can be used to give fluids orally.  There are no x-ray machines here, and no facilities for taking bloods or sending them off to any lab for analysis.  There are no fancy machines at all, no ultrasound, and needles are boiled and re-used, or re-sheathed.  There is no concept of health and safety.  Once he gives an injection, he puts the needle anywhere that is close to him.  There is no sharps box, and whilst treating Uisce yesterday he managed to stab himself with a needle and his friend, a young guy, who is about to join the army, but likes to assist him, quickly tries to apply a plaster so that he doesn’t bleed too much over his patients.  He is a good vet, doing the best with limited resources.

The real shock comes when you get the bill.  A total of 10gel (about £3.50) for an hour long visit, 8 injections, and a course of intravenous fluids, and the attention of two staff members.  Sometimes he doesn’t even charge, and he likes to sometimes just see them to see how they are doing.  Worse still, he apologises for giving such a large bill, and I wonder how on earth he can survive on this.

Its a terrible experience and sad to see someone so passionate about veterinary medicine, living and working in this way.  Its not a pet orientated society and being a vet does not have the prestige that it does in the UK or USA where it probably the most highly regarded and hardest profession to get into.  But on the plus side, it means that you end up with a vet who really does the job because he loves animals and wants to make them better, and sadly that is something I have found lacking in UK based vets of late, and I’ve been shocked by some of the attitudes of vets I have lived with and how snobby and pretentious they can be.  Just like my experiences in medicine, we have somehow lost that connection and love for others, but this vet had a big heart, and a great bedside manner.

It was nice to feel useful and to be allowed to interact with my cat, and the Assistant was also very gentle with her.  She is still very sick, but I’m sure that the kind manner in which she was treated, alleviated her stress a lot.  In the course of the hour long visit whilst she was on the drip, I had ample time to speak to him and his assistant, in their broken English, having studied Medicine myself, it was useful to have some latin and scientific words in common, especially when my Georgian and Russian was lacking.  He was clearly frustrated at not being able to communicate more in English too, and I thought he might cry when the electricity failed and we were all in total darkness, just as he was on a whirring old computer trying to connect to google translate to find out the word ‘fat-free’.  He had no generator, and I had the impression that he had probably ended up operating by candle light on more than one occasion!  Which probably explained why he was so good at finding veins and giving injections.  And it was pleasantly surprising to hear him say ‘sorry’ in English every time he gave my cat an injection.  He was also good in that he tried to give each injection in a different place so that she wasn’t so sore, especially now she has no fat on her, and that he clearly understand the characters of both of my cats and that they were very different.  He remembered each of them well, and he tailored his treatment to each of them in terms of their personality and had a sense of how they would respond to treatment or how sick they were.  Incredibly Izzy was even purring when she saw him, and it was funny to see him lift her up to his cheek so that he could listen to her breathing,  She is not the kind of cat that takes kindly to being picked up, and she would usually have scratched even me if I had done such a thing.  But she was totally relaxed and happy and I had the impression that she just trusted him and knew that he had made her better.  Not my cat at all, and I have never seen her behave in such a positive way with any vet before, even when she was neutered.

Chatting to him was funny, and I discovered a very kind man with a big heart.  It was funny to hear his stories of being a vet, and to think how different this is to my vet friends.  He mainly treats cats and dogs, but mostly dogs.  He has a cat himself called Gvantsa, and she is the most beautiful girl in his life.  And he has a dog, who is afraid of the cat.  He is totally afraid of snakes and has never treated one, and would probably pass out if asked to do so, and he has never seen a pet spider before.  Once he treated a rabbit, but those are not common pets in Georgia, and he has never seen a hamster or guinea pig.    He hasn’t treated rats, but he once looked after rats for his friend, and really liked them, and was surprised at how intelligent and friendly they were, and his mother, who he lives with, would have the rat sit on her shoulder.  That really surprised me for a Georgian, but in a good way!  And the only other animal he has ever treated was a tortoise, that had been run over and broken its shell, and so he had to try and stick the shell back together again.

I would love to introduce him to some other vets so that they can share experiences and knowledge, as I think it would be a real eye opener to those vets from countries where they have everything, and also for him to learn some new things,  I’d love to invite some of my vet friends to do internships in Georgia, but I also fear that they would be horrified too.  But it would do them good to work with someone who is not so pressured by making commission for the veterinary surgery, or in prescribing unnecessary treatments purely to make money, or being constrained by time.

Uisce, although a little better, remains in a very bad condition, and the treatment available is now very Georgian.  I have to give her tea with honey, and ‘masoni’ (weird gone off milk, or yoghurt type thing, which both cats turned their noses up at!), as well as injecting her myself at regular intervals.  And she has to stay warm and quiet.  I also have to go to the pharmacy and buy some laxatives which I can then break up into little pieces and insert into her rectum in the hopes that she has a bowel movement, but he is worried about the quality of her intestines as I think he was trying to say that she may have impacted faeces perhaps a hair ball, and that could be why she stopped eating.  On the plus side, she again started to eat a little today, and has drunk a little water without being sick, so I really hope that she pulls through.  No doubt there will continue to be some sleepless nights in the meantime as I wake often to check how she is, and need to give her meds, which is hard when I have school, but really just want to be home nursing her.

The ironic thing is that, I always loved animals, and at one point was deciding whether to be a vet or a doctor.  But I knew that vet medicine was out of the question.  For some reason I’m not bothered by inserting needles into people, or being in surgery with them, and in pathology and the mortuary or dissection, had no issues.  But, with animals its just a different game entirely.  I get more upset and attached to animals, and the thought of giving injections weighs heavily on me, even though I don’t bat an eyelid with a human.  I’ve no idea why this is, and its funny because my vet friends feel exactly the same but in reverse.  One of my friends passes out if she sees a human cadaver, but has no issue at all with animal cadavers, yet really they are physiologically exactly the same!  Why the difference in emotion??

Its been a really tough few days being back in Georgia, but whilst materially I’m finding it hard to adapt, my gut feeling is still that I am happy to be back and that being here is the right thing.  I’m still in limbo in some ways, knowing that materially I would be better in the UK, and as a Geography teacher would probably have a nice salary of around £30k a year, but I also know that emotionally I would be poor, and I would hate to be away from the Georgian psyche and way of life.  I’m basically just in limbo right now.  If I lived in accommodation that functioned properly, all would be well, but at the moment its still a struggle and feels like camping, so that is at a point where it really has to be sorted out now.  To make matters worse, my house mate is fed up of the living conditions too, and this means that I would be left to pay the rent on my own, which is already a big deal since our other housemate left us in the lurch when she informed us she was going back to the UK as she was sick of Georgia materially.  If my housemate left, most of my salary would be going on rent and bills, and realistically I don’t know how much of an option that would be.  I don’t want to move really, as I love it here, the neighbours and location are great, and I’m fairly settled.  But I can’t live through much longer in a place which is falling apart, where you can’t shut the bathroom door, where you don’t have light, and where its cold.  If it gets done up longer term, it’ll be perfect, and if it was my place then I would tolerate it, and be happy to do it up myself.  That is what I did when I bought my house as I had to do things as and when I could afford it.  But somehow, having to get a landlord to do things and being reliant on them to get even small things fixed, just makes it more unbearable, as you have no time frame then and no control over things.

I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to make some decisions quickly, as I can’t afford to stay here on my own, and in its current state, no one I know would want to rent with me.  But finding a new place is going to be a bind, especially with so many dodgy Georgian landlords, real estate agents, inflated prices for foreigners, and the communication aspect, not to mention having pets too!  I need to be in a place long term and need to be settled as I don’t have the stamina to keep moving house anymore, and its a massive worry when my pets are already so sick.  I don’t know if they would survive another move, especially at the moment as they are already in a really fragile state.

But, the nice ting about being back, is having the kids run at me and give me hugs because I am back from the UK, and they genuinely seemed happy to see me.  I’m not used to being missed!  And that really cheered me up and took the edge off my misery the last day or so.  There are a couple of minor issues issues at school, which add to my sense of being unhappy to be back, one of them is teachers changing my marks, and the other is that I am supposed to be using books which don’t cover the curriculum that the kids need in order to pass their exams.  The kids still don’t have the books they need, and I’ve accepted that and am just getting on with it.  But I’m doubting my position at school right now, and feeling very undermined.  Teachers continually come in and disrupt my class, or take out students or make announcements, teachers changing the marks I give my students (although I really hope this is a misunderstanding) and people just not listening to me when I talk about what is expected when taking British exams and the curriculum and syllabus we have to cover.  Its a communication and cultural thing really, and isn’t a big deal, and school is still a fantastic place to work, and I really love my school.  But, its more a symptom of my having been away and being frustrated at being back.  I hate to be in trouble for not using the text books, but equally I feel torn because I want the kids to pass their exams and they are already really behind and we will struggle to cover the material in time.  Georgians often have these ambitious expectations about their ability to pass exams, and the frustrating thing is that I am the only person to have taken these exams and who understands fully what is expected of them.  If I myself took the exam right now, I would fail it, so how on earth are the kids supposed to take it?  They think that A Levels are easy, and they just don’t understand that this is not a simple question of being good at English, or having the subject knowledge, or being able to just give an opinion.  But its about a British curriculum which has interlinked references to British culture and terminology that you would only comprehend if you were British or had lived in Britain and interacted with Brits.  There is a geographical history.  You need to appreciate how British towns got their names, and what those names mean.  You need to know about hamlets, about the role of the Romans, Vikings, and Anglo Saxons, and which words have a French ancestry.  You need to know what a village green is, the laws governing it historically and what we use them for, including playing cricket and drinking pimms, about the culture of pubs and all sorts of British quirks like that.  You need to know why we build our castles on top of hills, and that we used to put crocodiles and polar bears and sewerage in our moats to defend our castles.  Its not something we are necessarily taught in Britain, but is often inferred and a given, or ‘common knowledge’.

With geography, I am teaching to students who have English as a second language, who don’t have those cultural aspects, have less time to study for those exams, and who don’t come from a culture which is well versed in answering questions in a particular and very stylised way.  You have to learn to critically reason and to give the answers that the examiner wants, and just repeating memorised text does not suffice, apart from which you won’t have time to do this in an exam.

I’m almost thinking at the moment, of jacking in the teaching, especially if this issue with not using the books is pushed.  I understand the school’s position in that they already bought them and that the parents will be angry if they don’t use them.  But if I was paying £110 for my child to take an exam, then I would want to know that they have been prepared and have a chance of passing it.  I’m making do with the children not having the right text books, even though I feel I should be making more of a fuss about this, but I feel wrong living them material from a book, which  a British child would have 6 years to cover, and which is hard enough for a British child.  And it really just puts me in a very difficult and awkward situation.  I understand school’s concerns, and the parents’ concerns too, but the option is simple to me, either I teach them properly and they have a chance of passing, or we use the other book to keep school and parents happy, don’t cover the curriculum and they all fail their exam.  At the moment, and given everything I feel right now, with the house situation, bus incident yesterday, and the reverse culture shock,  cats, etc, etc I’m starting to think that maybe I should just quit.  I’ve pushed myself hard to make the teaching work, and have tolerated a lot in the process.  Its just so Georgian, and whilst it is standard practice here and my issues are normal for Georgia, I’m starting to wonder if I’m just wasting my time and putting myself through hell materially in the process, as well as the health of my pets.  But the problem is that I love the guys I work with, and my quality of life too, and I see the future potential.

Today was a shock to be back, and also the culmination of my volcano project.  The volcanoes the kids produced were fantastic, and they were all so enthusiastic from third grade upwards.  They had all clearly gone to a lot of trouble, and there were a lot of tears in school today.  There was a massive cultural difference, as kids are not used to this kind of activity, and there had clearly been a big build up of excitement, and a lot of disappointment too.  Yet this is something that we should be doing as part of our daily lessons, and which I am not yet in a position to do on a daily basis.  But I had totally no control over the kids today and I was a rubbish teacher.  I was back into Georgian mayhem and free range children.  In short, I just wasn’t prepared for it, for whatever reason.  I should have felt happy, but I felt like a total failure, and I was back in my British Health and Safety mode.  I had not expected the children to turn up with plastic bags of dry ice, that they carried around at school all day, nor was I expecting sparklers, or flames.  It was supposed to be vinegar and soda!!  I was impressed at their creativity, but I was also way out of my depth, and I had no control over the session.  I should feel happy at what they achieved, but instead I focused on my failure as a teacher.  Perhaps I picked up a bit of Britishness when I was back?  Now I just feel confused again, and frustrated. Both with school and with my home life.  It was a big learning curve, and a part of me feels like I should have just taken the easy option and not done what we were supposed to do, but then maybe the experience was also good for them?  Why is it that I can’t find a positive from the activity and why do I just feel like a complete failure, especially as a teacher today?  I just don’t understand the behaviour of Georgian children, and this makes me feel irresponsible.  They are not like British children at all, or any other children I have ever met.  And there is a constant conflict between my British expectations and lack of knowledge of what behaviour is acceptable by Georgian standards.

And what makes things more annoying is that this lack of comfort at home, means I have less time and energy to do the things that are imperative for the Oceans Project.  I’m back in survival mode, living from day to day without the ability to plan or to achieve tasks during the day.  And I don’t know what to do about it.  The kitchen is cold, and cupboard doors fall off, and there is no decent light, and the taps are shot to pieces, which makes me not want to cook a proper meal.  Plus there is a lack of foods which are normal to me, and I know that this will impact on my health as I just hate to cook properly.  That is a manifestation of reverse culture shock, and of being back in Britain, where things just work, and constantly with no breaks in contunuity.  Its a material thing.  When that stuff works, it frees up time to focus on more important things, but in its present state is just time consuming.  It is difficult to wash, and the toilet stinks because of some problem with it, and that makes me feel rubbish, as I hate to look scruffy and unkept.  I have nowhere to keep my clothes properly and so I don’t have decent stuff to wear for school.  And if I wash my clothes, they take forever to dry and are always damp because the house is cold.  Everything just feels like a big deal right now.  I don’t have light in my room, and that makes it hard to get stuff ready for school and really makes giving my cat injections regularly a bit of a nightmare.

I’m sure it will get better, and I hope that most of my issues are just the reality of being back in Georgia after being in the UK.  But right now, life feels pretty miserable, and I just wonder what on earth I am doing here.  But the thought of not being in Georgia also makes me really miserable as I genuinely love the people in my life, and I hate to complain about things as I know I am still far more privileged than so many Georgians.  I feel ungrateful for everything I do have, and that upsets me more.  Perhaps I am just torn between my British material life and my Georgian material life, and need to adapt again????

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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.
This entry was posted in Britishness, Family, Friendship, Georgian Life, The Pets, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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