Austrian Melt Down (Another Temper Tantrum!)

It would be safe to safe that I am really pissed off right now, and with the lack of a friend around, a functioning cell phone, or internet access, the only thing I can do to keep me relatively sane is to write, write, write. In fact it is probably just as well that I don’t have internet, otherwise I would likely be putting myself on the next plane out of here.

I don’t know what is going on, only that I am super unhappy and very angry.  I agreed to come on this trip a long, long time ago, when promises still meant something and I trusted the people around me. Now, the very foundations of my positive feelings towards Georgia are being shaken to the core, and I can’t help but think I have mucked up big time again.  For those of you who regularly follow my blog, you will know all too well that I have an all or nothing love or hate relationship with Georgia and Georgians, and my feelings are usually a reflection of my inner self and the way I feel at that moment, rather than a true reflection of Georgia or Georgians.  I’m exhausted after no sleep and the flight to Austria, arriving in the morning and trying to entertain the kids who seem purely intent on killing each other with snowballs, much to the curiosity of passers by.  My feet are ridiculously painful where my shoes leaked in the snow and my feet got cold, and I’m sharing a room with the person who I thought was my friend, and who is now leaving me feeling totally and utterly confused.  I hate myself for being so ungrateful too and for doubting her, but I’m feeling fragile and vulnerable, and the defence mechanisms are coming down. I’m surrounded by two entirely different cultures, one familiar to me, the other less so, and I’m just wondering how on earth things got to this point.

I hadn’t really wanted to come on this trip in the first place.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, free trip and skiing in exchange for running afternoon activities and helping out with the parents and kids, and to be honest a part of me probably thought that the likelihood was that it wouldn’t happen anyway, as most Georgian plans never amount to much, and after much disappointment in my time in Georgia, I’ve learnt that the only survival skill is to rely on the old ‘seeing is believing’ philosophy as sadly tomorrow often never comes.

I can’t say why I feel so pissed off right now.  I don’t really want to be here, I have shit loads of stuff and deadlines to meet, which were pressurised by the fact that I’m still waiting on Georgians to give me crucial data and information in order to make an informed decision about the longer term options.

I hate being in limbo, and I hate feeling ungrateful or negative when I’m surrounded by people who are otherwise totally immersed in their own happiness and life.  It is just like being in a family Christmas, or one of those worlds where everyone shares the joke, but failed to tell you what it was they were laughing so hard at, and instead you are always looking in from the outside, a confused and miserable observer, making a rod for your own back with your personal intent on being a misery.

I’m culturally torn, and I’ve no real sense of identity right now, that doesn’t help either, and feeling depressed on top of that just makes the situation ten times worse. I’m not British, I’m not German or Austrian, and I’m not Georgian. And I’m in one of my ice cold biting moods, where not a single positive statement comes out of mouth, even when I am trying hard to say something good.

I didn’t want to come on the trip for lots of reasons, and the past few weeks have made that worse, to the point where I have probably pissed everyone off with my complaints at having to go on ‘holiday’! I think part of the reason is that there is a lot of underlying stuff going on in my life right now, big stuff, scary stuff, and I’ve seen the future of my loneliness.  I had an email from my grandmother to say that she has fallen out with another family member, and that she will also be disowning my brother because his engagement to his girlfriend of several years and mother of his two children was announced on facebook and that she should have been told.  I can see things from both sides and its none of my business, and I love my granny to bits, but after my last visit to the UK and my elderly great aunt telling me that she no longer wanted anything to do with me because of my move to Georgia, and after years of being loyal and calling her every single week, even when she was downright rude, I can’t help but feel very hurt and let down by so called family.

My grandmother knows about my plans to adopt, yet she does not approve, will not give her blessing (not that I asked for it or expected it), and basically it will always be only myself who will be welcome at her house, as was the case on my recent visit.  I know she loves me in her own way, and she really does mean well, but I also really struggle to get my head around how people can be so intent on approving or un-approving of my life based on their own thoughts and opinions and that it is done with my ‘best interests at heart, because they care about’ me. My grandmother has a family of her own, including four children, three grandchildren, and two great grand children, yet she disapproves of my ever wanting a family of my own and does not want to be a part of my life, even when I try hard to involve her.  And then when something positive or happy happens, like my brother proposing to his girlfriend on Christmas day, it always leads to some big, emotional and family bust up.  I just don’t get it?? Why can’t people just be happy that others are happy? Why does it always have to be some big drama and stress?

I tried really hard to reply to her email in the best way I could, true to myself and my needs, but also knowing that we will never agree, and not wanting to upset her.  I’ve had no reply from her, and perhaps she has also decided to disown me too? My last family member and tie to the ‘family’.  This has been tearing me apart the past week, and is one of those things that is difficult to talk to others about. Either there is not enough time, or the right moment, or others just wouldn’t understand.  It’s a fundamental thing for me, that if you don’t have future people in your life, your own family, in whatever way that might be, then just what is the point in everything? Surely the thing which drives us in life is that we are investing in something? And I sure don’t see why I should die alone as an old lady, purely because my granny didn’t approve of my getting married or having kids or whatever? Is it really such a big thing to ask? Surely it is normal to want a family of your own one day? No?

Likelihood is that we will never see each other again anyway, especially with the differences in currency between Georgia and Britain. And with the situation and way I am feeling right now, I’m wondering whether I did make the right or wrong decision in moving to Georgia? On a personal and practical level it was right for me, but was it worth losing family members over??

I’ve been thinking about a friend of mine a lot recently. Elise.  She was a vet student whilst I was studying for my Masters in Public Health Medicine at St George’s University in Grenada, West Indies.  Elise was always fit and active, doing rum runs (a paper chase across the island) on weekends, and busy chasing cows and other animals at the university farm.  She was in her early twenties and a typical fun loving, healthy vet student.  She went home for the holidays, and one day her family found her collapsed.  She had had a massive stroke.  I remember her being in a coma, and how we all sent messages of support and prayers for her (even though I am not religious, I know her and her family are), and how we all somehow thought that probably she would never come back to us.  It seemed like forever, 12 months, and more.  I remember the first day, after months and months, and after surgery, etc, that we had a message that she moved her eyes.  Just a small thing, but equally so massive.  Its perhaps some two years on now, and every day I delight in seeing her posts and progress on facebook.  Usually she is counting down until she can be taken from her recliner chair and put to bed, especially as she is paralysed and has really bad pressure sores now. This week she announced that she had taken a couple of steps to her chair, and that this is the year of her recovery.  She has speech and language therapy, and I’m just so excited that she is even posting messages on facebook now.  It is so much more than anyone could have ever expected of her, and I am happy she is on the right path, albeit a really frustrating one for her.

Today is also the birthday of childhood friend Ben who sadly died.  Ben was at school in my brother’s year, but the three of us played in the East Dorset Scout Band together, and I used to be scout leader when Ben was in my pack.  Ben and my brother played bugle, and I played the snare drum, until later Ben moved on to cymbals and I think even base drum at one point. Ben died some two years ago, early twenties of a heart attack, his second heart attack, and after a lifelong struggle with the condition teretz syndrome, which only Ben could carry off in a light hearted and gentle way, being the gentle giant he was. He spent his life on medications to help him control his ‘tics’, and funnily enough music was the one thing that seemed to cure him.

I consider myself fortunate in so many ways, but I envy both Ben and Elise for one thing.  They both have people around them who love them so much, and who would do anything for them.  They rock the world of those who love them, and they both have the most fantastic mums.  When I had my Guillain-Barre and was temporarily paralysed and learning to walk again, etc, only my friends were there for me, and I have never had that kind of special relationship with a parent or relative that was so unconditional.  I’m not complaining about it, we are all born with our hand of cards, no matter how good or bad they might be, and no matter which way that deck is split, we always all try and just survive and do our best.  But, for me, I need to be a parent, I need to be able to give some love back and to help heal those wounds of my own childhood, I need some opportunity to have a sense of normality in my life.  Yet here I am miserable as fuck, in Austria, stewing because I am convinced my granny has disowned me, and knowing damn well, that once she dies, that is the end of any concept of family for me.  I’m alone, and that is not a nice prospect.  I’m not someone who needs other people in my everyday life, in fact I love my solitude and self time, and go crazy without it, but the thought of working to build something up materially, just seems pointless if there is no one to pass anything on to, financially, knowledge wise, or whatever.

Perhaps that is one reason why I am hating Georgians and Austria so much right now.  I am surrounded by people who have close bonds with each other, who look out for themselves, but I’m somehow not a part of that (or am keeping out of that), and no matter what I do, I’m never going to be a part of it.  I’m envious of the opportunities the kids have, and the family bonds they have with each other, and its making me feel lonely and isolated and disconnected, especially as being here means that I have lost that connection with the sense of family I do have. Wanting to be more Georgian, is driving a wedge between me and my own family. Like I have chosen that over them. You could argue that if they love you they will be around no matter what, but as evidenced by my great aunt, that is clearly not the case.

My brother, in building his own family, lost contact with his past family, but the trade off has been worth it for him and has been the making of him, but for me right now, things are tough and risky and it’s a huge gamble in juggling my future family aspirations with the worries and conditions set by my past family. I’m totally torn, and I hate it. I hate feeling like I’m causing my granny problems, but if I am to progress in my own life, then it has to be done, as every decision I have ever made, whether that was going to university or whatever, would always rock the boat with her.

The language barrier and my resenting being drawn into Georgian ways is not helping my situation either.  I’m short tempered and not tolerant of a lot of things right now, and I know I’m trying to take it out on those I feel closest too, like a test and I want to push people to test the validity of those investments in the relationship. Its easier to push others away right now, than to let them in, and I am my own worst enemy.  What is worse, is that I also know it, and I recognise the signs. Family say I am headed for a crisis and need to go back to the UK. But that is not the answer, and I wonder indeed why they even suggest such an option, when it is the worst thing for me to do. Go back, to no job, nowhere to live, and in this half state of culture, not being British anymore, and not being Georgian.  It is easier at this point to just bail out, to isolate everyone and to do everything on my own, but I have to hang in there and try and incorporate others if I am to progress as a person.

This means that I am pissy with everyone, and especially with school.  I want them to  move at a quicker pace than they are, and they are totally driving me nuts.  I’m a bad communicator, I’m rubbish at making my needs known and asking for things, and the lower my self esteem or mood goes, the worse I am at communicating. This was always a big problem in our family, especially where we are rubbish at actually listening to and hearing what others are telling us. And I always felt like no one listened to me. Like I just didn’t exist, or was some kind of ghost talking.  Its happening again now, here in Austria, and its like being back in the family, trapped, not able to communicate and no-one hearing me. Even just simple things. I’m not confident, therefore no one trusts what I say, and I whisper instead of speaking up. Its all those awful Christmases all  over again, stuck in a rut with a load of strangers, speaking a totally different language to me. I just don’t belong here.

My lift to the airport was late (Georgian!), I was stood outside freezing, and still doubting whether the trip would even go ahead, and with someone else holding my passport and my fretting over whether they would remember to bring it or not. Someone else booked my flight, my insurance, decided where I was staying, and for the first time in my life, I’m on an expedition where I am blind and have absolutely no idea what is going on. It freaks me out entirely, and means I have to entirely trust another person. No one has ever had my passport before, and I had to hassle a little just to find out the dates and times of flights. I ordered everything online ages ago, and it should have arrived by courier, but didn’t. I was originally told we would be staying in another place, and that we would be changing planes at Munich airport, so I figured I could buy stuff at the airport worst case scenario. At the airport, everyone fended for themselves, they all jumped the queue because they are Georgian, and had friends in the queue, and I went to the back and waited my turn like a true Brit, on my own, not speaking the language. Survival of the fittest! No Georgian team spirit here, for each other yes, but for me as a foreigner, no.

When we got to Munich airport, I turned around to discover I had lost everyone, so I proceeded on my own. I went straight through customs no issue, because I’m a European. Georgians all have visas, and had to join a different queue which was busier. Result was that I then spent 40 minutes on my own at the luggage carousel, collected the bags off the carousal which I recognised as belonging to others in the group of 20 odd, and sat waiting and dreaming about coffee. Finally they arrived, and they all just did their own thing, leaving me on my own, not a word of thanks. Finally through the exit and into the main airport, to be welcomed by a starbucks, something familiar, not available in Georgia, and which I miss. I wanted to get myself a copy and one for the teachers in the group. But before I knew it, everyone had buggered off to get coffee, leaving me looking after the trolleys. I pushed everyone’s luggage and made sure everyone’s bags were loaded onto the coach. Then realising that everyone was now on the bus, as was the driver who had been busy having a cigarette, and mine was the only bag not on it! Got onto the bus, to discover that parents had bought all the teachers coffee, but not for me.

So I sat on my own on the bus, whilst everyone else chatted happily to each other. I was hungry, thirsty, and very, very hacked off. My shoes were wet, my feet frozen, and me the least equipped person on the bus!

We arrived at Wagrain eventually, me now fuming and miserable. And still mulling over the fact that the kids had been told off at the airport for being mischievous and parents nowhere in sight, because they were off buying food and drinks, leaving me to babysit.  I’ve been here before in life…so many times! We got to Wagrain, the bus driver had missed the place where we were supposed to stop and get kitted up, and couldn’t drive up the road to the hotel.  So we had to walk up a snow covered steep road, dodging kids on toboggans, and our kids being more interested in throwing snow balls at each other, but having no thought for pulling their luggage up the hill. I was proper pissed off by this stage, every explanation about what was going on, being in Georgian, and no one bothering to answer my questions as to what was happening and my becoming more reserved and sensitive.  So I decided to go off on my own, find out where we were staying, and look after number one, since that seems to be what the Georgians do! I arrived, found the owner of the hotel, and left my luggage in the reception. Glasses steamed up, totally soaked from falling snow, iced feet, and raging.  But, I decided to go back down the hill and to offer my help with others and their luggage. I did about five journeys over all, but the last one really pissed me off. I’d asked the playing kids to help, but they looked at me like I was mad, the parents who had arrived by now, sat down and had a rest, and I went back once more, some three hundred or so metres down the slope, crossing between skiers, to see if I could help anyone.

The last parent, said here you go, gave me her bag and left me, expecting me to take everything on my own. So I tried to make a joke out of it, although the language barrier was tricky, and being a rich parent, she probably sees me as some lowly slave or something. I wasn’t having any of it, and I damn well told her so.  There were two handles or her over packed bag, and she was bloody well going to help me in carrying her luggage.  She had far more energy than me, was probably younger than me, and had left me running errands for her the entire journey. Apart from which, I also have a dodgy back from decorating, have had multiple knee surgeries, am still not great on the ice since my paralysis, and I was not here to serve her. Help yes, no issue, but not doing the whole bloody lot.  It was simple, either she helped me or I left her luggage there and she could walk back and get it herself.

Once we got everything to the hotel, I tried to help a bit by carrying luggage upstairs for people who were struggling with bags. Again, the same people, were expecting others to take their entire luggage up to the rooms for them whilst they sat and did naff all. People went through doors with no sight for others, no door opening when they had nothing and others had hands full, and I was really starting to dislike Georgians.  They were rude and selfish.  Part of this was cultural, as I had slipped back into my European ‘please and thank you’s’ as Georgians don’t do those, they just say ‘I want’ not ‘I would like’ or ‘may I’. No heirs and graces.

I was growing more and more angry, no one was telling me anything, and I was totally dependant on others and people not answering my questions.  I’m supposed to be here as a teacher, helping with things, but I’m not psychic and if no one communicates anything with me, or responds to my attempts to try and take initiative, then it is pointless my being here, and I’d rather be elsewhere right now.

Apparently, we would eat now, so I sat at the only table that had space, on my own. Everything was told in Georgian, I just sat there angry.  Exactly the same as what happens to the three of us foreigners at school, but on a different scale, where I have no idea of time frames, plans, and don’t have any independence, and feel as if I’m supposed to be doing something useful. Apparently I was supposed to be taking the kids out for some afternoon activities, having never been here before, no budget, everyone talking in Georgian, and kids not listening to a thing I say. Apparently the kids’ sizes for equipment were ordered prior to coming, and they just needed to go and be fitted for equipment. Looks like I won’t be skiing or getting any equipment then, since no one bothered to factor me into this, so now I’m supposed to be running outdoor activities in the dark and snow, and in inadequate clothing, which will make me more miserable when my toes get cold and wet. All of which could so easily be avoided.

Dinner was the same, me sat on my own for the most part, since everyone was sat together, apparently they were all off for a swim now, nice to have been factored into that piece of information. And I am dreading the next 9 days of afternoon activities, with nowhere to take the kids, and them just fighting and making each other cry when they become over zealous with their snowball fighting.

This is so far from what I signed up for, and right now I just want to get the next plane out of here, even out of Georgia. I’m sick of school, and I’m sick of Georgians. I’m sick of people not communicating with me.  Yes I should learn Georgian, I am trying, but we are not in Georgia right now, and at school they talk to each other in English. They are rude to others, and I totally feel excluded from everything.  And I feel like I have sacrificed my connection with my family for this, and it was not a good trade.

I really hope that the week improves somehow, but right now, I don’t see it happening. Everything looks lost, especially with encroaching deadlines and lack of input from others. I don’t trust anyone, nor does anyone see how serious this all is. And I know that somehow, the only way to go is to just do it all on my own. Not to rely on anyone, especially Georgians, as though they mean well, they rarely keep to their word, and the communication just sucks big time.  They are all having a great time right now. Their phones work, they are getting messages from home, and I am just here, on the sidelines, looking in, and wondering.

Post Melt Down!

So, it’s a few days on now, I’ve slept, warmed my feet up and started to communicate with everyone a bit more.  I’m not 100% yet, that is going to take some time, but I’m getting there in own funny little muddling along way!!  Its actually quite funny reading things back now, and knowing how furious I was with everyone and everything! And I feel as if maybe I finally hit my teenage tantrum stage, at the age of 36…..a bit delayed I know! Everyone has been very supportive and no one has slapped me yet (though I’m sure I deserved it several times!), and they have been very Georgian and gentle with me, especially once they understood the problem and the cultural differences.  I actually went off for the day, booked a train ticket from here to Istanbul and was looking at flights from Istanbul to Tbilisi, so that should give you some idea of just how angry I was!! Not usual behaviour for me at all, very abnormal in fact.  I’d also decided to quit school and was wondering whether to leave Georgia.  I know why I was so angry, and why I was feeling so bad, and it is still a tough call, but it is basically knowing that I have sacrificed my relationship with my grandmother over my desire to feel a part of a family here in Georgia, whether that is with my friends here or colleagues or whatever. But on the plus side, I guess that I know that I must feel safe here and supported, because I felt OK about being able to express myself and was basically just hurt because I love everyone here and I hate that I feel that I have to choose between my past and my future.  I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I also have to do what I need to for me and for my own sanity.

What is really funny now, is seeing how the Georgians are in this environment, which is normal to me but alien to them.  Seeing them with new foods, not speaking English or German (or Austrian) and not knowing all the local customs and social etiquette.  They are lost and things are strange for them, and now I understand why they were behaving so differently when we arrived in Munich and the following journey.  They are also getting used to each other, a new country, and new experiences too, and whilst it is all fairly usual to me, I’m the one feeling at home and able to speak the language.  I’m loving the food, and it is funny to see them eat so much bread and chips and leaving the other food, which is the stuff I really miss when I am in Georgia.  It is also funny to see them being stared at by people fascinated by them, trying to guess what language they are speaking and watching them with the children.  It is clear that people can’t figure out which child belongs to which parent! Because they get cuddles from every adult, including teachers.  Normally it is me who gets stared at by Georgians, because I am different to them, and now the shoe is on the other foot.  I love how everyone takes care of each other, regardless of whether a child is their own or not, and I love how this is so alien to people here.  Its also funny to see how people think the Georgians rude because they don’t say please or thank you and say I want.  I guess I have discovered that I have become more Georgian than European now, and that is really strange for me to see, I don’t fit in with either culture now, and am somewhere in between.  Living in Georgia has really changed me, and that is quite surprising, though I was also aware it had happened.

I’m still finding it really tough to let my guard down, and I know this makes it hard for Georgians, who are naturally very tactile, but sense that I flinch and tense up at every touch.  This is difficult for them, and for me, as I am becoming more comfortable with the changes in personal space and closeness and the close knit community that binds Georgians together, but I’m also still fighting it too, because it’s alien for me and hard to get my head around, as much as I want to let people in and I love people being tactile and open with shows of affection.  But I’m also still scared, and that makes it hard for people to approach me and to treat me like a Georgian.  The parents were shy of me at first and now we are starting to understand each other a little more, and I am feeling a little less isolated, so I hope things continue to change and improve.






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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