Austria Continued

Well, we have been in Austria some 4 days now, and whilst life is much easier on a personal level and I’m getting on OK with everyone now, there are still some massive cultural differences, which are leaving me feeling like I’m some kind of mini Hitler in my need for regimented routine and communication.  I don’t recall my ever being a control freak before, but maybe I am?? Or maybe it is just the difference in Georgian spontaneity and anally retented Britishness?

I’m a little bit miffed as I discovered during a conversation that the group leader and parents were off on a trip to Salzburg today and will then be off to Vienna for about 4 days. As in a ‘see you later, we are off away’. ‘What about the 15kids?’ I ask.  Well it turns out that myself and another teacher will be here looking after them all, but its ok because we will do a good job and the parents trust us, otherwise they wouldn’t be happy to leave them with us, or more specifically my Georgian counterpart.  

It isn’t that I doubt my ability to look after them, it is about being given a chance to be involved, to get my head around things and to make sure I feel OK with that, before it is kind of dumped on me.  It is just typical Georgian behaviour.

But it stresses me out, not because of anything that is likely to occur, but because there is no risk assessment, no contingency plan, nothing is thought through.  This stuff is engrained into my every part, from my MLTB (Mountain Leader Training), SPSA (single pitch supervisor award – climbing), scuba diver training, remote first aid training, med school training, and other outdoor qualifications.  I’m no expert, and it is over ten years since I worked as an outdoor pursuits instructor, so I would no way say I’m able to do all those things I used to do when I was much fitter ran 10km every day and worked with mountain rescue.  But the fact is that this kind of behaviour and lack of planning or communication freaks me out, because (God forbid) something happened, I would be the one who got in the most trouble and put in prison, because I’m trained and should therefore know better.

I am now jointly responsible for 15 children from 3rd to 10th grade, I know there first names just about, but I don’t know surnames, ages, allergies to medicines, blood groups, ability, I have no insurance details for them, no functioning cell phone, no number for the parents, and they are off skiing alone and with no instructor, some are off doing other things as they don’t want to ski today.  If one of them were to break their arm, I would have to take them to the hospital (no idea where the nearest one is, or how to get there, and we have lots of snow so many places in Austria are snowed in right now), and I will turn into one of those people who used to turn up in our Accident and Emergency department in the UK, that we used to think were total idiots.  Imagine it, kid falls over whilst skiing, I take them to hospital, if it is anything like a UK hospital, that will involve a four hour wait just to be seen.  Kid in pain and wanting their mum.  My being unable to even tell the doctor whether or not they are allergic to a plaster, what their date of birth is, or even basic information, and English being their second language.  X-Ray is done and we discover the kid needs an operation to re-allign the bones, used to happen every day in the hospital. Doctor or nurse isn’t able to give pain relief or to operate because I am not legal guardian or group leader and therefore there is no parental consent, and I can’t contact parents! And all that time, what about the other kids? Who is looking after them?

Couple of days ago, five of the boys were off with the ski guide, but three of them decided they didn’t want to go that route, and took a wrong turn.  They had folk out looking for them for three hours! Now they have no instructor or guide. They are not experienced and whilst their equipment is fairly good, getting them to use it is sometimes an issue.  Parents are the ones going around and doing up their jackets and making sure they are wearing their crosses around their necks to protect them and keep them safe.

And this lack of communication or planning, makes it impossible for me to plan activities for them for the afternoons, so I feel a bit redundant in that way.  I’m not afraid of hard work or being involved or taking on responsibility.  But I am finding myself shying away a lot of the time, because I’m afraid to involve myself in a half a job kind of a way.  It is a chicken and egg situation really.  If I am involved then perhaps there is less risk of anything going wrong, but if I involve myself and something happens, then legally I will be the one who takes the biggest rap. Just as a nurse must stop at the scene of a car crash by law, if she doesn’t then she will be done for manslaughter, even if she has worked a 15hour shift at the hospital, is exhausted and doesn’t fell able to care for that patient.  If she is seen and recognised as a nurse but fails to stop, she is the one in trouble.  But if she stops to help, and the patient ends up paralysed or injured in some way, or even if they took an overdose and she saved them even though they didn’t want to be saved, she will be sued.  That is why so many medics pay huge amounts to cover themselves in terms of insurance to protect them from their patients.  Being a medic or trained or educated is often a curse, and sometimes it is better to know nothing.  

When we flew back from London to Georgia in November, a lady close by was unwell and they thought she was having a heart attack and were all fussing around her.  To me I could see she was just having a panic attack and was anxious and hyperventilating and all the fussing around her wasn’t helping at all.  But it put me in a difficult situation as I should probably have offered to help, but didn’t want to get involved, because my medical knowledge is not sufficient and I didn’t want to be forced into taking on that responsibility, and I felt bad because I could see they were struggling and knew that I could easily resolve the situation.  But luckily there were two other doctors around, equally keeping their heads down and hoping no one would notice them, one was in fact sat in front of her, and when the call went out, they eventually stepped up.  But it is a difficult situation to be in as a medic or qualified person, who should know better and has a legal and moral duty to get involved even if not comfortable to do so. 

I understand the current situation, because I am back in my Georgian mode now and able to communicate and interact a little better than before, but I am realising that this constant fear of the what ifs and knowing that in a court of law I would always be the one accountable if things go wrong, is what makes my life in Georgia really stressful, especially with Georgians being spontaneous and not great at communicating until the last moment.  It feels like they are being really selfish, but that is far from the case, it is down to naiievity and lack of cultural knowledge and strict Health and Safety legislation.  

It is funny to see the hotel staff with this too, they are clearly having the same issues. And it is funny to explain this to the parents.  That the kids are not able to buy wine or beer for themselves because they need to be a minimum age of 16 or 18, and that if the hotel serves them, they will lose their licence to sell alcohol. In Georgia, kids drink as young 7 years old. If our kids leave their skiis lying around, and another hotel guest trips over them, it is the hotel who will be sued under personal liability, not us, even though it was our fault. Georgians just don’t think that way, they have the attitude of accidents happen, its no problem, and they just deal with things as and when they occur, and they have their faith and icons to help them through those times. They don’t worry when they don’t have money or clothing or whatever, because they are resourceful and close knit and know they will always be provided for somehow, so they don’t make provisions for what ifs, for their old age, or for sickness. Total opposite to Brits and Europeans.

They are like babies in some ways, and they seem oblivious to the dangers and real world, and whilst I’m freaking out, they are just calm and laid back and don’t understand why I am going grey so quickly.  Simple example, is food.  Last night, they mixed salad with custard and desert, not knowing that one was sweet and one was savoury.  They don’t recognise many foods which are normal to me, just as I am with Georgian food, and it is funny to see them mix really weird things together and to explain to them what things are or how we eat them.  They are starting to speak English a little now, a few words, please and thank you and the hotel staff understand now and see the funny side of things.  We are very lucky to be in a hotel where they are so well travelled and have knowledge of cultural differences! Some of the older girls were being unknowingly flirtatious the other evening and were horrified and upset when a male guest touched them on their bottom.  The guest was totally in the wrong, but you can also see where they were coming from as it is not obvious the girls are under 16, especially as they are tall.  Georgians often appear very flirtatious, particularly because they are so tactile, and a foreigner coming to Georgia would probably think everyone was sleeping with everyone and there were lots of lesbians and gays, as women often walk hand in hand in the street, and men walk with arms around each other, and Georgians have no issues with sharing or being in close proximity to one another.  The way you talk and laugh and give eye contact is very different in Europe and so the girls’ behaviour could easily be misunderstood. Especially by a drunken guy thinking his luck was in!!

He shouldn’t have done that though, and it is fairly obvious we are a school group, I think it is anyway? But I can’t help but worry when the kids are talking about going to the local nightclub or going into town, as they are just not culturally aware enough. They leave their things lying around everywhere, the richer kids have ipads and iphones and are used to things being safe.  Just as they all did at the airport, going off and leaving luggage unattended.  Hence my staying with it, partly because thieves would have a field day, and partly because of security alerts.  After all the bombings, especially at airports, we have it drilled in to us not to leave luggage unattended.  If you do, then police security will remove it, and look through it or blow it up.  Perhaps Georgians don’t thieve like people do in London or whatever, but the Georgians need to be aware of those things as they are so vulnerable, and just don’t realise it.  They trust people and see the good in people, but it makes them easy prey in foreign countries, and they don’t factor those things into their plans.  That is why I get so freaked out, not because I’m obsessed by what might happen, but because I’m aware these things happen often, even when you are on your guard, and Georgians are just not clued up on these things yet. My head is full of these things, all the time, and so when people tell me they are off to Vienna for a few days, I panic at the last minute and spontaneous element and feel unprepared for the eventualities.  Not because I am a drama Queen but because I want everyone to be safe and to have a good time, and I don’t want to find myself in jail because I am the one who should have known better, and people telling me that by staying with the group it was a sign that I accepted that responsibility, or why didn’t I put my foot down and refuse to do it.  Which is what would happen!

Other than these things, I’m settling in now, the food and hotel is great, the kids are fun and I’ve been teaching them how to play ‘uno’ in the evenings, and I’m loving being a part of the family atmosphere.  But I wish I were in a better mood in general still as I am still fretting about my granny and also about the lack of information from school, and I’m aware school is all about being all last minute again and dropped in at the deep end. But I have realised that this sense of responsibility is my downfall in terms of Georgia and life in Georgia as its a really fine line between my freaking out and being relaxed.

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About Sarah Rows Solo

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