29 November 2010

According to culture shock scholars, we are now in a period of "mental isolation", or "hostility". Either way you slice it, we are frustrated. We like the country and a lot of things about it, but find ourselves complaining or frustrated a little too often for any one's good. Compound this with many weeks of failed attempts to do research trips at schools in the regions, the necessary introspection of graduate applications, planning for an uncertain future, and overall lack of employment...we're generally a mess. We are trying to hold things together, start projects, plan things, go to banya, and find the little bits of comfort that can improve a bad day. Our moods swing from ok, enjoying the company of friends, to intense anger at another car that is seemingly trying to make us part of the pavement. It's probably a good thing that our internet is spotty, otherwise we might hole up in the apartment and only come out to buy food and TP.

Sometimes good comes from being critical--Nic had a meeting with the director of the University where we spend most of our days in the library, and made outlined problems with the school and the behavior of students. All of his comments were contstructive, and the director was very receptive. Slowly, things are changing in terms of copier usage and noise levels. It's not rapid change, but it's a start. More often than now, however, our comments are not well received. We are presenting our research this Wednesday at a Works in Progress session, and are worried that what we have to say about the education sector will be difficult to digest or accept, and we anticipate some complaints from our audience. 

According to some of the graphs and literature, the way out of this isolation is humor, so here goes:  
Medical Advice in Georgia. 

Recently talking with someone here doing dissertation research, I found out more about medical advice. He had to complete a physical here in Tbilisi and went to the top clinic that we are recommended to use. At the end, the doctor told him that he was overweight, and that he should do 2 things:
1. Drink fewer than 28 drinks per week
2. Under no circumstances eat Georgian food

This is funny for two reasons. According to Wikipedia, in the US and Canada, 14 units is the recommended maximum. Sure, it's higher in the UK at 21 units of alcohol, but that's half a pint! And if weight is really the issue, he should probably have fewer than this! Maybe 28 is the smallest number Georgian doctors reasonably think they can ask men to limit themselves to.

Second, how is this guy going to avoid Georgian food as he is living here for the next 3 years?! Is he going to subsist on the expensive German imported cookies from the grocery store? How could you survive in this country without Georgian food? Why is 28 drinks the maximum they thought would be reasonable to ask, but not eating Georgian food seems equally reasonable? I laughed for quite a while about this one while we were eating a large Georgian meal that had been set before us, but without any alcohol.

My next humorous account is from last semester. One of my female students came into class complaining of leg/ankle problems. She was a particularly stubborn and inquisitive student, who would often argue with me about English grammar, unwilling to back down. She explained that she had been standing too long at church, a possible cause of injury, as they stand for the entire 2-3 hour service, if they choose to attend the whole thing. It was the next part that confused me: she explained that this particular injury occurred because she was wearing flat shoes, and as a result, her doctor advised her to stop wearing flat shoes (and only wear heels).
Now, I know that it is common for people to have foot or leg pain when they wear different types of shoes, if you usually wear heels and suddenly switch to flats, it will hurt for a while. However, my student claimed that flat shoes are bad for your feet/legs and that every woman should wear heels! I am highly opposed to this, and began offering a number of alternative explanations, but she would hear none of them. Instead, she demonstrated (as her doctor had done) with her wrist the apparent strain on the ankle from a flat shoe versus a heel. 
Your foot in heels
Your foot in flat shoes. "Doesn't this look more painful for the leg?"
The only problem is, the wrist is nothing like the ankle and the hand is nothing like the foot! We argued like this for a while until I finally gave up so that we could get to the topics we needed to cover in class that day. I have since been appalled to think that doctors are actually telling all of their female clients to only wear heels, and I have become even more convinced that I will wear primarily flat shoes for the rest of my life. If I had a nickel (or 5 tetri) for all of the bunions I saw on the metro this summer (when it was sandal season) I wouldn't have to worry about finding work in this country.
A diagram my singing coach always showed us about wearing heels.
It will be good to get home, and we are certainly looking forward to it. 

22 November 2010


I have spent the past year riding buses in Tbilisi. At first I was excited by the system, which is fairly extensive, and seemed convenient at the time. I liked not having to drive and being able to read more. Now that I have ridden an average of 5 buses per day (on working days), I am exhausted and sick of buses. Although I can can get almost anywhere in the city, it is not uncommon for me to wedge myself precariously between the automatic door and a handrail.

The worst was a daily bus I took 30 minutes outside the city to reach some students for extended lessons this past summer. At 930, the temperature was already 100 F outside, and even hotter in the bus. Due to a shortages of buses on this highly demanded route, every bus was always packed, with barely any standing room. The problem was that this bus drove up a huge hill at high speeds and small stopping distances. All of the standing passengers were knocked around, trying to cling to the little bit of handrail they could reach. The bus was primarily used by nannies and other domestic workers headed to the wealthy families' summer homes. Heading back to Tbilisi in the evening was much the same.

But now...the bus routes have been changed. While some in the center of the city remained similar, all routes have been shortened to allow for the replacement of big breaking-down buses with smaller, newer buses primarily provided by the Japanese government. There are pros and cons:

-Better running buses
-Easier for ticket-checkers to demand everyone has a ticket at the main stop between our place and the center.

That's it. Now for Cons:
-No one knows the bus routes (including me! This is the one and only thing I was an expert in in Tbilisi! People used to seek out my knowledge because I knew so many bus routes. Now I feel useless.)
-It is nearly impossible for us to go into the center by bus without buying two tickets
-Buses are more crowded with only one major transfer spot and smaller vehicles
-More people asking the driver at each stop where the bus goes, thereby slowing down the route
-Disproportionately affects the people who live in the southern part of the city and must transfer 
-More disgruntled passengers (including me!)

So, we tried to switch to taking Mashrutki, which are sometimes faster, but they were already crowded before. Now they are super-crowded and we always have to stand and hold onto whatever we can find in this 18 passenger van, rocketing down the street.

When we can, we walk into the center and take a bus 3 stops to get to the library where we spend most days working. Even that seems like a waste some days, so perhaps we'll walk more. While that is good for us exercise-wise, with fast approaching graduate school deadlines, online-time is of the essence.

Starting to get REALLY excited about coming home on January 5th...