Despite not having washed my hair for three days, I still received many gifts and well wishes for Valentine’s Day from my new friends in Georgia. People here are so very kind. I got a few homemade cards from my students, and note on the whiteboard saying “Happy Valentine’s Day to our dear Lauren”, chocolate from my co-teacher, and flowers and cards from Nini and Tazo, my temporary little niece and nephew. I also received half of a bouquet of roses from Gabriele, one of the Italian teachers from our group who stopped by Sagarejo for the afternoon yesterday to entertain my friend Brigid (who also teaches here in Sagarejo) and I with his antics.
So, it is nice to feel loved on Valentine’s Day in a country where people are always asking me if I’m married, and when I say no, responding with “What wrong? Why you not married? You are pretty and clever and brave girl. Why you not married yet?” And here, being only 22 is no excuse to not be married. My headmistress’s 14-year old daughter is married to another 14-year old. People have usually started families at my age. Cultural differences abound.
Speaking of cultural differences, I think I’m hitting culture shock stage 2 that we discussed in intercultural training. Which is to say, the crappy one-the one where you feel exhausted and a fed up with being so far away from home and facing difficulty communicating basic things. On Friday, my family had a supra for Tazo and Zviadi’s birthdays—the second all-day dinner party in two days— and I think having a house full of guests who don’t speak my language was starting to get to me. They were all so happily eating lots of meat and speaking in Georgian, and my co-teacher was sitting next to me, grilling me about why I was here and what sort of preparation I had had beforehand.
TLG doesn’t have many requirements (a bachelor’s degree, the right attitude and a clear criminal record are just about all you need) and provides minimal Georgian language classes and teaching methodology training before dropping you into whatever remote village they decide you’re going to live in for the next six months and saying, good luck, this is your new family, ok, now start teaching. I explained this to her, and her response of “So what does teaching here have to do with your future?” had me asking myself the same question. To which I predictably responded to myself by going upstairs, bursting into tears and calling my mother as she was on her way to work back in the States. Sigh. This is all part of the process of getting integrated. Knowing I’m going to be immersed in this community that is so foreign to me for the next five months is not easy.
But, despite its difficulties, there is really nothing like getting to know a culture so different from your own and the only thing you can do is take a step back and laugh ay yourself and everybody else, too.