Listening to lately: Jeff Hanson – Son; Zola Jesus – Conatus; Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
So, you may be wondering just what I’m doing in Georgia besides traveling about being a tourist. Well, I have a 9-5 job, which is actually more like 10:30-6:30 (which is perfect for me). I sit at a desk in front of a computer all day. So, in that way, my day to day working life is similar to my working life in the States. But that is probably where the similarities end. The office setting is quite different both in environment and culture.
This is the first office I’ve ever had in which you can open the windows. I love that. Yes, sometimes it is hot and I get lethargic, and I’m sure soon, I will be (very?) cold. But I prefer it to the vacuum-sealed setting that most of my other offices have been. As far as set up, my desk is in a room with five other desks. Each has a definite person who resides at that desk, but for some currently unknown (to me) reason, people play musical chairs quite a bit here. But this fits Georgian culture in general. They care much less about privacy, ownership, and personal space than Americans. It is also a much more social environment. In August, vacation month, most of the office was away. But those of us who were here, gathered once or twice a day to have a fruit break. In the summer, fruit is a big deal here. Imports are expensive, so in season food is pretty much all most people can afford (me included). Everyday someone would bring in a watermelon or a cantaloupe (better than donuts or bagels, huh?). It is also a much more relaxed environment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stressed here. And, while it is difficult for me to judge, I’m pretty sure everyone spends a good deal of time on personal things. But when there is a job to do, they get it done.
Initially when I got here, I felt rather invisible and that definitely contributed to my feelings of “what the f@!% am I doing here?” But lately, I’ve noticed a shift. Now I find that people will just speak to me in Georgian as they would anyone else with the assumption that I will understand it. And amazingly, I often do (or at least I think I do). I think the shift was prompted by my colleagues overhearing me on my weekly tutoring calls. So, they know I’m still studying Georgian which maybe they didn’t know previously. At any rate, I appreciate it. Beats being invisible. Eventually I’ll understand more and be able to communicate more. It’s a painfully slow process for me.
So, what is my job here? Well, first, technically, as a volunteer I don’t really have a job description. I guess my job is to jump in and help where my experience and skills might be of some benefit to the organization and to teach these skills to my coworkers. Thus far that has meant serving as a consultant on marketing related stuff like a website update, creating a marketing brochure, and plans for the upcoming annual report. And this week I started teaching a Business English course which basically just means a conversational class in which the themes are tied to business related activities so students can broaden that particular area of vocabulary.
But I’m super excited about a larger project that I’ll be planning. It’s too early for too many details but it involves my organization’s social enterprise. My organization employs people with disabilities and internally displaced people (IDPs) to create handmade greeting cards using quilling. The enterprise not only employs traditionally disadvantaged people, but provides a new source of revenue for our organization. Diversifying our income is important as we are heavily dependent on grants from foreign institutions and funding from the Georgian government. So, my plan to grow this enterprise, which my director is behind, is to partner with other organizations across Georgian that have similar social enterprises to create a marketplace for these handicrafts. This project will likely entail the creation of an umbrella nonprofit, drafting a business plan, acquiring a large grant, and opening a store front. Kind of a big deal and an experience that should more than suffice as an antidote to the “why am I here?” darkness that can sometimes consume me here. Now I just have to figure out where to begin.
So, that’s work, which has vastly improved now that it is September and people are back from vacation. A few weeks ago I was in a pretty bad place and really didn’t see myself staying here for two years. But one Monday morning about two weeks ago I hit a wall and decided something had to change. I got proactive and did a few little things to try to change my situation and it was like a cloud lifted. Yes, actual circumstances have an impact but I’m pretty sure your mental state or attitude defines at least 70% of your experience. That is a difficult thing to remember when you are in a mental space in which you hate everything around you. Taking some initiative literally snapped me out of it. I realized I am, to a certain extent, in control of how this experience plays out.
So, even during that month (maybe more) when I was totally miserable, one of the highlights of my time here has been my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. On the weekends, I’ve been pretty busy lately. The last five weeks have included the previously detailed weekend trip to Khevsureti, a trip to Khashuri to visit my PST host family , a weekend trip to Kobuleti (the beach!), and a weekend camping trip to Shaori Lake in the Racha region. All but the host family visit were with fellow PCVs and I had lots of fun. I’m a little surprised to find myself having so much fun with a bunch of 25 year olds. But PCVs aren’t really your normal bunch of people. So maybe that explains it. Or maybe my growth is stunted. But I’ll take a crazy campsite dance party over a staid cocktail party any day. Anyway, here are a few photos of the fun.