Five days from now, I will be flying to Georgia. I’m starting this blog now, because in the last few days I’ve finally been learning the first few details of my upcoming adventure, and thought y’all might want to know. If you’ve spent much time with me in the last few years, you’ve known about my growing interest in this relatively small country in the Caucasus. After a year and a half of uncertainty, the reality of this trip is finally coming together.
Most recently, the folks at Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) have told me I’ll be living in the Kakheti region. I’m thrilled because Kakheti is known for it’s wine, pleasant weather, rich history, and diverse natural beauty. It lies in the far eastern part of the country, along the borders with Russia and Azerbaijan. If you can read German or Russian (or other languages I didn’t bother checking), the Wikipedia entry is worth reading, but the English entry is unexciting.
One of the main reasons I find Georgia intriguing is this lack of readily available information. To prepare myself, I‘ve reading histories, novels, short stories, blogs, epic poetry, essays and occasionally news articles. Seldomly do I find more than one translation, point-of-view, external source, or commentary. When I attempted to learn Bulgarian, there were several modes to choose from. In contrast, there is exactly one book in print for those English speakers who wish to tackle the unique and difficult Georgian language. As you may know, I like a challenge.
In my final quarter at Evergreen, I spent a good deal of my time studying up on Georgian history and culture. In particular, I was fascinated by the peculiar brand of Orientalism implemented by both Russian and European writers in their study of the Caucasus. Because of Georgia’s geopolitical location, historically between empires and at the edges of many a colonial force, their traditions seem to me a spectacular example of resistance against outside influence and strength from within. I could write on this for ages, and probably will at some point. For the time being, I would recommend The Knight in Panther’s Skin, Georgia’s quasi-national epic, for a brief and authentic foray into the values of a geographically and culturally foreign civilization.
I’m happy that I have this chance to continue learning in this same vein after graduation, while at the same time teaching English in a place where the native language doesn’t necessarily afford its speakers global prestige.
While on this topic, I want to be clear in describing the altruistic aspect of this project. I find the idea of “helping them” very problematic. A civilization that’s been around since western Europe was in loincloths doesn’t need my help. Instead, my goal is to build a mutual relationship with a community in which we learn from each other. Maybe I’m a little radical in thinking that each side of this exchange already has what it needs to keep living where they do, but learning from somebody who doesn’t know how to live where we do can probably help us to live better anywhere (“us” and “we” being either side of the exchange). I know that’s a little convoluted, but this is a blog, so I can be a little sloppy, right?
I also want to expose folks in the USA to this place and people most of us know little-to-nothing about! And that is what this should mostly be about: the experience of an American as a foreigner in Georgia. I’m extremely excited, a little bit terrified, and happy with what I know so far. Hopefully this hasn’t been boring enough to discourage you from reading in the future. I promise things will get more exciting. After all, this is only the prologue.