Monday, December 10, 2012

How Georgia Prepared Me to Live in the United States

When I arrived in Georgia as part of the now legendary TLG Group 1, there was no precedent and little information to go on to prepare for life there, simply a lot of misconstrued assumptions. I remember thinking how short the Wikipedia entry was on Batumi, and the possible implications that could bring. However, in the short time I had to prepare for my initial departure to Georgia, I didn’t have much time to contemplate the content of Wikipedia entries or the images of Batumi and Adjara on Google Images. Had more information existed then as it does for recent TLG arrivals I probably would have easily talked myself out of going at all.

Perhaps the best preparation for my life in Batumi and Georgia came from the most unlikely of sources: canyoneering. Canyoneering involves rappelling into slot canyons then slowly crawling, climbing, or swimming your way out. The life and work I left behind involved the red rock slot canyons and sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park in Southern Utah, one of the premier destinations in the world for this sport,. At the end of my first year in Georgia, I wrote a blog post titled How Canyoneering Prepared Me to Live in a Post-Soviet Country ( As I reflected on the lessons I learned canyoneering in Zion and the surrounding area, it was curious how the experiences prepared me to live on the Black Sea Coast and in Georgia. For example, canyoneering requires a lot of route finding around obstacles which can include debris and dead animal filled waterholes, boulders, logs, etc. In Batumi, route finding is required to navigate the streets to successfully avoid marshutkas, puddles that rival Minnesota lakes in size, Gypsy children, etc.

Though I left Georgia six months ago today, it has taken me this long to begin process my time there. This was the second year where my flight was changed at the last minute, forcing me to leave without proper good-byes. (In the future I will expound upon this.) As I write this from the shadows of Deer Trap Mountain in Zion National Park, part of me feels that my time in Georgia is incomplete, that my time there is unfinished. My original plan was to return in January, but a promotion to a rare year-round employment position in Zion will have me in the United States instead. Also the recent "elections" (the quotes are intentional) leave some serious concerns about the political stability of the country and the future of the TLG program. Apparently I would have a job to return to at the University, but who knows how likely that is. However, as canyoneering prepared me to live in Georgia, Georgia has prepared me to better live in the United States.

The life lessons learned in Georgia that have improved and impacted my way of life in the United States include:

Elliptical machines are our friends. Before I joined the gym at the Radisson Batumi, I would have never considered the elliptical machine as a friend, yet it became my go-to piece of workout equipment. I was overjoyed to discover the employee gym in Zion had two, though right now after a 6 month elliptical hiatus, the elliptical machines seems to be a little more like a foe than a friend considering the pain I am in.

Buy ingredients, make food. This was a lesson I first learned in Israel, but it was reiterated every day for two years in Georgia. I love how the shopping was done almost daily to buy fresh ingredients that were used to create food. I struggle grocery shopping now because there are so few ingredients. Or the most commonly used ingredients is high-fructose corn syrup. The weekly visits to the local farmer’s market for produce and locally produced goat cheese were a highlight this summer in Springdale. Shopping there afforded me the opportunity to buy locally produced and fresh products like the ones I became accustom to in Georgia. How sad it is that so many Americans don’t understand what food should really taste like because they buy an engineered version of it.

Be prepared to drop plans at any time. This was something I have always struggled with regardless of where I am. I am a planner, and dislike surprises to ruin my schedule. When I first arrived in Georgia, I hated the lack of planning, and it took a lot of time for me to work past that. However, by saying “დიახ” (yes) I was afforded some of my most treasured memories and relationships from my time in Georgia. Too often I find myself saying; “Well, let me check my calendar…”back in the United States. A sad fact indeed.

Use cash, not credit. For years I was set on maximizing my frequent flier miles from my American Express card, and felt that cash was an outdated and cumbersome method of payment. Then I read an article about how many millionaires and billionaires use cash exclusively. Curious, I thought. After two years in Georgia, my life is cash based with a couple of exceptions (gas and cell phone). I spend only what I have on me, and I spend much less than I did before, which happily means more money for travel. However, I do appreciate how businesses here have change on hand, though I wish more Springdale businesses would take Amex. (Sol Foods and ZO I am thinking in your directions).

Always be as hospitable to people as people were to you in Georgia. Living in a major tourist destination I have the opportunity every day to meet people from around the world and share with them the place I was blessed to live in. As I learned in Georgia it doesn't take much to increase the level of hospitality shown. Here recommending a hike or a restaurant or simply engaging people in conversation can truly change the course of someone’s time here. Recently I randomly met a guy here who had been to Georgia. And to Batumi no less! And we were both there at the same time. Because of the Georgia connection we were able to start a great friendship. He, too, remembered with great fondness the warmth and hospitality shown to him during his time in Georgia. Using the lessons of hospitality I learned from being the recipient of it daily in Georgia, I helped in a small way to make Zion a memorable part of the trip for him and his friend from France. It was humbling to realize just how little it took on my part to do that. I was almost embarrassed by the sincere gratitude they displayed. Even though I was teaching tourism students in Batumi when I completed my time with TLG, I think I was the one who learned the most about how hospitality and tourism work together.

When I Skype with my host family the first question is always when am I returning to Batumi and followed by if I am married yet. While I am unsure as to when I will return, Georgia is and will always be a part of me. Two years there shaped me in countless ways, and I cannot easily forget the time I spent there, the things I experienced, or the lessons learned as they have been ingrained within me.