Struggling to be hopeful

I removed this post for a few days while things cooled down in Tbilisi and varying news reports surfaced debating the facts of May 17.

I’ve been wanting to write about my trips to Istanbul and Prague, I assure you.  I have plenty of stories and photos from both of these beautiful cities that I’d love to share.  But since I returned to Tbilisi, I’ve been unable to sit down and draw out the words.

When I left the airport with suitcases and souvenirs in tow last Sunday, I was still glowing with post-vacation bliss.  I hopped in a taxi and gave the driver my address in Russian.  And, for perhaps the hundredth time, he began the standard series of questions, crossing himself four times every time we passed a church:

“Do you have children?  Why not?  Are you married?  Why not?  You live alone??  How old are you?  Where are your parents?  Do you have a boyfriend?  Why not?  [Points to his watch.]  You’re getting old now, you should find a man and settle down.”

And I cried.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I broke down and cried in the taxi.  My glow was snuffed out within my first half hour in Tbilisi.  I laughed off these questions in my first weeks here.  But after nearly four months of quiet, constant pressure from all angles, I’m exhausted.

Friends ask me, “Didn’t you expect this?  Didn’t you read about Georgia before moving there?”  Yes, I read plenty.  I bolstered myself for it, priding myself on my cultural awareness and self-reliance.  Hell, I did fine in Peru, Colombia, and Russia, didn’t I?  But Georgia has proven to be another challenge entirely.

***

Photo credit to Dima Chikvaidze/ ტაბულა

There are conflicting stories as to whether this priest was wielding a chair as a weapon, or had taken it away from someone else to prevent violence.  I’ll let you guess which side of the cause says which.  Photo credit to Dima Chikvaidze/ ტაბულა

Yesterday was the International Day Against Homophobia.  In response to a peaceful demonstration by gay rights supporters (including many of my friends), a mob of 20,000 angry protesters led by Orthodox Christian priests attacked them, screaming “Kill them! Tear them apart!” and throwing rocks, chairs, and garbage cans.

The day prior, Georgian Patriarch Ilia II warned government officials to ban the anti-homophobic demonstrations, saying they would be an “insult” to Georgian tradition.  In the past, he has described homosexuality as an “anomaly” and a “disease.”

Expecting a violent response (like last year’s demonstration), the Georgian police were present, but the mobs broke through their cordons and flooded the public garden, beating and stoning those thought to be connected with the demonstrations.

28 people were injured, and 14 of them hospitalized.  The numbers seem shockingly low to me, given how rabid these crowds appear in the videos.

It feels comically obvious to say this, but this reaction is not representative of all Georgians.  There are many who denounce what happened.  But there are more who defend the Church.

I want to maintain my neutrality for the sake of my professional relationships, for my ability to be effective and respected here.  I’m sure some people here will be upset with me for writing this and for clearly taking the side of the gay rights supporters.  But I can’t stomach a cultural and religious environment that punishes those who differ with violence and humiliation.

What happened yesterday was categorically wrong.  The people who organized this violent response must be held responsible for their actions, whether they are teenagers or priests.

After the past week, my memories of Prague are thin.  I’m trying to focus on my work and do whatever good I can.  But part of me is crushed.  The hopeful part.

***

Read and watch more about the clashes in Tbilisi on the International Day Against Homophobia here:

RT.com:  Priests lead Orthodox anti-gays in violent Tbilisi clashes with rights activists, police (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Eurasianet.org:  Georgia: Angry mob scuttles anti-homophobia rally

Info9.ge:  Video of crowds trying to kill a man they suspected to be gay; he denies the accusation (you can see him crossing himself) and is driven away by police

Youtube.com:  Video of crowds attacking a minibus evacuating gay rights demonstrators

Tabula.ge:  Photos of the clashes

37 comments

  1. Pingback: remembering may 17 |

  2. Pingback: Remembering May 17 | Soulshine Traveler

  3. I love the book the fourth agreements. by don miguel ruiz. He is a toltec from south america. He talks about life on an individual journey and its really something to read. thanks again for your love of world

  4. Wow you really have a mesmerising way to express your thoughts. Your descriptions really go under the skin, and it leaves you with wanting to read more. You are very talented, and an inspiring woman! I thought you should know that.

  5. Gripping stuff! Unlike most blogs I read, this one begs me to read more. Your grit to live simply, immerse yourself in the local culture, and ‘get dirty’ is impressive and laudable. I have been to Georgia and I have never met a more wonderful people, as a whole. I do know that subsequent posts show this! 🙂

  6. I feel your pain, Meghan. Intolerance is such a miserable pile of nonsense, particularly from religious leaders. That you write about it with such eloquence is no surprise; that you write about it at all is something to be proud of. I certainly hope your hopefulness wasn’t dimmed too much.

  7. bosseerichsen

    hi there,
    good writing makes someone think. It really shows how much people can differ and even through it is not a pleasent experience its still those that fire you up the most.
    I just started a blog for my documentary photography project that is starting soon( the blog now at the moment is about the prepareation of that trip) from thailand to papua neuguinea and I am already quite eager to see what situations I will face.

    keep up the good work *new fan here^^*

  8. Oh Meg, I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing about this. 😦 I hope you’re okay though. I suppose seeing the good and the bad of the country we choose to live in is all part of the experience.

  9. “When you look at a nation that is so divided along these moral and cultural issues, that you could have — you know I hate to use the word — but I mean a revolt, a revolution. I mean, I think you could see Americans saying, “You know what, enough of this.” And I think it could explode and just break this nation apart.

  10. Sorry to hear you are so disillusioned with your host country! Not sure if this is meant to cheer you up but just know that the USA can be just as intolerant. On the news recently, there was a segment about several same-sex couples getting attacked in New York City coming out of gay bars. And gay marriage is legal in New York State. So the intolerance doesn’t just exist in Georgia–though it may be more extreme. It also sickens me that these so-called “religious leaders” can get away with this type of behavior.

    • Amelie, this is really the first time I’ve felt this way here. There are many things I love about Georgia, but this event shook me up. And you’re right, intolerance exists everywhere, even in the US. I’m all for people voicing their opinions, but not with violence. Breaks my heart. Thanks for reading.

  11. The same problem also happens in Indonesia, quite often. In a country where more than 300 languages are spoken, 6 state-recognized religions are practiced, and people from different backgrounds rub shoulders with each other in a daily basis, difference is apparent and unity is fragile. I can totally relate to what happened in Tbilisi. But there are good people, there is hope.

  12. I felt the weariness of your words on more than one level. Falling from the grace of a happy, inspiring adventure and returning to the pettiness of life with people who have blinders on their brains. The anguished and helpless empathy one feels when others are tormented for an unavoidable quality of their being. (I live in the American South.) It’s all quite dispiriting, and I’m sorry it has been happening to you. But I’m glad you’re a person who is able to experience this despair on behalf of others. This is probably what you really needed to write about.

    • Thank you for the support, Joanne. I’m definitely in a little funk this weekend, but confident that I will pull myself out of it with some hard-core positive thinking next week (at least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself). And yes, I can imagine you see a lot of the same in the South. I have to hope that we are all (slowly, sometimes erratically) moving in the right direction, though..

  13. Welcome to the new millennium. Religious fundamentalism is on the rise everywhere and it’s prime characteristic is exclusivity. You cannot belong unless you conform. And if you don’t belong then you are at best, wrong and at worst, the enemy. Sad but true, in every country including your own. It is the nature of almost every religion, including Christianity and seems to be an inherent and, to me at least abhorrent tendency of our human species.

    • I have to hope that the evolution of religion (and humanity) is toward universal love and acceptance, rather than petty judgement and violence. We see the violence splashed all over the news so much, I think we forget about the positives. I’m going to place my bet on a trajectory towards love, because I don’t know any other way to live (nor would I want to).

  14. Meghan, I’d like to post something deep and wise in response to your post, but the words fail me. So I will say this: 1) You are young until you decide otherwise. A very large part of me wishes I had had the courage to step outside the mold handed to me and brave the world as you have done. In that alone, you inspire me. 2) Hope is a funny thing. It tends to come and go. But I also know this: whether or not you feel hopeful at any given moment, there will be people around you in Georgia, with whom you work, whose lives are important to you, who feel hope just because of what you’re doing. And to me, that’s what a life of service is about: working to give others hope even when we don’t necessarily feel it ourselves.

    (Okay, so maybe the words didn’t fail me, although I still don’t know how deep or wise they are.)

    Keep letting your soul shine.

    • Sounds pretty deep and wise to me, Vance. I appreciate the support. It’s meant a lot to me in the past couple days. And you’re right about hope. It can ebb and flow. Mine is slowly building up again, after hearing about some demonstrations denouncing Friday’s violence around Georgia, yesterday and today. I’ll give myself one more whiny day and then jump back on the horse. Thanks again Vance. 🙂

  15. Everybody is entitled to soggy moments .. its okay; and especially when living in a foreign culture. The country that I live (South Africa) in also has large numbers of very conservative people who have equally rigid views on gay rights but miraculously, for once, I don’t recall violent mob protests on the topic. Our much lauded Constitution gives gays the right to be gay. Every now and then there’ll be a violent attack on a gay person & even a slaying, but its alwyas in the black communities. Sigh. People.

  16. Su

    It takes time to settle into a new culture Meghan. Even though you may have prepared yourself for what might lay ahead, you can never predict your response to certain situation. The more times you do it, the harder it becomes in some ways. Im proud of you for writing what you believe to be right. Its not always easy in an environment that doesn’t share your opinion, and there is certainly no shame in that. You have so much more to achieve in your life, I know that you are someone who will make a difference. When you have full-filled parts of your personal journey, you will encounter someone who has done the same and magic will happen. You cant predict when this will happen. Remember that everything is unfolding as it should………..trust your journey and it will respond in like…..

    • Thank you Su, this means a lot to me. I’m definitely passing through a funk right now, hoping there will be an upside soon. Till then, I will work on trusting the journey. 🙂

  17. Moe

    Meghan don’t let some silly comments get you down. I heard the same commets for years!! You are smart, strong and beautiful!!!

  18. Oh Meghan! First of you ARE young! Look at how many people marry and get divorced. I’m sure it gets annoying being in such a religious place, culturally different than own. I applaud you for speaking out against gay rights. It is a human right and hopefully Georgia will catch up. hang in there! 🙂

    • You’re right, Nicole, there is a lot of divorce here, which is slowly bringing up the average age of marriage as people realize it’s a decision you should actually spend some time thinking about. And 99% of the time, I just chuckle and let these comments roll off my back. But this time, I cracked.

      But my problems are small in comparison to those of my friends in the LGBT community here. I only experienced a fraction of the pressure and humiliation they receive. So I will continue to do whatever I can to support and help them.

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