Autumn in a Flash

These days, it takes being stuck in bed with a fever to get me to sit still and write something that isn’t for work.  The positive side of getting sick in different countries is that it reveals local beliefs about remedies and convalescence (usually some combination of tea, lemon, and honey), and some castigation for whatever I did to cause the illness in the first place (in Russia, it was running outdoors).  Here in Georgia, the advice has been to drink tea and either milk or vodka, depending who you talk to.  I’m sticking to jasmine tea and the occasional glass of Nesquik just because it makes me happy.  Combine that with bed rest and Pink Floyd on repeat, and I’ll be well in no time.

While I’m bedridden and comfortably numb, I’ll give you a disjointed overview of my autumn in Tbilisi.

1. I celebrated my 27th birthday in September.  In the days leading up to it, I thought a lot about how many celebrities died at the age of 27.  A tortured-soul-drug-over-dose is probably not on my horizon, but death by Georgian taxi driver or second hand smoke might be.  Fingers crossed!

birthdaycrew3

A surprise birthday celebration

birthdaycrew8 inarmswetrust

2. My best friend in Tbilisi— who organized the birthday party above– moved back to France a couple of weeks after that celebration.  I still feel lost without her and our weekly (… ok, more like daily) conversations over wine and khachapuri, venting about life in Georgia, debating about our work and research, and crashing at one another’s apartments.  After subsisting almost entirely on long-distance friendships for the past year, having Lucile a short metro-ride away was a blessing.  But, like so many other people I’ve become attached to in this city, she left.

lucile, me, and tbilisi

lucile, my love

My Lucile

3.  Autumn in Georgia means harvest time.  Everyone in Tbilisi says he is from a small village somewhere in the countryside, even if he only visits there a few times each year.  When the temperature begins to fall, everyone heads to their villages on the weekends to pick grapes and make their own wine, which they enjoy for the rest of the year.  Or, like Khvicha, they give it all to me and it piles up in my kitchen.  Wine shortage?  Please.  This country is drenched in it.

I was invited by a friend to help his family harvest in a quiet village near Gori recently, and had lots of fun picking grapes and drinking homemade liqueur.  I will try to write a full post about this experience.  Spoiler alert:  it ends with me getting food poisoning from unwashed grapes and projectile vomiting on the Sheraton Hotel at a work function.  Classy.

4.  Georgia has a new president!  As of October 27, Mikheil Saakashvili is out, Giorgi Margvelashvili is in.  Saakashvili’s story is fascinating and disappointing.  I’d recommend the following quick reads to anyone who is interested in learning about how this Rose Revolution hero rapidly reformed his country and then lost the respect of his people through the alleged abuse of his power:

5.  Halloween?  Nope, sorry.  Nary a carved pumpkin here in the Caucasus.

6.  I haven’t only been puking on hotels and wallowing in loneliness for the past few months.  I’ve also made some new friends.  For the first time since I came to Georgia, I’m socializing almost entirely with Georgians, and it has given me a new insight and understanding of the younger generation here.  The downside is that living in the conservative, orthodox Christian Georgian bubble makes me feel strange and misled, like my priorities and path in life need adjustment.  I don’t exactly fit the mold of a Georgian woman (besides my enthusiasm for feeding people).  So I’m constantly trying to balance the benefits of my new social network with the requirements of fitting into Georgian society.  It’s hard to know exactly how much to bend in respect to your environment and peers without a) blatantly lying or b) chipping away at your own beliefs and identity.

Didn't I tell you?  I'm now the lead singer of a 90's girl band.

Didn’t I tell you? I’m now the lead singer of a 90’s girl band.

7.  Winter is quickly approaching and I’m not looking forward to it.  Georgian summer is lovely, bringing waves of exotic fruits and vegetables, like alucha in May and persimmon in September and feijoa in October.  But winter is bitter and devoid of fresh produce, so I will be one cranky ex-pat.  I would appreciate your energizing vibes to help me drag myself out of my apartment.  მადლობა!

50 comments

  1. Belated Happy Birthday, hun! Wish I could fly out and visit before I leave but I don’t have much time. You always make Georgia seem so beautiful. And I’m glad you have more friends and seem to be really getting into life out there (though I’m sorry you’re sick). x

    • Thanks love! Georgia is beautiful for sure (especially in summer), but not the ideal social environment for me. It’s been a struggle to build a good social network. But I’m not giving up. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear about your next adventures!

  2. I love this post but I especially love this caption: “Didn’t I tell you? I’m now the lead singer of a 90′s girl band.” A very belated happy birthday!

  3. Hi Meghan, my name is Sofia and I’ve read almost all of your blog posts and I absolutely love them! You keep your audience entertained with your great stories and pictures. I also write a travel blog slightly similar to yours and I would love for you to check it out at dairi100.wordpress.com
    Thank you 🙂

  4. alisonkgraham

    Great post! After college, it’s my dream to travel around the world and see everything I can. Every time I read about some place I barely know about, like Georgia, I want to go there. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful every single country is. Thanks for the awesome post!

  5. Auntie Kay

    Hi Meg,
    Great post, I missed reading them! Glad to hear you’re feeling better and looking forward to seeing you at Christmas 🙂

  6. Great read and very cool blog, interesting to read about your experience living as a solo female as opposed to travelling. I have had my fair share of issues travelling solo in Latin America. Admittedly not as many as my blond friends! Intrigued to read more. 🙂

    • Thanks rovingele! And yes, being blonde in Latin America can be a liability (or an asset, depending on what you’re looking for!). I dyed my hair brown before I went their for the first time, but the sun managed to bleach it back again. 🙂

  7. Another great post, we’ve missed your news! Winter is creeping in here I’m the UK here too, and like you I’m dreading it. So you have my full sympathy and feel free to complain any time the need arises! I’m thinking about digging out my backpack again and taking off somewhere warm…. Get well soon and write more please! 🙂 x

  8. Arif

    Hope you feel better Meghan; smelling crushed fresh lemon leaves does wonders in keeping things inside, lesson learned from years of misspent youth in less than ideal geographical locations. I really enjoy your wonderful blog. It feeds the bohemian streak in me even after many years of traveling. I am hoping that you will write about life in Tbilisi (or Georgia in general) after you have spent some time at home during Christmas and possibly re-discover the faded (perhaps?) contrast. I am just curious. I wish you a good trip back home and a wonderful Christmas.

    • Thank you Arif! Never heard that advice before… perhaps I should invest in some lemon leaves. 🙂 And yes, I’m looking forward to the day when I get a bit of distance from Georgia and can really open up about my feelings and observations. It hasn’t been the easier place for me to be happy… though I do have some really wonderful memories scattered throughout this past year.

    • Thanks Hayley! I think this is part of the culture shock adjustment for all travelers and ex-pats. Some acclimate and adopt the local culture completely, some reject it and are miserable, and others manage to find a balance. I’m hoping I can do the latter. 🙂

  9. I just love reading your updates (though I don’t love that you’re sick and your friend moved away). PLEASE do write about the grape harvest, and even the subsequent hurl-age. I mean, that’d probably get you Freshly Pressed for sure. 🙂

    • Good thinking, Loni! Violent puking is always a fan favorite.

      In other news, I’m well enough to work today! Although one more day of choco-cereal and Harry Potter in bed would have been nice. 🙂

  10. First of all, I’m so sorry for your condition, Meghan. Hopefully you’ll recover sooner than you think! It’s funny how this posts reminds me of my own neighborhood here in Jakarta. I live in a dense area in southern part of the city where most expats live. When I was reading this, my mind went to those expats who might share the same feeling with you. Anyway, I’m happy that you now have more Georgian friends to hang out with. 🙂

    • Thanks, I’m glad to hear you love Georgia so much. I think it is a very special place with a lot to offer its visitors, but living alone here as a Western woman is challenging at times. 🙂 But I’m doing my best to remain optimistic and focus on the positives of living here!

      • I often forget how my experience with a country can be very different for the independent woman. When I was there, I was taken in by a family so that their teenage daughter could practice her English. Because of their hospitality and insistance that I stay, I hung out several days longer than I planned. They invited neighbors over, took me to a lake, took me to churches, and partied in my honor. All because I ended up on the right microbus from Batumi to Tblisi.

        As a resident, I’m sure that such hospitality can’t be sustained indefinitely, but I’m glad your sticking with it to help them achieve economic independence!

        • Yes, the travel experience can be different, but not necessarily worse for women. Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads wrote a great post about the benefits of being a solo female traveler, if you’re interested: http://www.legalnomads.com/2011/09/the-solo-female-travel-experience.html

          I always enjoyed traveling solo as a lady, but living abroad solo is a different story. As a semi-permanent resident, people tend to push their expectations on me more (mostly about getting married and having babies and converting to Orthodox Christianity). But of course, the plus side is that I have a much deeper understanding of this culture than I would have after a week.

          Anyway, now I have to check out your posts from Georgia! Thanks for writing. 🙂

          • That was a great link that you included! Thanks for sharing that! Obviously, I don’t have luxury of seeing both sides of a culture that tends to keep the sexes apart. I suppose it’s the tradeoff for being perceived as the less vulnerable gender.

            I have to say that I am particularly surprised about the pressure to become Orthodox Christian. I have always perceived Orthodox Christians from every nation I have experienced (Russian, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Romanian) to be insular or indifferent about their religion. IF you haven’t written about it (and sorry I am unaware, if you did) then that would be an interesting topic!

            I am in the process of completing (from notes and photos taken) my trip in Central Asia this past spring. My time in Georgia was in late July- early August 2001. I won’t ever forget my time there, but I am not sure I could put together enough details to warrant writing about it. Although, if I can still tell a story about my travels there…

            • I had the same perception of Eastern Orthodoxy. My Orthodox friends in the States are some of the most private and non-pushy believers I know. But here, Orthodoxy is a way of life more than a spiritual pursuit. Most have never read any of the bible. But if you are not Orthodox (and fervently so), you’re not a “real Georgian.” Of course, everyone knows I’m not Georgian, but the more time I spend here and the deeper my friendships become, the more they want me to marry a Georgian man and have Georgian babies. This requires that I convert to Orthodoxy first. And, as one colleague put it, “it’s your free ticket to heaven!”

              The flip-side of this is sometimes being viewed as an easy blonde Westerner (or even better, a Ukrainian prostitute!) by strange men. Major Madonna-whore issues in this country! I haven’t written at length about all of this yet, but I’m tempted. I just don’t want to offend too many of my Georgian friends who might read this blog. :-\

            • Well, they certainly want you to become part of their society, which is great! I can see your frustration that they believe you should completely change your identity to do so. I wonder if.they would expect the same of a Western male…

              I can’t imagine what it’s like to be gawked at like that, but I witnessed Muslim men staring at Christian women in every Christian Quarter I visited. It was infuriating. I feel for you!

            • Come to think of it, I’m sure they would encourage a Western man to convert, if he were young and unmarried… and there was any possibility of him marrying a Georgian girl.

              No gawking in public here, actually. Georgian girls are very beautiful and fashionable (high heels, short skirts) and get more stares than I do. It’s once they realize that I am American that things become uncomfortable.

              Long thread! But very interesting topic. 🙂

            • (And the prostitute confusion occurred in my first week here, when I made the mistake of standing on a street corner after dark, waiting for my friend to pick me up. Oops!)

  11. Feel better. Puking in hotel rooms is really a 90s Girl Band thing to do, so don’t feel bad :). Sad your friend left, and as a former expat I can relate to some of the things you express here. Good luck, I’ll be reading.

    • Thanks anglo. Even better, I puked on the exterior of the hotel, right by the main entrance. Two Italian guys approached me and offered me a bottle of water and starting making jokes about me drinking too much alcohol. If I hadn’t been heaving into some nicely pruned shrubbery, I would have screamed at them that it was 7:30 pm and I hadn’t drunk anything but Coca Cola. Anyway, it was a memorable experience!

  12. I also hadn’t realized it’s been a while! Hope you feel better soon, Meghan! Thanks for sharing your lovely stories and insights with us. And you know what to do when it gets too cold for you …. head down south!

    • Thank you, Niki! Is that a veiled invitation to Greece I hear? 😉 I’m actually going home to the States for Christmas, so I’m saving up my vacation days for that. But sunshine will be calling my name for the next few months…

  13. Great blog! Your post about Georgia reminded me of my trip there last summer. I spent only a few days in the country, driving from Turkey to Azerbaijan. But I will never forget the many versions of melted cheese on dough, with egg, without…had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner 🙂

    • Oh yes, khachapuri is addictive (and devastating for my figure)! Driving from Turkey to Azerbaijan must have been fascinating. I’m hoping to take a trip to Baku one of these days… but I also want to visit Armenia, so I’m trying to figure out the best order in which to do that without pissing off either of them too badly. 🙂

      • Oh I know what you mean! We decided in the end to skip Armenia to make it happen, and continued instead from Baku towards Turkmenistan. Still not decided what to think about that country. But I heard many good things from people that went from Georgia to Iran – in case you need some more travel ideas 🙂

  14. I was just thinking that it had been a while since I’d seen anything from you. Glad to get the update!

    Hope you feel better soon. Until then, I wish you a healthy dose of comfortable numbness (which, if you go with the tea and vodka option, is s distinct possibility…). 🙂

    • Thanks anglophile! I didn’t know what to write about recently, because I haven’t done anything particularly exciting. But I’m going to try to be better about it (mostly because setting blogging goals for myself motivates me to get out and do interesting things). Cheers!

  15. Su

    Have been thinking about you Meghan and wondering how you are travelling (and procrastinating my own blog entry!) Great to hear that you are…well still there!!! Winter in Europe can be a little…depressing….but a least you have your girl band to keep you busy. Take care. xx

    • Thanks for thinking of me, Su. I really have not been traveling much lately, even within Georgia. Since my trip to Paris in the summer, I’ve buckled down to work and save up vacation days for a trip home in December. But traveling is never far from my mind. 🙂

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