Monday, May 30, 2016

Arm Shaving as a Political Statement (or not)

I was (am) hesitant to write this post, because it draws attention to something I feel generally uncomfortable about- the hair on my arms.

this is me and my arm hair
There has been plenty written about the war on women's body hair, and there are enough angry rants about "when did we start thinking hair is evil??" and "who gets to decide how my body looks?".
Instead, I want to look at a particular issue- shaving of the arms- in the cultural context I find myself in. 

Georgians are a hairy people- girls, boys, pretty much everyone. It varies by ethnic background (Faces of Georgia), of course, but unibrows aren't really uncommon and chest hair on men is pretty expected. 
I never really thought about women's arm hair until a male friend made a comment, we'll call him Giorgi. He was comparing American women (myself subtly included) with Georgian women. He remarked that it shocked him the first time he was in America to see all the women with unshaven was only then that I realized most Georgian women shave their arms. Then I started looking. Some women, it seems to me, have very fair or little arm hair and they don't shave. Other women clearly shave- you can see patches growing back at different rates, or you touch their arm and feel just a little pricklyness. Other women clearly don't shave- this group is mostly "weird" liberals and old married women who have given up on the beauty standards of the 20-somethings.

Do we need solutions? This YouTube lady thinks so

Why do Georgian women shave their arms? When did the trend start? How much time and effort do they put into it? How important a part of the daily beauty ritual is it? How attractive is it to men for a woman to have shaved arms?
We may never know the answer to these questions, because I don't have any Georgian girl friends, but if I find out anything else, I will report back, faithful readers. Maybe I'll do an informal observational study of women who sit next to me on public transport...

And what about me, you ask? I don't shave my arms for a few reasons. Firstly, I have a chalky white complexion and thick dark hair- this may seem like a greater reason TO shave, but in fact my dark hair is probably the only physical attribute I inherited from my mother's Panamanian side- that and my phat a$$ (just kidding I have a pancake butt). While it sometimes makes me uncomfortable, it's kind of a marker of my heritage. I can't say that I LIKE it, but I can tolerate it. Further, shaving is a hell of a hassle. I am meticulous about my legs- any prickles and to me it feels like dirt or sand or something. Even in the winter I usually sleep in shorts, and I can't handle feeling like I'm sleeping in sand. Doing my arms too would be torture. I would have to constantly shave, because you can SEE when it starts to grow back- much more than on your legs- and it looks and feels terrible. Finally, it's one of the few things I do in rejection of the fashion-industrial complex...I try to have a strong body image and self esteem apart from the standards set forth by magazines and music videos. If I make any sort of stand- here it is. If it was easier to shave, would I do it? Very possibly...maybe that makes me a sell-out, but hey, I never claimed to be a righteous mouthpiece for the socially stigmatized. It could be a political statement, and I'm sure that many women choose not to shave, or wear cosmetic products, or buy clothing from certain stores, as a political statement- but it is not that way for me. 

In high school gym glass, a girl friend made an offhand comment about how she needed to shave her arms, or she had forgotten to shave, or something along those lines- that was my first exposure to the practice. Until then I had no idea anyone ever shaved their arms. My friend was Korean, and at the time I chalked it up to a different beauty standard and different cultural practices. Now I know it is actually a common practice in much of the world. In the US, there are several ways to remove unwanted hair (waxing, lasers, threading, creams, razors, bleaching, etc.), and as long as hair-removal is a profit-driven business, there will be people marketing the next trend in hair removal, people telling you that this or that area is more beautiful, more desirable without hair, and the beauty industry will continue trying to manipulate the desirability of women and the desires of men.
wow, this girl got so much more beautiful
after this super dramatic transformation

I honestly have very rarely thought about my (or anyone else's arm hair). Sometimes I notice when other girls have as much or more/darker arm hair than me, and for a moment take pleasure in their "misfortune," imagining myself better off on the whole because I am "better" off than them. Since I've been in Georgia, it's been harder to ignore, seeing women with arms in various stage of shave-ment and regrowth, and remembering "Giorgi"'s comments, and that he noticed the different "trends" in arm hair in the US and Georgia, I can't help but feel a bit more self conscious. But I am still not going to shave my arms. I am too lazy, don't care enough, and sometimes feel a little pride over my resistance to stigma and ability to ignore these arbitrary standards.
With my silken-haired arms, do Georgian men still find me attractive? I don't know- I suspect that it's much more an issue of individual preference than a blanket rejection of women with arm hair. I DO know that many Georgian men say that they don't like the Georgian custom of caking on a pound of make up before going literally anywhere (would they still prefer limited makeup if the women looked less perfect and beautiful with less makeup? Who knows...). I also know that I am certainly attractive enough for myself, and I look in mirrors a lot, so really- that's all that matters. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Second World Problems

The "Second World" refers to the former communist-socialist, industrial states, (formerly the Eastern bloc, the territory and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) today: Russia, Eastern Europe (e.g., Poland) and some of the Turk States (e.g., Kazakhstan) as well as China.
blue = 1st
red = 2nd
green = 3rd

  • When your eggs are covered in chicken poop
  • When you have to drink instant coffee because you don't have a coffee maker, and coffee filters are hard to find
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube videos are "not available in your country"
  • Your hot water kettle is caked with white calcium/mineral build up
  • When you can't find heat protectant hair spray anywhere  :(
  • When a guy follows you off the metro for 10 minutes because you have a "friendly-looking face" and later that day a taxi driver jokes that he's going to take you to his house if he can't find yours (because I couldn't remember my address, to be fair...)
  • Every night you get home and your hair smells like cigarette smoke
  • Most shops in the city don't carry iPhone accessories- especially not for the newest model
  • When it's too windy to use your outdoor clothes line (I'm on the 5th floor, so if something falls it's bad news for me)
  • When you don't have AC, but you don't want to open your windows because so many flies and other bugs will come in...
  • When you check the weather before doing laundry because you hang your clothes to dry outside
  • Bread expires in 3-4 days because it's not full of preservatives (but they sell it in smaller loaves, so it's not so bad) 
  • When you can't tell if you're tanner or just permanently coated in street dust
  • You can't go outside with wet hair because everyone will stare and old ladies will yell at you that you will get sick
  • You can't text while walking because the sidewalks are treacherous...each step is on a different level, full of potholes, and sometimes random obstacles like broken pieces of concrete, glass shards, or pipes sticking out of the ground! When cars park on the sidewalks (which is very frequent) you have to walk on the road, and with the crazy way that people drive, that is DEFINITELY not conducive to a leisurely text-and-walk experience
  • You can never get everything charged at once because a) all the plugs are single, so there are less of them, and b) you have to use bulky converter/adapters and you probably have more devices than converters
  • Somethings are much cheaper (fresh vegetables, public transportation), and some things are much more expensive...definitely sucks when something you wanted turns out to be prohibitively expensive- like cereal or coffee creamer or athletic clothes. 

Bonus: this is more of a personal struggle, but I'll share it here anyway...
Apparently, some of the people in my apartment building weren't paying their building maintenance fees (usually $2-3 per month), so the building owner installed a thing in the elevator where you have to pay to use it. This isn't super uncommon in Georgia, but usually it's 5 or 10 cents per ride, and ours is 20 cents! So it adds up fast. This morning, I try to leave my house and I realized I never have taken the elevator down by myself. I just found out, however, that it's free going down, so I decided to ride. There was no "ground floor" marker, just buttons 0-10, so I tried floor 1...the doors open and it's a concrete floor with broken wooden beams and scattered construction I tried floor 0 and it's literally just dirt and sand with pieces of trash laying around...I didn't even stick my head out of the elevator. I was scared that a rat or a vagrant or someone would run into the elevator so I just hit "close doors" as hard as possible. The exit is on floor 2. 
Then, struggle part 2 came when I got home- I was carrying bags and tired so I decided to pay the 20 cents and take the elevator up to the 5th floor where I live. I was curious if other coins would work, so I tried a Russian rouble- it didn't work. After about 5 seconds, though, the doors close, the lights turn off, and the elevator just sits motionless. Now I was in the dark, holding grocery bags and my purse, and terrified that I would end up back in the basement. I dug around my wallet for a big coin and found what I thought was a 20-cent piece. I shoved it into the box but nothing I guess it was some other coin? I didn't want to waste any more money, so I looked for my phone but with all my bags I couldn't find it rolling around the corners of my purse for probably a whole minute. Finally I got my phone and turned the flashlight on, found a 20-cent coin, and got to my floor...but that elevator really should have a motion-sensor light.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Four Years Flew By...

As my career as an undergraduate has come to a close, I wanted to reflect on some of the coolest stuff I've gotten into during the past four years...

May 2016: Got my motorcycle license

April 2016: Successfully defended my DMP undergraduate thesis!

March 2016: Costa Rica road trip with Rebecca, Elyse, and Jessica
  • Slid down a waterfall
  • Climbed the inside of a giant strangler fig
  • Climbed to the top of a giant horizontal strangler fig
  • Rode on the back of a local's motorcycle at midnight to go up a mountain to sit and look out at the Pacific Ocean and talk about life
  • Get a flat tire in a random town and be given a huge bag of mangoes for using Tico slang

January 2016: New York and Quebec
  • New Years Eve on a Manhattan rooftop
  • Laid on my stomach in the snow and shot a gun (and hit the target!) in upstate NY
  • Flew in a plane piloted by my friend Dylan
  • Road tripped to Montreal and Quebec City with Dylan
December 2015: Survived first semester of Batten Accelerated MPP

October 2015: Fall break in NYC- fire escape roof climbing, Brighton Beaching, bridge walking

August 2015: got called "Shakira" multiple times while in the waterfront souks of Dubai

July 2015: Northern Caucasus
  • Hitchhiked from Kazbegi through North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Chechnya
  • Had the most interesting day of my life in Vladikavkaz...
  • Highlights of Grozny: became friends with guys who were catcalling me, got proposed to 1.5 times, met Ramzan Kadyrov's English translator (maybe) and got offered a job to teach at his language school
  • Had a picnic in the drop-dead-gorgeous Ossetian mountains with a former world champion freestyle wrestler and his friends
  • Got interrogated by FSB on the border leaving Russia and had a heart to heart

June-August 2015:
  • Interned at the Parliament of Georgia, Committee on Foreign Relations
  • Met super cool people, including parliamentarians, the de jure presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and many friends I still keep in touch with!
  • Visited the border of South Ossetia (goal of this summer is to get inside!)
  • Rode a horse bareback around the mountains in Kazbegi
March 2015: Peru!
  • Hiked the Inca Trail 4 days to Machu Picchu
  • Learned about the indigenous Quechua culture of the Andes and made innumerable toasts to pacha mamma
  • Almost died on the 24 hour challenge
  • Met so many cool Peruvians and learned some local slang
  • Touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time
  • Ate guinea pig

December 2014: Celebrated my father and Tina's wedding

July/August 2014: Two weeks in Italy...


April 2014: Two weeks in Georgia (a somewhat spontaneous trip that has probably literally changed my life)

January-August 2014: Studied abroad on a Boren scholarship in St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Played on a Russian baseball team!
  • Survived a Russian winter
  • Interned with Deti Peterburga- an NGO that works to help integrate children of migrants into Russian society
  •  Staying out all night during White Nights, and especially Alye Parusa!
  • Trips to Moscow, Tula, Vyborg, and Gatchina
  • Recording an entire audio guide to Venice (for actual money!!!)
  • Experiencing the truth of economic crises when I lost $300 to the sudden inflation of the ruble in August 2014

August 2013: Road tripping from St. Petersburg to Estonia with Roman

July 2013: Won an international essay contest and spent 2 weeks in Azerbaijan, all expense paid, luxury accommodations, carted around the city in roasting metal boxes (charter buses with no AC), and met some amazing people who I still stay in touch with 3 years later!

January 2013: Ringing in the New Year in St. Petersburg!
[Best plan ever: Christmas in the US on Dec. 25th, fly to Russian Dec 27th, New Years (celebrated very similarly to how Americans celebrate Christmas, so it's basically Christmas part 2!), Orthodox Christmas Jan 7th, Old New Year Jan home Jan 15th or 16th when everyone finally gets back to work!]

There are so many things I can't put dates to...Thursday morning coffee with Elyse and Jess, wine nights at Becca's or Delphine's, Rev Soup Fridays first year, struggling through Farsi class but being semi-accepted into UVA's Persian community, four beautiful Lighting of the Lawns, first year Newcomb brunches, countless late nights in Alderman library walking home in freezing weather, Fig Thursday night happy hours, hiking around Shenandoah, falling in love with Russian and the former USSR, learning to cook feed myself, learning to budget and plan spending, and so much more...

I met the most amazing people, made memories I'll never forget, built lasting friendships, and I grew up. I hope I can continue to be the person I've grown into over the last four years- full of curiosity, constantly seeking adventure, open to new perspectives and ideas, and I hope I can improve- be more punctual, be quieter, push myself harder, make smarter choices.

Even though I have one more year at UVA, my 5th year will be very different, and I thought it was important to mark the closing (even if only semi-closing) of a chapter...thank you so much to everyone who has been a part of my journey. Every person I've met has left a mark on my heart.

In the end, all I can say is:
"If you live a long, long time, and hold honesty of conscience
above honesty of purse;
And turn aside without ostentation to aid the weak;
And treasure ideals more than raw ambition;
And track no man to his undeserved hurt;
And pursue no woman to her tears;
And love the beauty of noble music and mist-veiled mountains
and blossoming valley and great monuments-
If you live a long time and, keeping the faith in all these things
hours by hour, still see that the sun gilds your path with real
gold and that the moon floats in dream silver;
Remembering the purple shadows of the lawn, the majesty of
the colonnades, and the dream of your youth, you may say
in your reverence and thankfulness:
“I have worn the honors of Honors.
I graduated from Virginia." "

Thank you, University of Virginia.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

10 Reasons Tbilisi should be on every Digital Nomad's Radar

The Revolution has arrived- whether you call it digital nomadism, location independence, or just freedom, working from anywhere is a rapidly growing trend. 

Some of the most popular cities for digital nomads are in Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Lanta, Phuket), the USA (Austin, Miami, Knoxville), and Hong Kong, but Eastern Europe has largely been neglected. While some cities in the Balkans and the Baltics have gotten some love (Novi Sad, Serbia; Tallinn, Estonia), one place that is still largely under the radar is Tbilisi, Georgia. 

So what are the most important factors to consider in a short-term home? 
  • Cost of living
  • Good internet
  • Co-working spaces 
and of course the factors influencing general quality of life...
  • Weather
  • Safety
  • Pollution
  • Family-friendly (for some)

So where does Tbilisi fall on these metrics? 

1. Tbilisi has a low cost of living! Numbeo estimates that cost of living (excluding rent) is about 33% of the cost of living in NYC. Rent for a one bedroom apartment in the center of the city averages around $300-$400, and if you don't mind older construction, unrenovated, or somewhere more on the outskirts (but still on a metro line), you could push that down to $200-250. Prices on everyday items such as food and transportation are also very low- mainly because local salaries and locals' purchasing power is low- but you can live very comfortably on $800/month. 

2. Free wi-fi is abundant! There are dozens of coffee shops throughout the city, ranging from smoke-filled rooms with scratchy table cloths tucked into back alleys to trendy minimalist coffee bars to the newly opened Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on the main thoroughfare. 

3. Co-working spaces: this industry is still developing, but the concept is gaining popularity. There are formal co-working spaces, like the ones publicized on CospoT, and coffee shops that have become informal expat hubs with a very co-work-y environment, such as Prospero's and Newsroom Caffe

Prospero's Books

4. Travel around the region is easy and affordable. From the central bus station, Didube, you can find dirt cheap mini-buses and (slightly more comfortable and slightly more expensive) taxis going to every corner of the country. There is also train service to cities such as Batumi (5-6 hours west by train, on the Black Sea coast). In September 2016, Wizz Air is starting budget flights out of Kutaisi to several European destinations. You can already fly from Tbilisi to Istanbul for less than $150/RT!

5. It's the perfect size...the city isn't overcrowded, you can review locations that only locals know about, and be the first to write about trends, culture, and happenings. Instead of throwing another voice into an already saturated field of travel writers and bloggers (think: Paris, Chiang Mai, Prague, Split), you can be one of the few to observe and comment on new phenomena.

6. It's inspirational...this is the ideal place for a creative professional. Whether it's the enigmatic alphabet (although it's easier to learn than it looks), the hints of Soviet past appearing unexpectedly, or the twisting vines and ornate balconies of beautifully decaying back streets, Tbilisi will keep you in a constant state of wonder (and slight confusion). Your creative impulses will thrive. Being kept on your toes will keep your ideas from getting stale and tired.

Just look at that gorgeous script

7. There is room for growth. Entrepreneurs are on fertile ground here, as Georgia's economy continues to grow and new markets emerge.

8. The crime rate in Tbilisi is approximately 15% of New York City (for comparison: Bangkok is at 50%, Moscow at 48%, Kiev at 43%, and Copenhagen at 21%). It is a relatively safe place for families and people of all ages. (but of course, use the precautions you would take in any big city, as there is petty crime!)

9. Many foreigners can stay in Georgia visa-free for up to a year, so it's logistically accessible.

10. Then of course you have the simplest pleasures- beautiful land, generous, hospitable people, and delicious food

I'm not saying you have to drop everything right now and make your way to Georgia (although it's not a bad idea...), but if you are a digital nomad, or at all considering a location-independent lifestyle, Tbilisi should be on your radar. 

Want more digital nomadism? Check out: 

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    St. Petersburg and Tbilisi: a Brief Comparison

    In Tbilisi...the women wear fashion sneakers
    In St. Petersburg...the women wear high heels

    In Tbilisi...people walk fast
    In St. Petersburg...people walk faster

    In Tbilisi...people are short (especially women)
    In St. Petersburg...people are around my height

    In Tbilisi...average people do the "dirty jobs"
    In St. Petersburg...immigrants (sometimes Georgians) do the "dirty jobs"

    In Tbilisi...people everywhere sell their homemade and homegrown products, and Western stores and companies are celebrated politically, but often stand empty, although Georgia thinks it's BFFs with America
    In St. Petersburg...everything is for sale and being marketed in the 'Western' style, although Russia paints itself as the opposing pole of the West

    In Tbilisi...I will always be an outsider
    In St. Petersburg...I could physically blend in, and at least attempt to communicate with people in the language of their hearts and homes

    In Tbilisi...I feel constantly watched, guarded, and sometimes overprotected, but generally very safe
    In St. Petersburg...I sometimes felt threatened by Georgians and other immigrants (a generally irrational fear born of pervasive systemic racism)

    In Tbilisi...tourists didn't become significantly noticeable on a daily basis until mid-June, and they're mostly from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia
    In St. Petersburg...I was constantly inundated with tourists from all over the world

    shamefully spendthrift

    (written summer 2015 in Tbilisi, Georgia but I forgot to post it!)
    Disclaimer: I'm student poor, not actually impoverished. If I got into a bad situation, my parents would be able to help me. I have a credit card, I have money in my bank account, and I'm doing okay in general. But I don't live a luxurious lifestyle, and right now I couldn't afford that. Saving money is something that I prioritize, often over things that probably deserve to be prioritized a little bit more. This is a list of things that I have done to save money. Some of these things I'm kind of ashamed of, or are kind of embarrassing, but most of them are also pretty funny. Maybe it will inspire you to be more thrifty…or not. 
    I have a budget that is very tight, right now it is eight dollars a day. I don't stick to it religiously, some days I spend more, some days I spend less, but in general that's my target. I'm living this summer with $1000 of "free" money from a scholarship, and anything beyond that comes out of my savings, which I use to pay tuition. So if I break my budget, I am just adding to my student loan debt.

    This is the chronicle of my quest to stay under budget...

    • Transportation is a key area of the budget you can really control. Metro is cheap here, about 20 cents per ride, and taxis are cheap too, but I am usually willing to walk 30 minutes to an hour to avoid using public transit altogether or to get to the metro. 
      • Example: yesterday I left a friend's house and decided to take the metro home instead of a taxi, saving $2. But of course, I got lost and ended up walking in the blistering sun for 30 minutes, then riding the super crowded rush hour metro for another 30 minutes instead of caving and paying for a 10 minute taxi ride. 
      • Example: I always take marshrutki when I travel instead of shared taxis. Even if it's only a difference of less than a dollar, I am willing to squeeze for a couple hours into a sweaty, crowded box, usually upholstered in the most abrasive fabric know to man, in order to save literally a buck
      • Hitch hiking, while not necessarily recommended, also saves money!
    • Dinner dates = free dinner. Enough said.
    • Haggle, haggle haggle, and have no shame. The key is to find out beforehand from locals what the price of something should be, and insist on that. Don't make up a sob story and end up exploiting someone's pity, but never pay tourist prices.
      • "I'm poor. I'm a student and I work at an NGO where they don't pay me any salary"
      • "I only have X-amount of money in my wallet, will that be enough for this? Maybe I have one more coin in my pocket!"
      •  "I have been here 10 times and I always pay $X for the taxi! Why are you trying to overcharge me?"
    • My shoes have holes in the bottom...
    • Eat two meals a day instead of three, and fill the rest with cheap snacks (easy to find in Georgia)! Brunch around 11 or 12, linner around 5 pm
    • Don't go to Prospero's...western style coffee shop/bookstore, a favorite of expats, and an enemy to the wallet