Thursday, June 30, 2016

Memos to my Office

If I had the power to send memos, these would be them...

  1. Explaining and banning sexual harassment
  2. Letting all the security guards have the day off because they do literally nothing and look so incredibly bored
  3. Explain the difference between "cuisine" and "cousin"
  4. Georgia is not the "first European civilization" (putting it in quotes doesn't make it real!!!!), but IS home to the groundbreaking archeological discovery of the oldest hominin site outside of Africa 
  5. Georgia has a unique alphabet, yes, but...
    1. that by itself is not really a big draw for international tourists...
    2. it is not one of the "14 unique alphabets in the world"...there are more like 20 or 30 or even 40 depending on how you define "alphabet"...stop saying this. Also, can someone call the Ministry of Education and have them stop teaching this in schools??
  6. Please keep bringing your adorable children to the office. They are so fun and I love seeing adult Georgian men go crazy over them. Georgians are way more loving to children than most people.
  7. Also continue to have bosses buy employees treats on Fridays! (ice cream, coffee and pastry - this is hugely morale boosting)  
  8. "the destination is easily accessible by a magnificent 30 minute flight through the Mounties" (real quote from a document I was editing)
    fly right through these Mounties. majestic.

I wrote this post a while ago and was planning on adding to it, but I recently got the sudden, unexpected, and not entirely welcome news that my security clearance had been approved. I start working as an intern at the US embassy tomorrow...

While of course I am thrilled to be doing what I initially came here to do, and I'm sure I will have amazing experiences the rest of the summer at the embassy, it has been really difficult for me to accept that I am leaving GNTA. I feel like I have been doing really good and substantial work, I love that I am supporting Georgia, and I feel like I'm part of some insiders' club. What has made my time here really special, however, is the people. Everyone in my office is amazing, and while I sometimes throw some shade, I wanted to write a little tribute to them for making me feel so welcome and valued and almost like an honorary Georgian  ;)

GNTA June 2016 Superlatives*

Bacho aka Tortellini: best-natured, best confidant, most brutally honest, poutiest resting face, loudest phone ringtone

Nini K: most fashionable, sweetest, best cook, most determined to succeed/visionary

Irakli: most serious working face

Vakho: best laugh

Amiran: most frequent smoking breaks

Vika: best shoes

Nini P: best winker, cutest child brought to work, most tan

Tornike: most boss, most flawless English

Rusudan: most down to earth, most friendly

Ana: best hair (it's shiny and bouncy and curly and black and reminds me of my mom in a very non-creepy way)

Beka: most distracted, least predictable hours, most creative, best at avoiding conflict by remaining silent

Daria: most likely to be awarded citizenship by presidential decree for service to the country, tie for best hair 

HR Department: most patient with me, best public transportation directions 

New interns: best of luck to you   ;)

*this isn't everyone who works at GNTA, or even everyone who I met! Just the people who I interacted with enough to be able to write a fair-ish superlative

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are Georgians Just Bad Feminists?

Two recent conversations led to this blog post...
My first conversation was with my Georgian friend and colleague Bacho. In my office, Bacho is a proud feminist - mainly because he has the English vocabulary to explain his view points, and he is open about discussing them (also is very smart and has lots of experience). Also, Bacho sits next to Amiran, compared to whom basically anyone would look like a raging, bra-burning feminist.
more recent Bacho
Bacho with friends
Our conversation started when Bacho had to work through lunch one the intern and also someone who had basically no work that day, I of course offered to pick something up for him on my lunch break. He politely declined and I didn't think much of it, but later it came out that he declined because
-"no, I never let girl's to pay for me. and do not start that I am sexist and etc."
well shoot. a) my office knows me really well lol  b) I know Bacho, I know he's not sexist...but he won't let a a woman pay for him? Taken in the cultural context of Georgia, what does this mean...? What is Georgian feminism? What is Georgian sexism? 
Of course the bigger question underlying it all is, are feminism and sexism relative concepts?
To be honest, I am somewhat of a moral relativist, probably because I'm just not that good at philosophy, but let's just agree to accept the premise of feminist relativity for the purpose of this post, because it is the basis on which Bacho, and most Georgians, work. 
There are Georgians who heavily criticize their perception of other cultures' social-gender structures - for example, villager and 40-something man Mito once told me that he hated living in Sweden because there the social hierarchy goes


I have found that most Georgians, however, understand or at least somewhat sympathize with western conceptions of feminism...they just reject them in Georgia. There is the idea that Georgia is different, Georgian women are different, and therefore it would be unfair to impose foreign concepts of equality and gender relations here.

This leads me to my second conversation, which was rather one sided...and was in fact more like an inner dialogue I had while reading this fabulous essay. It is an edited extract from Roxane Gay's book Bad Feminist: Essays, published in The Guardian. I found myself vigorously nodding my head; I wanted to point to every other line like "Yes! Don't you agree? This is me." But since everyone else in my office was actually working, I decided to write this post instead of trying to distract them. 

As I read the essay, I also realized how much it felt like feminism in Georgia. Men and women are equally valuable, equally good, but suited for different social roles, and are expected to act in vastly different ways.

If you don't have the 5 minutes to read Roxane Gay's essay, here are some lines that really jumped out at me,

"I want to be independent, but I want to be taken care of and have someone to come home to. I have a job I'm pretty good at. I am in charge of things. I am on committees. People respect me and take my counsel. I want to be strong and professional, but I resent how hard I have to work to be taken seriously, to receive a fraction of the consideration I might otherwise receive."

"When I drive to work, I listen to thuggish rap at a very loud volume, even though the lyrics are degrading to women and offend me to my core. The classic Ying Yang Twins song Salt Shaker? It's amazing. "Bitch you gotta shake it till your camel starts to hurt." Poetry. (I am mortified by my music choices.) I care what people think."

"I shave my legs! Again, this mortifies me. If I take issue with the unrealistic standards of beauty women are held to, I shouldn't have a secret fondness for fashion and smooth calves, right?"

"I put up with nonsense from unsuitable men even though I know better and can do better. I love diamonds and the excess of weddings. I consider certain domestic tasks as gendered, mostly all in my favour because I don't care for chores – lawn care, bug killing and trash removal, for example, are men's work."

"I worry about dying alone, unmarried and childless, because I spent so much time pursuing my career and accumulating degrees. This kind of thinking keeps me up at night, but I pretend it doesn't because I am supposed to be evolved."

"At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are – militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humourless."

So, are Georgians sexist? Or are they just "bad feminists"?

The basic premise of the Georgian social-gender structure is this:

-men and women are different in every way
-women are "special"
-men should treat women in accordance with their "special" value

Now, most Georgian men would agree with me when I say that men and women are equal, but it usually takes a lot of explanation on my part to get across the meaning of equality. It's probably partly related to the language barrier, but the word equality seems to immediately conjure up images of women working in heavy industry while men suckle babies, because the argument back is inevitably "but men and women are physically different! Men are stronger - women have delicate bones, and only women are able to carry a child!"
Sure. I don't dispute any of this (except for delicate bones wtf is that about). A+ for the Georgian public education system in the basic biology department (but actually not really, because apparently outside Tbilisi biology/anatomy/sex ed is absolutely abysmal). The problem for me ~let's tie these themes together~ is not when Bacho doesn't want a woman to pay for him or when a woman accepts a man paying for her solely based on gender, but when either of these people believe that this system must be. There is a problem when people believe that basic biological difference between men and women somehow make women incapable of making money or undeserving of being able to support themselves financially. 

Now let's dig a little deeper into the unbelievably complicated social context that I currently find myself stumbling through. 
Here's the situation: you are a girl at a restaurant with your girl friend, the only other table in the restaurant is two older, drunk-ish men celebrating something. Over the course of your meal, they make a few toasts to you, buy you and your friend a glass of wine, then eventually join you at your table, laughing and joking and drinking and toasting. One of the men keeps trying to hold your friend's hand during toasts to her. Finally you and your friend (very sick of these rambunctious men) begin to extricate yourselves. You go to the counter to pay and find out the check has been taken care of by these men...
(this is a true story)

What do you think? What does this mean? Why did this happen?

An American perspective: these men are lonely and you are two young attractive single girls alone...they clearly want to butter you up by toasting to your honor, using traditional culture as a chivalrous excuse for flattery. They buy you drinks to relax you a little bit, open you up to their advances. Then they pay for your you owe them something - time, company, ideally something sexual. These men are sleazy creeps and you should skedaddle as fast as possible.

A Georgian perspective: a toast to women is traditional in Georgia - not only expected, but as you are the only women there (other than the waitresses, I guess they don't count?) it would be downright disrespectful to ignore you. Women are the flowers of people, the beautiful garden of humanity - we should celebrate these things! These men have a special appreciation for the beauty of life, the cornucopia of the family structure. Women rock - that's why they are given this "special" treatment. Also, there is an additional layer of Caucasian hospitality - guests are a gift from God, blah blah blah, even if you were men they might have bought your dinner as a symbol of welcome to guests. You owe these men nothing and they expect nothing- you can leave any time without pressure. 


So maybe the Georgian perspective is correct, maybe I'm overly paranoid and mistrusting and cautious and unfair to all these lovely, considerate, welcoming men who only want to show their appreciation for the finer things in life - but it is very hard for me to discern who actually wants something from me and who is just being a "traditional Georgian man." Like the guy at the vegetable stand near my house who gave me some free rehani...was that a sign that he appreciates my high cultured womanhood (which sounds lovely, but also like code for he likes staring at my body), was it just a "welcome" gesture to a guest, or was it a sales tactic so I come back again and keep buying from him??
In America, we are skeptical of everyone's motives because capitalism has made profit the driving force of our actions. Authenticity is rare. Everyone is out for himself. 
In Georgia, I am skeptical of everyone because I have something they want (as a western woman I am usually perceived as wealthy and sexually promiscuous).

If it was just friendliness, wouldn't I get the same treatment from women? I don't. But maybe that's just Georgian social-gender expectations at play...

Maybe the default should be to accept discounts and free things and flattery without preconceptions, but I have found that that gets me into more trouble than a default setting of weary caution. 
And if you know me, you know that I am actually incredibly open and trusting of strangers, probably to a fault (as evidenced by the existence of this blog...). 

I have had and heard of too many examples of men taking this "traditional" thing too far for my own comfort. 
  • A taxi driver very cordially gave me a 1 lari ($0.47) discount when I accepted the price in exhaustion but sighed because I considered it too high. Then later when he asked for my phone number I was to worried he would revoke my discount to say no thank you.
  • A man befriended Kaley on the 6 hour marshrutka ride to Batumi (I pretended I didn't know Russian because I didn't feel like small talking aka invasive personal questions), bought us both coffee, and helped us figure out where we needed to get off the marsh. They exchanged phone numbers, but then he more or less stalked Kaley, calling her constantly just to chat, even when she was back in Russia, and tried to get a train ticket to Tbilisi just so he could ride with us and keep our company...
  • Me almost getting kidnapped in Armenia because I felt obligated to stay with my marshrutka driver after he bought me a coffee and comped my marsh ride...
  • I got a call from an unknown number. The voice on the other end said it was Giorgi (I know like 3-50 people named Giorgi, so this didn't narrow it down). Apparently we go to the same gym and he saw me and liked me so he somehow found out my name and phone number and thought it was appropriate to call me even though we had never met or spoken, and I had no idea who he was...
  • In Sighnaghi I asked the owner of my guesthouse for a restaurant recommendation for dinner and he invited me to a supra at his friends' house and it was amazing fun with many children and was very tame, then afterwards he doggedly insisted I come with him for a drink - I let him buy me ONE drink and then when we finally got back to the guesthouse I literally had to trick him so I could lock him out of my room because he wouldn't leave me alone and kept trying to touch me...
  • A friend and I are standing on a street corner waiting for a taxi near the street of clubs/bars late at night, speaking English. A man approached us, kept trying to talk, so finally I started replying and kind of messing with him. After about 5 minutes I asked him to leave us alone, and he got very angry, started insulting me, and right in front of a police officer (who did nothing once the guy bro-ed out with him in Georgian) pulled my hair, then followed us down the street and grabbed my ass. (this wasn't really a guy trying to be traditional and crossing some line, this guy was just a stupid jerk, but I wanted to share the story anyway, it somehow seems to fit...)
  • I could go on and on and on...

Is it acceptable for every single man I meet to ask me if I'm married and why I'm not and how old I am within 5 minutes of meeting me? Does it make it okay if he prefaces the question by "if it's not a secret, tell me.."?

Where is the line between respecting and exalting women, putting them on a pedestal, and restricting their role in society? Where is the line between traditional behavior and expectations, and silencing both men and women's voices by taking away their right to decide how to act towards each other? Where is the line between politely acknowledging tradition and implying acceptance of something more? I haven't figured that  out yet. 

When tradition dictates that men should treat women a certain way, that women should demurely accept such treatment, and emphasizes the separateness of men and women, there is a very small leap to make to disrespecting women, limiting women (and men), and minimizing women. 

At my office, it is acceptable (I suppose, because people do it all the time) to preen at your desk. It is normal to pull out a hand mirror and blot the oil from your face, or brush your bangs. Is this a sign of vanity? Of men oppressing women into standards of beauty so rigid than women feel the need to look perfect constantly, distracting them from their work?
I would argue, no...American women do the same things, just in the privacy of their bathrooms. Why wouldn't I apply lipstick at my desk in the US? Because it would make me seem too girly, less professional, less serious...why does being a professional woman mean we have to hide our femininity? We are still expected to look perfect, beautiful, clean, thin...but we are also expected to hide the construction process. Run to the powder room because we are serious women. In Georgia, women acknowledge social beauty standards, and those that accept them do so fully, in public, not hiding in the bathroom, and are not considered less professional for it - that's just what women do. Men and women are different - does this perhaps give women more freedom to be as they want? 
Unlike in Russian cities, where nearly all women conform strictly to high-fashion beauty standards, constantly in painful heels, full makeup, perfectly coiffed hair, plenty of women in Tbilisi rock fashion sneakers and screen t's a la 2009. While dark, heavy lipstick is on trend, it's also pretty common to forgo makeup altogether (particularly in the face-melting summer heat). 
Why does my colleague Vika come to work in flats, change into spiked snakeskin-print heels for her desk job, then change back into flats to go home? I don't know. Probably because she wants to, and no one thinks less of her for doing so. She is not a feminist (read below) and feels no pressure to be a "good feminist" accordingly...
Which system is more free? Which system is more equal? 

Bacho summarizes a common Georgian view: "my point is that: when you pay for a girl it does not mean that you are advanced [above women]. It is sort of expression of gentlemen's huge respect to woman. I absolutely agree with the idea gender equality. As for payment issues, it is like Our custom and great custom in my view point. In Georgia we [men] do not pay [for women in order] to get back anything. We simply pay as we respect Woman's phenomena and get pleasure with such kind of conduct" -B. Tortellini, 2016

Then Bacho asked Vika, if she felt her rights were violated in Georgia. She said that sometimes, yes, but not because she's a woman. She recognized that many Georgian women do have their rights violated, but not her personally. Bacho asserts that in Tbilisi and most of the cities women's rights are not violated.

Vika: "women's rights are not defended in Georgia. [but I don't consider myself a feminist because] I don't agree with any radical things. Maybe because I'm not violated, I don't know...there are so many other problems here."

So there you have it.
As much as I could write about feminism in Georgia in two hours (with a small break for birthday cake....). 
Bring on the pitchforks and torches.

King Tamar: a Georgian woman so smart, strong, and powerful
that they awarded her a male title.
Georgians tend to point to her as an example of their long-standing
gender equality and exaltation of women...

"No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I'm full of contradictions, but I also don't want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all." -Roxane Gay

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

21 Date Ideas in Tbilisi, Georgia

I don't go on many dates in Tbilisi.
Okay, I go on some dates in Tbilisi...
Let's just say I've been on my fair share of first dates in Tbilisi. 

I tend to find Georgian men confusing, unreliable, unpredictable, and mostly just interested in hooking up with a foreigner. That being said, I know some amazing Georgian men as well, but unfortunately my love life in Tbilisi has tended to arc away from those people...which probably has much more to do with how messed up I am and not so much to do with anyone else...
but anyway, enough about me! Due to my experiences dating in Tbilisi with varying degrees of success, I have compiled a list of date ideas for couples in the Georgian capital!

Some of these have come from personal experience, some from friends' and some I just made up...if anyone wants to test them out, give me a call   ;)

For First Dates...
  • If you're looking to impress your gogo (girl), a speedy drive in your 1998 BMW is always a good bet. Try going up to Turtle Lake, lots of hills to demonstrate your manual gear shift prowess (I should really not write posts about dating anymore, I am getting way too sassy...but actually Turtle Lake/Kus Tba is a lovely spot! You can stroll around the lake, get a bite to eat, and enjoy the sunset over the water).
  • A really WOW experience is to take the cable car from Dzveli Tbilisi (old town) up the mountain to Narikala/Kartlis Deda. There are amazing views from here, and you can walk back down and stop at a bar or restaurant on the way - this is best for those new to Tbilisi who have not done this before
  • Sample some traditional Georgian food - try the upstairs outdoor balcony at Samikitino/Machakhela in Old Tbilisi for a touristy spot but with incredible views. Another adorable cafe with jaw dropping views is 144 Stairs
    144 Stairs
  • Old Tbilisi at dusk is exceedingly romantic. After an early dinner, wander through the backstreets, listening to the sounds of children playing and grandmothers shuffling around in their yard slippers, sneak a first kiss under an ivy-laced balcony.

Budget Dates... 
  • Crisp tsinandali wine and a cheese plate at Moulin Electric on Leselidze/Kote Apkhazi St., then a stroll to the "hidden" waterfall in Abanotubani
  • Drive up to an overlook point near Didi Dighomi, lay in the grass and look out at the lights of the city for miles around
  • Watch a movie at one of your house's... (this is really creative, I know - spice it up with a bottle of Georgian wine).
  • For a warm summer afternoon, Tbilisi Sea is a fun (and free!) place to go have a picnic, swim a few laps, or work on your tan
  • Snag an ice cream from Luca Polare (less budget) or a mini-market (very budget), and walk down Rustaveli. Make sure to stop at the overlook at the Radisson Blu for spectacular city views
  • Explore the flea markets! Dry Bridge, Lilo Plaza, and Dezerter Bazaar each have their own flair. You don't have to buy anything, though bartering can be pretty fun!
  •  Have a picnic in: Vake Park, 9 April Park, Dedaena Park, or that other shady, grassy space next to Freedom Square metro
  • Botanical Gardens! This is a beautiful place to take cover from the summer heat, and there is a waterfall here as well. Last time I checked, it only cost 2 lari per person to enter - come on, you can afford that.
For Couples...
  • Bathtime at Abanotubani - you can rent a private room in the evening, bring some beers and snacks and enjoy an hour or so of soaking and pampering together
  • Catch a flick at the Rustaveli/Amirani movie theater, and afterwards wander over to Hangar Bar (expat hangout) or Dive Bar (you can have a drink or just play a game of checkers!) for a night cap
  • Take the Funicular up to Mtatsminda, where you can play carnival games, ride the Ferris wheel, or have dinner at one of the best restaurants in Tbilisi
  • Go to a shopping mall - here there is air conditioning, which, at this moment, seems very appealing to me. You can try Tbilisi Mall, East Point Mall, or, coming sometime soon-ish, Galleria Tbilisi
  • Try one of Tbilisi's fanciest personal favorite is Barbarestan (their live music Saturday night would make the perfect foundation for a proposal...hint hint future husband who I hope is reading this in 4-7 years). 
  • A trip to an Aquapark is a flirty and playful way to stay cool! I recommend Gino Paradise
Get out of the City...
  • There are several lovely outdoor restaurants in Mtskheta that aren't too far to drive for dinner - just keep in mind that someone has to be the designated driver!
  • The charming Kakhetian town of Sighnaghi is less than a two hour drive away. Due to it's 24/7 wedding registration office, Sighnaghi is known at the city of love. 
  • Or skip the Sighnaghi city center, and do a tour of the lovely wineries in the Kakheti region - a sample organized package like this is good if you don't have a car!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bathtime at Abanotubani: a How-To Guide

It's an early summer afternoon. The city has been cooled by the rain that swirled all morning. The normally chaotic sounds of traffic are muted by humidity. Lingering mist mixes with smog and dulls the normally bright colors of the street. It's the perfect day for a trip to the baths.

Abanotubani means "bath district." It is a region of Dzveli Tbilisi (the old town) that has been known for centuries for its therapeutic, naturally heated sulfur waters. Even famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and French author Alexandre Dumas enjoyed these baths in the late 19th century. The hot springs are an integral part of the city. The name Tbilisi comes from the Georgian word for "warm," and legend has it that the city was founded when the pet falcon of King Vakhtang Gorgasali discovered the hot water. There is some archaeological evidence of Roman-style baths in the area from as far back as the 1st century! At the city's height during antiquity, as a stop on the Silk Road, there were supposedly 63 baths in abanotubani. Today there are 5 baths which offer bathers a variety of experiences.
Orbeliani baths- the most famous (and expensive) option

This article breaks down and compares the different bath options.

Let me explain the bathing experience...

First, you pick a bath - I've been to both Bakhmaro Baths and Bathhouse No. 5. The striking thing about No. 5 is the beautiful mosaic tile work on the ceiling. The public bath is just one small room with showers, but it's very inexpensive (3 lari/person). Bakhmaro has pools as well as showers in the public bath. I don't remember the exact price, but maybe 4 or 5 lari/person for the public bath.

Second, you choose: public or private. A private room is good for couples or a small group of friends looking to relax (think of it like a post-Soviet pool party). Capacity and price varies (check the link above!). Public rooms are my go-to. It's kind of a fascinating sociological experience, and I really enjoy the utilitarian feel. It's probably one of the most immersive, assimilative things you can do in Tbilisi. You can sort of just float into the stream of women practicing the tradition of public bathing that has been carried out at this place for centuries.

Tell the woman at the front desk if you want public or private - sometimes one might be closed for cleaning or maintenance, so you may have to try a different bathhouse. You can usually also rent things at the entrance desk - towels, scrubbers, etc.

Third, you get naked. Descend further into the bathhouse, and you will find the locker rooms and public baths. The smell of sulfur immediately hits you, slightly burning your nose for just a moment until you adjust. Two or three old ladies will probably be sitting at a card table, maybe smoking or organizing something or just chatting. Show them your receipt and they will ask you if you want a massage or a scrub (pronounced mah-ssahzh and skrahb). If you say yes, pay them right away (in cash, of course, usually 10 lari a piece).

If you get a treatment, generally you will go into the shower room, do yo thang, and in about 10-15 minutes a woman will come in to scrub/massage you. Make sure you walk into the shower room completely naked (sometimes women will wear a pair of panties into the room and just take them off there, but remember everything you bring in will get soaking wet). If you try to take in a towel, you will get yelled at. The bath attendants will lock your locker behind you when you leave, so take in everything you want - shampoo, conditioner, soap, washcloth, razor - normal shower paraphernalia. Think of this as the most comprehensive shower ever. Women do everything you can imagine, including but not limited to: puma stoning their heels, combing their hair, shaving everything...
The shower room is a large hall lined with tile from floor to ceiling. Along the walls there is a series of shower heads, spaced about a meter apart. Some bathhouses also have pools of scalding hot water, and sometimes one of cold water. Pick an empty shower head and claim your space. Usually there are two knobs - one for HOT water and one of cold to dilute it. If you struggle to get the balance right (and/or accidentally spray cold water on your neighbor), the woman standing next to you will probably reach over and help you.

Fourth, you get scrubbed. There is generally a large marble slab that the woman will spray with hot water to make it comfortable (some places cover it with a plastic sheet, I suppose for hygienic purposes, but it feels kind of icky to me...). If you get both, the massage will come after. If you're trying to save money or time, pick just the scrub. A scrub takes maybe 7-8 minutes. Basically, you lay on the slab, in whatever position the woman directs you (usually face down, face up, then seated), and she goes to town on your butt naked body (she is usually wearing a bikini). Using an abrasive scrubber glove soaked in some kind of soapy vinegar mix, she rubs every inch of your body (well, not every inch, but almost), accruing little grey rolls of dead skin, shedding you like a snake. It hurts. If you have a sunburn, this isn't for you. You can point out any bruises or cuts you want her to avoid. I have extremely sensitive skin, and yes it's kind of painful in the moment, but afterwards your skin feels sooooo fresh and soft and smooth that the process is definitely worth it. Don't expect the massage to be luxurious. The women probably don't have any formal training, it's more utilitarian. The 5-10 minute rub-down of your muscles is a nice ending to the harsh scrub, but not strictly necessary in my opinion. After a scrub, you'll want to take another rinse in the shower/dip in the pool to wash off any lingering pieces of dead skin. 

Step 5, you emerge reborn. When you have had your fill of time in the hot, wet, steam shower room, simply turn off your water, gather your things, and walk your naked self to the exit. The cold air of the locker rooms hits your soft, puffy skin and tightens everything up quickly. The attendant should recognize you and open your locker right away so you can get your towel and dry off. Many women will bring a full supply of cosmetics - makeup, deodorant, perfume, hair spray, etc. There are often manicures/pedicures offered on the way out. Usually there is a small antechamber with a mirror and blow dryer you can use. 

Make sure to drink plenty of water, as the heat can be dehydrating, and the sudden temperature changes can make you feel dizzy and light headed.
Your new baby-smooth skin will probably last a day or two, but your memories of a butt-naked 70-year old woman bending over in front of you will last forever.

A note on etiquette: as I have discussed before, Georgia has a culture of staring. Here, it is just not considered rude as it is in the US. That being said, staring is significantly reduced in the bathhouse. A quick glance at the other bathers' nudity is basically uncontrollable impulse, but try to avoid eye contact. People tend not to be self conscious of their bodies, though, and I find the whole experience intensely freeing - sort of like streaking the UVA Lawn with your girlfriends  ;)
The communal spirit still thrives, I mean, you are sharing a shower, after all, and people are willing and forward in helping you if you seem to be confused or do something wrong. On the whole, however, the bath is a more personal experience. It is practical, functional. Most people don't consider this a spa day. Feel free to chat with a friend, but it's not that common.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Elyse at Peace in Tbilis(i)

My impressions of Elyse's impressions:

She flew in at night, and had a coveted middle seat, so she couldn't see much out of the window. Unfortunately, she missed the beautiful, glittery show of yellow-orange light that is Tbilisi at night. Instead, she said she saw just a few lights here and there and thought maybe they were fires burning in the desert. My first assertion to her was that Georgians are not Bedouins and that Tbilisi is not made up of roving bands of people huddled around campfires.

not fires...

We get to my apartment and the elevator is not working. As I have mentioned before, my elevator costs 20 tetri to go up and is free going down. Unfortunately, there is some coin jammed in the slot of the elevator so it can't accept money and thus won't go I had to make Elyse lug her small but dense suitcase up 3 flights of stairs...

Then, we get home, and there is no hot water. I thought maybe the city had turned off hot water for some reason, so Elyse and I agreed to just take showers in the morning and went to bed. Unfortunately, there was still no hot water when I woke up...but after a frustrating photo-chat with Lasha (who actually knows stuff about the apartment but is on a business trip for the week), I figured out how to reset the pressure on the water heater and fixed it - yay!

So I got a hot shower, but my luck did not extend to Elyse because when she woke up a few hours after I had left, there was no electricity...stories of Tbilisi in the old days (before Misha ~ 2006/2008) say that there were chronic power outages. I've read old articles from people warning visitors to carry a flashlight with them at all times in case the power cuts out when they're out in public. However, nowadays this rarely happens. Last summer there were a few days when we had no electricity or no water, but my neighbors and I chalked that up to the construction going on in the next lot. City-wide power outages are certainly a relic of the past. But of course, the first (only?) power outage of this summer happens when Elyse is home alone on her first day in the power means no hot water, since the heater is electric, and also no wi-fi. So she had to trek through my neighborhood looking for somewhere with free wi-fi. Eventually she stumbled upon some park with public wi-fi, and I was able to give her some vague instructions to get to my work...but she left the wi-fi zone before I could tell her exact directions or how much the ride should cost, so she is about to get a) majorly ripped off b) possibly very lost in the city center and c) enveloped in a torrential rain storm - because it's also supposed to rain the entire time she is here...fancy that.

So now I am at my office, writing of her epic saga, and fervently hoping to hear from her soon...preferably before these black clouds burst.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Times I got Way Too Mad this Week

  • When my penovani khachapuri was way too flaky
  • When my bread got moldy way too fast (3 days!)
  • When the taxi driver overcharged me by 1 lari (47 US cents)
  • When I went grocery shopping and in the checkout lane realized I forgot my wallet (actually this was really sucky)
  • When the elevator doors closed too quickly
  • When I had to run an errand at the embassy and was feeling all proud to be an American until I saw some joker had built a McDonald's right across the street...
  • When my office was too windy and half the people are gone because they're in Vienna at a conference *tears*
  • When my bus driver was super aggressive and honked for about 30 minutes straight this morning 
and it's only Wednesday morning...

Signs of Assimilation

You know you're beginning to assimilate into Georgian culture, when...
"Here Comes the Bride" playing in the background

  •'re staring at yourself in the elevator mirror and see your huge fake diamond ring glinting in the dim light and your first thought is "I should get married!" so you can have a real ring...
  • have a huge fake diamond ring
  • periodically transfer your ring from left to right in order to make people think you're married when it's convenient
  • start giving disapproving stares to girls who look foreign (the same stares that people have given you for weeks)
  • basically just stare at everyone all the time
  • start to judge men by what kind of car they drive
  • start thinking it's okay to repeat outfits like everyday
  • don't rush to catch the bus, because you know you can just flag it down and the driver will stop in the middle of the street 
  •'ve trained yourself not to smile in public
  • don't worry about getting sweaty while walking or on the bus because at least you're wearing deodorant, so you're better off than most people...
  •'re unphased by an old lady grabbing onto your arm for stability as she climbs into her bus seat
  •'re constantly aware of who is sitting on public transportation so you know who is first in line to stand up if an elderly person or a child gets on
  • don't actually speak Georgian but can 100% tell when people are talking about you and can generally understand the gist of a conversation based on facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, and the few words you can pick out
  • stop feeling guilty about eating khachapuri everyday
    I don't actually eat this everyday, but I probably would if it weren't so flaky