Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Struggle of Transition Part 2

The price of a dozen large eggs in one of Tbilisi's most upscale grocery stores is $1.43 (3.35 GEL).
The first image when you Google "კვერცხი" (eggs in Georgian)

The price of a dozen medium eggs in a discount grocery store (Kroger) in a medium sized US city (Charlottesville, VA - metro area population 206,000) is $3.59.
the first image when you Google "eggs"

Of all the things I struggle with in transitioning back to my life in Charlottesville, the pain of prices sticks around the longest.

I adjust to the slow, tedious (cautious, law-abiding) driving
I adjust to the soul-sucking humidity 
I adjust to the unsolicited smiles, greetings in store aisles, friendly head nods from strangers
I adjust to the freedom of being able to jump in my car and travel a thousand miles on a whim (I don't actually plan on doing this...just knowing that it is possible is very liberating)
I adjust to blending in and easily camouflaging myself among throngs of young college students
I adjust to people eating dinner at 6 pm 
I adjust to wearing gym clothes and sneakers in public
I adjust to being on the same time zone as my family and half my friends (and to being on a different time zone than half my friends)
I adjust to knowing that I won't be spontaneously invited to anything fun
I adjust to knowing that when I plan things they will actually happen the way I expect them to

but it will take me a long time still to adjust to prices.

Food is such a ubiquitous part of our lives, and I really only learned to shop, cook, and eat as a completely independent adult while living in Russia and Georgia, so grocery shopping is an especially poignant presentation of the contrast between my life "over there" and my life "over here" (those descriptions make sense whichever life I'm living at the moment). My memories of buying fresh produce on the street from my friendly neighborhood grocers (who knew my order of 1 large tomato and often gave me free basil and cilantro) are so vivid and beautiful that paying 4-5 times as much for sub-standard food is incredibly frustrating.

Georgian vegetables

But it's not only food that kills me. The first thing I did on American soil was catch a taxi from the airport in Dulles, VA to the train station in northeast Washington, DC. It cost me $80 for a 45 minute ride. I was appalled. Granted, everyone knows this is a ridiculously expensive service, and I would have avoided it if I could. I just couldn't get over how I could take a marshrutka from Tbilisi to Moscow and back for less money! I could take a 3 day bus from Tbilisi to Istanbul for less money! I could rent a room in Tbilisi for 3 weeks for less money!
Yes, this was a contract taxi and the fee is heavily regulated - it killed me that I couldn't haggle. And yes, it likely provides a steadier, and higher income for the driver, but in the old country this is just not the way things are done. 
Yes, the taxi was a new model, had comfortable seats without rips, stains, or cigarette burns, had air conditioning and a meter and turn signals and all pieces of the bumpers were intact...but I have just become the kind of person who would rather save money and sit in a sweaty, bumpy, uncomfortable, half-broken, ancient van with 15 other people sharing my fate than be isolated in expensive luxury.

With that said, you eventually adjust to almost everything. Give me a private driver and leather seats for long enough and I will soon reject the idea of the marshrutka as anything other than youthful nostalgia. 

But I like this version of myself better. I would rather complain that things are too fancy and too expensive for me than complain that I'm too fancy for things (and trust me, I'll be complaining about something).
I talk more about American elitism and the expat dilemma here.

"I guess I prefer to be the judgy know-it-all expat than the ethnocentric ex-pat who tries to force their new home into as similar a replica of their old home as they can"

All this being said, I have found it much much easier to adjust this time around than the past two summers. 
one more year in this lovely place

In just one week I have already adjusted a lot. I think there is something easier about knowing this is my last year in Charlottesville (finally!), and being able to look forward at my future feels really good and solid. I have a whole year to figure out my post-grad plans, so it is not overwhelmingly stressful (not yet, at least), and I do feel like I am able to enjoy my time here knowing that it is limited. It's ONLY one year, and then I'm free, so I don't feel as trapped as I have in the past.

Really this year at school there are so many exciting projects I get to work on, and while overall I prefer a more spontaneous, uncertain, challenging life, there is definitely something to be said for comfort and security, and I am trying my best to enjoy it while I'm "over here."

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