Monday, October 8, 2007

Hand cramps of the rich and famous. Or: seriously, can I get an aspirin or something?

A difference between Georgia and America: in America, my boss used to allow me to drink a beer out of the minifridge in his office on Friday evenings at the end of the work day. In Georgia, it is Monday, and my computer is being threatened with deadly harm if I do not comply with my coworkers' request to pound shots of firewater cognac.

A difference between Georgia and America: in America, you need to either (a) be accomplished in your field and famous for those accomplishments or (b) show your vagina a lot to photographers in order for your signature to be considered of value. In Georgia, you need merely to be American, I guess.

Confused? I was, too. This weekend, I was in Kutaisi (the second largest city in Georgia) along with many other volunteers, helping to run a breast cancer awareness walk that is set up every year by the Peace Corps volunteers who live there. My job was to record the proceedings on my videocamera, for part of a breast cancer informational video that I will hopefully be helping a fellow volunteer to produce over the next several months. So I was standing around before the race, with nothing in particular to record at that moment, when I was approached by three giggling fifteen year old Georgian girls. One of them help up her camera phone and said the Georgian word for "Is it allowed?" (sheidzleba, if you care, which you don't). I assumed that she meant, "Can you take a photo of us?" This, friends, is not what she meant. She wanted to know if I would let a friend of hers take a photo of her with me. I have seen this phenomenon before -- usually in bars, where drunken Georgian men sometimes want to take photos OF us, not usually WITH us -- but the enthusiasm of these girls was perplexing. I told them I would, smiled for the camera, and thought little more of the incident. But then, a short time later, I was approached again by a group of other girls with the same request. This time, after I said yes, I was descended upon by a horde of them, and I spent the next ten minutes with my arms uncomfortably around the shoulders of young girls, smiling for camera phones.

Then it got even better. The horde of youngsters who were milling around the park, waiting for the walk to begin, decided they wanted autographs. Not just from me -- how I wish that I was such a prototypical specimen of Americana that mine would be the most desired signature -- they were asking all the volunteers to sign t-shirts or notebooks. None of us knew whether we were supposed to write anything alongside our names. One volunteer started writing, "Awareness is the key!" next to his name. I wrote, "Thanks for coming!" for the first girl, and then just started signing my name -- on t-shirt after t-shirt after t-shirt. Eventually, another volunteer and I decided it would be fun to turn the request on its head, and we started asking the Georgian kids to sign our shirts. Turns out a LOT of them thought this was a great idea. I now have an official breast cancer walk t-shirt covered in the signatures of barely-pubescent Georgian youth. It may now be my second-most-cherished Georgian item, behind my "friendship match" certificate (see the photo post from several weeks ago).

Apparently, I was also on the news Saturday night, within the footage taken by Georgian journalists of this walk. I may have been captured on camera purely incidentally while I was backpedaling in front of the large banner being carried at the front of the walking horde, filming the First Lady of Georgia talking to another volunteer. Whatevs, you know? Pshhh. It's not the first time I've been on the news in this country. I am not actually certain that I've told this story; we'd only been in-country a week, holed up at a hotel for orientation, and we were finally out in the real world, in a large throng to meet our new host families for the 10 weeks of training. The Georgian media was there, and one channel stuck a camera in my face and asked, through a PCV translator, whether I liked Georgia. I was hot, dressed up, nervous to meet my new host family, and not really thinking. So I said, "Georgia is awesome!" and gave the camera a thumbs up. This was then shown to what I assume to be the entire country on television that night. I got several text messages about it (the host family I met shortly after this encounter does not have television, so I never actually saw it), and I have yet to live it down among my groupmates.

I keep saying it, friends: Peace Corps life is tough. Getting on the news, talking to the First Lady and the American Ambassador, signing can take a huge toll, mentally and physically. My hand is all cramped up, for instance. And my stomach hurt on Saturday night because I ate too much pizza and bean dip at a pre-walk soiree held at the fancifully appointed home of the American head of a large NGO here (where I spent a weird few minutes chatting about baseball with the aforementioned American Ambassador, who is a very nice man from Wisconsin named John Tefft). Please spare me your sympathy, and redirect it instead towards the children. All of them. They require your sympathy. Because they're insufferable buggers. Some things are not different in Georgia. A 2-year-old child yesterday, for instance, threw up in a marshutka on my friend's bag, and didn't even apologize or offer to help clean it up before he started bawling cutely. Jeez. Pull yourself together, kid. It's a hard world out there.

1 comment:

ruth said...

Yes, when we went to Tiananmen square it seemed that we were actually the attraction, so many people asked to have their picture with us. Though it mostly seemed to be older men asking. I think you had the better deal.