Sunday, December 26, 2010

City mouse, country mouse

I think the original fable by Aesop is actually entitled, "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse," but Tbilisi is more city than town, so I've used the word "City." The moral of the story is that it is better to have less and live in peace than to have more and live in fear. Fear is not a factor for me; I am not afraid of anything - city or country - but the striking contrast between the two has been on my mind since I've been in Tbilisi, and it has been a common topic of conversation with my fellow-TLG teachers. Four of us gathered together yesterday - James, Katherine, Brad, and I spent the day hanging out, catching up, and comparing stories from our respective schools and living arrangements. Katherine lives and works here in Tbilisi; Brad is in a good-sized town about 20 kilometers away; James and I live in small villages. There is a very big difference between the city/town life and the village life. I know that I am stating the obvious, but when I stop to really think about it, each area has its own sub-culture within the national Georgian culture. And I've discovered which I prefer - surprisingly, it's the village!

Don't get me wrong - I love the city. I loved the few months I spent living in Vancouver. There is always something to do and someplace to go. I think that in the U.S. or Canada, I prefer living in the city (or, at least, very close to one). But here in Georgia, I am very glad that I am in a village. I had requested to be in a more urban than rural area for my TLG placement, but because of my temperament, personality, and travel experience I was placed in Shamgona. Basically, TLG thought that I could handle living so close to the Russian-occupied territory.

After spending a couple of days in the city and comparing notes with my friends who are living and teaching in urban areas, I am glad that I live in the village. I am spending much less money, for one thing! If there is nothing to buy or do, then I don't spend any money - and my marshutka drivers know me by name and won't take my money, so I don't even spend money on public transportation. The sense of community is much stronger in the village. Although sometimes it may feel a little stifling to have everyone know everything about me and what I am doing, I would rather have that experience while I am here than have no one I interact with or pass on the street know me. Traditions are held strongly in the village, and though I wouldn't say that they have been abandoned by people in the city, the traditions are not readily evident. In the village, tradition is as visual as it is lived. Dress, habits, housing, livelihood, food, possessions - from a visual standpoint, I know I am in Georgia when I see these things in the village. In the city, I could be in any previously Soviet city in this part of the world - the visually evident culture is much less specifically Georgian. In the city there are so many more choices of entertainment, food, and activities, but I kind of like having nothing to choose from. For the time being, I am happy following the same routine every day, having ambling cows and pigs in the road instead of speeding taxis and busses, seeing the same people every day, having only dance class as an option for group recreation.

In the village, life is less comfortable, but warmer - not temperature-warm, but heartfelt-warm. The cultural experience that I am having in Shamgona is much richer than I would experience if I were in Tbilisi. As nice as it is to be in Tbilisi for break to see the sights, eat something other than Georgian food, and be able to walk down the street to find something to do, I am glad that I will be going back to my village for daily life and work. Just like the country mouse, I am happy having "less" -- although, in this case, I think that less is more.

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