Monday, December 20, 2010

Tradition (part 1 of who-knows-how-many)

Ever since the day I compared Shamgona to Anatevka (from Fiddler on the Roof), I have often pictured Tevya dancing down my road singing, "Tradition..... tradition..... tradition!" Tradition is very, very important in Georgia. Every older person here in Shamgona probably has similar soliloquies to Tevya's regarding the importance of keeping their traditions. And, as with Tevya, I imagine only the pigs or cows get to hear these monologues. I'd love to hear someone go on and on about their difficulties, Tevye-style, but with my limited Georgian, I wouldn't understand much other than, "Bevri problemaa" ("There are so many problems" - a common answer to, "How are you?").

The traditions here in Georgia have been kept for centuries....some for millennia (hard to fathom, I know!). I have experienced some of the Georgian traditions already (suphras, toasts, wine, hospitality, dance, church), and as we are entering a holiday season, I will be witnessing more first-hand. Living among such deeply-rooted traditional people has made me reflect on my own traditions.....or, rather, lack of traditions. For the last several years I have rid myself of anything I considered a tradition. I'm not exactly sure why. My therapist and I didn't get to this topic before I left Pennsylvania....I'll process it more and write about it when I have some ideas. I know that "tradition" will be a common theme in my posts while I am here. But I digress -- in the classes with my older students, we have talked about Christmas and New Year's celebrations, and after they've told me what all of their practices are, they always ask what mine are. I have had to think back to when I was young and tell them about those days - Christmas stockings, caroling,  Dad reading the Christmas story to us, drinking eggnog, Mom cooking an amazing dinner, decorating the Christmas tree, giving gifts (not necessarily in that order). But now my traditions are nil. My tradition has been to be as untraditional as possible.

I am not going to get into the purpose of tradition (not in this post, anyway), nor why they are important -- but I have realized that they are. Tea and I have had some very good conversations on the topic. Georgians are changing some of their traditions, and we've discussed the good and the bad of the changes. And in our discussions, my observations, and my own processing, I have decided that it is important to have traditions. So what are mine? I don't know yet. I haven't gotten that far in my thought process. But through my many recent life-changes (divorce, moving, job-change, moving again) and therapy I have gotten back in touch with my emotional self. This is the part of me that missed all the wonderful things about holidays that I had rejected. The part of me that is moved by music. The part of me that now cries at my sister's facebook post of her choir singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" in the mall. The part of me that is deeply moved by a friend's post of the Celtic Women singing "O, Holy Night." The part of me that loves the sparkle of Christmas lights as much as the sparkle in the eye of a loved one. The "ghost of Christmas past" has come to visit me. (Yes, I switched from Fiddler to A Christmas Carol.)

And, (back to Fiddler), here I am, "far from the ones I love." Is it just part of culture shock that I miss things that I didn't miss even though I wasn't doing them in the U.S.? Culture shock is an emotional stress. Missing the holidays and my loved ones is magnified not only by the difference in culture, but also by the distance between us. Even though I saw my sister this morning on Skype before I went to school, I am still very aware that 6,000 miles and nine time zones separate us. I am having some rough moments lately with culture shock (stage 2: irritability and annoyance at the new culture). I want snow, not palm trees. I want the songs I know, not ones I don't. I want pumpkin pie, not pelamushi. But if going half-way around the world has helped me to realize that I need to re-embrace some of my lost traditions, then it has been a worth-while trip in my own personal growth.

New adventures on the horizon, right? That's the name of my blog. Now I'm embracing the new adventures and opening my heart to some old ones.


  1. nice writing...I appreciate your thoughts on traditions!

  2. I find it interesting you are nostalgic for parts of American culture you didn't partake in, but miss it being an option at all maybe? Will you be staying in Georgia all throughout the holidays or do you get to travel a bit? I imagine the schools will have a break, so what will you do while not teaching?

  3. Justine, we have almost a month off, so I will be traveling with some of the other TLG teachers. We are planning to see some of the sights in Georgia and then spend time in Istanbul. I look forward to it!

  4. sounds wonderful - safe travels! I'll be in Georgia with the January 30th group!