Wednesday, February 9, 2011


"Speedy" will never be one of my nicknames. I am not fast - not when I run or walk or drive or do pretty much anything. But compared to Georgians, I could be Flash Gordon. If I want to walk alongside anyone, I have to walk at a pace that is almost painfully slow, otherwise I end up 20 feet ahead of them within thirty seconds. A snail's pace seems to be the pace at which most of life happens here (except for dancing, then it's blazing fast). I've been thinking about why everyone exerts as little energy as possible in every action (again, except for dancing), and in my wondering have come up with some interesting thoughts.

The slow pace affects many, many aspects of productivity in work and school. Nothing is ever done ahead of time. Everything happens at the last minute, and although everyone complains about it, nothing changes. Work is done just hard enough to keep the family and community existing at the status quo.

In the cultural training classes I took with my intake group the first week I was in Georgia, we identified a large list of underlying attitudes that affect a people's cultural practices. Today while looking at the list, I noticed two of the things that got me thinking about the snail's pace of Georgian life: tempo of work and incentive to work. In processing these two attitudes in light of what I have observed, I think that the tempo of work is a result of the incentive -- or in the case of Georgian culture, the lack thereof!

Georgia was a part of the former Soviet Union, and under that communist rule, there was little incentive to work..... at least to work hard. No personal gains were made by working hard -- it was all done for the good of the whole. And it seems that Capitalism has not yet caught on (outside of Tbilisi) although Georgia has been independent for two decades. When the Soviets lost power, they closed down many, many factories that had been the main source of jobs for many areas of Georgia (and Armenia). When I was in Yerevan with my fellow TLG teachers before Christmas, we took a tour of "Soviet Yerevan" and saw many, many abandoned factories on the outskirts of the city -- huge, hulking masses of crumbling concrete and rusting rebar that lay like giants of industry abandoned to the soot and dust of disuse. We drove for miles passing one vacant monstrosity after another. Our tour guide talked about working there during the "high times" of the factory-production (he hadn't worked there, but played a comedic, tongue-in-cheek role of someone who lived and worked at that time). The only incentive was to not get fired. Not many workers did much actual work. They showed up every day, and then did as little as possible.

This is the attitude toward work that I still see in so many people here - adults and students. Unemployment among men is rampant since the Soviet Union dissolved, but that was twenty years ago. What are the men waiting for? For the government to create jobs for them. A few have taken initiative and created their own businesses, but capital is needed for entrepreneurial ventures. In the Soviet system, few individuals made enough profit to become independently wealthy enough to finance their way to a better future. And so, they wait. Standing on the street in knots of black leather jackets and cigarettes -- role models for the upcoming generation of teenage boys who already exhibit the same lackadaisical symptoms in their inattentive (or completely absent) school work. As I look around me, I see little effort from most to make their lives better.

Maybe some don't want anything more out of life, or maybe they just aren't willing to work for it. The word "lazy" is thrown around daily to describe anyone who doesn't put forth any effort in their work. I think that maybe the laziness has been taught to the young people as a result of the adult's attitude toward work under the Soviet rule -- but now, with the absence of Soviet-style consequences coupled with the lack of available jobs, there is almost zero incentive to work.

Life here is hard. Maybe everyone is just tired. Every opportunity to sit down is relished with a huge sigh of "Deda....." Keeping one step ahead of defunct must be wearing. Weariness overshadows the incentive to work any harder than existence dictates.

So the pace of life is slow. Energy is not expended unnecessarily. And while I walk along with those I live around, I'll slow down to their speed. (When I dance with them, I'll work hard to keep up!) And while moving so slowly, I'll look for ways to inspire some new incentives that can propel the youth along a different path to a better future.

No comments:

Post a Comment