"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things
you didn't do than the things you did do; Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Daydream Worth Sharing

I am a product of an ambitious generation. I grew up in a community where I am known and accepted as a self-motivated, highly persistent, courageously independent, over-achieving woman of what few envious ones might call the perfect combination of dangerously energetic and appropriately collegial. And yes, I am unashamedly aware how smug and righteous my self-definition appears to an audience of strangers! I’m unapologetic, however, simply because creating a persona of this kind is specifically what motivates my actions and ensures my success in any endeavor. Or, to be more specific, and to strategically comment on how nonchalantly and unexpectedly the present perfect tense segues to past simple, it is what motivat-ed my actions and ensur-ed my success in any endeavor. I believe this self-characterization to be absolutely necessary in the initial pages of my travelogue in order to give a full portrait and latter comparison of the girl who excitedly and spontaneously packed up her home in Chicago for an adventure abroad, to the woman who is now residing in an addictively chaotic city situated in the northwest mountains of Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the southern state!)

I would consider myself an avid viewer of the Discovery Channel, and with the admittance of my guilty pleasure, I can confidently say that I’m aware of exactly what it takes to “make it out alive” in a very wild world. I will liken some initial survival tactics to the relationship between an adult lion and her cub using one word, and a word I am not particularly fond of: reliance. Helpless and ill-equipped with the necessary defense mechanisms, the baby cub is picked up by the mother’s razor sharp teeth and thrown into an empty and unknown field left to blindly make the transition from innocence to experience with the knowledge of nothing but the cub’s existence as…a cub. I, too, was taken from my maternal TLG (Teach and Learn with Georgia) staff members and placed in the center of an unknown and surprisingly frightening environment. The split frame of my personal documentary is still so vivid that even this daydream makes me uneasy. One minute I’m in a dorm-like hostel with English-speaking strangers bonding over complaints of Turkish toilets and over-salted meats, and in the next moment I seem to have disappeared and teleported, if you will, to a broken cobblestone street corner where a man is publicly purchasing inappropriate magazines of scantily clad American women from a street vendor and a five-year old girl brushes up against me and continues boldly ahead carrying a silver sequin hand purse and a pack of Marlboro Lights. And in this moment I am frozen and wear a crown of observant eyes so as to catch what strange visions continue before, behind, and beside me.

“Come on, Carla. Move!” A friend’s hand pats my shoulder and I am briefly startled as I wake to the reality of my surroundings. I’m dressed to impress in my black Cassidy Fit trousers from The Limited, a burgundy scoop neck blouse, and black suede loafers with stitched gold daisies at the toe. Naturally, I’m sweating profusely. I’m convinced that the sun on this particular afternoon, specifically to smite me, is hotter than it’s been in years—and my nerves are pulsating at speeds that even my mastered deep-breathing techniques cannot tame. It’s a Friday afternoon around 2:00 and we have found out less than 24 hours ago that we will be placed in the Samegrelo Region of Georgia in the city of Zugdidi. I am with eight other newly acquired friends who are also employed by TLG. We have just made the trek from our training site (better known as “summer camp”) in Kutaisi and are being filed into our Resource Center in Zugdidi for a meet and greet with our soon-to-be host families. At this point, we have no idea who our families are. So we are paraded inside and up the stairs as strange, smiling faces gape at us as if we were the walking, breathing equivalents of Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians. We enter at last a large room with couches (and more foreigners) and are asked to “relax” for a moment before our names and corresponding family names are read aloud—as if the suspense of meeting our new pseudo-relatives allowed for any relaxation! A few moments pass and we are called out, one-by-one, and asked to stand up in order for our new host families to identify us and approach for an awkward initial welcome. So I’m with my host family now and we exit the building, strategically arrange my suitcases into the back of their Mitsubishi SUV, and pull away for a day of visiting my school, the houses of various family members, and the Black Sea. And in this moment I am once again a cub—sitting helpless in a strange field of foreign faces—needing to begrudgingly rely on the immeasurable and intangible concept of time to get me out of the dark and into the sun.

Some consider reliance synonymous with dependence, but I prefer to scratch it out and replace it with “weakness”—because whom in a product of this seemingly indefinable and complex generation of adventure-seeking and highly determined folk actually enjoy being reliant or dependent on someone or something else to survive anyway? In fact, we are so independent and abhor the notion of giving credit or showing gratitude to anyone who may have helped in the process of getting ahead so much so that it took Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance to legitimatize the concept of having the capacity to manage one's own affairs, make one's own judgments, and provide for oneself. And with that my daydream concludes, and I will now make it my personal mission to be just that: self-reliant in Georgia, and in charge of my own emotions. I am dedicating the remainder of this week and weekend to learning at least five new things, meeting five new local people, eating five new foods (if my stomach will allow) and assuring myself that there are so very much more than five reasons to be happy and live happy in the grandeur of the Caucusus.

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