Thursday, August 02, 2007


Here in Dimi the oppressive summer heat has arrived—humidity, sweat, glaring sun, sweat, offensive sweat, even more sweat, and ... well, you can’t believe how much sweat. It’s disgusting. As a native of the mild climate of the northwest I’m ill-prepared for this type of heat. All winter I felt pretty smug about my ability to withstand the cold in my unheated room with cold wind blowing in through gaps in my windows. I am now eating my words from when I called everyone else a sissy for their heaters and long johns and complaints about the cold.

Even after a few weeks in the humidity of Washington DC in July, I was not prepared for another summer of sweltering heat in Georgia. And unlike the semi-hot places I’ve lived previously, here there is no AC, no rotating fan, no nothing.

I open my window at night in hopes of a slight breeze and instead all I get is bats. I rest in my bed, under the semi-protection of my mosquito net and watch these creatures do frantic laps around my room. I assume they’re supposedly looking for the exit, but mostly they seem content to nest in my curtains and circle about above my bed. The least they could do is eat the mosquitoes and moths that invade my bedroom, but they do nothing of the sort. So I sweat it out in my room and thank God I was given some sort of rabies vaccine.

Unlike back home, there is no washing machine to take care of my stinky T-shirts and shorts. Unlike certain spoiled American volunteers whose host mothers diligently hand wash their clothes (and iron their underwear—Seth), my own host mom is much too progressive and modern. I didn’t even have to put up a fight about who would do the laundry. When I first mentioned that I needed to wash my clothes, my host mom showed me where the sink and buckets were and left me to it. It should be noted that I have not been allowed to wash any dishes.

I’m completely in favor of liberating the women here from their unfair share of domestic chores, but this noble attitude unfortunately entails a lot of work on my end. At a minimum it would be nice if my host mother hadn’t laughed at me for the blisters I got the first couple times I washed my clothes by hand. But I am a noble guy, an ardent feminist by this country’s standards.

Recently, my girlfriend Paige visited. She is beloved by my host family. Her only fault, according to them, is that she is too skinny and that she refuses to eat enough.

Her latest visit won major points as she made chocolate chip cookies. She also won over my host sister’s baby, as little Mariami followed her around like a lost puppy. My host mother was very impressed with Paige’s domestic skills and motherly instinct, pulling me aside to tell me what a “good girl” she was and how she would be more than happy to tell Paige’s parents what a “good boy” I was. So Paige has her backers. But is she really such a wonderful potential wife?

Allow me to display exhibit A.

It was a ridiculously hot summer day and I was sweating profusely. Paige alleged that I was not smelling very fresh, which is really a very rude thing to tell someone regardless of how very, very true it might have been. Actually, I believe her comments were something along the lines of, “Ryan, you stink. You should take a shower and wash your clothes.”

I admit, my clothes were not smelling of roses. And yes, I attempted to remedy this by washing them with Barf brand detergent. And despite it’s poor name, Barf is a fine detergent and I stand by it and would recommend it to friends.

However, despite my host mother’s kind words, Paige is NOT a good woman by Georgian standards. Even after I made her wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches she still absolutely refused to wash my clothes for me.
Oh, sure, all of you back in America are shocked by that comment, but it is the norm here in Georgia. Women do laundry and cook and clean. What do the men do? Well... I can’t pass that one by the censors so just never mind. Use your imagination.

This is not the first time that Paige has refused to do her female duty of washing my clothes. Oh, sure, she does wash her own clothes by hand, but her refusal to wash mine makes me look bad. A previous visit involved her reading a book in the sun while I washed my clothes, all the while the neighborhood men, uhm... consumed responsible amounts of alcohol in my yard and looked on in disgust. I appeared very shameful in their eyes. I appeared to be a bit of a pansy. And worse yet, Paige appeared not to care. Oh, sure. I open car doors for her, kill spiders, give her my coat on cold walks, offer up my umbrella, glare at leering men on busses and all the rest, but does she reciprocate by scrubbing my socks and shirts? No. She does not.

So here I am, washing my clothes and hanging them on clothesline, while my dear Paige just sits around chatting with my host mother, drinking coffee and discussing the weather. By Georgian standards this is wrong, and aren’t we supposed to be culturally assimilating?

But before you all send cards of condolence please know that here in the world of Georgia there is a catch to this gross unfairness. There is a strange silver lining to these “traditional gender roles.”

On a recent night, I found myself at a large Georgian supra with Paige and a handful of other American girls. And, unfortunately, I also found that I was the sole American male. This supra was very traditional and that means the women sit and talk and the men drink, uhm... considerable but responsible portions. I’ve come to fear such situations. And as the sole American male amidst a number of Georgian men there was a lot of added pressure on me to drink.

I’m a fairly competent drinker (for an American), but the stakes are much higher over here. One has to drink a lot, but also maintain sobriety, something that is completely unfair given the amounts involved. One tries their best.

Over the course of 4-5 hours the wine poured far too freely for my liking. I was stuck at the end of the table with the men and we drank glass after glass of wine. And when the glasses proved to small for the gravity of the toast, my fellow drinkers broke out larger cups, various larger vessels and even bowls, just to up the ante. For the sake of my mom and the Peace Corps officials reading this blog I won’t say how much we drank, but it’s fair to say that it was enough to bring down a family of camels.

Sitting two seats away from Paige I bravely kept up with the Georgians and represented my dear America most admirably. By the end of the supra the Georgians were impressed. I was declared a “good boy” and a fine drinker and a credit to my family and country. I was encouraged to leave my village and move to theirs’. We were now brothers and I had proved my worth.

When it was finally over Paige expressed how impressed she was with how I was able to keep up with the Georgians. Did you catch that? She was impressed with my drinking.

And there you have the strange contradiction of life for Americans living in Georgia. If this was back in the states and someone had gone out and drank like this, any respectable girlfriend (Paige especially) would have ripped her boyfriend apart for such irresponsible behavior. But since this is Georgia, and the rules are different, Paige gave me a pat on the back for holding my own. When does anyone in the states ever hear their girlfriend say “Way to go! I can’t believe you were able to drink so much.” This is a rare place and time. The rules are very different.

When I return to America, I look forward to not washing my boxers in the sink with my bare hands. But even more so, I look forward to not drinking a good portion of my body weight in wine out of social obligation. Oh, Georgia. You are a strange and magnificent land. Possibly bad for the health, but quite a place all the same. Wait, can I say that? Maybe I should mention the many curative powers of their mineral waters. They say the mineral waters are very good for the liver and kidneys.


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