One of the biggest reasons why it was so difficult living in Georgia is because of the fact that it was impossible for me to blend in. Even if I spoke Georgian perfectly, there was never going to be a day when people wouldn’t notice that I was different. That was one of the differences that volunteers of color faced whereas white volunteers were able to blend in much easier.
When did my name change?
Here’s an excerpt from my journal dated September 1, 2011
As I was headed in the bank, this guy just kept saying Zangi and it took a lot of constraint not to use profanity. it made me really angry. Sometimes I just want to scream…
Here’s a little background about the word Zangi. Well the interesting thing about this word is that the definition varies depending on who you talk to. Some people will say it only means black person whereas others will say it’s a derogatory word that has a similar meaning to the N word. There exists a slightly more appropriate word in Georgian which refers to black skin but it’s rarely used. Either way, it’s very frustrating to be called something that only refers to the color of your skin. I would have preferred to have been called foreigner or almost anything but whenever people called me Zangi, it just infuriated me. After I would get to know a person, I would tell them that I don’t like that word and they would usually comply. I also think there’s a difference when you can tell someone is saying something with malice opposed to just being ignorant. This was a word that I heard on a weekly basis. I chose to use this as a teaching moment and I taught my higher level students why this word is offensive and why it shouldn’t be used. I told them how it made me feel when I heard it and I think for many of them, it was their first time looking at that word from a different perspective. A few weeks after the presentation, I went to a football game with some of my students. There were people from of the neighboring villages so of course, I was the talk of the town as usual. However, there was one boy in particular who kept saying zangi and one of my students corrected him and told him he shouldn’t say that. In that moment, I could not have been more proud. That is something that I will always remember. Because Georgia is a very racially homogenous country, many people are not used to seeing people of color.
Staring Contests All Day Everyday
Another challenge of living in Georgia was the fact that staring was such an accepted behavior. This was something that I never got used but I did have to learn to expect it and accept it. From a young age, I can recall my mother telling me it’s not polite to stare. In Georgia however, I learned quickly that people do not try to hide the fact that they’re staring at you either. It’s more likely that they will tell the people they’re with to join them in staring at you, lol. If I had the energy, I would stare back but most times I just did my best to block it out. However, there’s also ways to find humor in it. I remember one day when I was jogging along the road, a woman almost got hit by a car because she was so engulfed in staring at me. I found it to be hilarious but I hope she learned that lesson the hard way. Another thing is that staring never gets old, there were people that I would jog by on a weekly basis but that didn’t make them stare at me any less. I know that most of them were probably just shocked to see a black person in their small town but even still it was annoying. In some ways, I felt like a celebrity. I knew that if I walked out my house, somebody would probably take a picture of me and I would probably incite a staring marathon among the townspeople. However, there were some advantages to being different. One day when I was in Batumi, while I was seated in a cafe, I was approached to be in a commercial. At first, I thought it was a joke but they were very serious. They were shooting a commercial for the Batumi International Arts Film Festival and they wanted some diversity so they asked yours truly to be a part of it. I couldn’t resist so I made my acting debut in Georgia. Now that was a great experience. Check the video out!
Can I touch it?
Having natural hair also caused quite a commotion. It was very common for me to be in a store and all of a sudden, someone would be touching my hair. I was never asked if they could touch my hair, I would just feel someone’s hand in my hair. I would just politely smile and walk away. Can we say awkward. I didn’t get upset about it because I knew it was out of curiosity. My hair was different from theirs so I understand why they felt the urge to touch it.One of my 8th grade students consistently begged me to straighten my hair. I tried to explain how it’s a process to get my hair straight but his pleas continued.
Somewhere in Georgia, there are random pictures floating around of me in someone’s phone. How did that happen? Well, most days when I was in the city center or just out and about I was asked for a picture. Sometimes, they would want to be in the picture too or they would just snap a picture without my permission. When I first moved to Georgia, it didn’t bother me as much. As time went on, it got old really quick. I could just be walking down the street and a mob of kids would stop and try to take a picture with me. Though flattering as it may seem, it wasn’t very fun. I’m not someone who likes to be the center of the attention but in Georgia, I didn’t have much choice. Mothers for some reasons really liked for me to take pictures with their babies. Most times, I would have to just laugh because there wasn’t much else I could do about it.
My first year in Georgia was definitely the hardest. It was a year of growth. I was able to see people for who they really were and I was also able to see what I was truly made of. It wasn’t easy living someplace where I stood out but it made me a much stronger person. More importantly, even with all the challenges that I faced while living in Georgia, I met some amazing people and have made some lasting friendships that continue to this day. My host family that I was blessed to live with are still a very big part of my life and they are so much more than a host family. They truly are my second family. I’ll talk more about them in an upcoming post.
Truthfully, living in Georgia was not a cake walk. There were times when I wanted to quit, times where I cried my eyes out but there were also times when I felt like I was making a difference. Georgia is a country that will always have a special place in my heart!