OpEdNews Article --
Title: Cold, Dirty, Hungry
Catherine Lawrence -- June 3rd, 2015
They say that being a PC Volunteer is the "Hardest job you will ever love"; and, I can absolutely agree with that. I would not trade this experience for anything. I can attest to the fact that there are many aspects to this experience that are joyful, fulfilling and overwhelming rewarding; but there are also other aspects that challenge me to the point of distraction. The distractions of being Cold, Dirty, Hungry are my current personal challenges and ones that I deal with in my daily life here in order to accomplish and complete my service.
I begin with my being Cold in Georgia as it was a new experience for me. The reason being is that central heating is not really a part of the world that I live in. Back in the States when I was cold I just turned the thermostat up. Well, that is not happening here. Heating where I live is provided by a "pechi", which is a small wood burning stove. I love the "pechi" and it is a powerful work horse; but often times the rooms are much larger than what the "pechi" can accommodate. If I sit right on top of the "pechi" and have multiple layers of clothing on (and sometimes a blanket); well then, I usually stop shivering. I do have a small electric space heater in my room; however, it is very expensive to run and the size of the heater just cannot accommodate the size of the room. Blankets (plural), sleeping bag and multiple layers of clothing; including winter coat, scarf s as well as a hat, are often part of the bed time routine.
In the school where I teach we have central heating; however, many of the heating wall units are broken and for whatever reason no one coming in and out of the school shuts the outside doors. Many of the windows are broken or they don't close completely, so the outside cold air coming in discounts whatever heat is in the school. We all attend classes wearing coats, hats, boots and gloves and sometime schools dismiss early if it really to cold outside. Often it is warmer (or I feel warmer) outside rather than inside; so, needless to say, most times I am just cold.
Being Dirty is not really a new experience for me as sometimes in the States I missed a day, or two, of not taking a shower; however, that level of dirty is not to be compared to my experience here. Depending on water availability and/or if it is warm enough in the bathroom to take a shower (no heat in the bathroom) the longest I have gone without a real shower is twelve days. That time period was a rare occurrence; as most times I usually can get a shower once a week.
Initially having a shower once a week was a distraction that filled my thoughts. At about day five or so I was worried about body odor and I felt itchy and forget about what my hair felt like! The wet wipes do help; but they cannot do what soap and water can accomplish. In addition, I was just feeling the reality of being crummy. Now, I am not digging ditches so I am not "dirty, dirty" (if you know what I mean); but, I feel so much better and willing to take on challenges after having a shower. I laugh at myself when I am all showered and clean as I then sniff and smell my arms to take in the fragrance of real soap. People who see me do that also laugh with me as they can relate. Putting on clean clothes on a newly showered body is a joy that money just cannot buy!
I have left for last my challenge of being Hungry here in Georgia. This is at the top of the list as I struggle with this more than any of the other challenges. In my old life, as I differentiate between pre- Peace Corps life and current Peace Corps life, I used food in many capacities that it was not intended to fill; that is, comfort entertainment, pleasure, diversion and I am sure the list can go on. Here in Georgia really food cannot, for me, fill any of these categories.
To begin, I am not that enamored with the cuisine here and even if I was there is not an abundance of food in my situation. I want to be very clear, my readers, that Georgian food is loved by old and young alike; however, just as I don't care for Indian Food I don't care for Georgian food. It is my personal preference and I don't mean to offend anyone. Everyone has likes and disliked and I am not different in that category.
In my world there is mostly bread, potatoes and pasta. Sometimes there is salty cheese, eggs, beans and vegetables and rarely beef, pork or chicken. In addition, where I live the quantity is minimal. For example, a meal could consist of a dessert plate size of cold (or hot) mashed potatoes, a bowl of cucumbers and three or four small pieces of chicken. Bread is always plentiful. Sometimes two or three loaves of bread are eaten at a meal. This meal would be for six people. I am told to "eat, eat"; however, there is not much there to eat. My family gives me what they have and I am grateful. I realize this is normal for the family; but, it is difficult for me.
I have clocked meals here with my host family lasting often five minutes. Food is not an event here; it is just sustenance. We eat, rarely talking, and then move onto whatever chore is next to do. We stack the plates and then walk away from the table.
Where I live there are no options for anything other than Georgian foods; so what I need to do is travel into Tbilisi for food that I would find abundant and fulfilling. I also order packaged food from the States, like oatmeal, tuna fish and peanut butter, in order to fill in the food gaps. Mostly now I just look for foods that can maybe satisfy some of my nutritional needs rather than the emotional needs that once upon a time I used food for. I still miss food; and most of the time I am hungry, but the good news in all of this is that I have lost sixty-seven pounds, to date, as food has evolved into a different classification for me.
Of course there are many, many more challenges but I write about being Cold, Dirty, Hungry as one night my last thought before I fell asleep was that "I am Cold, Dirty, Hungry" and worried about how to cope with all this and what to do!
Well, the next morning, as I walked to school, I was told when I arrived that it was a holiday that no one told me about and there was no school. So, I got on the marsh and went to Tbilisi where I was able to be in a warm place (without fifteen layers of clothing), take a hot shower and have a fabulous meal at one of the hotels in Tbilisi. When they say "What a difference a day makes" was certainly true for me. I returned refreshed, clean, well fed and ready and willing to take on the multiple challenges of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.