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What it was like to be forced to communicate non-verbally when sojourning in beautiful Georgia

July 28, 2013, 7:19 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 880

By riazhussain

When I was a child,  I knew the Caucasus as the land of fairies because I had heard and read fairytales which depicted the region as an inaccessible mountainous land where fairies and genies dwelled. Princes travelled to the place on flying carpets and undertook perilous journeys to fulfill the wishes of their would-be princesses. This dreamy impression about the Caucasus was broken by my Geography teacher who reintroduced the region as a land of minerals and energy resources such as oil, gas, gold, copper, coal, uranium and iron. He made no mention of the most important thing for me--the fairies. In these days, this resource-rich region is a land of opportunities. Our today’s story comes from one of the Caucasian countries, Georgia.

Georgia is located in the southern part of the Caucasus which is known as the Transcaucasus. Traditionally the country has been regarded as a Eurasian country because it is situated between Western Asia and Easter Europe. These days, it is a member of the Council of Europe. Its capital is Tbilisi, home to diverse cultures of the east and west and cordially welcoming to foreigners.

Let us hear the experiences of a foreigner in Tbilisi. 

Rashid is 25-year-old Asian youth. He studies at Tbilisi State Medical University. He has already done a diploma in dental hygiene. He is now studying further in the discipline. He wants to become a dental technologist. As a student in Tbilisi, you can continue your studies in English or in the official language of Georgia. 

Rashid says that education in Tbilisi is cheaper than in other European countries. The capital has better infrastructure than the rest of Georgia, and you can get rental accommodations rather cheaply. 

Georgian people welcome foreigners. They do not harbour any prejudices against incomers.

The laws of the country support foreigners. There are special departments that try to address the problems of the newcomers. There are no visa issues. The country is known for religious tolerance. It is also famous for good quality wine made from grapes. Shops close after sunset and open early in the morning.

Women in Tbilisi are seen everywhere, working in banks, universities, malls, shops and restaurants. The number of women working in public and private sectors appears to outdo the number of men in these various fields. They appear to take an active part in all social and professional walks of life.

The only problem for a foreigner who does not know Russian or Kartuli, the official language of Georgia, is communication. The vernacular has its own alphabet which is completely different from that which of the English language.

Since Georgia has been a part of Soviet Union for around 70 years, Russian culture has deeply influenced life in there. Most of the people in Tbilisi are foreign to English. They know either Kartuli or Russian. However, the young generation of Georgia is now learning English. 

WHen Rashid came to Tbilisi, he did not know a single word of Kartuli or Russian. He relied on his English skills but these did not help him. His communication problems started from day one when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport, or 'Tbilisis saertasoriso aeroporti'.

The airport officials knew English so he was able to communicate effectively and therefore everything went smoothly. He was welcomed with a bottle of wine. Rashid says that people in Georgia respect the time honored beverage. You may sound rude if you refuse to accept wine offered by your host. Holding the wine bottle in one hand and his handbag in the other, he went out of the airport. He found a completely different world outside the airport, a world where only a few people appeared to speak English.

Our traveler hailed a taxi driver. Without bothering to ask him about his destination in Tbilisi, the taxi driver eagerly took his bag and opened the cab’s door for him. When Rashid had seated himself in the taxi, the driver proceeded on and then asked him in Kartuli language about his destination. Rashid could not understand the driver’s Kartuli and the latter could not understand Rashid’s English, who then produced his friends’ address written in English in his diary. The driver was unable to read English. The driver took him to a bus stop, put his bag on the pavement along the road and demanded 25 Lari (Georgian currency) by showing him his cell phone on which he had typed  ‘25’. Rashid was confused. Now, with the wine bottle in his hand,  he was standing on the road and the driver was arguing with him. Through sign language he tried to request the driver to take him to his destination. The driver got angry because of the communication gap. He refused to take Rashid farther. In confusion, Rashid gave him the bottle of wine instead of 25 Lari. The bottle brought a positive change in the facial expressions of the driver. He was overjoyed to have the bottle. He put our friend's bag again in the cab and cheerfully welcomed Rashid to his cab again. This was 7:00pm. The driver stopped his vehicle in front of a pharmacy, which displayed its name in English. Rashid was glad to see a shop with an English name. He went to the salesgirl inside. She knew English and was able to guide him to his friends’ address.  At last he was able to meet his Facebook friend.

When Rashid started life in Tbilisi, he had problems in asking for directions. Communicating through sign language has made for some real-life funny situations. For instance, he had to make a clucking sound to make shopkeepers understand that he wanted to buy eggs. In order to buy pepper, he had to enact in front of the shopkeepers the facial expressions caused by hot peppery food. There were situations in which people have tried to exploit him because of his inability to communicate in the native tongue.

It has been nearly a year since he came to Tbilisi. He has since picked up a workable form of Kartuli and has made lot of friends in the capital city.

He keeps a pocket diary where he jots down every new words he learns from his surroundings. ‘Now things are going on smoothly’, he says. The law in Tbilisi is investment-friendly and permits him to launch his own company on his study visa. In addition, the country offers low levels of taxation and competitive labour. It is very easy to get a business license. Therefore, he is going to start a business of his own Tbilisi.

Rashid is impressed by the beauty of urban and rural landscapes in Georgia, which wear hoary looks in winter months when it snows. 

Rashid had never seen a snowfall in his life. In Tbilisi, he experienced the joy of it for the first time in his young life. In addition, he has been to tourists' attractions in Georgia such as Batumi, Poti and Rustavi.       

At the end of the interview, I asked him if he had seen any fairy in this Caucasian country. He took my words figuratively, replied in affirmative, and commented on his admiration for the snow-white physical beauty of the people of Georgia. Perhaps, we can surmise, the romance writers of the past romanticized this human beauty of the region when they wrote about the Caucasian fairies.

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