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A Legal Alien

By Ana Devdariani
Tuesday, December 31
Ana Devdariani. 20. I am a Journalism and Mass Communications major student from the American University in Bulgaria, with minors in Literature and Philosophy and Religions. Iím pop-culture savvy, like documentaries and graphic design, and am very much invested in human rights and gender equality.

I spend the majority of my time in a multi-cultural melting pot that is my university campus. Iíve lived a little in the Baltic Sea region, the US, the Balkans. They call people like me the third culture kids. People, who have spent a good chunk of their developmental years outside of their parentsí culture. Now that Iím back in Tbilisi for the first time in a year, the cultural shock is beginning to settle in.

I should perhaps lead with a disclaimer and say that I love this country. I do. Itís the closest definition of home that comes to my mind. And it is because I love it that I feel entitled to criticize some aspects of it so harshly.

Here in Tbilisi, I am finally a part of the ethnic majority, yet never before have I felt so completely minoritized. There is this uniquely grim mindset in the country that makes me feel uncomfortable and on a few occasions - unsafe. Here, you donít smile at people on the street, you donít greet the clerks at the grocery store, you avert your eyes and walk away when you crash carts with someone at the supermarket - you donít operate on the base understanding that you have to be nice to people.

People ask questions but they donít listen to your answers, they just wait for their turn to speak again. And this inevitably results in everybody constructing their own highly subjective version of the truth because they jump to conclusions without processing the information theyíre being given.

And they ask all the wrong questions. Iíve been back three days and have re-united with most of my extended family by now. Youíd think they would inquire about my studies as a journalist, my articles, portfolios, my travel stories. Youíd be wrong. They ask about the weight Iíve lost, and the color of my hair. But all they really want to know is if there is a boy who likes me.

This last issue is the core of my discomfort, really, being a young woman without an immediate agenda to get married in a country with a deeply patriarchal set of values. My mother calls me a feminist, in a way one would call out a neo Nazi. My father grunts about me scaring potential suitors away. And Iím just deeply saddened by the fact that the most interesting thing about me, to them, seems to be whether I have managed to win the affections of a boy.

More than anywhere Iíve ever been, people here are obsessed with appearances. I love fashion and style is important to me, but it boggles my mind that what they wear and how they look can be the most important aspects of a person - women in particular.

What really scares me, however, is how unforgiving the society appears to be. Failure is an inevitable part of our lives and Iíve learnt to embrace it, value it and live with it. Here though, itís as if youíre not allowed to mess up. There is this clear-cut definition of success and people tend to bend over backwards trying to fit the mold.

I realize these issues are not limited to Georgia, but I do believe there is a certain abundance of ignorance and aggression unique to our country that spouts from the absolute veneration of religion over the state law.

That matter is deserving of a whole separate blog post, but speaking of religion, last night I found myself roped into a conversation about the best spots in town to purchase a fasting cake Ė an oxymoron in itself Ė for the New Yearís celebrations.

Itís only been three days, I tell myself, give it time. I hope Iím right. As the rest of my stay trickles by, I hope Iíll find thereís more I love about my home than fine food and gorgeous scenery.