Unknown Waters

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I love swimming! The only problem is that I can’t actually swim. What I mean is I know how to swim—I know what I’m supposed to do—but the situation seems to change slightly when I get into the water. And by slightly I mean the kind of difference between my three-year-old’s mental image of a cat and his actual drawing. The kind of difference between floating and drowning.

My husband, who has been blessed with a ridiculous amount of calm, was able to swim the first time he put his mind to it. He says that the key is staying calm and allowing the water to do the job. Easy peasy!

If I could only count how many times I’ve heard, “Just relax.” “Stop fighting the water.” “Trust me, I’m not going to let you drown.” “You know, you’re not going to die if you let the water go over your head for once.” “Are you really expecting to swim with your nose above the water?” And so on.

Last summer in AFM training, we were thoroughly prepared for everything that can (and will!) go wrong in the field. Like a swimming lesson on dry land, we were taught how to swim in foreign waters, and we got a detailed picture of what to expect. We received the equipment, the support, the demonstrations and the testimonies of colleagues who jumped into the water before us. Everything was provided except for the actual experience. The dreaded words “culture shock” were on everybody’s lips, and the magic promise “you will get over it” seemed to bring a lot of reassurance.
After finishing all our lessons, just like that, we flew to Georgia and jumped into the water. Shock would be an understatement. All the theory about swimming came back to my mind, but my body naturally kept fighting for fear of drowning.

“Keep calm,” I told myself as we left the airport and stepped into this foreign land. The cold 5 a.m. air nipping at my children’s tired faces. Stray dogs circling us in hopes of a handout. The roar of an old engine as we were driven to our new, still unknown home. The persistent smell of cigarettes everywhere. The skeletons of decaying buildings in the dark and quiet night.

“You might swallow some water, but that’s okay,” I remembered as I wondered why our apartment had such unnaturally high ceilings and whether I would need a ladder to reach my kitchen cabinets. For a while, I struggled to understand and to make peace with the most basic parts of reality. Just like swimming in deep waters, we had to trust ourselves and our training in this country where the language doesn’t sound or look familiar, where everything tastes different, where driving is an adventure, and traffic gives you stomach pains. A country where comfort has a very unique definition, and where every simple task seems to take double the time it should.

“Don’t fight it, embrace it. You’re not going to die.” I eventually stopped trying to understand why the heaters are hidden behind high dressers, and I started to enjoy my warm clothes in the morning, imagining I’m taking them out of the microwave. I’m trying to get used to the drivers having no concept of lanes, and I’m starting to appreciate their willingness to make way with the same eagerness they cut you off. I made peace with every stranger giving our son handfuls of candy and found the joy of eating it myself after he falls asleep. I’m slowly learning how to be less offended by the dozens of grabby hands that reach for my baby every single day, choosing to appreciate their love and also my hand sanitizer. Even our kids have gradually gotten used to the sound of racing scooters at 3 a.m. and have learned to sleep trough the blare of loudspeakers advertising in the morning. Oliver is mentioning Walmart less and our local stores more. He now says “Gamarjoba!” instead of “Hello!”

We are, very slowly, learning how to relax and float on stormy waters. We have the certainty that soon we will focus less on survival and more on the beauty of these waters. We will get to the point where we actually enjoy the experience, and it will feel natural and peaceful. We know that nothing beautiful ever grows in the comfort zone.

Right now, another hurdle we are facing is that the cost of living in Georgia is significantly higher than estimated a few years ago. The country is developing fast. If you are interested in partnering with us on this amazing journey, please consider becoming a monthly supporter and join the team. You can help keep us afloat. Thank you!