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The Dispatch

Dispatch – November 5: Policy of (Self-)Containment

Greetings from Georgia, which – surprisingly – did not go through any fresh, self-invented political crisis last week. But do not despair: just as the autumn sun has been more than clement, and the political temperature is expected to follow suit this week, when the EU Commission is slated to deliver its recommendation about granting Georgia its much-desired EU candidacy. Depending on the outcome, we will either have a week of “told-you-so” posturing and finger-pointing or a routine two-day fight on who takes the credit. Most likely, though, the EC would muddle through, leaving everyone with a dizzy feeling that they won but with a sour aftertaste and perhaps even a hangover.

Until then, we have only average scandals and new(ish) sexist insults on the menu. The week’s highlight has been less prominent male MPs from the ruling party finally getting much-craved attention by coming up with creatively derogative phrases to describe their female colleagues. And, in general, that’s all you could see on TV these days: things getting spicy in the plenary room of the Georgian parliament or the walls of smaller self-government bodies, MPs showing the usual unrestrained aggression… Blame it on our southern temper or on global warming, if you must. But turns out that Georgians can be very good at self-control, even if it’s mainly at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Here is Nini and weekly Dispatch, and please cover your ears and nose – because it’s getting quite noisy and stinky in here.

Why Georgians are afraid of drinking lemonade

“Gurjaani residents are demanding public toilets to be opened. The issue has been quite problematic, locals explain. The respondents say that the absence of restrooms has defiled various parts of the town. According to the head of infrastructure service of the Gurjaani mayor’s office, toilets have been installed in the Papa and Bebo Gardens [local parks] as part of Renewed Regions [government program], but they are not functioning. If in the future some company shows interest in leasing the toilets, the issue will be resolved,” reads the October 27 report of Gurjaani TV, a local media agency covering the Gurjaani municipality of Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region. 

News like these occasionally appear in Georgia’s regional media. What’s the deal in reporting “real day-to-day issues,” some may ask?  And yet, it is a big deal. It takes some real taboo-breaking courage to publicly complain about issues like this in a nation that never pees outside the home. At least, not avowedly so.  

Take a closer look at the news report above. The reason the locals are asking for public toilets is that they are bothered by the stench. But they (prudishly?) avoid saying what the source of that stench is. The act of satisfying the natural needs in a public space is left inside the mental parenthesis. And while the brave citizens gesticulate and resort to euphemisms, local authorities, appear to regard public toilets as some luxury that only works if profit-seeking investors take interest. 

Yet there were times when the issue would get more detailed coverage.

“Why are [locals] afraid to drink lemonade?” was once the opening line of a viral news report that, again, addressed the absence of a public bathroom at a railway station in one of Georgia’s western provinces. “Men will walk over there and do it; what are women supposed to do?” one aged woman complained to the reporter, exposing a very gendered nature of the problem. “Should I carry a can with me?” asked another respondent, a decent man to whom “walking over there” did not seem like the best option. The main concern of that report, however, was again the stink. And, as usual, local authorities looked unbothered – those toilets had been under construction for over a year and didn’t appear to be opening their doors anytime soon.

To pee or not to pee

It’s hard to trace when exactly we all got so ashamed of our own nature. But that shame has been creating problems for years. Long rides in intercity transport used to be a scary experience because there were hardly any public toilets on the road. If there were some, visitors had to use them at their own risk and immediately erase those moments from memory.

Then, finally, tourists (may God bless their existence!) complained, and the issue got media attention. The articles would describe the horrors experienced by big tourist groups as they struggled to find a place to empty their bladders. Eventually, steps were taken to address the issue. At least, temporarily: Tbilisi Mayor recently announced dismantling 36 automatic restrooms installed across the capital city a couple of years ago after locals vandalized them beyond repair. A representative of the City Box restroom company later added with deep frustration that the “public was not ready to have modern restrooms.”

Will toilets, this time more resilient ones, be making a comeback to Tbilisi streets anytime soon? We don’t know, but even if they do, the general problem won’t be going anywhere. After all, there are still places across Georgia where tourists don’t venture long enough for nature to issue its insistent call. 

 They’ll be asking for a shower cabin next

Take, for example, a remote suburb in Tbilisi known for overpopulation.  Fearful of turning into a concrete jungle, the local community recaptured one of the last remaining green areas from developers and pushed the authorities to build a big park. The park was ceremonially opened, and the locals happily started crowding the place. It was then that one woman finally decided to climb one step higher on her pyramid of needs. Having worked up a rare championing spirit, she dared to ask on social media why no one thought of installing a toilet in a busy public space.

You know how it happens with taboo issues: the question quickly got everyone’s attention, and many felt an irrepressible urge – this time, to weigh in. Commenters swiftly divided themselves into two opposing camps. One, more male-dominated, camp refused to take the issue seriously, even mockingly asking why not have a shower cabin put into that park as well. Another camp, mainly composed of women, seemed more considerate of the delicate yet pressing needs. They agreed that they, too, sometimes struggled to find the right place whenever their kids wanted to go. Because where we don’t have tourists, we still have kids to project our needs to, god bless them! 

But the trick didn’t work this time: another group of responsible citizens shared kind advice on how to carry a “bottle” around for toddler emergencies. Lost in democratic conjecture, the decision was postponed indefinitely.

Just drink less water

The problem remains, and so does the question: where do Georgians go whenever nature calls? One theory is that the nation developed some exceptional self-mastery. Take an hours-long trip in a Georgian marshrutka (vans used for public transportation), and you won’t hear anyone ever asking for a pit stop. They all depend on the driver’s initiative and mercy – if he (it is usually a he) is inclined to show any. If he doesn’t, that’s not a problem either: people appear to have learned to control their water intake while their bodies have evolved to repress basic needs once they leave their comfort zone. The policy of (self-)containment works at its best; no one shows any impure desires, and everyone continues to live as honorable citizens.

Or do they? Because, then, what is it that defiles those towns? Or where does that stench come from? Is it perhaps the bitter tears from self-denial that are tinged with ammoniac? Or is it that the country’s most dignified citizens repress their legitimate urges at the wrong time, only to release them in the wrong place? And who knows, maybe the worrying trend isn’t limited to a toilet problem?

Anyway, give us some time. Life has been bitter for many of the country’s broken citizens. We are still learning. We’ve learned to make lemonade whenever life has offered us lemons. But, turns out, we are yet to learn how to drink that lemonade without fearing the consequences.


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