The Uncertainty Principle

The Coen brothers really like using the Uncertainty Principle in their films. I completely lack the kind of mind to grasp the actual physics of it, but the way that the Coens use it in their films really speaks to me. All of their films are really about the nonsensical nature of the progression of human events. A great line from A Serious Man: “The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on. But even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on mid-term.”

This is kind of how I feel whenever I start traveling, or whenever I put myself into a new situation. I never know what’s going on, but at the same time I am responsible for navigating my way through the chaos. The nonsense of it all really does humor me, and as miserable and stressed as I get, I really enjoy putting myself into these situations where the nonsense is more acute, so I can laugh all the harder (simply for the stories.) And now, trying to learn the ropes with a new teaching job in Georgia, I have jumped jumped off the cliff into the abyss of uncertainty once again.


Part of the appeal of having a host family is that the host family is supposed to provide meals for the volunteers. But without a host family, Me and my Pakistani host brother were curious as to what exactly we were to do regarding our daily caloric intake. So our first day and a half in the dorm, we weren’t really sure what to do. The first night we went across the street to a dingy cafe/pub, and stared blankly at the Georgian letters. I had no clue… I pointed at something, which I thought might be those meat dumplings I’d heard about, Khinkhali, and ordered ten of them with ludi, beer. Success. Meat dumplings and beer. We could see and hear the staff looking at us and laughing. I asked for the menu again, and painstakingly tried to match the word for kebabs, qababi. More points and laughs from the staff, but no matter, we had qababi. When I asked for the bill, angarishi, tu sheidzleiba, she brought it, spelled out in English: “20: twenty laris.” More smiles and laughs. The next day when walking around Kutaisi, we had a similar experience in another pub. But this time instead of pointing and laughing at us, they brought the bill in Georgian script, mysteriously five laris more than we had expected. I didn’t know where to begin complaining about the price.


I called one of our project coordinators, to ask what would be happening with caloric replenishment. She urged me not to worry, that things had been taken care of, that soon the dormitory would have a cook, but until then there would be someone at the dormitory taking care of us and giving us nourishment. I had called from a couch in the long, lonely, empty hallway, and not five minutes after I hung up the phone, I heard echoes from the depths below. Four floors down, a door closed and slow footsteps started up the stairs (kind of like in the caves of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring: “They are coming.”) Hmm, I thought, this place is basically empty, so I wonder if those footsteps are coming for me? The footsteps were slow coming up all those flights of stairs, and soon enough, I saw a head pop into view, and then a large man approaching. Hello, I am director of this institute. I am here to take you to eat. His phone rang, and he picked it up, and shortly afterwards handed it to me. Hello Steven, this man in front of you is the director. He will take care of your food for the next few days. I felt very much like K in The Castle. Instead of the Land Surveyor who has come to town, whom everyone knows about, but doesn’t know how to start his job, I am the teacher who has come to town, but doesn’t know anything about what’s going on. We all piled into the car and he took us out to a very nice dinner. We picked up his secretary along the way, as it was International Women’s day, and he treated her to dinner as well. We made toasts to all the women of the world (I should have sung a toast – “All the Ladies of the World” from Flight of the Conchords! It probably wouldn’t have gone over well. I would have been simultaneously taking Women’s Day and Georgian toasts lightly.)


I am clueless about my life in Georgia related to my job as well. We got to Kutaisi on Monday evening. Tuesday was Women’s Day, and schools weren’t in session, so we could walk around the city. Wednesday, however, we would make an appearance in the vocational school to meet the school director, and then in the evening both me and my Pakistani counterpart each had an evening lesson with “Resource Managers,” with whom we will be working two hour sessions, three evenings per week. We had driven past the vocational school, but we had no clue where our lessons in the evening would be. Nor did we know who our Georgian co-teachers were, anything about the students themselves, their level of English, or what we would be teaching them for two hours.


I hadn’t even really known I’d accepted this position; when I had expressed interest in it, I had thought that before I’d be given the position I would either receive more precise information, or at least have to put my name on the dotted line somewhere. Not so. I’m not complaining; I’m open to letting myself be blown about in weird directions without having much control over it (It’s what I signed up for, isn’t it?!) The epigraph to A Serious Man is a quote from a French Rabbi, Rashi, “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” Plus, knowing how much down time I will have with this job, and that it’s a little bit extra pay, the extra position will actually be good for me.


Not knowing what’s going on, but at the same time having responsibilities within the framework of chaos, is extremely stressful. Oh, but I love it all the same. If I wanted order, I wouldn’t have come here. And if things were orderly and made sense, what fun would that be? What would I write about?

One response

  1. I’ve enjoyed following your Georgian experience so far, interesting stories. It reminds me of first arriving in the Dominican Republic, except I had the benefits of a host family. Keep up the good writing, should be quite an adventure.