That phrase is an oxymoron. Well, almost. There are quite a few volunteers here that are vegetarian. They succeed to a varying degree at having a healthy diet in this country. Ok, let’s face it. There are a lot of omnivorous volunteers that are having trouble with a healthy diet. I know too many people who eat bread for every meal. Only bread. Sometimes with butter. I know other volunteers that only get bread and potatoes. I count myself among the lucky ones! I get a decent variety of foods and always have enough! And even if I did not have good food at home, I still have the option of going into the city and eating. Anyway, I digress.
Back to the Georgian Vegetarian. Last Thursday while sitting in McDonald’s a volunteer stopped at my table and asked if I was interested in joining her for a meeting with a representative from McDonald’s. A few other people and I sat in on the meeting. The Georgian gentleman was named Giorgi (surprise surprise), lived in Tbilisi and had been working at McDonald’s for 5 years or so.
His purpose for wishing to speak with us was to offer the use of the Birthday Room for English related activities for the community.The Birthday Room is a smallish room that has a TV, projector, sound system, and nice big table. A few times a week “Cotton Eyed Joe” can be heard blaring from the speakers and children can be seen dancing and throwing around balloons.
Giorgi sees that this room is not used very often and wants to utilize the equipment and space. Besides that, he also wants to open peoples minds about getting out of the house. Coming from Tbilisi, he feels that Kutaisi is very closed and there is a lack of children friendly places. His idea is to eventually work with the schools to have school related activities or special events in the Birthday Room as well as offering other activities there. At the moment, negotiating with the schools is going very slowly and he thought about contacting foreign volunteers in the meantime.
We were offered the use of anything in the room, the room itself, and the potential to have our activities advertised in McDonald’s. All in all, he was very enthusiastic and a few of the volunteers have already brainstormed some really cool ways to use the room. One friend had his students make videos and now he wants to use the room to having a showing to the parents. He would not be able to do this without use of the Birthday Room because he only has a small laptop screen otherwise. Another volunteer is having a play and is considering using the room to preform the play. I have been trying to come up with some things to do in the room (it is a pretty cool room) and have not had any luck at the moment.
During this discussion a vegetarian friend asked why veggie burgers were only offered on certain days during the week. This started a long conversation and slide show. Giorgi disclosed that he had been vegetarian for 15 years and was now in fact vegan. The concept of a veggie burger being offered at all during the week was his. He counted the number of vegetarians in Georgia (200 or so) and calculated the days for fasting (not eating meat for religious reasons). According to Giorgi, fasting is currently in style and sales on fasting days goes down drastically. So, he presented the idea of offering veggie burgers and vegan fries on Wednesdays and Fridays and any other fasting day. McDonald’s agreed and now there are veggie burgers and vegan fries.
The slideshow presented the idea of vegetarian. Most Georgians do not have meat on a regular basis, but they still do not understand the concept of vegetarian. They will ask if it is for religious reasons and often tease and taunt those who are vegetarian (so I have been told by my vegetarian volunteer friends). My friends tell my the teasing is in fact in good humor and is not offensive, just gets very old and very annoying. I can imagine! I have been asked by my host family about a foreigner they know is vegetarian and why she is vegetarian. It is funny to have to answer about someone else’s dietary habits and beliefs. Oh, well.
It was very interesting to see that Giorgi not only was vegan, but that he was taking steps to educate the Georgian population about vegetarianism and veganism. Working for McDonald’s is probably a very good place for him to spread the word and actually make a difference because McDonald’s is fairly influential in this country.
All in all, meeting Giorgi was really interesting and refreshing. It was great to meet non-generic Georgian man. He was clearly motivated to succeed, he wanted to promote and educate about vegetarianism, and he wanted to create places for people to be outside of being home. I am glad for that random encounter!