Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gluten Free in the Greens is Moving...

Physically but not virtually. The Science Teacher and I just accepted teaching positions in Tbilisi, Georgia, for the next two years. Wow.

There's a back story here that needs to be told. Once upon a time there lived an undiagnosed celiac girl who loved all things Slavic. She discovered Russian in high school, majored in Russian in college, spent a year in college rumbling around St. Petersburg, worked in Odesa, and finally ended up in Sofia to jump start her Bulgarian. After that long travel bender, she landed back in Virginia without a job.

She fixed on Vermont for her new destination. Vermont featured an ex-boyfriend, who wasn't quite ex enough, and, man, was it a gorgeous state (yup, I'm one of those people who moved to Vermont after having spent a summer there--quite a shock when those -25 degree F January days rolled around). She got an Americorps VISTA position at Middlebury College, rented a U-Haul, and drove north. Hello life.

Middlebury was only supposed to be a pause between trips. She went to the Peace Corps info sessions that fall on campus and put together her Fulbright application to study Bulgarian poetry. Everything was going according to schedule.

Then came Thanksgiving. She'd met a girl from Middlebury during the summer who was coming home from grad school for the holidays and who invited her to dinner. Sounded close and familial, so she accepted. She rang the doorbell and was ushered by her friend's mom into the kitchen with her mushy Granny Smith apple pie (I still have no idea what happened to that pie). And there stood the Science Teacher in a plaid shirt. He got her a glass of wine, they sat down beside each other on the couch and discovered their Swarthmore (her)-Haverford (him) connection, and the rest is history.

Within a weekend a half, we'd been on a snowboarding date. Within two weeks, we were pretty much inseparable. Within seven months, we were engaged, and a year later we got married in a Quaker ceremony in his parents' backyard.

But in the midst of this lovefest came my Fulbright letter--I'd gotten my grant. There wasn't ever really a question that I'd go without him, but our relationship wasn't quite advanced enough to see him quit his job and us married within a year of knowing each other--that's what we would have had to do if I had decided to take the Fulbright. But I saw where our relationship was heading, and I liked the trajectory. As most of my relationships have shown, whether one works has a good deal to do with timing. I've dated some wonderful men, but I never found someone who was in the same relationship head space as me until I met the Science Teacher. I knew enough to not reject that connection lightly.

In the end, I sent the letter and gave up my grant. The Science Teacher has always felt pretty guilty, especially when I'm going through a tough period. I don't really dwell on it--my decision has given me a partner who I love and who can communicate; the opportunity to go to grad school, discover that I like teaching, and figure out that teaching could be an interesting way to live abroad; and have a supurb Little Pottamus.

One of the things that brought the Science Teacher and I together is our desire to see the world by travelling but also by living abroad. As teachers, we have a better shot at actually doing that than most--there are hundreds of international schools that employ certified (and non-certified) teachers to enlighten kids from all sorts of countries. When I decided to give up the Fulbright, we shook on the fact that we would live abroad together someday. We've been talking about ever since, but there has always been something to stop us: grad school, student teaching, the Little Pottamus. This year, however, we decided to get serious.

Turns out this year isn't a great year to get a job anywhere, much less in an international school. The job fair we went to had many more candidates than jobs. After a fraught weekend, however, we managed to come away with an offer to teach at the QSI International School of Tbilisi. I won't say much about Georgia here since I'm sure there will be much more in the future. Check it out on wikipedia.

Of course, moving to a developing country brings up all sorts of issues when you're trying to follow a special diet. When I lived in Russia, I was trying to be vegan, but after a while, I just got tired of lentils and kidney beans and rice. Thankfully, I can and am willing to eat dairy products this time around, but I know this adventure is going to force me into adaptation mode again. I've been thinking a lot recently, especially when I was reading Straight Out of Bed Cakefree and Dried for the Adopt-A-Blogger event, about how much a lot of us have had to give up in terms of our diets and how much resilence and creativity we keep showing no matter what we--voluntarily or not--take away. After reading Sally's recent post, I'm guessing that we're all constantly adapting, getting comfortable, and then having to push ourselves to change again.

In past posts, I've talked about how frustrating it can be for me to feel the need to take a suitcase full of food every time I travel. Of course, I love having my favorite cereal in the mornings and Larabars when my blood sugar dips. But I also think longingly to the days of me, a small backpack, and six weeks of train hopping (of course, with the Little Pottamus, those days are long gone, regardless of my diet). In some ways, this move will be the next big push for me--I won't be able to order special gluten-free food, so I'll be limited to what I can carry with me and to what I can convince people to bring me.

I have my hand grinder so I'll be able to grind nut butters as well as flour from whatever whole grains I can buy (probably millet, white rice, and kasha). Dried fruit and nuts will be readily available, as will all sorts of yummy dairy products, some kinds of dried beans, and probably root veggies in the winter. In season, I'll be able to buy all sorts of fresh veggies and fruits.

I'm also excited about the changes this will obviously bring to this blog. I'll probably blog fewer recipes and more about my experiences finding food in Georgia and explaining celiac to strangers in Russian.

If you've read this far, thanks! Here are a few questions. If you were moving to a foreign country, would you try to bring as much special food with you as possible? Would you accept that you'll have to give up certain foods--like my favorite quinoa--and adapt to what's available? Would you compromise and eat questionable foods, such as oats, in the name of nutrition (I should note that I don't have immediate or severe symptoms when I've eaten gluten)?


Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

What an exciting time for you! I'm so happy for you.

I say pack up a big shipment of your favorite gluten-free foods to have someone to ship to you once you are settled. Then you can ration out what you love but still have some access to it.

And know that those of us who read your blog will always be happy to send you something you're particularly missing out on when you're there.

From what I understand, in that part of the world, you should be embracing millet wholeheartedly when you're there. I doubt their economy is based largely on wheat since they are a developing nation. (It seems more common in areas that have given up local farming.) It could be you'll find it easier there in some ways---I would imagine you'll be more reliant on a local system. (Then again, I could be full of crap---it's not like I'm really familiar with Georgia.)

As for the oats, European standards for celiac say that oats are fine. Perhaps that's because you're more likely to get fresh oats that are less likely to be processed with wheat there? (I don't know.) I would probably try them if I were you and I were getting stuck with the same foods over and over. Eating the same foods day in and day out isn't likely to be great for you nutritionally or in terms of enjoyment.

I've thought about this same type of issue, because we're considering options in Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. after my husband graduates this summer. In our case, it's because the economy is so bad here---the options that were available even months ago are drying up in the US. But I know that living abroad will take us on another path that will be a good path, if that's where we end up. And I'm sure that I'll embrace new foods if we do!

Naomi Devlin said...

It sounds like the most fantastic opportunity. I think you'll adapt really quickly - especially with your mill in tow! I think Sally is right to suggest taking some of your favourite foods from home while you adjust to deal with homesickness/food cravings.

But you can make larabars from scratch at home (better in my opinion, as they are fresher) and you will find buckwheat flour I'm sure. Remember that there's always the internet too. You can order flours by mail and store them in the freezer if you need to.

But best of all, all the natural foods; meat, fish, diary, vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains are naturally gluten free and fabulously healthy. I look forward to seeing what you come up with - and some delicious pictures of Georgia too!

x x x

Simply...Gluten-free said...

Sounds exciting!

Check out my latest blog post for a great gluten book give away http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2009/02/gluten-book-give-away.html

Ellobie said...

What a great post! I remember that girl even before she was a Slavophile. :) I am elated at the love and peace you've found and excited for your upcoming adventures. Good luck sweetie!