I am very sorry to learn that sometime between 2007 and today, I was robbed of my favorite Diplomat-mocking talking point. It is no longer true, as it was then, that the post differential (that’s hardship pay) for Tbilisi was the same as Kabul and Baghdad. Back then both posts would net you 35% on top of your base. To be fair, this was before the Russians came stomping through, but even after they did, the idea of Tbilisi existing in the same threat universe as those active war zones was a joke.

Teasing a seasoned Embassy guy on this very point, I was treated to an unfortunate sense of humor failure. “Well, life can be very uncomfortable here,” he said.  Of course this is also perfectly true for the entire population of Oklahoma and nobody’s topping them up to keep American boots on the ground, although I’d think they’d need more incentive. “The power still isn’t that great,” he went on, cataloguing his woes. “International flights all leave at 3 and 4 in the morning. There are no Western grocery stores.”  My hand flew to my heart. “You’re right!” I gasped. “Thank you for your service to our country!”  I joke. I did not say that.

In any case, it’s no longer true. Georgia’s bumped down to the likes of Nigeria and Angola in the official U.S. Government pain-in-the-ass scale.  It’s hard to say exactly what knocked it down to the 25% bracket. The flights still leave at ungodly hours. But the Western grocery stores have arrived in force.  To wit:

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I used to scorn such things as comfort and 24 hour electricity.  Live on the frontier! I thought. But after much aging and soul searching over dark and fitful nights, I have concluded that I very much like beautiful places where people are paid to be nice to me. And hand me free samples of exfoliating masks.  Which is why I have made the financially foolish but mentally healthy decision to work out in a locale that may ALSO be responsible for that little ding in the hardship scale. It looks like this:

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Not pictured: me working VERY HARD I swear in the other room. The one with the treadmills and what not.

But in my private life, I still fight the fight for the 25%.  I duck from flying rodents. I get the sardine treatment on the bus. I cook over a glorified zippo lighter. And I go a-guesting to receive notes like that one below.  Hanging tough.

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