Sandra Roelofs, Georgia’s First Lady

(My smart, sensitive wife, Susanna Melo, wrote this story)

The interest in Sandra Roelofs’ book, The Story of an Idealist, raised the number of International Women’s Association’s book club members from 8 to 80! In the home of Mieke Langenberg, IWA’s president and wife of the Dutch Ambassador to Georgia, the author started the meeting by sharing that Dutch publishers approached her to write her story because it was “fairy tale-like” and would appeal to many: “Provincial Dutch girl falls in love with Prince Charming and becomes First Lady of Georgia.”  She agreed to write the book, but only if she could describe the process that she, her beloved Misha, and Georgia had gone through up to the Rose Revolution. Today her book has been translated in about 5 languages and the latest editions have an additional chapter about the first four years in government as well as an epilogue about the war of August 2008.

For those that are following Keith’s blog, I would like to point out that I am not a journalist as he, nor do I keep up too much with politics.  My interest lies in human behavior so I will share some of my impressions of Sandra Roelofs rather than discuss the First Lady’s and her husband’s influences upon Georgia’s political transformations.

I went to the book club meeting with a keen interest in hearing from a woman with whom I felt a bond, for some of her life experiences reminded me of my own: she came from a very loving family; she seized opportunities to study and travel abroad at a young age, and she enjoyed studying foreign languages.  As a young adult, she developed an interest in social and developmental issues.  While attending the Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, she met her “Georgian prince,” Mikheil Saakashvili, and followed him to New York City for a period of graduate studies.  Her account of living on a very small budget reminded me of when my previous husband and I left Brazil for graduate studies in the U.S. right after we got married and had not a cent to our name!

Intriguing, as well, was Sandra Roelofs’ account of adapting to still another culture when she moved to Georgia after living in the United States.  There were interesting accounts of meeting her husband’s family members for the first time; experiencing cultural differences and expectations, especially while raising her first born son; learning the Georgian language, history, geography, culture and traditions, all of this happening at the same time that she was looking for ways to grow professionally and continue developing her personal interests. For years, she was the breadwinner of the family, working for the Red Cross and the Dutch Embassy; she even started her own NGO, the SOCO foundation.  To top things off, living in Georgia initially was not so easy due to crime, periods of water and power shortage, political unrest, and so on.

Copyright Mila Holloway, 2011

Given these facts, one has to admire Sandra Roelofs for being so resilient, so resourceful, and so willing to leave behind a sense of security to adventure into a new world of an unfolding stream of unexpected events!

My admiration grew for the First Lady of Georgia by the time I completed her book, but meeting her in person just confirmed my first impressions of her.  She is a beautiful woman inside and out.  She is a compassionate and caring person; one sees this through her work and services that she provides to those in need.  She is energetic; one senses this through her involvement with her family, friends, work, travel, and duties as First Lady.  She is intelligent; she speaks several languages, sings, has worked in many institutions, earned a nursing degree not too long ago and continues to seek opportunities to learn and grow in a variety of areas.  She is natural and beautiful; one observes that she needs no make-up or jewelry to enhance her looks.

On several occasions throughout the book, the author describes herself as a “down to earth Dutch girl” and how her upbringing and all of her life experiences have helped shape her into the woman she is today.  I must say that Georgia’s First Lady is a woman of character who has not let power, prestige or beauty get in the way.  Her actions speak for themselves. This is the legacy she leaves for Georgia, her adopted country.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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