Republic of Georgia, Village Life

Solicitors Allowed

I witnessed an amusing event in the teachers’ lounge yesterday. It was somewhere in the long afternoon stretch when my eyes drift into space regardless of what I am doing. The door opened and a woman bustled in with a big bag—not a teacher —and started pulling articles of clothing out and laying them on a table. An impromptu sale! This was the second time I had seen someone come into the teachers’ lounge to sell clothing. The first time was nice slacks and wool skirts—very teacherish—but I was on the way to a lesson and did not get to stay for the fun. This time I was front and center.

First off, this was a very female event. I would have been interested to see reactions if one of the male teachers happened to walk in. My school only has a few and they do not often brave the teachers’ lounge, dominated as it is by many loud, powerful specimens of the female kind. Surely a somewhat uncomfortable place for a Georgian man. Probably one of the few where they do not have automatic precedence.

The wares, now displayed on the table, consisted of a number of sweaters and long-sleeved stretchy tops in black, red, and stripes. Some women’s underwear and footed leggings rounded out the collection. At the time, there were a number of teachers in the room, all sizes and ages. Two of the larger ladies were carefully examining the panties, holding them up and testing out the stretch capabilities with the unspoken question of whether they would be capable of girding their queen-sized loins. Sweaters were passed around and held up to chests and waists. Another teacher stretched the leggings over her back and was pulling at both ends. An interest in socks was expressed. Soon socks were appearing out of a bag onto the table. A teacher quickly cornered the market and stacked them in front of her. An easy sell apparently.

Without any hesitation, another teacher stripped of her top and started trying on sweaters. Once a sweater was on, the other teachers provided feedback on its fit and color, whether it looked good on her, etc. Of course I understood only a bit of the actual conversation. But I think dressing room conversations are pretty much universal among women. One was discarded because it was too big. One she did not like the color. She lingered on a gray long-sleeved sweater and the sales lady stepped up the compliments. The teacher hesitated, but with the support (or coercion) of her fellow teachers she took it off and indicated she would keep it.

Panties were still being passed around. There was some indicating of crotch to waist dimensions which I found amusing. A teacher tried to interest me in some. Very good, she said. No, no, I said. I don’t need any. Although I thought it would be funny to buy something this way.

A long-sleeved black and gray striped sweater was being discussed as suitable for the young secretary. When she came in, it was insistently dangled in front of her. She was initially dismissive, but she went away to try it on (apparently not interested in stripping in the teachers’ lounge) she came back with a surprised, but pleased look on her face. Another sale.

Sales seemed to taper off. Sweaters were being folded and put back in their bags. A few lonely pairs of rejected red panties were put away. All the other colors had been sold. Devil’s panties apparently. A few new teachers came in and in a twinkle the merchandise was back out on the table, a gleam in the sales lady’s eye. A teacher picked up a beautiful teal sweater-and-shell combo and surprised me by buying it. Her normal clothing palate is brown, brown, and brown.

No money had been exchanged and I was starting to wonder how this aspect was handled. My question was answered when the sales lady pulled out her cell phone (all Georgians have a cell phone) and started making notes in it: Nestani, 20 lari; Maya, 35 lari, etc. Some money changed hands, but others seemed to be buying on credit. I supposed in a village this size, you can’t really hide from your creditors. Although I have been told that Korbouli is largest village in the area, emphasis on largest. A booming metropolis of over 200 families! So maybe you could hide for a little while.

I have to admit, although the selection was small, it sounds sort of nice to have the clothes come to you instead of you having to go to the clothes!

Cultural Differences, Family, Republic of Georgia, Village Life

A Quiet Evening at Home

My host mom just forcefully dropped Giorgi’s loaded backpack on his head. He is bawling like, well, a baby. He’s only 8. Not sure what precipitated this event. I would say things have been building over the last few days. Lots of small screaming-crying altercations with him lately. Nestani would seem to have reached her limit. I was impressed at her response. Classic flying-off-the-handle. That backpack was dropped with real intent. I think she would have done it again it she could have.

Giorgi wept loudly for five minutes. His heartfelt cries apparently attracted the sympathy of grandma Neli. Grandma is trying to get him to calm down. Mom is still mad. They are shouting at each other, Neli from the den, Nestani from the kitchen. Georgians truly arguing, not just discussing things in their usual passionate way, is quite an experience.

Obviously I don’t know all the details, but I suspect Neli is critiquing Nestani’s handling of the situation. A possible reason why Americans do not generally have their parents live with them once married? Grandpa Vakho is getting involved now. Mostly, I think, because all this shouting is interrupting his TV watching.

The girls walk through the room seemingly unconcerned. I type away nonchalantly in the corner. Don’t notice me. Just the guest. The TV plays on.

Giorgi stops crying. He goes and sits with grandma. I’m glad someone still has patience with him.

And where is daddy Beso this whole time? Oh, he’s in the kitchen, eating. Probably knows to keep his head down when the ladies get into it.

Things are back to normal. Neli is spinning thread. Nestani is washing dishes. The men are watching TV. Ah. Another quiet evening with the Georgians.

Cultural Differences, Food, Republic of Georgia, Social Customs, Village Life

A Georgian Wedding: Rambling Reflections

**The longest post ever. Be forewarned.

I went to my first Georgian wedding over the weekend. Having no idea what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised overall. I even enjoyed myself, which is not always a certain outcome.

The wedding was on Sunday, but preparations began in my family days beforehand. Our dishes and china started disappearing and there seemed to be a frenzy of baking and cooking. Nestani made a cake or two. Neli baked the most khachapuri I have ever seen. The girls seemed to spend almost all day helping down at the wedding house. I felt a little lonely since I was not involved. I thought about forcing myself on them, but knew that realistically having the resident guest wandering around the wedding site might be more of a distraction than a help. This is when it stinks not to be able to really express yourself in the language. So I hung out in my room, mostly under the covers because it was freezing cold. I had to do some stern talking to myself because I was feeling oh-so-morose and ready to forget this whole “wedding” business.

In the end, I managed to pull myself together emotionally and physically. I put on my “glad rags” which ironically are all black. To each her own. I was pleased that the family oohed and ahhed when I came downstairs. Finally I was suitably dressed for once. Since I often wear jeans and a sweatshirt (hey, it’s cold!) and I always wear slacks to school (amidst a sea of skirts) I wanted them to see that I can look feminine according to Georgian standards.

So we set off to the wedding, picking our way through the very muddy streets. Fortunately, the wedding house was only about a block away. A crowd of men were, as usual, leaning against the walls and smoking. We walked the gauntlet and went inside the yard. I gravitated towards the group of teachers inside. Since it was a teacher’s son who was getting married I think we had all been invited. There seemed a significant amount of time to kill. I of course had no idea what was going to happen. Since there was nothing else to do, I pulled out the camera and tried to take pictures. Many of the teachers were not the most willing subjects, although some insisted on being in a picture with me.

I had been deserted by all the females of my family once we got inside the yard. They were off helping with more preparations. After awhile, they came to collect me (which is, indeed, how it often feels) and took me to see the inside of the huge tent which had been put up in part of a field. More picking through the mud. I was suitably impressed by the sight. Four very long tables, absolutely covered with all the items necessary for feasting and loaded down with the food itself. I hate to estimate how many they would seat, but I would guess at least 300 if not more. There was a table set up at the front for the happy couple and their attendants and speakers and microphones in another corner for the evening’s entertainment. More pictures.

Once everything had been photographically documented, I returned to my masts’avleblebi, teachers, outside. Car horns began blazing in the distance and we turned to watch a motorcade coming in. The new couple came in, waving and smiling, looking very dapper and/or beautiful: the son in a suit and the bride in a very Westernized gown with fur stole and a bouquet of flowers. I am not sure if they were coming directly from the church. I do know they were coming from Tbilisi which is about 2 hours away. They disappeared into the house; the guests headed for the tent. My teachers claimed good seats–no seating charts or anything like that. I was uncertain when/if we were supposed to eat; I watched my teachers for all the cues. When they ate, I ate.

At our teacher’s training in Kutaisi, the woman in charge told us you knew it was a good party when the dishes were piled 3 deep. Looking at the table when we first sat down, it was impressive, but still only about 2 deep. Little did I know that was just the start of the food! Once the tables were filled, dishes began pouring into the tent: beef in red sauce, fish, hot corn meal, hot corn bread, khachapuri, pork on skewers, roasted beef, eggplant dish, more bread, more fish, more everything! This was on top of all the food already on the table: plates of fruit, plates of vegetables, at least 3 or 4 cold salads, mushroom dishes, meat dishes, turkey, whole chickens, bread, candies, plates of different cakes, etc., etc.

I was astounded at the amount of food on the table. There was no notion of “the table is too full”. Oh no. You just pile it somewhere on top, however precarious the position may be. Georgians do not use what we think of as “dinner plates”. I have yet to see one. All food is eaten and served on little plates that are bigger than a saucer, but a bit smaller than American salad plates. So you have a little bit of this, than a little bit of than, oh I think I’ll try this, maybe I can fit a bit of that. Then you sit and digest for a few minutes and then you start all over again. I tried to try a bit of everything on the table, since many of the dishes were things that have never been served at my house.

Shortly after the feasting began, for that is the only appropriate word, the toasts began. Georgians have a very old and very strong tradition of toasting. Any get- together that involves food and drink, starting as small as a few friends and getting as large as weddings, is called a “supra”.  A supra always has a tamada, who is the toast-master. Sort of a Master of Ceremonies. The tamada can lead the toast or call someone else to give it. When a toast is given, you are supposed to hold your glass up until the speaker is done and only then you drink. And you really should drink the whole glass. These are not like American wine glasses. They are little glass tumblers, probably about 6 ounces, but there was an awful lot of toasting going on. And this is, of course, all local wine, made last year from local grapes.

The toasting and drinking is generally proprietary to the men. Don’t get me started. None of the women were drinking at all to the point that I finally asked my English teacher if women drank at weddings. “Oh, do you want do?” she asked. “I don’t really want any.” I assured her that was fine and poured myself a glass. Don’t mind if I do. Of course I was the only woman as far the eye could see that was drinking. Whatever. I am a guest and therefore feel free to embrace a bit of an “I do what I want” attitude. Later on the German teacher and I had a few gamarjos, the Georgian “cheers”, between ourselves, but that was it as far as the women around me. I am sure other women were drinking somewhere, but nothing like on the level the men were drinking.

After feasting to the point where I could feast no more, there was not much to do. Toasting continued non-stop. There were even mandatory “two glass” toasts. Several of those. I began to get a bit bored and wondered what else happened at Georgian weddings. My backside was also most tired of the narrow benches we were sitting on. Toasts were interspersed with singing, which blared from the speakers at an unseemly volume. I was incredulous that no one else seemed bothered. My sound man father would roll over in the proverbial grave if he had been there.

Eventually dancing began and I perked up. I was very interested to see if any of the traditional dancing would be performed. There are several students at my school who study the dancing, but it does not seem that common. They danced and several other locals danced. Some very impressive dancing by men. They can do these incredible leaps and turns. The dancing is very martial in feel, lots of throwing your chest out, strong arms, and holding of invisible daggers at your waist. But it is very cool, least you think I am not impressed.

The traditional music was also varied with more “pop” type music which encouraged the general audience to participate. I even danced. Mostly because other teachers and my host sisters dragged me up. Yes, semi-astounded family and friends, I do enjoy dancing. I am just overly self-conscious about it. It helps to be in a sea of people who don’t know you. So I danced with my teachers, my neighbors, my family, strangers. Whatever. It was fun.

But the highlight of the night for me was most definitely when I was the recipient of a toast made in my honor. I had seen one of the teachers who I have pegged as “mischievous” going up to the tamada and talking to him. Most worrisome as I could think of no reason for her to do so, but I had a premonition it had to do with me. Sure enough, she came back and the English teacher told me that the tamada was now aware there was a foreign guest in their midst and he would be sure to do a toast for that. I was not amused. There were a lot of people there—hundreds—and I was most uncomfortable with the idea. I dealt with this information as best I could. Although nervous, I thought it was kind of cool. But nervous.

Of course we had no idea when this event was going to happen. I tried to look nonchalant, but did not really feel it. After awhile, I was over it. It would happen if it happened. Sure enough, it finally happened when I had almost forgotten about it. I was taking pictures when someone was like “Amy, they’re talking about you!” and I turned around. I got to my feet and walked to the front from which the tamada presides. Tsira, the English teacher, trailed me for which I was grateful. But then she left me! A huge sea of faces met my glance out. Another woman took the place of my translator as the tamada began speaking.

I, of course, had no idea what was going on. The tamada and then the bride’s father spoke for some time. I listened to my translator, mostly about how I was a guest and they were proud of the friendship between the United States and Georgia. I focused on paying attention to the image I was projecting. I wanted to look friendly, but strong. None of that blushing nonsense. They asked me if I would say a few words about my impressions of Georgia. The microphone was millimeters from my mouth before I could hesitate. I said that I liked Georgia very much, that the people were very hospitable. I thanked them for inviting me to celebrate with them and gave my congratulations to the happy couple. Translation followed.

Then the tamada was holding a glass of wine and I nervously reached for it, thinking it was my time to down a glass. Oh no. He was drinking a glass in my honor. He got down on one knee and drained the glass. A gallant gesture, I think. More speaking. Then after a dozen more gamarjos it was my turn. I wasn’t really sure when I was supposed to get to it, so I hesitated. Then my host mother, who had been at my elbow, was like “you aren’t going to drink?” That was the cue I was waiting for. So I drank my glass in one go, the Georgian way.

After that the evening took on a slightly Cinderella air. More dancing. More pictures. Someone insisted on giving me a Bible in English. Now I have 3 here in Georgia. I have explained to them that I am a Christian Protestant, but maybe they were not sure on the state of my soul. Whatever. I smiled and thanked them. We ate cake. Very good cake. Someone gave me one of the intricate sugar roses to eat. The bouquet was thrown. I did not catch it, but the little boy (?) who caught it, a student at my school, gave it to me later. When I insisted on leaving around 12:30, bemusedly thanking all the nice ladies who so extravagantly looked after me, I even felt a bit Cinderella-ish, though I was returning home in somewhat better condition.

Georgian wedding. A great experience. I can only hope I’ll be invited to another one.

Food, Republic of Georgia, Uncategorized, Village Life, Weather

Shameless Behavior

I cannot lie. I went to school today for the sole purpose of coffee and cookies in the teacher’s lounge. The colder weather has been settling in this past week and I have not been adjusting to the change well. I have broken into almost all of the warmest clothing I brought: the Capilene shirt and long-johns, the heavy wool socks. I’ve been sleeping in at least 2 layers of everything underneath my comforter and 2 blankets I purloined from the spare beds outside my room. If this is what it is like in October, how am I ever going to survive when there is actually snow on the ground?

I am seriously not trying to be dramatic, but a few nights this week, before I put new measures into place, I was having a hard time falling asleep because I was too cold. Nasty flashbacks of backpacking in Yosemite. Leadership Trek #2. You remember, right Jenn? The fallout of this is that I sleep restlessly all night and then tend to fall deeply asleep in the morning once it starts getting a little warmer. Twice this week I woke up 15 minutes before I needed to leave for school. That’s okay. I am a professional quick change artist, but it is always a nasty jolt to see the clock.

So today I slept deeply from about 7 to 9 and then woke up. It was just so cold once I was out from underneath my covers! The whole house is shaded from a big front porch on both levels, so there is never any sun to warm up the rooms. I looked longingly down the road at the school where the sun was streaming in. I had no reason to be at the school. No classes. But it was 11:15 and if I was at school before 12 I would most likely be served cookies and coffee in the teacher’s lounge. And that is one of the sunniest rooms in the school. So stay in the house and shiver or shamelessly go to the school for hot coffee and sunshine? There was no question. The coffee was hot and the sunshine was warm.

Educational System, Republic of Georgia, Teaching

Saakashvili Pledges to Create a Nation of English Speakers

I found this article while looking for something completely different. It’s fascinating to read about the president’s vision for the program, but, jeez, talk about pressure.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who speaks English, Russian, French, and Ukrainian in addition to Georgian, recently pledged that all 597,800 Georgian public schoolchildren will speak English as their second language by 2014…. never one to downplay an idea that casts Georgia as open to the world, Saakashvili has called the campaign “the greatest contribution we will make to the future development of our country. “ And the “largest breakthrough…in the entire post-Soviet space.”

I am a part of making sure that happens! Or at least gets underway. I am excited to be a part of such a big vision and will certainly do my best. Boy, that sounds corny. Whatever.

Go read the article to understand a bit more about Georgia and my program!

Saakashvili Pledges To Create a Nation of English Speakers

Also probably a good idea to remember that my blog is public and news agencies could potentially mine it for dirt on the program. Something to keep in mind. They would have to ask my permission before publishing anything  from it though, right?

Communication, Educational System, Republic of Georgia, Teaching

Teaching Solo

I am teaching this entire week sans my local English teacher. I am not thrilled at the prospect, but will prayerfully approach it the best way I can. (These days when I start to whine, even inside my head, I get Joyce Meyer and Steve Buckland simultaneously coaching me on what I am saying/thinking. Hah.)

To imagine what this would be like, picture yourself in, say, the Czech Republic. You do not speak Czech. You have to control 20 extremely talkative, energetic junior higher students. You do not know how to say any of the essential teacher words, like “be quiet” “sit down” “repeat after me” etc. Intimidating? Yes, a bit.

Without the English teacher, I feel like I am sort of a substitute teacher. Maybe a bit better since I am a guest and that carries a lot of weight here. But we all remember how much attention we paid to substitute teachers, right? Imagine being a substitute teacher who doesn’t speak the language. “They’ll eat me alive!” was the first thing that crossed my mind when I got the news.

Okay, I’m waxing a bit melodramatic. But it’s just so much fun!

Last night, I mentioned the situation to my host mother in my best Georgian: “Tomorrow, Tsira no. In Tbilisi. I teacher lessons.” I said “7th class” and then gestured a wild frenzy with my hands. She make a big “ah-hah” noise and then offered to come with me. I was like, “Ooo, yes.” An opportunity not to pass up! And I am glad she did.

She came with me to both my classes this morning and was a very effective crowd controller. I think they respond even better to her than they do to the English teacher! Normally both classes are quite wild. Today they were the best behaved children in Georgia. Amazing. It probably helped that the principal dropped by in one class. Yeah, kids. The principal’s got my back. Don’t mess with the guest!

Also I talked to my mom this morning and she said she would pray. Praying mothers are powerful stuff. Not to be discounted. I believe she was even going to call the 700 Club prayer line. Bringing in the big guns, eh, mama? So with God, the 700 Club, my mother, my host mother, and the school principal behind me, my outlook on the week has improved greatly.

 I’ll let you know how it goes!