Communication, Food, Republic of Georgia, Village Life

Weekend Sleepover

A strange weekend. A change in plans came late Friday night by email, though I had already been appraised by text message. The next two weeks had seemed such an exciting prospect and the cancellation of next weekend’s events left me feeling slightly bereft. I woke Saturday morning feeling unsettled and purposeless. A long phone call from a good friend and a chat via Facebook left me with a slightly improved outlook. Que sera sera I decided.

I was tripping through my guitar chords when Nestani came into my room. Nestani is one of the few people who generally has mastered the art of communicating with me. She knows to use small words, mostly nouns and verbs, and lots of gestures to illustrate. But at that moment she was having a relapse and longs streams of Georgian were flowing out of her. Of course I didn’t understand. She hollered, yes, hollered, for Tamta, my trusty translator. She came at a run, slightly out of breath. “Amy,” pause for breath, “do you want go Jana’s house?”

I was instantly on alert. Jana and her mother both work at my school; her mother is something like the Assistant Principal. I had wiggled out of spending the night at their house the last time I had been invited for dinner. I lamely excused myself on the grounds that I did not have my contact case. A half truth. It is uncomfortable to sleep with my contacts in. I practically have to peel them off my eyes in the morning if I do. But mostly I just saw no reason to enter the world of Georgian slumber parties. Why? I have a perfectly good bed at my house. And my host family more or less understands how I operate. They know how to communicate with me. To stay with a family who does not speak any English at all—a painful prospect.

However, I realized that I had said that I would be happy to stay over some other time when I had my contact case and was prepared to do so. I really did not have any reason to decline. No other plans on the horizon for the whole weekend. Nestani’s reminder to take my laptop and modem made me flush with anger when I realized at least part of the reason for this sudden invitation. Jana’s laptop cord broke. I saw here coming back from town on Friday. 100 lari to replace it. Which is probably half of her monthly salary. I hate feeling used. But I realized I was committed and was it really so hard to take my laptop and share it with her? Get a grip, Amy.

Laptop, modem, contact case, a few books, and a notebook in hand I made my way to Jana’s. Oh, and the dictionaries—both of them. They were one of the first things in my bag. I wasn’t really looked forward to trying to communicate with them. Didn’t they know what they were getting themselves into?

I arrived at Jana’s around 3:00. We went in and put my stuff in the dining room. I looked through 4 photo albums as the girls ran around preparing lunch. At about 4:00 we had a huge lunch. Supra style. The girls hardly ate anything, but were death on me ceasing eating at any point in time. If I did not have something on my plate, they would put something there. After all the food, then there was fruit, nuts, a bowl of chocolates, a plate of cakes, and a bowl of crackers and chocolate. And sugar-laden coffee. And sicky-sweet juice. And cognac. Sensing a theme?

Then I sat on the couch like a, like a . . . veal. Communication was, as I knew it would be, almost impossible. Neither Jana nor her mother understand that they can’t speak to me like they do to other Georgians. I stared at the TV, which I can’t understand, but if I looked engrossed they seemed willing to let me be. Jana and I took turns using the Internet. For hours. Around 8 PM they were indicating it was time for dinner. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t eat a thing. But I ate one wedge of khachapuri and a cup of tea as a peace gesture. Sweets were being constantly held out to me. No, no, no, no. Ar minda, gmadlobt. Meti ar minda, gmadlobt. They were so insistent they were making me feel bad to be refusing all the time.

At 11 PM, after hours of Georgian television and frustrated attempts to communicate on both sides, I indicated I was going to bed. I was not sure whether I was sharing the room or not, which made me a little unsettled. I tossed and turned all night. I woke at 7:30 needing to use the facilities and was grateful it was morning. Trying to get to the bathroom, I couldn’t get the outer door open. I played with the lock and apparently made enough noise to wake up Jana’s mother. Sigh. She got the door open and I made it to my intended destination. Coming back into the house, the Georgian started immediately. I stood mute for a minute and then gestured that I was going back to bed. Couldn’t stand the thought of staying and trying to communicate.

I slept for another hour and a half. After that it was the same thing all over again: a huge breakfast of all the same dishes as yesterday, TV, Internet, limited communication, followed by another huge meal.

I picked my way through breakfast; I barely made it through lunch. Don’t get me wrong. I was eating perfectly normal portions of food. No less than Jana was eating. However, Georgian hospitality is almost militant. They would stuff the food down your throat if they could.  If you are not eating, there is either something wrong with you or something wrong with the food. So you are walking a fine line between honoring their hospitality, reassuring them that everything is delicious, while not betraying what your digestion can handle.

There is a lot of sugar in Georgian food. And these days, I just can’t handle it. I don’t want cognac. I don’t want juice. I don’t want wine. I don’t want sugary coffee. I don’t want sugary tea. I don’t want sweets of any stripe. Fruit is okay. Plain, natural food is okay. But the sugar is killing me. And Jana’s mother was so terribly terribly insistent on me eating everything. It was embarrassing to have to decline so much. But I knew I did not want or need any more food. And I did not want to make myself sick trying to please her.

I was so grateful to leave and go home.


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