Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Easter Feast

It was pretty important to me that I spend Easter with my host family, especially since I hadn't experienced a proper Georgian feast. Other volunteers said that their families had thrown supras for them, but my family had yet to do so for me. I think the reasons were that none of my family members are big drinkers and that they may not be able to afford one.

On Sunday afternoon I went for a nice long walk with my host sister and her cousin. At the top of a nearby hill there are two abandoned, yellow, cement buildings that overlook Nukriani. They were originally used to house summer campers, but in 2008 Abkhazian refugees were temporarily settled there. We checked out the buildings and ventured into the coniferous forest beyond.

When we returned from the walk, the table was set with all sorts of good things. For meat there was chicken and uncooked ham. For vegetables there were beets cooked in t'kemali, shredded carrots mixed with mayo, pickled jonjoli, and potato salad. The main part of the meal was t'olma, a meat and rice mixture wrapped in cabbage, and p'ask'a, Georgian Easter bread, which is surprisingly like Portuguese sweet bread. There were three kinds of p'ask'a: regular, with jam, and with walnuts and sugar. The one with jam was the best in my opinion. There were also red eggs, tonis puri, suluguni cheese, and khachapuri. For beverages there was Pepsi, wine, and cornel juice. I started off with wine, but when I noticed that none of the other women were drinking, I switched over to the juice, which was much tastier.

The only traditions worth noting were that they lit a substance and let the smoke waft over the table and they burned a candle in the p'ask'a. Also, the seating arrangements weren't cool. All of the men sat at a slightly higher table and the women sat at a lower adjacent table. Gender issues much?

The conversation at the table was interesting. I could tell that my host mother's sister was talking about politics, and I heard her say that she didn't like the president, and my host mother was definitely surprised to hear her sister say that. Realistically, my host aunt is far more informed than my host mother because the aunt lives in Tbilisi and has access to more information. Out in the villages, there are very few TV channels, and they definitely seem to glorify Georgia. It's a little over the top. Also, a few weeks ago, my Georgian friend from Tbilisi mentioned that the media is censored, so unless you have satellite TV and can watch Maestro, an opposition channel, then you're sort of in the dark. I found it sort of silly that my host mother then turned to me for my opinion. I mean, I don't know a whole lot about Georgian politics, and I feel pretty nonchalant about it.
The other topic of conversation that I somewhat picked up on was about the Svan and Mingrelian languages. Once I realized what they were talking about, I had my host sister translate for me. Apparently, the adults were saying that they thought it was wrong for Georgians to speak these languages. Because of Georgia's history, I understand how important unity is, and a common language can certainly help people identify with each other. At the same time, Svan and Mingrelian are dying languages, and I'm really into languages, so I didn't offer an opinion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

ქრისტე აღსდგა

Yesterday was Easter for Georgia's Orthodox Christians. The overwhelming majority of Georgians (84%)  are Orthodox Christians; however, there are some Georgian Muslims (10%) and even some Catholics (less than 1%). Interestingly enough, there are actually Jehovah's Witnesses in Sighnaghi. The title of my post is pronounced krist'e aghsdga, and it literally means Christ has risen. This is what Georgians say instead of Happy Easter. The appropriate response is ჭეშმარიტად აღსდგა or ch'eshmarit'ad aghsdga, which means truly he has risen.

My Georgian Easter experience began on Saturday evening around 9:30pm. Grandpa drove me, my host sister, her cousin, a neighbor, and her son to Saint Nino's Monastery in Bodbe. The monastery is only a 45-minute walk from my host family's house, but I hadn't gotten around to going before then. It's very beautiful, especially inside. There are so many interesting icons and frescoes. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the church is not allowed, so you'll have travel to Georgia to see it for yourself.
The service itself was certainly different, but before I get to that, I have some random observations to share. In Georgian Orthodox churches, women must cover their heads and wearing pants is frowned upon. Georgians cross themselves top, bottom, right, and left instead of left and then right. They light candles in front of religious icons, and they kiss them. I also saw some women prostrating themselves in front of icons and touching their heads to the floor.

Things finally got going around 12:30am when a nun started chanting. With everyone packed into the little church, it was difficult to hear and see everything, but I could definitely smell body odor and beeswax candles. While the nun said her bit, a deacon (I think) started lighting candles, and then the priest started speaking. Every so often he would stop and the ladies in the choir would sing a few words and then he'd resume again. There was a little procession with a Bible and some icons, and everyone in the church filed outside afterwards and lit their beeswax candles. We circled the church twice, and then either the priest or the deacon rang the bells. After a bit we went back inside, and there was more of the same speaking and singing. The priest also swung a thurible around a bit.

At this point, my host sister and I left the church and sat outside with her cousin. Come to find out, her cousin couldn't enter the church because she had her period. I know the Bible says that makes women unclean, but come on, it's 2012. I was flabbergasted to say the least. When I got cold, I went back into the church, but I eventually went to the car and hung out with Grandpa so that I could sit and doze off around 2:00am. The service was finally over around 3:00am, and I now understand why none of the adults in the house wanted to go to church.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Peace, Quiet, Solitude, and Personal Space

If you require all of the above to function, don't come to Georgia and live with a host family if you're not willing to be rude. Right now, I am the epitome of rudeness in Georgia, and I'm okay with that.

I was on the porch with my laptop; my host sister and her laptop, which the president of Georgia personally gave to her; my host mother; my host grandmother; and the devil child. (A couple of weeks ago my host family started boarding a six-year-old boy who happens to be the worst-behaved animal in the first grade.) I had been considering moving inside for a little while, and I finally decided to retreat to my room when a guest showed up with a toddler. (The toddler has been fussing and crying for awhile now, so it was good timing.) Anyway, I'm now sitting alone in my room with the door closed, and I just blew my nose rather loudly. I'm also not wearing house slippers. How rude!
The child
Before coming to Georgia, I was aware that Georgians are people-persons and that alone time might be hard to come by. I feel like I've handled that part rather well. Using my host sister as a translator, I was able to explain that Americans often spend time by themselves, that I would be spending time alone, and that my host family shouldn't take it to mean that I don't like them. For example, I said that after dinner in the evening at my permanent home in the States, my mum watches TV downstairs and crochets, my dad either watches TV upstairs or plays darts in the garage, and I play on the computer in my room. When I spend time alone in Georgia, I try to go for walks because it's less awkward than sequestering myself in my room, but at the moment I need some quality time with my laptop and I've gotten more than enough sun and sweat the past three days. Unfortunately, since the addition of the little monster to my host family, I've barely been spending time with anyone, but I'm not going to torture myself to avoid being rude. I just try to make the little time I do spend with my host mother and host sister meaningful.
The main, all-purpose room
I also knew ahead of time that the concept of personal space was nonexistent in Georgian culture. I don't consider myself a touchy-feely individual, so this has certainly been a challenge. The first couple of weeks, all of the women were pinching my cheeks, touching my hair, chucking me under the chin, and my host sister and host mother even kissed my neck. These women were all complete and utter strangers, so I really disliked all of the physical affection even though I knew that they meant well. I liked the touching even less because in Georgia there is no health education, so Georgians don't understand how important it is to wash their hands and to not cough or breathe all over you if they're sick. I approached it by asking my main co-teacher, whose English is quite good, to explain that in America people don't touch each other as much and to ask everyone to stop touching me from the neck up. No one was offended. If anything, they were amused by this cultural difference, and I haven't really had any more issues. My host mother and sister are still quite touchy, but only if I go in for the hug first

What I didn't anticipate was how difficult it would be to get some peace and quiet. I correctly guessed that I would be in a village. How noisy could it be? Well, the roosters are pretty loud, but I've seen them in action. They sound the alarm when a hawk is in sight, so they're not totally useless. Actually, I really enjoy the chickens. They eat organic waste, which is awesome, although they aren't too fond of carrots and cabbage. I feed them my apple cores, and in return, they provide delicious eggs. Noise-wise, it's not the roosters that bother me. I've already established that the child is extremely loud, but it's not just him. My host sister randomly bursts into song. The TV is often on, and my host family keeps the volume turned up. Neighbors constantly swing by, and they talk excitedly about who knows what. Perhaps culturally, there is just a need to fill the silence with anything: music, speech, phone calls, television, etc.

Monday, April 2, 2012


During orientation I didn't get the opportunity to really explore Tbilisi what with the jetlag, the long training hours, and the cold weather. Over the weekend I finally did a little sightseeing in the capitol. I'm rather lucky because my village, Nukriani, is right next to the town of Sighnaghi, and Tbilisi-bound marshrutkas leave from town at 7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm, and 6pm. Alternatively, Sighnaghi-bound marshrutkas leave from Tbilisi's Samgori station at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, and 6pm.

I had successfully navigated public transportation in random countries before, but this was my first time doing it alone in Georgia. I had done my research, and I knew that I needed to get off at either the Isani or Samgori stations in Tbilisi. Fortunately, Samgori was the last stop, so I wouldn't be able to miss it. From there I could either take the metro or a taxi to Freedom Square and walk to Why Not Tbilisi Legend Hostel. Tim, a veteran TLG volunteer in Sighnaghi, had kindly given me a Metro Card, so all I had to do was put some money on it and take the metro in the proper direction. I started feeling a little nervous when the marshrutka still hadn't shown up by quarter after 4. Fortunately, several teachers were leaving school just then, and they waited with me and helped me flag it down. All of my jitters subsided when Chris, a veteran TLG volunteer in my village, boarded the marshrutka a few minutes down the road. The marshrutka ride took about an hour and a half to two hours, and Chris got me as far as Freedom Square. The hostel was a short walk away, and one of the friends that I was meeting had already arrived.

Adjarian Khachapuri
That evening I went out with a group to a restaurant in Old Town, and I ate Adjarian khachapuri (აჭარული ხაჭაპური) for the first time. Khachapuri is bread filled with cheese, and it reminds me of the fiteer that I ate in Cairo. Anyway, Adjarian khachapuri has a semi-raw egg or two on top. We also ate khinkali (ხინკალი), which are dumplings filled with meat, mushrooms, or cheese. There is actually a technique to eating khinkali. You can't use silverware, and you have to bite part of the dumpling and suck out the juice. Also, you shouldn't eat the top of the dumpling, but I do anyway.
At the Dry Bridge Market
On Saturday I saw the Soviet Occupation Museum, went to the Dry Bridge Market, strolled through Old Town, hiked up to the Narikala Fortress, saw some churches, and finally had some good wine. The museum was worth seeing, especially since the lady selling the tickets gave me the student price of 1 lari even though I told her I was no longer a student. The museum's basic message was that the Soviets killed a lot of people in Georgia. The Dry Bridge Market was great! There is a bunch of nifty artwork, useless junk, souvenirs, and Soviet relics. It doesn't hold a candle to the Khan il-Khalili, but I still enjoyed it. The sellers don't harass you, which I really appreciated. Old Town was just okay. I feel like perhaps I missed the main drag, but the hike up to the fortress was awesome and awesomely tiring. After that, my Georgian acquaintance, George, showed me and my two Canadian companions some churches. Women must cover their heads in Georgian Orthodox churches--just like in mosques.
View from the fortress
Later that evening, I finally tasted good Georgian wine! My family makes wine, but it tastes like vinegar. Before coming to Georgia, all I had read about was how delicious the wine was, but all of the wine that I had tasted prior to Saturday night had been a total letdown. There was a little shop around the corner staffed by an English-speaking Georgian, and she sold sweet, red wine. Because it's sweet, she referred to it as women's wine, but hey, that's fine with me. I like my wine to taste like juice.
Wine shop near the hostel