Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Busy

I’m working on a continuation of my Holiday post series, but in the meantime dance and Russian lessons, as well as my typical tutoring, have really taken most of my weekly time.

But!! I have been writing. I recently started writing for the official Teach and Learn with Georgia blog. You can view my first post here: https://teachandlearnwithgeorgia.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/just-dance/. All about my love, and strange experiences, with Georgian Traditional Dance. Many of my friends are also writing on this blog, so you can read about there experiences to get a better idea for TLG as a program. I highly recommend Nathan’s post, From the Window of a Moving Train.

I promise I’ll have more posts soon, but currently, I’m preparing for the arrival of my mother and Aunt! More stories to come!

This Christmas was unlike any I’ve ever had before. No presents. No family. No Christmas Music unless I was singing it (and I must admit to a little bit of Rudolph as I was walking the streets of Jerusalem).

My family sent me a video of Santa Claus and his elves…it was before I left for Israel. It showed elves working a machine to guess what presents children wanted for Christmas. I watched it with Nathan sitting beside me. After spending six months in this country, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s focus on morality and material rewards both seem so foreign to me now. In this country, a child can commit the most serious offence, but as long as s/he were penitent, the family and community would accept her/him back instantly. Living in Gldani, a present maybe consisted of a token bought on the side of the street, but one was all that could be afforded. I was traveling with Nathan during the holiday season, and we did not bother with such extraneous symbols. We wished each other a happy holiday, gave toasts to what the day meant, and that was more than enough. This was the first Christmas that I felt completely satisfied…probably because I wasn’t expecting anything.

On Christmas Eve Nathan and I made our way to St. George’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem, wandering through the Orthodox and Arabic neighborhoods to find our way. Before we even left, Nathan had researched a place to celebrate a Christmas Eve Mass. While spending time at our couchsurfing host’s, we found on the interwebs that they were hosting a bus tour to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for a Lessons and Carol service, the first I had ever heard of. It was too late to register online, but we figured we’d stop by during the day of the 24th to see what was happening.

We found the church, stepped through the electronic gates a second before they closed, and then feared we were locked in. After a bit of wandering through the grounds and gardens, we doubled back to look inside the chapel (they were setting up for the service) and then found a priest. Nathan began to say that we had heard of the service online, and knew that the application date had passed, and in the middle of the build up to the question if they had any places left, the priest interrupted and said: “come on! Let’s do it.” He brought us into the office and we were written onto the bottom of the list. “You see, we always leave a few open spaces on the bus, just in case things like this happen,” he informed us. “Come back at seven, and we’ll be leaving.”

Across the street from St. George's Cathedral

We returned at the appointed time to find many British, American, and many other nationalities standing around waiting for the bus. We met one Priest, who studied in Cambridge, who happened to know two professors at Nathan’s Alma Matter. I met one neat young man named Phil who was planning on studying aviation near Pittsburgh the following year, so I told him to look me up. A nice group. Then we stepped on the bus, and as we circulated Jerusalem for thirty minutes, Nathan and I made “ak gamicheret!” jokes…

St. George's Cathedral, home to a mixed and English and Arabic speaking congregation

Finally, we made our way out of the city…and got stuck in traffic. It was a short highway to the checkpoint in the wall separating Israel proper and the West Bank of Palestine; once we got through, the world changed. Christmas light, shop fronts run down but swamped with customers and men sitting around laughing spilling into the streets. The ran started.

By the time we reached the end of the main street, the rain was coming down in sheets. A smooth wind pulled it into our hats and boots. Some of the churchgoers had no protection against the sky’s gift as we made our way to Manger Square, the large square filled with year-long Christmas shops devoted to tourists and the Church of the Nativity. We found our place in line, the church not opening for us for another hour and a half, alongside a rigid row of Palestinian army men, equipped with AK-47s.

Nathan and I were quite equipped for such weather, used to traveling this time and adorning ourselves in wool and synthetics, but even so the rain started to soak in as the square was packed with people wanting to play with the tourists. At various points, the soldiers tried to move the crowd as motorcades of black SUVs roared through our line onto the main road. At this point, we realized that something else must be going on; there couldn’t be all of this security for the tourists wanting to see the church of the manger on Christmas Eve.

Church of the Nativity

After a long hour or so, during which the group was separated and reformed several times, we were allowed in. Part of what made this entire process difficult were the Crusades. Originally, when the Church was commissioned in 327AD (one of the oldest continuing functioning church in the world), it had a magnificent stone doorway, but during the following two Crusades, it was reduced in size twice to defend against invaders. Currently, although both original outlines can still be seen, on man must crouch to fit through. The perfect bottleneck situation.

Everyone must be humble to step into this church

We made our way through the main chapel, up some stairs, and out into an interior courtyard with another humility dour leading into St. George’s Chapel (St. George and the five patterned cross…constant themes leading me to think of Georgia…). Half of us made our way in, including Nathan, when we were told there was no more room until the delegation came out. Uhhh, what?? It was at this point, me standing in the end of the line with some of the ministers, rain pouring down, that I discovered that this was a particularly special service. Not only was the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East in attendance, but so was the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jordan, the crown princes of Belgium and Jordan, and the President of the Palestinian Authority. Nathan was inside and heard the explanation of the first reading, in which the Archbishop of Jerusalem dedicated the church’s support to the peace process. Eventually, as I chatted with the Jordanian and Palestinian Authority bodyguards, the delegation made there way out. The Pres. of the PA was so close I could have easily touched him. They made there way out of the door, stooping low as was necessary for any man in this place, and we made our way in as the service was started again.

This small group of the faithful, singing carols and listening to readings in an absolutely beautiful cathedral, adorned with ancient artifacts, listening to the Patriarch read in Greek, rain dripping off of us…surely, this was Christmas. Eventually, we began to make our way out after the service. I hung back, and saw in the original cathedral steps leading beneath the Alter. I broke off—this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was well worth the possibility of being left behind in the West Bank—and made may way down the ancient stone steps weaving between nuns praying rosaries and waiting for the magic hour, when Christ would be born again in the eternal mystery. And there it was, the star that marked the spot of the manger. Many tourists were lining up and taking pictures in front of it. That not being quite my style, I paid my respects, and walked out amoungst the faithful and the frivolous. I walked down the street away from the church and tried to find our buses; as I walked, I thought of the time of the year, where I had just been, and what it meant to so many who believed, and so many who wanted to see it because others believed.

We made it back to the church in Jerusalem, a bit late for the midnight service, but we had the priests with us. It was a beautiful service, and afterwards we stepped once more into the rain to head home, or rather, to a traveler’s home.

The day afterwards, my mom emailed me to ask if I had seen/ gotten caught up in the fight between Orthodox and Armenian Clerics at the Church. Luckily, I got to walk away with the impression of people of multiple faiths coming together to find their commonalities and a path to peace, especially in such a politically disputed area, and did not witness squabbling amoung men of the cloth.

New Gems

Here are some excellent sites I’ve come across recently either for those interested in teaching in Georgia or just interested in Georgian politics.

 

http://eslgeorgia.com/

http://theyounggeorgians.wordpress.com/

http://www.evolutsia.net/

http://dfwatch.net/

Traveling. A style of living I’ve been exploring since I set off from the outskirts of Philadelphia six months ago. I’ve been a long-term guest, living out of a suitcase. I’ve settled into a home amongst strangers and have made them family. I have traveled for extended weekends in the same one set of clothing on trains, buses, and on foot everywhere from the pebbly beaches of the Black Sea through the snowstorm of a ski resort to the rain and mists of mountains almost forgotten by time. But for the first time ever in my life, on the reluctant edge of the holiday season, my friend Nathan and I shouldered our backpacker’s packs and we set off to fly into a foreign country with maybe plans, no reservations, and only a return ticket as a sense of definition.

We had decided while we were in this part of the world, we should take advantage of our one-month holiday from school, so Nathan and I chose to travel through Israel and Jordan. The Lonely Planet was our best friend. Advice from other friends who had traveled through the region led us to expect time consuming, forceful security checks everywhere in Israel, and we weren’t disappointed. Stepping off the plane in Tel Aviv, immediately after walking through the corridor to the building, before even entering Passport Control or Customs, we were stopped by two security officers who aggressively questioned us: where are you from? What are you doing here? Who are you staying with? (ummm…some guy we met on couchsurfing who we’ve never met before, and I can’t remember where he lives right now, but if you give me a second I’ll look up his address in my book) We made it through a few rounds of questioning like this in the airport. I really think it helped that the guys we were going to stay with and meet were named Goldfarb and Kotel.

We landed in Tel Aviv, an incredibly modern, gritty in some places, city that reminded me instantly of New York. Crashed in a hostel, enjoyed the best latte and chocolate pastry in recent memory on the beach of the Mediterranean, and departed straight to Jerusalem, planning on spending some time in Tel Aviv before our return flight.

Israel is an incredibly small country. Driving from North to South is a chore of less than half a day through mountains and the lowest points on earth. It took us only about an hour and a half to reach Jerusalem. I spent the ride admiring the infrastructure. It was the first time I had seen such beautiful roads (I never thought I would describe charging highways of concrete as lovely) since departing the states. I once again understood how smooth a bus ride could be. But the Western wonders didn’t end there; people carrying coffee in the streets? Many women driving? Families sitting in parks as their children romp with dogs? Frisbee? Bicycles everywhere? Extreme racial diversity? I had not realized just how non-European Georgia felt until I stepped into a “westernized” country again. The change in culture was palpable. But I must say, Georgia still has more beautiful McDonalds than Israel. One point Tbilisi.

The kosher McDonalds were blue and called McDavids

The Orthodox currently are pushing to re-segregate buses based on gender. These people didn't want that.

I can't believe I missed my chance

Landing in Jerusalem, we started our walk through what would soon become familiar streets to the home of the man I had contacted on couch surfing who had invited to let us stay for several days at his apartment. He lived on the south side of the city, so Nathan and I enjoyed quite a relaxing walk through an outdoor market, past many bagel shops (I never got around to eating a bagel because food was so expensive!!! We subsisted mainly on pita, hummus, and khalva bought from grocery stores), and through a street protest. Our host lived in a beautiful part of town; the sun was shinning on gardens in full bloom and the most domestic feral cats were wandering the streets. We settled in his living room, were generously given a key, and now had a home base to operate from.

Alright, now the lead-up is finished, I will leap immediately into descriptions and stories to carry through the fortuitous encounters and happenstance meetings that were these beautiful three weeks.

A place, with women and men as its body and buildings as its memories, has a massively strong influence on all who enter it, whether they be citizens or visitors. Jerusalem retains its core, the Old City — with its 16th century walls and remnants of the Second Temple era lying under every layered street – insulated by a modern city all around, niched and cliqued into quite different neighborhoods: the ultra-orthodox live in semi-poverty, men walking the streets in their full regalia –long black coats, heeled shoes, side curls and cylindrical fur hats –past piles of trash in yards reminiscent of West Phily, young orthodox boys in sweaters and dress pants wrestling in the yards of schools; the Arabic-speaking population with lively markets and bars filled with smoke from the hookahs smoking men; American English from immigrants mixing with the scattered English of tourists on every walkway. A walk through a down-sloping park fills your vision with the spires of Churches, domes of synagogues, and minarets of mosques orienting the heavens above to rest upon this city on a hill. You enter the gates, and are almost crushed in the throng of tourists, stallsmen, faithful, and locals peddling and bargaining and cheating on the narrow stone streets. Market fronts hung with all bits of marketable nicks and nacks line each passageway in the covered winding maze. Here is where the city converges. Despite being quartered, the old city is the heart where each of these populations, scattered the world over, come to worship, come to tour, come to marvel and pray.

Nathan and I stood amoungst the chosen at the Western Wall at the beginning of the Shabat, the chanting and the praying immersing us as we paid our respects to this, the foundation of millennial hopes and supplications. The sun set, and the families reunited from their gender-separated prayers, and wove there way home. We climbed the Mount of Olives, and watched the lights of the city as the last call to prayer rang out.

Western Wall

Two things amazed me about this city; the Sabbath and the proximity of major sites. On that Saturday Nathan and I wandered through the deserted center streets; all public transportation ceases. Roads are closed off in the Orthodox areas. Most all shops rest as their owners respect a day of leisure, a day of family, a day for appreciating the busy week just had. The city slept as we footed our way through the churches marking many of the most important sites of Christianity. Within a thirty-minute hilly walk lie the Church of the Ascension, the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary’s tomb and location of her Assumption into Heaven, the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross Christ walked to his Crucifixion), the location of the Last Super, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre believed to contain Golgotha and the tomb of Christ. Hearing Bible stories throughout my American childhood, I believed the sites of these historic happenings to be quite far from each other. Walking the ancient streets where these events actually transpired, I was touched by a reality of the Bible I had never before imagined.

Jerusalem changes lives. Whether it’s the Jerusalem Syndrome (a documented psychological condition in which people become convinced they are the second coming), or, more typically, the sense of faith which permeates every community populating this crux of a city. Place, land, is more important than opinion, and all politics are birthed from the control of the land, holy to such diversities of faith groups. As a pilgrim on foot, carrying with me each day the beesewax candles to light and a list of names, living and passed, to pray for from my Georgian mother, it was impossible not to be alternated as a paced from Church to Church.

And then Christmas came.

There are plenty of more stories that could be told from when we woke up on Sunday morning in Borjomi: we traveled through Axaltsixe to the cave city of Vardzia, and learned the history of this ancient region from a friendly marshutka driver on the way; Alex and I enjoyed a pristine snowfall in Borjomi park and Fairy Land before returning to Tbilisi; we then traveled to Mtsxeta and Gori to visit some of Georgia’s most famous and beautiful churches and the Stalin museum. But do to a shortage of pictures from the previous two posts, I will let the pictures of these days tell the stories themselves. Use your imagination, and please ask me about these places whenever we are together again.

And now it is time for Nathan and I to set off for Israel. I promise we will weave many trails and tales through this holy time in the Holy Land.

Trains ran by our window in the early hours of the morning. We rose to a scent of winter gently floating through a curtain obscured balcony, not noticed in the excitement of the previous night. The morning light, filtering through with a purity brought only by fresh snow fall, called us to step out, we were greeted by an image of winter wonder, snow covered tracks and cotton covered pines dotting the mountains hemming our little city in.

The previous night at the beginning of dinner, our friend Ren had told us: “I’m just waiting for you to fall in love with Batumi. It has a magic; things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else. Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll feel the Borjomi Magic.” The fresh feeling on that morning was a silent omen, sitting quietly on the corner chair of our room waiting to be taken with us, waiting to introduce us to the beauty and joys to come over the next two days.

We set out of the hotel, were joined by another TLG friend, James, bought some tonis puri and borjomi mineral water, and began walking to the main area of town, debating wether we’d be able to make it to the train supposedly running to Bakuriani before it left. Bakuriani is a small resort town known for its ski slopes. None of us had been there before, and it was close enough that Nathan had decided it would make a fun day-trip. Nathan made good use of his Russian, and we found quickly that there would be no more trains for the day. As is ritual for us foreign travelers in this small country, we headed to the local marshutka station and began asking about in a mixed jumble of Russian, Georgian, and English for the next marshutka to Bakuriani. Soon, the six of us, Nathan, Ren, Adam, James, Alex, and myself, hopped on a larger marshutka with two reclusive Georgian men, and began an ascent into the mountains of Borjomi.

As we began the steep climb up a twisting mountain road, the gentle morning snowfall quickly indulged itself into letting go of its restraint, and brought out its best  decor for us, its winter guests; I’ll just say, it’s hospitality was more than generous. The white-furred pines, showing coy glances of their green skin, seeped the only fresh color into the landscape. The road quickly became two inches of hard-packed snow. Beautiful, but treacherous, and our laughter in the marshutka over miscellaneous remarks and shared jokes quickly moved to irony at our situation as the vehicle began to fishtail around several hairpin turns. “See, that’s the wonderful thing about Georgia,” James quipped: “You think you’re going to die; but you usually don’t.”

A few cars dotted our paths, unable to follow the slippery slope. One laid in a ditch. Cars sledding down raced the snowflakes past us into the valley. Eventually, we came across a stopped marshutka. We pulled over, and our driver, assumably a friend of the other driver, got out to help. After a few minutes, the other marshutka began again up the mountain, and we followed closely behind. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Georgian drivers love to play leapfrog on the highway; it figured, friends or not, that it was only a matter of time before we passed the more slowly moving marsh in front of us. Lo and behold, around a particularly sharp, blind turn, we pulled into the left lane, and revved to pass. We were just past the other marshutka, when turning the corner, we saw a small, soviet-era car hurtling towards us. He swerved towards the mountain as we turned out of his lane, and Nathan and Alex braced against their rear-end driver’s side windows as the car collided with our tail-end, gashing the rear taillight and siding with it, and sending us sliding towards the cliff-side. We came to a quick stop, and everyone got out.

The damage to our marshutka was little; enough that our driver could pick the two biggest chunks up in his hands as he went to shout down the other fuming traveler for…apparently being in the appropriate lane in such dangerous weather. The ill-fated car had continued out of sight around the curve; I was thankful to be able to passively avoid its carnage. I followed the ensuing argument as best as I could over the two hours it lasted. The car’s operator had valid, sensible points: “What were you doing passing in the other lane around such a curve!!!! Especially in weather like this where it’s dangerous enough to be driving carefully!!!!! It was a blind curve!!!! How could you be so stupid!!!!!” Our driver, in true Georgian fashion (sorry to the Georgians reading this blog, but you know it’s an acceptable generalization to say that Georgian men often yell at each other about everything from the mundane to the seriously insulting; when we first arrived in the country, my one friend concluded they were like mismanaged three year-olds at times; throwing a temper-tantrum about anything, and then forgetting about it in five minutes) shouted back, claiming it was not his fault, and saying that the other man should have been driving more carefully. The other marshutka had stopped with us, and a few old women emerged from it, took part in the argument, argued about it amoung themselves, and then tried to pull me into the argument; even when I told them quite clearly I didn’t speak enough Georgian, they still thought I could help. When calls for the patrol police began to be requested, we figured we had some time to goof around.

Adam emerged from the marshutka into the fresh snow-fall in much the same way that a four-year old steps into a snow drift for the first-time, eyes and mouth wide sparkling in wonder and a smile as genuine as a small child’s kiss. As an Australian, he had only been in some small snow once before, and had never been  in a storm. He began prancing, laughing, and singing, throwing snow into the air just to watch it as it fell on his head. Nathan, of course, walked over to the mountain wall: “wow, check out these stratifications!” I burst out laughing. Adam picked up some snow to through at Nathan; three inches out of his hand, it burst into powder. “Adam, were you trying to throw a snowball?” I asked. “I thought they flew!” “You have to pack it first my friend.” I picked up some snow to teach him how. “Hey Nathan!” I launched it towards the back of his head as he turned around. Of course (I use that phrase a lot with Nathan, because he beats me in most things), he whips around, catches it in front of his face with his left hand, and throws it right back at me. James, from up-state New York, began making a snowman on the side of the road. “Woah guys!!!” Adam shouted, “you can actually see the snowflakes! Like, the crystals!!” He wondered at the caught stars on his scarf. “I thought that was only in drawings!!”  Alex, turned to me, “and now I wonder what the Georgians are thinking of us crazy foreigners…” James turned to hop on the marshutka, “I’m just wondering what they’ll think of my pagan statue on the side of the road.”

We gathered in the marshutka, shielding ourselves from the wind. Nathan and Ren produced a bottle of home-made vodka, and began passing it around as we toasted to our safety, the snow, and our travels together; taking the moment to enjoy our company and the secretly beautiful times life gives us when we surrender to its accidental collisions.

The rest of the marshutka ride (“oh man! We were only ten minutes away?? We could have just walked!!”) was uneventful. We pulled into the center of town past the main Bakuriani hotel, tovlis babuas sastumro (grandfather of snow, having the dual meaning of snowman and Santa Claus in Georgian) and departed through the snowy streets to try to find the local train station, hoping that we could enjoy a train ride back down the mountain to Borjomi later that day. Strolling through this picturesque winter town was a pleasure in itself; icicles hung from every roof (Adam climbed and perched on a few fences to harvest them), and laundry hung out to dry had become ice, providing splashes of color amoung the mounds of snow. At one intersection, Adam decided to make his first-ever snow angel. With slightly sound logic, he decided that he didn’t want to get his clothes wet, so he took off his jacket and all of his shirts, laid down in the snow, and made a perfect snow angel. I’m still not sure which was more entertaining, his afterwords comment “Wow, it really does look like an angel,” or the faces of the few Georgians driving by who saw him lying bare-chested in the snow.

We made it to the train station, and could have sworn it was abandoned. Aside from the strange mural designs and a poor freezing puppy lying on the steps, we couldn’t find any sign of life. Eventually, I opened one door to find a room full of Georgian men sitting around and chatting. I asked if another train would be coming that day. Nope. But the one man did open the main room of the train station for us to get out of the wind for a time. Nothing interesting there, except for old hilarious safety signs, and a room filled with buckets of tar, cogs, railroad switches, and various heavy tools.

Don't Try to Headbutt a Moving Train

Back in town, we stopped at a Teremok to warm up and finally eat our first meal of the day. Each of us stripped off either wet gloves or socks and laid them on the space heater to dry. Oh blinis, how wonderful you taste, sweet or savory, as the heavy snow continues to blanket the windows.

Stomaches satiated, we left planning to take a chair-lift to the top of one of the surrounding mountains; but first, we wanted to insure that we would have a ride down the mountain later in the day. A marshutka was passing us, so I flagged it down and asked the driver when the last marshutka of the day would be heading to Borjomi. He must’ve not understood, because he only said “come with us.” No, no…I want the next one. “There will be no next marshutka. The roads are too bad so  I am the last one driving down today. No one else is crazy enough.” Well, we decided to cut our plans short for the day and head back down to Borjomi rather than get snowed in indefinitely in Bakuriani. Tovlis babua hotel sure did look nice though…

The drive down was inconsequential compared to the drive up; we only started fish-tailing a few times. The snow had calmed down to a pattering when we pulled onto the main street of Borjomi. The next step in necessary travel plans was to find a place to sleep for the night. We did not feel like shelling out a lot of money, so Ren pulled out her guide book, and we found the address for a good-sounding homestay.  For those of you not familiar, a homestay is just a house where the family has an extra room or two and is willing to take guests. It’s usually cheaper and more exciting. Of course, the directions read something like: “off the mainstreet across from the tourist information center, up a steep staircase, and over the side street with the slippery wooden steps. The house has a big dog, but it’s nice to visitors.” After climbing a few wrong steep staircases, we assumed we had found the correct house because we stumbled across a house with a large German Shepherd sitting in the yard. We tried calling both numbers provided in the guide book…and neither went through. Out of other typically American distanced options of first communication, we had no other choice but to walk into a stranger’s yard. Half of us played with the dog while the other half shouted gamarjobat? and knocked on the door. A man came out, and we asked for the name of the owner mentioned in the guidebook. He told me that she was no longer taking any other guests; she had either moved or run out of space. I asked if he knew of anyone else who could take us. He asked me inside as he started asking his other two friends if they knew anyone. A typical Georgian conversation ensued: “Do you know anyone?” “Lika might still be taking guests.” “I’ll call her, do you have her number?” “She’s your cousin!! Don’t you have her number??” Several phone calls later, he told us to come with him. We followed him up the stairs and onto another side street, under the stares of every neighborhood, many who had probably been called for advice and wanted to come watch the strange group of foreigners, James and I in long trenchcoats with gray hats, Nathan and Alex with their long, unruly hair, Adam with his snow-awed smile, and Ren carrying her hole-y rain boots rather than wearing them.

A gate was opened, and we were welcomed in by a smiling Georgian man and his wife. We walked through a small driveway behind their two story house, snow-covered firewood lining the entire rap-around porch, to the broken steps leading up their hill of a backyard. A separate building was revealed, with a small kitchen, bathroom and bedroom downstairs, and a larger room with kitchenette and fireplace upstairs. Behind were bee-hives, a decrepit shack, an abandoned dog house, and broken qvevries scattered throughout the yard. The man introduced himself, I’ll call him Misha, and his wife, who I’ll call Gvantsa. “The room downstairs for the girls and the room upstairs for the boys, don’t worry, we’ll bring more beds.” I didn’t mind sharing two double beds with the boys; I knew it was going to be a cold night, considering the inside was no different in temperature than the outside. We settled a price, and immediately Misha stoked a fire.

As we were getting settled, Nathan and Adam set off for a guliat in the woods. I ran downstairs to ask Misha if we could borrow some more firewood. He said of course, and then invited me into the house, where he was seated around a table with three of his friends, ya know, supra-ing. Of course, I was invited to sit down, and began giving toasts with them. After a few really good toasts, when they were starting to really become interested in this strange foreigner who happened across their home by chance today, but knew a significant amount of their language and culture, they brought out the wooden horns. After one, I decided I should finally take the firewood upstairs, Misha asked where Alex was, so I asked if I could invite them all down to the supra (thinking of course, that the meal really wasn’t part of the price negotiations, and I didn’t want to invade). He said he would be delighted.

The four of us descended on the table, new fried potatoes were brought, and Alex and I laughed at how fortuitous the entire two days had been. I was just as incredulous as she; how could so much beauty and luck fall within such a short period? It was James’s turn for the horns. I jokingly picked up a vase and asked if we should use it for him. Instead, a carved wooden horn with the figure of the father from the Georgian film “Father of A Soldier” (ჯარისკაცის მამა) was brought for him. We drank Vakhtanguri; what we did not realize though was that the figure was hollow. James’s eyes burst wide with shock when the wine kept flowing from the mouth of the q’ants’i, which was at least thrice the size of mine.

Having had much to drink that day, I quickly became tired, so retired to the open room to sleep off a bit. At one point in my nap, I hear Nathan say, “don’t worry, I’ll take Misha to get toilet paper.” Later, there’s a knock on the door; the others have returned to the room. Gvantca opens the door and asks if we know where Misha is. I think I responded before falling asleep again. Apparently, while I was sleeping Misha, started getting a little too friendly, so Nathan took him on a long walk. Meanwhile, his wife kept getting more and more upset with him. By the time I woke up, Misha and Gvantsa had retired to the house.

I woke up to the sound of a harmonica. I rolled over to see a young bearded man I partially recognize simultaneously playing a harmonica and guitar, as a stranger and Nathan are gathered around him singing. I look around the room, we are all gathered, along with four newcomers, three of whom I vaguely recognized having seen them on the Kakheti trip. It turns out that other TLGers had arrived in Batumi. I rustled myself and journeyed out with Alex into the icy streets to procure some sausage and bread. She quickly revealed her Eastern European roots as she kicked us all out of the tiny kitchenette as she whirled dull knives in a fury, determined to make us the best snacks possible given the circumstances. We could still see our breaths in the room, despite the fire having been roaring for hours. We spent the next hours hudled together, singing, talking of religion and politics and what, exactly, our lives had become since coming to Georgia. The night wore on, and tired. Our new friends took leave of us in the early hours of the morning, and we, cold and contented, all snuggled under duvets on the two pushed-together beds as James (AVS to the max!!!) recited Shakespearean sonnets as we succumbed to our exhaustion.

And Alex still had four full days left in her trip. (You know what that means…more to come!)

…and why I love it.

Tuesday morning. I wake up in yesterdays clothes because it is too cold to take off any layers before sleeping–undershirt, dress shirt, sweater that hasn’t been washed since arriving because I don’t have enough sweaters to afford letting it air dry for five days, and jeans I have been wearing for a week. It’s a frost on your skin kind of morning. I look in the mirror and think, “well, these’ll do again for the day,” and I walk out the door, faithful briefcase from goodwill in the states slung across my back.

I set off on my dirt path to school. Instead of just droppings lying across my way, the heard of cows is lying across my path this morning. I have to climb up the hill through the brush to continue forward. The nieghborhood’s stray dogs bark and follow me to school as I pass my children shouting “Hello Mr. Cass!!!” and enter the school.

After first period, a teacher comes up to me and asks if I’m staying after school for the party. “What party?” She didn’t know, but she told me there would be cake, so I had to stay. I wasn’t quite in the mood, seeing as I had a private tutoring lesson in the evening, so I gave her the typical Georgian line “oh I am so sorry, but I cannot tonight. I have business.” The teacher was distraught. She ran off to another group of teachers, animatedly chatted, and in a few minutes my English coteacher Natia came over to me and handed me a cup of sugary, sugary instant coffee, in one of the three communal cups we all use for water and coffee and never wash. “Cass, you must stay for the party. We’re having cake!” “Natia, what is it even a party for?” “Umm, I don’t know.” The bell rings, and we go to class.

After a great class of “What is it? Is it a boat? Nooooooo. It isnut (Georgian pronunciation of “isn’t”) e boat. Itz e doll,” I head back to the teachers’ lounge. One of our Georgian teachers confronts me. “Cass, you must stay for the party, even for a short time.” “What is it a party for Manana?” “For grandchild.” “Oh! Does someone have a new grandchild?” “No.”

After third period, I get shepherded into the assistant director’s room. There are the sad remains of a torte and champagne. Natia and I sit down to enjoy our compulsory share and give toasts to our fellow teachers. Ok, so I’m happy because I’ve satisfied my obligation and my teachers are happy that I’ve eaten the cake with them. I go, teach my remaining two lessons, and get ready to leave the school.

After the last lesson, a teacher grabs me and says “let’s go to the party!” “I’ve already had some of the cake, I really can’t eat anymore,” I excuse myself. “No, no. There is a different cake.” I’m really confused, and she leads me to a room I have never been in before, our school’s biology room, strewn with plants, anatomical dummies, and student-made posters dedicated to motherhood. The beginnings of a supra are laid, and I am told the cake and chicken are coming. Here I at last find out that we are having a party for the grandmothers in our staff in general. The teachers wanted to have a party, so their planning went something like this; We should have a party! Ok, what for? I don’t know, what to we all have in common? Well…we’re all grandmothers, aren’t we? Yeah! Let’s have a party in honor of our grandmothers and grandchildren! Great! I’ll bring the cake tomorrow!

And so we had a party.

Natia jokingly said, “Cass, we should call it the ‘Grand Party’.” I loved it, and so wrote it around the beautiful flower drawn on the board. I open the champagne for the teachers (a strange simple secret delight of mine, along with pouring liquids from great heights and having milk-crate bookshelves) as the teachers shout with each pop ‘vaiiime!’ The only other male classroom teacher in the school (besides the two athletic teachers) pours me some of his homemade cognac after the champagne runs out. Rough stuff. The mandatorebi, our school’s security, and the directors stop by and make toasts. Up till this point, I had not had much communication with many of the teachers. I give stumbling toasts in Georgian, and since then they love me even more. Especially the other male teacher, who didn’t talk to me much before the party.

The cake comes, we eat, we drink from not enough plastic cups, passing them back and forth with each other, and then separate for the day. I call and cancel my private lesson for the day.

The dogs chase me back home. I am sincere when I say I could not love my work and fellow teachers any more than I do.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.