I think I ought to take some time and explain one of the most important and probably misconstrued parts of Georgian culture in the West: drinking. Binge drinking in the US in typically either scorned or celebrated, based largely on which generation you belong to. My own celebrates binging as though it were a civic duty like voting and praises those who can hold their drink. Georgia is undoubtedly a drinking culture. It is difficult to avoid as alcohol pervades everyday life in a way I would never have thought possible, and this is coming from a half-German. Most every important occasion (funeral, death, birth, birthday, wedding, engagement, departure, arrival etc) is marked by a supra or feast. Every supra has a tamada, or toastmaster whose job is to make toasts for the occasion. There are in fact professional toastmasters who are hired to give toasts at events. Toasts are often elaborate and poetic, and frequently follow a set order. Here in Svaneti the first toast is to God. Then St George (I think there is another Saint in between there) and for the departed when some of the beverage of choice is poured on the ground for them. And it keeps going from there. How much is drunk depends on the group. Men are always expected to drain their glass, whether it be wine or liquor. In mixed company women are allowed to drink less, perhaps only sipping from their glass, though they will be encouraged to drink more. To not drink anything for each toast is extremely impolite. In all female groups, women drain their glasses though. As I said before I can either be a woman or an honorary man. I asked my 6th graders as a practice for past continuous whether they had drunk wine. Every hand shot up. Because of course. This is Georgia. I was a little more disturbed when I asked if anyone had smoked and 2/6 hands went up. Anti-smoking campaigns have a way to go apparently. This is perhaps a long lead up to my telling that 2 weekends ago by US standards I had quite the weekend. But only by US standards.
Friday night I went to the birthday party of a cousin’s friend. It was an all-female group except for Lasha who seemed to be serving as the designated driver and protector of the virtue of the group from any marauding strangers in the guesthouse. We ladies had a dance party to traditional Georgian music and then US and Georgian pop. I have to say that dance parties with girl friends are fun in every language and every culture. I couldn’t speak very well with the company but they welcomed me in and made sure that I enjoyed the celebration as much as they did. They also had a large plastic jug of what must have been wine at some point but at this point had a rather familiar sting when you drank it. We toasted of course and as it was just us ladies, we finished our glasses. Wine glasses, not shot glasses. Saturday morning dawned just a tad too bright for some of us and I got to work lesson planning and enjoying the clear weather which comes distressingly seldom as winter approaches. The mountain that sits in front of my house always had some snow on the very top but every day I can see the snow creep down its flanks. Never has it felt so appropriate to say winter is coming. The snow hasn’t reached the tree line quite yet but it’s on its way. Part of me is so excited for my first snow in Mestia and the coming of winter and the other part of me is terrified of just how cold it is going to get. Because there is already a distinct chill in the air. I’m tempted to buy a thermometer just to see how cold it gets in my bedroom and the other part of me doesn’t want to know.
Saturday and Sunday we had wine at meals with my host family (one with just my host mom because we could and the other was with the neighbor because I had brought the other volunteer teacher over to meet the family and this was cause for a mini-supra). My neighbor I had already met while working on making tomato sauce one night and she is firmly in the ‘Hannah is a kargi gogo’ camp. She asked me if I would be getting married here. It has become a running joke that the extracurricular that we set up will in fact be The Bachlorette: Svaneti and we will find my Svan husband. While I’m flattered that people like me well enough to want to keep me here, it is also a little terrifying to be asked quite this often when and to whom I will be getting married. Especially since they seem to be actively making plans if I haven’t got any.
|On a walk. Note me wearing everything I own|
Teaching is harder than expected, in part due to the low levels of listening proficiency. The number of blank stares I get in response to “Turn to page 8” is truly frightening. The 1st graders (all 7 of them) are the scariest since their English vocab consists of apple, bag, cat, dog, egg, and fish. And they’re a little iffy on the last two. I’ve been really struggling with discipline in that class and was getting extremely frustrated but as a good friend said “If it just sounds like blah blah blah would you take it seriously?”. I have requested to always have a co-teacher with me I the future. I also discovered that senioritis is universal. The sense of ‘not giving a’ was palpable among the 12th graders. Can’t say I blame them given that their grades and attendance have no bearing on their university admission, or anything else. I almost have a schedule for my classes which is great though I only have the materials for 4 grades. Lesson planning seems to be a little bit of a foreign concept. But I think the kids are learning and that’s all I can ask for.
|Winter is coming!|
Monday at school the teacher’s meeting got quite heated to the point that I was a little uncomfortable about the yelling and gesturing and exactly who they were yelling about. It came to an end and a general bohemie returned remarkably quickly given just how high it seemed tempers had gotten. It turned out that one of the teachers had had a birthday so we got out pizza, cake and a liter and a half of homemade vodka. Guaranteed to put hair on the chest of any man woman child or animal. Seeing as there was only one male around (the geography teacher, who is trying to teach me Svan at every turn) women emptied their glasses. I don’t know how teacher’s meetings in the US usually go, but I would guess that they don’t end with everyone a little giddy and going home to eat enough bread to absorb the effects of the afternoon. The drinking culture here might help to explain the amount of bread eaten at every single meal. And preferably there is bulgur, potatoes, grits, cornbread, rice or some combination thereof to go with the bread. It’s a carb heavy diet here. I might add that it’s not just alcohol that people foist on me but also food. I am encouraged to eat more at every single turn, no matter where or when. And not just my host mother. My host sister, brother, cousins, father, aunts, uncles, co-teachers, the other host family in town, everyone at every supra I’ve been to etc. Hospitality runs deep in Georgia, where guests are a gift from God and particularly here in Svaneti where until a few years ago guests of the foreign extraction were few and far between. They must be cherished coddled and celebrated. If that means force feeding them, so be it.
|Sunset in Svaneti|
The other big news of the week is that I managed to have my first real conversation in Georgian without a translator standing by to rescue me when I floundered. It was quite amusing actually. I was on a walk after school one day after having a rough time with my first graders and I needed to cool down. I ran into one of the male hang out groups called birzhas. They gave me the look and the ‘hello’ pronounced in such a way to be the verbal equivalent of a leer. Since I refuse to be phased I replied in Georgian ‘gamarjobat’. They asked how I knew Georgian and I replied “I’m the English teacher at school number two” (Meore skolashi inglisuri mastsavlebeli var--მეორე სკოლაში ინგლისური მასწავლებელი ვარ). Spines straightened, eyes raced up to look at me straight on, tone of voice changed to humble and respectful and the formal you (tkven) was applied. One of the members came over to shake my hand and ask where I was staying (this sounds like a very poor decision but since I live with a family I’m perfectly safe. Plus everyone in town knows so one phone call and they could have found out for themselves). I was also able to say where I am from, what my name is and where I was going. We had a cheery goodbye and I went on my way, a complete Georgian interaction down and a few more creepers cut down in 3 seconds flat. A successful week by my standards at least!