About the Blog

I recently accepted a position from Teach and Learn with Georgia, a Georgian Ministry of Education program designed to bring native speakers of English into classrooms around the country. I will be moving to Georgia in August of 2014 to begin my assignment.

Before this latest adventure, I studied at Bogazici University in Istanbul Turkey and at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I speak English German Spanish, Turkish Azerbaijani and Uzbek and am currently trying my hand at Georgian.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Mestia in the Snow!
While I’ve noticed that most of my blog posts are a series of random anecdotes about how wonderfully strange life here in the Republic of Georgia can be I would like to try and give them some type of overarching theme to tie them together into something beyond the musings of my delirious mind. For this week, I will try to touch on hospitality and the chivalry that comes with it. Chivalry probably sounds exceptionally outdated as a concept to most Americans, particularly those of my generation. Yet it is the only word that I can think of that accurately describes the often peculiar and many times charming relationship that men and women have here. It is, of course, also maddening at times because as I count myself as a member of the rabid men hating crowd (aka feminists, and yes I have in fact been called a rabid man hater which I found bizarre) and I think of myself as being a self-sufficient human being in my own right. Yet chivalry here goes beyond opening doors occasionally if the girl going into the lecture hall after you is particularly hot. While women have specific requirements to be ‘kargi gogo’ there are also strong expectations about what makes a man a ‘kargi bitchi (ქარგი ბიჭი--good boy)’ which is perhaps not quite as important, but will be taken into account and when it comes time to marry and find a kargi gogo, it never hurts. Chivalry is paramount to the kargi bitchi image. For instance, this past weekend I had three female friends come to visit me up here in Mestia. We had such a blast, in large part because I could call upon my friend Lasha (not host brother Lasha, his friend Lasha, not to be confused with my students named Lasha or other neighbor Lasha). For convenience we shall call him mountaineer Lasha, since he has climbed Tetnuldi which is insane. Anyway, they arrived on Friday morning after taking the night train from Zugdidi and then a mashrutka up. I had a minor argument (a playful one) with my host mother that day actually since I thought I could go into school and they could entertain themselves until I got home. She was appalled at the thought that I would leave guests unattended and told me to take the day off of work. We compromised in that I would go to 2/4 classes and then go home to care for them. I fed them food that I had made that morning, along with items that my host mom had prepared already. Gocha stopped into the house while we were eating and made sure to offer us both chacha (liquor) and wine. It was 11am. Also, they had already partaken of chacha on the ride up so they decided to decline for the moment. Hospitality.
Sunset in Svaneti

Saturday we hiked up to Jvari, or the cross above town. I invited Lasha to come along because we had fun altogether the night before listening to Georgian folk music with my friends and his friends at a local cafe and because my mantra for hiking around here is BYOG. Bring your own Georgian. Having been raised to respect nature I am perfectly aware that I don’t know the terrain as well as I might and that weather can change frighteningly quickly and that my call to 112 ( the local emergency number, though I pray that I never have to make such a call) would consist of “hello, problem. Us mountain at. Sorry”.  It being autumn now it was significantly colder than my first attempt to Jvari, and foggier. I’m also much better adjusted to the altitude though, so I didn’t really experience any problems. My other friends started tiring about a quarter of the way in though. Some of Lasha’s friends drove past on their way to collect firewood as we stopped to rest so he went over to chat and wrangled a ride for us. So instead of trudging up we flew along rutted dirt tracks in a Soviet era jeep that should have been sold for scrap before I was born. Literally every wire in the thing was exposed and we had to pop the bonnet for unknown reasons halfway up. But it worked. So our ascent was a remarkably quick one. At the top it was quite foggy and a little cold so Lasha immediately got hit extra jacket out of his bag and gave it to me, insisting that I put it on. He then scampered down the hill to collect firewood for a bonfire. My friend Claire tried to help him and was able to carry two whole pieces of wood for her efforts. So instead Hannah Claire and I went and sat on the observation platform and took pictures whenever the fog cleared. Lasha called his friends in the car for matches and then after we struggled over the fire for a while (the receipts that I’m too lazy to clean out of my wallet came in handy) gasoline. That got the fire going pretty good and so we had a picnic of tomatoes, eggs, cheese, cucumbers, bread, ajika (Georgian salsa is the best explanation I can come up with for this mix of peppers, tomatoes and herbs) water, chacha and wine. Because Georgia. We ate laughed and toasted (Georgian, English and Svan were used) by the fire with Mestia spread before our feet. A couple of groups of tourists came and went, continually surprised that some of us were Americans (blending with the locals for a win!) and I think somewhat jealous of our Georgian experiences. We walked down in the late afternoon before the sun fell below the horizon. Hannah wore Claire’s coat and so for the descent Lasha gave his sweatshirt to Claire and walked in his t-shirt. I guess I can best explain the hospitality and the chivalry in that a Georgian would rather starve than see you hungry, would rather freeze than see you cold, would rather carry you than see you tired. It is out of the question that a Georgian man would not walk you home or drive you when it’s raining, or give you a lift if he sees you on the road.
View from Jvari
And while my friend Claire in the city of Gori has had enormous problems with men, my status as a sort-of member of the community means that chivalry dictates respect towards me, since that means respect towards my family. It all gets a little Jane Austen, which while I have been told since childhood this is the epitome of romantic, the 21st century woman in me feels like she wishes she would be allowed to take care of herself sometimes. My terrible Georgian means that I am largely dependent on the kindness of relatives friends and strangers here, so the culture of hospitality works in my advantage but it also gives the feeling of being caught in a state of childlike being. I’ve found outlets (running, helping around the house, writing) but it is a strange existence. Thank goodness my host family gives me an exceptional amount of independence.
Claire and I up at Jvari
Tuesday at school was probably my best day yet. I had the 4th, 2nd, and 12th graders with my co-teacher Tamuna. She was in and out of the 2nd grade class and I was able to control them without picking them up and moving them. The 4th graders were great, they’re so lively and excited. I get cheers when I enter the classroom, which is a bizarre and slightly pleasant celebrity. The 3rd grade I had by myself and we just hit it off. I only had 4 boys but they were on fire, learning the present continuous. It was one of those days when I realize why teaching is such a passion. After that class I was feeling great, and then I went to the teacher’s room. One of their grandsons had his 4th birthday so she brought wine to school. After being peer-pressured into drinking the entire glass, we discovered that the 7th grade was supposed to have English class and the only English teacher at school was me. If this were America I would have been fired on the spot. This is Georgia though, so there was nothing unusual in me teaching after a drink, and I ended up having an excellent class with the 7th graders, discussing technology and their own involvement in social media. All in all a very successful day. I came home and after lunch gathered potatoes and grapes in the garden with Gocha and Nini. The potatoes need to get in before this weekend when we’ve got a big storm coming (we actually had our first unexpected snow last weekend, which has melted but urgency has set in). It has put most people a little on edge, and the other school just cancelled two days of classes so the kids can help. Life here is very different from what I’m used to, but I am so often glad to be here and experiencing it. 
Lasha and our ride

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