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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Potatoes and Weddings

It’s been another busy couple of weeks here in Mestia, which might seem surprising given how small a place this is, but there’s always work to be done. School was pretty quiet Wednesday Thursday and Friday last week because of the potato harvest. Potatoes are the main crop here in Svaneti and I’m not actually sure what the heck people ate before potatoes were introduced because they are an all day everyday experience. We were expecting a bad snow storm on Sunday night and after having the snow the second week of October people were super concerned that the crop would just freeze in the field resulting in either poverty (since food costs a fortune up here due to the remoteness of the area) or simply being hungry. Friday out of a total of 125 students at my school maybe 20 came at all. I had helped Nini and Gocha in the little garden in front of our house but I knew that we had other fields. So after school on Friday I ate lunch and headed out with Nini and Saba to join Gocha and his friends.
Sort of Blurry but this is Me with (from l to r) Nini, Saba, Nika and Ani my host sister and cousins

The field was up the hill that our home is built into and then down the road a bit. It is actually part of a larger field, but it seems like different family groups have divided it up. There are no fences or anything but everyone seems to know exactly where their crop ends and someone else’s begins. We arrived round about 1pm and there were three or four distinct groups working to get the potatoes dug. The harvest here is completely unmechanized, at least for people’s personal crops. Adults use pitchforks to dig the potatoes out and kids pick them up, make piles, sort and bag. A small field takes hours using this method just because it is so labor intensive, but here that’s how it’s done. I discovered that there is no comfortable position for harvesting potatoes. When they’re growing on a slope it’s at least a little less hard to reach them, but your legs and back will hurt if you are a newbie like me. I was provided with gloves being the weak foreigner but most everyone else worked without. Everyone had brought some food and water for their time in the fields, and this was pretty much the first time I’ve seen Georgians drink water. We took a nice break round about 3:30 or 4 and shared a picnic with the family at the bottom of the field. The kids are in my class so they addressed me as “Mas” (short for mastsavlebeli or teacher) and a bucket was found for me to sit on. They seemed surprised that I was there, but a sensed a certain respect that I was there and actually sort of contributing. Certainly I was putting in the effort. We had bread, salad, some sort of tomato stew, fruit, water, meat (that looked mostly like fat so I politely declined) and khachapuri or cheese bread. I pulled out some Svan at the picnic and one of my second graders actually gasped. Everyone talked about what a kargi gogo I am, which always makes me deeply uncomfortable.
I took the teacher from the first school shopping in downtown Mestia on Saturday afternoon. Well, I should say we took each other. He needed some winter clothes and I needed some retail therapy. There is a thriving secondhand clothes market here in Mestia, most of it totally under the table and probably technically illegal, but I don’t think anyone here gives a, so people do what they want. He speaks Russian and I speak some Georgian, so between us we were mostly comprehensible, until we were trying to ask for long johns and both went “uhhhh—long johns-i?” We also got asked at every single store we went to if we were married. One time we told the 2 older ladies running the place that we were just friends. They looked knowingly at us and said “And after friendship comes…”. No. I am literally being set up with everyone in my life, and I feel like people here must be so confused as to who I actually am married to/will be married if the assumption is that 1) you are seen with a man 2) there must be marriage and many babies in your future. However, it does provide amusing anecdotes to tell my friends and all of you so I will accept it and move on. I am starting to get worried about what will happen when I eventually go home shopping wise though. All the stores here are one room and frequently run low on supplies. We went into one that had just gotten a new shipment of the random food assortment they inevitably have and we were both completely overwhelmed. We bought chocolate wafers, chips, a jar of pickles and banana nectar. I dare not think what will happen when I go to a Sam’s Club in the US if a single room store that actually is stocked does that to my decision making capabilities.
Me Saba, Vanya (the other teacher in Mestia) and Skylar (the other teacher in Svaneti) 
That evening we went to a wedding in the nearby village of Mulaghi. It turned out that the bride was one of the teachers at my school, which everyone had failed to mention to me. I went with the other teachers from my school and we brought the teacher from the first school as well since he hadn’t been to a wedding yet. We left in typical Georgian style in a slightly decrepit mashrutka or minibus, very late. We kept waiting to try and figure out who exactly was coming. Then the deputy principal Nazo wanted to stop to pre-game. Which, if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know that pre-gaming a Georgian event is like bringing a freezer to Antarctica because you’re worried your food will spoil. But I have learned that here in Georgia, you just go with it. Everyone got to partake and Vanya and I were highly encouraged. We pulled over so the driver could have a shot too, which was at first worrying, but we later discovered that he is the slowest most careful driver in Svaneti. Interestingly enough, the idea of a DD does seem to have arrived here, I think because everyone acknowledges that the roads are super unsafe even if you’ve lived here your entire life. Driving them drunk would result in a great many unnecessary deaths of young people so it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think. My host father Gocha was stone cold sober the entire time because he was driving home. At the wedding party (held in a tent in a field) there were perhaps 300 guests already arrived, all of whom turned to stare at the obviously non-locals. I don’t exactly blend here. We were placed near the front of the tent and were served more food than I could eat in 5 years. Common plates were placed all down the long tables and over the course of the evening at least 2 dozen dishes were served. Also fruit, cake, and pitchers of wine and chacha. The tamada was an older Svan gentleman, who seemed to do an excellent job listening to the comments of my teachers. I couldn’t understand everything he said due to the poetry of the language used and the Svan, but I could get the gist of every toast, which I was very proud of. And of course, the dancing. It was an interesting combination of traditional Georgian and Svan songs which many of the young people danced to, and modern music. Unexpected contributions: the Macarena (I kid you not) and a techno version of Gangnam style. The bride threw the bouquet, but both young men and women are encouraged to try and catch it. My teachers and my 10 year old cousin Katya, who lives in Mulaghi were quite literally shoving me to the front of the pack, but a young dancer caught it instead. On the bus on the way back the teachers consoled me. They told me that since Meg (the bride) was married now, my wedding was next. I asked them who I would be marrying and the driver jokingly volunteered for the task. Because this is Mestia.
The whole Crew at home
Sunday morning I went to church, and this time I was determined to stay for the end of the service. As a result I kind of dawdled in the morning and didn’t leave until almost 10. I’m usually the only one from my household who goes and Gocha seems to find it almost funny that the non-orthodox member represents at the Xalqis Iglesia (People’s or Community Church).The priest, Mama Giorgi, is hilarious and was apparently an actor before he joined the priesthood. The older women, who make up the majority of the congregation, have taken me under their wing and quite like me. I did manage to stay the whole time, though there was a moment of confusion when one of the acolytes came over and asked if I wanted confession (I think?) he could tell that I didn’t quite understand so he asked if I knew Russian. When I replied that no I was the English teacher he stopped for a chat about what a kai gogo I am. I didn’t take communion of course which confused the younger acolytes a great deal, all of whom are my students. But the service was gorgeous and it was nice to share the community of Christ here in this beautiful place.