Well folks, I’m back in Georgia, back to work and back to trying to update you as to the goings on in this gorgeous place called Mestia. I had a lovely time on my break at home, getting a chance to see you all and catch up and bore you all to death with stories that start with “Well, in Svaneti…”
My return wasn’t overly eventful, other than that getting my ticket was a little suspenseful. I got them though and got to try another airline for the trans-Atlantic trip. Polish, Qatar and now Turkish. I also got an 8 hour layover in Istanbul, one of my favorite places in the entire world, and I got to show a fellow teacher around a bit, which made the stop even more enjoyable. Then a quick jaunt to Tbilisi. I had decided that I wanted to get back to my life here in Georgia as soon as I could so I went from the airport, a short stop at the hostel where the other teachers were staying (as in about half an hour) and then onto my mashrutka to Svaneti. This ride took a bit longer than the one down, total about 9 hours, but everyone on the marsh was very kind, one guy bought me a khachapuri to eat and everyone was quite curious as to who the heck I was since most of them weren't from Mestia. Eventually in the mountains one of them broke the ice by asking if I was Czech or Slovak. I had to laugh and told them that actually I was the American English teacher which met with great approval. I made it to Mestia about 4 o’clock in the afternoon after some exciting fishtailing on the roads up here. The cliff on one side added to the adventure. The roads aren’t really plowed, the snow is just tamped down in the center of the road so that they’re drivable, so the only road up to where I live is now 1 lane. But I couldn’t stop smiling on that trip because I was going back to my Georgian home and a place that I feel so at ease in.
Nato and Gocha were waiting for me at home with food, smiles and hugs and I was bundled upstairs for a couple hours of sleep since I had hit hour 45 of my trip. That I did, but I forgot how many layers you need to wear for sleep here so I was a touch cold. I went back downstairs in time for a rather fascinating tradition. Nato had obviously been cooking up a storm all day, but it was still the holiday season so I didn’t think anything of it. Upon my return downstairs the table was set up for guests, but I didn’t see any. A trio of candles were lit and placed on the plates of various food items (all of them fast approved, so vegan). Glasses of wine were poured and put around, but no one sat. Nini opened the door and left it ajar, which I was little annoyed about because as I said, it’s cold in Svaneti. Gocha picked up a glass and Nato motioned for all of us women to stand behind him. He held the glass and half toasted and half prayed, pouring some wine of the floor when he finished. Nato went and did the same, and then I was invited to. I had finally figured out what was going on. We were having a supra for the dead. And so I toasted those in my life who I’ve lost, remembering them, enjoying the memories and thinking of how much they would like to see me here, happy fulfilled and being invited to the party. We waited a few moments and then joined the empty spaces at the table and ate. My host brother Lasha was at the cemetery for other commemorations. I discovered that kissing while we had our guests was prohibited. After we had finished eating we cleared the table and then re-laid it with fresh plates and fresh helpings of food. We repeated this three times, each time opening and closing the door, toasting, praying, pouring, kneeling. Nato told me that this was a scary, creepy day but that only the Svans knew it. I thought that this was an interesting way of viewing the situation; that the knowledge had been lost by the rest of the world, but was retained here in the mountains. Nato Gocha and Nini went over to the grandparents and Lasha stayed home with me, working on getting meat ready while I collapsed on the couch for some more sleep. I woke up ever so often to see him, Ani and various other family members coming through. Preparations picked up again at 11pm, because at midnight we repeated the ritual one last time, but with meat and milk, for the fast had been broken. This time Gocha, Lasha and Uncle Gari shared the responsibility of toasting the dead first and then the women and children were invited to participate. We ate drank and laughed at our supra and I thought of what a wonderful way to remember the dead this was. It had its quiet somber and even religious moments, but really it was about being together and celebrating the visit of guests, whether dead or living. Supras are an interesting tradition, a way to celebrate the visit of guests but also to simply enjoy the company of one another. Why not use them as a way to enjoy the company of people who aren’t here any more? I have very little doubt that everyone who I’ve lost would enjoy a feast of food, drink, laughter and good company. Perhaps this tradition has been lost in the rest of the world, and it seems a shame. Next January 18th you may find my door open and me inviting the wraiths of my loved ones in. Those that you’ve lost are welcome too though.