I firmly believe that I ended up with a better host family than I could have asked for. The love and care they show for me is beyond description. I suppose the best way to put it is that I don’t feel like part of the family. I am part of the family. My host mother has stopped using the qualifier ‘American’ in her introduction of me. I am her daughter. The degree to which I am accepted by the family is matched only by how the community has reached out and embraced me. I physically cannot walk down the street without a neighbor asking me over. I haven’t walked more than 5 minutes without running into a student for months. Since I always stop to chat my walks take far longer than might be expected. Today is perhaps a perfect example of my life.
|Nini, Saba and Banguriani in the background|
I woke late (rolling out of bed at 9:30 and came downstairs for a meal with Gocha Nato and Nini in a home smelling deliciously of incense. They’ve started lighting some almost every morning in the buildup to Christmas, which also includes a 40 day vegan fast. Nato is taking part, the rest of us are vegan on Wednesday and Fridays. I’ve added a couple of extra days to that, but the thought of adding more carbs to my life, plus the fact that Nato has disallowed me means that I’m not fully fasting. We joked and laughed while eating potatoes and bread (remember the carbs?). I packed a bag and went to find wifi in town. I caught a ride to the center and chatted with the driver, whose wife I know well. Then at the museum (the only wifi in town it turns out) I sat and got comfy for as long as I wanted since when the guard found out I was the English teacher I could have moved in and he wouldn’t have minded. Nini called and Saba her and I had a lovely khinkali (meat dumplings, google them, they’re delicious) lunch with chips and chocolate after. We got stared at since one of these things was not like the others (read: me) by the Georgian tourists in the restaurant. Nini and Saba were beautifully oblivious so I was too. I suppose to them at this point, I belong, so why should anyone stare at a local? We slid on the ice and caught a ride home with the neighbors who found my Svan both hilarious and endearing. I did a couple of dishes some laundry and lesson planning and then we watched nichieri (the Georgian X-factor) together. My 5th graders asked if I watched so now I do to keep up with the kids. A couple neighbros came over and we chatted (Nato Gocha and I). I went for a quick walk because the weather was indescribably lovely (and warm!!!) and ran into my friend/tutor Lasha so we had a nice chat as well. And planned my residency permit application since my rule is always BYOG. Bring your own Georgian. Then home. Nato and Gocha ran out for a sec, so I gave Nika (7) an English lesson, which was incredibly rewarding to see him sound out the words he wrote. I kept the stove burning since Gocha had jokingly told me to do that (and make bread khachapuri and gubdari while I was at it). The kids had bought fireworks so we almost killed ourselves with those and I chatted with Manana, her sister and Gari about my upcoming trip home. Then we and the kids played cards (Gocha helped me), Simon says and learned the English words for body parts, followed by me and Gocha helping Nato prepare for her trip to Tbilisi in the morning. Me Gocha and the kids had a quick devotional as well in front of the wall of icons complete with candles and incense (wardrobe change required).
|Almost the same view from when I arrived in Mestia. Happy winter!|
It was so fascinating to watch Gocha, who frankly can be a little terrifying, prayer book in hand, getting the incense ready reading in his strong gentle and often passionate (Georgians are kind of the Italians of the Eastern bloc) voice words that I didn’t entirely comprehend but which on a different level I understood. He took the burning incense when Nini began reading and held it out before each icon, as if giving them a chance to smell. We finished reading, prayed and kissed the two largest paintings. Then back to games for the kids, and a meal for Gocha and I. The past week I’ve found my groove with my host father. We had both been pretty stand-offish not sure what to make of the other, dancing around fear avoidance and bewilderment. Now we’ve moved on to care and joking. He made sure that I ate what he viewed as enough and insisted I sit when we needed something, getting it himself instead. I feel as though I’ve finally earned his respect, through the work I do and my relationship with the kids, as the bar he sets has everything to do with devotion to the family. Tiko and Lasha call him often from Tbilisi.
Gocha and Nato went searching for winter clothes upstairs while I cleaned up the meal, watched the bread in the wood stove, fed it and kept an eye on the stew . Now Nato is kneading bread dough while Nini and Gocha watch the news and I curl up to write this. It’s a quiet Saturday night here in Mestia, but at this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
|Nine of my 17 Seniors. They are alternatively my favorite class and the bane of my existence.|
So yesterday two of my male seniors clearly skipped class. Well, I mean, they all skip class all the time but this time they were a little more in my face about it. They were out at the spring behind the school, which is where the older boys hang out for break and the next 10-15 minutes until of the teachers sticks their head out the window and yells at them to get inside and go to class (a skill I am rapidly becoming proficient at I might add “Metormete—Inglisuri [12th grade—English]!”) I saw the boys Lasha and Roma today and asked them where they wandered off to after leaving the spring, because it sure as heck wasn’t class. They never appeared in the whole 45 minutes, which I was kind of pissed about. Their response? “We went to the library”. I feel like this must be the Georgian equivalent of “Oh Halloween? I was at Bible Study”. If I wasn’t so annoyed it would have been hilarious!
|We do laugh a lot though|
Gilotsavt Barbaroba! It’s another Saint’s Day here in Mestia (what else is new?) but due to her being the patron saint of children the school was essentially empty. From the 5th, 6th and 12th grades (theoretically 39) I had 2 students. So I went to church instead. I’ve never seen that place as full as it was. It was lovely to see so many kids and young adults. I ended up standing in a cloud of my 1st-7th graders all of us holding single candles alight surrounded by the smell of incense and the undeniable feeling of mutual love. I think my students remain taken aback to see me in church but my teachers are still pleased as punch. I was a little annoyed because at one point I was told I needed to remove myself from the church proper because they were having a special prayer for Orthodox only and Manana Mas kept telling me how I needed to get baptized. I squelched the urge to tell her that I was already baptized, thank you very much. But the other teachers all said a special prayer for me and my mom. I told Tamuna Mas yesterday that my mom’s name is Barbara and when she told Murtaz Mas he apparently INSISTED that she say a special prayer for the women who bore and raised me since I turned out such a polite and warm hearted (her words, not mine) woman. Which is wonderfully sweet and adorable and almost made me cry and made up for my feeling a little annoyed earlier. I’m glad that she told me this since I was feeling super emotional all day and then I could channel happy overly-emotional crazy.
|The cows in front of the house. Please note that dirt roads turn into ice roads. It is inevitable that I will wipe out one of the these days. It is just a question of whether I will be more humiliated to do it in front of the 1st or 12th graders.|