So the celebration that happened the day when I had just gotten back to Georgia has a name. I cannot currently recall it but I will write it down in the very near future and put it here. We had another similar but more elaborate festival on Saturday evening, on a day Americans and the West reserve for the frivolity of Valentine’s Day. Nato spent the day cooking furiously, I tutored the kids and got Nika to read English without the threat of violence. In fact he did so willingly. The children’s treasury I brought is coming in handy already. We set up the supra for the dead at home, but I personally decided to take part in the other side of the ritual.
|St George's Cemetery|
Round about 7 Gocha, Manana Bidzola (an aunt) Ani Nika Saba Nini myself and Tiko (host sister studying in Tbilisi but home on holiday) piled into the car and drove to the cemetery next to St George’s church—my favorite one. Gocha’s parents, brother and a couple other clan members are buried in the churchyard. Lasha had brought wood over earlier. We carried qubdari, khachapuri, ghomi (the consistency of grits but made of rice, with cheese added) cake, wine and beer. Another clan member brought mandarins, one chacha, and one a whole pig’s head in a pot. The fire had already been lit in the Kakhberidze plot and the snow tamped down so we could walk. Our clan had at least 20 people there, between men women and children. In the whole cemetery there were at least 250 people and a dozen fires. All of the clan members knew me at least by sight, and most by name and to talk to as well. I teach all the school age kids in the clan do they’ve at least heard of Hannah Mas. I was certainly readily accepted as someone who should be there with them, not just some tourist brought along for cultural gawking. We toasted ate and talked. I pulled out my limited Svan and any final skepticism of my presence among the older men converted into wide smiles. Men and women stayed to their own sides of the platforms carved of snow for the feasts. People moved about, some greeting friends and neighbors, but always returning to their clan plot, their kin. I chatted with Tiko who speaks fluent English. Selfies were taken. We had a mid-winter picnic in the cemetery.
And it has to have been one of the most beautiful spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. In the depths of winter, in the dark of night, the city of the dead was transformed into the center of the community. Kids played in the snow and threw more wood on the fires. Adults were solemn, but laughed and joked with one another, particularly as the evening wore on and the various bottles emptied. Everyone was included. The fires in the snow and our veins kept up warm. My fifth grader Monica informed me that she likes beer as she chugged a glass like a champ. I kept thinking how if you were to carry out this commemoration in the US someone would call the cops. But there’s nothing sacrilegious about it, quite the contrary. But why not remember those we’ve lost, those we love, not by sitting around moping and being sad but getting out of the house, getting together with family and friends and having some fun? When I’m dead I’d rather people remember me that way. Lamproba is a tradition only followed in Svaneti and only certain parts of it at that. On a sketch comedy show here in Georgia, I saw it ridiculed. Other Georgians sometimes view Svans as idiots, but also as old-fashioned, even backwards. I hope this tradition stays alive; to lose it is to lose something beautiful both physically and spiritually. We’ll see if it can survive.
The other big news from up here in Svaneti is that Skylar managed to have a bit of a health crisis while visiting us. He felt unwell one morning, which we assumed was just a hangover. He felt pretty bad the whole day, and then around 9pm we heard a thump from upstairs. I went up and found him semiconscious on the floor. Gocha and Nato proceeded to yell at me, assuming I had lied to them about his state of health, while also getting him back to bed, giving him medicine, hot water bottles and calling the ambulance. This arrived promptly and the various neighbors/relatives who had bene milling about carried him in and then drove with Gocha in the car so they could move him into the clinic here in Mestia. I spent the remainder of Sunday, all of Monday and Tuesday morning at the clinic with him, feeding, moving, helping, cajoling, entertaining and translating for him.
I discovered that health care in Georgia is dirt cheap (total cost of ambulance ride, 2 nights in clinic, treatments there, 4 types of pills to take home, an x-ray and a blood test? Less than 100 USD) but also feels quite haphazard by US standards. For example there is no patient chart. Each new nurse or doctor who arrives just asks the patient what’s going on. Treatments are essentially bought at the pharmacy and then transported down the hall to be administered. The nursing staff can be difficult to find, so at one point I had to turn off an IV to prevent air from going into Skylar’s bloodstream. They didn’t have a sharps container, which frankly scared me half to death. They allowed me to stay in the room while he had his x-ray which I’m fairly certain in a big no no in the US. We had to bring our own food (and bedding), which blessedly Nato was willing to do. The khachapuri tasted delicious. Check-out consisted of packing up our stuff, Gocha turning up and us peacing out. No paperwork. No final check, just off you go. We never got an official diagnosis, or one that we understood since frankly my hospital vocab consists of the body parts, pain, better, worse, and pill. It doesn’t help that our new insurance cards haven’t arrived yet (apparently they’re coming from Tbilisi, on the back of a tortoise considering how long it’s taken thus far) so I had to run to the ATM Monday morning to get cash to pay for everything.
|Two Aunts and Ani|
Asmat, my Svan tutor’s Mom works at the hospital thank goodness so she shepherded me around to various offices to pay for stuff, get drugs, and to explain in slow and easy Georgian, when and how many of everything Skylar should take and watched as I wrote everything down for him on the packages. After we brought him home for the afternoon and night I took care of laundry, some food and getting his room cleaned up. I will say, at least the clinic here didn’t have that disinfectant smell that hospitals in the US always have and that sets my flesh crawling. I was still very glad to get back to school on Wednesday, even if I was physically dragging myself through the day. All my teachers asked how my friend was, as did two of my senior boys. I’ve realized that probably a big part of why people here stay home from school work etc with small illnesses is that it is imperative to keep them from becoming crises. In the US, exceptionally high quality medical care is never that far away (I’m not saying that everyone has access to it, I’m saying in purely geographic terms it exists). Here, the nearest actual hospital is 3+ hours by car on terrible roads. The Mestia clinic has the absolute basics, but not much more. It’s not worth risking an emergency, because it might just cost you your life.
I also tried my hand at skiing for the first time and miraculously managed to not kill myself. I actually had quite a fun time, despite running into an inordinate number of my students while wiped out and trying to determine how to get up from my heap on the snow. Another reminder that while I have many skills in the US few of them transfer here. My plan for getting home from Hatsvali, the ski resort, consisted of finding a ride with someone else going to Mestia, since that’s the only place to go. While this might sound a little haphazard it worked perfectly. Three young Svan men from Tbilisi were going back into town which they were visiting and offered me a lift (I was with my friend Skylar so don’t worry for my safety). We spoke in a strange combination of Georgian and English and they were surprised to learn that I was an English teacher and not a tourist. This broke the ice and they asked where I taught. When I said Mestia their eyes grew wide in the way that Georgian’s usually do when you say you willingly live in Svaneti, and even more surprising, that you love it there. They absolutely floored me with their next statement: “You are heroes”.