But what else has happened since my return to Georgia, you might ask. Oh, many things. My return to school was good; my students seemed genuinely pleased to have me back as did the other teachers. As it turns out I only missed 6 days of school so I still now pretty well where my kids were. I was really excited to get back to my Access kids, who are between 13 and 17 years old and hail from both Mestia and the nearby village of Lenjeri. I have a ton of freedom teaching them (3-7 M,W,F but the hours are a little different right now because of the cold and dark). I can try different activities, do group work, make jokes that the students will understand have listening activities etc. The longer classes mean we get a lot more done and there seems to be a bigger focus on oral and aural comprehension which is how I’ve been taught languages so I’m better at replicating those techniques. I think the kids were pleased to see me back too. I have 2 session, the first can be anywhere from 8 to 15 students and the second is 7-9, most of them from Lenjeri.
I’ve also decided to worry less this semester. If my 2nd graders act up, well then, they do. They’re 7 years old. It’s not a personal insult to my teaching abilities. Its kids being kids. If the 6th graders get under my skin, welcome to the club. They made the Russian teacher cry the other day , so it’s hardly just me. And if someone makes a comment about my Georgian, or so and so other foreigner who spoke perfect Georgian, bite me. I never said I was a linguist. I have the tendency to hide my emotions but then I remember that this is Georgia. Let it all hang out, everybody else does. If I’m angry I can be angry, tired, frustrated ditto. If I’m sad it’s not a character failing to cry. Life is often an emotional rollercoaster here; I may as well put my hands up and scream.
We also, the Thursday I got back, celebrated my host brother Lasha’s 22nd birthday. We spent a large chunk of Wednesday evening preparing (though when I say we I wasn’t really terribly useful) and then when I got back from school on Thursday I found Nato, Teona (an aunt) Manana (another aunt) the neighbor and a 5th woman I’d never met before in our kitchen getting ready for the evening. Upstairs a couple guys were there already and the table was laid for 15 or so. My usefulness consisted of doing some dishes and carrying stuff upstairs. On one trip Nini, who was playing backgammon with them called me over “Hannah, this boy is interested in what your name is”. And so the evening began. On one of my frequent trips upstairs the kids (Nini, Ani, Saba, Nika and a girl called Mari) followed me around giggling the whole time. They aahed to explain that they were my bodyguard for the evening, here to protect my honor from all the various young men who would be here that might want to steal it. Or something to that effect. They then followed me into my room (I sleep on the 2nd floor and the birthday supra was to ne in the room/hallway outside my door) and pantomimed ‘if a boy drags you in here and onto the bed we’ll beat him up’. It’s good to know that they kids of the house have your back. Not that I would ever have been worried about anything of the kids, all of the other guys at the party would have already taken it out of the offender pretty well by then. They were also all good kind sweet young men and being a young professional as I am here (please don’t laugh) I seem to hold a certain place of respect in their eyes.
I started the evening downstairs eating with the women. The kids were given gubdari and scampered back upstairs to watch the guys. It was discussed when I should join the young people upstairs and decided that when the other females arrived I would be sent up. I protested, it wasn’t necessary, but you don’t mess with Svan women. We did a few of our own toasts downstairs. Women seem to have different traditions than men. A toast would be introduced and each person would elaborate on the theme, in this case the first toast was to Lasha. Each woman, including myself added our good wishes to his future health and happiness and then drank our glass. The girls arrived (3 of Lasha’s old classmates, plus myself) and I was dragged upstairs by Manana to hang out with the young people. Misha had been chosen as the tamada, or toastmaster and he did a good job of it. He was stationed at the head of the table with Lasha on his right. I was at the other end next to a quiet Georgian girl called Mari. The kanchi, or hollowed out horns from a sheep or goat that are used as drinking vessels at supras, were being passed around the table. They have their own special rules and regulations. At formal supras they are only offered to men. They are filled typically with wine, occasionally with liquor, and the man who has either requested or been given the kanchi stands and gives a toast to the gathering. He then drinks the full horn, turning it as he goes so he doesn’t dump anything down his shirtfront and holds it upside down at the end to show that it’s empty. Since this supra was less formal, everyone was expected to toast with the kanchi at least once and so Mari and I toasted and ended up following another Georgian tradition whereby you link arms at the elbow and then drink together, still holding your own container. I apparently acquitted myself well enough to earn some praise from around the table. The terrifying experience of having to give a toast over, the evening continued. There was dancing, mainly to American and Russian pop and some singing (in Georgian, all male, polyphonic and impressively good considering how far into the evening we were at this point). And then some more dancing, some more drinking, and more eating. I escaped less than half an hour before the party broke up at about 4:30am after help from my host brother. The excuse of “I have to go to school tomorrow” didn’t convince anyone much. And I did go to school the next day, slightly tired but clear headed and free from any aftereffects of the night.
And most recently, on the 3rd of February, I got to take place in another intersecting tradition, one that apparently exists only for two families in Mestia. I attended with my host family the litbli, or clan supra for the Kakhberidze’s and Xergiani’s. One of my first graders, Kakha, belongs to the same clan as my family and made sure to invite me to the supra 3 times during class. It made my co-teacher laugh since he rather pointedly only invited me to join. Nini and Ani went with me quite early in the afternoon, round about 2 to the home where the litbli was being hosted. I did my best to help in the preparations but I quickly discovered that my most useful attribute was keeping the kids occupied, so I did for at least an hour and a half. There was quite the brood there, Nini, Ani, Saba, Nika, Keso, Monika, Bidzina and Kakha and two more boys who aren’t my students. Little Kakha was thrilled that I had taken up his offer to come and the kids wanted to sing the songs I’ve taught them in class, play duck duck goose and then we went to the park in Lanchvali, the neighborhood up the road from me. I escaped and got a couple minutes to sit and rest before the supra began at around 4:30. This was a much more formal affair. Two long tables were set up—men at one and women at the other. The men were putting it away in a determined manner, with the toasts, largely in Svan, coming fast and furious. The tamada held up jars of raki, a liquor similar to schnapps, and used them to toast. For most of these, every man got to his feet and removed his headgear. The women were not required to drink for the toasts, and largely didn’t pay much attention to them. Instead every so often a chunk of the table would offer a toast and drink as a unit. A couple of times we got shushed by the men since they were wishing the best for the future of the families and we were having a good chat. The food was delicious and I ate far too much and enjoyed listening to the conversations around me and understand a great deal of it. A couple of the people at the surpa didn’t know me, but soon ascertained who I was and I was welcomed and accepted as an honorary member of the clan, who should of course, celebrate its future. I had a lovely evening and was glad to have been made a part of this very specific tradition.