|As I always say "Happy October Revolution"|
I’m going to get McDonalds! Now, I will tell you, when I live in the States, I abhor this particular symbol of American culture and avoid it like the plague. But something happens to you when you live in isolation from your home country for long periods of time. You start to miss the strangest things. I never watch sports on TV. I went to a Big 10 school and watched perhaps 5 sports games in their entirety in 4 years and that was for the company. Here, when basketball or American football pops up on the TV screen I am riveted to it like it’s the end of the world is arriving. The announcers even speak English. Country music becomes far less grating on the ear. I can still only take a few minutes at a time, but this is an infinite increase of listening for me. And MSG and chemicals in my food sound delicious. I can list for you the preserved food items available in Mestia: chocolate, chips, pickles, canned peas and olives, Russian ramen (just don’t), biscuits, pop, mayonnaise, kielbasa, and a few frozen items like khinkali which a new government study shows often contain salmonella and/or listeria. Yummy. Add to this a diet pretty lacking in variety (potatoes, bread and beans are the staples—I thought I was in heaven when we had cabbage one time) and you start having food cravings that would put a pregnant woman to shame. Now the nearest schwarma stand is 3 hours from me. The nearest fast food restaurant is 6, and requires an overnight stop because of the scarcity of transport. Mestia’s idea of fast food is hot bread. Which is delicious but when you already eat approximately a loaf of bread a day, it’s less appetizing. You start to understand why McDonalds is an event. Up here you can either embrace the isolation, enjoy your ability to live like a hermit, and immerse yourself fully in the community, or go completely bat-crazy. I’ve taken the former route but it’s time to descend to the lowlands after 10 weeks on my mountain. My body wants a milkshake.
PS. The McDonalds was ridiculously overpriced and utterly delicious. No regrets. It was also hilarious to watch the city dwelling Georgians watch the obvious foreigner who also acted like a total deer-in-the-headlights villager.
And I totally was deer in the headlights. I wandered through the bazaar in Zugdidi like I’d arrived on mars and probably drove the entire place insane with my slow pace and getting lost down dead ends every three seconds. It was a short shop while I waited for my next marshrutka to take me to Kutaisi. On the way from Mestia I was one of two passengers on the marsh and the driver bought us khachapuri when we stopped and we had a chat about who the hell I was. He and the other woman were duly impressed that I live in Mestia and speak some Georgian and Svan. Down in Zugs with my backpack everyone assumed I was a tourist and kept saying “Mestia, Mestia” ie—I have a taxi and will drive you to Mestia for a ridiculous sum of money. So I did the only thing you can—I answered them. მესტიაში ვცხოვრობ--I live in Mestia. Then they were interested. “Kartulad laparakobt? (You speak Georgian) Ra tkma unda (Of course) Martla Mestiashi vtsxovrob (do you really live in Mestia) ki, inglisuri mastsavlebeli var (Yes, I’m an English teacher). Didi xania ik vtsxovrob? (Have you lived there long?) Erti tseli (one year) [looks and sounds of surprise, as I’ve mentioned before Svaneti is to Georgia a mix of the Wild West in terms of law and order plus the physical hardships of living, in say, rural Alaska] Kargi gogo xar (you’re a good girl).” This conversation and variations thereof was repeated probably half a dozen times in the course of 10 minutes. Essentially every time I got outside of the circle of participants and people who listened in on the last one.
|The former concert hall and Gocha, our lovely guide.|
I had, as ever, the most insane driver ever from Zugdidi to Kutaisi. I inevitably end up with the utter maniac behind the wheel. This particular driver was a young man in sunglasses who pushed the minibus well beyond its limits so that everything in the things was shaking. But we made it to Kutaisi in an hour and a half rather than the usual two hours. Once it Kutaisi I was overwhelmed by the size, the traffic and the heat. It was probably 60 or 65 but I was dying, and had to change from my pants into shorts, and strip down to a single long sleeved tee, which I was ready to strip off as well and walk around in just a cami, but felt way too shy what with already airing my hairy legs. I met up with some other teachers in a tea house in central Kutaisi after successfully negotiating the buses. I sat in sumptuous pleasure and talked. And talked. And talked. It was so good to speak English with another native speaker and not only that, but to speak with someone who is experiencing things so similar to what you are. We had a small birzha in the road while waiting for other teachers to arrive and confirmed our villager status but squatting in the middle of the alley and having to move when people in cars younger than we are turned the corner to find the strangest collection of foreigners they’ve ever come across. They probably will to talking about us for years to come. I spent both nights sober due to my rabies shots and felt a bit like the grandma of the group, looking after everyone, but I still had some great chats with folks, getting deep, as people who are thrown together as we have been often do.
|Yes, that is an ox-pulled sledge carrying wood for the stove down my dirt road. For anyone who ever questions my developing world credentials|
We spent all of Saturday sight-seeing in Kutaisi, but my favorite was a stop in Tskaltubo, which saw its heyday as a resort with 20 or so sanatoria in the Soviety era. Now the town has 20 or so abandoned sanatoria along with an impressive collection of other abandoned buildings. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still way more of a town than Mestia is (it even had a schwarma stand, worked by a Svan from Mulakhi, who shook my hand in surprise and respect when I greeted him in Svan) but there’s a lot of abandoned stuff there. The highlight was breaking off from the massive group with 4 other teachers, all of whom I get along with exceptionally well and approaching one such abandoned building. It had a trio of guards outside so we were a little worried they’d be pissed we just wandered up. Matt and Liz started up a a conversation while I worked on my schwarma and eventually the rest of us approached. We chatted away and the head guard, a round man slightly shorter than I, of middle age told us “well, nobody is supposed to go in, but I’ll give you a private tour if you like”. We did. Once he had heard me speak Georgian he apparently decided I was the group’s translator and so every room we entered he would tell me a bit and then turn and say “Utxari (say to them)”. While I couldn’t translate everything, I did pretty well if I may say so myself. We wandered the empty, decaying building, which must have been beautiful in its day with awe. We looked at the visitor’s book, with entries in Russian, Georgian, Italian, English, German, Arabic and Chinese (at a guess) all from the 70s. We saw a Happy October Revolution card and leafed through the books in the doctors offices. We wandered through the restaurant, and the concert hall, saw Stalin’s Pavilion out the blown out windows, as well as the outdoor dance terrace, and the long balcony running along the front. He kept urging us to stay longer, but our rented marsh was leaving. We thanked him many times and he urged us to visit again, to come see him, to have a meal with him, wished us the very best in our teaching, happy Georgian spouses, many Georgian babies and introduced us to all of his pals. This country might have had some very rough patches in the not so distant past and there might be some coming in the future, but its spirit seems to be utterly unbreakable.
|My kids. That's Gurami clowning around in the background|
|The Georgian word for selfie? Selfi|