Greetings reader. For almost an entire month I’ve been living in Georgia, seeing much of the country and experiencing the culture at a whirling pace. I have nothing but high hopes that the future will be more of the same. Now, this blog will aim to avoid simply recapping the doldrums of any day to day routine. Not my style. What it will seek to achieve is inform readers of what I’ve gained from my time here via whimsical stories and critical observations. Hopefully through these anecdotes & findings you will be inculcated to this wildly impressive country that is home to a sense of hospitality unimaginable to most Western minds…and drivers from Perdition.
A good place to start for me is always music. I’m a fan of it. Feels good on the ear drums. In Saqartvelo (what Georgian’s call their country), there are actually only 3 songs which people listen to. The first is every single Georgian song rolled into one. I’m sure there are many, many different Georgian songs-but it’s hard to differentiate all of them for me thus far. Not that they are bland or lacking uniqueness, rather whenever I’ve heard Georgian music it is usually accompanied by Georgian dancers stomping around restaurants which is pleasantly distracting (see first photo). These dancers train for many years (9-12 if ‘good’) to do things with their feet that would shame ballerinas and makes my oft-broken ankles quiver. It’s quite impressive and should be youtubed immediately as each region has their own unique style of dancing.
The other two songs are a bit less Georgian. They are Shakira’s – This time for Africa & K’naan’s – Wavin’ Flag. The first would insinuate that the country, as some people had asked me, is indeed located in Africa. The second would imply that Georgia did quite well in the World Cup as the song was the theme for the Cup (or Coca-Cola’s theme song for it, don’t remember exactly). Neither is true. In fact, one of the better jokes I’ve heard about Georgian football/soccer (they did not even make the World Cup) is that it was born in England, perfected in Brazil, and died in Georgia. They are much bigger fans now of basketball & rugby.
But back to music, Shakira & K’naan are ridiculously ubiquitous in this country. Not just on the radio either; I saw people walking down the boardwalk in Batumi simply listening to Wavin’ Flag on their cellphone. They are so common place you think that they would be rocks. Yes, I said rocks. I have never seen a country with more rocks. If rocks were a profitable export, than Georgia would be Saudi Arabia. At one point, I swear it rained rocks here.
Moving on to the Georgian language. I can’t as of yet make a full comparison with say the Polish language but I will say neither is English or I would speak Qartuli/Georgian much better. Pronunciation often sounds like battling smokers cough, phlegm included. However, the more interesting aspect is definitely the written alphabet. Georgians are very proud that it is only 1 of 14 alphabets in the world today and it isn’t too complicated in some aspects (no capital letters), though it is very complicated in other aspects. For example, some letters are completely different when they are typed and when written. Better yet, I was recently reading a sign to practice and thought I had come up with a “vn” sound at the start of a word…perfectly acceptable. However, I was soon informed by my host father’s son that it was actually the number “36.” My ability to count has thus been distorted by reading Georgian.
I don’t wish to make any epic blog posts so one final thing for the initial entry will relate to the language barrier. When I was given a sheet assigning me my host family here in Martvili, it said that the Giorgi (born in ’37), Nanuli (his wife, same age), Dato (father, born in ’67) , Lali (mother, same age), and Tstonte (age 10) all spoke English. The only one who didn’t was Luka (5 years old). (see the family in the second photo) Basically, I thought I wasn’t given a Georgian family but rather ‘the Johnsons’ as communication wasn’t going to be a problem.
Small misunderstanding as I realized, they want to be able to speak English, not that they were able to. No more details on that are needed other than it’s a clear example of the difference between here and Poland because even though there are people who speak English quite well not far from me, there are times where I have been more frustrated and isolated than ever before. It’s been strange but incredibly exciting too; truly a new experience.
Anecdote to sum it up: Dato (David) is a big Queen fan. One point we are driving listening to the song “Somebody to Love.” Then he starts asking questions which I am doing my best to answer. He asks at one point, “who somebody?” in the chorus. I, for a moment, feel completely perplexed as I’m unable translate, am tired, and have been answering similar questions all day aka getting irritable. Then I start thinking more, what if Dato is asking me a very deep question, who is that somebody to love? However, while I am thinking this and smiling and also pondering the reality-really, can anybody be somebody: he asks again but this time “What somebody?” This time I realize he simply does not understand the word itself & isn’t using the verb ‘to be.’
I think I ended up explaining it, but it’s a moment showing why this program is here. Georgians, Americans, English speakers, people everywhere in the world need somebody to love…and to understand one another. Whether they know the words in English, that’ll depend on us.
Next time: more photos, more about the regions, Martvili, and the Black Sea area/why I look like a tomato.