This past weekend I traversed across Georgia with my 11th grade class (which made me feel both old and mature), two fellow teachers, a marshrutka (minivan) driver and his son to the region of Kakheti in Georgia. As it is on the far eastern side of the country, the drive there was quite long. It was made quite a bit longer because I heard Lady Gaga enough times to declare my love for Alejandro; I also heard another song enough times that I was ready to make it a crime to wave a flag (see first entry-I told you that said song is all over this country). However, the experience was well worth it and though it was a short excursion (we left Saturday morning, returned around 2:00 am Monday), I got a lot from it. Top 5 list of maxims summarizing the weekend sounds like a good idea.
- Have an open mind. I went with the expectation that it would be a wine adventure (though they are 11th graders, they have been drinking probably longer than I) as Kakheti is known for making Georgia’s best wine. Additionally, early October happens to be time for ‘rtveli’ or the grape harvest. I was mistaken-it was all about the monasteries and other historical markers-yet that was no disappointment. One of the sites I saw was the Bodbe Convent which is where the much revered St. Nino is buried. If you ever see a Georgian cross, know that it is not broken. Rather, the story is St. Nino brought it to Georgia and secured the horizontal parts with locks of her own hair…and I suppose that explains that. Continuing with Nino, if you meet a Georgian girl, 60% chance her name is Nino…that may be a bit high-but she’s important.
- There’s a reason it’s touristy. We spent most of Saturday in a town called Sighnaghi, which is also known as the town of love. I did not see so many lovers walking the streets as groups of students-but I wasn’t paying particular attention to who was around anyway. Instead, my gaze was transfixed on the glorious views surrounding this little town. Sighnaghi is an old town with cobbled streets made more remarkable by the fact that it’s perfectly perched on a hill with majestic views to the surrounding scenery…this is one of those times a picture is worth a 1,000 words. One picture not posted that made the town all the more remarkable however was an 18th century wall also running along the hill. With a rather modern museum and plenty of guesthouses, you could tell this is where a lot of Georgian tourism money has been spent as it is the cleanest, and most posh, place I’ve been in Georgia. But frankly, the money has been well spent.
- Boys will be boys. While in Sighnaghi some of my students created some mischief. Now generally I look at them as good kids because most don’t speak English and I don’t speak Georgian-what else is there to assume? In fact-I know they are good kids as I was still able to bond over some card games and yes the occasional drink or three. But, when one rented a 4-wheeler, took it out of the parking lot track he was required to stay in, and did two laps around part of town, I had my doubts. Perhaps those doubts strengthened when the police talked to him…no, I suppose that’s when they subsided-Martvili Public School #1! (He was fine, from what I understood he is just not allowed to ride there again which is no real surprise.)
- Stereotypes aren’t always true-but they usually start somewhere. So, this relates to one specific incident where our group stopped along a road to view an ancient castle (name…no idea…see #5). As we were leaving, some of the students were about to grab some pomegranates on a tree from one of the farmer’s garden-quite a normal custom of help yourself to local food in Georgia-but the farmer happened to be there and told them no. I had heard before that the people in Kakheti, while still very hospitable by perhaps our western standards, were not as friendly as those in the west of Georgia. It seemed to epitomize that to me…that and my marshrutka driver made a point to tell me, “no Samagrelo,” which drove that idea home. Of course, I do again want to contradict this possible stereotype as I’ve read much how the Kakhetians will offer tourists and guests to try wine whenever they come…but perhaps thinking we were all Georgian students it was a different attitude.
- If you try to do too much, you will often accomplish nothing. For as much as we saw and traveled (I’m leaving off our 6 hours in Tbilisi for a later entry), by the time I reached home around 2:00 am Monday I was physically and mentally exhausted. While I saw many neat things, by Sunday it seemed like a checklist without the list. Marshrutka stopped, students out, camera out, picture, everything and everyone back in. While I was particularly impressed and made a point to remember Ninotsmindia Cathedral, a lot of the others ran together in my mind. Perhaps this just means that I have a reason to get back to Kakheti.
Finish up this entry with another quick profile of a family member. Again, I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful family not simply for their incredible hospitality, but also charming uniqueness. Last time was the youngest Luka in the spotlight, thought I’d go with the eldest-Babua Giorgi (Grandpa George). However, age is not always reflective of youth-and Giorgi is an excellent example of this.
There is literally nothing not to like about this man. An animal lover, former mathematics teacher, home brewer of tchatcha (the Georgian version of moonshine), and eternally smiling grandfather. One important thing to know is while my family is often hectic and fast-paced (compared to many other Georgians), Giorgi is more relaxed. While many Georgian’s will offer a quick ‘ho, ho’ as in, “yes yes,” he prefers the slow “hooooooo” to whatever I say; usually followed by a laugh and him walking away. While Giorgi has no real interest in learning English, we don’t have too many problems communicating and actually he probably made me feel the most at home the quickest. He did so by ignoring the “a guest is a gift from God” expression most Georgian’s follow and spraying me with a water pistol in my first week after I came back from a run. I looked at him laughing, he laughed, then did the “hoooooo” and walked away to play with his dog Bimi. Is Giorgi a good man? Hoooo.