First and foremost, there are more readers. I am aware that some Georgian bloggers have been linking to most bloggers here in Georgia-this site included. While it’s obviously a compliment to be read by more people, it goes hand in hand with caution. While I do not intend to sacrifice any of my opinions, I also do not need a maelstrom stemming from one post as has happened to other bloggers. Additionally, my host family wouldn’t need that.
The reason I say the latter is because, and here is a semi-incendiary observation, Georgia is a small communal country which is quite ripe for gossip. While I may not be able to speak the language, I am aware of the penchant not just among elderly women but all Georgians to pass on a “did you know” about whomever. A telling example was when I was sitting on a marshrutka waiting for it to leave. A couple the row ahead of me were having a conversation with a woman leaning on the front passenger window. She eventually walked away from the marshutka and to my amusement, literally as she turned the corner, the couple inside broke the silence that had followed her departure and were talking incessantly like some of my 5th graders in the hallway. Small town syndrome? Perhaps…but from my experience the trend is larger.
The point from all that-I’m not looking to start a ruckus, but I still wish to get out what I see and think. Not just to family or friends, but to anyone interested in this country. I’ve avoided largely personal rants & will continue to do so for my own reasons, but if you find fault with an observation please handle it in an appropriate way.
This past weekend (Oct 16 & 17) included another trip to Tbilisi-yet this one was a bit different. I returned to Martvili with friends from Poland-Roger the Brit and Magda the Pole. It provided a great opportunity to view just how important guests are to Georgians (as an outsider this time) and once again the frightening nature of the roads which I think I am numbing to…somewhat.
While it was a grueling 5 hour ride from Tbilisi to Martvili narrowly avoiding cows, pigs and the occasional Georgian car facing us down in our lane, we arrived right at sunset. After a brief stop at home we decided to head to the Martvili restaurant. How popular is the restaurant? Well, I still do not know the name. Furthermore, I did not know it even existed until a few weeks ago and this was to be my first time going. Oh, and it’s across the street from my school. Yep, it’s not overly popular.
When we arrived, along with Max, my host father Dato and David aka the happiest man in the world, it seemed like I was right: there was no restaurant in Martvili. However, despite no other patrons, and what looked to be a single employee, David assured us everything would be ‘no problem.’ Shortly thereafter the khinkali, wine, chacha, khachipuri, and more were crowding our table (hmm…a food entry should follow this sooner than later). Within 30 minutes we went from standing somewhat confused if this place actually was a restaurant to being served Olive Garden style-that is when you’re here, you’re family…and a hungry family at that. A few other people eventually showed up, but the place seemed more or less ours the entire night.
The next day while I was at work I was frequently asked/told, “Why are you at school, you have guests! Go home!” Again, Georgians really do put guests above just about everything and in this case their childrens’ education. Why? Well, Georgians have the saying that a guest is God-sent. But, more than just saying it they take it very seriously. Whereas in America we answer what smells after 3 days by saying guests (and fish), in the past Georgians would sometimes have special houses or rooms particularly for guests. The doors were always left open because-well, you can get the symbolism there.
After school, I met up with my colleagues and my host father to show them the major sites of Martvili (Boom included), especially the Martvili monastery. It was an exceptionally clear day with great weather so they were impressed. Later we went to the Salkhino monastery and on this visit we not only saw the normal attractions (the amazing water-bucket pulley system to the river, bear in a cage, tasted wine out of the table in the wine cellar) but were also able to go into the old Dadiani palace. The palace is under construction as it is being built to be a home for the current patriarch of Georgia.
Perhaps the most surprising thing learned on this trip however was that the entire area used to be a bit of a garbage dump. One of the monks who had spent time in America informed us how 20-30 years ago the area was popular for drinking, drugs, and littering. To see how it’s been transformed is a great compliment to the monks who work hard to keep it in its current pristine condition…Oh, and don’t worry I did not have my camera for any of this. Sorry.
Speaking of surprising things, while I do know that my guests came away impressed and had a wonderful time, one of the things they may remember more than anything else is queueing in Georgia. By cows. As my friend Max rightly put it, the expression ‘until the cows come home,’ definitely has some traction as Roger was particularly amazed that all the cows we avoided on the road seemed to walk back home at night without coercion. One of the funnier moments was seeing three stand in line outside one house patiently (Photo would be good here huh?. . .sigh, apologies). Now, Georgians tend to be like Poles in that queueing is something done elbows first with a lot of pushing. Personally, I forgive them for this because as one of my Polish students once told me: ‘We know how to wait in line very well. We waited in line for many years-now…screw it!’ However, I guess the cows don’t seem to feel it’s too great a burden.
Monday night we grabbed some dinner before meeting up with some friends and headed for the café. I expected the normal situation: we would be the only ones while the staff looks on amused at conversations in English. To my surprise, we came upon a large party already in progress. While David aka the happiest man in the world, broke character and was at times upset with their handling of the music (‘They are stooopid’), it provided for an exciting atmosphere.
Tuesday was the icing on the cake to see how guests are treated in Georgia. The reason was late last week I was informed by my principal that there was another school trip-this time to Tbilisi. I explained the situation with my friends and instead of ‘that’s a shame, next trip perhaps,’ the solution was that they would join us. So, leaving early Tuesday morning on a bus we-some 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th graders, my principal and 2 other teachers, my friends and I-headed back to Tbilisi. The way there provided some interesting moments e.g. having to get out at a bridge and cross by foot because they were afraid it would break (Fun note-on the way back we didn’t go that way and I heard that the bridge indeed did break though that was relayed by someone whose English is not exactly flawless however).
Also on the way, while Magda & I drifted in and out of sleep Roger seemed to be preoccupied by strange landforms rising from the flat surface. Being from England, he was quite unused to such hills, mountains, and varied landscapes (‘In England you can watch your dog run away for 4 days’ was his quip). I explained-actually earlier to Magda but this makes the story smoother-that Georgians truly do appreciate how beautiful their country is. Despite questionable trash disposal methods (that’s for a different entry), they truly appreciate what is around them.
A nice story goes that when God was dividing out the world to different people, the Georgians missed the whole event. Why? Well, as they later told God they were drinking and celebrating in His honor. God was so impressed and complimented that He gave the Georgians the land He was saving for Himself (This story also offers a parable for Georgian’s view of time…that is, they aren’t usually on time because well, who knows, suprha/feast instead? Sounds good).
When we arrived to Tbilisi Roger & Magda were made part of Martvili School #1. Every building and tour stop included their names being written alongside mine as extra guests. Where exactly did we go & what did we see in Tbilisi? Well, that’s for a Tbilisi entry. However, thankfully I think that my friends not only had a good time, but learned a few things about this country. So, I believe that’s all for now. Until the next post, kargad!