If there is one holiday that should be immediately imported to Georgia, it is Halloween. While children everywhere in the world love the idea of costumes and candy, all of Georgia already seems to be caught in a moribund fever-so why not throw in the fun aspects? To clarify, while I would never describe Georgian culture or the people as morbid, there happens to be a morose tinge in the air. For example, one of the popular Georgian toasts is always to those who have past. Fine, sensible, commendable. Continuing, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the fashionable color is black. Again, fine, no problem with that. In fact, black goes with just about everything. Another example-the fact that, upon an informal poll of fellow volunteers, we can all name someone in our village who has recently died-or indeed, many volunteers have been to funerals. Well, that just could be a poor selection of people to ask I suppose.
Well how about this anecdote. This past Thursday, on yet another cloudless day (more on that to come next week), my host father & mother took me to a large supra (again, supra meaning large celebratory feast) that was honoring a woman who had died 40 days prior. I’ll let that sink for a few feet. Now, this was not the wake as that had been immediately after the funeral. Rather, it was to be a great gathering with plenty of food and drink in her honor.
At first, I thought that was all that was involved. However, while driving there Dato informed me we were going somewhere else first. In one of those entertaining lost in translation moments, I was told that we would be going to the ‘dead house.’ Now, before I could clarify that it was the cemetery, visions of a morgue with a woman simply placed there 40 days later had my stomach nearly pushing up flowers, and everything I had eaten. You see, one thing I learned about local Georgian funerals (I was sick and missed the only one I’ve been invited to…but yes I have been invited to one) is that there are no embalming fluids or anything cosmetic like that. O’Natural as it were. So the possibility that the body would be still hanging around…well I just didn’t know. On the positive side, a dead house sounded like a helluva lot more interesting than any haunted house I’d been to.
Anyway, we arrived to the ‘dead house’/cemetery and all my misgivings soon died (sorry). Anyway, some know that I’m no stranger to cemeteries-my father & I bond by driving across America in our attempt to see every dead president’s grave site (I suppose that this makes me an aficionado on what makes a place/person morbid). A Georgian cemetery is a bit different than your typical American one however. For one, the tradition of etching an accurate and detailed picture on a person’s grave is popular here as it is in other Eastern European countries. This can be a bit unsettling as you can turn a corner and be looking at a depressing grave with a detailed rendering of a 6-year-old boy, but c’est la vie (sorry).
The cemetery was also a bit different in that I felt Dato wasn’t far off by calling it the ‘dead house.’ While he was proudly showing me some of the much older graves, most of the cemetery was crowded by four-posted cages which were almost synonymous with a large bed you would find in an 18th English century hotel. It seems a newer Georgian tradition is, if like the Pharaohs of the past, dead Georgians come back to life they will at least have a nice porch to make themselves comfortable in. Or perhaps it just protects them from the rain.
Back to the tradition. As I walked up to the grave I followed what everyone else was doing: drink most of a glass of wine and then pour the rest in a cross on the earth above the recently deceased. I really liked this idea as it seemed dignified & honorable; kind of made me wish that my father and I had done something similar when we saw the dead U.S. Presidents. . .Especially Andrew Johnson & Ulysses S. Grant (A little presidential humor).
So, after that we headed to the supra and well, it was super. Plenty, plenty, plenty of food. Dato remarked, but was not the first to tell me, that it’s almost a shame Georgians spend so much time, energy, and money on feasts when they might not always even have electricity inside their homes. Well, I can say that it was quite the honorable thought. However, with the tamada (toast master) we had, by the end of the day-and particularly the next day-I felt one step closer to the grave.
That’s enough dark and gloom for one entry. I think it’s time to introduce you to my second host brother: Tsotne. This Harry Potter lookalike impressed me greatly during my first few months here with his intelligence, friendliness, and willingness to help. He also generally seems to be the yin to Luka’s yang in that he more or less is well-behaved. He consistently impresses my friends with his English, Georgian dancing/guitar playing, and general attitude. What can be most entertaining is how much, even at the age of 10, he resembles my host father Dato in everything from English mistakes to Georgian gestures.
Now, while Tsotne’s English is definitely the best of anyone in my host family, he tends to resort to speed over clarity with some of his favorite phrases being, “Ian, what you?” or “this what?” It seems these can mean anything from “What time is it?” to “Ian, how many lessons did you have today and will we have a lesson tonight; furthermore can you also tell me the capital of Australia?” . . .However, there are times Tsotne will unleash a pungent spate of Georgian words in a fit of rage. I’m sure these words would not be appropriate for any dining table, but I’ve come to realize that even for a 10 year old, Tsotne is an emotional kid. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing you feel being around him is when he knows something in English or does something right. Here, like Harry Potter winning a game of qudditch (I had to google that) his joy is completely boundless.
Okay, think that’s a good place to end. Happy Halloween, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, & Kargad!