“Happiness, coming and going, I watch you live with me, watch my fever growing, but I know just where I am. But how many corners do I have to turn, how many times do I have to learn, all the love I have is in my mind. But I’m a lucky man.” ~ The Verve; A farewell toast to Georgia & its people

FYI: This was written periodically between the end of December, when I left Georgia in early January, and the date of its posting from Poland.

I’ve written about it before but it is worth repeating: the hospitality and communal nature in Georgian culture surpass anything this blogger has ever come across and likely will ever experience again. These traits present themselves in a variety of avenues, but one way that noticeably stood out-especially in my final days in Georgia-was in the mandatory toasting one finds at a Georgian supra.

Now a supra may be as large as a wedding or as informal as three friends drinking on a boat in the Mtkvari (The river which flows through Tbilisi [see my photo of one painting of this, there are many many more of renditions of this event]). The point is if Georgian wine is the blood of the people, these toasts are the heart.

Look closely...and you see a supra!

Started by the tamada (Toast master or თამადა…yeah, that’s Qartuli/Georgian script for you), they cover a set-list of categories. In Samegrelo it starts with peace (a must in a country with Georgia’s history) but continues to parents, mothers, women, the dead and so on (not including dead pets…sorry Nipper-tried once but was rebuked). Depending on the tamada, and on the amount of wine consumed, these can be witty, educational with sprinklings of Georgian poets (see: Rustaveli), and often emotive.

My farewell Supra...me to the 9s in Georgian dress

Toasting is perhaps my favorite Georgian tradition as its the right mixture of demagoguery and respect; I see no better way to write a final blog about Sakartvelo then by making a toast to this splendid country. First, some ground rules about Georgian toasts.

1. Generally in serious Georgian toasts, the men stand and the women are given the treat of being allowed to sit. This is true even if the toast is in honor of them (or, as I have seen, they are making the toast). Well, for this ‘toast,’ unless you prefer to read while standing, everyone may sit down.

2. You can almost always count on a side conversation breaking out during the toast. This bothers me to no end. Respect the tamada! That’s my rule….though obviously reading at home I don’t care what you do.

3. Drink to the end, or bolonde (spelling?)! Whatever you have in your glass-or sometimes if you are passing around a wooden bowl-if they say this word it means finish it up. Though this is not required on every toast, on important and serious toasts it is considered proper. The rest of the time, as much as you wish…though most men will say it’s best to leave just a little in your glass whatever the toast. Go ahead, get some wine ready to have after this blog. I’ll wait…okay.

4. So there are many rules…but the first rule I’ve learned however is that as a guest in Georgia, you are exempt from pretty much any breach of etiquette. Trust me. I’ve tried to win points by not toasting beer (some Georgians say that is a definite no-no, and some Georgians toast with beer). Fact is, with me it would have never been a problem. Me var stumari (I am a guest!). So, with no further ado, a farewell Gaumarjos (cheers) to Georgia:

Drink til the end...glass or wooden bowl! (From the Salkhino Monastery-possibly my favorite wine in Georgia)

First, to peace. This country deserves it now and in the future. May antagonists on all sides stop and envision what Georgia can become, what it has already achieved, and what would be lost…Okay, got peace out of the way. To women. Specifically, to my host mother Lali & my host grandmother Nanuli. If this blog were perfect, there would would have been more entries and they would have appeared much earlier-they certainly deserve it.

Lali & I in Kutaisi at a student's birthday party

I have often told people that my mother is a saint; my host maternal figures are perhaps saints in the Orthodox church. Lali is the epitome of compassion, understanding, and never caused anything but ease for me in my transition to Georgia. While all adjectives of kindness could be thrown her way, perhaps most telling is a recent scary event when my neighbor Gogita was in a car accident on New Years Eve (sober, avoiding a dog on the road, wore his seatbelt, eventually we learned he was okay!). Panic initially ensued and my host father Dato was on the road to get to Gogita in the regional hospital. Many neighbors-including Gogita’s mother-gathered around Lali for her calm, coolness, and again compassion. She is an independent woman with a tremendous Georgian heart.

Giorgia, myself & Nanuli

In terms of Nanuli, she is a bit of an enigma who is always concerned with my well-being but rarely says that she is ever better than “so-so.” It remains a bit funny to me that I heard Dato once say she’s never happy because Dato’s brother isn’t married (I think he was kidding…scratch that, I think he was serious). Anyway, I think I endeared myself to Nanuli one day when she was complaining about her knee and I gave her an advil. Dato later told me she yelled at him because her son, the doctor, didn’t help her but the American guest did. Since then she was always anxious to offer me food whenever possible. And, while I have to admit that I was never overly enamored with Georgian cuisine (sorry), she is probably the best Georgian cook I have come across (and fittingly she was an excellent English student in remembering fruits & vegetables). To everything Georgian transport. To those marshrutka memories like engineered wine jugs, the road of death with our melodramatic driver Z to Svaneti, worst case scenario traveling tips (Carry clothing in a duffel or trash bag), and the countless animals I have shared a ride with (favorite: a duck quacking below my seat). To being ostracized for wearing a seatbelt in every car I got in (that had one)…and for being vindicated with the December 1st law that now all (front seat) passengers must ride with them. And, yes, to the many dogs, cows, pigs, and all other livestock that make their home on the road.

Safe for Georgian roads because it's rich in vitamins and tastes delicious

To Tbilisi. A city I promised to write about and profile but never got around to. Perhaps that’s fitting. Tbilisi, while a buzzing metropolis, never grabbed me like a Krakow or even, say a Dresden. Its history is rich and has plenty of sights (Samebra Cathedral, the Peace Bridge, Turkish Baths and more); but just as everyone has a favorite Beatles song for an undefinable reason, Tbilisi was always more of my Doctor Robert. It’s a bit funny how strongly before I arrived, and even in my first week, I longed to be placed there. Now, there is no doubt that where I ended up was the right place…

View of the Presidential Palace aka Misha's Crib from the Peace Bridge

To both Martvili and the Georgian customs I learned there. There is not a smaller town I have spent so long in, nor a smaller town I have ever felt so comfortable in; I appreciated Martvili for what I came to understand as an aspect of Georgia with Samegrelo flavor. This flavor was, to use the Georgian word, gamerli (tasty/delicious). The excitement in my eyes, and the flattery I’ve put forth when I’ve told people who have asked about Georgia since I left all stems from my time in Martvili. Not too big, not too too small, it is just right.

Martvili...from the Monastery

The people. A place and often the opinion you form is made more by other individuals than or anything else-this held true in Georgia. It’d be inane to now list individual names or memories; you know who you are. I’d rather toast you all {again} in person-but for the moment let me just say thank you for enriching my experience. To Georgian progress. My biggest concern for Georgia is too rapid an expansion. A nice example was on my pleasant venture to The Sataplia National Park. Georgia’s natural beauty is breath taking. The park guides you through both the really really old dinosaur prints in the ground and also the awe-inspiring cave.

Sataplia Caves

However, the cave, as magnificent as it is, has the feel of an underground Vegas casino. Lights, music, and were they able I feared there might even be fireworks. I’m not an artisan, and it’s not my park: they are entitled to make their own magic kingdom. However, even ignoring that I felt the natural beauty was a bit compromised by a feeling that I was entering Disney’s vault, a concern is that the road connecting the park and the large nearby city of Kutaisi seemed an afterthought, or even forgotten. The government, while steamrolling ahead with multiple successful and commendable projects, seems to have heard the concept of building from the ground up but is taking it a level further/deeper. This, yes wait for it, tunnel vision has me worried that not everything in Georgia is progressing at the same rate as it normally would or, perhaps, should.

Sataplia's natural beauty

Perhaps I am nitpicking; but, the reason I do so is my desire, however unrealistic, for a purely positive Georgian future. The Georgian people deserve it. And frankly, I shouldn’t be overly worried that they cannot handle whatever does arise. Whatever the country’s shape may take, whatever happens within its borders or outside of them, Georgians are of a remarkable and genuine make who possess such a desire to revel in the positive characteristics of life that their hospitality seems an extension of their soul. I am so thankful to have experienced the culture, and only hope my words did it justice…That’s a weak ending for a meaningful toast…this is better: Fire my mind and tongue with skill and power for utterance

Which I need, Oh Lord, for the making of majestic and praiseworthy verses; . . . Generous deeds adorn a monarch as does a cypress Eden;

Even the traitor is won when the hand of the ruler is generous.

Spending on feasting and wine is better than hoarding our substance.

That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost. ~Shota Rustaveli Gaumarjos, nakhvamdis and didi madloba Sakartvelo.

Me saying thank you to Martvili on the school

Cheers, goodbye and thank you very much Georgia.

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2 Responses to “Happiness, coming and going, I watch you live with me, watch my fever growing, but I know just where I am. But how many corners do I have to turn, how many times do I have to learn, all the love I have is in my mind. But I’m a lucky man.” ~ The Verve; A farewell toast to Georgia & its people

  1. ---> says:

    Yen,

    Excellent summary post. As usual, very well written expressing your feelings. I wanted to ask you after your departure following six questions:

    1. Ups and downs: what do you think is your greatest accomplishments and disappointments during your tenure?

    2. Knowing what you know right now, what would be doing differently to archive what you wanted to archive (if you had such a goal)?

    3. Based on your knowledge what would you recommend and advice to your colleagues a) who are already there and b)will be coming in the country in future?

    4. (if this is the case) What you have learned or become aware you never thought before your arrival?

    5. What will you miss the most?

    6. Be honest – do you think the country and its people have a chance? Why? What do you think they need to first?

    But you’ve already answered most of them.

    Thanks again for documenting your experience. And be sure that you’ve left transforming influence of kids from your school. Memory of ‘that big and tall guy who’ve being our English teacher’ will be forever with them no matter how old they become (I remember my classtime moments crisply despite the fact that it was more than 25 years ago).

    Job well done. Thanks

  2. oto says:

    Ian .. I Like This 😉 The time when you were here it`s magnificent 🙂 : X Miss YoU . :X everyone love you :*

    FroM Martvili. 8 class .. Otho : ) :*

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