|A church just outside Samtredia.|
While drinking a cup of rose tea with my deda today, we somehow got into a discussion about prayer. My deda wanted to make sure that her late night praying was not keeping me up at night. After explaining to deda that if one person were to sleep through Armageddon, it would be me, we started talking about how the family became so religious and why they pray so much.
Six years ago, my host aunt and uncle’s sixteen year old son Lavan was hanging out at the park in town with his friends. A drunken classmate came up to him and wanted to give him a little scare with a knife but accidentally stabbed him in a vital artery (my Russian/knowledge of biology is not good enough to understand which artery) and Lavan ended up dying. My deda told me that after that incident my uncle was a complete mess. He contemplated suicide for a long time, and only after turning to religion did he begin to enjoy life once more.
When my host parents pray, it sounds like they’re passionately reading something but when I hear my host aunt and uncle pray it always catches me off guard. They live right next door, and my window is across from their bedroom so I occasionally hear them if I stay up late enough.
When I hear them praying it sounds more like Arabic to me than Georgian, and is reminiscent of the various calls to prayer I would hear while walking through the Muslim quarter in Yaffo, Israel. While my parents seem to read, my neighbors sound like they’re crying and singing at the same time. It’s very melancholy, but very beautiful all the while. Deda told me that every single time my uncle prays he literally cries tears for Lavan. From the few times I’ve heard them I definitely think this is true.
Tonight I even learned that my host uncle prays for two hours every morning, two hours every night, and additionally prays every three hours for about ten minutes. I was astounded. That’s practically five hours of praying a day! I don’t know much about the Georgian Orthodox church, but I would not have guessed that mourning could even entail this much prayer.
My host aunt and uncle also dress very conservatively. My aunt only wears black and covers her hair whenever she is out in public. My host uncle also only wears black, and has a thick beard. Deda told me that in Georgian Orthodox culture, only religious or mourning men tend to have beards.
Despite the tragedy that befell them, my host aunt and uncle are some of the most wonderful people I’ve met in Samtredia. My aunt is always coming over with a new dish for me to try (she caught on that I like eggplant on day two) and is always making sure that I’m not hungry or thirsty. Furthermore, my uncle is a great conversationalist (though I do have a hard time understanding his accent) and loves asking me about my opinion on world events, religion and politics.
I was very curious about the family’s reaction towards the boy who killed Lavan but deda had nothing ill to say about him. She told me that as a religious woman, God has taught her to love everyone, even those who may bring others pain. (Deda never ceases to amaze me with her kindness). Lavan’s killer has another three years left in prison and then he is free. No one in town is sure what he will do when he is released, but everyone highly doubts that he will return back to Samtredia.
As horrific as this event was, I was honored that deda shared such intimate details about the family with me. I am feeling more like a member of this community with each person I meet, and story I hear. Once deda saw the tears forming in my eyes, she brought me a second cup of tea and began to tell me about Nini’s hilarious kindergarten love affairs and we laughed for a long time. Tea time was very emotional today; I cried, I laughed (and almost cried again when I discovered we were out of fruit cake).
|This cross in front of my house is a memorial for Lavan.|
|This is the church that saved my family after Lavan's death|