Saturday, November 27, 2010

All the single ladies! And the married ladies!

I came home from hanging out with the girls the other night, only to find an impromptu supra at my home. Every chair in my house was at the table where ten men, Nini and a few of my host cousins were feasting on delicious food and wine.

One of the men at the table, Lasha (who became close with the family after he endured a root canal without any type of novocaine (I can still hear his girlish screams)), told me that if I wanted to sit at the table there was a three-drink minimum. Ha! I thought. I just graduated University- three drink minimums are for pansies.

So as we’re toasting and eating, Nini, my vakhtang duri (drinking partner) for the night decided that it was absolutely necessary for Melissa to be at the supra. So Nini thought it would be a good idea to call Melissa’s little host brother Koko at 10:30pm and beg him to let Melissa come over.

Before I could tell Nini to leave Melissa alone, the two of us could be found dancing in the street to Brazilian house music awaiting the arrival of Melissa. And once Melissa arrived, the toasts really took off. Toasts to life, to health, to God, to friendship, to Georgian culture, to America, to Israel, to children, yada, yada, yada.

But what’s a Georgian party without some awkwardness? There happened to be two single men at the table approaching forty who are still unmarried. My host dad, Vaho, kept awkwardly insinuating that Melissa and I should take a good look at them. ‘They need wives,’ Vaho bellowed. To which Melissa repeatedly yelled, “ME VAR ODZDA ORI!” (I’m 22).

That’s pretty much how the night went. We ate, we drank, we toasted- and we awkwardly avoided any and all eye contact until it was only us women that were left at the table. With Vaho the tamada (toastmaster) asleep on the couch, Melissa took over toasting duties and began to lead a toast for women.

Her toast began with “ajeki” (stand up). Normally at a supra, only the men stand and women have to remain seated. So naturally, any toast that empowers women has to defy a few Georgian cultural standards! I can’t quite recall the toast Melissa made (it was a long supra with good wine) but it was pretty beautiful.

I still don’t understand why woman have to remain seated while the men are toasting. Some people have told me that women have special rights and are entitled to sit, but I hate this answer. First off, special rights are not equal rights. But anyways, men get to do all the fun things at a supra: drink out of rams’ horns, lead toasts, and they don’t have to clean up. Now remind me, what kind of special partying rights do women have again?

P.S. Hope you’re all enjoying having Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” stuck in your head.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SAM-TRE-DI-A (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap)

Every week I teach my eleventh some English idiomatic phrases. It’s entertaining for them to learn spoken English, and I love hearing what they interpret certain idioms mean. For example, they thought the phrase “hit the books” meant physically beating your textbooks when you’re frustrated with a subject. The sweetest thing is that all of them are always studying the idioms and using them at any given opportunity.

For example, on Friday I went to a school volleyball game with three of my eleventh graders and they were all just so excited to hang out with me outside of school and use their newly learned English phrases.
With my eleventh graders Manana and Teona

Many of the towns and villages near Samtredia do not have a stadium, so several volleyball teams were actually there competing in a series of matches. It was a lot of fun to chat with my students and get the lowdown on the different schools. Manana, one of the girls I came with, had a friend on one of the other teams and she excitedly told him to “break a leg” before his game started. She was beaming while she explained the Georgian meaning of ‘break a leg’ to the confused boy.

Even cuter, when the boy ended up losing his game, Manana turned to me and said, “I think he has two good legs”. It took me a second to realize she was telling me that he had bad luck!

Our school happens to have a pretty good volleyball team so it was especially fun to watch them play. Most of the volleyball players are my students, so I actually knew which names to scream out loud after one of them made a particularly awesome spike.

I really loved the enormous amount of school pride at the little stadium. Everyone was chanting, “me tet-me-ti” (eleven; the number of my school) and screaming with joy after every individual point.

The coolest thing about my school’s volleyball team is that the two best players are girls. Many of the schools in Georgia have sports teams for boys only, but my school is different. My students told me that at our school it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl; if you’re good at volleyball, you’re good at volleyball. There were about four other volleyball teams at the tournament on Friday, but only our school had girls on the team. (Woo, equalism!)
My school's co-ed volleyball team!

There was one incredibly intense moment at the game when our school was neck-in-neck with their opponent and whoever would score the next point would win the match. (I was more nervous at this moment than I was watching the Yankees play the Phillies during Game Seven of the 2009 World Series). Manana even turned to me and said, “Oh Michelle, I have butterflies in my stomach!”

We sadly actually ended up losing the game. It was a pretty tragic loss considering that the game was interrupted twice because of fist fighting among the players. In the states, you have to go to a hockey game to watch the players fight, in Georgia, you can go to your local high school volleyball game to see people go at it. They even sell popcorn nearby for twenty-five tetri (about ten cents)! (Talk about a cheap date).

All in all though, the entire team was so excited to have me at the game. Parents and teachers don't usually go to the game, let alone stay for the entire length of the tournament (which in in this case was four hours). They told me I must go to every one of their games so it looks like I have a lot of volleyball to look forward to this month!

I guess this weekend was sport themed, because on Sunday all four of us Samtredia girls went to the newly government-funded football (soccer) stadium, to watch Samtredia’s football team play in the National league.
Samtredia VS Dinamo (Tbilisi). We're the white team.

Much to my shock, our team is actually third in the nation. (I guess since there isn’t that much to do in town there’s plenty of time to work on one’s soccer skills). Anyway, the stadium was completely packed. It was like a Samtredia I’d never seen. Hundreds of men and boys eating sunflower seeds just filled the place.
The girls at the stadium. Count the women in the background...

And Samtredia’s fans are quite passionate about their team. Even the slightest bad call from a referee put men in an outrage. Boys would climb the fence to throw things at Dinamo, the opposing team, and men screamed obscenities that happened to be omitted from the phrasebook TLG provided us.
The fans going crazy after a bad call from the ref

This game was especially exciting because we were playing Tbilisi! It’s kind of funny even that our wee little town could even be compared to Tbilisi. Nonetheless, we totally rocked it and beat Tbilisi 2-0.

Samtredia may not have all the glitz and glam of Tbilisi, but our boys and girls certainly know to hit a ball!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wild and Crazy Kids

I went on my first excursion (field trip) today with Nini’s ninth grade class. To call the ninth graders wild and crazy kids seems like a terrific understatement. Spawn of the devil seems more accurate (but it’s a bit harsh) so we’ll stick with wild and crazy.
Some of the ninth graders (and me) trying to look cool

We were supposed to leave for our trip to Vani after fifth period but of course we were on GMT time (Georgian Maybe Time) and left a half hour after that. Why were we late you ask? Well, a teacher came over to the marshutka to yell at several of the ninth graders for skipping fifth period and when she came over she noticed that many of the other ninth graders were taking shots of vodka in the schoolyard.

Ten class-skipping, vodka-guzzling fourteen year olds isn’t enough to cancel a trip, so after a quick scolding we all got on the marshutka and set off on the road (drunk kids in tow). We first made a brief pit stop to pick up a few chairs as the marshutka only sits twenty and there were twenty seven of us. Despite the fact that we were packed like sardines, the ride to Vani was pretty fun. We sang Georgian songs and played “Never have I ever” ("Me ara sodis" in Georgian) while a few of the boys tried to sneakily smoke cigarettes in the back of the mini-bus.

When we arrived in Vani we toured an archeological museum that had all sorts of jewelry and pottery from way back to when Jason and Argonauts made their way through the area. It was pretty cool to see that so many artifacts were found in just small part of Georgia. It’s funny how in America, we think objects something from the 1600s are old but in Georgia, artifacts that were found a few thousand years before Christ came about are considered old.
Outside the archeological museum in Vani
Soon after witnessing a few kids vomit (vodka and marshutkebi are just not a good pair) we were back on the minibus, headed for a celebration in honor of the Georgian poet Galaktion Tabidze. Well, as soon as we arrived at the celebration, we left. Literally, I think we were at the celebration for less than ten minutes. It kind of felt like a celebrity publicity event. We made an appearance, took a photo to show we were there, and bounced.
This is Melissa trying to get Nini to smile in photos
Me with Salome (basically my other little sister)

Before heading back to Samtredia, we stopped by a little stream on the side of the road to have lunch. While enjoying our carbs, cakes and chicken one of the boys had this brilliant idea to take the air out of the marshutka’s tires, so we would get stranded and have a longer field trip.

So, lo and behold, when it was time to leave one of the boys “noticed” that there was no air in one of the tires. Our marshutka driver was raging mad; I think we’re lucky he didn’t kill one of the students. This poor man was driving around drunk, screaming, smoking, vomiting fourteen-year-olds (beyond capacity) and then someone thought it was a good idea to create a flat tire to lengthen the excursion.

Our driver was no idiot. He knew one of the students took the air out. (Plus, the air caps were put back on the tire incorrectly). To make matters worse, as our driver began jacking the tire, a bunch of the girls’ twelfth grade boyfriends pulled up in an SVU and the students began to have a dance party with Georgian music. Meanwhile, somehow all the leftover food caught on fire (I blame the ninth grade pyro) and then one of the girls started hysterically balling after she accidentally got hit in the head with a small boulder that was meant to hit a dog. (Did I not say wild and crazy was an understatement?)
The work of some not-so-sneaky kids

Finally, the tire was fixed and we all got back on the marshutka. You can tell our driver wanted us all out of his car because soon after we passed a road sign that established we were physically back in Samtredia he kicked all of us out (instead of dropping us off at our school).

The weird thing is, even though I was somewhat fearful I was going to die today, I totally feel like I bonded with these demonic kids. They all wanted to talk to me and play with me and even with the language barrier; we learned a lot about each other. They may be insane, but I somehow love them all.

And at the very least, they make a simple trip to a museum an excursion and a half.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The long-distance thong gone wrong

Earlier today my neighbor Irma came over carrying a big bouquet of a dozen red roses, a small package, and an exhausted smile on her face. She excitedly told Eka and I that her friend-who-wants-to-be-more-than-a-friend sent them to her from America. We’ll call this man Giorgi (because let’s face it, that’s probably his name anyway). Giorgi used to live in Samtredia ten years ago but he has since moved to Manhattan and started a successful hotel and Georgian restaurant.

For practically three years, Giorgi has been trying to win over Irma- all the way from New York.

The roses and gift he sent her were just another one of his ways to win her over. As Irma began to open the package, she unveiled a small silk make-up bag with the words ‘Victoria’s Secret’ printed on the front.

While Irma and Eka asked me who this Victoria was, I started to explain that ‘Victoria’s Secret’ is a popular store for women in the United States. I just happened to omit the fact that it’s known for its sexy lingerie.

Thus of course, after taking out a few lotions and body sprays, Irma pulled out a tiny, black lace thong from the silky bag and put it over her head. That’s right- she thought the thong was a headband. I watched in silence as Irma tried to maneuver the thong to fit on her head, deciding if I should say something or not.

Frustrated, Irma asked,“Is ra aris?” (What is this?)

Eka and I shared a quick smile before yelling, “Trusiki!” (Underwear!)

With the thong still on her head, Irma let out a loud gasp followed by, “Martla? ...Vaime!” (Really? …Oh my).

The three of us had a good laugh after that. Nothing is funnier than watching a conservative Georgian woman try to wear a Victoria’s Secret thong as a headband. When Eka and Irma began analyzing the situation, Irma turned to me to get my viewpoint on the whole matter.

In her Georgian-Russian Irma asked me, “Ehh, shto shen dimosh?” (What do you think?)

I hesitated for a second before I said, “Ya dumo ohn khochit shtota…” (I think he wants something…)

Without missing a beat, Eka sarcastically chimed in, “Da, pravda. Ohn khochit shtota” (Yes, that’s right. He wants something).

This promptly began a rant where Eka and Irma began to gather and confirm evidence that Giorgi is crazy. Granted, the fact that he sent a thong to his friend from 6,000 miles away seemed to fit in nicely with this conversation.

Crazy or not, I’m just excited to hear that this guy opened up a popular Georgian restaurant in New York City. I might just drop the name Irma when I’m back home and see if I can get some free khinkali.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mullet Magic

My hair was getting too long so I thought it might be a good idea to get it cut at a salon in town. Now, had I known that getting a haircut would be the most nerve-racking experience ever; I may have opted to wait until I was in Tbilisi to get it cut.

On Friday, Nini met Melissa and I after her classes and took us to her favorite beauty salon in Samtredia. As soon as I walked in I started to get a bit panicky. The hair salon (which also does electrotherapy treatments) had two female customers who both seemed to be getting frighteningly short mullet-esque cuts.

In retrospect, when all the customers in the shop are getting mullets, that should be a cue to quietly exit.

A good friend of the family owns the salon however, so once we stepped inside it was pretty clear we had to get something done. As I quietly panicked that the haircutters would cut off all my hair, Nini began to tell me what hairstyles she thought would like nice on me. Nini was encouraging me to get an asymmetrical cut. As in, one side of my hair would be really short, the other left long. I then looked at Melissa in further panic; Nini was my translator. After explaining to Nini that I most definitely did not want an asymmetrical cut or a mullet or a mushroom cut, it was time to meet my hairstylist.

My first hairstylist was named Miranda but after seeing how panicked I was, Miranda decided she refused to cut my hair. True story. Thus, the elder woman in the salon agreed to take me on. I think I explained about eight times how I wanted my hair cut. Once with actual photographs, twice with hand motions, two times Nini explained what I wanted in Georgian then Melissa told the woman what I wanted in English, and I explained what I wanted in Russian (and in English, just in case).

Before the actual hair-cutting however comes the hair washing. In Samtredia, you self wash your hair in the sink using fancy shampoo. Now, I am not an ignorant person but I did not at first understand that I was supposed to lean over in the sink and wash my hair.

That posed this conversation:

Me: “I wash my hair?”
Nini: “Yes, Michelle”
Me: “So, I wash it in the sink”
Nini: “Yes”
Me: “I put my head in the sink and I add water and shampoo”
Nini: “Yes”
Me: “In the sink? I go to the sink?”
Nini: “I will be with you. Don’t be afraid”
Me: “Wait, I wash it or the stylist washes it?”
Nini: “Okay, if scared, I can wash it”
Me: “No, okay, wait- so I wash it in the sink?”

Well, finally I understood. And I washed my hair in the sink. Like a big girl. Unfortunately due to my crazy nerves, I also washed my face and my t-shirt.

Now picture it, I am soaking wet, terrified, about to let the resident mullet-expert cut my hair. Melissa rather spontaneously decided to go first, hoping that if she got a bad cut it might make me less nervous. (Somehow this seemed to make sense at the time).

Well Melissa went and did just that. I wouldn’t say she got a bad cut, but let’s just say she’s been begging one of us to take a scissor to her hair so she doesn’t have layers that are three-inches apart. So as Melissa began panicking that she had what one could feasibly describe as a subtle mullet (but really it’s not that bad) we both agreed we’d only get through the day with some wine and chocolate.

Thankfully, my hairdresser pretty much seemed to understand the style I wanted. My hair isn’t perfect, but the cut only cost six laris (less than four dollars) so I can’t complain too much. Plus, after your mom accidentally cuts off all your bangs when you’re in the third grade, no other haircut can really be called ‘bad’ (love you, Mom).
Melissa washing her hair in the sink. (The disarray of the photo seems to accurately describe the situation).

Miranda taking a scissor to Melissa's hair. (Once again, the dark undertones of the photo seem to describe the scene perfectly).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teaching English to English Teachers

The view of Kutaisi from the Bagrati Monastery
After classes today, Melissa and I went to Kutaisi to go meet up with Salome and her friends from University. All of Salome’s friends are studying to become English teachers so I assumed that all of them would speak English as well as Salome does. Nope, not even close. The girls could barely say, “Nice to meet you”.

Clearly this says something frightening about the Georgian education system. I mean, if these girls can’t speak English and they’re about to become English teachers, how can anyone expect that kids will be able to learn English from them? (Then again, that’s probably one of the reasons why Mishiko is paying me to be here).

It’s possible that all the girls (besides Salome who is an English-speaking rock star) were too shy to talk, so I think if we hang out with them more (or give them vodka) they’ll become more comfortable speaking with us. They told us they could understand everything we were saying, they just couldn’t respond.

Honestly though, it really made all the girls day to meet Melissa and I. They took so many photos with us and were so excited to simply be around Americans. I practically felt like a character at Disney World, as if the girls wanted photos with Melissa and me because we were wearing Timon and Pumba costumes.
With all our new friends! (Though I totally stick out like a sore thumb)

Plus, despite somewhat of a language barrier, all of us had a lot of fun going to the Bagrati Monastery (it’s from the eleventh century) and drinking coffee at a little café. The girls are all very warm and love to laugh and want to us to come visit them as often as we can.

Salome told me that most of the kids in her major classes at University have had no actual way to practice speaking English and many honestly can’t. They can conjugate verbs and define words but they can’t actually phrase sentences. It’s practically a mitzvah for us Americans to hang out with them and speak English!

If I help one of my students become a better English speaker; that’s great for my student. But if I help one of the English teachers become more comfortable engaging in English conversations; that’s great for an entire school.
Melissa rocking the Georgian head-to-toe black look
Salome and I

P.S. If you were given a quarter for every time I used the word “English” how much money would you have?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Olympic acts of Georgian Hospitality

You can never have too many adorable sleeping dog pictures.
I think I’ve been living in Georgia too long because I’m beginning to actually look forward to long marshutka rides out east. When I look out the bus window all there is to see are just miles and miles of snowcapped mountains surrounded by beautiful foliage. It’s so beautiful that if I’m having a conversation with the person sitting next to me, I’ll sometimes get distracted just because of how stunning Georgia is. Fall in Georgia honestly makes fall in New England look like a joke.

On Friday, I was enjoying my beautiful view out the marshutka window while we were well on our way to Borjomi to meet up with our friends Bran, Tracey and Katy. Borjomi is one of the more famous towns in Georgia because it has special springs of water that are known to have renowned health benefits (and just happen to smell like eggs).
Washing my hands with the famous Borjomi water

Our night in Borjomi was rather interesting. While looking for our home-stay, the four of us (Emily, Melissa, Katy and I) had easy instructions to follow. We were told to walk straight and then go up the hill. Easy enough. Except that Borjomi is a hilly town so “go up the hill” was not exactly a clear instruction.

And so, but of course, the four of us found ourselves lost on top of big, dark hill looking for our home stay which seemed nowhere in sight. Right here is where a small grey kitten started to cuddle around my boots and pounce onto my leg leaving little kitten paw prints (and holes) as it climbed my tights. Also at this time, a Georgian man drove by in his car and started to ask us questions about the TLG program. To recap- we are in the dark, lost, a kitten is climbing me and a random man is interrogating us.

Out of nowhere the woman we were looking for seemed to appear though and she whisked us away to her adorable home where we were given delicious tea and lobiani (beans). I noticed the woman had a certificate of thanks from the Peace Corps on her wall and she told us that she has housed four Peace Corps volunteers over the past ten years.

She then told us that both her son and daughter each married a Peace Corps volunteer. Crazy! How ironic that she generously allowed these Americans to live in her home and they repaid her by marrying her children and whisking them away to America.

Her daughter Mako and her American husband Mike happened to be visiting that day so obviously we needed to hear every detail about how they got together. We spent the night exchanging countless stories about being Americans in Georgia. It was so wonderful to chat with such a cute, happy couple. We definitely picked the right home stay in Borjomi!

Borjomi berries

Exchange rates by family background.

Want an entire roast pig?
The next morning we woke up early and went right to Bakuriani. Bakuriani has got to be my favorite place in Georgia so far. The town is known for its fantastic skiing and scenery, and while there was no snow when we were there, we were just overwhelmed with kindness from the people at our hotel (and all the delicious food).

The woman who owns the hotel is named Dodo and asides from being an amazing woman she happens to be married to an Olympic bobsledder and her son is an Olympic skier. The hotel was filled with the family’s Olympic memorabilia and tons of different trophies.

Dodo and I at her beautiful hotel
Our first American style lunch (mac and cheese with hot dogs)!

It was surreal to talk about the 2010 Winter Olympics because the man who died in the luge accident was Nodar Kumaritashvili. Not only was he Georgian but he also happened to be a very close friend of this family. Dodo was telling me all about him and what an amazing person he was.

I remember watching the 2010 Olympics on television and thinking how sad it was that this young athlete had died but I felt completely disconnected from this tragedy. If you were to tell me then that in ten months I’d be living in Georgia, hanging out with Georgian Olympic athletes talking about what a great person he was, I would have called you crazy. Weird how you really never know where life will take you…
A memorial to Nodar Kumaritashvili in Bakuriani

Anyway, another reason Bakuriani was amazing was because we went horseback riding through the mountains! This may have been the most fun thing I’ve done in Georgia. It was just us, our horses, our guide Misha and the beautiful land of Georgia.
I could have stared at these mountains all weekend!

Our guide was a real character. He was actually a competitive arm wrestler and kept asking me questions about professional arm wrestlers from America. I didn’t even know professional arm wresting existed. His other favorite topic was horses and rodeos. Another topic I know nothing about. I was literally making stuff up just to please him. I said something about Montana having the most wild horses and the best rodeos being in Kentucky. (He seemed a bit upset that I didn’t share more statistical information).
Misha  challenged our very own Bran to a match. (Bran lost in maybe three seconds).

The best part about horseback riding was that after trekking through the beautiful terrain, Misha took us to a field to go racing! There is no feeling more exhilarating then when you’re perfectly in sync with an animal and going 60 kilometers per hour. We were flying. It felt like me and my horse Yuda were one being just about to soar through the sky.
 I like that you can see Yuda's ears on the bottom of the photo.
Riding through a nearby town

Give us some cowboy hats and we could pass for extras in a John Wayne film
I still remember that when I went horseback riding in Nicaragua the name of my horse was Serena and the previous night a tarantula had bitten her behind the ear and she had a bad infection. The two of us seemed to bond over our hatred for spiders. Me and Yuda also bonded. I mean hello, his name was Yuda that’s Georgian for Judah which is a Hebrew name. My horse was Jewish! (And at one point I asked him if he was feeling okay and I swear he neighed ‘no’).
Yuda, my new best friend

When we left our hotel on Sunday morning, the entire staff seemed to come out to wish us goodbye. Misha, Dodo, her husband, all the cooks and crew; everyone was just standing out in the cold waving us goodbye as we drove off in our marshutka (which came directly to the hotel to pick all of us up). The marshutka driver even came thirty minutes off schedule to get us! Talk about Georgian hospitality.

It still boggles my mind how kind and hospitably everyone treats us. Our marshutka driver Miram even took us to the Borjomi mineral water park for free, and picked us up for free a few hours later! And to top him, our second marshutka driver of the day, Gosha, stopped off at a restaurant to pick up some khachapuri for us as a gift. I mean, what? Who has ever heard of a taxi driver stopping to buy lunch for their passengers just to be nice? Miram even called me a few hours later to make sure I made it home okay. It seems as though every marshutka driver I meet becomes my own pseudo-father.

I went through my phone on the marshutka and noticed I have the name and number of a marshutka or cab driver in every city I’ve been to in Georgia so far. Ludacris may have hoes in different area codes but I have patronis in every city!
Defending Emily from seesaw dragons at the park in Borjomi
We're rowing ourselves to Valhalla
The Pocahontas tree brings out the best in everyone.
This nice man saw Tracey staring at his cotton candy machine so he made her this huge thing as a gift!
Who knew cotton candy went so nicely with marshutka rides?

Friday, November 5, 2010

I love Salome sandwiches

There are two women in Georgia that have made my time here all the more enjoyable. And both of them happen to be named Salome.

When I first heard the name Salome all I could think about was how unfortunately similar the name was to a fatty, processed meat. (Though one of Nini’s girlfriends is named Taco. Let’s hope the girls dream is not backpacking the Americas). Anyway, now that I know and love two ladies named Salome I can only associate the name with witty, smart, caring women …eating delicious sandwiches at a New York deli. (Complete with a pickle slice, of course).

The first Salome in my life is Nini’s sauketeso megobari (best friend) in the whole world. They’re literally connected at the hip when they’re at school and even tend to get sick at the same time. A cool thing about Salome is that she used to live in Moscow so we can actually legitimately have conversations with each other.

Sometimes I even find it’s easier to talk to Salome than it is to talk to Nini. With Nini, I have to consciously think about speaking more slowly and using a more elementary English vocabulary. But when I talk to Salome I can speak in Russian as freely as I wish. Because both of us don’t speak Russian fluently it doesn’t concern either of us when we use errors or don’t know how to translate certain words.

Salome has even become somewhat of a second little sister to me. If she is over the house and Nini has to go to her afternoon math lesson, sometimes Salome will just stay over an extra hour to hang out with me. The two of us chat about everything; from the boys she likes at school, to problems she’s having with her mom. She even fills me in on the latest gossip from the Brazilian soap operas many Georgians seem to love so much.

The other Salome in my life is an aspiring English teacher. Salome No.2 is currently getting her teaching degree at a university in Kutaisi but came to my school to shadow Nona (one of my co-teachers) for a month. I’m the first foreigner Salome has ever met and she was beyond excited to ask me every question in the world.

Salome is very free-spirited and easy-going and simply a lot of fun to be around. While many of the women in town would never set foot into a restaurant in the middle of day, Salome brought me to one of her favorite restaurant pubs in Samtredia to try the adjaruli khachapuri. It didn’t bother her a bit that we were the only ladies there. "Girls need to eat too,” was her only reply.

It’s just so refreshing to have a friend that opposes traditional Georgian gender roles. Salome wants to live in London and travel before she settles down and starts a family in Georgia. She can’t even imagine getting married within the next couple of years; something many of her friends plan on doing.

As fun as it has been to go over Salome’s apartment and enjoy some supras that her family just happened to threw together last minute, I can’t wait to visit her in Kutaisi and see the city from a local’s point of view. Salome has already started making a list of all the restaurants and sights that she just has to show me and my American friends. Who doesn’t love a fun, culture-defying night out?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

People need to stop falling in love

Believe it or not I went to yet another wedding this weekend. I tried to get out of this one, but I think Georgian guilt could give Jewish guilt a run for its money. So lo and behold in the pouring rain now famous in Samtredia, I arrived at ‘Bora Bora’: the most famous wedding hall in town (granted we only have about two).

The whole night started out slow. My school director’s son was getting married and every teacher from my school was at the wedding party. It practically felt like I was at some fancy teachers meeting. For the first few hours (yes, plural) I pretty much just listened to all the women I work with gossip in Georgian and tell me what a “good girl” I am as they tried to plop more food on my plate.
The table before food was served (comparative to peanuts at the bar)

Though I did have a special seat at the table. To my right was a Nino, on my left was a Nino and in front of me was (you guessed it) another woman named Nino. While it seems as though this would get confusing, the Nino on my right spoke English so I would address her in English, the Nino on my left spent eight years in Moscow so we often chat in Russian, and the Nino in front of me grew up in a small Georgian village so she only speaks Georgian. Thus, when I was talking I used each Nino’s corresponding language. I call this- the Nino Chatting System (or NCS).
Enjoying my Nino sandwich! (How come Georgians never smile in photos?)

It wasn’t until the older teachers at school started to enjoy the wine that things began to get interesting. After what appeared to be just a glass of wine these ladies were dancing around the tables and singing songs in Georgian without a care in the world. Even the oldest teacher at our school, an 85-year-old woman who sports a horribly charismatic dye job, stood up and began to lead all 150 wedding guests in clapping chants. For erti tsuti (one minute) I felt like I was at a college basketball game watching someone rile up the crowd.

While the whole night was rather uneventful, there were a few key moments. For about a minute the power went out (a common occurrence in Samtredia) and so as all the lights in the restaurant went out, the battery operated disco ball lights were turned on. We’re talking a pitch black room (as in you can barely see your hands in front of your face) with a slight glimmering of green and orange lights. I was semi-waiting for someone to spill bazha (walnut sauce) all over themselves but the only casualties were a few spills of wine.

The whole six hour wedding party has temporarily filled my Georgian wedding quota. While I subconsciously enjoyed counting how many pieces of cake the school secretary ate (six pieces- and she’s thin as a rail) and was pleasantly surprised that they played the ‘chava nagilah’; I need a wedding break. A weekend where I can trade my heels for hiking boots is definitely necessary.
My pretty co-teacher Nino