Monday, January 31, 2011

Advice from Eka

Sometimes she may not realize it but my host-mom Eka is always giving me advice. At times she is oddly profound while other times I think the American medical world might disagree. Either way, she is only trying to help and inspire me to get the most out of life.

Read books instead of cleaning the house.

It’s much easier to pay a house-cleaner to clean for you than to pay someone to teach you about literature and the world.

A marriage without love is not a marriage

(Though according to Eka, the cast members of ‘Step Up 3D’ felt true, everlasting love so this one might be up for debate).

Understand that all people are good people

Eka has taught me that even though sometimes it might not seem like it, every person you meet is eminently good and divine. Teaching yourself to like everyone you meet will only help you become a happier person and enable you to learn from everyone (even if it’s learning what not  to do in life).

If you don’t feel good you must either drink coffee, eat chocolate or drink brandy.

Migraines, stomach pain, sore throat- it does not matter. Drink and be merry.

Unless you want dog poop on the carpet, take off your shoes before entering the house.

Honestly, wearing shoes in the house is practically a misdemeanor in Georgia. House slippers are as necessary as a toothbrush.

A bus ride in a foreign place can teach you more than a month’s learning in the classroom.

This is Eka’s way of saying that yes, definitely, you should travel as often as you can. Money or no money, if there’s a will there’s a way.

Don’t ever be sad about your life.

Wallowing in your own false perception of misery is the most useless thing you can do. A billion people have it worse than you and would kill for your life.

Fall in love every couple of months.

‘It makes your life more interesting and proves you’re not a robot’ (that’s an exact translation of Eka’s words).

If a boy makes you cry just remember- his murder can be arranged.

No boy has made me cry but if I look even a bit sad then Eka often reminds me of this fact.

If an orphan singing on TV does not make you cry than you are a robot

I mean this one is just true. An orphan singing? You better watch the TV with a tissue in your hand.

If you’re cold, learn to sew and make yourself a sweater.

I’m still not sure if this is Eka saying I need to learn to sew or her way of saying that you need to be proactive about solving your problems. Either way, both interpretations can be seen as good advice.

A man who likes fat women can be easily persuaded.

It is what it is. A man who likes plump ladies will give you a discount at the bazaar way before a chauvinist pig will.

Every now and then, get drunk in the afternoon

Eka likes the idea of “escaping from your life”. We all need escapes from our everyday lives; it’s just not healthy to live life so seriously.

Save less and spend more.

Advice that would make my finance professors cringe, Eka thinks that since you only live once- indulge often. Your bank account won’t judge you if it’s not as big as it can be.

Drinking cold water after you work will get you sick.

All I’m going to say is that if you don’t want to get yelled at after working out than don’t drink cold water after working out. Apparently it’ll either get you sick or kill your ovaries.

A washing machine is a women’s best friend.

The only reason people think diamonds are a women’s best friend is because selling your diamonds can help you buy a washing machine.

Eating mandarins aggravates ulcers.

Oranges are fine. But mandarins are not on good terms with ulcers.

Don’t eat black bread in Georgia.

Much to my dismay, I am banned from eating black bread in Georgia. The bread is black because ‘black paint is added to the bread’. Yes, I know this sounds preposterous but I’ll follow a bit of cracked-out advice in exchange for some good life-altering stuff.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Earthquakes, nakedness and khachapuri

Living in a town surrounded by two mountain ranges has its advantages. Whether I look north or south I can see some beautiful snow-capped mountains and the air happens to be much warmer than it is in cities just a half hour away. Of course, there are also a few disadvantages. Take for example the various earthquakes we’ve been having lately. The Earth’s plates are shifting, the mountains are growing, and the good- china is shaking in the cabinet.

None of the earthquakes have really been anything to worry about. I slept through most of them (though I could sleep through an apocalypse) but I got to experience the biggest earthquake we had!

As bizarre as the earthquake was, my whole day had already been kind of crazy. I’d woken up that morning and got ready for church, ready to watch Nini become a Godmother to some adorable child. After a marshutka ride, a cab ride, and a bit of hitchhiking- Nini and I finally made it to a church that was literally in the middle of nowhere.

Almost as soon as we walked into the church though, Nini was asked to leave. She was wearing pants and the nuns and Mama (priest) who worked at the church found her outfit inappropriate. The main problem in this was that Nini was supposed to be a part of the baptism service- she was, after all, the designated Godmother.  

Several of the women attending the baptism thought that the only solution would be for Nini and me to switch outfits. For oh, maybe fifteen minutes or so, I had to explain to strangers why this was in fact a terrible idea. For starters, Nini is like 90 pounds. I am not. Sure, Nini could wear my dress, but I can’t just put on Nini’s double zero slacks and extra-small sequin tunic. No one seemed to understand this concept though. The rebuttal to this argument was that I could just hide behind the church in my jacket and wait for the service to finish so no one would see me not wearing clothes. (Yes. This was actually a suggestion…)

After I vetoed these ideas, it was suggested that I could pretend to be Nini during the service, something like a church stunt-double. After quickly throwing it out there that I’m Jewish, can’t speak Georgian and have no idea what baptism-participation entails- a new church stunt-double was found. (One who was both Georgian Orthodox and spoke Georgian).

The actual baptism service was pretty weird for me. It was kind of barbaric to watch babies get thrown in a pit of water surrounded by candles (but hey, us Jews cut the tips of boys’ penises off so who’s judging). Plus, I literally knew no one in the entire church except for the crazy woman who tried to get me to stand outside the church naked
So many babies getting baptized!

The creepy-cute church in the middle of nowhere.
 Well anyways, after the service Nini and I went to Crazy Woman’s house to prepare for a big supra celebrating the baptism. We got to Crazy’s house at 12 but the supra wasn’t until four. I get bored easily so I decided it might be fun to just help the caterers prepare dishes for the supra.

Okay, now let me tell you- getting old Georgian caterers to agree to let you help cook is harder than converting to Judaism. I had to get turned down maybe five times before a nice little bebia said I could make khachapuri with her. Each time I asked one of the caterers to let me help, they’d say, “you can help by sitting and eating”.

Once I got started making khachapuri though those grannies really put me to work. After making maybe thirty pies it was decided by the caterers that I was now ready to become a Georgian wife. I guess once someone can make a good khachapuri cheese pie they’re ready to pop out a few babies.
Right around here though is where the earthquake happened. All of a sudden the house started shaking and Nini latched on to me like I was the last Tickle-Me-Elmo on the shelf during Christmas time circa 1996. It didn’t really feel like an earthquake, it kind of just felt like an elephant was running around upstairs causing a ruckus. (Though in retrospect, finding an elephant running around upstairs would be a much bigger problem).

As the earthquake continued, everyone in the house ran outside to wait it out in case the house collapsed. Well not everyone. One of the old bebia caterers ran back into the house and came out with a few pies of khachapuri. (She was worried we might get hungry).

Later that evening, Eka showed up for the supra and we were exchanging stories about what we were doing when the earthquake hit. Eka’s story definitely topped the namts’khvari  (cake).

While Eka was getting ready for the supra she thought it might be a good time to try out the Dead Sea mud I got her in Israel. She stripped down to her underwear and began to slather her whole body with mud. Just as she was letting the mud sink in (it needs to stay on the skin for about twenty minutes) the earthquake hit. Covered in mud, Eka hid under the table in the dining room waiting out the earthquake to end. She told me how she was completely terrified not just because of the earthquake, but because she thought someone was going to burst into the house to check on her and find her naked, covered in mud, hiding under the table.

I can’t decide what would be worse, to be found behind a church wearing just tights and a winter coat, or to be found at home wearing just underwear and mud!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Worst. Hour. Ever.

While I’m happy to be living with my host family again and see all the familiar faces around town, the journey of coming from Tbilisi to Samtredia was by no means a smooth ride for me. I probably had the worst hour of my life on Tuesday morning simply commuting from our hostel to the bus station at 9:30am.

Despite this hour being absolutely dreadful for me, it’s probably going to be funny when I look back on it in a few months. Plus, isn’t it true that the worst experiences we ever have are the stories we love to tell most?

My horrible hour starts with the fact that I am terrified of the metro escalators that frequent many big cities. I’m not talking about your standard mall escalator- I mean those escalators that are so steep, so long, and so fast- they could be thrill rides at any Six Flags theme park. In my experience, the escalators in Prague and Paris are pretty scary- but no escalator in all of Europe has anything, anything on the metro escalators of Tbilisi.

I’m convinced that whoever designed this escalator is a sadist. No one with a good heart would willingly submit people to such a torturous ride. On any normal day this escalator is merely a terrifying ride. But add my large duffel bag and backpack into the mix and this ordinarily terrifying ride becomes a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing Satan-stamped journey to Hell.

Even after Emily and my friend Taylor agreed to take my bags down the escalator (in addition to their own) it still took me about forty-five seconds to have the courage to actually step on the escalator and by the time I stepped on my friends were out of sight. Enter panic mode.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, usually I close my eyes and cuddle between two friends whenever I ride the Satanic Stairs in Tbilisi. But this time I was all on my own. Of course, I’m a terrified baby so I closed my eyes and broke out into tears (you know you’re a true crybaby when you can cry with your eyes closed) and sat down on the stairs whimpering for Melissa to come rescue me.

By this time I had alarmed enough passengers on the escalator to the point where they all thought something had to be drastically wrong with me. Poor Melissa had to trudge up the stairs with her enormous backpack so I wouldn’t pass out right there on the escalator.

Now in my defense, I don’t think many of you know just how terrifying these escalators are. I’m not afraid of heights-no. Roller coasters, bungee jumping- sign me up. But I draw the line at 60 km/h escalators at 70 degree angles (I’m only exaggerating a little). I just can’t help it that I’m afraid of plunging to my death and helplessly falling down if I happen to stand even a bit oddly.

The only thing more terrifying than going down the escalator, is going up the escalator (falling down backwards- need I say more?) Thankfully, the metro stop we needed was Didube which is above ground, so I only had to endure public transportation torture once.

Well, or so I thought.

Normally I really like the Didube bus station. There are lots of crazy people all over the place so it usually makes for good people watching. Plus I secretly like yelling at all the taxi drivers in Russian when they ask me where I’m going (it somehow makes me feel like a gangster).

To get on the bus you hand a few laris over through a kiosk window and they give you a small piece of paper with your seat assignment.  Everyone takes the assigned seats seriously but the tickets are sold in order so normally you always sit next to one of your friends. Well this time, there were five of us traveling and I just happened to get the odd ticket. No matter, I like making new friends. In my head I thought, ‘this could be fun’.

My seatmate was the opposite of fun. He was so morbidly obese he took up both the seats. (One man, two seats).When I sat down I had to sit sideways in order to even get half a cheek on the chair. (This becomes a courtesy issue. If you know you’re going to take up two seats- purchase two seats. Am I wrong?) Anyways, as I was already an emotional mess, this moment only made me cry more. I felt bad but I couldn’t help it. I hope that poor man didn’t think I was crying because he was so outrageously fat.

On any inter-city bus ride I would just deal, but this bus ride was four hours. I physically couldn’t sit there so I marched up to the ticket window, handed over my ticket and asked for a new seat. The woman at the kiosk window gave me a small smirk (as if she knew exactly who I was sitting next to) and gave me a new seat.

Any seat would be better than having no seat (which was practically the case) so I was completely fine with whatever seat I’d get. I ended up getting a seat next to a mother and her eight-year-old daughter who were both sharing one seat to save money. A bit ironic since these two people barely took up one seat, while my previous seatmate took up two seats.

Anyways, before the bus took off a man walked by me in the aisle and tripped, dropping several coins right around me. He began to rummage by my feet and look for coins so I stood up so it would be easier for him to see what he was looking for. Just as I stood up though, the man sitting next to me in the side aisle stood up as well, trapping me for a few seconds between the loose change guy and himself. I stood out of the way for a few seconds before sitting back down thinking Loose Change man found everything he was looking for.

Well, a few minutes later, Loose Change man came back and lifted up my backpack to check underneath that. I grabbed that from him and stood up again to let him search more thoroughly, and Side Aisle man stood up again and for the second time I was trapped. This time though, Side Aisle man unzipped my handbag and tried to pull something out of it. I was pretty startled at that moment (I was still tearing up from sitting by the fat man) but I was gripping my purse so tightly that he wasn’t able to get anything out. The mother sitting next to me yelled something nasty to the two men and they both ran off the bus in a hurry.

Thus we can add basically getting conned on a bus to my list of morning joys. I reacted in the only way I knew how: more tears.

To recap, in one hour I…

a) Thought I was going to plunge to my death (and cried)

b) “Sat” (it’s a relative term) next to the fattest man in the Caucasus (and cried) and

c) Almost got robbed (and cried)
Of course, every bad experience is a learning experience so these are several things I can take away from this hour.

1)      While the metro only costs 40 tetri (maybe fifteen cents) I don’t have the eminent feeling that I’m going to die in a five lari cab ride (around $2.50) so I might just opt for cabs from now on. Ironically enough though with the way people drive in Tbilisi, my odds of dying are probably much higher in a taxi.

2)      No more bread or I’ll end up fatter than the fattest man in the Caucasus.

3)      Next time someone drops money around me I’m going to scream, “Zhulik!” (thief) as loudly as I can. That way even if someone really does accidentally drop coins around me, they’ll be so terrified that I’m crazy that they’ll run away and I might even make a lari or two…

P.S. If you’d like to delve a bit more into my Israel trip, feel free to follow my new blog. It’s a silly, photo journal of much of my Israel trip (and other travels) as seen through the eyes of Cheburashka.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Georgian-Israeli ‘Welcoming Committee’

Well, here we go again! Georgia take two. I got back from Israel a few days ago after experiencing a truly amazing month in the Holy Land. My friends and I opted to CouchSurf the entire time so we were constantly meeting new people and just learning so much. If I even started to write down anecdotes and memories from my month long trip, I’d probably never stop writing.

This blog is dedicated to life in Georgia however, so I’ll hold-back on everything I want to say about my trip and only focus on my favorite Georgia-related anecdote.

So picture the scene- the girls and I have just landed at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. We’re ready to start our new adventure and excitedly hurry outside with our huge backpacks to hail a cab.

Force of habit kicked in though, so instead of speaking to the cab hailer in Hebrew (yes that’s right, there’s a man whose job it is to hail a cab for you) we spoke to him in Georgian! An employee at the airport overhead our Georgian and excitedly came over to tell us that he was Georgian too. Then this employee called over another fellow Georgian employee- who not only turned out to be Georgian, he turned out to be from Kulashi. Kulashi as in that small village town right by Samtredia!

But just wait, when he found out I was from Samtredia he asked me what family I was living with. I told him I live with Vakho Dundua and his jaw almost dropped. He knew Vakho. As in my host dad.

Can we just reflect upon this? I fly to a country and the first man I talk to knows my host family. Okay cool. What a completely normal everyday occurrence.

And of course, only to add to our bewilderment, our cab driver that night turned out to be a Georgian from Kutaisi. The cabbie and I had a conversation in Georgian, Russian, Hebrew and English. Yes that’s right- polyglot cab rides all the way.

The funny thing is, when I told Vakho the whole story yesterday he didn’t even get surprised. He said something in Russian like, “Oh right, that’s Koba”. As if he expected us to bump into each other.

The smallness of this world never ceases to amaze me (and it makes for noteworthy blog entries).