Gamargoba! Hi! I’m alive. Sorry I have been off the radar for the past week - but I am, actually, off the radar. Google map doesn’t even know where I am.
I have been living the simple life with my new Georgian family – who are awesome by the way – for the past week. We are in a cute little house at the end of an unmarked gravel road and could probably sustain ourselves for over a year without leaving.
For everyone wondering about my placement, here it is: I am in the northwest region called Samegrelo, the nearnest city is Zugdidi, my school is in the village Chitatskaro, and my home is the tinier village next door called Cacxvi.
First, there is my 83-year-old bebia, Natela. She never moves faster than a shuffle but gets more done per day than everyone else in the family combined. She is up bright and early every morning caring for: paia the cow, jodia the calf, basara the dog, and about half a dozen nameless chickens. She gets a kick out of overstuffing me with food and watching my agony as I force down the last of the khagapuri, very filling Georgian cheese bread. She has a great sense of humor and an amazing laugh that’s more of a combo of a whistle and a wheeze.
Next, there is Marina. She is one of Natela’s daughters and my aunt. She is a 56-year-old Russian language teacher with a wicked sense of humor, even though we are only talking through single words and gestures at this point. Our first meal together she mimed to me she was on a diet and I was way to skinny. I have a feeling I won’t be losing any weight while I’m here. So far I’ve seen Marina dodge cows and oncoming traffic at 90 km/hr, carry a bed up stairs, and make jam out of fresh figs from the garden. This woman is tough.
Finally, my two host brothers – they are Natela’s grandsons and Marina’s nephews - 17-year-old Giorgi and 19-year-old Giga. Giorgi will be in the 12th grade and one of my students. He lives in the village house with us full time. Giga is staying here for the remainder of the summer until school starts. Then he’ll stay as the family’s apartment in the nearby city with his mother and father while he attends University for electrical engineering. These boys are what Georgians like to call my patroni. They will have my back no matter who or what tries to mess with me. So far I haven’t ever felt the need for a patroni but it’s nice to know they are there and looking out for me.
We are in a two-story house built by the now deceased bebua in the 1930’s. Influenced by years of soviet occupation and struggle the house is very much about function, not fashion. No frills, no décor, just the bare essentials and it works. You enter the front door into the living area; keep going straight and you enter the cooking area: dirt floor, fireplace, one gas burner, a plastic table and a little tv; to the left is food storage: fruits, veggies, rising dough, fermenting milk, and compost; go back through the cooking area to the left and your in grandma’s bedroom – which you must pass through to get to the ladder - that goes to the second floor - where you’ll find the other three bedrooms - including my own.
Outside we have amazing produce. Right now in season are: figs, apples, grapes and peaches. In the winter we’ll have: tangerine, pomegranate, pears and persimmon. We just put in the garden for some veggies: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc. Paia the cow provides the milk, cheese and yogurt. The chickens provide the eggs and are sacrificed on occasion for the meat. Our jam is made and then preserved. The wine is always local.
Our backyard is filled with green mountains. On a hike the other day with Giorgi we came across about 5 army trenches about a 10-minute walk from the house. They were dug two years ago by the Georgian army who patrolled and waited for and Russian activity. Giorgi tells me that the Russian bombed the telecommunication satellites and antenna at the top of the next mountain. They have since been replaced. One our way back we pass a massive bull with only one horn. “What’s up with this bull?” I ask. “Russian bombs.” Says Giorgi very seriously – then he goes into about a 5 minute laughing fit and blames every sign of destruction we see on Russian bombs. “ Is a joke!” I’m not convinced.
The struggles this family has faced are very real and not so far in the past. But they have come out of it with strong sense of patriotism and an excellent sense of humor.
As I’m writing this now we are all taking our afternoon nap. Giorgi, Giga, and grandma nap together on the bed downstairs by the kitchen, Aunt Marina sleeps on a chair in the living room, and I’m sprawled on the couch next to her. No one goes upstairs during the day; it’s too hot and the ladder is a pain in the ass.
Tonight we’re having a ritual to honor the deceased. They explained to me that it has something to do with Mary Magdalene. I’ll find more out tonight as it all happens. One of the deceased we’ll be honoring was babia Natala’s husband. He built the house we’re living in and was then fatally injured in it by a thief passing through about 5 years ago. They tell me that thieves are now long gone.
I remember the point of being here. Learning, from both sides, is the goal of this program. I have learned so much from this family in the first week of being here. I hope I can contribute some knowledge as well. So far I’ve only been able to show picture of my family and friends, teach my host brothers to dance salsa, how to do basic yoga postures(they insisted after seeing pictures and hearing music), and of course provide daily English practice.