A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Week

Goodbye! Au revoir! Adios! հրաժեշտ! до свидания! ნახვამდის!

sunny 5 °C

On Tuesday, the time was nearing for my departure from the village and so I began planning and pre-packing my things. I pulled all the clothes from the drawers of my dresser and stacked them on the bed in neat piles. I made a special heap of things that were in limbo; things I was not able to bring back to Canada nor did I have the heart to throw away. I deposited my actual garbage in the scorching wood stove and watched it burn through the unlatched iron door. A few minutes later T'sit'so walked over to the refrigerator to file away the leftovers from yet another meal when she peered in through the doorway of my room, seeing the mess inside. "Oy deda, Cor, tqven t'oveben dzalian male," Oh mother, Cor, you are leaving very soon. She didn't bother to hide a sadness that swept across her, but instead loomed around the doorway staring at me for a moment before finally moving on to the cooking stove to make her cheese. I sat on the bed thinking about what it would be like when the day finally came to say goodbye to my school, my students, my community and my family.

Wednesday night, approximately 6 p.m., provided me with an impromptu supra which saw three large Georgian men enter the dining room through the wide door opposite my room. They all had the same haircut; buzzed on the sides with a bit of length on top, parted to one side. Each of them had thick new growth on their faces, bushy eyebrows and dark eyes. Even with all these similarities, none of them looked anything alike. I was still in my room, mulling about when I heard Chabuki hollar at me to 'modi', come. Chabuki was sitting in his normal spot at the end of the table while two of the men sat on the far side, pinned between the wall and the table itself. The third guest, and biggest of them all, sat on a small stool usually put in operation by tiny Bebia. As I approached the table, the men stared at me intently, no doubt having already heard of the Westerner who inhabited their boss' home. This is when I saw the small, black 'L' shaped object shoved into the back of the mans trousers. As I took a seat, I wondered if any of the other men carried guns heedlessly stuffed halfway into their pants. Sure enough, and likely brought on from the discomfort of the weapon digging into his spine from the pressure of leaning against the back of the bench seat, he leaned forward while reaching back and pulled his gun out and casually stuffed it into his coat pocket which draped the corner of the faux-leather bench. I thought how five months earlier this would have shocked me but I had now become as indifferent to it as if they were removing a bulky wallet from the back pocket of their jeans. I sat down at another stool where a plate and wine glass appeared, as a matter of course, with Teona and Tsitso instantly urging me to participate at the table's inevitable carousal. It was clear before I sat down that these giant Georgian maphia workhorses just wanted to see how much ghvino and chacha an average Canadian male could ingurgitate. I would like to possess some reason or excuse that this night of debauchery was the act of coercion from the locals, pressed upon me in a way that I could not manipulate, try as I might, and I was ultimately forced through their wily tactics to consume an unreasonable amount of wine. These were guys around my age (not common in my village) who toted handguns as a career path, something I found absolutely fascinating, and after only a few minutes of salutations we were having a great time talking, joking and toasting. Alas, I must admit to feeling less pressure to drink this evening because I had made up my mind early on to take the challenge, to show these barrel-chested beasts what I could do while I was proudly wearing my Canada T-shirt.

I woke up that same evening to my host mother laughing and poking me. I opened my eyes to see what the matter was, looking at my watch to see my local Nokia phone reading 20:30 hours. It was cold in my room, not uncommon, but an even colder draft blew over my neck and back. I couldn't understand what she was saying; I couldn't translate any of her Kartuli because my head was cloudy and my brain felt like it had melted inside my skull. I lifted my head with great effort and for the first time realized I was sleeping face down in the flower garden of the front yard. I stood up with purpose but slumped forward at the waist and with an awkward jog/shuffle combination, I found the bed in my room and heaved myself onto it. Tsitso followed me in, took off my shoes and threw a blanket over me. I heard her back in the diningroom giving Chabuki, who had been left alone by the goons sometime earlier, a piece of her mind and her thoughts on the evening. The alcohol soon stole my consciousness once again but I vaguely remember her coming back to wash the dirt off of my face.

Thursday morning was full of pain and suffering from the moment I rose out of bed like a poisoned, wilted sapling. I cursed myself and all the decisions I had made that brought me to that single moment in my life. The chemical induced depression of a powerful hangover draped over every part of me. Dehydration made my knees ache, my defective iliotibial bands scream and compelled me to wish that human brains came with a simple 'off' switch. I may not have regretted (as much) my choice to drink the previous night if I could have just remember the events that took place; affording me a funny story or two at least. I made use of the large hood on my sweatshirt as I slipped into the house sandals my host-dad had given me upon my arrival and shuffled into the dining room.

"Corey gaprinda! Gaprinda Corey!" Corey flying! Flying Corey! Chabuki sang to me, then let out a full bellied laugh as he witnessed me writhe and creep along the tile floor. The sound of his voice bashing inside my skull made me want to hit him in the mouth with a New York phonebook while hanging out the window of a speeding car, but I resorted to a docile smirk, knowing nobody was at fault for my current condition but me.

Tsitso walked in hearing Chabuki's version of 'good morning' only to add to the jokes at my expense, understandably. Luckily the screeching of my host sister never appeared, being a Thursday morning she had already left for school. I, on the other hand, didn't have any lessons on Thursdays and was afforded the time to recover from the pathetic mess I was.

"Ginda Vimushao dres, Coro?" Want to work today, Corey? "Mushaoba, diakh?" Work, yes? Chabuki persisted.

I stood, hunched over like Bebia, as if it made me feel better, wondering what the Kartuli for, 'No way in hell, do you see the deplorable site before you?' was.

"Ho." Ya. "Why not? What are we working on today?" I asked, knowing the English wouldn't elicit any response from Chabuki.

After harvesting and processing hazelnuts all day while feeling like I was on the brink of complete organ failure, I showered using antibacterial baby wipes in a feeble attempt to feel clean. I decided to take a few minutes to myself trying to finish up a book I borrowed from a friend which I needed to return before leaving the country. A clatter heard behind my bedroom door coming from the dining room grew to quite a commotion with the sound of clanging plates and chiming cutlery among a crescendo of boisterous and excited voices. I opened the door leading into the seeming melee to find a table decorated with brightly coloured napkins, torti a type of cake for special occasions, and an abundance of food. Full of pride at what she helped to create, my host sister urged me to sit at the table. After some type of awkward photo shoot with me and the table setting, the family and the farmhands: Givi and Igori, sat down to eat. A supra was on. Igori acted as the Tamada but urged me to translate into English or add to the toast he had made. We drank wine, ate a pile of food, listened to music and chatted the evening away. Later in the meal, Chabuki unwrapped a large Qanci (1 litre drinking horn) from a complete set and the remainder of the supra was spent enjoying a lot of wine from the various ceremonial clay containers. We ate the cake, though I was strictly told it was not a cake, but rather torti, and was reminded several times throughout the evening that torti was completely different than cake. So we ate the cake that wasn't really cake and the evening was a great success. The host family gave me gifts and presented me with a duplicate drinking horn from their set, telling me that half will be for me, and the other half they will keep, and that someday we can bring the set together again. Tsitso wiped a tear from her eye as she walked off to the cooking stove to make her cheese.

Friday was not unlike any other day at school, except this Friday represented my last day. I taught the kids English like I always did, trying to bring in as much enthusiasm and fun as I could into an otherwise cold, stale and rigid atmosphere. I handed out small Canadian flags, pins, keychains, pencils and erasers and told the children that Canada and Georgia were friends, that we were friends, and that I would always remember them. I gave them a small speech that they could be whoever they wanted to be as long as they were willing to do the work and that all of their schooling, not necessarily just English, was they key. The kids snuck in hugs when they knew my rule was high fives only, shook my hand, blew kisses, begged me to stay and even gave me gifts: some drinking horns, crafts, drawings and paintings.

After class I saw a car pull up outside the front gate of the school and I recognized it. Chabuki, lame footed from his diabetes, hobbled around the car gathering food, cake (but not really cake), wine and dishes, assigning random children in the yard to carry it inside. In one of the classrooms teachers were being directed by the school Principal to place all the desks together and where to set up the food, wine and music. After they were all ready, they asked me to enter and take a seat. A huge plate of khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) was placed before me and I recognized that too, as Tsitso's wonderful doing. I thought about how this may be the last time I was ever going to have the chance to devour the freshly baked cheese bread, so I dug in. The sporti teacher, Malkhazi, had the responsibility of Tamada duties and executed them with a flare for the dramatic. After each toast I was urged to add onto his speech with some words of my own which my co-teacher translated to the rest of the group. I thanked them all for their hospitality, generosity and kindness; for taking me into their homes and their hearts; for making me feel like a real member of their community and for helping me to experience one of the most surreal and wonderful voyages of my life. After we finished eating and with our bellies full of wine, we cleared the tables away and the teachers danced to local Georgian folk music as I tried to mimic, flailing my arms around like a supreme idiot. Each teacher came up to me individually and toasted me, thanked me for coming to Georgia and to Samikao school. They told me I was a lamazi bichi, beautiful boy (often used to mean very nice), and thanked me for making such an effort to become a member of the village and embracing Georgian life. Some, like the children, begged me to stay and to buy a house and move my wife here. Others kissed me on the cheek in a heartfelt embrace. Some gave me gifts and bouquets of flowers. They amazed me by how sincere their words were and was shocked to see a few teachers wipe tears away. We took photos and danced some more while I took a moment to wander the halls of the school one last time before saying goodbye to everyone. My co-teacher stood at the top of the stairs at the schools entrance with one of my favorite students mothers and they waved me goodbye as the Georgian flag stirred and rippled back and forth. The sun was setting making for a pink and orange dusk but still reflected powerfully off the windows. Palms trees and cacti dotted the school yard. A few kids who stuck around for one last goodbye chased Chabuki's car, waving wildly, for as long as they could run. This was the last time I would see my school; nothing like how I first interpreted it over five months earlier.

At home that night, the festivities of the school supra continued with the family and the following day, Saturday, was to be my very last in the village.

I never fully recovered from the week's mafia meeting on Wednesday and was exhausted by the time Saturday morning rolled around. I was wearing my hoodie again, and again felt it necessary to flip the hood over my head as I walked around my room before breakfast. I didn't have as much to drink the last few nights after the Wednesday assault of my liver, but the relentlessness of the supras was wearing on me. I couldn't do another supra if I tried, I thought to myself, as I opened my bedroom door leading to the dining room.

The table was set yet again with the familiar flash of colour from the napkins, a huge variety of Tsitso's concoctions and two jugs of wine. I collapsed in my spot on the bench for a moment before Tsitso told me to go wake up my host sister upstairs. When I arrived at the top of the stairs I saw Bebia wrapping her white hair in the black floral scarf she donned habitually. I greeted her with a dila mshvidobisa, (good morning) like I had every morning for five months. However, on this dila, it sent her into an inconsolable bleakness. She waved her scarf at me in embarrassment as her eyes reddened and tears steadily leaked out of them. In an attempt to lighten the mood, knowing Bebia was a fan of my antics, I grabbed two blocks of wood from a pile and brazenly marched up and down the upstairs hallway banging the pieces together yelling at Teona to wake up. Teona eventually emerged from her room annoyed but was unable to suppress a smile while Bebia laughed in her patent high pitch wheeze.

Back downstairs at the table we sat for my last meal with the family and I felt a tickle of sadness at the thought that I'd never be with this, my new family, again. From the door leading to the barn outside walked in Igori and Givi to join us for breakfast and say a final farewell. A neighbour came in from another door to find my host sister setting out napkins and wiping tears from her eyes, Bebia dabbing at hers with a handkerchief and Tsitso barely keeping it together as she conducted her business of taking care of everyone. The neighbour, at first, laughed at the scene of crying women, just as Chabuki did and even offered an attempt to lift their spirits. As breakfast began the village director, Zaza and his family stopped in to say goodbye and have a bite to eat, as well as a few other neighbours. Halfway through the meal it felt as though the entire village had made their way to the Chorgolashvili household to say goodbye to the English teacher. Everyone toasted me and every single one of the men did so by drinking one litre of wine from the horn. They thanked me, blessed me, wished me luck and happiness, blessed my wife and our future children and always made a point to say how I have made all of Canada a great friend to Georgia. As I looked over to the neighbour who had arrived first that morning, I saw his eyes resembled Bebia's; wrinkled around the edges, red and streaming with tears. I had only spoken to him a few times, but saw him every morning as I walked to school. And as he rode a decrepit bicycle the opposite way guiding his herd of cows along the dirt road I always gave him a 'Gamarjobat' (Hello) or a 'Dila mshvidobisa' (Good morning). Bebia hadn't stopped crying since I greeted her in the morning. Teona would collect herself only to find herself crying again. What a scene, I thought, and all for my leaving? There must be some other, more deserving reason to have all these people visibly upset. The supra continued as they typically do; food, wine, music, dance and chatter. Chabuki was an emotional rock, unmoved, unlike all the others around him.

After a final check of my baggage, everyone who had stopped by to greet me farewell was waiting in the driveway. A long line of kissing on the cheek transpired and as I turned away from the last one I saw the three women of my family huddled together crying. I hugged my host mother and kissed her on the cheek and thanked her for everything she'd done and, facetiously, for the extra fifteen pounds she'd packed onto me. As I hugged Bebia and towered over her I could see Tsitso stuffing a huge bag of khachapuri in my duffle, a plastic bag of dried fruit in the top pocket of my backpack and sweets in every crevice she could find. Bebia breathlessly mumbled away in Kartuli and I couldn't make out what she was saying and she gripped me with all the force an eighty two year old could summon (surprisingly a lot), failing to let go.

Chabuki and Teona helped me load my belongings into the car and we set off on the thirty minute drive to Abasha. I looked at all the familiar sites as they flew by with a different perspective; they weren't at all intimidating as they were five months ago, but instead were quite familiar. I recognized some of our own cows and our pig with the weird-mole-thing (a technical term) on its face. Other neighbours stood at their gates and gave a casual wave as Chabuki honked the horn just like he had when I first arrived. The big beige house on the corner, I knew the owner now, and taught his daughter in my grade one class. We drove past the tree with the jagged, labyrinthine branches that I liked so much which stood in the front yard of an old man's house who smiled and tipped his hat to me every time I walked by. We slowed down to pass Bebia's best friend, an equally ancient relic of a woman, who gave a big wave with the cane in her hand and the other hand supporting the small of her back. The fountain near the abandoned building where the stray horses frequented was just up around the corner. We drove out of Samikao where the road forks to either Abasha or Martvili, where another fountain and large granite cross signified the split.

At the marshutka station we heaved my bags out of the car and tossed them to the side while Chabuki made some calls on his cellphone. Teona just huffed under her breath and I could periodically make out a faint, 'Oh, Coro, Coro, Coro'. Chabuki had called a driver he knew, and so the marshutka knew where to pull up, and after a few minutes waiting in a faint drizzle, it did. Before I knew it, my bags had been thrown into the waiting mini-bus and I was urged to hop in quickly as well. I hugged my new sister goodbye and shook Chabuki's hand and took a seat against the window. As the vehicle pulled away I saw my sister through the window looking at her father and she began to weep again. And as my eyes shifted to Chabuki, I caught a glimpse of the emotional rock pulling a sleeve to his eyes and gently wiping at them.

It was all over.

I spent the next few hours on the bus thinking about what exactly I had left behind. Wow. What a trip.

Posted by CRBackman 10:40 Archived in Georgia Tagged children food farewell family school dinner georgia goodbye teachers cheese crying mafia neighbours supra saqartvelo samegrelo samikao Comments (0)

The Purchase

But first I must make you drunk...

10 °C

Kitchens in Georgia, typically, are completely separate buildings from the houses that also often contain the dining rooms. In our house, there is a room that mimics a small Western kitchen but with limited counter space, few cupboards and devoid of a cook top or oven. However, the fridge sits in the corner of the dining area and where I would think to have the fridge, sits our washing machine. The actual kitchen is off the back of the house just behind the dining/living room. I will call it a kitchen, because it is where the preparation, cooking and cleaning take place, but I would be stretching it to call it a room.

There are four walls that contain it and three of those have windows, and three also have doors: one leading to the vegetable garden, one to the barn, and one to the rest of the house. What keeps it, in my opinion, from calling it a room is the lack of a roof. Some of it is covered with old windows and scrap wood and most of the floor is unfinished concrete while the rest is the same gravel they used for the driveway fill. Tsitso uses a small stool to sit and prepare food on the short portable propane burner or rusted covered wood stove. Her kitchen sink is a garden hose that runs into the gravel and drains out into the yard. She has a small homemade cupboard with two tight doors where she keeps her dishes. Cooking utensils hang from nails in various places around the space. It is easy to see that this is her space and the epicenter of her pride where she spends much of her time caring for her family in nearly every way. It is absurd for her to think I, first as a guest and more recently just because of my gender, would make myself useful in any way within her space. When I offer to help, or as a reflex, pick up my dishes from the table, she would rather slap them out of my hand then have me, almost as an insult to her, doing what she considers her duty.

I was attempting to clear the table again when she yelled at me in her alarming voice, "Ara, iqos, iqos. No, leave it, leave it." I had explained to her many times that my wife and I tried to share equal duties around the house, if not completely reversed typical roles (she makes more in a day back home than I do in a month in this country).

Tsitso was hard at work already preparing our late night snack as she hovered over the red hot wood stove when I walked back in.

"Oi deda. Dzalian davighale, Cor. Oh Mother. I am very tired, Cor." I was hearing this a lot lately, and I was always impressed with how much she could stuff into a single day. I persisted and she finally let me clear the table, filling a big blue bowl with the dirty dishes. "Kai bichi,. Dzalian kai bichi, Cor. Good boy. Very good boy, Cor." Anytime she relented even a little, I could sense she was amazed that I would insist as much as I had. She never judged me for 'doing the work of a woman', always thanked me and called me a good boy. She was quick to stop me when when I tried to help further, however.

Tchabuki would sometimes walk in, as he was now, when I had earned a small victory which allowed me to help out my host-mother. His look was less appreciative than Tsitso's when I helped out in the kitchen and his didn't hold back from judgment. It never bothered me. This came from a man who I had never seen do more than three minutes of work at a time or total more than a few hours in a day; he chose instead to hire out to people in the village or take advantage of my boredom and offering to work for free; which was everyday. This isn't to say we didn't have a good relationship, we liked each other very much, but we had a large difference of opinion on defining gender roles and we were each not willing to part with them. I had shelved many personal opinions or cultural norms from back home to respect the Georgian way of doing things, but was bothered by the flagrant inequality in Georgia and had taken every opportunity to plant the seed of gender equality in the minds of my host-sister and students, that the rights of females were exactly equal to those of the males. My host mother, who took great pride in her work as a homemaker (as she deserved), still loved to hear me tell my sister of equality and give examples. She especially loved it when I reminded her of how much my wife made in comparison to myself.

"Cor, modi. Chven gvq'aksv mushaoba. Cor, come. We have work," Tchabuki said.

Well when you put it like that, I thought, how could I say no? I went to my room, replaced the sandals they gave me for inside the house with shoes and put on a sweatshirt and jacket. It was dark now too which had brought a surprising chill, so I threw on a toque for good measure. Thcabuki jumped in the car while Givi and I opened the gate, let him out, closed it behind us then hopped in. On the way, it was explained in great pains, that we were off to purchase a cow. Simple enough, I assumed.

Just inside the imaginary line that determines where the dirt road changes from Samikao to Maidani villages we came to a lovely brick house with brilliant woodworking accents that begged to be sanded and painted again in this century. Amber light beamed through the windows and the open front door, barely lighting our way through the yard as we followed Tchabuki who had let himself in through the gate. We exchanged ‘hellos’ and I was introduced to the two men sitting at the table who picked at their plates of food, more focused now on their glasses of wine and company. I recognized a little girl who sat, mostly hidden behind the barrel chest of the one man, when she shyly peered around the belly of her Dad. A quiet first grader who showed great potential as a student if she could get over being so timid, I thought. She gave me a look that I remembered giving myself as a kid when I saw a teacher somewhere other than the classroom: I thought you lived at school. You're not allowed to live a life outside of class, have interests, friends, and families. You are void of emotion and subsist only on knowing that you make my life sucky before the freedom of recess.

The two men demanded I sit, so I sat, then one of them hollered something to somewhere in the house. A small woman, made tiny by having to walk bent over at the waist ninety degrees appeared and produced a glass of wine and plate of steaming food in an instant. Having just finished eating not more that ten minutes before was of no concern to them. They told me to eat, but I politely refused. The all too familiar look, like I had offended them worse than if I urinated on the floor, washed across their faces. They asked me if the ostri wasn't good enough, or if I preferred something else. Did I not like her food? Was her food not good enough? They told me to eat again, so I ate. Tchabuki took a seat on a sofa near the table before getting down to business. They told Givi to sit at the table as well, and he did so as they asked him if he wanted anything to eat. His decline was met with no resistance whatsoever.

It is less glamorous of a story to say you hosted and fed a local person from your own village. However, to say you hosted the only Westerner in the village, here from one of the richest countries on the planet, and you fed him so much food until he experienced legitimate physical pain despite having little yourself, had him toast to your country in his language and in yours, who told you your wine was good and your food was great, this rich beyond imagination, good boy, he who fell upon your doorstep like a gift from God, who thanked you profusely for your hospitality and generosity with those sheepishly respectful eyes. What a thing to tell your friends. This story, this story indeed, is much better than telling of Givi eating your food.

She shuffled around the room, much like Bebia at home, hunched over at the waist without the aid of a stick or walker, wheelchair or scooter. Such nonsense costs a lot of money. The walls begged to painted, but such frivolous spending, like that of unnecessary walking aids, isn't possible here. She finally looked up and I recognized her as Margo, a fellow teacher at the same school I work at. It is rumored that my salary nearly doubles hers, and most other teachers at school, including the principle. A purple birthmark pancakes the side of a sweet face which she forced me to look at closely by being one of those uncomfortably close-talkers. I swallowed a chunk of cow covered in the delicious red sauce but it had an odd taste to it; less like cow and more like guilt.

I didn’t want any ghvino; I was trying to keep a three day record of not ingesting alcohol going. But the scenario repeated itself with the red wine poured from an old nabeghlavi water bottle. You come to my country, work as a teacher in a place I’ve been for twenty years though make far more money with much less responsibility, come into my home, eat my food, and yet you refuse me when I ask you to make a toast and drink a little wine. I see this on her face, and on the two men beside me. Tchabuki nods at me to drink. Givi mimics Tchabuki.

So I was pretty drunk at this point.

With my throat and stomach heavily lubricated with shavi ghvino, black wine, and the deal finally and laboriously struck, with money exchanged, we set out to walk the old cow to her new home. Margo shuffled past us and disappeared into a small shed lined with troughs until a light bulb dangling from the ceiling flickered on. Givi went in too, but burst right back out the doors as the cow thrashed inside the small shack. Margo came out holding a thick rope and the cow, trusting only her, reluctantly followed. The monstrous beast towered over the little hunched woman, who dropped the rope after closing the shed doors and switching off the light. Margo poked me in the belly as she walked by, and then used her hands to make a bump, showing me the cow was pregnant. She was paid, money and goods exchanged, so the cow was our problem now.

Hateful of strange men and protective of its pregnancy, the immense creature moaned and mooed a warning at us. Givi, confident in his culture, grabbed the rope and nodded for me to do the same. I looked over at Tchabuki who leaned against the house picking his teeth with his pinky nail. I, lacking any confidence or experience in dealing with ornery pregnant animals with horns big enough to gorge me dead and size and stupidity to accidently crushed me dead, did what I thought was in my best interest at the time.

So I’m standing there holding the rope.

If a cow wants to go somewhere quickly, it can. This one wanted to be going anywhere we were not. We wanted the cow to come with us and so this lead to a significant difference in opinion. It took off around another building and both Givi and I watched the surplus of rope quickly disappear and he dug in his heels. The cow must have been pushing 2000 pounds with its pregnancy, and with the speed it was going I found the idea of this small Georgian man at 170 pounds digging his heels in udderly (ZING!) ridiculous. So I too, dug in my heels. We jerked forward like a car accident hitting the muddy grass hard. It was here I decided to give up and let go but watched the stubborn Givi as he was dragged away, ricocheting off the brick then sucked around the corner of the house and out sight.

After several more attempts by Givi and me, we decided to let it run free and managed to funnel it through the open gate. We herded the irritated cow through the gravel streets of Maidani, and then familiar Samikao where it fortunately took every correct turn we needed it to. Tchabuki drove his car. We used the same techniques to funnel it through our open gate at home and led her to the rear of the property to a small shack not unlike the one she was unwilling to leave at Margo’s. I coaxed her with dried corn husks near the door, but with all of my might I could not push the cow inside, or even make it take a single step. I pushed and pushed and all the pushing must have jarred something loose, as the cow dropped a huge dump on my shoe. I was fed up. Tchabuki was nowhere to be found. Givi took a switch and gave a frustrated whack across the back end of the big brown mass which sent her into a frightful rage. I hadn’t seen it, but with us so close to victory and afraid the cow might run off again, Givi had tied the cow to a support post on the house. As the animal bolted, the shed came crashing down, pulling out the post from atop the concrete pad.

I gave Givi a childish ‘thumbs up’, which seemed to break his frustration. He clapped me on the back as we walked away from the light of the barn to follow the cow into the blackness of the field. I thought to myself, is nothing as easy as it should be in this place?

Posted by CRBackman 06.12.2012 00:52 Archived in Georgia Tagged food village wine farms georgia barn cows abasha ostri samikao Comments (0)

Georgian Tidbits Vol.3

I'm starting to crack...

I sat down at the table with Bebia this evening and saw a wad of money on table. I proceeded to teach the arthritic woman how to 'make it rain' until Tchabuki walked in to see his mother throwing his money all over the dining room. This is, sadly, one of the more satisfying accomplishments of my life.

My host sister and I had a bonding experience where we threw rocks at the rooster for an hour.

Bebia asked, if she fit in my backpack, would I take her to Canada with me?

I could be Usain Bolt, sprinting to the table in record time, but it still wouldn't be fast enough.

My throat could be a straight pipe to a bottomless pit of a stomach, but I'd still not be eating fast enough, or enough, period.

I bet the CD's accompanying the textbooks work great; if I had a teacher who cared to use them, if I had electricity to power the CD player, if I had a CD player to play them, if I had students who could sit still for forty seconds.

Everyday I see at least thirty offenses that would illicit disciplinary action. In Georgia, these are the norm:
Teachers smoking in the hall? Normal.
Grades 10, 11, 12 smoking in the hall? Normal.
Lower grades playing "Soccer" with a cig dangling from their lips? Normal.
Teachers lighting the kids cigarettes? Normal.
Kids chuggin' beers on a bench? Normal.
Smashing the remnants of a desk or chair to burn for heat? Normal.
Teachers trying to set me up with other teachers? Normal.
Students trying to set me up with other students? Normal.
Teachers trying to set me up with students? Normal.
Teachers standing by while kids fight within an inch of their lives? Normal.
Patting the winning fighter on the back after? Normal.
Kids carving pictures into the desk? Normal.
Asking the teachers if they like their artwork after? Normal.
Fighting in a staff meeting? Normal to expected.

My host sister has come a long way with her English and I am very proud of that. Even Bebia has learned a thing or two... two. She sees an apple, and she's tells me to "Cor, tchame, appoh" every expletive time, and now whenever she sees money she says, "make it rain." My work here is done.

I now feel like I'm on the brink of starvation every three to twelve minutes.

I can quit anytime I want. Watch... well this doesn't count, he poured it for me and it'd be rude not to.

Jon, poop goes in the hole, not your phone.

Chris, poop goes in the hole, not your leg.

I'm certain that when TLG ceases to exist, eighty percent of 'aptiakis' will fail with the massive decline in antibiotic purchases. You filthy, filthy creatures.

I believe there is a direct correlation between abstinence and alcohol abuse. Isn't there Brian.

Its a big, red flag when hearing a story from someone you just met about "some other TLG'ers" when you realize halfway through they are talking about you and your friends.

Another red flag happens when you tell someone you are from Group 43 and they respond with, "Ohh" pretty much ending the conversation.

I woke up in the morning realizing I had shared my pillow with two dead flies.

I've slept in the same, unwashed sheets since August 22nd. If this doesn't gross you out, you are a disgusting human being.

It now just feels strange to shower.

That's why they pay me the big bucks.

A letter of recommendation from the President of Georgia, and a 10% off coupon for liver transplants would be nice.

Posted by CRBackman 02:28 Archived in Georgia Tagged school wine georgia tidbits discipline Comments (0)

The Dearly Departed

Funeral crashing in Saqartvelo

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I crashed a Georgian funeral from the way things had been going for me; although, it wasn't technically a funeral at all.

My host-mother had been mourning the loss of her sister for an entire 365 days. This detail had been brought to my attention a few times during my stay whenever we (Tchabuki, Teona and I) departed for a wedding, or any type of community gathering. Before our departure from the house for a particular event, it was explained that Ts'its'o was in mourning for her sister, and so she was socially restricted from attending any community gatherings for a year afterwards. She was also expected to wear whatever color she so chose... as long as that color was black on black on black.

Earlier on, on a mid-November weekend, I was sitting at the table for breakfast with the family when the topic of my departure from Georgia arose. Tchabuki wanted to be absolutely sure when my last day in the village was going to be. This reminder of my leaving seemed to strike directly to the heart of my host-mother, evident by her shying away from me at the breakfast table, obsessively wiping away tears from her sheepish face. I was surprised to see this person, whom I had not known at all four months earlier, stricken with so much emotion by the thought of me going back to Canada. She was an unbelievable woman who had subtly demanded absolute affection from me from day one, without my realizing it, when she professed herself as my Georgian Mother not more than twenty minutes after our initial meeting. I came to realize that the words from this inspiring woman, telling me that I was welcome in her home, she was my Mother, I was her son and the brother of her only biological child, was as legitimate a sentiment as one could have. It was at this breakfast table that I came to understand that the one year anniversary of her sisters death was quickly approaching and had likely added to the poor womans fragile emotional state.

The Friday of November 23, 2012, represented St. Georges Day, or Giorgoba. A National holiday meant I had the potential opportunity to sleep-in with the closure of school, but was startled awake by the annoying screeching of my relentless Georgian sister. A spread of food awaited me at the table and a Giorgoba supra was soon underway. By half passed eight in the morning, we had participated in a multitude of toasts to the holiday, the family (both present and abroad) and to the memories of our deceased loved ones, which was obviously at the forethought of Tsitso's mind as of late. A sensation began in my feet and worked its way north; the feeling of my sobriety making a hasty retreat was all-too familiar. My sobriety would not be heard of again, in any significance, for the better part of four days. At the tail end of the Giorgoba Supra, the family voiced their plans for the upcoming busy week. On Saturday, what they initially described to me as another Harvest Supra, was in the end a supra to celebrate a baptism; unless of course they were ceremoniously harvesting babies. Sunday would bring the raucous Georgian mud-wedding and Tuesday, November 27th was the one year anniversary of the death of my host-mothers younger, and only, sister.

I awoke that Tuesday morning to only a few sneezes of my unbelievably persistent allergies, but afterward subsided to just itchy eyes and nostrils; a welcome relief in comparison to the last four months. I still found it odd how I never really had allergies at home, but here, I was rendered to being a sickly little man constantly wiping his dripping nose, rubbing his eyes, brushing the back of his throat and jamming Q-tips in his ears so much farther then common sense allows just to get relief from the itching skin. Anytime Tsitso saw me sneezing, or awkwardly dealing with my allergy symptoms, I would grunt in frustration and she would let out a joyful laugh at how pathetic a mess I probably seemed to be.

Right away I could sense Tsitso's anxiety as she frantically put breakfast out on the table and prepared everyone, and then herself, for the days events. I cleared the table of dishes and she allowed me to do so with no resistance for the first time, but drew the line when I tried to wash them up. She asked me to wear my tetri p'erangi , white shirt, and in a motherly gesture, combed my hair with her fingers. When I asked her if she wanted me to wear a tie, she gave me a warm, thankful smile while pinching a chunk of my cheek as she replied, "ara ushavs, kai bichi, no that's all right, good boy."

Everyone looked sharp in their Sunday's best when we left the house in Rauli's (Chabuki's Uncle) Mercedes. Tsitso, another first, sat in the front while I was squashed in the back between my squawking sister and Chabuki, who apparently needed the space for an imaginary oak barrel of wine between his legs. I was uncomfortable but it wasn't too far to Zugdidi. To my chagrin, however, we turned the opposite way down the highway to make a brief stop in the large bazaar town of Samtredia, where the family frequented.

We had stopped so Tsitso could sell her assorted q'velis, cheeses, and compotis, preserves; I was surprised at how significant of an income she received from selling the fruits of her labor, but I understood first-hand just how much effort she put in to the tedious and laborious work, day after day. As she completed her business selling her concoctions to the chatty women in the stalls which filled the interior of a huge soviet hanger, I walked around the bazaar eavesdropping on how Georgians bartered for bulk sweets, haggled for plucked chickens dangling from hooks and watched a butcher skin the face of a cow, then crush the bone with a hatchet, pulling out portions he wanted and sections to be discarded; though I have to admit it all looked like the smashed face of a dead cow to me. I filmed the drunk butcher at work while pieces of bone fragments flew well out of his stall in all directions and would have likely ended up within bins of hard candies on one side and the cakes on the other. He scowled and mumbled to himself in a sharp tone when he noticed I took interest in his work, and so I left him to do so in peace.

A man at another butcher's stall across the corridor sat on a small stool on the customer side of the counter, disinterested with potential buyers as they strolled past to ogle at his selection. His movement had caught my attention, as he sat slouching over his own big belly waving a hand back and forth with the palm facing up in a way that was asking me what my deal was. We talked, as best we could, as he continued to ignore possible customers choosing instead to chat with me. After getting through the mandatory five questions every Georgian is obligated to ask a foreigner, he cheekily went on to talk about the other butcher; he is the only groutch in Georgia, a miserable drunk, and a bad butcher. A fourth comment that I didn't understand brought laughter from other stalls I didn't realize were listening in. He voiced all this so the other butcher, still wielding the hatchet, could hear. They exchanged 'pleasantries' as other stall vendors stopped their work to focus on the comical back and forth bickering of the two old men. Rauli found me between the men smiling ignorantly, as they each held butchery tools, where he stole me away and told me about the two grumpy old men. They were well-known brothers who bickered ever since they were small children; even though they worked in the same profession, worked and lived next door to one another, and even married sisters! We left the bazaar with the men still in their lively debate and left Samtredia altogether, squished into the back of the Mercedes, except now I had the responsibility of holding a fantastically decorated cake on my lap.

Nearing Zugdidi, I was losing all sensation in my left buttock and most of my left leg. I was happy to see us turn off of a paved road onto a soupy dirt path which I took as a sign of our impending arrival to the service. For the whole trip everyone was in great spirits; Rauli rarely stopped telling funny stories while Tsitso and Teona hung on every word, bursting with laughter at random intervals. Chabuki had nodded off almost right away. When we stopped in the center of the cemetery, a few cars were already parked around the site. I could see people in the midst of their grieving but somehow being inside the car provided us all with a protective barrier. Rauli finished one last story he'd been working on and Tsitso still laughed, but just a little less boisterously as she'd done before. She turned in the front seat to check on her daughter, they exchanged a look, full of meaning that was like a secret language only spoken between mothers and daughters. Teona gave her mother a comforting smile for reassurance, I assumed. Tsitso turned to me, checked on the cake and instantly began pointing at the cake, berating me in that exaggerative Georgian way that was harsh and alarming but meant purely as playful.

"Bicho, ra aris es? Boy, what is this?" I looked down to where she was pointing to the cake and saw a few minor blemishes on the icing.

"Bodishi, I'm sorry," I gave a cheeky smile, "but Rauli is a bad driver," I said, pretending I was a maniacal driver, pointing to a smiling Rauli.

Tsitso unleashed a laugh so loud inside the car I thought my ears were going to burst from the pressure. The rest of the cars occupants followed in laughter as Tsitso pinched my cheek then wiped a finger across my lip to show me a gob of sugary white icing. Busted. Her laugh continued as she wiped tears from her eyes then faded away with a few satisfactory releases of air. It gave me a realization, that I truly felt comfortable with the family as opposed to just being a long-term house guest; comfortable enough to sneak some tantalizing icing from a cake as I'd done a thousand times with my own mother back home.

We took a moment to compose ourselves before the car doors opened. Almost as if we were in a protected enclosure in the car, the seal had been broken and the wind carried thick gusts of anguish and despair. What was once the beautiful smiling face of my host mother, instantly fell apart to emote a horror stricken mess of pain. Her lip quivered and her small dark, triangular eyes welled up before quickly overflowing. Teona supported her mother, leading her through the individually fenced sections of the cemetery on the way to her Aunties plot. I couldn't watch her any more. She had done everything for me to warrant being a wonderful mother in my eyes and watching her enveloped in such grief had paralyzed me beside the car. Chabuki and Rauli went directly to a crowd of men where they were greeted with the customary soft handshake and kiss on the cheek. A man set up a small stereo and keyboard between some graves. Ominous clouds churned above a murder of crows swooping through the air at the far end of the property. A gravedigger swung a pickax deep in a hole while other men stood idly by, drinking wine, telling jokes. A woman washed a tombstone and pulled weeds from her young sons plot. Stray dogs ran around begging for food graveside. My hands were deep in my pockets looking for warmth while I stood, still stuck in a small mud puddle near the car. It was the first time in Georgia I had a feeling like I did not belong.

As much as this family had welcomed me into their home, and referred to me as 'Tsitso's bichi, Tsitso's boy,' I wasn't going to foolishly intrude on a family affair so raw with emotion. I made a decision to experience this from a distance, and in the unlikely scenario they called on me, I was willing to do what the asked of me. Until then, I was only going to be a polite and silent observer. I was afraid if I strayed too far, it would be impolite of me, but I was afraid that invading their space would be regarded as far worse, so I slowly wandered around with light footsteps on the gravel without wandering too far from the car.

Tsitso was wailing in a way I'd never heard from a human being before. It was my first funeral and it was a foreign experience to me. I caught myself watching, like I thought I couldn't, her curly jet-black hair pressed against the etched photo of her sister on the tombstone; a woman sitting delicately cross legged on the edge of a sofa with an equally delicate smile on her face. Their foreheads were pressed together and I could only imagine what she was saying. I heard 'oyi deda' repeated over and over, and I filled in the blanks of what I couldn't understand. Why did you take my sister from me? My heart broke. She would regain her composure, but this was only for a short time, and would wind herself up again, ripping at my heart some more. Even if I walked away, I could hear my Georgian mother sob uncontrollably from across the cemetery.

The man who was setting up the stereo and keyboard started singing, what I assumed to be Georgian funeral songs. The striking of the black keys seemed to intensify the macabre atmosphere. After it was my turn to collect myself, I ventured back near the plot only to be shattered again, watching Tsitso's elderly father, red faced with tears streaming down his cheeks kissing all over the etched photo of his dead daughter. He was silent in his mourning, but he had turned away from the tombstone catching my glance, and the look he gave me may as well have torn my heart right out of my chest. I looked away and read the date on the chunk of granite: 1966-2011. That's too damn young, I thought.

They drank wine, toasting to what, I cannot say, as I didn't want to get too close and impede on their space. They ate a bit of food, made up a plate for the woman in the ground and poured wine in the soil where she lay. They all said some parting words while closer family members kissed the woman etched in to the granite again and shuffled away as if it caused intense physical pain. Tsitso's father had to be helped off the site while his wife had to be completely carried and placed into a waiting car.

A chubby blond man, about my age, bumped my shoulder as he walked by and I could see he was particularly affected from the scene. He walked like he was in a trance, barely lifting his feet in a shuffle. Near me sitting in a car was a older man, salt and pepper just starting to encroach on his temples. He hunched over in the passenger seat of a Opel for the entire time we were there he was unable to lift his head, let alone get out of the car. I would later know this blond man to be the deceased son and the salt and peppered man in the car was her husband. I couldn't count how many times my heart had broken for this family, and the feeling I had of being an intruder was weighing on me heavily. I didn't belong there, and frankly, I was bothered by them asking me to come along.

I had met Tsitso's mother once before, who like her daughter, was an impressively warm and nurturing woman. She had made me call her Bebia and wouldn't respond to me unless I called her so. She filled my pockets with sweets, nuts and homemade fruit leathers before leaving her home. I was told that she would call the house just to ask how her grandson was doing. The shell of the same woman had just been placed in the car, and although I hadn't been yelled at to 'modi, come' I was under the impression that we were leaving. Tsitso's mother caught my glance, recognizing me immediately, and as the car pulled away I gave her a pathetic smile to show her that I was sorry for her loss. I heard her yell something in the car, which stopped abruptly and watched her scramble to roll the window down, then gave up and opened the car door for me. She waved me over and I could see a steady stream of tears and the bloodshot eyes of a broken hearted woman. She stretched out a hand, and I held it gently in mine while she pulled me in and kissed me on the cheek. I told her I was sorry, and she brushed her hand on my other cheek, calling me a good boy. Even in such a bad way as she was, I can't give justice to how she must have felt; Bebia had made time to greet me, and thank me for supporting the family. In this one simple gesture, the fractures in my heart had healed over and I felt guilty for having ever resented going there.

A tear welled up in each eye, and as I walked to the car, Tsitso stopped me and looked into them. She let out a grunt that questioned why I looked so upset. I squeezed the inner corners of my eyes with my handkerchief to soak up the liquid, and before taking my place in the back seat I let out a grunt of my own to express frustration and said "Alergia, Deda. Allergies, Mum." She smiled knowingly.

We drove through the Zugdidi suburbs until I could see the stack from a factory poking above a park of tall pine trees. We barreled through a roundabout like we wished for death and jumped a curb on the other side. After parking, we exited the car with a bunch of other people emptying vehicles I recognized from the cemetery service. In front of us stood the most hideous building I had ever laid eyes on. The concrete foundation was cracked in gaps big enough to accurately throw a beach ball through. Windows were broken or boarded up, masonry was crumbling and the setting looked like a condemned structure filled with courteous squatters. The factory stack rose high above the building and off to the left where I walked over to take a quick look. The dilapidated 'Commie flat' was attached to the industrial building. I didn't know what to make of it, but followed everyone inside the residential portion.

Inside was a large trapezoidal lobby with a floor stripped of its tiles, thought the floor had recently and carefully been swept. Hallways extended out to the left and right centered by a wide, risky looking staircase. Just to the right was a narrow elevator, haphazardly boarded up and the up/down panel ripped from the wall with uncapped wires protruding from the hole. Imprints of soccer balls decorated the walls, yet a wonderful aroma wafted down from high up the lobby atrium. The group made its way up the staircase; the older folks held forebodingly onto the ancient temporary banister made from scrap wood until we reached the third of five floors. The corridor that extended from one end of the building to the other was lined with table after table until it formed a dinner top with space for a hundred people blocking every single door along the way. Plates were set with neatly folded paper napkins with each setting offering seldom-used utensils, a water glass and a wine glass. Assorted food and wine filled the entire surface and let off an intoxicating smell throughout the air.

The men sat at the farthest end, squeezed in tightly, rubbing shoulders with neighbors. They sat me between two younger men and Tsitso yelled at them to make sure I ate and drank. I awkwardly maneuvered my hands to all the different dishes while I introduced myself to my closest neighbors. The women sat at the opposite end in much the same manner, I assumed, and before I knew it, I was being clapped on the back by men in fits of laughter from their collection of most favored stories; their way of including me as if I had any idea what they might have been saying. The funeral anniversary service was just like the weddings I had been to: lots of people sitting on benches at massive tables, a fantastic amount of food and wine, story telling and music. Everyone made such an effort to include me in everything, even pantomiming out entire childhood stories if they thought I might be interested, which usually made the audience laugh even harder. I told stories of my own when they were connected to one of theirs and asked questions in my rough Kartuli. It was this little amount effort I put forward to add to the conversation that seemed to be all they were looking for. They joked about wanting me to 'hit the horn' and after I'd done so, much to their surprise, they took to a quick huddle and what broke out was a choir of Georgian men belting, "Cor! I love you!"

At all the massive social gatherings I've been lucky to experience in Georgia, I'd thought for the majority of my time here that I was strategically placed or just had great luck with being near the most outgoing Georgians in the group. I realize now, to some embarrassment of mine, they are simply, a very social culture. Within the comforts of their own borders they greet, chat and joke with strangers as if they've known them their whole lives. Even when faced with the complications of a language barrier, Georgians are more than happy to make several attempts at chatting a foreigner up and helping them out. If they find themselves unable to assist you, they will likely take you by the hand and drag you about until they have satisfied the predicament. Though, they are a culture of immense contradictions.

My head was spinning with thinking how much I appreciated the hospitality of the Georgian people and how I wanted to keep that, above all else, as a souvenir (though it may have been the liter of wine that fits into a single horn too). My family, their extended family, their friends and even the random, impromptu drinking buddies I meet in the village had all been amazing hosts. For the remainder of the dinner I sat comfortably with complete strangers where it was understood they knew nearly none of my language and I knew very little of theirs, but we managed to tell stories and make jokes with ease.

The day with its copious amounts of emotion and ghvino had taken its toll on me and I bumbled my way into the back seat of Raulis Mercedes beside Tsitso, who sat in the middle. I didn't even make it as far as the curb before I rested my head on my host-mothers shoulder, first as a joke, but fell steeply into deep, dark sleep.

Posted by CRBackman 00:25 Archived in Georgia Tagged food cemetery wine georgia crashing funeral supra funerals zugdidi Comments (0)

The Run

Far, far away

It was one of those stretches of days in the village that I began feeling claustrophobic and a little homesick without much to keep my mind or body active. I'd just finished reading my seventh book in less than two months and was running very low on my collection of English reading material; in need of rationing the rest of the books I owned, I sought to find other ways of keeping busy, preferably something physical. I'd failed a few times to get any sort of good run in, and had ultimately given up all hope of jogging in this country; the intensely hot, dusty air wreaked havoc on my lungs and the rounded river stones used to grade the dirt roads all but guaranteed a snapped ankle ligament. However, I had just finished speaking with goofy Chris and the conversation had left me inspired and optimistic about finding an activity in the lonely village.

"If I'm bored, I just go for walks in my village and something usually happens." He said, as if to antagonize me. "Somebody always stops me to talk or hang out for a while." He continued on, giving a short, unintentional lecture on being pleasant and approachable. He must know me better than I thought.

"Alright, why not? It can't be any worse than sitting in the sun reading all day," I replied.

The weather was cooler, though still quite hot, but at least now it was infused with a breeze which hadn't existed when I first arrived in the village. I dressed for a run and brought a small amount of money for emergency purposes.

"Sporti!" The word rang through the air, as always, from my host-dad whenever I exited the gates and he saw me wearing running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. I gave a wave and set off with the iPod on the gravel road, walking briskly, dodging a smörgåsbord of poops. After a few kilometers I witnessed nothing but stupid, aimless livestock screaming at the fences of their houses until I arrived at my familiar school.

They paved! A real road leading from Abasha was now decently close to me, extending the twenty or so kilometers to the edge of the school property. No more excuses, lazy ass, I thought to myself, in an effort to provide a pep talk. I cycled between slow paced jogs, shorter bursts of speed and fast-paced walking. I knew I wasn't going to burn off the eight weeks of khatchapuri or come even close to burning off my pre-breakfast snack, but I was convinced this run was much more for my mind than my body. I was just excited to be active again beyond playing disorganized sports at school, smashing volleyballs in kids faces like a hero.

My feet pounded against the ground, song after song, as I followed a set of embossed horseshoe prints in the asphalt. I wondered if the new road would even exist in the spring due to poor quality or if the softness is because it's hotter than I originally thought. My iPod kept spitting out songs and I adjusted my pace to the rhythm of each one until Outkast came on with an oldie, 'Bombs Over Baghdad'. I was barely able to finish the song running at such a pace, trying to keep up with the track at its ridiculous tempo. I was walking now as the song changed to something much slower, with sweat gushing from my pours, my arms extended above my head to allow as much air into my lungs as possible. I saw a person in tall grass waving at me excitedly. I popped the earphones out, wrapping them around the iPod and placed the unit back into my pocket as my normal hearing came back with the distinct sound of someone chopping wood.

He rambled quickly as I walked toward him giving a wave but I couldn't seem to pick up on a single word of Kartuli. He was chubby, not surprising in this country, with thick eyebrows, also a common trait, but failed to look typically Georgian. Something about his eyes and nose betrayed him from being Georgian and looked more middle eastern, and he lacked the classic cranium shape of a Georgian man; as if all heads were bound at birth in a cardboard box. A hairy bellybutton poked out from under a tight, faded purple t-shirt as if a horrifying cyclops was playing peekaboo with me. It was enough to make a grown man uncomfortable; I thought about how terrified a child must be of such a site; as he waved me over, the eye poked out with each stroke of his hand through the air. I really didn't want to see any more of that man's flesh.

I entered a rickety gate and pushed through the tall grass latching it behind me with a twisted strand of wire over one of the pickets. He was still waving me over even though I stood before him, the cyclops - well versed at staring contests - was unwavering in its gaze, as he flipped the lower half of his shirt up exposing the rest of the belly in all its splendor. It was truly magnificent.

I was hesitant, but my thoughts went back to the conversation with ever-bubbly Chris. If he can be social with strangers - locals - then so could I.

"Gamarjoba!" I said, extending a hand. "Bodishi, dzalian tsot'a kartuli vitsi." I continued with my standard warning of limited Kartuli in anticipation of a larger conversation.

He yammered something incoherent to me, pausing, then began again. I looked at him with a completely blank face. I could not understand what he was saying. His real eyes were beady and shared one eyebrow that extended right across his face like someone glued a furry lego block to his face that never came off. When he went to speak, and with great effort, he opened his mouth several times until the words finally vacated from his lips like a muted stutter. He finally finished delicately shaking my hand and motioned for me to grab the tether he held in his hands. I followed it along with my eyes until I saw where the chopping sound was coming from, and saw the tether tied to a wide-based tree - though not especially tall it was large for Georgian standards. Two men, one chopping while the other supervised, were yelling at each other and didn't have any clue I was called in to assist from Cyclops. They were barely a third through the tree, at most, and were already anxiously anticipating its impressive fall, though it was obvious to me they had a long way to go. I motioned to ask, why the rope? He motioned back, telling me it's to avoid the tree falling on the house, pointing at it. Perplexed, I walked over to the two men who were arguing still. I noticed they were chopping at the tree in an odd spot. Despite the tether, the tree was going to fall where they chopped at it, especially given the natural lean of the tree, I concluded. I am an expert in these matters. Being Canadian makes me so.

After short introductions I explained my hypothesis; that holding the tree with a tether by one hairy-bellied man is not going to save the house if they continued chopping at this spot. After twenty minutes of exhausting every way I could think of to explain what I meant, and with no progress made whatsoever, I slipped the short handled axe from the one mans grip and chopped out a large chunk in the spot I recommended. The chopper and the supervisor protested until the third man spoke up.

"Saidan khart?" Cyclops asked me, trying to carry on the conversation from earlier. Something in his body language was screaming at me that he was socially awkward, yet the most outgoing of the three.

"Canada." I answered.

As if this is all the credentials they needed, they let me take a fair haul out from the tree before I slowed from fatigue and handed the axe over to one of the others. The Supervisor was very gaunt which made him look taller than he actually was. He had some homemade tattoos; on his ring finger of the left hand was a simple cross with the crossed portion of the 't' limped downward in a depression (I've noticed such crosses at cemeteries); he had a few others on his forearm and shoulders which I didn't recognize. I noted the tattoos because they were not well done, and tattoos in Georgia are not at all common. I walked back to the chubby one, Cyclops, still holding the tether and tested the tree with a few good pulls; I knew it would hold firm, but wanted to show the excited Cyclops he could relax. He never did. He was insecure with his job as tether holder, but again, his body language let slip that he was more useless wielding an axe, so there he was with the rope. The other two switched out whenever they got tired until the tree warned us with groans and crackles. The Supervisor ran back to us, to help pull on the tether, as the other continued chopping and eventually released the tree. Trampling feet and screams mixed with nervous laughter made for unseen hysteria behind me.

We pulled until the tree gave its telltale CRACK as the pith snapped and it began to noticeably fall toward us leading away from the house. I backpedaled, easily sidestepping the mossy tree while the other two tried to outrun the entire length of its fall. Supervisor, with his long strides sprinted clean away in tattered plastic sandals covering his head with his arms, passing Cyclops, and barely getting clear of the tree. With time to watch after easily removing myself from danger, I saw Cyclops bumble his way through the grass as if he was equally afraid of stepping on a harmless bug as he was getting crushed by a falling tree. His legs carried his body casually but his arms showed pure panic, as if they were solely responsible for his getaway. His belly jumbled vigorously and unfortunately for him, his shirt stayed in the flipped up position. This alone was funny enough to witness but adding to the dram-edy I saw Cyclops as he wore the excess of a thousand lashes across his back when the thinner switches extending away from the thicker branches whipped him all at once, over his entire body. He had completely disappeared under the thick web of sticks. His two friends collapsed from laughter in the tall grass he was now, very slowly appearing from. It was evident the dead, scaly sticks had cut him all over as he pulled himself from the destruction. I was in disbelief in what I had just witnessed, but couldn't help from bursting into laughter at the site of a sliced up Cyclops. Eventually, they wrapped him in their arms, still laughing, which at first he welcomed but then, grimacing, thought better of it.

They motioned for me to come with them, through another rickety gate into the vicinity of the house that had escaped being crushed. We entered the building that I thought was a small house but realized was a modest kitchen and sitting/dining room. They pulled a chair from the table and the Supervisor pressed my shoulders and pushed me into the seat. Two women came out of the kitchen smiling; the younger one assessed the damages of the swollen, bleeding Cyclops while the other walked immediately over to me and greeted me with the standard, sweat riddled kiss on the cheek. After idle chit chat, they reverted to the kitchen area and after some banging around, came back bearing plates heaping with food and a large bottle of ice-cold water, telling me to eat. In the meantime, the four of us chatted as best we could and we determined names (though I now forget), ages, and that they were originally from Turkey, though the tattooed one was Georgian and the two women were Russian, wives to one or another I assumed.

Absolutely parched, I grasped the water glass in my hand they divvied to me. I waited for the smallest break in chatter to drink, then realizing my desire, the men raised their glasses. What I assumed to be a cheeky fake-toast for a job well done, I clinked my glass to theirs and slammed the entire cup back before the burning in the back of my throat trickled down to my stomach. My esophagus was on fire! I just consumed a massive glass of straight vodka, freezing the men with disbelief. I scooped as much food down my throat as I could to wash the taste away then leaned back after my plate was cleared, breathing it out moment by moment barely holding on. As if they had been challenged, the three others without a spoken word agreed to follow my lead and downed their glasses as fast as they could, wrinkling their brow and exhaling a lung full of air through their clenched teeth upon completion.

I was trying to do my best with the vodka and food sloshing around in my stomach. They eagerly motioned to share more vodka with me, but I declined, and so they filled up my glass anyway. They toasted to something else then raised their glasses in my direction hinting at me to raise mine. I politely refused. The Supervisor, who I hadn't looked at for a few minutes, somehow already looked completely sauced; feeling like he was looking through me, not at me. He tried once more to get me to drink, this time with a raised eyebrow and a fake smile, showing his unkempt teeth. Cyclops pointed at him while looking at me and said softly, 'mafia' as if to scare me into drinking. My polite decline for a second time sent him into a fit not unlike a small child. He ranted and bemoaned the boring Canadian, then punched me a few times in the chest; somewhere between serious and joking. I sat back in my chair in anger, distancing myself from the wreck, then gave him the most contemptuous stare I could drudge up from the deepest, coldest region of myself in the hopes he would get the idea. He held my stare for a moment then looked away, breaking into a smile. The two others laughed it off but the older woman didn't think it was so funny. She sprang across the room and with surprising ferocity, landed a booming, disorienting blow to the ear of the Supervisor and with as much velocity as the hand, he was swept off his chair and disappeared somewhere under the table. The conversation continued without a hitch and at some point the Supervisor peeled himself off the floor and sat back down. The conversation slowed to a painful crawl when they became upset that I didn't smoke and when I repeatedly denied them of their offer for marijuana and cocaine. This was never done in the presence of the older woman.

We talked a little more, mostly about cocaine, until I found an opportunity to thank my hosts for the food and excused myself from the table. The older woman, who it was discovered to be the Supervisors mother, kissed me on the cheek and made me call her deda, Mother. The boys followed me outside, clinging onto me, undoubtedly drunk, where they expressed to me that we were not friends, but brothers. They carried the conversation as we walked around the yard with the three of them draped over me, one was brushing my face with his hands, another held me uncomfortably, tenderly on my hip, and the third stroked my shoulder with his fingertips. They stopped under a large tree in the shade and talked amongst themselves for a minute while I rubbed the belly of a timid puppy, then Cyclops yelled to get my attention. Three faces glowed like the light bulb from their idea actually shone above their heads. They spoke to me for a few more minutes, and from what I could gather, they wanted the four of us, brothers, to go into Abasha and fight people. I started to joke that I only fought old people, preferably bed ridden, but then thought better of my words when I became afraid they might accept.

Interesting day, I thought, but then things got really weird. Tipsy before I ever showed up, the three were now belligerently drunk after finishing the rest of the ice cold bottle. I drank water from the well, still trying to get the taste out of my mouth from earlier; confident that that amount of vodka would kill the bacteria of the well. They continually asked me to take a seat with them on an old rusty bed frame in the yard with its exposed metal bedsprings woven together like an iron hammock, then pulled me into them and draped their hands all around me in an indescribably creepy manner. I hadn't given her any thought, but noticed the young Russian girl watching us, throwing equally perverted glances in my direction as she teased the half-starved puppy with food. Brushing them off as politely as I could without potentially instigating three drunkards, I stood up and took my distance. Cyclops then chirped up with some English he'd been holding back this entire time to ask me if I liked girls instead.

Instead? I pondered if his English was as good as it seemed, or if 'instead' was just slipped in unintentionally. It was a weekly occurrence in my experience of Georgia to be asked if I liked girls, or if I wanted girls; like they were just going to pluck one from a tree for me. So with this being such a routine question being proposed to me, I assumed the 'instead' was not meant as it seemed. Besides, the answer was the same nonetheless. Yes, I told them. I liked girls. I even married one.

"You like her?" Said Cyclops.

Oh come on, I thought. I really hated being put on the spot with this line of questioning. Do you like Georgian girls? Do you want Georgian girl? Hello Cor, a teacher has said, this is my friend / niece / daughter, do you like her?

She seems nice. / Please stop. / No.

I've got my shoes on, should I just bolt for it and haul ass out of here? I seriously pondered this but didn't want to cause an unnecessary scene after they just hosted and fed me.

Maybe there was something lost in translation, or maybe he wanted me to rip his stocking. Perhaps this was explained by cultural differences; from a mixed bag of Russian, Georgian, Turkish which clashed with my Western ways. Maybe I was being an ethnocentric prick.

"You want? You have."

"Oooookay, shit. Now what?" I said under my breath.

I made the mistake of looking over at the Russian on the porch of the kitchen house and she burned every shred of testosterone in my body with a look so vulgar it would have been less forward if she knocked me unconscious and upon my waking, realized she super glued my face to her breasts. I could feel my face burn up as it turned red; the worst part was the look had been subtle, knowing she had more in the tank to make it worse.

Forget cultural differences, call me ethnocentric if you wish, but I was out of there.

I stepped outside the gate that led out to the road and waived goodbye only to see the three coming towards me. I hoped for a taxi to appear right away but it didn't. I told the guys I had to go, I had no time to talk, and I was expected in Abasha. They wrapped their arms around me once again and clamped me to a bench near the street. They motioned for me to relax, but always hovered close to me and one was always present beside me on the bench, pinning me in place. They talked, but I was finished talking. They circled around, said hello to passersby and teased each other, all the while reassuring me a taxi would come. The teasing escalated, full wrestling matches took place on the dusty shoulder of the street while Cyclops threw rocks at their crotches. I heard a car far down the road, the unmistakable and wonderful sound of tires sloshing through cow-pies as the two wrestlers, having been hit in the wiener with rocks, chased after Cyclops and tore his bottoms off, leaving him naked from the waste down. He ran around frantically and without coverage, trying to chase down his shorts. I backed up the road, and seeing it had the yellow box of a TAXI sign on top, started waving it down. Hopeless that he could never catch the Supervisor of his shorts, Cyclops - remembering I was there - started running down the road toward me with a strange sense of satisfaction at my being horrified. The taxi swerved away from the fat, hairy, half naked Turkish man on passing him and reluctantly stopped near me. I nearly dove into the car, yelling for Abasha. I didn't negotiate my price before hand, I didn't have time for it, and so the taxi driver left me with just enough to buy a large water and use a computer at the internet cafe.

I went into the internet cafe in Abasha for a few hours, relaxed and looked at pictures of an attractive girl on her facebook page in a failed attempt to get the image of Cyclop's penis out of my brain. Defeated, I realized those are an unfortunate series of events I cannot simply undo or erase from my mind. I finished with the internet and emptied my pockets to pay the three lari. At 4:30, unwilling to pay the inflated prices for a taxi back, and with not much sun left in the day, I began to run the twenty or more kilometers back to the village, thinking along the way of how I could sneak by the Cyclops gang unscathed.

Posted by CRBackman 04:38 Archived in Georgia Tagged turkey run georgia vodka active running jogging turketi samegrelo abasha Comments (0)

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