But first I must make you drunk...
02.12.2012 - 02.12.2012 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?