Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Night in Bandza

So, not matter what TLG did in the past week, nothing could actually prepare us for whatever may lay ahead. Personally, I don’t think that isolating us in a dorm type of environment was exactly the best way to go about it, but at least they somewhat tried to slowly acclimate us to Georgian culture.

Anyway, after we finished our training on Sunday afternoon, we had a final dinner and birthday celebration for two fellow volunteers at a local restaurant. We drank enough wine to put a horse in a coma while also giving some of us less inclined the bravery to actually dance. For anybody with sober eyes, it was probably not that pretty. But at least there were a couple real Georgian dancers that put on a show. Georgian dancing is something to be seen. Most of the men have some idea of the tradition, but if you get to see a couple bros really go at it… let’s just say that it beats So You Think You Can Dance?

Needless to say, most of us were fairly beat up on Sunday morning, but after finally learning the makeup of our host family at breakfast, we had to get everything together and move out.

The first stop was in Senaki, where about 20 of us would be meeting our host families and be taken back to our towns/villages. All 50+ volunteers were led into this building that looked like something out of the holocaust. It felt like we were being led to our execution. We entered this wide-open room where there were about thirty Georgians waiting pensively. We sat down and waited for Nino to explain some things to our hosts (some of us have odd characteristics but don’t take it personally type of speech).

The entire vibe felt like a mixture between a slave auction and an adoption pick up. Everybody was a little nervous. Finally my name was called and I went up to the front and met my co-teacher Tamari (one of two English teachers in the Bandza School who I’ll be working with), the principal of the school in Bandza (cannot remember his name, but he doesn’t speak any English), and my host father Lasha Gabunia (doesn’t know any English for the most part).

After everyone met their host families, we had a quick toast (nothing happens in Georgia with a toast), grabbed our stuff off the buses, and we were off. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to a ton of the volunteers I had become friends with over the past week. But I’m sure I’ll be keeping in touch with them and even visiting them soon. But it would have been nice to at least say kargad  (bye).

So we hop into Lasha’s Mercedes Benz and go rip-roaring up the road to Bandza, which was about twenty kilometers away. Lasha drives like everybody else in Georgia, out of his mind. But I had heard that it was disrespectful to put your seatbelt on when driving in the passenger seat (they insist that I sit in the passenger seat), so instead I just said a small prayer and tried not to pay attention to what was going on ahead of me.

The entire ride back they asked me tons of questions (where are you from, what is your family like, why come to Georgia), explained some things (who else is in my host family, who else knows English, when I start teaching), while I didn’t get the answer I was expecting when I asked my only question (the waterfall Nino talked about is in Martvili, not Bandza); all of this was being said between Tamari and myself, with her acting as translator.

All of a sudden, Tamari told me we were now in Bandza. I looked around and didn’t see any difference between the twenty kilometers that had preceded Bandza. Farm animals roaming, houses sprinkled in, no real sign of life… You call this a village? First we stopped at the school where I’ll be teaching; it’s pretty old. I’m going to wait to make a judgment for when school starts, mostly because I don’t want to sound like a jackass, but I have a feeling teaching will be the biggest challenge I’ll face.

After that we drove through the tsent’ri (center of town), which is a police station, bus stop, and a few markets here and there. I wanted to call Nino right then and there just to say, “There is no way in hell that this would be the first place you’d come to visit.” That’s not to bash the place, it has a really beautiful but small eklesia (church) not far from the tsent’ri, and it is what it is (a village); but there’s just nothing here outside of a few residences and farmland.

Then we get to Lasha’s house and I’m paraded around the grounds while I meet the rest of the family. Basically there are three houses; one for guests, another for eating and cooking, and the other for the family. Lasha has a wife Irina, and two boys Rezo (14) and Luka (12) who both know a little English (Luka more than Rezo). Lasha’s parents also live on the property (Rezo and Leila) while Irina’s sister was visiting with her husband and son. It seems like there may always be someone coming or going here; that’s just the way it works.

Anyway, after meeting everyone, I was still in a bit of a shock. The lack of communication, not really knowing what I’ll be doing between now and the school year, and the fact that I have no idea what’s expected of me. To be honest, I just didn’t see myself being dropped onto a farm.

But then we sat down to eat dinner (dinner happens at around 3 o’clock here, while supper is served at 8; but dinner is the big meal of the day). I sit down with everyone and it’s an absolute feast. I wouldn’t call it a suphra because I feel like that is for really special occasions (like Grandpa Rezo’s birthday today; there will be a suphra later this evening). But food was forced upon me, while my glass was never allowed to not be full of wine. Tamari explained to me that I don’t have to drink the wine, but if it’s not full, the head of the table will fill it for me. Those are rules I can live by.

So in between being bombarded with food, the toasts began. Lasha would raise his glass and say a toast (the first one was to peace, then to women, then to our parents, then to our brothers/sisters, then each guest gets their own toast… you get the idea), after which we all separately cheers glasses while saying gamarjos. It is not expected of you to drink when you cheers (as it is in America), it’s more out of respect and acknowledgment. In fact, Lasha would only drink after every few cheers, but when he did drink, he wouldn’t cheat himself, pretty much finishing his glass. So this goes on for about three hours and I was careful not to be that guy who gets hammered during his first afternoon, but I was definitely a little drunk by the end.

Then I ambled up to my room, which is much nicer than I thought I would get and quite spacious (plus it has a nice view of the front yard), to put away my things and maybe lay down for a few minutes. But right before I could put my head down, I was summoned to go hunting with Lasha’s brother-in-law and the three boys.

We also brought along the house-dog Paco (can’t remember the bread of the dog, but it’s small and black. Disclaimer: when I say house-dog, that doesn’t mean the dog is let in the house, it just means that this dog doesn’t have a purpose) and the hunting-dog Aja (an Irish Setter). They also have one other dog, which is the night-watch dog who I got to meet later in the evening.

We hunted for about an hour and bagged two birds. Lasha’s brother-in-law was the shooter, while the rest of us played the part of chasers. Aja didn’t really do much to deserve his title of hunting dog. Surprisingly, it was the first hunting experience of my life, which, at nearly 25 years old and being from Pittsburgh, is pretty amazing. The countryside is really quite beautiful with the corn farms blending in with the backdrop of the foothills of the Caucusus. But to be fair, an unbelievable sunset will make any scenery seem prophetic.

When we got back from the hunt, I again tried to lie down only to be beckoned back to eat. Tchame (eat) is a word you hear a lot around the Gabunia household. It was a whirlwind day

My initial thoughts are that this is incredible and I am so lucky to be with such an amazing host family while having the opportunity to experience so many new situations. But I know that will wear off and eventually I’ll get bored or even irritated that I have to get my water from a well or that I have to dodge farm animals just to get something to eat. But as of right now, I’m just trying to take it all in and stay positive.

Sorry for the length of the post, but I'm writing these on my laptop and then transferring them over to the family computer which has internet. I'll have another post up later which will be shorter and hopefully contain something a little more meaningful rather than just a laundry list of activities. 

But I did get to experience my first Suphra last night, during which I drank wine from a husk. When I woke up this morning I just had a ton of pictures on my camera of me dancing sans shirt with the family. It was an interesting night to say the least.

PICTURES: My host family's sakhli (house), Bandza's church, the hunt, and the countryside.

1 comment:

  1. Funny shit....really enjoyed it!!!! Keep it coming... Now that your a hunter or should i say a fetcher, Kevin will be quite impressed...I'm thinking and laughing to myself, image Kevin over there...they would probably keep him tied up in a barn and bring him out to show people what a crazy person looks like....I gather wine is the choice beverage so the only stella u may see will have two legs....loved the car ride description..