Leftover tree stump in the Black Sea near Anaklia
Erti – So I don’t enjoy running, in fact I consider it more of a chore than anything. I prefer cycling as it lets you see more in less time, is easier on your knees, and allows you to wear spandex without anybody thinking you’re (that) weird. But cycling here is out of the question; I may buy a cruiser just so I can get to and from Martvili without hitchhiking or waiting for a marshutka, but it depends on what my schedule is like when school starts (I have to be in on the 6th, while class doesn’t start until the 15th). Either way, I’ve been running a lot since I got to Georgia; partly to get a little time to myself and partly to make sure I don’t gain a floater (yep, another Dating in the Dark reference).
Ori – I used to listen to my iPod when I ran, but not only did I find it kind of rude to be a stranger in a strange town while completely ignoring everyone, but I also lost my iPhone, therefore no more iPod. So recently I’ve been practicing my Kartuli (Georgian) while running. Like today I spent my entire run (I usually run down to the river [3 km], hop in for about fifteen minutes, lay in the sun for fifteen more, and then run back; it’s my daily routine that I now look forward to) conjugating the verbs to go (mivdivar) and to come (movdivar). Most of the time I practice in my head but at times I sound out the tough parts. Imagine how crazy I look running along the road while repeating “I go, you go, he goes, we go, you go, they go…” I don’t think Georgians judge as much as most cultures but apparently they love to gossip. Word around town must be that there’s some crazy long-haired American (no men here have long hair) that talks to himself in Kartuli while running for no reason (I’ve now had a few complete strangers in cars stop next to me and ask if I needed a ride. Oh, Georgia).
Bandza Stadium, where our local soccer team (made up of all locals) plays
Sami – Most of us volunteers have realized that it’s tough to say no to a Georgian. Usually it involves eating or drinking; you can put your hand over a wine or shot glass while saying ara (no) and your host will still insist on filling it up. Part of that is just the tradition of making toasts; no one is allowed to not have a full glass. The trick is to not drink any and leave it full (really tough for me). But the same can’t be said about eating. At the table you are constantly being berated with tchame, tchame, tchame. I’m convinced there’s no word for “full” in Kartuli; hence the force-feeding and the stuffed marshutkas.
Otkhi – But I have another theory that I’ve picked up from listening to the Georgians speak to each other. They never say ara just once. It’s always three times, “Ara, ara, ara…” while waving their hand in the air. It usually does the trick so I’ve decided to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out, but I have a feeling it only works if you’re actually Georgian. The hair and the presence of shirt kind of gives me away around here.
Khuti – Or maybe it’s that three is their magic number. I assume it has something to do with the trinity, but anytime a Georgian passes a church or a cross, they cross themselves three times. It’s like clockwork. I was on a marshutka as we passed the Bandza church and pretty much everybody on the marshutka began crossing themselves profusely even though there was barely room to reach for your pockets. Talk about dedication.
A funeral procession into the church of Bandza (you can't see it from here, but it was an open casket)
Eqvsi – Another thing I always hear in threes around the family property is, “Ira, Ira, Ira…” which is Luka calling for his mother whose name is Irina but Ira for short. All the kids here call their parents by their names, both to their face and to others in reference. Coming from a culture where doing that is a sign of disrespect or detachment, it was a fairly big shock at first, but now I’ve just gotten used to it. But to be fair, the children call their grandparents both Babua (m) and Bebia (f).
Shvidi – One thing I have not gotten used to are the Georgian names. It’s mostly the men’s names, although that could be because the only people I meet in Bandza are men (I’m still not sure where the women are). I can’t remember anybody’s name unless it’s Dato, Data, or Giorgi. I’m already bad with names, but throw in the crazy names they have here, and I’m at a loss. The worst is our neighbor who knows some English, has given me an adapter and a world radio that he doesn’t use anymore, and has just been overly helpful; can’t remember his name. I guess I’ll just have to go through my pictures with Luka and ask him who is this and who is that, because I feel bad not being able to address someone directly. Especially as I’ve noticed that when people say gamarjoba in Bandza, they usually add the persons name in there as well. I have to get on this, but it’s not easy when the names are Kucha, Tsota, or Iqa.
Rva – So my neighbor whose name I am unsure of told me a little bit about the history of the farmland around Bandza. The farm plots are small because the land is so valuable, but the main crop is now corn (or maize as they like to refer to it when speaking English). This part of the valley used to be well known for it’s grapes and in turn it’s wine (the best Georgian wine apparently comes from Kakheti where they get more sun and less rain). But after the USSR, everybody decided to grow corn instead as it’s easier to manage/harvest. As my neighbor said, is aris suleli (it’s stupid). I can’t really blame them; freedom can make the hardest working man lazy.
Myself out in the farmland of Bandza, corn as far as you can see
Ati – When I got here, I thought there would be this massive hatred towards Russians, but almost all of the Georgians I’ve met here have nothing but respect for the Russian people. In fact, when we toast to the good people of Georgia and America, Russia is usually thrown in there as well. It also helps that a majority of Georgians have Russians in their family tree (Ira’s entire side of the family is from Moscow). This is a perspective that Americans could learn from a little bit. Georgians understand that a vast majority of Russians do not hate them and could care less about South Ossetia or Abkhazia, while those that do are a small minority led by politicians (on a related note: I have yet to hear any Georgians cheers to politicians). There seems to be this idea in America that you have to be all or nothing. Not every Muslim is an extremist just as not every Russian is a fascist commy. But, as they say in Georgia, every politician might be a crook.
Host Father Lasha toasting to his Russian nephew Giorgi