Friday, October 29, 2010

Facial Hair, Tsent'ri, & The Men

This is the giant oak tree that covers the original Gabunia property which is adjacent to where the current house is. Rezo's father built the house in the background, which is vacant now.

I didn’t even mention in my last post, but probably the best way to do your part for Movember (besides pledging you’re entire paycheck to my Mo) is to grow a Mo for yourself (if you’re of the female persuasion, disregard that suggestion). Everybody knows the pink ribbon stands for breast cancer, while Livestrong bracelets represent the fight against testicular cancer (Livestrong is also a partner in Movember by the way), but why can’t we make the November Mo such a common sight that it's synonymous with prostate cancer. 

Nothing will raise awareness more than men from Siberia to Patagonia all dawning mustaches during the month of Movember. Quick note: the Georgian name for November is noemberi, but I will only be referring to it as moemberi. While in ancient Georgian, November is giorgobistve, or as I like to call it giormobistve.

Family Cows grabbing a quick sip of water on their way back to the shed. This picture was taken in the first few days, when I still found the sight of cows hilarious. Now, not so much. 

Ati – Speaking of facial hair, Georgian men have tons of it, and at an early age. Of course this isn’t true for every bitchi da katsi (boy and man), as I have a few year XI students who don’t look older than thirteen. But at the same time, I have a few year IX’s who could probably purchase beer back home without a second guess from the clerk. Almost all of my students are clean-shaven, and even after they’ve left home (if they ever do), most Georgian men do not have crazy amounts of facial hair. You’ll see a real thick mustache from time to time (like the other P.E. teacher at my school, who has a Mo that would make Burt Reynolds blush), but the only people you will see in Georgia with long facial hair are members of the Georgian Orthodox clergy, who unsurprisingly have some wicked Tolstoy-like beards.

This was one of the priests who spoke at the festival in Martvili. Talk about an awesome beard. 

Otsi – Lasha (my host-father) grew a pretty steady beard for forty days following the death of his cousin (the same cousin whose funeral I attended on my birthday). It’s actually a pretty neat tradition they have in Georgia where the male friends and family of the deceased will abstain from shaving for forty days following the burial ceremony. On the fortieth day, they have a giant suphra at the home of the honorably deceased after which the men shave their beards. I didn’t get to attend the suphra as I was visiting Svaneti that weekend, but I never did hear if: a) all the men shaved after returning home; b) the men shaved at the party after drinking gallons of wine (now that’s a party); or c) the host brought in a barber to give all the guys a professional shave (which, if you’ve ever had the experience, is ten times more satisfying than shaving yourself).

This is a nice picture of me getting a pro shave in Kutaisi. Cost me all of 3 Lari (about six quarters). Totally worth it.

Otsdaati – Before I leave the topic of facial hair, I would be remiss not to mention the uni-brows in Georgia. This doesn’t only pertain to Georgian men though, as I’ve seen a few Georgian women rocking a nice Frida style uni-brow. As someone who suffers from constant hair growth between the eye-brows, I can sympathize highly with these poor souls. But I think I would be over-stepping some boundaries by thrusting my tweezers on them. That would be—as we called it during my TEFL course—a tad bit culturally insensitive. Who knows, maybe the uni-brow is seen as an attractive facial characteristic in Georgia (cue tons of readers commenting with a definitive, “No!” Okay, maybe it’s just in Samegrelo).

And this is my buddy Raughl-Dog, who got his beard trimmed right after me. Raughley had a pretty awesome beard until his host-mother made him shave it all off before school started

Ormotsi – Speaking of Georgian men, or particularly the men of Bandza (although I feel the topic might extend beyond my village limits); I still don’t know what a majority of them do. I have zero idea what my co-English teacher Tamari’s husband does. He just hangs out tsent’rshi (in the center of town) all day. I know this because the center of town is about the size of a small pond, so it’s kind of tough to miss anyone if they’re there. He’s always hanging out near the market, playing cards with some other guy.  Then after school, he drives Tamari and her kids (Dato [8] and Oto [10]) back to their house. He’s basically the family chauffeur, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t get paid for services rendered.

Just a few of the Georgian youngsters I cam across at the cafe in Martvili. Odds are none of them work, but that doesn't mean they aren't happy as a pig in shit (a phrase that I finally came to understand while in Bandza)

Ormotsdaati – He’s not alone in town, though. On my way to school every morning, the center is hopping with anywhere from twenty to fifty middle-aged men roaming about, playing nardi or cards, and arguing (or discussing politely, depending on your point-of-view) over anything and everything (to what degree Georgian football stinks, Saakashvili, whose got the bigger gut, etc.). Some of them are cab drivers (there are tons of cabs in Georgia, even though no one really takes cabs), but most of them are town gentlemen out on their morning stroll to… nowhere. You can’t even get a cup of coffee in Bandza. It’s just one big social gathering, like a neighborhood barbershop in Harlem (I’m not being stereotypical, and there’s a slew of Queen Latifa movies to prove it).

This is no-problem David, who I think typifies the modern Georgian man. Hilarious, happy, and with nothing to do in his days. He 'works' for the forest service (or as he describes it, 'security of nature'), but never really goes into work. He's always saying, 'In three months, I work.'

Samotsi – By noon, most everywhere has dispersed back to their homes, except for Tamari’s husband and a few people waiting around for marshrutkas. But in the last week, there’s been a group of kids hanging out on the school grounds who look like they’re in their late teens (or more accurately, like they should be in school). I assume they are just former students (graduated or dropped-out) who have nothing to do during their days (much of the remaining farm work is just finishing up), so they come hang out near the school, shoot-the-shit with each other and current students, and drink beer. It’s amazing. I can’t even imagine if I had come back to my high school a year after I graduated and got drunk on the quad. But in Georgia, that’s completely acceptable.

Samotsdaati – The topic of men in Georgia is so complex and diverse, that I can’t leave it unexplored. But no matter what I say, I’ll probably ruffle some feathers with a few of our newer readers. This blog was initially intended for friends and family so I’d be betraying the mission statement by not being brutally honest with my thoughts (do not search for any mission statement here, because it does not exist). So now that I got that disclaimer out of the way, I can proceed in any way I want. Georgian men are a rare bread. I love them, because I admire how happy and generous they are considering how little they have. But Georgian men treat me like one of them; it’s a slightly different perspective for the female volunteers. Although we were all initially treated like any other guest (like royalty), that has worn off for a few of the volunteers, mostly girls. They only have themselves to blame since they are all stricken with that terrible gene that seems to infect all women: the desire to help. So after the honeymoon period was over, many of them were tossed into the fray with the other Georgian women. The result has been, for the most part, not pretty. A lot of them have grown appalled at how the men are treated within the family unit.

The tchatcha making process at my house. It looks really complicated, yet it's really not. But that doesn't mean I can explain it to you

Otkhmotsi – There are double standards in gender relations within almost any culture, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that they are also prevalent in Georgian society. But for many of the American volunteers who have grown up in the general equality of 21st century America, it’s a complete shock to the system when they see something that you’d have to travel back sixty-years to deem unacceptable in American society (example: women being looked down upon for smoking cigarettes [although, to be fair, many people have told me that is mostly a West Georgian and village sentiment]). Especially given that the type of women who volunteer halfway around the world in a fairly unknown country are not exactly traditionally conservative in their worldview. So after they see the pedestal that the men and their sons are put on, the practical servitude that many of the women are put into, and obliviousness to it all, it’s tough not to blame them for garnering a sense of outrage.

Otkhmotsdaati – But I’m not here to judge, and I’m definitely not here to start a feminist movement in Georgia. If I see something that I find amusing regarding Georgian men, I’ll call them out on it. But at the same time, there are many redeeming qualities about Georgian men, and, yes, some of them have to do with how they treat their women (and no, I won’t use the fact that they toast to women when they drink as one of my points; although that doesn’t hurt). I’ve already mentioned how happy and generous they are, and I think if you run back through this blog, you’ll see scores of fine examples of these honorable traits.

This is the karoloki (a fruit) they grow on the farm, after which they peal and then string up to air out for a few weeks. I have no idea what's next though

Asi – And now that I’m trying to conjure up examples of Georgian chivalry, I’m at a loss. That might poke a giant hole through my argument, but I think it points back to a previous comment I made above: Georgian men treat me like one of them. So it’s tough for me to really comment on how they treat women, since I’m not one. I would say you could go to one of the other female volunteer’s blogs for examples, but as I already said, many of them are leery of Georgian men by now (a lot of that comes from how they are perceived by certain Georgian men; exotic and easy—or the complete opposite of Georgian women, who are chaste and customary. But this topic could fill another thousand words, so I’ll stop here). So maybe I’ll just have to hang my hat on mandilosnebis (the toast to all women), the sacredness of the Petroni system (by which the men of a family protect and take care of the women), and my word. Although my word might be a bit tainted and biased, because, after all, I’m slowly turning into a Georgian man.

This is me and fellow volunteer Ali Jones, who was the one from the last post who continually told her Georgian counterparts, 'F my mother' when her phone rang. Gutter-mouth, I say.

As ati – I realized something when reading back over my post. It came from this small snippet, “A lot of [female volunteers] have grown appalled at how the men are treated.” The issue isn’t that the women are treated terribly (despite my use of the word “servitude”), it’s that the men are treated like princes. But this obedience and deference shown by Georgian women does not originate from fear, but instead out of respect and tradition (Georgia has, despite how it may come off in my writing, a grossly traditional society). So if the women decided to just stop deifying their husbands and sons, it would be similar to the scene in Pleasantville when William H. Macey comes home to an empty house. The reaction wouldn’t be fury, but complete confusion and befuddlement. Ask a Georgian man how to operate a laundry machine, do the dishes, or—God forbid—cook, and they would be baffled (another disclaimer: I’m sure there are many Georgian men who know how to do these things, I just have not met or heard of them yet). But this would never happen, because as I said before, Georgian women are too respectful towards tradition. So despite how infuriating and backwards it may seem to us outsiders, it makes sense to Georgians because deep down, Georgian men know how vulnerable they are, and almost out of fear, they love their women beyond words. Mandilosnebis.


  1. Come on,don't be so strict
    Every country can't be "AMERICA",though we don't want to be....
    Of Course there are uni-browed Goergian men,so what?,they are everywhere,especially in southern European and Middle Eastern countries,I don't think this is the subject you had to pay attention...

  2. Max, hilarious yet insightful post as usual. Too bad your reader (and commenter) "Anonymous" has no sense of humor.

  3. Hi max, I am devoted reader of your posts love them.

  4. I certainly hope every country wouldn't want to be America. There's only room enough in this world for one Asshole country. I try to make fun of America as much as I can, because I think it's as ripe for the picking as anything. But that's been done before by people far more capable (see: The Onion or South Park).

    Georgia on the other hand, is hilarious in it's own aspects, which is what I try to show on this forum. But in no way would I ever want Georgia to 'be AMERICA.' That'd be terrible.

    As per the unibrows, as mentioned in the post, I suffer from the same unkindly gene while having zero heritage from the areas you mentioned (I'm German Irish). I just find it odd that Georgians (and people with unibrows in general) don't do something about it... like pluck it.

    Appreciate the comments though. Constructive criticism is always welcomed here.