Friday, December 10, 2010


Me and my faithful PE teacher Lonia, who has been rocking his Mo for over twenty years. Odds are he is probably sick at volleyball as well.

By now, I’ve played several sports with Georgians while getting a capable grasp of their strengths and weaknesses in athletics. Not surprisingly, just like any other country in the world but America, Georgians are pretty good at football (despite how their national team may perform). But Georgians also really enjoy basketball. I think I’ve touched on this before, but they play basketball exactly like people who have played football their entire lives: frantic, physical, and with little skill at all. This combination makes them extremely tough to play with and against, since they continually foul and will jack up shots from any spot on the court (despite their devotion, few Georgians [a.k.a. Bandzans] know even the most basic basketball strategy).

I’ve yet to play rugby outside of leisurely tossing the ball around with Luka and Rezi, but I would think most Georgian men would excel in this activity based on the full-contact football they play. But I doubt the average Georgian can catch a properly thrown rugby ball based on the hand-eye coordination they display in other sports (many of my passes on the basketball court have caused a black eye or two).

But much to my surprise, Georgians are damn good at phrenburti (volleyball). Of course when I say Georgians, I’m really only talking about the men of Bandza. But if there’s enough skill in a small village of Samegrelo to get a consistently competetive game, then I think it’s safe to assume that the remaining 99.9% of the country’s population share a similar ability; that is unless—unbeknownst to me—I was assigned to the phrenburti pipeline of Georgia. Although Bandza does churn out some tall boys—or as my buddy Ian calls them, freaks.

I’ve never been much of a volleyball player, but like most sports (except for tennis; I suck at tennis), I can hold my own. Yet here, I often find myself acting as the weak link in my side. My neighbors here (when you live in a village, everyone is your mezobeli [neighbor]) are quite good at the sport, and play it with an ability (based on my previously mentioned lack of hand-eye-coordination, it’s quite surprising that that skill is conjured up for this activity) and strategy that they so sorely lack in basketball.

I mean, it’s not the Olympics, but they exercise strict positioning and generally try to use all three volleys to set up an optimal scoring chance. When a side receives a serviceable ball, they’ll aim a volley to the setter (who is always front-center with his back to the net) while yelling sami! [3] as a way to count down the volleys. The setter will then serve a nice ball up to a player ready to spike while calling out their name, Maxi!

Back in the States, when I play volleyball, there’s not nearly this much thought and strategy put into it (example: Georgians will lose their shit if a back-player does not shift forward to cover the player in front of him who’s going up to block a spike; ra ginda bitcho!). For us amateur Americans, usually the aim is to get the ball across the net without an unforced error. The thought process is more along the lines of ‘Let’s not fuck this up’ rather than the Georgian philosophy of ‘Embarrass your opponent by spiking a ball into their face,’ a tactic that I’ve been on the business end of more than a few times.

One person in particular who has tattooed my forehead with freakish consistency is my dance instructor Vephkhvia (probably as payback for my snail like progress in learning the dance he’s been drilling into me for the past month). Despite being decked out in formal dance shoes (shined to a ‘T’) and nice dress pants, the man dominates. It’s really Jekyll and Hyde, as he’s so gentle and elegant when on the dance floor, but when he walks onto the volleyball court, he turns into blood-thirsty maniac.

What is even more interesting than the level at which the men of my village play is how they play it. Smoking breaks are often, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see one of the older guys digging a spike out of the dirt with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Also, a point doesn’t go by without someone yelling at a teammate who messed up (unless it was me, who I think they just feel sorry for). Usually the shouting match doesn’t go past one exchange each, but the dialogue always consists of a forcefully dictated bitcho (boy) and something else that I believe translates into ‘What the fuck?’

And trust me on this one, you do not want to see the arguments that disputable calls can lead to. The questionable ruling usually arises from the ball hitting near the boundary (which is marked by a line made from a pick). I’m surprised I haven’t seen blows exchanged at least once, although today one guy feigned quitting after being forced to succeed his argument. Georgian men: passionate about politics and volleyball calls.

Another aspect, which drives me crazy, is their insistence on trying to use some crazy Ronaldinho move with their feet when trying to get the ball back to the server. More often that not the ball ends up wayward, delaying the game another thirty seconds. I swear that most people could play two games in the time span it takes us to play one game. For a finicky American, it’s beyond frustrating.

But what redeems it has to be how they express their displeasure after making an error (this is before being senselessly berated by a teammate). I’m constantly making mistakes, after which I’ll let out a long but slow bodishi (sorry) to which my teammates gracefully reply araphris (which, when used in this context, translates into something along the lines of ‘no worries’). But when Georgians muck up, they’ll immediately utter a remorseful and drawn-out deda (mother). The part that gets me is the manner in which they say it; like it’s been lodged up in their throat for years and they’re just now able to get it out. De….da.

Endnote: The men of Bandza are also sick at table tennis (ping-pong). So random.

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