It’s official. I’m here at what will become my new home for the next year. I’m staying in the Samegrelo region in Zugdidi, Georgia—which is in the far northwest of the country near the Abkhazian border and about 15 minutes from the Black Sea. They use kilometers here to measure distance, so since I don’t know what they’re talking about, I stick to measuring distance in minutes ;) I haven’t been able to blog in awhile, so pardon me if this post of a quick montage of eight or so days. I’ll start with my family and new home and backtrack from there.
I have a mama (father), deda (mother), da (sister) and dzma (brother). My “siblings” are 14 and 9 and they absolutely adore me…I think. My sister Mari is 14 and speaks very broken English but has come to be my savior for translating for the rest of the family. The others know zero English, so we communicate by playing a whole lot of charades and via hand gestures. We live in a tall flat on a street with no name. None of the streets around here have any names—which explains why the postal service doesn’t really work. It’s genius how everyone still seems to know how to navigate around the city and through the nearby villages. Speaking of villages: we have another home in a village close to our flat with my bebia (grandmother) lives. She lives with two of my aunts and lots of my cousins. I have a huge family! It seems like every day we’re going to another house to visit more family members. There are also lots of cows, chickens, and pigs. Cows are basically like squirrels here. They’re in the grass, on the pavement, at the park, on the side and in the middle of every road, and so on. But back to my family! My grandmother grows just about EVERYTHING you can think of in her backyard including grapes, walnuts, other various nuts, kiwis, plums, peppers, oranges, lemons, eggplant, apples, etc. etc. etc. This grandmother is my host father’s mother. My host mother’s mom and dad—my other grandparents—live in another house and grow most of the same things. My host grandpa doesn’t speak any English but is always smiling at me and saying “I love you” repeatedly; it melts my heart.
A word on hospitality: I am so very loved here in Georgia. Because I am a guest, the entire family does everything to make me happy and comfortable at all times. For example, if you move in with a Georgian family you will be staying in the largest bedroom (there might be four other people sleeping in another room or more sleeping on couches, but the guest gets the best of the best—which really makes me feel guilty!) I’m jumping around with my pronouns here, but I’m just trying to convey that while my family is overly hospitable, it’s a part of Georgian culture for every family to act likewise with any guest. I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS am eating or drinking something. We hear TCHAME TCHAME TCHAME TCHAME all day long, which translates (ever persuasively) to EAT EAT EAT EAT MORE! It takes roughly 10 NO responses to convey that my stomach is full. No that we’ve been here a couple of days, I only have to say that I’m full about 6-7 times. In Georgia, MAYBE means YES and NO means I-CAN-CONVINCE-YOU. It’s quite comical.
A word on marriage: The first thing I’m asked by every new person I meet is, “Are you married?” and the second is usually, “Do you want to marry a Georgian?” It’s also an extremely patriarchal society and the gender roles are ever pressing. Georgian women are expected to be virgins when they marry, and Georgian men are expected to have gained experience from many partners when they marry. How this works out—I will never understand! Georgian women start dating around 14-18 (usually someone picked out by the family), date for roughly 2 months, get married, and have children immediately after. I’ve been proposed to by strangers on two occasions in the park, but my patroni takes good care of me. Every family has a partoni, which is a male in the family who looks after unmarried women. Between my father, my millions of uncles, and my 9 year old brother who holds my hand everywhere we go—I think my patroni is covered.
A word on safety: I can say honestly that I have never felt safer in the entirety of my life. Georgian cities are small and word travels quickly, so everyone knows that Americans are here to teach and do good things and therefore even strangers are looking out for our safety and wellbeing. Because I’ve only been here for a few days, I also am not allowed to do a single thing on my own. If my family could be in the bathroom while I’m going—they would! I always have a chaperone and always have to hold hands with either my mom, sister, or brother while crossing the street. Today was my first day in the city on my own—and by on my own, I mean that I was able to hangout with my American friends without the company of someone in my host family. And let me tell you, it was no easy endeavor! My sister called me every hour to see where I was and what I was doing. Because I still have a lot of Georgian to learn, it’s impossible to communicate that I am twenty-two years, extremely independent, and quite capable of being on my own. And I’m still convinced that I was able to enjoy the company of my English-speaking friends today only because Yevgeniy was in the group.
Yevgeniy is my Russian friend from Boston who is also working for TLG. We live five minutes from each other, so I’ve been blessed to have him around every day. In Zugdidi, people speak Russian, Georgian, and Magrulian. Yevgeniy’s Russian does me well because he’s constantly translating and helping me to communicate with my family. Seriously, I don’t think I would have made it this long if it weren’t for Yevgeniy—which means so very much, since you all know that I’m the very last girl to ever admit any weakness. Whenever I am all teary eyed, weepy, and frustrated, it’s Yevgeniy to the rescue!