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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This is a picture of me at the moment, hidden behind my hand (which suspiciously looks like it belongs to someone else) is the rest of my facial growth. What is showing will be all that's left come Movember First.

So I know this doesn’t really pertain to Georgia (except that some Georgian men have incredible mustaches, including Georgia’s prodigal son, Joseph Stalin), but I would be neglecting a great opportunity in not mentioning Movember. No I didn’t just spell November incorrectly, Movember is an international fundraiser that helps raise money for prostate and testicular cancer research.

When I was at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, a friend of mine had found out about an annual party down the street from us called “The Mustache Bash.” It was held at the same house every year, despite who had moved out or who had moved in. So it had been going on for quite a few years, and it was always held in late November. The rules were simple: if you had a mustache, you did not have to pay for a cup (which at a lavish $5, was a pretty good coupe), but if you were clean shaven, you had the option of having a ‘stache drawn on with a black sharpie (in any fashion deemed appropriate by the host) or you could just pay the $5. Don’t even mention beards; that would have been like David Duke showing up at a Black Panther Party.

Most partygoers just paid the $5, and then once they were drunk enough, offered their upper lip to a nice drawn-on Fu Manchu. But my buddy and I decided to go all in, not shave for the few weeks preceding the party, and then shave everything but the mustache on the night of the party. Thus was the beginning of my long and fruitful love affair with mustaches that lives on to this day.

Since that time (November ’06), I’ve grown mustaches for various reasons: bets (I once had to go a month at the beginning of a baseball season with a gross mustache because the Pirates could not score double digit runs in a game), Penguins’ playoff runs (I’m still convinced that shaving my playoff beard into a mustache following our game six loss to the Capitols in ’09 single handedly saved the series and eventually won us the cup), and of course every November I would grow a mustache for “The Bash.”

It got to the point where people from home weren’t surprised when they saw me on Thanksgiving with what looked like a caterpillar crawling above my lip. Any pictures you see of me from Ham Bowl (my annual football game held the day after Thanksgiving) always showed me drinking a beer or making a tackle with a lip-sweater on.

Then two years ago, someone saw me with my annual November mustache and casually asked, “Is that your Mo for Movember?” I looked at him like he had a speech impediment. After he explained what Movember was (and that a Mo is what Aussies call a mustache), it all made sense. So without signing up on the official website, that November I told people I was growing a mustache in support of cancer research. Some people may see that as cheating, but I disagree. Many people wear pink clothing and ribbons during breast cancer month (it’s October if you’re wondering) without raising or donating money. After all, there are two halves to any fundraiser: 1) raising money, and 2) raising awareness. So when I told people that I was growing a mustache for cancer that November, I was doing just a little bit to raise awareness that there is such a thing as Movember.

That next November, I prepared myself earlier and actually singed up at the Movember website. Little did I know how awesome that site was. They have individual pages (cleverly called MoSpaces) where you can update on how your Mo is shaping up as the month progresses, equipped with the ability to upload videos and pictures as evidence. I also found out that Movember was linked into Facebook, where you could annoyingly post updates that would come up on your friends’ news feed. I tried one just to see if it worked; it did, and an hour later I got an email telling me I had received a donation. It was a $5 pledge from my friend Emily with a note saying, “Just to get you going.”

I was totally intent on maybe sending out an email to a few friends and family and maybe see if I could get a few dollars here and there. But just those measly five dollars injected a real purpose into my first official Movember. After that, I was a man on a mission, continually emailing all acquaintances and urging them to the point of annoyance to donate to this worthy cause. I ended up raising over $1300, much to my (and everyone else’s) surprise. 

I was amazed at how the simple act of not shaving the upper-lip could actually do good in the form of money for cancer research. I also learned some disturbing facts about prostate and testicular cancer. Did you know that one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime? 1:2! That's crazy.

Usually, you start Movember clean-shaven and humiliatingly go through November trying to grow a mustache from scratch. But I went through that last year, and by the end of the month, I still had a Mo that most men would barely sneeze at. So this year, I decided not to shave during all of October (an embarassing experience in itself, as my beards look gross and patchy), and then I’ll shave everything but the upper-lip come Movember 1st.

You can check out some pictures of my Mo’s from Movember pasts at my MoSpace page over at (I did not add many pictures to this post, because I’m saving up for my MoSpace). You can also donate at my page. Now I know the regular followers of this blog probably don’t have the means or the motivation to be donating money towards some weirdo’s mustache fetish. But try to think of it as donating money to a good cause, which, once you get past my obsession, is exactly what you would be doing.

Just as a heads up, this won’t be the last time I’ll be mentioning the glorious organization of Movember on this forum. So get ready to be inundated with pleas, cries of help, and straight-up begging over the next 30+ days.

Before I go, I will turn to empathy and sympathy. Odds are, we all know someone who has been stricken with cancer in our lives. When I was too young to realize the tragedy in it, I had an Uncle die of lung cancer before he turned forty. Just last August, one of my best friends was diagnosed with a very serious form of lymphoma. Jeremy had just turned twenty-four-years old. From the outset, it did not look good, but through intensive chemotherapy and a beyond human strength, he beat the disease in a little over six months.

Jeremy is now cancer-free and living his life just as before, although, I’m happy to report, with much more meaning and fulfillment. I’m not as up-to-date on the progress of cancer research as I should be given my intense badgering, but I believe we’ve come a long way in the past twenty years, and even though we still have a long way to go, there’s plenty to do in the meantime. So help me help others by donating something… anything in the next month.



My buddy Jeremy, me, and my Mo (summer of '09, pre-cancer)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sectionalism, Dark Clothing, & The Tamada

This is the village sign as you drive into Bandza from the North. Notice the backwards 'n'. No wonder no one respects Bandza, we can't even spell our own town's name correctly.

Two things before I start this post. I just wanted to make it clear that when I say something like “most Georgians…” I am only referring to the Georgians I know or have heard about (usually from other volunteers). I don’t want anyone to think I’m generalizing all Georgians with some of the things I say. Second point: last Friday morning, Luca spent twenty minutes in the bathroom. What can a 12-year old boy possibly be doing for twenty minutes on the can? Okay, on to the good stuff, if there’s such a thing.

Ati – I think I’ve mentioned this before, but sectionalism in Georgia is quite rampant. Georgians tend to be very opinionated about certain regions or cities. There’s some places that everybody agrees are amazing (Svaneti and Batumi), but other than that, places are either very beautiful, or meh. The younger guy who ran the hostel a few volunteers stayed at in Tbilisi openly bashed Zugdidi, calling the people rude and the city terrible. Vano, the kick-boxer I met in Batumi, hated anything and everything about Tbilisi, but he couldn’t really speak English so I never found out why. When he tried on my sunglasses and then found out I had bought them in Tbilisi, he hurriedly removed them as if they were burning his face. Lasha doesn’t really care for Kakheti, the farthest east region of Georgia known for its wine and autumn beauty. His reason: he went to a wedding there a year ago and they didn’t have enough food. Luca doesn’t really care for any place other than Bandza or Martvili. When I asked him about the road heading to Khoni (a town ten kilometers east of Bandza), he just shook his head and gave me a disgusted look like he just swallowed a worm.

This was a sign on the road from Sametredia to Khoni, kind of freaky looking. Definitely the place where they filmed the Georgian version of 'Where the Hills Have Eyes'

Otsi – That’s not to say it’s some rarity to find sectionalism in a country. It’s all over America, and once led to a civil war. There are people in the South who still call it the War of Northern Aggression. Florentines can’t stand people from Pisa or Siena, although that is more deep-seeded given that their history. I guess what’s surprising here are the size and age of the country as well as the general outlook of Georgian people. Georgia is kind of small to have so many divisions. So is Tuscany though, but that doesn’t stop Pisans from spitting on the Duomo. Then there’s the relatively young history of independent Georgia. The area that is Georgia dates back to Greek Mythology (Golden Fleece, say what?), but the present country only runs back to David Hasselhoff singing at the Berlin Wall. Granted, I don’t know much about Georgian history, but you would think a country that has always strived for independence would kind of burry any sort of regional hatchet once they grasped it. But it doesn’t seem that way. I’m not saying Georgians aren’t proud of their country, but just because I love America doesn’t mean I can tolerate the people and land of West Virginia.

My and my new bike outside one of the many signs with the name Max on it, this one was a salon

Otsdaati – Even more confusing than the size and relative short history of present day Georgia has to be the people. Georgians are by far the most happy, care-free, fun-loving group of people I’ve ever come upon. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Georgians love everyone. But not everyone is American (Georgians love Americans), so there are in-fact some people Georgians don’t like. Some can’t stand Russians, others get sick at the mention of Armenia, while people like Lasha can’t respect any Muslim countries (Lasha also doesn’t really care for China either because there’s too many people there). On the face of things, Georgians give a new meaning to hospitality and make Mr. Rodgers look like a crotchety old man. But when you peel away the layers, there’s still a lot of judgment and resentment that commonly plague most nationalities. I guess I just don’t want to see that side of it, because it goes against everything I love about Georgians. So in the words of Jackie Moon, Everybody Love Everybody.

I guess in Georgia, people are still hung up on Katie and Tom. Although I doubt they have the same reservations about Tom that Americans do, since, you know, there's no such thing as a gay person in Georgia 

Ormotsi – Quick note on Georgian men’s fashion. I’ve had a few pictures up of me in my Petroni shirt (for reference, Petroni is the system in Georgia by which the women are protected. If you over step the boundaries with a Georgian woman [or any woman for that matter, including TLG volunteers], you can expect a beat down from said woman’s Petroni, which could be a mixture of Father, Grandfather, Brothers, and cousins. Simply put, don’t fuck with the Petroni). My friend Raughley and I decided (Raughley spearheaded the notion while I just followed; credit where credit is due) to buy these shirts in order to fit in around Georgia, as every man in Georgia has the same shirt; long-sleeve and black with grey stripes. Pretty sure it’s just a right of passage, like Germans with jean-jackets.

Bill's parents sent him an American flag which we were all wearing as a cape last weekend. This is me and fellow volunteer Helen. In the words of every citizen of South Carolina, ' I'm not gonna apologize for my patriotism'

Ormotsdaati – But the point is, all Georgian men dress the same; pants with a dark top. It can be in the middle of August and the men still wear pants. And you will not see any Georgian men wearing pastels—if you threw a Georgian man into an Easter frat party, his head might explode. The women follow suit, as I’ve yet to see any bright colors on a Georgian woman. Usually their outfits could easily be confused for funeral garb (and based on how many funerals there are in this country, that makes it extremely convenient). I guess Georgians are confident enough to let their personality add the color to their lives (which they accomplish with ease), but that doesn’t stop them from staring at me with confusion when I wear my red pants to school. Another final fashion observation (I’m sure I’ll return to this topic, as it’s quite rich), I’ve yet to see a man in Samegrelo with a jacket that fits. They all look like their wearing their father’s old oversized coat.

A nice mural near a public park in Sametredia, which is the depot for bikes apparently

Samotsi – Something that amazingly got skipped in the drinking post; the tamada. I might have mentioned it before, but the tamada is the designated toast giver at any suphra or any sit down drinking session. Usually the host acts as tamada, but some people are invited to parties just to play the part. I was whisked off to a 17-year old girl’s birthday party in Kutaisi by Ian’s host-family a few weeks back, and they had a tamada from Svaneti who looked like Jim Balushi, was bombed by the time we got there, and tried to crush your hand in his fist when shaking hands. This guy was completely gone to the point where he really wasn’t talking in between toasts, but when he stood to give a toast, he regained full capacity and would rattle off a three-minute diatribe on the hospitality of the host. It was amazing.

Me in my Petroni shirt. You can never smile when wearing a Petroni shirt

Samotsdaati – So to be a tamada, you have to be able to hold your alcohol and conjure up sobriety and loquaciousness at a moment’s notice. But even though there may be a tamada at a party, it’s not as if he’s the only one talking; he usually starts a toast and then everybody chimes in from time to time, while the host eventually gives a toast to the tamada at some later point. But toasting is a serious business that is not to be trifled with. My buddy Bill was at a wedding where there were two different factions of men who were debating over who had the right to toast. Bill said it got to the point where that was the focus, while the bride and groom were just secondary. That’s how serious toasting is in Georgia; it can ruin a wedding. I tend to voluntarily make myself the tamada when I get together with other volunteers. It’s an easy fit, because toasting involves two of my favorite activities: drinking and listening to myself talk. I’m no Cicero, but I can hold my own in a toast, which I think is a trait I received from my father (along with L.L Bean loafers and hoarding useless crap).

Bacon flavored Chips? I can dig it

Otkhmotsi – That notion got me thinking about hereditary tamadas. Is that a position or skill that is handed down from father to son (by the way, pretty sure the tamada is only a masculine position)? Do you start funneling your son wine when he hits double-digits, or perhaps earlier (baby bottle, anyone)? Or maybe it’s a position that must be learned through apprenticeship, like a tailor or blacksmith. But then when do you officially become a legit tamada; is it like a Bar Mitzvah? These are the things I spend my time thinking about in Georgia. But before I leave the subject of the tamada, I’d like to relay the highest compliment I’ve received since I got here. In Mestia, Murab–our guide on the second day—came over with a bottle of his tchatcha after hiking with us. After toasting to everything from peace to our mothers, Murab told me I could be the tamada at his wedding. I could have cried I was so happy.

This was a house seen in Sametredia, which I thought would make a perfect place for a Halloween party this weekend, except for the fact that someone probably lives there (not kidding, you would be astounded by the houses that some Georgians live in)

Otkhmotsdaati – Another amazing character at my school is Gigla, whose title I’m still not sure of. He teaches a class every now and then (twice a week, maybe), but for the most part he just sits in the teachers lounge, ripping cigarettes and yelling tsavidet (let’s go) a few moments after the bell rings to make sure the teachers get to their classes (which is vital, because I’m pretty sure if he wasn’t there, no teachers would go to their classes). At first I thought he was just a visiting dignitary from the Martvili resource center who made the schedule and would only be there for a few weeks just to make sure everything was running smoothly. But it looks like he’s in for the long haul, especially since he is married to one of the other teachers and is also chemi mezobeli (my neighbor)—both recent revelations. I think what makes him so likable is his voice; it’s one that’s taken a beating from years of smoking and rapid use (he’s constantly talking), which gives it a rather soothing radio sound. Plus, I admire how little he does but how much respect he commands in the process.

Bill found a weed leaf bandanna at the market in Sametredia and just had to get it; the best part, we saw a three year old girl walking through the market wearing one right after Bill made his purchase. 

Atsi – Typing up chemi mezobeli reminded me of a pretty funny mistake another volunteer was making with her host family and fellow teachers. Ali is from Wisconsin, and her actual parents will call her every now and then on her Georgian cell-phone. When her mother would call, she would try to excuse herself from whatever she was doing by just exclaiming chemi deda (my mother). Little did she know that those two words exclaimed alone are the same as saying “f’ my mother” (censored here for some reason; maybe because typing the word that close to “mother” just doesn’t feel right, Oedipus be damned). So if you ever come to Georgia, make sure you add a verb or some other word into any phrase involving chemi deda, or else everyone will be disturbed and consider you a vulgar and vile person… like Ali Jones.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sakartvelo Phekhburti, Western Music, & No-Problem David

Meat's meat, man's gotta eat. Which includes a nice boars head from time to time

It’s pretty much been raining the last two weeks, but out of nowhere the weather turned immaculate the past two days. So the entire family has been out on the farm trying to make up for the work they’ve lost, while I had my buddy Bill visit the house to drink their wine. If I can just make it to winter without growing a conscience, I think I’ll be okay.

Ati – The people of Georgia are proud of almost everything Georgian. I’ve heard things that are crazy (Georgian men are twice as strong as other European men [that was a scientific fact by the way]) to the insane (there were Migrelians [people from Samegrelo] in the New World before Columbus discovered it). Georgia, much like all European countries—or any other country in the world for that matter—is nationalistic beyond comprehension.  Sa-kart-velo, ga-mar-JOS!

These may have been the Georgians that made it to America before Columbus, or they could just be a couple religious dudes

Otsi – The only aspect of Georgian culture that native Georgians love to bash is their phekhburti (football). There’s a common joke in Georgia that goes like this: football was born in England, grew up in Brazil, and died in Georgia. Anytime I bring up the Georgian National Team, the common sentiment is, “The Georgian team is very… bad.” There are a few exceptions to their scorn. Kakha Kaladze has been a team staple for the past dozen years and played in a Champion’s League Final with AC Milan, while Levan Kobiashvili is well regarded and has been their number ten for quite a few years. But everyone else sucks; a claim that I tend to disagree with (although I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, so I can find the positives in even the most dire of circumstances).

This is a picture that I believe I've used before on this blog, but it's a shot of the Bandza team playing another village. Bandza's  team is even worse than the Martvili team, and any Bandzan will tell you so.

Otsadaati – I’ve now watched two games (their match against Israel on my birthday [0-0, a complete snoozer], and their match against Latvia in Riga this past week [1-1, with Latvia snatching a point with a magnificent equalizer in the 90th minute]), and if anything, Kabiashvili and Kaladze look past their prime, while the brightest spots have come from 18-year old Jano Ananidze (tiny and sickly looking, but fast with quick feet and a amazing understanding of the game at such a young age) and Gogita Gogua (the Georgian Arjen Roben; young but already bald, nifty with the ball at his feet, can’t defend worth a damn, and loves to milk a dive). Despite blowing a prime opportunity to help their chances of qualifying for Euro’12 by conceding a point to Latvia this past week, Georgia still hasn’t lost a game in it’s group while picking up draws against group favorites Israel (in Tbilisi) and Greece (in Athens, which was an even bigger point). They have to face ultimate group favorite Croatia twice, who I still think is living off the overrated hype of its triumphs over England in the Euro’08 qualifiers. The long short of it is, four games into qualifying, Georgia has a legitimate opportunity to qualify for Euro’12 (they currently sit third [with six points in four games] behind Croatia and Greece), which would be their first ever FIFA qualification… and it feels like no one cares but me.

This is a nice picture of tourist Max outside the national stadium in Tbilisi, which acts as the home stadium for Dinamo Tbilisi (the best, biggest, and most popular club in Georgia) and is usually packed to the gills for any Euro qualifying matches (including Saakashvili who watches from his Presidential box)

Omotsi – I think it’s because most Georgian football fans are front-runners to begin with. They don’t want to support a loser, and the Georgian National Team has done plenty of losing in its brief history. And though most of the locals will go to Martvili (the town up the road ten kilometers north of us) to watch F.C. Marani play every now and then, they will also freely admit that the team isn’t any good (they play in the second division of Georgian football, so it’s a pretty fair statement). If I ask my students which team they support, it’s always one of four clubs: Barcalona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, or Manchester United. There are a few Liverpool fans (although they don’t even understand that I hate L.F.C since I support Everton), and I see jerseys of Chelsea and Arsenal (one of my students has a pretty sweet blue Henry kit circa ’05), but usually they keep it to the international big four. I understand why, as the only matches they are able to watch on the weekend usually involve one of those four clubs. Needless to say, no one really understands why I follow a club that struggles to make the Europa League (the poor man’s Champions League).

This is Ian's host brother Tsotne, who usually rocks this Barcalona Messi jersey, but he also has a full Kaka Real Madrid kit. Talk about a confused kid.

Ormotsdaati – When I was watching the Georgia/Latvia match with Lasha (my host-father), he never got all that excited like I tend to when watching soccer. For me, it’s the perfect build-up sport; you see the play unravel slowly and can just feel a scoring opportunity coming to a head, but even if the play ends with a shot into the stands, I tend to swell into a frenzy with each subsequent pass. Basically, viewing a game with me is like watching soccer with a teapot. But Lasha just sat back and looked disgusted the entire time. Even when Georgia scored following a set piece in what was, admittedly, kind of a weak goal for Latvia to let up, Lasha looked disappointed in that it wouldn’t win goal of the week. Anytime a Georgian player would misplay a ball, or send an errant pass as the intended target darted the opposite way (something that happened quite frequently, but—to be fair—tends to with national teams because of how little they play together), Lasha would tilt his head to the side and fake spit in disgust. It was hilarious; like out of a Pop-eye cartoon. Amazingly, when Latvia did score in the 90th minutes off a beautiful scissor kick volley in the box, Lasha didn’t show any disgust by spitting air to his side, but instead had a feint smile of admiration towards one of those plays that gives the sport it’s nickname—the beautiful game. It was an astoundingly levelheaded reaction; something that I could probably learn from, because I’m not even Georgian and my heart sunk to the floor realizing that one lapse in defense could have squandered any chance of qualifying. So maybe it isn’t the team at all; maybe it’s the way in which they play that matters most to Georgians.

And this is Tsnotne's little brother Luka, who is always rocking his Gerrard Liverpool jersey, which is probably why he's such a pain in the ass

Samotsi – Speaking of Lasha, I’ve successfully weaned him off of using the n-word when describing someone of African descent. This tends to be a common problem for volunteers, especially those who are of African heritage (if I think its weird to be stared at because I wear button-down shirts and have long hair, I can’t even begin to imagine what some of the other African-American volunteers go through on a daily basis). It’s not the Georgians’ faults, as they aren’t trying to be ignorant or disrespectful, they just consider the word a common term in our vernacular. I’m not exactly sure why they assume that; maybe they show a ton of Tarantino movies and Spike Lee joints on TV here. Or, if my host-brothers affinity for DMX tells me anything, it probably more likely comes from the music they listen to.

Fellow volunteer Tomas, a diehard Newcastle supporter, with his host brother who is a Chelsea suppoprter despite seen here with a Harry Kewell Liverpool jersey. None of it makes any sense...

Samotsdaati - Much like football clubs, Georgian teenagers only listen to three musicians: Eminem, Shakira, and K’naan (and with the latter two, they really only like their World Cup Anthems). Some know The Beatles or a few Rolling Stones songs, but their knowledge of western music is limited and bizarre. The last two weeks, my friend Ian and I have been hanging out with a Georgian buddy of ours named David who is from a village outside of Martvili (where everyone has the same last name as David). David represents the typical 21st-century younger Georgian as he’s always fashionably dressed, has spent a few years living in Tbilisi, and understands English pretty well. Usually younger people who have spent some time in Tbilisi are more cognizant of current trends, and although I wouldn’t deprive David of that, his penchant for bad music could rival any other citizen of Bandza or Martvili. He loves We Are the World, but the song that really gets his juices flowing… Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like a Woman. There’s nothing funnier than seeing the entire crowd in the Martvili café react to the opening lines of that horrid tune. It’s like when you put on The Electric Slide at a Bar Mitzvah; people go bat-shit crazy.

This was the lead man for the band that played at the festival in Martvili. The band is pretty well known from Tbilisi and their name translates into The Travellers. I respect any leading man who will spark up a cig in the middle of a religious holliday concert.

Otkhmotsi – When I say David understands English well, I really mean that he knows a few phrases but is eager and willing to learn more. One of his favorite phrases is he is stupid. We were hanging out in the café (the only place to socialize in Martvili outside of Boom, which is the supermarket) with David, his brother Levan, and one of their friends named Nica. I taught them how to play shoulders (a counting game that goes well with drinking), but despite it being a pretty simple game and playing with Georgian numbers instead of English numbers, Nica would constantly mess up, after which David would crack his giant smile and roar out, “He is stupid!” Almost as if that were the only explanation possible: he is stupid, he was born that way, so there’s nothing we can do but laugh.

This is David taking down some beer at the cafe in Martvili. Another possible nickname for this man, David the Drinker

Otkhmotsdaati – David can use the phrase in a serious way as well. Last week we were driving around Martvili and he pulled up next to a younger looking guy in his early twenties. Once they began talking, it quickly escalated to where the conversation only lasted about sixty seconds. After pulling away at a break-neck speed, I asked David what that was all about (as I’ve previously noted here, when Georgians raise their voice, it’s not exactly indicative of an argument), and he basically told me that guy and himself had gotten in a fistfight at the café the week before. When I asked him for what reason, he turned to me with a stern look and said, “That boy is very… very stupid.”

Myself and no-problem David

Atsi – The phrase that David uses the most, even more than he is stupid and it is very bad (with bad emphasized; often used to describe the Georgian National Team), is It is no problem! It usually comes in a sequence like this, “David, can I get a ride home on your motorcycle?” To which David replies, “You need a ride home?” Then his forehead scrunches up like he’s contemplating a math equation, followed by a face one gets when inspiration hits, while answering with a wide smile, “It is no problem!” Ian describes David as the happiest man on earth, which is a pretty fair title, since you almost never see him upset or not smiling like he’s got the run-around on you. But I like to call him no-problem David, because no matter what we want (a ride home, more beer, a meeting with the President) it is always no problem! This is a common attitude that many Georgians have, especially towards guest’s needs, but no one I’ve met encapsulates the pure joy in pleasing someone than no-problem David.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Readers...

I never expected this blog to be read by people who don't know me but amazingly we've had a few new visitors in the past week, which to me is fascinating and a minor miracle. I only have other people to thank for this (friends, other TLG bloggers, and Google), but I want to thank anyone and everyone who is actually taking their time to come here and read my useless tidbits.

But for precisions sake (and my lawyers told me to do this [if you believe that, you are definitely a first timer]), I would like to throw a disclaimer out there to any new readers. I apologize in advance if I offend  anyone, especially native Georgians. I can be quite uncouth and ignorant at times, but please do not take it too seriously. I am kind of a joke myself, so do realize that everything to me is also a joke. There's nothing I hold to a higher standard than satire, and Georgia is ripe for the picking. But please do not let my humor blind you from the fact that I love this country and everything it has offered me so far.

Nothing is perfect, which is why I write what I write. But this land has so many redeeming qualities that it makes it tough not to open my mouth just a little bit. Thank you for your patronage and patience.



Monday, October 18, 2010

Georgian Diagnoses, Riding to School, & Tsudi Studenti

This was the daughter of the woman who ran our guesthouse in Mestia. So cute that I can't even make fun of the ridiculous lipstick she put on to impress me.

You want to know what they do on Saturday in Bandza? They prepare to go to a soccer game at noon—which was a comedy of errors in itself seeing Reziko trying to open the gate with a cat wrapped in a plastic bag in one hand (we were giving away one of our house cats to a friend) and then slowly driving away as Luka ran after (Luka is always lagging behind)—but the game actually didn’t start until two o’clock, so we drove around Bandza for a few minutes until returning home. Then at one forty-five, we found out the game was cancelled due to rain. Oh, Bandza.

Ati – In my last post, I tried to dispel the notion that I was the Georgian equivalent of Boris Yeltsin. In this post, I’d like to start by addressing another somewhat alarming impression I may have made on readers, but hopefully accomplish this with more brevity. I’m not some sickly Tiny Tim or hypochondriac. I have been sick twice in the past month, but both were just 24-hour viruses that I believe stemmed from something I ate. They both had the same symptoms, which I will spare you the details of, but for the most part, I think it’s just an occupational hazard that I’ll get over in good time.

Saw this advertisement for money exchange in Batumi; notice the sole c-note trying to cover up the abundance of $1. It's like out of a budget rap-video.

Otsi – Speaking of symptoms and remedies, Georgians have quite the theories on how to treat illness. The farther you’re outside of civilization, the stranger it gets. I’ve been fed salt-water, pills that I don’t think are approved by any governing body, and forced to eat frog’s leg stew (that last one is a lie). Other popular remedies include drinking Nabeghlavi (the most popular mineral water in Georgia that cures anything from a broken leg to cancer) and drinking tchatcha to settle the stomach (I’ve not had this suggested to me, but other volunteers have).

This was a shot from outside Mestia; notice the outhouse that leads to stream, that leads to the Enguri River, that leads to the Reservoir outside of Zugdidi

Otsdaati - The causes for sickness that Georgians come up with are even more absurd. Having wet hair in the morning can lead to pneumonia according to some (this has caused issues with volunteers whose mothers insist that they don’t wash their hair in the morning, which for some American girls is like telling them not to shave their upper-lip). Catching cold is another sticking point with many Georgians; they’re like a Jewish mother when it comes to bundling up before you go out. My theory on this is two pronged; 1). Most Georgians think that America is some tropical utopia that never gets cold, so our blood is thin and we’re one layer away from whooping cough (in fact, I have a feeling what I’ll go through here will be a bit colder, and longer but with less snow as compared to a typical Pittsburgh winter) and 2). They care deeply about our well-being and think we don’t know any better (this is a good thing).

I found this picture highly amusing; Luka grabbed my camera and took several photos just like this. What a narcissist; like host-brother like guest-brother, I guess

Ormotsi – The only other male-teacher in my school, Soso, insists I’m getting sick because I drink too much coca-cola (I usually go to the market mid-day to buy a snickers and a coke; but it’s not like I’m some caffeine-crazed teenager), so he’s given me a jar of his family’s honey and showed me how to make honey-water. I’m pretty sure that’s what health-freaks and alcoholics drink when trying to cleanse their system, but I’ve followed suit just to please Soso, who is the only man in Georgia I’ve yet to see raise his voice. Super soft spoken, built like a beanpole, and incredibly intelligent (at least it seems that way), Soso takes it upon himself to treat any foreigner as if they’re family, and with good reason. When his sister moved to Greece and her job fell through, she was taken in by a Greek family who set her up and saved her from homelessness. Sort of a pay-it-forward attitude that I admire, and one day hope to do my own part because I certainly owe somebody something.

This was the stove we used at our guesthouse in Mestia. It took a while to warm up, but the food tasted all the much better realizing it was cooked with wood, fire, and iron.

Ormotsdaati – Since we’re near the topic of school, one thing I’ve noticed that I find endearing beyond belief is how the kids get to school. Most walk in groups, but the younger ones (Year I-III) usually walk with their parents (usually their Deda [Mother]), who actually spend the whole day at school waiting in the hallways and attending to their children during the breaks. It’s a bit odd to constantly see parents hanging out in the hallway on the first floor, but maybe it’s just the first month of school type of thing, or perhaps the parents are just really attached to their young ones here in Bandza (most likely scenario).

Trying to climb a fallen tree in the forest near Mestia. Notice the handy walking stick and fleece wrapped around my waist like Zack Morris circa '90

Samotsi – But back to school commuting; sometimes I see a mama (father) riding his daughter to school sitting on the handlebars of his bicycle. Some of you may think that’s a dangerous safety hazard (to which a Georgian might reply, what’s a safety hazard?), but when you see it in person, it’s so damn cute; with the little girl’s legs dangling off the front end while the father slowly but proudly weaves his way through the streets of Bandza. It’s a thing of poetry. I would love to do that with my daughter someday, although I might get arrested for reckless endangerment if I try it in the States.

This is TLG celebrity Raughley "Snoop" Nuzzi and I rocking what we call our Petroni shirts. When we put these on we turn into overbearing (in a good way) Georgian host-brothers. The joke here is that every man in Georgia owns a shirt just like this.

Samotsdaati – There’s a few things I’ve noticed in class that are good to know, especially when I’m left alone to teach my toughest classes (VII-IX). It’s already gotten to the point where they don’t giggle when I sternly say tchuma (which, I think, means quiet), because they react much better to that than if I say quiet or stop talking in English. The other thing I love, which I haven’t used yet but plan on, is when someone is talking or doing something that might disrupt the class, out of nowhere the teacher yells that students name followed by ra ginda? Literally, it only means what do you want, but in translation it sort of means shut up or why are you talking? Again, these are only for my year VII-IX classes, which are filled with kids who’d rather not be there, and show their dissatisfaction by firing spit balls across the room, constantly trying to sneak notes to each other, and doing anything else to draw attention to themselves. But I’d rather not talk about that here, at least not until I find a solid solution (I want to say don’t leave me alone with them, but that seems lame and weak; not a solution but an aversion). But I’d like to bring up a thought I’ve been pondering since about a week ago when a year XII student asked me, “Were you a good student in school?” I’ve discussed it in brief here, but I was not an exemplary student at the Shady Side Academy Senior School. I was an excellent student until I got to about grade seven and my focus shifted to girls, sports, and things that entertained me (The Simpsons, Conan O’Brien, and terrible movies) rather than burdened me (school work).

This kid rode past us on his horse at break-neck speed on the trail up the side of the mountain in Svaneti, which made me and my walking stick feel like giants panzies.

Otkhmotsi – High school was much of the same thing, as I relied on my natural intelligence and did just enough to float by, which at my school put you in the bottom quarter of the class but still got you into a decent college. There were certain teachers and subjects that caught my attention from time to time (Mr. Murphy’s creative writing class was the first time I realized I actually enjoyed writing while I was always enthusiastic about advanced math [a fact that amazes me now]), but to use the common Australian phrase, I couldn’t be fucked with school. Things changed when I got to college and I had much more free time on my hands, did not have athletic obligations every evening, and got to really explore different subjects and departments (Calculus II made me realize I would not be a math major, while Paul Allen’s English 101 class helped me realize what I’d be doing the next four years). But before college, I was definitely more Steve Sanders than Brandon Walsh (90210 reference). 

A view of Mestia from one of the towers in Svaneti. Now you can take touristy photos, but before you could throw rocks at enemey invaders. How quaint...

Otkhmotsdaati – I can blame time restraints, teachers, or outside influences all I want: mainly a single-parent home and a few rather apathetic friends (although all of my remaining friends from high school were excellent students then, and in turn academically accomplished in college and professionally successful now; in fact, I’m at a loss why they’ve stuck with me this long). But I’m now convinced my immaturity was the root of my youthful lethargy. Trying to figure out why I was that way would take a room full of shrinks and not enough time, so I won’t go into it. But I was not a good student in high school.

This was an Abkhaz refugee named Levan who we met on our way back from Mestia. He struck up a conversation as he spoke a little English, then insisted that he buy us all Cokes and Fantas; only in Georgia will a political refugee buy someone else something

Atsi – Which is exactly what I told my student when she asked. But I came up with what I believe to be a pretty accurate theory on how my experience shaped my future endeavors. I told the class that the reason I became a teacher was to try to atone for my previous lassitude. Again, I don’t want to blame my teachers for my scholarly attitude in high school, but I definitely went to a school where the teachers expected the students to come to them, because those are the type of students Shady Side breeds; self-reliant, motivated, future leaders of America. But I wasn’t ready for that. And I’m pretty sure a majority of 15-18 year olds share the same sentiment. So that’s what I’m doing here right now. First I need to find out if I’m cut out for it, and if I am, then I’ll do everything I can to find those students who just need a little push to get going, because I know they’re out there. It takes one to know one, I guess.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tchatcha Benders, Marshrutka Ghvino, & Tsudi Ludi

German Paul and myself doing our best to extinguish some wine on a Marshrtuka. It's a tradition, don't mess with tradition

So I’m in Bandza for the weekend, which gives me plenty of time to “get some shit down on paper” as Black Jack said in High Fidelity. Amazingly, this is the first weekend that I’ve spent completely in Bandza since school started. I started to get the feeling that my family thinks I don’t want to be here since I fly the coop come 2:20 p.m. every Friday. So I’ll stick around and see what they do in Bandza on Saturdays, but based on what my students tell me (How was your weekend? Good. What did you do? Nothing), it’s not exactly a bee-hive of activity. Maybe I’ll go cow-tipping, because God knows there’s enough targets around here.

This is Pauli and myself drinking the way Georgian men drink, arms locked in an intense stare.

Ati – First things first, because I’ve been getting a lot of flack from my family members recently, let me say that I am not an alcoholic and that, yes, I do know denial is the first sign of a problem (which I never got, because then everybody’s an alcoholic; even Gandhi would have probably said he’s not an alcoholic, although who knows what Gandhi did in his spare time). I guess sometimes I come off as some SEC Frat Boy on this blog (just substituting home-made vodka and wine for kegs of Natural Light and handles of Rebel Yell). But the truth of the matter is I don’t drink all that much. I guess the issue is when I do drink, it’s with reckless abandon (after typing that, I realize that maybe I do have a problem).

This is one of my favorite pictures of me drinking in the streets of Kutaisi. This was one of those rare instances in which a cold Kazbegi tasted damn good.

Otsi – But in all seriousness (if there’s such a thing at GNJB), the only time I drink is when I meet up with other volunteers (often on the weekends), or special occasions (if the family has a visitor, I visit another family, or a suphra). But it’s not the frequency or even the amount of alcohol, it’s the way we drink in Georgia that throws me off. Really, I’m surprised it took this long to get to drinking, because although I’ve mentioned it sporadically, I’ve never devoted much time to the topic.

Another popular way to drink in Georgia, out of a husk. This is me at my Babua's birthday suphra taking down some wine out of the Gabunia husk

Otsdaati - Anyway, Georgians are constantly asking us what we think about: 1) their country (dzalian lamazia = it is very beautiful); 2) their food (dzalian bevri khatchapuri, magram me miqkhvars khinkali = too much khatchapuri, but I love khinkali); and 3) their alcohol (tchatcha da ghvino arian kargi, ludi… ara = tchatcha and wine are good, beer… no). And that’s the truth. I never liked vodka before I came here, not even with mixed drinks (I prefer gin [white drink] in the summer and scotch or whiskey [brown drink] in the winter), but there’s something to that whole “When in Rome…” saying. At first, I could barely stomach tchatcha (which, at the time, resembled a concoction of moonshine, lighter fluid, and pepper-spray), but over time I’ve come to really enjoy it (in moderation of course). It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even wince when taking a shot, which makes quite the impression on Georgian men (despite my age, I’m a teenager in that I still drink to gain popularity).

Me and my buddy Bill. I swear that's me somewhere behind the jug of wine

Ormotsi – But even if I can take tchatcha like a champ, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hit me hard at times. Usually, someone brings out an entire bottle and either you drink until the host says no more (which hasn’t happened yet), they see you’re drunk and peel back (also has not happened yet), or you stop drinking the tchatcha remaining in your glass (and… also hasn’t happened yet; which means that in my experiences, we’ve drank until there’s none left). Just like wine, you toast before every shot of tchatcha (very fun word to type by the way), and just like wine, you don’t need to actually drink after the toast (and if you do drink, you don’t have to finish the shot).

Bill and I doing the Georgian double, arms linked and drinking out of husks. Boom!

Ormotsdaati – But I point to the great maxim of Bill Brasky, Always leave things the way you found them. So I tend to finish my shot unless I clearly feel myself slipping away. But tchatcha doesn’t work that way; you feel fantastic and then all of a sudden you wake up naked next to a gored antelope wondering what happened the previous evening. So I’m working on pacing myself when it comes to tchatcha, because much like Yeager in college, it can do a number on you before you know what’s what.

We met this guy at a cigar bar in Tbilisi, his name was Tomaz, and much like many other Georgian men, he was an engineer and loved to buy other people shots (this one was Tequila if I remember correctly, which I probably don't)

Samotsi – Wine is different, as it’s not as strong, but sometimes it can have the same consequences because if there’s one thing Georgians do well, it’s wine drinking. So you have to pace yourself when drinking wine with Georgians (really, probably a wise sentiment to pace yourself when drinking anything with anybody) and also try not to outdo them because you can wake up the next morning with photos of you dancing without a shirt on (happened to me on my second night here, although that was during a suphra, which is a legitimate excuse [much like weddings in America, you cannot blame anyone in Georgia for getting too drunk at a suphra]) or, in rare occasions, you can possibly insult the host by drinking more then them (men in Georgia share the trait with the men of the world in that they don’t want to be outdone by anybody, especially at their own dinner table).

This was me taking down some French Brandy at the Tbilisis Reservoir. SFP

Samotsdaati – But the wine drunk comes on slower than tchatcha and I can handle it better. More or less, I’m much like everybody else is when they’re drunk on wine: red-lipped and happy, ready to spill my guts to any open ears, and extremely fuzzy. So for the most part I’m harmless, coherent, and—I’d like to think—enjoyable to be around. But my friends and I now have somewhat of a tradition that on long marshrutka rides (and by long, I mean anything over an hour), we bring along a jug of wine (the best 10 lari you can spend), and pass it around like a peace pipe. But that’s only on special occasions. More or less, this is just a heads-up to anyone thinking about visiting me; there will be a jug of shavi ghvino on the marshrutka from Tbilisi back to Bandza; so either don’t come or deal with it! Just kidding (kind of), please come visit me.

Otkhmotsi – The beer here sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But that’s just one man’s opinion, although a majority of Georgians I meet seem to agree with it. Mostly we drink Kazbegi or Natakhtari, which are malty beers that remind me of the forty-ounce beverages the older kids would buy us (and sell at a ridiculous mark-up price) when we were sophomores in high school. And much like Hurricane, Olde English, and Mickey’s, the beers of Georgia make my stomach ache, taste like the remnants of a bar-rag, and give me a hangover that resembles my head being put in a vice Casino style.

Here's another picture of Bill and I doing the Georgian double. Now that I think of it, many of these pictures are of Bill and I, which means that either him or myself are each others 'enablers'

Otkhmotsdaati – So I try to avoid beer, but sometimes it’s the only thing at hand, and it’s also a whole lot easier to drink in a park (no matter how much I may miss certain aspects of America [free wireless internet, a good cup of coffee, the English language], there’s one thing that Europe will always get right: the legal right to drink in public). It’s still a cheap way to drink (although that’s a terrible excuse, and really, it’s tough to find an expensive way to drink in Georgia), and sometimes when served from the tap in an ice-cold mug, Kazbegi can really hit the spot (but to be fair, that was mostly when I first got here and it was hot as the seven levels of Hibernian Hell, we were stuck inside listening to lectures all day, and a seventy cent beer was as close to relaxation as you could get). I guess the lack of quality comes back to supply and demand. Georgians, or at least the ones I’ve met, prefer wine or tchatcha and usually make it themselves (I have yet to meet a Georgian with a home-brewery kit). Or perhaps I’m spoiled having lived in Charleston (surprisingly solid micro-brew scene) and Pittsburgh (my buddy Brody makes the best beer East of the Rockies) for the past six years.

This is me and the family cheers-ing to something or other... do not remember this all that well

Atsi – So I just spent 1300+ words explaining the topic of Georgian drinking and instead of dispelling the notion that I drink too much, I’ve probably convinced most that I should book a room at Betty Ford. But in a last ditch effort to quell any despairing friends and family, I will say that the one thing that’s always kept my drinking in check is responsibility (hangovers and sleeping in/wasting half the day coming in at a distant second and third). I’m responsible for the education of hundreds of children from age eight to eighteen, and I don’t want to show up unprepared or lacking full capacity because I felt like tying one off the other night. Maybe that’s a terrible thought process—that I need a reason not to drink. But I guess it’s better than a reason to drink. Although it’d be nice not to have either.

I’ll leave you with a short passage that I think fits the topic at hand. It’s from All the King’s Men, which I finished earlier this week and already ranks at the top of my all-time list. I won’t go into detail as I hope to have a post up about the books I’ve devoured while here (I’m reading at a very un-Max like pace, which means that I’m actually finishing books after I start them), but All the King’s Men is filled with goodies like this:

There is nothing women love so much as the drunkard, the hellion, the roarer, the reprobate. They love him because they—women, I mean—are like the bees in Samson’s parable in the Bible; they like to build their honeycomb in the carcass of a dead lion.

Out of the strong shall come forth sweetness.

(Again, sorry for the lack of pictures, but my internet, and Opera have been acting up; so you'll have to wait for pictures of me chugging wine in a moving vehicle. SFP)

UPDATE: As an added bonus and a way to freak out my family members, I've added only pictures of me getting blitzed Georgian style. Enjoy!