Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
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
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!  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.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Georgians love sunflower seeds. There is not a place in this country—except for the churches—in which Georgians won’t find a way to chew on a couple seeds. You can buy them at any busy street corner in the country, usually from some hunchbacked Bebia (grandma) selling cigarettes, seeds, and possibly condoms. It kind of gives you the feeling that you’re constantly at all a ballgame; you know… if they sold cigarettes and condoms at sporting events.
Another aspect of Georgian culture that makes you feel as if you could be at Fenway or Wrigley: the women selling warm khatchapuri and lobiani from a tray they carry through the bazaars, all the while calling out the names of their product. It gets me every time, sending a slight nostalgic reminder of the ‘Lemonade Here’ guy at PNC Park. But let me tell you something, nothing hits the spot like a warm khabizgina (bread baked with potatoes and cheese) while trying to squeeze your way past haggling Georgians.
I digress; back to sunflower seeds. When outside, people just drop their shells on the ground leaving a nice Hansel and Gretel trail wherever they may be going. But if they are indoors, usually they will collect them in their hands for when they next hit the outdoors. Although that doesn’t mean the marshrutka floors aren’t cluttered with the seeds of former passengers.
The worst are the students at my school, who will sit in class, eat them at a non-stop pace, and drop the remains on the already dirty floor. I’ve tried my best to put a stop to it (especially in Tamari’s own classroom), but it’s kind of hard when the school actually sells them in our own tuck shop (a small room that sells pens, notebooks, lollipops, bread, and of course, packets of seeds).
But the students don’t really care at all about the school because there is no accountability. Every evening, a woman goes through the entire school and sweeps the place clean (side note: can’t they make brooms with longer handles for the women here? There’s a reason any woman over seventy is hunched over walking with a cane, and it’s because their brooms are the size of most people’s dust brooms).
So what’s the problem with dirtying the school if someone else is going to come through it every night to clean? What a wonderful message they’re sending to the youths of Georgia: Drop your garbage wherever. Someone else will clean it up for you. Maybe that’s the reason why the roadsides are cluttered with trash and there isn’t one public garbage can or dumpster within a ten kilometer radius of my village. But really, who doesn’t like the smell of burning garbage that constantly wafts through the air of Samegrelo?
I’d like to talk to my director about organizing a once a week crew made up of students that would help with cleaning. Although I feel like I might get a response along the lines of Why? That’s what we have the cleaning lady for. Another motto for Georgia: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, just put some tape on it.
Editor’s note: In true Georgian fashion, I don’t know what’s wrong with the Blog and why it looks this way, but until I get some overwhelming complaints or the problem doesn’t right itself, then I’m not going to do anything. This place is getting to me.
Friday, December 3, 2010
On Saturday, the US Rugby team played the Georgian team in Tbilisi for a friendly match. Unlike their football team, Georgians love their rugby team because it’s somewhat internationally significant. Their team recently won the European championship and ranks fifteenth in the world, one spot behind the America team, which was much to my surprise since I always thought we were terrible; but really, how many countries even have Rugby teams? But it’s not surprising since rugby blends two things that Georgians love: men and contact.
I would have gone to the match at the national stadium in Tbilisi if I didn’t have a birthday to attend on Saturday night. Based on how many people were in attendance, it wouldn’t have been difficult to get a ticket; the crowd wore a blue and yellow shirt. Apparently the Georgian’s support hasn’t translated into actual bodies in the seats.
Anyways, since I couldn’t be there, I had three of my fellow Americans over to the house to watch it with my family. We bought beer (unfortunately, it was Natakhtari, which just happens to sponsor the Georgian Rugby Team; they don’t really have much selection at the markets in Bandza) and potato chips, as that’s what you need when watching an American sport’s team, while Ira stuffed us with satchmeli (food) and Khutcha (my cousin) constantly filled our glasses with the family wine. It was the best of both worlds.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about rugby, but it’s not that hard to understand at a basic level if you already know American football (don’t ask me about strategy though). I just wanted to see someone carted off on a stretcher, which nearly happened early on when an American player illegally clotheslined a Georgian player. Pretty sure Lasha spouted some not so flattering names towards the American culprit. If it were you or me, we would have been decapitated, but since the guy was a rugby player he got up after the initial shock had him down and out for a few moments.
Despite not really knowing what was going on, it was still a ton of fun to watch, with the Americans leading for almost the entire match. But Georgia was driving while down 17-12 in extra-time and had the ball near the end zone; the room was at a standstill in anticipation. I could taste the victory when suddenly the power cut out. Immediately, Lasha looked at me and exclaimed “Saakashvili!” It was a classic response.
Eventually Rezi got on the phone with his friend and found out that Georgia had scored, kicked the extra point, and won 19-17 (not quite what Luka predicted: a 24-12 Georgian victory). We didn’t believe him until the power came back on and the game was the top story on the news. As Ian exclaimed, the whole thing seemed staged, let’s cut the power, kill all the Americans, and act as if we won! But much to our chagrin, it was all too real.
I was kind of happy Georgia won anyways, as I really don’t have all that much invested into the American Rugby Team, and I had a feeling a Sakartvelo victory would mean much more to them than an American victory would for us. But my diplomatic stance didn’t stop Luka and Rezi from giving me constant business. Pretty soon we’re going to have a lesson on winning with humility.