This blog does not represent the position of the United States government or the Peace Corps as to any matter. All expressions of fact or opinion contained herein are solely those of Mark and Lisa Lebowitz and of no one else.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A little of this and a little of that.................................

The traditional Georgian birthday party includes a supra. Recently we were invited to a birthday party for our 10 year old neighbor. Mari is a sweet girl who lives across the street. In many ways the birthday party format here is the same as it is for a 10 year old's birthday party at home---presents, food and fun; but in other ways there are differences. There were 10 children at Mari's party. The party was held at 3:30, after school in the middle of the week. To begin with, everyone sat down to a big supra with all the traditional foods. The foods are always the same and are served in copious amounts including, among other things, lavashi bread, eggplant with walnut sauce, mayonnaise rice salad, salty cheese, a pickle plate, roast chicken legs, grilled pork on skewers, tomatoes, cucumbers, khachapuri, homemade wine and sweet peach, pear or tarragon soda called "lemonati". There is never enough room on the table so the food dishes are typically stacked on top of one another. Keep in mind that all these 10 year olds eat next to nothing, especially the girls. After the beverages were poured each child stood and presented a toast to honor the birthday girl. For 10 year olds, the toasts were quite impressive, many touching upon some of the fine things in Mari's character. After all the the food was served, Mari's mother played traditional Georgian songs on the piano, and Mari danced several traditional dances by herself. She was then joined by a friend who danced with her. Next, the only boy at the party danced the traditional dances with her. After the dancing, Mari opened her presents. Most of them were religious icons of one sort or another. Every Georgian has a collection of religious pictures honoring various saints, Christ and Mary. They are proudly displayed everywhere in their homes, car and school classrooms. Mari was thrilled with her gifts.

Next the boom box was turned on to the local pop station and the kids danced once again. Before long they were all running around in the yard screaming and having fun. We stayed around to talk with the Grandparents for a little while. As we were leaving we tried to find the kids to say goodbye. They were on a second floor porch in the rear of the house. They were taking turns jumping a gap of about 4 feet to the roof of the neighbor's outhouse next door. In America, the parents would have had a heart attack, but in Georgia it was just your typical kid's birthday party!

Another interesting birthday party was one that we witnessed one day in a small restaurant at lunchtime. Next to our table was a long table with about 14 young boys aged 13 or 14. Apparently it was the birthday of one of the boys. Soon the supra food began pouring out of the kitchen along with multiple pitchers of wine. The boys proceeded to toast the guest of honor in the same fashion as men do. Soon the alcohol started to take effect and the crowd became quite loud. We left before the festivities were over and went to the bank next door. We later saw all the boys outside the restaurant, hooting, hollering and carrying on. No fake proof needed here!

In walking around Georgia you always see women (and often men) walking arm in arm. They are very physical with one another. Sometimes my teachers will preen me when I talk with them or put their arm around me as we walk down the hall. In class the girls will often sit two to a chair even when there are enough chairs for everyone to have their own.

Recently we were returning home from Tbilisi after our vacation. After leaving the airport we took a one hour local bus to the center of the city, and at 6 pm we were lucky to find a waiting marshutka (beat up 17 passenger van) heading to Zugdidi. We settled in but had to wait until they filled 1 more seat before the marshutka would go. I was squeezed between Mark and a twentysomething young woman who told the driver she was going to Khobi, about 30 minutes short of Zugdidi. I struck up a conversation with her and explained that our organization had placed two PCVs in Khobi, but she did not know them. Other than that brief exchange, we did not speak, although we did share an orange I had. As the 6 hour ride progressed it began to get dark and sort of cold. The next thing I knew my seat mate grabbed my wrist and snuggled her hand up the inside of my sleeve for warmth and put her head on my shoulder. We were totally cuddled up! I tried to kick Mark so he could get a glimpse of what was happening, but I was afraid I would get my new friend's attention as well. As it turned out Mark was asleep anyway. The woman from Khobi and I continued to ride "snuggled up" for the next 4 hours. Eventually, we reached Khobi at around 11:30 and she said good-bye and left. It was an interesting ride.

Yesterday I worked on a committee with a very pregnant Georgian woman. I asked her how she was feeling and when the baby was due. She informed me it was a boy. I asked what his name will be. She told me that Georgians never name their babies before they are born.

This brings me to something I wanted to share on the blog----typical Georgian names. For girls, the most predominant name is Nino. Somewhere around 30% of all girls are named Nino, after St. Nino. With the name Nino you get two special days a year rather than just one-----your birthday and St. Nino's birthday. Other typical girl names are Salome, Eka, Nana, Mari, Madonna, Tamuna, Khatuna, Natia, Irma, Maia, Asmat, Teo, Sopo, Keti, Rusidan, Tsira, Elena, Gvantsa,Tika, Marika and Medea.

For the boys, Georgi is the equivalent of Nino in terms of popularity. Other popular names include Paata, Beso, Gocha, Kakha, Kakho, Misha, Ansor, Lado, Lasha, Uri, Tengiz, Mamuka, Dato, Todua,Tornike, Zviad, Nodari, Akaki, Irakli, Nato, Dimitri and Levani.

My strength in remembering names is weak to begin with , but once all these names got added to the mix...........let's just say it has been a challenge!

Georgians live together with their extended families. The eldest son will move his wife in with his parents and raise his family there and the house will become his eventually. If his father has any sisters who have never married they will be living there as well. Often the family has other relatives who live in a village outside of town. These relatives often come and stay with the family for short and sometimes extended periods of time for one reason or another. Such is the case in our family. One day an older woman I would guess to be around 75 appeared at our house and did not leave for several weeks. Upon asking, we were told that she is Eka's cousin from the village, but we are not completely sure if that is the actual relationship even to this day. We also have been calling her Keti for several months but just found out her name is actually Kvati! Kvati is the hardest working old person you have ever seen. She mowed our lawn by hand, cutting it with a very small scythe as she bent over while sitting on a foot stool. She has polished every 100 year old pot in the house until it gleams. She also tilled the entire vegetable garden with a hand held hoe. When she is not doing these things she is out sweeping the street. For some unknown reason Georgian brooms are only about 3 feet long, so when you use one you must stoop over which invariably brings on a snowshoveling type of backache in no time.

By now you are probably wondering why this segment is titled "My New Secondary Project". Well, one day I heard Kvati whimpering as though she was in pain. I went over to comfort her with a hug. She fell into my arms and I started to rub her shoulders. I don't know if she ever had her shoulders rubbed before, but she was so audibly overjoyed that I offered to let her lie on my bed for an official backrub. Well, I gave her a 10 minute backrub pretty vigorously, and she loved it. The next day and every day thereafter until she returned to her Village she would meekly knock at my door and look at me with begging eyes and say something in Mengrelian (the local language which she speaks most of the time). It was pretty clear what she wanted, so as my new secondary project I have become Kvati's personal masseuse. Who wooda thunk????????

Here are a few pictures of Kvati---- by the pechi, in the kitchen and cutting the lawn.

Here are some pictures of Mari's birthday party. In the first picture, some of the kids are displaying the presents they brought to her. Her brother is the tall boy in the rear. The second picture shows the two roofs the kids were jumping between (notice the outhouse roof in the rear). The last photo shows Mari demonstrating her Georgian dance, while her mother plays the piano.