Saturday, January 24, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: Kaley and I in Batumi

I realized that I have seriously neglected telling some hilarious, interesting stories on my blog, so here is a classic memory that I will cherish forever involving Georgia, strangers, alcohol, and adrenaline-fueled manic laughter. Enjoy  ;)

Once upon a time, my friend Kaley and I went on a trip to the small Caucasian nation of Georgia. The last few days of our trip were spent in Batumi- a resort town on the Black Sea coast, extremely popular since Soviet times.
Our bus from Gori to Batumi
One night we decided to go out for dinner, but didn't have anything specific in mind, so we just strolled around casually looking for a restaurant. We came across a cute, authentic-looking place with affordable prices, so we headed in. After about 10 minutes we realized that while there were several chattering, munching tables, we were the only female patrons...I had a moment where I wondered if this was some kind of man-only club and we were breaking some cultural taboo, but the waitresses were women and they seated us without a problem, so we figured it was okay. We ordered some khachapuri and were chatting about our day when a waitress came by and brought us a big pitcher of wine. In broken Russian we explained that we hadn't ordered wine- turns out it was a gift from the men at the table behind us...huh. Surreptitiously sneaking glances at the table, it was four middle aged men, who seemed to have already been drinking quite a bit. Over the next half hour our relationship progressed from a respectful nod of acknowledgement, to long winded toasts, to everyone crowding around our table, arms around our shoulders. One man was particularly interested in Kaley and kept kissing her (and occasionally my) hand. This man was also hacking up a lung and more or less ruined our appetites with his phlegmy coughs.
as of yet untained khachapuri
We learned the men were some kind of television executives/producers celebrating a work anniversary. They gave several toasts, justifying them and their interest in us by explaining that Georgians have above average respect for women. Since we were the only women eating there, they needed to express their veneration of the female through us. Polite smiles, awkward untranslatable moments, and frequently hinting at our desire for a "girls' night" did not deter these men. One man spoke a little English and was seemingly determined to show off every word he knew so he was just talking nonsense. Kaley's suitor spoke Russian but would frequently slip into unintelligible Georgian and by that point was pretty slurry regardless. After we had sipped some wine, nibbled at our khachapuri, and indulged their toasts for an appropriate amount of time, I asked the waitress for our check, but she said the men had already paid for us...of course now there are mixed feelings of excitement at a free meal, but also a little weariness of ensuing expectations. I extracted myself from the table and approached the waitress.
"How much was the bill? We would like to pay."
"No, no, they already paid for you."
"I understand, but we want to leave...alone...if they pay for us, they will think we owe them something else, won't they?"
"What?!" the waitress seemed shocked, "No, absolutely not! If you want to leave, say thank you and leave. Don't worry, they don't expect anything."
So with considerable relief, I tapped Kaley on the shoulder and gave the signal it was time to leave. After thank yous and goodbyes, we began to back out of the restaurant, but the men tried to invite us to another bar. We only managed to throw off their insistences by claiming we had to meet a friend. When we finally left the restaurant, we weren't free from their grip yet, because they were leaving right behind us. We knew it would have been much more difficult to get them to leave us on the open street, so we picked a direction and booked it before they could find us. We saw them leave the restaurant from down the street, and unfortunately they started in our direction.
So we did the only logical thing, and sprinted up a random apartment building stairwell to hide and wait for them to pass.
dance studio!
So here we are, crouched at the top of a dark, dingy, paint-peeling stairwell on top of an oriental-style rug almost black with dirt, and gripped with a pseudo-fear we were overcome with the ridiculousness of the situation. We never for a moment felt like we were in actual danger, never felt threatened by those silly, drunk, friendly men, but were playing characters in an adventure movie in order to avoid an awkward social situation. A clatter of feet passed by and we waited another minute before I started humming the James Bond theme and creeping down the stairway. Finger-gun at the ready I peaked around the corner. I gave Kaley some made-up hand motions to signal "all clear" and she came slinking down the stairs behind me. After one last cursory check we tumbled out of the doorway into the open air and burst out laughing.
We couldn't contain ourselves. The after shocks of adrenaline turning into hyperactivity in our brains and we literally ran and skipped down the wide, empty, off-season streets laughing and yelling like American hyenas.
In our giddy haze we didn't notice a young man in our path. He turned around and smiled, "Why are you laughing?" his English cut through our shrieks.
I forget the exact conversation that ensued, but basically this guy, named Tengo, turned out to be studying English...but his skills were, uh, still developing, so he called his friend who had lived in America and made us talk on the phone with him. Then he invited us for coffee and said he would call his English teacher to see if she wanted to join us.
big feet at the beach
On the way to coffee, we passed a building with loud traditional Georgian music coming out, so I peeked my head in the window- and it was a dance class! Suddenly the women inside looked at me, and they yelled something. My first instinct was "Oh shoot, get outta here," but Tengo translated that they actually invited us inside! So, thanks to our new friend we got to sit and watch a private performance of both modern and traditional dance! It was one of the coolest and most spontaneous things I did in Georgia.
Coffee with Tengo was, honestly, quite difficult since his English teacher was unable to join us and there was a significant language barrier, but I'm so glad we did it, because the next day we met up with Tengo again and he drove us all over the city! He even bought us each a big English hardcover illustrated book with Georgia's most famous epic poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin!

So, that's like 50% of what happened in Batumi, and some pretty awesome times with really cool people. 

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