Sunday, August 2, 2015

Top 20 Most Memorable Social Interactions in Georgia

Sometimes when I reflect on my time here as a whole, or when I try and think of the type of atmosphere I'm looking for in a cafe or restaurant to sit at, certain experiences stand out in my mind. I thought I would collect them here to show a sliver of what life is really like in the most beautiful, pure moments of human interaction.

In no particular order...

1. The hole in the wall "khachapuria" in Signagi

While overall I wasn't a huge fan of Signagi, the so-called "city of love" due to its 24/7 wedding registration office, I had one very interesting morning there. I was staying at a guest house that was more like a family hotel, more upscale (and more expensive) than my usual style. To counterbalance that, although breakfast was offered for 5 lari, I went to go find a cafe early Saturday morning (for the record- 5 lari is about $2, and I was confident I could get breakfast for less than that...Georgia is ridiculously affordable). I looked online and found one place that seemed perfect, but when I arrived at 9:30 it was closed, so I wandered around town for a while, and returned thinking maybe it opened at 10...but no. So I wandered around for another hour looking for another cafe that might be also good, but didn't find anywhere I liked, so I came back to the first cafe at 11...still not open. Finally I gave up, and by this time my head was starting to hurt from not eating, so I popped into a small, empty storefront advertising khachapuri in the window. Inside were just a few wooden tables and benches, and a small counter with piles and piles of hot, fresh khachapuri. I tentatively called out a "gamarjoba?" (hello) and a small, brown woman appeared from a back door. She quickly realized I didn't speak Georgian as I managed to say "coffee and khachapuri" before she sat me down and poured me a double portion of Turkish coffee and a fluffy, flaky penovani khachapuri. This lady called out to her colleague, and before I knew it they were both sitting across from me, watching me eat, smiling and nodding. We quickly exhausted my narrow Georgian, and mercifully a group of middle aged men came into the shop just then. Fueled by their happy surprise that an American girl had found her way into their little bakery, it basically became a bunch of locals fawning over me, giving me coffee and coke, and telling me I was beautiful. Wonderful morning.

2. Lika and I's most personal conversations

At my internship, at the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi, I share an office with a wonderful young woman named Lika. We get along so well. She is sharp and clever, has interesting and intelligent opinions on foreign policy and domestic politics, and she's funny. We have great conversations about Georgian culture, and she helps me better understand society. She also helps me with girl stuff like where to buy bathing suits and what kind of makeup is cool. She is always patient with me when she has to translate Parliament sessions and more or less be my babysitter as I take meetings in various departments. We also bond over the moments when we realize neither of us have any work to do when we start liking each others Facebook photos from across the room. I'll miss you, Lika! <3

3. Armenian-Georgian home restaurant/jammery in Borjomi

 An excerpt from this post

"After my stroll in the park and sampling the medicinal Borjomi waters, I stopped for lunch at a "restaurant" that was just in a house owned by two old ladies. They also sold me a jar of pine cone jam, a local specialty. Pine cones do not taste great- woody and kind of minty and bitter, but apparently they cure sickness and I've had a cold for the past two weeks so I'm willing to try anything at this point. During lunch I was playing with their adorable granddaughter, who was baffled by my stupidity as an adult who can't speak Georgian, and the women decided that since I got along well with the little Natalia, I must be ready to get married. The typical series of questions ensued- you like Georgia? You like Georgian food? You want to stay in Georgia? You must marry a Georgian man. Then, when they saw my cross necklace, their excitement went into hyperdrive. They got so excited that I am a kargi gogo (good girl) that they started thinking of who in Borjomi I could marry, and they were literally about to call people to come court me, but I managed to escape by saying I had to catch a marshrutka back to Tbilisi, but promising that next time I'm in Borjomi I will go back to them and let them find me a husband. So I can never go back to Borjomi."

4. Meeting sociologist Davit in Akhaltsikhe 

I describe the circumstances of our meeting halfway through this post 

Davit playing tourist
Davit is really a great person. He doesn't speak English, so we spoke Russian, but instead of being awkward or difficult, I hardly even noticed it wasn't my native language. He just happened to use the exact set of vocabulary I know! We got along comfortably, and we were able to discuss the good and bad things about Georgian culture. Those conversations where I can so openly express my opinions and have a local respond not with blind defensiveness but with civil debate are the most genuine and meaningful.

5. Being waited for all night by Aslan in Vladikavkaz
"I love Vladikavkaz" in Ossetian

(yes I know this isn't Georgia)
I haven't written about my trip to the Caucasus yet, but my first night in Vladikavkaz was awesome. When I got to the hotel, I met the owner, Aslan, and asked where I could find good Ossetian pirogi. He told me that he would take me later when the workday ended, but I kind of laughed, thinking he was more or less kidding. I spent the day touring the city, walking around, and returned to the hotel around 9:30 pm. There I found Aslan sitting on the front steps, apparently waiting for me. He teasingly yelled at me for making him wait, asking where I'd been, and then very quickly turned around and yelled some stuff in Georgian. He told me to grab my bathing suit and be ready in 10 minutes...I didn't ask questions, and it turned out to be a super cool night! Aslan waiting for me was indicative of him being so excited to show me his city, and valuing me as a guest and a friend.

6. When my neighbor told me I would be too old to get married in 2 years

I don't really know why I liked this conversation so much, I should probably be kind of offended or maybe even worried, but I guess it was just very amusing. 

My neighbor didn't realize I was leaving in August, and when she found out, she said,
"No, stay!"
"I would love to, but I have to go finish university"
"Oh come on, there are universities here! Why don't you stay? We'll find you a good Georgian husband," 
"Maybe when I graduate in 2 years I'll come back and you can find me a husband then"
"Two years? You will be too old!"  
*cue laughter*

7. When people say "не уежай" in unison
Не уежай means "don't leave" or "don't go." There have been a few moments where I've been discussing my leaving and the people I'm with kind of beg me not to go. Honestly, they probably don't care that much, but it feels good to think that people like me enough to want me to stay.

-The random guys I met in Grozny
-My neighbors
-Friends in Vladikavkaz
-Friends in Kazbegi

8. When I charmed a world champion wrestler in Vladikavkaz

(also not Georgia)
Again, I'll write a full post about Vladika, so I don't want to give too much away, but more or less I met a guy when he was sitting in a car and I was walking. We started a conversation, and I kept trying to leave, but he kept saying "no, wait!" because he thought I was super interesting and intriguing (obviously). And we just went through this little loop for about 30 minutes until I gave in and graced him with my company. (Turns out that guy is the 2009 f
reestyle wrestling world champion and was in the Olympics)
9. When I was offered a job in Grozny

school I could have worked at

(still not Georgia)
The owner of a language school that teaches English, Arabic, and French asked me to be not only an English teacher at his school, but run the entire English program with conversation clubs, regular classes, and cultural events. Right now interest in English language and American/British culture is booming in Chechnya, and he is really trying to capitalize on the trend and seize the moment. He offered to sponsor my visa and find me housing and everything. This guy is also Ramzan Kadyrov's English translator...

10. When I bonded with my awesome waitress in Kutaisi

I was alone. I was chatty. The restaurant was full, but my waitress was so cool and took the time to talk with me. Tatia is cute and bubbly and so candid. She earned a degree in Tbilisi in psychology and religion, but couldn't find a job there so she moved back home to Kutaisi and works as a waitress everyday, making way less than minimum wage. She says she wants to move to Germany, but she doesn't know if or when she'll have the money to be able to do it.

11. When I had a rom-com quality meet-cute with Dima 

I was at the gym late one night, and saw a very cute, very buff guy. We made eye contact a few times, but of course my workout comes first (lol) so I more or less ignored him. Then, as he was walking into the locker room he took off his shirt and I passed out for about 30 seconds. By the time I took a shower and got dressed (as is mandated here), I left the gym about 10 minutes before closing and this guy was nowhere in sight. Fast forward 15 minutes and I enter the metro, who do I see standing on the opposite side of the platform but HOT GYM GUY! How ironic- we end up in the same place, but he's going the opposite direction. I gave him some furtive glances, trying to confirm it was the gym guy, wondering if he remembered me. As my train came, however, he crossed the platform onto my train!!! Then he transferred lines at the same time as me...then he got on the next train going the same direction as me!!! As we stood on that platform, he was probably 10 meters away from me, separated by a sea of people, and I just openly stared at him. At that distance he was pretty blurry, and I could tell his head was turned in my direction, but couldn't tell if he was looking at me or not. I awkwardly forgot that my far vision sucks and he could probably see my face perfectly...the whole situation was pretty unexpected and interesting, and I couldn't help but giggle. When I smiled, he smiled back, and it was like "oh shoot, he definitely could tell I was staring at him the past 2 minutes." I quickly faced forward, cheeks burning, and suddenly he was standing right next to me, smiling. My first thought when I saw him was that he looks kind of like a Russian pop singer I love Dima Bilan...and turns out his name is actually Dima!

We quickly found out there was a pretty significant language barrier...but, honestly, not ever going further then that meeting is  probably the best case scenario anyway. We're friends on Facebook, though, so thanks for the romantic memory, Dima.

12. Every time the adorable neighbor kids tell me they love me

They seriously love me. They have chalked all over the outside walls of my house and the facing wall, they have painted me a heap of pictures, one girl has made me a handful of jewelry and little toys out of rubber bands, and every single time she sees me, Natali comes running at me screaming just to hug me and have me say "how are you?" in Georgian.

13. Basically every moment in Kazbegi

In particular, every time
Shalva gives me his sassy attitude. Shalva is the sassiest 15 year old boy I've ever met. I want to write a post just praising his awesomeness. When I hug him he freaks out and makes the sassiest face, and me and his mom laugh, but I know he loves me too. Riyana, if you're reading this- you and Shalva are a match made in Heaven, please marry him and unite our families. 

14. When my landlord/neighbor/coolest guy ever heard me talking on the phone, clearly very annoyed, with a guy. He asked who the guy was, if he was bothering me, and offered to "take care of him" for me

That's basically the whole story. He's my patroni, I secretly decided

15. When I told my landlord/neighbor/coolest guy ever that I would pay my rent tomorrow since I'm leaving so soon and he said "the money does not concern me, it is just such sadness that you are leaving" (I still have to pay my rent, tho...)

16. When our NATO bus crashed and we all bonded on the side of the road in a field outside Gori

17. When I asked a police officer in Grozny for directions and we chatted about life for 20 minutes

(not Georgia...)
I think he was just bored. He was a nice guy.

18. When the FSB officer interrogating me at the border leaving Russia showed some vulnerability and we shared a moment

Sneak pic of the Russian border

(are most of these not actually Georgia??)
There were definitely some aspects of our conversation that seemed to me like curiosity feigned for the sake of getting information about my personal life, but he admitted to me that even though his job means he's forbidden to leave Russia, he has a dream to travel the world. He said he does this work despite its restrictiveness because he's a patriot. I told him that I'm also a patriot, but I believe you can see the world and learn about other places and people and still serve your country. Then he asked me what life is really like in America. He said he didn't believe the movies and TV shows, and I told him that a lot of what you see about daily life is pretty accurate. It seemed like he wanted me to say that life was really terrible in most parts of the country. I told him the truth- that most places have a very high quality of life, and overall I think quality of life is higher than in Russia, but of course no matter where you live money is very important, and if you are in America and impoverished, your life will probably be pretty bad. 

19. Nastya

A true friend. A wonderful girl. She is Ukrainian living in Georgia, and we bonded right away. She has been my go-to for coffee dates and nights on the town, and she brought into my life in Georgia excitement, surprise, fun, and sisterhood. Love you, beautiful girl <3

20. Spontaneous trip to Kazbegi with the bichebi 

Before I realized the  truth of Georgian friendship (cue bitterness) these guys were my bros. We went out drinking one Friday and decided to head to one of the guy's vacation homes in Kazbegi the next day. Despite the fact that I had been in Kazbegi the weekend before and I had been planning on going to Borjomi that morning...I decided to take the change of plans as an adventure and we had a wonderful time in Kazbegi!

1 comment:

  1. When are you leaving Georgia? I'll be in Tbilisi from 4th Sep. Would enjoy a guide by someone who speaks English. All meals, in addition to my charming personality, will be my treat.
    P.s: I'm quirky/eclectic, not creepy.