Well, its getting difficult to find any peace and quiet in which to think and write blogs, but I’m going to continue anyway! I’ve taken to writing when I’m downstairs in what is a cold, but the warmest room in the house, and is where the family generally hang out until they go upstairs to watch Russian television. Don’t be fooled when I say Russian television, as its really not as exciting as it sounds, and is basically just home videos of people having serious fights in Russia, which my host dad really seems to enjoy watching!
The main reason why its difficult to think and write is because the children are either reading aloud from their text books, or are asking me mundane questions about things that are in English (or in my host sister’s case in Spanish, which she has decided to teach herself at the same time as learning English!). She has just interrupted me to tell me that she is reading a dictionary and that the word for louse is the same in both English and Spanish!! Its hard to continually be excited by such interruptions, especially when she is so passionate about languages. But I really wish she would concentrate on basic English and understanding words like dog and cat, than learning words that are rarely used or archaic, as is often the case. If she is not speaking to me about random words then she is memorising large chunks of history text from her school book, which is something that teachers in Georgia seem to regularly give for homework!
Don’t get me wrong. I love my host sister and my family, but sometimes its hard to get excited about English grammar 24 hours a day! Sometimes I just don’t want to speak English and I really miss my peace and quiet. I’m amazed that the children get anything done really, as they seem easily distracted and no one gets time or quietness, things which I consider vital for my own understanding and learning!!
But thats not what I wanted to blog about. Instead, I want to tell you about yesterday. So, I already told you that when a person dies there is a funeral, and that there are supras (Georgian parties) on the 7th day, 40th day, and after one year. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited to a 40th day supra.
Basically when a person dies, they get buried and on this first event, they are walked through town in either an open or closed coffin depending on what state the deceased person was in. I have seen this once, and it involved a person wrapped in a sack cloth and string, being transported in a white van with back doors open, followed by a procession of people adorned in black and walking behind the van. The person at the front is usually a child, and on this first occasion carries a basic wooden cross with the person’s name, surname, and father’s name, and date of birth and death written on it. The child is at the front, followed by all the women, and all the men follow at the back. Everyone is in rows, and passers by will stop to show their respect. Once they have walked to the church, there will be a ceremony, and then the person is buried, and earth piled on top to make a small mound. I haven’t been to this part of the ceremony so I can’t comment more. But my host sister informed me that the cross carried at the front of the procession by the child, is then put into the mound of soil, and wreaths and flowers are laid. The closest relatives, such as the wife of a husband who died, will usually wear black for one year and will refrain from pleasurable activities such as going to the theatre, for one year. After the burial, there is a supra, but the food is less sweet and more savoury items are provided. There is a special building used for such supras, and is used for weddings and burials, and I think for babtisms too.
On the 40th day after the death, people meet at the deceased person’s house or family home, and mostly wear black, but it is not always necessary, and jeans and leather jackets don’t seem to be out of place at all. This is what I went to yesterday, and is the reason why my family had to cancel our weekend excursion with Helen’s family as there was so much to prepare in terms of food.
So, I arrived at the house of Giuli at around 10am, and have to admit that I wasn’t really in the mood, as there was a lot of talking in Georgian and I was tired, so it was pretty boring. The person who died was Giuli’s husband’s mother (aka mother-in-law). Though I am certain that Giuli was the one who did all the work and it just as well have been her mother as her husband didn’t seem to do very much. Giuli’s two sons who are both training to be dentists in Tbilisi were also there, and it was interesting to see how proud the men were when Giorgi (one of the sons) showed off his gun and shot a couple of sparrows in the garden. I didn’t like this at all and it seemed a bit pointless, but it seemed to highlight him as a man, and on the whole he seems like a pretty nice guy, and my little sister adores him. There were many small children around, and a couple of my students from school.
After what felt like several hours, we left the house in a procession towards the cemetery. There was a little boy at the front, and he was holding to his chest a wooden framed photograph of the deceased. He looked very serious and responsible, and somewhat akin to an usher from the old days in England or from Oliver Twist! Behind him were the ladies, many of whom were old grandmothers with headscarfes and wooden walking sticks, and behind them were the men. I felt strange to be part of the procession, especially so close to the front, as I never met the deceased, but I was proud when my grandmother introduced me to several other people at the house as a family member and was clear that I was family and not a guest! I put on a solemn face as this is what I would do in the UK at a funeral, but was surprised to hear people chatting and laughing, and talking on mobile phones!! I was especially impressed at the Georgian women who were in ridiculously high heeled shoes, yet were walking downhill through mud and over large rocks, whilst I was struggling in my flat soled boots. How no one broke an ankle I will never know!
Ten minutes later, we reached the cemetery, which was quite large and had two sections, one for more recent deaths and one older one which was now full. The little boy put the photograph of the deceased lady against the cross on her mound of earth, and close family and friends gathered around the mound of soil. Others stood back (mostly men). The old ladies in their headscarves started to sing eery traditional songs in Georgian, and people lit and placed small church candles into the mound of soil. The old wreaths were removed, and red carnations were placed on the mound, all equally distributed.
What surprised me during this time, was that my host sister and a few others went to the grave behind the one we were visiting and lit candles. Apparently this was the grave of a friend who had been killed in a car crash four months after his wedding, but his new wife had fortunately survived the crash. My host sister then took me into the older section of the graveyard/cemetery and showed me the family burials, and we lit candles for them. Just like the graves I had seen in Signaghi, these also had marble headstones with pictures of the deceased on them. The grave yard was pretty cluttered with burials, and many families seem to have family plots and get buried together. There are often railings around the plot, and between plots are benches and tables where people traditionally come after Easter to have food and wine and to eat with their dead.
At this 40 day ceremony, the wreaths from the initial ceremony on the 7th day are set on fire, and the cross is removed after one year, when a final headstone and grave is built. This wooden cross will then remain in the corner until it has rotted away. The photograph is then removed the same time as it is placed by the cross, and is taken to the supra and then home, where it is put up on the wall. A black plaque is put up on the front of the house showing the name of the deceased and the date of birth and death, and is left on the front of the house for one year.
After the ceremony, we were very hastily bundled into a white minibus, and my host sister stood in the front seat all the way to the supra room, which is close to my school.
I was surprised at the vast expanse that was the supra hall, and there were three long rows of benches, like a proper banquet. There were approximately 100 men at the first table, 100 women and some children at the middle table, and around 100 men at the third table. The room was bright white and looked more like an aircraft hangar, but the tables were laden with home made cakes, fish, sweets, mandarins, karaluki, aubergine slices covered in walnut sauce, and large plates full of black caviar. My host dad and several men and older boys were walking around the tables serving bread and bottles of brightly coloured fizzy drinks, and the women were carrying dishes of potatoes and meat. Sadly, my stomach was still playing up, and despite the large amount of food, I couldn’t really find anything that I fancied, other than some cakes. Much to the annoyance of my grandma and the older women around me who kept shouting at me to “jame”, “jame” (“eat”)!! The men were led my a Tamada who in charge of making the toasts every 5 minutes or so, and I was glad to be on the ladies table as only the men have to stand up and drink a toast. I’m imagining that a large quantity of vodka was drunk as the Tamada was very on the ball! I didn’t see my mum all day as she was working in the kitchen, and I was impressed by how hard and busy my brother and dad were, but I know they relexaxed and enjoyed the food and drink later on. Fortunately I was allowed to leave earlier than everyone else, which my host sister was pleased about as it meant she could also be excused and meant she could make a start on her homework!
Overall, it was really interesting, and I was surprised to learn that the food gets sweeter with every ceremony after the death. I know my family lost their grandfather in February of this year, so we will be holding a 1 year ceremony in a few months, so it will be interesting to see how its different.