On Georgian High Life
OK, so I have had one too many Nakhtahari’s today, and the combination of said beer (ludi) and hot weather has made me a little ‘lottie’ (tipsy), but I hope that I can still talk some sense!
It would be fair to say that Georgia has received a lot of bad press recently, and most of it undeserved. Many of you new folk may be reconsidering your plans to come and teach in Georgia, and many of you may be wondering why on earth I would stay in such a God forsaken place, with riots and protests, etc.
So, I wanted to share an average day with you, to give you some idea of how life is as a foreigner in Georgia….
An Average Day in My Life in Georgia
Today was nothing special, just a normal day. I got up, I went to school, nothing extraordinary there. After school I went to visit my host brother’s school because it was his last day of term and he had an open class where parents could come and watch a lesson. He then went to the hairdressers for a trim, and the driver took us home, where we were met by the cleaner, who had tidied my entire room, mopped the floors, and folded my sheets and pyjamas in a way which I still have no idea how to do. Oh yes, and she had baked a cake! Not just any cake, but the Dolce and Gabana of cakes, filled with cream, and strawberries, and with about ten layers of delicious sponge! It was probably about the size of a dustbin lid, and god knows how many calories, but it was yummy. Why??? Just because, she wanted to!!
Georgians and Homeliness
Georgians are very, very houseproud! And our cleaner is a part of the family, and a really kind lady, who speaks Georgian faster than anyone I have ever met, and who pushes me hard to learn Georgian! Many families have drivers and cleaners in the city, and those who don’t, generally have a relative who does such things. In the village, it was my ‘bebia’ or grandmother who did this, and no matter how tidy I thought I had left my room, I was always a bit embarrassed to find that my poor old grandmother had still found something to clean or to tidy! I would make my bed every morning and take out any creases from the cover, but somehow my hospital corners were just not quite right, and she always performed one better than me!!
It’s a lovely thing, to come home to everything clean and tidy, and to know that it was done with a kind heart because they wanted you to feel at home. I never had such treatment in the UK, and it has taken a long time to get used to, but its also a real time saver and feels like you are staying in the poshest of hotels when you find your pyjamas folded perfectly under the pillow! I feel incredibly lucky to be living the life I live now, and to know that everything that is done for me, is no longer done begrudgingly, but is done with kindness and care, and likewise I no longer find myself tutting at the thought of doing something for someone, but now its a real pleasure, because I know that its mutual.
After the hairdressers and some coffee, we drove home, and my host mum went back to work, whilst I had some ice cream and strawberries and did a bit of work for school, before getting ready to venture back out for the evening.
So Many Invitations!
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the 4th International Wine and Spirits Fair, to be held at ExpoGeorgia in Tbilisi between 2nd and 4th June, from 11am to 6pm. The first two days were for professionals, and the final day was open to the General Public. I have had a professional interest in wine for some years now, and in the UK I was employed by Oddbins Ltd and Nicolas from France, so I was often paid to taste wine and spirits and to provide advice on wines, and received formal training. I have forgotten most of my knowledge now, and am out of practice with tasting, so it is nice to get back into it, and I hope to spend some time over summer learning about Georgian wines, because they were not covered in my training.
Redjeb Jordania in Conversation
At 7pm, I had an invitation to go to Prosperos in Rustaveli to attend a talk by Georgian author Redjeb Jordania, and some other authors. I like the set up of Prosperos, and it is a great idea to have a bookshop and café dedicated to the English language, and is the only one of its kind in Georgia, and a good place for foreigners and expats to make friends with other people from their own culture. But in general I avoid it because it is usually full of volunteers who do nothing but complain about the project and discuss who has been sleeping with who. Don’t get me wrong, I like the other volunteers and they are nice enough people, but for me I would prefer not to take part in such talk as its often the easiest subject for volunteers to fall into, and frankly, its all a bit dull, when one could be out there enjoying the amazing things on offer in Georgia. If I had wanted to spend time with English speakers, I would have stayed in England! I’m also sick of hearing people tell me that its alright for me, or its easier for me, because I am in Tbilisi, or because I have the best host family, or whatever.
Its all in the Attitude, Non?
I do have an amazing host family, and I am loving being in Tbilisi, but I also had opportunities when I lived in one of the poorest villages in Georgia, and I have friends who have been snowed in for months during their time in the mountainous villages, and they have still managed to achieve the most amazing things in their school or in their community, and its because they look at the positives and search for solutions, rather than focusing on all the things they don’t have, that they had in America, or in Canada, or whatever. I am a firm believer that we make our own luck in this world. Nothing has been offered to me on a plate.
Yes, my school is in Vake, a rich area, but my school has one of the crumbliest buildings I have seen, and I have seen far better schools in some of the poorest villages. I have been to private schools in Georgia, which have beautiful floors and walls, and a photocopier, but the standard of English lessons is not as high as my school, where the native (Georgian) teachers love teaching and have that special passion about them. They don’t get even half of the salary of a Private school teacher, but I never hear them complain about their salary of 300GEL a month. If you don’t put the effort in, then you won’t get the opportunities, its simple. If you only hang out with people who are foreigners, then how will you have any chance for cultural exchange, or to learn about Georgia? The ironic thing for me, is that my Georgian friends like Prosperos because its an easy way for them to meet and hear native English speakers! Whilst I prefer Georgian places because its difficult for me to have opportunity to hear and to speak Georgian, especially when I am teaching English all day every day!
A Little Piece of Arabia, in Tbilisi!
At almost 1am, I was home and working on my book about Batumi (I need to focus more on that right now, with the deadline looming!), but was starting to feel a bit bored, and in need of some chill out time. So I hooked up with some friends, and we headed to the ‘Marrakech’ café on Chardin Street in old town Tbilisi for a cup of tea. The street was originally named Dark Row on account of it being a narrow street, and full of workshops, hence it was dark. But in 1863, it was renamed Chardin Street, after a visit by French Explorer Jan Chardin (). I don’t particularly like Chardin Street in the day time, because it is full of tourists, art galleries and souvenir shops, and the prices are the highest of anywhere in Georgia. But, by night, it is a cool place to sit outside in the fresh air, and is full of Georgians chatting and smoking. Its also just off of my two favourite streets in Tbilisi, Bambis Rigi, or ‘Cotton Row’ which is historically very interesting as it was a row of trading shops, and still has the coat of arms on the wall, from the Mantashev family (). And Sioni Street, where King Rostom built a caravanaserai in 1659, which he gave to the Bishop of Tbilisi, and which housed a swimming pool and beautiful ‘ezo’ or yard, and where travelling people could come and rest, free of charge, and trade their wares from Europe and Asia, including silks and gold. There are several night clubs here, including ‘Safe Lounge’ and it is very much the place where the cool kids hang out of an evening. Soon, there will be a ‘Buddha Bar’ opening up in the capital, which I am very excited about, especially if it is anything like the Buddha Bars in Paris or Lebanon, which are my favourite clubs in the world (). We didn’t stay too long, just enough for a drink and to start to feel sleepy, before heading back home to bed.
The Marrakech Cafe is a lovely little place, and very cosy. The seats are white coloured and comfy and covered in Arabic and golden cushions, and the décor is pretty cool, with quirky concrete shelves, and brightly coloured materials hung on the sealing like a Bedouin Tent, and large wooden and golden candle sticks. Its popular with both natives and foreigners and has a lovely atmosphere. Its especially nice in the evening (if you can get a table and they are not already reserved), and the air was full of the smell of hooker pipes and strawberry tobacco.
The smells really reminded me of my travels to the Middle East, to Dubai, to Jordan, to Lebanon, and of drinking peppermint tea with sugar in the desert of Wadi Rum, where I lived with Beduoin people, and in the Burj Al Arab where I was fascinated to watch men in dresses and head gear, pouring tea from elaborate silver teapots, and having business meetings whilst sharing hooka pipes.
It’s a funny thing. Because Georgia is supposed to be a Middle Eastern country, but it really doesn’t feel like it, and London probably feels more Middle Eastern to me than Georgia. Especially if you visit somewhere like Selfridges with its Arabian shoppers and gold jewellery for sale. Georgia has nothing that reminds me of the Middle East (apart from the ‘Marrakech’ Café!), not the people, not the buildings, not the food, nor the weather. In Spain and France you have hints of other countries influences on the culture, but this really isn’t apparent in Georgia.
Are Georgians European or Middle East in Character??
To me, Georgian people are a cross between the Irish in their warmth and humour, and the Italians in their use of hands whilst talking and their style, passion, and love for coffee shops and beautiful things. They are more European than even the French or the Spanish with their Arabic influences. Their language is unique, and their traditional dress is nothing like anything I have seen from the Middle East. In many ways they remind me more of Celts, and a lot of the architecture and patterns could be easily confused with something Celtic, probably because of the shared history and pagan influence. Even the history feels more Roman or Greek. They have statues to the God Medea, and believe that Medicine comes from Medea who lived in Georgia and used to heal people with the herbs she grew. There is also the culture of wine, which you don’t find so much in the Middle Eastern coutries, and Georgian wine is nothing like what I have tasted in the vineyards of Lebanon, and is made in a completely different way too. In Georgia, wine and religion go hand in hand, and wine is like the blood of Georgians, but not so in the Middle East. In Italy yes, but the Middle East no.
So, there you have it, an average day for me. But, I don’t believe there is such a thing as an average day in Georgia, and plans never go as you expect them too, because Georgia is the land of spontaneity!