Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peace Corps Post #4: Bonding With the Host Brother. Or: Seriously, It Would Be Nice if Someone Offered Me Alcohol At Some Point

Kitri da pamadori. I totally remember “cucumber and tomato.” I also remember several of the other words I was given. Great Success! Except, of course, many many many many many many many new words were given to me today. And I don’t remember very many of them. So it goes.

Today was the first day that I felt like I was actually communicating with my host family. I’m not stringing together stream-of-thought sentences quite yet, but I’m thinking them mere seconds after I actually need to use them, so I can reassure myself that soon I will be able to have an actual conversation in Georgian. I think I’m on the verge of getting everything to click. But I may end up being “on the verge” for weeks or months. Who knows. In any case, I’m pleased with how today went.

After language class this morning (we have four hours of language class even on Saturdays), a few of the small trainee clusters (we have our classes in groups of six called clusters) who are living in Gori met up at the Stalin Museum at the center of town. As I have mentioned previously, Gori is very proud that Stalin was born there. There are Stalin statues all over the city. My language class is held in a building on Stalini Kocha (Stalin Street). The street is next to Stalini Parki, at one end of which lies the Stalin Museum and the preserved house where Stalin spent his first few years. It’s a neat educational experience for the whole family, and if you think I’m going to make any jokes about it whatsoever on a blog that might end up being monitored by a Peace Corps staffer in Washington, you are out of your mind.

Anyway, after the museum we went to the tourist hotel nearby (although I don’t really know how many actual tourists come to Gori) to look for a bar. It was only otkhi saatia (4 o’clock), but we’re not allowed to be out after 7pm unless we’re with our host families. It’s a weird juxtaposition – drinking beer in a bar in the middle of the afternoon, and then leaving pretty early so your mom won’t get mad at you – but we adapted to it. The two patrons of the small bar seemed pretty surprised to see 12 Americans tiptoe in, looking for beer, but we quickly found that, yes, we could order beer, and that it was 1 lari (about 72 cents). We also discovered that there was a pretty decent beer garden-type setup outside the back of the bar, so we hung out there and told stories about our living situations and such. It was the first really relaxing moment for most of us since we’d gotten to Gori. We made plans to hike to an old castle on a hilltop near the city tomorrow.

I got home from the bar and found my host brother and host sister-in-law sitting in the kitchen eating sunflower seeds. I joined them, because I have been a bit too overwhelmed and tired (not to mention unable to communicate at all) until this point to engage in much social interaction. So we sat there for a while, saying bits of sentences to each other. I then successfully achieved three things that have been terrifying me since I got here: I gave my host mother the money her family is to receive each two weeks from the Peace Corps without turning it into a big scene (I was afraid it would be really awkward to hand her money), I gave her some of my dirty clothes to be laundered while making it clear that I’d rather be doing it myself (I really wouldn’t rather do it myself, but I wanted to make an effort to look like I did, because I knew either way that she would use physical force on me if she felt it necessary in order to keep me from doing my own chores), and, most triumphantly, I bathed.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you Amerikeli, with your showers and your hot water and your reliable plumbing and your soap and your macaroni salad. But my bathroom consists of a tub, a faucet that doesn’t have a setting above “trickle,” and several buckets. I had no idea what deda would decide to do if I asked to bathe. Surprisingly and thankfully, it went fine; I asked, she filled a large bucket with room-temperature water that she stores in bottles out on the porch, and then she added to it with hot water from the hotplate to make a pleasingly temperate mixture. And it ended up not being as difficult or humbling as I thought it would be to stand in a bathtub and pour water from a bucket on myself with a tiny pitcher. It was still one of those “your new life is completely ridiculous” moments, though.

After my bucket bath, my host brother took me on a walk through the city with a friend of his. I felt really self-conscious about it, because I was wearing my “house clothes” – shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt – which consist of things that we’re told Georgians don’t wear, tending as they do towards more formal clothing. This message has been drilled into us enough that I felt basically naked as I walked along outside in shorts and sandals (I had gestured that I was going to change before we went out but was rebuffed), and I was sure everyone was staring at me because of it. We walked along the streets, chewing sunflower seeds, and talking a little – mostly pointing at things and saying the words for them. It was quite pleasant. We were bonding without having to say much. We saw many of the important buildings in the city, as well as a park that has a lot of carnival rides and small food vendors, not to mention – swear to god – a baby bear in a cage. Don’t ask my why Gori has bearinacage. I don’t have the language skills to ask about bearinacage. Bearinacage just exists, mannnn. My host brother even bought me an ice cream as the inspirational orchestra in my mind played a heartwarming strings piece. Then we walked back to the house as my host brother and his friend fought wordlessly for the coveted position of walking next to me (this American-in-a-foreign-land-making-a-concerted-effort-to-learn-their-obscure-language gig can have some ego-inflating side effects), and I hung out with a group of people, trying to absorb what they were saying, until I got tired and came up to my room, followed swiftly by deda carrying an enormous plate of cookies that I don’t want but which are sitting on my nightstand anyway.

So ends another day in Gori. I wish I had the time and the energy to craft these entries into pieces of literature, or at least to pepper them with more jokes, but it’s hard enough staying awake just to write everything down in the first place. You should, if everything goes according to plan, finally be able to read these on Monday. I will still not have been in the Peace Corps for even two weeks. I think I’m going to be 47 years old when this is over. I should write a new theory of relativity.

1 comment:

tahnee said...

Dan- can you please find out more about the bear in a cage thing for me. thanks for writing such intersting entries I am reading them in my 3 hour class right now. Sounds like things are going well for you. Im so happy the beer is so cheap! But seriously between your busy schedule of helping the Georgians and not speaking the language find out about the bear in a cage.
It intrigues me. Hope it keeps going well!
- Tahnee